Tag Archives: preparation

It Changed My Life! Or Did It?

On a recent Saturday run I caught up to someone I hadn’t met before, and to pass the time I struck  up a conversation. Turned out she’d run the Western States 100 just two weeks prior. “I messed up my leg less than two miles into the race,” she told me, “and it bothered me the rest of the way.”

“But you finished?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Eight minutes before the cutoff.”

She said this in a casual tone, as though it were no big deal. But I knew she wasn’t downplaying what she’d done. Among ultrarunners, understatement is the preferred method for discussing races. So I then asked if she believed finishing that race was a true life-changing event for her. “Yes, definitely,” she said.

I asked her that question because I’d begun to feel the same way after finishing my own hundred-miler last month. Not that I’ve become a totally different person, but I’ve acquired a definite “before Kettle” and “after Kettle” perspective; a new reference point from which to compare life’s challenges.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

For example, in the last few weeks I’ve been stuck in several long traffic jams, made worse because the air conditioning in my car is faulty. The most recent occurrence was heading up north on a two-lane highway, where a “seven-minute delay” (per cell phone app) stretched into nearly an hour. As I sat there steaming (figuratively and literally), the thought came unbidden:

You’ve run a hundred miles at a time. You can get through this, too.

This thought did not magically cure my impatience, as my wife can tell you. And yet, it did help. When one has steadily pushed through over 24 hours of continuous motion, a measly one-hour inconvenience seems rather silly to get upset about. Perhaps it even worked too well in my return from Toronto, where I endured two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic before I got off the freeway to find an alternate route.

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

In reality, though, it wasn’t the race itself that changed my life. Running it was the culmination of all the training that went into preparation for it. Crossing the finish line was just the evidence that I could accomplish something I couldn’t have done before. Champion ultrarunner and coach David Roche puts it best: By the time you get to the start line, the work is done.

This is one of the appeals of ultrarunning that many others have written about; that in the end, the training is more about becoming a better person. Whether the goal is increased physical fitness, self-discipline, or even dealing with and overcoming addiction, the steady, consistent effort is what makes the end result possible.

So I suppose that means even if I hadn’t finished Kettle for some reason, I’d still be more patient and determined than I was five years ago when I began ultra training. Saying you’ve done X is just shorthand. Still, it feels really good to actually have done it.

But it hasn’t been just inner dialog. A couple weeks ago I was at Body Specs working through a particularly tough segment on a hot, humid afternoon. As I struggled to my feet I caught the eye of one of the trainers. She smiled.

“Bet you’d rather be running a hundred miles right now, huh, Jeff?” she asked.

Well, not really. But the thought was tempting.

On second thought - where's the starting line?

On second thought – where’s the starting line?

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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!

Improving by “Halves”: Lessons Learned from Dexter-Ann Arbor 2013

ASK ME TO DESCRIBE MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE IN ONE WORD, and I would answer, “Improvement”. New and/or better stuff is fascinating to me, and helping improve things is what I do for a living. Improving myself is certainly part of that. Something didn’t go well? Sure, I get bummed out. But next time will be better.

With that spirit in mind, I had a chat with coach Marie about my performance at the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon on June 2. My time of 1:35:48 was over a minute faster than last year’s time, but it was two minutes slower than April’s Martian half marathon time, which I’d hoped to beat. In particular I was worried about my falloff of energy in the second half of the race, making the final few miles a real struggle that included stopping at the water stations to catch my breath.

DXA2 2013 finish lineWe began with a review of the things I did well. My form is good, I’d put in the mileage needed, and my other races this year have been great. But things hadn’t gone according to plan. So was I just not up to the plan for this race, or was the plan itself not the best? We went over everything to find out. Here’s what I learned.

1. Get More Sleep, Get up Earlier

Looks like someone else needed more sleep, too.

Kudos to Team RWB, who raise money to support veterans returning from combat. (But it looks like someone else needed more sleep, too.)

I’d actually planned to go bed around 10 p.m. the night before. But for various reasons I don’t remember now (in other words: avoidable) I didn’t actually get to bed until after 11, and as always before a race, it took a while to wind down enough to sleep. Then I didn’t get out of bed until after 7 a.m. for an 8:30 race. This isn’t necessarily bad, unless it interferes with getting a good breakfast (see below). But why risk it? At Martian I was up at 6:00 so I had enough time to drive to Dearborn. I could have done it here, too.

2. Don’t Skimp on Fuel

It’s not easy for me to eat breakfast until I’ve been awake awhile, and even then I’m not usually hungry. So I often hold off. Not good on race day. By getting up only 90 minutes before the race, I shortened my breakfast window, which I reduced further by deciding to do my warmup run before I ate breakfast. And after all that, I had only a Cliff Bar. By contrast, I was up over two hours before Martian, and had more to eat beforehand. Small wonder I had more sustained energy for that race.

Run's over - back to the important stuff.

Run’s over – back to the important stuff.

I compounded the problem by not fueling enough during the run. The standard rule for race fueling is, “45 and 15” – consume something 45 minutes in, and every 15 minutes after that. This is adjustable to each particular runner, of course, but the basic idea is to keep blood sugar up. This meant I should have fueled with a Gu at about the halfway mark (which I did), then every two miles after that (which I didn’t). Combined with so little to eat before the start, plus a very ambitious pace (see below), a late-race crash was pretty inevitable.

3. Pace: Too Ambitious?

Michael (left) has just come off an injury and was happy to finish. There's another lesson learned.

Michael (left) has just come off an injury and was happy to finish. There’s another lesson learned.

Based on my Martian pace (7:09 average), and that for the past two years I’ve run faster at Dexter-Ann Arbor than at Martian, it seemed reasonable for me to try for a faster cruising pace (around 7:00) and another personal record (PR). This may have been expecting too much. Perhaps with more rest and better fueling I would have done better, but unless things went absolutely perfectly, I was setting myself up for disappointment. It may have been better to start with the Martian plan, then run harder at the end if I had the energy.

So there we have it – three areas to improve on for next time, which looks like the Crim 10 mile race in August. It’s close enough to a half marathon that the strategy will be basically the same. You can be sure I will improve my preparation. We’ll see how it translates into performance.

If I improve enough, maybe someday *I* can be up there next to the aardvark!

If I improve enough, maybe someday *I* can be up there next to the aardvark!