Tag Archives: Martian Invasion of Races

Breaking News from Mars: Boston Bound!

WELL, THE MARTIANS WENT HOME. It was too cold for them. So Earth is safe for another year.

In other good news – I completed the marathon and qualified for Boston!

dancing Snoopy

Yes, I’m really pleased! But at the end of this post, you’ll see another example of the sense of perspective that seems to accompany the ups and downs of my running life.

Officially, my required qualifying time for Boston 2017 is 3 hours 40 minutes. But faster runners get first crack at registration, so the more I beat that time by, the better my chance to get an actual spot in the race. I wanted to beat my required time by at least 10 minutes, to leave no doubt.

Just one problem: a finish of 3:30:00 would be over 20 minutes faster than my previous best, the 2012 Ann Arbor Marathon. But I’d goofed around and taken pictures at that one. With the hard training I’ve done this winter, I felt confident I could do it. I even set my planned pace to 7:45 per mile instead of the needed 8:00, to give myself some extra cushion.

Like at the Richmond half last year, I divided the race into stages to break up the monotony of the run and give me some mid-race recovery. Each stage I would run three miles at an 8:00 pace, followed by three miles at 7:30. The final 2.2 miles would be at whatever I had left.

I arrived at 6:30 a.m. for the 7:15 start. I warmed up with an easy mile, and after a quick pit stop (no lines – yes!) I was ready to go.

Just before the start. This is the best I would feel until Tuesday.

Just before the start. This is the best I would feel until Tuesday.

Conditions were, shall we say, interesting. I’d been hoping to wear shorts, but with a wind chill under 20 degrees, it was not to be. At one point the sun came out and it seemed to be warming up, but soon after the wind picked up, the clouds came back, and the snow started to fly. I ran through at least three good-sized snow squalls during the race, at times strong enough to barely see ahead. On the other hand, there was no danger of overheating.

The first two stages (miles 1-12) went right according to plan, and I hit the halfway point at just over 1:42:00. At this point a few things conspired to slow me down a bit. First, I was, naturally, starting to get tired and sore. Then I ran uphill into the wind for a couple of miles. At last we turned around and I had the wind at my back. What a difference! I also got a boost when we joined up with the half marathoners for the last six miles. Running with other people does make a difference, especially if you can pass some of them. Just one of those mental things.

When it came time to start the final surge to the 7:30 pace, I couldn’t do it. It took all I had to maintain 8:00. Over the bridges, up the last hill, and then we hit the half-mile downhill to the finish. The last few hundred yards seemed to take forever, and I didn’t have my usual finishing surge, but I got across the finish line, breathing and upright, in 3:26:50.

“That’s Boston, baby,” I said to the race director as we slapped hands in the medal area.

“You’ll remember this race in more ways than one,” he said.

Boy, was he right, although not the way either of us thought. Once again, my lack of attention to myself post-race came back to bite me. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say I spent quite a bit of time huddled under a blanket by the gas heater in the registration tent, pale and trembling. Finally it dawned on me that I might want to change into the dry clothes I had in my bag two feet away. And I should have tried to eat something right afterward, regardless of how my stomach felt. Next time, next time.

And just in case there was any danger of my getting an unhealthy level of pride in finishing in the cold and snow, I met a guy at the pre-race expo. He’s one of those who felt the need to run a marathon in all 50 states, which he finally completed in Hawaii last year.

“What was the hardest marathon you ran?” I asked him.

He thought for a minute. “That would be Colorado,” he replied. “It started at 7,000 feet, everything over 8,000 feet was in snow, and I had pneumonia. The fever broke the day of the race, and I decided as long as I was there, what the hell.”

I’m not sure which is more crazy – that story, or that he had to think about it first. That’s runners for you, folks.

Preparing for the Invasion, Marathon-Style

The Martians invade Michigan on Saturday. This is NOT a rumor – I have evidence!

Martian spirit - 2

My strategy?

Run!

Martian Course BJ - 0896 - reduced

26.2 miles, to be exact.

Hard to believe that this will be my first road marathon in four years. I’ve run thousands of miles since 2012, at every distance from 5K to 100K, except for the marathon. Mainly because at distances over the half (13.1 miles) I much prefer trail running. So why am I running a road marathon this weekend, and with a specific goal time in mind?

Boston Marathon - Bing Images - free to share

Yes, the Boston bug finally bit me, and a finish time of under 3:40 (3 hours, 40 minutes) at Martian will qualify me for the 2017 race. My personal goal is for a 3:30 or better, which is what I think I’m capable of given my training.

The hardest part of all this, somewhat ironically, is these final few days before the race. With the training load cut way back and extra time to think about the race, I have that twitchy feeling of, “There must be something left to do!” Well, let’s check the three main components of racing readiness and see what I stand.

Physical: My body is as ready as it can be. The strength workouts, distance runs, and speedwork have done their job. Cutting back on the training load allows my body to heal and reduces the chance of an overuse injury. So this week has been about slow runs and light workouts, “keeping the edge sharp” for Saturday morning.

Tuesday night, for example, I went out with PR Fitness for a 5-6 mile run. I kept my heart rate under 145, which meant after a mile I was by myself. But instead of trying to keep up with them, I enjoyed the relaxed pace and did some gear checks (see below).

Mental: As an experienced ultrarunner, I have no worries about the distance. Rather, the challenge will be holding it together at a much faster pace than my ultras. How will I respond when things start hurting late in the race, and there’s a strong temptation to slow down? Fortunately, I have my experience at the Richmond half marathon to boost my confidence. No guarantees, but I have the motivation to run strong and push past the pain.

Logistical: Just as important to a successful race are my choices in clothing, gear, fueling and hydration, and pace (course strategy). This is where I learned the most from Tuesday night’s run. The weather was nearly identical to the forecast for race morning – sunny and chilly, with some winds. This allowed me to dress in my expected race day outfit. I learned that my layering strategy was just fine, but the wrap I was using as a hat would not suffice.

For hydration, I want to carry at least one water bottle so I can consume salt tablets and Gu when I want to, and not have to wait for an aid station or deal with those tiny cups. I originally planned to clip a bottle onto my belt but it bounced too much when full, and caused the belt to slip. So another solution was needed. I could carry the bottle (and did for most of Tuesday’s run) but that’s a strain on the arms over a long run.

Fortunately, the local running shop was close by and still open, and I settled on this little number – the “Trail Mix Plus” from Nathan.

Nathan race belt with bottles

It cinches more snugly than my other belt, and the bottles won’t jiggle. I may look like a bit of a dork wearing this, but what else is new? And if it gets me across the finish line five minutes faster, bring it on! Heck, I’d wear head-to-toe pink if it made me faster (underwear, too). And a sports bra (although I’d insist on a sub-3 hour guarantee).

So I’d say all systems are go. Or so I thought, until my daughter posted this helpful comic from The Oatmeal on how to run a marathon. Click the image for a very humorous take on the marathon from someone who’s been there.

The Oatmeal - Marathon Running - from Facebook page

Alas, it’s too late to drop what I’ve done and follow his suggestions. Maybe next time!

Back to the Marathon!

WELL, THE BUG FINALLY BIT ME.

The Boston Marathon bug, that is.

Now wait a minute, I hear you say. Isn’t the Boston Marathon the ultimate goal of every runner? How can you not have run it by now?

Yes, it may be hard to believe, but up until now I had no desire to run Boston. There are plenty of other races that I enjoy very much, and many more that I am considering doing some day. Besides, I’m much more of a trail guy. I’ve now run 12 ultras (50K or longer) with more to come, but only two marathons to date.

The 2015 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners.

The 2015 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners.

Now, running Boston is very popular in the PR Fitness running group. Every year 25 or more of us end up going. This included 2013, the year of the bombing. Fortunately, no one in our group was among those killed or injured. Nor did it scare any of them away from running it again. I proudly participated in a large “Boston Unity Run” in our area later that year (see this post) but still didn’t feel the desire to join the big dance.

The 2013 Boston Unity Run. Boston Strong!

The 2013 Boston Unity Run. Boston Strong!

So what changed my mind? I’m not really sure, but a couple of things helped.

In December 2016 I turn 55 and join a new age group, and I thought it would be a fun birthday present to myself to run Boston in 2017. And I also think it would be fun to be part of the whole experience – the tradition, the history, the crowds, to tackle Heartbreak Hill and cross that finish line. And I’d get to wear that cool Boston Marathon Finisher jacket.

And exactly the right colors, too!

And exactly the right colors, too!

So, for one more time at least, I will be stepping off the trail for a bit, and running one of those short races – the road marathon.

Actually, make that at least two marathons. To get into Boston, you need a qualifying time based on your age group, in a marathon that has been certified as a Boston qualifier. The Martian Invasion of Races in Dearborn next April will be where I attempt to qualify. I’ve signed up, and my training has already started.

For my age group in 2017 (55-59) I will need to beat 3:40. And the faster my time, the better the chance I have of getting a spot. But if I don’t qualify then, I have until next September to try again.

What are my chances? Hard to say at present; my Chicago time (first marathon) was 4:12. My second (Ann Arbor 2012) was 3:55, but I ran that one casually and took photos. But based on my half marathon time, I should be able to run a 3:30 or better. I guess I’ll find out. It’s going to be an interesting winter!

Martian Recap: The Little Athlete and the Little Monster

Last Saturday was the Martian Invasion of Races, and man, was it a beautiful day. Temperatures started in the forties but warmed up quickly to the sixties, and the sun was out the whole time – a complete contrast from the wet and cold race days the past two years.

As for my race . . . did I mention it was a beautiful day?

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That's just wrong.

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That’s just wrong.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad; only 17 seconds off my best half marathon time. But I’d been hoping for better. I started off at an aggressive pace, and held it successfully for the first six miles. The second half was different – six miles of continuous struggle to keep going. I’ve never felt a stronger urge to quit a race before. I didn’t – but it was close. And that worried me.

I talked with Coach Marie about it, and she wasn’t too concerned. “Thirteen miles is a long time to be running hard,” she said. She also noted that the Martian course has a long stretch up one road and back, which I agree is not the most scenic.  “Sometimes the monotony of a race can get to you,” she said.

As it happened, the latest newsletter from TrainingPeaks has an article – The Psychology of Suffering – which addresses the very thing I’d been fighting. Here’s a small excerpt (edited for brevity):

Q: How do I effectively control the voice in my head that’s telling me to slow down? Do I try to turn this off or control it?

A: There are a few things to consider. [It] may be telling you to slow down because your body needs something…Instead of “fighting” the voice, you want to recognize that it’s there and figure out what it’s trying to tell you. [We] all have a little monster on one shoulder and a little athlete on the other and whichever one you feed is the one that’s going to get stronger and grow. Sometimes trying to “turn off” the monster voice takes more energy than it does to accept it and then counter it with your “inner athlete”.

Little Athlete vs. Little Monster

This pretty well describes what was going on with me. Fortunately, the “inner athlete” was a little stronger on Saturday. But the little monster may have been trying to tell me something. For one thing, I’d brought a Gu with me, but never used it. I’d even passed up a free Gu at an aid station. Why hadn’t I fueled myself properly? Pride? Annoyance at my slipping pace? Something to think about – and apply to my next race – which, by the way, is coming up pretty fast. More about that coming up.

I'm not sure roller skis were race legal, but they're way cool.

I’m not sure roller skis were race legal, but they’re way cool.