2017 2018: Chicago Marathon

It has been nearly 3 years since I participated in a timed marathon experiment. It has been much longer than 3 years since I actually trained for any event. I have “trained” for several events before, including the two marathons – Marquette, MI and Madison, WI, but without a formal training plan. Back then and until recently, I was basically hopping from one event to the next using the performance in one as the baseline for the next. Such an approach worked pretty well in the first few years of getting into running because there was a LOT of room for improvement – so much so that anything and everything I tried, small or big, often led to newer personal best times. 

Fueled by cockiness derived from those frequent PRs and powered by my unwillingness to believe in the S shape of the learning curve, I conveniently ignored two heart-to-heart recommendations from friends in the community that’d have helped me achieve better results while minimizing the chances of bodily injuries.

  1. use a formal training plan to prepare well and
  2. limit the number of meaningfully trained hard racing days to two per year

A brief recap what has happened since the last marathon in 2015 November until Christmas of 2017.

  1. 2016 was a below average year: I did about 290 km of cross country skiing, 750 miles of running, 225 miles of road biking and 23,000 yards of swimming over a total time of about 240 hours. In the process, I had come to learn about iron/ferritin depletions and protein deficiency in my diet and took some measures to rectify them.
  2. 2017 was further below average: I did about 64 km of cross country skiing, 460 miles of running, less than 40 miles of biking and 5,300 yards of swimming over a total time of about 135 hours. While diet was consciously better than what it had been in 2016, I used running as a vent for life’s frustrations (some from work, some from Uncle Sam and some from my own misplaced/mismanaged expectations). That unto itself wasn’t bad but not giving the mind-body system enough rest wasn’t a very smart approach and I paid for it.

Buried in this below average year of 2017 was my maiden attempt to formally train and participate in an athletic endeavor since my good ole recreational softball days. It would be for a marathon. After getting into the Chicago Marathon via the lottery and after getting over the fear that I hadn’t gotten phished (you know … I show up to the race expo to pick up my bib and the organizers tell me that I never was entered into the system or never won the lottery enrollment, and that it was all a a credit card scam), I started out with a paid plan – the official training plan for this very specific event from Training Peaks.

Maybe it was the eagerness to compensate for lost time and/or maybe it was the need to vent the aforementioned frustrations of 2016 and 2017, I decided to tack on an extra workout of my own each day in addition to the one prescribed by the training plan. Being a Physics major and all, I should have known that launching a spacecraft at twice the necessary speed doesn’t make it reach its destination (say, Moon Mars) in half the time. But I didn’t.

Just like that, my alterations to the training plan led to its most likely destination: the garbage can. I was burnt out even before week #2 saw its first sunrise. Adding injury to insult, I had minor/semi-major nagging knee and lower leg pain for the next several months. I didn’t necessarily do as well in local and regional events. I was forced to re-register for the 2018 North Country Trail Run  and defer the Chicago Marathon entry until 2018. Frustrations and injuries continued well into the Fall and almost till Christmas of 2017. While I don’t usually subscribe to the concept of New Year’s Resolution, I really didn’t want another $195 T shirt that I couldn’t wear without writing DNS (Did Not Start) or DNF (Did Not Finish) on it. To that end, the primary goals to achieve in 2018 have been to

  1. establish some semblance of work-life balance,
  2. make life and personal health (of body and mind) a higher priority, and
  3. with help of #1 and #2, get back at least to the same level of fitness as I had in 2016.

#1 and #2 weren’t easy and it took quite a bit of conscious effort – through mid-March – to be semi-OK with leaving work at work and to be somewhat guilt-free when not working during nights, weekends, holidays or my off days. Positive results of these uneasy attempts became a little more apparent during and after the American Birkebeiner (Kortelopet, 29 km) and Great Bear Chase (10 km). My body seemed a little more rested, mind seemed a lot more relaxed and (minor) injuries started disappearing even as the kilometers racked up.

Counting the combination of Birkie and Bear Chase as one meaningfully trained hard racing day, I set out to make Chicago Marathon in October the other meaningfully trained hard racing day of 2018. If – for whatever reason – I didn’t find ways to participate, not only I’d lose the race entry fee for the second year in a row but would have enter the Chicago lottery system all over again for 2019.

I had a general idea that most marathon training plans are 16 weeks long, if not 18 or 24. One thought was to find a 16 week plan but use it as for 18 weeks with 2 bye weeks – to account for potential travel and possible injury or other unforeseen circumstances. But I have lived through Arthur Ashe‘s famous quote: a nick here, a nick there, and pretty soon you’re bleeding to death. That is, I have taken a short break from working out in the past only to find that months, if not years, were in my rear view mirror. So, I searched the interwebs from late April through early May and found a pretty good plan from Nike designed specifically for 2017 Chicago Marathon.

For a few days or so, I explored the Nike’s plan for 2018 Chicago but found it to be a little too fluid to my liking. A day or two before the official start of pre-training period, I came across Hal Higdon‘s plans. Maybe it was just the familiarity of his name from reading Runner’s World articles, his plans seemed to have some subjective appeal. After one day of being on the 2017 Nike plan during pre-training, I formally switched over to Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 Marathon Plan – one with no explicitly mentioned speed or hill or tempo runs – for good. Goal was to stick with the plan in its entirety. Dream was to not give up on participating in my favorite annual events in/around the community along the way. Hope was to find where I was running to or what I was running from.

Some changes I made to the Hal’s plan in the beginning were as follows:

  1. Shift the whole weekly plan back by one day
    1. It’d result in XTrain on Sunday, rest on Thursday and LSD run on Saturday
    2. I could keep running with Keweenaw Running Group on Wednesdays, and
    3. I’d get an extra free day in week #18 for traveling to Chicago
  2. Split the 18-week plan into 3 phases of 6 weeks each
    1. Phase 1 would be sticking with the plan as is to build the necessary foundation
    2. Phase 2 would include some speed and tempo workouts
    3. First 4 weeks of Phase 3 would add on race-like workouts and final 2 weeks of Phase 3 would be tapering period

In each of the two official marathon attempts – Marquette and Madison, both in 2015 – I had  become pretty close friends with the Wall around mile 18 ish and our friendship had lasted through the finish line. Some more literature search about techniques to delay (or better, avoid) this reunion led me to find the following:

  1. Wall, in semi-technical terms, sends a friend request when the body has mostly run out of glycogen reserves but does not know how to use stored fat reserves as a source of energy
  2. The body won’t learn to use stored fat reserves as a source of energy unless it is taught and trained to do so
  3. Apart from the bonkers workouts (i.e., working out towards the end of or after a sufficiently longish fasting period), one tested way to train the body to use stored fat reserves as a source of energy would be
    1. to run at low or aerobic heart rate levels (which, in my case, meant run fairly slow), and
    2. not give the body any easy way out (which, in my case, meant not consuming Gu or Gel or other electrolytes on medium to longish runs)

Parts of #1-#3 above were not completely new information but I just hadn’t taken time or made a serious effort to make them a part of my life style. I was fairly comfortable fasting once per fortnight while living on the other side of the planet many moons ago. Several of my memorable academic and athletic performances were usually on or after the day of such fasting period. Since I had been taking a few hours off on each Friday to learn work-life balance, I figured I should pick up fasting practice again – maybe one day per week on a day I was most likely to stay home. Chatting with Greg, who had been doing intermittent fasting for quite sometime, I learned about various formats – 5/2, 16/8, 20/4, etc. 5/2 (5 days of regular eating and 2 days of fasting per week) would have been similar to my old approach. But I figured 16/8 (16 hours of fasting with an 8 hour eating window each day) would make me more disciplined. And when the time came, I’d push towards 20/4. As much as I loved to eat (and still do), I had learned from the fallacy of I run X miles per week. That entitles me to eat and drink whatever I want, whenever I want and needed to carefully monitor what went into my system.

Chatting with Alice (thanks for recommending the book, Long Distance) and Patrick Messer (in CASC gatherings in DC) a couple years ago, I had learned the value of HR-based training and especially the value of LSD runs at low heart rates. So, I decided to put it all together during the pre-training period – increased mileage, intermittent fasting (+ 2 beers per week would be the upper limit for alcohol consumption), leaving work at work while making myself a priority and sleeping a bit more – and see how I’d do. If this eclectic blend turned out to be manageable/sustainable for 2 weeks, the plan was to incrementally add one week at a time for 18 more weeks.

Oh, one other thing: instead of waiting till after an injury to start re-habing and losing valuable training time, I opted to pre-hab regularly during this pre-training and training period. HandlerHillRossStarksTempleVertin sounds lot more like some law firm in Manhattan or a financial enterprise in Bronx but their collective medical wisdom, care and magic went on to not only considerably strengthen the weaker body parts but also prevented a handful of injuries. Without their timely and often proactive help, I doubt I’d have started running as far or as fast I did in relatively short amount of time!

Cloudy Motivation

Gray-texted stuff above are what I encourage my students to do – in and outside of the course. While they certainly apply to me, to trust Hal’s process and ask for help from anyone/everyone willing to help, the red-texted is purely for myself. I have been known to do a stupid thing or two on occasion before!

Summary of training activities
Easy (E) | Fartlek (F) | Hill (H) | Long (L) | Race (R) | Speed (S) | Tempo (T) | XTrain (X)
Phase 0 (pre-training)
Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Season
P1 05/21
E 3.00
4.01
0:42:10
05/22
E 5.00
--
--
05/23
E 3.00
4.63
1:18:43
05/24
Rest
3.44
0:45:57
05/25
R 5.00
--
--
05/26
L 10.00
6.27
1:17:10
05/27
X 1:00:00
12.55
2:42:26
26.00
30.90
6:46:26
26.00
30.90
6:46:26
P2 05/28
E 3.00
--
--
05/29
E 5.00
6.31
1:17:15
05/30
E 3.00
7.04
1:12:01
05/31
Rest
--
--
06/01
E 5.00
--
--
06/02
L 11.00
10.07
1:43:06
06/03
X 1:00:00
--
--
27.00
23.42
4:12:22
53.00
54.32
10:58:48
  Why pre-training? I believe I haven't done something well if what I did didn't exceed the initial estimate - for time or quality or both. When wearing my teacher hat at Michigan Tech, expect all prospective students for my UN5390: Scientific Computing course at Michigan Tech to meaningfully complete FOSS101: Essentials of Free and Open Source Software ahead of time ... ala training camp before the season begins. This practice serves several purposes:

  1. saves students about $3-$5k (especially useful for self-supported students) and helps them graduate anywhere between 1 to 3 semesters ahead of time
  2. provides students an opportunity to choose some other course if they realize, at no monetary expense to them, that my course isn't to their liking
  3. helps me focus my attention, energy, time and other resources on interested and hard-working students
Things I expect from my students - preparing and showing up ahead of time, active listening, taking notes, improving them at home during reviews, incremental builds/progress, asking questions, seeking help, submitting work slightly ahead of time ... - are what my teachers taught me well and what I expect from myself. I knew, much like the students interested in my course, I chose to

  1. sign up for this event (i.e., course)
  2. follow Hal's plan (i.e., syllabus)
In the previous 4.67 months leading up pre-training, I had run less miles per month compared to what Hal would have me run per week. Just as my students could use the pre-course (i.e., FOSS101) to ease into the real course, I figured it was only fair I do some pre-training before the real training began. To save time and gain familiarity, I opted to try weeks #01 and #02 of the real training plan as pre-training. I needed

  1. to get a taste of Hal's plan and see if it was a good fit for me
  2. check if my body would hold up in light of upcoming increased mileage. If injuries showed up, I figured, it might be easier to take time off to heal in the beginning and/or set different goals
  3. to be more comfortable leaving work at work and making time for these workouts, to eat on time and get enough rest between workouts
  4. to earn some karmic credits towards my teaching efforts. I figured, if I fully bought into and meticulously followed someone else's plan and process for my benefit (and for no benefit of that someone else), then maybe the students in my courses will buy into the curriculum and follow the prescribed process for their own benefit
  5. to be at peace with and take full responsibility for my failure in completing either the plan or the marathon in spite of training well. I did not not attribute any part of the failure to Hal or his plan or anyone else
Phase 1: Easy runs, one race pace run and one LSD run per week
Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Season
01 06/04
E 3.00
5.18
0:51:02
06/05
E 5.00
3.10
0:32:33
06/06
E 3.00
3.09
0:39:41
06/07
Rest
--
--
06/08
R 5.00
5.02
0:40:59
06/09
L 10.00
10.05
2:10:13
06/10
X 1:00:00
4.09
5:17:53
26.00
30.53
10:12:21
26.00
30.53
10:12:21
02 06/11
E 3.00
3.03
0:32:03
06/12
E 5.00
5.17
0:59:37
06/13
E 3.00
3.11
0:39:48
06/14
Rest
--
--
06/15
E 5.00
--
--
06/16
L 11.00
5.09
0:47:27
06/17
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
27.00
16.40
3:58:55
53.00
46.93
14:11:16
03 06/18
E 3.00
14.17
2:31:38
06/19
E 6.00
6.59
1:09:55
06/20
E 3.00
3.18
0:38:24
06/21
Rest
--
--
06/22
R 6.00
6.31
0:54:17
06/23
L 8.00
--
1:00:00
06/24
X 1:00:00
8.22
1:30:01
26.00
38.47
7:44:15
79.00
85.40
21:55:31
04 06/25
E 3.00
3.16
0:30:01
06/26
E 6.00
6.31
1:11:01
06/27
E 3.00
3.13
0:42:33
06/28
Rest
--
--
06/29
R 6.00
6.25
0:56:50
06/30
L 13.00
13.17
2:21:01
07/01
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
31.00
32.02
6:41:26
110.00
117.42
28:36:57
05 07/02
E 3.00
3.14
0:30:24
07/03
E 7.00
7.10
1:21:05
07/04
E 3.00
3.20
0:36:26
07/05
Rest
--
--
07/06
E 7.00
7.40
1:26:42
07/07
L 14.00
14.12
2:32:17
07/08
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
34.00
34.96
7:26:54
144.00
152.38
36:03:51
06 07/09
E 3.00
--
--
07/10
E 7.00
--
--
07/11
E 3.00
2.06
0:22:56
07/12
Rest
--
--
07/13
R 7.00
--
--
07/14
L 10.00
13.26
2:37:36
07/15
X 1:00:00
14.86
4:11:39
30.00
30.18
7:12:11
174.00
182.56
43:16:02
 


Run The Keweenaw, A Festival of Trails (W06D06-07)

2013 was my first year of participating in this event and 2018 was my fourth consecutive year participating in its entirety. This also marks the third year in a row that we (Keweenaw Running Group, KRG) called the fine cabins of Mariner North home for the weekend. It's an understatement to say that this event - Shannon calls it A Running Camp For Adults, I may have referred to it as the (Mid-)Western States Endurance Run - is one of my all time favorite trail running events. RTK has come to be a family reunion of friends in a mystical land a bit beyond the reach of technology's grip. Knowing the course helped strategically save some miles my legs for the weekend.

I drove to the start of Mt. Baldy Summit Run (6k) with Julie and Kelly, and ran the initial parts with Shannon Mitchell and rest of with Andi. For the first time in quite a while, I experienced some side stitches but used Christine's uneven breathing technique cured it on the go. I ran Copper Harbor Trails Challenge (10k) starting out with Shannon M, some behind Jan, most of the rest solo and some at the end with Angela. For the first time in quite a while, I experienced some dizziness around mile 3.5 and came close to twisting/rolling my ankle once or twice. So, I decided to take the pedal off the gas and go easy rest of the way. The 2nd Ever RTK Post-Race Potluck was a wonderful way to wind down the day - sharing meals and conversations with good people. I chose to make parts of the week's pace run over the first 5-6 miles of Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run (25k) and switched over to LSD mode for the final 9-10 miles. I ran portions of it, before crossing US41 on Garden Brook, with Andi and Shannon, and rest of it solo.

It was a heartwarming experience to be wished for my birthday (I share it with Shannon M) by the race director (Mike Young; Cheryl and Christine Young had something to with it the night before), volunteers and fellow participants before the start and then by every volunteer/participant along the course. My time for the weekend was good enough to earn the Average Joe award for the second time in 3 years (Andi won the Average Jane). Having been an event that had commanded its own full-on race report in previous years, it took a lot of mental effort to give it its deserving attention while keeping the bigger picture in mind. An additional mini-goal I had for this event was to just run the mile (or the kilometer, for fanatics of SI Units) I was in - instead of worrying about how many were behind or ahead - turned out to be lor harder than I had imagined. It's not far fetched to claim Shannon's timely medical magic not only got me ready for this event but likely saved rest of the marathon training season.

Phase 2: Phase 1 + Speed, tempo and hill runs + strength training
Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Season
07 07/16
E 4.00
4.01
0:39:51
07/17
E 9.00
8.12
1:19:54
07/18
E 4.00
4.08
0:39:03
07/19
Rest
--
--
07/20
Rest
--
--
07/21
R 13.10
13.20
1:49:39
07/22
X 1:00:00
3.01
1:17:47
30.10
32.42
5:46:14
204.10
214.98
49:02:16
 


Hancock Canal Run Half Marathon (W07D06)

My original plan was to stick with training plan and add ~3 miles before/after the Canal Run to make it a 16 mile LSD run. Training plan would have had me race a half marathon at the end of week #09. I took the advice of Ryan Towles (he is too cool for social media) and Andi and swapped out weeks #07 and #09. Doing so offered an opportunity to race in a real race atmosphere and if all went well, maybe even a PR (sub 1:43:03 or below).

I started out well and easy with DJ but he peeled ahead just as Joel joined along. We ran together for about 4 miles meeting our short-term goals. Though I got behind the goal pace for a while, I decided to go for broke at about 5 mile mark. Heart rate wasn't too high but head/cross winds didn't help my cause over the final ~5 miles. I finished several minutes off of PR with an official time of 1:49:43 (55/184 overal, 45/90 in gender and 7/10 in AG). Realizing that my fastest and slowest miles were only a minute apart was particularly satisfying.

Driving to the start with Ray and Stephen and back with Ray offered a wealth of information about running. Ray thought I could have finished a sub-4 hour marathon in today's conditions! The week after RTK weekend, in previous years, was mostly for recovery. Being able to keep up with the W07 training plan in its entirety was the first visible benefit/value of following Hal's plan. I felt good about the progress so far. As long as I stick with the training, drop some more weight in a meaningful way and don't do too much stupid stuff, I should be ok.

08 07/23
S 4.00
4.15
0:46:32
07/24
E 8.00
6.31
1:23:58
07/25
T 4.00
6.26
1:26:48
07/26
Rest
--
--
07/27
E 8.00
8.01
1:51:49
07/28
L 17.00
--
--
07/29
X 1:00:00
17.04
4:14:42
41.00
41.77
9:43:49
245.10
256.75
58:46:05
09 07/30
S 4.00
4.07
0:42:10
07/31
T 8.00
8.67
1:32:03
08/01
E 4.00
4.12
0:47:16
08/02
Rest
--
--
08/03
R 8.00
8.22
1:17:21
08/04
L 16.00
16.03
2:49:26
08/05
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
40.00
41.11
8:08:16
285.10
297.86
66:54:21
10 08/06
S 4.00
4.10
0:41:13
08/07
E 9.00
9.06
1:36:41
08/08
H 4.00
4.37
1:16:07
08/09
Rest
--
--
08/10
R 9.00
9.17
1:44:34
08/11
L 19.00
19.30
3:00:38
08/12
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
45.00
46.00
9:19:13
330.10
343.86
76:13:34
 


Paavo Nurmi Half Marathon (W10D06)

According to the training plan, this was supposed to be a 19 mile LSD run. Since I had already decided to participate in the 50th edition of Paavo Nurmi festivities (Jan got me into this last year), I had two options: add 7 miles and do a full OR add 6 miles to the half marathon. Since I wasn't yet ready for the full marathon distance (definitely not for the hilly course of Paavo), I opted for the latter. Since running 6 after running through the finish line would make it mentally difficult while delaying my return to Houghton, I mapped and tested a 10k course from Hurley Chamber of Commerce in Downtown (finish line) to the Gile Flowage (starting line). Pre-event festivities gave me a wonderful opportunity to interact with veterans of this event including the very first champion from 1969 and his better half.

When I woke up (almost slept through as I had set the alarm but only for weekdays), I was a bit flustered and thus incorrectly assumed that I needed 9 miles before the half marathon started at 8 am. So, I started running shortly before 6:30 am and at a pretty decent pace. Only at mile 3 did I realize that I just needed 6 miles total instead of 6 more and that I'd arrive at the start line about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time (instead of 7-10 minutes as originally planned). I spent much of those 30 minutes stretching and walking and failing mostly at conversing with strangers/fellow runners.

Having run the course last year and knowing that a very large number of aid stations existed at frequent intervals, I was able to maintain a decent pace for all of 13.1 miles (instead of just the last 9 as originally planned). It was warm and at times hilly but an occasional gentle breeze negated the humidity. Jim Engel's roadside signs (All It Takes Is All You Got and Harder The Conflict, Greater The Triumph) and cheers from spectators and volunteers provided sufficient energy to keep running. Tips learned from The Run Experience and RunRx (thanks to Angela for the latter) came in very handy. I was pretty happy with the official finish time of 1:59:03 (53/185 overall, 34/89 in gender and 4/7 in AG).

11 08/13
S 5.00
5.05
1:47:38
08/14
T 10.00
10.73
2:18:55
08/15
E 5.00
8.79
2:51:31
08/16
Rest
--
--
08/17
E 10.00
10.05
1:27:52
08/18
L 20.00
20.26
3:25:32
08/19
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
50.00
54.88
12:51:28
380.10
398.74
89:05:02
12 08/20
S 5.00
5.03
0:44:10
08/21
T 10.00
11.13
1:52:58
08/22
E 5.00
7.61
1:24:36
08/23
Rest
--
--
08/24
L 20.00
--
--
08/25
R 10.00
26.23
5:01:09
08/26
X 1:00:00
12.26
3:22:24
50.00
62.26
12:25:17
430.10
461.00
101:30:19
 


North Country Trail Run Half Marathons (W12D06-07)

Truth be told, I signed up for this event a couple years ago thinking Manistee was just a different spelling for Manistique. I also didn't think North Country Trail went south of the Mackinac Bridge. Much like Chicago Marathon, 2017 edition of this event got away from me due to a variety of issues. I signed up for 2018 edition as soon as the registration opened and made it a part of the Chicago Marathon training plan. Thanks to Shannon Mitchell, I met many of the Hobby Joggas and would go on to chat and interact and run with some of them throughout the weekend. They even fed me a hearty meal within only few minutes of our very first meeting!!

John, who had previously followed the same marathon training plan, had suggested that I do at least two of the three 20 milers a bit longer to avoid (or even remove) the onset of The Wall during the marathon. So, I had planned to do 10 miles before the start of Saturday's half marathon. By the time I got to the Big M and got ready to run, I had just enough time for about 8 miles. By the time I got back to Big M to start the half marathon, I overhead fellow participants talking about delays caused by overnight thunderstorms. So, I opted to slowly jog around (thanks, Scott, #1020) another ~5 miles. The course was spectacular, sans mile markings for some aid stations. I did hit the dreaded wall and walked quite a bit between miles 16 and 19. A mini but reasonable/achieavble goal (one of many concepts/practices I learned from running 20 miles with Ray the previous weekend) to run the rest without walking irrespective of the pace or terrain eventually helped me finish strong (66/425 overall, 36/143 in gender and 8/15 in AG).

I woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty fresh and passed the first step test. I started the half marathon at the end of the pack and was stuck behind a slow moving single file of runners for the first ~2 miles. The trails, if at all possible, were more beautiful and surreal - a mix of fog, moss, cloud cover that kept me shaded transported the setting into a completely different world. The effort also seemed/felt better and I was able to run the entire length of the course (except aid stations) without walking. I was quite happy with lack of any pain and to have finished fairly strong (65/317 overall, 45/134 in gender and 9/23 in AG). Bonus features from this trip downstate included my maiden stay at an AirBnB (a cool little room on a big ship - SS City of Milwaukee), grocery shopping experience in Meijer and visiting the Koethes (Debbie, Tom, Sarah and Scout; and enjoying their company and an amazing home-cooked meal!) .

Phase 3: Phase 2 + Race-like situations and taper
Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Season
13 08/27
E 5.00
--
--
08/28
S 6.00
--
--
08/29
H 5.00
16.07
2:48:03
08/30
Rest
--
--
08/31
L 6.00
--
--
09/01
R 12.00
13.17
1:46:49
09/02
X 1:00:00
6.29
2:13:12
34.00
35.53
6:48:04
464.10
496.53
108:18:23
 


Marquette Half Marathon (W13D06)

According to the training plan, this was supposed to be a regular 12 miles LSD run. But I decided to race a half marathon to get used to the real race atmosphere one more time about 5 weeks before the main event. The goal was to earn a PR (1:43:02 or below). I stayed at the Gracis (Kara, Sam and Walker) along with the Farquhars (Cheryl and John). After dinner at the house, John and I walked up the Third Street segment of the course - to measure the distance and in turn, have a better idea of what it takes for a final push.

I started slow averaging ~8 min/mile for the first 5 miles while accounting for rolling course. I cautiously pushed the pace for the next 5 miles once the course was all downhill while accounting for potential slippery surface and possible quadraceps pain. At about the 10 mile mark, a PR was well within range. But I gave into into the humid and muggy conditions on top of carrying thoughts about something that happened at an aid station shortly after mile 10. The latter most certainly didn't help my cause ... I was shy of the PR by about 4 minutes (57/534 overall, 38/198 in gender and 14/62 in AG).

Shortly after crossing the finish line, it was really cool to see Kara come through punching her ticket to Boston with nearly 7.5 minutes to spare! Jan and John won their respective age groups and Angela had a pretty good race too!! It was also disheartening to hear the story of an elderly gentleman that missed out on qualifying for Boston by just one minute. I felt pretty good about the impact of training so far in spite of missing a PR. I realized the need to continue working on letting things go as well as on improving and sustaining cadence over longer durations.

14 09/03
S 5.00
5.01
0:37:26
09/04
E 6.00
6.48
1:12:06
09/05
E 5.00
5.02
0:45:24
09/06
Rest
--
--
09/07
E 6.00
3.14
0:25:18
09/08
L 12.00
16.20
2:20:32
09/09
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
34.00
35.85
6:20:46
498.10
532.38
114:39:09
15 09/10
S 5.00
5.23
0:41:55
09/11
T 10.00
5.07
1:26:28
09/12
H 5.00
5.58
1:03:39
09/13
Rest
--
--
09/14
R 10.00
13.13
1:59:39
09/15
L 20.00
--
--
09/16
X 1:00:00
26.31
5:12:24
50.00
55.32
10:24:05
548.10
587.70
125:03:14
16 09/17
E 5.00
5.05
0:50:52
09/18
T 8.00
--
--
09/19
H 5.00
2.05
0:28:07
09/20
Rest
--
--
09/21
R 4.00
--
--
09/22
L 12.00
26.53
10:57:39
09/23
X 1:00:00
--
1:00:00
34.00
33.63
13:16:38
582.10
621.33
138:19:52
 


Marji Gesick 50 Mile Run (W16D06)

No, I didn't run 50 miles. I am not that crazy yet. But about 11 months ago, without doing any literature search about the event, I agreed to be Jess' pacer for about 20 miles during her 2018 Marji Gesick 50 mile adventure. Though I knew then that the Chicago Marathon would be just 2 weeks afterwards, I was months away from picking a training plan. Backing out on my word was never an option even if this was just a week before Chicago Marathon. So, similar to what I had done in the week leading up to the 2018 RTK weekend, I strategically saved bulk of week 16's mileage to leave sufficient room for about 20 miles.

Jess started the adventure around 9 am in Marquette and I joined at her 31.4 mile mark in Ishpeming around 5:30 pm. The course was pretty but a difficult one. The pace was dictated by Jess' prior mileage and feel, structure of the terrain and darkness of the night. We did pretty well and survived with all our limbs, digits, toe nails and no injuries (no sprains, tweaks, rolls or blisters) - thanks to invaluable help from Braxton (winner of 2017 #MG50 Run; for the apriori information about the course, specifically the last 20 some miles and helping me pick out a hydration backpack with necessary goodies in Queen City Running Company), Amanda and Megan (for being our own trail angels and bringing supplies at critical pre-designated points along the course), Adam and Tim (about the gnarliness of the final 7-8 miles) and many other unnamed fellow racers, pacers and self-appointed volunteers/trail angels (for company and conversations). The 50 mile course turned out to be about 4 miles longer than the advertised 55 miles. So, I got to enjoy the course for about 28 miles instead of just 20. The course was extremely well marked - something I should emulate the next time I have an opportunity to do so.

This was indeed my first official rodeo - of being a pacer. Things that Mark Mehler and Dr. Bill Bulleit taught me about pacing and pacer etiquette came in very handy. I was quite proud of remembering whose race it was, what my responsibilities were, preparing for and executing them reasonably well and peeling off/away from the finish chute. It was quite nice to see Todd, the race director of #BlameTodd fame, still being present around the finish line at that witching hour (I heard later that Danny, the course designer of #BlameDanny fame, was there too) to chat with finishing racers and pacers. I am pretty certain I got more than what I agreed to from this experience and I might even consider being a participant in this event one of these years.

17 09/24
S 4.00
2.12
0:20:57
09/25
T 6.00
5.03
0:53:52
09/26
H 4.00
5.18
0:47:03
09/27
Rest
--
--
09/28
E 4.00
--
--
09/29
L 8.00
8.16
1:35:30
09/30
X 1:00:00
6.26
1:57:11
26.00
26.75
5:34:33
608.10
648.08
143:54:25
18 10/01
S 3.00
13.50
1:11:50
10/02
T 4.00
4.15
0:43:17
10/03
H 3.00
3.04
0:35:04
10/04
Rest
--
--
10/05
Rest
--
--
10/06
E 2.00
2.38
0:27:23
10/07
R 26.20
26.22
3:40:05
38.20
49.29
6:37:39
646.30
697.37
150:32:04
 


Taper (W17D01 - W18D06)

To say that tapering period didn't start on the right foot is a fairly apt description. 10 steps into the first run on W17D01, I noticed a sharp pain in the left ankle that lasted about 15-20 strides. For once, the comman sense prevailed and I stopped the run halfway through to let it rest for a while. Pretty much the same thing happened again during W17D02's run and I stopped the run a mile shy. Little more rest and I was able to go a mile longer on W17D03 with nearly no pain.



Though I knew I hadn't rolled or tweaked or stumbled during previous weekend's Marji Gesick festivities, this was exactly the type of thing that I had secretly feared. Andi thought it could have just been a side effect of being on my feet for nearly 22 hours and that I needed to just rest more. Two full days of rest that included some of Hill - Lloyd magic ... and I was back to running with no pain by W17D06. Keeping in mind the recommendations from Stephen about sticking to the known easy surfaces to minimize the chances of an untimely injury, I was even able to make up the lost mileage along the shores of the greatest of the Great Lakes on W17D07 and keep the schedule during W18.

 

By the end of W18D03, I was pretty happy and proud of myself for sticking with the training plan and ancillary goals. I wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination. There were days when I missed the workout and I didn’t feel great (or see its value towards the Big Picture) before/during/after some workouts. But I found ways to make up the lost mileage. There were 3 weeks when I missed the weekly running mileage. But a tenth of a mile here and a quarter mile there easily added up to nearly 30 miles more than the plan prescribed by the time training ended. There were weeks when my alcohol consumption was well above the 2 beers per week limit. But I brought the average down well below that limit by week 13 (Marquette Half Marathon) and didn’t sip even a teaspoon of alcohol until the final 26.2 was done.

Geographical spread of distance and time
City County State
  Distance (miles) Time (h:mm:ss) Distance (miles) Time (h:mm:ss) Distance (miles) Time (h:mm:ss)
Chicago 28.60 4:07:28  
Cook County Total 28.6 4:07:28  
Illinois Total 28.6 4:07:28
Calumet Township 13.20 1:49:39  
Hancock 87.78 14:53:46  
Houghton 399.62 88:32:35  
Houghton County Total 500.6 105:16:00  
Copper Harbor 27.39 5:26:09  
Eagle Harbor 7.02 1:36:18  
Keweenaw County Total 34.41 7:02:27  
Wellston 38.49 7:23:33  
Manistee County Total 38.49 7:23:33  
Ishpeming 26.53 10:57:39  
Marquette 13.13 1:59:39  
Negaunee 13.17 1:46:49  
Marquette County Total 52.83 14:44:07  
Ontonagon 13.97 7:13:17  
Ontonagon County Total 13.97 7:13:17  
Michigan Total 640.3 141:39:24
Hurley 28.47 4:45:12  
Iron County Total 28.47 4:45:12  
Wisconsin Total 28.47 4:45:12
Season Total 697.37 150:32:04

 

Above all, I had over 4 dozen friends who not only opted to let me run with them (anywhere between one and over two dozen miles; anywhere between once to at least once a week) but also shared a plethora of time-tested and trusted tips and tricks that made the entire process a very very enjoyable and enlightening one! Running in their company helped magically keep my heart rate down and in turn, helped me stick with the HR-based method with lot less effort than I had expected. Many of them frequently fed me hearty and healthy meals along the way! Rob and momma Handler had even made sure I didn’t do anything stupid (you know … like trying to catch a falling leaf while running) during my last run in town before I headed towards the Windy City 🙂

 

A happy by-product of mindful eating, meaningful training and a little more rest. I learned to code N-day moving averages!

The Day Before The Day Before

John, being a veteran of many Chicago Marathons, had long ago made reservations in a hotel within a short walking distance from the starting and finishing lines. We (John and I) left Hougthon around noon on Friday and had an uneventful journey to Chicago with a dinner pitstop in Milwaukee. It wasn’t long before I called it a night – because, you know, the night before the night before is the last best chance to get a full night of sleep!

The Day Before

After waiting for the rain/thunderstorms to pass, John and I went for our final training run before the marathon. The run was punctuated fairly frequently at road crossings and to take photos. Shortly after that, we (Kara, John and I) headed out to the pre-race expo to pick up our bibs and stuff. As we were walking to catch a bus to the expo, John and Kara advised: Just #$%*ing run tomorrow. Don’t be computing something while you run. Supercomputer is going to be ok. [Don’t worry about your students (or others) while you run either. They’ll survive the weekend just fine]. It’s amazing how well my people know me and know what I need often well before I do so myself. Figuring this’d be a good lesson in learning to let things go, even if it’s just for 24 hours and 26.2 miles, I decided to give them my word that I’d do as they said 🙂 

John did a spectacular job of making sure I didn’t buy anything other than (a) a long sleeve shirt or a pull over and (b) a roller – one that runners use. Since we were unable to find a good roller (we did but it was too inexpensively priced at $129), John was kind enough to let me buy a commemorative pint glass!

We got a good bite to eat at Hannah’s Bretzel and then watched people in the lobby once we got back to the hotel until it was time for dinner. Chris (from Davenport, IA) and Erin (on her way to London from Mexico or Minneapolis) came to Chicago to cheer us on and joined us for dinner at the Rosebud. A short train ride brought us back to the hotel. After setting up the 2D version of me and knowing that 4:30 am would show up sooner than later, I called it a night around 9:30 pm.

The Day

I woke up about 30 minutes before the first scheduled alarm after a pretty decent night of sleep. Not wanting to just lay around, I decided to follow one of Jim‘s traditions and take a shower before the race. Having read that racers without gear to check-in would have an express lane into the corrals, I opted not to carry any bag in spite of repeated reminders from John and Kara. We walked to the start and after a group hug, we went towards our respective corrals shortly before 6 am (John reminded me once more: just run today). Given that we were 80 minutes before the corral gates closed, there wasn’t much of a line. I could have easily checked a bag in with warmer clothes for afterwards.

This was the first event where I wore an extra layer of clothing just to stay warm while waiting in the corral. The drizzle stopped about 20 minutes before the start of the race giving me sufficient time to stretch, jog around and warm up. Knowing my pace and place, I made my way to the very back so as not to be in the way of speedsters going for records. I don’t remember the last time so many people thought I was a Mexican and tried initiating a conversation in Spanish with me. And just like that one time in Great Bear Chase, every one of them was very disappointed upon learning that I hailed from Michigan and that my Spanish vernacular didn’t go much beyond amiga, amigo, hola, uno, dos, tres, ocho, cinco, casa, salsa, guacamole and gracias.

After disappointing few more friends from south of the border and hearing a beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, the event was off at 7:30 am. It took about 6 minutes and 20 seconds, much less than what I had expected, for the elites (read: Gwen Jorgensen, Tatyana McFadden and such heros of mine) as to start flying and for my clock to officially start ticking. Contrary to my expectations, there was sufficient wiggle room over the first 3-4 miles. My pace during those first miles, though considerably faster than the plan, appeared to be manageable and so, I kept at it. I followed my nutrition plan (practiced during the LSD run on W15D07) and consumed the Gu about every third mile and gatorade/water at every aid station. I could have switched the order of flavors of Gu I consumed: Triberry, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Outrage and Espresso Love, and will do so the next time I run a marathon. The texture, in the order I consumed, got thicker and jaws needed to work a little harder to get them in.

26.22 mi, 3:40:05, 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph
Garmin Forerunner 935 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Apriori knowledge gained from conversations with many friends (Ann Hoover, Cheryl, John, Kara, Ryan, Dr. Weaver) and analyzing GPX files downloaded from Strava was super helpful! For the vast majority of the course that snaked through numerous diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, it felt like I was in a Super Bowl parade. So many amazing people – including 3 of our own: Chris, Erin and Megan – lined up both sides of the course for almost all of the miles. It was cold and even rained some making it a miserable day for spectating a marathon. One would have to go out of the way to not feel the energy they bestowed upon all the runners.

Around mile 15 or 16, when the 3:25ish pace group was still within reach, I noticed some pain in the right foot. I didn’t think much of this pain and figured it’d go away soon. It didn’t and shortly after crossing mile 20, the 3:30ish pace group pulled away from me. The pain wasn’t too bad and I knew it wasn’t the dreaded wall (rest of the body and even the left leg was just fine). I was still keeping a fairly decent pace (around 9 min/mile) but it wasn’t the pace I had practiced during W15D07 LSD run and knew I was capable of. If not for the full length training runs and lessons from friends who ran with me, it would have been quite difficult to not start walking. One particular lesson that I constantly practiced – phrasing the remaining distance to the finish line as a safe destination distance (e.g., X miles from friends’ house to my house OR vice versa) instead of just X many miles to go – came in very very handy and made the finish line something I could work towards eagerly.

Lap Cumulative
# Avg. Temp Avg. HR kCal Time Distance Pace Real Time Proj Time
  F bpm   h:mm:ss miles min/mile h:mm:ss h:mm:ss
01 61.7 160 112 0:08:52 1.00 8:52 0:08:52 3:52:28
02 59.3 169 108 0:08:18 2.00 8:35 0:17:10 3:45:03
03 59.5 171 104 0:07:37 3.00 8:15 0:24:47 3:36:19
04 60.2 174 109 0:07:44 4.00 8:07 0:32:31 3:32:49
05 59.1 174 110 0:07:50 5.00 8:04 0:40:21 3:31:30
06 57.2 174 112 0:08:01 6.00 8:03 0:48:22 3:31:04
07 57.6 175 111 0:07:50 7.00 8:01 0:56:12 3:30:12
08 55.5 177 112 0:07:51 8.00 8:00 1:04:03 3:29:45
09 57.0 177 116 0:08:05 9.00 8:00 1:12:08 3:29:45
10 59.3 177 111 0:07:45 10.00 7:59 1:19:53 3:29:19
11 69.9 175 114 0:08:01 11.00 7:59 1:27:54 3:29:19
12 71.5 174 110 0:08:00 12.00 7:59 1:35:54 3:29:19
13 71.6 173 125 0:09:11 13.00 8:04 1:45:05 3:31:30
14 70.2 173 119 0:08:58 14.00 8:08 1:54:03 3:33:15
15 68.8 170 112 0:08:24 15.00 8:09 2:02:27 3:33:41
16 67.6 170 111 0:08:22 16.00 8:10 2:10:49 3:34:07
17 66.4 175 112 0:07:56 17.00 8:09 2:18:45 3:33:41
18 66.2 175 114 0:08:03 18.00 8:09 2:26:48 3:33:41
19 67.5 171 115 0:08:32 19.00 8:10 2:35:20 3:34:07
20 68.5 170 115 0:08:39 20.00 8:11 2:43:59 3:34:34
21 68.1 169 114 0:08:52 21.00 8:13 2:52:51 3:35:26
22 70.9 168 114 0:08:54 22.00 8:15 3:01:45 3:36:19
23 72.4 166 111 0:09:17 23.00 8:18 3:11:02 3:37:37
24 71.1 167 115 0:09:10 24.00 8:20 3:20:12 3:38:30
25 71.3 167 115 0:09:27 25.00 8:23 3:29:39 3:39:48
26 70.1 169 114 0:08:59 26.00 8:24 3:38:38 3:40:15
27 68.0 172 014 0:01:04 26.14 8:24 3:39:42 3:40:15
The final time, 3:39:42, may not match the actual time owing to rounding errors.

Goals (in order of importance) and their status
# Goal Status
00 Follow the training plan and complete it with few excuses Yes
01 Finish below 4:06:16 (faster than 9:24 min/mile, 6.38 mph) and earn a PR Yes; 3:40:05, 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph
02 Finish below 3:59:59 (faster than 9:09 min/mile, 6.56 mph) Yes; 3:40:05, 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph
03 Finish below 3:44:59 (faster than 8:35 min/mile, 6.99 mph) Yes; 3:40:05, 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph
04 Finish below 3:37:59 (faster than 8:19 min/mile, 7.21 mph) No
05 Finish below 3:29:59 (faster than 8:01 min/mile, 7.48 mph) No

By the time I came through the finish chute and crossed the timing strip for one last time, the clock showed a few ticks past 3:40 … about 26 minutes better than my previous best time for this distance (8221/##### overall, 6357/##### in gender, 1289/##### in AG; unofficially official results are here). I was quite happy to have achieved 3 of the 5 time-related goals and having run the entirety of the course including aid-stations, I was pretty content with the effort. In the couple minutes I had to myself before Kara came blazing through the finish line punching her ticket to Boston for the second time in as many months, it felt good to have committed to and executed the training plan fairly well and be thankful to everyone that played any kind of role in helping me earn this PR. It’s too bad that the official results will show just my name.

Thanks in great part to the magic of HandlerHillRossStarksTempleVertin enterprise, a cramp in my right calf only lasted about 5 seconds as Kara and I weaved our way through the sea of finishers … posing for photos, hydrating and munching on goodies that the volunteers so kindly handed to us. I could only muster a few sips of the specially packaged for the occasion beer that Goose Island Brewing Company was serving up but I did save the can. The line to pick up the gear bag was long but it did move quickly. It was rather disappointing to see a lack of changing tents – ala the ones in American Birkebeiner – that would have shielded finishers from the passing cold front, kept their sweat from freezing and provided them a little more privacy.

Though we had agreed to meet at a designated runner re-unite area, it was much too long of a walk. Opting to conserve our energy and time, Kara and I made our way back to the edge of No Entry zone of the finish chute to meet John. Soon after John came through and changed into warmer clothes, we walked back to the hotel.  We took the recommendation of a fellow runner and tried out Native Foods Cafe for lunch to start the 24-hour gorging opportunity! John and Kara then took me around through the Millennium Park to check out the Bean and other touristy things. And soon enough, it was time for dinner! A short train ride took us to Parlor Pizza Bar where Megan joined us. It didn’t take much time after a Speakerswagon Pilsner and a falafel burger (in a pretzel bun with extra avocado) disappeared for us to get back to the hotel and let the body heal with a full night of sleep.

The Day After

I woke up well before sunrise, fully rested and with minimal pain/soreness. There definitely wasn’t any pain in the joints (ankle, knee or hip) indicating that my running form must have changed from one of a heal striker to that of a front foot lander. We walked through the Millennium Park once more to photograph the Bean with fewer people around and then to Yolk for a hearty breakfast. We returned to the hotel briefly to wrap up packing and then made our way to Shake Shack – to mark the end of the 24-hour splurging window – when Cheryl joined us from the O’Hare airport.

Our uneventful return journey to the Yoop started around noon and after a handful of stops, we were safely back home around 8:45 pm. Reviewing an article from Runner’s World, I learned more about the lesser known but equally impressive Top 10 finishers from the day before: Sarah Crouch (#6, 2:32:37), Taylor Ward (#7, 2:32:42; a full-time college professor in the school of radiologic science at Weber State University in Ogden, UT, and working on her PhD!), Kate Landau (#8, 2:33:24) and Marci Klimek( #10, 2:34:53).

I did have a light bulb moment somewhere between Crystal Falls and Covington: the reason for the right foot pain became very clear. It wasn’t the wall as I had guessed before. But it had everything to do with running on just one side of the road/course. A similar pain had showed up after our own Canal Run and Lloyd had specifically suggested that I run every couple miles on the other side of the road to balance it out. Though I had religiously followed his advice since then, the taper period had no runs longer than 8 miles. As such, the practice fell off my routine and in turn, out of my mind. It was a classic example of a propagation error – that when left uncared for over a period of time – shows up as a catastrophic error. In hindsight, I was disappointed in myself for not remembering a simple little trick that could have potentially helped me finish with a much better time. But I was happy it didn’t keep me from completing the race or a good number of the goals I had in mind. It will hopefully serve  me another lesson in the value of doing the little things correctly every damned single time. 

Even after 150 hours and 675 some miles, I still have no idea as to what I am running from or where I am running to (thanks to a dear friend for this quote in a note quite some time ago). But apart from becoming a better organizer of data and programmer, I did learn quite a bit from this process:

  1. Good training plans, such as the ones from Hal Higdon, do work. It’s lot easier to stay with the plan and do most (if not all) of weekly mileage per week than to occasionally visit the plan and then try finding 150 hours the night before the marathon. It was extremely beneficial to have a local network of friends who had previously used this plan (and knew what to change) and who could verify and validate my progress along the way.
  2. The HandlerHillRossStarksTempleVertin enterprise knows my body way better than I do myself. 
  3. I can’t possibly eat/drink whatever I want and whenever I want in spite of running any number of miles or exercising any number of hours each week.
  4. Consistent strength training and biking (and swimming too) would have likely improved my core strength, cadence and breathing. In turn, I would have likely improved my finish time. So would have remembering to run alternately on either side of the road. Thanks to help from Drs. Robert Larson, Christopher Schwartz and John Durocher, I am starting to formally learn the reasons underlying the structure of training plans and the value of strength/cross-training activities.
  5. Letting things go, even if it was just for 24ish hours and 26.2 miles, did wonders and ensured 18+ weeks of training didn’t go down the drain on an almost sartorially resplendent day for running.

This was by far the best marathon experience (in terms of training, logistics, size and energy of the field and the crowd, and my own performance) and I’d definitely go back to do at least once more. I hope this 2018 Chicago Marathon experience will serve as a foundation for bigger and better and faster things down the road.


Thanks be to

the opportunities, organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timing folks, law enforcement/border patrol/immigration officials, photographers, fellow participants, spectators, technologists with their creative electronic gadgets and tools, and my good friends in and outside of my community for the often unexpected, undeserved, unrewarded acts of constant encouragement, and offerings of constructive criticism, tested tips and tricks to improve myself as an athlete.

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