Friday, April 23, 2021

I'm a Hybrid Model

A few years ago, I had back surgery, and I couldn’t run at all for the next 12 weeks.  During that time, I took up race-walking.  Over the next year, I gradually added running back into my training.  I eventually reached a point where I could race-walk a marathon or I could run it.  I joked to one of my friends that I was now a hybrid model.

After about a year of mostly walking, I returned to mostly running.  Walking is easier on your body, but it takes longer, and it’s a lot of work to walk at a fast pace.  For me, running just feels better.

At the beginning of February, I took a break from running, so I could heal from a knee injury.  I expected this break to last a month or two.  It’s been more than two and a half months, and I’m still not ready to resume running.

Last week, at a physical therapy appointment, I tried running for a few minutes.  I warmed up with some walking, and then switched to running at a slow pace.  I immediately noticed some discomfort in my right knee.  It wasn’t bad at first.  Then I noticed I was running on the balls of my feet.  That’s not my normal gait.  Usually, I’m a heal-striker.  I suspect I subconsciously altered my gait to avoid hurting my knee.  When I adjusted my stride to land on my heels, the discomfort increased significantly.  After just a few minutes of running, my knee was badly inflamed.  For the rest of the day, stairs were more painful than usual, as were some of my other exercises.

My physical therapist encouraged me to try running for a minute at a time during some of my runs.  I decided to try something else first.

Although I haven’t been running, I’ve been walking every day.  At first, it was just a mile or two each day, but I’ve gradually ramped up to seven miles a day.  I’ve been doing most of that walking at a casual pace.  It wasn’t training.  I was just walking to get some exercise.  Sometimes I would walk at a brisk pace, but I wasn’t doing any race-walking.  I didn’t know if that would bother my knee, so I held off on that.

Before doing any more running, I decided to give race-walking a try.  Last Saturday, I picked a 2.25 mile route through my neighborhood, and I walked it as fast as I could.  I started getting out of breath after less than a mile, it didn’t seem to bother my knee at all, so I kept it up.  I didn’t look at my watch until I finished.

I didn’t know how fast I would be able to walk.  Aside from being out of shape, I also haven’t practiced race-walking recently.  To have efficient mechanics, you need to practice as much as possible.  I think I would’ve been happy if my pace was under 13 minutes per mile.  I averaged 11:28.

The next day, I walked the same route again.  I improved my time by 21 seconds.  Since then, I’ve done at least a few miles of race-walking each day.  I’m also doing several miles of casual walking.

I’ve written off races for the first half of the year, but I want to be racing again by August.  I assumed by now I would be running, and I would still have time to get in shape to run marathons by August.  That was “Plan A.”  I’m not ready to run yet, and I ‘m running out of time to get back in shape, so I’m switching to “Plan B.”  “Plan B” is to race-walk until I’m ready to resume running.  Since running clearing bothers my knee, and race-walking doesn’t seem to bother my knee, race-walking makes more sense.  Past experience has shown me that race-walking is good cross-training for running.  When the time comes, I should be able to switch easily to running.  Ideally, when it’s time to do a marathon, I’ll be able to run it, or do a run/walk mix.  If not, I’ll have to switch to “Plan C.”  “Plan C” is to race-walk my marathons.  It’s not my first choice, but I’ve done it before, so I know I can do it again.

We had a few cold/rainy days this week, so I did my next few race-walking workouts on the treadmill.  For reasons I’ve never fully understood, I never walk as fast on the treadmill as I do outside.  My first race-walking workout on the treadmill was four miles, but I had to slow down to 12:46 per mile.  Since then, I’ve improved to five miles at a 12:24 pace.  The next time I did a race-walking workout outside, I did three miles at an average pace of 10:48.

I’m improving rapidly, but I have a long way to go.  I really don’t want to be taking six hours or longer for marathons.  To get my marathons times down to 5:30, I need to be able to average 12:30 per mile.  I can do that for five miles, but it takes an effort.  I’m a long way from being able to sustain that for 26.2 miles.  It’s not just a matter of aerobic fitness.  Maintaining a fast walking gait is tiring in other ways.  Maintaining a rapid turnover really works my hips, and those muscles get fatigued.  I know from experience how much work it’s going to take.

My motto has always been, “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”  I want to run my marathons, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to run.  For now, I’m going to train to race-walk them.

In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to ramp up my walking mileage.  I’ll also gradually increase the proportion that’s race-walking, as opposed to walking at a casual pace.

In other news, I registered for a race.  I wasn’t going to sign up for any races until I was running again, but registration for the Boston Marathon opened on Tuesday and closed today.  The race is tentatively scheduled for October 11.  I’m not going to miss out on Boston, so I signed up.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Progress Report on My Recovery

A little over a year ago, I met Meb Keflezighi at the Atlanta Marathon.  At the time, I was reading his book, “Meb for Mortals.”  I told him how much I liked the first chapter.  It's called “Think Like Meb,” and it’s about setting goals. One point he makes is that once you establish a goal, it’s important to periodically evaluate your progress.

I’m currently recovering from a knee injury that has plagued me since last August.  My long-term goal is to recover from this injury and to regain the fitness level I had last summer.  This goal has three components: recovering from the injury, losing the weight I gained while I was inactive, and getting back in shape.  So how am I doing?

I haven’t run since January 31.  That was the day of my last marathon.  I don’t have any other races scheduled, so I’m taking as much time off from training as I need for my knee to heal.

In early February, after taking a week off, I resumed my physical therapy.  In addition to my exercises, I was walking a minimum of one mile a day and doing five minutes of low-resistance spinning every other day.

At first, my knee was actually getting worse.  For the first time since I injured it, it sometimes bothered me even when I was just walking to the bathroom.  I began to wonder if I injured it more seriously in my last race.  I was getting discouraged, but I decided to give it another week or two before going back to the doctor.

Then I had an epiphany.  One night, I got up during the night to go to the bathroom, and my knee hurt.  As I climbed back into bed, it occurred to me that it didn’t hurt before I went to bed.  Then I realized the only times it hurt while walking on level ground were in the morning or during the night.  I had been assuming I was aggravating my knee by something I was doing during the day.  I was actually aggravating it while sleeping.

I usually sleep on my stomach, so my knee is pressed against the mattress.  Rolling over during the night with all my weight on it probably wasn’t doing it any good.

After that, I made an effort to sleep on my side.  I didn’t sleep as well, but it made a difference.  After that, my knee never hurt while walking around at home.

Over the next few weeks, my knee got better, but the change was gradual.  My knee still bothers me going up and down steps, but I’m not as dependent on using a railing.  I’ve been going a little longer each time I ride the stationary bike.  This morning, I was spinning for 18 minutes.  Finally, I’ve increased my walking to four miles a day.

On Monday, I had my annual physical.  Naturally, I asked my doctor about my knee.  After my exam, I told me he was pretty sure nothing was torn, but he ordered an MRI, just to be sure.  The MRI showed some fluid in my knee, but there’s no damage to the joint, and all the ligaments are intact.  This is still an injury that will heal with rest, ice, and physical therapy, but it’s going to take time.  My doctor thought it would be another month before I could resume running.

Today, I had another physical therapy appointment.  For now, my therapist wants me to limit my walking to four miles a day and keep my stationary bike workouts between 15 and 20 minutes.  In a few weeks, we’ll reevaluate.  In the meantime, I have several new exercises to do.  A few are for my knee, but others will help me maintain strength in my legs until I can resume running.

This brings us to the second part of my goal: losing the weight.

Last summer I was doing at least two workouts per day.  On an average day, I was doing the equivalent of 19 miles of running.  That burns a lot of calories.  After the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, I cut way back on my training.  Unfortunately, I didn’t cut back way back on my eating.  By the end of the year, I gained six pounds.

In January, I made a half-hearted effort to curtail my eating, but I still gained another pound.  Naturally, I was concerned.  At least in January, I was running every other day.  Now, I’m not running at all.

Since the beginning of February, I’ve been keeping track of everything I eat.  I have a strict upper limit for how many calories I’ll eat.  My hope was to limit the damage, but I’ve actually managed to lose a couple pounds.  It helps that I’m burning a few calories by walking.

Dieting has a psychological component.  What works for one person won’t work for someone else.  I’m motivated by measurable progress.  That’s why I got into running in the first place.  I got excited when I could see that I was getting faster.  In the case of sticking to a diet, it really helps to know that I’m making progress.  That keeps me motivated.

To get back to my “racing weight,” I’ll also need to burn more calories.  That won’t happen until I can run again.  In the meantime, losing any weight at all is an accomplishment.

The longer I’m sidelined, the longer it will take to eventually get back into shape.  This won’t be the first time I’ve had to get back into marathon shape after a long period of inactivity.  I had to do the same thing five years ago.  I’m getting more exercise now than I did then, so I’m hopeful.  It’ll take time, but I know I can get back into shape once my knee is completely healthy.  I’m hoping to resume running marathons by August.  I don’t have to be fast.  I just need to be able to finish them.  Getting my speed back will take much longer.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Super Bowl Will Feel Different This Year

The Super Bowl won’t be the same this year.  For the fans in the stadium, it’ll be different because they’ll be outnumbered by cardboard cut-outs.  For many others, it’ll be different because they’ll be watching at home, instead of going to a sports bar or Super Bowl Party.  For me it’ll be different because I won’t be going out of town for a race.

In 2012, I ran the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA.  The race was on the same day as the Super Bowl, so I watched the game in the hotel lounge, along with several other people who were staying there.  Giants fans sat around one table, and Patriots fans sat around another table.  It was an exciting game, with New York winning on a late field goal.

That was the start of a tradition.  Since then, I’ve done the Surf City Marathon five more times.  It’s one of my favorite races, but that’s not the only reason.  The race is always on Super Bowl Sunday, and I realized I enjoy watching the game in the Pacific Time Zone, because the game starts earlier there.

Even when I didn’t run the Surf City Marathon, I was usually running a race that day.  In 2014, Deb and I traveled to New Orleans, and I ran the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon.  That was the year the Seattle Seahawks won.  That game was exciting because Deb is a big Seahawks fan.

In 2017, I ran the Rocky Raccoon 100.  That’s the year the game was in Houston, and Houston happened to be the closest airport to where I ran running.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen cheerleaders in an airport.

The only recent year I wasn’t doing a race that weekend was 2016.  That year, I was recovering from injuries.  At the time, I couldn’t even walk normally, much less run.  I didn’t get clearance to start running until three weeks later.

This year I’m also recovering from injuries, but that’s not the only reason I’m home.  Even if I was healthy, I wouldn’t be at the Surf City Marathon.  It’s been postponed to September, because of the pandemic.

There’s one other reason the Super Bowl will feel different this year.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing in their home stadium.  No team has ever had home field advantage in the Super Bowl before.  That’s all the reason I need to root for Kansas City.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

It's Time to Take a Break

If you’ve read any of my recent race reports, you know that I’ve been coping with a knee injury since August.  Here’s a brief recap.

I first noticed it after falling three times during a trail marathon.  None of them seemed like hard landings, but on the third fall, I scraped my knee badly enough that it was bleeding.  The next day, I had a vague sensation that my right knee didn’t feel right.  It didn’t actually hurt, but something felt like it was off.

Over the next two weeks, I didn’t make any changes to my training.  In retrospect, that was a mistake.  I think I aggravated it doing weight training exercises, which included leg extensions and deadlifts.

It wasn’t until the day after the Millennium Meadows Marathon that I realized the discomfort was getting to be more persistent.  Then I saw a doctor.  The injury wasn’t serious, but I needed to cut back in my training.  The timing was unfortunately.  In less than two weeks, I was scheduled to start a series of 20 marathons on 20 consecutive days.  Before that, I also needed to do my virtual Boston Marathon.

I did my virtual Boston Marathon wearing a knee support, but I still had persistent discomfort in my knee.  Then I took a week off from running to prepare for the 20in20 series.

When I started that series, I fully expected the knee to get worse.  I didn’t know if I could finish all 20 races, but I was determined to try, even if I had to walk most of the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well my knee held up during that series.  On the first day, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.  By the end of the series, I had developed other minor injuries, but my knee didn’t feel any worse than it did at the start of the series.

Because I race so frequently, I rarely finish a race without having several others already scheduled.  At the beginning of March, I had races scheduled all the way out to the beginning of November.  Most of those races got cancelled, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I saw the 20in20 series as a way to do something truly memorable, after all my international trips got cancelled.  When I finished that series, I wasn’t registered for any other races.  There were several races I planned to do, but I held off on making any commitments until I knew how I felt after the series.

After the series, I had a rare opportunity to take a break and let my injuries heal.  In addition to my knee, I also had an inflamed tendon at the top of my left leg, and both of my Achilles tendons were acting up.

From March to July, almost all races of any size were cancelled.  Then race directors adapted and found ways to put on races during the pandemic.  To do so, they had to limit the size of the races.  As a result, races filled quickly.  If you wanted to do a race, you couldn’t wait too long to make a commitment.

There were races in October and November that sounded appealing, but I knew I needed more than a few weeks to heal.  At the time, I was actually much more concerned about my left leg than my right knee.  Looking farther ahead, I really wanted to do the Texas Quad over Thanksgiving weekend.

Ideally, I would’ve waited until I was fully recovered before committing to another race.  I didn’t want to risk the Texas Quad filling up, so I signed up for it.  It was still seven weeks away, and I thought that would be enough time to heal.  It probably would’ve been enough if I didn’t need to keep training.

I took one full week off from running.  That helped a lot.  My next two runs were less than two miles.  Then I gradually worked up to running seven miles every other day.  While I limited most of my runs to seven miles or less, I also did a 10-mile run and a 12-mile run.  I don’t like to go too long without a long training run.  The 12-mile run was supposed to be 14 miles, but I started having knee discomfort, so I stopped.

For the first three or four weeks after the 20in20 series, all of my injuries seemed to be healing nicely.  Then I reached a plateau.  I was trying to strike a balance.  On one hand, I wanted to give my legs enough rest so they could heal.  On the other hand, I wanted to retain enough of my fitness that I could still run marathons on four straight days.  I succeeded in retaining enough of my fitness to be ready for the Texas Quad, but I still wasn’t fully healed.

I don’t have any regrets about doing the Texas Quad.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for three or four years, and my results exceeded my expectations.  I placed in the top three all four days and had the fastest combined time for the four races.  I’ve won triples before, but this was the first time I won a quadzilla.

Even before the Texas Quad, I signed up for two other races.  The first was the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon.  The second was the Big Beach Marathon.  I wanted to do the New Year’s Double too, but I held off on signing up for those races.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon was important because it was my first opportunity to qualify for the 2022 Boston Marathon.  I didn’t know how many other opportunities I would get, so I wanted to knock that off while I was still in good in enough shape.

After that race, I decided not to sign up for the New Year’s Double.  I took another week off from running.  Since then, I’ve been running every two or three days.  Most of those runs were about five miles.  The longest run I did before the Big Beach Marathon was seven miles.

For the first three or four weeks after the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, my knee seemed to be improving.  I thought I found the right balance.  The two daily activities that are most apt to cause knee discomfort are stairs and planks.  On my better days, I could sometimes g up and down stairs without discomfort.  On my best days, I was able to do a plank without my knee bothering me.

I thought I was turning a corner.  Then, after one of my runs, my knee felt unusually sore.  The next morning, it still felt sore.  After that, I only did one more training run before the Big Beach Marathon.

I had more knee discomfort during the Big Beach Marathon than I’ve had during any race since September.  I think that’s mostly because of long sections of boardwalk.  The boards may have been a bit springy, causing my knee to absorb more shock with each stride.  I realized even before this race that my knee was no longer improving.  For the first time, I had to acknowledge that it probably wouldn’t get better if I kept running, even at a reduced level.  I had already decided to take a break after this race, but this put an exclamation point on that decision. 

I have a physical therapy appointment next week.  Until then, I won’t run at all.  I’ll continue to go for daily walks with Deb, but I won’t attempt to do any other form of cross-training.  I’m just going to rest.

I’ll seek the advice of my physical therapist about when I should resume running.  I fully expect it’ll be at least a few weeks.  In the past, I was reluctant to stop running completely for more than a week.  I didn’t want to risk losing too much fitness when I still had races on my calendar.  That’s no longer a concern.  I’m not signed up for any races, and I don’t plan to commit to anything until my knee is completely healthy.

When I finished the 20in20 series, it was the first time in many years that I didn’t have another race scheduled.  Now I’m in that some position again.  I know taking a break from running will cause me to lose fitness in the short term.  I know how much work it takes to get back in marathon shape, but I also know I can do it.  It can’t be any harder this year this it was in 2016.  Then, I couldn’t even walk normally.  At least this time, I’m able to walk and run with sound mechanics.  I’ll just have to get back in shape.

That’s the reason it was so important for me to get a Boston qualifier at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon in December.  Now I don’t have to worry about getting back in shape in time to qualify for 2022.  I bought enough time that I can afford to be patient.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Race Report: 2021 Big Beach Marathon

On January 31, I ran the Big Beach Marathon in Gulf Shores, AL This was my first marathon in seven weeks. I signed up for it months ago. At the time, I thought I would be healthy by now. Actually, I thought I would be healthy before the Texas Quad in November. When I wasn’t, I realized that the seven weeks between the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon and this one probably wouldn’t be enough.

After the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, I took a week off from running.  Since then, I’ve been doing short runs every other day.  I’ve been trying to give my right knee some rest, while still keeping up some level of fitness.  While my knee still isn’t 100 percent, all my other injuries have healed.  That’s a start.

Gulf Shores is about halfway between Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL.  I flew to Pensacola on Saturday, and drove from there.  As I reached the Gulf Shores city limits, I saw a sign that read, “Gulf Shores - Small Town, Big Beach.”  I guess that’s where the name of the race comes from.

Packet pickup was at the same hotel where I was staying.  In a normal year, they would’ve had an expo.  This year, they set up a drive-through lane for packet pickup in the parking lot.

The race packet included a T-shirt, medal, and various goodies.  It’s unusual to give runners their finisher medals before they actually run the race, but I understand why they did it that way.  They wanted to minimize contact between runners and volunteers.  What’s also notable is what wasn’t in the race packet.  It didn’t include a race bib.  I wouldn’t get that until I checked in on the morning of the race.

My hotel was right next to the beach.  It’s a white sand beach that stretches far in either direction.  It reminds me of the beach in Biloxi, MS.

This race was selected by the 50 States Marathon Club for their first quarter reunion.  Normally, there would’ve been a club meeting the day before the race.  Because of the pandemic, there wasn’t any meeting.  Instead, we were all encouraged to wear our club gear and look for each other.

I didn’t sleep well Friday night, so I was feeling tired all day on Saturday.  I explored the hotel property, but I never explored the town at all.  I just didn’t feel like going anywhere.  I had dinner at the hotel with my friends Kasey and Heather who were also staying there for the race.

I never sleep well the night before a race, but I think I got more sleep Saturday night than I did Friday night.  I felt better in the morning than I did on Saturday.

The course was a double loop, which made race day logistics easy.  The start and finish were near a venue called The Hangout, which is the site of an annual music festival. The Hangout was about a mile and a half from my hotel.  That was just far enough that I chose to drive there, rather than walking.  I left a little early, so I could get a close parking spot.

To keep the start area from getting crowded, the race was divided into eight waves, with 15 minutes between waves.  I was in the first non-elite wave, which started at 7:30  The earliest I could check in was 7:10.  At check-in, I needed to turn in a COVID-19 waiver form.

The temperature was in the 60s, with coastal humidity, but the forecast called for morning showers.  It was raining lightly as I drove to the start, but I didn’t expect it to rain for the whole race.  I would’ve been too hot if I wore a rain poncho, so I tied a light jacket around my waist, just in case I got cold.  As it turned out, the rain stopped just as I started running.

We were required to wear masks in the start area, but we could take them off after we started running.  I’m getting used to that.  All of the other races I’ve done recently had the same policy.

In contrast to my last race, I didn’t have any time goal today.  I’ve already qualified for the 2022 Boston Marathon, so I didn’t have to worry if I was no longer in peak shape.  My only goals were to finish the race and enjoy the experience.  I wanted to carry a camera with me, but I made a last-minute decision to leave it in the car, so it wouldn’t get wet.  It looked like it was going to be a gray day, so I didn’t think it would be  good day for pictures.

My friend Michelle was in the same wave, so I decided to start the race with her.  I didn’t think I could run at her pace for the whole race, but I thought I could run with her in the early miles.  I was wrong.  Within half a mile, I could tell the pace was too fast, so I eased up and fell behind.

I started out running with short rapid strides.  I’ve also been doing that in my recent training runs.  I’ve found that’s more comfortable for my injured knee.  It’s tiring, so I can’t keep it up for very long, but I can do it until I get warmed up.

In the first mile, we were on city streets, running away from the coast.  We had a light headwind.  Throughout that mile, I was noticing some discomfort in my knee, but I expected that.

I reached the first mile marker in 8:40, even though I was no longer trying to keep up with Michelle.  I knew that was too fast, so I eased up a bit more.

Early in the second mile, we turned onto a paved path that took us into Gulf State Park.  At first, we were running near the northern edge of the park.  I no longer noticed the wind.  Aside from the fact that we were running in a different direction, we were also surrounded by trees.  Here, we were sheltered from the wind.  I also noticed that my knee felt better.  I think I just needed a mile to get warmed up.

I didn’t check my time at two miles.  When I finished my third mile, I looked at my watch.  I was averaging nine minutes per mile.  That was still too fast.  Over the next few miles, I eased up some more.  I also stopped looking at my watch.

I needed to run by feel.  I was willing to put some effort into my pace, but only if the pace was sustainable for 26.2 miles.  I didn’t know what pace that would be.  It’s been seven weeks since my last race.  During that time, I never ran farther than seven miles.  I didn’t know how much that would affect my ability to run a marathon.  I rarely go that long without a long training run.

We gradually turned and ran into the interior of the park.  After about five miles, I started to notice my knee again.  It wasn’t a big deal, but it confirmed what I already knew.  I needed to take a break from racing, so my knee can get better.  Around six miles, I met a runner who noticed I was wearing a “50 States Finisher” shirt.  He had seen other runners wearing similar shirts, and he was curious about it.  I ran with him for the next two miles.  Then I realized his pace was too fast for me, so I had to slow down.

Aid stations were more limited than they would be in a normal year.  Every few miles, there were tables with water bottles, but we were expected to bring any other nutrition we needed.  I wore a fuel belt that holds one bottle.  I started the race with a 20 oz. bottle of Powerade that I bought at the hotel.  That was enough to get through the first eight miles.  When I ran out of Powerade, I was already past the first two aid stations, but the next one was only a mile away.  When I got there, I discarded my empty bottle and grabbed a bottle of water.  For the rest of the race, I just drank water.

Most of the route was paved, but there were sections of boardwalk, where we crossed marshy areas.  Most of them were fairly short.  Just past nine miles, we began a longer section of boardwalk.  It was about a mile and a half long.  It was during this section, that I noticed much more discomfort in my knee.  It was the worst it has felt during a run since September.  I wasn’t sure if it had something to do with the surface I was running on or if that was just a coincidence.

Toward the end of this long section of boardwalk, I saw a tall pedestrian bridge in the distance.  To climb up to the bridge would’ve been a huge hill.  I recognized that bridge as one that crosses Beach Boulevard.  I saw it while driving to my hotel.  I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be going that way.

The rest of the loop was more exposed to the wind.  At times, the wind was tiring, but it also kept me from overheating.

I reached a junction.  There was one section of boardwalk that continued straight ahead.  There was another one branching off to the left.  That one led to the pedestrian bridge.  There wasn’t any sign indicating which way we should go, but I saw two other runners go straight, so I followed them.  I was already pretty sure that was the correct way to go.

In general, this course was well-marked, and they also had course marshals in several spots.  This was the only unmarked junction that I thought really needed a sign.  I suspect there wasn’t any easy way to put signs up on this part of the course.  I’m pretty sure I passed the 10-mile mark on this boardwalk, but I never saw a sign for it.

As I neared the end of the longest section of boardwalk, I crossed a stream.  To my right, I had a view of a small lake.  The clouds no longer looked gray, and I was seeing some patches of blue sky.  I briefly regretted not having a camera with me.

After that section of boardwalk, we ran through an RV park and then ran on a path that led to another section of boardwalk.  This one wasn’t as long.  When it ended, I reached a road.  There was an aid station there, and a volunteer said to follow the bike lane and then cross the street at the intersection.  This intersection was one of the entrances to my hotel.  I really need to make a list of all the times I ran past my hotel during a marathon.

From here, there was about a mile and half to the end of the first loop.  The rest was on city streets.  Here, I could feel the wind again.  It was a headwind.  The wind direction had shifted since the start of the race.

As I neared the end of the first loop, I started to notice some soreness in my legs.  It was the type of soreness you might expect to feel in the last few miles of a race.  I wasn’t even half done.  I knew the second half would be difficult, mostly because of going seven weeks without any long training runs.  I’m not in marathon shape any more.

I’ve cut way back on my training so my knee would have a chance to heal.  My hope was that I could run just enough to maintain a minimal level of fitness, but not so much that it would aggravate my knee.  I seem to have done just the opposite.  I was running just enough to aggravate my knee, but not enough to stay in shape.

I finished the first half in 2:07.  I ran the first half at the pace I expected to run for the whole race, but I knew the second half would be slower.  I could already feel a difference in my mechanics.  My motion wasn’t as fluid.  I wasn’t running efficiently.  I could feel that I was going slower.

As I started the second half, I was once again running away from the coast.  For the first time in the race, I started to feel hot and sticky.  That only lasted a few minutes.  Then it started to rain lightly.  It was just enough to cool me off, and it only lasted for a mile or two.

By the time I entered Gulf State Park again, I realized my knee was feeling better.  Apparently, it really was the boardwalk that made my knee hurt.  It’s possible the boards were a little bit springy, and that put more strain on my knee.

When I reach the 15-mile mark, I told myself I only had 11 miles to go.  Physically, I was struggling, but 11 miles just didn’t sound like anything intimidating.  I thought back to the Running Ragged 20in20 series.  That series was intimidating before I started, but after a week or so, running marathons every day felt normal.  It was a long time on my feet, but on any given day, if I only had 11 miles to go, that seemed manageable.  That’s something that stays with you.

A few minutes later, my friend Tom caught up to me.  He started in the same wave, but he started at a more conservative pace.  Tom said he was now hoping to finish in 4:30.  At the halfway mark, I was on pace for 4:14, but when I considered how much I was slowing down, 4:30 seemed like a reasonable goal for me too.  I ran the rest of the race with Tom.

I let Tom set the pace,  Sometimes, I had to work hard to keep up with him.  At other times, the pace felt easy.  On average, it was sustainable, but just barely.  Running together, however, made the last 11 miles more manageable for both of us.

Just before the long section of boardwalk, we passed an aid station.  I didn’t need a new water bottle, so I kept running.  I noticed Tom was no longer with me.  He must’ve stopped at the aid station.

As I started onto the boardwalk, I knew Tom would catch up with me.  I had to slow down for two reasons.  First, this boardwalk starts with a long gradual uphill section.  It’s really the only significant hill in an otherwise flat race.  My second reason for slowing down was to reduce the wear and tear on my knee.

Tom caught up to me, and then started to pull ahead.  I had to pick up my pace to keep up with him.  Eventually, I picked up my pace even more to try to catch up again after falling behind.  Then I caught my foot on the edge of one of the boards.  I tripped and stumbled forward, but I avoided falling.  That made my knee hurt, but only briefly.  Overall, it still felt better than it did in the first lap.

As we got off the boardwalk and into the last two miles of the race, Tom started running with more confidence.  I was working harder and harder to keep up with him.  With less than a mile to go, I tripped again.  This time it was on pavement.  Something solid was sticking up from the pavement, but I never saw what it was.  Again, I was able to keep from falling.

Each time Tom accelerated, I did my best to match it.  With about five blocks to go, I almost gave up, but then I dug deep and caught up again.

At 26 miles, Tom looked at his watch and said we could break 4:26.  He took off.  This time, I didn’t try to keep up.  I was already at my limit.  Before we finished, Tom was already half a block ahead of me.  He finished in 4:25:57.  I followed at my own pace and finished in 4:26:19.

We bumped into several friends in the finish area.  One was Michelle, who had a disappointing finish after missing a turn and running more than a mile out of her way.

This race had excellent post-race food.  Each of our race bibs had a food coupon and two beer coupons.  To redeem them, we walked over to The Hangout.  I was expecting the beer to be Bud Light or Miller Lite, but they had a selection of craft beers.  The food was a boxed lunch.  We had our choice of a turkey wrap, a ham and cheese wrap, or a veggie wrap.  The boxed lunch also included chips and cookies.  It was a filling post-race meal.

The Hangout also proved to be a great place to hang out after the race.  The had lots of tables, included several that were outside.  By now, the sun was out.  We had running weather that was reasonable, if not ideal, followed by warmer weather for hanging out afterwards.

After having lunch with Tom, I bumped into Kasey and Heather.  Then we bumped into Michelle, along with a few other runners we knew.  I stayed in town much longer than I normally would after a race.

Eventually, I went back to the hotel, so I could get cleaned up.  I spent way too much time in sweaty clothes and shoes.  Kasey and Heather had the foresight to bring their finished medals to The Hangout.  I didn’t take my medal out of the packaging until I got back to the hotel.  It has a cool design.  The beach depicted on the medal has sand embedded in it.

I had dinner with Kasey and Heather again.  This time we went to a place that we heard was the best restaurant in Gulf Shores.  It didn’t look like much, but the food was great.

When I woke up on Monday, my legs were so stiff I could barely move.  It’s amazing how quickly I lost my fitness.  In September, I was running marathons day after day, and they felt like they were just my daily training runs.  Now, I feel like this was the first marathon I ever ran.

Race Statistics

Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:26:19
Average Pace: 10:10
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 431
Alabama Marathons: 4

Friday, January 29, 2021

I Have 17 More BQs Than I Thought

One of my signature accomplishments as a runner is qualifying for the Boston Marathon in all 50 states.  Qualifying for Boston has always been a standard of excellence, so it’s something I often shoot for, even if I already have a qualifying time that will get me into the race.

At the end of my race reports, I usually list a few statistics.  In my most recent race report, I indicated I had qualified for Boston in 131 races.  I was wrong.  I’ve actually qualified in 148 races.  How could I be off my so much?  To understand that, you need to understand the subtle details of qualifying.

To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you need to finish a marathon within a certain time.  How fast you need to run it depends on your age and gender.  For runners who are over 35, they have different qualifying times for each 5-year age group, but it’s not based on your age on the day you run your qualifying race.  It’s based on how old you’ll be on the day of the Boston Marathon.

Each Boston Marathon has a qualifying period.  It generally starts about one year before registration will open and continues until registration closes.  For example, the registration period for the 2020 Boston Marathon started on September 15, 2018 and continued until the race filled, roughly one year later.

Because of COVID-19, the 2020 Boston Marathon was initially postponed from April until September, and was later cancelled.  Getting into the Boston Marathon isn’t easy.  Some runners get in by running qualifying times.  Others get in by raising money for a charity.  A limited number of foreign entrants can get into the race by buying a travel package from an international tour operator.

Whether you spent years training hard to qualify or raised thousands of dollars of donations, it’s a big commitment.  Naturally, when the race was cancelled, the runners who were signed up hoped that they would get guaranteed entry into the 2021 race.  Unfortunately, the Boston Athletic Association wasn’t in any position to do that.  They couldn’t know for sure if they would be able to accommodate the same number of runners.  There’s a limit to how many runners you can fit on the narrow two-lane road leading out of Hopkinton, and there’s a limit to how long the various cities and towns along the route will tolerate having the roads closed.  During a pandemic, they might insist on a smaller race.

The BAA gave refunds to everyone who was signed up for 2020 and said the runners who ran qualifying times would be able to use those same qualifying times to register for the 2021 race.  The easiest way to do that was to extend the qualifying period for the 2021 race.  Ordinarily, it would’ve started on September 14, 2019.  Instead, it started on September 15, 2018, which is the same day qualifying for the 2020 race started.  By adding a year to the qualifying period, they effectively allowed people who had already qualified to use those qualifying times again.

The Boston Marathon is normally held on the third Monday in April.  Last September, when registration for 2021 would normally have started, it wasn’t clear if that would be possible.  The BAA postponed registration for 2021.  Later in the year, they announced that the race wouldn’t be held in April.  They promised a follow-up announcement when they chose a new date.  Finally, in January, the made this announcement:

They also made a subtle change to the page on their website that explains how to qualify.  Until a few days ago, it said your age group was based on your age on April 19, 2021.  Now, it says your age group is based on your age on October 11, 2021.  The rule didn’t change.  It’s still based on your age on the day of the race, but that date changed.

As it happens, I’ll be 59 years old on April 19, but I’ll be 60 years old on October 11.  The change in the race date cause me to move into a new age group.  That means instead of needing a time of 3:35 or better to qualify, I just need a time of 3:50 or better.

I’ve kept track of my race results for every marathon or ultramarathon I’ve ever finished.  One thing I keep track of is whether I qualified for Boston in that race.  The qualifying rules have changed many times over the years.  If I say I qualified for Boston, I mean I met the qualifying standards that were in place at the time.  There are lots of races where I beat the qualifying time, but for other reasons it wasn’t a qualifying race.  I don’t count races that didn’t have certified courses, since I couldn’t actually qualify in those races, regardless of how fast I ran.  Likewise, I don’t count races that don’t report race results to the BAA.  There’s also a rule that seems odd to me.  You can’t qualify for Boston in an indoor marathon.

While the qualifying rules can change from year to year, I can’t think of any other cases where they have changed retroactively.  Usually, when you line up for a race, you know if it’s a qualifying race, and you know exactly how fast you need to run to qualify.  Until this year.

Registration for the 2021 Boston Marathon hasn’t started yet.  When it does, I can register using my race result from any race on or after September 15, 2018.  During that span, I ran 75 marathons (excluding ultras).  Excluding races that weren’t qualifying events, there were 17 races where I ran times between 3:35 and 3:50.  At the time I ran them, I didn’t I was fast enough to qualify.  Because I moved into a different age group, I actually did run fast enough to qualify.  Here are my 17 new Boston Qualifiers:

2018 Chicago Marathon (3:47:05)

2018 New York City Marathon (3:48:44)

2019 Surf City Marathon (3:48:02)

2019 Hong Kong Marathon (3:45:17)

2019 Little Rock Marathon (3:43:38)

2019 Carmel Marathon (3:45:09)

2019 Boston Marathon (3:39:20)

2019 Fargo Marathon (3:42:37)

2019 Pocatello Marathon (3:37:38)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 2 (3:46:47)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 3 (3:48:34)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 4 (3:49:33)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 5 (3:46:54)

2020 Surf City Marathon (3:35:28)

2020 Atlanta Marathon (3:41:15)

2020 Xenia Avenue Marathon (3:46:00)

2020 Millennium Meadows Marathon (3:42:27)

In some of these races I was trying to qualify, thinking I needed 3:35, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t do it.  In others, I knew I wouldn’t break 3:35, but I still did the best I could.  That effort made a difference.  I’m tickled pick to know that I qualified for Boston four days in a row at the Savage Seven.  My goal at the time was to break four hours each day, but I put in just enough extra effort that I ended up breaking 3:50.

It's worth noting that there were also races where I would have qualified even if I was still in the 55-59 age group.  When registration for 2021 eventually opens, I'll use my fastest qualifying time, which would've been a BQ anyway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

I moved up on the Mega Marathon List.

There’s a running club in Japan that maintains something called the Mega Marathon List.  It’s a ranking worldwide ranking of the runners who have completed the most marathons and ultramarathons in their lifetimes.

To get onto the list, you need to finish at least 300 marathons.  I qualified for the list in 2015, when I ran my 300th marathon at the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in Tennessee.

Getting on the list was one of my lifetime goals.  Since then, I haven’t paid that much attention to my ranking.  I usually rank somewhere around 500, but that varies from one year to the next.  In addition to the worldwide list, there’s also a North American list.  My ranking on this list is usually close to 100.

From 2013 through 2015, I was running more than 50 marathons a year.  Since then, I’ve cut back.  In some years, I wasn’t running as many marathons as the other runners on this list, so I had no expectation of climbing in the rankings.

The lists are usually updated twice a year, but there wasn’t any midyear update last year.  At the time, nearly all marathons were cancelled, so there didn’t seem to be much point in updating the lists.  Since then, small races have started to come back, but it varies widely, depending on where you live.

I just received a copy of the North American list, which was updated at the end of 2020.  I haven’t seen the worldwide list yet, but I was surprised to learn that I’ve climbed all the way to 68 on the North American list.  That’s up 21 spots from a year ago.  Here’s a link to it, if you’re interested:

It seems that most of the runners on this list did few, if any, races last year.  I actually ran more races than I planned, mostly because of two multi-day series of races.  Because of that, I expected to move up a few spots, but I was still shocked to move up as much as I did.

I expect 2020 to be an aberration.  I probably won’t move up at all this year.  I only have one race scheduled.  After that, I plan to take a break, so I can heal from a lingering knee injury.  I may yet have a normal race schedule in the second half of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t run any other races before the summer.

One thing about this list still amuses me.  Although I moved up quite a bit in the North American rankings, I haven’t moved up at all within my home state.  I still rank 7th in Minnesota.