boston marathon 2013

I have always loved the city of Boston. I remember trips there when I was in high school. During college, it was the nearest city to our small town in New Hampshire. I had already accepted a job there after graduation when I was offered a Fulbright Fellowship so in the end I never ended up living in Boston.  However, since I have been a runner I have gone up every year to experience the magic that is the Boston Marathon while staying with my best friend from college who lives two blocks from the finish line. In 2010 and 2011, I cheered with the NY Flyers at mile 17 and last year I cheered in front of the Apple Store on Boylston.

BMfinish2I was so excited for it to be my turn to run it in 2013. Never in my worst nightmares could I have imagined the horrific turn the day would take at 2:49:43pm.

bostonmorningThe day started with such excitement with my first bus ride out to Hopkinton. From the athlete’s village thousands of runners walked the .7 miles to the starting line to wait in eager anticipation for their journey to begin. The air horn sounded and after a few minutes I crossed the starting line and I was living in the moment I had been waiting for. I was running the Boston Marathon. However, beyond all the glitz and glamour, it is still a marathon. When the top of my left foot started hurting really badly out of nowhere before the 10k mark I realized it would be a long race, one that would hopefully involve more running than walking. At the 10k mark I tried to block it out by putting in my headphones and was able to hang on for a little while longer. However, after a few miles I knew it was a lost cause so I decided to take them out and enjoy the race as best I could. The half a million spectators that line the route are a large part of what make this race special and although I am not usually someone who needs spectators in a race, on Monday I am not sure could not have gotten through it without them. As I made the final left onto Boylston to the deafening roar of the crowd, I felt relief and happiness that I had made it. The time on the clock was 2:15:12pm.

I decided to make my first post race medical tent visit ever to check out my foot. I remember thinking it was well staffed as what seemed like a few nurses, a doctor and a head doctor examined my foot and deemed it a strain or possibly a fracture. After I checked out, I continued on my way down the finishers’ chute picking up my heat shield, medal and finally my gear bag. I was ready to forget about my foot and start celebrating. I was on Boylston and about to turn onto Arlington when time seemed to stop.

BANG!

Seconds passed.

BANG!

I knew what it sounded like, but I was at the Boston Marathon and could not comprehend something bad happening at what seemed like the vicinity of the finish line. I tried to convince myself I was freaking out for no reason but I could feel my heartbeat quicken and I wondered if there were more on the way as I moved as fast as I could toward our hotel. I luckily was able to get through to my parents and tell them to come straight to the hotel instead of family reunion. As I got into the hotel my friend texted me, “They stopped the marathon.” It was then I knew it was really bad. I called my coach to find out what was going on and learned that two bombs had exploded near the finish. People had died. I started crying hysterically. Everything is kind of a blur but thank you to everyone who checked to see that I was safe.

It’s hard to stop replaying things in one’s head. My mom was worried I was taking so long after I finished she had come to the finish line to look for me. She was a block away when the bombs went off. What if I had had to walk more during the race? I could have been right there and my friends cheering for me would still have been out there on Boylston instead of having lunch out of harms way. If I had stayed in the medical tent a few more minutes I would have been right there when it happened. This hit way too close to home.

I am lucky and so thankful that everyone I know is safe. It could have been so much worse. However, everyone in my extended runner family that includes both runners and those that support runners is not fine. I feel terrible that three people died and that hundreds suffered war-zone like injuries while supporting runners. Some of these people were out cheering when I ran by a little over a half hour earlier. They helped me during my race and I probably looked at some of their smiling faces. It was supposed to be a happy day for runner and spectator alike. The finish line of any marathon, but especially the Boston Marathon, is such a symbolic place of completing a journey. It is a happy place. The completely senseless act that destroyed that happy place makes me feel sick. I know others went through a lot worse, but I do not feel okay and I am not sure when I will again.

memorialI will certainly never forget my first Boston. In the light of everything, the medal I wanted for so long seems so unimportant. I am proud of finishing the Boston Marathon but I have trouble finding joy in it. Running down Boylston toward the finish line I was not sure I wanted to do another downhill marathon for a very long time, but that changed relatively quickly. I, like every other runner alive, hope that next year I will be at the starting line in Hopkinton to conquer the course for myself and to celebrate the greatest marathon in the world.

bostonbibmedal

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thoughts before my first boston

In a couple of hours I will be heading north.

I don’t always show a lot of outward excitement about things. When my friends have asked me about future races in the past they always say I sound thrilled to be doing them… and by that I mean not thrilled at all. The truth is I usually am excited inside. However, this time I might be even letting some of my excitement show.
grumpycatThis only means my insides are about to burst from happiness as a weekend full of almost all of my favorite things is about to start.

I want to enjoy every moment of my trip like I did in San Francisco. That is when I run best. My trip will include a side trip with my friends up to Dartmouth to cheer on my former team at the Figure Skating National Championships in our home rink, trips to the expo, dinners with friends and (running and figure skating) teammates, the Runner’s World Boston Party, spending time with my family, and a trip to the Aquarium.

Oh, I am forgetting something?

And the 2013 Boston Marathon.

I have trained harder for this than any other marathon. I loved the course when I ran it twice during practice runs. I am ready for an amazing race. However, it is a marathon and anything can happen. I do have a rough race plan, but I don’t intend on running the race forcing split times. That never works. I want to let my spirit guide my legs.

I kind of hated my first marathon. I want to love my first Boston.

bostonstart2013

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final peak week of boston marathon training

This training cycle has been by far the most challenging cycle I have ever done. I hit a 70 mile week for the first time in early February and have done 2 more since then along with averaging higher mileage in general. I am actually not sure if my legs remember what they feel like when rested. They certainly didn’t during the final week of training, but now they get to relax and recover. Race day is almost here!

bostonmarathongrumpycat

The NYC Half is not going to get more than a brief mention because it ended up not being a race. I have no idea what I was thinking when I signed up to race the Sunday before my hardest week of the training cycle. Instead of losing my $100+ and ruining the next week of training which I considered more important, I decided to use it as a steady-state run. (NYC Half: 1:40:10/ 7:39 min/mile)

nychalf2013

McMillan is a big supporter of fast-finish long runs being a good predictor of your upcoming marathon performance and I have found that they are fairly accurate for me, especially at the end of a hard week of training. They really simulate what it will feel like to maintain marathon goal pace on tired legs without doing something dumb like running the whole 20 miler too fast. in my mind, this final 20+ miler which I would do on the Boston Course was one of my important tests of training. In terms of specificity there is really nothing better you can do than run on the actual course.

Monday: 4 miles with hills @ lunch, 7 miles after work
Tuesday: 13 easy miles after work
Wednesday: 6 miles with 4 @ tempo during lunch, 7.5 miles after work
Thursday: 6.5 miles @ lunch
Friday: OFF
Saturday: First 23 miles of the Boston Marathon Course; 11 easy, 10 @ marathon goal pace, 2 easy

By Saturday my legs were tired, yet I love the course so I was excited to be able to run it again. Even though I knew my legs weren’t fresh the first 11 miles flew by and were easy. Then it was time to speed up. It worked out nicely that this section also includes in my opinion the hardest part of the course. Mile 11 starts around 260 ft then climbs and drops again to 180 ft before climbing a series of hills to 411ft at the top of Heartbreak Hill by mile 21. Despite getting my marathon PR in San Francisco, I actually don’t think I am that strong a hill runner. I ended up averaging 7:37 min/mile for those last 10 miles. It was also my fastest 20 miler by one whole second. Except for the two biggest hills I felt strong and it felt almost easy, but I know I will lose some time in this section on various miles and I just need to remember not to panic.

Sunday: 4 recovery miles

viewsofbostonmarathon

Total: 71 miles

Now it is taper time!!!

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boston marathon course

Less than six week remain until race day. I no longer have to scroll down on my google calender from the week I am in to see “BOSTON-26.2 @mp pace” highlighted. It sits right there staring at me. If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I am not sure that I would have said that I would be ready. It wasn’t for lack of preparation. I had starting base building in November and training in December. It wasn’t even that I wasn’t running well, because by the numbers most times I was. Yet I still felt doubt and like I was detached from my running.

Then one day I was running home from work on the West Side Highway and I knew that I was going to race race Boston. Nothing unusual had happened, it was just an easy run, yet I felt excited and alive. I may have a decent grasp on the technical side of running, but this I have no explanation for. The last time I felt that way was during the San Francisco Marathon. It may sound ridiculous but it was as if my body and spirit were working together in unison.

Since then running has felt more joyful on the whole. However, one amazing run on the first 22 miles of the Boston Course stands out in my mind. The last time I wrote I mentioned I wanted to run on something that mimics the Boston Course more closely since I have a history of blowing up in downhill races. Nothing can come closer than running the course itself and I actually really surprised myself by loving the course. It may be net downhill but it is rolling from the start, which makes one use different muscles. I started out slowly and did 9 miles at the end at marathon goal pace ending up with a 8:03 average for the 22 miles and my fastest long run ever. Interesting to note it was also the best I have ever felt after a long run. I was not sore or tired at all. I am sure it will be more taxing on the legs to start out fast and I plan to head out to practice on the course one more time.

20130305-144814.jpgForty days for the body and spirit to get ready. Maybe I should start thinking about getting the mind ready too or even better just not think at all.

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a tale of two twenties

It is crazy how time is flying and we are at nine weeks to go! It is time for the single digit countdown but first let’s talk a little about the past two weeks. They were the weeks of my first two twenty milers and the first set of touching twenties in my training plan.

The first twenty I did on Saturday February 2. I haven’t ever done a true glycogen depletion run, because I like to wake up later and do my long runs in the afternoon. If I did not eat anything beforehand it would be way too much time since my last meal so instead I try to do some “modified” ones where I don’t take any gels. I have only done this once before last March with a 20-miler. This time I was happy that I was able to easily run about 30 seconds faster than I did it last year (8:35 ave vs 9:01 ave) on a similar course of loops of Central Park. Energy wise I really felt a difference not having any gels and I barely drank anything so I was probably also a bit dehydrated but I still consistently easily ran in the 8:30s. An easy run the following day finished off 62 miles for the week.

This winter has been much worse than last winter when we almost didn’t have winter at all. Although some days have not been the most pleasant I still prefer winter running over summer running any day! As a rule, I feel you can really only complain about summer OR winter. However, ultimately what matters is the weather on race day.

bostonweathertweetOf course the week I tweet this a “historic storm” heads to the northeast and weather.com names it Nemo.

winterstormnemo

Yes, nemo means “no one” in Latin and there was Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but for most people Nemo brings to mind the lovable orange and white clownfish from Finding Nemo. Perhaps that is not the best name for a potentially devastating storm?

Luckily it ended up not being that bad in New York City. I rearranged my schedule so that I ran Friday instead of Saturday (77 miles in 7 days! woo! for sure the most I have ever run in a “week”) and enjoyed a walk through Central Park on Saturday instead.

centralparknemoBy Sunday the roads were completely clear and it was perfect running weather for shorts. The twenty this week was the complete opposite of the previous week’s twenty. It was a fast-finish twenty so I mimicked the fueling I would do in a race. I had two Honey Stingers and the equivalent of about 300mg of caffeine from a little less than 3 halves of caffeine pills, which may have been a little too much. It was by far the best I have felt this training cycle and after several loops of Central Park I finished with a 8:08 ave pace for the second fastest 20-miler I have ever done completing 70 miles for the week. It left me feeling excited about running again and eager to use the next weeks to keep improving.

In the near future I also look forward to finding a course that mimics the Boston Course more closely because luckily the course is not like four or five loops of Central Park!

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the mental aspect of sports and a training update

Skating has once again become exciting. I found a new favorite skater to watch since Tara Lipinski and Sasha Cohen are both gone from the amateur ranks. I actually found her 2010 competitions on YouTube a while back and thought she had amazing potential and have been following when her competitions have been posted to YouTube, but she was relatively obscure because she was not a Senior yet. This weekend she made sure people knew who she was.

Her first season as a senior this year started inconsistently. After the Rostelecom Cup she said, “I think the biggest competition is myself. I am a perfectionist at heart. That makes me a great skater, but it also can be my worst enemy at times.” Disaster struck again during the short program at the US Figure Skating Championships last Thursday with all the hype and pressure on her. She skated an awful short program falling once and popping another jump leaving her in 9th place. Interestingly enough she found herself in a place free of any pressure and on Saturday night she went out and skated one of the most amazing programs resulting in the second highest score EVER since the new judging system was put into place eight years ago. How was she able to do this? In her words, “I didn’t get over my head with thoughts or expectations. I just went out there and skated like I know how to skate.” Unfortunately, the score was not high enough to hold onto 1st place but she ended up in 2nd and I think she ended up the true winner of the event. Also going from 9th place to 2nd is amazing.

graciegoldAnd because my picture doesn’t do the program justice you should watch the video.

Mental barriers are nothing new in sports, especially to me. Learning to deal with thoughts and expectations has been one of the hardest things for me in running. I think I find running to be even more of a mental sport than figure skating was for me (although I am sure I might think differently if I had been the favorite for an upcoming Olympics! My pressure is rather self-imposed…). The one time I actually feel like I lived up to my potential at the time was during the San Francisco Marathon when despite tired legs I was able to run a marathon PR on a difficult course and feel great doing it because there was no pressure. I was supposed to use the race as a long run and stop at mile 20 so I was able to go out there and run like I know how to run. Recognizing it is one thing but being able to overcome the problem is necessary to really excel. There is a reason there are sports psychologists and millions of books on the topic.

Improving my mental game and learning to embrace pain are my two largest goals.

painHopefully that won’t happen to me.

On the topic of races I did do the Manhattan Half this weekend. I did not race it though. I have found that I have been doing way too many races in the past to really perform at my peak for when it matters both physically and even more mentally. I had signed up for it after the Hamilton Marathon when I was eager to get retribution. However, now I have more important future goals coming up in the next few months and almost decided to skip it, but then decided that it would be a good chance for a quality long run with water stations and because the cold weather has made me feel like not exerting myself that much (hence also why I did not race). I finished in 1:43:17 and was happy with the effort although I always feel like a little piece of me dies inside when I don’t race a race.

manhattanhalf2013Sunday brought an end to the mesocycle where I focus on speed. This doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anymore speedwork, but the emphasis will be on endurance and really being able to hit marathon paced miles with ease. I am excited because this plays more to my strengths as a runner. 76 days!!!

How do you prevent yourself from being your own worst enemy? Do you ever use races as training runs?

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mileage and first weeks of boston training

When I was initially thinking about how many miles I would ideally run this training cycle, I thought of really large, ambitious numbers to fit my large, ambitious goals. Maybe one million miles? After all, I knew that out of the ten marathons I had an actual training cycle for (at least 12 weeks) and were not just another marathon I ran the following month, there was a strong correlation between the number of miles I averaged per week and my finishing time.

timeVSmileageObviously this is not a purely causal relationship and there are many factors at play. A definite time trend exists. For my first marathon I had no experience and as time has gone on I have learned more about racing and my body has become more efficient at running so that I probably would perform better even on the lower mileage (Maybe. Although there were other factors at play in Hamilton such as the fact that I was limping after the downhill, I find it eerie how well the result fits this model). Variation also exists on the difficulty of the marathon courses, the weather, quality of training, how one is feeling race day, etc. Despite all these variations I still believe there is large benefit to running more miles in order to reach one’s potential as a runner.

Jack Daniels has a nice graph in his book “Daniels’ Running Formula” that illustrates that as people increase their average weekly mileage, they achieve more of their running potential. Sadly diminishing returns exist in this relationship. Someone will get much more of a benefit from going from 20 to 30 miles per week than going from 80 to 90 miles per week.
daniels_diminishingreturnsAccording to Daniels my mileage is still at a point where I am making fairly large gains from increasing it.

However, I have decided to play it fairly safe. If all goes well with the schedule I have planned, I will hopefully average about 52 miles per week which is about a 5 mile increase and about the increase I have been doing each year since I began running. I also plan on doing more focused quality training than usual. Miles are not everything. I think my plan is more than sufficient to get me to where I want to be in April.

Now for a brief recap of the first three weeks of training. After all that talk about mileage my first week came in at a whopping 16 miles. One day there was a snowstorm and the roads were treacherous. Then I got sick and decided it was just more important to get better. I did get to do a snowy track workout at my high school on Christmas Day though so at least I got in some quality work.

snowytrackWeek 2 and 3 have been much better and I ran 57.5 miles and 64 miles, respectively. This week is a much welcome stepback week.

Outside of running I also had the chance to go on a trip to see my friends in Swinburne Island during a NYC Audubon Winter EcoCruise. We saw around 30 harbor seals, but they got scared pretty quickly and jumped into the water.

EcoCruiseSealI am not sure why they were so scared. Maybe it was because I was bright blue. Next time.

What are your thoughts on mileage? How much do you usually average in a training cycle? How is your training going?

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