Friday, April 24, 2015

Race Recap: 2015 Boston Marathon

I gladly add my voice yet again to those who have sung praises to the Boston Marathon. After completing my second consecutive race (race recap for my first), I can understand why one might return year after year as some runners do (the longest streak is 48 consecutive finishes!). The people of Boston celebrate marathon runners unlike any other town I've observed. It seems to me that they see the sweat and struggle as a sacrifice in their honor and respond with shouts of encouragement and thanks. I certainly would have faltered more without them. It is this celebration of the culmination of the runners' dreams that I believe makes the atmosphere so intoxicating.

As last year, I was fortunate enough to have access to the Boston365 amenities made available through Adidas and Fleet Feet Sports. This year, I was particularly thankful for the warm, dry charter bus where we spent a good three hours and weathered a spring shower, and the trail mix bar in the post-race lounge which brought me back from lightheaded limbo. If you're headed to Boston in 2016, I highly recommend looking into this program as it takes the training and racing experience to a whole new level and only continues to improve. Kyle Larson deserves a big shout out for coordinating this program for the Fleet Feet Sports Chicago crew. Kyle did a great job managing the needs of 100+ neurotic runners throughout training and race weekend.

I was also blessed with encouragement from across the country (social media at its best!). Friends, family, and acquaintances offered warm well wishes. I am learning to internalize their words of encouragement more each day.

Somewhere in Wellesley with my marathon friend Ari (right)
photo credit: Mark Erspamer

As for the race itself, I missed what I considered a reasonable time goal of sub 2:35 given my fitness and the course. This was likely due to a quick first half and really quick opening miles. Last year, by mile ten my left quad in particular was pretty beaten up. One of my theories was that this was due to braking in the early miles (my first mile in 2014 was a 6:35). So in addition to lifting, taping, and hammering Windmill Hill I decided that I'd try to relax and run at a more natural feeling pace which I suppose backfired a bit. Here's a look at my splits:

5k and half splits with average split paces

A couple additional notes on the splits from the race:
+5:39 from the first half to the second half 
-5:12 from 2014 (+4:07 positive split last year)

The early miles, as you might surmise from the splits, felt like they should; easy and controlled. I tried to get out of the way and let my body do its thing, trusting that my training had prepared me to run the last few miles triumphantly into Boston. This went on for some time. I enjoyed getting out a bit faster than last year as the water stations weren't as crowded, but there was still a good group of people including my marathon friend Ari (with whom I've run parts of two Chicago Marathons and now this race as well). This group seemed to be targeting 2:32-35 and was rolling along at about 5:45 pace which seemed good to me as I thought a slight positive split was probably more likely than a negative split on the course.

Rolling through halfway, my split of about 76 minutes was quicker than the 77 minutes I had initially planned, but I had minimal concern as I was still feeling pretty comfortable. My breathing was completely in control, and my quads felt great thanks to my most drastic taper yet and some KT Taping (see photo). At this point, I was starting to notice my calves begin to fatigue and my gels did not seem to be digesting well. Both these issues were likely due to the hot pace. In particular, I've noticed in marathons where I've gone out aggressively for my fitness level, I've had difficulty digesting my gels. Looking back, I also didn't really train much with Gu Roctane so that may also have played a role. At least I did stick to my fueling plan: a Roctane prior to the start and at 7, Salted Caramel at 14, and Huma Apple Cinnamon at 21. In retrospect, I wanted more caffeine earlier and would have liked to eat two Salted Caramels instead of the Roctane on course.

After a comfortable half, the next major checkpoint in my mind is getting to the Newton Hills (Mile 16) unscathed. Aerobically very comfortable, I kept on the gas, splitting 5:47, 52, 58, 40 for miles 13, 14, 15, and 16. I arrived in decent shape and so decided to continue running at the same effort up the hills with reasonable success through the first three, running 6:00, 01, 01, 10 for 17, 18, 19, and 20. As the splits reveal, the wheels were starting to come off up the third hill. I could feel my form falter on this climb as my hips began to sway more than normal. I also couldn't remember at this point how many climbs I had completed. I knew I was starting to falter so I continued to press along just trying to keep my effort up. I crested Heartbreak Hill and it took someone's very helpful sign to tell me I had completed the Newton Hills. Splitting a 6:26 for mile 21, I told myself to rally for the downhill ride to Boston.

Mile 17's Clif Shot Stop
photo credit: Team BibRave

In my experience, once you start running well above the pace you've been averaging for the earlier portions of a marathon it's pretty hard to pull things back together. Usually this means you're bonking (you've depleted available muscle glycogen) and your day is pretty much done. In 2014, I had gone out much more conservatively, ran strong through the Newton Hills and had gotten to mile 21, looked downhill, and knew my race was done. A knot in my left quad prevented me from running downhill without pain and had me hobbling to the finish despite my conservative start.

I specifically trained to handle this section in 2015, pummeling my body during long runs in Barrington, pushing the pace on downhill sections. Cresting Heartbreak, I knew it was time to go to the well for whatever I had left. I stood tall and tried to let gravity do the work. At about this point I also ran into my friend Peter from Chicago which also helped spur me onward. I split a 6:04 for mile 22 running with Peter. Unfortunately, the earlier miles had taken more of a toll than I thought they might and I couldn't maintain that pace. I slowed to a 6:14 for mile 23 and Peter begin to slip away.

Crowds, teammates, and experience come into play when things start to fall apart in the marathon. While I continued to slow in the last few miles, I recalled prior races where this had occurred and remembered that despite running 30+ seconds per mile slower than what I had hoped to be averaging that I wasn't hemorrhaging time too badly and still had a very good shot at a sub-2:40 performance on the course. I chased Peter and another friend Ian who passed me at mile 25. Last but certainly not least, the crowds thicken through these final miles, cheering triumphant and faltering runners alike. I fought onward, hoping my effort would align with their faith in me. Unlike last year, when I felt embarrassed about jogging in the last few miles of the race, I enjoyed and accepted the adulation of the crowds using it as fuel to continue onward. Finishing within a few minutes of several Chicago friends including Peter and Ian who's silhouettes I had chased made the experience even sweeter.

While the objective performance was better than last year's by over 5 minutes, I was also able to feel more present and enjoy the event more this year which is the larger victory won. Celebrating the wonderful performances from teammates and friends was also a highlight of the day. I will put my coach hat on for a moment and agree with my friend Graham who ran a 2:26 PR and said in response to me saying I had run a good first 10 miles, "[Y]ou're better than that! Anyone can rock a fast first 10 there!" I should have stuck with my planned 77 minute first half. I know I can run much faster on this course, however I do have my doubts about training for a faster effort in Chicago. While I'll likely not race Boston again next year, I do hope to return for a more successful third try at the course and to experience again the shared joy of race day.

Thanks for following along!

Did you run Boston this year? How did it go?

Is there a course on which you've experienced a connection with the spectators like I have?

Let me know in the comments below!

Also check out my review on BibRave!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Boston 2015 Specific Period (Training 2/2-4/5)

Since this is a recap of nine weeks of training (catch up on the previous 11 weeks of "global" training), I thought some data visualizations would be a helpful starting point.

First off, here's a mileage bar chart of my last nine weeks of training. I'm still working out using Google Sheets for these visualizations (I also tried SAP Lumira, but Sheets was easier for these basic visualizations, I should probably just use Excel but it isn't currently installed on my home computer) so the key weeks are missing data labels, but here are some details:

Total for the Period - 673.2 miles
Average - 74.8 miles/week
Maximum Week - 88 miles
Minimum Week - 65.4 miles (race week, I ran terribly)

I've dealt with tightness/pain in my left quad for much of this training cycle. This really began to effect my training about 7 weeks out from Boston, a very critical point of training, when workouts really start to get long and more marathon specific. I decided to go see Dr. Ryan Verchota who practices out of Active Body Chiropractic in the South Loop and Edge Athlete Lounge. My teammate, Ian La Belle, had recommended Dr. Ryan and after treatment, I felt much better, and was able to run the next 4 weeks without taking a day off! Tapering healthy feels great! I haven't gotten through my training without feeling banged up since 2010.

I segmented this mileage over the last nine weeks using Strava's Run Type field. Strava allows you to categorize your runs by four basic "types." This isn't the most accurate as some workouts were as long or longer than long runs and sometimes to adjust for GPS or user error generic "runs" were logged, but it does outline the mileage I've been logging.

Mileage Run Type

This chart shows the Run Type breakdown of the miles logged during this period. Below, I will cover a few thoughts on each Type for this cycle.

My Best Run in Barrington Ever?

Long Run -119.5 mi
Long runs this cycle were fast! It makes such a difference to go into a training cycle healthy! In 2014, I started the cycle swimming on my easy days to keep my shins happy. My Barrington long runs were more about surviving and making sure I got in good time on my feet. This time around, I knew I had to really hammer my legs on the downhills to prepare for what I might feel like in the later half of the course in Boston. It also makes a big difference having a group of faster guys hammering along side me on these runs.

While I say the long runs this cycle were fast, I was also trying to shift my mentality a bit around long runs and pace. While training for the Chicago Marathon, I did one 22 miler with 18 miles at about 95% marathon goal pace. I thought this was a "fast" long run. This cycle, many of my long runs were done at a similar average pace with the mentality that for a faster marathoner, 6:00-6:10 pace isn't that "fast."

I take a lot of confidence from hammering almost every long run, but at the same time, I think I really sacrificed some of my Wednesday workouts, but we'll get to those later. I plan on running a faster long run every other weekend versus every weekend in the future.

Must beat Manpri
photo credit: Eric Baum

Race - 20.6 mi
It's hard to believe I'll be racing more miles on April 20th than during this entire 9 week period. The highlight was probably the 16:18 I ran at UW Parkside on February 7th, 11 weeks out from Boston. This race was supposed to cap the "global" or general fitness phase of my training. Coming from a year where I never broke 16:20 in the 5k, the Parkside race was a nice confidence builder. That said, I bombed my next race, a terrible 16:45 at UChicago.

The other two races I ran, the Shamrock Run 15k in Portland, OR (my BibRave Review) and BoA Shamrock Shuffle 8k were ambiguous gauges of Boston fitness as I ran both prior to the Marathon last year. Shamrock Run 15k is hilly and I was about 20 seconds faster than the year prior. Shamrock Shuffle is fast and I was about 20 seconds slower than last year.

I believe I'm in much better shape than at last year's 2:42 in Boston. I may not be able to race fast (in relation to my PRs) over shorter distances, but I'm confident in my ability to run reasonably fast over the marathon distance.

A Typical Run Commute

Run - 430.9 mi
I'd say close to half of these miles were done to or from work and quite a few of these with teammate, Eric Baum, who is also training for the Boston Marathon this year. This was the first time I really ran consistently with a pack which I fabricated myself (more on this another time? Comment below if you'd like to learn about my pack).

I feel like every runner has a distance that is their "perpetual run distance" or PRD. This is the distance they can cover without much effort almost every day. It is the ideal distance for easy days during marathon training. For me, in high school, this distance was probably 6-7 miles. Since then it's crept up to 8-10, but really settled around 8 miles after dealing with years of injury. Enter the run commute of 9 miles door-to-door. Forced to extend my PRD by necessity, I slowed down and took my time, ultimately adapting well to this new distance.

Workout - 99.1
As I alluded to earlier, I feel that my workouts were significantly hampered by the fact that I hammered virtually all my long runs averaging under 6:20 for pretty much all of the major long runs. It's not a great feeling to bomb mid-week workouts, but that's kind of been my story now for the last 18 months. Healthy and strong, but completely lacking speed. I tried to take this in stride as much as possible, focusing on my key workouts and performing decently when I prioritized them.

The capstone workout was 3 x 3 miles with a half mile recovery run between reps. I was very pleased with this workout and couldn't have done it without the help of Kyle, Austin, and Mark. We did this run sort of in the place of a long run (I ended up covering just over 19 miles total), warming up to Fleet Feet Sports - Old Town then running the first 1.5 reps south. I ran 16:50, 30, 30 or so for about a 5:33 average. When I performed this workout last year prior to Grandma's Marathon, I averaged about 5:40 so this is a big improvement from that effort. For Grandma's this ended up being about 10 seconds per mile faster than goal marathon pace. Now, I'm not convinced I'm in 2:30 marathon shape (5:43), but I am happy with the effort as it shows that I am developing some decent fitness.

 Strength Training
I would be remiss to leave out the final (new) piece of the training puzzle that Eric and Lyndsey Baum introduced me to: Dr. Yessis' running specific resistance band exercises and the 1x20 Program developed by their friend Amber for their marathon preparations.

I had been doing Coach Jay's Pedestal and MYRTL routines, but I hadn't really lifted regularly since high school (I was also injured less in high school so there's that...). While I didn't really log this activity in Strava, I lifted a total of 6 times during this cycle, typically on Tuesdays, run commuting from work with Eric. This additional stimulus has helped develop much needed stability and general strength which I believe has helped keep my healthy. I really do notice this on my easy days as well as workouts and races. I even noticed the difference riding my bike! That said, my legs are usually trashed after doing squats and Romanian dead lifts, yet another contributor to my less than stellar Wednesday workouts.

This cycle featured:
-Professional prehab/treatment of a nagging minor injury (+1 for taking care of one's body)
-Consistent, moderate, and (mostly) healthy mileage
-Faster group long runs (6:20 pace and faster)
-A good indoor 5k among otherwise mediocre race results
-Run commuting
-Perpetual Run Distance (PRD) extended to 9 miles
-Generally bad faster workouts
-A good 3 x 3 workout
-Sport specific and general strength training
-Support from teammates and others

Overall this has been one of my most successful marathon cycles ever. I have learned a lot and become much more consistent. I'm still not where I was in the fall of 2010, but I believe I'm well on my way to a successful and healthy 2015!

How has your training been going?

What new stimulus have you introduced recently and what has its effect been?

Leave a comment or question below!

Shameless plug: I'm running the Super Sunny 5k on June 6th which benefits Garden Center Services, a Chicago-area agency that serves people with developmental disabilities. You should join me!

Monday, April 6, 2015

My First Race

The passing of another year, a #tbt photo, and a vlog post about Good Friday, Easter, and personal narrative, have inspired a reflection on how my self-narrative has changed over the years.

This photo was taken just weeks into my freshman cross country campaign at Northside and got a crazy number of likes on Facebook by people who have known me throughout various stages of my life. In considering this and the ways which the stories we tell ourselves shape our lives, I thought it might be helpful to share a little about how my self-narrative shifted as a result of choosing to run cross country.

My dad began training for his first and only marathon (Chicago 2002) at the end of my elementary school days. In preparation, he signed up for a 10k and asked me if I wanted to try running the corresponding 5k. Having basically no athletic background and carrying the awkward burden of being a (former) chubby kid I figured running might be a good way to "get in shape." The narrative I told myself was that as a (former) chubby, Asian kid with glasses, I wasn't "tough" and would never be an athlete. Without a background in traditional team sports or much natural speed, strength, or stature, I had written off athletic activity as an opportunity to be embarrassed, and was entirely content to view physical activity as a necessary evil of a healthy lifestyle akin to brushing my teeth. I allowed this narrative to limit my potential not just as an athlete but also as a person.

I ran that first 5k in 29:36 and figured that this would probably be the extent of my running "career." I didn't train much and figured running a bit faster than my dad's planned marathon pace for the distance would be respectable. It fit perfectly into the narrative I told myself: I was healthy enough to finish, I'd maybe jog once or twice a week and run a 5k for charity once in a while, but I wasn't about to win any races.

Fast forward a few months to my transition from home school to public school for the first time in five years. The only person I knew at my new school played lacrosse (shout out to Tori, haha). I hadn't really played organized team sports, but figured this sounded cool (tough or whatever) and sort of had an idea that not many (Chicago) kids had experience playing lacrosse prior to high school so I might have a shot at this "new" sport. Again to "get into shape" and develop some toughness, I surprised myself and my parents by deciding to run cross country the fall of my freshman year of high school (I don't think there is any "going out" for cross country as everyone makes the team).

Racing for the first time!

My self-narrative began to change in my first cross country race. I finished the Gordon Tech Invite Freshman Two Mile in under 13 minutes, truly racing for the first time and off little training. I believe I placed 19th or 20th in this race and received a medal or ribbon for this finish. Prior to the race, I realized I couldn't fail if I never backed down. No matter how slow I ran, I couldn't question my toughness if I ran through the pain. This thought was freeing for a failure fearing teen. Thus unhindered by paralyzing fear, I had objectively achieved something in cross country. In light of this evidence, my narrative had to change. I could no longer truthfully tell myself I was an athletic non-achiever and that I wasn't tough.

I still have miles to go in terms of refining my self-narrative, but this experience is one of the most significant to date. This mile (or two miles as it were) of my journey began to reset parts of my narrative that kept me from achieving my potential as an athlete and a person. I'm finding it difficult to connect this transformation of self-narrative to things beyond running at the moment. I will say that what this revealed was my ability/worth in a totally unexpected area, a foreshadowing of a (growing) realization of my worth regardless of achievement or ability.

How would you describe your first race experience?

Have you experienced a transformation as an athlete that has changed the stories you tell yourself?

Leave a comment or question below!

Note: A lot of the thought processes I describe above were fueled by an unhealthy fear of failure which characterized my adolescent mind. Perhaps another time I'll write about running "scared." Another adolescent fantasy to dispel is there is only so much "toughness" can overcome (sorry Pre fans). Being mentally tough and staying positive counts but I believe its dangerous to disconnect those things from our natural ability, current fitness, and the limits they impose. In fact, the lack of sprint speed, explosive strength, and stature that make team sports challenging for me is probably the flip side of the physiology that allows me to run well in the marathon.

Also thanks Dan McDowell for editing this piece!