Tag Archives: dublin

Dublin Marathon: The Recap

21 Feb

I gave Megan a hug and watched her walk towards the porta-potty line for a minute before moving forward in the corral. The world felt surreal. Hazy, yet with a distinct sharpness around certain shapes; the early morning sun casting shadows that made everything seem both bright and shadowy at the same time. Thoughts swirling in my mind, I felt everything and nothing all at once. I had enough self-awareness to realize what I was about to do and yet all I could focus on was if I had made a mistake by not trying to pee one last time. After all the ups and downs of the past 6 months, I was acutely aware that I should be overcome with emotion or gratitude or nerves but a detached feeling of calm blanketed me instead.

The start was incredibly anticlimactic. I think someone yelled “go!” at the front but I had heard nothing. I looked up, still partially in a fog, and realized a huge mass of runners were already about 200 meters ahead of me. “Ok,” I whispered to myself. “Time to execute.”

The plan was simple. The first 7-8 miles of the course are a gradual uphill – perfect for controlling your pace and ensuring you don’t prance out of the corrals with all the energy of a kid on Christmas morning. 8-minute miles were the goal. “It should feel easy,” my coach promised me. “After that, well … you’ll know. This isn’t your first rodeo. You’ll know what kind of day you’re having and how to run the rest of the race.”

So there it was. 8 easy and then hopefully, giddy the F up. And he was right – 8’s felt so comfortable, even with the mild ascent. The first mile clicked off in 7:57; 7:52 for the second. “Easy…EASY…do not blow this race in the second mile.” Backing off to 8:00, 7:58, then 7:54, 7:53, 7:49. I hit the 10K right around the planned pace and thought of James and Laura tracking me back home. “Alright, you made it this far – they know you’re following the plan and exercising some self-control – now let’s let loose a little.”

Mile 8 brought a short yet somewhat steep downhill – the first noticeable undulation of the race – and I hit it in 7:38. I’ve never been a great downhill runner, though, and sure enough, it was here that I noticed some cramping in my upper quads into my hip flexors.

That was enough to make the mental demons pop in to say hello, and with them, I battled over the next two miles (7:42, 7:38). “Here we go again – your legs HURT! Before mile-freaking-10 of a damn marathon! You’re toast. It’s over. You’re gonna end up dropping around mile 20. This one will end like the others. You’re not strong enough or tough enough for marathons.”

(Have I ever mentioned that I’m pretty hard on myself? Yeah, that.)

A somewhat significant uphill would come somewhere around mile 10.5 and despite a precarious mental state, I mustered enough control over my brain to back off and adjust my effort. 8:05.

A gift came along in the form of two men – a Londoner and a Dubliner – they stuck to me like glue for a few miles, as we chatted and told our backstories. They struggled a bit to keep up, obviously out of breath while talking and in that moment, a glorious realization – I was not breathing hard and my effort was still very much in control. The longer I ran next to them listening to their huffing and puffing, the better I started feeling about my race. (7:44, 7:41)

(Have I ever mentioned that I’m kind of a terrible person? Marathons are hard and sometimes other people’s misery makes me feel better.)

As I hit the half split, I gave the mat a good stomp as I crossed. “Alright, James and Laura know that I’m feeling good. Now it’s really time to get to work.” I put my headphones in, dropped my new friends, and started to see what I had in my legs.

The next few miles were a satisfying grind. My music proved to be too much of a distraction and I ripped out my headphones almost as soon as I had put them in. I wanted to focus. I wanted to feel every minute of the race. No dissociating.

I thought back to the last long run workout in my training – 2 miles up, 8×1 mile @ MP w/1 mile recovery, 2 miles down. I ran this with Laura as my Sherpa on the bike next to me as we looped around Conesus Lake. I ended the day with 20 miles at a 7:40 average and was on cloud 9 – but none of it was easy; I remember that my legs had hurt that day but in a manageable, I-can-push-through-this kind of way. My confidence was building. If I could do it then, I can certainly do it now. 7:43, 7:37, 7:35, 7:34, 7:25, 7:23, 7:25.

Holy shit. I just ran MILE 20 of a marathon in 7:25.

Seconds later, as if it were plucked straight from a Runner’s World article warning new runners about the treachery of the late stages of a marathon, holy shit – I feel like I just ran into a brick wall.

A bit of self-doubt started to reappear. For whatever reason, everything suddenly became VERY. HARD. (Side note: I typically disregard spikes in heart rate data since wrist-based measurement is far from 100% accurate but I do think it’s interesting that right at this point, my Garmin shows my HR jumped about 10bpm and stayed at that elevated level for the rest of the race.) Now I was really working, and now I was feeling bad enough that I started to wonder if I would be able to push myself through this last 10k. 7:30, 7:34. I knew I was slowing and my watch confirmed it, but was it my head that was allowing it to happen or my body that was giving out?

I thought back to the 30K mat I had crossed, which felt like it was years ago and seconds ago all at the same time. “They KNOW you’re going for it. You CAN’T back off. This right here, this is the time to be tough.” 7:25. “See, you’ve still got some fight in your legs, keep pushing. Do not be a baby. Keep going.” 7:30.

As I started to gasp for air, I feared that I gave a little too much too soon. My hips, burning. My quads and calves, empty – as though the muscles had been replaced with jelly. I looked up. Everyone around me looked like death. I started to laugh – why on earth does anyone do this to themselves?

As I assessed the situation, I knew I had to put away the watch. My mental state felt precarious again, as if any pacing feedback – good or bad – could potentially tip me over the edge. I knew I was slowing a bit, but by how much? I couldn’t focus on the finish time, I needed to focus all my energy on making sure that I kept putting one foot in front of the other so that my legs didn’t somehow convince my brain that it was ok to stop.

7:37, 7:40

And then I woke up. That 26 mile split beeping on my watch was a slap across the face, and suddenly I realized that I was going to do this – it was a certainty now – and there was no way I could let myself jog it in to the finish.

Sucking wind, I pushed it to a 7:17 pace for the last little bit, feeling grateful for the beep that pulled me out of my self-induced death march. I remember looking up, seeing the clock, and realizing I was solidly under 3:25. This was it, it was happening. My secret, scary A goal that I never even expressed to my coach, for fear he’d tell me I couldn’t. We had only been talking about 3:26-3:27 on a good day. But there I was, about to break 3:23. Goosebumps broke out all over my body; a minor wave of nausea came and went. And once again, just as the day had started, the world felt surreal.

 

Dublin Marathon – 3:22:56

The Breakthrough Year

30 Nov

Without fail, at the end of every year I always seem to reflect and think “wow, what a crazy year.”  So hang with me for a moment here when I tell you – 2016 has easily been the most tumultuous year of my life.

I am a software/test engineer and my job has always involved some amount of travel, but up until this year, that typically meant maybe a one week trip every 8-10 weeks.  This year, that all changed.  In the first third of the year alone, I was gone for half of January, the entirety of February and March, and half of April.  

While I was on the road, I was also dealing with a pretty big breakup.  I was in the process of ending a 9 year long relationship (I say in the process because as you might imagine, breaking up with someone is incredibly difficult when you technically live with them and yet are never home) and while it was something that had been in the works for a while, you don’t flip your life upside down like that without incurring some mental stress along the way.

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I lost my dog in the “divorce” and honestly, I’m still not over it yet.

I thought I was handling things ok, but as I look back – I was flailing.  I was making the best of a difficult situation, sure, but I was staying out way too late, drinking way too much, making way too many “temporary friends,” all while claiming to be seriously training for the Utah Valley Marathon.

In March, I flew from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach for the weekend to run the Shamrock Half Marathon with Hollie.  The weather conditions that day were tough, but I had been essentially living and training at altitude (SLC is approximately 4400’ above sea level) for months.  I had secret hopes of a PR and ended up incredibly disappointed to run 1:38:10.  “I’m a 1:38-1:39 half marathoner,” I remember grumbling to Laura.  “That’s just what I am and what I’ll always be.”

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Not. Pleased.

Of course, Laura never lets me throw too much of a pity party and I’m eternally grateful for that. Chatting with her got my brain back into a more positive gear. Out of all the stories of weather related misery, I noticed that one person happened to PR at Shamrock. I also knew that Laura was seeing success and enjoying working with her new coach, and I knew that oh, coincidentally, Mary and Laura had the same coach. I finally realized that if I wanted something to change, I needed to do something different. That it was stupid to think I wasn’t fast enough for a coach.  I gathered up all my courage and made a phone call. And then a day later, James became my running coach.

What happened over the next few months is something I’m still processing, and writing this post (and reviving this silly blog) is a way for me to do that. As I mentioned, I did end up running the Utah Valley Marathon but it became less of a goal race (I only gave James 11 weeks, I didn’t expect miracles yet) and more about getting another 26.2 under my belt and enjoying the time in Utah with my best friend.  I might go back and recap it at some point, but that is for another day.

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I guess I’m gonna run a marathon tomorrow or some crap like that.

After taking some time to recover from UVM, the focus became Dublin Marathon at the end of October.  I was still traveling quite a bit for work over the summer (and to Texas, no less – I have SO much respect for all you runners down south) but my attitude had changed.  Workouts became a priority, if I had a quality session on the schedule I was doing everything I could the day before to make sure it went well.  Nutrition was still a challenge due to some circumstances out of my control but I started making better choices when I could. (Long story short: I was working 16 hour days, unable to leave to go get food, and surrounded by donuts constantly. Damn delicious donuts ….)

More importantly, I started turning down happy hour invitations and I focused on getting more sleep. This all makes me kind of sound like a drag, I know, but I was really doing it because it made me happy.  I won’t try and tell you it was all glitter and rainbows, but most days, I hopped out of bed completely PUMPED for my run that day – even if it was just an easy hour of jogging.

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Not turning down ALL the happy hours though, gotta get your tan on sometimes

As Dublin crept closer, I had my doubts.  There were some amazing workouts that had me feeling on top of the world and then there were some reality-smacking-me-in-the-face moments that had me wondering if a BQ would even be possible.  I ran the Hartford half marathon in early October and while I did set a PR, I was minutes off of where I secretly thought I would be. That race would lurk in the back of my mind for the next 3 weeks until Dublin.  

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My goodness … I’m moving so slowly, yet feeling so terribly.

Even as James and I discussed the race plan for Dublin, Hartford was there whispering – “you’re a fraud, none of this is real, your watch is broken, you don’t deserve 3:2x.”  And then suddenly, I was in Dublin. In the starting corral. And suddenly I realized if I wanted this, all I had to do was execute.  The fitness was there. One bad race didn’t erase everything I had done, all that I had worked for. I could let my mind ruin it for me or I could just tell myself to just. shut. up. and execute.

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Executing. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, TONY

I ran 3:22:56.  A 4 minute negative split.  And while I do intend to recap the race itself, I will say here – the second half of my FULL marathon was 1:39:22.  Around the same time as I was racing HALF marathons earlier in the year.

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It’s weird because in a way, it doesn’t feel like I did anything drastically different yet at the same time, I feel like a completely different person than when the year started.

As far as running goes, I loved the workouts I was doing, but none of them were totally foreign to me – it wasn’t like I was being presented with concepts that I had never heard of or hadn’t tried before. (That’s not to belittle the impact hiring a coach had — more on that later).  I didn’t make any dramatic dietary changes, I still drank beer and ate desserts and all that jazz. There isn’t one major thing I can point to and say “that’s it – that’s how I ran 3:22.”  It was really a lot of small changes that added up to something big. Which is not to say that it was easy, just that it wasn’t some huge overhaul.

And as my running and approach to running changed, I found my attitude changing about other things.  I found myself opening up, accepting other points of view and opinions, allowing myself to feel and think and care about things again.  I don’t claim to have it all figured out now, but I think I was frozen in a cycle of unhappy relationship – unhappy at work – unhappy with running – drink to numb the pain – repeat.  Tackling the most superficial of those problems just happened to lead me down a path where I started solving the harder ones too.  2016 wasn’t just a breakthrough for running, it was a breakthrough for my life.

To wrap this all up in the cheesiest of ways, allow me to hop on my soapbox for a moment. If you’re unhappy with your life, it truly only takes a few small steps to start changing it. If you aren’t reaching your goals, reevaluate and try something new.  At the end of the day, the beautiful thing about life is that YOU are the one in charge – you are the one who gets to set your own priorities and make your own decisions. I sat around waiting for my life to happen, to change, to get better, to refresh itself, etc, for far too long.  2016 was the year I realized — you have to change your own life.