Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rocket City Fail

Since the Country Music Marathon, I have been focused completely on running under the Olympic Marathon Trials standard of 2:19. Originally, my plan was to attack the standard at the Chicago Marathon. The Chicago Marathon is one of the most competitive marathons in the world and word on the street was that there were a tons of guys going for the time there. My summer training didn't go completely according to plan and once school and cross country practice started, I was too mentally exhausted and pushed for time to get in the necessary training. I had a really positive experience at the Rocket City Marathon in 2010, so I figured that I would make my assault on sub 2:19 there.

Since the Rocket City Marathon was about two months after Chicago, I had to adjust my training a good bit so I could time my peak perfectly and not arrive on the starting line too stale. I backed off training for a bit and then did a short speed phase to get my motor to where it needed to be before starting my eight week marathon cycle to build the necessary fitness to make my assault.

My first marathon workout went very well. A little over a week later, I ran 66:54 in the half marathon, which was only a few seconds away from the Tennessee State Record. That time pointed towards being in around 2:21 marathon shape, which was really motivating because I felt I was far from peak shape. I then got in several 110+ mile weeks and three weeks after the half marathon, broke the 10 mile state record by a very large margin, running 50:09. I used that race as a training run being it was the 7th day of a 120+ mile week and ran with a controlled steadiness. I had a ton left in the tank and felt like I could have run under 49:00 if I really went after it. With exactly four weeks to go, I knew I was very close to, if not under 2:19 shape. The race was rapidly approaching and I was really looking forward to it. Before Huntsville last year, I was terrified of the marathon distance. At the Country Music Marathon, I didn't really have a strategy until the gun went off and wasn't sure if I would even race that hard. However for this marathon, I was very hungry and ready to attack.

With two weeks to go, I began my taper. My normal taper is about a 20% reduction in volume two weeks out and then I reduce the volume about 40% for the last week. It's a very generic taper but it has worked very well for me in my prior marathons. With exactly a week to go, I ran my last "quality" workout, which was a few seconds per mile faster than my other marathon workouts, despite running much more relaxed. I knew my body was rested and ready to go.

Before a major race, I'm always paranoid about becoming sick. Deep down inside, I thought I had nothing to worry about because I'll catch something about once a year and because I came down with something a couple of months ago, I figured I had paid my dues. Despite that, I was doing my best to play it safe. At church that Sunday, there was an overly coughy guy behind me, so I got up, went to the bathroom, and washed my hands.

At school, I never use hand sanitizer but the week of the race, I would use it every few minutes. I also usually get a kid to fill up my water bottle for me a couple of times a day. Traditionally, I will pick a girl because I figure they pick their nose less and are less "germy." Since I was not taking any chances this week, I even made them wash their hands before touching my bottle. On one occasion, one of my "water girls" coughed while carrying my bottle towards the cafeteria, so I called her back, washed the bottle and then chose someone else. With all of these precautions, I felt I would be perfectly safe.

Wednesday night, I started to feel a trickle in my nose. A couple of hours later, that turned into a constant drip and I knew things were about to get much worse. Mary tried to reassure me but I knew that a sickness was beginning and it would probably reach it's peak on Saturday...the day of my race. As time wore on Thursday, I felt progressively worse. Later that night, I had a fever and stayed up pretty late because I figured I wouldn't be able to race. However, I planned to still see what happened and on Friday morning, I was Huntsville bound with Mary, Chris Herren and my own personal fuel man, Vance Pounders.

When we got finally arrived, I tried to lay down for a bit. I wasn't really sleepy or anything, I just wanted a temporary escape from reality. Later on, I went on a short shakeout run with Chris and Vance, in which I felt really weak. I still planned to toe the line but was debating between still attacking 2:19 or running a controlled 2:25 or so, to get the third place prize money and then try another marathon a couple of months later. Deep down inside, I didn't think I'd have a shot at 2:19, or even be able finish in third place, but I figured I'd attempt it anyway.

After hearing about my friend and running partner, Doug Boomer's pasta primavera gone wrong experience, I decided to shy away from the pre-race pasta party and made my own dinner. I attempted to eat some pasta but had no appetite at all. I forced down a few bites and ate some Bojangles fries, which are never too difficult to force down. After tossing and turning for a couple of hours, I was able to finally fall asleep.

When I woke up that morning, I had a terrible migraine headache. I don't get bad ones very often but when I do, life is not very fun at all. A side effect of them is that I have a lot of nausea and can't eat anything. Because the marathon requires every ounce of energy you have and more, I knew I had to force down some food. I was able to eat half of a Clif Bar but couldn't eat anything more. A few minutes after eating, my nausea became much worse and shortly after that, I went to the bathroom and lost my Clif Bar and much more. Because I lost all of my morning calories, as well as my fluids, I knew I was in no condition to race, or even finish a marathon. I was really depressed but that's how life treats you sometimes.

Because Chris wanted us to help him out with some fuel support, we went out to watch the start of the race. At this point, I was mad and not in very good spirits but when the race started and I saw everyone run by, I lost it and had to walk away for a few minutes. Being on that starting line and taking my shot at the standard was my journey that I worked for and deserved. Knowing that the opportunity was literally running away from me without even be allowed a shot felt completely unfair. I don't mind falling on my face and failing but not even getting a shot to chase the time after putting in so much work and being very fit was gut wrenching and unfair.

That ended my bid for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. In both of my marathons, I felt like I overachieved based off what my training told me I was capable of. For this race, I KNEW I was in at least 2:19 shape, which made things very hard for me. But for now, I won't get a chance to qualify for the Trials until the window opens up again in a couple of years. I expect to take a shot at it again but a lot can happen in two years and age is not on my side.

However, I did not want all of my hard work to go to waste, so I had to find a new marathon. I knew the Jacksonville Marathon was the next weekend and like Rocket City, it was flat and fast. I also felt like I would be able to some decent money and Tom Dolan and Boomer even volunteered to come down with me. But I wasn't sure how recovered I'd be and knew I would have a hard time getting amped up for a race a week later when I was in such a mental low.

I also thought about the Mercedes Marathon in February but I didn't want to continue to train hard for that much longer and because the Chicago Marathon was my original plan, felt like I could become stale by then. After looking around online, the Mississippi Blues Marathon struck my interest. It was exactly four weeks away, which gave me time to recover and get in a couple hard weeks of training. I emailed them and was able to get into the race, as well as a hotel for a couple of nights. The race also is pretty competitive, which makes things more tactical and fun. With Rocket City, I was focused on racing the stopwatch and looked at it as a time trial. Those type of races aren't particular fun, so I welcomed the idea of some good old fashioned head-to-head racing.

Unfortunately, the race is very, very hilly and much more hilly than the Country Music Marathon. To make matters worse, I'm a pretty bad hill runner. However, I have enough time to sprinkle in some small changes into my training to become a little more efficient over the hills. Running well there won't give me a chance to run in the Olympic Trials but hopefully with a good race, I can end this never-ending training cycle on a positive note.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Man vs. Wild

With a little over a week until the Rocket City Marathon, I headed to Moss Wright Park to do my last hardish workout. I was going to run the first two miles of the Team Nashville 10 Mile course as a warm-up and then run the last eight miles at marathon pace and then add in a mile cool-down at the end. I anticipated the workout to be tough but didn't expect to struggle very much.

By the time I got Kate and dropped her off with Mary, I would have just enough time to finish before darkness fully settled in. I hid my keys at the top of my wheel and headed out for the first mile of the course, which was a loop around the park. After the first mile, you head out into Indian Hills, so i stopped by my car to drop off my long sleeve shirt. Normally, I forget which tire I place my keys on, so it's a guessing game until I find them. However, after checking all of my tires, my keys were nowhere to be found. I then looked under the car and under each wheel because sometimes I place them there but still, they were nowhere to be found.

At this point, I started to become a little frustrated and then noticed my car was unlocked. I was pretty certain I locked the car but thought there was an off-chance that I forgot to lock-up and left the keys inside the ignition. Again, the keys were nowhere to be found. I then looked in every nook-and-cranny and moved around everything in the car. I still couldn't find them and after losing about ten minutes of daylight, I decided that I needed to hurry up and start my workout.

After shutting the car door, I thought I heard a jingle in the distance. I looked over my shoulder and saw a squirrel about 50 feet away with my keys in his mouth. I couldn't believe what I saw and then charged after him. He must had been toying with my because I chased him around a tree several times and when he made a move to climb up the tree, the keys fell out of his mouth. For a second, we stared each other down, sizing each other up.

When it comes down to dogs, normally I'm not scared of them and if one chases me, I will charge it or throw stuff at it and nine times out of ten, it will run away. But squirrels are crazy and you never know what is running through their mind and in that brief moment where I debated what to do, he charged towards the keys, grabbed them with his mouth and he was up the tree. To make his ownage of me even more complete, he somehow set off the car alarm.

I spent the next few minutes throwing sticks at him in the tree while he alternated running around the tree and chowing down on my key chain. After a few minutes, he jumped to another tree beside it and the chunking of sticks continued for the next few minutes. He set off the car alarm again before jumping onto the roof of a building beside the tree.

At this point, I wasn't sure if I would ever get my keys back (well, technically Mary's). I picked up the frequency of my stick throwing and then he ran over to the side side of the roof. I sprinted around and must have had a moneyshot throw because the keys fell out of his mouth, slid down the roof, and onto the ground. I froze for a second, not knowing what to do. Just like earlier, we stared each other down for a second or two and then I made a mad dash for the keys, while fearing he would jump on the back of my head and start biting me in the neck. Luckily, I got the keys unscathed and was on my way. Unfortunately, he had the last laugh because all of the buttons on the keyless entry were chewed off and to make matters worse, I had to bail on the workout because my first two marathon pace miles were several seconds too slow. If only I got this on video, I would be telling this on the Ellen show and not typing it a couple weeks late in here.