Posts Tagged ‘running’

Marathon No. 3 is in the books. Can somebody please return my quads and calves to me?

I have been slacking lately on posting here, but this past weekend’s marathon is definitely worthy of a race report.

But first, a quick rewind. Before running in the 5th Annual Ridge to Bridge Marathon in Jonas Ridge, NC on 10.30.10, I achieved a significant running milestone at the Big Peach Sizzler 10k in Atlanta on 9.18.10. I actually WON my age division (35-39) for the first time in my brief running career. I posted a PR of 40:33, holding off a hard-charging 17-year-old kid named Forrest down the stretch.

I could write a full race report about it, but the marathon is my focus here, so I will spare you the details. However, I will say this: the Sizzler is a great race. Very well organized — as are all Big Peach Running Co.-sponsored races in Atlanta — and very fast. If you are looking for a good time to get into an early group for the Peachtree Road Race, this is a great race to run.

Now back to the marathon.

I had targeted the Ridge to Bridge Marathon (R2BM) earlier this summer in hopes that it would be a good race for me to run a Boston qualifying (BQ) time. Like many runners, I didn’t expect Boston 2011 to sell out in 8 hours! The unexpected sellout left me disheartened, but I went ahead with my plan and kept my hopes alive for a BQ for 2012.

The R2BM is VERY different from the 2 other marathons I have competed in — the ING New York City Marathon or the ING Georgia Marathon (now sponsored by Publix).  For starters, it is run in the mountains of North Carolina with only 300 runners. Oh, and the other little difference — it descends a total of 2,700 feet. Almost all of that descent takes place over a 9-mile stretch between mile 5.5 and mile 14.5.

While running a downhill marathon might seem easy to some non-runners, those who have run downhill for any significant length of time will tell you that it is no easy task. Compared with my experiences in NYC and Atlanta, this marathon was much tougher. Yes, this was my fastest marathon time of the three, but it was also the most painful 26.2 I have run. This marathon is not to be taken lightly.

Before competing in this marathon, I battled through a variety of injuries, most notably a twisted right ankle (golf cart mishap) and a reoccurring right calf strain. Needless to say, I wasn’t as well prepared as I had hoped to be. In the 4 weeks before the race, I was only able to get in one run of at least 20 miles. But enough with the excuses.

I drove to Morganton, NC with another Atlanta runner (Michele) I had met on the Brown Mountain Running Club‘s message board and checked in to the not-so-lovely Days Inn. Note: if you are going to run this marathon, spend the extra $25-$30 and stay at the Hampton Inn in Morganton.

After checking in and picking up our race packets at the nearby Quality Inn, we drove 30 minutes to the race’s finish area at the Brown Mountain Beach Resort for a little test run. I’m glad we did. I had planned to wear a new pair of K-Swiss K-ona triathlon shoes for the race, but the dirt/gravel road surface was a bit rougher than I had expected. After our 4-miles test run, I decided to stick with my old faithful Asics Gel Nimbus shoes. This is NOT a trail race, but the road had sticks and small rocks strewn across it. You have to watch your footing a lot more than you normally would running on an asphalt road course.

Oh, and for the record, the race packet was great. A tastefully designed tech long-sleeve shirt in fall colors. A nylon bag, gloves, an oval R2BM sticker for your car, a few coupons and a small bag of candy (it was Halloween weekend after all).

The next morning, we all piled into about 6 very nice buses (they each had a bathroom on board) and drove about 45 minutes up the mountain. When we got off, the sun had begun to rise. It was a beautiful brisk Fall day.

I was near the front when the gun went off and soon found myself running in a nice small group at a pace slightly faster than I had targeted. The first 5-6 miles are mostly paved and very flat. I figured I would keep the pace at about 7 mins/mile. This is about 30 secs faster than what I needed to average over 26.2 in order to reach my 3:15:59 Boston qualifying time goal. This wasn’t an uncomfortable pace for me so I stuck with it.

After reaching the 5.5 mile mark, I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and headed down the mountain. This is where things got interesting. I quickly realized that I might lose a toenail at some point during the race. My toes were JAMMED into the front of my shoes on just about every step I took. Ouch.

Secondly, I noticed really early that it was hard to slow down. I was still averaging under 7 mins/mile. Some miles clocked in between 6:30 and 6:45. At one point, other runners I spoke with on the descent said “respect this 9 miles”. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to slow down. Still, this didn’t seem like it was going to be much of an issue. That all changed at about Mile 15 when I hit the flat road. My calves felt like they were going to explode! Most people I spoke with about the race said that my quads would hurt the most. I have been biking a lot, trying to build up my quad muscles, and I think that really helped. Regardless, I was still hurting.

By the time I reached Mile 17, I seriously wanted it all to end.

Here is a note we all received from race director David Lee in the days leading up to the race. I guess I should have read it more carefully.

Miles 6-16: The big drop begins at about mile 6 and continues through about mile 14 with only one rise at about mile ten. Keep an eye on your watch to make sure you’re not running too quickly over this section. Averaging even 10-15 seconds below goal pace is running more aggressively than necessary. One can easily go much faster at various points in this section; the hard part is resisting the urge to do so.

This is where the course’s scenery helped. The crystal-clear river (Wilson Creek) to the left, the bright sun shining through the autumn leaves, the sound of pickup trucks rumbling by with shotgun racks in the back window and Confederate flag license plates on the front… it was all quite lovely.

At about mile 19, I started to feel a twinge in my right hamstring. I actually let out an audible “NO! DON’T DO IT!” This was the same hamstring that almost brought me to the ground at Mile 19 of the NYC Marathon. This time the muscle spasm held off… until Mile 23. When it hit, it hit hard. My hamstring went into a full spasm. My leg curled up under me as I tried to massage the cramp out.  I had to stop completely. I managed to get back on the road again after about 30 seconds. Then, about 1 mile later it hit AGAIN. This one was worse. I actually yelled out loud (I think I might have scared some hunters … or at least  a squirrel or two). I had to stop and walk this one off for about 50 yards. My time for this mile dropped to 9:37.  With the two spasms, I was “stopped” for a total of 2:05, according to my Garmin.

According to my carpool friend Michele, I need to get more salt in my diet or take in more electrolytes in the days leading up to the race to avoid cramping. (I didn’t cramp during the ING GA Marathon and drank NUUN tablets all during the week leading up to the race. I didn’t do that for R2BM. Lesson learned.)

When I finally reach the finish area, I figured I had about 2 minutes to reach my Boston Qualifying time of 3:15:59. It hits me that I might not make it. After I cross through a fence and enter the parking area, volunteers point me to the LEFT. The finish line is to the RIGHT!

I look one of the volunteers right in the eyes and say “that’s cruel!”  She laughed. I didn’t. From here, I have to make a loop around the parking lot and then sprint to the finish. I can’t see the official clock and try to go as fast as I can without stretching out my stride too much. It’s basic survival at this point. It’s a fine line. The last thing I want to do is bring on another spasm in the closing yards.

My watch says 3:15:45 as I start to crest a small little hill and go around a corner for the finish line. As I reach the top of the hill I spot the clock… 3:15:59… I actually see the clock tick over to 3:16:00 with about 50 yards to go. I was so crestfallen that I let out a “F_ _ K! I’m not sure if there were any little kids nearby. If there were, I apologize.

What if I didn’t stop and walk for a few steps at those two water stops early in the race? Could I have started to run sooner after the hamstring spasms? Perhaps.

Did I give it EVERYTHING I possibly could? I’m not so sure I did. I crossed the line at 3:16:17. My official chip time comes in at 3:16:14. Yes, that’s just 15 seconds. Are you kidding me? I finished 6th in my age group and 29th overall out of  265 total finishers.

However, there’s good news. The 2011 Boston Marathon is sold out and I wouldn’t be able to run until 2012. Here’s the catch: I turn 40 in May of 2011. The qualifying time for the 40-44 age group is 3:20:59! Your qualifying time is *YOUR AGE ON THE DATE OF THE BOSTON MARATHON*

So, unless they drop the times between now and 2012 (which is entirely possible), I’m in! I guess there’s something to be said for turning 40 after all. If they drop the times, I might still be able to petition. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Regardless, I’m still disappointed that I missed my time goal. However, there are worse things to worry about in life. They gave every runner a very cool handmade ceramic medal in the shape of an acorn.

I remember seeing medals given out at the race from years past and they were in the shape of a leaf, which I thought was pretty cool. This year, the overall winners got a vase and age-group winners each got an original bowl-shaped ceramic leaf as their awards. Very unique.

My new friend Michele absolutely killed it. She’s 49 and ran 3:40:20 for third place in her age group. She has run 37 marathons and this was her first age-group award. Of course, I forced her to pose for a picture!

Although I was disappointed with my day, I was psyched for Michele. What a great accomplishment!

As much pain as I am in, I would definitely run this race again. It’s in a beautiful location and is very challenging. I would love to see what my time would be if I had used a different strategy.

Since my first marathon (3:46) on Nov. 1 2009 until now, I managed to knock off 30 minutes and qualify (hopefully) for the world’s most exclusive marathon. Not a bad year, I guess.

I remember reading that line many times in various places. It makes perfect sense, but it needs some clarification. You may not actually drown in sweat, but too much sweat can sure make it hard to run.

That’s especially true in Atlanta in August. Lately, any run I have done longer than 8 miles has been made more difficult by the simple fact that my shoes turn into sponges due to the amount of sweating that occurs in the 90 degree temps this time of year.

I love my Asics Gel Nimbus 11s by they don’t love the ATL heat! Asics Sponge Nimbus 11s might be a better name at this point.

I have been looking into getting some new shoes and have heard great things about the new K-Swiss K-Ona triathlon shoes. A friend of mine has them and LOVES them. The biggest key to the shoes popularity among the triathlon crowd are the ingenious drainage holes.

I never thought “drainage” would be a selling factor for running shoes. Then I tried to run 14 miles in 95 degree heat. I made it to the 12.6 mile mark an simply couldn’t continue due to the soggy condition of my shoes!

I’m very hesitant to switch shoes, especially after running injury free for the past 10 months, but I really think I have little choice at this point.

ING GA Marathon

Posted: March 22, 2010 in Marathon
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What an awesome day. Plain ‘n simple.

This was my second year running in the ING in Atlanta. Last year, I did the half marathon as my first-ever half marathon (1:42) and promised the guy leading my pace group that I would be back a year later to run the full 26.2.  I didn’t break my promise.

This time, I piled into a car with some neighborhood friends and made the short drive downtown.

It’s awesome to be able to run such a great race in your own backyard. However, the convenience of the race produced some real scatterbrain moments on my part. First, I walked away from my car without my water bottle belt. I got a block away and had to run back to the parking garage to get it. Then, while waiting to meet up with a friend in Centennial Park, I realized I also left my timing chip in the car. DOH!  I had to run four blocks to get back to the car and run back to the park.

When I finally got my act together, I waited in the park until about 6:45 to meet the friend I was supposed to run with. In the end, we never found each other. He wanted to run a 3:45, but I secretly wanted to try to break 3:30. So truth be told, I wasn’t entirely upset that we never met up.

Here he is coming in at 3:44.

I head to Corral C, listen to the National Anthem, and quickly we take off. I cross the start line about 50 seconds after the gun.

Now that I don’t have my running partner, I have to develop a new race plan on the fly. I spot the 1:45 half marathon pace group and realize this is an 8-minute pace. I decide to hang with them for a while. This is a perfect pace for me for 13 miles, but I wonder what I will feel like over the second half of the race.

And look at that… the 1:45 pacer was the same guy from a year earlier. I make my way over to him and remind him that I promised him I would be back. He wished me luck and off we went.

Throughout the course, my plan to preserve energy is take it real easy on the uphill sections (there are a LOT of them) and go at a controlled pace on the downhills to keep from blowing out my quads. Then I will push the pace a little on the flat sections to make up time. Anybody who has run the ING in Atlanta will tell you that the flat sections are so valuable because the hills can be so punishing. You need to take advantage of the “easy” sections when you can. At least that’s what my game plan was.

While I wasn’t familiar with the entire course, I had scouted out some key sections in the weeks leading up to the race. I even took the time to run a really hilly 4.5-mile section through Druid Hills. There are a lot of hills in Druid HILLS…. I know, go figure. This was a HUGE learning step for me, and it really paid off on race day.

When it came time to tackle that section, I was ready for it — unlike my experience in NYC when the Queensboro Bridge completely wiped me out! — In Druid Hills, there are about 4-5 hills in a row, with each one a little worse than the next. This section was clearly taking its toll on some.  I passed about 5-6 runners who had sped past me earlier in the race. These same speed demons were now walking up the hills, hunched over and gasping for air. I smiled a little on the inside…Does that make me a bad person? I think not.

(As a sidenote, I got passed in this section by a girl in a Cornell shirt… I don’t like to be passed…We chatted briefly about Cornell’s big win in the NCAA Tournament.  I made a mental note of it and said to myself… I bet I will see her again. I decided to name her “Big Red” after the school’s nickname. Sure enough, I passed “Big Red” at about Mile 24 as we were making our way through the Georgia Tech section. As I pass, I give her a motivational shout out “Come on Big Red, finish strong!” She had nothing left it seemed… Again, I smile a little on the inside.)

In Druid Hills, knowing what was coming was more of a mental thing for me.  As I passed one runner after another struggling on the hills, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

As much as my scouting trip helped me, the biggest lesson I learned from this marathon was to hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. In NYC, I blew off many of the early water stations because I “wasn’t thirsty.” BAD mistake! I completely cramped up in my legs at Mile 19 and barely finished.

I wasn’t about to make that mistake again.

For this race, I drank about four 16 oz. water bottles with Nuun electrolyte tabs in them the day before.  Then during the race, I make sure I grab some Gatorade at almost every water station. I think I only skipped one water station for the entire race. In addition, I ran with two water bottles on a belt and used them to wash down a Gu pack (Gu Roctane Blueberry Pomegrante flavor) about every six miles or so. I even had a few Gu Chomps to chew on at various points of the race. That may seem like a lot to some, but it worked for me.

By the time I reached Piedmont Park, I was still felling pretty good and picked up the pace a little through the park. Then I exited the park… WOW! There is section up 12th Street that leads to Spring Street… No words can describe this hill. I was determined not to walk up it. Not for a single step. I made it to the top, “running” the entire way.

You can see the hill here, at about Mile 23.

I’m not sure who you people were standing on the side of the road on this hill clanging your cowbells and cheering, but you get the gold star from me! Without these fine folks I’m pretty sure this hill would have destroyed me.

Once I make it up this hill, I know I’m home free. As we make the turn for downtown, I spot the CNN sign up ahead and head for home. As I make my way down the final stretch, I try to keep and eye out for my wife and kids. I look on both sides of the street over the final mile, but can’t find them!

But they spotted me…

My wife snapped the picture above right about at the moment I see the clock and realize I can break 3:30! I’m so pumped that I don’t hear them yelling for me… It didn’t help that I had my headphones in either I guess.

After I cross the line, I take a second to gather myself. When I realize that I have now accomplished the third goal on my list of four goals this year (break 3:30 in a marathon — DONE, break 1:35 in a half marathon — DONE, break 42 min in 10k — DONE and break 20 min in a 5k — NOT done, yet.)  I give myself a huge fist pump. After all, running is a solo endeavor, for the most part, and if you don’t stop to give yourself a fist pump every so often, who will?

A split second after my fist pumping subsides, I hear “DADDY!” from the other side of the fence. I spot my daughter running through the crowded finish area. We meet over at the fence barrier. Hugs all around. My son give me a high-five. I snag a kiss from the wife. My day is complete…. Now, when can I do it all again!?

What a difference a year makes!

Holy crap. I actually just wrote that. Yes, that JUST happened!

As a writer, I secretly yearn to read laughable clichés such as that first sentence. It’s just so horrendous and unoriginal. Yet, go ahead, do a Google search and see what you find.  It’s everywhere! Heck, the New York Daily News did it just two weeks ago. Fantastic stuff!

Not quite sure what I’m getting at? Well, in the great words of the legendary reporter Dickie Dunn from the movie Slapshot.

“I was just trying to capture the spirit of the thing, Reg.”

What the heck does all of this have to do with running, you ask? Well, I am fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the first race I ever competed in — the Chattahoochee Challenge 10K. Wow, has it already been a year? Sure enough, I flash back in time and find my post on that first race. It was a great start and a HUGE learning experience. I’m psyched to see how far I have come. I have run that “course” so many times on training runs now that I feel I might even have a “home field” advantage when this year’s race rolls around. Or maybe not… we shall see.

Since that first race, I have run a couple official half marathons, the NYC Marathon, a bunch of 10ks and a handful of 5ks.  In each race I have learned a little bit more about myself and what it takes to be a “runner”… not somebody who jogs, but somebody who RUNS. To me, as a competitive person, there’s a definite difference.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a jogger, so to speak, but that’s just not my style. I like to challenge myself and see where I can stack up. I certainly don’t get upset when I fail to win my age division (I have finished 2nd twice, and 7th overall in another race — not that I’m keeping track, of course!), but I do have a clear knowledge of when I have “failed” in a race or during a particular run.  When that happens, it never makes me want to quit running, it just makes we want to work harder and learn a little more.

As a quick example… This recent run was incredible on so many levels.

Most notably, I felt like I could have gone the full 26.2 on this day. I only stopped because I didn’t have another hour or so to spare. That’s it… THAT is why I stopped? Really? That’s still unbelievable to me. I also felt stronger during the 19th mile than I did during Mile 1. I credit this to all the things I have learned over the past year, especially pace and stride.

Of course, it has taken me a few days longer to fully recover than I had expected, but for the most part I felt great after the run.

With all of this said, I’m anxious to run in my “one-year anniversary” race in early February. I’m curious to know exactly how much of a difference a year actually does make!

Is it a stress fracture?

Posted: August 20, 2009 in Marathon
Tags: , ,

Lately, I have begun to wonder about the pain I continue to have in my left leg. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the pain was not in my calf, as I had originally thought. My calf is fine. There is no tightness or soreness in the muscle.  I’m also pretty sure it’s not shin splints. I’ve had them before. This is a different type of pain. What could it be?

On Twitter, I “Follow” a @Runningnews and there’s a link to a woman’s blog a read called Frayedlaces. Runningnews posted some links to entries from frayedlaces recently and while flipping through her blog, I came across a section in which she writes about a stress fracture. She fractured her pelvis. Yeow! I know my pelvis is fine, but it got me to read more about stress fractures…what causes them and how do you know if you have one?

tibia_fibula140

This article told me everything I am afraid to know. It points out EXACTLY where I am feeling the pain.  After reading this, I realized that I can’t keep ignoring it and need to get it checked out. My leg isn’t gettting any worse, but it certainly isn’t getting any better.

This article also has me worried.

So, I quickly searched for some podiatrists in the Atlanta area specializing in sports medicine. I didn’t want to go to my family doctor and waste time having her tell me to go see a podiatry specialist.  A quick search for “Atlanta Foot Leg Injury”  brought me to the Atlanta Foot and Ankle Center.

I call, find out that they accept my insurance, and make an appointment for Monday. I will see Dr. Perry Julien. The name sounds familiar to me, so I do some quick research and find out that he is the foot doctor for the Atlanta Thrashers NHL team. I see the guy ALL the time in the hallways of the arena on game days. What a bonus. He also was the co-medical director for the Peachtree Road Race and coordinated all podiatry care during the ’96 Atlanta Olympics. Sounds like I’m going to see the right guy, at least.

But now I’m stressing about my possible stress fracture. Argh! Typically, stress fractures take 6-8 weeks to heal. The NYC Marathon is in 73 days…

In the meantime, the pain isn’t so bad that it has kept me from running. I did 5 miles yesterday and 4 miles today. My leg hurts when I begin running, but while I’m in the middle of the run it’s not too bad. Hmmm… what to do, what to do?

I have nothing on my running schedule for Friday, but I have 12 miles planned for Saturday.  At this point, I am going to go ahead with it.  This might be a foolish mistake, but without any specific diagnosis, I am going to continue my training.

Then, I may or may not  skip the 4 miles I am scheduled to do on Sunday, depending upon how I feel after Saturday’s run.

I am dreading Monday’s doctor visit… I sure hope it isn’t anything too serious. To put it mildly, if it is a stress fracture, that would REALLY suck.