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Posts Tagged ‘Sugarloaf Marathon’

Um, we’ll get back to the title of this post in a while.  Yes, this is in fact my race report for the 2012 Sugarloaf Marathon.

After not getting into the 2012 Boston Marathon by a mere 33 seconds (a blessing in disguise in retrospect), I began searching for a marathon that could get me back to Hopkinton in 2013.  With the Fall marathons occurring too late and the Summer marathons simply being to hot, I settled on the Sugarloaf Marathon – a late Spring marathon ranked as one of the 15 fastest marathons in the country.  Perfect!

I began my training a little late, switching from one program (the Pfitzinger 18/55) to another (jumping in on week 5 of the Furman FIRST program).  Training, aside from the last two weeks, was pretty solid, so when I made my way to the starting area with fellow RaceMenu members Jeremy and Tommy, I felt pretty confident that I was going to hit, or at the very least come very close to my BQ.

Team RaceMenu at the Sugarloaf Marathon – Jeremy, Me, Tommy

The three of us were all shooting for sub-3:15, and if there was one thing I learned at Smuttynose a year and a half ago it was that marathons go much better when you have a familiar face running with you.  After snapping a group photo, we made our way to the starting area.  Somebody asked out loud, “I wonder when we’re gonna start?”  Moments later, without warning, the starting gun went off.  We looked at each other – I guess it’s go time!

We had unfortunately not made our way to the front when the gun went off so we had to make our way through the crowd.  We still managed to hit the first mile marker in 7:37.  Our plan was to run the first 8 miles between 7:20 and 7:30 pace, not stress about our pace over the steady uphill climb from mile 8 to 10.5 and then cruise over the last 16 downhill miles to a sub-3:15.  An overall pace of 7:24 per mile would get us in at just under 3:14.  Despite a slow first mile, I wasn’t too worried.  The second mile came and went in an easy 7:22.  I noted that the temperature, though relatively cool at sixty some odd degrees, was still much higher than the online advertised 40° starts.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful – the Western Mountain of Maine, lakes that were so still you could see the reflections of the trees around it as if it were a glass mirror.  The three of us hung together as a loose pod with Tommy leading the way.

Miles 3 and 4 went by in a zippy 7:20 and 7:22 .  This was all within range of our plan.

At around the 5th mile, the rolling hills began to kick in.

I took in a Gu – my plan was to have one every 5 miles.  I started the race with two Gu’s in hand.  The race director had said they would be handing out Gu’s at around mile 9 and at around mile 17.  I would take my Gu at 5, grab one of theirs at 9 and take it at 10, take my last Gu at 15, grab theirs at 17 and take it in at 20.  I wasn’t going to worry about the final 1.2 miles.

As Tommy began to pull away a bit, Jeremy and I felt like we wouldn’t worry too much about our pace going up any hills.  There was still over 20 miles to go, so we didn’t want to kill ourselves simply to keep pace.  There would be plenty of time to make back the time on the final 16 miles.  Mile 5 was a bit slower at 7:35, but we got right back into our range with a 7:29, a 7:23 and a 7:20 over the next three miles.

We were feeling great as we hit the mile 8 marker.  Everything was going according to plan and we had avoided that cardinal marathon sin of going out too fast.

Meanwhile, the temperature was rising.

We looked up to see the “big hill” of the marathon – a steady climb from mile 8 to mile 10.5.  I looked at Jeremy.  “This is it,” I said, “make or break.”  And I truly believed that.  Not having run this race before, I really believed that how we did on the hill would determine how we would finish.  The back 16 was calling to me – just make it over the hill and it’s cake the rest of the way.  All I had to do was to remember to grab a Gu at mile 9.

The sun was rising, so a group of us shifted to the left side of the road to stay in the shade.  We hit the hill with a steady pace, but I refused to attack it.  I wanted to be comfortable and not expend too much energy this early in the race so we ran at what was a comfortable effort.  We manage 8:06, 7:54 and a 3:54 (7:48 pace) over the next 2.5 miles.  Fantastic!!!

As we crested the hill, I looked at Jeremy – this is it.  We. Are. Golden!!!

As we passed the aid station at 10.5, I asked where the Gu’s were.  The volunteers shrugged.  Somehow we had missed the Gu Station – this would be one of my 3 complaints about this particular marathon – if you are going to be handing out Gu’s, you must have your volunteers actively handing them out.  I would find out later that they did in fact have Gu’s around mile 9, but they were on a table in the grass.  That doesn’t work for those of us running for time.

I knew we needed to take it easy over the steep initial half mile, but gravity pulled us along at 7:00 pace and it felt like we were hardly working.  The realization that I would have to take my last Gu at 10 and wait until after 17 to take another weighed on my mind.  Psychologically I let it get to me.

As I looked out at the road ahead of us, I noticed something was missing – shade.

Jeremy started to fall back a little, but he was still within shouting distance.  I forged ahead comfortably, images of me fist-pumping as I crossed the finish line with a BQ-time running through my head.  The next 6 miles were a steady downhill and my pace reflected that – miles 12 through 17 went in 7:06, 7:21, 7:12, 7:16, 7:11 and 7:15.  The plan was working flawlessly.  But there were couple of things I hadn’t accounted for with this plan.  One was the Gu issue, the other was the heat.  As we made our way through Carrabassett Valley, the temperature began to soar right into the upper 70’s.  With no shade to protect us, it felt like we were running in 80-plus degree heat.

Still feeling good somewhere around mile 15 I think.

As I reached the water station after 17, I looked back for Jeremy.  He had dropped back significantly, falling victim to cramping in his calves and thighs – unfortunately, he would have to drop out at mile 25.  I had to push on – I could taste my BQ.  Going through the aid station, I grabbed a Gatorade and a Gu, and I tried to grab a water and another Gu, but the volunteer, for whatever reason, did not let go of the cup or the Gu.

I tried not to get upset, but as I took in what would now be my last Gu 2 1/2 miles after I had planned and with no extra to take at mile 20, doubt started to creep in.  As the heat continued to beat down on me, I could feel fatigue setting in.  I didn’t want to slow down because I knew my BQ was within reach.  I was on target with just over 9 miles to go.

As I passed miles 18 and 19 I looked at my watch – 7:33 and 7:37.  I was slowing down and I knew I was working harder than I had over the previous 6 miles.

That would be the last time I saw a 7-handled split.

Going into mile 20 the wheels simply came off of the bus – I covered the mile in 8:36, nearly a minute slower than the previous mile – it’s cliché isn’t it?  I hit a wall, I knew it, and there was nothing I could do about it.  The combination of the psychological and physiological effect of not taking in a Gu at 15 (as I had trained for) and the heat overwhelmed me.

At that point I knew my BQ was out the window but I still had a shot at a PR.  Up until mile 20 I had been on target to hit sub-3:15.  Now I just needed to hold on to beat 3:19:19 to score a PR. If I could just get back into the mid to high 7’s I’d be okay.

Approaching the next water station my legs overrode my brain and stopped running.  Suddenly I was walking.  I shook my head, half in anger, half in despair.  I sucked down the watered down Gatorade (why the HELL to they water it down???) and poured some water on my head and back.  10 yards out from the water station I was trying to run again.

This would be my pattern for the rest of the race – walking through the water stations, trying my best to run between them.  The next 6 miles would go 8:08, 8:04, 8:34, 8:21, 8:37 and 8:22.  The last four miles were absolute misery.  By the time I hit mile 23 I knew my chances of a PR were out the window and once again, I adjusted my goal – now I simply want to beat my second best time (2011 New York City Marathon – 3:26).  I desperately had to fight to keep my pace under 9.  As I made the final turn for the finish, I was overcome with a sense of resignation.  I would not be running Boston in 2013.  I would not be toeing the line in Hopkinton next April – and to a degree I was at peace.  I knew I only had one more marathon on the calendar this year, and New York City 2012 was not going to be run as a qualifier.

As I crossed the finish line, I hit stop on my watch – it read 3:22:56.

a few feet from the finish line

Officially my time would be 3:23:00 (my last complaint about the marathon was that there was no starting mat – time was based solely on guntime, so if you started in the back of the pack, you lost nearly 30 – 40 seconds.  Tommy actually covered the distance from the starting line to the finish line in 3:15:30, but because we had started in the middle, his official time was 3:16.  I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had missed qualifying for Boston by mere seconds because I didn’t start at the very front).

I would finish 68th of 574 total finishers (I heard that there were over 700 registrants), 60th out of 313 men, and 15th out of 59 men aged 40 – 44. Not bad for a guy who really didn’t get back into regular training until February.

3:23:00 is my second fastest marathon ever, but it was still 8 minutes off my goal of a 3:15 BQ, which brings me to the title of this post.

Dear B.A.A.,

I am wondering if you would be too upset if we pretended that I was two years older than I actually am.  Although my birth certificate indicates that I will be 43 come April 2013, I am willing to tell people that I will be 45 if you are willing to look the other way – I sometimes like to think of myself as an old soul anyway.  If you are willing to believe that I will be 45 next Patriot’s Day, my 3:23:00 will allow me to register during the second week of registration, and I’m pretty sure that as long as there aren’t a whole lot of people asking to do the exact same thing as me, that the time should be good enough to get in as a BQ-2.

Sincerely,
Luau

Whaddaya think?  You think the B.A.A. will go for it?

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It’s been on the calendar for months now.  I had been checking off the weeks, putting in my training, focusing on my attempt to return to Boston.

But then a couple of weeks ago I got sidetracked.  It wasn’t for anything bad.  In fact, it was a pretty cool trip to our Nation’s capitol where our family got a private tour of the West Wing of the White House (you can read about the trip over at Jess’ blog).  The side tracking was that the trip came in the middle of the week and require over 18 hours of driving in less than 60 hours.  I was exhausted and my shoulders and back were a wreck.  A massage helped, but for the last two weeks, I’ve been having trouble staying focused.

Just last night I realized that Sugarloaf is not weeks, but only days away – and that scares the crap out of me.  I aches and pains the body goes through at the end of a taper I can deal with – I’ve been there before, many times.  But with only 11 weeks of training, and that training being a new plan, I am unsure at best.  I don’t know how my body or mind is going to react to Sunday’s race.  I know my last couple of 20-milers didn’t go as planned…neither did my last couple of 15-milers.

I am dreading “the wall”.  I know it’s out there, waiting for me.  Over the last couple of 20-milers, it hit me just before 17 – the first without gels, the second time with.  I’m trying to take comfort in the reality that the last 16 miles of Sugarloaf are essentially downhill, but I’m not convinced that will be enough.  Will my quads hold up under 16 miles of pounding?  Will I be able to take advantage of gravity?

The good news is is that I will have my friends with me.  My buddy and teammate JB decided that after running several half-marathons and several ultra-marathons, maybe it was time to run a marathon-marathon.  Although he is much younger than I am, his goal on Sunday is the same as mine – sub-3:15.  In addition to JB, I also found out a couple of nights ago that another RaceMenu teammate, Tommy, will be joining us as well, and his goal is also a sub-3:15.

If there is one thing I have learned over the last couple of years of road racing, it’s that having friends with you is a huge help…as long as you follow “the plan”.  My mistake at Boston 2011 was that I went out with friends (Tommy was one of them) who were running faster than I had trained for.

Not gonna happen this time.

The plan is to average 7:24 – 7:30 over the first 8 miles (the first 5 being flat, the next 3 rolling), do whatever it takes to not kill ourselves over the next 2 miles (uphill) and then slowly pick up speed over the final 16.  Here’s a shot at the elevation chart:

Elevation Profile of the Sugarloaf Marathon

 

The key to this race I think that stretch from mile 8 to about mile 10 1/2.  I’m not sure what “not kill ourselves” will mean.  Do we slow down to 8:00 miles?  8:30’s? 9:00’s?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that when we reach the crest, we’ll have some time to make up.  Should JB, Tommy and I manage to run 7:30’s over the first 8 miles and fight through the hills with 9’s, that will mean running just a smidge over 7:12’s the rest of the way – even with the downhill, I’m not sure I can do that.  If we can maintain 7:24 pace through 8 and then only drop to 8:00’s on the hills, we only have to run 7:23’s the rest of the way.  Sounds more reasonable, but again, the hills are the X-factor.

We’ll see.

One more little jog tomorrow and then it’s countdown ’til go time.  Who am I kidding, the countdown started 3 months ago…I just forgot.

This weekend?  Really?

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…goes through Sugarloaf – at least for me.

5 days until one of the greatest annual road races takes place.  After traveling from all over the world, thousands will take the slow, what feels like forever bus ride from the Boston Commons to the town of Hopkinton, where they will wait – wait for their turn to run one of the greatest marathons on the planet.

I must admit, I have been more than a bit jealous as I’ve watched people post their bib numbers and complain about their tapers on Facebook, Twitter, dailymile and other social media.  There is a part of me that feels like I belong right there with them, but I know that I do not.  Under the modified registration process, I missed getting in by 33 seconds and I chose not to run for a charity – somehow, that doesn’t make the pangs of jealously hurt any less; especially since the new standards mean I will have to PR by 4 minutes and 20 seconds to re-qualify for next year.

The deceptive early downhill, the women of Wellesley College, the brutal hills of Newton, the deafening crowds in Boston – these are but a few of the highlights Monday’s marathoners will experience.  What will I miss the most about Boston this year?  I think it might be the waiting in the Athlete’s Village – seeing my friends Mike and Brian, who are running for the Liver Foundation; hanging out with the amazing Suman, Maddie, Steve S., and Andy O.; finding dailymile and Twitter friends along the way.

I will definitely miss you guys on Monday.

Have fun.  Run strong.

If everything goes the way I hope it does at Sugarloaf, I will see you next April in Hopkinton.

Hopefully on May 2oth, I ‘ll be making this face –

BQing at Smuttynose October 2010

as I hit a sub-3:15, so I can get back to this place

somewhere on the Newton Hills - Boston 2010.

and share the journey with you once again.

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I remember way back in high school when I would get up in the mornings before a big test – I’d be a little nervous, wondering if I had studied what I had needed to, wondering if I’d remember anything…

…that’s how I felt two Sundays ago when I woke up before the Quincy Half Marathon.  Several weeks ago I made the transition from the Pfitz Marathon Training Program to the FIRST Marathon Training Program.  I’ve been fairly determined to make sure that I followed the new program as closely as I could.  The very concept of running less to run faster struck me as counter-intuitive, but I needed to do something to get me out of what had turned into an 8 month funk.

3 days a week – that is all I was allowed to run; complimented by 2 days of cross-training – it seemed insufficient, but I was determined to give the program a chance.  Really, what choice did I have?  What I had been doing before was no longer working.

On Super Bowl Sunday I ran the Super Sunday 5-Miler in Boston and finished with a 34:56.  My goal had been to comfortably cruise to a sub-35 minute finish, but in fact, I struggled to make it, pretty much leaving everything I had on the course.  That 34:56 translated into a 3:25:30 marathon according to McMillan’s Running Calculator.  A couple of weeks later I started the FIRST program.  Quincy was going to be my first real test of how much progress I was truly making.

***

Upon arriving, I looked for my buddy JB.  You may recall JB as one of the foursome I ran with at Vermont or the buddy who ran the Super Sunday 5 with me.  Our plan was to run about 7:15 miles throughout, with the hopes of scoring about a 1:35:00 for the race.  It would be a 2 minute PR for him, and would be an incremental improvement on my cardio-health from Super Sunday.  Although a 1:35 half-marathon only translates to a 3:20 marathon (5 minutes long of my goal), I figured that it would be a step in the right direction, especially for only 3 weeks on the program.

JB & I pre-race.

We made our way to the starting area and stood silently for the National Anthem – and then it was time to go, literally!  Not more than a second after the anthem was done, the starting horn blared.

We were off.

Fortunately for JB and I, we hadn’t moved too far to the front.  We were forced to start a little slowly.  After a quarter mile of jockeying for position, we turned up the pace and hit the first mile marker right on target at 7:15.

Perfect!

Without really realizing it, we slowly began to pick up the pace.  It was still a bit crowded, but the two of us maneuvered our way through.  Mile 2 arrived in a quick 7:07…maybe I was a little too enthusiastic?

We slowed it down just a touch for the next three miles, averaging about a 7:10 pace.  Somewhere around mile 5 we saw the leader coming the other way…he must have had a good 30 seconds on the guy behind him.  At this point, JB and I hit our first hill.  My philosophy on hills has been to attack them, lean into them and don’t let them slow you down too much.  For this first hill, that plan worked perfectly. I leaned in, JB followed and we passed over a dozen runners before cresting and allowing gravity to feed our recovery.

Once we flattened out, we hit the 6-mile marker (7:06) and we were able to see the rest of the field heading for the hill.  At this point, my legs started to feel a little heavy.  JB asked me how I was doing.  I feel like I’m fading, I said, but only 6 miles in, I knew that it had to be more mental than physical.  We continued to press the pace a little.  I knew we had some time in the bank to hit 1:35, but I also kept reminding myself that this race was a test of how I was progressing.  If I let up too early or left too much out on the course, there would really be no way for me to know just where I was with respect to where I want to be for Sugarloaf.  I needed to know if the FIRST program was increasing my cardio-fitness or if I was stagnating.

We covered the next three mile at 7:06 pace.  With just over 4 miles left to go, I started doing math in my head.  I realized that I could slow down significantly and still hit my goal – but what would that tell me?  I knew I had to keep pressing.

Unfortunately, that pressing came just as we hit a final group of hills – despite continuing to pass runners on a regular basis, we slowed into the 7:20’s.

starting to fade a little at mile 11

With 2.1 miles to go, JB started to pull away.  He looked back at me as if to say, come on dude! but the hills had taken their toll on me.  I shouted at him to just go.  He was well within range of not just beating his PR, but shattering it.  I pressed as hard as I could – I was determined to come in under 1:35 no matter what.  Mile 12 went by in a surprising 7:15.

1.1 miles to go.  It was leave it all on the course time.  I knew I was less than 7:30 away from the finish.  I also knew that I could suffer for that long too.  My legs felt heavy and my breathing was labored, but with each tick of the clock, I knew I was that much closer to being done.

As I made my way back into downtown Quincy, I could see JB in the distance.  With about 800 meters to go, he was looking great and I had run out of real estate to catch him.  I focused on finishing strong.  Coming out of the final turn, I realized it was literally downhill to the finish and let it all hang out.  Gravity pulled me along at a pace I hadn’t run all race.

With less than 100 yards to go, Racemenu Chief Alain stepped out of the crowd with words of encouragement and a high five.  I could see JB waiting at the finish.

Sprinting to the finish

I barreled through the finish, and without slowing down grabbed a bottle water being held out…I couldn’t brake…staring at a table that was closing in fast, I panicked slightly.  Fortunately a random runner stepped in to grab me and slow me down.  It was enough for me to get my footing and stop.

I looked at the clock.

1:32:forty-something.

Huh?

I wasn’t convinced that I had run that fast.  I hugged JB, asking him his time.

1:31:59 – a nearly 7 minute PR for him.  When the official times went up, mine was a 1:32:31.  I had missed a PR by a mere 8 seconds.  In most situations, I would have been mildly disappointed in missing a PR, but considering that just 4 weeks beforehand I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of PR-ing, and that I had come into the day with an expectation of finishing in the 1:35 range, I was thrilled.

The FIRST program was working.  My legs and lungs were getting stronger.

The very next day, I officially signed up for Sugarloaf.  To be honest, I had been putting off registering because I was full of doubt as to whether I could even potentially run a sub-3:15 in May.  Quincy convinced me that I was on the right track.  My 1:32:31 translates into a 3:15:07 marathon.  Just a touch on the wrong side of the clock, but a vast improvement from where I was on SuperBowl Sunday.

This Sunday I will face my next test of fitness when I was a local 5K.  The goal is to hit 19:54 – which translates into a 3:14 marathon.  If I hit 20:00, that still translates into a 3:15.

***

I still may ultimately fail at Sugarloaf come May, but I finally truly believe that I have a 3:15 or better in these legs – and that is a wonderful feeling.

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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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