After months of analyzing and over-analyzing all of the things that went wrong last year, I decided that I was mostly full of shit when I wrote my race report. I made a lot of mistakes. I screwed-up everything from my in-race nutrition and hydration, to keeping myself cool, to pacing and effort (especially through the hills). The blister on my right foot and the cramp in my left calf that disabled me at mile 21.5 were just excuses to stop. I had hit the wall. My race was over. I threw in the towel. I flew the white flag. The course had beaten me. I knew that my "A" goal of 3:45 was out the window, yet once I got my head together (after a couple of "get your ass moving" texts from my wife, and hard smacks on the ass from the drunk BC kids) I still thought that maybe, just maybe my "B" goal of a sub-4 hour marathon was within reach. I told myself I would walk through a couple of aid stations and then run as hard as I could down Beacon St. to the finish. I ended-up walking through all of the aid stations and then some until 24, as the dreaded "gremlins with ice picks" attacked my quads. I ran through the aid station at 25 and kept running as fast as I could to the finish. It was somewhere on Beacon St. that I realized my "A" and "B" goals were out of reach and I just settled on my "C" goal of just finish. I ended up running a pretty strong final 1.2 miles all things considered and a "respectable" first marathon finish of 4:14:09.
Going into this training season I decided that I was going to learn how to run hills. I mean really learn how to run hills. All my training and racing on the hills the first time around wasn't good enough because I just "did" the hills. I didn't learn anything from them. I also decided I would go 20 miles or further more than once in training. This time around I studied. I studied everything I could get my hands on about good hill running form and efficiency. What I gathered was eyes slightly down, slight forward lean, keep your cadence high, shorten your stride and drive through the hill with your hips. And I repeated this to myself on every single hill I ran in training and my preparatory races (and I picked two of the toughest, hilliest races in the Boston Prep 16, and Stu's 30k). But the most important aspect for running hills, especially pertaining to running Boston, was how to run downhill. A piece of advice that I believe was critical, I found in my friend Chris Russell's (@cyktrussell) Race Report from the 2008 Vermont 50.
"When we say run the down hills we means race the down hills. It is very important not to fight gravity. Stay light and have a rapid turnover. Try to ‘fly’ without hitting the ground too much or braking... All this is done to preserve the quads."I also received a little personal instruction from Chris and a lot of practice on this technique during the Groton Town Forest Trail Race (Chris was an excellent host as well as good company). We ran nearly the whole race together and he imparted much of his "ultra" and "trail racing" hill running knowledge upon me. It made quite an impression and I was even able to incorporate his technique into my road racing and training. I found that I've gotten so good at this type of downhill running that I am able to increase my speed while relaxing and recovering on the downhill sections. My heart rate tends to drop to nearly full-on recovery levels of around 100-120 bpm on most downhill sections depending on how long they are.
So, as for the race, I'm going to run it more like a really long Fartlek (my favorite) workout. I'm going to start-out nice and relaxed for the first 5 or 6 miles of downhill running. I'm going to let my feet fly while minimizing braking forces and the damage to my quads. I'll turn-in varying splits between 7:15-7:30/mile. I'll alternate taking water and Gatorade from every aid station along the route. I'll also make sure to take at least 1 cup of water an dump it over my head at each aid station.
The fairly flat part of the course from miles 6-15 I'll just focus on running nice and easy while taking it all in (especially feeding off the energy of the "Scream Tunnel" in front of Wellesley College). But I'm going to maintain a nice steady pace turning in splits in the 7:30-7:40/mile range, and probably even a couple miles a little on the slower side of that. I'll start taking-in my Honey Stinger's at mile 7 and every 5 miles thereafter (7, 12, 17, 22). At mile 14 I'll get see my family and get quick hugs or high-five's and turn on the emotions.
The long, sweeping downhill after mile 15 going into Newton Lower Falls (which I've run no less than 4 times in training) is where I will finally start to push the pace a bit on the downhills and put into practice the good hill running form I've worked so hard on while coming-up over Route 128 toward the Newton Wellesley Hospital (where I hope to not have to visit). I'll be running 7:15-7:20/mile splits until after the turn onto Comm. Ave at the firehouse. Here's where all of my preparation will pay-off. I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on myself to maintain my speed or splits from 18-21. I fully expect each of these miles to be of varying paces, but I will keep my foot cadence steady at at least 90 fps ("Eye's Down, Cadence Up!"). I may even run at least one or two of these over 8:00/mile. But that's okay. I look forward to seeing a bunch of my running friends and Brenya's family in the 20-21 mile area.
From 21-23 until I make the turn onto Beacon Street, I will be using my newly acquired downhill running skills to put in a little speed and do some serious recovery. I'll be turning-in 7:15-7:20/mile splits through this fairly steep downhill section into Cleveland Circle. Once I'm on Beacon Street I will be really pushing the pace. I'm going to hammer it home just as fast as my legs will take me! If I've done everything right and I'm firing on all cylinder's here (and those damn gremlins haven't shown-up with their ice picks) I'll be running negative-splits the last 3.2 miles and when I cross that finish line on Boylston Street my Garmin will read sub-3:20 and I will have run my BQ! And yes, I will remember to pump my fist in the air and look up for the camera's!
But, if bad things start to happen as they frequently do, I won't worry, won't stew. I'll keep right on moving until I start happening too! Hammering-out the miles until I start again to race! I'll make sure that my "B" goal of 3:30's in place. If bang-ups and hang-ups should happen to me, I'll keep grinding along to reach my goal "C" (3:45). If the day's not my day and it's not meant to be, I'll ref-fix my sights and accomplish goal "D" (Just Finish)!