Monday, April 23, 2012

Episode 3 - The Marathon Strikes Back

After successfully completing the 2011 Boston Marathon in under 4 hours, LiverRunner spent the winter training under the watchful gaze of Master Yoda. With the gentle winter, he was able to accumulate over 650 training miles. Winter turned to spring, and the LiverRunner came into April 10 pounds lighter than last year and in the best shape of his life. Running a personal best in 2012 seemed a given, the question was only by how much. But as Patriot's Day approached, the weather forecast grew hotter and hotter, until finally it approached 90 degrees. The Marathon was not going to go down without a fight...

The week leading up to the marathon presented one perfect day after another - 50-55 degrees, mixed clouds and sun. But all runners' eyes were on the forecast for Monday. There were competing models, one predicting that a cold front from Canada would burst down on Sunday evening while the other was predicting that the cold front would stall and leave us with hotter than normal temperatures on Monday. As the weekend approached, it became clear the the model predicting a 1 day heat wave was going to be correct.

Over the weekend, the BAA (who run the race) sent out several emails. First, they told us it could be hot and to plan accordingly. Then they told us that it will definitely be hot and that we could defer our run to next year if we wanted. Finally they sent out an email basically telling us not to run. Great!

To deal with the heat, I came up with a cooling plan. I had frozen two handheld water bottles, planning on bringing one to the start and then swapping it out with a replacement at mile 17 where Liz would meet me. I had two different types of electrolyte/salt capsules, so that I could drink a lot without worrying about hyponatremia. Then there was the matter of Yoda.

I had planned on running with Yoda back in February, when my friend Paul suggested I dress up like him. There was no way that was going to happen, but as I was googling Yoda, I found the backpack. I could be just like Luke! I mean, there was really no reason to do it except that I thought it was hilarious. Marathon running is somewhat serious business, and liver disease is definitely serious business. So I figured I would do something funny to lighten things up a bit. But as the forecast got worse, I had to reconsider the idea. I don't do well in the heat to begin with, and having something on my back trapping body heat seemed like it could make things worse. But then I figured that this was just going to be a casual "fun run" so I might as well keep him.

To help with the heat, I bought two Platypus water bladders and drinking tubes, and again I froze them (with Nuun, an electrolyte drink) with the intention of starting with one and swapping it out at mile 17. I figured that the ice would keep my back a little cooler, plus I could drink ice cold fluid whenever I wanted.

On Monday, the forecast turned out to be correct. I was sweating and feeling the heat just sitting around before the race. I had on my heart rate monitor (as I did for all my training) and as we walked to the start it registered over 105. That was about 20 beats higher than normal, but I hoped it was just nerves.

As we walked the 0.7 miles to the start, I ran into my teammate Brian. I had run a couple miles last year with Brian, so it was cool to meet up with him again. We decided to run together again, at least for the first few miles, and try to keep each other in check but still running on a time target. I think we decided to run about 9:30 per mile, getting us to the half just over 2 hours and then maybe going for 4:20 overall. Within the first mile I knew that wasn't happening. The start is tremendously downhill, yet even running a 9:48 mile (which also turned out to be my fastest mile of the day), my heart rate started hitting the 170 range.  That is normally where I run at half-marathon pace (about 7:50 per mile pace).  Another way of thinking about it is that at that pace in training, my heart rate was normally around 144.

At that point, I knew that even the casual plan that Brian and I had come up with was going to be too aggressive.  I hoped that things would settle down, but it wasn't happening.  It was already so hot that I was searching out water and hoses sprays as much as I could.  I stayed to the right side of the road to stay in what little shade there was.  I couldn't believe how fast people were blazing past me.  It seemed like no one was taking the heat warnings seriously.  Before the race, I had decided that my main goal was to not end up in a medical tent.  I had my wife and kids waiting for me at home, and making it back safely to them was more important than any time goal.  I didn't know what everyone was thinking, but I let go of what little time-goal vanity remained and just focused on safety.

Brian and I split up around mile 4 or 5.  My heart rate was still high, even though I had slowed to 10:30 miles.  After we split up, I spotted another Liver teammate at a water stop - Amy.  She had been running with a teammate too, but now, like me, she was running solo.  We decided to stick together from that point on and try to get each other to the finish line safely.

Everything from then on was a blur.  I think I've purposely forgotten most of it, as it was easily the worst physical torture I have endured in my life.  The sun blazed down mercilessly, with neither clouds nor breeze to offer relief.  Occasionally we would spot some shade and thousands of runners would jam into one small section of the road to try and get under it. The slight tailwind would normally be welcomed in cooler temps, as it would help us run faster.  But in the heat it just created a convection effect, making the heat feel even worse.

The crowd was amazing - offering ice, drinks and hose sprays.  The handheld bottle was great because it allowed me to fill it with ice and water and spray myself down whenever I wanted between water stops.  Normally I hate running with it, but this time I loved having it.

There were sirens and ambulances along the way, which I had never experienced in prior years.  By mile 8, the "run" had the look of a zombie march.  This usually doesn't happen until around miles 18-20, when overly ambitious runners hit the wall and are forced to walk.  We weren't even close to halfway done when the marching really started.

Normally you try to run a marathon as straight as possible, so as to not add unnecessary mileage.  This year, we were running from one side of the road to the other - seeking out shade, hose sprays, cooling tents, ice and water.  We passed the Liver cheering section at mile 17 and stopped long enough to take some pictures.  I saw my friend Luau just after that and told him that it was massacre.

Back when I decided to make this a "fun run", I figured that by going so slow, it wouldn't bother my legs at all.  I had put in multiple 21 mile training runs this year (at a much faster pace) and was never sore as my overall volume of mileage was much higher this year.  But around mile 17, my quads started to feel fatigued.  And worse, my right IT band started giving me serious pain.  This has happened to me only once in the past year, so I was definitely surprised.  I guess by running at a much slower pace than I'm used to, my gait was different enough that my legs weren't happy.  Or maybe the heat messed up my legs too.  And I'm sure carrying three extra pounds of ice on my back wasn't helping.  This "fun run" was anything but.

After we left Luau behind, I spotted my wife and daughter.  Usually seeing my family really gets me inspired to finish the race.  It normally brings hope and happiness.  This time though, all I could think about was business.  Get the replacement water bottle.  Take the old one and fill it with fresh ice and give it to Amy so that she can have one too.  Replace the bladder in Yoda (which didn't melt enough to drink until about mile 12 and never fully melted while the replacement didn't melt at all).  Get some of the emergency cold packs (I would stuff it under my hat).  Ready to get through the last 9 miles.

The slog continued.  We would mix running and walking up the hills, as I was still watching my heart rate.  We also walked through the water tables. I had to stop and stretch my IT band numerous times because it kept locking my knee up (painfully).

Finally we met Amy's partner and friends in Coolidge Corner.  This was a nice emotional pick up, although it seemed like 3 more miles was still so long.  At this point, the heat had really peaked out, and since we were in a more urban setting, we didn't really have people hosing us down.  A couple of Amy's friends had jumped in to help bring us into the finish, but even though we were so close, neither of us could really muster much of a charge.  Now we were not only dealing with heat fatigue but also just regular marathon fatigue.  At that point, we had  been out there for almost 5 hours - much longer than either of us had prepared for - so even though we were walking a lot, the pain was significant.  Despite taking 5 or 6 salt caps, I had a killer cramp in my left calf.  And although I was extremely thirsty, my stomach was so full and bloated that I didn't want to drink anything.

Eventually we got down to the city and made the turn onto Boylston Street.  As we approached the Finish Line, I could hear the announcer call out my name over the PA, which was pretty cool.  I waved in acknowledgement.  When we got to end, I raised my hand up with three fingers to signify my third time crossing that line (and also as a call out to Yoda, who only has three fingers, er, claws).  My German friends  (and Tarantino fans) will notice that I properly used my thumb, index and middle fingers to designate the three.

For only the second time since checking my time at the halfway mark, I looked at my watch to see the final time: 5:18.  Exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes slower than last year.  But I didn't care about my time.  I had made it without needing medical attention, and I felt pretty decent.  I gave Amy a hug and both congratulated and thanked her for running with me to the end.  Then we parted ways.

So this was the year that the Marathon definitely struck back.  As a runner, it reminded me to always respect the distance.  It was brutal, but I'm also really glad I did it.  It was a completely different experience, and I know that the camaraderie and misery make me feel like I really shared something special with my fellow runners.  And I also feel a deep gratitude to all the volunteers, event workers, EMTs, fans, family, Liver Team supporters and staff and everyone else out there that made this marathon possible for all of us.  We really could not have done it without you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011 or "Doing It the Hard Way"

Strangers stopping strangers
just to shake their hands
Everybody is playing

In the Heart of Gold band
-Robert Hunter

Last year, my marathon report was all about the journey and how surreal the trip was. This year, I think the most appropriate theme for my report is teamwork. This is not what I had expected going into the race, as I had only done 1 training run with my team (or anyone else for that matter). But as I discovered during the race, even though running is an inherently solo endeavor, I really couldn't have made it to the finish without a whole lot of people. I was hoping to keep this year's report shorter, but there are so many people I need to mention, I'm not sure it's possible.

Okay, so first off, I need to thank all of my financial supporters. Over the past 2 years, I have raised over $19,000 for the American Liver Foundation. The team overall has had another successful season, raising over $1 million. Your support not only helps the patients, it also keeps me motivated to train through the long winter. I wouldn't have made it to Hopkinton without you.

I also have to thank my wife and kids for putting up with my training schedule. Their love and support is what keeps me going. Once again, I wrote "Grateful Dad" on my jersey because it really embodies the spirit that drives me to run. Thank you to our nanny Stephanie too, who worked overtime and weekends so that I could get out there and run for 3 hours at a time.

Liz dropped me off at Hopkinton State Park where I picked up a bus to the start. I ended up sitting next to Liver teammate Dick C. Like me, Dick has dealt with a bout of liver disease. It was a pleasure finally getting to meet him and it made the journey to the athlete’s village a little more fun.

Once at the village, I realized that I had made my first mistake of the day – not bringing along enough clothes to keep warm. As I sat there shivering in the cold, trying to use the sunlight and a trash bag to retain heat, I worried about how much glycogen I was burning up just trying to stay warm. Oops. On the positive side, I did get to meet up with my friend Luau. I ribbed him a little bit about his outfit, his shoes and whatever else I could think of, because well, that’s what you do with old friends.

As I was getting ready, I debated whether to put on black or orange calf sleeves (like last year). Given the grief I had put Luau through about his outfit, I decided to just go with black. Besides, I was already wearing my orange Liver team hat and jersey, and I thought the calf sleeves would be just way too much orange. Then I saw my teammate Lynn getting ready. Lynn is an amazing runner - regularly running below 3:15 - and he has also survived a bout of liver disease. In fact, he ran his first marathon with the Liver Team right after completing interferon therapy. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that interferon treatment is no fun - the months of low grade fever, body aches and other flu like side effects made it hard for most patients to even complete a full round of therapy (luckily the protocol has improved in recent years). Lynn is an inspiration to me, and when I saw that he was putting on bright orange arm warmers in addition to his orange jersey ("Mr. Sunshine") and orange hat, I decided go ahead and put on my orange calf sleeves to add a little bling. I may not be fast, but considering that I'm lucky to even be here right now, I guarantee that running the Boston Marathon means as much to me as it does for any qualifier.

I got the chance to catch up with a few other teammates including Jim S. who was running his first marathon. As lucky as I am to be able to run, Jim has an even better story.  Amazingly, he had a liver transplant back in 2009 and has since run numerous races for the team. Even more amazing, he somehow managed to get Gregg Allman as his "Patient Match". I have to figure out how he pulled that one off. I shook his hand, wished him a good run and headed up to the start.

Miles 1-5
9:13, 8:52, 8:40, 8:48, 8:52
I was much more nervous this year than last for some reason. I even had trouble sleeping the night before, which wasn’t the case last year. I think it’s because I now knew how much pain and suffering there could be if things went wrong. I was also better trained this time, so I was eager to see how my body would react. I still had some butterflies in my stomach as we finally passed the starting line. The first five miles were pretty uneventful. I was trying to hold back to keep enough juice in the legs for the last half of the race.

My main goal was to come in under 4:00 (9:09 minutes/mile). But my double-secret probation target was 3:49xx (8:46 mile pace). Based on my half-marathon PR of 1:44:24 back in November (8:00 min pace) and the fact that I had a great training season, this didn’t seem like an unreasonable target. I averaged 8:55 per mile in this section, so I was on target with my plan – start off a little conservative, get on pace through Newton, climb the hills and get home with whatever I had.

Miles 6-10
8:59, 8:28, 8:27, 8:29, 8:39
Around mile 6, I saw a Liver runner to my right and decided to say hello. His name was Brian, and he came in from Chicago to run with us. It turns out that he is also friends with Luau through DailyMile and had been on the lookout for me. We ran a mile or two together, and the conversation helped me stay relaxed.

Further up, I saw another Liver teammate. I recognized her because I used her as a pacer on the only team training run that I attended this year (a 21 miler from Hopkinton to Newton). Her pace was perfect and smooth on that run, so I went over to say hi and thanks. I’m embarrassed to say I still don’t know who she is, but we ended up running near each other for probably the next 10 miles. We must’ve passed each other about 4 or 5 times. I found that having a teammate running the same pace was really helpful, so whoever you are, thanks!

I also ran into teammate Ruth B. at almost the exact same spot as last year. We chatted for a little while as we came into Framingham, and I really enjoyed getting the chance to socialize a bit because I had trained alone for the whole winter.
Mile 9, I don’t know what it is about mile 9, but this year I saw a guy dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog in almost the exact same spot as I saw the Cat in the Hat last year. I didn’t even think about chasing down the Sonic guy this year – I just stayed on my pace and let him go. I did hear that he finished sometime over 4 hours. So technically I beat him, but I don’t remember seeing him again after mile 9.

In retrospect, I realize that I was going a little too hard at this point. Those 8:2xs should've been more like 8:39s or 8:49s. Ten or twenty seconds per mile doesn't sound like a lot, but when you bank those seconds this early in a 26 mile race, you usually pay them back with usurious interest in the last 6 miles.

Miles 11-15
8:54, 8:46, 9:04, 8:35, 8:53
Looking at my paces through Wellesley, it's now apparent to me why I kept passing and getting passed by my mystery pacer. I was all over the place, while she was clipping off consistent miles. Anyway, after enjoying the Wellesley scream tunnel (they were much louder this year), I hit the half way point in 1:55:14. So far so good. I felt pretty strong - no weird mystery pains or numb feet like last year.

Miles 16-20
8:31, 8:59, 9:19, 9:07, 9:40
Mile 16 is the big downhill and once again I used it to pick up speed (even though I noted in last year’s report that it was mistake). I just can’t help myself I guess. But really, I think this is where I made another tactical error. The downhill is pretty steep, and the eccentric motion does a lot of damage to the quads. Although I took the initial downhills out of Hopkinton easy, I think I hit this one a little too hard.

I started up the 128 overpass hill and said hi to Brett G. as he passed me on his way to another negative split (which very few people manage to do at Boston). As we hit the top of the hill, I was surprised to see my friend Tracey standing there cheering. Tracey and her husband Zeke have been great friends of ours for years, so I reversed course for a few steps and gave her a hug. It gave me a nice mental boost.

Next up was the Liver Team Cheering Section. This was a highlight in 2010, and it was again this year. It was so awesome seeing the sea of orange hats and shirts and hearing them make so much noise.  There are so many people that make this event happen for us, and seeing them all there really pumped me up. I saw some of our Liver Champions there too which made me really happy.  They are the reasons why we run.

As I neared the mile 17 marker, the first sign of trouble hit. I had a side stitch appear out of nowhere. I was taking in water much more often than I did in training because even though the temps were cool, the sun was quite warm. Plus, we’d been training in tundra-like conditions all winter, so even 55 or 60 degrees felt hot. But I think the extra water caused that side cramp. I started digging my fingers into my side (right where my liver is) hoping that it would go away.

Augie cheering the runners
Maya waiting for Dad

I took the corner around the firehouse and started up the 2nd of the 4 Newton hills. No problem except for the cramp. Coming over the top, I could see my family waiting for me right past the 18 mile sign. Apparently my kids had crashed a marathon party at Brett’s house (he lives right on the course), helping themselves to snacks and drinks and jumping into the bouncy house that Brett had set up for his kids. Hilarious. When I got to the 18 mile mark, my son (4 years old) said, “Dad – you ran 18 miles! Great job!” I laughed and told him I still had 8 more to run. Man I love those kids. I gave my wife and daughter a kiss and hit the road. No need to get overly sentimental - they know where they are on my list of inspirations. My shirt said it all. Anyway, taking those few seconds of break seemed to have helped the cramp, so I was able to get back running on pace. I still felt really good.

At mile 20 is the 3rd Newton hill (2nd if you're not counting the 128 overpass). This is where I slammed into the wall. Although I ran 9:07 for mile 19, that included about 15 seconds of break with my family. So I was still pacing in the high 8:00s and feeling good. Mile 20 though was significantly slower at 9:40. I suppose that's why they call it the "Wall". When your body runs out of glycogen, you just shut down and it happens pretty quick. At this point, I started burning fat for fuel. That sounds great for weight loss, but it's really bad during a race because it's a much slower conversion. My breathing started getting labored and my heartrate increased quite a bit . The hill at mile 20 isn't really that bad, but the timing of it couldn't be worse. I went from feeling pretty good to feeling like crying. My quads (that I had just trashed on the downhills) were burning. I tried to get my cadence up, but my legs felt like they were moving in quicksand.

Finally I finished that hill, and then I heard a "Go Liver!" next to me - it was my mystery pacer. I hadn't seen her since I blasted through that downhill in mile 16. But just like in Wellesley, she kept putting up steady splits and re-passed me as I slowed. We stayed together for a little bit, but I was cooked. I slowed down to have a Gu and some water at the next stop, and that was the last I saw of her.

Miles 21-26.2
9:50, 9:33, 9:51, 9:18, 10:03, 12:23
After losing my mystery pacer, I started to despair. I still had Heartbreak Hill in front of me, my quads completely trashed, and now the pain was starting to chip away at my resolve. Despite all the runners and the crowd, I felt completely alone. I took a deep breath and started up the hill.

I had hit this hill countless times during training but never with trashed quads. I couldn't believe how painful it was. Last year I ran the hill without walking and as a reward, my hamstrings seized up immediately afterwards. I started to think about that, started to think about how no matter what I did, there was going to be nothing but a tunnel of pain ahead. Even though I was still in sight of my sub-4:00, my brain started coming up with all sorts of reasons why I should just stop running. When you're in that much agony and the solution is so easy and simple - stop moving your feet - it becomes really hard to keep justifying the misery. The devil on my shoulder won. I decided that I would start walking.

My right foot landed and I was just about to bring my left foot down to stop the run when it happened just like in the movies - deus ex machina. Was it the hand of God? No, it was just the hand of my teammate Corinne patting me on the back. I looked to my right and saw her smile and give a "Go Liver!" cheer. Corinne was one of the first people I'd met back on my first team run in Dec 2009. Since I didn't train with the team this year, I hadn't really talked to her in awhile and I hadn't seen her all day. Yet here she was out of nowhere, just when I was moments from throwing in the towel. She slowed a little and I sped up a little and we ran that stupid hill together. This was doubly good timing for me because a few moments later I heard "Go Mike!" from the crowd and unexpectedly saw my friend Stephanie K. and her family cheering. So at least they didn't see me walking.

We ran together until we crested the hill and descended into the madness of Boston College. I was dying of thirst, so I hit the next water stop and told her to get on to the finish (I think she PR'd!). I was able to use the big downhill to pick up the pace a little, but I could feel my hamstrings and quads twitching a little. Now that my mental resolve had returned, I didn't want to risk having my legs seize up on me like last year, because then I wouldn't be running despite my resolve.

As I passed through the Haunted Mile, I heard someone shouting "Let's go Liver! We're almost there." It was teammate Jared, who I'd never met before but was now making sure that I wouldn't quit. We ran together through Cleveland Circle until I lost him on Beacon Street.

Somewhere at this point, I noticed a few "pace bands" lying ripped on the road. Pace bands are little wristbands with printouts that people use to monitor their splits through the race. I wondered if they had ripped them off because their dreams were shattered, or because they had their goal "in the bag." My money was on broken dreams. And while my dreams were still alive, my legs were doing their best not to make it happen.

I was still running and passing a lot of people, but I was getting passed a lot too. One of those passing me was Coach Brian. Although he has something like a 3:05 qualifying time, he was running a 4:00 pace group for the team. Unfortunately, I didn't see anyone else with him. Even more unfortunate, I couldn't stay with him either. We talked for a bit, and I was able to hang around with him for about a quarter mile, but I couldn't stay at his pace. I started to get confused and concerned - if he started behind me and he was running a 4:00, shouldn't that mean I need to be ahead of him? I looked at my watch but my brain wasn't working well enough to calculate where I was (thus the need for pace bands).

Coming through Coolidge Corner, the slight downhill was really causing the pain in my quads to crank up in intensity again. I thought I had already maxed out on the pain, but as Nigel Tufnel once said, "This one goes to eleven." Then I heard the voice of one of my co-workers, Rich F., in my head (okay, he's more like a boss than a co-worker). He's been my #1 donor over the past two years, and the last thing he said to me before the weekend was, "Okay, I want to see that sub-4:00 on Monday!" So there it was. Giving up was not on the table. Shortly after hearing his Obi-wan like wisdom in my head and switching off my targeting computer, I noticed that the Jae's Cafe on St. Paul street (a really bad Korean restaurant) finally shut down and was now some other restaurant. I don't know why, but I started thinking about how I'd have to try the new place some day (which makes no sense since I don't live in that neighborhood anymore).

Approaching St. Mary's street, I saw another liver teammate walking on the side of the road. I didn't know him either, although I recognized him because I remember seeing him pass me way back in mile 3 or 4. As I slowly ran by, I tapped his shoulder and gave him a "Go Liver". A few moments later, he's running next to me. I learn that his name is Ezra, and that's about all I learn. I don't know how he's feeling or how his race is going or anything. Conversation is superfluous. We just keep going. Everything hurt so bad, but I knew I was still within striking range of my goal.

When we passed the 24 mile mark, the math finally got easy enough for me to process. My watch said 3:35, so I had 25 minutes to run 2 miles. I started to believe that I could pull it off, that it's in the bag. I usually run more than 3 miles pretty easily in 25 minutes. So I eased up a little. Of course I forgot about that pesky 0.2 mile that is attached to the end (and which added about 2 minutes at the pace I was running). And I forgot that I wasn't running even close to my usual pace anymore either. At any rate, we climbed the Mass Pike overpass (which looks like a mountain at that point in the course) and hit the next water stop. I felt like my body was shriveling into a dried husk. As we downed the water, Ezra asked, "How do you want to do this?" I had no idea what he was trying to say - my sugar deprived brain couldn't even process a simple conversation.  I blinked cluelessly for a couple seconds, then I just mumbled, "Let's go."

Right on Hereford
We ran through the immense crowds around Kenmore Square and finally passed the "1 mile to go" mark. As we dipped down in the Mass Ave underpass, the sudden darkness made me hallucinate for a little bit - the road looked squishy and covered in paisley. I guess that's another symptom of bonking. Thankfully it only lasted for a few seconds because soon we were back out in the sunlight making the right onto Hereford Street. Just like last year, I wondered when they put a hill in Back Bay (there is no hill). But unlike last year, I wasn't enjoying the crowds.  The contrast between the photo on the right and the one taken from the same spot last year is quite telling.  After what seemed like hours, we made the left onto Boylston street and I realized that I miscalculated back at mile 24. I looked at my watch ticking closer and closer to 4:00, and then I looked up to see the Finish Line way off in the distance.

Crap, I'm not gonna make it, I thought. Then Ezra started asking me again, "How do you want to do this?" He's yelling at me. Finally, I figured out that he was trying to get me pumped up for the last push. He'd been trying to get me to think about finishing proud with everything I had left. I didn't say anything, but his coaching worked.  I clenched my jaw (see bottom left pic) and just zoned in on the Finish Line.  There were immense crowds on Boylston, but I don't remember hearing anything. All I could see was that clock ahead.  Before I knew it, we were there, crossing the finish line. I looked at the official clock and it said, "4:00:xx" but I knew that since I didn't cross the starting line until a couple of minutes after the start, I had made it. I stopped my watch to see my final time of 3:58:25.

So I PR'd, beating my time from last year by about 6 minutes. I bonked again, but with a little help from a few more training miles and a lot of help from my teammates, I was able to stay running through the whole race. It wasn't pretty, and more than once I had the thought that I'm never going to do this again. As painful as my 2010 race was, this was way worse. But for some reason, all I can think about right now is training for the next one.  Thank you again to everyone who made this possible.

See you next year!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Race Report - Boston Marathon 4/19/2010

First, I’d like to mention that I blasted through my goal and raised $10,658 for the American Liver Foundation, placing me in the top 20 fundraisers. Overall, the team has raised about $1.1 million. As a liver disease patient myself, I can’t thank you all enough. I’m so lucky to have my health back to even have the opportunity to run the marathon. And of course, the best part about being alive is spending time with the love of my life, Liz, and watching our twins Maya and Augie grow up.

On that note, I decided to write “Grateful DAD” on my orange Liver Team jersey (well, Liz wrote it since she is more meticulous). It was a perfect way to express both my main motivation for running as well as acknowledging my love of the Grateful Dead, whose music has kept me going through good times and bad. For the following race report, I also decided to start each section with some of their lyrics which seem particularly appropriate for what I was feeling/thinking in the race. Also, Liver Team members are highlighted in orange font below. Enjoy!

Pre-Race: Athletes’ Village
Some come to laugh the past away
Some come to make it just one more day
Whichever way your pleasure tends,
If you plant ice, you’re gonna harvest wind.

Liz drove me to Hopkinton, and I got to the village around 7:20. My start time wasn’t until 10:30, so I had a couple of hours to kill. I found the Liver Team and set up camp – put on some tunes, took some pictures, and chatted with my teammates. Kevin Mulvey and Robin Dooling set up next to me, and I also spent some time chatting with John Donlon (who I learned also has twins). The weather was perfect – sunny with a couple clouds, around 40 degrees. I felt great. Training had gone almost perfectly (I had basically followed the Higdon Intermediate I plan – about 560 miles total), I had no injury issues, and I had a great shrimp and pasta dinner with a baked potato on the side the night before. There was a positive vibe in the air. I busied myself putting on some Bodyglide and sunscreen, and then I took my daily Baraclude (an antiviral that I still have to take every day). A little later, I found my old college buddy Luau who was on a quest to run a 3:20. He was chomping at the bit like a racehorse ready to go. We chatted for awhile, hit the portajohns, and before I knew it, it was time to head up to corrals.

Start, Miles 1-5
9:21, 8:48, 8:34, 8:32, 8:42

Long distance runner, what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door

Got into my corral right on time. I spotted teammate Crystal White getting focused. I hadn't met her previously, but she gave an inspirational speech the morning before at our team brunch. For those who aren't familiar with her story, you can read more about it here. She is an amazing woman who has donated part of her liver to her daughter Tigerlilly. I let her know how much her speech moved me and wished her good luck on her run. I think she was a little weirded out.

My shoes felt a little loose on the walk up. I hesitated a bit, then decided to re-tighten them. The timing chip was bothering me somewhat, but if I loosened up the laces on it, my shoes felt too loose. Oh well. Right after 10:30, we started walking uphill towards the start line. Finally we hit the steep downhill and pass the starting line. The legs felt good, breathing was easy, all systems go.

At mile 3, I see a woman wearing a Team Fox jersey – she is running for Michael J. Fox’s charity for Parkinson’s research. I swing over to tell her that my father-in-law is in the end stages of his struggle with Parkinson’s Disease and I thank her for running. She was appreciative, and we bid each other to have a good run.

Miles 5-10
8:34, 8:30, 8:33, 8:29, 8:47
Well the first days are the hardest days
Don’t you worry anymore
When life looks like Easy Street
There is danger at your door

My basic goal was to finish in under 4 hours, but in my arrogance I decided to push the envelope as much as I could. Our coach and team veterans had pounded into the rookies’ heads that if it felt too easy in the first 10 miles, then you’re going too fast and should probably slow down. Well it definitely felt pretty easy, like a victory lap more than anything, but I didn’t slow down. When I looked at my splits, I kept hitting close to 8:30s. This was way ahead of the 9:09 pace I would need to make 4 hours, but like many other rookies before me, I decided that maybe today was just going to be the perfect day. After all, training had gone really well, right? But that’s why Boston is a difficult course – the early downhill miles lure you into trying to bank time in the first half, and that’s generally a bad strategy because for every minute you bank, you pay 5 times longer in the second half. To be fair to myself, my personal best in the half marathon is 1:45, and that was from almost a year ago (with a lot of base miles since then). So pushing for a sub-4:00 didn't seem completely out of line.

At some point around mile 6, Luau (who had started in the very last corral) caught up to me. I told him he was looking good and to throw it down. He shouted back something like, “Not just yet!” but I didn’t see the wisdom in his words. A few moments later I saw some tall dude in front of me talking on his cell phone while running. I had a few snarky thoughts before I realized that it was Coach Brian – the running coach for the Liver Team (who I believe has a personal record below 3 hours). Now, you might think that at that point I would slow down – passing the coach can’t be a good idea, right? Well, I had heard a rumor that he was running his 2nd of 3 marathons over 3 weeks, so I figured he was just holding back because of that. Onward I went! I caught up with Robin who was running with (I think) Francie Chase. I said hello and kept moving. Somewhere in these miles, I also chatted with Mike and Katie Crowell. The legs felt great and the breathing was easy. I wasn't trying to run fast, but I wasn't trying to slow myself down either. Later I passed Pat Padden. He encouraged me on, but maybe I should've stopped to think. I met Pat on the very first Saturday team run back in December. We were going the exact same pace that day and it felt good. I also used him as a pacer on the 17-mile Valentine's Day run. Hmmm...

At around mile 9, I was passed by an older gentleman (probably mid 50s) wearing a full Cat in the Hat costume. I’m talking the full-body, furry zip-up costume, replete with tail, white gloves, red bowtie and tall red/white striped hat. If I had any final thoughts about slowing down at that point, they were instantly banished because I’m not gonna let the Cat in the Hat beat me! I pressed ahead and left him to eat dust.

Miles 11-16
8:42, 8:32, 8:47, 8:49, 9:03, 8:46
Casey Jones you better
Watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

We left Natick and headed up towards Wellesley College – famous for the young women setting up a “scream tunnel” and giving out kisses to the runners. It was pretty loud, although not quite as loud as I expected. I stayed to the left and avoided the kisses.

At the halfway point, my split was 1:54 which was almost exactly where I wanted to be when I planned out my pacing strategy. I figured that if I could do an even second half, I would miraculously end up in the high 3:40s. If I slowed down to a 2:00 second half, I would still be 6 minutes under 4:00. Around this time, I felt a couple of curious new pains. First, my right foot started to ache around the outer edge. I think I had tightened my shoe a little too much back in the starting corral. Doh! My left foot was also tingling a bit and going numb. I figured that at least if it were numb, I wouldn’t feel any pain there. So I kept truckin’. The other new pain was just a slight, dull ache in my right quad. Now this was completely new to me. In training, the few small issues that I did have were generally calf or shin related, but I never really had an issue with my quads. This planted a seed of worry in my head since I was only halfway home, and a 13 mile run should have been pretty painless even at this pace.

Along the way in Wellesley, I kept seeing a Liver Teammate ahead of me running at a steady pace. I didn't know who he was, but at one point I got close enough to see he had written "For my Di" on the back of his shirt. For some reason, this simple statement really hit home with me. I used him to help keep pace for awhile, then finally went over and said hi. I may be quiet in real life, but apparently I'm a chatty runner.

As we headed towards Newton, I remember seeing my splits slowing up a little. But instead of rolling with it, I decided to put in a little more effort to get the splits back down. As we started down the steep downhill to Newton Lower Falls, I tried to take advantage of it for a faster split rather than keep the same speed and use the downhill to conserve energy. Big mistake. Our team Chair Nhu Vu specifically warned us about this downhill at the last team meeting, but it apparently fell on deaf ears.

Miles 17-18
9:01, 9:10

Move me brightly
Light the song with sense and color
Hold away despair

Mile 17 starts with an uphill climb over I-95 (rt 128 for the locals). This overpass starts the area where I’ve done the bulk of my training, and I’ve never had an issue with this uphill. But after running 16 hard miles, it was definitely an issue. I labored, staying to the side because I was thinking that my friend Tracey might be near the top of the hill at Beacon Street. I didn’t see her (turns out she was down in Back Bay). It was a little bit of letdown.

Coming down to the Newton Wellesley Hospital, I saw a sea of orange hats and shirts on the right. It was the Liver Team cheering section, and boy did it cheer me up. I headed over there and they started screaming. I saw team manager Jen Fluder and high-fived her, then I got totally amped up and screamed and high-fived my way down the whole section. It was an awesome morale booster - definitely a highlight of my run. I think I did burn some extra energy there, but it was worth it.

Mile 18 starts almost exactly 1 mile from my house, so at this point I was running on friendly ground. Lasell College is around the corner, and while they drive me nuts during my training runs (forcing me off the sidewalks, trying to run me over, etc.), they were simply awesome during the marathon. There aren’t quite as many of them compared to Wellesley, BC or BU, but they were good and drunk. And then they started screaming at me. I had already been getting a lot of responses to my “Grateful Dad” shirt – it started early, all the way back in Hopkinton. I heard “Go Dad!” so many times, I lost count. When I came up on Lasell though, a bunch of rowdy kids started a huge “GRATEFUL DAD!” chant over and over, and they screamed wildly when I pumped my fist. Soon I was at the Firehouse for the right turn onto Comm Ave. I took the turn wide to position myself on the left of the Brae Burn hill because my wife and kids were going to be about halfway up the hill. As I did so, I ended up being the closest runner to the crowd barricade (most of the runners cut the turn tight). Some guy with a bullhorn started screaming at me, and next thing I know the whole corner was chanting “Dad! Dad! Dad!” The fact that it was my home turf made it even more special. In a scene that would be repeated many times over the remaining miles, I smiled and pumped my fist again.

The crowds were super heavy on the hill. It was so packed that I worried that I might not be able to see the kids. I saw the Temple St opening ahead, which is where they were supposed to be (thank you to the Krummells, who graciously hosted Liz and the kids in their house). But I didn’t see them. I started to feel a little down, worried that maybe they couldn't find a space. All of a sudden I spotted a small opening in the crowd just beyond Temple St and there they were! Liz was holding Maya up and I came in for a kiss. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me at that point, and I can’t say that I blame her! I gave Liz a “salty” kiss and patted Augie on the head (he didn’t want to have much to do with me either!). After I left, Liz, Stephanie (our Super Nanny) and the kids headed to Back Bay to meet me at the finish.

Seeing the kids gave me that extra boost I needed to get up over Brae Burn hill, but at that point, I knew that the remaining 8 miles were going to be a struggle.

Miles 19-21
9:07, 9:43, 10:17

Dark Star crashes
Pouring its light into ashes
Reason tatters
The forces tear loose from the axis

Mile 19 starts just after cresting the Brae Burn hill. You go down into a little knoll then head up a small hill again. From there it’s a nice downhill to mile 20. This is a decent place to re-focus – if you haven’t gone out too hard in the previous 18 miles, that is. At this point, my quads were really starting to hurt. More disturbingly, my brain started to hurt too. I had logged hundreds of training miles on this road, but I could barely recognize where I was. I started to think about how far I still had to go and I got really depressed. The crowds had thinned out, and when I looked at my split, I realized that I hadn’t been able to take advantage of the downhill at all from a time perspective. It certainly wasn’t any easier on my legs either. Now I had to start fighting my brain – the signals telling me to stop running. From what I understand, this is a common feeling when you start “hitting the wall” – i.e. running out of glycogen stores. Your brain can really only run on glucose (it can use ketones too, but that’s a whole different topic). When you run low on glucose, your brain tries to shut your body down to conserve fuel for itself. Bad brain! Don’t you know I have a marathon to finish? Who cares if you need fuel – I killed a lot of your cells in college already, what’s a few more?

Mile 20 started and soon I'm heading up the middle Newton hill. I don't really have much memory of this hill. I usually think that it's the easiest of the three main Newton hills, but this time it just seemed to go on and on. It never really peaks out - it sort of levels off a little, but it keeps a little grade for almost a mile. People are still screaming at me quite a bit - I purposely ran near the edge of the road to keep the motivating shouts coming. And despite my agony, I smiled and pumped my fist at everyone who called to me. This was where I felt my first true cramps of the run - and it was in my face! I was smiling so much that at some point the muscles in my upper cheeks started to cramp

The hill finally leveled off and we got a small break before hitting Heartbreak Hill. At this point, I'm just trying to keep my feet moving. The crowds are getting thick again, and the BC kids are starting to show their presence. It's getting crazy. Again I get a whole section of kids chanting "Dad!" at me. The road is getting a little jammed too, as many runners start to walk here. I'm in a lot of trouble, but I'm not ready to start walking yet. I think I was yelling at myself at one point to keep moving. Finally we get to the first crest and I start thinking that despite my pain, I can start enjoying the downhills from here.

Miles 22-23
9:50, 11:28
The Wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
You can't let go and you can't hold on,
You can't go back and you can't stand still
If the thunder don't get you
then the lightning will

Right as we started mile 22 on the backside of Heartbreak, my right hamstring seized up in a charley-horse. It was excruciating and I could no longer bend my leg. I guess my body just did not like going downhill at that point. I headed off to a quiet spot near the BC church and tried to stretch it out. But when I bent over to stretch it, my left quad started seizing up from bearing the weight. I quickly straightened up and then felt my sides cramping as a result. Seeing no solution to this quandry, I decided I best just try to keep moving. I carefully squeezed my legs until they loosened up a tiny bit, then headed on.

The bottom of the hill was easily the most intense part of the course. The Boston College kids were absolutely crazy. It almost felt like we were getting hazed. I tried to adjust my gait to protect my hamstring, but that usually resulted in a different part of my body seizing up. Finally, we left the crowds behind and hit the "Graveyard of Champions." It's a little quiet here and sure enough there's a cemetary on the right. At this point, no longer able to maintain my little dance between cramps, I became one of the walking wounded. I was trying to squeeze my right hamstring while still walking, because as soon as I stopped walking I would get cramps in other parts of my body. I eventually started to run again, if you can call it running.

Just past Cleveland Circle I see Thomas Murray ahead of me running with a friend. I don't really know him (I just recognize his beard to be honest), but we're wearing the same orange jersey. So when I saw that it looked like he was hurting too, I decided to team up for awhile. He tells me that he is cramping everywhere too, including some side stitches. We started running again, but after awhile he tells me he needs to drop back for a bit. I decided to keep going, because I felt like I needed to take advantage of the bursts when I had them (I think he eventually re-passed me and finished just ahead of me - nice rally Tom!).

Mile 24
One way or another
One way or another
One way or another
This darkness got to give

Brookline was just a struggle. I would have to walk a minute for every few minutes of running that I could manage before the cramps threatened to completely lock up my legs. The general pain was runable, but when the charley-horses started to come on, I would have to walk it out. I tried everything I could think of - changing my stride, adjusting my posture. Every solution just brought its own set of new problems. It's too bad, because I originally started running when I lived in Brookline, about 5 years ago. But nostalgia was the least of my concerns.

Somewhere, I spotted that mysterious Liver Runner ahead of me again - "For my Di". Seeing his message helped remind me of my own motivation - my wife, my kids, my brother. It turns out that the mystery runner is Daniel Davis. I didn't see him again, so he doesn't know how much his message helped keep me moving through these last few miles. If you're out there reading this Dan, thank you!

Miles 25, 26, 26.2
11:37, 11:18, 2:22
Long distance runner, what you holding out for?
Caught in slow motion in your dash to the door
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you have, why you want to give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can't fake

Coming down from Coolidge Corner, I saw Mary Elise Donington come up on my left. I had only met her once, way back in December I think, but I recognized her because I had passed her and a pack of Liver Team folks back in Framingham or Natick. I told her that I was in big trouble and that I had made the rookie mistake of going out too hard - that I should've just stayed with her and the other Liver teammates back there, because she looked good. She told me she was hurting too, but she kept a steady pace going and pressed on ahead. Later, after the finish, she told me that she was able to get in at 3:59. Congrats on a great run! That's the way you're supposed to do it.

After she moved on, I ended up having to walk some of the Mass Pike overpass near Fenway park (another of Nhu's warnings - he's like a Jedi or something). It was frustrating being so close to the end and not being able to run it. All of a sudden, I felt someone rubbing my back. A mysterious woman in all black (including tights) was walking next to me, and without saying a word she started running again. I followed her as best I could. My first thought was, "Thank you." My second thought was, "Aren't you really hot wearing that?" I mean, I'm dying in the sun - my hat is soaked with sweat, my cheeks are crusted with salt and my wristband has no more absorbancy left. Anyway, I get over the overpass
where I see the 1 mile to go sign. 1 mile never sounded so far.

The Boston University kids were putting on a great show of support in Kenmore, and again I had big crowds of students screaming at me. It sucked having to walk at times, because one of my goals was to not have to walk at all. But on the positive side, it was an awesome feeling when I would start running again and hear them erupt in cheers. I had to stop the fist pumping though as my shoulder and back would start cramping hard when I tried to raise my arm. At some point, I still had the brainpower left to chuckle at the juxtaposition of having one of the most incredible experiences of my life, while also wanting it to end as soon as possible.

When I got to the Mass Ave underpass, I had to walk again on the downhill. The early downhills all the way back in Hopkinton must've really trashed my legs. I think my aforementioned friend Tracey saw me there, and I'm sure it wasn't pretty. Eventually we climbed back out of the darkness and I started running as best I could. I hit the first turn of the
Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston combo and was astonished at how long and how uphill Hereford looked (I don't think it's either of those things in reality, but my perception was messed up).

Finally, I got to the left on Boylston and started turning the corner. I could see the Finish Line, but it looked so far away. Suddenly, the crowd started cheering wildly. I was confused, then I saw out of the corner of my eye
, the Cat in the Hat sprinting around the corner (and with enough energy left to ham it up for the cameras and the crowd). That bastard Cat ended up leaving me eating his dust and finished just minutes ahead of me. I started cracking up at the hilarity of it all. It was a long, strange trip from the optimism of the village, to the groove of Natick, through the darkness in Newton, and now back dueling with the Cat. And I was also smiling because as I neared the finish, I remembered the words I had told myself after watching Liz run the Boston Marathon for the Liver Team back in 2002 - "I will never, ever run a marathon." Well, here's to promises not kept!

Final chip time: 4:04:24

It was an amazing journey from 2002 until now, and I'm incredibly grateful for all the support I received from my family, friends, colleagues and teammates. Thank you!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Update #2 - Peak Training Done!

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Today marked the peak of my training program for the Boston Marathon. The Liver Team went out to the start line in Hopkinton and ran the first 21 miles of the course, ending just after cresting Heartbreak Hill in Newton. I am happy to report that while I'm a little sore from the effort, everything went smoothly.

It's been an amazing journey this winter - I can't believe it's almost done. Back in early December, the 18 week to the race seemed like such a long time. Now that it's almost over, I'm wondering where the time went. Through it all, I got to experience some amazingly diverse runs - 12 miles through a blizzard on Jan. 2, 17 miles through the Nor'easter that flooded Boston a few weeks ago, and an 18-miler in balmy 70 degree sunshine last weekend (I got a little roasted). I didn't have to use the dreadmill too much - only about 10 runs out of over 60 - and I only missed 4 scheduled runs. I stayed remarkably healthy through the winter - never had to miss a run due to a cold or flu (thank you vitamin D!). The legs feel pretty good (no lingering injuries or issues), although I will definitely benefit from tapering down the mileage as we get closer to April 19.

On the ride out to Hopkinton today, I was reminded how lucky I am to have my health back. We had a "patient match" on board the bus to inspire us - a young boy who is currently on the transplant list at Mass General Hospital. And on the run in, I ended up running with the president of the New England chapter of the American Liver Foundation. When I asked him how he became involved, I learned that his father had a liver transplant in 1999. But that liver was failing, so he was on the transplant list again. And he now needs a kidney transplant as well. I am so fortunate that I am now healthy enough to make this marathon attempt, but there are many people out there who are still battling illness. Seeing that young boy - who should have his whole life ahead of him if only he had a healthy liver - was a real gut check for me. So thank you again for your contributions - they WILL make a difference in these people's lives!

I will post more updates as we get closer to the race. For now, damn the torpedos - full speed ahead!

ps If you haven't checked it out yet, please visit my RFR page for more information about my quest.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Oddball Training Technique #1

Nose Breathing
So first up in my series of oddball things I've started doing to help me improve my running is nose breathing. As the name says, I do all of my breathing through my nose when I run now (and of course when I'm not running either). An important distinction is that I both inhale and exhale through the nose, rather than the more common "in through nose, out through mouth" or all mouth breathing.

Last winter, I noticed that when the weather got cold, I started getting some mild exercise-induced asthma. It starts with a little tickle in the airway, then moves to light coughing and struggles to get air in, and finally ends up as some nice wheezing and gasping for air. If you've ever experienced even a slight bit of asthma, you know how unpleasant (and dangerous) it is. This seems to happen to a lot of people during the winter, because the cold air both irritates the lungs and also tends to be drier. And of course, the harder your exert yourself, the worse the asthma gets.

I got through that winter okay, but it was bad enough that my PCP and I decided that if it happened again this winter, I might need to get an inhaler. I really didn't want to go down that path, so I started doing some research about alternative therapies. It turns out that there were some small studies published that suggested that nose breathing could help prevent bronchial irritation and improve asthma symptoms. I did some more poking around and found that there were even some oddball runners out there who contend that it's a more efficient way to run for longer distances (something about maintainingg CO2 levels so that your body doesn't feel like it's hyperventilating).

Now, I don't have the time to cite all the sources out there, but there are several purported benefits to nose breathing. Breathing in through the nose allows the air to warm up more before it hits the lung, thus decreasing bronchial irritation. Breathing out through the nose helps keep your breathing even and steady (in cold weather, I've found that it also keeps your nose warm, because if you only breathe in through the nose that means that the nose only gets cold air). Breathing through the nose supposedly has other benefits as well, like increased nitric oxide production in the sinuses (helps dilate your blood vessels and keep your blood pressure down). And the turbinates in your nasal passages help funnel air into the deeper parts of your lung compared to mouth breathing. Finally, your nasal passages are lined with cilia, which help filter particulates out of the air before they hit your lungs.

Figuring I had nothing to lose but an open mind, I decided to give it a shot over the summer, after my spring races were done and before I really had to start training for the fall race.

Okay, so the first thing about nose breathing is that it slows you down at first. It slows you down a lot. In spring of 2009, I ran a half-marathon at an 8:00/mile pace. My "easy" training pace was around 9:15/mile and it was very comfortable. When I first tried to breathe exclusively through my nose, I couldn't even run for more than a quarter of a mile at a 9:30ish pace before I had to open my mouth and gasp for air. So I did as much as I could, slowed down a lot, and just kept putting the miles in.

The real limiting factor is the exhaling part. It seems that when you breathe out through the nose, you really need to use your diaphragm to get the air out. But my diaphragm wasn't strong enough to push the air out as fast as I needed it. There would be a moment where I would really feel the need to start inhaling but I wasn't done with my exhale yet. It was unpleasant to say the least. Eventually, I believe my diaphragm got stronger and my exhale rates increased - either that or I just somehow got more aerobically efficient and required less oxygen. It's probably a combination of both. At any rate, after about a month, I was able to run over 5 miles at my easy pace breathing exclusively through my nose.

Okay, so once I was able to maintain the nose breathing for a few miles, then the question became, will I ever be able to get back to my race paces? One night in August, I decided to open up the throttle and see where I could take it. I did 2 miles at an easy pace of 9:31 to warm up, then I hit it. I ended up running 3 miles at 7:23, 7:16, and 7:13, which were pretty close to the 7:14 pace I had run in a 5K earlier that summer (mouth breathing and dying). And I didn't feel like I was dying this time. I was a convert. But the true test was still to come in the winter.

No inhaler!
So now that I'm fully converted to nose breathing, I'm happy to report that this winter I've had no issues with exercise-induced asthma. None! Not even a slight tickle. While most of my runs have been at an easy pace, I've opened it up a few times and had no issues. In fact, just a couple of days ago, I ran a few miles at a sub-7:30 pace in below freezing temperatures - no problems. Now, it may just be that since I'm in better shape than I was last winter, that's what solved the asthma. But the thing is, even if that's the case, nose breathing has become so natural and comfortable for me now that it feels really odd when I try to mouth breathe. So at this point, I really have no reason to change back.

There are only two downsides that I've discovered so far. First is that I generally need to blow my nose about a mile into my run when it's really cold out - so I have to keep tissues handy because I'm pretty bad at the farmer's blow. Second, nose breathing is definitely noisier. It doesn't bother me at all, but sometimes other runners think I'm really struggling when I'm actually running at a really comfortable and easy pace. I'd like to say that I don't really care what they think, but I definitely feel self-conscious about it for some reason.

Other info
There is plenty of information out there on the interweb about nose breathing. I don't know how much of it is true, but if you look on Pubmed, you'll find some actual published studies on it. And there was a Russian scientist, Konstantin Buteyko, who has created a breathing program to help asthma sufferers. I don't really know anything about it (so don't take it as an endorsement), but it got some press in the NYTimes recently. If you suffer from asthma, it might be worth checking out. Oh, and final disclaimer - I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one on TV. Nothing here should be construed as medical advice - it's merely meant to be informative. Please consult your physician and do your own research if you are interested in controlling asthma. Good luck!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Update #1

Happy New Year!

I am now 1 month into my training program for the Boston Marathon, so I thought I would write an update. Actually, there isn't much to write. Everything has been going pretty well. Yesterday was the longest run so far (14 miles), and it went fine. The midweek runs are getting up to 6 miles, and those have been fine as well. The cold seems to have slowed me down a little, but I'm not really concerned about it. And the hammy that I tore back in October has been no problem at all.

I've only missed 1 long run so far due to a little food poisoning (on Christmas) and have only had to hit the treadmill about 3 times. Fortunately, I live right next to the start of the carriage road on Comm Ave (that little road that runs parallel to Comm), so that helps for winter running - they keep it well plowed and there are rarely cars on it. I will admit that during last Saturday's long run during the middle of a snow storm, I had the thought that skiing through a snow storm is a lot more fun than running through it! But really I have nothing to complain about. Winter running has been a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

I would like to send a big THANK YOU to all of my sponsors. I had my fundraising goal set at $6,500 and we've blasted through that - over $9,900 raised so far! I'm the 4th highest fundraiser for the Liver Team at this point. I really can't thank everyone enough. The generosity you have all shown is simply incredible. Thanks!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bill's 5K 2009 Race Report

In June of 2008, my wife and some friends signed me up to do a local 5K here. Even though I had been working out, I hadn't been running all that much. I trudged through it in just under 30 minutes. It was pretty miserable. Right then I caught the racing bug and decided that I was going to start running more seriously and try to get some better times.

After four months of slowly increasing my mileage and speed (and also studying Chi Running), I went to the Bill's Pizza 5k in 2008 and ran it in 23:30ish - an improvement of over 6 minutes total (or close to 2 minutes per mile).

For 2009, my main goal was to work up to half-marathons. I ran the Boston's Run to Remember Half Marathon in 1:43:45 (I was pretty pumped until I realized that the lead motorcycle had missed a turn (!) and lead all 4,000 runners off course, so the race was actually only 12.95 miles long). I also ran the Boston Half-Marathon in October. In between, I did some shorter races - a 10K and a 5K (I set a PR of 22:26 at the same race where I finished in 30 minutes last year). So it had been a good summer. Looking to close out the season in the fall, I had two races lined up - a return to the Bill's Pizza 5K and the Manchester NH Half Marathon the next week. I felt pretty good about going for PRs in both races - compared to the spring, I'd done more mileage with longer long runs all summer. I'd also converted to nose-breathing exclusively (both inhaling and exhaling) which seemed to help me control my breathing better. So the plan was to run both of those hard for PRs, and then use that fitness to carry me into the training cycle for the marathon next April.

The Race
I got to the race relatively early, eager to see what I could do. I picked up my number, then went for about a 2 mile easy warm up. About 15 minutes before the race, I downed an Espresso Gu (more for the double shot of caffeine since the sugar isn't really necessary for a 5K). Everything felt just about perfect. Although the weather had been miserable all week, we had a beautiful, picturesque New England fall day. Temps were in the 50s and the foliage was peaking.

I lined up pretty close to the front, but not obnoxiously so (since I knew there would be plenty of sub-20:00 runners at this race). The siren sounded and we were off. It was a little bit crowded at first, but I was able to sweep around to get in front of a big pack. At that point I was running with about 5 people. My race strategy (or lack thereof) was basically to go out as hard as I could and just hold on until the slight downhill at mile 2.5, then survive until the end. I was trying to go for sub-22:00 time, which meant that I needed to run better than 7:06 per mile.

Some runners like to downplay 5Ks since it's not a far distance, but I enjoy the challenge for running those 3.1 miles as hard as I can. About half a mile into the race, I decided that actually I really hate 5Ks because of the misery of trying to maintain top speed. It seemed like it took forever to get to the first mile marker. My lungs were burning. Finally we passed it at 6:37. Nice. I was already thinking sub-22:00 was in the bag and I might actually be able to go sub-21:00. Ah, sweet, sweet hubris.

Coming up about half way to mile 2, I saw the two folks in front of me start faltering a bit. I was hurting, but I still had enough to keep pushing the pace. As we climbed a small hill, I pulled up next to the guy in front of me and decided to chat a little. I grumbled something about hating 5Ks, and he chuckled. And then, just as we crested the hill, I saw a small pothole directly in front of me. I shifted my right footstrike a little bit to avoid the pothole, and BAM felt my right hamstring go pop. I took about 2 more steps before I realized that this wasn't going to be something I could just run through. I slowed to a stop, then tried jogging again. No dice. I limped back to the start line and put in my first DNF.

Lessons Learned
I'm not actually sure if it was the shift in my footstrike or just going too hard for my own good that caused the pull. My guess is that it was a combination of both. I also believe that in my arrogance of trying to run a time that was probably faster than I was trained for, I messed up my stride a lot. I think I was doing a lot of overstriding and hard heel striking, trying to do whatever I could to keep going faster. So, I think the main things I learned were:
  1. Smooth first, then speed. If you try to do speed without doing it smooth, you put yourself at risk for injury.
  2. Speed takes time. When I saw some guys go gliding by me with seemingly little effort (while I was gasping, wheezing and burning up trying to run at that pace), I realized that it's not just a matter of training hard - these guys were experienced runners who had been running for years, and it showed. I think because I was knocking off big chunks of time early on in my career, I expected it to keep happening, but it takes time to improve.
  3. You don't have to PR in every single race.

It's been almost 3 weeks since the race, and I just started running again (did a really easy 3 miles yesterday - didn't even take my watch for timing). The first two days after the injury were really bad - I could barely walk and probably could've used some crutches. I ended up with a huge, ugly bruise on my right calf, which I think was from the internal bleeding from my hamstring pooling down there. I used a lot of ice, compression and massage in my healing plan. So far it feels like it's back to about 95%. Now I'm stretching it a lot because I think it healed a little tight (which is normal apparently). Obviously, I had to pull out of the Manchester Half Marathon. At this point, I'm just going to be slowly building back up on the easy miles to get ready for December, when the official training program for the Boston Marathon begins. No more races and definitely no speedwork!