The day after Christmas, a holiday called "Boxing Day" in Britain, dawned bitterly cold.
I didn't particularly want to get out of bed and go for a run, but we were staying at wife's parents' house in southern England, and I wanted to fit in my runs when they'd be least disruptive.
I donned my hat, two long-sleeve shirts, two pairs of lightweight gloves, boxers, running trousers, wool sox, and my running shoes. I put them on the radiator a bit before putting them on, so they were warm.
Outside, the air was dry and cold. There was still about six inches of snow on the ground from a snow-fall earlier in the week. The thermometer on the shed read -14 degrees Celcius (6.8 degrees Fareheit).
My wife's parents' house is at the end of a small village, near farms and pastures. I trotted down the road, and turned onto a public footpath that lead through the fields.
The snow underfoot was somewhat packed by previous walkers, and the path led through a corridor of trees between two fields. I saw a white-tail deer ahead on the trail, and it ambled off as I drew closer. I could see that it had been the remains of apples from a nearby tree.
The path then led along the edge of a field. The sun was rising slowly, but it didn't give off any warmth.
The path led to a small village. I emerged onto a road, and across it was a former schoolhouse, with a stone that read "Primitive Methodist School 1854". There were a few gravestones in the yard, and the former schoolhouse now seemed to be someone's home.
I headed down the road. My finger tips were getting numb, so I tucked my hands into my underarms.
The road descended a bit, and after a traffic-free mile or so through the countryside, I turned and headed back.
So, it's 18 weeks all told. I use the RunWell tool in the New York Times to log my runs, and also to edit this schedule. I'll often move around runs, and sometimes I run on rest days, and sometimes, of course, I miss runs. Often, I do my long run on Sunday instead of Saturday.
What I like about the plan is the consistency. You get out 6 consecutive days on most weeks. For me, this seems to be key in preparing for the weekend long runs - I feel stronger if I've been out 5 times during the week.
Something I read in one of George Sheehan's books (How to feel great 24 hours a day) also informs my training. He argued that when you train, you are really training your legs. Your heart, of course, also gets stronger, but really only up until a point; the key is your other muscles - and by that I'm assuming leg muscles.
So, I'm just trying to strengthen my legs, and there's nothing for it but running lots.
My first workout was a Yasso session on the track. The snow is still on the ground here, but someone had semi-plowed the track where I work. There were still a few inches of snow on it, but the snow was packed fairly hard.
It was a clear, cold night. Probably in the low 20s F (-5 or so C). The moon, and Mars, were bright. No one else was out. I wore two long-sleeve shirts, running trousers, socks, my Sauconys, a warm hat, and two pairs of gloves.
I did a mile warm up, and then Yassos: 7 x 800 meters, with a 400 meter recovery walk/jog between each interval.
My 800m times were as follows:
3:21 3:21 3:22 3:19 3:20 3:19 3:21
I was feeling tired at the end, so I think if I'd done 10 800s, my times would have slowed for the remaining 3.
I fell off the wagon, motivation-wise, this past week.
Surprisingly, this is rarely occurs. Somehow, I'm almost alway up for a run. OK, we had heavy snow this week, and I did a lot of shovelling, but I struggled to get out for runs.
This was my week:
Mon: no running Tues: no running Weds: no running Thurs: 5.4 miles - town loop (53 mins) Fri: x-country skiing Sat: 8 hilly miles (1:23) Sun: 8 hilly miles, some walking in deep snow. (2 hrs)
Because of the snow, the running was a lot harder and slower. But the troubling thing was that I didn't really want to do it. It was dark out, cold, and snowy. Somehow this wasn't inviting.
My hope is that once things get back to normal next week - my children had five consecutive snow days last week - I can get back into a routine. I really should start training for the marathon in the next week or so.
The bottom line may be that I need a goal. Previously, I had a concrete one: running a sub 3:30 to qualify for Boston. Now I'm in. What's next? The obvious goal would be a personal best at the marathon, and I think that's what I might shoot for. Maybe a 3:20? I'm not sure - I don't want to set myself up for a bad race by going out too hard - particularly as Boston doesn't sound like it's that easy a course.
This weekend we had an early-season snow storm. On Saturday morning, we awoke to four inches of snow on the ground. Today, Sunday, there were six more inches.
Since I've lived in Scotland, snow has been pretty rare. We've had years where we really only had a dusting once or twice in the whole winter. Last year was the first time in 12 years that we had a proper accumulation - we had snow on the ground for almost a month starting the week before Christmas.
So, snow is a bit of a novelty here, and my children love to go sledding in our back garden (yard).
As mentioned in my last post, on Sundays I often meet up with some friends at a local woodland park for a morning run. It's particularly fun when there's snow on the ground, so I was off at 9:40 this morning to meet them. The snow slowed my run up to the park, and I missed my fellow runners, but was able to follow their tracks. Eventually I caught up, and enjoyed a good run through nearly a foot of snow on the trails. It would have been a great morning for cross-country skiing.
The snow intensified as we ran, and when I returned, there was a harsh wind. My face was numb, and my hands were cold (my gloves, by the end of the run, were wet). Several cars were having difficulty getting traction on the un-plowed roads.
I arrived back at the house after this 12-mile run 2:07 after I'd set out. My legs were beat after slipping through the snow for two hours.
I've been reading 26 Miles to Boston by Michael Connelly. He walks through the race mile by mile, and now that I'll be actually doing it, I'm finding the description of the Newton Hills much more anxiety provoking. The fact that they come so late in the race - near mile 21 - is a sobering thought.
On Sundays I like to cook a "Sunday lunch" - I think it's kind of a British tradition. In the fall and winter, I also meet some friends from our town's informal running club at a nearby woodland park on Sunday mornings, and we do a 6 mile run through the woods.
I sometimes combine both by setting up something to cook before I leave, running, and then coming back for lunch.
This week I cooked an English pot roast. I follow the simple directions from my wife's old Delia Smith cookbook. The cover paper on this cookbook is ripped, and some of the pages are stained with food spills, but the recipes work. Basically, you brown the beef, brown the vegetables, add some stock, and bake at a low temperature for three hours.
Ahh... but when it's done, the house smells like something good is cooking, the meat is tender, and the vegetables soft. I make mashed potatoes to go with it, and serve it all with the stock and juices from the roast.
I had a good week of running: 8 miles on the track on Monday; 2 hours of full-court basketball on Tuesday (I count this as cross-training); 10.4 miles (two town loops) on Thursday, 5 miles with some Yassos (800 meter fast intervals) on Saturday, and my woodland run on Sunday (12 miles, with the run to and from the park). So, 35 miles for the week.
I haven't quite started my training for the Boston Marathon. I'm slightly reluctant to begin a schedule yet - it comes to dominate my life and instill guilt. But I'll likely start a New York Road Runner's marathon plan (from the Running Well section of the New York Times online) soon.
In Steve Runner's Intervals podcast, he posed an interesting challenge: describe your perfect day.
This is mine:
I'd wake in my tent, warm in a down sleeping bag, on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
I'd dress, and make a cup of Italian Roast Starbucks instant coffee on my backpacking stove. I'd sit under a large pine tree , on this small foam pad I found one time while backpacking, and enjoy the drink - warming my hands on the mug. My camp-mates - either friends or my wife and children - would wake, and we'd chat over breakfast.
We pack our backpacks and head up the trail to our next campsite. It would be late summer or early fall, but the sun would still be warm during the day. There'd be no bugs.
We'd stop for lunch near a clear, cool river, and I'd have this spicy beef jerkey a friend of mine regularly obtains from his local butcher. We'd filter some water from the river, and enjoy a nice, cold drinks.
After lunch, we'd walk on for a few miles. It would be hot then, but the trail we'd be on would be following a river, and we'd find a nice deep pool to have a swim in. Afterwards, we'd dry off by laying on the rocks in the sun.
We'd continue on and arrive at our camp for the evening. Under some large pines, we'd find flat bits of ground on which to pitch our tents. We'd cook, perhaps have a fire if there was an existing fire circle, and maybe a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that one of us would have carried in our pack. We'd joke about the adventures of the day, and reminisce about previous adventures.
Once it was dark, we'd retire to our tents. I'd crawl into my sleeping bag, and turn on my headlight to read for a bit. I'd have a book that I'd been looking forward to reading - something gripping - and I'd read until my eyelids grew heavy and the words began running off the page. I'd turn off my light, open my tent flap, and see millions of stars in the sky. I might sleep with the tent flap open and the screen closed, so I'd get the slight cool breeze. I'd sleep well.
The horn sounded and the race began. I was towards the front of the crowd, and we surged between two traffic cones where the timing mats were placed. For the first time, the Dundee Templeton race was chipped.
It was a cold morning. I wore my Saucony shoes, and the same clothes as I'd worn for the Run of the Mill race: wool socks, running shorts, a long-sleeve shirt, light gloves, and a head band. It was sunny, and there was frost on the ground.
The first mile was largely downhill and came in at 6:27. The race is almost entirely on country roads, with a short stretch through the woods to the finish line.
I wanted to try and keep up with A., a friend from my local running club. He's generally a much faster runner than me, but I was hoping to push a little today.
Two came in 7:36. I fell in with a woman who was doing the race for the first time. I warned her to save something for the upcoming hills.
Three had a climb, and came in at around 7:40. Although it was cold, I was starting to sweat.
Mile four included a substatial climb. I shortened my stride, and tried not to lift my legs too much. It came in at 8:50.
The route levelled out a bit, and I tried to pick up the pace. I wanted to see if I could catch A., who hadn't been in view since mile 2.
I passed one runner, then another. There was a runner in a green shirt ahead of me, but he was passing people as well, and I couldn't make any ground on him.
Five came in at 6:52. Miles six and seven had long downhills, and came in at 6:42 and 6:44, respectively. I passed two more runners here.
Mile eight was flat, and slightly into the wind. I missed my split here, and after the climb back to the woods in mile nine. I passed two people who were walking in these last two miles.
The route went through the pine trees, but there was a slight uphill. I passed on last runner with 800 meters to go. With 400 meters left, I began sprinting.
I crossed the line in 1:11:34. I was 38th out 235 runners. I never did catch A.
The days are short now, and the sun is low. The larch tree in our backyard (back garden) is bright yellow, but losing its needles quickly.
I've spent the whole year training for marathons, and so now I'm at a bit of a loose end running-wise.
I began my 20 or so weeks of training for the Edinburgh Marathon the week before Christmas last year. The race was at the end of May, and two days after I started my first of 19 weeks of training for the Loch Ness Marathon. Towards the end of my training for Loch Ness, I was a little consumed by my training, and was trying to get out six times a week.
Now that Loch Ness has come and gone, I'm back to base training I suppose. However, I'm missing the clarity of purpose that a training schedule provides. It was satisfying to enter each of my runs into the interactive RunWell site of the New York Times.
So, last week was comprised of four runs, of 4, 6, 10, and 8 miles, for and a total of 28 miles.
I think that for Boston I will go with the New York City Marathon Official Program, which served me well for the Loch Ness Marathon. In it, I don't start ramping up the miles beyond a baseline of 31 miles per week until late December.
The leaves on the large Sycamore tree in our garden are really dropping now. The sun is noticeably lower during the day now, the shadows are longer, and the light is different.
The clocks were set back this weekend in the United Kingdom, and tonight, for the first time, it was dark when I picked up my children from their after-school club. It was pouring rain and cold; November is here.
I started near the back of the pack for the first running of the "Run of the Mill" hill race. (Photo: copyright, Bill Fairmaner)
It had been a cold morning, below freezing, but the sun was out, and it now felt like it was in the 40s. There was a countdown, and then the 14.7 km (9.1 mile) race began.
127 runners followed the trail into the woods. I was wearing a headband, a lightweight, long-sleeve shirt, thin gloves, shorts, ankle-length wool running socks (I knew my feet would be wet by the end), and my Walsh hill running shoes. I carried a bum bag with a waterproof jacket, nylon running trousers, a small bottle of sports drink, compass, map, whistle, and cookies.
I chatted with my Work Friend as we ran through the woods. The trail was narrow, so we couldn't pass anyone, and the pace slowed as runners became bunched up.
After a half mile the trail opened up a bit, and as it descended I sped up. I could see a friend, M., a little ways ahead, and tried to keep him in view as he passed other runners. In an earlier trail 10K race this year, I'd kept with M. nearly the whole distance.
The race route then began to climb sharply up a hill. It was steep enough to preclude walking. I chatted with M. as we climbed.
Eventually, the inclination eased a bit, and running was possible. I started to run where it was feasible, and walked the steepest sections. The wind grew stronger as we gained elevation.
Near the first summit, the wind was strong. I'd taken my gloves and head-band off in the woods earlier, but now slipped them back on. The ground was muddy in places from recent heavy rains.
As we climbed, bits of ice became evident. I was feeling good, but there was still a fair distance left.
After the first summit, there was a level stretch and then a slight climb to another hill top. The route turned, and headed to a third hill top.
The gradient was moderately steep, but I kept running just to stay warm. Now there were patches of recent snow on the ground, and frozen puddles. In other parts of the trail there was still water, so my feet were now wet.
Eventually, I came to the final hill top, and began the long descent. Parts of it were on a dirt road, and my numb feet felt like they were slapping the ground. Because the gradient was so steep, it was difficult to go all out - I didn't want to slip.
Off the road after a mile or so, the route againg headed back into the woods, and then back to the start. My wife and children were in a clearing before the woods, and I gave my son a high-five as I passed.
I finished in 1:36:14. This put me 52nd place out of the 127 finishers.
I'm easing back into my running since the marathon. In this past week, the third since the Loch Ness marathon, I played basketball on Tuesday, ran Weds (5 miles, hill route), Thurs (3.1 miles on the track), Saturday (5ish road/woods miles, with hills), and this 9 mile race on Sunday.
I haven't started training for Boston yet, but I'd like to run 4-5 times a week to keep up a decent running base.
The nights are definitely drawing in now. The large syacamore tree in our yard still has most of its leave, but it won't for long. Next week the clocks shift, and it will really sink in.
Yesterday I registered. I wanted to be sure I got in, and attempted to register as soon as the online site opened. It wasn't working, and I retyped my details on the entry form, submitted them, and had them erased repeatedly. I could see from the twitter feed that others were having the same problem - likely the Boston Athletic Association's servers were pretty busy.
Eventually, after more than an hour, my wife was able to get my form submitted. I see this morning that registration is full, so this effort was worth it. Can the race be full already? Wow.
The two weeks since the Loch Ness Marathon have been pretty light, running-wise. I did 5 or 6 miles in total the week after the race, and then caught a stomach bug that was working its way through my family. I didn't run for 5 days, perhaps the longest break I've taken from running in a year or so (excluding my backpacking trip). I ran this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, getting in about 19 miles all told.
The horn sounded and the race began. Nearly 2,500 runners were behind the starting line, and I was between the signs for the 3:00 and 3:30 estimated finishing time runners.
I shed the garbage bag that I’d been wearing over my shirt as shelter from the drizzle and the cool morning temperature. I’d had my arms tucked inside the bag, trying to keep warm. I crossed the starting line. Music blared through large speakers: and I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more...
Mile 1 was a fairly steep descent, and I ran it in 7:06. This was fast, but it was due to the terrain.
The slope eased in mile 2. Runners streamed past me, at what seemed like a 10K race pace. My plan was to take it easy in the first 6 miles, and treat them almost as a warm-up. I’d learned a hard lesson about running out of energy in the Edinburgh marathon. I wanted to fool my body into thinking it wasn’t running yet in the first miles of this race. My time for mile 2 was 7:42.
There was more descent in mile 3, and it came in at 7:31. It was raining, and my shirt was wet. I settled into a more even pace and ran 4, 5, and 6 in 7:47, 7:45, and 7:46. As I had in my training runs, I snacked on a brownie between miles 5 and 6, and took a swig of sports drink at the drink station.
During mile 8 I felt a rock in my shoe. I stopped and took my shoe off, shook it, and then put it back on. This was my first mile over 8 minutes, at 8:01.
I was tiring slightly, but ran 9 under 8 minutes. I was pleased to get to double-digit miles at the 10 mile marker.
In miles 11 and 12 I started to flag. I hadn’t even done a half-marathon yet, and I was feeling tiredness in my legs. I ate more of my brownie, and took some water. I fell in with a friendly runner from Ireland named John. We chatted as we ran and the miles slipped by. 13, 14, and 15 were at or just under 8 minutes per mile. The rain had stopped now, and we had occasional expansive views of Loch Ness. I’d finished my food now, and was running without carrying anything. Eventually, I slipped ahead of John.
Miles 18 and 19 held a large climb. Unaccountably, I started to feel good. 18 came in at 8:35, and 19 was 8:11. Although these were slower that my goal pace, they were hill miles, and I was encouraged to be this late in the race and still feeling o.k.
Near mile 20 I fell in with a runner doing the race for “Help the Heroes”. He was running a decent pace, and I slipped in behind him. Mile 21 came in at 7:47.
There was another climb in in mile 22 and by 23 I began to seriously tire. My pace slipped above 8 minutes/mile once more. I knew that it was only a 5K left, but my energy was depleted.
I just kept moving in mile 24. I wanted to stop. As my pace involuntarily slowed, I knew that I was unlikely to qualify for Boston. I was in the first stages of hitting the wall. I wasn't there yet, but I couldn't hold my pace any longer. 24 came in at 8:42.
At 25 I knew that it was only a mile and a bit to go, but I couldn't speed up. My watch read 3:19:33. Ten minutes to run 1.2 miles, but my pace was already above 8 mins per mile.
I fixated on the legs of the guy in front of me, and made that my whole world. I imagined that there was a rope between us and that he was pulling me. I thought of Joe Simpson crawling from back to his camp with a broken leg in Touching the Void. He didn't focus on camp, but on the next rock outcropping, and dragged himself towards it.
I just kept this guy's legs in view. We crossed a bridge over the river, and even the slight incline of the bridge was exhausting. The sun was out as we headed toward the park and the finish line.
26 was 8:48. I knew there was only a lap around the track left, so I began to sprint. I saw a large , inflatable Loch Ness Monster, and thought that this was the finish line. It wasn’t. I put in one more burst and heard the announcer say my name as I crossed the finish line.
I finished in 3:29:48. I’d qualified for the Boston Marathon.
My next attempt to qualify for Boston is in 5 days.
There was no starting gun at the beginning of this year's race, just a loud tone from a starter's microphone.
M., my friend from work, went out fast. I wanted to hang back just a touch, and then pick up the pace later in the race. I didn't want to be out of breath in the first 200 meters of the race.
It was a sunny, cool September day, with no wind. By 2 km in, I caught up to M. We ran together for a bit, and then at 3 km I eased past him. Through these 3 kilometers, our pace was almost exactly 4 minutes/km.
The course went uphill in the fourth kilometer, and my pace slowed a bit. At 5 km, the course was flat again as it went along the loch. This was familiar territory, as it was part of my regular "town" running loop.
By the loch I could hear the familiar footfalls of G., a running friend from town, behind me. He eased past me, and I stuck on his heels. We'd run together many times, and although he could beat me, I was usually able to stick with him.
G. passed a few runners and I stuck with him.
After the loch, the route was uphill towards a farm. Here G. slowed a bit, and I passed him.
At 7 km the route began a slight downhill, and I picked up the pace. I didn't look at my watch.
I wasn't tiring yet, but I was going almost as fast as I could. I tried to pick off runners one at a time.
The last kilometer seemed long. We rounded the final turn and headed towards the finish line by the palace. At the "100 meter to finish" sign I started sprinting, and caught a woman just before the finish line.
I finished in 41:43, probably a personal best for the 10k distance. (Probably, because I'd run a 41:34 7 years earlier, but the course was mismeasured and just under 10k). I was 54th out of 512 runners.
There are 7 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
It's been a good, consistent week of running. After my long run on Tuesday (last post), I did 2 easy miles on the track on Wednesday, 5.4 miles through town on Thursday, 4 miles on the track on Friday, and 3.5 miles around the loch yesterday.
Today is my local 10K.
After feeling ok on my long run, my confidence for the marathon has been much restored. Also, my training is essentially done - I'll just be doing easy runs this next week - so there's nothing more I can do at this point.
The lesson I've learned in preparing for this marathon is that running consistently seems to help a lot. I feel stronger on my Sunday long runs if I've run the 5 previous days, even if some of these runs aren't particularly long. Perhaps my body just gets used to the fact that it has to run nearly every day, and adjusts. This agrees with something I'd heard of Bill Rodgers' training - he didn't run excessively hard, but did run consistently.
The weather has turned much cooler here at night. This morning it was 32 degrees (0 c), and there was frost on our deck table and chairs. It might be difficult to see it in the picture, but it's there. Summer is over.
Hopefully, the weather will be similarly clear and cool next weekend.
11 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
Yesterday I went for my last long run before the marathon.
I treated the first 5.4 loop through town as a warm-up. I took it nice and slow. I wanted to fool my body into thinking that it really wasn't running yet.
The second lap was good. I had a niggle in my upper legs, but overall I felt good, and my pace was faster.
My third loop, up to 16.2 miles, was encouragingly. Instead of feeling gutted at the end of it, I felt like I still had energy reservers. There was some tiredness, but I was still running. Now it was dark, so I ran with my flashlight. I had a sports drink and brownie hidden in a tree at the start of each lap, and I sampled both at the end of each lap. It was a mild evening, and I ran in shorts and a synthetic t-shirt. I sweated.
On the final lap, I felt o.k. I was able to hold my pace for the most part, though I slowed on the climbs.
Near the end of the run, I stopped because a man had apparently collapsed on the pavement (sidewalk). He was older, overweight, and semi-conscious. A passer-by phoned for an ambulance.
So, my final long run of this training session was encouraging. I'd run 21.6 miles in 3:02.
Earlier in the day, before my wife returned, I took my children to a local castle. The children had been there before, and enjoyed showing me where the dungeon was, and how the bathrooms were just holes leading to the sea next to the castle walls. In the former dining hall, there was a nice picture of what a medieval meal may have looked like.
16 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
I know I'm not ready. I did a long run this past weekend and suffered. Even with a run:walk strategy, 8 mins run: 1 min walk, I was reduced to shuffling at the end of my 21-miler.
That's the endurance I possess right now.
My only hope, delusional as it is, was that this was just a bad run. I was jet-lagged. I definitely had a cold. I'd not run the week before.
I've tried to get in a reasonable week of running this week, but my wife is out of town for for days this weekend, so I'll be taking care of the children. Perhaps I can run around the playground while they are there or something, but I won't be getting in any serious distance.
My plan is to do one last long run on the day she returns. Hopefully it will go a little better. After that I'll do some maintenance runs, and then my local 10K the weekend before the marathon. After this, I'll do some easy runs (5 miles or less) in the week before the race.
Perhaps this is a little light in terms of tapering, but I've found that I seem to recover from runs quickly. Also, a lesson I've learned in training for this marathon is that I tend to feel strongest on my weekend long runs when they've been preceeded by a consistent week's running.
Fall is in the air here. It was 44 degrees this morning (about 8 degrees celcius), and the house was a bit chilly. The trees in our garden (backyard) are starting to colour a bit and shed their leaves.
23 day until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
I was away for the last 10 days, ran only 2 of those, and feel well behind with my marathon preparation.
My interuption was a long-planned backpacking trip to one of the most spectacular backpacking areas in the world. I went with some family and friends, and because of an injury to one of our party, our 5-day backpacking trip was curtailed. In the end we did 2 days of backpacking, 1 day of hanging around our camp and swimming in a crystal clear river, and 2 days of day-hiking.
I'm counting some of this as cross training. We were at elevation for much of the trip, and on some of the hikes we climbed a good ways.
But all of this isn't running.
So, now I have four weeks left before the marathon. All I can do is get in four good weeks of training. Of course, I want to taper in the week before the race, so I really have three weeks of training left.
My plan is to get a good week in currently, and go for a 20-miler this weekend.
Next weekend will be disrupted as my wife is out of town, and I'm on child-care duty. Should I get a baby-sitter so I can go for my long run? Maybe take the plunge on a treadmill? At the moment, I'm just planning on postponing my long run until the Tuesday that she returns.
The weekend after this I have my local 10K. It's also the weekend before the race, so I can't really squeeze in another 20-miler. Then some easy runs. Then the race.
So, that's where I am. I'll do two more 20-milers, maybe, and try to run consistently - that is, every day - for the next 3.5 weeks. I'm hoping that at the end of this time I'll be feeling confident.
But I am haunted by the woods. As I take the busy train to work, or drive on the rainy highway, I keep going back to wilderness through which we backpacked. I want to go back - to spend more nights in my tent, and more days on the trail. We just scratched the surface of what was there. I look at my map of the area and devise alternative routes, temporarily suppressing the knowledge that I won't be back for a while.
There are 45 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
This past Sunday I ran the Sheriffmuir Challenge Road Race. It starts from at isolated pub in the hills, climbs for 1\2 mile, and then descends for the next 5 miles. The route is on an isolated road, with great views of the surrounding mountains. Along the route there are isolated farms, fields of sheep, grasslands, and the occasional patch of woods. Runners turn around at the end of this road and run back to the pub. This is largely uphill, and give a total distance of 11 miles.
I was tired at the start. I'd done my scheduled 20-miler the day before, using, for the first time, walk breaks. I started with a 4 minute run: 35 second walk ratio, but after my first 5.4 mile loop through town, I switched to an 8 min run: 1 min walk ratio.
I tried the run-walk-run approach for a few reasons. First, I'd suffered on my past 16-mile runs in this training period, but with the marathon quickly approaching, I needed to increase my endurance by running farther. Second, I wanted to run the Sheriffmuir race the next day, so I didn't want to be utterly exhausted from my 20-miler. Third, I've been listening to a podcast entitled The Extra Mile Experiment, where the podcaster is following the Galloway run-walk-run strategy in preparation for his fall marathon.
The run-walk went well. I was tired after the 20 miles, but not shattered. Although I thought the walk breaks would be disruptive, in fact they passed quite quickly. It seemed like I'd just take a handful of steps, and then it would be time to run again.
My first mile was 7:15. I could see C., a woman I'd met at previous races who runs about the same speed as me, about a 1/4 mile ahead. I wanted to try and catch up to her, but she was going out fast. I didn't know how my legs were going to hold out after the previous day's long run, so I held back.
Mile 2 was largely downhill, and I ran it in 6:52. It was a warm, sunny day, and I gratefully took water at the first water table near mile 3.
Mile 3 was flatter, and came in at 7:20. 4 had a lot of descent, and came in at 6:36. I commented to a guy I'd drawn even with that we were doing a good pace. He agreed, but said we'd pay for it on the way back.
By mile 5 I hadn't made much progress catching C. At the turn around point, at 5.5 miles, I again took water. I drank a few mouthfulls, and then poured some down my back to keep cool.
Mile 6 had a sustained climb, and I ran it in 8:15. The sun was hot now, and the occasional short stretches of road in the shade of trees were welcome.
Slowly, I closed the distance to C. My soreness was gone, and I felt strong. I ran a sub-8 minute pace for the next few miles, fixating on the runner ahead of me, catching them, and then moving on to the next runner.
Soon there were only two runners between me and C. Then one. Then, with just under 3 miles to go, I drew even.
We chatted for a bit, and then she pulled ahead briefly. On a steeper section, she slowed and I eased past.
As I neared the top of the last hill I picked up the pace slightly. There was an older guy ahead of me, and as soon as we started the descent to the pub, his pace accelerated dramatically. However, I stayed behind him, and then picked up my pace once again and passed.
I was now striding out, but worried that I'd begun my kick too early. I kept going, and as the finish line neared I put in a final sprint.
I didn't win, of course, nor will I ever do so. I'd finished 23rd out of 91 runners. However, I'd had that rare experience of performing to my absolute capacity, and feeling strong while doing so.
53 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
After a good week of training while on vacation, I had an o.k. week of training last week. After a mid-week, 10-mile hilly run, my calf was a bit sore. Two days later, after some mile intervals on the track, it was even worse. I read a bit about calf strains on the internet, and was alarmed that they might require several weeks of non-running for recovery.
However, I tried a 16.2 mile long-run (4 times around my town 5.4 mile town loop), and was o.k., calf-wise. I was tired at the end of the last loop, but perhaps not quite as exhausted as I'd been when I last tried this loop. Earlier in the week I thought I might go for a 20-miler for this long run, but with the sore calf I thought I'd just see what I could do. On the day, I only had the energy and endurance to do 16 miles.
My schedule calls for a 20-miler this weekend, but there's also an 11-mile road race that I'm planning to do. I might try the 20-miler next week.
This isn't optimal. One problem with this is that I don't have a lot of open weekends after this for more 20-milers. I really want to get comfortable at this distance, as I think my lack of distance work really hurt me in the Edinburgh marathon.
For now I'm going to focus on getting in a good week's training. I didn't run on Monday after my 16-miler the day before. Yesterday I played full-court basketball for nearly 2 hours, and I count this as cross-training. Today I did my town loop in the morning. If I can run each day for the next three days, and run a good race on Sunday, it should be a reasonable week.
During the past week I finished re-reading Haruki Marakami's What I talk about when I talk about running. Marakmi is a novelist, but the book is an account of his running career and his preparations for the New York Marathon. I really enjoyed his calm style of writing, his awareness of aging, and his descriptions of running by the Charles river in Boston.
Yikes! Only 60 days remain before my next attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
For the past week and a half I've been with my family on a beach holiday. In Scotland, in the summer, it's often cool, overcast, and rainy, so the prospect of some time in the sun was appealing for our family vacation.
I quickly discovered, however, that running in the Sunny Hot Country was a challenge during the day. There's a reason everything shuts down after lunch for a siesta - it's too hot to do anything.
After a few runs in which I drained my water bottle, I shifted to running in the mornings. The advantages of this were two-fold. First, I could run before the sun was really up. Second, I could get my run with little impact on my family's activities for the day. Indeed, on one day, I finished my run before anyone was awake.
I'd wake at 6, make a cup of instant coffee (black), and eat a small bowl of corn flakes without milk. Then I'd hit the bathroom, dress in shorts and a synthetic t-shirt, and head out the door.
Running in the morning was a revelation. It was cool and comfortable out. Once my legs warmed up, I felt fine. There wasn't much, if any, car traffic on the roads. Occasionally I'd pass resort workers on their way in to the resort where our rented apartment was located. Off of the resort, the road wound through a sandy pine forest. Occassionally, there was the fresh scent of eucalyptus trees (I think).
I had a good week of running, perhaps my best so far. I took Monday off (after a 13-miler the day before in the heat), and then ran for 6 consecutive days (6 or so miles most days, with one 8.5 mile run), culminating in an 18.5 long run on Sunday.
Now, back in Scotland, I want to get in good weeks of training. I'm away for a week at the end of the month, so I have three full weeks to train before then, and three after. Then there's one week for tapering.
After the Maddy Moss hill race on Wednesday (last post), I took Thursday off.
On Friday, I did my “town” loop of 5.4 miles after the children were in bed. I was a little tired, but it felt good work out some of the stiffness from the race.
On Saturday, I mowed the lawn, which involves a bit of effort because our yard is on a signficant slope. I also chased the children around the garden, dropped off the hedge clippings at the dump, and did various jobs around the house. So, when I came to run in the late afternoon my legs didn’t feel too fresh. I did a warmout half-mile with my daughter, who rode alongside on her bike. I then did my “hilly” loop of 6 miles or so. I’m calling it 6.5 for the whole thing.
On Sunday, I went for a walk in the morning with my wife and children. We went to a nearby wood where there’s a river and a small cave. The cave is called Wallace’s Cave, as, presumably, William Wallace (Braveheart) hid here at one time. I’m somewhat suspicious of this, as every cave seems to be a place where Wallace hid, but I haven’t looked into it exhaustively.
I build a small fire near the river, which the children enjoyed adding sticks to. All told, the walk might have been 2-3 miles. Suprisingly, I felt a bit tired after this.
After lunch, a rest, a play with the children in the back yard, and their baths, I was o.k.’d to depart for my long run by my wife.
My goal was to do the town loop three times. Each loop is 5.4 miles; the total is 16.2. I’d done this the weekend before – I was hoping I’d feel a bit stronger this week.
The first loop was fine. I had some stiffness, but this seemed to work itself out as I warmed up.
It was warm, for Scotland, about 20c, or 70 degrees. It was also humid, and sweat dripped down the side of my face.
The loop goes through a nearby neighbourhood, around a loch, on the other side of which is the ruins of a castle. My route then follows a road through some countryside, and then goes back through the main street in town.
I hid a running bottle of gatorade in the bushes near the start of the loop. After my first loop, I drank nearly half of this.
The second loop was good. I was loose now, and when I got to the countryside, the tarmac underfoot felt good.
I told my wife I’d stop at the supermarket at the end of the run to pick up some cold-cuts, bread, and fruit for the children’s lunches the next day. The supermarket is near the end of the loop, and closes at 8 p.m. on Sundays. It was 7:11 when I arrived at near the end of the second loop, and I figured that waiting until the end of my third loop might be cutting it close – each loop taking 42-45 minutes. So I stopped my watch, and picked up some groceries.
I then completed the half-mile of my second loop, running with a plastic grocery bag in one hand, and a bunch of bananas in the other. I dropped these off at my house, had a good drink from my hidden bottle, and began my third loop.
I was slightly stiff to start, but felt o.k. I wondered whether the Galloway run-walk approach to training might have some utility for me - my walk through the grocery store seemed to make the subsequent run easier.
I was fine through the neighbourhood and around the loch.
However, when I hit the road through the farms, I began to tire.
At the back of my mind, particularly on long runs, I think about the wall.
I’m pretty confident that I experienced this complete level of exhaustion in the late miles of the Edinburgh marathon, a few months earlier.
What I wonder about is how the wall happens. I know that it’s due to a lack of glucose in the muscles, but can it be pushed back? One of the views I’ve taken on as motivation for my long runs is that they are efforts to push back the wall – the longer I run in training, the longer I should be able to run (comfortably) on race day. Can the wall be overcome by will-power? It's hard to imagine, when one isn't exhausted, why it's not possible to put in a last sprint to the finish line, no matter what the level of tiredness. However, in Edinburgh, I couldn't do anything but shuffle across the finish line.
So, I'm interested in the experience of fatigue. As I turned onto the high street of my town, on my third loop, I began to feel fatigued. Probably, I’d done about 14 miles to this point. My pace slowed to an easier, "forever" pace. However, I felt that if I had to, I could still push.
The high street has some mild up-and-downs, and on the ups the tiredness was apparent in my legs. On the downs, I felt a bit better.
In the last mile, I was really tired, but kept moving. I knew I was nearly there.
I made it back home. As I entered the house I felt a wave of nausea, but wasn't sick. I drained a glass of orange juice, diluted with water, and then sat on the sofa with my sweaty head in my hands. My wife asked if I was o.k. I told her I just needed a minute.
After a few minutes I was up and about. I took a long shower.
So, from an empirical perspective, I'd estimate that after the onset of fatigue - an involuntary slowing my pace - I probably have a mile or two in me before I get to the wall.
Once there, based on my Edinburgh marathon experience, I can probably shuffle on for five miles or so. But these miles have a cost in terms of long-lasting fatigue afterwards.
80 days until my next attempt to qualify for the Boston marathon.
The Maddy Moss hill race begins with a steep, steep climb. It wasn't really runnable; everyone near me walked, placing their feet in the dirt "steps" created from previous foot traffic, or walked on the grass next to the steps.
It was raining. The race was 6 miles, with 2,329 feet of ascent, and I knew I was going to be pretty wet at the end of it no matter what I wore. So, I just wore my running shorts and a running t-shirt, fell running shoes and sox. Around my waist I had a bum bag with water-proof jacket, trousers, and a plastic bag containing a whistle, map page, and compass. Again, runners are required to carry these for a race of distance by the organisers. In the day's conditions, with the cloud covering the top of the hill, this requirement was reasonable.
I felt good on the climb. There were occasional breaks in the ascent where one could run a few feet, but it was mostly straight up.
Nearing the top of the climb the rain and wind intensified. The rain lashed the side of my face. It was going to be a proper hill race.
As the slope evened out near the top of the climb I started running. We ascended in a thickening mist.
Marshalls pointed us in the right direction towards the top of the of the major hill in the race, Ben Cleuch. I turned toward it, and had the wind at my back.
The lead runners descending from the summit began to pass us. They would appear in the mist individually or in groups of two or three.
Underfood, the partial trail was often underwater. My feet were already soaked, and there was no way of avoiding the puddles, so I ran through them.
I came to the summit cairn behind another runner. We rounded the cairn, and then I passed her as we began descending.
I passed the marhsalls again, who pointed us in the direction of the second summit in the race, Andrew Gannel Hill.
Worringly, I found myself alone in the mist. Usually, navigation in a hill race isn't an issue, as you just follow the line of runners in front of you. Not so today. I couldn't see anyone. I stuck with what looked like a trail, and kept going.
Eventually I caught up with another runner, and then one more. They passed me on the short ascent up to Andrew Gannel, and I stuck behind them.
Then we started the long descent back to the starting point of the race.
The two runners in front of me accelerated. We crossed a wire fence, and I scraped my leg on the top wire that I didn't see.
As we continued the descent, I passed one of the two runners. The rain was heavy, the visibility was poor, and the trail held lots of standing water. Without my glasses on, it was sometimes difficult to see the exactly where I was putting my feet. Despite this, I felt positively invigorated. This was proper hill running - all out, downhill, in a storm.
The trail thinned to a narrow path along the side of the hill.
The runner in front of me seemed to know the trail. Every foot-fall he made was correct - he seemed to know the little curves and drops in the route - and to adjust for these. I was right behind him, and the trail was too narrow to pass. We clipped off the distance.
Eventually, we came to a steep descent leading to the start/finish line. I passed the runner I'd been trailing, and descended gingerly. The rocks and grass were wet and slick - I didn't want to fall.
I slipped anyways, and skidded into some bracken. I got up and dashed to the finish.
My time for the race was 1:09:35. This put me in 47th place, out of 94 runners.
Afterwards, a friend who did the race and I went to a pub near the race start. We changed into dry clothes, but I continued to shiver. However, I warmed up in the pub, and enjoyed a terrific pint of beer.
85 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston. This is moderately alarming. I know from my last attempt that these days go fast, and you can't train too much in the week before the race. So, training-wise, there isn't a ton of time left until race day.
Part of my alarm may stem from a poor week of training.
After my hill run and mile (see my last post), things slipped a bit.
On the next day, Wednesday, I did my "town" loop - 5.4 miles - after dropping off my wife and children at the airport. They were travelling to my wife's parent's house for the week.
On Thursday morning I woke tired, and noticed that my throat hurt when I drank a morning coffee.
That afternoon I administered a make-up exam for the students where I teach, and afterwards I felt truly grotty. The students' complaints about the exam didn't help, but I was almost too tired to worry about it. Because of how I was feeling, running Thursday evening was out of the question; instead I packed for an upcoming work conference in Amsterdam.
I woke in the middle of the night with a very sore throat. Whenever I swallowed it felt like there was sand-paper in my throat. I took ibuprofen, and a throat lozenge with flurbiprofen, and went back to sleep. These lozenges work really well for sore throats, in my experience. I think they act locally to reduce the inflamation in the throat.
On Friday I graded the exams in the morning, but was unwell. My voice was cracking when I spoke. I left work early, in part to finish packing, in part to rest.
After watching Holland beat Brazil while I packed, I decided to try a run. I did my town loop again, and was feeling a bit better.
On Saturday I had an early flight to Amsterdam. Surprisingly, the airport was full of travellers at 5:20 a.m.
Amsterdam was hot. I was initially hoping to get my long run done in the city, but by the time I took the train and found my hotel, I just didn't feel up to it. I was fatigued from the early morning and my cold. I went to the conference center, registered, and then took a tram into the city centre to explore a bit. Amsterdam was really impressive, but I was so beat that I just wanted to rest.
On Sunday morning I was feeling a little better, and did 2.5 easy miles near the hotel. The hotel was in the middle of a warehouse district, and I had no luck finding a place for breakfast, the goal of the run. I ate at the hotel.
I didn't run on Monday - I was exhausted after the day's meeting at the conference centre, and I went to dinner with work colleagues.
Tuesday was the first time I didn't feel shattered. After the day's meeting, I did around 4 miles through the Vondelpark. It was a perfect summer afternoon, and there was a buzz about the park, as the Dutch prepared for the big World Cup match that evening. On the streets, the cafes were packed with football fans dressed in orange.
No running on Wednesday, when the conference finished. I did go for a long walk in another Amsterdam park, with my luggage.
Now I'm back in Scotland, and getting back to my normal schedule. I did 5 miles on the hill behind where I work on Thursday, and then 10 miles on Friday. I'm still coughing a bit, but hope that the very light week of running won't have been too much of a set-back.
95 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston.
Last night my Work Friend and I ran "the hill" behind where I work (and pictured in the heading of this blog), one of our usual training runs. It's a total of 5 miles up and down, and on a pleasant Scottish summer evening, it was particularly enjoyable.
The climb is steep and tough, but the descent is where I make my money. It's been dry lately, so I wore my road running shoes, and didn't go all out - athough I did stretch my legs a bit as I ran downhill.
As I descended I again had the thought of how good it was to be 44 years of age, running in the hills, and feeling good on such a nice evening.
When we got back to the campus, I asked my Work Friend if he'd like to to a mile on the track. The track is behind the sports center on campus. I wanted to see how fast I could run a mile - four laps around the track. He was willing to tag along.
I went out hard, but eased up in the second hundred meters. At the beginning of the second lap, I felt like I was going to be sick, but kept going. It was warm and humid out, and the sweat ran down my forehead freely.
The third lap felt ok. It seemed like I was getting a bit of my breath back, and finding a rhythm.
I picked it up at the beginning of the last lap a little bit. As I rounded the final bend, I started sprinting - kicking my legs out off the rubberised track.
I finished in 6:12. That's how fast I can run a mile.
102 days until my next attempt to qualify for the Boston marathon.
In my previous attempt to qualify, a month ago today, I failed to do so by about 15 minutes.
(Was it just a month ago? It seems much longer than this already.)
I was chastened by the Edinburgh marathon. I think I might be able to qualify for Boston, but I'm no longer as confident. Maybe I can't run a 3:30.
But I'm going to give it a good try.
I had a good chat with a professional colleague a few months ago, and he said something that stuck with me. He said his philosophy was to live life to its fullest. And if you knew the guy, you'd know it's true. It's not a showy, hedonistic thing. Basically, it's a choice: when given the chance to do something or not, he always chooses to do it.
So that's a bit what I want to take on board. I want to do stuff, not just stand by.
So my next chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon will be the Loch Ness Marathon. It's hilly, apparently, but it does seem like there's lots of downhill in the first several miles. On paper, it might not be as fast as the Edinburgh Marathon, but hopefully, being in October in the Scottish highands, it won't be hot.
I now feel like I know what I want to do training-wise. There's a running loop in my town that's 5.4 miles long (it's an abbreviated version of the 10k race loop that runs in the fall). I want to build up to running the loop 4 times, for a distance of 21.2 miles.
Surprisingly, I feel like I have a ways to go to get there. The first time I ran the loop twice (a bit over a week ago), I was deeply fatigued the next day. So, I may have some deep, residual fatigue from Edinburgh yet. Again, I feel like I might not have done enough distance-wise for the Edinburgh marathon.
104 days until my next attempt to qualify for the Boston marathon.
Today at work I had to process some data and run some statistical analysis on them. Largley, this work requires doing the same thing over and over again, and doesn't require much thought.
The place where I work was relatively quiet today, as the students are now gone. It seems like many of the staff have chosen this time to take their holidays (vacations) as well. The sun was out, and it felt relaxed. It was like being at work on a Saturday.
To help pass the time when doing repetitive stuff on the computer, I sometimes listen to the radio over the internet. I like to listen to Vermont Public Radio, a favourite from when I lived in Vermont. I like hearing the weather forecasts - the "eye on the sky" from St. Johnsbury - a regular feature from my few years there.
My analysis, however, required just enough of my attention so that I could only have music in the background. Thus, I chose the Vermont Public Radio Classical feed.
At some point during my work, I heard the haunting promenade of Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. It was played on a piano.
Somehow, the breeze through open office window, the sunny summer day, the music, brought a strange sense of contentment. I was taken back to my time as an undergraduate student - reminded of my time spent taping music in the music library while I studied - of the summer days at the university when I stayed on to work, and then walked through the leafy campus in the evening, with the breeze in the trees, and very few students around - of finding a good book in the basement library of the English Department.
There was a fine mist falling at the start of the race, and the temperature was cool, but not cold. In Scotland, this type of weather isn't unusual in the summer - indeed, in some of the summers I've lived here, it seems like it has rained almost every day.
The start was in a grass field in a park. I went out medium fast. The route wound up, off the wet grass, and onto a trail through the woods. I was a bit out of breath, but realised that there was lots of race left, and there was no need to push too hard too early.
After a downhill stretch we climbed again, and then had another descent through some pine trees. An aquaintance, M., eased past me here. M. and I are comparable running-wise; he's definitely a faster 10K runner, but I've once beaten him in a hill race.
I decided to try and stick with M. He was running a good pace.
As we ran along the trail M. started picking off runners. I followed each time. On a flatter stretch, I was feeling good and drew even with him. I suggested that we try and catch a runner in a white shirt who was about 50 meters ahead of us. He agreed. A sign informed us that we were 2 kilometers from the finish.
I focussed on the guy in the white shirt and picked up the pace. He might have been slowing a bit. On a slight rise on a bridge I sped up slightly and passed him, and the used the descent on the other side of the bridge to pull away.
There was a climb through the woods and over a grassy slope before the last descent to the finish. I knew M. wasn't far behind me. I thought that if I was able to stay in front of him on this last climb, I could sprint to the finish.
I did so, and finished in 41:19, a personal best. I was 32nd out of a field of 135.
(Later, M. checked his Garmin and noted that the distance was only 9.5km, so my time might not really count as a 10k personal best.)
I started the race slow, and chatted with a guy I recognised from where I work. The start followed a decent climb up a grassy slope, populated by sheep. I knew from last year that this was a deceptively long race, so I didn't feel any need to go out too hard.
It was a little cool and breezy, and I wore a short sleeve running shirt, shorts, and my fell running shoes. I also had a bum bag with a waterproof jacket, running trousers, a map, compass, and whistle. Runners were required to carry this equipment for this race.
As we reached the top of the first climb, I eased past my work colleague. There was a flatter stretch, but the wind was stronger now. There was another gradual climb, then a little descent, and then a not-to-stiff climb up to Cort-ma Law.
From the Cort-ma Law summit I descended and started hitting bogs. A guy in front of me disappeared nearly up to his waste in the sphagnum(?). The bogs look solid, but they are immensely squishy underneath, and the water is cold. I try to keep dry when I can, but here there was no option. Once you went in your shoes and sox were soaked, and your legs a bit muddy.
We bashed through bogs and brush and climbed to the summit of a second peak, Lecket Hill. Here, the descent was steeper, but the ground was more solid under-foot.
I picked up the pace, and passed a guy who was running well. Now it felt like running.
A steeper descent followed, and in my eagerness to go all out, I took a tumble. It was, literally, a tumble, and I was quickly on my feet again, wondering if anyone had seen me.
After jumping across a small stream, there was another stiff climb. I saw a colleague a few place in front of me, and thought that I might try to catch him on the final descent. The climb was steep enough that it was walked by all of the runners.
After the steep climb, I crossed a fence, and was retracing my route back to the start. There was a brief uphill stretch, and then the long descent to the start. The sun was now out, and it was a lovely early summer evening in Scotland.
I tried to catch the runner in front of me, but he was a good descender. I picked my way through the grass and occasional rock outcropping in my soaking wet shoes, running as hard as I dared. Last year I had taken a tumble here.
I crossed the finish at 1:01. I was 39th out of a field of 79.
The start of the race was along a country road on the outskirts of Glasgow. I was lined up towards the front of the 117 runners in the race, but didn't go out too hard. On the road, the studded fell-running shoes of the many runners made a light clomping sound as we ran.
After about a kilometer, the course left the road and began to ascend through a grassy field. It was warm, and as I climbed I quickly found sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyebrows.
The first climb in a hill race always seems to be a a shock to the system. I was breathing hard, and on the steeper portions of the climb, walking. Runners have different techniques for walking the steeper climbs. Some bend over and put their hands on their legs for extra effort. I tend to stand a bit upright and put my hand on my hips. My thinking on this is that it allows me to get a bit more air in my lungs.
Once I reached the top, I started running. I think that one measure of fitness is how quickly you recover from the climb and start running the runnable portions.
The trail which the race followed rose and fell, and dipped along a loch. It was a pleasant Scottish summer evening, and to the north all one could see was hills.
After a bit, my body seemed to overcome the shock of what I was putting it through, and I started to feel in control.
I was on the tail of a runner wearing a yellow vest with a "W" on it - for the Westerlands hill running club. In front of him was a guy in a long-sleeved blue shirt.
They were both tearing along on the flat and downhill sections. It was a pleasure to run fast through the heather and grass. We lept over burns, and squelched through the occasional boggy bit.
We reached the summit of the last hill, and began our final descent back to the road. Immediately, the two guys in front of me picked up the pace appreciably. There was a panoramic view of Glasgow beneath us.
I stretched my legs and passed the W runner. I closed in on the guy with the blue shirt and passed him on a steep stretch.
I was now running all out on the descent. I picked my feet placements to avoid the occasional boulder in the field.
I hit the road, and could hear the guy in the blue shirt right behind me.
I was running hard, but the road's gradient was nothing like that of the hill, so any advantage I had in reckless descent was lost to runners who were simply faster.
The guy in the blue shirt was right on my shoulder. Our feet hit the road at exactly the same time.
I knew he was going to pass me, but I thought to myself, I'm going to make him work for it.
As he started increasing the pace to pass me I increased my pace. He didn't pass.
We both shifted to the inside portion of the road as we rounded a curve.
I could see that we were gaining on two runners in front of us. The end of the race had to be near.
I edged up the pace just a touch now, and the guy behind me, surprisingly, now sounded just a step or two back from where he'd been.
I could see that the finish was very near, and started sprinting.
I crossed the finish at 56:57, 52nd out of 114 finishers. I shook hands with the guy in the blue shirt, who finished a few seconds after this.
After the marathon on Sunday, I didn't run on Monday. I was sore, but not incredibly so, but also tired from going to the pub with a friend who also did the race.
On Tuesday I did 2 easy miles on the track. It was sunny out, and felt good to stretch the legs.
The light run on Tuesday seemed to be beneficial, and on Wednesday I had no soreness.
Thursday: 3.5 miles on the track.
Friday: no running.
Saturday: 5.5 miles on my training loop through the town in which I live. I wanted to get it done, and ran quick. I was a little tired at the end.
Today, Sunday, I ran with two friends from the informal running club in town. We started easy, and as we hit the country roads outside the town, picked up the pace slightly. It was a cool, clear morning. It was probably 10 degrees cooler than the same time last weekend at the marathon.
One of the guys, G., started picking up the pace again. I didn't want to kill myself, but was feeling ok at the time, and was able to keep him witin a few meters.
About 45 mins into the run there were a few hills, and the latent fatigue in my muscles was starting to emerge. I also felt a bit of soreness in my right calf - I was slightly worried that I was straining my achilles, but the soreness was a little higher than that.
I hung on. We began heading back towards town on a canal tow path, and this was easier. The pace picked up again, but now my pain had dissipated somewhat. I was feeling good, and matched the pace.
At about 1:25 we stopped. It was a tougher, longer run than anticipated. Although I'd initially felt like I was fully recovered from the marathon, the run had revealed that there was still some deep tiredness in the legs. G. and I jogged back into town (where my car was parked), so it was about 1:45 for the whole run. I'm calling it 11 miles.
I think the tiredness hasn't all been physical. Things have seemed a bit blah this week, for no apparent reason.
My goal in running the Edinburgh Marathon was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. To do so, at my age, I needed to run a 3:30:59 or better. With a finishing time of 3:46:55, I exceeded this time by 14:56.
I think there were two reasons why the wheels came off late in the race:
1) the heat 2) the distance
My pace for each segment of the race was as folllows:
So, obviously, I faded pretty badly during the last miles. My pace might have been slowing a bit before this, although there was a climb in mile 18.
At another level, the results are encouraging. I was on pace through 18 miles. Indeed, if my hazy recollection is correct, I think I hit the 23 mile mark right around 3 hours - leaving 30 mins to run the last 3.2 miles.
The heat could have exacerbated my significant fade. I was taking on water and sports drink when I could, but after 16 it really felt hot in the sun. I was unaccustomed to running in hot weather, and this was the warmest weekend of the year thusfar. Indeed, on a TV show the next day about the race, the men's leader pulled up short in the finishing straight with cramps, and was passed. So, it wasn't just me.
But I think the distance was a factor too. In my first half-marathon last March, I'd felt good throuh 10 miles, and then struggled from 11 on to the finish. I developed significant knee pain at the point, and could not keep running well in the last two miles. I was in shape enough to run a 10-mile race, but not a 13.1-mile race. With more training, I was able to run the full distance.
I think a bit of this is true for this past marathon. I was ok-ish for 20 miles, but not 26.2. I need to do more distance training to be able to finish stronger.
Over the P.A. system we heard the announcement that the race had started, but no one in my pen - I believe it was comprised runners who'd estimated 3:30 - 4:00 finishing times - moved forward. There were probably 2000-3000 runners in front of us, and until they got across the start line we had to wait. After a minute or two we shuffled forward a bit, and then stopped again. Eventually we moved forward again, and began to break into a slow jog. I crossed the start line about 3 mins into the race, and started my watch.
The human traffic was dense, and I was content to run at an easy pace through the streets of Edinburgh. We descended under a train overpass, and a woman in front of me was breathing hard and walking. She had no obvious muscle tone in her (ok, I'll say it, plump) legs, and seemed to be struggling. The sun came out, and you could feel its warmth We then entered the Holyrood park, and my first mile was 8:48.
To qualify for Boston I needed to run sub-8 minute miles for the whole race.
I wasn't too worried, however, because I wanted to start slow - although, perhaps, not quite this slow - and run an even race.
Mile two was 6:50. Back on pace.
In mile three I started chatting with a guy who made scientific instruments in Glasgow. 7:14. Too fast.
Four came in at 7:30. This was more like the pace I wanted to run. The sun was out in earnest, and I was sweating. I wanted water, but accepted a sports drink at the water stop. It tasted very sweet.
At mile five we reached the promenade along the sea-shore, and I was surprised to find that I'd run an 8:11. Perhaps I'd chatted a little too much with the instrument maker in the last mile. He'd peeled off to say hi to a friend, so I was on my own now.
I tried to stay in the shade of building when I could, but there wasn't much. Also, if was difficult to run an even pace, as I'd find myself stuck behind 2 or 3 runners in a horizontal line.
My 10K time was 49:05. So far, I was on pace, and feeling ok. It was clear, however, that it was going to be a very hot day.
I was able to hold the pace below 8 mins. per mile. Crossing the bridge into Musselburgh near mile 8 I felt like I needed water.
At mile 9 I received a bottle of water at the water station. I drank some, and poured some over my head. The water felt cool and good as it made its way down the back of my shirt.
I started to feel the need for a pee, and looked for a place to peel off. I came to a porta-potty, however, and popped in. Even with this stop, my mile time was under 8 mins.
I reached the half-way point at 1:42. Just half to go.
I ate one of the brownie squares I'd been carrying in a plastic bag with me. I did the same at mile 15.
At 16 the course made a detour away from the coast, up a bit of a road and back down, I assume to make the distance correct. Here I really felt the heat of the sun and the road. It was baking now.
At 17 the course left the road and took a slightly broken road up around Gosford House (which I didn't even notice). I didn't realise this at the time, but it was a slight climb. I was alarmed by my split for this mile - 9:14.
I picked up the pace, but also benefited from a slight downhill. 18 was 6:44. Again, on average, I was back on pace.
My time through 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) was 2:26:31. I didn't quite realise it at the time, but I'd just slipped over the 8 minute-per-mile average for the race thusfar.
Can one identify, in the moment, when things switch from one path to another? One moment is so much determined by its predecessor. How can you know, in the moment, that by slight degrees, one's course has been shifted from one trajectory to another?
20 was 8:11. This, now, wasn't a mile that was confined by the crowd, or inflated by a climb. It was an honest mile, in the blazing sun, at the only pace I could now run.
I was starting to switch to survival mode. I clutched a water bottle from the last water stop, but felt like I needed some sugar. I picked up a discarded sports drink bottle - still partially full - and mixed it with my water. As I was doing this, a friend called out to me from the runners still out the outbound path. I waved, and then drank. The sports drink was hot from being in the sun.
21 was 9:14. I couldn't do anything about it. The mile markers seemed farther and farther apart.
I reached mile 23 at just over 3 hours. 3.2 miles in 30 minutes? Under normal circumstanes I would have little difficulty doing this. At this point in the race, I knew it was impossible.
I just kept moving forward. I tried to focus on just completing each mile.
The muscles above my knee began to be quite sore. My left knee - the iliotibial band -started to hurt. I focussed on the hazy tarmac and front of me, and just shuffled my feet.
24 was 11 something. The crowd was growing, but I had nothing to respond with. Now, I was starting to get cramps in my upper calves. At the water station I drank water and then some sports drink.
Many, many people passed me as I shuffled along. In turn, I shuffled past people who were now walking.
I started to think if I could finish this, I'd have a beer in the beer tent.
25 was 14 something.
I made the turn into the final straight-away. I saw my wife and children, and really appreciated their being there.
Ordinarily, I would have sprinted to the finish line, but I could not at this point. The cramps in my left calf felt like electric shocks. I hobbled across the finish line.
My time was 3:45:55. I'd failed to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
I've been reading about tapering on various web-sites, but haven't found a scheme I can fully embrace.
I buy the idea of not going into the marathon with tired legs. I want to be fresh, rested, and ready to go.
But much of my workday, realistically, is spent sitting down. After doing little physical activity all day, I crave physical work. I want to do some running. However, I should be tapering - I should be running less.
Yesterday, after sitting through a whole day of presentations (of which mine was one), I went out to the track and did three easy miles.
It was a sunny early evening, and it felt great to be running laps on the track in shorts and a t-shirt.
It was also interesting to see what pace felt easy. At what felt like an easy pace, I ran miles of 7:28, 7:33, and 7:44. The fade isn't as bad as it looks, because the last mile I had to stop for a bit to get a bug out of my eye.
So for the marathon, I want to go out slow for the first 10K (as mentioned in my last post). From experience I know that the first mile of a road race goes much faster than planned, so I'll have to plan to take it easy there. Hopefully, I can then settle into a comfortable, steady pace. If I have lots left in the tank at 20, perhaps I can switch gears.
I will do a 10 mile or so run tomorrow, and this will be my last long-ish run before the race.
Here's my latest thinking on race strategy: I'm going to approach the race as four 10k chunks. Yes, I know a marathon is actually 42ish kilometers, but thinking about the race in 10k chunks makes sense to me.
In part, this occurred to me this past weekend as I attempted my last long run. I was running a slightly abreviated version of the 10k race loop in my town. My intial goal was to run this loop, 5.43 miles in length (shortened from 6.2 miles because I wanted to avoid a busy stretch of road), four times. I did the loop three times, but cut the fourth loop short as I was getting pretty sore. I put the soreness down to effort I'd exerted on the Dumyat hill race I'd run three days earlier, and thought that being a little short of my goal was better than killing my legs two weeks out from the marathon. So, I call it 18 miles on my last long run.
Four 10ks. The first I'm going to take slow. I know, I know, once you see everyone in their racing kit you start thinking - this is a race - I've got to keep up.
But I'm not going to do that for the first 10K. I'm going to try to stay in my head, and use the first 10k as a warm-up. If I'm feeling good after I can start picking it up a little bit.
The bottom line is that if I run 8 minute miles, I qualify for Boston.
The Dumyat Hill Race is a 5-mile, up-and-down race not far from where I work. It's about a 1,300 ft climb, starting on a road, winding through some woods, and then ascending over an open hill top - where sheep graze.
It was a bit warm at the start, and I didn't want to go out too hard. I run the hill often, and knew what was coming. I stayed with the crowd, and didn't worry about the odd runner sprinting past.
My strategy is to not kill myself on the steep climbs. I run where practicable, but on the very steep portions, walking fast is as good as running, in my view. I also think of these walk portions as a break of sorts, although I'm still breathing hard as I ascend.
I hit the first climb and immediately slowed down. Several people passed me. I'm just not that fast running uphill. However, I tried to keep my legs moving quickly with short strides.
One up through the woods we emerged onto the open hill. After a short climb, the trail levelled out a bit, and I tried to pick up the pace.
I was sweating a lot now, and droplets sometimes trickled off of my eyebrows.
The thing in a hill race is to keep moving. There are times when you think you have nothing left, but you have to just keep moving. A woman with a tatoo on her back passed me on the climbs, and I'd pass her on the flatter stretches.
As the trail steepened near the Dumyat summit, the leaders starting emerging on their descent.
A local runner I know passed me handily near the top, but I couldn't do anything about it. I had my eyes on the path below, and was just concentrating on moving.
I reached the summit cairn not far behind the local runner. As we turned to descend, I took a step outside his path, and accelerated.
I love to descend. Without the constraints of my lung capacity, I can go as hard as I wish - and do so.
I started picking off people one by one. I know the trail well, and know exactly my preferred line when descending.
I reached the fence to the wood and stepped over it without breaking stride.
In the woods I ended up behind a strong runner from a Glasgow running club. I decided to stick on his heels and let him carry me through my increasing fatigue. We rushed through the woods, and I passed him on a steep descent to the road.
On the road there's a small climb, and he passed me once more.
The road once again descends, this time to the finish line.
The club runner was ahead of me rounding a curve on the road. However, he stayed on the grass, and I ran on the tarmac - in my experience it's just a touch faster.
In the picture above, you can see me passing him.
My finishing time was 44:42, 67th out of a field of 289. This was my best time on this hill in the last 5 years.
The race effort has had a cost. I want to do a 20-miler this weekend to make-up for the lack of a long run last weekend. However, my legs are really sore today, Thursday, the day after the Dumyat race. It was only a 5-mile race, but I ran hard, and an all-out descent takes its toll on the legs.
I was supposed to do my final 20-mile run this past weekend, but a work trip to the U.S. got in the way.
I was pleased to fly to St. Louis, and through the fog of jet-lag, enjoyed my 2-day science meeting.
On the morning of the 2nd day I joined a colleague on a morning run through a park near the medical school at Washington University. It was a pleasant, conversational run, although even at 6:30 in the morning the temperatures were warm.
After St. Louis I spend the weekend in Cleveland, visiting my family. My sister asked whether I'd be interested in doing a 5-K race with her on Sunday morning, before my flight.
My flight was at 11:20, and the race was at 9. I therefore ran my first 5-K, through the streets of Lakewood, Ohio, in 20:25. With my race clothes still on, my mom took me to the airport where I rinsed off in the bathroom, and then checked my bag. I made my flight.
So, no 20-miler, but a race nonetheless. I want to make up this 20 miler on the upcoming weekend, but I'm also wary of not tapering sufficiently. My plan at the moment is a 20-miler on Saturday, and then 2 weeks of tapering.
It's been a strange week in the United Kingdom. The airports here have been closed for 5 days because of volcanic ash from Iceland. Apparently, they are to open tonight. Had I been running the Boston Marathon this year (that is, yesterday) I would have been out of luck - there were no flights into or out of the country.
This past Sunday I ran the complete Road. If you've been following from earlier posts, this is a hilly road behind the place where I work. My idea was that if I could run the whole thing I'd be ready for the marathon. I ran the whole thing (about 19 miles). Actually, it wasn't as bad as feared. Hopefully, microscopic ash hasn't accumulated in my lungs. I felt bad leaving my wife and children for the entire afternoon while I ran, but I'm now so deep in training that it seems a waste to curtail my training now, when my qualifying marathon is so soon. Basically, I have a handful of long runs left, and then I'm tapering.
I'm at that point in marathon training where I'm looking forward to it ending a bit.
Last week I was away with my wife and children in a cottage in the Scottish highlands. For reading material I brought "Why We Run" by Bernd Heinrich. I was motivated by his experiments in training for an ultramarathon. Basically, he tried to get his body used to running all the time - by running whenever he could. I can see this, and tried to get in a number of runs last week, family permitting. This may have helped get my body ready for the long run I did without too much discomfort this Sunday.
Bought new shoes today at the running store. My old ones weren't that old (6 months), but they were starting to feel uncomfortable. Indeed, the week before last I curtailed my 14-mile long run because my ankles were unaccountably sore. This was likely the terrain (woodland paths with rocks and roots), but I was starting to suspect it might also be my shoes. They feel flat, and they've always been a touch tight.
In any event, I bought some new ones. Sauconys. Hopefully they will feel good for my qualifying marathon.
One of the things I like about running is that it doesn't cost much. All you really need is shoes - and I suppose some will argue you don't even need those. But I didn't hesitate to buy new shoes which weren't particularly cheap. However, my rationale here can be captured in an apt British expression: in for a penny, in for a pound. Once you've committed to something, you might as well commit fully. Given the amount of time I've spent running, I might as well have good shoes.
12 years ago I trained for and ran the New York City marathon. It's the only other marathon I've done.
I remember vividly my first 20-mile training run. My partner followed me on her bike as I ran a loop along the Charles River in Boston, where we were living. I started slow and got slower as the miles continued. At the end, I was barely shuffling my feet. Old guys easily jogged passed. I was bonked. Utterly bonked.
Yesterday, Sunday, on my longest training run thusfar in the season, I did it again. OK, it wasn't quite as complete, but then I was only going for 16 miles.
It never felt right. I missed an hour of sleep the night before because the clocks went forward (in the UK this happens after the US, for some reason). I had some beer the night before, but nothing excessive. Two days earlier, I'd done a tough 10 miles in the hills with a friend, but then I'd rested the next day.
I started just before 10 a.m. (for my body, on old time, just before 9) after a full breakfast - coffee, muesli, and a danish. I ran into town, where I thought I might catch some running friend who sometimes get together on Sunday mornings to run. They weren't meeting this weekend, apparently, so I went up the the tow-path that is adjancent to a canal in the town. This runs for a long distance - 40 miles? - and is flat.
On my way out I headed into a stiff head-wind. I prefer to head out into the wind and then have it at my back on the return trip. I didn't carry any water or food; I thought I'd be running with my colleagues and that I'd stop at home for a drink before doing some additional miles.
My legs felt heavy and tired. I'd done a half-marathon race the weekend before, but I thought I was recovered. I trudged on, taking it slow.
Just before my turning around point my upper left leg began to be sore. When I began to head back the soreness began to affect the whole leg. Perhaps fighting the wind for over an hour had taken its toll. Whatever the reason, I was physically beat.
I was also starting to worry about water. I'd been out for over an hour and a half by this point. I stopped and asked a walker if there were any stores nearby. She said there was something, but it was a ways away from the canal.
I didn't want to extend the distance any more than I needed to, given that I was already tiring. Stupidly, I hadn't brought my phone. To get back home I'd either have to run or walk.
After a mile or two, the canal crossed a road and there was a sign with a local map. It showed a store nearby, and I went down the street to it. It was open, and I bought a sports drink. It tasted incredibly sweet.
Clutching my drink, I returned to the canal and kept plodding along. I thought that at the next mile marker I'd stop running and walk a bit. The object of the long run was to get used to running long miles, but I also didn't want to injure myself. I was beat.
However, I must have missed the marker, and so I continued running. It wasn't fast, it wasn't pretty, but it was running. As the distance to home shrank to around 3 miles, I figured I'd just push on. I was just over the 2 hour mark for the run thusfar.
Off the tow-path at last, I shuffled through the sunny woods on a path that runs along a river. Any descent, however, reminded my how sore my legs were.
Eventually I got to my neighbourhood, and at 2:31 to my house. I was shattered.
12 years ago, after my bad run, I'd bounced back by increasing my mid-week distances.
My confidence for this year's race has not been ruined, but this bad run has reminded me that I have lots more work to do. It's an endurance event, and I want to approach it as such, by building endurance.