One Regular Man's Journey to the Boston Marathon

Week 6: Aug. 10 – 16, 2015

Headin’ on Down the Trail
Sunday, August 16, 2015

My training schedule called for a 9-mile long run this weekend with 2 of those miles run at tempo.  To put it more literally, 2-miles run at marathon pace.  With a quick trip back to my old home in Pennsylvania I scanned the race sites to find a race I could run and to my pleasant surprise one of the options was the Run for the Trail 7k, held in Dilltown, Pennsylvania (they don’t have their own website, so the main building in town will have to do).  The 7k was a perfect race for me because in lieu of the longer run I wanted to use a race and because it was just over 4 miles long (4.345 to be exact), I figured I would actually run a little longer tempo and a shorter distance.

The added benefit for me was that the race was an event put on by my friends at the Indiana Road Runners Club.  I hadn’t seen many of the club regulars in years.  The race is also an evening run and fit nicely into my schedule.  It is always hectic when I return to Pennsylvania and with lots of people on my list to visit the evening race gave me the flexibility I needed to not tie up an entire morning running a race.

My day included a small birthday gathering for my godchild Karlie and while playing soccer with her and sister Kayleigh I went to retrieve the ball from a bank of bushes along the creek that runs behind their house.  As I stepped into the brush a carpenter bee who had been buzzing around got lodged between the tongue of my shoe on top of my ankle and proceeded to sting me.  That created a bit of temporary excitement as well as the realization that my race would be a bit more difficult as well.

Onto the race with a bit of a swollen and sore ankle I was able to converse with several club members I hadn’t seen in years and at 6:00 p.m. the race was off.  It actually starts on a country road and the first 2 miles takes place on some rolling hills.  Since I have not trained on hills very much it proved to be a bit more difficult than I remembered the last time I had run the race.  That was in 2009 and even as I type that it doesn’t seem like it could have been six years since I had run it, but that is when I ran it.

A little over halfway the course turns sharply onto the Ghost Town Trail and back into Dilltown.  After rolling up and down the first half hills the trail is actually a slight downhill for the approximate 2-miles that you are on the trail.  With very little hill work to speak of my legs had taken a beating during the first half and although I struggled on the return trip down the trail, I did maintain my speed and never felt like I truly struggled.  All in all I felt fairly happy with the end result given the hills and the fact that the race time temperature was about 84 degrees.  Coming across the finish line in a time of 30:17, it was the slowest of my three race times, but with a 28:47 in 2008 (when I was 37) and a 29:15 in 2009 (when I was 38), I really don’t have a whole lot to complain about.  My time was good enough for first place among the 40-44 male age group (actually 2nd as the master’s winner was in my age group).  The very cool thing about this race is that in lieu of medals the winners receive painted railroad spikes (gold, silver and bronze; pictured below).

 I am glad to have received my second gold spike (I got a bronze in 2009) as I finish off week 6 of training and now face ten more weeks of training.  Another step along the path to the Marine Corps Marathon, as I head on down the trail for the final 69 days.

Run on…


Getting Ready to Start (pre-race)

7k finish

The Finish (taken pre-race)

Dilltown, PA

Dilltown, PA

The Awards

The Awards

Post-Race Ice Cream (another race tradition)

Post-Race Ice Cream (another race tradition)

14th Overall, 1st in my age

14th Overall, 1st in my age

Race Bling!

Race Bling!

A Day Off
Saturday, August 15, 2015

If you think I took a day off from running you’re crazy. No, like everybody who has ever walked the face of the earth, we all need a day off so I’m not posting anything formally tonight.

I will, however, pitch tomorrow’s post for you.  This evening I ran a  race as part of my training regimen.  It’s a race I’ve run three times now, but I haven’t run it since 2009.

Tomorrow I will have a full race report.

Enjoy your Saturday evening all.  And you guessed it,

Run on…

When the
Entire Season is Just One Game
Friday, August 14, 2015

In order to explain tonight’s topic I have to delve deep into the archives of my memory the past.  I have to go back to a time when I was completely engrossed into another sport.  The sport of football.  As football camps are set to open, or already are in full swing it brings back many memories of the times when I would be gearing up for the new season, but in reality would have already put in several months of preparation for the season to begin.

What a lot of people may not know is that a football season extends well beyond the few weeks of training camp and the regular season schedule.  And if you’re lucky, the playoffs.  For me, in college at Saint Francis University, football season began just two weeks after the previous season ended.  In high school at Conemaugh Valley, as both a player and a coach, the season would begin sometime after the Christmas holiday.  With weightlifting and the off-season regimen of workouts increasing in intensity through the spring, things really would get going in July with preseason conditioning workouts.  Then, in mid-August, two and three-a-days would lead into the regular season opener, which was always the primary focus for months leading into the season.  Being in the weight room in January, we would be focused on the season opening opponent.  In high school that opponent was often Blairsville.   In college it was a variety of teams.  But beyond the primary focus of that opening weekend game, there were always 8 or 9 more games after that.  And if you made the playoffs, potentially a few more.

So why the topic of football?  Because it puts into perspective the grind of the training that is necessary for running a marathon.  You see, when training for a marathon, the typical training period (and the training schedule I am currently following) is sixteen weeks.  Which is exactly the length of the NFL regular season.  Again, that season amounts to sixteen contests for your favorite NFL team.  For the marathon runner, the entire “season” amounts to a singular “game”.  All the training miles and hours that go into preparing for just that one day.  That one contest.  But in this game, the opponent is not a gridiron warrior.  It is the road.  And the clock.  And one’s own determination.  It’s not 9 games, or 10 games, or 16 games.  It’s 26.2 miles and the season is over.  And playoffs?

Well, similar to this now famous rant, we aren’t trying to “win”.  We’re just trying to finish, and if everything goes right on that one day, we might just earn a trip to the granddaddy of them all, the Boston Marathon.

Run on…

Thursday, August 13, 2015

An excellent scene from the 1999 film The Green Mile, which describes my morning run perfectly.  Although my training has gone well, I have reached a point where I do feel a certain level of fatigue that is affecting me on certain days.  Today was no exception.  It was as close as I’ve come in the last 83 days to skipping a day of running.  But it was the self-talk in my head that got me out of bed and made me stop feeling sorry for myself and got me out the door for my 3-mile run.

While out on the run it was continued self-talk that kept me going.  And it was out on the streets today that I realized that it is that voice in my head that convinces me to get over it and keep moving forward.  It is the voice that plays a huge role in training and on race days.  I have written previously about the mental toughness required to train for and run a marathon.  Today was one of those days where the mental chess game played out in my brain.  Do I go?  Do I take a day off?  It’s getting kind of late, maybe run later?  Once I got out on the road it was even more self-talk that pushed me through the barriers of fatigue and soreness.  In addition to calling myself names and reminding myself that these are the days that will prepare me for the mental warfare sure to take place on race day I thought about John Coffey.  John Coffey, who has a name like the drink, but doesn’t spell it the same.  He actually spells it like this famous Canadian who couldn’t be any less similar to John Michael Duncan (R.I.P.), who played John Coffey.

Yes, I was tired.  So much so, that I remarked that I was dog tired.  I wanted to cut the run short.  I spent the better part of the morning thinking ahead to the weekend and how I might have to reduce my “off days” to single miles to recoup the energy that I seem to have lost.  I thought about my eating habits and whether or not I needed to make some changes to improve my energy stores that way.  I thought about a lot of things.  But I also talked to myself.  I then debated whether or not thinking certain things is the same as talking to oneself.  I decided that there is a marked difference.  When I think about scenarios or run through visuals in my mind, it is only a thought.  But when I say certain things, it becomes that other voice, that alter-ego, the conscience that tells me to speed up, to slow down or to stay upright and improve my form. So much thought and self-talk that before I knew it I had completed my workout and found myself coming in to a hot cup of coffee. You know, the drink.

Run on…


A Great Morning for Running

Week 6 Beard

Week 6 Training Beard

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A lot of times the marathon is a lot of things planned for, but often it is a lot of things unplanned for.  That’s why it’s good every now and then to have to make an in-run adjustment or deal with a situation that is out of your control.  It helps to keep you on your toes and ready for that moment when, inevitably, something will begin to go wrong.  It helps to build the mental strength to overcome the adversity, no matter what that adversity or situation may be.

Wednesdays are interval days and today called for 4-6 Yasso 800’s*Note: yesterday I wrote that I had to run 4 but after I posted last evening I double-checked my schedule and realized it was 4-6. With family in over the weekend for an extended four-day visit, my sleep schedule has been a bit erratic, so I awoke with plenty of time to get going, but somehow found myself up against a time crunch as I moved around the house at a snail’s pace.  So I decided I would do five Yasso’s after my normal 2-mile warmup at a light jogging pace.

Week 6 intervals would be thrown a curve, however, as I entered the track a few minutes past 6:00 a.m. and saw that the Parkside Rams cross country team had commandeered the track.  Realizing I needed to make a quick decision, I turned back and decided I needed to improvise.  After running what I felt was an approximate 800 meters, I realized that right nearby the track is a neighborhood that has a large oval outer road that I often run on as part of my regular running routes.  So I decided to head over there and map the oval to stick with a track-like feel at a minimum.  To my surprise, the loop measured as an almost perfect 800 meter circle (probably about 795 meters).  After doing the first lap there and having realized the actual distance of the loop, I was able to focus on the intervals themselves instead of watching the GPS on my Runmeter app.

Just like my experience on Sunday my workout seemed to fly by because of the variety added to the workout.  It was a speed session not on a track, but also in a location that was not heavily traveled and was a perfect substitute for an actual track.  As I was enjoying the variety I couldn’t help but think to myself that variety is truly the spice of life.  That, and the fact that today called for what will be known moving forward as some improVINCEation.  From the looks of it, I may need some of that tomorrow too if the WBOC-TV forecast is accurate.

Run on…



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I think one of the things that I love so much about marathon training is the process.  To me everything is a process.  When I first began officiating ice hockey or umpiring baseball I had to go through the process of learning the little nuances of the craft.  When picking up any new hobby or going through any project it is truly all about the process.

Merriam Webster defines process as “a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.”  Can it be any more perfect than that?  No matter what you do in life, it can really be simplified to that level.  What steps must you take to get from point A to point B?  What result are you looking to get?  Maybe its a report that you are working on at work.  Maybe you’re building a house or even purchasing a house.  There is a process to everything we do.  Sometimes getting out of bed in the morning can be a process.  I love the word and what it means so much that I have a small Post-It note on my desk at work with the word “Process” written on it.  It is a small reminder for me to remember that when things are not going well, there is a process and part of that process is working through the tough times and issues.

When you are training for a marathon it is all about the process.  It’s about building up your mileage gradually with very specific types of workouts that are intended to strengthen different parts of what you’ll need on race day.  In a previous post I covered the topic of the two most important days.  One of which stares me in the face tomorrow.  It is another day of intervals and includes four Yasso 800’s.  Compared to last week’s interval session, this one should be slightly easier which is all a part of the process of increasing gradually and then backing off at appropriate times.  Sometimes it is a small reduction, and other times it is a huge reduction.

As I find myself with less than 80 days remaining until the start of the Marine Corps Marathon, I continue to work my way through the daily grind of training and I once again realize that I love what marathons; and more specifically, the training, do for me.  I am very much a goal-oriented person and there is nothing like training over the long-haul and the preparation required to go the 26.2 miles.  There is just something that seems to drive me and it makes me all around better.  As I am now into week six, there is also the added benefit of shedding some unwanted pounds.  Within the last week several people have asked me if I’ve lost weight.  Others have outright commented on my weight loss.  Although not completely drastic, I have dropped a little over 20 pounds since February.  Enough for people to notice.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s just another part (a good part) of the process.

Run on…

Monday, August 10, 2015

It’s a simple question, but one that can evoke a lot of debate.  Headphones or no headphones?  Some races have banned them for safety reasons, others make them optional.  As a runner it is often a matter of personal choice.  For me, I can honestly say that I’ve always relied on headphones and having music to listen to (or sporting events) while doing my runs.  I’ve trained almost exclusively with headphones for the thirteen or so years that I’ve been running.  Strangely, I’ve gone to marathons and dropped the phones after training with them the entire time.

One rule of running a marathon is that you should never change things from training to the day of the race and headphones should not be an exception.  And yet, like I tend to do, I’ve broken many a rule; written or unwritten.  For me, it’s about the distraction and when running in a marathon there are plenty of things going on that can distract you from the actual running of the race.  A simple training run of 3 or 12 miles on a Tuesday or Saturday does not provide much in the way of distraction.

There is something to be said about getting lost in a run without the distraction of the music or the games.  It’s an interesting debate to have and one that I will even have with myself from time to time.  Rocking out with Rage Against the Machine or hitting some old school rap with Dr. Dre can be exhilarating and can get your juices flowing, but there is also the beauty of a calm run where all you can hear are the footfalls of your own shoes hitting the pavement and the rhythmic breathing coming from your own body.  The distant sounds of cars, the geese and birds, or the occasional dog, breaks up the sound every so often to remind you that you are not alone.

Depending on where you are and when you are running, there is the issue of safety and being able to hear and know what is going on around you.  Some runners choose to keep one headphone in to get the best of both worlds.  But like most things running, it really becomes a personal preference and the wants and needs of the individual runner.  For me, I don’t even think about it.  Before departing for the great outdoors, I reach for the phones and hook them into my ears to be lost in the playlist for the next 20 minutes or 3 hours.  And oddly, I’ll continue to break the rules and drop the phones on marathon race day.

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