Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post Marathon Blues & Running Through the Holidays

I had a plan all mapped out. Well, sort of. I hadn't plugged in all the mileages, but I had decided on how I'd set up my weeks to train for Shamrock (base miles on Monday and Thursday, Speedwork on Tuesdays, lifting on the "off" days of Sunday and Wednesday, and long runs on Saturday).

I need to bounce back quickly -- March 18 is not that far away! -- but I'm feeling like I'm already a bit behind schedule. I missed my run last night because of working late, and so I went out this morning instead of doing speedwork tonight. I'm ok with that, and from my uninspiring runs the past two weeks, it seems like waiting another week before hitting the track for the first time in almost a year is probably a good thing.

I've now run three time since the marathon: 3 miles on wobbly legs on Thanksgiving, a 6-miler on Saturday where everything below the knees really hurt, and today I felt really exhausted after 5 miles. In my defense, it was 60F with 90% humidity. That's definitely not my best running weather, but I weathered (ha!) a lot worse in the summer and I ran most of a marathon two weeks ago. I can't have lost that much conditioning in two weeks, right?

I'm not sure if the problem is in my head, my lungs, or my legs (or all of above!). I am very committed to running a better marathon and even doing a better job sticking to the parts of training that I hate (hello, speedwork!), so it seems like my head's in the right place, but I've also had probably the most stressful month of work that I've ever had, and that's definitely taken it's toll both physically and with my level of focus. My legs feel like they're still tired. We'll see what happens on Saturday, but the good news/bad news is that I'll probably take some extra days off from running due to a business trip. Lungs? I can't tell. I'm not breathing as badly as I was earlier in the week before the marathon, but I don't seem quite all there. Of course, it was warm and humid today, and I never feel like my lung capacity is at its best then. If Saturday is dry and cool, it'll be a much better indicator of my respiratory health.

I bounced from Shamrock pretty quickly, I think, but then didn't have push myself. The marathon was a Sunday, and the following Thursday I ran a slow 7 miles, and then for about a month I didn't run longer than 7 or 8 miles. In April and May, while I still had cool weather, I started getting back into the double digits and then pushed myself to my best-ever months in June, July, and August. I don't have the luxury of a month off now, especially when it will be extremely challenging to get the miles in around the holidays.

Last year, I kept increasing my distance in the weeks after the Philly Half. On the next two Saturdays I ran 14 and 16 miles, my two longest-ever runs at the time. I don't think I hit double-digits again until I ran 13.1 on January 1, but I feel like those long early December runs helped me get caught back up quickly in January. Our weekends in December are packed, mostly with fun holiday stuff, but it means I have to get good long runs in when I can. If I can get back into the double digits this Saturday and on next week's long run, I'll feel like I'm at least starting from the same place I was last year. The weekend after that, I have the Celtic Solstice 5-miler, which several people have told me is a great race. Depending on how much I actually "race" the five-miler, I may do a longer run on Sunday to supplement it or I may just be content with it.

Either way, I think a nice long run is on my "nice" list for Christmas Eve.

Sorry for the boring post, but this IS my running blog, not my creepy cat ornament picture blog.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Evil

This post has nothing to with running, or marathons, or food, and everything to do with rampant holiday cheer.

Most of the time, I love cats. My wife and I have three cats, Higgy, Pooka, and Elizabeth. I volunteer at the cat adoption center at the local Petsmart, from whence Elizabeth the Kitten came. One small thing that we do each year to help homeless animals is to purchase the annual "Luv-a-Pet" ornaments from PetSmart charities each year.

I'm glad to try to help, but you have to admit that some of these things are pretty creepy:

(Ok, this guy looks a little evil, but no more evil than cats actually are.)

(A cute snow kitty. How whimsical! Not evil at all!)

(Again, not evil at all.)

(A cat playing hockey? This is the Stanley Cup of cute.)

(What could be cuter than a tobogganing cat? Two tobogganing cats!)

(Well, alright. A little creepy I admit, but Siamese are untrustworthy. No pattern. Nothing to worry about.)

(Oh no! Why does this cat want to kill me? They can't get more evil looking than this one, can they?)


(Phew. This one's cute again -- oh no! Those eyes! Those terrible, demented eyes!)

(The 2010 and 2011 models are cute again. I guess you could say there's a lack of originality,
but I'll take a different-colored "Lucky" every year after those creepy 2007-2009 ornaments.)

You can buy Lucky the Cat, Chance the Dog, or an assortment of more real-looking dog ornaments to help PetSmart Charities here. I've had a nice laugh at some of their ornaments but I do believe it's a worthy cause.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back on the Roads

Have you seen my legs?

Apparently, they're still somewhere out there between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Manyunk.

If you happen to see them, tell them that they must return to Manchester, because their services are required ASAP. I had seven months between Shamrock and Philly, giving me some time to take it easy and time to run base miles over the summer without really worrying too much about my long run distances for several months.

There's no such luxury this time, with Shamrock looming on March 18. I don't want to rush back, but there's definitely times over the holidays in which the miles are going to be tough to get in so I want to start getting my long runs back in and get started on some speedwork, even if I probably won't get much consistency till January.

This is the weekly plan that I hope to follow (mileages will vary):

Monday: 5-7 mile "regular" run

Yasso 800s (track workout) -- I'm hoping to start this week, but will probably still be taking it a little easy with a slow pace and only 3 sets, adding a set each time until I get up to 10. Supposedly the pace at which you run the 800s predicts your marathon time. I have to do a little more research on them since I haven't really done speedwork (for example, do I run them at a fast but comfortable pace or do I just run them as fast as I possibly can?)


5-7 mile "regular" run


: Long run

Cross training (biking or NordicTrack)

I think speedwork and strength training (and I need to figure out exactly what this routine will be) will help give me more strength and endurance to help this marathon hurt less and hopefully go more quickly. I'd love to get down into the 4:30s. I'm not planning a fall marathon next year at this point, so I'd like have a better one so I don't become obsessed with revenge.

(If the mall can put up Christmas decorations in October,
I can start thinking about St. Patrick's Day before Christmas.)

I have to do a better job recognizing though, that things aren't going to always go according to plan, and that 30min on the treadmill is better than nothing.

Though I'm going to push myself more than I have in the past, the time for that was not this week. I ran 3.1 miles on Thursday morning, and it felt like I was still out at the end of the marathon course. If my legs could talk, they'd have been asking for some walk breaks. Today went a little better -- I ran 6 miles in about an hour (I forgot to re-start Garmin) but it was definitely all I had in the tank. I bounced back more quickly from Shamrock, so maybe I wasn't quite as beaten up. I'd like be back in double-digits by next Saturday, but I know it's most important this point to just be flexible and see how I feel as I recover.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm Still Thankful For...

I've been writing this stupid blog for just over a year now, and one of my first posts was a belated Thanksgiving post. All that stuff still applies, so let's take this year's a little less seriously.

I'm thankful for:

Walk Breaks


Finish Lines

And Starting Lines


and much, much more.

It's been quite a year, and I am thankful for all its ups and downs. Happy Thanksgiving and thanks again for reading!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Losing Seasons

From my mostly-defunct Orioles blog:
For years, Red Sox fans have shown up in Baltimore with their "Fenway South" signs and their "Let's go Red Sox chants" and their arrogance. Last night, they were sent home packing.

The 2011 Orioles weren't especially good at baseball by major-league standards. But they played hard for 162 games and they didn't quit.

Hmm...I'm not very good at the marathon, but I didn't quit. This kind of makes me the Baltimore Orioles of marathon runners, doesn't it?

That's cool. I love the Orioles.

(Note: This post is meant much more in the spirit of "making fun of myself" and was just something stupid that I thought of yesterday, not actually serious criticism nor rampant negativity.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Race Report, Part II: Philadelphia Marathon Event Review

Since I did such a long race report that included pre-race, my race report, lessons learned, and post-race adventuring, I wasn't planning on doing another multi-part race report.

But, two days removed from the event, I realized that I wanted to talk a little more about the event itself, as independently as I could from my own race experience, for someone that might be thinking of the Philadelphia Marathon.

My advice: Do it!

Either the half or full marathon is a good tour of Philadelphia (to be more clear than I was yesterday, the half course is the first half of the full marathon course), but first half is the more interesting: downtown, along the Delaware, South Street, Old City, University City, Fairmount Park.

The second of the course is generally a very pretty run along the Schuylkill River, but generally lacks the varied scenery of the first half. It's interesting to see street side of Boathouse Row, and Manyunk is like a fun little town nestled within city limits of Philadelphia.

I can't decide which part of the course is tougher. For me, obviously, the second half. But if I ran them independently of each other the first definitely has the bigger hills. Whether you run the half or full, the finish at the Art Museum is spectacular.

Between the scenery, very good crowd support and interesting things or people to see along the course, it's at least a visually stimulating journey. My favorites were the Sixers Dance Team, Eagles Drumline, and the goofy costumed entertainers at mile 11. After three years, I still can't figure out what the hell they are but they always make me laugh.

I can think of just a handful negatives about the course. I can think portions of it are very crowded (the start and Chestnut Street namely). A few more port-o-potties at some of the stops would have been helpful, and later in the race the aid stations were running out of cups. The volunteers continued to fill water bottles, trying to save cups for those who didn't have bottles, and I have no complaint at all with the aid station volunteers who numerous and friendly. There were aid stations approximately every two miles, which seemed adequate to me. (I did have my hydration belt.)

There's a lot of history and a lot of interesting sights along the course. For a lot of runners, that's probably reason enough. For all you other shallow folks like me, let's talk about the expo and swag

The expo at Philly is a little bigger than the one at Shamrock, but also more crowded -- the seemed to make not the best use of the available space in the convention hall, but at least it was crowded with cool stuff: Whatever supplies you were looking for, whether last-minute stuff for the race or just some new gear, you could probably find it here.

While I didn't like the race merchandise as much as I did in previous years (the main logo stays the same, but the designs change a bit each year), there's a good selection of race logo merchandise. I went with two hats (a white one to try as a running hat and a black one that I just thought was cool) and a fleece jacket.

I've run the Philly Half or Marathon each of the past three years, and the main giveaway has always been a long-sleeve Endurafit tech shirt with the race slogan on the front and course map on the back. I like the shirts, especially since the maps are on them, but the sizing is a little funny. I have three "mediums". 2009's is on the small side, tight in the arms; 2010's is perfect; and 2011's is probably really a "large". The course maps, cool. The slogans, another matter. 2009: "Running Means..." (Signs all over the city filled in cheesy slogans "Running Means Independence", "Running Means a Rhino is Chasing You", etc.). 2010: "Push Through". 2011: "Best Time of Your Life." I already mocked that one yesterday. Still, it's a good giveaway.

The ubiquitous drawstring goodie bag also has a bottle(?) of coconut milk, some chocolate-covered berries, a therapeutic wrap, and a voucher for Sixers tickets. This will be seriously cool if the NBA ever resumes play.

Overall Impression
Two days after my race, I'm not feeling nearly as negative about myself (more on both that and on the tragic deaths of two participants on Thursday), and I think I can say I'll remember the experience with a good amount of pride, even though I still want to use this race as motivation to do better next time.

But, all that aside, I think this is a good event. The post-race party and swag don't stack up to Shamrock, which seems to just have a more "fun" atmosphere. Philly doesn't really have any post-race celebration at all. (As Nancy clarified below.)

However, there's a lot to do in Philadelphia, but it's manageable to see a lot during the weekend and if nothing else you see a good portion of the city during the race to at least be able to orient yourself later (I know downtown very well from having worked there years ago). It's a visually interesting course -- it has Shamrock beaten in that regard -- that with good support, a good expo, and good swag (if you care about swag). I thought the course was challenging, and positively mountainous compared to my only other marathon, but I've heard that among marathons Philly is still considered "flat and fast."

Train better than I did, and you might even have "The Best Time of Your Life."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Philadelphia Marathon (or "Best Time of Your Life, My A**")

I never hit the wall, because the whole race was the wall.

When I look back on the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, I'm not sure how I'll remember it. I failed by all but the very minimum standard (just finish) that I'd set for myself, but I still feel like I did accomplish something. Right now, though, I'll say that it was miserable. I hit the wall at Shamrock, but I would say that I mostly enjoyed the race. Yesterday, I hit the wall earlier in the race, and I would count the 2nd half of the marathon as the most miserable, joyless 13 miles I've ever run, with the exception of one hell of a rush at the finish.

It sucked. I knew I wasn't as ready as I should have been and that it would suck, and I was prepared to accept the consequences, but I underestimated the level of pain I would be in. I don't remember much pain from Shamrock. (Though I think the pain was there and I just chose not to remember it because I am overall very happy with it. Chris is right -- i could barely walk after Shamrock, too.)I mostly remember that I "just" got to a point where my legs just wouldn't go anymore. Yesterday? Very painful.

I finished in 5:07:17, about nine minutes slower than Shamrock. Let's get that unpleasantness out of the way. I have to consider this a setback, a failure, a bad race, but I do not do think my failure was quite complete.

Chris, who was running the half (her second), and I got to the Expo at the Philadelphia Convention Center at around 2pm on Saturday. Packet pickup went smoothly. The expo seemed to take up about half of a very large convention room, and it was tightly packed and crowded. I bought a hefty load of Philadelphia Marathon-logo apparel, and we met up with a few other runner-bloggers who were running the race. (Thanks to Amanda from www.runtothefinish.com for organizing the meetup!). It was while we were hanging around chatting that I noticed my legs were feeling very tired (more from an overall exhausting week, I suspect, rather than a tough week of running) which turned out to indeed be a harbinger of doom.

(Oh, that doesn't look so bad. As you can see, this isn't my first rodeo.)

We looked around the expo for a little while, grabbing our Shamrock Marathon cups at the J&A booth, when I remembered that I wanted to buy a book, because I had forgotten to bring anything to read at the hotel. I was looking for something that would mostly be entertaining stories rather than serious training tips, so my choices seemed to be My Life on the Run by Bart Yasso and Run! by Dean Karnazes. Since Bart Yasso was sitting there at the Runner's World table, I picked up his book, got it signed, and chatted for a minute.

Having accomplished everything we could at the expo, we headed over to Reading Terminal Market, next to the Convention Center, to each have a cookie from the Famous Fourth Street Cookie Company. Let me just say that they are famous for a reason, and leave it at that.

We had dinner (and my pre-race beer) at Sotto Varalli on Broad Street. It certainly was adequate carb loading. With the long day ahead, we were in bed by 10:00.

(Ready to run.)

The Race
The Dream
I got up at 3:30am for a peanut-butter sandwich and some water, and went back to bed. I got up "for real" at 4:15 to do my IT band stretching and foam rolling, apply sunscreen, put BodyGlide everywhere, and try to psych myself up with some pre-race Van Halen. We left the hotel around 6am, accompanied by our friend Maryrose, who came to watch us and some of her other friends.

We were in our corrals a little before the 7am start, and I chatted with a friend of Maryrose's who was running the half and also starting from the super-elite orange corral. It was great to have some company, because it made the interminable wait for the wave start a little less, well...interminable.

The race started, eventually, and while I didn't feel great (in terms of overall energy level), I felt "ok" and I hoped that would be enough. I'm not going to be do a mile-by-mile recap like I did for the half marathon last year, because it would make me too angry to type, but over the first several sections of the course, eastbound through downtown Philly, south on Columbus Boulevard, and northwest on Front St./South Street/Sixth St., I was exactly where I thought I needed to be in terms of pace. I saw the Eagles Drumline, which made sense because my beloved Birds were in NY for their game that night against the Giants, and the Sixers dance team, which didn't make any sense at all since the Sixers don't exist in any meaningful sense right now, although I welcomed the distraction. (We did get Sixers ticket vouchers in our packet and the new owner of the Sixers ran the marathon.)

On the next phase of the course, the long flat westbound stretch down Chestnut Street, I continued to hold back. This is the part of the course where I usually make up time because it's flat and straight with great crowd support. I hit the six-mile mark at midway point of Chestnut at just over an hour. Perfection.

After Chestnut Street, things got a bit more difficult: The long hill on 34th Street, the steep up and down hills of the zoo and Fairmount Park. At least I didn't see people peeing on the zoo this year. Miles 7-11 is the hilliest part of the course. I wonder if I should have eased up more here, though it likely wouldn't have made much difference on this day.

The farthest west point on the half marathon course is just around mile 11. From there, it's a mostly downhill or flat two-mile charge back to Eakins Oval. At this point last year, I pushed myself toward a great half marathon finish. This year, I held back, knowing there were many miles left to run. I felt tired, and as I saw the signs throughout mile 12 directing half marathon finishers to the right and marathoners to the left and a turn back to the west, the wiser part of me contemplated packing it in at 13.1. Instead, I kept to the left and descended into Hell.

(You have chosen...unwisely.)

In hindsight, I believe that my familiarity with the half marathon course was part of my undoing. Though I paced myself well, I think my mindset was to think "I'm almost done" as I progressed through the first half of the course. It was very disheartening to reach the place that had always been the finish for me, where I've had two of the happiest moments of my running career, and turn back out for another 13.1 that I was beginning to suspect that I didn't have in the tank.

The Nightmare
I finished the first half of the marathon in 2:15:02, which was almost exactly where I wanted to be. But I felt weak. Not only was I under-trained (however, I had reason to believe I wasn't that under-trained), it was a warm day compared to the last two Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon race days, and I think for me it was just "one of those days", because things started to go wrong soon after I made the turn out toward Manyunk. Still, at some point in the race, and I don't remember exactly where but it was definitely rather early, I decided that the moment I crossed the finish would be amazing, and I wasn't going let anything -- be it fatigue, pain, the (relative) heat, or dissatisfaction with myself -- take that moment away from me.

I think the pain began to creep into my quads at around mile 15, and I had to start taking walk breaks at mile 18 instead of the 21 that I made it to at Shamrock. Pain soon became agony. I got to Manyunk, and it seemed like the turnaround point would never come. I gratefully accepted a cup of beer at the very welcome unsanctioned beer table at mile 19 and some bacon that was being handed out outside a restaurant.

I tried to run as much as I could, knowing that the more I ran, the more quickly I could end this ordeal. I could still have my moment, even if the race sucked. Even if I sucked.
(I don't mean to be overly negative here on the blog, but my thought process at this point in the race was very pessimistic. I was so mad at myself.) I tried to split the race into 10-minute segments with three minutes of walking and seven minutes of running, but seldom could I maintain that. I had visions of a 6-hour finish, or no finish at all.

I rallied a bit over the last three miles, and when the 5:00 pace group passed me, I tried in vain to keep up. Still, it seemed that things maybe were not quite as bad as they seemed, and the last three miles of the race really did pass more quickly than I thought they would. It was a disaster, but not as big as a disaster as it seemed at mile 18. Since the second half of the marathon is an out and back, I'd been able to see what was waiting for me, and my impression was that I had a pretty hefty uphill ahead at mile 24 or 25, but it never seemed to come.

I hit Boathouse Row (mile 25) and was overcome with joy -- I knew that my trial would soon be over. I would guess I ran the first half the last mile, trying to decide if I should take one last walk break. I did so as I went by the art museum, not wanting to get "caught" walking by the cameras at the finish line. As I rounded the art museum, the course went downhill and I charged. I knew the finish line was ahead, but with a curve in the road I couldn't tell how far. Luckily, it was right around the bend, and I was almost in tears with relief as I crossed. There will be better days than this, I hope, but my moment was not taken from me. I'm not happy with how I did, but I endured for the medal and so it means something to me.

(After breakfast, we finally felt well-enough to pose.)

I also admit that I really wanted to finish because I didn't want to not be able to wear all the Philly Marathon crap I'd bought the day before. Whatever it takes, right?

Lessons Learned
After Shamrock, I had a whole litany of things I wanted to do differently. Some of them I did: more long runs, better pacing through the first half of the race, and a better job eating throughout the whole marathon. Some of them I did not do as well on, namely speedwork and strength training. Those are a must. I really don't care how fast I am, but I want to do everything I can to make sure no marathon is this un-enjoyable again. My quads need to get stronger. I felt like my cardiovascular endurance was sufficient yesterday despite my need for multiple inhalers to help fight off cold symptoms earlier in the week; it was my legs that were not strong enough.

There's really only lesson from this one. It's hard to accept that I didn't work hard enough, but it's the truth. I could blame the warmer-than-usual weather, since I get stronger when the temperature gets lower, say that Philly was hillier than I expected (I don't think it's considered a bad one, but compared to Shamrock, OMG.) and accept that "some days you've got it; some days you don't" is probably a part of most runners' experiences, but the lesson I want to take from this day, this miserable but still somewhat triumphant day is "Just shut up and work harder."

Virginia Beach, I am coming for you. I will not waste another chance. I'm going to take a few recovery days and then I'm going to make sure I go down to the Shamrock Marathon a better runner and stronger person than I am now.

Congratulations are in order to Chris, who finished her second half-marathon and scored a new PR! Though there aren't Disney characters to distract runners, I think Philly is a tougher course. Also congratulations to Derek, who, after laying waste to our age group at HACC Dash, ran a PR 1:36 in the half, and Nick, who ran the half after recovering from the Baltimore Marathon, and had cheesesteak eggrolls before the race and still finished. Trust me, no small feat!

After running 26.2 miles, ok, ok, after running most of 26.2 miles, the celebration began. Brunch was at Little Pete's, my favorite diner-type restaurant.

(Our server said they'd had a steady stream of race customers. I figure the Kenyans went through at around 9:15)

I declared my intention to drink 26.2 beers to numb my aching quads. Though I only made it through 4 (post-brunch, 2 at dinner, and 1 during the Eagles game), I will say that I enjoyed them all!

Dinner was spectacular. Cheesesteak eggrolls from the Continental Mid-town.

I slept through 90% of the Eagles game, but a win's a win. We wrapped our weekend in Philly up with an amazing breakfast at Molly Malloy's at Reading Terminal Market.

Now, the race is over. The feasting is done. I have four months to Shamrock and it's time get serious. The climb up the wall begins now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

No Turning Back Now

Testing mobile blogging function.

Final Thoughts

Shoes? Shoes.
Shorts? Shorts.
Shirt? Shirt.
Bodyglide? Bodyglide.

Nipple Guards? Nipple Guards. (Don't laugh).
Foam roller? Foamy.

Shuffle? Charged.

Garmin? Charged, and ready to get thrown into either of two rivers.

Three inhalers, two allergy pills, and vitamins? Check.
Expectations? Low.

I think this marathon is going to be a disaster, yet I am oddly at peace with it. Yes, I was undertrained, but I think I made a pretty good comeback here over the last few weeks. But then, I fell apart, and this week has shattered my confidence.

I've worked a total of eight years at my current job, and I think the past month has been one of the busiest, most challenging ever, and I believe this week was the single most stressful week of all of those eight years. Its taken it's toll in lack of sleep, and I suspect it was a factor in the weird respiratory illness that I had earlier in the week.

After this week, 26.2 miles sounds easy.

Until I start running, that is. I've often blogged about how I really have no idea whether a run is going to be good or bad until I start. That's even more true than usual this week. I felt terrible on Monday and Wednesday. I think my meds have cleared my lungs out, but it seems like my energy level just isn't there yet, despite getting better (but not great) nights of sleep on Wednesday and Thursday nights and eating a lot of energy-filled foods. I just have no idea what I'm going to feel like when I start running, and that's scary.

I'm sure it sounds like I'm making excuses, and that is not my intent. Nor do I mean to be my usual negative self. I am acknowledging that real life kicked my ass this week, but I am going to finish the race (barring injury, of course) It is also not my intent to claim that circumstances have been tougher than that of any other runners -- only tough in the context of my own experience. I saw a motivational picture last week that said "Right now, someone busier than you is running", and that's my mantra for Shamrock.

But this is also not an admission of defeat. I don't care if it takes me six hours (though I'd prefer it didn't), I am finishing. I think there will better races than this ahead of me, races in which I am better physically prepared and in a better state of mind. Despite the race's cheesy slogan, I highly doubt this will be "The Best Time of My Life" in any sense of the phrase. But I will finish.

And right now, that's going to have to be enough.

Good luck to all my fellow Philly Marathon, Half Marathon, and 8K runners! Have fun. Finish the race.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Being Sick is Bad, M'kay?

It's race week and I'm trying to take it easy.

I ran 3 miles on Monday night and 3 miles on Wednesday morning. Neither one was good. On Monday, my calves hurt, my feet hurt, and my stomach hurt. On Wednesday, I had less pain in my legs but just felt like I wasn't getting enough air and didn't have enough energy. I don't feel like I could have run 5 miles, let alone 26.2. I'm undertrained by marathon standards, but not THAT undertrained.

I suspected that I had or was getting a cold, and also that I have just burned myself out too much with work stress and long hours over the past two weeks.

So, part 1 of the remedy is three inhalers, Singulair, loratidine (the active ingredient in Claritin), multi-vitamins, and Airborne, which probably doesn't actually do anything.

I've also been eating a ton of protein in an attempt to give myself some energy, and I'm trying to make sure I get adequate sleep leading up to the marathon. That's been a challenge. I worked Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, staying up until the wee hours of the morning. I can usually subsist with little sleep, but between being a little sick and stressed out, and oh yeah, since I have a marathon on Sunday, this wasn't going to work.

My brain just stopped working completely at around 9:00pm on Wednesday night, and I vegged in front of the TV and was in bed by 11:30.
I woke up not quite refreshed, but feeling much improved. I have to make sure I do a better job resting, or Sunday will be a disaster.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's a Trap!

Your fleet has lost. And your friends on the Endor moon will not survive. There is no escape, my young apprentice. The Alliance will die...as will your friends.
- Emperor Palpatine, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Things always seem darkest right before the Death Star blows up. I'm supposed to run 26.2 miles on Sunday, and I'm trying to be well-rested for it. In the week leading up to the race, though, I have enough deliverables due at work to force multiple all-nighters; I'm completely stressed-out; I'm starting to cough; it's going to be quite a bit warmer (disclaimer: This is my blog, and so perfect temperatures are the 30s and low 40s) than I planned for; and yes, I'm undertrained by any respected training plan.

The Death Star is fully operational, leaving the Rebel Alliance outnumbered and outgunned.

It doesn't matter. There's always a way out. I'm not sure in this analogy what is the vulnerable exhaust vent, but I'll find it.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Almost There: The Last Long Run

Today was the last long run before Philly -- 8 miles, as per the plan that I've done soooo well in following. It wasn't a great run or a terrible run. It was 8 miles, I ran it. End of story. I fell off of my plan and struggled for most of October, but the last two weeks have given me a measure of confidence back.

Now, I'm starting to get freaked out about the weather. The forecast is fluctuating wildly. Yesterday, the forecast predicted a 60 percent chance of rain on Sunday, which would be bad news -- I've never really done a long run in the rain. I've gotten rained on and misted on, but going out and running 26.2 in mostly rainy conditions is not something that fills me with cheer.

One day later, the outlook is much better. Weather.com says cloudy with a low of 51 and a high of 57. That's ok, and I know most people would take that in a heartbeat, but I'm signed up for marathon in late November in Philadelphia...I want it to be cold!! Give me a starting temperature in the 30s and I'll be a happy man. But, most importantly I'll be doing my "no precipitation" dance!

The good thing for me if that forecast holds (and it probably won't!), is that it will make gear selection really easy. No need for a long-sleeve shirt, jacket, gloves, etc. It'll be ok, I know it will. I'm just a worrier. I'll have concerns about the weather no matter what it is, so for my own sanity I probably just shouldn't look at it until Thursday or Friday morning so I know what to pack.

I'm ready. As physically ready as I'm going to get, and with some confidence restored after two solid weeks and last week's 20-miler. Mentally? Ok. I wouldn't quite say I'm excited and "looking forward to it" is probably still a bit too strong, but I'm not quaking in fear, either. I want to get started, and I want to get it over with. I am DEFINITELY looking forward to a huge omlet and lots of bacon at my favorite Philadelphia brunch place, Little Pete's, after the race.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do Your Civic Duty, and Earn Donuts

I love voting. Not only because in this country we are blessed with a chance that is still unmatched in many countries around the world to decide who will lead our local, state, and national governments, but because my local polling place has a ridiculous bounty of snacks.

Today, they had coffee, cookies, donuts and orange juice. In past elections I've been there when they had soup and sandwiches, too. I would vote anyway, but it's a nice little extra reward for getting out there and voting.

And if anyone out there is thinking "election fraud" (Boardwalk Empire, anyone?), let me assure that these delicious election day treats are available to all voters, regardless of for whom they cast their ballots.

Race Day Traditions and Superstitions

There's no such thing as lucky hats. If the Eagles or the Orioles win every time I wear the same hat to a game, it's just a coincidence. (And that never happens, anyway.) If I always felt smarter, more confident, and luckier on final exam day in college when I was wearing a certain hat, and then aced the test, again, just coincidence.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop believing in the power of my favorite talisman.

(I won this at the York Fair in 1992. It usually brings me luck,
but does not a darn thing for the team.)

I'm not extremely superstitious when it comes to running, though I have a few habits that probably are a little more than traditions:

1. Race day attire -- I never wear the race shirt on race day. Not because it's bad luck, but because that would prevent me from wearing my lucky red singlet. It's become my favorite of all the running shirts I own because its the most comfortable and least chafing, and along the way that seemed to cross the line into "lucky". Hence, I've worn it every long run since August while I've been training for this marathon and I wore it both times I ran the Philly Half. Seems like it would be tempting the fates to not wear it this time, no? I wore a different shirt for Broad Street, since it was 80 degrees I wanted to wear a lighter color and I wore a white shirt (and green shorts) for Shamrock so as to not be the guy running the St. Patrick's Day marathon in a red shirt. I don't have lucky running shorts -- that's just silly. If I wear the same gray and blue Brooks shorts on every long run, it's just because they're the newest and most comfortable.

2. Timepieces -- Every time I wear my Garmin in a long race, I end up wanting to throw it in a river, lake, or ocean. While that sample size is somewhat small, I definitely feel like my watch has some positive mojo in it that the Garmin lacks. I opted for my watch over Garmin during the last Philly Half, and I attribute the better-than-expected PR I set there to choosing the watch over the GPS. Since the lack of satellite reception in downtown Philadelphia would cause Garmin to infuriate me, anyway, wearing the watch is an easy choice. Plus, there's no denying that it's cool.

3. Expowear -- I usually spend more time thinking about what to wear to the expo than what to wear on race day, and I don't think I'm the only one that does this. It's always interesting to see the different race shirts runners wear to the expo. I'm not sure if it's a status symbol contest or if most people are just trying to show that they're not n00bs, but a friend summed up perfectly how I think of it, "You want to show that this isn't your first rodeo."

It's an easy choice to wear my Shamrock Marathon shirt to the Philly Expo, and as an added bonus it matches my lucky hat perfectly. I would probably be crossing the line between projecting myself as a savvy veteran and being a tool if I wear my Shamrock finisher's hat, too. (Right?)

4. Carb-loading -- I know carb-loading is (or should be) a little more complicated than "eat a bunch of pasta the night before the race", but I still prefer pasta the night before. Also, one pre-race beer with dinner to take the edge off a little bit and help me sleep well. Not five, not three, one. That's very important. After the race, par-tay.

5. D-tags -- Not many races have d-tags (disposable timing chip tags that attach to shoes) anymore, as b-tags (disposable timing chip tags that attach to the back of race bibs) have become more prevalent, but I always used to leave the d-tag on my running shoes until I had to take it off for the next race. My last pair of Supernova Glides, which never got recycled as casual-wear sneakers because they're ugly, and instead survive as my biking/lifting shoes, still have the d-tag from the 2010 Jingle Bell Run.

Well, that's about it for me...except for making a burnt offering of Sports Beans to the marathon gods in the hotel lobby on race morning, of course. "Eff you, Jobu. I do it myself."

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Guilty Pleasure Song

I'm pretty open-minded in my musical tastes, I think. But when I'm running, the range of music I like narrows considerably. Though there a few outliers, like same Dave Matthews and Counting Crows, which are a good change of pace when I'm on a long run, it's mostly short, fast pop-punk songs to try to keep my energy up.

For example, though I started my last 20-mile run out with AFI' rather grim album, "Sing the Sorrow", which was perfect because I was in a terrible mood at the start, other artists that appeared on my playlist are less serious stuff like Blink-182, Rancid, the Offspring, All Time Low, and New Found Glory. There's various speeds and moods within that set, but even when the subject matter is dark (like most of the Offspring's catalog) the tone is fast and what I would consider fun.

There's one thing on my Shuffle that just doesn't fit. I'm even a little embarrassed by it. However, when it started playing just as I began mile 19, it gave me a huge lift.

Without further ado: "Good Girls Go Bad" by Cobra Starship

I first heard this song in Summer 2010 while I walking outside the Planet Hollywood shops in Vegas, where it seemed appropria)te, and it's become one of my favorite running songs. Its over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek (I guess?) arrogance cracks me up, and it always provides a much-needed laugh.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Losing the Arms Race

Remember the blog post where I mentioned that I was going to try to start lifting again after getting completely out of the habit earlier this year after being pretty consistent with it ever since 1999?

Or the one where I berated myself for not starting lifting again and resolving to do better?

Oh, good. I don't either.

And I haven't. Got back in the swing of lifting, that is. I used the weights for the first time since July.

I've had enough trouble motivating myself to run over the past few months, let alone lift, but now the pressure is on. I have a beach trip coming up at the end of the year, and I admit I am motivated mostly by vanity. I know I won't get back all or even most of the strength I had before (which, I admit, wasn't that much!) and I'm very ectomorphic without much muscle mass even at my "peak" of lifting regularly (2006-2009), but I think I can tone back up a little by the end of December.

The goal is 3x a week, probably Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, until after the marathon and then every other day after that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Long Run: So You're Telling Me There's a Chance...

If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm having a crisis of confidence regarding the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon because I haven't done as good a job getting my base miles in as I should have.

If you don't read this blog regularly,
I'm having a crisis of confidence regarding the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon because I haven't done as good a job getting my base miles in as I should have.

I'd been debating what do with my long run today. Taper? Or try to get one more 20-miler in? I asked for and got lots of advice here, on dailymile, and on the Runner's World Philadelphia Marathon forum, and opinions ranged from "do it -- there's plenty of time to rest" to "No, at this point you're not going to gain any fitness and you run the risk of injury by not being rested on race day." Thanks again to everyone who gave me advice.

I decided to try for 20 miles, but set up my route as an 8-mile out and back so that I could easily stop at 16 if I didn't feel like going on. I wanted 20, but I know at this late stage it wasn't worth killing myself for. The second I stepped on the trail, though, I had the feeling that this could be a great run. I felt light, I felt fast, I felt strong, I felt like a Kenyan, I felt like a marathoner again...I felt so distracted by how great I felt that I guess I forgot to hit "start" on my Garmin for (I'm guessing) about 3/4 of a mile. That's ok, I know where the 8-mile mark is, it just meant my time would be an estimate.

I felt great all the way up, and if I'd had my four-bottle hydration belt, I would have gone all the way to York and back. Of course, if I'd had my four-bottle hydration belt it would have annoyed the daylights out of me. I started to tire around mile 13, but I had been eating sports beans every two or three miles throughout the run and I think that really helped.

I got back to Hanover Junction with my GPS reading 15.83, which is weird since I'm certain I ran more than .2 miles before starting it. I'm a bad distance estimator but not THAT bad, and I know that at least two songs had played before I noticed it wasn't running. I refilled my bottles, stretched my calves and quads out, and headed south. My new plan was to run a mile down and a mile back, so I could stop at 18 if I needed to. I was tired, but still felt good, and so I kept on going for two miles, and circled back and ran a little past Hanover Junction till my Garmin actually read "20.00."

(I ran 20 and lived to tell the tale and look like a dork.)

It was definitely my best long training run ever. I ran the whole 20 miles without walk breaks, though I did make three quick stops: a restroom break at about mile 10, the refilling break at 16, and a quick stop to photograph some cute goats at about mile 18.5. It took me 3:29:39, two minutes faster than last time, which means I probably was going faster last time and burned myself out, forcing me to walk.

I had no leg cramps during the run and my post-run stretching, which was very surprising and very welcome. I don't think I could have run 26.2 today without some walking breaks, but I feel like this puts me in line to at least equal my performance at Shamrock. Given the bad base miles situation I've gotten myself in, I'll gladly take that at this point.

(This friendly goat came over to say "hi", or probably "Hey old man, let me out of my cage.")

Overall, I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful morning for this run, and I couldn't have hoped to feel any better during it. I may regret this 20-miler on 11/20, but right now I feel my confidence needed the boost more than my legs needed the third week of tapering.

(While I was stretching at Hanover Junction after the run,
the sky was the deepest blue I've ever seen.
My crappy cell phone camera doesn't do justice how beautiful it was.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Last Long Run? Or Not?

After weeks of not being able to get enough midweek runs in, I did ok this week:

Monday: 3 miles in 29:29 -- It was dark, the sidewalks were clogged with trick-or-treaters, and my headlamp battery was dying. Other than that, it was a good run.

Tuesday: 8 miles in 1:18 -- Good hilly run on Tuesday night through Manchester and Mt. Wolf.

Thursday: 5.36 miles in 55:32 -- This one was really, really tough. I think I undid myself by hitting the steep hills really early in my run today. I was also running at lunch and it was 57 degrees, which is a pleasant running temperature, but is also much warmer than the early-morning or late-evening temperatures I've been running in over the past few weeks, when it's usually been in the 30s or low 40s.

I'm debating what to do with the long run this Saturday. My 20-miler was two weeks ago, and I'm debating trying for another. Officially, I'm supposed to only run 12, but why listen to Higdon now when I've ignored his wisdom for two months? (Next week's long run, in the last weekend before the marathon, is 8 miles)

Another 20 miler would be a good confidence boost, and I don't really have the expectation of a great marathon -- just finishing will suffice -- which I expect/hope will mean running 20ish miles and mixing in some walk breaks to get through the last six.

On the other hand, I don't think the length of my last real long run, whether it's 15-16 or 20, will make or break my marathon. I broke it in October when I lost my willpower at the worst possible time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slim & Shady

I'm far from a fitness expert, and in no way a professional. That much is obvious to anyone reading this blog. I am happy to share my opinions on the products I use and the events I participate, and to be honest I would absolutely love for companies to send me products to test and review. So I was intrigued a few days ago when I received this e-mail in my blog's mailbox:


I hope you're having a nice week! I am reaching out to you because I recently came across your page:http://earnyourdonuts.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html

I have a few questions for you; if you could get back to me at your convenience, that would be great. I look forward to hearing from you!


Now, I was intrigued, but I should have suspected that this was spam when the address listed was my blog archive from May and not a real post, but I followed up and received this response:

Hi Brian,

Thanks for getting back to me :)

I am reaching out to you because I saw you had some awesome fitness and health related posts on your blog. Are you familiar with the Beachbody brand? If not, we are the makers of the popular p90x, along with many other fitness programs. I was wondering if you would be interested in adding a short post with a couple of our links on your blog. The Beachbody brand is so relevant to the content on your page and I think your site viewers would find our products very beneficial. If this is something you like to discuss further please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you!

"Awesome fitness and health related posts"? Were they really reading my blog? Still, here's where it seems like they're asking me to endorse a product. Again, I'm no expert, but what credibility I have comes from me giving my honest opinions. I'm not comfortable endorsing something I haven't tried myself. I asked if I could have a copy of one of their programs to try:

Hi (Name withheld)
Thanks for the quick response. I've heard of p90x, although it would be a stretch to say I'm familiar with it. I would be happy to put up a post with some links, under a couple conditions:

1. I am not comfortable endorsing something I have not tried myself. Would you be able to send me any programs to try?

a. If so, I will put up a post with a link to the Beachbody website and a link the program or programs I'm trying.
b. I'll keep my readers posted with some updates along the way and then a review of the program after I've used it through the proscribed length of the program.

2. If condition #1 is ok w/Beachbody, I want to be very upfront with my readers that I was asked to share information with them and provided w/things to try.

3. If condition #1 is ok, I would like to maintain my flexibility regarding the context/tone of reviews -- I'm going for a mix of seriousness and humor on my blog. I love writing product reviews, but in them I try to balance a solid review with a little bit of humor. For example, I made fun of all the little brand names & labels (like the "Geofit" label inside them) on my Adidas running shoes that imply their advanced technology. That said, I reviewed my first impression of their performance and as they reach the end of their lifecycle in a month or two I'll write a longer review of my experiences with them. In context, I'm not a professional trainer or coach, I'm just a regular guy -- I'd like review your products in the context of "this is what I liked about them/this is what I didn't like" and "this is why there were a good fit for me/why they might not have been the best fit".

Your e-mail is catching me at the right time -- I was pretty consistent, although not very scientific, with a weightlifting program for many years, but have really gotten out of the habit over the past year as I've gotten busier at my job and with training for longer races. I want to catch the fitness (and not just the running) bug again during 2010, so I hope we can work together on this.

This is the first year of my blog, but I have been getting about 1700 readers a month, and I hope to continue to grow my readership as well.

Thanks again,

No products for me:

Hi Brian,

Thanks for getting back to me :) Unfortunately at this time we are not able to offer products for review or compensation for linking to us. If you have any other ideas - I am open to suggestions! Let me know how you would like to proceed :)

So let's review. Beachbody wants me to link to, in effect advertising or endorsing, a fitness product that I've never used? No way. And if that's the kind of referrals they're looking for, that leads me question their credibility.

I'm not just trying get free stuff here, and this isn't buying ad space that they're talking about. I don't think a blogger having ads or selling ad space necessarily means that they personally endorse those products. They reached out to me to add a post about their product. That's a little different from my point-of-view. I enjoy writing reviews of the products I purchase and use. I still owe a review of the new hydration belt that infuriated me so much during my 20-mile run. I'd be thrilled to be sent products to review. But how am I supposed to post about something I've never tried? Really, they don't have a spare set of DVDs lying around?

I debated posting this, and I debated naming the company, since I'm in effect giving them exactly what they wanted. I'd have been glad to try one of their programs and share my thoughts on it, but instead I'm putting up a post and telling my readers that I think the company is a little bit shady.