Tag Archives: Chicago Marathon

Making progress, measuring progress

On the road to WrestleMania.

The way I measured progress in March 2018 is nothing like the way I’m measuring progress in March 2019.

A year ago, I was just getting back to running on a regular basis. Running still felt weird and my knees still hurt from time to time. This year, I’m in the middle of a training plan, running six days a week, and logging workouts on a regular basis. Running still feels weird sometimes, especially now that I’m trying to make a small tweak to my form, but the pain in my knees pops up a lot less.

A year ago, progress was getting out for a 7-mile run on the weekend. No matter how slow, 7 miles was a big deal for me in March 2018. This year, progress is running a workout I did at the end of January (3×10 minutes at threshold pace) and running my reps nearly 50 seconds faster (8:10-ish in January, 7:20-ish last night).

A year ago, running a 5-mile race at 8:33 pace early in April was a little bit terrifying. This year, running a half marathon at a pace 20 seconds faster than felt almost easy (spending four days in New York was terrifying, though).

I have a ton of work still to do, especially if I want to finally run that 3:47 marathon I’ve been chasing for five years. I’m enjoying the process right now, and I know it is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of focus to reach the goals I have set. It is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of focus to continue to enjoy the process, actually.

It is nice to be able to look back and see what kind of progress I have made. It’s nice to know I can go out on a Sunday and run 10-13 miles and not be on the shelf for days or weeks. It is nice to know I can run a hard workout at paces I haven’t really touched on since early in 2017 and bounce back to jog a super slow 4 miles a day later.

I’m grateful to be gaining fitness and confidence. I don’t take it for granted, not after the shit show that was 2017 and the rebuilding that took place in 2018. That rebuilding is still on going and will actually ramp up this summer as I put in the real hard work for the Chicago Marathon. I’ve talked a lot about Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim., I really need to Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim this summer. No more slacking off, no more farting around. I’ve done a decent job with physical therapy, strength work, stretching and rolling, I need to really ramp it up this summer.

How I measure progress will continue to change. This summer, hopefully looks a lot different than right now.

Onward and upward. Continuing making forward progress. Right now, that is how I measure success.

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The achy knees chronicles

Training to be The Man. Oh wait, I can’t be The Man, Becky Lynch is The Man.

A week and a day removed from the Mid Winter Classic, the first hard, long effort I’ve put in since the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon in September (well, the MDI Half was a sort of hard effort, basically 13.1 miles at marathon pace), I’m left with the same question I had after racing in September:

Will my knees hold up through marathon training and the marathon?

In the days after both the KRRT Half and the Mid Winter Classic, my arthritic knees were sore, my right one more after the half, my left more after Mid Winter. There was a dull ache in both knees for a few days and running was not my favorite thing to do. Last week it took a mile or so for my left knee to warm up and stop being sore.

I’m not sure my knees hurt here, but I’m pretty sure everything else did. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

That dull ache in the days after a 13.1-mile race and a 10-mile race has put some doubt in my mind about the possibility of running 26.2 miles in October. If 10 miles at 8:28 left me feeling that beat up, what am I going to feel like after 26.2? I mean, I know it is supposed to hurt, but will I even be able to finish it?

I have a few reasons to optimistic about my chances in October.

First, my training for both of those races wasn’t exactly stellar. I wasn’t doing a ton of workouts in preparation for the Rail Trail Half and I was sick as a dog for at least two weeks leading into Mid Winter. My mileage has been pretty low and my body hasn’t had time to acclimate to that much time on my feet. I am confident (hopeful?) I will work harder this spring/summer/fall (I’m already making progress) to prepare myself for the marathon. I’ll run enough miles, I’ll do enough workouts, I’ll get better about doing strength workouts to build myself up enough to hold up for the marathon.

Second, I have been smarter about my diet and keeping up with my physical therapy. I ran the half at 180 pounds, the Mid Winter Classic at 177ish. I know the numbers on the scale don’t mean everything, but I’m overweight. I’m clearly better than I was when I weighed 235, but I’m still carrying around too much. With bad knees and a tired back, that extra weight isn’t helping.

I put on a bunch of weight right before running the Sugarloaf Marathon in May 2017 because I got injured and got lazy and ate my feelings. It made for an ugly day and I’m still not quite over the whole thing. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

The good news on that front is, I’m down about 7 pounds in 2019. I was stuck between 180-185 for a long time, probably since I ran the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017. I started this year at 182 and when I weighed myself Monday morning, I weighed 175. I can credit that mostly to giving up beer, eating a smaller breakfast, and not crushing half a jar of peanut butter after work each night.

I’ve also done my physical therapy every day and done at least 30 pushups most days this year (I skipped three days, and one of those I did 50-plus burpees). All of this is hopefully going to make me stronger and put me in a better position to be finish the marathon strong in October.

I’m trying to stay positive and not fret about what lies down the road in three months, six months, nine months. If you know me, however, you know I’m constantly asking questions, constantly doubting what’s possible, constantly questioning my abilities.

That’s the other thing I need to work on as I train for the marathon. And I’m trying, but that has been a life-long battle, so it’s hard to say if I’ll ever win.

Lesson learned at Mid Winter Classic 6.0

Climbing that hill at the end of mile 5. It was pain train time. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

When I signed up for the Mid Winter Classic in November, I had high hopes. I was continuing to make progress, a little more than a year removed from two months on the shelf because of my bum knees, and I thought I was ready to dive into some hard training.

It didn’t exactly work out that way partly because I got a little lazy, partly because the weather was a jerk, mostly because I was sick for almost a month.

I battled my way through the 10-miler, undertrained and finished in a little bit of pain (it’s OK, I’m not injured, I’m just out of shape and have bad knees). I battled the voices in my head telling me to stop, I ran consistent splits, and run negative splits.

And I learned a few things along the way.

• Don’t listen to the voices in my head.

This is a constant battle, but even more so now that I haven’t been racing very much and I haven’t been putting too many workouts to really, truly make myself uncomfortable. When I started to hurt just before all those hills in mile 2 on Sunday, I almost turned around and jogged back to the finish line. I gave myself permission to run just 5 miles hard-ish, then jog the final 5 miles. I almost stopped and walked during mile 8 (I even pulled over to the side of the road). I was hurting and wanted to stop, but I didn’t listen to my head and kept going.

I need to focus on my core.

My back started to get tired and sore climbing that huge hill at the end of mile 5 and the start of mile 6. It has been getting sore when I work out or when I stand up at work. That’s a sure sign that I have been neglecting my core. I’ve been doing pushups and I even did a couple of CrossFit workouts (that shit hurts), but planks and other core work … well, I’ve been slacking. That has to stop.

I have a lot of work to do.

It took a pretty big effort for me to average 8:38 miles for 10 miles on Sunday. Granted, it’s a pretty tough course, but my goal for Chicago is to run that pace (or faster) for 26.2 miles. Running 25-30 miles a week and slacking off on strength work is not going to cut it. I found that out, struggling through those final 5 miles at “marathon pace” on Sunday. Big goals take big work and it’s time to get to work.

• Don’t skip my warmup or my cooldown.

I spent most of the time before the race catching up with friends, and I don’t regret that at all. I do regret not warming up. I didn’t do any dynamic stretching, I didn’t jog, I just stood around and chatted, then when the canon went off (and scored the shit out of me), I started running. My hamstrings were tight, my calves were tight, my hips were tight. I felt miserable and that is a recipe for disaster. My hamstring have been too much of a problem for me to skip that step.

A day after the race I’m a little bit sore and my knees, specifically my left one, are feeling a little beat up, but I also have a ton of information to build on as I take the next step in training. These lessons should be valuable as I prepare to run the New York City Half Marathon in March and the Chicago Marathon in October.

There is a lot of work to do, at least I have some ideas what that work should be.

Putting the numbers into perspective

So many numbers.

I’m constantly yelling at myself to stop worrying about the damn numbers so much.

• Ignore the number on the scale and just get healthier.

• Ignore the numbers on your watch and just run.

• Ignore the numbers in your running log and on your Strava page, and just do what is necessary to be a better runner.

•Ignore all those numbers everyone else post, their pace, their mileage, their race times. It doesn’t fucking matter.

Yet I couldn’t stop myself from looking at my mileage for 2018. We are two and half days days from 2019 and I was curious where I stood compared to 2017, and for that matter 2016. Each of those years are tremendously different, which I’ll write about in a bit, but I was curious how this year stacks up.

• 2018: 1,404 miles, and counting.

 2017: 1,391 miles.

• 2016: 2,114

Like I said, those years are significantly different.

In 2016, I was mostly healthy and had two really good training blocks, preparing for the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon and the Maine Marathon.

In 2017, I was off to a really good start training for the Mid Winter Classic and the Sugarloaf Marathon, then I injured my hamstring, lowered my mileage in the summer to try to get healthy, and finally was forced to take two months off because of my bum knees.

This year, I changed my stride and basically started from scratch, slowly working my way back to regular consistent mileage. I also dealt with the fear of doing too much and going back on the shelf.

Taking a look at these numbers has reminded me why it is important not to blindly place too much stock in them. Looking at my mileage this year and comparing it to 2016, on the surface it looks like a huge disappointment, but it really isn’t. In January I was working my way through Couch to 5K as I tried to gain back some fitness and learn my new running form. Now in December, I’m running five or six days a week and I’m logging between 30-40 miles per week. That’s forward progress. That is momentum. That makes those 1,404 (and counting) miles this year a success.

I set a bunch of goals for myself for 2019, a few of them based around numbers. My new goal for 2019 is to not get too wrapped up in them. The idea is to do the work I need to do to become a better runner. To get stronger and faster, healthier and happier. The numbers will be a guide, but not the end all be all. They won’t determine whether or not my year was a success. Whether I do the work to feel good and have fun doing the work will determine if it was a good year or not.

Of course, I will still track everything and still obsesses over the numbers on my watch, and the numbers on the scale, because old habits are hard to break and I’m stubborn. Maybe that’s another goal I need to work on in 2019.

Taking stock, setting goals

Out with the old Batman, in with the new.

Every December I take some time to set up my training log for the upcoming year. In an empty notebook, usually with a menacing drawing of Batman on the cover, I’ll create an index, set up pages to track my monthly/yearly mileage, to record all the races I ran that year, and for my goals for the upcoming year.

When I’m setting up that new log, I will also look back in my current log to see how things have gone for the past 11 1/2 months, and how I did on my goals for the current year.

I recently sat down and went through this process for 2019. My goals for 2018 were pretty casual, while my goals for 2019 are pretty specific and pretty lofty. Let’s take a look.

2018 to 2019. Setting goals.

In 2018, I set four goals for myself:

  1. Master mid-foot running form.
  2. Build my body into a runner’s body (PT/strength at least four times a week).
  3. Lose 20 pounds.
  4. JUST FUCKING RUN.

I’m not going to say I completely failed on all of those goals, but I wasn’t exactly super successful.

  1. My form is still very much a work in progress, but it is much more efficient than it used to be.
  2. I’ve had stretches of good habits, but my body is still soft and not nearly as strong as it should be.
  3. Not even close. I’m hovering around 180 now, which is right where I started the year, and pretty much where I started 2017. 2 and 3 need to be priorities.
  4. I have run plenty and enjoyed many of those miles, so that is a huge win.

My goals for 2019 build off some of those goals I set for myself in 2019. They also revolve around the races I have on my schedule. Most importantly, those goals are effort to push myself harder, to push myself to take training and my health more seriously.

  1. 3:47.
  2. Sub 1:45 half marathon
  3. Sub 23 minutes 5K
  4. Lose 20 pounds
  5. 50-mile week
  6. 200-mile month

Each one of those goals is tangible and, with the right amount of discipline and hard work, very reachable. Here’s my thinking behind each of them.

  1. As I wrote in my last post, this has been my goal for 5 years. I am actually aiming higher than that (3:40), but ultimately, 3:47 is my goal for the Chicago Marathon.
  2. My half marathon PR is 1:41:51. As I build myself back from last year’s injury mishaps, I can’t fathom running that fast. In my goal race for 2018, I ran 1:48:25. I can fathom running three-plus minutes faster.
  3. I broke 24 minutes in the 5K a few times this summer with very little speed training. Just getting back to training and running higher mileage, I think I can easily shave a minute off that time.
  4. It’s not all about the weight, though I’d be lying if I didn’t say that pillow above my belt didn’t bother the shit out of me. Those 20 pounds I want to lose are tied to my shitty diet. I snack way too much and my meals are too often the easiest thing to fix, which means sandwiches or frozen pizza. If I can finally tighten that up, and get into a better strength training routine, the weight will come off no problem and my knees will be grateful.
  5. I’ve hit 40 miles a few times this year. 50 miles just means I’m working harder toward my goals and feeling good about running. To get my body strong enough so my knees can take that sort of pounding, well, that would be the ultimate win.
  6. See No. 5.

I’m not necessarily a believer in New Year’s resolutions because WHY WAIT? I’ve already started some of the work toward my 2019 goals, but I am allowing myself to hit the reset button on Jan. 1. I’m not going to let my goals prevent me from enjoying the holidays and all the food and beverages that come with it. Jan. 1 is just another day, but it seems like a good time to buckle down and truly get to work on these lofty, for me, goals for 2019.

When I look back next December, I want to feel like I gave those goals my best effort possible. If I don’t reach them all, that’s OK, as long as I put in the work.

Aiming higher

Earlier this year, learning to run again, taking steps toward reaching that big goal

If you read this blog on a regular basis (when I’m posting on a regular basis, that is) or we have talked at all about running, you probably know that I have one goal that stands above all others. I have had a ton of goals in my 7 1/2 years of running, many I’ve reached, many I’m still chasing, but one holds more significance than the others. 

I have been chasing this one particular goal for more than five years and when I take my next swing at it, it will be six years and about a week old.

In the hours after jogging my first marathon, I set my sights on running 26.2 miles an hour faster than I just had. Finishing the Smuttynose Marathon on Oct. 6, 2013 in 4 hours, 47 minutes felt like a huge accomplishment, and for a guy who was in the process of losing more than 50 pounds and had been running for a little more than a year and a half, it was a huge accomplishment. However, I knew I was capable of much more.

On the car ride back to Maine, my goal of running a 3:47 marathon was born. In the five-plus years since I set that goal, I’ve taken four swings at accomplishing it. 

  1. I ran 3:56:55 at the 2014 Chicago Marathon.
  2. I jacked up my hamstring training for the 2015 Maine Marathon and had to skip the race. 
  3. I ran 3:50:12 at the Maine Marathon, crashing in the last 3-5 miles.
  4. I tweaked my hamstring training for the 2017 Sugarloaf Marathon, then suffered through a 4:12:05 on race day.

I’m taking another swing at that goal in 2019 when I run the Chicago Marathon. If I can get myself in shape to run that 3:47 on Oct. 13, my year of running will be a success. If I don’t run that fast, the race, and the year, can still be a success, but finally erasing 3:47 off that chalk board that hangs in my bedroom would make it a killer day. 

So why, all of the sudden, am I setting my sights even higher?

As I set goals for the 2019 race season and wrap my brain around exactly what I’m going to have to do to get ready for Chicago, I do want to aim higher. 3:47 is a good goal because it has significance, but I feel if I put my mind to it, I’m capable of more.

That’s a strange thing to say, since I’ve been chasing that goal for so long, but I also feel like in each of those training cycles I’ve left something on the table.

• In 2014, I had no idea what I was doing training for or running a marathon.

• In 2015, I was stupid and didn’t care for my body.

• In 2016, I ran more than I ever have, but I didn’t do enough other stuff to get myself ready to run a good marathon.

• In 2017, I didn’t learn my lesson and I wasn’t strong enough mentally to push myself through all the hurt. 

I talk a lot about wanting to get to the next level, wanting to do the work it takes to be a better runner, wanting to stop settling and actually believe in myself enough to chase bigger and faster things. 

Which is why my ‘A’ goal for the Chicago Marathon is to run 3:40. Like I said, 3:47 would be awesome, but I want more, and I want to stop settling and start working harder and smarter. 

I ran 3:50 at the Maine Marathon in 2016. This was heart of my training. I saw this yesterday and said, “holy shit.”

It’s kind of funny I’m throwing this out there right now, because my confidence isn’t exactly sky high. As I said in my last post, I was looking back at my mileage from the summer of 2016 and I’m overwhelmed. Running 50-plus miles a week seems so daunting right now, especially with the way my legs felt after an hour and half on the roads yesterday, which put me at just over 35 miles for the week (I’m a little bit sick, though, which may have something to do with being so sore). 

Training to run a 3:40 marathon seems crazy to me right now. Shit, training for a 3:47 marathon seems crazy. It seems way over my head and the thought of all that work gives me a panic attack. 

Yeah, so what? 

Where I’m at right now isn’t where I will be in Oct. 2019. My lack of overall fitness shouldn’t stop me from making the effort to get into the best shape possible, it should encourage me to start doing the work. To really focus on those habits and routines I keep talking about. To figure out what I’m going to do for a training plan (I really think I need to hire a coach, again). To start convincing myself I’m capable of way more than I believe I am. 

So yeah, I have a lot of work to do. I want to do the work. I want to cross off some of those goals, especially that big one that I’ve been chasing for so long. 

Let’s do this.

Operation: Chicago 3.0

I went to bed Monday night, thinking about new plans. My original plan was to run the Chicago Marathon in October. I signed up for the lottery. I booked a hotel. I was all set to go. 

But I was convinced when I went to bed Monday night, I would spend all day Tuesday checking my email, wondering if my name was drawn for the Chicago Marathon, and what I would do when it wasn’t. I was already researching if I could cancel my hotel room and getting annoyed because there is a cancellation fee. I was ready, when I found out I didn’t get picked for Chicago, to sign up for the Maine Marathon. 

I had plans, and I had backup plans. 

The whole thing was stupid and a waste of time. 

It was a waste of time because at 9:41 a.m. Tuesday morning I received an email informing me I had been selected for the Chicago Marathon. It was also a waste of time because I spent energy worrying about something I had no control over. I put my name in the lottery, there was nothing else I could. I’m not fastest enough to have an automatic qualifier and I haven’t run Chicago enough to get in as a legacy runner. I also missed the chance to sign up for a charity team, so the lottery was my only chance. Either I would get picked or I wouldn’t, no sense getting worked up about it.

I’m trying to not get too worked up about it now that I’m in, either. The race is 10 months away, there is plenty of time to get worked up about it. I have other things to focus on, other races to prepare for before I have to dive headfirst into a marathon cycle.

That being said, when it is time to dive into that marathon cycle, sometime in late June or early July, I want to be ready to get after it. I was flipping through my training log from the summer of 2016, when I was training for the Maine Marathon, and I was floored to see how far away from that type of work I am right now. From the first week of April until the first week of October (Maine Marathon week) in 2016 I had three weeks of less than 40 miles. Many of those weeks were over 50 miles. I have hit 40 miles in a week once since my knees put me on the shelf last October. Actually, I rarely touched 40 miles after I tweaked my hamstring training for the Sugarloaf Marathon last May. 

Operation: Chicago 2.0 when I ran 3:56 in 2014.. Operation: Chicago 1.0 was a baseball trip in 2003 and it was epic.

In other words, it takes a lot of work to train for a marathon and I actually need to do a lot of work to be ready to do that work if I am going to have the race I want to have when I make my second trip to Chicago for the marathon.

That work got underway when Fleet Feet’s Mid Winter Classic class started last week. I’m happy to have a plan to keep me on track, especially in the cold ass weather and the holiday season. I’m slowly, and hopefully smartly, working my way back to a level of fitness I haven’t had in a long time. My goal is to get back to that point I was in 2016 when I ran the best marathon of my life, and to push way past that.

I have a pretty lofty goal for Chicago, which I’m not ready to share yet (though if you follow my Instagram story, I made reference to it there). It might be way out of my wheelhouse, but for too long I haven’t allowed myself to believe I’m capable of more and it is holding me back. In 2019 my No. 1 goal is to believe in myself and challenge myself to do things and go places I never thought possible. It is going to take a lot of work and a lot of discipline, something I am sorely lacking at times, but it’s time to invest in me. It’s time to stop holding back, and being lazy, and not fucking going for it. 

It’s time to stop wasting energy on stuff I can’t control and get ready to go get it in October. 

Because Operation: Chicago 3.0 is happening.