The Mile in Front of You
Sunday, July 26, 2015

Often when I am running my mind will drift into obscure places that make very little sense or may have nothing to do with running.  Today was no exception.  With 12-miles scheduled on the road for a time period that would easily eclipse an hour and a half there was plenty of time to have my mind wander.  Before I hit the road today, however, I had concerns because my plan was to get out and moving around 7:00 a.m. and instead I didn’t get going until a little after 8:00.  The difference in that one hour was about 10 degrees of temperature and bountiful sunshine, which I, of course, hate.  I left the house feeling a little groggy to begin with but tried settling into a good rhythm and hoped that I would find my pace and tough my way through it like I’ve done many times before.  I chose a course that I ran for the first time back on June 7 prior to formal Marine Corps Marathon training began.  Back then I covered the distance with relative ease and at a decent pace of 8:06/mile.

Today, despite my early feelings, I was having a decent run and was able to clip off a few good miles.  By the time I was around mile four, however, my mind kept wandering to various points that I would run miles ahead of where I was.  I kept thinking about the landscape that I would traverse and I kept picturing different shady parts of my course because the sun was killing me.  As I did this, however, I would feel somewhat defeated in the sense that I knew how I was feeling and that it would only get worse.  Instead of focusing on where I was and what was happening around me at that moment I was thinking about three, four, six miles ahead of where I was.  Realizing this wasn’t helping me and knowing that it was actually hurting me mentally I decided to keep reminding myself to “focus on the mile in front of you.”  Easier said that done.  But it broke the remainder of the run into a much smaller increment of one mile at a time.  It helped but the conditions and my physical state continued to deteriorate.  Just before mile 9 I hit a bit of a wall. As the temperature rose and I continued to sweat it became clear that I was badly dehydrated.  It was at that moment all I could think about was getting something to drink.  Puddles on the ground, formed by lawn sprinklers that I ran past, looked like watering holes that I actually considered lapping up because my thirst had grown so intensely.  I began to think about the animals in the African desert who battle for this precious commodity and I understood how critically important good drinking water can be to the sustaining of life.   I actually stopped momentarily and texted my wife to bring me something to drink.  Unfortunately she didn’t feel her phone vibrate and never answered me.  Talk about deflating.

With a little under three miles remaining, I might as well have been one hundred miles away from something to drink.  I then began to think about Bobby Boucher, played by Adam Sandler in the 1998 film The Waterboy.  All I could keep thinking about was getting home to get my “high quality h20.”  It’s funnier now, but at the moment it was anything but funny. With just over one mile remaining I ran by a soda machine in the Salisbury Zoo and with no money in my pocket whizzed by with a thirst that had grown 10,000 times.  I again felt deflated. Knowing I was just over a mile away I knew that I would not pass out or be harmed physically, but the thirst I felt was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  I briefly thought about Lance Armstrong, who I recall watching in one of his Tour de France time trial runs when he became so dehydrated you could see white salt marks form around his mouth.  All that did was made me even more thirsty so I quickly wiped it out of my head.  Eventually I did finish my run in disappointing fashion.  To say that I had a bad day on one of the most important days of the week for training is an understatement.  But much like any period of training I realized shortly after I got home that there will be highs and lows and that is to be expected.  All you can do is focus on the next run, the next opportunity to train and improve and grow stronger.

I also had a moment of perspective when I saw this video online.

Video

It really made me think and made me realize that despite what I felt was a bad day was actually quite a blessing.  That I am lucky to be able to run and train and that tomorrow is another day to look forward to.  There is nothing I can do to change what happened.  Learn from my mistake (I’ll be buying a fuel belt, which I’ve resisted for years) and will not let it happen again.  Today is in the past.  Tomorrow I go out and focus on the mile that is in front of me.

Run on…

Yakety Yak…
Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sometimes in the middle of a difficult training schedule you have to take some time for yourself and step away from the grind of the preparation.  I am guilty of not giving myself too many breaks, be it baseball season, hockey season, or marathon training.  I continually push the envelope and drive myself nearly into the ground.  It can be physically demanding as well as mentally exhausting.  Today, I had a typical Saturday in terms of sleeping in a little bit before having my tall cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and heading out the door a few minutes after 9:00 a.m.  After a casual 4-mile run I considered myself ready for tomorrow’s 12-mile trek but decided that I needed a little down time.  Let’s face it, we all can use some rest and relaxation.  So my wife Becky and I  headed over to the house of some of our friends to spend the afternoon swimming at their pool and enjoying a beautiful day on Delmarva.  While we were there, we decided to try something neither of us had ever done before.  We ventured out on the Wicomico River for some kayaking. It took a few minutes of working the oars and understanding how to maneuver in our two-person kayak  for us to get used to it, but once we did, we enjoyed some time paddling up and down and across the river.  Afterward we were treated to a wonderfully prepared meal and enjoyed each others’ company. Great food and great conversation.  It was really a perfect, relaxing way to spend a Saturday in the heart of my training.  Actually it would be a great way to spend a Saturday even if it weren’t around training.

The whole time on the river I couldn’t help but think of The Coasters and their 1958 song Yakety Yak.  In my mind I kept saying (and singing), Ka-yakety yak, let’s kayak.  It’s really dumb but just more insight into the lunacy that can be my mind.  Afterward I declared myself a kayak-er, finally, in my mid-40’s.  For anyone who has done it I’m sure you think it’s ridiculous, but for us, it was a really neat experience since it was our first time.  I can also definitely see the benefits one could garner for an upper body and core workout.  The Wicomico River is fairly tame in terms of the current.  I can’t imagine how it would be in rapid water.  After dinner we went down and sat along the river for a few minutes before calling it a night.  There is, of course, the issue of a dozen miles that lay ahead in the morning so I wanted to try and get as much sleep as possible.  As I talked about on Wednesday, tomorrow is the second most important day of the week and one that will finish off week #3 of training.  With only 3 short months remaining before the big day things will begin to pick up in a big way over the next few weeks.  But I can honestly say that I am ready for the challenge that tomorrow and beyond will bring both physically and mentally thanks to some fun and relaxation on the water today.

Kayak 2Kayak 1Wicomico River

 

Out of Thin Air
Friday, July 24, 2015

It’s been a little over three years since I called Johnstown, PA my home.  If I’m being honest, there are only a few things that I miss back there and certainly the weather is not one of them.  I miss my friends and most of my family.  I miss experiencing all four seasons of the year, even though I don’t miss snow for days on end and the inevitable shoveling that goes along with it.  I miss having a large number of ice hockey rinks within a very short drive of where I live.  I miss Sheetz convenience stores.  And as hard as it may be to believe, I miss the elevation and the hills that helped mold me into a Boston Marathoner just four years ago.  Here on the Eastern Shore hills are at a premium.  And when you’re lucky enough to find one, they are rarely ever steeper than a bridge overpass or what we Western Pennsylvanians would call speed bumps.  It’s so flat around here that I barely notice when I’m lucky enough to find myself running uphill.  There is no doubt that elevation also plays a key role as well in my ability to improve my fitness.  In Johnstown I ran at just over 2,000 feet of elevation but here I am barely above sea level.  It may not seem like much, but when you’re giving up roughly 2,000 feet I’m fairly certain that the air is significantly thinner which provides the added benefit of increasing VO2 max.

When I am out on my runs it is hard for me not to think about the extremely steep hill that I used to finish with on nearly every single run when I lived in the Borough of Southmont.  Back then I took it for granted because it was simply where I lived.  It was next to impossible to run anywhere without having to run on a hill of some sort.  On the hill in question I was just running back home.  Along with those hills came stronger legs and an overall improved runner who would often strive on hilly race courses.  In a lot of ways I was much better running uphill than I was on flat ground or downhill.  Having been away from it for so long I wonder if I would crumble on hilly routes now.

The closest thing I think I have come to in the past few years that even came close to those days in Johnstown was last November when I ran the Bay Bridge Run.  Unless you count the two years I ran the Mud on the Mountain race at Seven Springs but that is more of a survival adventure race and not a run.  And even though I have driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge hundreds of times I never fully appreciated the steepness of the incline heading up the eastern span as you cross over the Bay.  Given the “hill” that made up a mile or so of the 10k Across the Bay I performed fairly well.  Still, I don’t train on the types of hills I trained on every single day back in Johnstown.

So with week 3 of training coming to a close this weekend it’s important to note that next week hill training will become part of the routine.  And I continue to search for the elusive mounds of earth that rise up from the ground like a beacon of light made of bedrock.  More than likely, however, I will be forced inside to the dreadmill where I’m sure to have plenty of oxygen to breath down here close to the sea.

Run on…

What’s in a Name?
Thursday, July 23, 2015

I’ll begin tonight’s post with a quick update from yesterdays Post, which included a photo of several law enforcement officers and a taped off Royal Farms.  The featured photo for tonight’s post is timestamped on my iPhone at 5:15 a.m.  Approximately 90 minutes earlier this happened there.  So I figured tonight is as good a night as any for me to address a topic I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks now.  It’s all about route naming.

Last December I decided that I wanted something better than Mapmyrun for tracking my workouts.  After searching a few days and reading several online reviews I went with the Runmeter app and I haven’t been disappointed.  Like most running or exercise apps you are able to give your running routes names.  It took me a week or two to realize it so the first couple runs I did with the app were all called “new route”.  Eventually I did figure it out and started to name my routes.  At first blush that seems simple enough but after awhile it becomes harder and harder to decipher one 4-mile run from another.  Not that I’m full of creativity, but it does take some creative thinking in order to remember which route is called by which name.  Not that it’s important, but the app will keep data by route which can be used to help determine ways to improve speed and performance.  I’ll save all that jargon for a different post.  This is all about the names.

Runners, I believe, are habitual creatures.  When we find a route or a distance that works we generally stick with it.  But running the same courses over and over (especially when streak running) can also get boring.  Naming the routes is one way to keep things interesting.  If you can believe it, I have created new routes just for the sake of naming it.  My first named route and the one I probably run the most is the RoFo 4 and variations of that same route, the RoFo 3 and RoFo n Back.  The route is basically pretty simple.  It incorporates the Royal Farms mentioned in the article above.  See, the RoFo is basically the fulcrum point of that run.  Depending on the rest of the run and the distance, you get the variations of the 3, 4 and since it’s about a mile away, the 2-mile Rofo n Back.  Someday someone will have to tell me why it’s Rofo and not RoFa, but I guess that’s also another story for another day.  You know, because its Royal Farms, not Royal Forms.  But I digress.

Most of the courses I’ve mapped out for myself here on the Eastern Shore are either large circles or out and backs.  The large circle routes can be run in reverse to keep them fresh.  Even though it’s fairly flat here, running the same route in reverse does make it slightly different so when running the RoFo 4 the other way, I simply name the route and spell it backwards, or the 4 oFoR.  My friend Jonathan was the first, and to this day, the only person to tell me that he figured out that course name almost immediately and complimented my creativity.

Other course names include:

And last but not least are my Interval runs by date since each week of marathon training the distance changes depending on what intervals are scheduled. And that’s the logic; or lack thereof, with my naming system of the routes I run during training.  So what’s in a name?  A lot of miles.

Run on…

The Two Most Important Days
Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Valentine’s Day and your Wedding Anniversary!  Just kidding.  But not really.  This isn’t a relationship blog or that may be a correct assumption.  Given the nature of this website and what it is I’m doing here the two most important days each week are intervals day and the long slow run day.  For this marathon training schedule Wednesdays have been set aside for intervals.  Short bursts of speed followed by a slow recovery period.  In addition to the 400’s I’ve run each of the first two weeks of training, today called for the addition of Yasso 800’s, made famous by Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso who will be running with us at the Marine Corps Marathon.  After 3-400’s I had to run 3-800’s and then finish with another 400.  Today I ran much smarter than I have the first two week by saving some energy and not going full out right from the start.  In addition I was helped by the fact that I had much more bearable temperatures and no sunshine.  I had to meet some co-workers at 7:00 a.m. for a work meeting in Historic Annapolis, MD at Anne Arundel Community College, which is actually in Arnold, MD but close enough.  Knowing that I had to leave a little over an hour for my 7-8 mile run I had to decide whether I wanted to get up an hour earlier or run after work.  As I stated in Morning, Noon and Night a few days ago, I am much better off running in the morning.  So I made sure to turn in a little earlier last night and set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. today.

As I stepped out the door to get started, I noticed that our lawn sprinklers were on in my yard and there was just a hint of daylight popping up over the horizon.

7.22 StartAs I approached my 1-mile mark and the turnaround for my 2-mile warm-up I was surprised to see that the Royal Farms was taped off with no less than six police vehicles surrounding it.  As of the writing of this post, I still am not sure what happened but I’d have to surmise that it was robbed.

Royal Farms ProblemsFrom there I made my way onto the track for the interval portion of my run where I was able to snap a few additional photos of what turned out to be an incredible morning for running.

image4  image5

It is a morning like today that reminds me why I love this sport so much, and why I love the mornings.  It was so peaceful even though I had to push myself during the interval portion of the run. As I’ve already mentioned, my experience kicked in and I held back ever so slightly to keep my splits as even as possible.  I am happy to report that my last 400 time was faster than any of the first three.  Interval day is critical to building up the speed factor and engaging the fast twitch muscles that will be called upon on race day and today was, as Cube said, a good day (as far as the running is concerned).  I can only hope that the second most important day of the week, this Sunday, is equally as good.

Run on…

Goals
Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It’s a common used phrase in business and industry as well as in the sporting universe.  Goals.  Goal-oriented, goal-setting, measurable and attainable goals are all variations of this often over-used word.  But what are goals?  Well, for me, they are a target.  Something to zero in on and establish focus on why you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing.  Sometimes I think we make goals goals the absolute measuring stick for success or failure.  Which isn’t always a bad idea, but one thing I’ve learned since I started running competitively and specifically running marathons is that it’s o.k. to have secondary goals.  And not just in running but in other sports or life in general.  I mean, seriously, when the NFL season was about to begin last year I heard players and coaches alike on my favorite team, the Oakland Raiders talking about aspirations for winning a championship.  Now, I’m not a fool and I would like to think that the players, coaches and front office staff aren’t fools either (although some of my friends would disagree with me), but I’m guessing they all felt like a .500 season was a more reasonable expectation.  As a competitive athlete, I get it.  Nobody wants to admit their shortfalls and nobody wants to sell themselves short.  But there is something about setting a realistic goal and then working hard to out-do that goal.  Sometimes, even a realistic goal is not attainable, but that doesn’t stop you from aiming high.  But doing so realistically.

I’ll give you an example.  When I went to run the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in 2007 I went with the intention of qualifying for the Boston Marathon which would have required me to run a 3:15:59 or less.  But in the weeks leading up to the race I developed some powerful hip pain that ended up being Piriformis Tendonitis so I tempered my expectations.  I went to Cincinnati and even started the race with the expectation of qualifying for Boston.  I held on for twenty-one miles before the weather became an issue and I became severely dehydrated.  In the last four miles I knew I wouldn’t qualify for Boston so I went to my back-up goal of a sub-3:30.  There was no shame in finishing in 3:26:08.  I was disappointed for sure, but only after I came home and reviewed all that I had been through did I realize that despite not reaching the stated goal, I had a successful race in Cincinnati.  And perhaps the most important thing was the fact that I didn’t use the secondary goal as an excuse when things went wrong and it got difficult.  For me that is the most important thing.  A secondary goal; or a back-up plan, is fine as long as it isn’t used as a crutch.

The other thing about goals is that they can and should be adjusted right up until the very end if needed.  Not only did I do that in Cincinnati, but I did it while on the streets of other marathons I have run.  It’s a constant process of interpreting information and making reasonable adjustments.  Think about this for a moment.  You set a goal.  Let’s say you want to run a 5k.  So you work hard and train and get yourself ready and you fulfill your mission and run a 5k.  It turns out that it was easier than you anticipated because of your hard work and preparation.  For some people that might be fine and they’ll never run another race.  But I’m thinking that for most of us, doing exceptionally well might end up motivating us to say, “hey, maybe I can run a 10k.”  On the flip side, you might set a goal of running a marathon, like I did in 2005.  But for whatever reason (in my case it was a knee issue), you are unable to complete what you started.  That is exactly what happened to me.  I over-trained and injured myself and had to back out of the 2005 Buffalo Marathon.  I was disappointed but I learned from my mistakes and continued to run shorter distances.  Within a year I had worked out what I needed to work out, used the knowledge I gained in the process, and inevitably went on to run the Cleveland Marathon plus 8  more marathons since.

So why am I talking about goals today?  Because once again on my short run for the week, a 2-miler, I ran it extremely fast despite being extremely tired (thanks Night Guy).  So fast that when I finish and see my pace it makes me think that Boston qualifying is a real possibility.  But then I realize it’s only two miles, and realistically I should shoot for something more obtainable, like a sub-3:45 or sub-3:30 depending on how training goes.  I’m not where I was four years ago, but I’m getting there.  So for now, my stated goal is a sub-4:00 marathon, which is ironic because that was the goal I had going to Cleveland.  Actually, it was the secondary goal.  When I began training I just wanted what every marathon first-timer wanted.  To finish. When all was said and done, I reached my goal, even though I hadn’t reached my goal.  Did it matter?  You be the judge.

Run on…

Morning, Noon and Night
Monday, July 20, 2015

As I headed out the door this morning for my 59th consecutive day of running I thought a lot about how much I love running in the morning.  There is something refreshing about getting up and moving to start your day.  Knowing that your workout is done before most peoples’ day is even started is a wonderful feeling.  I wish I could say it was always that way.  When I’m in a good rhythm and when I was at the height of my marathon running (2010/2011) I was an early morning runner.  When I am struggling and when I’m not in that “zone” I’m usually squeezing runs in at lunch time or after work in the evening.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that for me, if I’m getting myself up and moving early in the morning, I’m better.  But make no mistake, it’s also harder for me because I love my sleep.  I have found that it just comes down to motivation.  Being in a good place is a good start to having motivation.  A year ago, when I had no purpose and was just running for the sake of running, it was difficult to get out of bed and get that 4 or 6 or 8 miles in before getting ready for work.  Having the Marine Corps Marathon to train for and following a schedule is definitely something that keeps my motivation at a high point.

Some people prefer to run at night while others prefer the mornings.  Some people like to get their run in over lunch.  It’s definitely a personal thing and I don’t know that there is an advantage or disadvantage either way.  I truly think it’s an individual choice and preference.  I know that in the winter months when the days are shorter it is definitely harder to get moving and heading out into the cold darkness.  It’s also hard; not equally mind you, to get going when it’s as hot and humid as it has been.  But having daylight to run in and not worry about turning an ankle because you couldn’t see a stone or stick on the ground definitely has its advantages.  And so I find myself in a good place, in a good rhythm and running in the morning.  Experience has taught me to enjoy this streak because there is always that day when the alarm doesn’t go off or you simply shut it off and fail to get up or, like this coming Wednesday, you have a work meeting that will require you to be on the road by 7:00 a.m.  Knowing that I’ve got speed work to get in and a run around 8 miles creates a dilemma.  Get up even earlier in the morning or move the run to the evening.  Tough choices to make but I’ve also found that remaining flexible and adjusting your plans one way or another is the best course of action.  Much like yesterday when the weather simply didn’t allow for the distance that I felt I needed to run.

As these thoughts went through my mind this morning I couldn’t help but think of this Seinfeld clip:

 Yea, as I head out the door on most mornings, I find myself cursing Night Guy.  Night Guy stays up way too late posting to his blog or watching the Pirates game against the Royals.  Something tells me that will also be the case again tomorrow morning.

Run on…