Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Year In Review

This past year has been an incredibly rewarding one for me, both running-wise and non-running wise. One thing it obviously has not been, however, is a great year for blogging. If you count this post, if posted only six times during the calendar year! That's a big decrease from my 30 posts in 2013 and a massive plummet from 2012's 126. So, given that I haven't posted much, how did the year go?

Running Achievements

2014 turned out to be a pretty good year for PRs. After a couple years in which Boston didn't go as planned, I ran my second fastest marathon time for a new Boston PR. It helped that I had my fiancée, my aunt, and a ton of teammates cheering me on. 

I also realized much later in the year that just two weeks before Boston, I PR'd in the 10k. I haven't had too many non-marathon PRs over the past several years so this was a great surprise. What's even crazier is that the PR happened during a race in which my shoelace came untied around mile 2. Somehow--after stopping and trying unsuccessfully to retie it--I managed to avoid tripping.

Of course, my biggest running achievement of the year was an almost two minute marathon PR in Chicago. I was thrilled with my time and the whole experience. I think the takeaway from Boston and Chicago is the same--I run best when (a) I've had a solid training cycle and (b) I seriously watch what I eat and drink the final weeks before the race. 

Perhaps the biggest running achievement, though, wasn't about speed. I had been planning to run the 2014 New York City Marathon with my fiancée to celebrate one year of being engaged (I proposed at the finish of the 2013 race), but the day before I got a call asking me to be a guide for a visually-impaired runner. After clearing it with my fiancée, I said yes and ended up having an incredible time helping my running achieve a NYCM PR. It was truly inspiring to watch his determination and to help him achieve his goal.

2014 Races

I did a fair number of races in 2014. I did three marathons, four half-marathons, two 10ks, four 5 milers, two 5ks, and one road mile. This year also included my new favorite destination race, the Covered Bridges Half.

Non-Running Events

Lots of great non-running events happened this year, but I'm going to focus on the best one: my fiancée and I got married! On December 6, we tied the knot in Stonington, Conn. It was easily the greatest day of my life (of course, I started the day with a rainy 10 mile run), and I'm very excited to see where 2015 takes us, both in terms of running and in terms of our life together. 

Hope you all have had a great 2014 as well. See you back here in 2015! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chicago 2014 Race Report

I could start this post by noting how long it's been since I last blogged (six months, in case you're counting), by updating you on my busy non-running life (new responsibilities at work, a wedding just over a month away), or I could just dive right into my Chicago race report as though I've been blogging regularly and nothing has changed. Hmm...which option to choose?

Summer Training

In April I ran my third sub-3 marathon in Boston, coming across the finish in 2:58:56, slower than my 2013 Chicago time, but a big Patriots Day PR. I was thrilled but knew I wanted to run faster in the fall. I spent the summer training harder than ever before--I had seven weeks at 70 miles or more--yet never felt overwhelmed. I had lots of great individual workouts and even PR'd in the 10k.* Nevertheless, I had a very conservative goal going into Chicago--2:57:59, a 14 second PR.

As always, I did a three week taper which means that my last hard long run was my team's Metric Marathon, which went really well. Still, there's roughly a 10 mile difference between 26.2k and 42.2k and as anyone who's run a marathon can tell you, a lot can happen in the last 10 miles.

Race Week

One of the cool Niketown displays.
The Saturday before the race, my fiancée and I invited all of our teammates running Chicago over to our place for a carb-heavy dinner and a chance to talk race strategy. It was good to do something on the New York end because it was much harder to coordinate something pre-race in Chicago--I would definitely recommend doing this next year. 

My fiancée and  I  flew out on Friday night. Our original flight was super late thanks to residual delays from the air traffic control fire a week and a half before, but I was able to work my persuasive magic with Delta to get us on an earlier flight meaning we still got in at a reasonable hour and were in bed by 9:30. I find rest two nights out is key since it's often hard to sleep the night before a big race.

The next morning we got up around 7 a.m. for a shake-out run along the Lakefront Trail followed by our now-traditional pancake breakfast at Wildberry. Note: If you go, make sure to order the cinnamon roll pancakes! After a quick shower, we my fiancée's parents for a trip to the expo. Those of you who read my report from last year may remember that her parents had to miss the trip because her dad had to be taken to the ER. Thankfully he's fine and we had no such scares this year.

The Chicago expo is definitely better than New York's, but we didn't stick around too long since neither of us wanted to tire out our legs. Still, I managed to eat about half my weight in free samples. I also picked up a 3-hour pace-band tattoo just in case. The highlight worst part of the expo was paying $4.50 for a small Powerade. Pro tip: If you go, BYOB!

Lunch for me was plain pizza and more Gatorade (I also snacked on bagels throughout the morning--the day before a marathon, I'm pretty much always eating between the time I wake up and dinner). After that, we went back to our Airbnb, got stuff ready for the morning and then took a nap. 

We regrouped with the future in-laws at 5 p.m. for a pasta dinner at Topo Gigio where I paired my fresh noodles with the finest non-vintage red (Gatorade, of course). Thanks to our early dinner time (I try never to eat later than 5 p.m. the night before a marathon to give the food plenty of time to digest) we were able to get to bed by 8 p.m. or so. I actually slept pretty well (thanks klonopin!), though all the Gatorade/Powerade/Nuun I drank during the day ensured a couple bathroom visits. 

Race Day

The alarm went off at 4:45 and I sprung into action, toasting a bagel for each of us and slathering them with peanut butter. We turned on the news while we got ready for any last minute weather updates. Thankfully, our Airbnb was right next to Millennium Park so we were able to delay leaving until 6:15 a.m. 

My fiancée and I found Steve and Francesca, two of our teammates near the bag check and I picked up a Gatorade Prime to take a few minutes before the start. (I like taking Prime at the start instead of a gel because it tastes a lot better and doesn't need to be chased with water). With about twenty minutes to go we split up and Steve and I went to Corral A. Since we were in the same corral and he was aiming for a sub-3, we decided to start out together.  

The Race: The First Half

Compared to the cannon that starts the New York City Marathon, Chicago's starting gun is pretty anemic, but the result is the same. I always try to run a slow first mile since the crowds and the excitement make it all too easy to go out too fast. Steve and I managed to rein it in and did the first mile in just over 7 minutes. We picked it up on the next two miles which carry you through the Loop and large crowds and I clocked the first 5k in 21:!4, a 6:50 pace. A 3-hour pace is 6:52 so we were right where Steve needed to be, though the 3 hour pacer was slightly ahead of us on the course. 

Somewhere in these early miles I ditched my arm-warmers, though I held onto my gloves for a little longer. It wasn't hot but I could feel myself sweating so I figured I'd better nip it in the bud. I was running with a disposable bottle filled with Gatorade (I always carry a bottle for the first few miles of a marathon since the early water stops are always the most congested), and it was great having Steve there since he was able to hold the bottle while I ditched the arm warmers. 

Although I had us slightly ahead of pace, the damn 3 hour pacer didn't seem to be getting any closer. Our miles ticked by pretty consistently and we hit the 10k in 42:21, meaning we'd run our second 5k at a 6:48 pace. About a mile after the 10k the course hits its northernmost point and turns south again, offering the briefest glimpse of Wrigley Field. That turn is a really good mental point, helped by the fact that the next several miles through Boystown (Chicago's LGBT neighborhood) have some of the best cheering. Once of the highlights was the perfectly in-sync drill team, complete with twirling bayonets.  

We hit the 15k in 1:03:24, improving to a 6:47 pace, and somewhere around this point we finally passed the 3-hour pace group. I was feeling really good at his point as the course took us through Old Town where there's an awesome Elvis impersonate who's there every year (though he was singing Sinatra when we went by). Mer's parents were waiting around Mile 11 (they had also been at Mile 4) and they gave a big cheer which was a nice boost.

Shortly after mile 12, the race crosses the Chicago River for the fourth time and heads back into the Loop and the crowd support begins to build. I crossed the 20k in 1:24:37, a slight and unexplainable decrease to a 6:50 pace. My legs no longer felt fresh, but I was pretty sure I could keep up the pace, at least for the time being. Of course, I got a little carried away by the crowds approaching the half and ran the next stretch fast, with a 6:27 mile thrown in.

Steve and I crossed the half in 1:29:02 and I thought we were in great shape. I told him that no matter what, we were both going to re-qualify for Boston (we needed a 3:05, which would have meant a 6 minute positive split for either of us to miss the mark and I wasn't going to let that happen). I also did the math and realized that I would need a negative split to PR, but I tried not to think too hard about that yet.

The Race: The Second Half

The second half of Chicago is definitely not as good as the first; it's less scenic and there are far more dead zones. The first mile or so is very lively thanks to the presence of the "Charity Block Party," but by the time you get to the first turnaround by the United Center the crowd support is minimal and the shade is non-existent. In my mind, this is where the race really begins, since you can no longer rely on others to carry you through. Case in point: Steve and I crossed the 25k at pretty much the same time, 1:45:18 for me, but then I gradually began to pull ahead. 

The next portion of the course had a few highlights. There was an official cheer zone with loud music and a video screen around mile 16.5 as you turn south on Halstead. I also knew fellow Whippet, and Team Fox superstar, Jennie Kelly was waiting around Mile 17 and it was great to get a shout-out from her. The course then begins its last real westward jog before turning south again for one of its most boring stretches. I passed the 30k in 2:06:17, now averaging a 6:45 pace.

Shortly after Mile 19, the course turns east and takes you through Pilsen, a largely Latino neighborhood that always has great music and cheering. It didn't disappoint this year and it gave me a mental boost as I thought about my strategy for the remainder of the race. I figured I would reevaluate at Mile 22 or so, but for the time being, I would just try to hold the pace.

The next stretch took us through Chinatown and as I passed the 30k in 2:26:47, still a 6:41 pace, I was feeling pretty good about my prospects. After you exit Chinatown comes probably the worst part of the course, a mile along the Dan Ryan Expressway (imagine running along the Cross Bronx) with no shade and minimal crowd support. If you can make it through this section, you're going to finish, no matter what (at least, that's what I kept telling myself--I hadn't slowed down, but maintaining speed was taking a lot more effort).

Just before hitting U.S. Cellular Field (home of the White Sox), the course turns east and takes you through the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, where there's a marching band and decent crowds. The band was taking a break when I ran by, but it was still a welcome change of scenery. As I crossed Mile 23, I let myself do some easy math and realized I could slow to 7:30 pace and probably still PR which gave me a confidence boost. Somewhere around this point I also heard someone cheering for me. It was only after I passed the cheerer that I realized it was James, Francesa's boyfriend. That was another needed lift this late in the race.

Post-race with teammates Francesca and Meredith
After one last southerly jog, the course finally turns on Michigan Ave for most of the final 5k. I was now counting down streets--they're numbered and get smaller as you head north--and miles. I crossed Mile 24 with a 6:37 pace and somehow picked it up for a 6:32 Mile 25 (I passed the 40k checkpoint in 2:47:24, averaging 6:39 over the last 5k). With just over a mile to go and a PR within my grasp, I was determined to hang in there. I felt like I was slogging as I made the second to last turn onto Roosevelt Road (the infamous "Mt. Roosevelt," essentially an on-ramp that would hardly be considered in a race that's not as flat as Chicago), passing the 400m to go and Mile 26 signs. Then it was one final turn into Grant Park along Columbus Drive. I gave it what little I had left, watching the official clock tick towards 2:57, and crossed with my arms held high.

Somehow I had done it, I had PR'd with a net time of 2:56:19, an average pace of 6:33 over the final 2.2k, and a negative split of 1:45. I felt like a million bucks, even if my legs were completely shot.

As I waited for my fiancée to finish, I ran into other teammates, including Steve (who didn't get his sub-3, but still PR'd) and Francesca (who completely killed it with her 3:04). Later that evening we all met up with several other teammates who had run or cheered, capping off a great weekend with some great pizza.

Hopefully we can continue this tradition of PRs in Chicago next year!  

*Want proof that I really don't focus on shorter distances? Although I ran the10k in mid-September, I only realized it was a PR two days after finishing Chicago.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Haikus: Boston Marathon Edition

Better late than never I always say. With that old adage in mind, I present this week's running haikus. They follow the Boston marathon course from start to finish just as I plan to do on Monday. Good luck to everyone else running and safe travels to those making their way to the Hub over the next couple of days.

Long lines for bathrooms,
To the corrals, Hopkinton,
It all starts here 

Rural to commerce,
Original starting line,
Entering Ashland

Tracks cross the pavement,
10k hits the train depot,
You're in Framingham

Charming small town feel
Historic Natick Center
Last chance for liquor

Signs saying "Kiss Me"
Degree pre-rec, co-eds scream 
Running through Wellesley

Up along Comm Ave
Heartbreak hill, Boston College
Newton at its best

First sight of the Pru
Downhill through Coolidge Corner
Brookline fans scream "Go!"

Right on Hereford,
Left on Boylston, home stretch
Finish line--Boston

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shoe Porn: New Balance 890v4 Boston Edition

For the past several years, New Balance, the Boston-based running shoe company, has introduced special versions of some of its shoes in advance of the Boston Marathon. This year they've done it again with their 890, my go-to trainer.

Photos courtesy of New Balance

This year's edition plays up the social media aspect of running with #LoveBoston printed inside and outside the heels. I'd say it's a pretty good sentiment for what will certainly be an emotional marathon weekend.

These shoes are a bit more than usual at $120 a pair, but I have a feeling I'll be swinging by New Balance's Boylston Street store to pick up a pair after crossing the finish line.

Friday, April 4, 2014

First Timer's Guide to the Boston Marathon

We're now just over two weeks away from the 118th Boston Marathon which seems like an appropriate time to start finalizing marathon weekend logistics. In this post, I'm going to give some tips for first timers (and folks who haven't done the race in a while) on everything except how to run the race--I'm planning a follow-up post on course strategy.

The Expo

Phote credit: John Hancock
I think the Boston expo is easily one of the best--if not these best--marathon expos out there. If this is your first time running, you're probably going to want to allot yourself at least an hour to get your bib, wander through all the booths, and stock up on last minute race essentials overpriced reasonably-priced souvenirs.

A note on the official shirt: Although you had to put down a size on your registration back in September, there's a t-shirt exchange. You can try on your shirt as soon as you get it and if it doesn't fit, swap it for one that does.

A note on the free posters: Each year at the expo, they hand out race posters courtesy of Adidas. The poster has the name of every marathon participant on it so it makes for a great, free souvenir. There's no reason not to take one.

A note on the now infamous jacket: Even if you've seen the official jacket online already and think it's the ugliest thing ever created don't particularly care for it, if this is your first Boston, you're probably going to want to buy it. My suggestion? Skip the terrible lines at the Adidas booth at the expo and head to Marathon Sports.  They've got a store on Boylston right by the finish but also have a number of other locations throughout the metro area.  If you sign up for their email newsletter, you can get a 15% coupon that works on the jacket too. Now you're skipping long lines, shopping local, and saving some dough.

The Day Before

Everyone has their own pre-race rituals so somethings here may be totally irrelevant to you. Oh well!

A note on brunch/breakfast: A word to the wise, this year the Sunday before the marathon is Easter. That means most restaurants have special brunch menus and have already started taking reservations. If you plan on going out to eat, I highly recommend reservations, even if you're just planning to eat at your hotel.

A note on church: I'm sure this section is irrelevant for many of you, but if you're someone who goes to church, even occasionally, today is a great day to go (and not just because it's Easter). Most churches in the Boston-area know what a big deal the marathon is and it's not uncommon to get a sermon or homily that's running-related. Many also do a special blessing of the runners. It's always a very cool experience!

Photo credit: BU News Service
A note on dinner: As with brunch, if you're not doing the B.A.A.'s pre-race dinner, you're going to want to have reservations (I'm assuming you already knew that). Many restaurants have special marathon menus with cleverly-named entrees or bottomless pasta. A couple quick recommendations:

Dante (Cambridge) - Dante serves bottomless bowls of their homemade pastas on Sunday nights. The service here is great and it tends not to be as hectic as some restaurants closer to marathon events.

DaVinci (Bay Village) - Close to the expo, DaVinci has a special pre-race menu with items like "finish line shrimp linguine" and  "Heart Breaking Chicken Pappardelle." 

Scollay Square (Beacon Hill) - If folks in your group are looking for more than red sauce Italian, Scollay Square is a decent choice. In years past they've had a special pre-marathon menu but their regular menu is wide-ranging with options that could please anyone.

Maggiano's (Back Bay) - Maggiano's may be a chain but if you're looking for giant family-sized portions of pasta, it's a great place to go. They have plenty of spaces for larger parties too which makes it great if you're traveling in a group.

The Morning Of

Photo credit: The Lakefront Trail
I'll keep this short: TAKE THE OFFICIAL TRANSPORTATION. Hopkinton is a small town with narrow streets. It gets extremely crowded on race day and if you're not on a B.A.A. vehicle (or a charity bus), there's a good chance you won't be able to get anywhere near the start.

A note on lines in the Common:  If you're taking one of the buses from the Common, don't be alarmed if you see what look like massive lines when you show up. Each bus has its own line and they move surprisingly fast. The B.A.A. may not have been running buses for all 118 years of the marathon, but they've got plenty of practice. What you'll experience is a well-oiled machine.

A note on when to catch your bus: Get to the Common at your designated time. Buses get backed up as you approach Hopkinton and you don't want to miss being called to your wave because you took a later bus. The Athlete's Village is a 5 to 10 minute walk from the start and you're probably going to want to use the bathroom too. Allow yourself plenty of time.

Okay, those are my tips for now. I'll be back with a post on course strategy as we get closer to the race.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Haikus: Neverending Winter Edition

First things first, I know I haven't posted in four months. Well, rather than dwell on that, I'm going to jump back in with a round of Friday haikus inspired by the terrible winter we've been having in the northeast. Enjoy!

Thirty-three degrees
Just a dusting, winds are light
Is this summer time?

Another snow day
Sidewalks frozen, streets are slush
This is getting old

Treadmill-ing again,
Ran inside each day this week
God, I want some sun