Friday, October 15, 2010

CM10: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

It’s taken nearly a full week to completely digest all that went down at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, but as the dust, and my stomach, has settled I now know that this race was definitely not the prettiest or my fastest, but it may well have been the toughest I have ever run and my most meaningful as a runner.  Seriously, this is not that imposing a course to run. It’s flat, it’s fast, and there is an outstanding crowd to support you, all the makings of a phenomenal race and PR. And yet, who knew what exciting and unexpected adversity awaited me on such a beautiful 10/10/10? …? … Well then, allow me to enlighten you with ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ of my Chicago Marathon.

Opening Credits:
Being one of the 5 World Marathon Majors, one would assume that getting to the start and the seeded corrals would be pretty simple and without too much stress. Something for which you would expect to give a lot of credit to the organizers for, but alas this was not that day.  Hahahaha!  In fact, it could NOT have been further from the truth!  Race day morning I intended to arrive at Corral B at 7:00 am to meet two other runners, Josh (@jdhollandsc) and Susan (@susanruns), but once I got out of the hotel and headed toward the seeded corrals I realized that this was never going to happen.  People were meandering about slamming into everything within arm’s distance, like a an overzealous kindergarten class all getting off of a merry-go-round going 90 mph at the same time, it was rather chaotic.  This was then further compounded when I realized the Seeded Corral entrance was on the other side of the park and that myself and about 11-gagillion other people were all trying to get through a bib-check-gate about the size of a broom closet!  This was the slowest moving pack of fast runners I have ever been in, but to be fair to them, it wasn’t their fault.  It was rather amusing to watch the numerous individuals auditioning for the role of Spider-Man by climbing the 10-12-foot tall chain link fence separating us from the path to our corrals. It was pretty ridiculous. People were PISSED!  I just didn’t care so long as I got there before the gun went.

The Good:
Ok, so not the best of beginnings, but it got better! After quickly watering a tree, I entered Corral B ready to rumble.  I was calm, collected, focused, and felt loose and well prepared despite all of the little nagging voices in the back of my mind reminding about my knee over the last few weeks and missing my last good long run.  In that moment, I channeled my inner Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth from Pulp Fiction, “Bitch, be cool!”  “Be cool, hunny bunny.”  Once I was back on the level, it was go time and the good times DID roll.

The first 16-miles could not have gone better.  I was perfectly in-line with my pace plan and just hammered out the miles almost effortlessly.  Check out the splits:
Mile 1:  7:02          Mile 9:  6:48
  Mile 2:  6:48          Mile 10:  6:36
 Mile 3:  6:48          Mile 11:  6:42
 Mile 4:  6:36          Mile 12:  6:33
 Mile 5:  6:41          Mile 13:  6:39
 Mile 6:  6:42          Mile 14:  6:43
Mile 7:  6:38          Mile 15:  6:48
Mile 8:  6:33          Mile 16:  6:54

Even At mile 16 I still had plenty in the tank and in the legs and was ready to keep hammering out the miles … that is until IT happened …

The Bad:
Shortly after mile-16 is when IT happened.  I hit the aid station for both Gatorade and water and then proceeded to take my next vanilla GU.  Somewhere in that next half-mile did my best impression of Lard Ass from Stand By Me and proceeded to projectile vomit on the side of the course!!! This, my friends, was a first for me and was oh-so-much worse than the incident with the fly months and months ago.  Now, this pit stop was REALLY quick!  I wasn’t about to let my whole race disappear because of this, so once I was done I was done and I got right back into rhythm and on course, but my head was recalculating EVERYTHING as I was now going to be running a high pace with a severely depleted system.  As it turns I didn’t lose a lot of time over the next two-miles, but I only had water for the next couple of water stops, just to be on the safe side. 

At mile-19 I start to feel the effects of running with a tank that is pretty close to be completely empty, if it wasn’t there already, and I feel my head starting to get a little light and fuzzy. I decide heading into the next aid station that I’m going to WALK, something I NEVER do, and suck down some Gatorade and water, since I’m sweating like Ted Striker in Airplane!  As soon as the Gatorade, which was thicker than semi-congealed red Jell-O, hit my stomach I knew that something was not right at all and I rushed to the water station hoping to dilute it quickly, but it was all for not!  The second volley of regurgitation struck shortly thereafter and I now knew that my sub-3:00:00 marathon goal was now out of sight.  Even more disconcerting than the lack of nutrition going on was the fact that my vomitotiousness had now tapped out my muscles (core, hips, legs) and everything was starting to tighten up on me.  This all happened very quickly, but I decided I was going to run as much as I could and keep fighting.

The Ugly:
Over the next 2-miles I went to wipe my forehead, thinking that with the heat constantly rising I would be sopping wet, but I wasn’t.  What I ended up doing was merely flaking off some salt that had dried up on my face.  Crap!  I needed some water and some salt and I needed them FAST.  I stopped at the next medical tent I saw and asked if they had Endurolytes or salt tablets or anything of that sort so I could try something other than syrupy Gatorade or GU, but as it turns out not one, not two, but THREE different medical tents that approached were not equipped with anything of the sort.  So, with no alternative left to me, at mile-21 I tried downing Gatorade again with a quick water chaser, but it yielded the same result … GROSS!  Well, I guess the third time is the charm, because after that last episode there was no more puking!  Then again, there was no more drinking Gatorade either, I just stuck with water and … um … water!  Regardless of it all I kept running, or what could at least mildly be discerned as running.

So, there I am, completely depleted, muscles on fire and tightening all the time, stomach ablaze, and with a head that kept getting foggier and foggier ever half to three-quarters of a mile.  Every time I start to run again it takes so much out of me just to get into any sort of rhythm and my legs are just fighting me with every stride I take.  I reduced myself to a run-walk regiment, with walking gaps of no longer than 30-seconds, just so I can keep my head from fogging up too much and giving me the spins and I am able to manage this for the majority of the rest of the race. 

Closing Credits:
During this long, long, long final 10k of this race my mind is whipping around with all kinds of detritus, which had been bouncing off the insides of my skull and accumulated in my brain since mile-16ish.  I had started keeping a running tally of the number of times that I felt like quitting and just packing it in, which by final count was like 738 times.  I thought about the logistics if I DNF’d when I first wanted to bow out and how the hell I would have even made it back to the start/finish.  I thought about how much work I had put into this race, the amount of pressure I had placed on myself to hit my mark.  Then, I finally came around to it and I thought about my runners, all the members of Team Sasquatch and my Tues/Thurs Night Torture crew that I talk to about all of the things that can happen in a race and how to handle them, and it is in that moment that I find some inner peace and I start seeing things clearly.

One thing that I have always said and that I truly believe is that if you can truly wrap your mind around what you need to do you can make your body do anything, and this was a moment where I felt myself truly grasp that concept.  With each mile marker that I passed I kept my eye on the total time and in that moment of absolute clarity I knew that Boston was still within reach, but I just couldn’t let myself be dragged in the minutia that my body was forcing on me.  With about 1.5 miles to go I hear the crowd lining the streets start yelling, “Yah! Come on Boston pacers! Finish Strong!”  At which point I start talking to myself out loud, which @mattsix can vouch for since he saw me doing it, and simply say, “You can’t walk another step until this is done. Move your ass, get yourself out in front of those 3:10 pacers and don’t look back!”  As the words slip past my lips rather softly one of the pacers smiles a little and I turn up my pace just enough to get out in front of the both of them.  I get to that miserable, stupid hill within the last half mile, which is just so insignificant as hills go, and I just push it out with whatever I have left.

As I hit the finish line mat my watch reads 3:08:50!  I quickly think to myself, “Mission Accomplished,” and then I look up to find the nearest medical staffer as I am once again fighting off the spins!  The guy grabs me and walks me through the finisher’s area asking me if I want a wheel chair or to get an IV and I kindly brush him off and ask him to just walk with me to get some ice, water and anything to eat.  I was just hoping that the fact that I was no longer running would allow things to settle nicely in my stomach, which it fortunately did. 

Humbled & Happy:
Now, with it all said and done, I have to admit that this race may have been my finest moment as a runner.  Gross?  Yes.  Absolutely humbling?  For sure.  But, I can’t help be feel an incredible sense of pride in the fact that regardless of how many times I wanted to quit and how much it hurt I didn’t.  I fought tooth and nail for everything on 10/10/10 and managed to pull something off that under the circumstances I didn’t think I could. 

In addition to that, I have to give major shout outs to the Team Sasquatch runners that also participated in the Chicago Marathon and did this coach proud: Suman (@runnrgrl), Lisa (@bemadthen), Andrea French (@drefrench), Maddy Hubbard (@maddyhubba), and Steph (@bkcalamity – part of the Tu/Th Crew).  You were all amazing and I am so proud of what you all did!! I would also like to congratulate and give a shout out to some of the other Tweeps I had the honor of finally meeting: my PiC Samantha (@skdickey), @Diva_Marci, @MikeMoore924, @MissBojana, @LadySuann, @RunningCouple, @CrossFitRox, @Jenn_if_er, @Chathana, @DrewVoo, @OnTheWineRoute, @MLindzy, @RunnerNavyMom, and @TinyJenna.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Speedy Sasquatch & The Last Crusade

In the beginning, the running shoe was the simplest piece of athletic footwear, you just slipped it on without thinking about anything at all, went out the door and ran. Well, those days are long since gone and what we are seeing now is that running shoes are now one of the most technically distinct, diverse, and talked about. Seriously, runners are starting to be as bad as friggin’ Roadies and their bike porn! Everyone checking out each other’s feet, seeing what brand, model and color scheme they’re rockin’ and giving their two-cents. I mean it’s like going to buy a car, something I haven’t done in over a decade, but the analogy still works!

First you have your traditional Gas Guzzlers – solid, traditional construction and design – from all the big names: Nike, Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, Saucony, and New Balance. If you’re looking for something a little more modern in terms of design, technology and efficiency you’ve got your alternative fuel/clean diesel edition with the Newtons. Then there are those that have gotten so fed up with the shoe market and all the choices that are out there that they won’t even waste their money shoes! These proud purists have gone back to their hunter gatherer roots and are running barefoot like our centuries old ancestors! Don’t worry though, if you’re not quite ready to give up your gas guzzlers and let your bare skin meet the icky road or trail, but are intrigued by the current barefoot movement there is an intermediary step that can be taken with a hybrid model … the Vibram FiveFingers.

Now that being said, I have nothing against any of these shoe manufacturers or their products. Each of us is built completely differently and as such there are merits and shortcomings that exist with any shoe, or lack thereof, that we choose to run in.

But what is one to do when you walk into your local running store and see all the choices that exist? This is not something that solely strikes the newbie, but one that even experienced runners are facing with greater frequency, because, just as with computers, the technology is advancing at an uncanny rate and the number of new brands and products that are hitting the market is remarkable. So, here we stand gazing at the wall, the questions are endless, the options ever expanding, and our confusion exponentially increasing. The quest to find the best running shoe for you now rivals that of the Holy Grail … the Last Crusade!

For the sheer awesomeness of it, I’ll be drawing a parallel to the last REAL Indiana Jones movie … you know, the one with Sean Connery! Anyway, at the end of the film Indy enters the cave of the knight and is surrounded by countless cups, goblets and chalices ranging from gaudily ornate to the most basic receptacle, and a choice has to be made. The strongest and bravest of the knights that had set across the desert to protect the grail reminds Indy to “Choose. But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” And, like Indy, we are left with the same difficult choice as we stare inquisitively at the brands, models, styles and colors so seductively displayed before us at our local running store. We must choose, but choose wisely, for the true shoe will keep us healthy, happy and strong and a false one will strip it from us.

So how DO we know? Can we know with any sort of certainty whilst in the store? The honest answer is, No. But, there are ways to reduce the variables and make things a little easier during the selection process.

1. Location, Location, Location: Go to a store that is dedicated to the sport, rather than to a sporting goods store. You want to go somewhere where the staff is experienced, knowledgeable and, this is a big plus, can do a gait analysis on the spot so they have a clear picture of how you run. Another good thing to clue you into a good store is if they have their own running team or organize their own training runs and clinics.

2. Be Prepared: This sounds a little silly and ridiculous, but this is something that helps me with my runners, bring your current/last pair of running shoes with you to the store. Why? In addition to giving salesperson the make and model of what you have been wearing, which people can tend to forget, they can also examine the compression and wear pattern on the soles to see how you run and how old/how many miles you are putting on them. This is particularly helpful in cases where stores do not do on-site gait analysis.

3. Function Before Fabulous: If you are like me at all, and I know that there are a ton of us out there, color is a HUGE attractor in running shoes. Over the years I have gotten more and more jaded due to the fact that the models I wear traditional have come in a base white with red or blue accents, which have alternated each model season. Boring!! I’ve tried other prettier shoes that have more fun color schemes and have had horrible results, because they simply are NOT the correct shoes for me to be wearing. Shoe manufacturers are becoming more aware of this and are making strides; so just hang on if your shoe hasn’t quite caught up with the color schemes yet.

4. Learn to Crawl Before You Run: Before I say anything on this topic, I just want to be clear that I have nothing against either Newton or Vibram FiveFingers at all. In fact, I have enjoyed seeing the amazing results that people have achieved in their footwear and have nothing bad to say about either of them. When it comes to some of these newer brands and technologies, such as Newton and Vibram FiveFingers, understand that these are not shoes to just slip on and run in everyday right away. Both types of shoes require you to integrate them into your running regiment slowly, alternating them with a traditional pair of shoes until your muscles are ready, then you get to incrementally add on the miles.

All of that being said, I have one final point to make regarding all of this and it is quite simply this: FORM TRUMPS ALL. When I started training, like really training, my running form was fair at best. I went through every brand of shoe trying to find one that could handle the miles and didn’t kill my feet and legs, but basically just winged it from the get go. Then working with my coach I focused less on what I was wearing on my feet and more on improving my form, shifting my foot strike, and finding my true stride. As I worked on my form more and more I needed less and less shoe, starting with near corrective footwear in the Brooks Beast, working into the Asics Kayano, the Under Armour Revenant, Asics DS Trainers, and now onto the Brooks Ravenna. 

Is Form the be-all end-all answer to the question? No, it isn’t, because there are certainly situations where people have issues with their feet and need very specific shoes and/or insoles. Furthermore, I don't claim to be the foremost authority on the subject, but from my experience and extensive observation of all of my own runners this is where the most gains are made.  Really focusing on form and technique before every run (via plyometric drills as a warm-up) and during your maintenance/recovery runs you will start to see and feel improvement. As you gain greater efficiency you’ll feel lighter on your feet, be able to go farther without feeling as worn, and your pace will naturally become quicker. This is something that is pretty easy to implement and maintain once you start doing it and the second the results come it’s even easier!

So runners, next time you go to your local running store be prepared and choose wisely! The roads and trails are out there waiting for you!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Sasquatch vs. The Fly: 10K Main Event

T’was a week ago this Saturday
A most beautiful morning I have to say
One perfect to run a blistering pace
With a sinister smile upon my face
During the Healthy Kidney 10k.

I was sure that I would dominate the whole way
Sprinting up hills while others just faded away
But as it would be
Something happened to me
And this wasn’t to be my day.

All was well during miles 1 to 3
Unleashing my legs and setting them free
Laying waste to the Central Park course
Like an unstoppable Sasquatchian force
But what happened next who could foresee.

Then somewhere between miles 3 and 4
I was assaulted by something I now abhor
T’was a tiny, insignificant little fly
One that my eye simply couldn’t spy
And, yes, you could say I’m a bit sore.

The little bastard turned kamikaze
And proceeded to fly directly at me
Steadily running 6:15s heading south
He took aim at my open mouth
And proceeded to exercise its hostility.

WHAM! A direct hit!
And my body was thrown into a fit
I began to dry heave and gag
Doubled over, I began to sag
Firing off round after round of spit.

To the man looking at me with a curious eye
I pointed to my mouth gasping, “Fly!”
He had no idea what I was saying
With the grotesqueness I was displaying
Which is too bad cause I felt like I could die!

Once I pulled myself together
It was time to decide whether
I should fight to regain my goal
The one the fly so villainously stole
Or if I had reached the end of my tether.

It was impossible to deny
The efficacy of the fly
And his attack on me
Which quite obviously
Made my body completely fry.

As I fought to regain my previous pace
I was then forced to face
The inevitable truth of the matter
That my stride could get no flatter
And this was not going to be my race.

My body felt totally tapped
My race plan completely scrapped
But I battled on right through the finish line
Cursing the fly’s damn bee-line
Still feeling like complete crap.

I finished in 40:41
But my work was far from done
As I turned back onto the course
Cheering a tour de force
Enjoying this fun in the sun.

So what does one learn from such a tale
Of running bliss, despite the fail
To always keep a watchful eye
For the next errant, vindictive fly
And its overwhelming desire to assail!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taperworm Infection (Restoidea)

We’ve heard of the great running myths and legends: the Runner’s High, the Second Wind, the Wall, but there is one such legend that is talked about more than all of those combined. A nefarious (thank you for bringing that word back into my vocabulary Chris Russell!), mythical creature that feeds on each and every runner at the end of their training season, laying dormant until all of the hard work is done and only their A-race is left to complete. I am of course speaking of that vile parasite, the Taperworm.

It is a truly strange, natural phenomenon runners endure in the last 2-3 weeks (depending on your plan) before their race, but the symptoms of the Taperworm infection are well documented and nearly impossible to avoid. The Taperworm not only affects you physically, but mentally as well, often times with both working in concert to create a diabolical situation that seems insurmountable. Fear not, my friends, there is a very basic treatment to help you survive this infection, which simply takes an open mind, a firm hand, and a little will power … ok, maybe not a firm hand, but you can overcome that pesky little worm whispering to you all the time!

The Taperworm Says:

‘Boom-baba-boom-baba-boom’: With respect to physical symptoms, one of the most difficult to deal with, especially for this Sasquatch, is what I like to call ‘The Olive Garden Syndrome.’ Ah, yes! A deliciously devious affliction where you are constantly carb craving and the thought of the ‘Never-Ending Pasta Bowl’ is tempting like sweet, sweet ambrosia, or at the very least a bowl full of Cadbury Mini-Eggs! Seriously, I am not a big guy, but when taper hits I have an appetite like ‘Lardass’ of Stand By Me fame. So what are you supposed to do food-wise when you go all Pringle-y, where you pop and can’t stop? Honestly, you don’t change much at all. During your training, hopefully, you have maintained a good, balanced, healthy diet rich in clean burning fuels, which should continue just as it has, but rather than going for that extra helping of everything you just have one good-sized plate. Maintain reasonable portion sizes and don’t get caught up in the carbo-loading excitement that you hear so much about and may even feel. But, if you are as spastic as I am, look into modified house wares that are sure to make you a hit at you’re your pre-marathon dinner party and make you the envy of all your friends.

‘No Fat Chicks’: Working hand-in-hand with the carb craving comes the irritation and lament of weight gain. Ladies, and gents (just to be fair), take a deep breath, put down your copy of whatever supermarket rag is currently boasting ‘How to Lose 10 lbs in 10-minutes, like whatever worthless celebrity’, because it is NOT for you. Let me be crystal clear about this, you WILL put on a little weight during your taper. OK, one more time for the cheap seats, this is a FACT, you will gain a little weight! During your taper you are going to want to hydrate properly - not so much that you are in the bathroom every 10-15 minutes - and in the process of doing so you will retain some water weight, but it is NOTHING to get bent out of shape about. It passes … yes, that was meant to be literal and a little gross.

‘This Can’t Be Happening’: There are a couple ‘Oh Sh*t!’ symptoms that manifest physically and eat you alive mentally during taper, which surely need to be addressed. First, lead legs. This particular gem is nothing new to ANY runner, but is one that always seems paradoxical during a taper. You’re just running along, your pace is a little slower, your miles a little shorter and your legs a little heavier?! What the hell?! I mean seriously, shouldn’t I feel stronger?! It is perfectly natural though. During taper your body does a little self-maintenance, some nice tissue repair, taking on more carbs and water than it had previously, and the result of which is your legs feeling a little heavier. Totally sucks, but it doesn’t linger. This situation is further complicated by the fact you may end up having all these little aches and pains, which can be attributed to your body healing itself. These pesky, taunting twinges may start out as nothing, but with aid of the Taperworm your head will blow the sucker out of proportion and turn it into career ending injury the likes of which would only be seen in Saw movies. So, in the words of Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype!”  RELAX, get out of your head, and remember everyone goes through it!

‘Bring It On’: As in all things there is a flipside to the aforementioned dumpy, lead legged, achy feeling, which is the, ‘I feel so good right now that I could dominate this race on one leg, hands tied behind my back, mouth sewn shut, eyes spooned out, streaking from the quad to the gymnasium!’ This is a tough one though, so do NOT fall victim to this feeling of pace and power during taper! You want to use this time to heal, fine tune and let your body rest up after months of heavy training so that when it comes time to toe the line you are fresh, fearless and focused. Stick to your plan. Keep the miles low, bring the pace down, work on your form, and just focus on the fact that you ready for this. I know, easier said than done, because that feeling the first day you go out and you do have that little extra spring in your step it’s like the first day you drove by yourself, you want to see what it feels like to break the speed limit! There is a time and a place for that, but it is not now.

‘When Is Enough Enough?’: The last and, perhaps, most difficult symptom to overcome is the paranoia. It is one of the cruel and destabilizing feelings that we have to learn to deal with, not only as runners, but also in our lives beyond the racecourse. That damned worm is in there all the while, making you all edgy as it whispers the questions to the back of your mind: Did I get in enough miles? Should I try and squeeze another longer run in? Did I do too many? Are my legs going to hold up? What if I don’t hit my goal time? What if the weather is terrible? What if I am late to the start? What if I forget my chip? What if I can’t find my shoes? What if I see a Sasquatch on the course? These are all perfectly valid questions, BUT they don’t matter at all at this point. There is nothing you can do in those last weeks that will make you any stronger or faster on race day that would really be noticeable, other than maybe being a little more fatigued. When you hear that little voice you have to tell it to piss off and just let it go. This is the moment when you need to be all sorts of Stuart Smalley. The best thing you can do for yourself is to maintain a positive frame of mind. Remind yourself of all the work that you have done to get to this point, trusting in that process. Remember your reason for going out and doing this, the cause that you’re supporting. Think about the people who have supported you through it all and friends that you have made along the way. But, most importantly, remember that this is YOUR race. There is no one else out there that is going to do it for you and it is YOUR moment to relish.

Here are a few other tips for surviving a Taperworm Infection:
  • Spend more time with your family. You’ve inevitably lost countless hours due to training runs, this is the time to show them how much you appreciate their understanding and try and bring them into your excitement.
  • Make your list and check it twice. Compile a checklist of everything you will need for your race (Before, During & After): food, clothing starting with the night before through the end of your race. Have a bag, box or area where you are keeping everything race day. Being confident in your preparedness takes some of the edge off.
  • When you do run during taper, run with a partner or group. By having someone else alongside you to talk with it is much easier to distract yourself from it all even if you are talking about your race. It is relaxing to have someone to bounce things off of.
  • Running a marathon is EASY, don't over complicate it, just ask Barney:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why Pay For The Race When The Training Run Is Free?

Last week while doing recovery speed work in Central Park with the Tuesday Night Twitter group I was asked why I ran the Manhattan Half-Marathon as a training run and not as a race? To be honest, that isn’t the first time I was asked that question, especially since Sunday’s course was two loops of my regular training route, so why would I go ahead and pay for something I can do for free?! The more I thought about my “race” and my state of mind as I toed the line Sunday morning, the more reasons came to mind. What is the value in paying for a race that you are not going to race?

Reason #1: Test Your Fitness
During Marathon training it’s a good idea to have one good fitness test a month to really evaluate your physical condition and there is no better place to do that than at a race. Seriously, there is nothing better than going out, burning up the course and seeing what you can get those sticks of yours to do and how hard you can push them! I know we all love the feeling of acid filled legs, lava flowing through your veins, lungs spontaneously combusting, heart pounding out your ears and your body emitting more steam than a paper mill chimneystack. Who wouldn’t?!
Now the ‘what’ you test can vary: lungs, legs, paces, finishing speed, hill competency (up or down), endurance, post-injury recovery, etc. The important thing in all of this is that when you, or your Coach, have worked out when that race will be that you plan for it and approach it with a clear focus in mind. This past weekend, my only focus was on quality long miles without the faintest twinge of my injury from last year. I wanted to start slow, build speed, hold for the middle miles, and close out the last 5K strong. A good plan, if I may say so, and one that was 100% successful, 1:33:20.

Reason #2: Experimentation
A major No-No for Half-Marathon and Marathon race day is doing/wearing/trying something new. Seriously, you just don’t want to do it, whether it is new socks, shoes or belt to different flavor GU you’ve never tried before, but thought sounded good until mile 14 when you had it for the first time and gagged almost instantly, forcing you to stop, kinda half-puke on your shoes and then spit for the next six miles as you try to clear its foulness from your gob. Let that image clear from your mind for a second. Ok. Good. Let’s proceed.

Organized long mileage races are outstanding, because you can toy around with things and experiment with your race routine. Nutrition is one of the biggest issues that people have race day, because of anxiety, adrenaline and excitement, which can lead to an absence of appetite before and during a race. Everyone wants to know what, and if, they should eat before a race and which is better for on course nutrition: Shot Blox, Sports Beans, GUs, Hammer Gels, etc. Well, here’s your chance to go try them out and figure out which one works best for you. Similarly, you can afford to run without your belted water bottle(s) and just your fuel belt, making you a little lighter and allowing you to try different techniques for taking in fluids on the course. Perhaps most importantly, you have the opportunity to play with the timing of your nutrition on the course, allowing you to ascertain the optimum time for your gel, or whatever, and get the most out of it without having a dip in energy or bonking at all.

These races are also the time to test any new gear you are thinking about for race day, especially for seasonal races that can have extremely variable weather conditions. Hats, gloves, arm and leg sleeves, tights, shorts, sunglasses, windbreakers, you name it, try it out, because if there is one thing you don’t want to do is to be trying out something new on race day and ending up with toe nails falling out, blisters, awesome modern art-inspired sun burns, or chafe marks from hell. Fascinating and totally worth a photo, but not really what you want to be going through on race day.

Reason #3: Practice Makes Perfect
As in all things in life, practice does make perfect and when it comes to any sort of competitive or non-competitive racing there is no substitution for performing under live conditions. It doesn’t matter how many times you run your 10k Out-n-Back course and crush your PR time, it will never measure up to the experience of running that time on the course in the swell of emptying corrals and the thunderous pitter of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pattering running shoes on the pavement. There is just something about how you feel when you have your bib on, the chip on your shoe and you toe the line with everyone else that changes everything about that run. Learning to handle the stresses that can hit on any given race day is an awesome thing to have control over. One of the most common things to go on race day that drives runners nuts is, let’s all say it together, GOING OUT TOO FAST. This is something that plagues us all and the more we can control that adrenaline rush and learn to handle the excitement as we cross the starting mat the better we will be when we hit our big day.

Taking this idea a step further, having one good race a month you start to streamline your routine for the night before through race day morning. You refine what you have for dinner and when you have it. You work out how early you need to be up to eat and take care of any GI issues without any embarrassing moments or having to stop on the course. You know exactly what you need to do in preparation and removing that little bit of anxiety can make a HUGE difference!

As you look at your race schedule heading into your ‘A’ race, think about what you want to work on. Try and refine everything so that through repetition it is second nature and feels like that is the way you have been doing it since the beginning. When you’re on the course have a pace plan worked out and see how well you can maintain your discipline and hit your marks regardless of the excitement and the visual cues (people being passed or passing you) that prompt you to step on the gas and push harder. The money is never wasted if you learn something from the experience and you should every time you toe the line.

And just to make sure that you have taken notice, 90% of this is all mental discipline, the tough stuff, and the RUNNING is the fun part.