Distance Totals

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Moutains to Beach 2014: A gravity-aided 3:03 and most importantly, a quality race.


The 2014 edition of the Boston marathon left a bitter taste in my mouth. After 4 months of great training, I was not able to capitalize on it and ran one of my worst marathons to date. I slowed down progressively throughout the race, resulting in a 5 minutes positive split to finish in 3:11, with the feeling that my legs could not move properly. Immediately after the race I thought of three possible causes for this bad performance: 1) insufficient taper; 2) a right leg weakness which I felt throughout the last 10 days before the race and made my right leg feel wobbly, especially on downhills and while decelerating from fast running and 3) the warm weather, which although not as bad as in 2012 still affected me more than anticipated.

The week after Boston triggered a lot of thoughts, emotions and reactions. My coach wanted me to take an extended 2 weeks break from running and not think about racing for a while. However my bad performance made me question my recent training with him. I was disappointed with the results I got over the last year, especially my last two goal marathons (3 bridges in Dec 2013, and Boston 2014), and the lousy race I had in Boston was the straw that broke the camel's back, which led to the decision to leave him. I then decided to run a redemption race a few weeks after Boston. Two events made the shortlist: Mountains to Beach, a 700 ft downhill course from Ojai to Ventura just 5 weeks after Boston;  and Utah Valley Marathon in Provo, also downhill but with a much bigger elevation drop, 8 weeks after Boston. Deciding between these two races was difficult. UVM would give me more time to recover and get in some training. However it was in altitude (starting at 5000 ft), the bus shuttles started ridiculously early, and going there would involve some traveling, and a one hour time change. I knew from experience that I don't run well in altitude if not acclimated, and the advertised downhill course still involved some significant climbs, which combined with the altitude did not seem particularly appealing. Finally, my last two goal marathons involved long traveling to the east coast and time changes, which persuaded me to stay local. For these reasons I picked M2B even if the timing meant less time to recover and train.
Moutains to Beach marathon Elevation profile


To address my right leg weakness, I visited my acupuncturist and got weekly treatments. During the first visit he suggested to talk to a physical therapist. I made an appointment with Dr Dawn at Kinesis Physical Therapy, and she performed a few tests on my right leg, which showed that my right quad was not responding properly. This was likely due to tightness in the popliteus, which inhibited leg extension and ultimately shut down the quad. She prescribed exercises ("homework") to release the popliteus and calves, and help the right quad fire. I did the homework religiously, which resulted in a rapid improvement - after a couple of weeks I lost that feeling of right leg weakness and regained some balance in my running.

My training during the 5 weeks was adapted from the Pfitzinger in between races plan, with some influences from Hudson, McMillan and Tom Schwartz for the workouts. I made a point to try and not overdo it and err on the side of recovery rather than trying to cram more workouts.

Week1: one run (4M) on grass; 3 light cycling sessions (30min; 41min; 1hr)

Week2: 50M with two medium long runs (11.1M and 12.3M), and a few strides sessions

Week3: 57M with one workout (7x1:00 hill repeats), an 11.9M progression run (30min@8:16; 30min@7:34; 30min@6:58) and 1 long run (16M).

Week4: 42.5M with 1 workout (3x2M@HMP/2:30 jogs), one 10M run with 10x30s surges, and a 12M run with last 6@MP effort (6:54)

Week5: 21.1M before the race with 1 workout (2x1M@10k pace/3min recovery) and 2 runs with 5x30s surges at 5K pace.

I finished the taper with the feeling that I did the best I could to balance recovery and maintain fitness. More importantly, I felt relatively fresh in the days before the race, which I never really felt before Boston.

I drove to Ventura on Saturday afternoon, met quevola from the west forum at the expo, and ate at the pasta dinner at the Ventura high school. It was fun to be there talking with other runners instead of being by myself at a random restaurant. I spotted several runners wearing Boston 2014 gear, apparently a few of them also had lousy races and were looking for a redemption race there.

I slept really poorly the night before the race, probably nervous about the early wake up time (3AM) necessary to make my 4AM shuttle time. I had coffee, ate a bagel and a slice of bread, showered, did some light rolling and walked half a mile to the shuttle pick up. The drive to Ojai took about 25 minutes and we arrived at 4:30AM. It was uncomfortably warm up there - warmer than the forecast had announced, and I did not really feel that I needed my throw away clothes. Checking back, it turned out that the temperature did not drop below 61F, with some humidity:

Ojai
6:00 am   61°F
7:00 am   61°F
8:00 am   62°F

Ventura
8:41 am  64°F
9:01 am  65°F

I took care of business a couple of times, chatted briefly with Larry my acunpuncturist,  then lined up a few rows from the front. We got started at 6AM, right on time

Right after the start it felt relatively easy to run 6:50 pace and I ended up running between the 3:00 and 3:05 pace groups...however by mile 1 the 3:05 pace group caught up with me, I was sweating more than usual and I felt that I was spending too much effort trying to run at sub-3 pace. I immediately accepted this, and rather than stubbornly focusing on pace I tried to maintain my heart rate around 165-167 to keep the effort constant. I saw the 3:05 pace group getting progressively further.  

We ran on the downhill bike path from Mile 3-5 before exiting it to complete a loop in Ojai, prior to getting back on the bike path. Miles 3-7 were spent thinking about the fact that this would be a long race considering I had no expectations of getting a PR, given the pace I was running at. Although I was running in the low 7 min/mi pace, it seemed like trying to run faster would have resulted in spending too much effort, and a high risk of blowing up later. I doused myself with water at every aid station to help me stay cool given the moderately warm conditions. My main goal at this point was to try and run a quality race, to maintain a constant effort and to avoid the slow and progressive fade which plagued me during my last two marathon goal races.
 
During the section between miles 5 and 8 we hit a slight incline and I saw my pace dropping around 7:10-7:15. This made me think that this race would been similar to the previous two, and that I would progressively slow down. During that stretch I saw John Loftus, the coach of Run Your Potential, who came here to support his runners. He took a couple of pictures of me, asked me how I felt and I responded "it's not going to happen, with 7:10-15 pace at marathon heart rate" - he told me that this was tough, just a few weeks post Boston, but encouraged me to keep going.
Courtesy John Loftus -- yes it's fuzzy but it looks like I am going fast....
Once we got back onto the bike path and hit the decline portion, things started to feel better. I knew the only slight uphill was out of the way, so I tried to stay relaxed on the downhill. I still had to focus to maintain a constant effort, as my natural tendency was to run easier on the downhill and it felt difficult to keep the heart rate up to 164-165. However, what was encouraging was the fact that I was starting to pick up some runners regularly. I forgot to look at my Garmin at the half but looking back at the data I hit the halfway point in 1:32:42.
On the bike path, taking advantage of the downhill

After the halfway point I started to see the 3:05 pace group far away. At this point, I was clicking 6:54 miles regularly, which made me think that I would eventually catch up with them. I ran quite a regular pace while on the downhill bike path, and was encouraged at this point that I would end up having a much better race than at Boston. 
Crossing the wooden bridge, somewhere around Mile 16?

After reaching Mile 18, most of the downhill was behind us and we only had a slight decline towards the end of the course, which became pancake flat after mile 21. At this point my heart rate monitor was not functioning properly, probably because the sensor got too wet due to of the regular water showers at the aid stations. Because of this I had to rely on feel to guide my effort and pacing until the end. This is also where I really started passing a lot of runners, who may have run the earliest part of the race too fast, and were now paying the price. It felt good to run a regular pace and to keep reeling runners one by one. The bike path was now winding through an industrial area with graffitis, but I did not pay too attention to the scenery, staying focused on the tangents, and on picking up the next runner. I ran the tangents too aggressively and almost twisted my foot a couple of times when it slipped on the edge of the bike path.

At mile 22 I finally caught up with the 3:05 pace group, or whatever was left of it - 6 or 7 runners, as we reached Ventura and the ocean front. I saw John Loftus a second time, who was riding his bike and he offered some water - one of the runners from the pace group took a bottle, and then passed it to me. I did not want to stay with the group so I ran a bit harder to avoid getting stuck with them. A couple of runners hung on with me and then got in front of me. However they started fading after a half mile and I passed them again on a pedestrian/bike path along the Ventura beach. It became a steady grind to run sub-7 pace, but I was hanging on with the thought that all I wanted was to finish strong regardless of my time.

At this point I wasn't sure what my finishing time would be; I thought I would be a minute under 3:05 based on my position relative to the 3:05 pace group. We had to turn around about a mile and a half from the finish, and that's where I realized that there would be quite a bit of a headwind for the last stretch to the finish. The headwind slowed me down a bit for the last mile, but I kept plugging and passed a few other runners in the process. One of them hung on for about a half mile, but I left him in the dust when I accelerated after M26 to finish fast - the last 0.2 at 6:12 pace. There were quite a few spectators at the finish and I raised my arms to encourage them to cheer on us while sprinting to the finish.

Sprinting to the finish..

Once I crossed the finish line I got a huge sense of relief, as I was finally able to run a full marathon with no fade. I immediately jumped on the ocean to cool my legs, and reflected on the race. I did not really care about the actual finish time, nor about the fact that this was another Boston qualifier with more than 20 minutes to spare. I was just relieved that my body was finally able to function normally, and that I was able to sustain a solid and continuous effort throughout the race, as opposed to my last two marathons when my legs could not run faster, despite willing to.

Granted I did not hit my sub-3 goal, and the negative split time was gravity aided with the 700 ft net downhill of the second half, but this was my second fastest marathon, and hopefully this race will serve as a good stepping stone towards faster times.
 Splits (* = Heart rate monitor malfunction due to water dousing...)
 First Half = 1:32:42; Second Half = 1:30:46

Split         Distance        Time                   Pace            Avg.HR           MaxHR

1 1 mi 06:59.3 7:00 159 169
2 1 mi 07:02.1 7:03 167 170
3 0.99 mi 07:06.1 7:11 166 170
4 1 mi 06:59.8 7:00 166 169
5 1 mi 07:05.7 7:06 165 171
6 1 mi 07:16.9 7:17 151* 160
7 1 mi 07:14.3 7:15 165 173
8 1 mi 07:11.4 7:12 166 170
9 1 mi 07:04.1 7:05 166 170
10 1 mi 06:59.7 7:00 153*   166
11 1 mi 07:10.0 7:11 164 168
12 1 mi 06:56.3 6:57 163 166
13 1 mi 06:54.9 6:55 162 165
14 1 mi 06:54.5 6:55 155* 165
15 1 mi 06:54.7 6:55 156* 167
16 1 mi 06:59.9 7:00 164 167
17 1 mi 06:54.8 6:55 164 168
18 1 mi 06:56.5 6:57 149* 165
19 1 mi 06:54.6 6:55 134* 144
20 1 mi 06:53.2 6:54 158* 166
21 1 mi 06:49.4 6:50 153* 167
22 1 mi 06:54.5 6:55 139* 145
23 1 mi 06:54.9 6:55 123* 129
24 1 mi 06:58.3 6:59 134* 141
25 1 mi 06:51.7 6:52 132* 138
26 1 mi 07:02.6 7:03 127* 130
27 0.24 mi 01:29.2 6:12 131* 135

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Boston 2014 Race Report: I should have just enjoyed the day....



Well, this wasn't the race I had hoped for. I made the decision to come back to Boston immediately after the 2013 events, to be part of the "Boston Strong" movement and to support the Boston and Running community after the tragedy. I stepped the line of the Boston marathon 2014 with big hopes of breaking 3hrs. I had a really solid training cycle, averaging 65 miles per week for 12 weeks before the final taper week and with some really good workouts, including a 17M run with 13.1@6:52 pace. My pace at marathon heart rate was 6:45-6:50 telling me that I had a good chance to finish somewhere around 2:59-2:59. Only minor issue was some right leg stiffness and weakness that started during the saturday run prior to race week-end (12M with 6 at MP) where I couldn't hit my marathon pace. I took care of it during the last week, with various treatments, but was still feeling it on the shakeout run on Sunday before the race.

I had a great pre-race week-end. I hit the expo on Saturday morning, which was way too crowded, so I didn't stay very long but met with Laurent V. afterwards and we had a long chat at his hotel. 

After picking up my bib, #4875, first wave, 5th corral

Writing my name on the wall
On Saturday afternoon I met with Pok, my first graduate student, and after dinner, I went to Beerworks to meet with a bunch of runners from the runners world forum and various Facebook groups. After a 4 mile shake out run with the RYP runners on Sunday morning I spent the day at the appartment to relax and get some rest and cooked my meals instead of having to eat out.

With the RYP runners, shakeout run along the Charles River


Dinner plate for Sunday night: fresh pasta, grilled chicken breast, whole wheat bread and kale with a bit of olive oil.
I had a good night of sleep, crashing before 10pm, and waking up with the alarm at 5:11. 
After eating two muffins and a banana and drinking a cup of coffee, I walked towards the bus area on Tremont St. and boarded one after showing my bib. We waited for a while in the bus before it departed, but once we got moving the trip took around 45 minutes. I had taken a bottle of Gatorade and sipped on it throughout the trip.

At Hopkinton, the bus driver had no idea where he was going, so instead of stopping at the village, he drove us to the start where we had to insist for him to drop us there, instead of driving further out. This was unfortunate as we had to walk back up to the village, which added some unwanted leg exercise before the race. I stopped at the entrance of the athlete village to get my picture taken wearing my hobo uniform:

At the village I could not find anyone I knew, so I just dropped my 4x6 tarp on the ground near the Hopkinton sign, and laid there to relax while watching people getting their picture taken near the sign. 

During the wait there was an emotional moment of silence for the victims of the 2013 tragedy. I waited for ~45 min before the first wave was called. At that point, nature called but I did not want to wait in line for the potties, so I wrapped myself in the tarp and did a quick #1 standing on my empty Gatorade bottle. After more waiting, we started to walk to the start area, but I had to stop at the potties near the start for another#1. 

In my hobo throw away clothes with my GU necklace, waiting for the line to move to the starting corrals
The temperature was a bit chilly, I was happy to have kept my throw away clothes, but I could feel the sun warming up the temperature quickly. Waiting in the corrals while feeling the sun starting to heat up the air had an eery feeling of déjà vu - similar to 2012 - although not as hot. A few minutes before the start I did a final #1 in the Gatorade bottle to make sure that all systems were empty. After hearing the gun going off, the corrals started to move forward and we finally crossed the line.

Almost right off the bat it felt difficult to hit sub-3 pace. The narrow road was very congested, and it was hard to hit the tangents to minimize losing some time compared to the Garmin. After a first mile off target because of the road congestion, I was able to run to race pace, but I soon realized that this was at a heart rate that was slightly too high (~167 instead of 164-165). I tried to maintain that pace, but the first few miles went by and hitting the pace while maintaining a reasonable heart rate became a struggle, despite some long downhill sections. I also lost some time on the uphills but did not try to force it because I knew this could be costly towards the end. In addition I could feel my right leg at some point, as if that leg was weaker. It wasn't a constant feeling but it felt like the right leg wasn't 100% functional and could give out on me on some of the strides.

I remembered at that point of the race that I did not particulary care for the Boston course itself, something I experienced during my first Boston Marathon in 2012. I am more of a rhythm runner, and I like to dial in a pace and then settle into that pace. Boston is difficult for me because of the undulating course, and it requires constant pace adjustments to maintain the right effort on the downhills and the uphills. This makes it a hard course to manage for my style of running.

The sun was starting to really beat up upon us, and after the first few miles with a bit of tree coverage, we hit some suburban areas with no shade whatsoever. It didn't feel too hot, but this made running slightly uncomfortable and I had to regularly douse myself with water at the aid stations to maintain proper temperature. The aid stations were still very congested, which didn't help with maintaining the pace.

Somewhere in the first half? Already way too wet for that stage of the course...
During the first half of the race, the situation got demoralizing as I was getting passed by hordes of runners from the previous corrals. I saw the pace dropping progressively but I told myself that I might catch up with some of them later, but it turns out that while I would pass some of them, many more would follow and pass me.

At the Wellesley scream tunnel I stopped quickly and kissed two girls. At this point my hopes of a PR had vanished and I thought that I might as well enjoy that unique part of the Boston course...I hit the half at 1:32:49 -- hoping at that time that I might still be able to run in the 3:06-3:08.

Towards Mile 15, I spotted a runner with a Polar singlet. I thought it might be Greg T, a Polar ambassador. Sure enough, I turned around and recognized him. He is a 2:48 marathoner but was struggling, having had very minimal training for the last few months. I told him I was struggling as well but kept plugging and passed him. This is probably the only race where I would finish ahead of him, since he is normally such a fast runner.

Somewhere in the second half I heard a spectator scream "an american won today! Meb won!" I thought that spectator was joking and was trying to encourage runners. I knew the field was loaded and I did not believe that this was possible with a PR 4 minutes slower than the best competitors.
Somewhere in the second half, trying to look good for the picture despite the internal struggles
The crowd support intensified the closer we got to Boston. In the Newton hills several spectators had mini aid stations set up, and I took advantage of them by grabbing some water bottles or water cups to avoid the congestion at the water stations. The Newton hills went relatively well. I slowed down a bit but was relatively comfortable on the uphills and passed a number of runners who were struggling. I got a bit of mojo back but the pace was still dropping with not much hope of getting an even split race. In addition I could feel the left hamstring tightening up. This wasn't a full blown cramp but I knew that the hamstring was working too hard, maybe to compensate for the weaker right leg. 

Pretty much the same as above...
During the downhill after Heartbreak hill I regained some confidence and high-fived a number of spectators on the right side. At that point I had an emotional high like the one I experience during my best marathons, a sense of overwhelming that makes me want to cry and makes it difficult to breathe. It passed relatively quickly and I thought I could finish the race strong. Unfortunately this didn't happen, as my legs just could not get faster even if my brain wanted to. I was passing some runners who were struggling and walking, but I was also being passed by others who were able to pick up the pace. Spectators were screaming to encourage us but I was so focused on my bad race that I just could not enjoy it. Retrospectively, I should have given up long before that point and jogged to enjoy the crowds and the race, but my head was refusing to do it, stubbornly thinking about the clock.

The last few miles passed by very slowly in dull pain and fatigue. The Citgo sign, the small underpass under bridge of Mass avenue, the small uphill on Hereford, and the long straightaway finish on Boylston. I just could not get the legs to turn over despite wanting to finish strong, and the pace slowed down progressively, including a miserable mile 25 at 7:50. I crossed the finish line with no emotions whatsoever, just happy that this misery was finally over.
 
After the finish I walked briskly to get away from the finish area. Clearly, my legs weren't in as much pain as many of the other runners, indicative of a race run at suboptimal pace for my leg conditioning. I picked up my medal and space blanket snuggie, and just wanted to get out of there to find the bar where Laurent, the RYP runners and other running friends would meet up. After turning right on Berkeley St., I broke down in tears, overwhelmed by my lousy performance after these months of training and how badly the day turned out compared to my expectations. 

What a difference compared to two years ago. At the time I decided not to race the marathon because of the warm weather and I ran it using a lower heart rate strategy (160), managing my race well despite the heat, and finished strong in a slow 3:34 but happy about the race and how I enjoyed the unique atmosphere of Boston. This year, I had the worst of both worlds. Unhappy about my time (3:11), how I managed my race -  a 5minutes positive split -  and I did not even took advantage of the unique atmosphere of this year by enjoying the crowds.

I don't know what the issues were and how to explain the progressive slow down. It's not like I ran a hard pace for 20 miles and then hit the wall.  Maybe my pace was over agressive right off the bat, maybe I wasn't in sub-3 shape and I paid the price later on - but the heart rate wasn't that high so I am not even 100% sure of that. It's also possible that the warmer conditions took more out of me than I realized and that it became just too hard to maintain MP effort given the conditions. Overall it felt that the effort wasn't too high but the body just could not run faster. It is also possible that my right leg issue may have handicapped me a bit - the tightening of the left hamstring may be a sign of this - even if I did not feel it during the later stages of the race. But overall, as Frank2000 who also had a bad race pointed out, "running hard just hurt too much".
 
Splits: some additional intervals are added in between- I pushed manual split at a few of the mile markers just to try to resync my Garmin with the official markers. For M2 - the HR monitor was not functioning proprely because of the dry weather thus the artificially high values.

Mile              Dist.       Time      Pace  Avg HR Max HR
1                     1 mi    07:07.8    7:08    160    172
2                     1 mi    06:50.4    6:51    171*   182* (*HR monitor malfunction)
3                     1 mi    06:53.0    6:54    167    169
4                     1 mi    06:50.1    6:51    168    171
5                     1 mi    07:09.1    7:10    167    170
6                     1 mi    06:54.3    6:55    167    169
                  0.03 mi    00:12.0    6:40    167    168
7                     1 mi    06:56.5    6:57    166    168
8                     1 mi    07:11.2    7:12    164    168
9                     1 mi    07:05.4    7:06    163    165
10                   1 mi    07:08.0    7:08    163    167
11                   1 mi    07:14.7    7:15    159    162
12                   1 mi    07:03.0    7:04    159    163
13                   1 mi    07:15.9    7:16    156    161
14                   1 mi    07:13.9    7:14    157    161
                  0.04 mi    00:18.8    7:52    160    161
15                   1 mi    07:18.4    7:19    158    162
16                   1 mi    07:05.8    7:06    157    161
17                   1 mi    07:22.4    7:23    161    163 (First Newton hill)
18                   1 mi    07:19.6    7:20    161    165 (Second Newton hill)
19                   1 mi    07:12.0    7:12    160    162
20                   1 mi    07:27.3    7:28    158    163 (Third Newton hill)
21                   1 mi    07:47.2    7:48    156    162 (Heartbreak Hill)
22                   1 mi    07:13.9    7:14    155    159
                  0.08 mi    00:34.9    7:16    155    157
23                   1 mi    07:38.6    7:39    153    155
24                   1 mi    07:33.0    7:33    152    155
25                   1 mi    07:50.9    7:51    153    157
26                   1 mi    07:36.6    7:37    154    159
                  0.27 mi    01:58.0    7:18    146    149

I met up with Laurent V., Dave L. and others and had a redemption burger and a couple of beers at the bar of the Loews hotel, a few blocks from the finish. I learned that many other runners had subpar races as well, but some managed great performances and reach a personal best, which given the conditions was admirable. 

Dave L., Laurent V. and myself, enjoying a well deserved post race beer
The best part of the week-end: Encounters at Beerworks and Sweetwater with many of my virtual friends, some of whom became "real":
with Betsy R, marathon maniac and ultra lady extraordinaire

With Joel "I hate you" K., speedster from the Hansons team.

With Jay "Cannoli" T., one of the last pictures before "THE shave".

With Rachel "Awesome" G., fastest aussie woman on the course that day; Joel, Greg "Hockey is cross-training" T mentioned above; and Daniel "Bag of Sand" R.

With Mike "Multi22" who had an awesome run that day, hitting a 2:50 PR.

With Steve "twin brother"  B., who managed to finish strong while training for a masters national body building competition

with Paul "Balls on the table" K., who hit a 3:20 with not much training and probably had much more fun than I did...

with Clay "typhus" B. -- an impressive run considering he got the disease 2 weeks before the race and lost 10 lbs in the process.

with Tony "Boston2Big Sur" C. and Nick "Orange for life" B.


With Jeff "dcv" V., who ran one of the smartest races that day en route to a 3:07 finish

Monday, December 30, 2013

3 Bridges Marathon Race Report

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Training, Injury and Decision
Back in December 2012 I had to sit out CIM, having been hit by a still undiagnosed left thigh ailment just 3 weeks before the race. Decided to get my revenge this year, I  signed up early for CIM. Following the Kona Marathon in June, I took a couple of weeks break from structured training, and restarted mid July to build a base, focusing on hills. By mid september I was hitting good mileage and saw my fitness improving. Unfortunately this period of great training came to a grinding halt early October. A week prior to a 10k I started to feel some stiffness on the top and side of my left thigh. I ran the 10k, which went OK considering the circumstances, but a couple of days later when I stepped out of the door for my morning run, I felt excruciating pain on the left thigh at the first running step. The same issue that sidelined me before CIM 2012 was back with a vengeance.

Although this was still far out from the race, I knew right away that I would be out at CIM, and started to feel that I was cursed on this race, vowing to never sign up for it again. Last year, it took me over 2 months after the onset of injury to get back to running pedestrian paces without pain, so I didn't think I would recover quickly enough. I spent the first week spinning and testing the legs every other day without success. I then remembered that a gym nearby had an AlterG antigravity treadmill available and I decided to give it a shot, thinking that this would do a better job at maintaining my fitness than spinning or deep water running. After a 30 minutes tryout I decided to buy 10 hours on the machine, and once I burned through these in less than 10 days, I bought unlimited access for a month.

Even if my left thigh was aching just walking, I was able to 'run' on the AlterG and do some hard quality workouts with minimal discomfort, and these workouts were equivalent in time of what I would have done on the road. 


AlterG workout from 11/11/2013: 13M at 92% body weight with 5x2k tempo intervals (6:11)/2min30s recoveries (8:14)
I kept trying to run on the road a couple of times a week on Wednesdays and Fridays, but these were usually slow and painful. Interestingly, the leg was hurting more at slower paces (>8:30 min/mi) than at more moderate ones. For the Saturday long runs, after a couple of sessions doing 1h45 straight on the AlterG, I decided to mix it up and run 6 to 10 miles on road, followed immediately by 1hr to 1h30 on the machine. The first half of these runs were very tedious, barely hitting 8:30 pace but the finish on the AlterG brough some relief and thi allowed me to regularly run between 2h15 and 3h on Saturday mornings.  I ramped up the body weight percentage every week, starting from 75% mid October and working my way up to 95% mid November. Overall I logged 39 hours on the AlterG between mid October and early December.

During that time, I finally figured out that I was suffering from quadriceps trigger points. Rather than being an IT band issue as originally suggested, trigger points in the Vastus lateralis and Vastus intermedius. These trigger points were generating painful diffuse spots on the top and side of my left thigh, and limited the range of motion of my left leg, which messed up my running mechanics. I treated these with the help of acupuncture sessions and by rolling on a hard ball, which generated some excruciating pain when I hit the trigger points. I also started structural integration (Rolfing) to try and fix some structural issues that might have been responsible of these issues.

Things were evolving slowly and I looked for a backup race. I wanted to run something before the end of the year, but only 2 races  were far enough in time from CIM, Jacksonville and the 3 Bridges Marathon in Little Rock, Arkansas. I chose 3B, only to learn that the race was sold out. I still put myself on the waiting list, thinking that I could always sign up for Jacksonville if needed. After a couple of weeks of email exchanges with the very friendly RD Jacob, he took pity of me and upgraded me from the waiting list, so I was officially in.

By late November I started to see good signs of improvement. I was no longer in pain while walking, and some runs felt almost normal towards, even if the mechanics were still a bit off. I managed to run 19M on road on Nov 30th, with the last 8 at marathon pace - although slower than I wanted, and did 22.6M outside on Dec 7, the day before CIM took place. I did another fast finish long run of 19M with the last 9 at 6:49 avg pace a week later. I was encouraged by these signs of progress and finally booked my plane ticket to Little Rock. I had 3 weeks of training mostly on road before a 2-week taper and the race, with some solid workouts (a 4M tempo run at 6:14 avg;  3x3M MP intervals at 6:49 avg; and 4x1M intervals at 6:08 avg) and was glad I could step the start line healthy, even if the training had been non-traditional. My pace for MP heart rate (164) was between 6:48 and 6:52 which made me think that I was ready for a sub-3 attempt.

Pre-Race
I flew to Little Rock on Thursday, and woke up early Friday morning to do my 20 minutes shakeout run on the paved trail where the race took place. I drove to the site of the start of the race and ran all the way to the Big Dam Bridge, the first bridge that we had to cross during the race. I stopped there to do some drills, take pictures and then ran back to the parking lot near the start/finish. It was bitterly cold for someone living in SoCal (~31F), with tears dropping from my eyes and my fingers getting numb. Despite the cold conditions the run felt good, the legs were zippy and I felt ready to race.

Selfie in front of the Big dam bridge, in the middle of my shakeout run the day before the race. 

After showering and resting a bit in my room I picked up my bib and shirt at Rock City Running, a local running store owned by Bill Torrey, a famous Arkansas runner, who also certified the 3B marathon course. I chatted with him for a while about the course, the organizer and RD, and about his trips to California with his wife. I wanted to get a running souvenir from the store, and when I told him I would rather get a short sleeve/singlet which were not in display, he disappeared in the back of the store and came back with a couple of singlets. When I asked him about the price of one of those, he told me that it was free for me. I was blown away by his generosity, and bought a pair of socks to support the store.

With Bill Torrey at the packet pick-up where they inflated the finish line gate in front of the store. 

After lunch I chilled  in my room and didn't do much for the remainder of the day to rest my legs. I didn't sleep well, with frequent interrupted sleep and recurrent dreams of not being able to hit my pace, but woke up before the alarm went off at 4:45. After a quick breakfast, coffee and shower, I foam rolled, did some active isolated stretching and drove my car to the parking lot about a mile from the start. From there I was picked up by a shuttle which dropped me to the start. It was cold down there (35F), but it did not feel as cold as the day before. The sound system was blasting some old classic rock songs, which made me feel good and pumped up for the race. 20 minutes before the start I removed my warm-up pants and jacket, but kept my $1 Goodwill fleece to do my warm-up drills. I finished the drills about 3 minutes before the start, removed the fleece and lined up at the front.

The race
We started at 7:00 sharp. A group of 6-8 runners was leading, with one guy - the eventual winner - way ahead. I tried to focus on hitting close to 6:50 pace, which felt easy during the first mile. Once that mile was in the book, things started to get harder. We did the first crossing of the Big Dam Bridge during the second mile. I tried to hit a pace close to 6:50 without overexerting myself, but the uphill got me and I slowed down, despite a relatively high heart rate. That's where the lead pack dropped me and I started to run alone. After going down the bridge the legs did not feel good and I was feeling my shins, which never happened to me in training. 

Around Mile1, after crossing the small wooden bridge that leads to the Big Dam bridge. The lead pack has already passed, I am on the right with the red shirt/white singlet.


After crossing that first bridge we entered the bike/pedestrian trail, where I tried to focus on hitting the tangents. This turned out to be an exercise in concentration because the path was very curvy. During M3 and M4 I started to feel lousy and saw my pace slowing above 7:00 pace. In addition, there were now a few seconds difference between the markers and my GPS, which made me feel worse. So I pushed the lap button a second time after hitting each official marker to get an idea of the difference between GPS pace and official pace. I knew right then that sub-3 was out of the picture, but was thinking that I might be able to finish strong, as this happened to me at previous races. An older runner with a yellow singlet (visible on the picture above) passed me around M3. At that point I threw away my fleece beanie from the 99c store, which made me feel slightly better as my head felt cooler. 

After a few miles in the park area, the trail hit North Little Rock with a bit more of an urban/industrial feel. I kept plugging but the legs did not feel good and the breathing was labored. Around M8, a runner with mexican music blasting off his earphones passed me. I kept contact with him, and at M10 we reached the Clinton Pedestrian bridge. This was a tough mile, as we had to cross the bridge, turn around at the bottom - but not before doing a weird turn around in front of the Clinton Presidential Library, and cross the bridge back. That's where I caught up with Mexican music guy and dropped him for good. M12 after the bridge felt easier and was the second and last one below 7:00 pace.
 Clinton Bridge


Going around the roundabout before getting back to the Clinton bridge

After the turnaround, it became harder to negotiate the tangents because slower runners were now coming from the opposite direction. However a few miles after, the path got less crowded so getting the right trajectories got easier. I was making peace with the fact that this wasn't my day and that I should be accepting running anything between 7:00-7:15 pace. I crossed the half point in 1:33:35, and was hopeful that with a strong finish and a negative split I might be able to run under 3:05. Unfortunately this did not happen. Miles were clicking, and keeping pace was just not getting easier, with heavy legs and the breathing labored, despite a heart rate that was dropping a good 10 beats below normal marathon pace heart rate. I was running mostly alone, except sometimes passing early starters or other users of the trail.

I crossed the Big Dam Bridge again and was in position to pass older guy with yellow singlet who had passed me at M3 and who was now slowing down. I had seen him in front of me for a few miles from far away, but I closed on him and picked him up between the two bridges. We briefly exchanged words of encouragement.

Section between the Big Dam Bridge and the Start/Finish, going towards the finish. The 8 mile marker does not correspond to any mile of the course. 

Right before crossing the 3rd bridge, we had to pass the start/finish area. This was psychologically hard, knowing that there were still 7+ miles to go. The thought of dropping out of the race there briefly came to my mind, since I was nowhere near being able to PR, and I was quite convinced at this point that the end of the race would not get easier. However I remembered the story of Meb finishing the NYC Marathon this year despite having a lousy race, and I decided to finish regardless of how painful this would get. 
The last bridge (two rivers bridge) which we had to cross twice, at Mile 20 and Mile 26

I crossed the two rivers bridge and entered a forested park area. I was passing some runners, but most of them were early starters.  The run became a grind, and the pace was getting slightly slower with each mile. We came out of the forested area towards open fields, and between miles 22 and 24 I picked up two other runners who were in the lead pack at M1 and had clearly overestimated their pace. One of them finished 5 minutes behind me, clearly blowing out after I passed him. At that point I was just telling myself to go for just one more mile.  After M24 the idea of a strong finish went out the window, and I thought for a brief moment what the heck, I should just drop below 8:00 pace since there was not much left to be gained at this point. I passed an early starter who told me that I was the 6th runner to pass him, so although no one was in sight to pick me up, I just tried to maintain something near 7:20-7:30. Some runners coming in the other direction were encouraging me "looking good" but at that point I just wanted to be done. A woman at an aid station yelled at me at M25, probably trying to be encouraging, but this was mostly a nuisance

I crossed back the two rivers bridge at M26 without much of a finishing kick, just looking at my Garmin to try and finish under 3:10. I leaped over the finish line, since I had no ambition of trying to squeeze any extra second, and was just glad to be done. I saw Jeff Necessary who was helping at the finish, got some drink and food, and hung around the finish until I got my 1st Masters plaque award.
With Jacob, the race director who was kind enough to take me from the wait list and answer all my emails 

Splits:
-->
Interval Distance Time Avg HR Max HR Note
1 1 mi 06:53.0 164 173
2 1 mi 07:03.9 174 184 Bridge
3 1 mi 07:05.0 165 169
4 1 mi 07:11.2 163 165
5 1 mi 07:19.1 162 165
6 1 mi 07:13.3 161 165
7 1 mi 07:09.3 161 164
8 1 mi 07:09.5 163 167
9 1 mi 07:05.5 160 163
10 1 mi 07:17.7 163 166 2xBridge
11 1 mi 06:56.0 161 163
12 1 mi 07:18.2 159 163
13 1 mi 07:06.8 157 159
14 1 mi 07:11.1 156 160
15 1 mi 07:13.9 156 160
16 1 mi 07:19.9 155 159
17 1 mi 07:16.1 155 158
18 1 mi 07:20.4 159 164 Bridge
19 1 mi 07:08.6 157 159
20 1 mi 07:11.4 156 159 Bridge
21 1 mi 07:21.2 154 158
22 1 mi 07:23.4 154 157
23 1 mi 07:18.9 155 158
24 1 mi 07:29.0 154 156
25 1 mi 07:25.9 153 155
26 1 mi 07:34.0 155 159
27 0.24 mi 01:33.0 158 161 Bridge

Epilogue:
I finished 6th overall, 4th male and 1st masters out of 366 runners in 3:09:36 with a 3 minutes positive split. I am glad I did not pick Jacksonville as they had temperatures in the 70's with high humidity and pouring rain, which would have made my race even more miserable. Objectively I should be happy with this race given that I was unable to run on the road without pain from early October until late November. However this was one of the most disappointing and laborious marathons I have ever run. The time wasn't what I wanted, probably because I overestimated my marathon-specific fitness due to the lack of road running. Although I maintained excellent cardio training on the AlterG, the leg conditioning just wasn't there. I may have overexerted myself on the second mile, but I am not sure the HR data is accurate and I don't think it explains the overall performance. The most frustrating part was how bad I felt during almost the entire race, and why running at a HR 10 beats lower than MP HR felt so difficult in the second half. I just could not find a rhythm and never felt in a groove. The slow fade towards the end was certainly due to my subpar training, but that doesn't explain why I felt lousy almost from the start. I am glad I ran this race because it brings a closure to 2013 and to my Fall season hampered by injury, and also because I now have a Boston qualifier-10 minutes for 2015. But I will be looking for answers as of why this race went so wrong from the get go.