Blog

Am I A Runner Yet?

On my last post “Becoming a Runner” my last line was “I had become a runner”.

In 2009 I felt that I had become a runner by virtue of running several marathons and branching out into 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons.

Since 2009 I have become more dedicated to the sport and my training has become more consistent. Between marathons I run many 5K, 10K and half-marathons. Last year I ran in 14 races whereas in 2010 I only ran in four races.

I keep much better records of my training and I rarely go more than two to three days between runs. Usually I run three days a week and often have a long run on the weekends of over 10 miles. My base miles are now in the 20-25 mile range and I did get to over 35 miles per week during my training for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

I start planning for a race when I start training for it. Most 5K and 10K races don’t require additional training as I run those distances several times a week. For a Half or Full Marathon I use the Runner 2.0 process and start planning backwards from the finish line.

The plan begins with: “What is my goal time?” Goal time is based on my recent race times and how my training has been going. I also take into consideration what the course is like and what type of weather can I expect?

With my goal in mind I put together a training plan to achieve my goal. I do not have the training time or conditioning to set overly aggressive goals but I am always pushing myself.

This summer my goal is to run 5Ks at 7:30 pace and 10Ks at 8:00 pace. Later in the year I hope to run a half-marathon at an 8:00 pace. My stretch goal is to run the ING Hartford Marathon at a 7:46 pace and qualify for Boston. This is going to be very difficult to do, but I never thought I’d run any distance under an 8:00 pace. Last year I starting going under the 8:00 pace for 5Ks and my last half-marathon was at a 8:12 pace. I can do this.

Am I a Runner Yet?

But do I feel like a runner? Am I a runner? We are all born runners. Our bodies are made for running. I run, but do I feel like I’m a runner? To me it still feels audacious to say “I’m a runner”. Bruce Jenner, Joan Benoit, Ryan Hall are runners. Compared to them I’m a couch potato. They run my weekly miles before breakfast! But, compared to 90% of America, I am a runner.

Are you a runner? Do you consider yourself a runner? When did you feel like you were a runner?

Run well my friends!

©2012 anagelin

Becoming a Runner

Becoming a Runner

The 2003 Boston Marathon was an amazing experience. It was my first marathon AND it was Boston, the grand-daddy of them all. Well, except for that one in Greece. I was never an athlete growing up, and had never participated in anything as strenuous as a marathon before.

Boston marathon 2003 finish line,
Boston Marathon finish w/ Angela

When I crossed that finish line in front of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street, it felt like a religious experience.

I don’t recall exactly what I thought, felt and said when I crossed the finish line but it was spiritual in a non-religious way and it changed the way I thought about myself and my life. It wasn’t a thunder-clap moment. It did take time for me to realize the change.

I was filled with joy and excitement and proud to have my oldest daughter with me as I crossed the finish line. It is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Running Revelations

Even though I was under prepared, I had managed to finish one of the most demanding athletic events known to man. My feet had blisters, my hips hurt and my left calf and Achilles were killing me. I finished in the bottom 90th percentile but through will power and drive I finished and achieved my goal.

I had never been very goal oriented in my life. Going to college and getting a job were almost automatic and part of the natural flow of life. I didn’t go to college with any particular goals other than graduation. I was not a driven, goal oriented student and my grades reflected that. But getting through school did require a certain amount of effort, dedication and focus. Quitting smoking and surviving unemployment also took will power and a focus on goals.

By the time the 2005 and 2006 Boston Marathons came around I had become goal focused. While my running was not very disciplined, I did more training and kept better track of it. I had begun to understand what it took to run and finish a marathon and I knew I wanted to do it better than the last time.

In 2004 I started an MBA program with six-week long classes. This forced me to become very focused, motivated and goal oriented. The time spent studying for my MBA changed my life as much as running did.

In 2003, in some sort of sense, I thought I was a runner. I had finished Boston and before that a half marathon. I was off and running, so to speak! I signed up for the Ocean State Marathon in Providence, RI in October and continued to run over the summer. My records from 2003 are lost to time but I know I did not train like I train now. At most I ran three days a week and rarely more than 7.5 miles at a time. I do not recall running at home after work or on the weekends. My weekly miles were probably never over 25 and my long run was 7.5 miles.

I managed to finish Providence in 4:34 which was a 37 minute improvement over my Boston finish. I was psyched! A guy on the bus on the way out to Hopkinton in April 2003 told me I could knock an hour off of my time if I kept at it, and I had knocked 37 minutes off in 5 months! Wow! I was over half-way.

I did feel much better at the finish of Providence and don’t remember losing any toe nails. It did rain lightly for most of the race and I discovered nipple chafing that day. Oh Joy!

Somewhere in the middle of the race the person I was running with pointed at my shirt and said “look”. I was shocked to look down and see two huge red blotches on my shirt. It didn’t really hurt until I saw them and then I couldn’t stop thinking about them. All of a sudden they were very sensitive and stung. I was such a newby I didn’t have the right jacket or anything else to keep me dry and un-bloodied. I zipped up my London Fog jacket and kept on going. Yup, a London Fog jacket!

As I approached the finish line in Providence I found my wife and daughters behind one of the barricades. I managed to get my oldest over the barricade but my youngest was reluctant. I finally managed to get her over the top also and the three of us ran in the last few hundred feet. In my mind I can still see my youngest marching across the finish line with a cute look on her face and her arms swinging high.

Unfortunately MarathonPhoto’s ordering system was very difficult to work with and I never got to order any pictures from that marathon. A nugget of wisdom here, get any special photos ordered sooner rather than later. They do not keep them forever. In MarathonPhoto’s case it is only 10 months, which I did not know as I battled their ordering system.

Not getting those photos is one of the biggest regrets in my life. I keep telling myself it’s a wonderful memory and most people never get photos of special moments like that. My girls have never finished a race with me since.

So am I a real Runner yet?

After finishing two marathons and a half marathon I must have considered myself a runner. I was learning from my experience and adjusting my routines and my clothing. In mid-February 2006, I switched my running shoes from Asics to Brooks and started working on my blister problem. I found a silicone powder from Two Toms that seemed to work and still use it on my feet for marathons. I understood the importance of base miles and continued to run at work during my lunch break but dropped back to 10-15 miles per week.

In 2004 and into 2005 and 2006 there were months at a time that I did not run at all. I was busy with work, it was too cold or I didn’t have my stuff. At this time I also only ran marathons and without a race on my schedule I had no incentive to train. Since I could only get into Boston through my company’s lottery drawing I had no way of knowing if I would ever run a marathon again. So I settled back into my old lifestyle of work and family for the most part.

I managed to get a number for the 2005 and 2006 Boston Marathon through the lottery at work. At this stage in my life I did not consider myself a runner. Running was not an integral part of my life. It was not who I was or part of my identity. As such, I had not kept up with my training between marathons. After I got my numbers each year, I spent a few months training and that was it. Between marathons, I failed to maintain a base level of fitness, a base level of weekly miles. Each year I basically started over again.

As I progressed in my running and became a “runner” I came to understand how important it was to maintain my fitness level between events. After just a few weeks of not running you start to lose a significant amount of your fitness. Most experts say that you should not go more than two days between runs in order to avoid a reduction in fitness. By not running consistently between races I was losing everything I had worked for while training for the Marathon.

Base miles are an amount of mileage that runners maintain between events. For marathon training it is not unusual to run four or more days a week. Many amateur runners run 30-50 miles per week while training for a marathon. The pros often run over 100 miles per week. These are time demanding schedules and often come into conflict with daily lives. So between training for big races, most runners back off and maintain a schedule of base miles that allows them to have a life and avoid divorce!

Developing a plan and Discipline

In 2006 I was finishing up my MBA program and trying to sell my house on my own. It was the go-go days of the real estate boom and Isoldmyhouse.com kept telling me how easy it was to sell my house, with their help, of course. Between studies, cleaning and fixing things at my house, doing open houses, taking care of the family, going to soccer games and work, I was too busy to run very much.

So while I had sufficient notice that I would be running a the 2006 Boston Marathon, once again I was woefully under prepared.  Once again I was starting all over again; from square one, from scratch essentially. Because my running schedule was so inconsistent I really didn’t have any base miles to start with.

The main difference in 2006 was that I really knew how far behind I was in my training. I had a firm understanding of how this would impact me on race day and how much work I needed to do to have a successful race. In 2006 I also had a better idea of how to prepare for the race. I was developing my process, my method and my routines.

Since 2003 I had learned a lot about running and how important it was to plan your training and your races. Since 2003, I made a few adjustments such as switching shoes and using powder to prevent blisters. In 2006 I knew that I needed to incorporate long runs into my training and thought it would be a good idea to try and run at least 26 miles a week. I’m sure the records I have are not complete, but they show I never got close to 25 miles per week in 2006.

In 2006 I ran Boston’s Run to Remember half-marathon, like I did in 2003. Many people use this race to gauge how well prepared they are for Boston, so I incorporated it into my training.

I felt pretty good during this race and recall feeling more confident in my running. In 2006 the race started in South Boston and went though Beacon Hill in Boston and crossed the Long Fellow Bridge onto Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Memorial drive is flat and I remember feeling like I could kick it out a bit here. Coming back over the Long Fellow Bridge into Boston I felt pretty good and knew there were a few miles to go. I hung on and managed to kick it again and ran in the last quarter-mile or so at a good pace.

Afterward I felt good. I felt like a runner and that I was among fellow travelers as we sat in the convention center and drank a few Harpoon IPAs.

I finished that race in 2:06 for a 9:34 pace which was pretty good for me at the time. I was hoping to run Boston at a 10 minute pace and felt that I was on track. In my age group and over all I finished in the bottom quarter and third respectively.  This being a warm up for Boston, the race was loaded with strong runners.

In 2003 I finished Boston in 5:11, in 2005 4:59 and 2006 4:49. As a runner I was making progress, though very slowly. I still was not able to run Boston as fast as I had run The Ocean State Marathon in 2003, but Boston is a challenging course and I was more prepared for Ocean State.

Becoming Runner 2.0

In 2009 I won another number for the Boston Marathon in my company’s lottery. This time I knew that I needed more training and preparation for the race. This time I felt like I had a bit of a clue as to what I needed to do and what to expect on the course.

After running Boston three times before and four marathons all together, I had a good idea of what to expect on the course and what I needed to do to meet the challenge. I reflected on what I had done before for training and I knew it had not been enough. I also thought about how I would hydrate on the course and what I would eat and drink before the race. I was developing a plan. This is when I started to think of myself as “Runner 2.0”.

In the software business when a new and improved version of a program is released they call it version 2.0. And of course there is Web 2.0 now. I had the same body as I had in 2003, though six years older, with the same limitations and a few extra pains. So the “hardware” was still pretty much the same. What I did have was several years of running experience and an understanding of the training that was required to finish a marathon with minimal damage to myself. Everything that was new was in my mind, I had new software. So I called it Runner 2.0.

What is Runner 2.0?

Runner 2.0 is a way of looking at running as a process. As a Runner 2.0, you think about your training and you do it purposely and with a pre-defined plan of what you are going to do. Based on a fitness goal or the race you are training for, you pick a plan, or design your own plan, and stick with it as closely as possible.  You can buy a plan or get a free one on-line from a variety of web sites.

It doesn’t matter what your goal is. It may be to qualify for Boston, to finish a 5K or to walk for 90 minutes per week. By establishing a goal and working backwards to create a plan to reach your goal you are utilizing the principals of Runner 2.0.

Runner 2.0 is not only about training for a race. Runner 2.0 is also about having a plan for running your race. Over time most runners develop a routine, or process, that they follow for every race. They know what they should and should not eat for a race. They know how much to drink and what clothes they should wear based on anticipated conditions. This routine or plan is constantly being revised depending on the race that is being trained for, time of year, aging of the runner or new things that are discovered.

Most people who are new to running start out like I did and just jump right in. While it can be exciting to start something new and see what happens, it can also cause disappointment and cut short your enthusiasm. Being mindful of what you are doing and setting realistic goals can help you to avoid injuries and to feel better about your progress.

One of my goals in writing this blog is to guide new runners, or walkers, in their journey from Runner 1.0 to Runner 2.0; to help them develop their very own process to successfully run a race or maintain a fitness program.

Some smart decisions

Because the weather is generally bad in Massachusetts during the Boston Marathon training season, I joined a gym. The only thing that I wanted in a gym was access to a tread mill when there was too much snow or ice, or it was less than 400 outside. This turned out to be a great decision as it eliminated all of my excuses. Even when the weather was terrible, the gym was warm and dry. This allowed me to get in 20-30 miles per week, which I thought was pretty good. It was a big improvement over my previous training programs anyway!

In the days before the 2009 Boston Marathon I listened to interviews with American runners Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall. It blew my mind when I found out that they were running over 100 miles per week. They both finished in 3rd place in the 2009 Boston Marathon. I know I will never run at their level, but this wakeup call made me realize that if I was ever going to reach my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I needed to step up my game.

To help me reach this goal I decided to join a local running club. I felt that being around experienced runners would be good for me. I could learn from their experience and the social aspect would keep me motivated. This turned out to be another great decision.

Most people in the club had much more experience than I did and they were all willing to give me advice. One thing I have found with almost all runners is that they are friendly and more than willing to help you out. I learned a lot by asking questions and applying what I learned.

The club I joined was The Melrose Running Club. They have a weekly run on Tuesday nights that I have been running since I joined the club. Leading up to the Boston Marathon they also have a Sunday Long Run. This is a series of 15 Sunday runs that range from 8 to 22 miles. In order to improve at the marathon distance I knew that I needed to both increase my weekly miles and also to incorporate a weekly long run into my routine.

If I had not joined this club I probably would not have been able to improve my running and deepen my interest in running. The social aspect and my personal goal to finish my weekly runs under a certain time have kept me coming back and kept me improving my running.

Running can be a solitary sport. I encourage you to seek out a club in your area. The Road Runners Club of America has a web site where you can look for a running club in your area. Their web address is:  http://www.rrca.org

I finished the 2009 Boston Marathon at 4:49 which was just about the same time as I ran it in 2006. And while Boston is more challenging than a lot of other marathons I was disappointed that I had not been able to run a Personal Record, or PR. I spent less time walking and felt better at the end of this marathon but I was disappointed with my time.

I had incorporated everything I knew into my plan, I had joined a running club and I had trained more consistently and rigorously. But I was not making the progress that I wanted. I now had goals and a drive and desire to reach them. I had become a runner.

Run well my friends!

Andy

I’m a running Geek!

I’ve mentioned a few times that my old training logs are lost to time. Between job changes, computer issues and carelessness I’ve lost files or access to web sites.

Well, last night I happened to stumble upon an old email with my account ID to Active.com. I managed to guess my old password and viola, I found my old records going back to 2004! Active.com had a running shoe tracker, so now I have some data from 2004 to 2006. It shows that I was a little more consistent than I remember. I still ran less than 20 miles a week before the 2005 Boston Marathon. That’s just crazy.

I need to spend some time analyzing this information now. When I saw the data for the first time last night it felt like I had just found a $100 bill on the ground! Yeah, I’m a geek and just having these sheets on my desk is exciting!

This new found information is running geek gold!

Run well my friends

©2012 anagelin

Buying Running Shoes

My running shoe dilemma

A few months before the 2012 Boston Marathon I decided that my running shoes needed to be replaced. They were about six months old and based on the amount of training I do they would be due for retirement right before the Marathon.

For the past few years New Balance has been advertising that they make some of their shoes in the US and some are made in the US with all US materials. I like the idea of supporting local businesses and New Balance is based in Brighton Mass. Since I needed a new pair of shoes I thought I would give them a try and went to their outlet store in Brighton, which is at their corporate headquarters complex.

I went in wearing my Brooks Adrenaline shoes and started looking around. A clerk came up to me and asked if she could help me. I told her I was looking for the Made in USA running shoes. She said the model that would be a good transition from my Brooks was the MR993. I tried on a few pair to get a good fit. The MR993s looked different, felt different and sounded different than any of my previous shoes. I felt confident that I was getting the right shoe because anyone working in the corporate store must know what they are talking about.

I took them home and started the process of breaking them in for Boston. I went on some short runs and eventually used them for my Sunday long runs. My feet sounded like they were plopping on the ground, like I had huge clown shoes on. My feet didn’t feel great, but I figured it was just because they were new.

At the Great Bay Half Marathon in New Market, NH I decided to give them a test. Great Bay is a cool race that goes through the woods, on some dirt roads and along the coast. It’s just a nice race.

About half way through the race I noticed that my feet felt tired. After a few more miles they hurt. I figured I was still recovering from a 20 mile long run in my old Brooks shoes which also made my feet hurt. This was a week before Boston so I didn’t push for a PR. The hills on this course are notorious and I didn’t want to tear up my legs on them.

The next weekend, at the Boston Marathon Runner’s Expo, I stopped by the New Balance booth. I talked to one of the guys there and he rolled his eyes when I told him where I bought my MR993s and then he said “God Bless You” when I told him I ran a half marathon in them. He told me the MR993s were all wrong for a distance runner and he had me try on the MR860s. He had measured my feet and the shoes felt great. They felt right.

It was two days before Boston so there was no way I was buying a new pair of shoes with only two days to break them in. I had a dilemma. Should I run in the New Balance MR993s that made my feet hurt during a half marathon, or should I go with my old Brooks that I felt were too old for a marathon?

On Sunday I was signed up to run the BAA 5K and decided to try my old Brooks and see how my feet felt. I ended up running with an old friend and we took a very casual pace. Afterwards my feet felt fine. It was only 3.1 miles but I was convinced to go with the old Brooks Adrenaline.

While I was still breaking in the New Balance MR993s my club had our 20 mile long run. We started at the Marathon start in Hopkinton and ran to Boston College. Because the MR993s were not broken in I wore my old Brooks and my feet were killing me by the time I got to BC.

It was a difficult decision to go with the old shoes over the new ones to run Boston. But the MR993s made my feet hurt so bad I had considered seeing a podiatrist.  The pain from the Brooks was caused more by impact than what felt like a structural problem with the New Balance. I could mitigate the discomfort from impact.

My first pair of running shoes

buying running shoesMy first running shoes were Asics GT-2080 which I purchased at Runner’s Edge in Wakefield, Mass. Runner’s Edge was the local running store and my mentors said it was the place to go. The person who helped me seemed knowledgeable and I felt comfortable entrusting him with my feet. He asked a few questions, measured my feet and had me run on their treadmill for a few minutes to see how much my feet pronated.  More on pronation below.

After a few minutes on the treadmill it was determined that I had fairly normal feet and needed a neutral or stability shoe. I ended up buying a pair of Asics GT-2080 which felt good on my feet. I wore these for my first half-marathon and the 2003 Boston Marathon. I had really bad blisters on my toes and lost three toenails after Boston 2003, so I decided I needed to make an adjustment.

I went back to Runner’s Edge and told them about my experience. The guy told me I needed a shoe with a larger toe box so my toes would have more room. He set me up with a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes. They felt great on my feet and had the support I needed. I’ve run many races in this model shoe since then, and have been very happy with them. These became my shoe for the next seven years or so.

Why the change and things for you to consider

I changed brands because New Balance is a local company and they make their shoes here in Massachusetts. The people who made my shoes probably live within 50 miles of my house and I like to think I’m helping put food on their table. How often do you get to make the choice to support local workers these days? We used to make a lot of running shoes in Massachusetts but New Balance is the only company still doing it as far as I know.

While this is important to me you should buy the brand that has the best fit for you.

Buying Running Shoes

When you are buying your first pair of running shoes go to a running store. Do not go to a sporting goods store or a department store. You may save a few dollars but you will not get the expert advice you need when selecting your first pair of running shoes. If you’ve gotten this far in this blog take this one golden nugget of advice. You will not regret spending the extra $20 to get good advice from an expert.

Also, do not go to an outlet store for your first pair of shoes or if you are changing brands like I did. Another hard lesson that I pass on to you: an outlet store is an outlet store. It is not a running store. I assumed the outlet store right next to New Balance corporate headquarters would be staffed by runners who knew about running shoes.  Au Contraire, this store is staffed by people who apparently know nothing about running shoes.

Once you find a brand and a style (model) that works for you, stick with them. I stayed with Brooks Adrenaline for about seven years and at least five pairs of shoes. There were times when I did not train between marathons so I did not go through a pair every six months.

If you stay with the same shoe then it is safe to buy shoes on-line and save a few dollars. I’ve purchased close out Adrenalines that were last year’s models for $69.00 on line. In a running store they go for about $119.00. So you can save a lot of money once you figure out what works for you.

More on Buying Running Shoes

When you go to a running store to buy your first running shoes they will put you on a treadmill and check your gait for Pronation.

The definitions below were compiled from an article on runnersworld.com and information from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

pronation,buying running shoes
Normal Pronation

Pronation is the normal motion of the foot from the outer edge to the inner edge as the foot strikes a surface. With normal or neutral pronation the outside (lateral) of the heel hits the ground first. Then body weight is passed along the arch toward the outside of the foot and upward to the ball (metatarsus) of the foot.

The foot rolls inward about 15% during this motion until the entire foot makes contact with the ground. This motion acts like a shock absorber for the body. As the foot moves forward the bones lock so that it can push-off in a forward motion. With normal pronation the foot moves from the lateral side of the heel, rolls forward and pushes evenly from the front of the foot.

normal arch,running shoes
Normal Arch

People with normal arches usually have normal pronation. You should look for stability shoes that offer moderate pronation control. 60-70% of people have normal or neutral pronation.

 

 

pronation,running shoes
Over Pronation

Some people over pronate. The outside (lateral) of the heel strikes the ground first but then the foot rolls in more than 15% as the foot rolls forward. This condition makes it more difficult for the foot and ankle to stabilize the body. When the foot pushes off, the pressure is mainly on the big toe and second toe. This puts additional pressure and strain on these toes. The motion also twists the foot, shin and knee which can cause pain in those areas.

If you have excessive wear on the inner side of your shoe, you may over pronate. If you put your shoes on a flat surface they will tilt inward.

Over pronation cannot be cured, you are born with it. To compensate for this you will need stable shoes with proper arch support and cushioning.

supination,shoes,
Supination

Underpronation or Supination  Other people under pronate, or supinate. This means that the feet roll in less than 15% and most of the shock is absorbed by the outside (lateral) of their feet. When they push-off the smaller toes do most of the work. This puts extra stress on the foot and can cause iliotibial band syndrome of the knee, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.

wet foot test,running shoes
High Arch

If you have high arches or tight Achilles tendons then you may underpronate. Your shoes will wear more on the outside edge and the side may be overstretched. If you place your shoes on a flat surface they will tilt outward.

Determining your arches

An easy way to find out what type of arches you have is to use the wet foot on pavement test. You can use a dry cement surface or other dry surface. All you need to do is get the bottoms of your feet wet and step onto the dry surface and then step away. Looking at the foot prints left behind you can get a good idea what type of arches you have.

Here are some other tips for buying running shoes:

Let the sales person recommend a shoe for you based on their analysis, do not go in set on a specific shoe. In a running store you are getting expert advice, so take it. You can discuss your likes and dislikes with the sales person and they may be able to fit you with a shoe you have your heart set on. Oh, and don’t buy shoes because you like their colors. Color has no impact on your running, but the wrong shoe will mess you up.

  • Shop for running shoes late in the day because your feet swell during the course of the day
  • Measure your foot while standing.
  • Try on both shoes with the socks you will wear.
  • Have both feet measured and buy for your larger foot (feet are rarely the same exact size).
  • Allow a thumbnail’s width between the shoe and your big toe.
  • Choose shoes that are comfortable immediately. If they hurt in the store, don’t buy them.
  • Look for a moderately priced shoe. Price is not necessarily an indication of quality. Research has shown that moderately priced running shoes work just as well as expensive ones.
  • Make sure the shoe matches your foot type and running style. Having a shoe that suits your foot type is the best prevention for injury and pain.
  • Wear new shoes around the house before using them on short runs.
  • Don’t do a long run in new shoes. Start out with a short run and stop if you have any hot spots, which are a warning sign that a blister is on the way.
  • Consider having an evaluation by a doctor, physical therapist, or podiatrist to learn your foot type.

Run well my friends!

Andy

© anagelin 2012

My First Marathon Experience

Training for my First Marathon

When I started training for my first marathon in January of 2003, I had no clue what I was doing.

I had never been athletic and had no idea what running a marathon was all about. I did not realize that most people who start from square one (A.K.A the couch) spend at least six month training for their first marathon.

Training and Tracking

I “trained” for about four months before my first marathon. I didn’t follow a program or plan. My friends with marathon experience helped me, but I made a lot of the mistakes.

I kept track of my training over the years but between computer upgrades at work, system crashes at home and changing jobs, the spread sheets got lost. At the time the information did not seem that important, and in the greater scheme of things it isn’t that important.

When you are training for a race it is important to keep track of your training. It is also a good idea to track your progress over time. I would advise printing all spreadsheets and starting a running folder at home.

Continue reading “My First Marathon Experience”

My 2012 Boston Marathon Experience

My 2012 Boston Marathon Experience

This was definitely a marathon to remember. Ten days out, various sources said race day would be in the mid to high 80’s. But why believe a forecast that far out? These guys and gals have a hard time with a 24-hour forecast.

As the day grew closer the forecasted temps varied from the 60s to as high as 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Then a few days before the race it became more certain that this would be one of the hottest, if not the hottest marathon day on record.

Memories of Boston

As time goes on memories fade. This was my fifth Boston Marathon and the memories of all of them are probably all jumbled together. I remember my first because everything was new and unknown to me.

Each hill, each hand slap from a child on the side of the road became part of the joy of that run. The next three all have their moments and thankfully I have a few photos to help me recall those races.

Scientist say that we have selective memories and that no two people remember events exactly the same way. Even how we remember things can change over time.

Everyone who ran Boston has their own unique and special memories and hopefully came away with a beautiful experience that they will look back on and cherish the rest of their lives. I know that I will never remember anyone in the sea of faces I saw Monday. I made eye contact with some people, shared a smile or a whoop and for a moment we shared something special. They won’t remember me either. But that’s okay.

Since my first marathon, which was Boston, one of my favorite experiences is interacting with the kids on the side of the road. I love slapping their little hands as I run by. They look excited and it gives me such a great feeling to be a tiny little part of their day. They give me a boost and I’d like to think that my brief hand slap helps make their Marathon day special as well.

Everyone says the crowds in Boston are the best. I’ve never run another big city or big event marathon like Boston so I don’t have a true comparison to make. But to see all of those people out their handing out food and drink, ice and Vaseline is truly amazing. No one asks any of these people to do this. It is all out of the kindness of their hearts, a desire to help and lend a hand, and to participate in a small but important way in this great race. Every bit of assistance I received from them during this race helped to keep me going and eventually reach the finish line. I wish I could thank them all personally.

The Journey Begins

I woke up around 4AM and was immediately in first gear. I had to leave the house by 5AM in order to make it into Boston by 6AM to meet the Children’s Hospital Boston Team at the Westin Copley hotel. Our bus left at 6:15 sharp and I did not want to miss it.

I washed up in the sink, got dressed, re-checked my bag and headed out the door. Somehow all of that took most of an hour. I may not have been fully awake at that time.

As I drove down the street from my house I still hadn’t decided if I was going to take the train from Medford or drive into Cambridge and park at work. I wasn’t even sure the trains ran that early. It was a holiday after all.

At the rotary I decided to park in Medford and take the train in. It may have been the first train of the day, but it rolled into the station about 5:18AM. I think I was the only runner on the train at that point, but at each stop a few more runners got on board.

I had planned to get off at Copley Square but the driver announced that the station was closed due to the Marathon. So, I got off at North Station with the rest of the runners on the train. We all looked a little tired and groggy, but excited.

I hoped on the green line and sat next to a runner from Tupelo, MS. We talked about the hot day that was expected and he said whenever it was this hot in Mississippi he would run inside! We all got off at Park Street and hustled up the stairs and onto the street. I wasn’t sure which way to go to get to the Westin Copley so I asked for directions twice, just to make sure. On race day I did not want to go in the wrong direction, waste precious energy and be late for my bus.

I was a little late getting to the hotel, but was not the last person there. I checked in with Team coordinators and took my seat on the bus. There were plenty of seats and we left about 6:20. I zoned out and snoozed a bit on the ride out to Hopkinton. We arrived and got off the bus around 7:30.

Pre-Race in Hopkinton

As soon as we stepped off of the bus we could feel the heat. I was wearing a singlet and running shorts, and as I stepped off the bus, I could feel the sweat rolling down the center of my back. The sky was clear and the sun was bearing down on us.

It was probably 75 degrees and the race didn’t start for us for another three hours. Feeling the sun on my skin made the concept of heat real. How much hotter would it get and how would it make me feel? If this were a July afternoon I would have stayed out of the sun and heat during the prime hours of 10AM to 2PM. But I was going to run a marathon today.

Children’s Hospital Boston rents out the Masonic Lodge in Hopkinton for race day. Our bus parked in the parking lot out back and we entered the basement of the building through the back door.

It was nice and cool inside and they had tables at the front of the room loaded with food and buckets full of ice and drinks for us. Across the room from the doorway they had a table with all of the supplies a man or woman would need for race day. They were really taking care of us. I walked half way to the back of the room and took a seat on the end of a row of metal folding chairs.

I started my pre-race routine and made sure I had everything I needed. Then I went up to the food table and grabbed a Gatorade and some Fig Newton’s and went back to my seat. They had about a dozen porta-potties in the parking lot for us. They were roped off so that only Children’s runners could use them. A dozen porta-potties for about 200 people. What a luxury on race day! I never waited for more than 5 minutes to use a clean porta-potty. I even got to use a real bath room inside The Lodge!

I must have gotten up to get food or use the facilities a dozen times. It was partly nerves, but by the time we were ready to line up my belly was full and my colon was empty. Perfect!

I called my buddy Jeff who was at Hopkinton Drug with his team. I walked outside and headed down Main Street. It was hot and everyone I walked by seemed to be looking at my shirt and I humbly felt a measure of respect from them. I was a nut, but I was running for a good cause. I went into a shop where some guy was selling race and running shirts for a dollar. Some of them were nice and I was tempted, but I have so many shirts all ready.

I hung out with Jeff and his friend Chuck for a few minutes and we talked about the race, of course. It was so hot just standing there. All around us people were putting on sun screen and changing into their running gear. There was a sense of excitement in the air. I decided I needed to get off of my feet and get back into that cool basement for a while before the race. We wished each other a good race and I headed back to The Lodge.

About an hour before the race the Children’s Team all went upstairs for a final pep talk from our coaches. They told us we had all worked hard and the marathon was not a test but a celebration of our hard work. No one had anything to prove and they encouraged everyone to take it easy. Our coach Jeff encouraged everyone to be careful of heat stroke and to head for the First Aid tent after the race for an IV. Quite sincerely he said he was going to get one after the race.

We then headed outside and posed in front of The Lodge for a team photo. In the heat it seemed to take forever to get everyone in place and in the frame. With several cameras pointed at us, many photos were taken and we all headed back inside. Later some of us went out to see the first wave of runners start. With the crowd I couldn’t see them, but I did hear the starting gun this year. I went back to my pre-race routine of eating a little, checking everything several times and several more visits to the porta-potties.

Around 10AM they told us to put our bags into the luggage hold of the buses and to get ready to head for the corrals. I checked my belt and made sure it was stuffed with all of my GUs, Band-Aids and Chap Stick. For some reason I also had cash in there.

I grabbed half of a sesame bagel and slathered some peanut butter on it and ate most of it while talking with the coaches. I loaded my bag on the bus, hit the port-potty again and did some light stretching.

About 10:20 or so we headed up the driveway to the street, the race marshals opened the barricade for us and we walked into our spot, right in front of The Lodge. No wasted effort walking half a mile to the corral. Fantastic!

As we stood there waiting our turn to start other runners in lower numbered corrals came by us on the right side of the road. Someone yelled out “Bruschi” and people started saying that Tedy Bruschi was in the crowd beside us and heading for his starting spot. He’s a pretty tall guy and I was able to see him and his team in their blue shirts as they jogged past to their start. He was about 10 feet away when he passed by us.

As we moved towards the starting line the announcer revved us up as the boom camera swept over us. We were on TV! Not sure it was live TV but the camera got everyone fired up. People were throwing their hands in the air and whooping it up. As if we weren’t fired up enough!

It did help break some of that last moment “before the start” tension. Everyone is excited that the moment they have been working for, for so long, is about to happen.

For some people this is the culmination of months if not years of work. Some people have traveled great distances to be in the race. Some have begged family, friends and co-workers for donations to the charity they are running for. All of us have worked hard and all of us are anxious to see if we did enough and can we make it.

The Race Begins

The gun went off and as I headed towards the starting line I got ready to start my watch. As I started to jog and got to the starting line my watch seemed to be working.

After I crossed the starting line, I headed to the right side of the road because I knew that was where all the shade would be. Plus I love being close to the crowd and slapping all the hands that are out stretched, especially the little kids. There were a lot of people and I was consumed by the moment. Thrilled to be on the course, excited by the challenge and loving the crowd.

After about half a mile the pace picked up to about 9 minute miles and there was a little more room to move. The problem with running on the side of the road is that is where the slow people and walkers move to. I don’t know if some people gave up at the starting line or planned to walk all the way to Boston, but there were walkers in the first mile or so. So as I slapped hands I had to keep an eye out for slower people. I had my name on a piece of duct tape on my shirt and people kept calling out my name. It was pretty cool.

Then as I ran past this guy he yelled, “Go Andy”. His voice sounded vaguely familiar and he yelled again, “Go Andy” in a familiar tone, like he recognized me all of a sudden. I turned to look back but at the time he just looked familiar. My mind was focused on the race and I could not think of who he was. I thought it was a family friend, but my mother-in-law said he was at work Monday. I have no idea who it was but the way he yelled my name sounded like he knew me. Maybe someday I’ll find out who it was.

After about a mile and a half I realized my watch was not displaying the information that I expected. My heart rate monitor died a few days before so I wasn’t wearing it, so that data was not displaying. I had come to rely on monitoring my heart rate to know how hard I was working. I knew that data wouldn’t be there but I didn’t anticipate my watch displaying different data fields.

All it was showing me was how far off my pace I was in terms of minutes and distance. I decided that I could figure out my pace based on the 9 minute pace I had programmed in the watch, how many minutes I was behind pace and then divide that by the miles run. This early in the race I felt like I could handle that level of math.

In the first 2-3 miles I figured that I was running 9:20 miles and as my watch showed the pace at each mile. I was pretty close. Around mile 4 I couldn’t take it anymore and had to stop and fool with the dam watch. I pressed enough buttons and got it to display my current pace, total running time and miles. That was all I needed and I was happy with that. Besides, I couldn’t waste anymore time walking that early in the race. Later in the race the watch kept scrolling to other screens and I’d have to press a button to make it go back to the screen I wanted. What a pain in the ass! I have a love/hate relationship with my Garmin.

Editor’s note: These were all rookie mistakes. At the time I still didn’t know how to work my Garmin!

I had been running with a large bottle of Gatorade. This allowed me to skip the first two or three water stops and get into a thinner section of the pack. When I got to the water stops I’d move to the middle of the road, slow down a bit but keep on running. The Gatorade got warm very fast so I decided to start taking water at the stops and drink the Gatorade in between.

Eventually the bottle was empty and I had to get rid of it. I couldn’t roll it across the road because I was afraid someone would step on it and fall. I decided to throw it to the side of the road but had to make sure I got it over everyone’s head and didn’t hurt anyone. I noticed an old man walking on the side of the road and timed my throw to miss him and the other runners.

As I tossed my bottle I noticed a small tree on the side of the road and my bottle was heading right for it. The bottle hit the tree, bounced off and almost hit the old man! I think it almost hit him. I felt like a total ass, even though it was completely unintentional.

In the heat of the day

As the miles ticked by it kept getting hotter and hotter. People with hoses kept dousing us as we went by. The water felt as cold as ocean water on a hot summer day. A few times it almost took my breath away.

Eventually the tape with my name on it fell off; then the Band-Aids keeping my nipples from chaffing fell off. I put on new Band-Aids and pressed them back into place when they fell off. At mile 8.4 I had to take off my shirt. It was either that or wait for the blood to soak through my shirt.

For about 4 miles or so the viewing public had to see me run by topless. I had my game face on; I didn’t care. Somewhere before the half-way point I decided to put my shirt back on. I’m not sure exactly why. I knew it would hurt, I would eventually bleed and it would look gross to some people, hell most people. But I also didn’t want to run into Boston without my shirt.

At this point it felt like the pads on both my little toes were being ground up and pulled off anyway, so what was a little more discomfort? I probably wouldn’t even notice.

A little after the half-way mark I met up with my buddy, Jeff. I think it was after mile 14. He was walking and I could tell by the look on his face that he was in a bad way. He was wearing sunglasses so I couldn’t see his eyes, but his body language said he was spent.

We walked for a bit and ran until the next hill. Then we walked a little longer. When we got running again I knew I had to keep him going. Before mile 16 I said, let’s get to the next light. It was about 100 yards away. Then to the mile marker, another 50 yards after that, then to the water stop, 50 yards after that. We walked the water stop and continued walking up the next few hills and running the down hills and flats.

By the time we got to the 95 overpass it was a struggle for both of us. We started running on the bridge and up the hill after that. Shortly after the bridge they were handing out PowerBar Gels. I grabbed two or three. The first one I got was vanilla, which I’m not a fan of. So I grabbed two more further down the line. I sucked one of those babies down and in a few minutes I could feel the energy come back into my body. Those things really do work, and you can feel it.

Heart Break Hill

Around mile 17 Jeff’s boss Tim jumped in and ran with us. I asked him not to run us too hard as we were in pretty rough shape at that point. I’m not sure he understood how exhausted we were, and especially Jeff.

We started the first of the three hills in the Heart Break Hill series. Something kicked in with me and I charged up the hill. I felt like a little race car weaving up the hill to get around the other runners. I looked back and Jeff and Tim were close behind me, so I kept on pushing. When I knew they were able to keep up it became so much fun to push up the hill. I think this was my favorite part of the Marathon.

We kept charging as we hit Heart Break Hill itself. We were close to where our running club had a water stop and I knew we would get refreshed there. At 20.44 miles we saw the club water stop.

My buddy Dave walked up to me with two cups of cold, flat Coke just like I asked for. I must have looked puzzled as I stood there looking at him and the two cups of Coke. All I could think was, were both of those for me? Does he have a bottle I can take with me?

It seemed like Dave stood there forever with a pleasant smile on his face while that little thought process tumbled through my foggy mind. They were both for me and I gulped them down. I think I ate something and someone gave me an orange slice. I knew I was altered. I couldn’t even think.

They took a couple of quick photos and the three of us were off. As I pushed up the rest of heart break hill like a little Porsche I lost the guys. I looked back and couldn’t see them behind me anymore. I kept going and looked again. Still not there. I knew my mind was foggy so I turned around and jogged backwards up the hill looking for them. I could not see them running or on the side of the road. I really thought they were there but I must have forgotten what they were wearing. They had to be there.

The push to the Finish

In what seemed like an instant I decided to push on at my best pace and see how well I could do. No PR was possible at this point but I figured let’s not give up yet.

As I came up to BC I went to the side of the road and slapped hands with the crowd. I figured it would slow me down and help the guys catch up. I never saw them again that day. Some of the guys at BC must have been hammered, because a few times I thought they were going to take my arm off with a hand slap.

At the 35K mark my watch said my time was about 3:43. I still had four miles to go and my legs were shredded, toast, spent. I was running on Gu packs, Gatorade and sheer will power.

I told myself that I still was running under 4 hours and let’s see how far we can get before the watch says 4 hours. It was my little head game that I was still under 4 hours, so I wasn’t late yet.

It took me almost 34 minutes to cover the next 5K at a 10:55 pace. Somewhere between 35K and 40K I hit and passed 4 hours. I don’t recall seeing that on my watch. I was just looking for mile and Kilometer markers.

There were still lots of people on the course and they gave me lots of encouragement. So many people yelled, “I love Children’s Hospital”, or “Go Children’s”. They didn’t know me at all but somehow when I heard things like that it helped me keep going.

There were moments when someone would yell out and I would make eye contact with them. In my endorphin addled mind I felt that we had brief moments. They were feeding me their energy and I was sucking it in like a breath of fresh air. That moral support is so unbelievably important in those last miles of the Marathon.

Often I’d give a thumbs up or a smile. A few times I hollered back in fun and good nature and I think everyone got it. I was just having fun. We were having fun. And what’s a marathon without a little of that?

I walked and ran as much as I could down Beacon Street in Brookline. There are small hills, probably better described as a “rise in the road”. But they were killer freakin hills to me at that point.

I almost bumped into someone and said sorry, but I could barely steer at this point. They smiled at me and gave me that look that said, “I feel exactly the same way”, and it was okay.

2012 boston marathon,1 mileAt mile 25 I rallied and started running. My recollection is that I ran most of the last two miles and 385 yards. I think when we went over the Turnpike the rise for the bridge slowed me to a walk, but I kept running.

Then the “1 mile to go” sign. Oh My God! I had to keep going, I was almost there.

I remember running through Kenmore Square and worrying that the uneven road or pavers in the intersection would catch my shoe and I’d go down.

As Comm. Ave dipped under Mass Ave I saw a runner laying on the embankment with his feet up the embankment. He had an oxygen mask on and 3 or 4 EMTs and cops around him.

Less than a mile to go. He looked like a runner, and I knew that anyone of us could go down at anytime at the final stage of this grueling race.

I felt bad for the guy and the worry creeped into my mind. I pushed on and struggled to keep running as Comm. Ave rose back up to street level.

 

 

 

2012 boston marathon,herefordFinally the corner onto Hereford Street. Thank God! The corner to Boylston looked so far away and uphill. If you know Hereford, it’s not really a hill. There seemed to be so many runners as we got to the corner of Boylston Street. I worried about running into someone or tripping.

As I turned the corner onto Boylston Street it was like coming into a packed stadium. The crowd was loud and the area seemed huge. We all seemed to be moving so slow. Some people kicked it in and ran in the last few hundred yards. I’ve done that before, but not this time.

At this final stage of the race I knew that I had left it all out there on the road. I had held nothing back and I had given it my all. My legs ached with every step and my feet were killing me. This was Boylston Street and Runners don’t walk on Boylston Street on Marathon day!

It was by force of will power that I continued down the street and made it to the finish line. As I went I looked into the crowd to see if there was anyone I knew there. I didn’t see anyone, but it was fun looking into people’s eyes as they cheered and clapped. They seemed so happy and excited like they had waited all day just for me! It was beautiful. Probably a fantasy induced by endorphins, but it felt real at the time.

I crossed the two timing strips on the road at the finish line and stopped my watch. It said 4:30 and change. I made it. It was way off my PR but better than some of my other marathons. It was a grueling day. I could have trained harder but once again I got my number with a fairly short 5 week window to ramp up. Maybe if I had trained a full program I would have been more confident and gone out too hard and had to drop out of the race.

I did learn some lessons during this run, but this has gone on way to long to include those lessons in this post. If you made it to the end of this post, thank you. I hope it was at least amusing to read.

I’ll jabber on about what I learned next time in a much briefer posting.

Thanks for reading.