I think many of you know that I run quite a bit, roughly 40-50 miles/week. What you might not know is that outside of 1-2 sessions of fast running each week (usually going with the built in garmin marathon plans), I tend to run most of my mileage at a very slow pace, rarely faster than 9 minutes/mile, and often in the 11-12 minute/mile range. Running slow like that keeps me healthy, gets my heart rate up to a point where I can produce extra mitochondria to feed my muscles, and keeps me running with interesting folks who I can have great conversations with. What you might also not know is that I am training for an Ironman in November, and tend to bike about 400-500 miles/month and hit the pool 1-2x/week. Given the physical stress that sheer volume of training places on my body, only running 40-50 miles/week at mostly slow paces has kept me from having any exercise related injuries during the last few years.
Going into today's race, in addition to all of the mileage/biking/swimming, I took at least 1 rest day each week, did four of the traditional pre-marathon 20+ mile long runs (all well below marathon pace), completed a fast half ironman 3 weeks back which included a half marathon at the end, and was about 10lb lighter than my prior January marathon weight (bringing my total weight lost since 2012 to a nice round 100lb).
Running as #666 - El Diablo
When applying for the Pittsburgh marathon, there wasn't an option to request a specific bib number. From what I could surmise from looking at the numbers around mine (#665 was D. Charlton, #667 was S. Chiang), it looks like #666 was assigned to me by alphabetical order of last name. Still, having spent about 7 years as a volunteer heavy metal DJ on non-profit radio at WRCT Pittsburgh, there was (pardon the pun) no way in hell I'd pass up the chance to run in costume with it as the devil. When I found out about the assignment 2 weeks ago, I ordered red dri-fit shorts and my favorite racing flats in bright red from ebay, per some online advice bought some lighted horns and a tail that would hang from the back of my fuel belt from amazon, then started growing the goatee. All of the gear came in by Friday of last week, so I got to give it a test run over the weekend. After noticing that the tail was annoyingly bouncing off my legs, I decided to pass it through a fuel belt gel holder on the side which fixed the problem and made it show up better in pictures.
Last May, I ran the Pittsburgh marathon in 3:43, with nearly even splits (1:51/1:52 halfs and most miles within 10-15 seconds of my pace). I started the race at a 160 Beats/Minute heart rate, ended up at 178 B/M as it got pretty hot and sunny, and barely hung on at the end. At Disney in January (time of 3:29), with some nasty humidity and heat (70 degrees w. 99% humidity at the start) I ignored my success, started at 168 B/M and died off at the end, losing about 8 minutes between my first half split and second half split (1:40.5/1:48.5). Vowing not to repeat the miserable Disney marathon experience, I wanted to figure out how fast a 160bpm heart rate run would take me, as I knew my fitness was improving and I might have a shot a qualifying for the legendary Boston Marathon.
As a result, after my 2 pre-race rest days, I did a short 3 mile test run yesterday in similar weather conditions to today's race, and noticed that I was at 164bpm at the Boston requisite 7:12/mile pace which led to some fear of repeating Disney. As a result I planned to just join a pacer team that was running at a 7:25/mile pace to finish in 3:15, but push it if things were going well.
Pre-Race Expo & Getting to the Race
After landing at the airport Friday, I wandered around the expo center that afternoon, picking up my race packet, on course nutrition (6 GU, 2 Gummies) talking with the pace teams, and salivating at a bunch of protein bar samples my diet was prohibiting me from eating. After attending the Pirate vs. Reds game that night, I got my 2-night-before-the-race required 10 hours of sleep, completed my final tuneup 3-mile run yesterday morning, had a bunch of rice for lunch (and dinner, and dinner the prior night, and the night before that), and headed back to the expo for more marathon fun. After hearing good things about superfeet inserts, I was fitted for a pair at the expo, walked in them for the rest of the evening, and decided to break the cardinal rule of never doing anything new on race day and put them in my racing flats as I knew I'd need extra support.
Skipping out on the Pirates game last night around 8:30PM, I returned back to my housing, got my 5 hours of sleep, woke up at 3AM for my ritual PB&J bagel, but ended up staying awake until my 5AM alarm. I put on the race costume, my awesome fellow marathoner Larry arrived at 5:30AM to pick me & another running buddy up, and we headed to the course arriving in my corral about an hour before the start. That early arrival was more than enough time to hit the porta-potty, mingle with some pacers - including a disappointed 3:10 pacer who heard about my devil-related antics at the expo and was prepared to accompany me, and chat with the serious faster runners who rarely wear costumes. Still, several of the runners were politically astute enough to ask me if I was dressing up as Ted Cruz given some recent quotes from John Boehner.
Starting Easy - First 5 Miles
Being in the first corral, I was able to cross the starting line about 30 seconds after the gun, which was a nice change from prior years. Despite a bit of the usual pace sorting & traffic winding, I mostly just stuck around my 3:15 pacer and got an overwhelmingly positive response from the crowd for my Satan costume, as spectators frequently noticed both the costume and corresponding bib number.
With the humidity uncomfortably high and the larger condensed crowds sharing too much body heat, I had some Disney marathon flashbacks, but by mile 4, with a bit of wind, the humidity subsided, my glasses stopped fogging up, and my heart rate leveled off around 163, which wasn't too ugly, but at least wasn't climbing.
1 - 7:30/mile, 160 Beats/Minute
Picking up the Pace - Miles 6-11
As my sunglasses stopped fogging up, the winds picked up, the west end band played hot hot hot, and I started feeling some adrenaline kicking in. I decided to test things out a bit and separate a bit from my pace group as I approached some nice prolonged gradual downhill segments heading towards the south side. Despite running a bit faster, my heart rate stayed pretty stable, and the encouragement from the crowds was great. I decided to pick things up a bit and found I was getting further and further away from the 3:15 pace group. I was also getting to the point in the race where I knew a 165 heart rate was sustainable (based on prior years), so I felt a bit more confident in the speed.
6 - 7:17, 166
Closing the Gap in my old Stomping Grounds - Miles 12-17
With my strong hill training, I destroyed the 210 foot climb up to Pitt at mile 12, and my adrenaline started picking up. By the time I crossed the halfway mark of the race at mile 13 about 1:36 into the race and seeing the 3:10 group off in the distance of Fifth Avenue, I was feeling immensely better than I had ever felt at the midway point of any prior marathon, and started believing I had enough fuel in the tank to just crush the second half of the race. I then saw a bunch of friends along the course, knew I was feeling as good as I had felt at the beginning of my last (1:33) half marathon, and figured it was now time to make a move. I pushed my pace up to a 7/mile pace for a few miles, crushed a nice 50 foot downhill mile at a 6:30 pace, and finally caught up the welcoming 3:10 pacer at mile 18 who had even put "run like hell" on the back of his pacer bib.
12 - 7:25, 169 (w. 210 feet of climbing)
Settling in for the endgame - Miles 19-21
Catching up with the 3:10 pacegroup was a huge confidence builder, and given the effort expended in getting there I decided to just hang with the group for a few miles before pushing for some extra Boston safety time (I'll explain later) at the end of the race. As I went through Highland Park, around mile 20 and 21 I spotted more friends, and was feeling pretty good despite hitting a wall at that point in my first Pittsburgh marathon. I opted to just stick with the group until I approached the Friendship neighborhood, then parted ways with the awesome 3:10 pacer knowing I'd want to pick up some time over the last few miles.
19 - 7:02, 170
Digression - Boston Qualifying Standards, Qualifying Times, and Speculation Thereon
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Boston marathon qualifying process, each year, the grand poobah's of Boston limit the capacity of the course due to narrow streets and massive demand. Unlike the New York and Chicago marathons which limit capacity via a lottery, given Boston's fame, they only accept about 23,000 runners in who can run fast (from all age groups to keep an even flow along the course), and another 2,500 runners or so who raise at least $5000 for a charity. To get racers evenly spaced out on the course (looking at Pittsburgh Marathon results) they only let in roughly the top 5% of marathon finisher times from my 35-39 age group, 10% from the middle age groups, and up to about 15% from older age groups across genders based on a set of magical qualifying standard times that get slower as runners get older.
For my age group (35-39) for the 2017 Boston Marathon, that magical stated "qualifying standard" is 3:10. Still, as the Boston marathon doesn't pick their times perfectly, they have recently had more applicants who qualified than available slots. To whittle down the number of applicants, they decide to torture them and only let in the folks who beat those magical "qualifying standards" by an additional undetermined margin (to be determined during the September application window) to give them the desired number of runners. Last year, at my age I would have had to have run a marathon in 3:07:32 or less (2:28 faster than the standard) to run in the 2016 race, the year before it was 3:08:52, the year before it was 3:08:22. Luckily, 2 weeks ago at Boston's 2016 marathon it was very hot. So hot, that roughly 4000 fewer runners were able to meet the qualifying standard than at the 2015 race. Expert prognosticators/bloggers seem to be speculating that for the 2017 race, because so many participants failed to requalify, there will be enough open slots to allow in anyone who just beats the qualifying standard by 30 seconds (or even less). That remains to be seen, but I seem to agree with their logic. On the plus side, for the 2018 marathon qualifying period starting in October, I'll be in the 40-44 age group and will (likely) pick up another 5 minutes of qualifying time.
Some Boston qualification speculation websites I've been eyeing (warning - reading this stuff can be a bit mind numbing):
Banking Time and Fighting the Good Fight - Miles 22-26.2
By the time I hit mile 22, I had about 20 of those 30 "expert opinion Boston qualifying" seconds saved if I could maintain my pace. Still, I was feeling pretty good, only had 4 miles to go, had been smartly refueling with gels, liquid, and managed to deposit another 15 seconds in the Bank of Boston along mile 22 with a strong push and some cheering help from a former colleague and former roommate.
A solid effort down the big hill on Liberty (passing up the free beer from Church Brew Works) delivered me a 6:49 mile 24 banking me an extra 25 seconds (up to 65 total). Knowing I only had 2 miles left, I pushed hard again through the last 2 miles past another former classmate, pushing my body to its limit, and saving another 30 seconds over the final 2.2. I crossed the finish line at 3:08:25 with some nice costume kudos from the race announcer, a full 95 seconds under the Boston qualifying standard.
22 - 7:02, 171
Finish: 3:08:25 (1:36:01 1st Half, 1:32:24 2nd Half/PR), 94th/3704, 16th/347 age group
After crossing the line, I probably felt the best I've felt after a marathon, and noticed that my time for the second half of the marathon was actually faster than my Half Marathon PR. After slowly walking through the finish area I returned to the beginning of mile 25 to cheer on subsequent finishers as I figured the costume would elicit a few smiles. I then headed to the Pirate game in full red devil costume (which might not have been the best color to wear to a game vs. the Reds), and got back home around 6PM welcomed by lots of nice messages from friends who were time-stalking me online.
Still, now that I've run a Boston Qualifying time, I'll submit my application in September, and hopefully will get the nod. Regardless, I'm very satisfied with my time, and look forward to further improving at my next marathon.
Pics (big thanks to awesome former college roommate Matt L. & Sharon Eberson's tweet)