Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Boundary Bay Marathon - November 5, 2017

Remember, remember!
   The fifth of November,
   The Boundary Bay race we sought;
   I knew of no reason
   Why my legs would be seizin'
   And my training would be for nought!
   I haven't raced since 2010,
   My spirit I did revive,
   To crush the run, no argument,
   Or, at the very least, survive.

   I started training, 5 months ago,
   To prove this body was not too slow.
   My marathon itch, it needed a scratch,
   And the race was off as we left in a batch!

   I'll make no mistake,
   Or my legs will ache!

   T'was gorgeous the run,
   Incredible view,
   So much to see,
   As I swallowed each GU.

   No slope, no slope, I knew I'd cope,
   My body felt great from limb to limb,
   Mile by mile I ran it down,
   Lactic acid to my brim.

   Run strong, boys! Run strong, boys! I gave everything!
   Run fast, boys! Run fast, boys! To my pace I did cling!
   Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Last spring I was inspired as I watched my wife run the Calgary marathon. I felt a tingling deep down inside - my competitive juices were started to bubble. Not to be competitive against her, but myself. That's what makes running amazing after all - it is a personal journey that encourages travel companions along the way, but the journey remains yours.

I was also inspired by my weight. For too long I had used my kids as an excuse not to be in shape as I gradually slid (uncomfortably so) into a "dad bod". I mistakenly thought I was still in shape - I could still bust out a relatively fast mile here or there during my increasingly infrequent runs, but I wasn't being honest with myself. The scale was honest - too honest, in fact (to the point of being rude). 6 months ago I was dangerously avoiding the 190 pound mark by just a few tenths of a pound.

An old coach of mine, who I credit for making me an running enthusiast when I lived in Houston, used to say that a proper marathon training program should not be confused as a weight loss program. That's a fair statement, but I decided to ignore it anyhow as I dusted off my Jack Daniel's training book and began planning my training schedule for the Boundary Bay Marathon. I had two key motives: Lose weight, and to complete a marathon once again.

The Boundary Bay marathon course - flat, scenic, and the last Boston Qualifying race of the season in Canada, which gave me more time to prepare and train.

The first training runs were brutal (and they were supposed to be 'Easy'!). There were several 8 mile treks, done at a 8:30 min/mile pace where I questioned my sanity and my ability to run anything longer, or faster. But if you know me, you know that I am more stubborn than smart.

So I kept running. I kept following my program. And I started each run asking myself, "What is the point of this run?" For the first time in my entire running career, I ran with maturity. I ran with patience. I ran alongside my wife who was also following the same training program - who consistently inspired me when she nailed the hard workouts to do the same.

I ran with confidence in my plan and strength from my partner.

My VDOT increased as my weight continued to melt away and the miles logged on. As the marathon date became nearer and was no longer a distant horizon on my calendar, I started to think about Boston. That was the last marathon I have run, and I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to qualify at Boundary Bay. I had no intentions of going, but could I run that fast again? Now?

The thing about Jack Daniel's is that he does give you confidence. Whether you think I am talking about a smooth whiskey, or a crazy intense running coach, you are right. The completion of each quality workout slowly revealed an almost forgotten runner below. I was mentally and physically confident boarding the plane to Abbotsford for the marathon weekend.
Checking out the race course the night before. It was windy, freezing, and made one question their sanity for signing up for a marathon in November in Canada.

Do you know what I don't like? When people ask me what I plan on running when I sign up for an event? "What's your goal time?" they ask. I hate this question. I don't understand it. Young David, always had an answer. In fact, he was always fixated on his answer. Young David always had a very specific response. He also had specific excuses and reasons to explain his answer. Young David was dumb.

Going into this marathon, being my 17th, and considering that my life is drastically different than it was before when I seriously ran, I figured that maturity and wisdom should be something that I could start to rely on by now. Being wiser, I do not make Time-Based goals as I used to. (Did I mention that these are dumb?) They focus on the wrong thing - the result. It is the process that one should focus on - if you get this right, the result is simply the marriage of your preparation and execution.

Preparation is not, simply, following a training program. Ask yourself this: What are you strong at? What is your best quality as a runner? A marathon training program will get you from one line painted on the ground to another, with a few water stations in between. But what are you doing between those lines that focuses on your strengths, while avoiding your weaknesses?

I know where I am my strongest. I know where I feel most alive. I know when I feel most invincible. 5k and 10k efforts. My body, my mind, my soul like it here. It is controlled pain. It is mental focus. It is unquestioning determination and stubborness. It is me.

Heading out the door to go run the marathon!

I planned my marathon to get me to a point where I could unleash this effort. Instead of getting increasingly fatigued as the marathon went on, my goal was to become increasingly strong, more determined, and increasingly happy. So what was the plan?

Negative splits. The great thing about running negative splits is that if you got it, you'll do it. If you don't, then it is a good thing you started slower so you didn't completely blow-up. Specifically, I wanted to start at a 7:42 min/mile pace, and increase my pace by 2 seconds each mile and try to run a 5km "race" at the end. The result of this process would be a Boston Qualifying time of 3:10:58.

And we are off! I am lower left with the blue shirt and orange glasses.

So, what actually happened (paces listed as min/mile)?

Miles 1-5: 7:43, 7:40, 7:36, 7:37, 7:32         38:09
Miles 6-10: 7:30, 7:23, 7:25, 7:20, 7:17       36:55
Miles 11-15: 7:19, 7:14, 7:17, 7:08, 7:10     36:08
Miles 16-20: 7:07, 7:06, 7:02, 6:59, 6:56     35:10
Miles 21-25: 6:55, 6:55, 6:50, 6:48, 6:39     34:06
Miles 26+: 6:36, 6:12                                    9:05

Avg pace: 7:11 min/mile

TIME: 3:09:27.1 - 4th Overall (/140)
First Half: 1:38:14
Second Half: 1:31:13

Of all the marathons I have ever done, I executed this one the best both in terms of training and actual race day performance. 4 weeks out, I practiced the final 15 mile acceleration and finished the final 2 miles around a 6 minute pace. I treated race day as two separate pieces: 11 mile warm-up + 15 mile workout. If I got to the beginning of the 15 mile workout with a controlled HR, then I would be in good shape.

Graphically, the pace (blue), effort (HR is in red), and pace difference (black) from average are shown below:

I see/read/hear a lot of talk about HR zones, but I do not see a lot about how your HR changes within those zones. Over distance and time your HR is not a static entity that comfortably finds equilibrium within a particular training zone - it increases with prolonged time of effort. The rate in which your HR increases is a function of the HR zone you are in. One will "hit the wall" when their HR hits its max before the race is over (at least this is true in my experiences). A successful marathon is all about controlling when this happens and, thus, being extremely aware of when and how your HR starts to increase during the race.

Marathon preparation and training is when you learn this. How does my HR increase and when does it happen? When I am running easy-aerobic, my HR increases by approximately 1 beat/minute per mile run (green slope on graph above). My lower HR limit of my Threshold zone is around 146-148 bpm. At this point my rate of HR increase doubles to 2 beats/minute per mile. Note that this HR zone does NOT equate to a Threshold pace - it occurs at a much slower pace. This is simply due to my slowly increasing HR over the first 16/17 miles of the marathon.

Once you are on this track, there is no going back. Start too early and hit your max with race to spare, then you can enjoy your walk to the finish line. I try to error on the side of starting a little too late, because I can speed up when I feel comfortable. This is what I did in the final two miles - I let my heart guide my run without waiting for confirmation from my watch. I kept telling myself, "Don't do anything dumb...Don't do anything dumb..." until I was confident that I wouldn't (and feeling confident that I am not doing anything dumb is not a feeling I get a lot!!)

This moment felt great!


Training for a marathon is, in fact, a marathon in itself. It is impossible to do properly without the help, support, and patience of the people around you - my 3 kids and my amazing wife. I was so excited and privileged to share this journey with her.

Not only does my wife offer amazing support - she offers great motivation - she finished 2nd female overall!
Her and the guy to the left used the buddy system to get home!

The woman's winner and my wife finishing second!

Did I mention that if you were not running, it was pretty darn cold! For running, the weather was nearly perfect!

At the end of the run
So, the marathon is done. Does this mean my journey is done? No. It will take a little break right now, but will continue. I lost 26 pounds from when I started, shared an amazing experience with my wife, and demonstrated a healthy and active lifestyle to my kids. I no longer use them as an excuse to gain weight, but they are my motivation to keep up.

Thanks for reading.

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