I have to start each of these the same way for the few people receiving this for the first time. Also, for the first time, I am going to post this on a blog. A few months ago a joined a local running blog (FastRunningBlog.com). I have been minimally involved with it, but as you will see some great benefits came from the people that I had virtually met there.
For those of you who have been receiving this the last seven years this is a special year because not only did I make my annual marathon, I also bettered my time over the 26.2 mile distance. I will start then by giving a quick background. A little over a decade ago I became a distance runner and about seven years ago I ran my first marathon. At that time, I wrote a brief summary of that experience for the sake of preserving the memory. I ended up sharing that story with some family and friends and they passed it along. I got such a good response that I’ve now made this an annual tradition. As the years have progressed, the stories have become gradually longer and have taken on the style of an annual autobiography. This year I have gone one step further and am using this as a vehicle to tour my last year of training and to try and direct me over the next year. Unlike in the past, I’m actually seated in front of the computer and typing less than one week after the race. But like years in the past, the time has now stretched to three weeks and I have still not completed the chapter. I finally had some time three weeks after the race to finish this up so here it goes.
Moving on from ‘06
Last year was one of the busiest and most difficult of my life. I had more changes in the last 18 months than the first 29 years combined. As you almost all know, last year Sandra and I had our first child, I finished my Ph.D., we moved to Salt Lake City, UT, and I started my post-doctoral research at The University of Utah. Many of these were personal and only indirectly related to my running but as many of you reading this are family, I will include both where appropriate. Fortunately, most of you are kept updated by The KSW Times so the majority of this will be focused on the running side of my life over the last year.
September 10th, 2006 was one of the worst days in my running career. After one of the biggest swings in my training, a summer of PRs, amazing workouts, and high mileage, I was sidelined two weeks prior to The Top of Utah (TOU) Marathon. Fortunately, after providing a note from the doctor, the race directors were generous enough to defer my registration for one year. Then, as many of you know, I nursed myself back to health to finish the New Las Vegas Marathon as my ’06 “race”.
The problem with doing this was that my body had never fully healed from the overuse and abuse in Aug. and Sept. Maybe I didn’t learn anything or maybe I finally gave myself a true test of my abilities and will power. In any case, for the next five months I struggled with pain in my knee and butt. Then, in June, I finally tested my body and started doing some training again and in July I raced for the first time in over seven months. I ran the same race that I did the first month we moved to Utah (The Deseret 10K) and to my surprise I actually ran 9 seconds FASTER than the previous year (34:31; Avg. 5:34/mile). This was a great mental boost. At around this same time I turned to some quotes for motivation to help push myself through the mental weakness I had developed due to the long recovery from my injuries.
“I like to describe running to people as an abusive relationship. Running can build you up; convince you that you are star, make you think you are in control. Then in a blink of the eye it beats you down, shatters your confidence, and erases your dreams. You swear that you are done with it, yet you always come back. It may not be the next day, or even the next week, but you always come back. -Katie Sutton after winning the St. Louis St. Patrick Day Parade 8K 2007
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” -Abraham Lincoln
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." -T. S. Elliot
This great race performance started me on the way to mental recovery and also let me know that I was most of the way physically recovered. Despite this, I still had some lingering pain and a fear in the back of my mind that kept me from pushing to where I might otherwise progress to. The mental doubt continued to be the hardest thing for me to deal with. I have had plenty of injuries in the past. However, in all previous cases, I just took a couple of weeks off and was back to normal. This time around whenever I thought I was back, the pain would flare up again and I would be limping while walking. The good news was that I only required about a week of recovery from the 10K race in July. I next started adding in some light track workouts. I also started boosting my mileage, and made a deal with myself not to go over 70 miles in a week until after the marathon in September.
A Busy Year
Not to repeat myself, but each year is a little fuller than the last. As you probably all know, I thrive on stress and the more I have going on, the better I seem to function. I had already found a balance at home, and our young family was bonding and growing together very nicely. After the marathon last year I was mostly focused on lab and trying to write my first grant to fund my research. I got that submitted; a few months later found out I didn’t receive funding. A couple months after that, I started writing a second grant, then two weeks before the second research proposal was due, I found out that I did actually receive the last funding spot of the first application. So on the work front, things were progressing. For the first time in my nine years of doing some level of research, I was a recipient of external funding. This time my salary was going to come from the American Heart Association (AHA). Also, during this time I had (and still have) many collaborations for research projects here at The U. Over the last few weeks, I have had two publications in which I am a contributing author (in Endocrinology and Cell Metabolism). Along the way I have still tried to get out my last thesis manuscript (I actually got great reviews recently, and resubmitted it on Friday), and I have started a few projects of my own in this new lab. Many of my coworkers ask me how I find time to run with a family and research. I believe that as someone who studies cardiology, diabetes, and metabolism, I should practice what I preach. So for the majority of the last year, I was getting up before 5am to get my run in. This allowed time for family, my run, and a good 10-11 hr of work per day. This schedule didn’t leave much room for error but allowed me to cover all aspects of my life. The biggest drawback of this busy schedule was and continues to be having to do most of my training on my own. Meeting with someone else to run, easily adds on 30 min. to an hour. This takes away from family time. For now this means doing over 95% of my runs solo.
For those of you who know me from my blog, you will recognize the title of this section. However, I believe a little explanation is required. Since at least high school, I have felt that life should be a balance of body, mind, and soul. My thoughts on this have changed throughout the last 15 years, but the core has remained the same. The relative contribution of each has probably changed the most with each new development in my life. For the most part, I define the three as the following: body – nurtured by diet and exercise, mind – strengthened by education and application, and soul – enriched by faith, family, and friends.
The balance that I write about has become more difficult because each of these different fractions of my life have required more time and focus as I have hopefully matured. Also, the direction that each of these has taken have changed. The most obvious examples are that for me I now have a daughter which has changed my family structure. Moving so far away from extended family has made this first transition especially challenging. One good thing is that it has given my immediate family time to bond. The obvious disadvantage is that the distance from parents, siblings, grandparents, and down the line is hard to cope with some days. The other thing that has changed is education, for the first time in 28 years I am no longer a student. So what about body? In some ways this is the most important, because without it you wouldn’t be alive or at least healthy to experience the other two but in other ways, exercise is an indulgence in our society not a daily activity. However, I do not want to get on my soapbox so let’s get to the running.
For the last couple of years, my training, has taken a special place in my “chapter.” Last year it was all the new runners I had met in Utah and the TOUGH track workouts with Lion. The year before, was the inauguration of The Forest Park Track Club (FPTC). This year my training was hiding in fear. The lurking memory of my injury last September kept me from wanting to do team workouts and the tight schedule made it nearly impossible even if I had wanted to. Part of the benefits of running with a team are that it allows you to run harder on days that you are not feeling up to it, by feeding off of the guys that are having a better day. This year, I wanted to run within myself. I also just wanted this year to be a base mileage year. So I only did a handful of track workouts total and only a few of those with others. The majority of my training was just consistent mileage and two half marathon races. The first was the Provo River Half Marathon. I wasn’t planning on running this one, but after a slight nudge from Sasha (the blog creator); I decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I ran an excellent race. I even missed the start by two minutes, while warming up with another person from the blog (Chad, the person who actually convinced me to start posting). Despite or maybe because of this, starting in the back, I had a negative split race with an awesome finish, managing to come from dead last to 7th overall. I finished in 1:15.31 (5:46/mile), only 17 seconds slower than my personal best. The next race was the Salt Lake Half Marathon a few weeks later. I had to run this one, as I won it overall last year, and I wanted to defend my title. At the start of the race, I soon realized that defending my title was not likely. As a few runners that have posted much faster times at other races had shown up this year. To my surprise though, and despite having a head cold the entire week before the race, I managed to finish 4th overall in 1:15.31. This is not a typo. I ran the exact same time on these two different courses three weeks apart! This was just crazy to me, considering this was a tougher course with the first four miles up hill.
After this, and for the first time this whole year, I finally started thinking about the marathon. Believe it or not, up until this point my only goal for the marathon was to get to it uninjured. I really didn’t have a plan for once I got there. Fortunately, and this is where the blog comes in, a group of posters (a couple of which I had met for the first time in July), were forming a pace group. The group was centered on a runner, Jon; who was shooting for a 6:00/mile marathon or 2:37.12. My fastest to date was a 2:45 and I was not optimistic about my chances for running with the group. So I decided to run to the bottom of the canyon with them and take it from there, drop back if I had to.
In hind sight, the thing that surprised me most about my training was my total mileage. Since my first marathon following Hal Higdon’s 18-wk program, I have used the mileage during that time frame as my fitness gauge. This year I never even crunched the numbers until after the race. It turns out, that of my 7 marathons; this one had the second highest mileage during the race day buildup. I never hit as high of a weekly mileage as I’ve become accustomed to, but I started at a higher baseline and maintained it. For your curiosity the breakdown is to the right. Consistent with the mileage totals and the baseline I had already built the previous year, my relative fitness was also very similar to 2001, on the outset. During this time, I had a VO2max test to measure my body’s relative fitness as estimated by oxygen consumption. To my surprise even with the time off from the injury my max was 59.3 ml/kg/m almost identical to the results of a test done 6 years earlier at sea level!
This marathon was being held in Logan, UT, about an hour and a half north of Salt Lake City. I left work early on Friday, ran some errands, and after Kaitlyn awoke from her nap we started up. That night one of the bloggers (Paul) was hosting a dinner for Jon’s pace group and any other bloggers in town. This was great, as my head was sure not in race mode yet. I went through this year on auto-pilot. As I mentioned I didn’t even think about the marathon until after the half marathons and still didn’t have a solid plan. For now I was going to feed off of Jon and his group. It was a great fortune that I met Paul at the Des 10K. Even greater fortune that Jon had a similar goal as I would have if my head was in it. I didn’t really think I was in shape to maintain 6-min pace but I felt why not try and at least this way I could enjoy some company and get to know some of the other bloggers.
After arriving in Logan we checked into the hotel. We stayed at the same Best Western near the finish that I stayed at the year when I came to cheer on Lion. We next picked up my race number and chip. I was stoked, I got number 11. Now the pressure was on. I always feel that I have to at least finish in the same place as the number I have. We headed back to the room and while Sandra finished setting it up for the night I threw on my gear and went to the high school track a block away. I ran 8 laps with the middle four right on 6-min pace. It was VERY windy and being able to maintain pace on the track in the wind was a great mental boost.
After a quick shower we headed over to Paul’s. This was the first time I met a lot of the bloggers. They are a great group of guys and the more time I spend on the blog the more I feel like I am getting to know them. It is a shame that we are so geographically spread out, as many of them would make great training partners. We had a great pasta dinner and had some time to chat. We spoke a little about plans for the big day, but for now I was just planning on following along, going through mile 14 with the group, and then seeing what would happen. Sandra really enjoyed meeting some of the group and said she particularly enjoyed her conversations with Paul and Steve.
We made it back to the hotel in time for Kaitlyn’s bedtime routine. I set-up all my running garb so that I could sneak out in the morning without waking anyone. It took Kaitlyn a few attempts to fall asleep in the strange room, but we were all asleep by about 10pm. I did manage to wake up almost every hour on the dot to double check that my alarm was still on. I eventually gave up and just got up about 30 min before my alarm at 4:15am. I got ready and headed out to the buses. After a fairly long ride up (it always amazes me to drive the course, a little overwhelming right before the race; you mean I’m going to run that!). Then I was standing in the cold waiting for the rest of the bloggers to show up.
We did a very light warm-up and emptied out as best we could before the start. It was cold but not unbearable, perfect marathon weather. There were lots of bloggers at the start and six of us got together for the 6-min pace group. The gun went off and so did we…
For family and friends that have never been to Logan the course starts up a canyon at about 5600 ft. It then goes down the canyon along a small stream. A little after the halfway mark the race goes into a neighborhood and winds back and forth to the finish in a park at about 4500 ft. A map is included below.
This was definitely a different experience for me at a marathon. The closest I have come to having a plan with running with others is when Dennis and Tyler ran me in the final miles of St. Louis in ’04. To be running with a group of six was a sight to be seen. The first few miles were all right around 6-min. I was feeling good and it was like we were all on a training run. The make-up of the group was Jon and I “the slow guys”, and the other four in the group were all in it for a training run for St. George Marathon in a few weeks (Bill, Steve, Logan, and Paul). Bill was only planning on hanging in for a while and then seeing where it took him. By about mile 6 or 7 he dropped back. There were only seven people ahead of us at the start. We picked the first couple off easily and soon were just running on cruise control.
It was great to have the group. Paul, Logan, and Steve pretty much set the pace and Jon and I just enjoyed. There was lots of chit-chat, which made the pace seem effortless. The slight downhill helped, but really I wasn’t even breathing, just going along and listening to the cantor of the runners around me. The greatest part of this was the sun coming up behind us. Our shadows on the road ahead looked like something out of one of those inspirational wall-hangings. Somewhere along here, Rocky was mentioned. I still wasn’t feeling the “Eye of the Tiger”, but I was feeling a lot better than I had expected.
Passing the 10-mile mark in about 59 min was such a mental boost. I was thinking, “hey this is easy.” I didn’t realize at the time that we were running under 2:35 pace! This was about the first time I “felt” like I was running. I knew the mouth of the canyon was coming up soon and was happy that I felt like I would be able to hang with the pace group.
Well no more scenery but the town is nice and for the first time in 14-miles there were fans. There was more conversation as strategies were discussed. I just hung in and waited.
The two women dressed as pansies along the course, gave me a well needed laugh!
At this point I was feeling great. The best I have ever felt this late in a race. I was thinking, “just 10 more miles and I’m not hurting yet.” Also, at this time Steve started edging ahead a little and I thought, “why not let’s go for it.” So I went with him. I just tucked in and drafted as best I could. Mile 17 is along the main road and just straight and easy to get mentally lost on. The splits were making me more than happy and I knew the hills were coming. I’ve always considered myself a “good” hill racer and I was looking forward to the change of pace.
I guess I spoke too soon. As you can see from the elevation map above the first hill is mile 19 and as you can see from my split below I was starting to feel it. Not too bad but something was definitely going on. The last 6-miles are kind of a blur. I wasn’t thinking too straight and the competitive edge went out of me a little. I felt the slightest twinge in my side and fell back from Steve a little at I think mile 20. Doubts about leaving the pace group too soon crept into my head; overall a bad place to be with a 10K to go.
I could feel the wheels coming off, and though I was happy for them doing it, hearing Paul, Logan, and Jon gaining on me played the wrong way. Usually, I would love to have someone come along for me to latch onto for the last 5-miles but as they got closer and finally passed me at mile 23 I just couldn’t hang. I think the thing that disappointed me most was that I was not physically horrible. I can still remember ’05 and I was definitely feeling better than that year. I kept them in my sights and tried to latch on with an invisible rope. It lengthened and lengthened and to my surprise did not break, but did stretch to the limit…
This was my first chance to see Kaitlyn and Sandra and it was great to hear Kaitlyn trying to say “run-run.” It came out something like “nun-nun” but I didn’t know if that was her saying it that way, or me going delirious.
I’m happy I stayed under 7:00. Coming around the final turn into the park you have about 200 meters. I could see the clock and new that 2:40 was going to pass before I got there. I put in what I had left knowing that I was going to PR, by a lot, but not with a competitive fervor. It was great; there was a police escort the final few 100 feet. This actually helped shave a few seconds off my time.
(For the other number geeks out there the 12 second time difference comes from rounding errors on the seconds in the splits and the fact that I used 26.2 not 26.22 in the calculation)
I went through the finish and felt great. I quickly found Sandra and Kaitlyn and then said my congrats to the other runners. I was so happy for Jon and the group for making their primary goal of sub-2:40. I was also happy with my 9th place finish in 2:40.20, which betters my time by 5 minutes. For a race with no expectations, I came away with a lot of lessons and a good reward. There is still some doubt in my mind about when I made the move, but overall you don’t know until you try. Would have I done it the same if I had it to do over again? I think I would have run a faster time if I had waited until mile 20, instead of mile 16; but I really felt good and wanted to give it a try. So, I guess I would do it over again. I think just more mental preparation going into the race and a little more training next time around.
After the race Bill and I jumped into the nearby stream for 20 minutes. The freezing cold water felt great, at least after I went numb. From there, I headed to the massage tent, shower, and lunch. I then came back to find some coworkers that had come up to run the marathon as well. Both had fairly good days. Ellis ran his first marathon ever, with his wife, and finished just under 4:20 18th in his division. He and Harold have also both verbally committed to my next marathon. I’m planning on running the Salt Lake City marathon next year on April 19th. I want to support the local running community and be able to train on the course. Any bloggers reading this and interested in a pacing group, let me know! (I was going to down play it but why not through it out there. I want to shoot for a 2:35). As a tip of my hat to the blogging community, we managed to sweep my age group (1st-5th). The amazing part of that is three of these guys were only running TOU as a training run. Two (Paul and Logan), went on to qualify for the Olympic Trials a few weeks later at the St. George Marathon, in 2:18 and 2:21 respectively! It wouldn’t be right unless I plugged the blogs of Paul and Jon. Jon gives a great mile-by-mile telling of this race with many details I have already forgotten sitting here trying to piece this together three weeks later and Paul has an excellent telling of his OTQ at St. George.
Thank you for going through this experience with me once again. I hope to keep up the momentum and really hit my training this winter. I have big plans for the next two years…
-Adam R. Wende