Monday, October 31, 2011

Watching Other People Run

At the end of August, when a friend and I made the decision to purchase standing-room-only tickets for the Philadelphia Eagles' Sunday Night Football matchup against the despised Dallas Cowboys, it seemed like a great idea. Coming off a division championship and with several pro-bowlers added to the roster, we expected the Eagles to be cruising unstoppably toward a date with destiny.

Instead, they stumbled awkwardly in response to every possible challenge. Their offense, an extremely stoppable force inside the red zone; their defense, an eminently moveable object -- the entire field became the red zone for opposing offenses. With four losses and wins against only the lowly Rams and fast-starting, faster-collapsing Redskins, the Eagles were playing to save their season against the similarly erratic Cowboys, who were coming in confident from a blowout victory over the Rams and and near-upset of the Patriots.

The odds did not seem to favor us. The situation felt far too similar to two other prime-time Eagles vs. Cowboys games that we had attended, in which disappointing Eagles squads lost to the Cowboys with their seasons on the line. On a Monday night in 2005, the Eagles played well and led most of the game, holding on to a 20-14 lead when Donovan McNabb threw an ill-advised interception that was returned down the sideline for a touchdown by Dallas' Roy Williams. The throw was awful, but the decision worse. With the game clock winding down, a punt or even a regular would have given the defense a chance to hold on to win. The Eagles had one last chance: Reggie Brown dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball from Mike McMahon, who was in the game after McNabb was injured during the INT return, and David Akers missed a 60-yard field goal.

In November, 2007, the Cowboys were on their way to a 13-3 regular season (and luckily for me, a disappointing postseason) when they ran over the mediocre Eagles. The score was 35-10 at the end of the third quarter, and I live three hours away; it was the only Eagles game I've ever left early, and I've been to some very bad losses.

After a fun afternoon of tailgating, we entered the stadium and staked out our standing room with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I knew the Eagles could win. But although the Cowboys had also been plagued by inconsistency and errors, it seemed to me that the competent version of the Cowboys were more likely to show up than the well-executing Eagles.

(The view from the cheap seats reasonably-priced stairway)

I couldn't have been more wrong. The Eagles quickly jumped out to a 7-0, force a punt, and scored again. The crowd went wild, the rout was on, and the Eagles never looked back. This is a running blog, and LeSean McCoy ran wild. Every time the Eagles lost yardage, we had complete confidence that McCoy would make up for it on the next play. Michael Vick was decisive and accurate, avoiding the Dallas blitzes with quick releases and quick feet; Brent Celek showed up in a big way; and the Eagles previously porous defense never let Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense get comfortable. The outcome was never in doubt. Instead of leaving this blowout early, I savored every moment of the Eagles 34-7 win.

The vile Cowboys were vanquished, the season saved. I started my car at midnight, made excellent time on my drive home, and didn't get to bed until 3:15am. It was totally worth it.

And the swag was awesome, too.

(I try to reinforce a positive performance by buying merchandise after wins.
Two of these items were purchased in the stadium store.
One was purchased from a guy in the parking lot .)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Am Not a Fan...

Of snow, whenever it may fall. Especially when we get a what is shaping up to be a decent winter storm in October.

I am very much a fan of the mighty augers of death that turn three hours of shoveling into an activity that is more akin to shooting the snow out of a cannon.

As you can see from this colorful photo, the snow is only 4-5 inches, but it was extremely heavy. This is not a small snow blower we are talking about here, but the snow was so wet and heavy that several times I had to clear the augers and the impeller of slush that was clogging them. Our snow blower wasn't working during the double blizzard of 2010, so I'm always a bit nervous the first time each season I fire it up. It took several tries to get it started, and after feeling how heavy this abominable snow was, I had a moment of snow panic when I thought it wasn't going to start. Thankfully, it did, and cleared the driveway in about 30 minutes.

I detailed in my last whiny post all the bad decisions I've made during this marathon training season. On the other hand, it was a clear stroke of genius, by which I mean luck, that I switched my 20-miler to last weekend. I love it when a plan comes together.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Too Late, He Hit the Panic Button

I know you're getting tired of hearing this, but I had the best of intentions this week. I knew this was probably my last chance to pound the midweek miles and still have a chance to taper properly. I ran a tough 4-mile hill workout on Monday, and was fired-up to get out again on Tuesday night. The crisis of willpower that's haunted me over the last month was over.

But then, I started coughing. By the end of the day my throat was swollen and hurting quite badly, and I knew a run was out of the question. On Wednesday afternoon, my doctor hooked me up with a ProAir inhaler and prednisone, both of them steroids, and they made a huge difference almost immediately. Though I felt much better, I still felt like I had too much tightness in my chest, so I put my run off until this morning.

Since a winter storm (in October!) is barreling toward us as we speak, scheduled to drop 6-10 inches of snow tomorrow, I decided to make this my long run, which was scheduled to be 12 miles. I ran 12 miles in 2 hours. Not bad, in and of itself.

For a variety of reasons, most of which have been under my control, I clearly haven't done what I've needed to do to be ready for this marathon. For most of October, nailed my long runs but managed only one or at most two midweek runs.

As I prepped for Shamrock, my level of focus was just so much better. I've trained for both marathons during two of the busiest times of work I've ever had, but while I used work stress as motivation and looked forward to my nightly runs in January and February, in October it became a reason not to run. In hindsight, I think my IT band injury was the best thing that happened to me. I was running very good 16 or 17 milers, right on schedule, and then WHAM!, I could barely even do 5 right after the injury. It made me work really, really hard to get back. I didn't get all the way there, but under the circumstances, I think I did the best I could.

This time? I did a great job staying ahead of schedule all summer and had some great long runs in September and October, and maybe I rested on my non-existent laurels a bit too much during the week and I definitely feel a little burned out on this running thing right now. I certainly took advantage of every possible excuse. I guess it helped that I hurt my knee in late January, a month and a half before the race. This fall, I ignored the warning signs till it was almost certainly too late.

I have to run 26 on November 20th. I ran just 16 this week. And even with my 20-mile long run last week, I still got only 26 miles total last week. If I were a wiser man, I would probably switch to the half marathon. I'm just going to do the best I can on race day, even though it won't be very good even by my Shamrock Marathon standards. With a little bit of walking, I made it through 20 miles just one week ago. As long as I don't let my endurance decrease any further, I think I can finish this race in the approximation of one piece.

My plan? Officially I should be tapering, but I'm going to try to have a last tough week of midweek runs, and then get a last good long run of 18-20 miles. I'll try to follow that with another good week of shorter midweek runs, and then my last long run is scheduled for 8 miles. To make up for the abbreviated taper, I'll do probably do two 2-mile runs and a walk during the last week instead of the two 3-mile runs.

Wow, that was a downer. In summary: Cats...playing football!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winning the Swag Marathon

Admit it. You're not running for health, or enjoyment, or camaraderie. You're running so you can brag about it.

Wait, that's not you. That's me. And while that's a bit of an exaggeration, I admit there's an element of truth to it. I love wearing shirts from the various races I've run, and I'm probably not the only runner that enjoys swag, all the "giveaways" that come with your race registration.

I've got some good stuff over the years. My gray long-sleeve tech shirt from the 2010 Philly Half is very cool, and my the Asics sleeveless I got at the Druid Hills 10K this year has been a useful running shirt.

But one race's swag stands out amongst them all: The Yuengling Shamrock Marathon.
Excluding any souvenirs, thus counting only the items included in my registration fee, I received:

  • 1 long sleeve technical shirt
  • 1 long-sleeve cotton finisher's shirt
  • 1 finisher's hat (Yes, I think the hat is ugly, but I love it anyway. I have 100 baseball caps, but this is the only one I had to run 26.2 miles to get.)
  • Finisher's medal that can be used as a bottle opener

Well, the good folks at J&A Racing have outdone themselves. This year, in honor of the race's 40th anniversary, all 13.1 and 26.2 finishers will receive their race shirt, finisher's hat, medal, and this:

(This sweatshirt replaces the white finishers' shirt at the bottom of my picture.
That's a nice upgrade, in my opinion.)

I'm a little critical of my own performance at the Shamrock Marathon (although not half as critical as I'm going to be after I limp through Philly in a few weeks!), but I have nothing but good things to say about the event itself.

Great post-race party. Fun location. Nice expo. Unbeatable swag. And it looks like they found a way to make it even better!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Never, Never Feed Him After Midnight

My goal leading up to the marathon is to focus on getting in consistent runs during the week. I got off to a good start with a 4-mile hill workout on Monday. I would have done another "lap" (Down into Mt Wolf, up the hill to the park, back down into the valley and up toward Manchester), but 1) my legs were still really exhausted from Saturday, and 2) it started to pour.

I had the best of intentions yesterday, looking forward to 5 or 6 miles after a very bad day of work. But, as the day wore on, I started feeling worse and worse. Sore throat, runny nose, headache. I took the night off, and will probably end up at the doctor's office at some point today.

At any rate, I ended up spending the evening lying on the couch watching Gremlins, which was exactly kind of stupid movie my fever-addled brain could handle.

When I was seven years old, Gremlins was terrifying. I loved it -- I had a stuffed Gizmo, a plastic gremlin, and all of the booklets that Burger King gave away -- but it was scary. At 35, Gremlins is more of slapstick comedy, albeit kind a disgusting one (such the scene in which Billy's Mom uses the Peltzer Peeler-Juicer and the microwave to take out two of the gremlins).

Even in its entertaining cheesiness, Gremlins made my head hurt. Everyone knows there are three rules to keeping a mogwai:

First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it'll kill him. Second, don't give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight.
The first two rules make sense. I'll suspend my disbelief and accept the existence of a cute, magical creature that's killed by sunlight and multiplies when it touches water. (It's only water -- so a mogwai could use sports drinks to stay hydrated on his long runs.)

It's the third and most important rule that is the problem. By what standard is "after midnight" defined? Gizmo does not appear to wear a watch. And what happens if you cross time zones? Let's say it's after midnight, but you're near the time zone line, heading westward. You cross the line and it's before midnight. Can I feed Gizmo now? This is certainly a plausible scenario - Gizmo was acquired in New York City by Rand Peltzer of Kingston Falls, NY. But if what if he was instead purchased by an inventor heading home to, say, Hobart, IN?

Or, what if Gizmo finishes his midnight snack at 11:57, but is still digesting it well after midnight? Would our cuddly pal still be around in the morning, or would I have a giant slimy cocoon?

These questions need answers. We've seen what Gremlins can do to a town.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday Long Run: To the Pain

Between an insane work schedule, bad weather, and some kind of minor respiratory bug, I've had a pretty uninspiring two weeks of running. Even during the week before, when I pulled off a 19-mile long run, I'd had a week where I just didn't get my midweek garbage miles in. I say all this not to make excuses, but as constructive criticism of myself because all my failings caught up with me yesterday on the trail.

With a goal of 20 miles, I set out from Hanover Junction, taking the trail north toward York, since I'm familiar with the rest stop locations and the elevation changes along this part of the trail. I look forward to seeing the sights on more southerly parts of the trail, but a 20-mile long run is not, in my opinion, the time to explore. It seemed like my perfect running weather, low 40s and overcast. The forecast called for the sun to come out, so I had my trusty visor, but the sun never showed up.

I made a key equipment-selection mistake that I suspect contributed to my undoing. Violating a common-sense rule that every runner -- including me -- has heard over and over, I set out on my long run with two untested pieces of gear. The first was a new long-sleeve Nike running shirt, which I purchased last week. Despite the cold temperatures, I was sweating profusely within two miles. There's nothing wrong with the shirt. It's very comfortable, in fact. I just forgot who I am. I love to be cool/cold while running. I run in shorts and a tank top when the temperature is the 40s. This shirt seems considerably warmer than the cotton long-sleeve shirts I wear for (or at least the start of) my colder weather runs. This shirt will be great in December, January, February, but it just wasn't cold enough, by my standards, yesterday. I took it off just past two miles. Despite my miscalculation, I would become very glad that I had brought it.

My second mistake was a new hydration belt. I know that on a cool morning I can go 15-16 miles with the two bottles on my old Nathan hydration belt, but I thought that I shouldn't push that to 20. Though I can refill bottles at Hanover Junction, I wanted to run 10 miles to York and back, thinking this would be psychologically easier than a loop course with a break at either Hanover Junction or my car, if I parked somewhere else, and had to stop and start again. So on Friday night, I purchased a new four-bottle Nathan hydration belt. And while a differently-mapped course with a refilling stop might have been a pain, it would have been less annoying than bouncing around of the two bottles on my back and the constant re-adjusting of the fit of the belt. I'm very unhappy with this product. I'm going to elaborate further in a product review later in the week. Luckily, with the long-sleeve shirt tied around my waist, I could get the belt to fit tightly over it, so one equipment problem solved another.

(Equipment Fail. Taking the giant cat along probably wasn't smart, either.)

Still, my main challenge was that my legs just didn't feel strong yesterday. On my 19-miler two weeks ago, I stepped onto the trail and felt like the wind. Yesterday, I stepped onto the trail and felt like I was made of lead. Still, I pressed forward at my usual pace, and by mile 4 or 5, felt looser and more comfortable. I ran 10 miles north, which was my worst tactical mistake of all, which brought me just past York College but not all the way to the trailhead in downtown York.

After turning back south at King's Mill Road, I quickly began to tire. I really feel like I bonked just as badly as I did on last week's 13-miler, but since I'd run 10-miles north in my infinite wisdom, I was now doing so with 7 miles to run to get back to my car. My quads were on fire. Though the York County Heritage Rail Trail is a straight north-south course with no branches, somewhere I took a wrong turn, because at about 15 miles, I realized I was no longer in south central York County. I was in Hell.

After 16.5 miles, I started mixing in walking breaks. I ended up taking three, three-minute walking breaks spaced out a little over a mile apart. Unlike my walking breaks during the marathon, though, these seemed to help. My last walking break ended with a little over a mile to go. Running hurt, but I also knew that the more I ran, the faster this misery would be over.

With a mile to go, I saw a familiar friend ahead. But why was Pooka, our big friendly black cat, on the trail? Was I hallucinating? Had I actually died, and this was my spirit animal? That's disappointing. I would have hoped for an eagle, wolf, or some other cool animal. I think, in a weakened voice, I think I actually called out "Poooooooooka help me!" Luckily, I was the only one on this part of the trail because, of course, it was just one of the billions of other cats in the world.

Half a mile to go. A quarter mile. A tenth. In a final indignity, Garmin made me run about a tenth of a mile past Hanover Junction to get meet my goal. I collapsed on the porch of the old train station (which is now a museum and rest stop on the trail) to do my IT band stretches. With Garmin reading "20.00", I felt exhausted, but exhilarated; relieved that I'd finished, but angry at myself because I know that I could have done better these past few weeks and that the race is 6 miles longer than this brutal run. I had nothing left. Dead, but in my pain and exhaustion, more alive than I've felt in weeks.

Lessons learned/Notes:
  • No new gear on long run or race day (duh!)
  • Don't set up a course where I'm 10-miles away from my car (duh!), especially on the trail where there's not really a good way to have someone pick me up if I need it.
  • Walking the water stations during the marathon would probably be a good idea.
  • I have one more long run next week, technically supposed to be the 20-miler that I took today, before tapering. Then the taper is 12, then 8 miles in the two weekend before race day.
  • The focus from here on out really needs to be on getting good, consistent, short runs in during the middle of the week. My schedule is going to be brutal the next few weeks, but I think I need to get in three 4-6 mile runs between Monday and Thursday each week.
  • I didn't feel like my 2:45am peanut butter sandwich helped me. As much as I dislike .eating before a run, maybe I can't that much earlier than my run. I also ate one pack of Sports Beans. I think, since I prefer them to GU or Clif Bars, that I probably want to eat at least two packs during the marathon if I want them to help.
  • This is my second-longest run ever, but I feel like my 19-miler two weeks ago was definitely a better run. I could have gotten 17 or 18 today without the walk breaks, but there was no way I was getting to 19 or 20.

(The best part was when I got back to my car.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Month

Am I ready? No, not quite yet. I still have one, maybe two 20-mile long runs to go.

Here is my dilemma -- to which I would welcome advice:

Two weeks ago I ran 19 miles. Last week, I ran 13. Technically, this Saturday is 12, followed by 20.

I'd switched the 19 and 13 for scheduling purposes, but all along had been thinking that this Saturday was 20.

Instead of having two pretty big step-back weeks in a row, my inclination is to try to run 20 on Saturday (It's not a sure thing -- this has been a weird week for a lot of reasons), and thus have another chance the following week in case I don't make it this week. If I do make it on Saturday, then I would probably try another 20-miler, or a shorter but still long run of 17-19 miles before beginning my taper.

So that leaves me with this modified long run schedule loosely based on Hal Higdon's Novice 2 (of which I've followed the long-run schedule really closely until the past two weeks):

Date/Distance Comment
10/8: 19 (Felt good. Started tiring at 15. Primarily blaming poor pacing and not eating)
10/15: 13 (felt really bad for most of this)
10/22: 20 (Bad week, but I feel better than earlier in the week and the weather looks great)
10/29: 17-20 (This is where the 20-miler is actually scheduled.)
11/5: 12 (Taper)
11/12: 8 (Taper)
11/20: 26.2 (Race)

I think I'm closer to being physically ready for this marathon than I was for Shamrock, but mentally this is tough. I'm healthier, but also a little less driven than I was then. I was insanely busy at work leading up to both of them, but I think I have a more complicated maze of deadlines to navigate this time, meaning it's harder to get miles in at lunch, which was a great option for me in the spring.

I know I can finish this race. It won't be pretty, it won't be fast, and I have to re-evaluate my goals a bit, but I'll finish. I'd hoped to drop down to 4:30-4:45 from my current 4:58ish PR. (Don't judge me!). I think even that modest improvement is probably better held for Shamrock, where I'll have the benefit of training in all cold weather, and will know the whole course.

During this last month, I want to keep hitting my long run distances, but get back into the habit of shorter, consecutive-day runs during the week. That seemed to help me with endurance in the Spring, it's just not something I've done as good a job with this time around. No excuses.

My time is growing short, but there's still things that I can do to help myself.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

No Preference

This post has little direct connection whatsoever to the normal subject matter of this blog. I visited my alma mater, Elizabethtown College, on Saturday for its homecoming. Elizabethtown (Etown) has a timeless quality to it -- no matter how many new buildings the college puts up, there's an essential "Etowness" that never changes. Being back at Etown always makes me think how my life changed during the four mostly great years that I spent there, but those changes were really set in motion well before I moved into my dorm room on Founders B2.

When I think back on all the decisions I've made in my life, there's one in particular that I think set the stage for my life as I now know it. I chose where to go to college, and of course that was a necessary condition for everything that came after, but it was a subsequent choice -- and luck or the whim of a college administrator -- that cast me in my current role. I made that second choice with little more thought than I would consider the toss of a coin. Really, I chose to make no choice at all.
I picked a college with no idea of which major I would ultimately choose or any real vision for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I chose Etown over two other colleges that were offering similar scholarship packages primarily because I liked Etown's campus the most. Great reason. My best friend chose one of the other two, and I think if he'd picked before me that I probably would have ended up there, too.

(The High Library. A beautiful place for research and napping.)

I wasn't looking forward to college much at all, since for the first time in years I wouldn't know anyone. Thus, I didn't have strong feelings when the Elizabethtown College Residence Life Office sent me a short questionnaire about room selection. Quiet study floor? Substance free? Male only? Co-ed? No preference?

Well, I didn't drink or use any illegal substances, and I was afraid of talking to girls, but I didn't really want to be on a quiet study floor, either, since I value stupid fun as much as anyone. My parents encouraged me to pick substance free, but I was afraid that might have too great an overlap with "quiet study".
After seconds of consideration, I checked, "no preference" and sent the form back. I got placed in a non-substance free, non-quiet study, co-ed floor, the 2nd floor of B-Wing of Founders Hall, also known as Founders B2 or just "B2".

(Founders Hall. B-Wing is the farthest away, in the middle of the picture.)

I spent my first semester completely destroying my social life, and then spent the second semester repairing it, but that's a story for -- well, never. My point is that almost all of my current friends are college friends, and I met almost all of them during my three years on B2, or had them introduced to me by my B2 hallmates. One B2 friend introduced me to Chris, my future wife, and two others pressured me into asking her out when I was too cowardly or shy to take any initiative.

Maybe it was destiny or maybe it was just chance. That's way above my pay grade. Etown is not a big college, so there's a chance that I would have met those friends another way, but I suspect I would have gone through college with a mostly different set of friends and been none the wiser. Many of my B2 hallmates were communication majors, as Chris was. I was undeclared and then a psychology major, so with a different set of friends it's pretty likely that our paths would have never crossed.

If I hadn't been dating Chris, would I have taken my first job in Philadelphia, or would I have looked for a job closer to home? That first job, by the way, has directly led to the job I have today, 11 years later.

To a large degree, I am where I am today, and with who I am today in part because I checked "no preference." An insignificant-seeming choice that I made, combined with a room-assignment decision made by a college administrator, who had no real idea who I was nor who the freshmen being assigned to the hall were, impacted the rest of my life immeasurably. I think that's interesting, but I don't think this is unique. I'm sure anyone could point to to some simple, thoughtless decision they made or some random-seeming circumstance that went on to have a huge impact in their life, and I suspect most college grads could point to a very similar situation in their lives..

Nor do I mean to imply I didn't later have to (try to) make extremely well-thought-out decisions over the following years, since most of the time, of course, there is no "no preference" box, but that might be a blog post for another day.

To be continued...?

Saturday Long Run: The Incredible Bonk

After 17, 18, and 19-mile long runs the past three weeks, I was ready for a step-back week. 13 miles was the prescription. Technically, it was supposed to be last week, but I traded my 19-mile since I didn't have afternoon plans last week, so it wouldn't matter if it took me forever to run 19.

Well, my step-back run stepped up and slapped me right in the face. I completed the 13 miles, and my pace was fine, but my legs just felt exhausted the whole way. I don't mean to complain here, only to analyze, but I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out why last week's run was so good and this week's was so bad.

I ate the same not-so-good dinner (pizza) the night before both runs. I did more midweek running this week (6 on Tuesday and 2 on Thursday -- still not quite as much as I think I should be doing) than last week (4 on Tuesday), which I thought would be an advantage. I may be getting sick, or maybe it was just the long runs of the last 3 weeks and lack of sleep this week as a result of work catching up with me, or maybe it was that it seemed a little warmer out there than the forecast said it was, and I wore a shirt that I think is not as ventilated as my favorites.

I'm not terribly worried...except next Saturday is the big 2-0. Ruh-roh.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I'm addicted to LSD. Wait! That's not what I mean!

LSD=Long, Slow, Distance. It's pretty much what I do.

19 miles on Saturday, probably could have gone further if I'd eaten something before my run. I ran (most of a) a marathon in the spring. Give me a cool, dry day, sufficient water and delicious orange Gatorade, and I feel like I could probably grind out a marathon now if I had to. (I'm glad I still have a month to go, though!)

One thing I can't seem to do right now is go fast, or at least what passes for fast in my world. Like I said, give me a cool, dry day and I can run a long time. But this evening was misty and warmish, and so I didn't want to be out there that long, even though as discussed endlessly here I knew I needed to get more midweek miles in.

I decided I was going to run a 5K at race pace. The problem? I haven't raced since May, when I scored a 23:55, my second-best time ever, at HACC Dash. My PR is 23:43, from December's Jingle Bell 5K. Tonight: 27:10. Ouch.

That's a lot closer to my personal worst: 29:38, where I ran a deliberately conservative race at the Orioles Advocates 5K in 2008 because I knew I was under-trained, than my PR.

Oops. That's what I get for going so long without racing and for not doing any speed training. I'm not particularly worried about it now -- the Philly and Shamrock Marathons are my running focus, but I definitely want to work on chipping away at my 5K PR and a sub-6:00 mile next year.* Still, it was 3 midweek miles that were better than no miles at all.

* It turns out that we probably won't be running Jingle Bell this year, which means I may not have another attempt at a 5K PR this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I started running in September, 2006. I can't say that I've always enjoyed it or that I've looked forward to every, or even most runs. I accept that a lot of runs really just will be garbage miles: not enjoyable for their own sake but worthwhile in service to a higher goal, whether that goal was a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or marathon. The good runs -- whether they're races or those perfect days where everything seems to come together -- make up for the not-so fun ones.

Until now. I'm in the worst motivational crisis I've ever had in my running "career". Can't quite coax myself out to run before work in the morning, and no desire whatsoever to hit the road after a long day of work. I'm crushing my long runs right now -- 17, 18, and 19 over the last three weeks is the best three-week stretch of long runs I've ever had (I'm looking forward to a step-back this week, though), but the motivation to get out for my mid-week runs just isn't there right now.

I'm not sure why. Work is crazy busy, and my stress level's been consistently high for most of 2011. But that's not a good enough excuse. In January, February, and March, I took on some of the biggest and most complex work projects I've ever had, working into the wee hours of the morning on many occasions, but I just couldn't wait to get outside for 6 or 7 miles at 5:30pm. I mostly ran angry, fueled by the leftover stress of the work day, and on some of these runs I think ran with more of a pounding, purposeful stride than usual, probably contributing to my IT band injury. I'm thankful that the IT band is holding up well (knock on wood), but I could sure use that motivation.

I went for a 6-mile run tonight after work. I felt slow and tired, and temperatures had soared (again, by my cold-loving standards) into the sweltering 70s, but at least I did it. Even if I don't enjoy these runs now, I need to keep my mind on the excitement and terror of 11/20, and relief and (hopefully) joy I'll feel when I cross the finish line.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday Long Run: Brian Runs 19 Miles and Encounters the Wall

I felt it as soon as I took my first step -- an electricity that seemed to rise up from the trail itself, burning away my doubts. This run could be amazing.

After painful calf cramping on my last two long runs, and a week where I generally ignored my midweek running -- I limited myself to four miles on Tuesday not out of laziness but due to exhaustion from one of the busiest and most stressful work weeks I've had in the last five years -- I had been extremely doubtful that I could run the 19 miles that Hal Higdon had ordered me to run this weekend.

I'd driven south the Hanover Junction access point on the York County Heritage Rail Trail, knowing that I needed to choose a less hilly setting to have any chance at reaching my goal, but I was not optimistic until that moment when I stepped out on the trail. I felt light. I felt fast. I was Kenyan. An extremely slow, pale Kenyan, but a Kenyan nonetheless.

My plan was to turn around at mile 5, refill my bottles at Hanover Junction, and then head south 4.5 miles and back. However, I felt so good at mile 5 that I kept right on going. I contemplated going all the way to the trail head at York, but a quick assessment of my water and Gatorade supply made me think that was a bad idea. So, I turned around after about 8.2 miles.

I started to struggle a bit at about mile 15, but after a refilling stop at Hanover Junction, with 16.4 miles under my belt, I felt I could run a bit farther south and turn around to bring me back to my starting point with 20-mile mark. But then, I met an old friend from Shamrock: The Wall. I crashed pretty hard at just under 18 miles. I turned around and struggled northward and stopped at 19. I was sore but not injured, but my legs just couldn't go one more step and I felt like I would be risking injury to press on in pursuit of a (in this case) meaningless mile.

So, I probably fell a little short of the "amazing" I felt I could achieve at the beginning of this run. I'd have loved 20 and it would have been a huge confidence boost (probably to the point that I'd be unbearably cocky and everyone would hate me), but this was my second-farthest run ever, and I'm really happy with it. I think the cool conditions at the start made it a pretty good simulation of the marathon, and I think I repeated a key tactical mistake that I also made at the Shamrock Marathon.

A few brief lessons learned/confirmed:
  • Try harder to put the "S" in LSD -- I ended up at 19 miles in 3:19:36, putting me at a 10:28 pace, which is not far off my usual long run pace. As slowly as I was shuffling those last 2-3 miles, this means I was probably going way too fast somewhere along the route. I don't think my lame-o Garmin keeps accurate speed on the trail, but I have to do a better job of making sure I feel like I'm going slow. This was my undoing at Shamrock, too.
  • More midweek miles are needed -- I didn't really hit the wall until mile 22 at Shamrock. I think more midweek runs, including back-to-back days, which are not my SOP when not on a training plan, gave me more endurance even though my longest pre-race training run was 18 miles.
  • That Reebok visor I bought in the summer? Awesome. This seems like it was the first really sunny long run day in at least a month. It warmed up toward the end of the run (It was in the low 50s when I started, but was probably around 65 by the end), but this was the sunny, cool dry run where I think the visor is perfect. I definitely need to bring it to Philly.
  • EAT BEFORE YOU RUN 19 MILES, IDIOT. I hate feeling "full" when I run, but the 3:00am peanut-butter sandwich would have probably helped me get that last mile in.
  • There's no such thing as too much BodyGlide.
  • When starting from Hanover Junction, there's more shade running north toward York. If I do other long runs on the trail, and I plan to, I might get a belt with more water bottles, so that I can run all the way to the end of the trail and back without running out of fluids.
Overall, it was one of my best runs ever, and I'm glad I got to enjoy this gorgeous day. Of course, I'm also going to enjoy my step-back week next weekend.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Haiku, Vo -- Oh crap. I just don't feel like it.

It's been a really bad week of running. I ran 4 miles on Tuesday, despite a lingering calf soreness from my 18-miler. That's it. I was going to go out tonight, probably just for another 4, but I just didn't feel like driving over the school and jogging around Manchester with my head lamp at 9:30 or 10:00 at night. At around 10:00, I worked up enough will power to hop on the treadmill, but my stomach just didn't feel well.

I'm supposed to run 19 miles on Saturday. I think I can do it. I'm just having somewhat of a crisis of motivation right now. It's been a very stressful week, and instead of being relaxing, running just seemed like something that I had to do. I've got to start getting up early and going before work, or before dinner, because I think the motivation to go out late at night, which was fun after not doing so since the spring, just isn't going to be there.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Saturday Long Run: 18 Miles

I ran 18 miles in 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 47 seconds. Afterwards, I decided that running is stupid and no one should ever do it.

Shortest. Post. Ever.

I kid, I kid. I specialize in the long, rambling blog post and we all know it. And this one is really rambling, even by my standards. Sorry about that!

I had a much nicer day for a long run than I did last week. It was in the low 50s when I started and remained cool and overcast for the duration. Though it was a bit humid at the start (but nothing like last week!), it seemed to get cooler and less humid as the run continued. Perfect! I was trying to get an early start to beat the rain, and I did.

Despite the cool weather, however, I just wasn't feeling this as I started out. My stomach didn't feel great and my legs felt tired. It was a bad week of running -- I just didn't get my midweek mileage in. That explains my dead legs. The stomach troubles I attribute to something I ate the night before at the Revolution game. I suspect the turkey wrap, which I thought would be the perfect pre-long run dinner. (Or the best I could do at the Revs game).

After a mile or two, though, I felt fine. The temperature was comfortable; my Shuffle was rockin', and the miles were flying by. My plan was to run my usual 10 mile route, followed by a similar 8-mile route (which is identical but doesn't have the extra loop down toward Mt. Wolf). However, since it was cool and I wasn't sweating as much and drinking water and Gatorade as fast as last week, I decided to put off my refueling stop and extend the first "leg" of my run as much as I could. So I added some loops through Mt. Wolf and as I headed up the steep Chestnut St. hill going back toward my starting/refilling point in Manchester, I was approaching mile 14.

This was where things started to go wrong. I think this hill needs be expunged from my long run routes. My calves, which have been my weakness lately, started cramping up constantly after I ran up this hill. I was stopping to stretch at least every half mile for the rest of the way. The same thing had happened at this point in my run last week, when I climbed the same steep hill going up to mile 12 of 17. I'm not afraid of hills, but this hill is much steeper than anything Philly (I think) or Shamrock (I know) has to throw at me. Luckily, I had fewer post-hill miles to go, and was able to finish my 18.

I was pretty significant pain when I got home, and basically fell down on the floor in the kitchen before I could summon great resolve (sarcasm!) needed to make some chocolate milk (the recovery drink for when you don't by recovery drink mixes) and peel a banana (gotta keep those potassium levels up!). However, after sitting for a couple minutes, I was able to comfortably do my stretching and foam rolling, which I wasn't able to do last week after my long because my quads were cramping so badly. A little soreness today, but overall I feel better than I did last weekend.

This long run was definitely a success. I was scheduled for 18 miles, and achieved it without injury. The cool weather and my Shuffle (especially the new Blink-182 album) made the first 14 miles relatively enjoyable. Mentally, I'm not sure I was as psyched up for this as I could have been. Because of the cool weather and the possibility of having split it over 2 days because of bad weather I don't think I respected the distance as much as I should have. Hence, two beers and french fries at the Revs game the night before; and then during the run I never had that moment of determination that I had in last week's disgusting run: "I am going to finish this run no matter what." I mentioned that I felt after my gross 17 last week that I'd won a race -- mentally, I probably rested on my laurels when I could ill afford to so and took every excuse not to get my midweek miles in.

The Philadelphia Marathon is only 49 days away.
I can't lose focus now. Next week is scheduled to be a step-back week, 13 miles, followed by 19 and 20 miles the next two weeks. However, due to a very busy Saturday in two weeks, I think I'll try the 19 next week and step back the following week. (If anyone reading this has reasons why that's a terrible idea, I'd love to hear 'em.). I'm hoping to run that 19 somewhere a bit flatter to get a real gauge of how far from being ready I am. 18 was as long a distance as I got in training for Shamrock, and though I definitely hit the wall badly on race day, at no point were my calves cramping like they have been on these last two long runs.