“Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston”

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Photo courtesy of runningdenver.blogspot.com/

I have been so overwhelmed already with the messages, texts, and posts of good luck, prayer, and well-wishes.  It has really been a remarkable journey to get to this point. This is so much bigger than me, and I feel so blessed to be a part of this experience. It’s the oldest, most-treasured marathon in America, and I am a temporary custodian of it; sort of an ambassador. Some of the people who are sending messages of luck probably wouldn’t give the race a second thought on Monday. But now they are carving out time, setting up text alerts, and figuring out how to check in on my times during the race. I am their link to the race. Overwhelming indeed.

The title of this post comes from a very good runner-friend who ran Boston last year. It is a simple message, but is profound in its statement. When I read it, it really provoked thoughts and emotions in me. The Boston course has very little turns. In fact, I think there are six total?  Turns can slow you down on a run. However, on the curved part of the track, you can overcome an opponent by powering through the turn. In a road race, the goal is to run on a tangent through the turn. I have used turns to make passes. And I have been passed many times in a turn. Turns are a change in direction that could lead to a change in the race. It might be into a demoralizing headwind, or an uplifting tailwind. Turns can be significant.

But these last two turns, right on Hereford Street and left onto Boylston Street, are probably the most significant. From Jeptoo, to the Kelleys (young and old), Boston Billy, Dicky and Al’s “Duel,” Ryan Hall, Shalane, Desi (all running it this year), Rick and Dick Hoyt (their last one, by the way)., so many runners have made the turns; so many of my friends, too. I can only imagine the feelings and emotions. Relief from the mid-packer that the end is near, elation of a winning athlete; tears of pain, tears of joy. And there are some who didn’t make the turn. I can only imagine at this point. I still need to run the race.

The sights and sounds of the cheering fans are in my dreams. I have had many training runs where I have envisioned making this finish. I even remember a particular run with Steve S. through First Landing. I was trying to dig deep on mile 18 or so of a training run. Steve, a four-time finisher, said, “Just envision yourself making the turns to the finish at Boston.” I visualized the screaming fans, the tall buildings, the finish line. But the turns have been there too. I have thought about making those turns. I watched many clips of finishers making the turns and, in my mind, I thought about what it’ll be like to make those turns. And I will be making the turns with all of my friends and family tracking and supporting me. I just mentioned to Kelly this morning how there have been many messages already and how overwhelming it all has been so far. I was lamenting how I didn’t want to let anyone down. And she asked “Why? You are ready.” Your support is appreciated. I can’t say “thank you” enough for all the support. Thank you all! Enjoy the show!

Bulletin Board Material

Last week I spoke to one of my ‘oldest’ friends about going to Boston. Tom knows what it’s like to compete but on a different stage. He is a adult-league hockey player. Throughout his career he has won championships with his club teams. So we have our friendship, but we have a mutual respect for each other’s goals and pastimes. He probably framed my entire Boston experience the best. He said, “(Boston) is something you put up on the board and you pursued it, and you made it.”

Yes, Boston has been on my bulletin board. When I became a runner I never fathomed a marathon. When I ran a marathon, I never fathomed Boston. About two years ago, I told someone that, if I were to qualify for Boston, I would have to make a serious lifestyle change. August of 2012 I gave up meat and changed my diet. In November I ran a 3:04 at the Outer Banks Marathon. A BQ. March of 2013, I ran a 2:56. An even better BQ. So from there, my journey began. And as many of you know, it became an even more intense journey after the horrific terrorist bombings at last year’s Boston Marathon.

This post isn’t about the bombings. I am sorry, but I don’ think I can say anything more about that situation that hasn’t already been said. This post is about just making it to Boston and Boston itself.

Once I qualified and started to realize that I was actually going to run Boston, I became mesmerized by the race. I have heard that you must become a student of the race and respect it. I hired a coach to help me get to a PR, and I have been reading whatever I can about the storied race. I read Duel in the Sun. Researched the BAA. Studied the profile of the course. It has become somewhat of an obsession. None of this was forced.

In fact, being a part of Boston has seemed, to me, like what is must feel like to be in a fraternity. If someone strikes up a conversation with you and starts to tell you about how they ran Boston, then as a Boston qualifier, you better damn well listen. It’s like a fraternity rush being schooled by a fraternity brother. You respect whatever they have to say, and you better listen! It’s like once you have qualified you have become a custodian of the race. You respect the laurels and merits. It is revered. Its finishers are revered.

Being a week out now it has become my sole focus. Thankfully, teaching school and coaching track has consumed my time. But now it comes down to focusing even more.  In my final week I am going to further enjoy my taper and further study the race. I have more to come this week. I’ll keep you posted!

 

Under Armor Bag Review

I like to think there are some people out there who actually might “get” something from my posts. I hope some running friends can pick up some advice and appreciate this one. I carry this bag to every race and meticulously stock it as part of my prerace routine. This post is inspired by Kris Lawrence’s bag post and what she has in her running bag.

A few years ago, probably 10 years, I purchased an Under Armor bag from Dicks Sporting Goods and never really gave it a second thought. It turned out to be one of the best purchases I have ever made.

It’s unassuming and not even blue or green (my favorite colors)

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I had no idea at the time, but the bottom portion pulls out into a mat. I used this accessory for each and every triathlon from Breezy Point Sprint to Eagleman 70.3! LOVE IT! I laid out all my gear: shoes, towel, nutrition, etc. on that mat.

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There is a compartment under the main pack that holds bulk things. I guess you can keep sweaty, wet clothes in there. I prefer to keep some essentials: tub of Aquaphor, Biofreeze, and wipes.

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The side compartments (one on each side) offer room for bottles of water and other nutrition. I usually keep a Gatorade to keep glycogen topped off before the race as well as gels that I will take throughout the race.

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The top compartment is a great place to hold my wallet and phone. On training runs, I put my ipod in there.

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The front main compartment is where I place all my race gear. This is where the race day singlet goes and any other accouterments. Gloves, socks, change of shorts/pants, shoes, underpants, towel, sunglasses, sweatshirt. This thing holds a lot!

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The front accessory compartment is my favorite. It holds the essentials. I keep zip ties (maybe a holdover from my Tri days), electrical tape, band-aids, marker, chewing gun (helps with nerves), and a smallish GNC pill bin that holds about 3,000 safety pins. You only need four and they give them to you at each race…why do I have so many? A place to secure your keys is nice. Oh! and Chap Stick.

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Finally, there is also a hidden mesh “laundry” bag that holds clothes. I don’t use that piece too often, but I like knowing that I have it.

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So there you have it! I love this bag! I don’t even know if they make it anymore. Like I said, I take it to every race and training run. I have even run with it on my back.

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Shamrock 8k recap

With four weeks to Boston and coming off a pretty good “test” race from last week, I wanted to update everyone and provide a little race recap.

A couple of weeks prior to Shamrock weekend, I asked Coach Dai if it would be a wise decision to try and race the Shamrock 8k and then run the tune up half marathon the following day. He said it would be good training and worked it into the training schedules for the following weeks. I felt I had a good chance to do well as training had been going so well. I already planned on running the race with my middle school running club. Also, the Shamrock 8k draws some pretty good racers and there was a purse for top masters finishers. My PR at the time was good enough for third, $75. Why not?

Shamrock Saturday is notoriously a better weather day than Shamrock Sunday. 2014 didn’t disappoint. Saturday morning the temps were in the mid 40′s with only a respectable southern wind. Race time temps would be 50*. Perfect conditions to run. I met with my coach after departing my running club. We went over the course layout together and we talked about managing the wind. The first two miles would be into the wind, but that was okay as there would be better chance at blocking the wind at the start with more people around. I did my warm up and met my coach back at the start line along with friend and ultra marathoner Steve SHe was about a month removed from capturing fourth at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler. Steve had registered the night before and was going to use this as a shake out for the marathon the next day. I enjoy running with him and we have run many training runs and races together. We planned to run this one together. After the start we stayed together for a bit. My legs felt great and I was well ahead of pace into the wind. I knew that if I could maintain this pace into the wind that I could do some damage with some tail wind. By mile two, we had caught up to some elite women. This gave me a boost. Steve said, “Go for it, Andrew. You’re strong today.” and I passed the pack heading into the turn around. I felt bad for leaving Steve, but many of you know that’s how it works. He had the quite the performance at FLSP 50k and left me behind. We are not competitors. We support each other. Especially when the other is strong. And that is what I love about Steve. He is a very humble guy and I am glad to know him.

After the turn and along the boardwalk, I was able to open it up. I wasn’t passing anymore people, but I was maintaining pace. I had no visions of first place masters, but it all came together. I was elated. Now it was time to head back to my car, change, and meet up with my students to finish the 8k with them. I eventually met up with them and it was fun to just take it easy and have fun with them. All the seriousness was done and I could just have fun. We all finished together and it was fun to run with our students and Lindsay and Melissa. I am happy to have had a nice trial run to know what to expect. I have already decided to go bigger next year and represent Indian River with more runners next year. So, all in all, this was a great weekend of growth for me.

Why Do We Do This?

Indeed, the zeal of Boston’s rank-and-file marathoners rivaled, and in some ways echoed, the religious passion of Nathaniel Howe and his congregation. The runners indulged in orgies of self-denial–running 100 miles a week, working junk jobs in order to have time to train, paying their own way to races, banding together in ascetic cells, forgoing the temptations of an idolatrous world in order to attain grace and salvation on the road. As in Puritan New England, grace was not blithely attained. A believer-a runner-earned it by losing toenails and training down to bone and muscle, just as Puritans formed calluses on their knees from praying. No one made a cent from their strenuous efforts. The running life, like spiritual life, was its own reward.Duel in the Sun

If you have 10 minutes, this is well worth the time.

I wanted to update those of you who are following my training to Boston. Things are going well, and I wanted to share a not-so-odd affliction that many marathoners may go through.

Yesterday was a great training run. Coach Dai set up a 16 mile training run. I met up with a great group of fast local runners, Justin, Ryan, and Steve, and we set out on a nice 8:00/mile warm up. Then it was time to “get into it.” The plan was to run at marathon pace of 6:30/mile. Our first mile was 6:41, and that’s as “slow” as it got! The overall average pace was 6:27. Without that warmup mile, it would have been much quicker. The last three miles were 6:15/mile average. To be seven weeks out and to have a training run @MP AND have a full recovery for a hill session the next day has me excited with the direction of my training. I honestly thought I would be putting in 80+ miles/week at this point, but I am following the plan and doing what the coach asks me to do. I was grateful to have Steve S. along for the duration.

Following the run, Final Kick Sports was hosting an event to raise money for Team Hoyt of Virginia Beach. I hadn’t planned on staying around, but I did so to chat to some other runners. For some reason, I stayed and I listened to some of the speakers. I was taken with Michael’s recount of Boston 2013. I had heard Dennis’ and David’s retelling, but to hear it from the perspective of a blind runner was fascinating. They were at mile 25 when the bombs went off at the finish line. Michael spoke of David and Dennis grabbing his cell phone and informing his family that he was okay. I was really glad to have stayed a bit longer to hear that. I knew there was a reason I stayed.

Michael with his guides Dennis and David

Michael with his guides Dennis and David

~Warning: Graphic images ahead!

This week brought two toe injuries/afflictions that are just part of the gig. The first one is a combination of a blister and wart. After last week’s 20-miler I developed a blister on my toe which was aggravated by a plantar wart on the same toe. I think I might lose this toenail.

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Also, earlier in the week, I forgot a cardinal rule of distance running – Keep the toenails clipped!

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As you can see, I have already lost the big toenail, but this is what I found when I took my sock off on Tuesday.

Last week after the last Distance Series, I talked with Navy-transplanted, Boston-native Kate H. She offered some first-hand insight of the Boston marathon from a spectator and participant point of view. I got excited to hear how Hopkinton treats the runners on Patriot’s Day. Yesterday my coach gave me Duel in the Sun to read. I read several pages last night, and the above passage from p. 11 struck me. It’s all starting to sink in now. Michael, hills, training, Beardsley and Salazar, losing toenails…Boston.

Continue reading

What Does the Raccoon Say?

I hate to reference such a popular song that probably grates on many nerves, but today it seems appropriate. For most of my adult running career, I have run my workouts in the early morning. I am up and out on most days by 4:50 – 5:00. Most of the time, that is when the critters are getting up as well. I have encountered countless animals on my morning runs.

I used to go out my front door to start my runs (now I go out the side garage door). One particular spring morning I opened the front door to witness a fox family of four trotting through my cul-de-sac. In the past, I have found that fox are more scared of humans than anything. Well, that seems to only apply to a single fox. But when a family of foxes are in formation, all bets are off. I started to make my way down the driveway and this fox momma barked at me like a common canine. 

I decided to slink back into the house until they completed their migration through our neighborhood.

Today was probably the scariest encounter with a critter. For runners there is a sense of comfort you feel before you leave your street or road. You’re still on your turf. Your guard is down. You know once you venture off your street and out into the “wild,” then you’re on your own. Home turf. I started out this morning’s easy run, and I was just letting the kinks work their way out of my old bones. I was listening to a podcast, so my hearing was still acute. Nothing too loud. I wasn’t even 500 feet from my house, and from the right there is a rustle. A movement…Is that a fox? A moose? Dear Jesus! 

A raccoon! If you’ve never seen a raccoon barreling down the road head on, then you haven’t lived. These things are pretty massive. With it’s stark white markings contrasting in the predawn moonlight, they can have a certain otherworldly glow. Claws and teeth bared like a buzzsaw…Did I mention it was head-on? In not even a blink of an eye, I had to make a decision. Do I kick frantically? Fetal position? I honestly don’t know if I screamed like Nellie Oleson, but I certainly was frozen with panic. And at the last possible second…

It swerved into a storm sewer to my left.  Ugh…what a relief?! I had a good chuckle and I hope you did too from my Facebook post. I know many of you have your own critter encounters. Feel free to share! To me, this is a sign that spring is near!

BTW, the raccoon doesn’t say shit!

Progress

Late Summer/Early Fall 1989

Junior year of high school, and surely I will make varsity soccer. Why not? It’s a given. In going through the motions of tryouts, alas I managed to make junior varsity. I was appalled, humbled, pissed off. After the gambit of emotions, I settled into a sobering mindset. You’re just mediocre when it comes to sports. Mediocre. JV.

Boston training has been going really well! It is absolutely eye-opening what the proper guidance and direction can do for one’s performance. We are heading into an easy training week with nine left until Boston. This week I am coming off a time trial week. The TT week simulates a race week. Coach Dai Roberts loads up the front of the week with some serious workouts and then gives the legs a rest to have them ready for the race. This week was just that.

Monday called for an easy six in the morning and then a 3×2 miles @5:50 pace in the afternoon. This workout weighed heavily on my mind for several reasons. For starters, my wife has physical therapy at 5 PM on Mondays. Instead of asking for a babysitter, we asked our 11 year-old son to watch the 5 yo. So there’s that worry… The temps were about 30*. Not ideal for training, but it’s manageable. Finally, could I do this workout? Sure I could nail the first two miles no problem. But to spit it out two more times…with two minutes of jog/rests? Believe me. This was in my head all day.

I warmed up two miles on the tready and then ran across the street to a condo-village that has about a 1+ mile loop around it. Perfect. No crossing traffic and it’s not on a track! Long story short: nailed it! First 2 miles = 11:39 @5:49 pace, second = 11:33 @5:46 pace, and final third lap, 11:40 @ 5:50 pace. Nailed it. Progress.

And my when I came home, the kids were getting along so well. My son had nailed it, too! What a relief!?

Today I ran the Virginia is for Lovers 14k. Not an “A” race. More of an afterthought. I registered as late as possible. And I paid heavily for it. Coach Dai worked it into the schedule. We talked about pacing and preliminary thoughts were optimistic at 5:55. At the start, a good friend of mine, Steve pointed out a competitor that was in the master’s age group. Steve and I had done a warm up together. As always, I took his advice and we chatted before the race. He was not running as he had just run a 100  mile race two weeks ago. He finished fourth and earned a spot in the prestigious Western States 100 mile Endurance Run.

Photo courtesy of Ally Speirs

Photo courtesy of Ally Speirs

I stuck to my original plan to go out at 5:50′s. And things felt ok. Almost too good. The “competition” went out way too quick. I couldn’t hang with that! I settled in and ran with local speedster Howie H. He has a great sense of humor and we chatted/laughed for a while. There were icy patches throughout the course and some spots were very cross country-like. I had settled into sixth place overall and was struggling to keep my breathing right at mile 3-4. By mile four there was an off-road patch that was soggy grass. That slowed me down a bit. It was hard to keep pace at that point. But coming out onto the road and finally feeling like the halfway point had been reached, I had to dig in.

Up ahead, I could see the “competition.” Could I reel him in?

I began to “gauge” him. When he was astride a post, I would count my left foot strikes until I hit the same post. 28. Fire hydrant…24. Street lamp…21. I started to wonder if I would run out of real estate. Up ahead, I was familiar with the territory that we hitting. I heard Steve and his wife Ally shouting my name. I honestly thought I was going to pass out at this point. I was dizzy. That’s when I heard Steve yell, “12 seconds, Andrew. You look stronger than him. You got it!” But imagine a smooth Welsh-sounding voice of encouragement. Ally was right there cheering. How do you not push it after that?

Photo courtesy of Ally Speirs

Photo courtesy of Ally Speirs

Going into the last 3/4 mile there was a slippery, muddy patch. For about 75-100 meters of a turn there was a mixture of mud, sand, hay, and ice. “Competitor” took it easy through there. It was my moment. I gained significant ground. I was now within 20 meters of him. The turn came out to a long straight away that was paved. I began to drop the pace. I wanted to win the masters. And here it was in front of me. I don’t/haven’t had many chances to shine. I am on the JV squad. 

The race has a lot of turns at the end. There came the point when I knew I had to make a move. I told myself that if I was going to pass him, I needed to do it with authority. I didn’t race track or cross country in school, but I knew that if you go by someone in a race, you need to demoralize him. And that’s what I did. I gave it all I had. I even may have spewed a “Good job!” as I passed by to give the impression that I could still converse. Game. Set. Match.

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Things came together nice today. I don’t want to say that I ran a perfect race. There is always room for improvement. I know I have things to work on. I am very happy that I finished top-5. I can’t say enough about what my coach has done for me. I leaned on the fast workouts that I had done in the last week. I could never have done that without Dai’s help.

Not so JV. Not so mediocre. 

Progress.