In my life, I have dabbled with athletics from time to time. I played soccer for several years as a kid. I played a lot of racquetball for a while, and even took up ice hockey for a few years in my thirties. On May 9, 2013, I laced up some running shoes and logged 3.95 slow miles. I’m in my 40s. I don’t know why, but this whole running thing seems to be sticking. I have a friend who reminded me yesterday that on the day we met, he introduced himself as an athlete, and I politely told him that all that running and swimming wasn’t for me.
I think maybe I was wrong… Ha!
In roughly 3.5 years, I’ve run seven marathons and seven Ragnar/Reach the Beach relays. Add a handful of 5Ks, 10Ks, and assorted shorter races. Throw in 19 half marathons, and over 3,900 running miles and it’s safe to say that I am a runner. I also bike and swim occasionally, but the focus is on the run. I started this journey with my eye on the Boston Marathon, and while I ran it in 2014, that race still has my attention. I want to qualify to run Boston on my own merit. To be fast enough to get in because I’ve paid my dues and run a race fast enough. It’s a pretty big undertaking.
At my age, this means I have to run a marathon under 3 hours 25 minutes. My personal goal is 3:22:30, 7:44 per mile. That’s 2:03 per mile faster than my best effort to date.
After reading several books, countless magazine articles, numerous blog posts, I’ve decided that while it’s possible that I could get there on my own, it’s also not necessarily likely. Lots of people who have been runners far longer than I have don’t ever qualify for Boston. It’s a big deal, a huge undertaking. It takes dedication and perseverance. For me, 3.5 years is a good start. I had a plan that would take me 5 more years, but as I just wasn’t feeling like I had the tools to do it on my own, so I decided to hire a coach.
I started with a referral to Shannon McGinn, the proprietor and coach at Creative Momentum Coaching. I reached out over email, and we immediately connected in a very natural and personal way. Sometimes you meet someone online, and you just click. Shannon was like that for me, and I like her a lot. The only problem was she didn’t quite fit into my budget. I had already made a deal with myself that involved me switching from the cafeteria at work to brown-bag lunches, but I found myself trying to figure out how to get out of some of the relays I’ve already paid for in 2017. The numbers just weren’t adding up, and that was before I found out I got into Berlin.
It’s not to say I can’t make Shannon work in my budget, I can. It just meant giving up on some other things I already committed to, and that meant I needed to take a fresh look at my priorities. I started looking at a couple of the running clubs near my office. I once joined the North Shore Striders (though never really ran with them), and there’s the Salem Wicked Running Club, too. Turns out both of those groups have a weekly workout with the same coach, Fernando Braz. A couple friends personally recommended Coach Braz, so I filled out the form on his Web site, and got on a call with his business partner to talk about how the program worked. At this point, there was no personal connection like I had with Shannon, but with strong recommendations and a better fit for my budget, I decided to try Coach Braz and see if we could make it work.
As I write this, we’re 16 days into that relationship. Here’s how it’s going.
On day 4, I had scheduled a half marathon, the Jingle Bell Half. This is where I earned my previous personal best, and when I signed up for it, I was thinking that a few weeks after New York I’d been in amazing shape and would totally crush it. Instead, I got sick just after the marathon. It wasn’t anything serious; a chest cold that hung on for several weeks. I was really nursing that cold because I was going to Antigua to scuba dive with Claire and Pedro, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that trip. I ended up taking about three weeks off, and when I returned to running the week before the half marathon, I felt slow. It had been two months since I’d done any speed work. I told Coach Braz my hopes for a new personal best were pretty dim, and that I would run the race as a training run, just give me my assignment and I’ll do it his way.
Coach Braz gave me a racing strategy instead.
If you feel it’s a go- keep this strategy in mind…..aim for 8-9 miles @ goal pace and decide if last 4-5 miles are in the cards. You will have a psychological/mental and physical out and plan prior to event. A specific race plan could include….
- 3 miles @ 24:30-25:00 ( 8:10-8:20 ) – reset watch for next 3
- 3 miles @ 24:30-25:00 – reset watch
- 3 miles @ 24:30-25:00 – reset watch and evaluate overall effort and continuation of plan.
- If you continue- just do another 3 mile interval
So that’s what I did. 8:15 would be a new PR, so I went in with that in mind. The first two miles were pretty much all down hill, so I was running closer to 8:00. I stretched my legs out and took longer strides, and it went pretty well. The second three miles I drafted off a strong runner who was logging miles at about 7:55 / 8:00 per mile. So far so good. For the third set, my rabbit slowed a little bit on an uphill, so I decided to just go for it on my own. Concentrated on trying to keep my form good, long strides, but keeping the effort as low as I could for that pace. When I got to the end of mile nine, I was sitting at just under an hour and thirteen minutes. With 4.1 miles to go, I could smell a personal best. I was also very tired, but I kept asking myself, “how would you run right now if you knew you could not fail?” So I pressed. Miles 10 and 11 I averaged 8:00 per mile.
Then the course turned uphill.
The last two miles of a race being steadily uphill is a little bit cruel. Especially when you’ve just given your very best 11 mile effort ever. This was a gritty two miles for me. They weren’t pretty. I shortened my stride (about 10% smaller steps) and kept my cadence up at around 189 steps per minute. My best effort those last two miles averaged at 8:45, way slower than the rest of the race, but I still nabbed a new personal best by over three minutes.
Oh, and set personal records for the 5K and 10K at the same time. If I can set a PR for the 5K while running a half marathon, that means my record there is pretty soft. I should
Coach Braz’s race strategy was simple, but it worked for me. Right now, we seem to be testing me with my workouts. I’ve been given some pretty aggressive intervals to run, and surprised myself by hitting the pace he assigned for me (6:27/mile for brief periods). I have a one mile race coming up in two weeks, but we’re not preparing specifically for that; no tapering or specific race training. I told coach to keep it focused on the marathon. My next one isn’t until September, so we have just over nine months to prepare. This week I have 33 miles scheduled. It will be interesting to see what a “normal” weekly training plan looks like. Whatever comes, I’m excited to have someone pushing me intelligently. I can push myself, but it’s hard to know how hard, how fast, and when to back off. I like having someone who can help make those decisions for me. So far, Coach Braz has given me some pretty easy workouts, and he’s completely kicked my butt, too. My average training pace is about the same, but that’s because some of my running is MUCH faster than normal while some of it is slower. It’s been fun!
I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going here.