Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DNF Report: KeyBank Vermont City Marathon

As the title of this post says, VCM did not turn out the way I had hoped it would. Before getting into what happened on Sunday, I am going to set the scene by sharing some highlights from the days before the race.

Thursday Night
I spoke with Coach Jeff to discuss a race plan. The hilliest parts of the course were in the first 16 miles. There was a slight uphill start, a steeper climb from the Northern Connector back into Burlington between miles 7-8, and then Battery St. at miles 15 -16. Coach said to relax and conserve my energy on the hills and then pick it up when the course flattened out. We talked about my training cycle and that all signs pointed to a stellar race in Burlington. He also said that the only thing that was going to be beat me was Mother Nature. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come.

Friday & Saturday:
The drive up to Burlington went smoothly. It was a beautiful drive through NY and Vermont farm country, We checked into the hotel and headed over to the expo at the Sheraton. It was great to meet Mike and his family, Sandra, and Elizabeth at the Daily Mile/Twitter meet-up. I picked up my bib and after walking around the expo for a bit, we headed back to the hotel for Shabbat.

It was so nice to have another Observant family to spend Shabbat with. Lil Ansky got along swimmingly with Mike's 3 children which made the long day go by quickly. At some point while we were sitting outside on the roof deck, I said to Mike if it's like this (hot and humid) tomorrow, I'm going to be in trouble. Omen #2. When Shabbat ended our families discussed some spectating logistics and I went to bed.

I did not sleep very well Saturday night. I tossed and turned worried that I would sleep through my multiple alarms and miss the shuttle to the start. I got out of bed around 5:00 and prepared my usual pre-race meal, peanut butter and nutella (Lil Ansky called it PB &  N) on whole wheat bread and a glass of orange juice. I got dressed and met Mike in the lobby. The hotel staff was doing it's part to get in on the race day festivities. They left some goodies in the lobby for the runners and their families to enjoy.
The atmosphere at Battery Park felt more like a small community 5k than a marathon. Runners and their families were milling around and taking shelter from the rain in the bandshell.

Finally, it was time to get into the corrals. Mike and I lined up at the 8:00/mile sign. It was still raining and cool. Shortly before the horn went off, I turned to Mike and said I'll be very happy if it stays like this the entire race. Omen #3. The horn goes off and it's time to race! The first part of the course loops through a residential part of Burlington. I had a hard time settling into a groove partly because the streets were narrow in many spots. As we came back into downtown Burlington I did quick system check. Everything felt fine, heart rate was where I wanted it, legs felt fine, no problem with the lungs. I started to struggle mentally on the climb up from the Northern Connector around mile 7. The rain had stopped, the sun was coming out, and the air was getting heavy. Mike caught up with me and told me I looked great. I was struggling up the hill but I knew my family was waiting for me at the top. Seeing Mrs. and Lil Ansky helped me get me out of my mental funk but shortly after seeing them around mile 9 I started to feel tightness in my chest. I knew right away that my asthma was starting to flare up. I pulled off to the side around mile 10 for 2 puffs of my inhaler and to slow down my breathing. At this point I knew that I wasn't running a 3:30 but I thought that if I took a few minutes to regroup I could still finish the race. I got back on the course at a slower pace but the tightness came back and was getting worse. I could not get enough air into my lungs. At mile 11.5 I saw a medical tent and told the medics that my asthma was flaring up and that I was done. My race was over.

What happened next was a little bit of a blur. I found my way to the half way point where the 2 person relay bus would take me to the finish line at Waterfront Park. Not exactly where I wanted to be but what choice did I have? My bag was there and I arranged with my family to meet at the reunion zone. On the bus I was talking with someone who complete the first half of the relay. He recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan and was telling me that last year he ran VCM virtually while in Afghanistan. Before we parted ways I thanked him for his service and congratulated him on completing his leg of the relay.

I picked up my bag from the baggage tent and spoke to my family. They were somewhat surprised that I dropped out because Mike had told them that I was OK but I was a few miles back. I told them I was OK and would meet them at the reunion zone. I was an emotional wreck and being around the finish line was not helping. The race organizers were announcing the names of the finishers as they crossed the line. My name should have been called. I trained my tuches off for this race. I endured many miles in sub-freezing temperatures, logged hundreds of pre-dawn miles, and ran a stellar half marathon earlier in the month! Sunday was supposed to be my reward for all of my hard work.

Mrs. and Lil Ansky greeted me with hugs, kisses, and encouragement. They said everything they were supposed but I wasn't hearing it. I was angry, disappointed, I even cried. My immediate reaction was to get the heck away from the festivities. I wanted to go back to the hotel, check out a day early, and drive home. Since the first hotel shuttle didn't leave Waterfront Park until 12:45, we were able to see Mike finish and hear his name over the PA system. It also gave me time to talk to Coach about what happened. He reminded me that I made the right decision and that I had nothing to prove by trying to finish. He told me that fellow PRSFIT teammate, Jen also pulled out with an asthma attack. Mother Nature had beaten us both.

We rode the shuttle back to the hotel with Mike and his family. When we got back to our room, a big part of me still wanted to go home.  Sunday after the race was supposed to be about celebrating another marathon finish. But what did I have to celebrate? Mrs. Ansky convinced me that yes, we here for my race, but we also here for a mini-vacation and we shouldn't ruin it for Lil Ansky. We paid a visit to the Magic Hat Brewing Company which was right around the corner from our hotel. We picked up a super-sized bottle of #9 and a bottle of Vinyl to drown my sorrows in later.

Next up was a visit to the Ben and Jerry's Factory in Waterbury. There is no ice cream production on the weekends but we enjoyed hearing Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield's story. The tour ended with samples of their latest flavor, Late Night Snack which features Jimmy Fallon on the packaging. It's a vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl, and fudge covered potato chip clusters. Great combination of salty and sweet. The sample wasn't enough to satisfy us so we each enjoyed a cup from the on-site scoop shop, Phish Food for Mrs. and Lil Ansky, Peanut Brittle for me.

After dinner we gave Lil Ansky the choice of swimming or Kung Fu Panda 2. She chose the movie which was cute but not as good as the first one. After putting Lil Ansky to bed, the Mrs. and I enjoyed our beers and Star Wars: Episode I which was on TV and went to bed.

Surprisingly, I woke up Monday in much better spirits. I wasn't 100% ready to put the DNF behind  me and move on, but I was beginning to realize that not finishing was not a result of something I did wrong during the race. I didn't go out too fast, I wasn't dehydrated, Mother Nature beat me fair and square. It was completely out of my control. It happens to the best runners in the world, at VCM it happened to Jen and to Laura, it happened to many other friends over their racing careers, and it happened to me. DNFing is part of our sport, not every race is going to be perfect.

Am I still disappointed that I returned from Vermont without a finisher's medal around my neck? Of course I am. With that said, I came home with my health, a loving and supportive family, and friends who care. It doesn't matter if we've met in person or only virtually I consider you all friends and I thank you for all the tweets, Facebook comments, and texts. DNFing is very humbling but I'm now ready to put it behind me, regroup, and get ready to tear up the Marine Corps Marathon in October.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Did I Forget Something?

I made a list of the all the running related items I need to take with me to Vermont. What am I missing?
  • Shoes - Newton Gravitas. If it rains, I'll wear the Newton Terras since the closed upper will keep my feet drier.
  • Socks
  • Shorts
  • Shirt - I'll probably pack one short sleeve and one sleeveless and decide which one to wear.
  • Visor - I don't like hats, my head gets too warm.
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Garmin + charger
  • Body Glide
  • Gels (Hammer Raspberry)
  • Dry clothes for after the race. It should be warm enough in the morning that I won't need throw away clothing before the race.
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Zensah calf sleeves - I'm not sure if I'm going to race in them but I'll definitely put them on after the race and during the drive home on Monday.
  • Food for before the race - whole wheat bread, peanut butter, nutella, orange juice, water, Gatorade.
  • Food for after the race - the bagels VCM will provide probably won't be kosher.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

T-Minus 4 Days

A friend asked me the other day if I was wigging out. The taper is usually the time when I start doubting myself and get all nervous that I won't be able to run a good race. This taper has been different. I've had no phantom pains, no nighttime dreams about not finishing the race, and I'm not questioning whether I've trained enough. In fact, I'm in a pretty good place mentally. I'm not checking the weather, because, in all honesty, there is nothing I can do about it. If it rains, it rains. If it's hot, it's hot. I'll adjust my race strategy as needed but there's no use checking every day and obsessing over it. Truthfully, the weather is more of a factor for Mrs. and Lil Ansky who will be spectating and cheering me on.

A few other things:
  • We drive up to Burlington on Friday. The Anskys are looking forward to meeting Mike and his family. Since we are both Observant we decided it will be nice to stay in the same hotel and spend Shabbat with another Observant family. Mike's family is cooking Friday night dinner and we're going cook Shabbat Lunch. Mike's oldest daughter is the same age as Lil Ansky. She's looking forward to making a new friend and playing together, along with Mike's other 2 kids.
  • Because of Shabbat, I will be at the expo on Friday. There is a meet-up planned for 4:30 on Friday and for 4:00 on Saturday. Let me know if you're going to be at the Friday meet-up, it will be great to meet you in person. Click here for meet-up details.
  • For the first time at VCM, there will be runner tracking. Once I have my bib number, I will post my bib number and the link on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. It will show splits at 10, 13.1, and 20 miles as well as the finish. To the best of knowledge it is not set up to automatically send my progress to Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to Fairpoint Communications for making this happen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Possible Changes to the Vermont City Marathon Course

This is not going to be a post about me obsessing about the extended forecast on the 29th. Whatever the weather is, it is. There is nothing I can do I about it. Truth is, what I'm about to write about, is also something that I can do nothing about but I think it's important to mention.

The organizers of the Vermont City Marathon have been informing runners via their Facebook page, Twitter feed, and blog that a portion of the marathon course will be re-routed due to high waters and flooding of Lake Champlain. The high waters and flooding are due to snow melt and higher than normal rainfall in the Burlington area. The race organizers posted this on their blog yesterday:

"We are working diligently with Burlington city officials, the Burlington Parks and Rec and the Department of Public Works to make the necessary repairs to the Marathon course in hopes that we will be able to run the course as originally planned, aside from one small detour at Perkins Pier where runners will pass through the Vermont Railway lot.  Our ability to run the course as planned depends somewhat on what Mother Nature throws at us for the next several days, however, there are contingency plans in place that address all areas of potential concern."
I am sure that the race organizers are obsessing about the weather a lot more than I am at this point. As of right now, only a small change to the course will be made. However, if the weather doesn't cooperate, then other course modifications might be necessary. Whatever the outcome, the race organizers have assured us that the course changes will not result in significant elevation changes and will be USATF certified. 
The race organizers and Burlington Parks and Recreation are asking anyone in the Burlington area to help clean up the course this Saturday between 10am and 2pm. Volunteers should meet at the bottom of College Street near the information booth. 
One thing I am sure of is that regardless of what the final course looks like, I am sure that the Vermont City Marathon will be a top notch race. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Last Long Run and Tapering

It's hard to believe that the Vermont City Marathon is only 13 days away. I haven't had much time to write recently so I'll catch you up on how my last long run went and how my taper is going.

I did my last long on Sunday, May 8. Coach Jeff assigned 3:15 in zone 2 to close out my last hard week of training before the taper. I had to start earlier than I usually would on a Sunday because of a family obligation. It was quite chilly in the morning but I dressed lightly knowing that it would warm up while I was out there. The run went really well. I practiced my hydration and nutrition strategy for the race, and had no issues. Around mile 16.5 I ran out of fluids so I stopped at a local CVS for a bottle of Gatorade. The line to pay was longer than usual for an early Sunday morning because people were out buying last minute Mother's Day cards. I ended up running 23.2 miles in 3:15 which averaged out to 8:24/mile. Coach was happy with the effort, he said I'm where I needed to be heading into the taper.

Coach's approach to the taper is to cut back the time on your feet but to increase the intensity. Case in point, the first run of my taper was 8 x 7 minutes in zone 4 with 2:00 recovery in between. That morning, I woke with intense stomach pains and I know there was no way I could run. Later that day I flew to Atlanta to present at a workshop on Wednesday. Summer came early to Atlanta (70 with 100% humidity at 6:30 Wednesday morning), but I still wanted to get a run in a new city. My hotel was a few blocks from Piedmont Park. There were lots of runners out and several "boot camp" type classes going on in the park. I followed some runners until I got my bearings then went off on my own and ran several loops of the park.

This past Friday was 20 minutes in zone 2 then 1 hour in upper zone 3. I was really pleased how well this went. My pace for the upper zone 3 was 7:37/mi. My stomach was a little queasy most likely because my nutrition was off while I was in Atlanta.

Yesterday, Coach assigned me a step-up run: 10 minutes in easy, 10 minutes in zone 2, 30 minutes in zone 3, 45 minutes in zone 4. It was raining pretty hard in the morning and my eyes were burning and watering because the pollen count was extremely high. For these reason, I decided to run on a treadmill at the gym. Zone 3 was done at around 7:45 pace and zone at around 7:30. It's not easy being on the treadmill for that long, but I got through it. Even though I ran on the treadmill, Coach was happy with the effort. He said I'm all juiced up and ready to go.

This week I'll be on the track Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday for some mile repeats to keep the leg turnover high. It's almost showtime!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Totals for April 2011

Total Number of Runs: 12
Total Time: 15:28:44
Total Distance: 110.18

Average Time: 1:17:23
Average Distance: 9.18 miles

April Started off with a new 15k PR at the Indian Trails Road Race. After the race, I became more confident that a 3:30 or better could be possible at VCM. I also made the 4 runs I got done in South Florida count. My body was not used to the hot and humid weather but a put together a quality tempo run, a solid long interval workout, and a solid long run.

You already know how the Long Island Half Marathon turned out (if you done, click here for the race report). I'm about half way through my last tough week before the taper. I close out this week with a 1:30 step-up run on Friday and a 3:15 long run on Sunday.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Race Report: RXR/TIAA-CREF Long Island Half Marathon

There wasn't a separate shirt for the half. Weird, I know. Should I wear the shirt?
 I targeted the Long Island Half Marathon as my final tune-up race before the Vermont City Marathon on May 29. I spoke with Coach Jeff on Friday to formulate a race plan. He said to try and go out at around 7:50 pace and if I feel I felt good at mile 10, I should let it fly for the last 5k. I thought that seemed reasonable. Most of my long tempo run have been right around that pace. A 7:50 pace would get me across the finish line in approximately 1:43 which would be a PR by 2 minutes and on target for a 3:30 finish in Vermont.

Since I live in NJ and don't go out to Long Island that often, I left plenty of time to drive out there. Traffic was light early Sunday morning and I arrived in Eisenhower Park around 6:45. I made sure to use the bathroom adjacent to the parking lot before making my way to the start. I met up with Samantha, whose friend was nice enough to pick up my bib, checked my bag and lined up just in front of the 8:00/mile pace sign. The conditions in East Meadow could not have been better Sunday morning. Temperatures at the 8:00 start were in the upper 50s and sunny. It was supposed to warm up but not til much later in the day.

The horn went off and it was the usual clusterf*&k at the start. There were a fair share of runners that did not line up honestly. Thankfully, the Charles Lindburgh Blvd. was wide enough that I was able to settle into my pace and waste too much energy bobbing and weaving. Right from the get go, I decided to race based on perceived effort rather than focusing on the 7:50 pace. The first 2 miles, I went out too fast but I was able to reign myself in and settle in to a hard but sustainable effort (I've been using that phrase a lot recently). I found the elevation profile of the race deceiving.
I really didn't feel the gradual rise from miles 4 to 8. Aside from a small hilly part on the Wantagh Parkway the rest of the course felt flat. The marathon and half marathon courses split at the 10 mile mark. Marathoners went left further down Wantagh Parkway and half marathoners went right onto Carman Ave. I was feeling good so I picked up the pace. As I made the final turn out of the golf course and back into Eisenhower Park I saw the clock turn to 1:40. I knew I had a PR but pushed a little harder with the hopes of finishing sub-1:40.  I didn't look at my watch until after I grabbed a bottle of water and someone put a finisher's medal around my neck. When I did, guess what I saw??????
I had to a double take. Did I just run a sub-1:40 half? Indeed I did. I called Coach Jeff and he let out one of his trademark "YEE HAWs." My official time was not that far off from my watch time.
The 1:39:29 is PR by 6 minutes. This race was a huge boost to my confidence. I was feeling slightly fatigued right before Passover and honestly, I wasn't sure how I was going to do after only running 4 times over the 10 days I was away. Turns out my body was fresh and I ran a killer race. 

Overall, the Long Island Half was well run race. The course was well marked, the roads were wide and closed to traffic and there was more than handful of spectators on the course. There was also a pretty elaborate post-race festival with a beer garden, band, and some vendors showing off their products. It looked like many families planned on meeting their runners and spending the day in the park.  My only gripe was that there weren't enough aid stations with Gatorade. There were aid stations with water every 1.5 miles or so but Gatorade was only provided at miles 5 and 10.

It's hard to believe that VCM is now less than 4 weeks away. Time really went by quickly. This is my last hard training week before the taper.  I'm ready to rock!