Highs and Lows of 2013

Hello again, poor neglected blog.

Yesterday, as The Lady and I were on the road to Lewiston, MI for the new year, a friend of ours posted some thought-provoking conversational fodder that included the following:

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Thinking about it for more than two seconds yielded a longer response than could fit in a tweet, so I decided to dust off the ol’ blag and blabber about my highs and lows of 2013. A year-in-review without the annoying tagline, if you will.

Let’s get the depressing stuff over with first, shall we?

Lows of 2013

Frankly, there were a lot. 2013 was a difficult year in a lot of ways, but it was probably reflected most poignantly in my running.

IT band injury in late April, sidelining me for the Pittsburgh half marathon. I had just PR’d in a 10K the day after running 15 miles. Training was going unbelievably well. My speed and endurance were going through the roof. But right at the start of peak week, my IT band suddenly screamed bloody murder. Exacerbating the problem was my own inexperience: muscle injuries, which I’m used to, are very different from IT band injuries, which I’d never had before. Consequently, I took the only approach I knew and treated it like a muscle injury. Ultimately, I was forced to drop out of the Pittsburgh half and a very likely sub-1:40 achievement.

Backward progress in half marathon and marathon goal times. Due to a combination of travel and injury, I was only able to run a single half marathon this year (Air Force), and due to the following item, I was not able to PR or come anywhere close to my goal time. Similarly, though I technically achieved a marathon PR by 9 seconds, it was a full 17 minutes past my B-goal, 32 minutes past my A-goal. This was not my year for longer distances.

Work stress in the fall. This had far-reaching effects, but my running is probably what suffered the most. Every run for the 4-6 weeks spanning half of August and most of September felt hard, grindy, and not the least bit enjoyable. Physical symptoms included a constant feeling of exhaustion and being run-down, and my quads in particular had that growing-pains feeling. Mental symptoms included a lack of motivation, decreased desire to run, and a not-terribly-optimistic outlook on my own abilities. I started hitting an upswing as the stress abated in late September, just in time for the Air Force half marathon, but this item was probably the single most damaging obstacle to my running progress. This knocked me around physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Highs of 2013

Again, frankly, there weren’t many. But there were some resolutely bright spots that more than bear mentioning.

Sub-6 minute mile. It may seem small; after all, it only lasted all of 5 minutes and 58 seconds relative to the entire year around it. But twice near the end of two previous training cycles I’ve felt worthy of attempting it, and twice before I’ve missed by, quite literally, 1 or 2 seconds. Not this year. I nailed it, with a few seconds to spare.

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5K and 10K PRs. I’m now as close as I’ve ever been to breaking the magical 20-minute 5K barrier, set with a 20:26 PR while in Knoxville (and recovering from my aforementioned IT band injury, I might add). Furthermore, smack in the middle of a subpar fall running season and the day after a 14-mile long run, I nevertheless set a 10K PR of 42:47 at the Pittsburgh Great Race. Amusing anecdote: while I was a seeded runner for the race, I had more or less written off the race as a potential PR and elected to start way in the back with The Lady and some friends of ours, resulting in a much, much slower first mile than I would have otherwise had at the front of the pack. Still managed to PR; a very bright spot, indeed!

MCM improvement. Despite my disappointment with my overall Marine Corps Marathon performance, I would be remiss not to mention how it was an improvement in every possible way over my Philly marathon performance from the previous year. No, I didn’t get anywhere near my A or B goals, but everything else that went into running a marathon improved considerably. My first 20 miles were excellent, even finishing the first 13.1 miles in under 2 hours; I was mentally sharp and focused; I hadn’t seriously injured myself two weeks out; even when I hit the wall at mile 20, I was still having fun and enjoying the event; I didn’t chide or beat myself up. And technically, MCM was a PR by 9 seconds.

Holiday run streak. This is still blowing my mind with its awesomeness. What started off as a way to unwind from the stress of final exams and to dampen the effects of holiday junk food has become a means to, almost without trying, set a 30+ mile weekly running base and skip over the 100-mile marker in a single month. There was a small adjustment period, but I’m now officially hooked. The Lady and I have already discussed continuing the streak for as long as we can. The only downside is running outdoors in single digit winter weather. Eek.

I suppose this leads rather organically into what my plans for 2014 might be. Wonder no more, dear readers!

Goals for 2014

This is going to be a packed year: I’m marrying my best friend, defending my thesis, and hopefully starting a new and kickass job. Consequently, I’ve made the executive decision not to run a marathon. Or at least, I have made no concrete plans to run one in 2014; the logistics of it are simply too complicated (this could be its own blog post). With that in mind, I present the following goals.

Avoid the meltdowns. High stress is going to continue to be a part of my job for at least the next 9 months, and while I’m doing my best to mitigate its effects, it’s still going to be something I have to face. That said, if stress is impeding a training run for whatever reason, my recourse should be to pull back, mentally and physically, rather than to keep pushing. I already tried the latter this year; doesn’t really work.

5K, 10K, and half marathon PRs. Pretty straightforward. A sub-20 5K would be fantastic. A 10K right around 42 minutes would be awesome. And a half marathon under 1:40 would be amazing, 1:35 would be epic.

Run streak and cross-training. I definitely want to keep the run streak going for as long as I can. December proved really neat in maintaining the run streak and lifting weights 3-4 times each week; I felt and noticed rapid changes that would absolutely improve my overall fitness and training.

1,120 miles. I beat 2012’s mileage total of 1,062 in 2013 with 1,119; a full 57 miles more. I’d love to break 2013’s total again next year!

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I hope everyone has a very happy, fruitful, and mileage-filled 2014!

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon

Grab a chair and a glass of wine; this is probably going to take awhile. For the weekend of October 25-27, The Lady and I journeyed to Washington, D.C. to see our fall marathon training to its apex.


I’ll break this sucker down by day.

Friday, October 25

I had a surprise research meeting (is there any other kind) at 8:30am. The Lady picked me up directly from the meeting to start our drive down to D.C. GMaps indicated a 4-hour drive; with our D.C. hosts busy until 6:30pm, we figured leaving at 10am meant we could afford to poke around and take our sweet, sweet time driving south. We stopped for coffee at a rest stop, and hardly an hour later stopped for lunch at a Bob Evans to do some carbo-loading.

We ended up spending quite a bit more time on the road than planned, especially when we started hitting the Friday afternoon traffic around the outskirts of D.C. Consequently, we didn’t end up getting to the Expo until nearly 5:30pm, a full three hours later than planned. Oops.

Still, we were in luck: the long lines that The Lady had been tracking through the MCM app all day seemed to have vanished temporarily, or at least for the time that we were there. We walked right into the first tent to pick up our bibs, and within minutes were in line to enter the main floor of the Expo.

A Marine manned each station. They were *everywhere* for this event, which I thought was incredibly awesome.
A Marine manned each station. They were *everywhere* for this event, which I thought was incredibly awesome.
Walking from bib pickup to the main floor of the expo.
Walking from bib pickup to the main floor of the expo.

After a reasonably quick security check, we entered the main floor. Now I’ve been to a lot of race expos, and even a marathon expo before (Philly), but I can’t say I’ve ever been to one with 30,000 runners. It was a sight to behold.

According to the owner of a local Pittsburgh running shop, one regular-sized booth tucked in the middle of a row went for around $5k. Corner booths were even more expensive, and several companies rented the space of multiple booths. Just wow.
According to the owner of a local Pittsburgh running shop, one regular-sized booth tucked in the middle of a row went for around $5k. Corner booths were even more expensive, and several companies rented the space of multiple booths. Just wow.

The Lady and I bummed around for a bit, checking out the sights. Brooks was the major sponsor for the event; consequently, they had the entire rear quarter of the floor space to themselves. Despite having literally dozens of registers set up for check-out, the line for purchasing Brooks gear snaked all the way back to the entrance. A poor Brooks employee stood with a brightly-colored stick to demarcate the end of the ever-growing checkout line. While The Lady and I perused the items (Brooks has some pretty quality stuff!) we made sure not to purchase anything, as we had to depart fairly soon.

Around 6:45, we left to meet up with our hosts for the weekend: Emmarie and Chris. They very graciously allowed us to stay with them for the entire weekend. I went to high school with Emmarie, who now works for the NY Times right in D.C. (follow her on Twitter if you like!). We hit up the D.C. food scene, going to a delicious sushi restaurant for dinner and getting caught up with everyone’s lives before passing out for the night.

Nervousness hadn’t quite set in; there was still plenty going on to distract me.

Saturday, October 26

I slept pretty badly that evening. I’m still not sure why. But that certainly started making me nervous: sleep is notoriously hard to come by the night before a big race, but two subsequent nights of fitful sleep just before a big race? I tried to put the thought out of my mind.

Thankfully, with the Expo out of the way, The Lady and I were free to spend the day pretty much how ever we wanted. We went with Emmarie to a local diner to pick up some delicious fruit, beignets, and other brunch-y foodstuffs before meeting up with Emmarie’s parents.

Oh yes, they live on MY street.
Oh yes, they live on MY street.

I’ve also known Emmarie’s parents since high school, and they are incredibly warm and lovely people. They hugged and welcomed The Lady–whom they’d only met briefly once over a year ago!–and we gabbed for the hour we spent with them. Sometime in the early afternoon, we had to bail: Emmarie and Chris needed to work on their Halloween costumes for an evening party with a D.C. power couple, and The Lady and I were going for a late lunch with her fundraising group followed by a little touring around the city.

The fundraising lunch was actually quite nice. It’s always a little awkward sitting down with a group of people brought together for only a short time by one particular event, but that very event guarantees some common ground. Plus the restaurant was family-style Italian, so there was plenty of carbohydrates to go around. Everyone we met was very friendly, and we had a lovely time. After filling up on bread, pasta, and just a little bit of salmon, we said our goodbyes and started our trek through the city.

Unfortunately, GPS led us somewhat astray: instead of walking to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, it led us to his library. Completely different parts of town, also. So we opted to hit up the main landmark: the White House.

It was a gorgeous day out, and short though our walk was (didn’t want to be on our legs for too long the day before running 26.2 miles), it was nice to be outside. We took the Metro back; the recommended travel routes to and from the marathon included the Metro and surrounding bus system, so we figured it’d be best to familiarize ourselves with the system before the rush of 30K+ people hit the next day.

The evening was quiet. The Lady and I whipped up our usual pancake dinner, while Emmarie and Chris put the finishing touches on their Halloween costumes for the party (they went as Sydney Leathers and Carlos Danger, respectively). Once our hosts departed for the evening, we pretty much crashed.

Sunday, October 27

Race morning!

Amazingly, I actually slept, and pretty well. No idea how or why, but I certainly wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth (what a bizarre idiom). The Lady and I woke up right around 4:30am and quickly donned our race gear. We had to strike a happy medium, given the low-40s morning temperatures but also considering that it would warm to the mid-50s by the end of the race. Emmarie and Chris were unbelievably awesome, driving us to the Running Village where buses were waiting to take runners to the starting line right next to the Pentagon (they both had work later that day!).

On the bus ride over, we watched a video that started off with a Marine drill sergeant yelling at all of us. That got my adrenaline pumping, to be completely honest.

Soon enough, the Pentagon came into view; we walked through a security checkpoint manned by more Marines; we hit up the porta-potties; then we sat in one of the tents trying to stay warm while hatching our strategies for the race.

This is me trying to stay warm. [photo credit to The Lady]
This is me trying to stay warm. [photo credit to The Lady]
My A-goal was still 3:45; unfortunately, my quads had been feeling very run down for the last 48-72 hours for reasons that were unclear. Ultimately, I was gunning for a sub-4 marathon. I figured I’d start with the 3:45 group and hang on for 20 miles if I could, then fall back, ideally still coming in well under 4 hours. The Lady, though in my opinion much more ready for the race than I was, took a more conservative approach due to the ankle injury she sustained not two days before (incredibly, extremely unfortunate timing).

The sun started peeking over the trees, and we found our way to the starting line in time for the National Anthem.

One of several parachuters carrying the American flag, with the sunrise in the background. Beautiful.
One of several parachuters carrying the American flag, with the sunrise in the background. Beautiful.

The corrals were self-organizing, set up by expected finish time. The Lady and I situated ourselves right in between the 3:45-3:59 and 4:00-4:19 groups. We were packed in pretty tight; hearing that the race has 30k people and actually seeing it are very different things.

Right at 8am, they fired the howitzer, and the race began!


The Lady and I found the first part of the course confusing: the road was split as you see above. We were on the right-hand side of the image, but the pace groups were all on the other. Soon after, in fact, our route turned into an onramp while the other looped below! After a few seconds of panic that we were on the wrong course, the two met up and merged.

Still, the first five miles were very slow going. We were elbow-to-elbow for most of it. The part that annoyed me was that, despite the corrals being established explicitly by projected finish time, we still passed / almost ran into dozens of walkers who for reasons I cannot fathom lined up way in the front. It was enough of a fustercluck being squeezed together for the first few miles; having to dodge people who should have lined up much further back made tripping a very real possibility (and several did, in fact).

[Important: I have absolutely nothing against folks who want to run their own pace at marathons, whether it’s a 6-minute mile or a 12-minute mile. What I do have a problem with are 12-minute milers lining up next to 6-minute milers at packed racing events. It makes everyone involved unhappy. Just don’t do it.]

Once we crossed the bridge over the Potomac around mile 4, things started to thin out a little bit. The scenery also blossomed: it felt almost like we were running through trails. There was foliage and greenery everywhere; it was beautiful! We did an out-and-back along Potomac Parkway (the turnaround was another fustercluck; it was very narrow, and we both had to slow to a walk for several steps) and made our way to the Lincoln memorial.

Somewhere around this point, The Lady made the executive decision to stop at a line of porta-potties. She and I had both been feeling an urge since the race began, but had chalked it up to pre-race nerves. Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t going away. I considered stopping as well, but decided to see if a few more miles wouldn’t fix it. We wished each other well and split off.

The scenery just kept getting more and more beautiful. We ran southeast into East Potomac Park, bordering the river every step of the way. At some point near mile 11, I made a similar executive decision and stepped off into some bushes. I cannot describe how much better I felt after the fact.

It was around this time that we started passing a memorial set up by a group of MCM volunteers to commemorate the Marines who had died in the line of duty. There were pictures of each, often with family or pets, with descriptions underneath. Some runners stopped off in front of one or another to pause for a few minutes before continuing. In the grand scheme of things, it made this marathon seem trivial; or, put another way: the least I could do is put my heart and soul into this race and be satisfied with the outcome, no matter what.

This was the only decent picture of us both I could find.
This was the only decent picture of us both I could find.

The halfway point came and went: 1:59:58. I’d been hammering an 8:30 min/mi pace ever since mile 5 without even realizing it. After months of ignoring my watch, it’d become ingrained in me at this point to run by feel. But with The Lady having dropped off, I was having a harder time gauging how fast I should be going. I would latch onto runners, only to pass them and latch onto another one.

As we made our turn out of the park and into the mall near mile 15, I caught a glimpse of something ahead: the 4:00 pace group! My heart leapt and I got really excited. I knew those first few miles had really pushed us pretty far back by virtue of sheer volume, so the fact that I’d caught up to the pace group was exhilarating. Furthermore, it guaranteed that I could stick by someone without glancing at my watch, without worrying if I was going too fast or too slow. There was even another SCRR shirt in the group; we chatted for a bit.

I was feeling tired, but still pretty strong. We passed right in front of the Capitol building.

Picturesque? Maybe. Goofy? You better believe it.
Picturesque? Maybe. Goofy? You better believe it.

Now, before I go any further, let’s take a quick aside to the Philly Marathon from last year. It was a bad performance for me; I’d dealt with a lot of stress in the month leading up to it, not to mention a pretty severely twisted ankle a month out that kept me off my feet for a week. This affected my running quite a bit. Couple that with an utterly sleepless night right before the race, and my performance as a function of mileage looked something like a linear function with negative slope; I felt progressively worse as the miles wore on.

Back to MCM: I felt really good, riding a solid 9:05ish pace for the first 20 miles (really, the last 15 miles were closer to 8:40, with the first 5 miles having been 9:30-9:45 due to volume). But right around mile 20, something went wrong. Having never really happened upon this before, the most likely explanation would seem to be that I ran smack into The Wall. For those familiar with the curve, it felt much more like the charge-discharge lifecycle of lithium-ion batteries; I was fine until, suddenly, I wasn’t.

Both quadriceps seized up, forcing me to walk. I had just arrived at “the bridge” (CTRL+F “beat the bridge”). I saw the 4:00 pace group move ahead…and I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow, so I focused on breathing and letting them go.

I suppose this is where all the stress-reduction techniques I’d been working on the last couple of months came into play. I’d been in this situation before: I knew I was ready, that I was physically capable of conquering the task I’d placed before myself, but that something wasn’t clicking quite right. And in some of those previous situations, I reacted by trying to reject that reality entirely (and substitute my own), which frankly almost always resulted in intense anger and frustration. [sarcasm] And we all know how much burning the candle at both ends helps! [/sarcasm]

I could have done that. I could have said: f this, I’m pushing to beyond the breaking point, because if I don’t beat my own B-goal that makes me a BAD PERSON. And when I inevitably failed to achieve that goal (negative feedback loops, etc), I would have berated myself and drowned the positives of the entire event into one simmering heap of self-loathing.

That never happened. And the decision for it not to happen was never really a struggle, either. My best guess?


Marines were everywhere. They manned every single aid station, stood along the course with the spectators, and participated in every single aspect of the race from packet pick-up to finish line clean-up. And their enthusiasm never once wavered: they absolutely loved high-fiving runners, and were just as enthusiastic for you as they were for the runner just before.

I had 6.2 miles to go; I was far, far ahead of the sweeper buses that we had to “beat” over the bridge, so I was in absolutely no danger of not finishing, even if I walked the rest of the way (which I knew I wouldn’t). I was on the course until I finished.

Those 6.2 miles would be really hard, I knew. But damn, just look at where I was! Running a marathon with 30,000 other people, thousands more spectators–many of whom put their lives on the line as a living, by the way–and to boot, it was a gorgeous freaking day in the nation’s capitol.

You better believe I pressed on.

Of course it was bloody hard. I walked/ran those miles; sometimes I walked because one or both quad was seizing; sometimes I walked because I was out of breath; sometimes I walked because I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. But I always started running again, albeit at an 11-12 minute pace. I was determined to finish standing up in whatever the best time I could possibly finish in, even if it was 15 minutes over my previous time. There was no specific time that would make me proud; rather, that I finished standing up, knowing I couldn’t have possibly gone any faster; that’s what would make me proud.

The miles clicked by. so. slowly. I was convinced that The Lady had already passed by and I just hadn’t seen her. As mile 25 came into view, I told myself: run this last mile, the whole thing. Even if it’s slow, just run it.

There must be something about this level of pain that makes your brain forget it a few months later. I know the last 6.2 miles of the Philly Marathon hurt, but in retrospect you can, remarkably easily, convince yourself that you “still could have pushed a little faster.” No. No you couldn’t have, and no you can’t. I was doing a 9:30 mile–normally my super-easy, super-relaxed pace–and absolutely could not push any faster. My calves, my hamstrings, and my quads were all on the verge of total failure; on each step, they threatened that it could very well be the last one they cooperated on.

The turn into the finish was the hardest: the last 0.2 was straight uphill.

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But as anyone who knows me is aware, I don’t walk the hills. I summoned everything that was left and powered up the hill, past quite a few people who stopped to walk. With so many spectators and Marines surrounding us, cheering and encouraging us, my adrenaline was peaking: there was nothing left to do except power up this hill!

Sorry I'm not looking cheerier in this picture.
Sorry I’m not looking cheerier in this picture.

I finished with a time of 4:17.23, 8 seconds faster than my Philly time.

We walked for a bit, going through several passages where we picked up extra sleeves (temperature regulation), water and sports drinks (FYI, the Gatorade “recovery” stuff is actually kind of gross), food (MRE-like packages stuffed with high-protein snacks, bananas, other fruit), and what we all came for: the medals.


Marines were handing them out personally. Some even saluted us after putting them around our necks. Countless other Marines lined up to shake our hands and congratulate us as we passed. It was, in a word, incredible: these people do something far more dangerous and exhausting for a living, and yet they were congratulating all of us. It was humbling.

The finish line festivities.
The finish line festivities.

I spent the next hour trying to keep my legs from locking up. I walked around quite a bit, but also sat to drink and eat. Eventually they calmed down enough that I could get from one place to another with relatively little trouble. The Lady had ended up stopping around mile 18 due to complications with her ankle injury; I and everyone else knows it was the smartest decision possible on her part–live today to run tomorrow–but if you know her in any respect, please go and wish her a speedy recovery. She was in far better shape than I to kick MCM’s ass, but DNF’ing always sucks. She arrived at the finish line sometime around 3pm, at which point we headed back to Emmarie and Chris’ place to clean up.

At almost 5pm, we hit the road for home…but not before stopping at Buffalo Wild Wings for some well-earned beer and wings!


I’ll admit: I wanted a better time at this race. I really thought I could snag sub-4 hours (though coming within 8 seconds of a previous marathon time is impressive on its own; try planning to exactly match any previous marathon time). There are a lot of reasons why this didn’t happen. I’m sure, given all the issues with stress I was having back in July and August in particular, those were underlying my performance to an extent. But to be perfectly blunt, I think I may have inadvertently sabotaged my own marathon performance during the track workout I mentioned in a previous post. After that workout, my quads never quite felt strong again, and they were the first muscles to give in the final 6.2 miles of the race.

But, I don’t regret it. 2013 has been a difficult running year for me; by comparison, 2012 was a year of invincibility. Everything I ran turned to PR. This year also started off strong, but began to crumble with my IT band injury just before the Pittsburgh half in May. That sidelined me for nearly a month before I finally started getting my mojo back in late June. Of course, by then it was full-speed-ahead for my thesis proposal, which was likely the trigger for the stress-related problems that plagued the first half of marathon training. 2013 has had precious few bright spots for me running-wise; I wouldn’t take back the psyche boost of running a 5:58 mile.

There have been other bright spots in 2013, including both 5K and 10K PRs. But my long-distance confidence definitely took a hit, and it’s been slow going rebuilding that. Even so, I can honestly say I’m proud of my MCM performance. While it’s true I ran it in basically the same time as Philly, that’s pretty much where their similarities end. As I mentioned before, my performance at Philly tapered off by the mile; by contrast, I was strong through 20 miles at MCM. Furthermore, I didn’t freak out when things took a bad turn. Instead, I stayed solidly in the moment, which has easily been my biggest problem throughout this training cycle. I soaked up the crowds, the signs (my favorite being “If it was supposed to be easy, it’d be called your mom”), the sights, the music, and most of all, the Marines who came out to support us. And even when I did physically implode, my confidence never wavered: I knew I’d finish eventually, but in the meantime I was going to enjoy being among my fellow runners doing what I loved.

In some sense that I can’t really explain, I wanted to stay out there as long as I possibly could. I was loving every minute, which is a very healthy shift away from the “finish as fast as possible” mantra my brain had settled into previously. Simply put, MCM was an improvement over my Philly performance in every facet except the finishing time (ok so technically an 8-second improvement there, too). I call that a resounding win in my book (especially after reading this article from Runner’s World [credit to The Lady for pointing me to it!]).

As for what’s next, I honestly don’t know. There are a couple 5K/10K races in late November / early December. I know The Lady wants a crack at another marathon when she gets healthy, so the possibility of a summer marathon isn’t out of the question. We’re already registered for the Pittsburgh half, and over New Year’s we’ll likely register for the Air Force half again. I know I’ll be focusing on my mid-range game; my half marathon PR is going to turn a full two years old come the next half, and I want to make sure I’m in a position to crush it. I’d also like to finally nail the elusive sub-20 minute 5K.

Ultimately, I want to build on my MCM performance. There are a lot of things I liked about it. Of course I’m disappointed in my time, and it’s still tough when people ask how the marathon went; saying “Great!” isn’t true, but neither is “Ugh”. The most accurate one-liner is “I didn’t get the time I wanted, but it was still an awesome race and I’m proud of my performance.”

Such is life, I suppose!

Courtesy of The Lady :)
Courtesy of The Lady 🙂

(you can read The Lady’s report here)

MCM Week 16: Runner Singularity

Supposedly, the taper is designed so that one feels like a coiled spring by the end. After weeks and weeks of building mileage and increasing the long run distance, the combination of two weeks straight of mileage pullbacks and the impending race creates a sort of running singularity: a point of infinite preparation.

And the only prescription is MORE COWBELL RUNNING A MARATHON.

Mileage has definitely fallen the last few weeks.
Mileage has definitely fallen the last few weeks.

Well, so goes the theory, anyway.

Many will remember my marathon from last year. tl;dr it didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped. This time around, a lot of things are similar: had some training issues, worked through them, some runs were awesome, some runs were terrible, ultimately got the mileage in that I needed and didn’t do anything [too] stupid. Also had stress issues that compounded with the high mileage.

But there are a lot of things that have changed. For one, I didn’t injure myself rather seriously a month out from the race. For another, my stress issues were at the start of training, rather than the end (they’re still somewhat ongoing, but I seem to have had the upper hand for a few months now).  I also don’t feel nearly as worn down and beat up as I did at the end of the last training cycle. I’m not to the point where I feel like I’m a coiled spring–I’m definitely tired!–but I feel a little more energized and a little more excited than I did this time last year.

To put it simply, I like my chances so far.

My A-goal is still 3:45, or an 8:30 mile average. My B-goal is to finish under 4 hours. I’m almost completely sure I can hit the latter; I’m about 75% certain in the former. That number has wavered a lot the last several weeks. Two months ago I’d all but completely dropped the goal; a month ago I was almost completely sure I could do it. Like all things, I’ll need to wait and see.

The most important thing for me in this race will be my mental game. Through all my physical issues this training cycle, they’ve started with an overburdened mind, a consequence of not taking any mental breaks in work or in running, and panicking when things weren’t going 100% according to plan. NEWS FLASH: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. I want to push myself, but I don’t want to blow up when it starts getting hard and I start berating myself for feeling worn out. The key is to challenge myself, but not to feel like I have something to prove (to myself or otherwise).

The key is to play the game like I have nothing to lose. Reckless abandon. Kind of like my latest track workout:

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 9.36.06 PM

This was our final track workout before MCM, and that is indeed a sub-6 minute mile, my first ever. After eluding me both last year and this spring when I’d felt I was ready, both times due to injury, I was finally healthy enough to make a “run” at a sub-6 mile. And by golly I friggin’ nailed it!

I’ve done the preparation. I’ve made significant strides in the mental game. I’ve set a 10K PR along the way. All the check marks are in right places; it’s just a matter of pulling the trigger. For 3 hours and 45 minutes, hopefully 🙂

I imagine this will be the last post before MCM; The Lady and I are ducking out of town as early as possible on Friday and staying with my friend Emmarie in DC for the weekend. I’ll definitely be live-tweeting as I run, but I’ll try to post a live tracking link at some point.

Wish us both luck!


MCM Week 14: Taper, taper, taper!

No, not tapir, cute as they are.

Taper: you're doing it...right?
Taper: you’re doing it…right?

With the exception of miles 18 and 19 of last week’s 20-miler, peak week of marathon training went off without a hitch. That’s always a huge relief considering the really high mileage (45 for me, 50 for The Lady), but for me the relief is twofold: where I was struggling a few months ago in 20-30 mile weeks, I hammered through a 45-mile week, complete with a 9-mile tempo run and a 20-mile long run, with hardly a hiccup.

Weekly mileages since the start of MCM training.
Weekly mileages since the start of MCM training.

The only run that was even slightly suspect was the 20-miler at the end of last week. And with good reason: I was hopped up on NyQuil from the night before. The Lady went through a pretty bad head cold during the last week, and while she is definitely on the mend, I picked up at least a small part of it several days later. My body seems to have fought it off without the worst symptoms ever showing up, but I did have a sore throat over the weekend, so just to be on the safe side, I knocked back some NyQuil Friday and Saturday evenings.

Turns out, that Saturday evening dose was a bad idea. I just couldn’t get my muscles to respond; it felt like my brain was wrapped in a cloud, and while my muscles felt really strong, they just weren’t quite responding how my brain was expecting them to. I will say, if you ever want to experience the closest thing to the fatigue issues I was dealing with the last few months, take NyQuil the night before. While it’s certainly not exactly the same, it approximated the feeling of being completely unable to push despite all indicators being ok.

Even so, the run was solid, my fastest 20-miler to date in 2:58:06, which certainly bodes well for a sub-4 hour marathon. As I mentioned, miles 18 and 19 were a bit of a breakdown: it was really humid out, and I am particularly susceptible to humidity if I’m not used to it. I sweat a lot, so if I haven’t been training regularly in the sauna, it drains me pretty quickly. But The Lady and I made phenomenal time the first 17 miles, and even miles 18 and 19 were both 9:30s. Provided DC isn’t tangibly humid on Oct 27, I should be ok.

This was the weather at the very start. Oh, and miles 17-20 are pretty much completely unshaded.
This was the weather at the very start of our 20-miler; temps rose pretty fast over the next 2.5 hours. Oh, and miles 17-20 are completely unshaded.

With that long run, we officially entered The Taper, that wonderful time where the first week is a welcome break from the grueling training schedule, and by the week of the marathon you’re going absolutely bonkers with how low the mileage has become. Most notably, I feel significantly healthier at the start of this taper than I did starting the taper for the Philly Marathon last year. With any luck, that feeling will hold for the rest of the month. While I’m pretty confident in a sub-4 hour performance, I would absolutely love to hit my original goal of 3:45 (8:30 mile). That will depend largely on continued efforts to keep stress levels low (the primary antagonist of my running performance, it would seem), and as always, to refrain from doing anything stupid.

For instance: as much as I was dying to participate in CMU’s Donut Dash this year (with Team OM NOM NOM), even just two miles of hard running would be two more miles that I could potentially risk turning an ankle. Plus, it was right smack between four straight days of running for a total of 25 miles, and the 20-mile long run. Participating in the race would have robbed me of my only opportunity to rest, and that would definitely fall under the category of “doing something stupid,” albeit deliciously stupid.

This week is a total of 35 miles, followed by a week of 24 miles. The week of MCM, we’ll log about 12 miles total, then it’s marathon time! It’s rather humbling to consider that we’re only 18 days out now, and with the hardest training runs behind us. Here’s to a successful taper!

And so it begins


ermahgerdTraining for the Marine Corps Marathon officially begins this coming Monday. The Lady and I polished up the training schedule last night, and it’s a doozy. For last year’s Philly Marathon, we peaked at 42 miles. This year, the peak is 50. AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

Weeks: 16
Longest training run: 20mi (x2)
Highest weekly mileage: 50mi
Total mileage: 480mi

It’s like the Run Streak, except the minimum daily mileage is 4.3, rather than 1.0. Yeah. This schedule is pretty much crazy-go-nuts. We have the usual 3-week buildup followed by a cutback week, and those three weeks alternate between tempo runs and speed work on the track. The long runs occasionally include a few miles at half-marathon goal pace (7:15 for me) to help us prepare for Air Force in September. After AF, our longer 20-mile runs have a few miles at the end that we attempt at goal marathon pace (8:30 for me). We have a few races interspersed in our training: the Air Force half marathon, the Pittsburgh Great Race 10K, and the Run for Gold 26.2K (16.2mi), with the possibility of the Harvest Moon 10mi the weekend before MCM (still thinking about that one).

To really make things interesting, we’ve opted to do something different during week 12: the monster workout! We’re pretty much going to obliterate our fall racing season, or blow up trying! RACING PWNAGE OR BUST, INDEED.

Obviously, if injuries or general fatigue preclude harder workouts, we’ll scale things back as needed. But since this is our second full marathon, and we did pretty well with our first one (which was also pretty hard), we’re going to push things a bit in this training cycle. We both have some good momentum going: my IT bands have been holding up exceptionally well for the last month as I’ve been getting my speed and endurance back, and The Lady is still riding a wake of shattered PRs.

This first week is a good introduction: 20 miles total, with a 10 mile long run and a 6 mile tempo run. About on par with what we’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks, so it will serve as a nice transition into training. The build is also fairly slow the first few weeks, but the intensity increases quite fast. I’m hoping, especially once my July 30 thesis proposal is done, to make liberal use of the CMU gym again to get a healthy amount of cross-training in (hello, racquetball!) to help stave off injuries. I’m not too worried about stress this time around (a la Philly) since my fall semester is pretty tame; I just have to survive the first few weeks of training to July 30.

My A-goal: 3:45 (not joking). It’s just a hair over an 8:30 min/mi pace, which for distances at or slightly above half-marathon is my easy pace. Yeah, it’s more than a 30-minute improvement over my Philly marathon time, but I really think that if all goes well with training (no injuries plz), this should be doable. B-goal is sub-4 hours, which I think was attainable last year had I not been injured and not been stressed out of my mind.

Another cool statistic: up until this point, I’ve amassed 497.12 running miles this year. Assuming I nail the 480 above, that puts me at 977.12 through October 20, with two months and change to get the last 85 miles I need to tie last year’s mileage of 1,062.19. I think I might just be able to surpass last year’s total mileage, even after missing nearly a month of running due to IT band injuries. Now that’s freaking awesome.

So yeah. Let the games begin!

Marine Corps Marathon!

Very exciting–The Lady and I successfully registered for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 27, 2013!

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 9.43.50 AM


The registration firestorm broke its own record from last year by selling out in 2 hours and 27 minutes. Which brings up a bigger issue: how to handle registration when the event is this popular and it sells out this fast. Particularly after the debacle of the Chicago Marathon, I was curious to see even before registration opened for MCM how they would handle the inevitable flurry of activity.

The verdict? Not terribly well. And I wasn’t terribly surprised, either.

Modern web servers and hardware-based load balancers have done wonders for smoothing out web traffic and distributing the load across many different systems in a way that’s manageable. However, for any of this to work, you still need to have sufficient hardware to handle all the incoming connections. For anyone who is familiar with the SimCity franchise, its latest installation suffered from a lot of the same problems when it was first launched.

Point being: for a system designed to handle a certain amount of traffic at any given time, there is practically no way to deal with a sudden surge of traffic orders of magnitude bigger at the very same minute. There just isn’t. Credit is due to Active.com for not outright crashing like it did during the Chicago registration, but other than a lucky break at 12pm sharp that allowed me to get to the main registration page, I was completely unable to finish my transaction and access any part of the registration form thereafter.

Somehow, The Lady penetrated the 500 barrier and signed me up (she was already registered through a charity), so I have her to thank for that (routing my traffic through local proxies didn’t seem to help, and I didn’t want to test the latency of more distant proxies when speed was paramount).

Simply put, this model isn’t scalable. You can’t expect to keep having these kind of flash-registration sessions where the only people who manage to get through are those who just happen to hit F5 the millisecond a thread on the server goes idle. I suppose it’s a lottery of sorts, but it arguably generates a lot more frustration and resentment than is necessary. Many popular races (the Peachtree Road Race comes to mind) have already gone to the lottery system. On one hand, it doesn’t guarantee that a registration will result in a spot at the event. But on the other hand, you’ve just as much of a chance of getting in as you would in an online registration firestorm, minus all the adrenaline and frustration of furiously refreshing the page until it loads.

Some have also suggested tiered registration, analogous to Boston’s process which stratifies the groups by their qualifying times; perhaps something similar could be done by age group. Regardless of the approach, a change is needed. The change could either be the brute force approach where Active.com purchases enough server space to rival Google (99% of which would idly sit there minus the handful of events over the course of a year when that extra hardware is needed), or the change could be the process by which people register. I certainly wouldn’t mind the former, but I recognize it’s not economically viable. So it’s up the events to implement some changes to get the latter moving sooner rather than later.

Because we sure as hell don’t look like this:

Said nobody, ever.
Said nobody, ever.