Saturday, July 22, 2017

Update

In my last post here nearly two years ago, I laughed off the suggestion of a friend that maybe I'd quit running after going sub-3 at the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon. If there's anyone who reads my running blog and has no other contact with me, it might appear as if I did in fact simply quit running after that. At least I seem to have quit commenting about running on this blog. Much of the reason for this, however, is simply that I joined Strava around that time, which makes blogging about running seem redundant. In any case, I have not in fact stopped running, although I haven't managed any PRs or other great achievements since Philly that seemed worth writing about.

For the first half of 2016 I was on sabbatical in Greece, mostly Athens. Since I was in Europe, I planned to run the Paris Marathon in early April. But after months of hard training, I got injured during my taper only two weeks before the race. I still had a nice family trip to Paris but was unable to run the race. That injury, mainly to my lower glute but also implicating my upper hamstring and other nearby muscles, continued to plague me for most of the rest of 2016. I probably would have quit running if Dr. Josh Bross at Elite Chiropractic & Sport hadn't helped me turn things around that Fall. I went to see him only as a last ditch effort, not really expecting ever to be able to run again like I had the previous few years, if at all. But he was not so pessimistic and encouraged me to keep running while receiving treatment. I ran some pretty dismal races that Fall, but after a couple months I managed to give my PR a scare at the Richmond Half Marathon. Although the glute was not yet fully recovered, it was just strong enough for me to move forward with training for the Houston Marathon in January of 2017. I didn't end up running well at Houston, but not because of that injury. It was warm and humid, and I didn't slow down early enough to avoid cratering two-thirds of the way through the race. Mostly I was happy just to have made it to the start line in Houston and to be in a position to look forward to future races.

My plan for 2017 was to hit the gym in late Winter and Spring in order to get my glute strong again, while running some shorter races. Then I hope to return to PR form by Fall at the Navy Air-Force Half Marathon in September and especially the Chicago Marathon in October. Currently I'm back in Greece, where I've started training for Chicago. For details (and photos) see my Strava profile linked above. Maybe I'll even get back to updating this blog occasionally as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon race report

This was my second time running the Philadelphia Marathon. In 2013 I over-trained for the race, hoping to break 3 hours for the first time in the city I called home for nearly a decade during and immediately after graduate school. When I hit the wall in mile 18 that year and later dragged myself across the finish line in 3:06 (which was still a PR by 6 minutes and my first Boston qualifying time), it crushed my willingness to push myself in distance running for the foreseeable future. For the next six or seven months I basically just jogged when I got around to it instead of really training. Although I still ran races in the first half of 2014, my times then were much slower than they had been for the previous couple years.

In mid-summer 2014, however, I decided to recommit to running. I started training hard again; and for the first time I enlisted a coach, who helped me train smarter as well. It took some time for me to get back on track, and it wasn’t until this past summer and fall that I was really able to put together a good, long stretch of consistent training. So it is fitting that my first breakthrough in years and my first sub-3 hour marathon finally occurred in Philadelphia (albeit two years later than originally planned).

I knew I was in good shape going into the race this year, but the weather was a concern. The temperature was (for me) perfect – around 47 degrees – with overcast conditions but no threat of rain. The problem, however, was the 10-13mph wind from the WNW. The loop course was such that this was a headwind for runners from the halfway point until about 20 miles, and then it was a tailwind for the final 10k. Before halfway there are a lot of turns on the course and the wind seemed to be coming from every direction. My question was: could I handle the wind, especially the headwind after halfway, and get to 20 miles in a condition to take advantage of the tailwind for the remainder of the course?

The short answer is: yes. My splits tell much of the story:

Mile 1 – over 7:00 (my Garmin was messed up)
Mile 2 – 6:47
Mile 3 – 6:42
Mile 4 – 6:49
Mile 5 – 6:49
Mile 6 – 6:33 (excited by crowds on Chestnut street)
Mile 7 – 6:36 (same)
Mile 8 – 6:58 (first hill in university city)
Mile 9 – 6:47
Mile 10 – 6:59 (second hill by the zoo)
Mile 11 – 6:51
Mile 12 – 6:48
Mile 13 – 6:48 (halfway in 1:29:41)
Mile 14 – 6:43
Mile 15 – 6:47
Mile 16 – 6:45
Mile 17 – 6:49
Mile 18 – 7:04 (two bridge crossings, a hill, and a turn-around)
Mile 19 – 6:46
Mile 20 – 6:50
Mile 21 – 6:40
Mile 22 – 6:46
Mile 23 – 6:46
Mile 24 – 6:47
Mile 25 – 6:56
Mile 26 – 6:49
Finish – 2:58:56 (average pace 6:49/mile)

I aimed to go through the half just under 1:30 and nailed it. The wind in the first half was definitely noticeable, but it didn’t seem to be consistently blowing in any particular direction. Occasional gusts would blow us this way and that, but there was never a steady head- or tailwind for very long. So it was little more than a nuisance in the first half. My energy level seemed pretty good at halfway and I had no muscle issues.

After halfway the course thinned out, because the half-marathoners and marathoners had started together. I was worried that this could leave me fighting a headwind alone. But it turned out that I had plenty of company. There was indeed a steady headwind with occasional stronger gusts, so runners tended to cluster together in packs. For the first four or so miles after halfway, I settled in with a pack of at least 6-8 runners behind two guys running side-by-side who seemed content to lead: one of them was wearing an ironman triathlon kit, and the other was wearing union jack arm sleeves. I’m not sure how much running behind them actually helped block the wind, since it kept gusting from slightly different angles. But at least they were holding a steady pace in the upper 6:40s, right where I wanted to be. Unlike in Pisa a year earlier, the wind prevented me from making the mistake of speeding up at this point and trying to move forward from group to group. Instead, I just tucked in and rolled with it.

My least favorite part of the Philly course is mile 18, where runners briefly leave Kelly drive and cross a bridge over the Schuylkill River, run down a hill, turn around, run back up the same hill, cross back over the same bridge, and then continue down Kelly drive in the same direction toward Manayunk. This is the point on the course where my wheels came off in 2013. Again this year, I had a bit of a low point there. The pack I had been tucked into kind of broke apart. The two guys who had been leading it side-by-side separated from one another. The tri-guy ended up behind me somewhere. Union jack continued running strong, so I stayed glued to his back even though I wasn’t feeling great. Once we got back on Kelly drive everything seemed fine. My low point had passed and a slightly smaller pack reformed, with tri-guy and union jack resuming their positions at the front, along with a tall guy in white whom I hadn’t noticed earlier. We settled back into the same pace we had been running before the diversion in mile 18. It was work now, and the course starts undulating a bit as you approach and enter Manayunk. But I knew that the turn-around was just ahead and the headwind would soon become a tailwind for the remainer of the race.

Before the race I had expected to slow down from miles 14-20 because of the headwind. So I had mentally flagged that turn-around as the point in the race when I was going to shift into another gear and take advantage of the tailwind to make up some lost time. As it happened, though, the headwind hadn’t slowed me down at all and I was right on my goal pace at the turn-around. It hadn’t crossed my mind even to dream of finishing this race faster than 2:58, and I didn’t want to screw things up by speeding up and then blowing up in the final 10k. So my plan from that point was basically just to hang on without pushing the pace. Still, the final 10k of a marathon is tough no matter what. With the wind at our backs now, I had no need to stay tucked into a pack and immediately pushed ahead of the group I had been running with. It was a race now. I was getting competitive in order to make sure the pace didn’t slow down.

The final 10k is kind of a blur to me now. Tri-guy and union jack were left behind, but the tall guy in white and I fed off each other for maybe four miles or so. Whenever there was even a slight uphill, he’d push ahead of me, and then I’d pass him when the course evened out again. At some point around mile 24 I passed him for the last time, but then tri-guy reemerged duking it out with a woman whom I hadn’t seen before that point in the race. I stayed with the woman as tri-guy floated ahead a bit, and she and I went back and forth for the final two miles. After 24 miles I knew that I had sub-3 hours in the bag. Now it was just a question of whether I could get under 2:59. I seem to have slowed down very slightly in mile 25, which I don’t recall, but maybe I was gathering strength for the final mile, which is steadily uphill. Most of the course in the final 10k has very few spectators until you reach that last mile, but their presence helped me finish strong. The woman won our little duel in the last couple miles, finishing a few seconds ahead of me. But my Garmin shows me running 6:21 pace for the final few tenths of a mile, so we were both moving. Tri-guy suffered on the final hill and I passed him just before the finish line, which means only one person managed to pass and stay in front of me in the final 10k. I must have passed dozens of people.

I finished in 2:58:56 (chip time). Having aimed to run that kind of time for so long, I half expected fireworks to go off when I crossed the finish line, or for it to require an unprecedented super-human effort to keep running sub-3 hour pace after 20 miles. But none of that happened. I was considerably more emotional after my 22 second PR in Boston this past Spring than I was in Philly. Perhaps that’s at least partly because I was physically in a much better condition when I crossed the finish line in Philly than I’ve probably ever been at the end of a marathon. I recall thinking around mile 22 that I didn’t feel any more uncomfortable up to that point than I usually did in marathon pace training runs. It just went on for longer. The last 2-3 miles were indeed harder, but not massively so. I never hit the wall or needed to dig deeper than I have in other marathons that I’ve finished in slower times. In fact, I think that each marathon in which I’ve hit the wall – which is every marathon I’ve run before Boston and now Philly this year – was harder and required considerably more effort than Philly did, even though my time in Philly was much faster. I’m not saying it was easy. But in a way my big breakthrough was really earlier this year in Boston, when I managed for the first time to measure my energy level appropriately, so that I could still run strong after 20 miles. Once that clicked, it was just a matter of putting together a consistent training block so that doing the same thing again would get me to the finish line much faster. I see no reason why further consistent training of the same sort won’t lead to still faster marathon times.

A few more details: I’ve now completely mastered race nutrition for marathons. I eat two pieces of bread or a bagel with honey about two hours before the race, and then a banana sometime in the hour after that. Between 60 and 30 minutes before the race, I take a 100mg caffeine pill (more than that gives me the shakes). Around 15 minutes before the start, I eat a gel with a small amount of water. Once the race begins, I eat a gel with water every 3-4 miles until I get to the fourth gel, when I need to gauge how my stomach feels. If my stomach is even slightly unsettled, then instead of eating the next gel I’ll drink some of whatever sports drink they’re giving out on the course. Then I’ll eat the gel a couple miles later, again with water, and follow it with more water at the next fuel station if it gives me any trouble. In Philly this plan worked perfectly. I ate five gels during the race and resorted to sports drink twice, finishing the race with one more gel in my pocket. My stomach never gave me any real trouble.

Shoes: I’ve run in Adidas for years now, but this was the first marathon I’ve run in their Boston 5 Boost. I used to race marathons in various incarnations of the Adidas Adios, but in Pisa it finally dawned on me that me feet were hurting in the last third of marathons because I needed more support. In Boston I went with the much heavier Supernova Glide, and sure enough my feet didn’t hurt. This time I wanted something lighter that still has more support than the Adios. The Boston Boost hits the sweet spot, in my opinion. At 8.5 ounces, it’s almost as light as the Adios (8.0 ounces) but somehow has as much support as the Glide (10.7 ounces). I’m not sure how that’s possible, but I do know that these shoes feel fast and that my feet never hurt in Philly. I strongly recommend Birkenstocks after the race, though.


Several people have asked me: what’s next now that I’ve achieved the goal I’ve been aiming at for years? I’ve never come close to achieving my goal time in any marathon I’ve run until now, and this time there’s literally nothing I had even secretly hoped to achieve in Philly that didn’t actually happen. One person even asked whether I was going to quit running altogether now. I mean, what else is there to aim for after you’ve run a sub-3 hour marathon? But I’ve never regarded the sub-3 hour marathon as my ultimate goal in running. It’s a nice round number, which makes it into a kind of psychological barrier for runners around my ability level. But I’ve always hoped and expected to cross that barrier and then continue improving. I want running to be less about time and more about competition with other runners, in my age group or whatever. In the past I had considered running under 3 hours as a kind of prerequisite for being competitive in the marathon, but now that I’ve done it I’m not sure that was ever actually true. There are people to compete with at all paces – they’re just different people. I guess what I’ve aimed and still aim for is to be among something like the top 10 local runners in my age group at longer distances, so that I can feel like I’m pretty good at this stuff and compete with other guys who are too. Honestly, I already felt that way before Philly, perhaps because I already thought that it makes sense for me (and others at my ability level) to aspire to crack the top 10 among local runners in my age group, even though my 2:58 marathon still wouldn’t rank me that high. To get there I’d probably need another 7 minute PR, or maybe more. So what’s next is that I’ll continue aspiring and competing, encouraged by having crossed this psychological barrier. Hopefully this will help me obsess less over times in general and nice, round-numbered times in particular. But my sights still remain firmly set on getting faster and more competitive in distance running, especially in the marathon.

The Veterans Day 10k and final training for Philly

Since I haven’t posted here for a while, I’ll briefly describe my final few weeks of training for the Philadelphia Marathon, which included a 10k race:

October 12 – 18
Mo: 30 min. easy
Tu: 7 easy
We: 9 easy
Th: 23 steady @ 7:48 avg.
Fr: 8 easy
Sa: 7 easy
Su: 2 x 4 miles @ 6:47 avg. w/ 2 min. rest in between
Week total: 70 miles

October 19 – 25
Mo: 8 easy
Tu: 8 easy, plus 8 strides
We: 10 easy
Th: 2.5 easy, 3 x 2k @ 6:26/mi., 5 easy, 3 x 2k @ 6:19/mi., 2.5 easy (2 min. rests)
Fr: 9 easy
Sa: 7 easy
Su: Fast fartlek: 3 x (4, 3, 2 min.) w/ equal recoveries
Week total: 75 miles

October 26 – November 1
Mo: 6 easy
Tu: 7 easy
We: 9 easy
Th: 10 miles @ 6:49 avg. (aimed to do 16 miles)
Fr: off
Sa: off (migraine)
Su: 5.5 easy
Week total: 42 miles

November 2 – 8
Mo: 7 easy
Tu: 8 easy
We: 9 easy
Th: 18 @ 7:25 avg. w/ miles 13-16 @ 6:45-50 (no water!)
Fr: 5 easy
Sa: off
Su: Veterans Day 10k in 37:41
Week total: 57.5 miles

November 9 – 15
Mo: off
Tu: off (sick)
We: 6 easy (but sick)
Th: off (sick)
Fr: 6 easy
Sa: 8 easy
Su: 12 @ 7:15 avg. w/ miles 9-11 @ 6:44, 40, 43
Week total: 32 miles

November 16 – 22
Mo: 7 easy
Tu: off
We: 5 x 1k @ 3:58 avg. w/ 1 min. rests
Th: 5 easy
Fr: 30 min., plus 4 strides
Sa: off
Su: Philadelphia Marathon

Basically this entire marathon training cycle went really well. After Boston this past Spring, I asked my coach what he thought I could generally do better in training. He replied that, at least since he’s been coaching me, consistency has been my biggest weakness. My training for Pisa last Fall and for Boston this past Spring went well at times but was also somewhat inconsistent due to illness, injury, or bad weather. Sometimes you can’t control that sort of thing, but this time around I decided to focus on getting more sleep each night in order to help avoid getting sick or injured (because sleep enhances recovery).

Maybe it was just a coincidence that this turned out to be my most consistent training block probably ever, but I don’t think so. I did get sick twice – immediately after each of my tune up races – but neither cold derailed my training in any significant way. After the Cherry Blossom race (during the first week listed above) I had a mild cold that didn’t prevent me from putting in a lot of easy recovery miles. After the Veterans Day 10k I got a worse cold, but by then all the real training was done, and the extra days I took off probably helped me rest up for the marathon.

Really the only hiccup that affected my training during this entire build-up was a migraine that coincided with what was supposed to be a kind of the peak workout for the whole cycle: a 16 mile marathon pace run on October 29. Sometimes when I get migraines, I’ll be lethargic and generally out of sorts for a couple days before and/or after the actual migraine itself, which is like the tip of an iceberg that is much bigger under the surface. When I struggled even to run 10 miles at my goal marathon pace on October 29 before finally stopping, initially I worried that the training was wearing me down more than I had realized. But two days later, when the migraine finally surfaced, I realized that it had probably been responsible for my weakness that day. This was a relief, since I don’t get migraines very often anymore and recover fully from them within 2-3 days. In hindsight I don’t think the training was wearing me down too much, although it could be argued that it triggered the migraine.

A week after the migraine, I came within 18 seconds of my 10k PR in spite of the fact that I was in the middle of marathon training. My PR was set in 2013 at Pike’s Peek, which is a point-to-point net downhill course and the weather was perfect that day. By contrast, while the Veterans Day course is fast, it’s a flat loop course in Potomac Park, where wind coming off the Potomac River is almost always an issue. This year we had a moderate tailwind in miles 1, 2, and 4; and a moderate headwind in miles 3, 5, and 6. Here are my Garmin splits:

Mile 1 – 5:54
Mile 2 – 6:00
Mile 3 – 6:02
Mile 4 – 5:58
Mile 5 – 6:09
Mile 6 – 6:03
Finish – 37:41 (official)

My plan was to run 6:00 pace for the first half and either pick it up from there or just hold on in the second half. I got out a bit fast with the tailwind but then fell back to my goal pace. In mile 4 I passed a few people but then found myself leading a train of drafters once we hit the headwind in mile 5. I took considerable pleasure in listening to the sound of them huffing and puffing behind me even though I was the one bearing the brunt of the wind, but soon I started getting tired and drifted off the pace a little. When we passed the 5 mile mark, one guy on the train who had come up from behind (that is, I hadn’t passed him earlier) bolted ahead and tried to gap the rest of us. I was very tired at that point but somehow found a secret vault of energy and managed to stay with him, leaving the rest of the train behind. Now I was drafting him as we passed a couple other runners in the final mile. His kick was better than mine, but if he hadn’t surged right when and where he did I probably would have run that final mile much more slowly.

My Garmin had me running 6.3 miles at 6:02 pace, versus 6:01 pace at Pike’s Peek for my PR. But I think this race was a superior performance, not just because of the wind, but also because I raced better and paced evenly. There’s no question that I can go faster when not in marathon mode. But two weeks before Philly this was a very positive sign of good things to come.

Me finishing the Veteran's Day 10k



Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Army 10-Miler and training for Philly

I narrowly missed my 10-mile PR today at the Army 10-Miler after a month of solid marathon training. Here’s how the last four weeks went:

September 14 – 20
Mo: 5 easy
Tu: 8 easy
We: 9 easy
Th: 18 @ 7:34 avg. with miles 13-16 in 6:47, 46, 47, 37
Fr: off (traveling to Vienna)
Sa: 5 easy
Su: fartlek: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 min. with equal recoveries
Week total: 57.5 miles

September 21 – 27
Mo: 8 easy
Tu: 7 easy, plus 8 strides
We: 8 easy
Th: 19 with miles 3-6 and 15-17 @ 6:29 avg., and 7:28 avg. on the rest
Fr: 5 easy (then flew back to MD)
Sa: 6 easy
Su: 12 x 1k @ 3:57 avg. with 90 second rests
Week total: 65 miles

September 28 – October 4
Mo: 6 easy
Tu: 6 easy, then 8 x 40 second hills with jog down recoveries
We: 8 easy
Th: 20 @ 7:33 avg. with miles 15-18 in 6:44, 47, 37, 36
Fr: off
Sa: 7 easy
Su: 5 easy, and 8 x 40 second hills with jog down recoveries
Week total: 56.5 miles

October 5 – 11
Mo: 8 easy
Tu: 7 easy
We: light fartlek: 6 x 2 min. on/off
Th: 7 easy
Fr: 6 easy, plus 6 strides
Sa: off
Su: Army 10-Miler in 63:02
Week total: 52.5 miles

Near the beginning of this stretch I spent a week in Vienna for a conference and was pleasantly surprised to get in some great running while I was there. Vienna is a fantastic running city! The weather is perfect at this time of year, there are great trails and parks, and lots of people are out running at all hours. Though I got my first good long run in the day before flying to Vienna, the trip seemed to jumpstart me into serious marathon training mode. All the sudden I was feeling as strong as or stronger than ever, maybe just because I was having an all-around good time there.

Recovering from jetlag after my trip was more difficult, though. I was tired the following week, so we decided to do a mini-taper before the Army 10-miler and to hit that race pretty hard. I had been nailing my long runs and also feeling fast on fartleks, so I initially approached the race expecting to run under 62 minutes. But my coach talked me down to “just” aiming for a PR – my best 10 mile time is 62:49 in this same race two years ago. So the plan was to go out at PR pace (6:15-20) and to speed up later in the race if I felt good. Here are my splits:

Mile 1 – 6:14
Mile 2 – 6:17
Mile 3 – 6:20
Mile 4 – 6:19
Mile 5 – 6:11 (halfway in 31:18)
Mile 6 – 6:16 (10k in 39:02)
Mile 7 – 6:12
Mile 8 – 6:19
Mile 9 – 6:22
Mile 10 – 6:20
Finish – 63:02

My first mile was a hair fast, but basically I executed the plan perfectly through the first half. My halfway split put me on pace to run 13 seconds under my PR. But I ended up finishing 13 second over my PR because I slowed down in the last few miles. The reason is probably that I didn’t take in any calories during the race. I had a gel in my pocket, and there was water and Gatorade on the course every two miles. In hindsight, I probably should have taken in something at the mile 4 fueling station, but that didn’t even occur to me. At the mile 6 station I tried to but only managed to knock the cup out of the guy’s hand and spill it everywhere. After 10k I started feeling low on energy. At the mile 8 station, by which time I was slowing down, I did manage to grab a cup successfully but ended up with water instead of Gatorade (as I intended) and stupidly didn’t take my gel with it. So those last few miles I was fighting to avoid slowing down too much, instead of speeding up as I had hoped to do. But I think I hung on pretty well, actually, and having to fight low energy was probably good for marathon training anyway. It wasn’t a PR but also wasn’t a bad race, and running through downtown Washington with thousands of people is always a blast.

Now it’s time to recover from this race and get back to hard marathon training. It’s so much easier and more enjoyable in this fantastic Fall weather! 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reflections on summer racing

Since it has been nearly two months since I’ve written anything here, I won’t conform to my past practice of posting all of my training details, which are pretty boring anyway. Instead I want to reflect a bit on this entire “season” of summer races. After the Boston Marathon, I decided to focus for the summer on 5k-10k training and racing, before shifting back into marathon mode in the fall. My ambition was to attack my PRs of 17:58 (5k) and 37:23 (10k), which as it turned out I got nowhere close to this summer. Here are all my racing results from this summer (defined as June-July-August):

2015 summer races:
6/13/15 – PRR Twilight 4 miler (DNF)
7/4/15 – PRR Firecracker 5k (19:11) – some hills
8/1/15 – Crime Solvers 5k (19:19) – hilly
8/15/15 – PG Running Club 5k (18:41)
8/23/15 – South Lakes 10k (39:15) – hilly

These times are slow for me. Granted, I was recovering from an injury scare on July 4 when I ran the Firecracker 5k; and I was jet-lagged on August 1 when I ran the Crime Solvers 5k, having just returned from spending three weeks in Greece. Both of those courses were hilly as well, especially the Crime Solvers 5k. Still, I didn’t expect to have trouble breaking 19 minutes in a 5k even on a hilly course. The next 5k was a little faster because it was flat. I was in good shape for that and for the South Lakes 10k, which again was hilly. I wimped out in the PGRC 5k and didn’t push as hard as I could have in the final mile, but in the South Lakes 10k I ran hard the entire way. Still, my times in those races ended up being only my 6th fastest at each of those distances. What the heck? Is age catching up with me? (I’m 40).

Well, when I looked back at the five faster races I’ve run at each distance, I discovered that only one race at each distance occurred in the summer, and not surprisingly neither of those was hilly. Both were from 2012, which is the last time I ran any short races in the summer. Here are all my results from short races in the summer of 2012:

2012 summer races:
6/9/12 – Lawyers Have Heart 10k (38:49)
6/17/12 – Dash4Dad 4 miler (24:08) – some hills
6/30/12 – Semper Fi 5k (18:26)

The Lawyers Have Heart 10k course is mostly flat. So I think my 39:15 at South Lakes is pretty clearly superior to 38:49 at Lawyers Have Heart. My 18:26 5k at Semper Fi was at the time only one second off my PR from a few months earlier, and it was a hot day. But I think that’s roughly equivalent to 18:41 on the PGRC course, which has more turns and registered on my Garmin as slightly longer. Four miles in 24:08 is basically equivalent to those 5k times. So on the whole I think my summer race results this year were actually not worse and may be slightly better than any I’ve had before, such as they are.

But let’s put all this in a bit more context. I really started running in 2009 but concentrated at first on running further, not faster, until my first marathon in October 2010. That was far enough for me, and I shifted my attention in 2011 to trying to get faster (mainly at shorter distances, but while still running marathons). I knew very little about how to train properly at the time. My idea of training in 2011 was basically to run a race almost every weekend and to jog when possible during the week. I ran 17 5ks in 2011 in addition to many longer races. My initial goal in the 5k was to break 20 minutes, which I first accomplished in June. Then I broke 19 minutes in July and shifted my attention to trying to break 40 minutes in the 10k, which I did in October, two weeks before my fourth marathon (3:19). Two weeks after that marathon, I was back to running 5ks every weekend, but at that point I started doing track workouts during the week from Jack Daniels’ Running Formula book. This led to a breakthrough in early January 2012, when I ran 18:25 for 5k, and shortly after that to a hamstring injury, which still plagues me today.

I soon recovered from the acute phase of that injury and got back to following a more realistic training plan based on Daniels’ book and focused exclusively on 5k through 10 miles. I did not run a spring marathon in 2012. But I ran 37:48 for 10k and 1:04:42 for 10 miles in April, then two 5ks just under my then-PR (18:27 in May and 18:26 in June, which is listed above) before shifting my focus to the marathon in the summer. This is the context for my summer 2012 races listed above: they came at the tail end of a long period focused on training for and racing shorter distances.

Since then my PRs at shorter distances have improved slightly. I ran my current PR of 17:58 for 5k in January 2013, after a short burst of track workouts following my 2012 fall marathon (3:12). A few months later, in April 2013, I ran my current PR of 37:23 for 10k, as well as 1:03:01 for 10 miles, which I improved to 1:02:49 in October of 2013 (my current 10 mile PR). But starting in the summer of 2012, my main focus has been the marathon, as it continues to be today. After recovering from marathons, I have put in a few periods of intense track workouts aimed at improving my PRs at shorter distances, especially just before the 2012 races listed above and in early 2013 before my current 5k and 10k PRs. But those short bursts of intense training were not sustainable and led to injuries in short order. The present summer of 2015 has been the first time – under the wiser guidance of my coach since July 2014, Ryan Vail – that I’ve taken some time out to focus on speed in a more sustainable way. I did have a minor injury scare in late June of this year, but that was mostly a consequence of less intelligent training in past years and the chronic injuries that resulted from it. Now I’m in it, more intelligently, for the long run.

Viewed in this context, the fact that my results in shorter races this summer are comparable to those in the summer of 2012 is very encouraging. My summer 2015 times are way off my PRs, just as they were in the summer of 2012, because temperature and humidity make a huge difference. But these times on hilly courses in the summer are basically equivalent to my shorter distance PRs in ideal conditions, which is to say on flat courses at any time of year other than summer. I’m running these times now off of training that is less intense, less likely to lead to injury, and more focused on long-term results than what I was doing before. Moreover, the long-term results I’m focused on now are mainly at the marathon distance that has captivated me since the summer of 2012. I’ve been having fun with a summer season focused on shorter distances, but the real work of marathon training is about to begin again in earnest now. Getting good at anything takes longer than a few months. It takes years of the kind of training that one can sustain not just for months but for years without injury. I didn’t really expect the payoff to be PRs at shorter distances this summer, although that was a useful short-term goal. The fact that my results this summer have been comparable to my best ever at shorter distances in the summer indicates that I’m on track to take some big steps forward this coming fall.

PRs are set in ideal conditions, and ideal conditions in distance running are usually found in the fall and spring. It sucks that one must train mainly in the summer and winter for races in the ideal conditions of fall and spring, but it is what it is. The season with the best conditions for distance running, namely fall, is upon us. I have some speed work under my belt, after which I’ve taken a week to recover mentally and physically. Ahead of me is a marathon build-up that, I expect, will finally take me to a new level – to the level that my training and racing have pointed to for years but that I wasn’t smart or patient enough to reach on my own. My coach has consented to allowing me to run some shorter races this fall during my marathon build-up: a 5k in mid-September, a 10-miler in mid-October, and a 10k in early November. Optimist that I am, I hope to challenge my PRs in each of these races – especially in the 10 mile race, which I’ve long dreamed of running one day in under an hour.

But when the chips are down, I’m all in for the marathon. I was on 2:56-7 pace last fall in Pisa before dropping out, and wow do I regret not slowing down and hanging on until the finish. After that I had a rough training block over the winter but still ran strong in Boston for a small PR. My next marathon will be Philadelphia in November, and I will be disappointed with anything less than a big PR there. Training for Philadelphia begins today, twelve weeks out from the race. I hope to run some fast times and hopefully some PRs in shorter races before then, but I’ll take anything less than that in stride as I build up to the main event.

One thing I’ve learned well from my few years of distance running is that somehow, once you get to a certain point, the physical rigors of the sport determine less than the mental aspect. It’s not all in your head. In fact, it’s pretty obviously mostly a matter of what your body can do when the gun goes off. But what your body can do is limited to a surprising extent by what you think it can do because of your innate talent, your training, your age, or whatever. I believe that my best days in distance running are ahead of me, especially in the marathon but also in other distances. I expect this belief to be vindicated beginning in the next few months as the weather cools.