Archive for Marathon

The Chicago Project – 7 weeks from 100 to 26.2

Let me begin by saying my weekend in Chicago with my best running friends (minus Frankie and Gary) was one of the most fun weekends I have ever had. That is what running should and will always be about for me. Spending time away from home with people I genuinely love and care about, supporting them with new PR’s and commiserating with them when missing them (a few celebratory drinks on Sunday was pretty fun too).

‘There’s an app for that.’ No seriously, the Chicago Marathon really did have an app.

For the first Chicago in years, the weather forecast was looking perfect. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a 15-day weather forecast but there most certainly is. “It’s worth a Google!” As the days, hours and minutes counted down (I downloaded the marathon app and watched it intensely!), the 10-day forecast, weekly and weekend never changed the prediction. The Windy City would be a low of 37 and a high of 53 with 11mph winds. Near perfect marathon weather.

My 2nd favorite city in the USA!

I went into this marathon just seven weeks after the exploits of Leadville 100, hence the title ‘The Chicago Project.’ How was I going to know how to train for a marathon after that? Who could tell me if I was right or wrong with my training?

People may ask why attempt a marathon so soon after 100 miles? Well, my reason for being in Chicago was purely for social reasons initially but then I decided to take the race more seriously. I thought why not try to use my new-found endurance level from Colorado and bring it across to a short, sweet and very unique 7-week marathon training program! Some call me crazy and I say thank you!

Week 1: I took the first week completely off. Well, almost. After five days of relaxing, I decided to get back at it on Saturday with an easy 10 miler. Relaxing felt completely alien to me. Do people really sit on the sofa all night? This is why the Type 2 Diabetes epidemic is so big (no pun intended), people are not exercising enough!

Week 2-4: I got back into five to six-day training cycles totaling 50-70 miles a week. Every week incorporated two-speed workouts from my go to ‘Jack Daniel’s Running Formula’. The one custom change I made, was to reduce the demanded fast pace to one gear less. For example, if the workout called for 20-minutes at 15K pace, I would do that at half-marathon pace. And if it called for half-marathon pace, I would do it a marathon pace and so on. This plan seemed to work pretty good. it helped me to avoid injury, improve confidence of my speed and to eventually having to stop staring at Rui and Francis’s bums as they were way faster than me at this point.

Week 5: or 3 weeks out, our main workout called for 22 miles at easy pace. For me this was 7:20 pace. As most of you know, the 22 became 26.2 at the Yonkers Marathon and the pace became 7:10’s to help my friend Gary BQ for 2013. Due to this extra endeavor, I again backed off the mileage before and after this run to compensate.

Week 6: The key workout was now upon us; a 15-mile speed workout. I managed to run this at 6:18 average pace but it literally killed me. If anyone saw a runner flat-out on the road in Central Park mid-September, that was probably me. When I analyzed my Garmin data, I knew I was right around 2:47 marathon shape. How could I be so sure? By comparing my present fitness to my marathon PR fitness. I compared the workout data to my first 15 miles of my Marine Corps Marathon PR of 2:45 from 2011. I ran the same pace but my heart rate data told me I wasn’t ‘as fit’. A body blow to my Chicago dream. I told myself  though that Chicago is a flat course and the race day adrenaline will push me through. Plus, Central Park is all hills and the workout was done on a lack of sleep. I decided to ignore the science and go with plan A anyway, PR the race. I was optimistic, it’s the only way for a diabetic to be!

Base Camp – across from the Start and Finish area at Grant Park

At 3:30am I woke up as did my roomie Rui. The alarm wasn’t set that early, we were staying at the Congress Hotel, right across the street from the start! Pure adrenaline woke us up and as much as we both tried to sleep, by 5am we were both up doing our pre-race routines. At 5:30, (2 hours before the race) it was time to eat breakfast. Blood glucose test; 333. Terrible! I had miscalculated my lasagna meal from dinner very badly. I wanted to be around 200. I ate a bagel, croissant and banana and pumped in an extra unit of insulin to try to drop the number down. I had to be careful though and not over adjust. Better to be high than low on race day but 333 was a joke.

We walked from the hotel into Grant Park shortly before 7am amongst the masses of 38,000 runners plus family, friends, police and marathon staff. It was crisp but not too cold. Our $2 CVS Pharmacy wooly hat and gloves and baggy hoodies were a bargain and worn with pride! We picked up these on Saturday as we all failed to bring throw away clothes. Marathon amateurs, the lot of us! One final blood test before dropping off my bag; 286. Still high. I dared not pump any more insulin in at this point. I trusted my original correction when I was 333 would eventually do the trick. I carried 4 Honey Stinger gels, two in my shorts, one in each arm sleeve – that’s what they are made for right? Game time.

The start of the 35th Chicago Marathon. 38,000 runners are off!

I wished my friends well as we separated to different parts of the corral A and B. Rui and myself headed front left as the first turn is….yes left. We are smart runners! The gun fired exactly at 7:30am and we were off. Part of this different feel real. I looked at my race chip and my bib and quickly made myself get in the zone. Now was the time to perform. Put the speed workouts from the last few weeks and my endurance into this final exam.

The first 5K of the course in the heart of the Windy City (with inaccurate GPS!)

Mile 1 from two years ago was way too fast. I got caught up in the excitement. Not so, this year, 6:23. Mile 2; 6:26. OK, this was OK I told myself, loads of miles to swing that around. Don’t panic. I hit the 5K at 19:48. Now panic! 54 seconds behind schedule. I was paying too much attention to my Garmin rather than the natural feel of 6:18 pace. The huge Chicago buildings were throwing the GPS way off and now, so was I. A mistake. I’ve run this course before, I should have known better than to trust my watch over my body. It was time to knuckle down.

Mile 3 – that Brooks guy in yellow looks stressed!

Now heading north for 4.5 miles I got into some sort of groove. It was all effort though, not smooth like Marine Corps felt. I asked myself ‘this shouldn’t be hurting so much, especially so early on.’ My heart rate was already at 166. Oh boy. Going to be a tough day out here, I just knew. Could it have gotten worse before it got better? Yes. A guy in a cow costume was ahead of me! I thought these nightmares of people in costumes were long gone since I got taken down by a tutu in the London Marathon 2004! After an embarrassingly long time, I finally passed the cow at 10K. I prayed to never see him again. But respect to the cow, he was moving!

We turned south back through Old Town just prior to mile 8. I was still behind my goal pace but I had cut the deficit, even with the wind in my face the whole time going north. But here we were, now running back to the city and the wind was still against us. A runner next to me said “This is not right. How can this be?” (in much stronger language). I agreed and then realized there was nothing we could do about it. We were already stretched out, in the top 500 or so, and the wind coverage was slim to none. You could hide behind the person in front but then you were running their pace, not yours. The only thing to do that could make this work seem like fun a this point? High five Elvis at mile 10. I remember him from 2010 and made it my duty to take a detour and give him a high-five. “Thank you very much” he said. Everyone loved it, no more than me.

Back over the bridge at Mile 12

Back in the heart of the city, the crowds were big and loud. I spotted the black RUN NYC singlet of Matt Woods. I was surprised to see him. He hadn’t trained particularly well for this race and told me he was just hoping to break 3-hours at best. When I got to him at mile 13, we exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t dare tell him we were on pace for 2:44! This may have been the only time in the race I felt OK. I was on pace for 2:44, maybe a 2:43 high if I could just execute 13 more miles at my current pace. I was now in a 6:10 zone which felt pretty good. The key now was focus through the middle miles.

At the charity cheer zone around mile 15, the focus went out of the window. I saw the Leukemia team and JDRF, two charities very close to my heart and decided to flap my arms in the air to get them cheering. They responded with huge noise. It was great fun and loosened me up a little.

With 9 miles to go, I was slowly falling apart. I took my second gel with caffeine, hoping it would get my energized. My Garmin’s data was so out of whack I wasn’t even following it. I was using 5K check points and doing the math in my head to see if I was ahead or behind PR time. My two-minute cushion at halfway was now almost down to one minute and my legs were screaming for mercy. My brain drifted into the past and reminded me I had only just run 100 miles and Yonkers Marathon. I had to work hard mentally to switch it off, leave the excuses for somebody else.

I decided I had to break those last 9 miles of intense pain into 3 mile chunks. My brain couldn’t cope with thinking about 9 more miles. As we headed south and I was looking forward to a loud and fun section of the course, China Town. Then we turned hard right and started heading west again. I had forgotten there were two sections that took us on these long west loops, not one. It made sense. We still had 9 miles to go, China Town was near the end. I kept plugging away, taking a Gatorade at every other aid station to keep my blood glucose levels topped up. I definitely questioned why I choose to be in such pain during these miles.

China Town – a great part of the course with GANGNAM STYLE!

Heading east once more in front of the magnificent Chicago skyline, China town was this time, definitely close. I heard Gangnam Style by PSY for one! I was now 5 miles from home. At this point, all pacing and heart rate numbers were out of the window. I knew the PR was still there but it would be really close now. I had tired on the second half like a true rookie. I turned the ninety degree left to head north on Michigan Avenue; the hardest finish to any marathon I know. Over two miles straight which feels like forever and ever.

The wind hit me once again and it was now at its strongest as I was at my weakest. I was gutting it out but my body was a mess.  All I had to do was slow down or stop and it would go away. The Ethiopian’s and Kenyan’s had won 40 minutes ago, why carry on? Why bother? Only runners can understand why we never quit, never take the easy road. My legs were absolutely trashed. My mile pace went up to 6:45’s here and my heart rate had sky rocketed to the mid-170’s. I was at my maximum output but running my slowest miles, it wasn’t pretty.

I turned right up the only significant hill of the course, absolutely exhausted. One final turn left at mile 26 and the finish shoot was in sight. I glanced at my watch knowing the PR was now touch and go. 2:45:58…..2:45:59…2:46:00…and it had gone just like that. I was crushed, almost heart-broken but not quite. I crossed the line 25 seconds slower than my 2011 PR, less than one second per mile slower.

2:46:23

Too most people, a 2:46 marathon is a fantastic time. I understand that, I truly and respectfully do. Saying that, I couldn’t hide my personal disappointment. My good friend Kevin Starkes witnessed my finish (he ran 2:43 only a week after his Hampton’s win in 2:39!). I tried to explain to him, I could have done it. He slammed me down for being hard on myself and simply said “You looked pretty dead crossing that line.” I needed to hear that, it was true. I put 100% in and came up just short. That’s all you can ask for. No regrets, no excuses.

Boston 2013, watch out, I’m coming for you with 16 weeks of training, not 7!

I quickly got over my near miss PR. My post-race glucose was 123 for starters! And then their was the free beer shared with all my friends in the Grant Park festival afterwards. Our day and night of celebration made Marathon Sunday another truly special day in my life. Thank you all for being part of it.

So many of my wonderful friends ran exceptional races out there on October 7th. Crushing PR’s and making exciting debuts. With over twenty of my NYC friends who ran it, I’ll keep this short and say the highlights of the day were Luke McCambley’s 2:37 debut marathon (I take full credit for making him sign up!) and Steven Beck’s 3:16 (18 minute PR)/staying out till 2am to PAR-TAY! Until Boston, peace.

Kevin 2:43, Luke 2:37 -DEBUT!!, Me and Rui 2:52 PR

In The (Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center) News…

The Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center have just released the September e-newsletter and look who’s the main feature; your rundiabetes CEO Stephen England! Credit goes out to Troy Finn, Assistant Vice President for Development at NBDC and Michele Hoos, Communications Manager for Columbia University Medical Center who interviewed me and put this all together.

The article, click here; http://www.nbdiabetes.org/?p=3345 highlights different parts of my life with diabetes; early diagnosis struggles with the combination of athletics and diabetes, searching for the right endocrinologist in New York, my recent 100 mile challenge at Leadville and my future race goals. I hope you like it.

I will be seeing my Naomi Berrie team next week for my quarterly appointment before I head out to the mid-west for my next race; the Chicago Marathon on October 7th where I hope to PR!

Pacing at Yonkers Marathon

Last Tuesday, I had heard rumors amongst the group of going to Yonkers Marathon to do our 22 mile easy run (training for the Chicago Marathon on October 7th). I dismissed this as a crazy idea. Why  would we want to train on one of the toughest marathon courses and tack on an extra 4.2 miles? I slept on it and by Wednesday I had signed up, completely sold on the idea!

Yonkers Marathon is old

I now had three full days to prepare for my 8th marathon. I quickly learned how much history the race had. For starters, it is the second oldest marathon in the world (after Boston). It used to be held at noon in May, one month after Boston and America’s best distance runners like Ted Corbitt had to run both of these marathons to qualify for the Olympics. The original course; a big loop incorporating seven towns has long gone. It is now one smaller loop, which is run twice to get to the magical distance of 26.2. It has also since moved to mid-September and at a more reasonable time of 8am. The course remains tough, just not Ted Corbitt tough.

Hasting-on-Hudson hills; mile 4.5-6 and 17.5-19

The modern two-loop course; still hilly

Yonkers is one of the last qualifying races to gain entry into the following year’s Boston Marathon. I entered Boston last week and immediately shared the news with my good friend,  Gary Berard. We trained together for Boston in 2011; four months of solid work that resulted in a PR for both us. I hit 2:56, Gary an amazing 2:45.

He was keen to sign up. The only problem was his last competitive marathon was that race. It fell outside of the qualifying window. He has not been training for a while now due to his coaching business, GB Running. Somehow, I sold him on running Yonkers in three days time, saying I would run alongside him. I did however forget to mention it was a hilly course. He would need a 3:10 to get into Boston. We calculated the pace at 7:11’s/per mile. My easy 22 miler had quickly become a little longer and faster! It didn’t matter, he wanted a BQ and I wanted him to train with so it was on.

On Saturday Gary still hadn’t actually signed up and l kept receiving texts that his neck was hurting him. This wasn’t going to plan. So I texted him back “See you at Grand Central at 6am.”

Sunday 6am. Gary was there. He had time to recalculate the pace. It was actually 7:14 per mile. “Every second counts!” he said. A group of about eight of us boarded the train and ate breakfast during the thirty minute commute. My glucose was 200 so I was right on my pre-race goal.

We arrived at Yonkers just before 7am. I adjusted my insulin pump’s basal rate to -60% for the next four hours (standard practice before any of my runs), we got changed and then checked in our bags. One final check of my glucose. I was 147 so I grabbed a bag of Powerbar Energy Blasts (45grams of carbs) and ate them straight away to try and get back up to 200. I was carrying six Honey Stinger gels for the race, all containing 29grams of pure sugar. Five tucked in my shorts and one in my compression sock for no over reason other than I had run out of space! A complete overkill but I did not want to rely on the Gatorade stations to actually have Gatorade, as stupid as that sounds. This may be the second oldest marathon but it definitely wasn’t the second biggest, no offense to NYCRUNS, the new group in charge of the Yonkers marathon.

8am(ish) Start of the 87th Yonkers Marathon and new Half-Marathon

The gun fired and we begun the task at hand. About hundred or so of the 1,000 runners were ahead within a mile of a gradual climb. It was irrelevant however, who was ahead.   Our pace for mile one was 7:12. We were already settled into a good pace. In fact, the majority of runners ahead were half-marathoners (700) and we actually felt sorry for any  marathoners trying to race this thing for real as you literally had no idea which place you were in unless you were winning (the leader got an escort police bike).

The first mile was a gradual climb

By mile three, me and Gary got a thud in our backs. Pesky half-marathon kid trying to squeeze through the middle of us. In fact, it wasn’t, it was Rui. He was adamant on running his own pace of 7:25 so we didn’t expect to see him. He liked our pace so made the group into a three. The more the merrier.

We cruised north on rolling terrain into Hastings-on-Hudson. This was where the big hill started. We turned right and as expected begun to climb. I knew from the elevation chart that the climb was about a mile and a half long. Our pace here was off but it really didn’t matter. What goes up must come down meaning we would get the time back. It was also early days in the race.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a 10K checkpoint followed by a long straightaway with lots of young volunteers manning the upcoming water station. They were going wild and really enjoying helping out. If you took their cup of water or Gatorade they would be ecstatic! Maybe the excitement got to us too. I checked the Garmin and saw 6:40 lap pace. I pulled the reins in on that real quick. Gary said thank you (for noticing) but I should have said sorry for not noticing.

The pace remained steady after that small burst as we ran south back towards Yonkers. I felt good with my glucose. I had taken a handful of small cups of Gatorade up to this point and decided at mile ten to take a Honey Stinger gel. By mile 11 and 12, we had lots of high school and military half-marathoners blazing past us. We had to remain focused and not get sucked into a different pace. One asked us if we were doing the half marathon. I’m pretty sure he was disappointed we weren’t as he thought he had just jumped three places!

On pace: 7:10 average with Gary and Rui at the halfway point.

We ran downhill into the town centre and did a u-turn to go on loop number two. We clocked 13.1 on the timing mat at 01:34:40, goal pace was 01:35:00. We were in good shape. We also now knew exactly what to expect for the rest of the course. We were basically Yonkers runners from now on!

The one aspect of the course we couldn’t control however was the heat. It was nearing 10am and it was getting hot. A high of 73 was the forecast but this felt hotter already. I made a conscious effort to say “do not underestimate the heat and drink at every aid station from now on”. I was now grabbing two or three drinks at each aid station. I would give at least one of these to Gary. We didn’t want dehydration to be the reason he didn’t BQ.

The road ahead was now clear. All of the half-marathoners were out of sight and it felt like a training run. We had done this countless times together. Just a small group running side by side at X pace over X miles. In our current situation, we had 12 miles to go at 7:14 pace. I felt fine and I know Rui did too. As we should, we have both been training hard for Chicago but Gary was the concern. This was important to him. His training had been limited to training his clients at their pace for months. He looked OK but I didn’t dare ask him. I mean, what would I have done if he said no!

We saw a police bike in the distance and soon realized it was escorting the leader. I was confused though as I saw Mike Arnstein at the start line and he is a 2:28 marathoner. How on earth were we gaining on the leader at mile 16? Well, if we were all women, we were! It was the lead woman and she was well clear of her competitors. We passed her up the Hastings-on-Hudson climb and wished her well.

Rui went for a pit stop before the steep descent at mile 19 so we went to a two. I popped my second gel here knowing the downhill motion would help me digest it easily. As we had done on the last loop, we let our bodies fly down this hill at a much faster pace than necessary with the theory that braking to stay ‘on pace’ actually wasted more energy. We were also taking the most direct route through S-bends, and tight turns using all the marathon tricks in the book to not do more work than was necessary.

We were heading south again passed an industrial area with no trees, leaving little asphalt unshaded. Their was nothing we could do but stay on pace and blank that out. We were finding we had a headwind so I took the lead and let Gary run a few yards back. Tour de France moves on two feet! We passed a handful of marathoners who were now in trouble but for the most part, it was just us and the road clocking off miles.

By mile 22 I had expected to see Rui come back to us. I had to assume he had shut it done and would ease in for the last 4.2 miles conserving his effort for Chicago as was always the plan. I never let my head think I was going to stop at 22 and wish Gary the best. I had convinced him this was a good idea and our pace was good but too close for any mistakes to happen.

Gary had earlier in the race said with three miles to go, he wanted to blaze home. I said sure, why not? But we realized two things at mile 23; 1) He didn’t need too. Our pace was steady and on for a 3:08. 2) Gary’s lack of training, should I say zero training for this was now taking its toll on him.

For the first time, he asked “Where’s the turn?” referring to a right turn at the most southern part of the course. I heard this as “I’m tired now”. I checked lap pace on the watch; 7:10….7:14….7:20. For the first time I changed my tone and demanded he stayed on my shoulder. He dug deep, really deep to not have a space between us. That mile ended up being 7:20 but I knew we could afford to give back a few seconds so I didn’t sweat it (too much).

The turn came as did some partial shade. Before we knew it, their was a cop car at the end of the road which meant the next turn back north. This turn would be the most positive one yet,  a long straight downhill where we again let the weight of our bodies do the work for us. I called out 1.5 to go. Then 1 to go. Gary said “Is that 1 mile or 1.2?” He had called me out!! I confessed I wasn’t really worried about the 0.2 part. Funny how he was though! We switched to shouting out actual mileage to go using my GPS as the guide.

I called out half a mile. Some small crowds started to emerge in the town, it was a rare but welcome site. You may be surprised to hear that no one really watches the second oldest marathon in the world! They don’t even close down the traffic for it!

After three obsessed hours staring at my lap pace on the watch, I had completely neglected the actual clock time! I did some quick math and told Gary he had to run a half mile in 5 minutes. It was in the bag. Then we got to a large coned section. My watch already said 26.2 miles was up so to see the 26 mile marker ahead was slightly alarming.

I literally sprinted ahead of Gary and left a big gap between us. What was I doing? How was this helping Gary get his BQ!! I let him come back to me but tried to maintain the pace around the last few turns. “You’ve got 100 seconds left”….”You’ve got 80 seconds left” and then “This is the last turn”.

BQ for Gary. I’m about to punch the air behind

And thank God it was. We turned left on the boardwalk and straight away, there was the finish line. I relaxed, let Gary bomb past and he finished in 3:09:00. I tucked in right behind. He did it. We did it. Great teamwork.

Rui came in right behind us at 3:10. He had been trying to catch up since we left him on the top hill. He was instrumental to Gary achieving his BQ to, running alongside for 17 miles or so.

We all enjoyed the moment. A great achievement on that course with zero training. A good day’s work, I was proud of Gary. We walked to a shaded area of the course to cheer home the rest of our teammates. After a few minutes had passed, Gary asked me “How are your levels?” I was so caught up in the race, I had forgotten to do a post-run blood test asap. Gary was already repaying me for my effort by thinking like a diabetic! I went to bag check, pulled out my blood tester and pricked my finger to draw the small sample of blood. Five second countdown on the meter and 179. More good news! All of this before midday on a Sunday. Now time for a well-earned lunch with my great running friends.

Yonkers glory! Rui, Gary and myself

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