Sunday, November 28, 2010

Philly Marathon recap from a Boston Qualifier

Club member Caleb Boyd recaps is recent Philly Marathon Experience. Congrats on the Boston Qualifying time and PR.

Marathon Recap: A Memorable Homecoming in Philly
If you have been around me at all over the past several months, you probably know that a majority of my free time has been consumed with the pursuit of one very specific goal: qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The idea first formed in my head back in April. With two marathons under my belt and a personal best of 3:28 in March, I knew my next goal had to be something bigger and more had to be Boston.

At the time, the thought of running sub-3:10 seemed way out of reach. The memory of hitting "the wall" in Atlanta was fresh in my mind and I definitely had my doubts about whether I could do it. First things first, I wanted to choose a course that would give me the best chance at running well. After some research, the decision to sign up for the Philly Marathon was a no-brainer. Not only was the course rated as a fast and popular Boston-qualifer, but it was in my hometown which would give me the extra motivation I needed to run my best race. Even better, my close running friend Dusti Jensen would be running this as well with the same goal in mind. I went online and signed up early...done.

Next, I needed to make some serious changes to my training. Chris Bradle, an accomplished running friend of mine and Boston qualifier, recommended I try out the Hal Higdon Advanced II running plan. Since he spoke very highly of this program (and it obviously worked for him), I decided to give it a shot. The plan called for some significant changes to my normal routine which included tempo runs, track workouts, pace runs and much higher mileage. It looked daunting, but I took on the challenge following the training plan almost perfectly for 20 weeks leading up to Philadelphia.

Race weekend was finally upon me. I realized going into the weekend that the goal of sub 3:10 was definitely within my grasp. My weeks of training couldn't have gone any better. I had ran both half-marathon and 15k training races leading up to Philly which predicted I was in the right shape to achieve my goal. But even with all the positive reminders in my head, I knew that things could still go very very wrong on Sunday. I remembered the terrible feeling of depletion at mile 22 in Atlanta earlier in the year...what if I'm just not cut out for 26.2? I tried to push these thoughts away and focus on the positives. An encouraging note from Kurt Graves offered some hope: "Success lies at the crossroads of hard work and opportunity. You are standing there now. Bring it!" This was just what I needed to hear. The hard work was over, I had trained well and I needed to seize the opportunity before me.

Josh & Dusti Jensen pulled up in their Jeep Friday morning. Regardless of what happened on Sunday, I knew we were in all in for a fun weekend in Philly with some very cool people. Not only that, but my wife had done an excellent job of planning out the logistics allowing me to relax heading out the door. We ventured off for the 9 hour drive north, with Josh providing the essential roadtrip music mix from his Ipod including some amazing tracks by The National, Horsefeather, Ryan Adams, and of course some essential Radiohead earcandy. We arrived Friday night, greeted by my brother Aaron and his wife Michele. After an amazing pasta dinner courtesy of Michele, it was off to bed.

Saturday, we took some time to relax and have fun in Philadelphia. Dusti & Josh had never seen Philadelphia, so we made sure they got to experience all the essentials. We ate cheesesteaks for lunch, walked around the runners Expo, visited the Constitution Center, took a carriage ride in the historic district, and capped the night off with dinner at City Tavern. It was a fun day in the city, but once we returned home the focus quickly shifted to preparing for the next morning. For Dusti and I, the reality finally kicked in that race day was just hours away. It was off to bed early to try and get some sleep before the big test the next morning.

I woke up at 4:45 am race day after a night of very little sleep. As expected, I tossed and turned most of the night...but fortunately, with all the built up excitement and adrenaline I didn't feel tired at all. I showered, geared up, downed an Oatmeal Raisin Clif Bar, loaded up my Clif Bloks and hopped in the car with Josh, Dusti and Kristen. We headed off to park and arrived at the start in plenty of time to make one last trip to the porta-jons and get to the corral. The sun came out at 6:45. Weather was in the mid-40's...PERFECT! I lined myself strategically right between the 3:00 and 3:10 pacing groups in the first corral. The clocked ticked down and before you know it I was off and running down Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards City Hall...LETS DO THIS!

Right out the gate, I felt smooth and relaxed pacing right beside the 3:00 pace team. The first mile marker came up and I looked down at my Garmin to see 6:50...I couldn't believe how easy 6:50 felt after two weeks of tapering! Even after the first mile, I told myself "I can do this!" We made our way down Race Street to Columbus Blvd. Since I felt strong, I decided to keep it going in the 6:50's, pacing with the 3:00 group for the next 3 miles as we meandered back eastbound along South Street to Chestnut. Crowd support was great in this section and the scenery was even better. I was soaking up all the energy from the crowd and taking in the beautiful historic landscapes around me. I felt great and not only that but I was looking forward to seeing Philadelphia like I had never seen before.

Mile 5 came up and I popped my first installment of Clif Bloks in my mouth and downed it with some water from the nearest water station (half of which went straight up my nose...yeah, I have to work on that). Looking down at my Garmin, I realized that the satellite signal was a little off as we made our way through the tall buildings in the heart of downtown...6:09 pace?? Yeah, that was definitely not accurate. Oddly enough, I didn't panic knowing that as long as I planted myself between the 3hr and 3:10 pace groups I would be just fine. I paused my watch and re-started it at the mile 6 marker. Ahhh, back on track!!!

As I headed down Chestnut Street, I realized how easy the first 6 miles were contrary to what the elevation chart described. Miles 3 through 6 were suppose to be a large incline, but I barely noticed the incline at all! Where were the hills?? I made my way confidently eastbound until mile 6.50 where I was greeted by Kristen, Aaron and Michele cheering me on..."GO CALEB!!" I was definitely feeling good.

Mile 7 weaved through University City along a few frat houses handing out beer to runners...who drinks beer during a marathon? After the race, but not now people!

At Mile 8, I was met with the first significant incline of the day and decided to ease up a little knowing my history with getting stitch going up hills in the past. Mile 9 was the most challenging hill of the day, at which point I made the decision to let the 3:00 pace group get ahead of me. After all, my goal was 3:10, not 3:00! I got to the top of the hill and celebrated with my second installment of Clif Bloks followed by another poorly executed attempt at hydration (yeah, definitely up the nose again!). Oh well, still feeling good!

Miles 10, 11, and 12 went by quickly as I descended down MLK Drive along the Schuylkill back towards the Art Museum. Kristen was waiting at the half-way to cheer me on and she had another round of Clif Bloks to hand off to me. I turned towards Kelly Drive and passed by the digital clock at 13.1 which I was pleased to see proudly displaying 1:30. Just 13 more to go...I can definitely do this!

Things started to really thin out during Miles 13 through 17 along Kelly drive and crowd support was nowhere to be seen. Even though I still felt strong, I needed to really motivate myself during this section. Since the 3:00 pace team was well ahead of me at this point, there wasn't anyone around me to lock in with. I desperately looked for somebody to pace with, but all I saw was some old guy ahead of me with the strangest form I've ever seen who is somehow managing to keep pace...I decided to speed up and pass him to build some confidence and I was back to locking in just shy of 7:00 min/mile pace on my own.

During Miles 18-20, I started to feel a little bit of soreness in my right foot but I managed to continue to maintain a solid pace right at or just below 7:00min. At this point, I was dying for some more crowd support and knew if I could just make it to Main Street in Manayunk at the turnaround, I would have some solid crowd support waiting for me.

Sure enough, Mile 20 was just what I needed: several large cheers zones, live bands and speakers blasting "Eye of the Tiger" Now, I was definitely feeling pumped up!! I made the turnaround, took my last round of Clif Bloks and started back towards the city. Only 6 more miles to go...

Throughout Miles 21-24, the soreness in my legs increased and my splits slowed to 7:15 a mile. At this point, I was so far ahead of 3:10 pace, I knew there was no need to be concerned so I just locked in and pushed forward.

I finished Mile 25 in 7:26, my slowest split yet but I didn't care at all. I knew that unless I was planning on running a 15 minute mile, I had this in the books. Mile 26 was definitely the hardest of all. My pace slowed to 7:40. I put my head down and just tried my hardest to zone out completely and just get to the finish line. Another runner came up beside me yelling some words of encouragement, "You got this man!"

Before I knew it, I could see the finish line in the distance. Large crowds of people lined the railings as I entered back to Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I crossed the finish line just after 3:04...GOAL ACCOMPLISHED!!

Kristen along with my parents were right there to greet me right at the finish. For the next 30 minutes, I couldn't stop smiling. Everything had gone right and I could now relax knowing that I had achieved my goal...I had qualified for the 2012 Boston Marathon. It was one of the best feelings in the world and to make it even better, I got to see Dusti cross the finish line as well in 3:38, enough to earn her a spot in Boston as well! Could this day be any better? We all celebrated together and capped off a perfect day with an early Thanksgiving feast at Aaron & Michele's...a perfect end to a perfect day.

...Now for the next goal...sub 3:00?

Special thanks to the Charlotte running crew: Dusti, Josh, Chris, Kurt, Dave, Alex, Wade, Eric, Julio and the CRC group for motivating me during my many weekly long runs and track workouts, along with Aaron and Michele for hosting us race weekend. And of course my awesome wife for supporting me and putting up with my countless hours of running!

Garmin Stats:
Hal Higdon Plan:

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