Minus-18 weeks to Chicago

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Sunday morning I spent an hour and 40 minutes running around the Atlantic Ocean, working on my fitness and feeling gratitude.

There is a countdown clock on the home page of the Chicago Marathon’s website, which I could check to see how many days, hours, minutes and seconds are left until race day.

 

I don’t need to look.

img_3910I’m well aware that the Chicago Marathon is 122 days, 20 hours, 55 minutes and 30 seconds (as I write this) away. I’m a little obsessed with those numbers and I’m starting to think that is a bad thing.

Obviously, I’m well aware of when the marathon is. It’s the one important race on my schedule, the one race I care about the most, the one thing I’ve geared all of my training for since I found out I was picked in the lottery in December. Clearly, I want it to be a good day and it is important I get myself into a good spot to have a good day. I have a big goal (smashing that 3:47 goal I’ve had for almost six years and running 3:40), but more than anything, I want to prove to myself I can do the work necessary to run a marathon and not fall apart.

But I’m worried about it becoming too important. I don’t want to miss the joy of the journey to Chicago and make myself miserable this summer, worrying about workouts and mileage and every niggle that makes me a little bit uncomfortable. I don’t want this year and that day that is 122 days, 20 hours, 53 minutes and 52 seconds away to be ruined if I don’t have the best possible race. Because, frankly, there is a pretty good chance I don’t have the best possible race. A lot of that is out of my control, if I’m completely honest with myself.

So today as I stand here looking out the window, writing this post and mentally preparing myself for a workout (40 minute progression run, which should be super fun) this evening, I will also remind myself to enjoy the journey. Don’t obsess over how much time I have left to get ready for the race, how prepared I actually am for the race, and how much the months, weeks, days and hours worth of work left freaks me out a little bit (OK, more than a little bit).

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Saturday morning I had some easy miles on the schedule, so I took a ride to East End Beach and enjoyed the scene because it’s important to enjoy the process a little bit.

I probably sound like a broken record, but it is important that I remind myself (I write these blogs more for myself than any one of the five people who might read this anyway) to have some fun, take each workout and each run on its own, and not to be overwhelmed by the process. To be successful, I need to focus on the process of doing what I have to do on that day, and not worry about what is going to happen in 122 days, 20 hours, 48 minutes and 3 seconds. That day is why I am doing all of this work, but if I let that one day become the end all be all, I’m surely going to be disappointed, no matter what happens.

Work hard today, enjoy today, work hard tomorrow, enjoy tomorrow. It’s as simple as that.

October 13 with be here soon enough, I don’t want to let the months, weeks, days, hours and seconds leading up to it be a miserable experience and I don’t want to let it slip by without relishing in what I’m doing, what I’m trying to accomplish, what I am accomplishing when I put in the work.

I’ll freak out enough on race day, no need to spend the next 122 days, 20 hours, 43 minutes and 2 seconds freaking out.

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Looking forward after 8 years

img_3867I’m struggling to find a new way to tell the story. For the last seven years on May 29, I’ve told the same tale, written essentially the same blog post. Eight years ago tomorrow I went for a run for the first time. I started Couch to 5k and began a journey that changed who I am.

Eight years ago tomorrow, I became a runner.

If you know me, you know the story. If you don’t, I give you the following links (here, here, here, here, here, here and here). I’m at a loss to tell the story any differently than I already have.

But don’t leave just yet. I’m not done writing. There is more to read. No, I won’t be looking back on the last eight years in this post, those stories have been written. Today I’m going to take a few minutes to write about what is ahead, where I hope running takes me next and where I hope to be in eight years.

The simple answer, looking eight years down the road is I hope to be running. It’s awful hard to look that far ahead and be able to predict what life will bring. I mean, if you had told me eight years ago that I would still be running eight years later, that I would be a four-time marathon finisher, would run more half marathons than I can remember and I would crack 22 minutes in the 5K twice, I’d have laughed at you. So, I can’t tell you what life for 53-year-old Scott Martin will look like. I can tell you that I hope my knees hold up long enough that I’m still running on May 29, 2027, but even that would just be a guess (my knees have a mind of their own).

The immediate future is a lot easier to predict. I’m staring at a whole bunch of miles, a boatload of workouts, and a ton of other stuff to get ready for the Chicago Marathon in October. I’ll race a little bit, I just signed up for the Old Port Half and I’ll probably race something on the Fourth of July, but my main objective this summer is to stay healthy and get as fit as possible to run a fast-ish marathon on Oct. 13.

My personal best in the marathon is 3:50:12 and I’ve been chasing 3:47 for  five-plus years. I’ve failed in my quest to hit that goal (one hour faster than my first marathon) three times, and I’m bound and determined to blow that number out of the water in October. I’ve mentioned it before, but my ‘A’ goal for Chicago is to run 3:40. So my immediate future as a runner is to do everything I can to prepare my body and my mind to run that kind of race.

To even talk about that, thinking back eight years ago, is pretty mind boggling. Heck, to talk about that thinking back to October 2017, when the pain in my knees became too much for me to even run, makes me scratch my head and wonder if it is possible. Two years after limping to the finish line at the Maine Half Marathon, I’m going to try to PR by 10 minutes in the marathon. Eight years ago, I didn’t think I’d become a runner, much less a marathoner. Two years ago, I was worried about able to run again, forget running another marathon. 

I don’t take for granted the fact that I can at least take a swing at what seems like a big, crazy goal. I don’t know if my knees will be up to the task, but I’m trying to do the work to assure they will and I’m going to spend the next 19 weeks doing the work I think I need to do reach my goals.

Eight years ago, that would have sound like nonsense, something I had no interest in. Eight years later, there is nothing I want more.

Writing another marathon story

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I learned a lot of things running the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017, most importantly, don’t race in a superhero shirt because if you are having a bad day, nothing is more annoying than hearing someone yell, “You look great Superman, you got this,” every mile.

I woke up Sunday morning, patting the mattress to my right, searching for my phone (horrible habit, I know). I finally found it after 10 seconds or so of feeling around, used my thumb to unlock the screen and tapped on the Instagram icon. The app opened and as I swiped up with my thumb, scrolling through my timeline, I was overwhelmed with images of people I follow preparing to run the Sugarloaf Marathon or 15K. Later in the day, wasting time on social media again (horrible habit, I know), I saw pictures and read post from those same people after the race. Their pictures showed all the emotions of the marathon: Pain, joy, relief.

Tuesday morning, I started my morning the same way (horrible habit, I know), searching for my phone and scrolling through social media. Still a little foggy from not a ton of sleep, I tapped the Facebook notification to see my “memories” from all the May 21 that I have been on Facebook. A few swipes of my thumb brought pictures of my own experience at the Sugarloaf Marathon two years ago. The only emotion I saw in those pictures and read in the words of those post was disappointment.

I had a mixed reaction to those two social media experiences, but more than anything, I was inspired.

Seeing all those folks on social media, some I know in real life, some I know only on the internet, having a good day in the pouring rain, crushing the 15K or the marathon, made me want to have that same experience. It gave me hope that with the right training, I could have my own good day.

Seeing the disappointment on my face in those pictures from May 21, 2017 inspired me to create some new marathon memories. I went into Sugarloaf a little injured, a whole lot undertrained, 15 or 20 pounds heavier than I was eight months earlier when I set my marathon PR at the Maine Marathon, and crashed in a big way. I took a moment to myself in the food tent post-race to cry, not tears of joy or of relief, but of disappointment and anger. I had high hopes leading into Sugarloaf and was having a really great block of training until it was derailed and I had a race so bad I almost swore off marathons completely.

I didn’t swear of marathons completely, though, because I don’t want that to be my last memory of the distance. Sugarloaf was my fourth marathon and they were all completely different experiences.

  • My first, the Smuttynose Marathon in October 2013, was just about finishing, covering the distance. I didn’t even train to run it.
  • My second was actually taking a shot at racing a marathon. I trained for months to have a good day at the Chicago Marathon in October 2014. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was still a major triumph.
  • My third at the Maine Marathon in 2016 was about gaining confidence that I could stay healthy in training and actually put together a good day over 26.2 miles. As difficult as the last three miles of that race were, it was one of my favorite days as a runner.
  • My fourth, Sugarloaf, well, that was a shitshow in every way imaginable.
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Here I am approaching the finish line of the Mother’s Day 5K a week and a half ago. I left this race with a huge sense of accomplishment and relief that I’m fairly healthy and gaining fitness. I want to keep this momentum going as I train for Chicago.

A lot has happened in two years since I hobbled to the finish line at Sugarloaf. For a long time, I dealt with the fallout of that race and then with a pair of knees that remind me every day that I’m not 18 years old anymore. I didn’t have the desire to even think about a marathon, much less train for one, for months after the race. Then I couldn’t run for two months and I started to think my marathoning days were over.

But I’m ready to take another shot. After spending 2018 just getting myself back into the every day rhythm of being a runner and getting my knees to a point where they allowed me to run without a whole shitton of pain, I decided late last year (with some arm twisting from a friend) to try to get into the Chicago Marathon. I was selected in the lottery, and here I am, preparing to spend the summer deep in mileage and physical therapy and stretching and rolling, to get ready to tackle 26.2 miles again. 

This is a chance for me to write a new story. Not just the story of race day, that of course is important, but of the journey to race day. When I think back to Sugarloaf, I remember how much fun I was having training for the race until things went to shit and I fell apart. I want more of those memories, to see those happy post from race day and from training. 

Two years from now and two years from Oct. 13, I’d prefer not to wake up patting around for my phone to scroll social media (horrible habit, I know), but if I do, I want to be to reminded of a fun, hard, successful training block and see a look of relief, joy, and probably some pain, too.

Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K 5.0

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Sitting in the parking lot, thinking about what just happened.

I saw the mile 1 clock and the number after the 7 was a zero. “Wait a minute,” I thought in a bit of a panic. “My first mile is going to be sub 7:10. I think I might be in trouble.”

The funny thing was, I didn’t feel like I was in trouble. I felt like I was completely in control. “So,” I told myself, “don’t worry about it and keep going.”

I had a lot of thoughts and a few conversations with myself Sunday morning running the Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K. The good news is, I won most of those conversations and allowed myself to just run. I didn’t freak out when I was going faster than I thought I would or could, and I didn’t pump the breaks when it started to hurt (it didn’t hurt nearly as much as 5Ks usually do). I talked myself into running hard the entire way, not worrying too much about what my watch said and what I thought I was capable of.

And I ran the second fastest 5K of my life, finishing in 21 minutes, 32 seconds, just 11 seconds shy of my personal best. It was my first age-group victory ever and I finished 57th out of 1,442 runners. I haven’t had many races in my nearly 8 years as a runner as good as this one. All because I gave myself permission to succeed.

I’ve been hearing a lot about giving yourself permission to fail. Try big, crazy things, the thinking goes, because even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something and become a better person for it, and, maybe, just maybe, you won’t fail. You’ll never succeed if you don’t try.

I let fear of failure hold me back all the time, despite the popular thinking, but just as often I don’t give myself permission to be successful. It’s not that I’m afraid I can’t do it, I’m positive I can’t.

That was the difference between my effort Sunday and my effort most times I toe the line with a bib pinned to my chest. I didn’t have a goal Sunday morning, but I didn’t let the voices in my head hold me back. I didn’t worry about what I thought I was capable of and what I thought I wasn’t capable of, I just put in a hard effort and let whatever happened happened.

There wasn’t really an AHA moment Sunday morning. Actually, I felt kind of shitty when I woke up. I didn’t feel nervous, but my stomach was having a hard time dealing with my coffee and protein bar breakfast. I ran a warmup, then spent 5-minutes talking myself into wearing racing flats (literally, I sat in the passenger seat of my car, telling myself it was OK to wear flats).

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.22.44 PMThen the race started and I just ran with the pack. I tucked in behind a few runners down the hill from the Expo to Hadlock Field, then hugged the side of the road, focusing on the people in front of me and not my watch.

When I saw the clock at mile 1 I did panic a little, but I quickly told myself not to worry about it. Turning onto Stevens Ave, I tried to stay relaxed and keep up the same effort. Just before the turn onto Brighton Ave. from Stevens, breathing started to get a little hard and my legs started to get a little heavy. I wanted to slow down, but I reminded myself of the long, steep downhill on Brighton and decided to embrace the hurt until the hill.

I cruised down that hill and saw the 2-mile clock, which read 13:5-something and wondered briefly if I could set a new PR. I forgot about that quickly and decided to run as hard as I could for the last 1.1 miles. I passed a few runners making the turn onto Deering, then was passed by a dude pushing a stroller on the overpass. I tried to hang as close to him as I could, but this guy was pulling away hard.

Again, I told myself to run relaxed and keep pushing. Turning into Fitzpatrick Stadium, I turned it up another notch. I passed a woman entering the stadium, and she just as quickly passed me back. I ran a few strides behind her running on the dirt behind the bleachers, avoiding the puddles from a long spring of rain.

I couldn’t see the clock from center field when I entered Hadlock Field and didn’t look at my watch. It wasn’t until I crossed the foul line in left field and started down the warning track along the left-field seats, that I saw 21 on the clock. I wasn’t going to PR, but it was going to be close. I watched my PR tick by as I closed in on the finish line, but still crossed with a fist pump, followed by a high-five for Slugger and his ma.

Sunday was the kind of race I haven’t had in a long time. The Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon was validation that I was on the right track and the MDI Half Marathon was a celebration. The NYC Half was a step in the right direction. Sunday was all about pushing my limits and putting my training to the test. That wasn’t necessarily the plan going in, but it was definitely was what happened.

And it went better than I could have ever imagined. All because I gave myself permission to succeed.

 

Talking myself into S&*T

This blog serves a lot of purposes for me (I’m not sure it serve any purpose for anyone else, but … whatever). It’s a history of the things I’ve done and how I have felt about my life as a runner. It’s a reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m going. It’s a place for me to get things out of my head instead just of just letting them bang around in all that hollow space of up there. It is a space for me to write a little bit and flex my creative muscles.

I realized lately it also serves one other very important purpose for me and my weird way of thinking: It is a place where I can talk myself into shit I think is crazy, daunting, impossible.

Right now is a perfect example. Before sitting down with my computer in my lap and typing out this post, I was getting changed to head to my training class, which starts exactly an hour from when I’m writing this. On the schedule tonight is a workout that will be pretty darn hard and, frankly, I’m a little nervous about. I’m scheduled to run, after a 10-minute warmup, for an hour and a half at steady state pace (basically a pace I can hold for 2 hours, basically not quite half marathon pace).

You don’t need me to tell you this, but an hour and a half at a hard effort is a long flipping time. I’m wondering how the hell I’m going to hold that pace for that long, while basically running by myself (I tend to get separated from the group because we are all running different paces and because I’m a loner who separates himself from the group).

In my head, right now, I’m saying, “dude, that’s a little bit crazy. Are you sure?”

Well, yeah, I think so.

Sitting down to write this post, I keep reminding myself of a few things, talking myself into this workout.

  1. I’m not running the race this class is design for. This workout is just a chance to gain some fitness as I ramp myself up to dive headfirst into Chicago Marathon training. If I don’t finish the workout, it doesn’t matter (as long as I don’t get injured), so why not give it a shot?
  2. In the last three weeks, I’ve run an hour, an hour and 10 minutes, and an hour and 20 minutes at steady state on Wednesday nights. Every time I started the workout, I doubted I would finish it. It wasn’t always easy, but every time during this training block that I have tried this workout, I have finished it. That should give me some confidence and it should make me ask why today will be any different.
  3. It’s just fucking running, and I choose to do this, so why not try to have a little fun?

I have some pretty big goals for this fall, goals I think are batshit crazy that I need to talk myself into. Just like I’m doing now as I prepare for this workout, I will talk myself into those goals and doing the work to at least give them a shot on this blog and in my head. Tonight’s workout will hopefully help me continue to build the confidence that I’m capable of the things I want to accomplish.

And if not, well at least I gave it a shot, hopefully had a little fun, and gained a little bit of fitness.

A goal, but not the only goal

Training for Chicago, celebrating New York, and wondering if I will ever qualify for Boston.

I was not quite two years into my life as a runner when I attended the Boston Marathon for the first time. I hadn’t run a marathon and wasn’t totally sure I would ever have the desire to.

After spending three days in Boston in April 2013, hanging out with runners at the expo, racing part of the marathon course in the BAA 5K, and standing at the “1 Mile to Go” sign watching thousands of runners close in on the finish line, I knew I had to give the marathon a shot.

It was after that weekend, after all the joy of watching this great race, and after the horrific events that ruined such a wonderful time, that I set a goal for myself of qualifying for the Boston Marathon by the time I turned 50.

Six years later, I’m sitting on my bed watching the Boston Marathon. I’m a four-time marathon finisher with varying degrees of success. Eight years ago I weighed 66 pounds more than I did when I woke up this morning. For that guy, any marathon finish would be a huge success, but to say all four of those races have gone the way I wanted would be a lie. The first, the Smuttynose Marathon, was just about toeing the line and finishing. The second, the Chicago Marathon in 2014, was about actually trying to race a marathon for a time. The third, the Maine Marathon in 2016 was redemption for having to skip the same race the year before with a crappy (that’s a medical term) hamstring. The fourth, the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017, well, that was just a shit show and the start of a really awful stretch of poor health.

In five years, I will turn 50 and I’m still a long way from qualifying for Boston. My marathon PR, which I ran at Maine, is 3:50:12. The standard for my age group for the 2020 Boston Marathon is 3:20.

Yeah, I’m not even in the neighborhood yet.

And after that terrible experience at Sugarloaf, and the health woes that followed, I’m not sure qualifying for Boston, or even finishing another marathon is something I’m capable of. I’m in a much better place physically, I’m enjoying running and I’m in the midst of a really good training block, so I’m optimistic when I toe the line in Chicago this October, I’ll be able to put together a good race. A lot can happen in 5 1/2 months, though, and I need to be smart.

Despite my questions about my body’s ability to hold up to marathon training and to run a good 26.2 miles, qualifying for Boston by the time I’m 50 is still on my list of goals. It’s not No. 1, but it is definitely on the list. To be able to get myself into the kind of shape to be able to run a 3:20 marathon would be a huge, huge accomplishment.

But I will not let that goal define me. Qualifying for Boston is a huge accomplishment and running the race would be pretty freakin’ cool (even if all the logistics of it sound absolutely terrible). I will not, however, let not reaching that epic milestone take anything away from what I am able to accomplish as a runner or take away my enjoyment of this sport. Boston is a big deal, it’s beloved in the running world and to be able to call yourself a Boston qualifier is a wonderful accomplishment.

It’s not the only accomplishment, though. And if I’m never able to run that qualifying time, if I’m never able to call myself a Boston qualifier, well, that’s really OK. The fact that I am able to run six days a week, that I am healthy enough and have the means to take the time out of my day to go for a jog, or spend an hour and a half working out, is something I will not take for granted. I have felt such a sense of gratitude toward running lately, not reaching a goal that is so far off in the distance take anything away from that would be insane.

I sit here watching Boston hoping that some day I’ll be fit enough to earn a spot in that race, but happy in the knowledge that I spent 2 hours putting in miles yesterday morning. I’ll continue to do the work to be a better runner, and continue to enjoy running, and if some that leads me to an eventually BQ, awesome. If not, well I still get to run so I’ll be grateful for that.

2019 … so far

I thought I would sit down today and check in with how my running goals for 2019 are coming along three months into the year. When I took a look back at the goals I set for myself, I realized it was way too early in the year to check in because those goals are far reaching and I’m taking a smart-ish approach to training in 2019.

2019 goals
  • I haven’t run 50 miles in a week or 200 miles in a month because I’m building up to that.
  • I haven’t run a sub 23 minute 5K because I haven’t run one yet. 
  • I didn’t break 1:45 in the half marathon yet because I’ve only run one, my training got off to a slow start, and I didn’t exactly race the NYC Half
  • That 3:47 marathon? Unless something changes, I won’t even be attempting that until October. 
  • I can say that I am well on my way to losing 20 pounds. Three months into the year I am down about 15 pounds, thanks to giving up beer and peanut butter, and having less junk food in the house. 

That is about as much of an update as I can give on those goals. There is still a lot of work to do, and I’m happy to report, I’m doing a decent job of doing the work. Those goals, however, are still pretty far off in the distance.

This week has been a big step toward those goals. Last Sunday, I ran 10 miles, with 50 minutes a little faster than half marathon pace. I bounced back to run basically the same workout Wednesday, finishing 10 miles with 60 minutes just a touch slower because I was smarter and actually ran about half marathon pace. I’ve logged just over 30 miles through Saturday and plan to run for an hour and 45 minutes Sunday, which will put me over 40 miles in a week for the first time this year. Actually, I haven’t run more than 40 miles in a week since April 2017, which was the week I tweaked my hamstring training for the Sugarloaf Marathon. That was the start of a downward spiral in my running, then ended with me on the shelf with bum knees after a summer of lackluster training.

I’m definitely feeling the impact of those miles, though I feel better today than I have at any point since I ran the half marathon on March 17. My right adductor/hammy has been tired and sore, which is par for the course when training gets harder, but I’ve tried to be smart about it. I stretch, I roll it out with my Tiger Tail, I wear compression. That, even more than my knees, is the thing I have to be the most diligent about. It is a work in progress and I am doing my best (with mixed results) to stay on top of it.

So far, 2019 has been a success. I feel relatively healthy and, more importantly, I’m enjoying the process. Running, and everything that goes a long with it, hasn’t always been fun in the last few years. That I have kept running despite all the setbacks I’ve had is pretty satisfying. I’m grateful every day I get to run. I do the best I can to be present and enjoy what I am doing. When it starts to feel like a chore, and it still does sometimes, I just remind myself that I choose to do this, I want to do this. 

Regardless of whether I hit those goals I set for myself or not, if I keep doing that, 2019 will be a success.