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Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Sixty hours from now, if all goes well, I will be crossing the 50-yard line of Notre Dame Stadium.

My flight (and subsequent train ride) are tomorrow, so tonight, I'm making sure that I've got all of my equipment put together. I'm developing a packing list before actually putting things in the bag to minimize the chance of forgetting something.

Even though I'm flying Southwest, in which my bags will fly free, I have no intention of checking a bag. First off, you should never check your race gear. You can't just buy a new pair of shoes and run a marathon in them, so you should never let those out of your grasp, and you would be surprised at how much the wrong pair of shorts can throw you off your game. That stuff gets put in a briefcase that gets chained to my wrist. Everything else is of less importance, but I've got a time crunch in my travel, and I am staying two hours from the airport, so recovering a lost bag, regardless of the low chance of loss, would be a huge pain. No risk for me.

In addition to my wardrobe for the next five days, I've also been giving my race plan a lot of attention this evening. I'm studying my planned gel stops carefully to make sure I take my gel shortly before water stops, spaced out evenly enough to maximize energy output without putting too much in my stomach. I've planned and trained for each one of these, and it would be awful to screw them up on race day.

Honestly, most of my time right now is being spent staring at countless numbers on an Excel spreadsheet trying to get some sort of secret out of them. It's like I'm staring at a code, waiting for that moment that the perfect solution arises. But the truth is, there's nothing left to cram for. There is no cramming for the marathon. There are only the 950 miles that I've run since my last marathon; months of work leading up to one beautiful morning with, at present, a near-perfect forecast.

Tomorrow is travel. Friday is acclimation.

Saturday is victory.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Do you smell something burning?

It's been a whirlwind of a weekend, and I feel like I've been on fire for most of it, so something had to get removed from the schedule. Sadly, it was blogging. Fortunately, I'm back, and as of a few minutes ago, things have officially settled down.

I suppose it's time to take you back. Let's see... the last time I wrote anything was way back on the 25th, so I'll take you through life since then. First off, I had a massive project at work, parts of which took me far longer than anticipated. I worked extra hours last week and still could not quite get it finished until this morning. The schedule sucked a bit, but now I know for next month, and they're only called mistakes if we don't learn from them.

What made it particularly challenging, however, was that this ended up being one of the busiest weekends I've ever had. Saturday, I had to do some work in the morning before driving up to Round Rock to work some more. Back home I came where I got to work over dinner before heading out to see my friend's show, the third play that I'd seen on the weekend. Home I came, doing a bit more work before bed. In the middle of all this, I had to find time to do an 8-mile run, and the only time that I found was right around 4:00 in the afternoon. I don't know how many of you have been in Texas in late May at 4:00 in the afternoon, but it is not the ideal time to go running.

I started off well, and got stopped at my usual light about a mile into the run. It was super hot, but I had brought along a water bottle, so I figured I'd be fine. I did not take into account how quickly the water would get undrinkably warm, or that I would forget to restart my watch, negating any clue of how fast I was going in the heat. At about three miles in, I thought, "This is really dumb," at which point I turned around and headed home. It was a mere coincidence that this was also the moment that a buzzard started circling over my head. And I'm not kidding, he stayed with me for half a mile. If I ever needed justification to cut short a workout, that was it. Nature was betting against me.

Six miles is still pretty good in 94 degree heat, so I wasn't too worried about it, though I was overanxious to do my run with my new running "group" of sorts. Sure there's only three of us (maybe four very soon), but still gets me out of bed on a Sunday morning to know I'm going to meet friends. Unfortunately, one friend was out of town and I woke up to an email from the other saying he couldn't make it. No matter, thought I. Off to the trail. So I did.

Then it was a hurry home, change and shower for rehearsal, where I remained until 2:00 in the afternoon at which point the wife picked me up and we went to a barbecue. Normally, this would be quite enough activity for one afternoon, but we were just getting started. We swung back by the house to feed and play with the dogs (while I did two hours of work) before heading to another theatre party, reuniting the cast of a show I did last year. The night ended later than expected.

While the rest of the world woke up to a third weekend day, I headed back to my computer, where I would remain all day, finally finishing my project. An easy four in the afternoon (91 degrees) and just now a calm three in the morning (74 degrees), and suddenly, I find myself caught up. I've got four days (and only two miles of running) until the race, and I'm realizing just how ready I am. Maybe I got a bit of sunburn from two days of high heat running and one long afternoon by the pool, but every other part of me is ready to move ahead. My training is officially over.

It's time to qualify.

Tuesday's workout:
74 degrees, muggy, cloudy
3.11 miles

Friday, May 25, 2012


Are we really sure that the great surrealist painters weren't just sleep-deprived?

In my drive for end-of-month work completion, I had very little sleep a couple nights ago, but I still had to get up and do my Thursday run, which was fortunately only three miles. I felt like I was running in a dream, and not a very pleasant dream at that. The run went well, and only got weird right after it had ended.

As I turned onto my street, I took a look at my house, and for the briefest of moments, I swear it looked like Salvador Dali had done the painting. Everything warped a little, and it made me think that maybe these masters weren't innovative. Maybe they were just really sleepy. What if Picasso just had a very uncomfortable bed, and what he painted was actually what he saw after three cups of coffee. Maybe he was the best realist painter of them all, and what he really needed was a nap.

Unlikely, perhaps, but these are the things that go through my mind. Today, I was a little more rested, and even got to take a pup out with me, though she didn't last very long. It's getting hot down here rather quickly, and even in the early morning, it's no world for pups to run very far. I took her back home and headed back out to complete the meager mileage.

Back on the road, all I could think about, naturally, was next week. I rearranged some scheduling items in my head based on some changes in the plans of others. I thought about the forecast for the day of the race (currently H74/L57, 40% Prec), and whether I would be happy or sad about the rain. I began creating a packing list, but decided it was way too early to start thinking about things in that level of detail. Mostly, I was enjoying the reduced mileage, but remembering the reason for it.

Because one week from tomorrow, I'll run my own masterpiece.

Friday's workout:
78 degrees, sunny
4.57 miles

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Live Studio Audience

Training for a marathon is a lot like watching a sitcom.

You start doing it because it's something you really enjoy. Week after week, you indulge yourself in this form of entertainment, and it takes you away from reality for just a little while. Your theme song is that achy feeling you sense slowly leaving your muscles in the first couple miles. Your credits are those last few steps, and that little post-credit scene is the unexpected muscle pain you get a few hours later.

Both activities are based in years of experience. Deep down, the sitcoms have that same familiar feeling. There's a structure, an arc and a resolution. The same goes for your training program, starting gradually, increasing dramatically and then easing up before one last season finale, as it were, the race itself.

For me, though, there is a bit of a darker parallel as well. Any time you watch a sitcom and the characters put together a plan, you know full well that the plan is going to go awry. Something is going to go horribly wrong, or there would be no comedy to the action. The Office is a great example of this. Whenever a character absolutely must do something perfectly, you can count on some situation or character making it all go to hell. The comedy comes from the tragedy.

Whether you realize it or not, some part of you is always waiting for the other shoe to drop when you watch these shows. If there were no conflict, there could be no triumph.

Throughout this season of training, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I've been sure that, even though I'm taking care of myself and training carefully this time around, something negative was going to happen, because something negative always does. The difference this time around was that I was going to be ready with my overconfidence and careful planning.

And so far, nothing has happened. My travel plans are getting a little bent out of shape, but other than that, I'm doing just fine. I'm running with a bit of creakiness, but no real pain. My times are solid without stressing.

So when does everything start to go wrong? I'm hoping that this is the season that disproves the rule, and I've been avoiding writing about it for fear of a jinx, but I think it's an important thought to document. Even in the midst of my strongest training ever, I still have this nervous voice in the back of my head telling me that something can go wrong, and it is that voice that will keep me safe. That voice will make sure that I don't go out too fast on race day, and that I drink lots of water and stick to my mileage plan.

And hopefully we'll get picked up next season.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Undirected Inspiration

Inspiration is better when you know what you are inspired to do.

Recently, I watched a movie called The Way, starring Martin Sheen as a man who loses his son and ends up on a pilgrimage in Spain. How's that for a plot synopsis? The movie was written and directed by Sheen's son, Emilio Estevez, who also plays the lost son. (Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away. This is the first ten minutes.) While watching it, I was moved, all the more so knowing that this was an actual father-son pairing creating this emotion. It inspired me.

But to what? Well, I'm not sure about that yet. It made me want to write, to sing, to act, to fight, to scream, to run and to take a two-month pilgrimage. It made me think about the bills I have to pay and the work I have to do to pay them, and yet distracted me from actually accomplishing that work. In short, it lit a spark of a fire that hasn't taken hold yet, and I'm left smoldering.

It goes back to the idea of unused energy. Two weeks ago, I ran ten miles on Tuesday. Today, I ran six. I feel like I've got all this... this... whatever inside of me that's just bursting to get out, and all I want to do right now is get out there and run four more miles. But I can't. I'm saving that energy.

With so much going on in my life right now, the last thing I need is misdirected inspiration, but today, at least, I finally found a bit of a use for it. During my six miles, I started thinking about some artistic plans I may have for the fall. I let my mind wander to fictional conversations about it and deeper meanings that can be explored. I started picturing every moment and the reaction that each will cause both in the artist and the observer. I made tentative plans for the step-by-step accomplishment of my goals and began rehearsing the words I would have to say to the right people.

And then I realized that I was almost home.

What kills me a little is that I then returned home, showered, and went about my day. I could have written down all the ideas that I had formulated, but as the plans are so tentative now, I don't want to commit myself too much to their future. I would have loved nothing more than to dive into this process right away, but there are bills to pay and work to be done. Sadly, there isn't much money in art, and today was all about money. I wanted to continue the inspiration, but life intervened, as life often does.

Don't worry, there's a happy ending. Ten minutes from now, I will begin a workshop to help someone else with his creative process, as best I can. Maybe I can't do much of my own work now, but I have an outlet for my inspiration at least. And perhaps he'll be able to do a little more with it.

It comes down to finding little ways to release the pressure. A thought here, an idea there, and every once in a while, I nice, long workshop. If I can get through the next two weeks in one piece, I'll finally be ready for the summer, so until that happens, I have to do my best to keep everything under control, and find some way to direct my frustration and energy so that it is helpful.

I may even take up baking again.

Tuesday's workout:
70 degrees
6.75 miles

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ready Already

Can we just run the race now, please?

The taper weeks are maddening for several reasons. First of all, you're not running as much as normal, so there is an extra level of energy bubbling below the surface. Depending on the mood that you're already in, you may be extra happy or extra quick to anger during these weeks. The body gets used to physical stress, and when that stress is relaxed, the body is still ready to go.

Second, I'm finding that I'm pretty much always hungry now, which is a little disturbing. Normally, I'm hungry a lot because I'm putting in a lot of miles. I have to fuel that exercise somehow, so I eat an abnormal amount of food for someone my size. What is interesting (or uncomfortable, as I discovered last night) is that the runner's appetite does not dissipate when the miles are cut back. At least, not right away. I find myself constantly hungry and wanting to eat more, but my body is not processing all of that food in the "save yourself" manner it needs to maintain during hard training.

Finally, there's the simple fact that I am impatient. I haven't done a marathon in nearly 7 months, and I've been training regularly for five of those. Sure, I had a 10K in there, but that's not really the same thing. If  10K goes wrong, I might have to walk for 30 minutes or so to get to the finish. If a marathon goes wrong, I won't be walking much at all.

Within two weeks, you get into a No Man's Land of anxiety. It's close enough that you can't run very much and, of my own choosing, I can't have a beer or a Coke. However, I'm far enough away that the date of the race does not yet appear in the 10-day forecast, which doesn't stop me from checking it pretty much every day. I constantly review my mileage for the year and double-check the pace bracelet that it hanging above my desk. I'm creating mental lists of everything that I have to pack and creating hour-by-hour schedules on my Google calendar.

And I'm getting in my last few miles. Today, I had to run an errand early and did not check the hours of the store at which said errand had to occur. Fortunately, I had my running stuff with me, so I did a quick five miles in the area before returning to the store to get everything done. Other than the cashier's confusion at my sweat, it worked out nicely.

My miles will fit into neat little pockets over the next couple weeks, which will make it harder to keep myself disciplined. I have to get lots of sleep and drink lots of water, and I must reduce my stress level as much as I can. All of this is constantly going through my head, reminding me that Operation Qualify is T-minus 12 days from now, when I would give almost anything for it to be tomorrow. I want to get it done. I want to celebrate. I want to start figuring out where I'm going to stay in Boston.

And I really want some dinner.

Monday's workout:
78 degrees, sunny
5.57 miles

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Something terrible is happening in my stomach.

Actually, nothing is happening, and that seems to be the problem. After my long run yesterday, I took in a large amount of fluid, but not very much food. I did not realize this fact until late in the afternoon, and as a result, I found myself trying to make up for lost time. I got overfull pretty quickly, but with a bit of moving around, I got back to a level of comfort.

Today, I was not so lucky. We had a nice group run this morning, and after rehydrating, I had a little coffee. Before long, I was off to rehearsal where I would eat more bagels than I care to admit and continue throwing down coffee. By the end of four hours, I was feeling great about my character and terrible about my bodily comfort. The fresh air of the walk to the bus helped, but I decided at some point that what I really needed was to get something to eat.

As it happened, I still had pizza in the fridge, so I came home and took care of that. Then there were hot dogs. Then more water. And milk. And water. I was hungry and thirsty, and nothing could seem to quench either. That is, until I had gone too far. I'm now quite uncomfortable.

Very often, you don't see the trouble coming until you're already over the threshold. It's the reason injuries in running are so prevalent. In my case, injuries don't actually happen while I'm running. The problems occur the next day, when I try to go farther. Or the day after that. By the time I actually feel the damage that I've done, I'm thirty miles too far down the road to do anything about it. Then, your only remedy is rest, and in the face of a major race, rest may not be an option.

You must learn to anticipate problems before they happen. Very often, however, you'll find that the only way to learn this skill is to make mistakes in the first place. In my case, I've found several warning signs that tell me there might be trouble down the road. When certain muscles in my legs start to ache, I know it's time to back off. It took me many years, thousands of miles, and lots of unnecessary injuries to figure it out, but I know it now. All I have to do now is pay attention to the signs when they occur.

And figure out how to stop eating before it's too late.

Sunday's workout:
70 degrees
3.09 miles

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Good Day

Today has been a very good day.

It started off later than it was supposed to, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I got to sleep in a little bit and didn't have to worry about missing work or any other early commitment. As a result, when I started my last long run of the season, I was rested and in a very good.

The downside, of course, was that it was hotter than I thought it would be. Still, I took some water and trudged along the 15 miles from my schedule.

This completed, I had plenty of time to get showered and have some chocolate milk before I had to head out to work. I did a presentation and then taught a class, both of which went better than I could've expected, and I was expecting them to go very well, so that's saying something.

In between these events, a random person at Walmart complemented my tie. Do not underestimate the wonderful impact that someone complementing your clothes can have on your day. Beyond that, traffic wasn't too bad, the sun was shining, and everything was going my way.

And the awesomeness of the day wasn't over yet. I headed home and for lunch ate the left over pizza from last night. Always a score. After a little rest, I got to head out to meet a friend for drinks. All in all, a pretty exceptional day.

But what makes this day most awesome is the fact that, two weeks from today, I will be running the best marathon of my life. Today was my last difficult run before the actual race. After today I will not exceed 10 miles for the rest of my training. The taper is on in big way, and I could not be more excited.

After today I will not be drinking any alcohol or soda for the next two weeks. I've got my body as ready for action as I possibly can. I am also going to focus on drinking a lot more water, which was my only real problem during my run today. I felt a little dehydrated which slowed me down in the second half.

As of tomorrow morning, everything I do is a part of Operation Qualify. So before I drift into the world of extreme discipline, it was nice to have one more day that was nothing but fun. Yes, there was work, but mostly today was fun.

Tomorrow, the real work begins.

Saturday's workout:
68-72 degrees
15.72 miles

Friday, May 18, 2012

Knowledge and Belief

Knowing something does not necessarily mean that you believe it.

It's sort of the opposite of faith. Faith is a belief in something you cannot prove or understand. Anyone with any sort of religious tendencies is familiar with this idea. Even though you cannot definitively prove the existence of your chosen deity, you trust that he/she/it is there watching over you. Faith is a wonderful thing, and it is important to have on the road during marathon training.

I discovered today, though, that knowing something doesn't make it any easier to believe in it. Sure, I trust that my marathon training is going to pay off two weeks from now. I believe that, even though I never ran more than 22 miles during training, I'll be able to take the full distance and succeed at my chosen speed.

But it's easy to sit here on the couch late at night and state all the things that I believe. It's harder to do that in the heat of the run, even if every bit of evidence I've ever seen supports my conclusion. For instance, I know that when the wind blows, it blows with a certain level of constancy in strength and direction. Today, the wind was blowing rather strongly in a northward direction, and the intelligent part of my brain knows that it was doing so for the entire 45 minutes that I was moving. Still, I could swear that, for roughly 13 minutes, the wind completely stopped, and that was during the 13 minutes that I was running northward.

I'm not kidding, I turned to the north, and it was like someone turned off a fan. I was looking forward to the change. I couldn't wait for that extra little boost that the wind would give me, counteracting the resistance heading south and harsh sideswiping moving easy and west. Finally, I thought, the wind would be working to my advantage. But it was gone. The sun got hotter, the course got rougher, and the wind all stopped.

Of course, it didn't really, but I couldn't feel a breeze, and as sweat poured down my face, a little wind was all I wanted. I knew the wind was there, but I couldn't feel it, which was all that really mattered. As far as I was concerned, it was gone. Until I turned to the west, and the wind returned. Of course. Jerk.

It didn't help that, by this time, I was pretty tired already, because again, I did not believe what I knew to be true. Every time I start running, my legs need a few miles to warm up. I've written about it several times. Still, when I began my workout today, I was convinced that I was running too slowly and that it had nothing to do with warming up. As a result, I pushed myself a little harder, just to make sure that I was giving the workout the effort it deserves. After a few miles, I checked my pace. Six minutes. Bad choice.

When it comes to racing, you have to have faith. Not only do you believe in the wisdom of the years, but you have to trust the experience of your miles. I've created every one of my training programs based on someone else's expertise, and I trust that they knew what they were doing. Somehow, I find it easier to believe the words of someone I've never met than I do to trust what I've found out on my own. I'm still learning, to be sure, but I must learn to believe in what I already know.

I've got to have faith.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Killing Time

I am trying to be more environmentally conscious these days.

The more accurate version of that sentence is that gas and water are freaking expensive, and I am trying to use less of them, and yay, that helps the Earth. Also, we recycle. Still, the big change for me recently has been my desire to use as little unnecessary water and gas as possible.

Water has been surprisingly easy to conserve. We merely take shorter showers and watch our behavior at the sink carefully. Since we get our drinking water from a Brita pitcher, it cuts down on wasted drops down the drain. Most effectively, we turned off the sprinkler system in our yard that we were unaware was even running. The things you learn at 2a.m...

Gas has been a little more difficult to drop, especially in recent weeks. I've gotten lots of little jobs here and there I help with the bills, which would be terrific if they weren't all north of Austin. When you live south and have to drive north, particularly at peak travel hours, something bad happens to your soul and your wallet. A 40-minute drive becomes a two-hour ordeal, composed mostly of angry shouting and pain in the left knee, should you be lucky enough to drive stick.

The bright spot here is that I've managed to combine most trips to accomplish more than one thing on each of these line drives. The downside is that the schedules don't alway line up. Today, for instance, I was done with job 1 at 5:30, but job 2 doesn't start until 8:00.

So I find myself killing time today. I got to experience an HEB Plus today, which was more exciting than expected, and now I sit at McDonald's writing a blog post on a phone. I'm cooling my heels waiting for my next big thing.

It's like the taper in my training. I did a lot, and now I anxiously wait through extended down time for the event at the end. So I eat and wander, and I plan how great the next step is going I be.

And then I'll drive back home.

Thursday's workout:
78 degrees, sunny
1 mile warmup
6x800, 1:00 rest
2:32 2:30
2:30 2:30
2:28 2:30
1 mile cool down

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tragically Comical

New Dog is currently living in the cone of shame.

I'm sorry to say, it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

A few days back, my wife noticed that New Dog was not being his usual get-into-everything-and-bother-everyone self. While I took this as a good thing, she correctly recognized that it was probably meant that he wasn't feeling well and not, as I hoped, that he had finally decided to calm the heck down. We did a quick examination, and we found that one of the toenails on his back foot was split, not vertically, but horizontally.

Clearly, the foot was bothering him, so we did our best to clean it out, which was not his favorite thing to ever happen, and decided to keep an eye on it. This medical theory came, in no small part, from being a runner. When you've got a bloody toenail, it'll either get better or fall off, and the only way you find out which is by waiting a few days.

The difference, of course, is that we don't run our toenails through the dirt and have to spend all our time on those nails. After a couple days, the situation seemed to be getting worse instead of better, so we headed to the vet. Our only option, it turned out, was to get the whole thing removed. Feel free to take a minute to shudder that one out. Because of the nature of the split, they had to knock the pup out with a little anesthetic, and then take it off. After that, they wrapped his little foot, woke him up, and sent us home with antibiotics, pain meds, and a cone of shame.

All of this happened yesterday, and we've spent the last twenty-four hours doing our best to make New Dog's unhappy situation better. We bought wet food for him (that serves to hide his pills), and he even got to sleep on the couch last night, since the size of the cone made it impossible for him to turn around in his crate. My wife takes amazing care of these dogs, and she has been nothing short of incredible during his period on the DL.

Which makes me feel like that much more of a jackass for laughing every time something goes wrong with the cone. But I'm sorry, it's funny. The pup has spent most of the last 24 hours like this:

As you can see, the cone is clear, which helps keep him calm by not blocking his view. However, it also confuses the daylights out of him when he tries to go through a door or climb a stair. Suddenly, the far edge of his cone catches on something and he's spiraling to the ground. He's walking just fine, and his bandage comes off tonight, so I'm sure he's not in any pain at this point. He's just genuinely confused as to why every doorway seems narrower than before. We've had to go to great lengths to get him to drink water for some reason, and one way we do that is by giving him ice cubes. The problem is that he drops them, and then lowers his head to get them off the floor, only to be stopped by the cone. It looks like he's gotten stuck in a fishbowl.

It's comedy, okay? Sad and at times a little pathetic, but comedy. We're giving him lots of treats and taking good care of him, but I'm afraid it's going to be a long week for him in his tiny plastic prison. We'll just get through it one absurd moment at a time.

After all, laughter is the best medicine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When a Plan Comes Together

Sometimes you have to have a plan.

It's something that I tell my students on a regular basis. One of my many activities is teaching SAT preparation classes, and the section that always scares my students is the essay. Yes, the SAT has an essay now. It's also scored out of 2400. It took a while to get used to that.

I tell the students that the key to writing an essay is to make a solid plan before you start. (It's also the key to great blog posts, which is probably something I should take to heart, but honestly, I'm just proud of myself if I turn the television off while I'm trying to write.) By deciding in advance what you're going to say, they way that you're going to say it, and the examples that you'll use to prove your point, you take out the guess work from writing, and the essay has a greater flow.

My days tend to work the same way. When I start a day with only a general idea of things that have to get done, I will often find myself coasting from one thing to the next. Invariably, I end up accomplishing all my goals right at the end of the day. It happens that I enjoy working under pressure, but it would be far more efficient if I were able to maintain focus on each event, and my day would have the kind of flow that I've come to expect from my students' essays.

Enter the schedule. When I have a lot to do, I give every event a start time. That way, I end up with several small deadlines instead of one giant one looming up ahead. When you give yourself a certain amount of time, you create a level of urgency that actually pushes you forward and makes you get to work. This can be in the long term, such as deciding that you've got 46 more marathons to run in the next 22 years, or it can be short term, like knowing that you have to be on the road at 7:00am, so you have to start your run by 5:15.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I'm not a morning person, so the fact that I got up at 5:00 this morning just to get in eight miles and a shower before an early morning meeting is downright unheard-of in my world. Sure, I can do that time when I've got 20 miles to cover, but to do it when I could postpone my miles until the evening is quite the accomplishment, as well as a testament to the power of a strict plan. It begs the question, how can I repeat this behavior?

By refining the plan based on my own strengths and weaknesses, I might be able to make this a regular thing. I think the first step is noting what was successful from this morning and taking that to heart. I didn't try to go to sleep incredibly early last night, and I did not try to push my body too hard this morning. To be honest, I was amazed at how easily I woke up given the hour. Maybe I've just been sleeping too late in the morning. Seems unlikely, but maybe that's been the key all along.

Then, I have to look at what did not work. This was mostly my attempt at making coffee. Apparently some filter was askew on the first pot, and I had to have another shot at it. Also, I was a little slower than I usually like to be, but as I mentioned above, I was not trying to push the pace. I'm in a taper. Now is not the time for excessive strain on the muscles.

So here is the refined plan, to be put into effect on Thursday (as tomorrow is a blessed, blessed rest day): Step one, go to bed at the regular time. Step two, get up crazy early and do some dynamic motion to get the muscles going before the workout. Step three, workout. Step four, have an awesome day.

It's so simple.

Tuesday's workout:
63 degrees
7.93 miles

Monday, May 14, 2012


"The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, well I have really good days."
-Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Mother Blues"

I've come to expect quite a lot from myself.

With a passing interest in just about every hobby on Earth, I find that I have little time to spend on any of them in particular. I've got my books and my guitars and my video games and my exercise equipment, and if I wanted to spend an hour each week on all the things that compete for my attention, I'd need about 60 more hours to get it all in. Yet somehow, each time I return to whatever long-forgotten pastime I've rediscovered in a box somewhere, I expect to have a level of skill far outstripping the time that I've spent.

Truthfully, my best course of action would be to completely drop some of those Renaissance Man goals of mine. There are simply not enough hours in the day for me to become a world-class guitarist while simultaneously producing the movies that I've written, publishing a novel, learning to speak several languages, acting in one show, directing another, dominating the entire world in whatever the newest and most exciting game on the planet happens to be, qualifying for the Olympic marathon and perfecting a recipe for black forest cake. Something's got to go if I truly want to take something else to the next level.

Still, I find that I do not want to give anything up. I would rather be a mediocre guitar player than not play at all. And while the world may never see anything that I've written other than a simply little running blog, it's fun to create a world and play inside it. The real solution here is not to abandon anything, but to manage my expectations of my level of ability. 

My favorite expression of this idea came from a completely random song that I heard on the radio the other night, and I have quoted it above (to the best of my recollection). Granted, Mr. Hubbard was talking about his mixed-up life involving a gold-top Les Paul and his stripper girlfriend, but even from our vastly differing experiences, we seem to have come to the same basic place. When you can be grateful for where you are, you don't have to worry about where you might have been. 

The one exception I will allow myself is in running, because I know that I can do better. It is the only thing (outside of work), to which I have devoted myself day in and day out for any length of time, and I can feel myself getting stronger. I still need to manage my expectations, but I feel that I can shoot a little higher. During my run in the heat today, I was thinking about my Marine Corps Marathon, when I barely ran any miles in the final stages of preparation for the race. I got to that starting line completely convinced of my impending failure, and I proved myself right.

In Washington, the last couple weeks before the race were filled with stress and emotion completely unrelated to the race itself. Though I had an amazing performance, I could not finish, because deep down, I did not honestly believe I was ready. I expected to crash, and crash I did. 

Not this time. This time, I am ready. I have done the miles, and I have worked the speed. I honestly expect to succeed this time around. Yes, I'll be grateful just to finish and to add that line in my ledger, but I will not be satisfied with anything less than what I have trained to do. What the 850 miles I've run this year have all been driving toward. I expect to qualify, and as far as I'm concerned, there is not other option.

I should write a novel about that.

Monday's workout:
84 degrees
5.15 miles

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Join the Club

Most things in life are easier with a friend.

Be it the great philosophical questions or the need to move a dresser, having a friend beside you can make almost any challenge less daunting. For me, this is mostly because of conversation. In the midst of personal turmoil, you need someone around off of whom you can bounce ideas and possible solutions. Or, perhaps, maybe you need someone who will talk about anything except the problem at hand, taking your mind off the trouble. Whatever the reason, it's great to have someone by your side.

This is as true in running as it is in any other aspect of life. First, it's great to have someone waiting for you at the trail. On a Sunday morning when, perhaps, you didn't sleep very well the previous night, it can be very easy to snooze yourself into the early afternoon. If, however, you have someone standing out in the early morning light awaiting your arrival, you don't want to let them down, so you head out the door.

Then, once you're on the trail, a combination of pride and camaraderie keep your feet moving. You support one another and keep one another going, while at the same time challenging one another not to stop. And if you do stop, it's as a group. Together. It's all support, and every step gets easier.

And let's not forget about conversation. I don't run with music anymore, so on three-hour runs, I've got more than enough time to think about any possible topic that pops up. It's nice, once in a while, to allow someone else the chance to direct your brain. You can reminisce about shared experience, or tell stories of individual history. In the case of me and my running partner(s), we can also discuss the adventures that lie ahead, specifically a show we will all be doing this summer. In a sport that requires so much personal attention, I'm thrilled to spend time with others once in a while.

Sunday is rapidly becoming my favorite morning, because I get to run with a friend. And if one is good, more should be better, right? Last week, I ran with a different partner as my usual buddy was out of town. Next week, all three of us may hit the road together. Before you know it, maybe we'll have our own little running club. Maybe not. Either way, I've found a way to run with friends, and it's something I highly recommend.

And what if none of your friends are runners? No problem. Most cities have running clubs that you can join. If you don't have friends who want to run, go out and find runners who want to be friends.

You won't believe the difference it makes.

Sunday's workout:
3.09 miles

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Let Sit for Three Weeks

I've recently discovered a love for baking.

I'm not saying I have a natural talent or anything like that. Mostly, I just follow the instructions in my Betty Crocker cookbook line for line and do my best not to forget that I've got something in the oven. Still, I find that there is nothing quite like taking a coffee cake or cobbler out of the oven and knowing that you made it from scratch.

Honestly, I've never had that much interest in cooking on the whole. With the exception of macaroni and cheese, I preferred to make dinners that required no heat and little time. This mostly consisted of sandwiches and various sides like potato chips. Nothing special.

Then we bought a house, and in this house, we have an incredible kitchen with an island that has more surface area than our first apartment had kitchen floor. We've got all the appliances and tools that we need, and plenty of room to work, so it seems a shame to waste it on sandwiches. I pulled out the cookbook and started making efforts, and for the most part, they've turned out pretty well. Of course, this is more credit to the author of the book than me, but you really shouldn't undervalue someone who knows how to follow directions.

My favorite cooking instruction is the one at the end. Usually something to the effect of, "Let sit for fifteen minutes before serving." They do this because if they didn't, someone would immediately reach his hand into the casserole and throw a hunk of food in his mouth, burning it horribly, and in his moment of agony, he would blame Betty Crocker. She can't have that kind of bad press, so she tells you to leave it alone until it's safe for human consumption. Common sense cannot be trusted to do this.

As for runners, we don't have much common sense in the first place. As I am constantly reminded by those who do not run, our entire sport borders on insanity. Why would you want to go out and pound the pavement for miles on end only to end up back where you started? With so little forethought and logic to our passion, it's only natural that someone has to state the obvious to us as well, which is why every marathon training program has a careful description of the taper.

Cutting your mileage leaves you with more energy, saves your legs, and will make your race day faster. It's obvious, but not easy. Many worry about a loss of fitness in that time, which would have the opposite effect on the objective in the race, but this is simply not so. The fitness has been built. The next three weeks will still have standard speed throughout, but the mileage will be dramatically less. In that time, energy will be banked and injury will be avoided, and everything else stays the same. Whatever your level of fitness is now, that's where you'll be on race day three weeks from today, and if you're happy with that, then you're in good shape.

I'm very happy with where I am, especially after today's 20-miler. With a pace over 45 seconds faster than last week, I still wasn't breathing hard, and I actually felt stronger at the end than I have ever felt after besting 20 miles. My speed times are there. My endurance is there. I'm ready. I'm cooked.

And now I get to wait. And cool.

Saturday's workout:
65 degrees
20.55 miles

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cold Feet

I've always meant to look up the etymology of that phrase.

I assume it has something to do with the idea that running away from something would warm them up, but I'm not exactly sure. Also, I'm aware of the fact that I now sit at a computer with the collective intelligence of the universe available at my fingertips, but I'm still not looking it up. I like my definition, so I'll go with that.

The reason I find it interesting is that, at least for me, I find that cold feet rather inhibit running, instead of encouraging it. For example, if you happen to be out running in the pre-dawn light the morning after a heavy downpour and, in an effort to avoid a deep puddle, happen to step into a deeper one, the ensuing jolt of cold doesn't exactly tell your body to keep moving. Instead, it says, "Please tell me you brought extra socks."

Another example might be running a fall or winter race, say, in Virginia in October. When the gun fires, you start to cut through the 40 degree air, and find that, because you spent all that money on nicely ventilated shoes, you're running on two blocks of ice where your feet used to be. It may, in that completely hypothetical situation, take two miles or more before you can feel your toes, which honestly might be for the best. Regardless, nothing about this situation makes me want to run toward or away from anything. It makes me want to find a warm spot and stand on it. Forever.

But the phrase has larger meaning for me now than just the irritating squish of every other step that I had to endure this morning. On the eve of my final run before my taper, I'm feeling the familiar butterflies that crop up every time I'm approaching a big race.

Certainly, I've trained harder and more completely for this race than for any other that I have completed. By the end of May, I will have run more miles in preparation for this race than I have for any two races I've completed. I know that I can run for three hours without stopping, and I know that my goal pace feels comfortable for an extended period of time. Intellectually, I know that all of the pieces are in place, and once I've tapered my miles, my rested, excited body will be ready to take off. Operation Qualify is right on schedule.

Even with all this information, I can't help but be a little nervous. I've always said that if you're not nervous, it's because you don't care, so these feelings of mild terror and the nightmares I have of having to sleep on tile floors the night before the race are merely indicators of how important this race is to me. They're to be expected, but that doesn't make them any nicer.

This is where you trust your training. You look at all the miles you've done and you tell yourself that you've truly done all that you could. You were strong when you needed to be and smart when you had to be. Now is the time to give yourself to the taper and enjoy the rest of the ride.

That is, after 20 miles tomorrow.

Friday's workout:
63 degrees, wet and dark
7.93 miles

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Caught in the Rain Again

I felt the first sprinkle on my second rep.

The weather report had told me that I had as much as an hour, but I knew better. The sky was getting darker by the minute, and with rain on the forecast for the rest of the day, this would be my only chance to get in any dry steps.

The warmup had been slower than usual, but still brisk enough to wake up the muscles. I was still shaking out the dust of last week's strenuous mileage, so a few aches and pains were to be expected. The important thing was that each lap felt better than the one before, and by the time I had completed my mile, I was, if not entirely warmed up, at least primed for action.

My goal for the morning was to repeat my 800s workout from two weeks ago, preferably with lower times, but definitely with higher levels of energy. Halfway through the first rep, I knew that I was going too fast, but I wrote it off as opening miles and let my body simply get more comfortable. I was finding that every step was making me think. Every turn had some effect on my pace, and each time I pushed off of my toes, I wondered if I was doing so too forcefully. In short, I was dramatically over-thinking my run, and I did not want to do that.

But then I got a gift. One drop, then another, then a downpour. Not the blinding rain of a ten-minute storm, but the solid, smooth drenching of an all-day flood watch. My hair flattened out, my clothes clung on, and slowly, the line between sweat and rain disappeared, at which point I was merely wet.

Personally, I tend to watch my step more carefully when it's raining, and I assume most other runners are like me. Just like people in this town get absolutely terrified of driving on wet roads, I find that most athletes will take corners a little more carefully and slow down just a bit on those hills. While I did not want to slow down, I was much more aware of the world around me, and it had a surprising effect. Instead of focusing on myself, I was thinking about the outside world, which let my brain begin to wander to long-forgotten memories of running in the rain as a high schooler, and all the little side stories that went along with it.

Before long, my speed work became a quick run around memory lane, and each rep felt shorter. I was still pushing hard and managing to maintain my form, but when I did not think about each step, each step felt better.

It's a delicate balance, and one that I believe I've written about before. You must train your body well. You must find your pace and form and drill it into your body correctly time after time in order to become a good runner. But to be a great runner, you have to go one step further. Once you've trained your body, you have to let it go and do what it will do. That's what separates the elite runner from the every day grinder.

Sometimes you just have to relax and go for a run in the rain.

Thursday's workout:
72 degrees, rain
8x800 on 1:00 rest
2:37     2:31
2:36     2:33
2:38     2:32
2:34     2:30

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Safety First. And Second.

It's dangerous out there for an athlete.

The other day, a runner was killed on the Town Lake Trail by a driver who, for reasons unknown, jumped off the road and onto the trail. This month's Runner's World features an article about Alison Delgado, a marathon runner who was hit by a car while on a bike ride (and has since returned to running). And just yesterday, I was almost creamed by a Jetta that went cruising through a crosswalk without bothering to see if there might be someone in it.

My complaints about the lack of consideration from drivers are not new. When I first got back into running, I found that I was constantly dodging luxury cars and giving dirty looks to those who had the audacity to park their cars in my path. I've developed a level of paranoia when approaching driveways and intersections. If I do not actually make eye contact with the driver and get some level of acknowledgment regarding my status, I will not take the chance to cross in front of the car, unless I'm quite sure that they cannot enter the intersection, and even then, I'm taking a risk. Hence the Jetta.

The sad fact of the matter is that drivers aren't going to change, and no matter how hard I shake my fist at every driving school I pass, it's not going to make a difference. This leaves it up to runners to take care of ourselves, both on and off the course.

Step one is avoiding injury. Today, I took a planned rest day to save my legs for the coming weekend. I'm feeling relaxed and recovered, and I'm looking forward to my speed work in the morning. While I'm generally not a fan of rest days, I now acknowledge just how important they are. That acknowledgment is especially easy to make at the end of such a day. By running when you are rested and strong, you increase your awareness of the world around you as well as your ability to avoid undesirable contact, be it with car, cliff or giant snake.

Step two is increasing caution. Sometimes, obviously, there won't be much that you can do. If a car suddenly jumps off the road and comes at you, there aren't many options but jump. Still, during your daily run, there are steps you can take. When running, stick to the sidewalk whenever possible. Wear brightly colored clothing if you're running at night, and if you have the option of running with lights, do that as well.

And even if you've done everything possible to make yourself visible, always assume that you're not. As I said, I always try to make eye contact with the driver, and if I can't do that, I assume they haven't seen me. At that point, I generally choose to cross behind the car or simply wait until they've passed. It's annoying, but I've come to realize one simple truth: the five seconds I would save are not worth the use of my legs. And there will be little consolation in the fact that I had the right of way when I'm lying in a hospital bed.

In the wake of an unbelievable tragedy, here's hoping the drivers of Austin think a little more about the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists. Still, I won't count on it. Keep your eyes open, your music down, and your paranoia up.

Get in your miles, and get home safe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Keeping Tabs

Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is slow down.

As part of Operation Qualify, I am determined to learn something valuable from each run I do (or don't do). Today's mission was focused on running at my marathon pace. Not "at least" my pace, but at it. My Friday runs are middle distance runs at marathon pace, but in general I run them at whatever pace feels strong, hoping that my final time is overall faster than the pace I want to run.

This isn't the most helpful solution, however, because it does not necessarily train my body to run at a certain pace. It simply means that I can average that time over ten miles, which does not necessarily translate to longer distances.

The entire purpose of these pace runs should be getting my legs to feel what my goal pace is like. All I've been doing is running too fast early, but banking enough time that my slow down in the second half doesn't hurt my average. So today, I made a very focused effort to keep my pace even (and on-target) throughout the run. I did run into one little problem, though, which gave me the learning experience that I really need. That problem is the first 5K.

I was reading an article the other day about doing a proper warm-up before 5K and 10K races to get your body used to moving at or beyond the lactate threshold. What was interesting was that the article did not advocate this kind of warming up before a marathon. Instead, they suggested that having full glycogen stores at the start of the race is far more important than any benefit you might get from the warm up. Instead, a runner should use the first few miles of such a race as the warm up.

This is important to think about for three reasons, in my opinion. First, it means that you're not using an unnecessary amount of energy before you run an absurd number of miles. You save as much energy as you can, because you're going to need it for every step along the way. Second, your first few miles aren't going to feel very good. They're going to be difficult, because your body hasn't gotten into its rhythm yet. For me, it takes nearly three miles to feel comfortable in a distance running pace, and until I hit that point, I really have no idea how the run is going to feel overall.

And that's the third reason that this is so important. If you focus too much on hitting your exact pace early on in the run, you'll be pushing yourself too hard, too early. And, if you continue at this level of effort, you'll soon be exceeding your goal pace, and burning too much energy early in the race. Instead of bringing on this sort of disaster, you should use the first few miles to warm up your body, and even avoid looking at your watch if you can.

Then, once you're several miles in, you need to keep tabs. Check in on your body often, if not your watch. You want to make sure that your pace is constant, not just strong. Only by careful practice and trained repetition can you be sure that you'll hit the splits you need to succeed, so today, that was my entire focus. I ignored the rain and the Jetta that almost hit me, and made myself slow down any time I started to cruise.

You learn something new every day.

Tuesday's workout:
68 degrees, rainy
10.31 Miles

Monday, May 7, 2012

Operation Qualify

I feel like every major initiative needs an official title.

Whether it's a military campaign or a recurring graphic on your nightly news, when something big is happening, the people in charge always want to give it a name. Then it's cool. Then it's trendy. Then it's something that can have theme music and a celebrity spokesperson.

While I don't yet have any celebrity endorsements and my theme song is not quite finished, I do have a name for my mission. Today, I decided that my short, quick five-mile run was officially part of Operation Qualify. Everything that I'm doing between now and June 2nd should, in some way, consider my goals for the Sunburst Marathon. Chief among these goals is running a time that qualifies me for the 2013 Boston Marathon. Starting now, I need to eat better, drink more water, and commit every mile to being stronger.

Now, I will think about every workout (or day of rest) as part of my strategy, focusing on what I can learn from each step. Today was all about the heat.

I've been doing a lot of research on various marathons recently, mostly through MarathonGuide.com. I enjoy reading reviews of races, as the promotional copy from the official websites generally don't tell me what I want to know. The race's site will tell you all the great things about every race. Genuine reviews will tell you all the problems. It's not that I'm looking for downsides, but the last thing you need at the end of 26 miles is an unexpected and unpleasant surprise. Better to see what's coming.

Through this research, I'm slowly zeroing in on the specific races that I'm going to run. Recently, I was going through all the marathons listed in the state of Alabama and Alaska, trying to narrow down my options. When I got tired of researching unfamiliar races, I turned my attention to the ones I knew I was going to do, and naturally, I started with the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend. For the most part, the reviews were positive, though there were some issues related the clarity of course markings.

Surprisingly, the biggest complaint was from last year's race and had nothing to do with race planning. Evidently, it was so hot that they had to cancel the end of the race. Setting aside for a moment how monumentally upset I would be if I went all the way to Indiana for a race and was not allowed to finish it with an official time, my immediate reaction was panic. It had not really occurred to me that it might get that hot in Indiana, even in June.

I lived there for four years, so you would think I would know the meteorological possibilities, but I did not see this coming. Seattle spoiled me with perfect weather last June, and I just got it into my head that South Bend would be a relief. I could be horribly wrong.

Which means that I need to train in the heat. The one great thing about living in an impossibly hot state is that, even if race day is warm, it almost certainly won't be as hot as home. This year's Boston Marathon showed the effect a hot day can have, with a winning time that was nine minutes slower than 2011. If it is as hot in South Bend this year as it was last year, I may have some trouble hitting my goal, but at least I'll be more prepared than most, thanks to runs like today, when I completed five hot, fast miles without too much pain and suffering. I'm on my way.

And every step leads to Boston.

Monday's workout:
88 degrees, sunny
5.15 Miles

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Wall

"My father was very fond of the analogy of the Irish lads whose journey was blocked by a brick wall seemingly too high to scale. Throwing their caps over the wall, the lads had no choice but to follow."

-President Josiah Bartlett, "The West Wing"

Ah yes, the dreaded Wall.

Every runner has heard about it, and most of us have hit it at one point or another. It's the point at which your body does not want to go on. The point where the energy becomes harder to summon, and the mental strength isn't enough to pull you through anymore. Some talk about "bonking," or running out of energy, but I think the idea of a Wall is more accurate. Why? Because you can get over it.

The human body does not have an unlimited store of energy. At some point, the body stops processing glycogen (a quick and easy source of energy) and moves on to fat (which takes a lot more effort). For a standard trained runner, this point comes after about twenty miles. Naturally, I have one major issue with this fact: a marathon does not end at mile twenty. You've still got another 10K to go at that point. That's an awfully long way to go with no more energy.

This is why I prefer the term "hitting the Wall" to "bonking." If you think of this moment in terms of bonking, it means that you've got nothing left, and you are doomed to struggle through the last few miles, giving up whatever pace you've spent months working toward. The Wall, though, is not unbeatable. You can climb a wall. You can get over it, and when you're on the other side, there is nothing left to stop you. If you can beat the Wall, you can do anything.

When I am designing my training plans, I study as many different examples as I can find. I like to see how many miles they suggest, how much speed work is included, and most importantly, how long the long runs go. Most programs that I come across stop the mileage increase at 20 miles, which I do not understand. You're told to run right up to the Wall, say hello, and then head out for a Gatorade.

I think you have to go farther. At the very least, you should experience the Wall before you're in the race situation. There's nothing scarier than going farther than you ever have and feeling your body give up. Today, my goal was to go beyond the Wall. I didn't quite make it, but I did get a pretty good climb in, and that's what's most important.

The first two hours went by relatively easily. Even at my usual point of exhaustion, I felt strong enough to keep pushing, but I had two major problems. First, I've had a hard week of training, and second, I was running out of water. With new strength training exercises and decent mileage, I've used a lot more energy throughout the week than I usually do. I was getting tired, and my pace was slower than usual, but I still believe I could have made it, if it weren't for a wardrobe malfunction.

I felt it early. A slow drip on the back of my legs. I wasn't sweating yet, so I knew that it meant there was a problem with my water pack. I was hopeful that it wasn't too big of an issue, but I knew that I would have to conserve water as much as I could.

The Wall approached. I knew that I was nearing twenty miles, and my mind was working against me. I kept thinking of where to stop, when I might take a break, and every other situation in which I might end up quitting on this run. Each time, I told myself to keep going. Even out loud sometimes. I could feel the energy draining, but I had to keep pushing. I made my turn toward home with three miles to go. A few minutes went by, and it was time for another water break. I took a pull and knew there wasn't much left.

As the sun got higher, I got closer to home. Two miles to go, it was time for another water pull. I felt like I was gradually running up the side of the Wall, and was thrilled about the prospect of this possibly being my last water stop, when I tried my pull. Nothing. I was done. Shut down mode. No more water, no more run.

My beautiful, wonderful, unbeatable wife came and got me for the last two miles. I didn't beat the Wall today, but I gave it a hell of a fight. More importantly, I ran for longer today than I will, hopefully, during the race. By about 15 minutes. Victory. Every step over twenty miles was a victory, and four weeks from today, I'll do more miles in less time.

I will throw my cap over the Wall.

Saturday's workout:
70 degrees and dark at the start, 77 and sunny at the end
21.64 Miles

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Last X Miles

No one is afraid of the first miles in a race.

Whether a seasoned marathon runner or a first-time 5K warrior, the opening steps are really never a cause for concern. Sure, if you're an elite runner, you might worry about tripping or getting stuck in the back of an early pack, but distance running is about just that: distance. The start is where it's still fun.

If I've learned anything from this training season, it's that I'm good through my first ten miles. Even last fall, when I was, quite frankly, not ready to run the Marine Corps Marathon, I felt good - great even - through the first 14 miles. And then, suddenly, everything went wrong. Exhaustion set in, and my muscles started to give out from underneath me. The start was great. It was the distance that killed me.

The trick, though, is knowing how to use that great feeling in the first few miles. When the adrenaline kicks in and you feel your mileage taper paying off, it's easy to feel like you're invincible. You're even impressed by your first few splits, thinking things like, "Wow, at this pace, I'm going to shatter my PR! I can't believe I'm this fast," which is probably because you're not. It is so easy to forget those later miles. You push ahead, knowing that this is your day. And then, without much warning at all, things start to unravel.

No, the key is to wait. Start slightly slower than you want to run, and let the beginning of your race be the warm up that it is meant to be. Whatever you do, do not exceed your desired pace. At least, not that early. It may, in fact, be your day for a great run, but a great finish relies on a reasonable start.

And visualization. You need to know that, late in the game, you've got the mental strength to make your body do what it believes to be impossible. This season, I'm doing something that I've never done before, at least not to the extent at which I'm now doing. Whatever distance I'm running, I imagine that I am doing the last (that many) miles of my race. Today, it was a little over six, which meant that I was imagining I had already completed 20 miles. I would like to thank yesterday's cross-training workout for helping with the authenticity of that level of pain.

On sore legs and with limited rest, I zoned out, imagining that every step was taking me closer to Notre Dame Stadium. Around corners I hadn't seen in a while, and finally up the last, oh-so-familiar mile home, I kept thinking about how I will feel just over four weeks from now, and how I can make myself go farther.

With only three quarters of a mile to go, I found myself running uphill, into the wind, in direct sunlight. It was less than fun, and I thought for a moment about taking a minute's refuge in the shade of a nearby tree. And then it washed over me. I wasn't a mile from home. I was in sight of the stadium, rounding corners I've turned a hundred times before. I was finishing my fifth marathon, in Boston Qualifying time. The pain was worth it, because I was doing exactly what I said I would do.

I did not really cross a finish line today, but I felt like I did. Through sore muscles, tough weather and long, routine miles, I felt a moment's rush of victory. The kind of rush that pumps you up just enough to keep going.

Just enough to finish the race again tomorrow.

Friday's workout:
80 degrees, got sunny by the end
6.75 miles

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Lesson In Trails

Apparently, Austin has trail running.

I did not know this. I knew of exactly two trails that exist in the city. One circles the lake, and the other quickly turns into rocks and ledges. Every Sunday, a friend and I go out to enjoy the former. The one time I went to the latter, I got insanely lost and First Dog and I wandered aimlessly for about seven miles. Neither satisfies the description that I have in my mind of trail running, which involves mountains, lakes, and at least a 40% chance of seeing a bear.

So, when I received the Runner's World Trail Running issue, I wasn't overly anxious to get it open. Still, I figured I'd thumb through and see if there was anything worth reading. After a couple pages, I decided to do my usual reading of Runner's World, which meant page-by-page, each article. I'm halfway through.

This is where I learned about Capt'n Karl's Night Time Trail Running series, with 50K, 30K, and 10K races, all of which happen on warm summer nights. Cutoff time for finishing is 7:00 a.m., and I imagine that's not too much of an exaggeration. The competitor in me knows that one day I'm going to try one of these races. The much quieter sane person in there knows it won't be this year. Still, now I know where to go looking for some interesting terrain and challenging courses. After Sunburst, that is.

See, with just over four weeks until my next marathon, it would be completely insane to make a major change in my training, especially to something more difficult. Not only would the ground itself be more dangerous, but simply the act of driving 40 minutes outside of town for a run would change my rhythm. No, it's better to keep doing what's been working.

Then again...

Turning the page, I came across another article about how to complete a full-body workout. The idea here is that running uses and tones certain muscles and ignores others. By working out those muscles that have gone untended, you can strengthen joints and avoid injury, but doing this requires additional workouts and movements. We're talking Crossfit-type stuff here.

It made sense, and as I need to avoid injury in the next few weeks, I decided to give it a try. What better day to do it than speed day? It was hard, and I'm already sore, but wow, what a workout.

The basic structure involved four sections, each beginning with ten minutes of running, in which I ran a little under 1.5 miles. Section One had squats and lunges with added weight, as well as plyo-pushups, where one hand is up and one down, alternating each rep. After ten more minutes on the road, Section Two was the hardest. This had burpees (the workout from hell), something called a poor man's curl, which involved lifting the body up using hamstring muscles only, and then a plank position. I was supposed to do side planks, too, but the concrete hurt my forearms. I'll remember a towel next time.

Ten more minutes on the road brought me back for box jumps, dips and squat jerks with a relatively light exercise ball. The workout ordered that this be done with a large rock. I guess you use what you can on the trail. Finally, after ten more grueling minutes in the sun, I was back for the finale. Ten squats, ten alternating lunges, ten jumping lunges and five squat jumps.

That's all. Just a little extra fun for a Thursday morning. And I learned that trail running may still have a lot to teach me.

If it doesn't kill me first.

Thursday's workout (totals):
81 degrees, sunny
40 minutes of running (5.84 miles)
20 plyo-pushups
30 lunges
26 squats
20 burpees
30 DMCs
2x:30 Planks
20 box jumps
30 dips
24 squat jerks
10 jumping lunges
5 squat jumps

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Slow and Steady

Okay, so I may have made up the mileage that I skipped.

Not entirely, and certainly not at pace, but I felt like running today, so I did. The reason that I don't feel this is a problem is that it was easy to do. I woke up right on time, and while my body was a little stiff from yesterday's power run, it didn't take long to shake out the cobwebs.

I wanted to go slow, and that's exactly what I did. My pace this morning was barely faster than I ran on Saturday, which was perfect. It was a nice, easy, recovery run. It cleared my head, pumped my adrenaline, and got me started on my Wednesday morning without any level of exhaustion. I'm still ready for tomorrow's speed work, and whatever remaining disappointment there may have been about missing Monday is officially gone.

There was one other consideration that got me out the door this morning. Today marks one month until the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend. I'm feeling strong and confident in my ability to run a Boston Qualifier there, which would free me up to enjoy a couple fun runs late this year or early next year. I'm looking at you, Disney.

I left my weakness and disappointment in April. May will be month of strength and optimism. This does not (he reminded himself) mean that I'm going to run every day. It means that when I do run, I will do so intelligently. When I don't, I'll do some yoga or baking or some other enjoyable but relaxing (and not at all physically taxing) activity. And when I get to the starting line one month from this morning, I'm going to look up and smile. And that smile will stay with me (at least in my mind) for all twenty-six miles, right into Notre Dame stadium, which is once again the finish line.

Never have I run so many miles in preparation for a race. Never have I been so fast and so consistent. Never have I felt so strong and confident one month out from a beast of a race.

It's going to be a great month.

Wednesday's workout:
70 degrees
3.22 Miles (SLOW!)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Getting Better All the Time

I felt some of the fun return to running today.

Early in the mileage, I started thinking about everything that I have going on, and I wondered why I always let my schedule get away from me. Every step of that first mile, I was composing various emails that I would have to send when I got home. I was thinking about research that I had to do and home improvement supplies that I had to buy. I was frustrated and stressed. And I was flying.

My pace was too hot, and I knew it, but I didn't really care. Yesterday, the stress of everything actually kept me from getting out the door on my run, and it had been bothering me all evening. Add to that all the other things going through my mind, and all I wanted to do was run to exhaustion.

So when I hit the halfway point, I was already a couple minutes ahead of my goal pace. Not smart. I stopped and took a second to think.

Really, I had no reason to be upset. How long does it take to send an email? And the supplies that I needed are A) not essential and B) not all that expensive. And so what if I didn't run yesterday? I was running now. There was nothing that I needed to do that could not be done. I simply had to stop, slow down, and take everything one at a time. First up, complete the run.

I backed down my pace just a little bit, and let my mind focus on the things I could do, on the steps it would take to get everything accomplished. As it turns out, my second half was only 12 seconds slower than the first. My mind carried my legs today.

What really marked today's run as particularly fun, however, was one simple fact: I didn't run yesterday, and that's okay.

I enjoy looking at my spreadsheet of mileage and paces. I like thinking about what my next run is going to be and how many miles I'm going to run in any given month. I like to put together a training plan that is a combination of what the experts recommend and what I know about my own body. I carefully craft a specific plan, and when I stray from that plan, I have always gotten very discouraged. As such, yesterday's lack of mileage could have been a massive disappointment.

Instead, I feel like it was a helpful rest. I felt stronger today because I didn't run yesterday, and I'm not going to make up those miles, which is fine. I'm in great running shape right now. My success on Saturday proved that, so if I miss one run every now and then, it's no big deal.

I really believe that now, and that makes running fun again. I am beholden to no one buy myself, and I'm proud of me.

Which, I guess, means I've had a good day.

Tuesday's workout:
7.93 Miles