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Stay the course…

Don’t change horses midstream…

Dance with the one that brought you…

***

On October 3rd, 2010, I ran the fastest 26.2 miles of my life.  My 3:19:19 at the Smuttynose Marathon qualified me for Boston 2011 and at least got me in the registration door for Boston 2012 (though ultimately I fell 33 seconds short of having my application accepted).  To get there I followed Pfitzingers 12/55 (12 weeks, peaking at 55 miles per week) plan out of his book, Advanced Marathoning.  Every subsequent marathon that I have run I have tried to follow one of Pfitzinger’s plans, be it the 12/55, the 12/70 or, most recently, the 18/55.  When people have asked for advice on how they can improve their marathon times, I’ve directed them to the book.  It really works.

But something happened to me last summer – call it burn out or fatigue, my body needed a break.  I just wasn’t listening.  I kept thinking that if I just continued to push myself, I’d break out of my funk.  Marathon after marathon, I set out to follow the Pfitz plan.

But I would miss a workout.

And then another.

And another.

My next three marathons came in at 3:26, 3:43 and my one and only DNF.  By the time training for New York City ’11 rolled around, I decided I was just going to run for fun.  I just couldn’t bring myself to hitting every run set out in the Pfitz plan.  5 to 6 days a week of running is not easy, especially when you’re in full burnout mode.

***

After New York, my running became even more haphazard.  I convinced myself I wanted to get back to Boston, so I searched for a fast, Spring marathon.  I set my eyes on Sugarloaf.

A little over 6 weeks ago, I began the Pfitz 18/55 plan.  I had to drag myself through the workouts from the very start.

Not good.

By sage buddy Mike suggested that I spend 6 weeks rebuilding my base and then follow the 12/55 plan.  As wise as his advice was, I was happier with the concept that I wouldn’t be required to run 4 – 5 times a week than the idea of pushing off the start of my training.

My wheels were spinning.

Then, about a week and a half ago, Mike inadvertently passed along another golden nugget my way.  He suggested that I take a look at the Furman FIRST program – essentially it is a Run Less, Run Faster program.  The key to the program is that there are only 3 runs per week – a speed workout, a tempo run and a long run.  Running is not allowed on any other day.  Cross-training on two other days is recommended.  Every run is based on one’s 1oK race pace.  I was particularly intrigued by the concept that long run needed to be run at 55 – 75 seconds slower than 10K pace – read that again – that’s a good 30 – 75 seconds faster than every other program I’ve followed.

***

Now, I know one is not supposed to change horses midstream and should dance with the one that brought ya, but I have also come to realize that the Pfitz program just wasn’t doing it for me anymore – I had just been unwilling to accept that.  I still believe in the Pfitz program and I still would recommend it to anybody who has the commitment and drive to run 5 days a week.  I’ve just come to a place where I realize that my body needs the cross-training but it can’t take the constant pounding 7 days a week.

The turning point for me was this last Saturday when I struggled through my run but felt a spark at the end.  That’s when I decided that I still had the desire to re-qualify for Boston.  At the end of the run I went back and read over the FIRST program again.  The more I read, the more excited I got.

I know I am jumping in late on the program – it is a 16 week program and there are now less than 12 week until Sugarloaf, but for the first time in a long time, I believe!

I believe!!!

On Tuesday I had my first speed workout – 10 x 400 meter intervals at 10K pace minus 55-60 seconds.  I hit every interval at under 6:00 pace, the last one at better than 5:45 pace.  Yesterday I put in 1000 yards in the pool.  This morning I have a 5-mile tempo run at 10K + 15-20 seconds pace.  The first real test will come this weekend when I put in my first long run of the program – 14 miles at just under 8:00 pace.

We’ll see how I feel after that run, but for right now, at this moment, I believe again…

…I have my plan…

…and I’m glad to be changing horses.

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On Saturday afternoon, after getting the refrigerator working again and half fixing a half-broken washing machine, I finally got out for a run. The temperatures were in the low 40’s but the 20 to 40 mph winds were making it feel much, much colder. Over the course of 8 miles I felt like I was running into the wind almost the whole time, which was quite a feat considering I was running an out & back route.

My plan was that I really didn’t have one. A few weeks ago I decided that I was simply going to run miles when I could before beginning a 12-week program for Sugarloaf.  This past Monday was the beginning of that program.

As I started my run, I thought of Sugarloaf and what it would take to re-qualify for Boston.

A sub-3:15 marathon – sub-7:25 per mile pace…for 26.2 miles. I haven’t run that pace consistently in so long…how the hell am I going to do this…

As I ran past 1 mile, I looked down at my watch – hmmm…7:34 – that’s not so bad – I kept moving at a pace that felt comfortable, focusing on my form, not really paying attention to pace.  I looked at my watch as I passed mile 2 – 7:30.

I decided to have some fun and push the pace a little, just to see what I had in my legs.

Miles 3 and 4 went by in a snappy 7:18 and 7:29.  Somewhere before reaching the turn around I started to tire.  As good as it felt to be running sub-7:30’s, I didn’t feel particularly strong.  I thought about the fact that at Sugarloaf, I would have to run faster than this for over 6 times the distance.

I began to reevaluate the very idea of attempting a BQ and a 5-minute PR in May.  Was I crazy?  Was I fooling myself?  At this point I just wanted to jog it back home at a slow pace and mope.

For no apparent reason I decided to push the pace for 2 more miles.  I wasn’t sure what I had in me, but I figured let’s just run this one out.

I looked at my watch at mile 5 – 7:16.  My fastest mile of the day.  Mile 6 came even faster at 7:06.  At this point however, I felt spent.  I was happy I was able to close strong, but a bit disheartened that I felt so tired.

2 miles from home, it was time to jog it in.  I covered the next 1/2 mile at 8:30 pace – a comfortable pace for me.  I started to relax and felt my breath coming back to me.

My mind drifted.  I let my body just roll along.  My watch beeped at the next 1/2 mile interval – 3:37.

3:37?  That’s 7:14 pace!

I went with it – trying not to exert too much, just letting gravity and momentum do their job – next 1/2 mile? 3:32 (7:04 pace).

As I made the final turns for home I felt a burst of energy run through me and decided I needed to finish this run strong (despite the fact that the last 1/2 mile is uphill).

I covered the last 1/2 mile at 6:58 pace and felt great – spent, but great.

Suddenly Sugarloaf didn’t feel so daunting anymore.  Suddenly I remembered that I just might have it in me to hit my BQ, despite the fact that I will need a nearly 5-minute PR.  Suddenly, the spark was back.

Now all I needed was a plan…

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If you don’t follow politics at all, you may not know who Tim Pawlenty is.  He is a former governor of the state of Minnesota who decided to run for President.  He was part of the large field of Republican candidates who were vying for their party’s nomination.  Last summer, after finishing a distant 3rd in the meaningless Iowa Straw Poll, Pawlenty unexpectedly dropped out.  Who did come in behind?  Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.  He finished ahead of everybody else, yet, because he didn’t finish as strongly as he would have liked in a straw poll, he quit.

***

New Word Definition:

Pawlenty – verb, pawlentied

1.  to prematurely  stop, cease, or discontinue: She pawlentied what she was doing at the first sign of trouble.
2. to give up or resign; let go; relinquish: He pawlentied his claim to the throne. She pawlentied her job.
***

Earlier this week I started marathon training for the upcoming Sugarloaf Marathon.  18 weeks from this past Sunday I hope to cross the finish line in Kingfield, ME in under 3:15:00.  I need to run a sub-3:15 in order to qualify for Boston once again.  That’s over 4 minutes faster than I have ever run a marathon.   For my very first run, my program (the Pfitz 18/55 plan) called for a Lactate Threshold Run – 8 miles, with 4 of those miles coming in at or around half-marathon pace.

Half-Marathon pace for me should (read: used to) be around 7:05 per mile.  Try as I might, on that first run I couldn’t maintain a pace faster than 7:30 per mile for the required 4 miles.  Mentally is was a blow.  7:30 per mile is 4 seconds slower per mile than the pace I would need to run 26.2 miles in order to achieve my goal.

And I could barely maintain that pace for 4 miles?

My first thought was I need to re-evaluate; maybe I’ve passed my peak in running; maybe it’s time simply to log the miles, run the races, but ignore the times; maybe I should quit my quest to return to Boston.

But then I thought of Tim Pawlenty.  He has GOT to be kicking himself right now.  After the carousel of conservative Republicans who have taken turns being the “Anybody But Romney” candidate, Pawlenty has to be wondering “what if?”.

Pulling out prematurely is never a good thing…

***

And so, despite the disappointing finish in that first training run, I am pressing on, because, dammit, I am no Tim Pawlenty!

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Freedom

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33.

No, not the mysterious number that appears on bottles of Rolling Rock beer; I’m talking seconds.

Yes, 33 seconds.  Yesterday I was informed by the BAA that my BQ time of 3:19:19 was 33 seconds short (long?) of what became the actual Boston Marathon cut off.  Maybe they should have changed 3:20:59 from BQ to BAQ (Boston Application Qualifier).  It turned out that based on the body of runners who applied to get in, the cut off time for my age group was 3:18:46.

33 seconds.  1.26 seconds per mile.  Three extra step per mile.

Bummer.

That’s life though, right?  Sometimes you’re in, and sometimes you’re out.  I am out…this time.

I could be bitter.

I could be upset.

And if I am going to be absolutely honest with myself, maybe I am a little bit of both – but just a little.

The truth is, after last year’s registration debacle, the BAA had to do something.  I feel like the new system may be brutal, but it is probably the fairest way of doing things.  It gives those who are most deserving a spot at the big dance.  Those of us left off the roster are left to wonder: what could I have done? From now on, being a bubble qualifier will most likely not be good enough.  One is going to have to train not to barely qualify, but rather to qualify “with authority”.

Sadly it gets more brutal next year when BQ times drop 5:59 across the board.  No longer will people be granted the 59 second grace period.  I will have to run a 3:15:00 marathon or better if I hope to qualify (BAQ?) for 2013.

***

So yeah, I’m a little bitter about it.  But I am also choosing to see this as an opportunity.  Not running Boston this Spring opens up the calendar to some new opportunities.  There are two marathons in particular that I have had my eye on for the last couple of years, but have not been options, in part because I was training for or toward Boston.

I would love to run Hyannis in February.  It was the race that got this whole running thing started for me.  Unfortunately, I never did end up running it.  It’s a long story…

The other, more intriguing race for me is the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine.  It is considered one of the fastest marathons in the country with the last 16 miles supposedly downhill.  Now the thought of doing anything downhill makes my legs hurt right now (I promise I’m trying to put together my Vermont 50 recap), but taking a step back from this weekend, I have to say it is really appealing.  In addition, I lived in the Sugarloaf area for a few years back in the mid-90’s – it would be fun to go back and see how and if things have changed.  PLUS, maybe I could get my buddy Brendan (aka – @mainerunnah – my Smuttynose running partner) to come run it with me.  I’m betting that together we could both hit 3:13 or better.

Thoughts…just thoughts as I react to getting shutout of Boston.

Strangely enough though, I feel unexpectedly free…

…and freedom, I think, is a good thing.

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This morning at 10AM I did what as many as 10,000 other marathoners did or will do this week.  Along with all of the other Boston Qualifiers that qualified with less than a 5 minute cushion, I submitted my registration application to the B.A.A. for the 2012 Boston Marathon.  With a cushion of a mere 1-minute 40-seconds, I don’t particularly like my chances.  There is much speculation online as to how many spots the B.A.A. will hand out for the 2012 marathon.  I’ve read numbers ranging from 18,000, to 21,000 (not counting those running for charity).  As of Saturday night, approximately 15,000 spots had been assigned to runners who had run 5, 10, and 20 minutes faster than their required qualifying times.  Even with the most generous of estimations, that leaves less than 6,000 spots left for 10,000 hopefuls.  My best guess is that the cut off for getting into Boston is going to be a BQ-2…leaving me 20 seconds short.

And so I wait and see.

As my friend Doug said earlier this morning – hopefully the running gods will smile upon me.  We shall see.

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I have a friend.   I have only met him in the real world once.  He was a large part of why I was able to qualify for Boston back in October of last year – we carried each other for 15 miles.  On that day he missed qualifying for Boston by seconds.  As joyful as my day was, it was devastating to see him just miss his goal.

Instead of folding up his tent and going home, my friend doubled-down and trained even harder for his next marathon, which took place in May in Pittsburgh.  His training was epic to say the least.  To put it in perspective, I just passed 1200 running miles for 2011  last night.  As of 9 days ago, my friend had logged nearly 1800 miles.

1800 miles!!!

He was a man possessed, and when he crossed the finish line in May, he WAS a Boston Qualifier.

I know the feeling – the joy, the wave of emotion, the satisfaction…the “what now?”

Huh?

That’s right.   I recently read in his final post on dailymile that he was “taking a break” from the social network to find his passion for running again.  Boy, do I know that feeling.   I was fortunate enough to have the New York City Marathon line up just 5 weeks after my BQ and then Boston 2011 5 months after that to keep me focused on my training, but after Boston I simply lost “it”.

I was rudderless.  I tried to re-focus my energy by signing up for another marathon, but in the end, I just didn’t have the same drive I had had when I was focused on qualifying for Boston.

Truth be told, I am still wandering, attempting to kick start myself again and again, but I do see signs of my focus coming back.  It’s taken my 4 months, but it’s starting to come together again.

I hope my friend doesn’t stay away too long.

His departure will send ripples throughout the dailymile community and will be felt by all.  He always had an inspirational word for his friends and his workouts were worth emulating.

***

I hope you find your passion again Brendan.  You are an inspiration to many and proof that hard work pays off.  You motivated people not by your words but by your actions.  Enjoy your break – I hope to see you on the ‘mile in October when we both start training again for Boston 2012.

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A few years ago I heard of a race called Last Chance for Boston.  It takes place in Dublin, Ohio and used to be billed as a marathoner’s last chance to qualify for Boston.  It seemed like a miserable endeavor to me – 26 laps around a 1 mile loop of an office park, just outside Columbus, Ohio, outside, in the dead of winter.  Yikes.

As any marathoner knows, the landscape has changed.  Registration closed in just hours last year.  The B.A.A. made some adjustments for 2012 that should stretch the process out a week or two, but the likelihood is that registration will be closed within a week.  If you are looking to run Boston 2012, you must have run a qualifying time by September 19th just to have a shot at registering.

If you are like me, barely qualifying by the skin of your teeth, you may be looking for a chance to improve upon your registration slot.

Whichever the case may be, there is a new marathon that is currently being put together that, pending approval, will give you one last shot at either qualifying or improving your registration position.

Details are still few and far between, but the current particulars are this:

Date: September 11th
Format: Time TrialI’ve seen that in bike races, never at a marathon.
Size: The term “Exclusivity” is being used with the idea of a “very small field”
Towns Involved: Concord, Lincoln, Bedford and Lexington (MA)

Again, the race is still pending some approvals, but if that happens this marathon WILL be a certified Boston Qualifier.

So, who’s interested?

*I will update this post as more details come out, but in the meantime, ask around, see what you hear.

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