Mission Accomplished

San Diego – a city I had good reason to have mixed feelings about – is now my new favorite place in the whole world. That is where I climbed the mountain, not only setting aside the past but also reaching a monumental goal and cementing part of the future.
The past is the past, and I’d just as soon leave it at that. However, it isn’t hard at all to get me to talk about the 2010 San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon and qualifying for the 2011 Boston Marathon.
I wasn’t totally impressed with my training, but I knew that the shortcomings were not a lack of desire or any amount of laziness. 16 weeks to focus on one morning’s race can be a grind, and sometimes it seemed like a long time away. Somehow, crossing the finish, shattering my only other marathon time, and qualifying for Boston brought everything back into focus. A couple of miles before the finish, I was actually thinking about my last long run where I intended to run 22 and struggled to get to 20 at an 8:00/mile pace. It bothered me at the time, but was easy to shrug off when I knew I could damn near walk to the finish line at that point and qualify for Boston.
The first part of the marathon was a little challenging mentally. While I thought I had given myself plenty of time at the start village to turn in my gear bag and make my final visit to the porta-pottie, I forgot to account for the throngs of half-marathoners – something I didn’t have to contend with in Arizona, since they had a different start. I waited in line for about 15 minutes and realized that I was not going to have enough time. So I headed to the start knowing that I was going to have to make a “pit stop” along the way. Actually, once I made that decision, I was calm about it.
The start was disorganized. The corral bosses basically just dropped their ropes and everyone started pushing forward, instead of separating the corral starts by a couple of minutes like they said would occur. As a result, there were lots of bodies to weave through once I got my pace. 7:15/mile to start out…it was a little fast, but I knew it was safe for a little while and that I could ease up on the drop into downtown. Of course, I didn’t really remember to do that and ended up running Mile 5 at a 6:53 pace. After my “pit stop” just before the end of Mile 7, I was able to settle down and focus on the long climb out of downtown that would last through Mile 11. In the meantime, I was able to enjoy the downtown scenery, buildings, and landmarks. There is still a lot to go back and see.
The climb out of downtown wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and I found myself at the top of the hill, looking at a two-mile drop to the halfway point and sitting at around a 7:20 to 7:25 per mile race pace with a lot of gas still in the tank. That is about the time I started thinking I had a good shot at my Boston Qualifier time. When I crossed the halfway point in 1:36:44 and knew I was running at a 7:22 pace, I remember saying out loud to myself, “Oh yeah – I f**king got this bitch.” And the sun was still behind the clouds.
Not too long after this point, I caught up with the 3:15:00 pace group. That was the first time it occurred to me that I might be going too fast and wouldn’t have enough left for the last few miles. I hung with them for a few miles, daring myself to think that I could break 3:15:00, which is the next highest standard for BQ times for men…not that I needed it. The Boston Marathon is on April 18, 2011, which is 9 days after my 40th birthday. I needed only to break 3:20:00 – the qualifying time for a 40-year old – because Boston requires you qualify based on the age you will be when the marathon is run. Still, the thought of breaking 3:15:00 was running as a pack right in front of me. And then the sun came out…
Instantly, everyone warmed up. About as fast as the sun came out, I intentionally dropped my pace because I knew this was a game-changer. The 3:15:00 group slipped further ahead, but I focused on one single purpose – 3:20:59 or better. Keep it simple and don’t get greedy.
I’m glad I did that because it turned out that the last 10 kilometers was the hardest stretch I’ve run to date. Just after Mile 17, the course reached Mission Bay and went north for about a mile and then turned back south. At Mile 19, I was directly west of where I entered the Mission Bay area and continued south from there. I was starting to get very warm, and my legs were screaming at me. I found a salt packet I had in my pocket and because it was wet, I just chewed it until the salt was gone and then I spit out the paper wad. At Mile 20, I reached a water station and decided to walk through it to get fluids and drench my head. After a couple hundred feet, I picked up the pace again, crossing the 20.5 mile split point at 2:31:49 – a 7:24/mile pace.
Quick math told me that I could do the entire rest of the way at around an 8:30 pace and still come in under the wire, but I had no desire to cut it that close. I pressed on and crossed the entrance on to Fiesta Island at Mile 21. I covered Mile 20 in 8:02 (that included the walking), Mile 21 in 7:35, and Mile 22 in 7:34.
At this point, I was headed north on the leeward (east) side of Fiesta Island. It was a hot, humid desert of misery. Many runners were stopping, walking, groaning, or struggling; and there were no crowds to cheer on runners like there had been most of the rest of the course. It was hot, lonely, and demoralizing. My legs were cramping a bit and I was dead tired. I knew I would finish in time, but I needed a moment. I stopped next to a steel drum trash barrel and stretched for what seemed like 20 minutes but was probably more line one minute. I retied my right shoe, even though it probably didn’t really need it. I started going again, knowing I had just about a 5k to the finish, and completed Mile 23 in 8:50.
I don’t know where the strength to finish came from. I don’t even really remember much of the last three miles. But I know I wasn’t content to come in just under the wire so I pressed on, finishing Mile 24 in 7:50, Mile 25 in 7:44, Mile 26 in 7:31, and “sprinted” the last 0.2 miles at a 7:16 pace.
3:17:51. A PR by 10:25 – almost 24 seconds/mile faster.
And a Boston qualifier by 3:08.
Mission Accomplished.


And now…into the breech

One week to go before San Diego. It is hard not to let that be everything I think about.

My training has gone well, but not perfect. I don’t worry about that too much because I remember reading (in more than one place) that a training grid is set up assuming 100% of everything…available time, health, effort, lack of injury, perfect weather, etc. Life gets in the way once in a while – and it did. I am comfortable looking back knowing that I didn’t like missing workouts, as opposed to just blowing them off and forgetting about it. That at least tells me that I have the right attitude.

This morning, I sat down with the course map and Google Earth and visualized the course and the challenging parts of it. With my goal pace in mind, I thought about the parts of the course where I am going to have to push and the parts of course that I can recover. I have a strategy for attacking the course, and I feel good that it will give me the best shot to hit 3:20:59 or better. A good plan is one factor…and of course, I am well aware there are always factors that might impact that plan. Weather, injury, bad fueling, or any number of other factors may come into play…as well as good things like sea level, tailwinds, or just a flat out “good day.”

I’ll take the bad with the good because ultimately, I don’t really care if I qualify for Boston. I’m going to be in San Diego…running through some of the prettiest parts of the city…with my lovely bride and cute, giggling step-daughter….among friends and people in the crowd I don’t even know that will be cheering for me. There will be sunshine, music, and good vibes anywhere.

How can I not have a good race?!?!

The Goal

It’s good to have a goal.

It was a pretty easy decision, actually – given the magnitude of the effort that will be required and the preparation that will be needed. Yet, in the end, it seemed so simple. Qualify for Boston.

In order to qualify for the Boston Marathon as a 40-year old – which I will be for the next one in 2011 – I need a time equal to or better than 3:20:59. No exceptions. I have two marathons left to do this year: the San Diego Marathon in June and the New York City Marathon in November. Even if Boston 2011 is not sold out by November (and it probably will be), qualifying for Boston in New York would be challenging.

That leaves San Diego…in June…less than two months from now. If I don’t qualify for Boston there, then I have to look to a marathon or two in 2011 that give me the best chance to qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon. While I am certainly okay with that, if that is the road that I have to take, I want it this year. I want the streak of improvement to continue – and I want to get to Boston while my body seems to be holding together for the most part.

So that is the goal. I have about 5 weeks of hard training left for San Diego, and I am going to make the most of it. I have had a harder time sticking to my grid this time around because of work – albeit a much harder grid than my first – and I have not maintained what I would refer to as a “champion’s diet plan.” However, a couple weekends ago, I blew the doors off the Platte River Trail Half Marathon with 1:34:48 (7:15 pace), which was an ENORMOUS shot in the arm. Yes – it was downhill – but I smoked that course. I had negative splits the last 6 miles, 7:00 pace for miles 10-12, and a 6:49 pace for the 13th mile before a sprint to the finish. If I can back that off to a 7:35 and sustain it for 26.2 miles, I will qualify for Boston with room to spare.

It won’t be easy. I may have come as close as I am going to in my first marathon. I might not qualify…
…but I sure feel like I’ve got it in me.

Halfway to San Diego

Today is the end of Week 7, which is the halfway point of “hard running” (training time not including the taper). The first part of this training grid – a very aggressive schedule I set for myself – has been a struggle to say the least.

There are a few reasons I set a high bar:
  1. To ensure that if I slipped a little bit, I wouldn’t fall right off the edge.
  2. To build more miles for greater strength and stamina in June.
  3. To try to set myself up for a shot to beat 3:20:59, the maximum time to qualify for Boston as a 40-year old (which i would be for the 2011 Boston Marathon)

I may be a victim of my own success. If I had finished PF Chang’s Arizona in 3:45:00, I wouldn’t have even thought about Boston. However, 3:28:16 – while far from the 3:15:59 I would need to qualify until I am 40 – is not too far away from 3:20:59 I need once I am 40. That is the equivalent of running 17 seconds per mile faster than I did in my first ever marathon, and any marathon I run in 2010 can be used to qualify for Boston in 2011. Given the sea level San Diego course in June, with only one significant climb, it may be my best chance. If I get into New York in November, which I’ll find out in a couple of days, I doubt I can run that fast there. If I don’t get into New York, I might have a shot to qualify if I ran the Rock ‘N’ Roll San Antonio in mid-November.

All of this is well and good, but it dawned on me this morning that I may be trying to do too much too fast. I looked back at the training program that led me to finishing Arizona about 15 minutes faster than I though was achievable, and realized that at this point in my grid I hadn’t even run 12 miles yet for my longest run! The mileage ramp up that led me to 3:28:16 took place in weeks 11-13. Combined with the frustration of missing runs (or just being out of gas) because of work demands, it feels like I am slacking when I am actually doing as much now as I was in that training plan.

Today, I am sitting down with the old grid and the current one, and I’ll design my own plan for weeks 9-16 that will balance my time on-hand with realistic expectations and increases in mileage that aren’t so aggressive that I risk injury. Just getting to that point made me feel a lot better about things. I was also 7 pounds heavier in week 8 last year than I am right now. My training diet could be better, but I am definitely starting from better place.

Do I really think I might want to try for Boston???


I am finally on track to get in all my workouts this week, although Thursday may prove to be a challenge. Yesterday was speedwork, which is something new for me in this training cycle. It seems to be over pretty fast…just 30 minutes last night, but everyone keeps telling me that I’ll be able to tell the difference, particularly in the last few miles of San Diego. It also doesn’t hurt that the weather is perfect. Sunny and 50’s today as I try to get out for an easy 5.

New Challenges

I guess I like the structure that training for a marathon gives me. Without it, I don’t think I could motivate myself to get my runs is, and MAN am I motivated. I know I would have been dead meat in Phoenix if I hadn’t trained, and yet I know there is more I can do. Right now, I know I’ll be in San Diego on June 6 for the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, and I am entered into the lottery for the New York Marathon in November.

I am now starting the second week of my 16-week training grid for San Diego. It is a much more aggressive plan than the beginner plan I used for Phoenix, and I am hoping to improve my time. The first week didn’t go that well. Work and the weather were tough to manage, but it is a base to start from and I’ll be able to improve upon it. I can’t wait until daylight savings time starts in a couple of weeks, which will give me more time in the evening. It will also be helpful when it warms up past 13 degrees.

Today is speedwork, and I hope to get it in when I get home from work.

Rock ‘N’ Roll

Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon – 6/27/2009
In June 2009, I traveled to Seattle for the main purpose of moving my then-fiance’ and my now-stepdaughter to Colorado. First things first, though. I had my first half marathon to run.
The day started VERY early in the morning, and Gabriella was sweet enough to drive me down to Tukwila to the start. I was not nervous, which surprised me. I had run the distances at altitude so I knew I could finish the 13.1 miles ahead of me. I had no idea if the 8:00/mile pace I was planning was going to be too fast or not, though, and I resolved to just run smart and slow down if it wasn’t going well.

As the race got underway, I settled into a pace just around my target. The first couple miles went by fairly fast, as I took in the surroundings and the initial climb to Lake Washington. I felt fantastic and picked up my pace. Within a couple miles, I was running along the west side of Lake Washington on a perfect day and with many more people than I expected cheering on all the runners. My pace quickened a bit more.

Once past Lake Washington, the course turned west along the express lanes of I-90. This was a fairly uninspiring stretch of the race, although I did get a kick out of the band playing at the opposite end of a long underground portion of the express lanes. The music echoed loudly through the tunnel and took my mind off the surroundings for several minutes.
As the express lanes emptied into downtown Seattle, I felt my legs beginning to tire. However, with only about two miles to go, I knew I was in great shape and running much faster than I had hoped for. And the crowds in downtown were amazing. They cheered loudly for all who passed, and I found that energy necessary to push me up the slight uphill grade before I turned once, then once again to head down the final stretch toward Qwest Field. As I turned into the last .2 miles, I picked up my pace and caught a glimpse of Gabriella out of the corner of my eye amongst the crowd.

Finish time – 1:40:01 (7:37/mile pace)

PF Chang’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Arizona Marathon – 1/17/2010
I had always said I would never do a marathon…until I finished the half-marathon. From that point, it was all I could think about. The training I had done for the half-marathon was acceptable, but I knew I could do more and I knew that meant I could run faster and/or farther.

With all of the traveling over the summer moving Gabriella and Christy to Colorado, followed by my class reunion, and a trip to California for Christy’s birthday my running was sporadic but adequate. Early in the summer, I found a beginner’s marathon training plan and set my mind to stick to it. It was a 16-week program, which meant my start date was September 28, 2009, and it culminated at the marathon January 17, 2010.

With the exception of days with bad weather and one week when I was sick, I stuck to the program. That included some pretty interesting long runs on weekends that were snowing or a lot of snow was already on the ground, but I got them all in and felt good going into the taper time leading up to the marathon.

26.2 miles. That’s a long way to run. I’ll never forget the course…both what I knew about it from the video of the whole route and what I experienced when I was out there.


I remember getting started in downtown Phoenix and being distracted for the first mile getting through the crowd to the extent that I didn’t feel like I would get tripped up. I was familiar with the downtown from the second Phoenix 10k I ran with Dad, and I recall thinking how far I had come since that time. On the turn north out of downtown, I settled into a comfortable pace and noticed the crowds on the streets. I knew that I needed to try to stay on an 8:00/mile pace to hit my target time of 3:30:00. The crowd thinned out fairly soon and it seemed like little time at all passed before I reached the 10k mark. By this time I had turned east and had Camelback Mountain in my sights. I knew I’d be running toward it for a while, and by the time I finally turned away from it I would be heading south toward Tempe and the finish line.

Around the 10k mark, though, I was aware that my stomach was not settled and there was building pressure. Not good. Through the next few miles, I contemplated whether I was going to be able to make it to the finish line without making a pit stop – and that if I did stop, how much time I would lose if I did. At mile 12, I couldn’t take it anymore and veered into a portable toilet. In 40 seconds or less, I did my business and was back on the course and ran the next mile in about 7:40 to make up the lost time.

That didn’t solve all my problems, but it solved them enough to allow me to keep going. After I made up the lost time, I locked in on my pace again and noticed that each time I passed a gun clock that I was ahead of my goal pace. I tried not to look at my Garmin too much because the miles don’t go by as fast that way. So I focused on my surroundings and running all the tangents I could. After passing through Scottsdale, I was nearly to 20 miles and still feeling okay. I went on through the 20-mile wall and pushed on.

Within a mile, it hit me. I was tired and my legs were hurting. “Less than a 10k,” I told myself. “So close. Don’t give it up now.” And I pressed on. About a million years later, I crossed under I-10 and painfully climbed a bridge over the Salt River…and there it was. I was only about two miles away, but I could see Sun Devil Stadium and the finish. My pace had dropped a little in the two previous miles but picked back up again. About a mile from the finish, I distinctly recall someone yelling, “Lengthen those strides, pump your arms, and push it all the way in!” “Screw you,” I thought. “Real easy to say from the sidewalk.”

I made the last couple turns and there was the finish. I pushed across the line and made it…and then the waves of pain and emotion washed over me.

Finish time – 3:28:16 (7:52/mile pace)

Next Steps

After the first race in Phoenix, I was hooked. Since I knew I could run a 10k and live to tell about it, I set my sights locally – the Bolder Boulder.

I didn’t run much after Phoenix…I let the weather talk me out of it. As silly as it seems, I got a charge out of signing up online for the Bolder Boulder. It was a big deal, and I did it about four months before the race – always on Memorial Day – to ensure that I would not talk myself out of it. By the time March rolled around and daylight savings time kicked in, I restarted my running regimen. By the end of the month, I had a Garmin (thanks to my sweetheart, Gabriella!) and the geek factor of being able to track progress and distances online began.

I established a self-imposed program of about three runs per week for around 15 miles per week. As April gave way to May, I kept up the program but didn’t ever run over 7 or 8 miles for my longest runs. On Memorial Day, I ran my first Bolder Bolder – the second race of my life – in 46:07 (7:25/mile pace).

I spent much of the summer traveling and let my running drop off. My weight crept up as a result, and I found myself over 200 pounds again. Only as summer gave way to fall did my dad come to the rescue again with an invitation to the Phoenix 10k in November 2009. I started running again – but not with the same frequency I had before the Bolder Boulder – and I paid for it during the race. I fought my way through to a 49:12 time (a 7:44 pace) with my heart and lungs about to blow out of my chest. It was very clear that I was going to (again) eat less and run more if I was going to be able to survive races on a regular basis…and I knew I needed to keep running for my overall health.

Although this was reconfirmed at the Colder Bolder 5k in December 2008, I did not run much at all as the 2009 legislative session wound up and got very busy. By this time, I was 215 pounds – 25 pounds more than the lowest I had achieved, and I was mad at myself. As Gabriella (who was still in Seattle) and I made our plans for our future, I made a commitment to enter my first half-marathon and dedicate myself to a training program to achieve it.

After struggling through the Runnin’ of the Green 7k around St. Patick’s Day, I knew I had a lot of work to do. By the time the Cherry Creek Sneak 5-mile race at the end of April, I was back up to about 20 miles a week on average and ran that race well. I ran the 2009 Bolder Boulder feeling very strong and finished in 45:44 (7:21 pace).

By the week before the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half-Marathon, I had shaved ten pounds and was ready to rock and roll!

The Beginning

When I found myself officially by myself in 2006, I knew that I needed to change my life. I had for so long let things happen to me while waiting for life to improve. I gave everything of myself never did anything for myself. And I made excuses for why I didn’t do anything, and as a result got more and more unhealthy. I was living in the house my first wife and I had at the time in Broomfield, Colorado. It was next to thousands of acres of Boulder County open space into which I rarely ventured in the seven years we lived in the house.

At six feet tall, I had no business carrying around 232 pounds. Something had to change. I remember the first day I laced up the best shoes I had at the time and took off out the door to run. Within thirty seconds, I was wheezing – my heart pounding. Withing two minutes, I had slowed to walk, my lungs on fire. That’s how it went on and off for about twenty minutes, during which I maybe went a mile and a half. The next day I was in pain. My knees and hips hurt, and I still felt the burn in my chest. I continued this a couple times a week, and tried a visit to the 24 Hour Fitness of which I had been a member since 2000 but rarely ever visited.

The process of the divorce began in March of 2006, and by then the stress of the situation and my occasional gut-wrenching exercise sessions had begun to shave weight off my body. I was losing some weight but not really in the right way, as my diet was still poor (when I ate), and the bulk of the weight loss was from the stress and not the exercise. Still, it was progress I could see and that was encouraging. As fall gave way to winter, I ran less and the weight loss stopped.

My transition to being a runner was really as a result of a series of events that occurred in 2007. I met someone that reintroduced my to eating well and exercising. Her name was Amy, and although the relationship ultimately did not work out, she made an imprint on my life that changed me forever. With her, I played organized soccer, climbed mountains, hiked, almost learned to surf, and ran. When we broke up, I kept on with the running and the weight started to come off again. It was a difficult time, but I found that running gave me a purpose and an outlet for all of the frustration and occasional anger.

My dad – a recreational runner since as long as I could remember – encouraged me, and in late summer of 2007 suggested I come to Phoenix in the fall for the Phoenix New Times 10-k on Veterans Day. Before I could talk myself out of it, I said yes.

And now I had my first goal.

I did not keep a runners log. I only guesstimated how far I was running when I went out two to three times a week. I timed my runs so at least I had some idea how long I could go, but I noticed that I was able to cover the regular routes I ran in less time.

In November, I traveled to Phoenix and got ready to run my first race since a non-scored relay for shotputters and discus throwers at a home high school track meet. I had no idea what to expect. Dad and I made the trip to Tempe, where the race was being held. He was signed up for the 5k and I for the 10k. After the first mile, I picked up my pace and began to run hard…too hard, but I wasn’t smart enough to know any better…and I was running angry. As I came to the last corner before Mill Street, I saw my dad and heard him hollering. I lengthed my strides and started pumping my arms and sprinted to the finish for a time of 45:31 – a 10k time I have yet to beat.

I was hooked…