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Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012 – Finish Line

Photo: Kelly Booth (Yes, we have on our Akron Marathon shirts: They’re lighter in color than our brand-new Canton Marathon shirts, and it was sunny and warm for a good portion of the race, so I didn’t want to wear a dark shirt.

Another eighteen-week training calendar is (mostly) full of Xs, and my second full marathon is behind me.

Some numbers:

  • Training start date: Feb. 14, 2012. Canton Marathon date: June 17, 2012.
  • Running days: 68 (Days missed: 4)
  • Total miles: 453.3. (Miles missed: 35)
  • Marathon time: 4:15:33. Marathon pace: 9:47

That time is around 20 minutes slower than my first marathon – the Towpath in 2009 – and well short of the 8:23 pace goal I had in mind when I started training, but ultimately, this race turned out to be about more than that particular goal.

I was a real bundle of nerves the night before the race, but I carb-loaded and was tired enough to go to bed early, so when I woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday, I felt rested enough.

Adam and I left at about 5:10 to head downtown to the Stark County fairgrounds, parked and caught one of the many shuttle buses with no trouble, and were over at Fawcett Stadium by about 5:50 a.m.

Due to the last-minute arrival of many racers (guilty!) the organizers had to push back the start 20 minutes, but that seems like a pretty small inconvenience in the face of how smoothly I thought the whole parking/shuttle situation was handled: They seem to have had more than enough buses running to and from the fairgrounds – Adam and I had the same quick and easy experience getting back to the car at the end of the day. (Having run in three Akron Marathons, there’s no comparing the two parking situations. I know Akron attracts three times as many runners, but parking up there is a real issue, and every year we wind up parking on some side street and walking a half-mile to the starting line.)

I had trained differently for this race than my first one, and I felt a different sort of nervousness going into it. Several differences between then and now: On the one hand, there’s “Yes, I’ve done this before.” On the other, there’s, “Yes, you’ve done this before, so you know it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to suck.” No headphones in reserve for a late-race distraction this time, but Adam was running with me to keep me going, since he wasn’t going for a personal record, and we’ve never run a full marathon together before.

I went into this one with the mental approach of breaking the run into sections, planning for 90-second walk/water/gel breaks at 5, 9, 14, 18, and 22 miles. In terms of timing, I was hoping to maintain an 8:15 pace for at least the first five miles, and the first nine if at all possible – after that, I knew it would be a matter of just trying to keep going.

Now, we knew this course was going to be hilly – hugely different from both the completely flat Towpath and Adam’s first marathon in 2008. And we’ve heard from people who have run the full and also-hilly Akron course that it’s a bear.

Here’s the elevation chart for Canton’s run:

So, see, we knew that the first five miles covered the biggest net elevation gain, but it’s more gradual than the comparatively drastic ups-and-downs from about Mile 12 to the end. How grueling was that second half? Well, we’d reached the 13 mile marker after 1 hour and 50 minutes, so I was still on pace to beat my Towpath time. The second half beat the crap out of me for the next 2 hours and 25 minutes. I mean, damn. And that climb from Mile 20-21 was probably the worst.

I am proud to say this, though: I only walked for those scheduled 90-second breaks, and the only alteration I made to my plan was that I took my final gel walk at 21 miles instead of 22. Granted, there were times when I was barely passing the marathoners who were, in fact, walking up those hills, but I stuck to my plan, dang it.

Another big difference this time around was my familiarity with the course – for the most part, it covered streets I’ve driven most of my life, so turning a corner or coming over a rise, I had a pretty good idea just how far it was to the next landmark or turning point. Lots of changing scenery and neighborhoods. I liked the route.

Despite fears of an uncharacteristically hot day, the weather turned out to be pretty good for a run: Adam and I were a little worried just after Mile 5, when the sun was clearing the trees and starting to heat things up, but not long afterward, the clouds we had been hoping for moved in. In fact, in Mile 22, just after my last break, there was a great blattering downpour for about 10 or 15 minutes – it was refreshing and energizing and I laughed out loud and whooped with a sort of delirious exhilaration. It didn’t last long, and it made my shoes feel about 3 pounds heavier for a couple miles, but it was crazy and fun.

The last mile, then: Mostly uphill. Again. But I can feel the end drawing near, even as part of my brain pushes a super-early-warning button that sends the message, “Hey: Am I going to throw up? ‘Cause I kind of feel like -”

Just breathe. Slow, deep breaths. You’re almost there.

And then we turn onto the final street, and Adam has slowed to let me catch up, and I can see Fawcett Stadium ahead, and I want so badly to charge full-tilt, but that whole not-barfing thing is keeping me a little in check, and then, when we’re about 30 feet from the gate into the stadium, Adam nods and points to a runner about 15 feet ahead of us: “We gonna pass this guy?” He’s smiling.

I’m not sure I can mount a charge without puking, and I say, “I don’t think I can.” Adam: “No big deal. Whatever you can do.”

I look at the runner ahead again and say, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Adam: “Go ahead.”

I cannot stress enough how much it meant that Adam ran this race with me. We weren’t side-by-side the whole way, but he was always within earshot, and he’d slow up to check on me, to make sure I was hydrating at all the stations, to remind me to try and get my knees up and stride out the downhills when we could, to tell me I was doing well even in those later miles when I knew my hopes at another sub-four-hour time were shattered. On those late-race hills, when I wanted so badly just to slow down and walk, I saw him up ahead and kept going.

And it meant maybe a little more because I’m not sure I’ll be doing another full marathon again. Training for this one, I’ve come to realize that while I can do these 26.2-milers, I’ve found myself thinking more about running half-marathons and working on that pacing and seeing how long I can sustain and 8-minute (or faster!) per mile pace.

So when Adam said, “Go ahead,” I poured it on and passed the guy. And then with a quick left turn, I was on the field at Fawcett Stadium, and I could hear people cheering in the stands, and I could see the finish line, and then – goosebumps – I heard the announcer’s voice echo, “And here comes…John Booth!” And yes, dammit, I raised both fists to the sky and couldn’t help smiling, because then he said, “Followed by… Adam Booth!” And we were about 30 feet or so from the finish line, and I turned backwards and pointed both hands at my brother, and just before we hit the finish line, he did a goofy Heisman Trophy pose (c’mon – it’s Fawcett Stadium!) and I cracked up, and we high-fived and completed our run together.

I won’t forget that.

And then we enjoyed the post-race atmosphere for a bit. Canton’s medals were much bigger and heavier than I’d anticipated; and while there were no sandwiches, the food haul of chips, apple slices, peanut butter, bananas, water, cookies, chocolate milk, beef jerky and two beers easily topped the disappointing dry bagel handouts at Akron last year.

Funny how quickly the marathon’s moments of pain and doubt, which felt like they stretched on and on during the race itself, have receded so quickly in the rear view.

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Eighteenth Saturday: Canton Marathon 2012, Last Training Day.

Tomorrow is race day.

Today I will drink water, eat carbs, and try to distract myself from the fact that Tomorrow. Is. Race. Day.

I still need to pick up my runner’s packet with my number and timing chip – I plan to do that this afternoon.

The ever-diminishing training run distances over the past three weeks have me in  a strange mindset: Even though I know the Hal Higdon training schedule works as designed, all these low-mileage days have kind of fogged over what it feels like to run double-digit distances. I don’t remember feeling this way in 2009.

At the same time, I’ve been really excited to see the effect this year’s training has had on my short-run abilities. In the past month, I’ve recorded personal bests for three, four and five miles.

This week, Adam and I have only been aiming to make sure we’ve stayed faster than 8:20 per mile, and we’ve been able to do that pretty easily, carrying on conversations through entire routes and climbs, and never going into full-on sprint mode.

For this morning’s final pre-race run, while we could have taken a 2-mile loop that avoided large hills, I felt like doing an out-and-back along the road that has often marked our final mile, and which includes our least favorite climb. (Why did I want to do this? Because choosing to run the hill felt like a way of flipping it the bird, I guess. Juvenile and illogical, I know. But there it is.)

So we went out and talked the entire way – even up That Hill. And though exertion crept into our breath and voices at a couple times, for the most part it felt like a slightly-faster-than-leisurely jog.

We didn’t sprint up the street at the finish, either. Final time: 15:12.

And I’m kind of floored, because the last time I competed in a two-mile race (2007), I finished in 15:16 and had to mount a full-on uphill charge at the end to hit that. Makes me wonder what I could do if I actually took a shot at the Hall of Fame or North Canton 2-Mile races this year, with a full season of marathon training to build on.

Today’s pace has little actual bearing on tomorrow’s run, I know, but it was nice to finish the training on a positive note.

See you beyond the finish line.

June 16, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Seventeen

Over the last three weeks, as the scheduled runs have gotten shorter, the last few months of training have resulted in some long-sought personal goals over the mid-range: My first sub-40-minute five-mile run, followed a week later by a four-miler at a personal best 30:19. These have significance to me because as I’ve run more, I’ve come to know pretty well where my physical limits lie.

My fastest Hall of Fame two-miler was around 15:03 (I ran the North Canton two-miler once in a fluke 13:46, but a) I was younger then, and b) it’s almost a completely flat course, compared to the Hall of Fame’s route, which has a couple climbs.) During summer training the past few years, my brother Adam and I have pushed for speed on our shortest routes – just over 3 miles – and, last year, I achieved a 7:24 pace on a 3.17 mile loop, and that required some serious work on my part. And after a run like that, I felt like I was at my limit.

This year’s schedule hasn’t included those short, speedy runs, since there were longer pace runs on the calendar, and I saved my weekly energy for those days. But breaking the 8-minute mark and keeping it up for four and five miles recently got me thinking about those “speed days” again. Week Seventeen’s daily mileage was 4, 3, 4, and 8, and there are no more pace runs scheduled. Knowing that next week’s miles will mostly be just to keep my legs warm (only six miles, total, before Sunday’s race), Adam and I decided to see this past week what the summer’s training has done for my speed over short distances.

Tuesday and Thursday, we ran our four-mile loops while talking and taking it easy.

Wednesday, though, we ran our old 3.17-mile course for the first time since mid-March, and we gave it the old speed treatment. We did choose to reverse the direction, which changes the effects of the hills somewhat, but since the course is a loop, our climbs and descents still equal out by definition. It was a tough but fun run, and we pulled it off at a personal-best 7:14 pace, which, frankly, I wouldn’t have even thought to shoot for, because I remember all too well the days when I had to pull up short and try not to puke while trying to break that 7:30 barrier.

Encouraged, we decided to aim at an 8:00 pace for Saturday’s eight-mile run.

Seven and a half weeks ago, I surprised the heck out of myself with a personal-best 8:09 pace over this same 8.2-mile route – a pace I never came close to reaching on two subsequent runs. And I freely admit that when I went out at 7 a.m. for this one, I really didn’t feel like aiming for a new PR. Still, I felt like I should try for it, so before I could change my mind, Adam and I took off at a brisk pace in our no-chatter-all-business mode.

My thinking was this: I had just run a sub-eight-minute-pace four-mile route last week, and felt fine afterwards. Today, then, I’d just be doing the same, only I’d be doing two of them, with a 60- to 90-second walking period in the middle.

We ran the first mile more quickly than planned, and I felt like I was struggling not to breathe too rapidly, but I felt much more in rhythm by the two-mile mark, where we were somewhere around 15:45. Still below my goal pace, but not much cushion to count on during what I knew would be a difficult second-half stretch. I made sure to sip water a couple times per mile. Number three passed steadily, and in mile four, I pushed myself pretty hard once I could see the traffic light that marked my first-half finish. (We later determined this to be the 4.1-mile mark, and we were there in 31:40, for a 7:43 pace.)

Adam timed me for a 90-second walk, and I drank some water, and then the tough miles began. Much of the second half of this loop feels at least slightly uphill, and I was in a place where “pushing it” felt less about trying to speed up and more about simply not slowing down.

The final mile begins with a climb which I have come to hate for two reasons: 1) It’s long, and it builds slowly before a steep section at the crest. And 2) Once you’re at the top, the road only levels out briefly before it goes up a bit more over the next few tenths of a mile. It’s not that this part is a real climb, it’s that it makes it really difficult to catch your breath and recover from the hill just behind you.

Past that, there’s just about a half-mile and distance padding, and while I let my breathing speed up, I’m also concentrating on taking deep breaths, and we finish with a good sprint up the street. Final distance: 8.214 miles. Time: 65:25.

Pace: 7:58! Eight seconds per mile off my previous best! (And yes – it’s “only” eight seconds per mile. But over the past few years, I’ve really developed an appreciation for both how long a few seconds can seem when you feel like you’re running at your limit, and the accumulation of these small bits of time over long distances. It might not seem like much, but I can tell you that I definitely know how different an 8:15 mile feels from an 8:30 or an 8:45.)

This is a perfectly fine way to end the middle-distance runs for my Canton Marathon training, and though I’m still worried about things as far as the 26.2 mile run a week from tomorrow is concerned right now, I’m feeling pretty darn good.

June 9, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Sixteen

Well, the 20-miler is behind us, and after this morning’s run to start week seventeen, there are now more miles in the marathon itself (26.2) than in the six remaining training runs combined (22). In other words: Not much to tell.

So last week’s five mile runs on Tuesday and Thursday were uneventful. Wednesday, with a four-mile pace run on the schedule, Adam and I went after it with the same energy as we’d done when I ran my first sub-eight-minute five-miler a week before – and we came in at a personal best 30:19. The loop is actually 4.05 miles, so our average was about 7:29 per mile. I felt really good about this run.

We were visiting our friends Jen & Steve in Columbus over the weekend, so I mapped out a 12.6-mile back-and-forth course near their house and ran it solo. It was cloudless but nice and cool and breezy, and I averaged an 8:50 pace over the mostly-flat course.

I suppose the most significant running event of Week Sixteen was Thursday night, when I finally pulled the trigger and registered myself for the full marathon, which means I’m now committed to the race, just twelve days off.

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | Leave a comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen

Holy mackerel, I have only a dozen runs left on the schedule, counting the 26.2-miler looming out there on June 17.

It’s been a decent couple weeks: Tuesday and Thursday morning runs have been five-milers, and it’s gotten a little bit lighter each time my brother and I go out. These are pretty relaxed loops, and we talk while we keep a pace of between about 8:30 and 8:50 per mile.

Wednesday the 16th I ran my last midweek eight-miler, and although I felt decent enough during the run, I clocked in at 1:09:15, or just over 8:30 per mile. I wasn’t trying for a pace record, but that 8:09 pace I did for eight miles in Week Ten really inspired me at the time, and I wanted to be closer to that mark.

On Saturday the 19th, we did a 12-mile route that felt particularly difficult after mile eight, but we ended up with an 8:23 pace, and I was pleased about that.

On Wednesday the 23rd, Adam and I had a five-mile pace run on the schedule. Two weeks prior, I had run a 40-minute five-mile for the first time ever, so I felt good about this one, and we really attacked it hard. Through three miles, we were still under an 8-minute pace (23:30), and we managed to knock even a few more seconds off our average over the final two, coming in with a final time of 38:47.

We used that achievement – and the fact that I felt pretty good afterward – to motivate us for Saturday’s 20-mile run – the longest on the schedule. Adam suggested we try to cover the first five miles in 40 minutes, then settle in and slow up for the remaining 15 miles.

I prepared well for Saturday’s run: Carbed up Friday night, got a good night’s sleep and my long-run breakfast of toast, a banana and a PowerBar.

When we left at 6:45, though, it was already pushing 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and I could tell I was in for a difficult run.

We did manage to hit the five-mile mark at an 8:06 pace, but it took a lot out of me, and I was already battling to stick to my walk-water-and-gel plan at 5, 10, and 15 miles.

I can’t re-slog it mentally, but it boils down to this: After the 15 mile break, I couldn’t get back up to speed. It was maddening. I mean, yes, my knees and ankles were sore, but heck, that’s what happens on a long run. It wasn’t the pain – it was that I just had no energy to get my speed back up at all.

I had to walk some more. And I was pissed off and frustrated about it. After about a quarter-mile, I managed to jog again, fuming inside.

I was hot and thirsty and irritated and after I’d finished off the last of my water, I had to walk again for a few tenths of a mile. Adam jogged back to me and poured some of his water into one of my bottles. With about 2.5 miles to go, I bore down and just said, “Let’s finish this thing,” and I finished with no more walking. Still, the whole thing really bugged me, and we finished in an ugly, ugly 3 hours and 14 minutes, something around 9:45 per mile.

Looking back, I think the heat was the real problem. I’ve never trained for a summer marathon before, and my running belt carries 20 ounces of water. I’d been doing a good job of rationing it and taking sips every mile or so to keep myself hydrated, and using a few ounces at a time to wash down the gels, but Saturday’s heat just left me wiped out, and my water supply wasn’t enough.

On race day, there will be water stations along the entire route, so I’m already planning to at least get a sip at every station, even if I don’t feel like I need it right at that moment. That way I conserve my own water for the miles in between, and hopefully don’t wind up a dehydrated mess like I did on Saturday.


May 28, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 1 Comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Thirteen

In terms of total weekly miles, the running schedule has entered the taper phase, and for the first time in more than a month, I’m running regularly with my brother Adam again.

Last week’s schedule called for five-milers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Adam and I did the Tuesday and Thursday runs pretty casually, and even while talking, we kept things well below 9 minutes per mile. I ran Wednesday’s loop in the evening by myself – I don’t remember why – and it was a really good pace run: I’m pretty sure it marked the first time I’ve ever run a 40-minute time on a five-mile course.

Saturday morning, Adam and I left for our 19-mile run just after 8:30 a.m. My third-longest run ever – behind only the 2009 Towpath Marathon and the 20-miler I did to train for it.

I didn’t fully carbo-load the night before, since I had driven to Columbus for a fantastic dinner, but I’d had a bowl of pasta when I got home at 11 p.m., so I wasn’t totally unprepared.

The first five miles went very smoothly – we were managing right around 8-and-a-half-minutes per mile when I took my first gel-and-one-minute-walk break. We happened to be near our brother Nick’s house, so he came out and joined us for a couple minutes as we passed.

Miles five through ten weren’t bad overall, although mile nine was much more uphill than we’d anticipated. Still, we were keeping pretty close to that 8:30-per-mile pace when I did my second gel-and-walk minute.

Miles eleven and twelve were decent, and I was feeling OK.

And then we hit the climb which kicked off the thirteenth mile, and that thing ate up all my reserves. I came down the other side just absolutely beat, and knowing I not only still had something like two miles until my next break, but four more after that. I had hit the “just-try-to-keep-moving” wall. Hard.

I wound up doing my gel-and-water break about a mile early, and even after that, it was all I could do just to stick to my plan and not stop jogging.

I closed my eyes a lot. I looked at the white line at the edge of the road a lot. I tried to look to the horizons and the treelines off to the left and right – anything to put my gaze anyplace except on the road ahead, which just. Kept. Going.

Mile Nineteen.

It kicked off with another climb of not quite a quarter-mile. At its base, I finished the last of my water.

Over the top, then, and with about 3/4 of a mile to go, I started to feel like I was going to puke. I was thisclose to pulling up short and walking when Adam slowed up and jogged back to me. “Mile nineteen,” he said, “Don’t stop now. Just focus on the breathing.”

I gave an angry grunt, gritted my teeth, and threw myself into the long strides again and drawing the deep in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth kinds of breaths I turn to in moments of desperation to keep myself from throwing up.

My head cleared, my stomach settled, and the last half-mile eventually passed.

We finished in 2:58:09 – less than two minutes more than it had taken me to do 18 miles a couple weeks ago. The pace works out to about 9:21, and though that’s about a half-minute faster per mile than I ran my 18-miler, I still find myself wondering how the heck I’m going to come anywhere near the 9:01 pace I achieved in the Towpath Marathon.

Five weeks until race day.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Twelve

After the missed steps and self-doubt of Week Eleven, I went into Week Twelve wondering how much damage I had done to my goal of running the full Canton Marathon at an 8:23 pace. Still, I knew focusing too intensely on that would likely only discourage me further, so I really made an effort to focus on the things I like about running on a schedule: the mental distraction and unlocking; the physical motion and the world around me; the effort and the breathing and just being out there.

My weekday runs took place after work, and it was unseasonably warm this week. Tuesday’s five-miler wasn’t bad, since I wasn’t pushing it, but on Wednesday, I was supposed to run another 8-miler at race pace, and even though I waited until 7 p.m., it was still above the 70-degree mark when I set out. The Garmin didn’t work at all, so I just checked the time when I left the house and figured I’d try to recall the pacing and feeling of the unexpectedly great eight-mile pace run (8:09 average!) I’d done in Week Ten.

This week, though, that ease of effort was nowhere to be found, and though I suspect that I managed to keep a decent pace through the first three, maybe four miles, by the second half of the run, the heat had taken its toll and I was just wiped out. I wound up with an 8:48 average, which was not really the way I wanted to peak for my pace runs. (From here on out, the pace runs get shorter.)

While a late night at work kept me from Thursday’s five-miler, I decided to try to make up for it by really going after Saturday morning’s 13.35 mile course.

I couldn’t have asked for a better morning: When I left the house at 7:45 a.m., it was right around 60 degrees and completely overcast, with a bit of a breeze. The cloud cover was low enough to be called hazy, but high enough not to be called fog. Just perfect for a long run.

I had memorized the points every 4.5 miles for my water-and-gel one-minute walking breaks – since, again, no Garmin. No way to know what my pace was at any given moment, of course, but I was feeling good after the first mile. A southbound wind pushed against me for the next couple miles, but when I reached the northernmost point of my run, I realized my energy level and lungs and legs were all in a decent zone, and I kept telling myself, “Run faster now, while you feel like you can,” and I deliberately picked up the pace until I hit my first break.

The middle 4.5 miles were probably even a little bit better, since they took me south and west, and the wind wasn’t a factor, and after my second walk-water-gel break, I put on a little eastbound burst in preparation for the three-miles-mostly-northbound stretch home.

I finished up somewhere around 1:56 for the entire course, which works out to about 8:40 per mile. I cut roughly three minutes from the last time I ran this loop on April 14, and I felt really good at the finish.

May 7, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Weeks Ten and Eleven

The past two weeks have been rollercoastery in many ways that had nothing at all to do with my marathon training, but which absorbed so much of my mental and emotional energy that it took a toll on my running.

Week Ten (April 15 – 21) started off with an untimed four-miler on Tuesday – I didn’t bother with the Garmin, since it’s been unpredictable – and it felt really good just to be out there running without even the ability to glance at my time or pace or distance.

The next evening, I was scheduled for an eight-mile pace run, which I wasn’t looking forward to, given my Week Nine struggle with a seven-mile pacer,  But I carbed things up with a pile of noodles at lunch and found myself facing a gorgeous evening for a run when I got home after work. Warm enough for shorts, cool enough to wear long sleeves and not worry about overheating. I let myself get out to a quick start (7:43 first mile), and realized I still felt pretty good, so I figured I’d keep pushing while I had the energy. Two miles in, I was pleasantly surprised to see my overall pace still just under the 8-minute mark, so again, I’m thinking the better I can keep these early miles, the more of a cushion that gives me down the stretch. At three miles, I was at just over 24 minutes, and now I’m starting to kind of wonder what the hell’s going on that I’m feeling so, well, good. After four miles, I’m at an 8:06 overall pace, and I slow for my planned 60-second walk – even so, when I start up again, I’ve only added three seconds to my overall pace. Over the second half of the run, I watch my pace climb steadily, but I’m still feeling remarkably good, and my accumulated pace never goes above 8:13 per mile. In fact, when I hit the seven-and-a-half-mile mark, I decide to power things up and see if I can get my overall pace back into the eight-minutes-and-single-digits range – and I do: Eight miles, 8:09.

I’m floored. And I’m ecstatic. And it just feels so damn good that on Thursday’s four-miler, I don’t care when I discover that my calves had seemingly taken out a strength advance to pull off that eight-mile time the night before, so I’m just out jogging and enjoying the road.

What happens Friday and Saturday is this: Real life. The weather turns cold and rainy. We drive across the state to spend Saturday at Kelsey’s regional gymnastics meet – which is awesome because she places three times, including a third-place podium spot – but it means I miss my scheduled 17-miler. We get home fairly late, go to bed, and I am wholly unmotivated Sunday morning, which is still cold and rainy, and I never get out to run that day either.

This marks the first time I have ever completely missed a scheduled run while training, and paired with some other real-life stresses going on, it fuels a couple days of motivational crisis: Do I even want to do this marathon? Is my heart really still in it? I’m still not sure about either when Week Eleven begins, but Tuesday night, I make myself go out for my scheduled five-miler, and although I think this gets me back in the saddle, there are more scheduling conflicts and demotivational moments on Wednesday and Thursday, so I miss TWO MORE RUNS.

And now, I think, I am really up against it. Saturday, April 28, I am supposed to run 18 miles. Since my fantastic eight-mile pace run, I have missed three of four scheduled sessions and only put in five of my scheduled 35 miles. Time to see how much damage I’ve done, and whether I have time to recover.

The 18-miler and I, we have a history. Back in 2009, my first 18-mile run set a bar for Worst Run Ever that surpassed even the full marathon I ran a few weeks later. Many times since then, I have pushed myself through low points by thinking, “Wow. I feel like crap. But I don’t feel as bad as I did during that 18-miler in ’09, so I’ve got that going for me.”

Friday night the 27th, I carbed up at dinner and went to bed on the early side, knowing if I was going to do this, it would have to be early, since we were facing afternoon rain, and we had things to do in the afternoon. As with the last time, I was also facing a solo run, since my brother would be heading out pre-dawn due to a mid-morning track meet.

So: Up at six a.m. Some cereal, some toast, and a PowerBar. A single cup of coffee. I load up my running belt with gels and water. It’s overcast and in the mid-30s, and the high is only in the mid-40s, but it’s not raining, so it’s actually good running weather: I can get by with a sweatshirt, hat and gloves and not worry about sun or heat.

And out I go, at about 6:55.

And back I go, at about 6:57, because I forgot to bring my inhaler.

And out I go, 19 seconds after 7 a.m.

I’m utterly unconcerned with time – although I do expect to come in at under three hours, which I barely, barely managed to do on my Worst Run Ever. I just need to see if I can do this, and stick to my plan of 60-second walks for water and gel every 4.5 miles. That’s how I’m looking at this – four 4.5 mile runs. Just in case the Garmin decides to conk out, I look at my route map and memorize the spots at 4.5, 9, and 13.5 miles.

I am slow from the start, but I don’t care. I’m not pushing my lungs, and all I want to do is keep my legs moving. The first quarter of the route goes by smoothly, and just past 4.5, I eat a gel and drink some water and walk for just under a minute. Then I focus on the next 4.5.

These miles pass more slowly, since there are longer turn-free stretches of road and more hills, but at about 9.5 miles, I have another gel, wash it down while walking for a minute, and then tell myself that I’m more than halfway done.

I’m in mile 10 when the Garmin shuts down. Oh, well. I know where my next water-and-gel-and-walking marker is.

It’s about this point where my knees start getting that numb sort of ache, which sounds weird, maybe, but there it is. It’s getting harder to lift my legs and stride out the downhills, and harder still to push them uphill.

I turn the Garmin on just to see what time it is, and I make a note of exactly where I am at my two-hour mark. (Turns out I was 12.5 miles in and averaging 9:36.) Although I have run distances of 13.1, 14, and 15 miles this year, my legs are starting to feel like jelly, and I blame those missed runs and missed miles.

Past 13 miles, I eat my last gel and drink while I walk, and it’s soul-crushing how quickly this minute goes by, even though I know I’m three-quarters of the way done. The next mile is much more hilly than I remember, and it really wears on me. In 2009, this stretch actually almost drove me to tears. The next three miles feel like a dozen. By the time I get to the big climb that marks the beginning of mile 18, it is all I can do to just keep jogging. My lungs are fine, but the knees and calves and ankles are just screaming at me to freaking stop, and maybe more painful than that, I’m getting close to the three-hour mark.

I reach my driveway at 2:56:48. Not nearly as much of an improvement over the Worst Run Ever as I was hoping for, but considering the lost miles and my strategic walking minutes, I’m OK with it.

It’s eight-and-a-half hours in the past, now, and my knees feel shredded, but thinking ahead, I realize that even so, I’ve run 26.2 miles once before, and this run convinced me I can do it again.

April 28, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 4 Comments

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Nine

So the Garmin Forerunner has been acting funny from time to time, blanking out and throwing my time and distance calculations off. Oddly unpredictable about it, too. I thought maybe I was bumping the power switch somehow, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Anyway, last week marked the halfway point of the training schedule, which is hard to believe, since it’s gone by pretty quickly. There are long runs and high-mileage weeks coming up though, and I don’t expect the second half to go as smoothly.

Tuesday and Thursday’s four-milers were routine.

Wednesday’s seven-miler called for me to try to achieve race pace (8:23), which I’d managed to do in Week Seven (8:18). This time around, I worked in my recently-adopted one-minute walk strategy. Just before the four-mile mark, I slowed up and drank a bit of water before kicking back into my run. My overall pace was still slower than I wanted, but I felt like I had more energy through miles five and six than I had two weeks earlier. (My final times would prove this to be true: These laps were both 10 to 15 seconds faster than the Week Seven run.)

Still, going into the last mile – in fact, going into the last half mile – my overall pace was 8:27, and I was all ready to settle for it and tell myself that I was only a few seconds off pace … and then I decided “Screw it – I’m going to try and knock that down.” I ran really damn hard that last half mile and watched my average drop to 8:26 … 8:25 … It hit 8:24 when I turned onto our street for the final almost-quarter mile, and at about the 6.95-mile mark, I got it down to 8:23.

I know that the sprinting finish to lower the average pace is hardly ideal, but hey, I’ll take it.

Saturday I did a half-marathon route of 13.3 miles, running solo and walking for one minute to eat a gel at the 4.5- and 9-mile marks. The Garmin went wonky early in the run and threw off my accumulated distance by about a half-mile, but it still gave me a decent idea of the pace I was managing, which turned out to be right around nine minutes per mile.

By the numbers:

  • Tuesday,  April 10 Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 35:26. Pace: 8:51/mi.
  • Wednesday, April 11 – Schedule: 7 miles. Actual: 7 miles. Time: 58:43. Pace: 8:23/mi.
  • Thursday,  April 12 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: Unknown. Pace: Unknown.
  • Saturday, April 14 – Schedule: 13.1 miles (half marathon). Actual: 13.31 miles. Time: 1:59:00. Pace: 9:00/mi.

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 1 Comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Eight

Without any pace runs scheduled, this looked to be a good week. Turned out kind of odd.

Started out OK on Tuesday. With four miles on the calendar, I thought I’d work on maintaining a steady pace, trying to keep things as constant as possible. I altered the Garmin display to show my current pace as well as my average pace, and tried to make an effort to push a little bit harder if I saw the current pace regularly displaying above 8:40. (The current pace stat can be a bit maddening, since it lags slightly, and since it occasionally spikes or drops off by a jarring 30-seconds-per-mile without me feeling like I’d changed pace at all.)

I didn’t really brake myself on steep downhills – that’s just wasted energy – but I tried to conserve energy on the more level stretches so that the steeper climbs wouldn’t hit me as hard. And I was pretty happy with the results. The miles looked like this: 8:11, 8:20, 8:27, and 8:10. Overall, that’s 8:18 per mile, slightly ahead of my race pace goal, and I felt really good afterward.

Wednesday and Thursday weren’t that enjoyable, really: It was sunny and breezy both days, and chillier than it had been in awhile, so the wind kind of made things feel raw. With no pacing to worry about, I just tried my best to put in the miles and appreciate the sun and the time and the landscape.

Then came Saturday.

I was expecting a rough run, of course: 15 miles on the schedule. When I did my first marathon, I remember the 15-miler as a really significant challenge, and even though we did 14 last week, I found myself dreading this one.

The sun was up, but it was freezing outside at 8 a.m. Technically, just below freezing, at about 30 degrees. I knew the high for the day was only in the low 50s, so while I had been counting on wearing my hat and gloves to ward off the wind anyway, I followed Adam’s lead and wore a sweatshirt over my short-sleeved running shirt.

While it was a nice morning (if chilly), and I like my brother’s company fine, especially on these long runs, both of us admitted afterward that we were surprised how early on this run just turned into a slog. And seriously: Nothing makes a run pass more slowly than when realize you’re already counting miles less than a quarter of the way in.

My lungs were fine, really – but my legs just felt shredded by the fifth mile, and I was really struggling to keep my energy level up.

Maybe it’s being a couple years older than the last time I did this, but I really found myself questioning and doubting and wondering whether, in fact, I am actually up to running another marathon.

So I’m thinking of trying out an adjustment in my training, something I avoided back in 2009, but which seems like it might not be such a bad idea this time around: incorporating brief walking breaks into the long runs. Although I’ve always figured that for me, walking would only make it harder to resume running again, Hal Higdon himself writes:

Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy in trying to finish a marathon. It works during training runs too. While some coaches recommend walking 1 minute out of every 10, or even alternating running and walking as frequently as every 30 seconds, I teach runners to walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you’ll be less likely to block those behind. It’s a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. You will lose less time walking than you think. … Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you’ll be able to continue running more comfortably. It’s best to walk when you want to, not when your (fatigued) body forces you too.

The thing is, I never want to walk. When I did the Towpath Marathon, not walking during the final five miles was the hardest mental and physical battle I’ve ever fought, and not stopping or walking was a big part of my goal.

But if walking needs to be part of a strategy, since I’m actually trying to hit a specific time in the Canton Marathon, well, maybe I need to see how it affects me.

I wish I could say that I was being logical and strategic on Saturday around mile eight when I called ahead to Adam and asked him to hold up. I kept running, and when I caught him, I said, “Gotta walk. Just for one minute. Then I’m good to go.” I can’t even say I felt like I was giving up, because honestly, it felt so good just to be walking and sipping some water and trying to recharge even for those all-too-quickly-passing seconds.

Looking back at the route stats, it looks like it was about 90 seconds, during which my pace went from 9:23 to 14:10 and then back up to 9:10, and this was about a third of the way into our ninth mile. When I consumed my second gel and washed it down at about the 10.25-mile mark, I took Hal’s advice and walked while I did so, this time slowing for about 1 minute and 15 seconds.

Miles 12-14 were, without question, the most difficult I’ve done in quite awhile, and I felt pretty miserable. The sun was fully up, and though it was still probably only 40 degrees or so, I was feeling too warm in my sweatshirt, and I removed my hat and gloves. But having stopped to walk twice, I wanted to push through the rest of the way.

We reached Adam’s driveway more than two-and-a-quarter hours after we’d set out, and I was completely spent.

Still, what I learned later, crunching the numbers, was encouraging. Even with my two walking breaks, I had managed an overall pace of 9:03 per mile – 15 seconds faster per mile than I’d run 14 nonstop miles on the previous Saturday. Maybe I can make this a strategy for improvement after all.

By the numbers:

  • Tuesday,  April 3 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 33:10. Pace: 8:18/mi.
  • Wednesday, April 4 – Schedule: 7 miles. Actual: 7.18 miles. Time: 1:01:52. Pace: 8:37/mi.
  • Thursday,  April 5 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 34:24. Pace: 8:36/mi.
  • Saturday, March 31 – Schedule: 15 miles. Actual: 15.05 miles. Time: 2:16:11. Pace: 9:03/mi.

April 9, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 1 Comment

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