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Posts tagged “Speed Work

Road Work: Long Distance Running as Ultimate Primer for Boxing

jeffery the iron lung boxingThose who choose to participate are subject to pain — acute and otherwise — a pain that must be faced, must be endured. They must stand up against bouts of adversity, must learn to think on the fly.

They must always stay in the moment.

They must face their greatest fears.

With all of the above, I could be talking about the long distance runner.

Or I could be talking about the boxer.

I’m talking about both.

For the last four years, boxing has been an integral tool in my long distance training kit. An all-body workout that requires combined leg and core strength paired with hand-eye coordination and mental toughness, the aerobic and anaerobic training potential boxing provides is as varied as its practitioner is creative.

And you don’t even have to take punches.

jeff lung boxing training 3In fact, most people who train in the sweet science don’t take punches. They train to be in shape, to burn calories, to de-stress. I love running long, no doubt, but I admit, there is no stress reliever quite like punching something. Walk into any boxing gym and you will find people of all sizes — all backgrounds and states of fitness — doing just that: enjoying their stress relieving workout.

For the long distance runner, boxing is a low impact cross trainer that takes advantage of strong, seasoned legs. With proper technique, it also builds upper body strength with a conscious core and allows for increased blood flow during those “off” days where one would need to rest from pounding pavement.

For many boxers, the hardest part of training is conditioning. Sustaining an elevated heart rate with sudden bursts of explosive movement can prove difficult, even for seasoned vets. Long distance runners tend to have a lock on this aspect of training, and therefore set themselves up for success.

At some point the long distance runner who boxes may decide he or she is ready to spar. It’s not for everyone, I admit. I remember the first time I was hit in the face. I didn’t like it very much. But I didn’t like the fire in my legs at mile 21 of my first marathon either, yet I keep coming back.

And so here I am, 36 years old, a seasoned distance runner with two Boston finishes, a 100-mile buckle and a 3:03 marathon PR, signed up and ready to fight in the Chicago Golden Gloves boxing tournament. It begins March 4.

I knew sometime last year, during my training for Pinhoti, that the next big challenge would be to test my might against other boxers. I had been enjoying my sparring sessions over the last couple years, seeing them both as mental chess matches and larger tests of anaerobic endurance. But around mile 80 of my 100-mile trek through the Talladega Forest — my master class on pain management — it became clear to me, that if I could withstand 100 miles of affliction, something that would take me 28+ hours to complete, then I could certainly handle 6 minutes in the squared circle.

So I will.

Indeed, I, Jeff “The Iron” Lung, will get in the ring and let my hands go.

Jeff Lung heavy bag


My training for this event began in earnest on January 1st. I have to make weight (fighting at a maximum of 139 lbs), so I decided to cut out all alcohol and as much sugar as possible from my diet. I keep a close track of my food intake. I make an effort to eat as healthy as possible, staying within 1-2 pounds of fighting weight while all the time living my mantra: the better you eat, the better you feel, the better you train.

Running (what boxers call “road work”) is the crux of my conditioning. I run about 30-35 miles a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I generally run 3-5 miles as a warm up to my concentrated boxing training. I hold 2 lbs weights in my hands as long as I can during these runs, usually for 20-30 minutes.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I run 6-7 miles, whatever I can accomplish in an hour, but I mix in three or four intervals of 5-8 minutes of speedwork. On Saturdays I run longer, about an hour and 15 minutes or 8 miles, whatever comes first. I avoid the traditional long runs of distance training. I need to maintain my endurance, but I can’t afford to waste energy on additional miles when I will need that energy in the ring. Just as it can be for the long distance runner, overtraining is a real threat to peak performance.

Jeff and Edna post trainingIn addition to the running, I do boxing-focused strength training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as well as technical boxing drills. I choose to work on different aspects of my game on different days. Like in any athletic discipline, variety in training is key.

On Tuesday and Thursday nights I spar.

On Sundays I rest. Completely.

I practice yoga. I get regular massage. I sleep a lot. I even take naps if I feel like it.

And I watch lots and lots and lots of fights, in person, on TV, on YouTube — wherever I can.

But like in my long distance training, perhaps the most integral portion of preparation occurs in my mind, usually just before I fall asleep. I envision myriad “if/than” scenarios in my head, calculating countermeasures for catastrophes and methodologies for exploiting weaknesses. Most of all, I try to embrace the nerves that I know are bound to come.

Even in the comfort of my own bed, I can close my eyes, hear the crowd, and feel the nausea that threatens to throw my concentration. It’s the same sick feeling I had before my first marathon, before my first ultra. It’s that same uneasiness I felt toeing the line for each PR attempt at 13.1 and 26.2 miles.

Pre-race jitters. Stage freight. Terrified of getting hit the face.

It all goes away once I’m in the moment.

And after all, that continues to be the thing that keeps bringing me back: living in the moment.

Whether it’s running for hours, working through a yoga practice or squaring off with someone trying to punch me in the face, the thing that keeps me coming back is the very real experience of the now. Nothing makes me feel more alive than being present.

And you can bet I will be present on March 4.

Hands up. Chin down. Mind focused.

Do you want lose weight and get stronger? Do you want to build that dream body, improve your race times or qualify for Boston? Go to Iron Lung Fitness and start training with me today!






Rev That Racing Engine and Hope for the Best

2013 peapod half marathon jeff lungThe last time I raced to my maximum potential, I set a personal best in the half marathon. In the aftermath of that hard effort though, I also found myself crippled by the apex of bilateral Achilles tendonosis, an injury that would bury the rest of my lofty 2013 race plans and humble me to reevaluate my training.

That was six months ago.

Now I’m ready to give it another go when I toe the line this weekend at the Armadillo Dash Half Marathon in College Station, TX. I have been Boston Marathon training for ten and a half weeks now, slowly building back up to quality speed work and long, slow distance runs. I still don’t feel like I am in optimum speed running shape, but I do feel good. I feel strong. I feel focused.

And I feel like it’s time to see what I can do right now. But I also know that this feeling comes with a conscious finger hovering just above the abort button.

After my experience the last six months, my ultimate conclusion is that I would rather run slow than not run at all. To me, running is a gift. It’s a privilege. I am not guaranteed the ability to run, to have full use of my legs, to live this spry wonderlife each and every day. So each day that I get deserves my respect. If something goes wrong, I need to address it, immediately, and not just keep running anyway, just because. Like Stan Lee reminds us: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I don’t expect to be swinging from building to building this weekend, using wrist-projected webbing and spidey sense, but I do expect to give my best race effort, using every bit of what is in the tank on that day.

Here’s to hoping I don’t run into any Green Goblins.

Or achy Achilles.


Reality (or Why I’m Not Too Upset About My Wonky Heels)

chicago marathon 2012 epic sign

Ah, reality, how humble and distraught thou can render me.

Current reality will reveal the following: My race pace 20 miler three weeks out from the Chicago Marathon was an absolute disaster.

I could not hold 6:50 pace. I got about three miles in before both of my heels (especially the left one) became extremely stiff, limiting mobility, sending sharp pains through both Achilles, and ultimately, slowing me down. A lot.

Running with a partner, I felt quite embarrassed that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish what I set out to do. I worried that I was letting her down, that she might be better off running ahead rather than slowing pace to accommodate my wonky state and subsequent moodiness.

I told her she should carry on, to leave me behind. I didn’t want to hold her back. But she stuck with me, slower pace and all. She even helped me find some peace of mind despite the compounding frustration setting in. For that I am grateful.

It is no secret: the sub-3 hour marathon is my white whale. And facing yet another injury setback while training for this lofty goal just feels like a low blow.

Despite the diminished demeanor, I finished the 20 miles. But in the immediate aftermath, my calves didn’t seem to work very well. I hobbled around like a newborn calf for three days and am just now back to walking normal.

This monstrous hybrid failing of my body — some sort of calcaneal bursitis mixed with Achilles tendonitis and tight, cramping calves — has been hindering my training off and on since July. But it really struck me down after my PR half marathon on August 25. That was one of my best run races to date, but by the time I got home, my entire left heel had swollen to the size of a tennis ball and I could hardly walk. Recovery became laborious. In fact, worried I would lose my fitness, I didn’t allow it to fully recover before picking up with more speed work.

Unfortunately, this heel nuisance seems to be exacerbated by speed work. The more I run up on my toes (inevitable at faster pace), the more load is placed on the Achilles, the more inflamed the bursa becomes, leading to slow, stiff, swollen bouts of BLAH. I have been giving myself extra rest days and dialing back the mileage, but, as proved to me by failing the most important workout prior to race day, it ain’t gonna happen — not right now anyway.

When I hobbled home from my 20 miler Saturday, in between foam rolling my calves and getting on with my day, I budgeted a good hour to feeling sorry for myself.

Boo hoo. Woe is me. Life sucks.

Except, life doesn’t suck. Life kicks ass. Sure, it’s a roller coaster — one that induces vomiting from time to time — but being down is where we have an opportunity to get back up.

There will be other marathons. I still have plenty of time to run my best races. Right now, I need to focus on lining up at the Chicago Marathon 100% healthy, so that’s what I’m going to try to do. I might aim for a 3:05 finish, or a 3:10. I don’t know yet. My calves and heels will tell me what I am capable of on that day; but to expect a sub-3 finish with such little dedicated race pace training the last 6 weeks is a bit unrealistic at this time.

Of course, all of the above truth and rationale is made more palatable by the fact that I GOT INTO THE 2014 BOSTON MARATHON, baby! Whew! Just barely! But I’m in, and that’s what counts.

Having run the race this year (and negative split), I already know it’s a PR waiting to happen. If sub-3 is in my near future, it’s more than likely going to come on April 21, 2014. That gives me plenty of time to heal up, take some time off from heavy training, and to start over new (and healthy) next year.

Whatever happens on October 13th will just be a bonus.

boston marathon finish line 2013

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Pacers: The 2013 Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon Race Report

Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon Batavia 2013

The Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon in Batavia, IL keeps bringing me back. I PR’d there in 2011. I did it again in 2012. And since the quaint little town is so welcoming with its serene course and opulent post-race party, I couldn’t help but toe the line for a third year in a row. Besides, the race fits quite well with my Chicago Marathon training and, for the last two years, has accurately projected where I can expect to finish in an all-things-being equal mid-October 26.2 mile contest.

Pre-Race, 4:15 a.m.

I am up and stuffing my face with bananas, toast and coffee. Despite the early morning butterflies, I actually slept pretty well last night. But now, just a few hours from the start, I begin to go through my regular cycle of self-doubt and reassuring affirmation. With this year’s Chicago Marathon goal being the loftiest I’ve ever imagined, the plan for today is to run all 13.1 at marathon pace, somewhere between 6:50-6:52 minute miles, finishing in 1 hour 30 minutes, which would be a new personal record by more than two minutes.

The weather doesn’t look too bad. It will be in the low 70s for most of my race with the type of humidity one can expect for the Midwest in August. If I can pull off a 1:30 finish in today’s summery conditions, I will spend the next 6 weeks feeling pretty confident about what I can do on October 13. Luckily, there will be a 1:30 pace group for today’s half, and having run this race twice before, I know the last two miles are essentially all downhill. As long as I can get to the 11-mile marker without dying, I should be able to accomplish my goal.

6:30 a.m.

But 90 minutes at sub-7 minute pace… Jeff, you’ve NEVER done that before. You hear me? NEVER.

I’m only warming up and already my subconscious Debbie Downer is picking a fight.

And you don’t have the miles this year. Your heels are still wonky. Your speed work has sucked. Remember last week when you couldn’t hold 6:50 for two miles in a row!? And the week before where your legs just felt heavy and non-responsive? Yeah, good luck with that.

My subconscious Debbie Downer can be a real drag sometimes. I vow to shut it up. I’m coming in today off a mini-taper, feeling strong, feeling determined. I’m going to stick with the pace group as long as my body allows — and that means grinding through the pain.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

I read that off someone’s Facebook feed this morning. I’m going to use that mantra when the going gets tough.

And it will get tough.

“Hi, my name is Jeff,” I say as I enter the chute and position myself next to two fluorescent yellow clad men holding the 1:30 pace sign.

“Hi, I’m Eric,” says the side burned leader, “and this is Kyle” he says motioning to his younger counterpart. I shake both of their hands and size them up. Both appear confident and svelte — two characteristics I usually look for in pace leaders.

“Do you plan on running even splits today?” I ask.

“Yes, 6:52 pace the whole way. Even splits,” says Eric. “I will be keeping track of the average per mile pace and Kyle will keep track of the actual mile splits each mile. If it makes you feel any better, we came in last year at 1:30:01.”

Awesome, I think to myself. Not only do these guys seem confident about their plan of attack, but they have also done this before, with success. I’m game.

“Okay, well I’m going to stick with you as long as I can,” I reply. “I just hope the heat and humidity don’t get to me.”

As soon as I say this I realize I’ve just given myself an excuse to abort if the going gets tough — an excuse my more determined self can’t accept right now.

Stick with them, Jeff. The whole way. The only thing that is going to stop you from achieving this goal today is a broken body part or a trip in an ambulance.

3… 2… 1… GO!

Miles 1-5

This is my third running of the race and the third variation to the start line I’ve experienced. In 2011 we began by going up a big hill. In 2012, that hill was gone. Today, there is another hill at the start but it’s in a different location. I think. Hell, I don’t know. I just know that we’re starting up an incline and it’s time to wedge myself into the group and get comfortable.

Eric and Kyle are in front. I tuck in directly behind. All around me are about 15-20 individuals who seem determined to hold pace.

This is your team, Jeff. Look around. Get used to these people. Stick with this group. Do NOT lose this group.

My subconscious voice is obnoxiously loud, but equally determined. Who am I to argue with what it wants?

The first couple of miles are a blur. We’re moving along right on pace and the folks in this peloton are focused. No ones seems to be huffing and puffing yet. Our footfalls create a natural, appealing rhythm. No one smells particularly awful.

This is work in motion — a thing of beauty.

Other than Eric and Kyle’s casual conversation, there isn’t much chit-chat. I can’t hold a conversation going this fast. I definitely admire those who can and the fact that our pacers seem to do so without losing a breath or a step is extremely comforting.

As we weave through the quiet neighborhoods of Batavia that remind me of the small town where I grew up, I notice everyone seems to know our pace leader, Eric. Course marshals, aid station volunteers and excited race observers alike are quick to shout out his name and wave a friendly hand.

This, combined with his detailed course preview assures me that Eric knows what he’s doing and that I should just stick on his heels. Right now, with the temperature still hovering right around the low 70s, I feel okay, but I am sweating a lot.

So when the first two aid stations only offer water and no sports drink, I begin to panic just a bit.

DOH! I need carbohydrate!

I recall this being an issue last year, that not all the aid stations offered sports drink and I had to just deal with it. I don’t know why I assumed that would change this year, but it didn’t. Am I being too snobbish by expecting that in a half marathon? I don’t know. I just know that the best fueling strategy for me is to take in carbohydrate and electrolytes from the very first aid station on through.

But a key element in distance running is adjusting to problems on the fly. I try to relax and know that I’ll get my electrolytes soon enough.

We get through the first 5k under 21 minutes and as I look around I see that our numbers are already dropping off. And so it goes with pace groups. Some days ya just don’t have it. I hone in on my constant mind-body feedback loop, keen to check my breathing, legs, feet, ankles. My wonky heels are aching a bit but that’s just going to be how it goes today. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before. For now, I feel about as comfortable as I can expect to feel considering what I’m doing.

Somewhere around the 5-mile mark, we hit the steep downhill into downtown Batavia where the crowds are big, loud and supportive. The easiness of running decline combined with the cheering support and a MUCH needed Gatorade-rich aid station make the left turn on to the bike path a great relief to my tiring body.

Miles 5-8

We tuck in a little closer now as our path narrows, running alongside the picturesque Fox River. This well-shaded portion of the race is a welcome relief from the rising sun, and now that we find ourselves closer together, I marvel at the fact that no one has tripped yet. We are so close together that one slight misstep from anyone could cause a colossal crash and burn.

This is so cool, I think to myself.

But what is it specifically about running fast within a group that gives me goosebumps? Is it the sense of togetherness, the creation of community that is born of it? Maybe it’s the notion that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this type of movement just on my own. Or, perhaps it’s simply benefiting from less drag and focusing on the heels of the guy in front of me.

No matter what, I’m in the zone now. My only concern is right now. Right. This. Minute. Staying with the group. Sticking to Eric and Kyle.

“Eric and Kyle,” I say. “All we need now is Stan and Kenny to be complete.”

No one gets my bad Southpark joke/reference, but that’s okay, because we got work to do. A quick look around and I see we’re still about 8 strong. There are several fluorescent green and yellow shirts. There are also a few women among us and everyone is FOCUSED.

We pass the halfway mark and Eric briefs us on what is to come in the last half, which includes a couple of climbs.

Only 6.5 miles to go now, I tell myself. Just hang on. You’re doing great.

Oh yeah, you’re doing great, says my mischievous Debbie Downer self, if you consider feeling like shit doing great. You really think you can hold on to this pace? Ha!

I take a much needed gel, feel a bit more energized, and remind myself to pump my arms when the legs seem unresponsive.

Miles 8-10.5

The love and support our group gets from the people who came out to cheer us on along the course does wonders for my mind and body, but somewhere around mile 9, both start to suffer.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

No one cares if you run a 1:30 or a 1:35 or a 1:anything. No one cares. You can stop now.

It’s too warm. Too humid. You can chill out now, man. It’s okay. Seriously.

My Debbie Downer side bombards me just as my body starts to slow down. As we charge up an incline, I begin to fall off the pace. Actually, our whole group starts to fall apart. And while I entertain negative thoughts and consider just taking it easy from here to the end, Eric heads to the rear of the group, motivating those of us struggling to survive to stick to it, to pump our arms. His words and actions encourage me to dig a little deeper.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

And it’s only 4 more milesthe last two are downhill so just stick with it. STICK WITH IT, JEFF! NOW IS NO TIME TO GIVE UP!

The old adage of holding on through the rough spots because they’ll go away soon comes to mind as I find a little something inside to chase down Kyle up in front of me. My 30 meter surge is matched by a few others in the group and slowly, we come together again. By the time we crest the last of the inclines and hit the bike path for the last section, including the pacers we are a strong group of six. Eric and Kyle resume their leader spots, giving us much needed encouragement and support.

Holy cow, I can’t believe I just got through that, I think to myself.

Miles 10.5-13.1

“Isn’t this great?” Eric asks aloud. “A nice, steady decline here.”

Great? I think to myself. This is effing brilliant!

Properly shaded again and moving along the gradual downhill path, I look at my watch to see we’re less than two miles from the finish line and for the first time today it hits me: I am going to make that 1:30 mark. I’m going to PR and I’m going to finish this day satisfied that my marathon training is right where it needs to be to do exactly what I want to do.

The hairs on my arm stand up and I feel a cool breeze of satisfaction wash over me.

“You guys, this is going to be a huge, 4 minute PR for me today,” says the woman to my right, arms pumping, legs turning over at the high cadence which has locked in to all four of us surviving runners.

This is awesome, I think. This is simply awesome.

“If anyone is feeling good and wants to get by, just let us know,” says Eric. I definitely consider it, but when I try to accelerate, I got nothin’.

Nah, just stay right on their heels, Jeff. Just ride this out to the end and save that jolt for the finish line.

It takes all the concentration I have to just stick with the pacers. They look back every now and then to see how we survivors are doing and I can’t help but think the face I’m making must be a scary mess. I feel terrible.

But I’m almost done.

We exit the bike path and are close to the finish line because I can hear the crowd and a PA system. We turn left and run under a bridge of some sorts where we are forced to run single file.

Eric drops back and gives me one last “go get em!” as I slide by, steadily chasing the speedy Kyle in front of me. 300 meters from the finish, I feel euphoric — all the pain in my legs and lungs ceases. I feel myself well up as I thank Kyle for his help.

“Dude, thank you so much. I never would have been able to do this on my own,” I tell him.

“You’re welcome, man, awesome job,” he says as he motions me past him for my final sprint.

As I come down the finishing stretch I pass one of the guys who was in our pace group and suddenly I don’t feel my legs at all.

Am I flying? Gliding? Where am I?

I’m at the end. I cross the finish line, arms raised in proud triumph.

Holy shit I just ran a 1:30:10 half marathon.

Boo yah.

Immediate Post-Race

I take a few seconds to catch my breath from the last sprint before I turn around and look for the rest of the group members. Kyle comes across and I immediately give him a hug, whether he wants it or not.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help. Thank you. Thank you so much,” I gush.

The last woman standing from our group comes across too and I give her a radiant high five for her huge PR. The smile on her face is one that I won’t forget. Those types of highlight smiles don’t wane easily.

Two other guys come through and I greet them with high fives.

Finally, Eric arrives at the back of the group and I make a beeline towards him, celebratory hug included.

“Dude! Eric! Thank you! That was awesome. I really appreciate your help. Two minute PR for me today. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

This enthusiasm, this cheer, this ecstasy… it always seems to find its way into my running adventures.

So I just keep coming back.

Post Race

The good folks in Batavia host one hell of a post-race party. After my emotions calmed down, I had my share of all you can eat pizza and all you can drink beer. I was quick to thank all of the volunteers who made the event a special one.

Watching this race grow over the last few years has been a real treat. In talking with some of my friends at the post-race party, I learned that the race organizers and volunteers had to fight hard to keep the course winding through the neighborhoods like it does. Apparently there was some opposition. Some entity wanted to restrict the entire race to just the bike patch, which, in my opinion would totally kill the charming vibe of this race.

I love going through the actual town, seeing folks on their front lawns with signs and cowbells and high fives. If I wanted to run on a bike path the whole time I’d just stay in Chicago.

Hopefully, this race will continue its awesome streak and I won’t ever have to worry about that.

In thinking about my performance post-race, I realize it would have been nice to break that 1:30 barrier; however, my goal for the day was to run a 1:30 and considering the conditions, where the race fell within my training plan and the fact that I really gave it all I had, I have no regrets.

All I have is a sore face from smiling so much.

With the Eye of the Tiger, Sub-3 or Bust

2.59Long have I been a sucker for classic training montages, the cheesier the better. Whether it’s Rocky Balboa racing a boat, Daniel-san whipping crane kicks to get the girl or Frank Dux redefining ninjitsu, I just can’t help but get pumped up watching that all-or-nothing training mentality in superlative action.

And, of course, a nice score doesn’t hurt.

It could be said that race day is just the exclamation point on the process, whether one reaches his goal or not. Hours and hours of training are logged so that race day simply comes down to execution. We reach our goals with compounded hard work, not by a one-day luck of the draw.

The process of training — the long, drawn out montage in real time — is what the whole experience is about for me. It’s about getting up before light to log a lactate threshold run. It’s about strict attention to clean diet while my friends pack away the pints. It’s about daily massage, supplemental strength training and lots of sleep.

It’s about doing everything in my power to make myself as good as I can be, to (as Survivor would suggest) rise up to the challenge of my rival.

My rival is me — the old me, the me who couldn’t run a block, let alone speed through 26.2 miles all in one shot.

And while that old rival self may not exist in the flesh anymore, the doubt and negativity inherent to his being still lingers. The challenge of rising up against it is still very real. I want to put it to rest forever.

My target is the Chicago Marathon; the goal is to break three hours. It’s my hometown course. It’s built for speed. And I know every tangent, every turn, every double-sided aid station.

On August 4th, backed by a summer of long, slow base mileage, I began marathon training in earnest. Right now I have eight and a half weeks to get tuned into high turnover and to make October 13 one of the most memorable days of my life.

Of course, with high expectation comes the risk of major heartbreak. If it’s 80 degrees on race day then I will have to ditch the effort and just survive. If I go out only to blow up halfway through, I’ll have to suck up defeat and look forward to the next opportunity. Or I could get injured, I could get ill, I could spontaneously combust. Any number of detrimental things lurks, ready to stop me from achieving my ultimate running goal.

But one thing is for certain: even if I do get knocked down, I’m gettin’ my ass right back up.

I’m not going to quit. I’m going to achieve this goal.

It’s going to happen.

And by putting this declaration out into the universe for all to see I feel even more driven to get the job done, one 6 minute and 50 second paced step at a time.

It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watching us all with the eye of the tiger

Six Weeks to Beantown and Finally Baaaaack!


Patriot’s Day is only six weeks away, which means my long awaited dance with the World Series of marathons will soon be a dream come true.  The natural excitement and nervous energy that come along with it will only escalate.

But I’m down with that.

Yesterday I nailed a 16 mile long run with 11 miles at 7:15 pace, with no aches or pains — yet another promising sign that my ITB issues are finally far off in the background.  I wasn’t going to celebrate my lack of ITBS symptoms until I was able to sustain a good month of dedicated speed and hill training alongside the general aerobic long runs that are the staple of any solid marathon training plan.

Five weeks and counting, no residual aches, pains or soreness.  I’m feeling damn good.

My buildup for this race, albeit unorthodox due to the limited training and mileage prescribed by coming off of a serious injury, has been about as much as I could ask for.  I’m not overdoing it.  I’m resting when my body directs me.  But most of all, I’ve adjusted my mind to allow for a fun, possibly once-in-a-lifetime race experience.  Rather than being hellbent on time goals, I’m focusing on toeing the line healthy,  ready to deliver on whatever my body seems capable of on April 15, 2013.

This is in large contrast to my normal marathon training as I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I instinctively marry myself to routine, to nailing splits, to chasing down the guy ahead of me.  And while I know quite well that outside of myself, not one single person on the planet really cares what time I get when crossing the finish line, I still feel like if I don’t throw down a personal best in every race then I’m not doing it right.


I’ve set some modest goals for Boston 2013.  I haven’t regained my Chicago 2012 fast legs yet, but I’d like to finish somewhere between a 3:15 and 3:30, mindful of the fact that finishing and living in the moments presented by the most storied marathon in the world are, above all else, the most important things.  If, on race day, my abilities push me beyond the 3:30 mark, then so be it.  I vow to cross the line with a smile and a triumphant fist.

The cliche “it’s not the destination that matters but the journey” comes to mind.  In my case, the journey has been profound in what it has revealed about me, about how I handle adversity both instinctively and through contemplation.

For someone like me, opportunities like running the Boston Marathon are certainly the exception, not the norm.  I will treat the experience as exceptional, from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, and everywhere in between.

Four Tenths of a Second Behind Peter Sagal: The Universal Sole Trail Challenge Race Report

Hanging out with friends from the New Leaf Ultra Runs group after the race.

For a temporarily pruned long distance junkie still unable to run much past 6 miles without any run-stopping lateral knee pain, a short, fast trail race in the city seemed to be a perfect match.  Of course, when I originally signed up for the Universal Sole Trail Challenge 5.25 mile race, I did so thinking of it more as a social event.  Several of my fellow New Leaf Ultra Runs club members signed up at the same time (as evident by our ascending numerical bib numbers) and I wanted to be a part of the action.  Homemade chili and a bountiful supply of Goose Island’s 312 beer were also calling.

Besides, who knew there were actual trail races in the city?!?

Schiller Woods on Chicago’s northwest side was the venue and the sparse city field of runners was a welcome change from the typically annoying and inappropriately overpriced short distance races that seem to get all the attention.  Hanging out at the start/finish area prior, the atmosphere was very similar to that of a small high school cross country meet, which caused me to lament not opting for my short shorts.

The race started and 148 of us took off into the woods at a blazing pace.  I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing something wrong running that fast.  The trail race setting and my association of it with ultras has always dictated a long and slow strategy, so throwing down right at the start felt like sneaking out of my house late at night when I was a teen, hoping I didn’t get caught.

Unfortunately, in the race, I was getting caught.  There seemed to be a good mix of fast, tall and lean guys at the front and I was happy to let them by me.  While my only real goal was to put in a hard effort for the entire distance, my watch told me I was maintaining between a 6:40 and 6:45 pace and I was completely at peace with that.  Knowing the race would be over very soon, I reserved to admiring the barren trees, to jumping over logs with a spartan step, to ebb and flow with the trail as best I could, like I was the trail.

About halfway through, as I was contemplating the supreme simplicity in the wide open Schiller Woods trail, a short, stocky dude crept up and passed me who, in my in-the-moment cocky opinion, did not look like a fast runner.  What the…

Oh well.  Let him go, I thought.  I’m still gonna get beer and chili at the finish.  That’s all I care about right now.

Except, I kept the dude in my sights.  I couldn’t help it.  That inherent competitive spirit I have kicked me in the ass and I was moving at its mercy.  The guy was in my sights as I twisted and turned, as I slipped (but saved a fall), as I scrambled up one of two tiny little bumps reluctantly called a “hill”.

He was in my sights and getting reeled in as I passed the little aid station not far from the finish.  And as we dumped out of the woods and back out onto open grass, I slammed on the gas, intent on catching him.  I came up short.  By four tenths of a second.

My time was 34:58, 6:40 pace, 16th place overall.  I was happy with that.

But when I found out the guy I was gunning for was Peter Sagal, I felt like I could have — should have — would have done better.  Had I known.  Or not.

Who is Peter Sagal, you ask?

Wait, wait, don’t tell me! <—- Lame but obligatory throwaway line that you will forgive me for using.  I hope.

All NPR jargon aside, I am reminded by Universal Sole’s Trail Challenge that short, fast races are fun too.  And the hangout session after with my friends was great.  As was the chili and beer.  Hopefully, someday chili and beer will be as much a staple of the post-race vibe as salt-crusted foreheads and quartered bananas.