Sharing Your Goals and Learning from Your Mistakes – The 121st Boston Marathon

In my previous post on goals, I previewed a subject of “failing to plan, planning to fail.” Well, I’m still planning on writing about that, but in the mean time, this year’s Boston Marathon has me thinking about sharing goals and learning from setbacks.

Sharing your goals is a great way to achieve accountability. My goal for Boston was a PR, and I shared that goal with anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t). OK, while I admit that my goal going into [nearly] every marathon is a PR, sometimes last minute adjustments are necessary. That ties into my other subject for this post, learning from your mistakes.

The very statement “my goal going into every marathon is a PR” isn’t exactly correct. It used to be true statement. A more accurate and wiser statement is that a marathon PR is my goal going into nearly every 18 week mesocycle (so long as I am fit and healthy at the beginning). A key to the refinement of this statement was the complete yard sale that was my fall marathon, KCM, in 2016; for details see “Celebrating Failure!

A few weeks out from Boston, the weather looked good. The always-reliable (alert: sarcasm!) long range forecast had below-average high temperatures at the beginning of the week – e.g. lower 50s. However, as the day grew nearer, those 50s turned into 60s, and then began marching up through the 60s. By the time Sunday rolled around, temps soared into the 80s, making me wish I’d brought an extra pair of shorts to walk around at the expo.

I did run into a friend and fellow Skora Ambassador, Jeremy:

Psst… Skora’s back!  My go-to road shoe! I ran this Boston in my last pair of Tempos. My walk-around shoe and my new trail shoes were these incredibly comfortable “Stars and Stripes” made by Carson Footwear in the U.S.A., almost entirely out of US materials:

There be unicorns here!

Scott Jurek!

The day before the marathon meant a break from my “no refined sugar” commitment since I was fueling with dextrose anyway. Apparently there was a run on Peeps at the Boylston street CVS – this was the only thing I could find that didn’t have some gross flavor added:

It cooled a bit for Monday as a cold front approached, but race start was right at 70F, and it was in the 75-80 range by the time I was done. Here’s a shot of the drop-bag area in the morning, featuring lots of nervous-looking folks:

KCM 2016 was a disaster because I refused to scale back my PR goal in the face of similar temperatures. I was in PR shape, but I should have known a PR wasn’t going to happen with temperatures well above the tipping point of 60F. 60F is commonly thought to be the temperature above which endurance performance suffers because you’re routing energy to cooling yourself. This time, I learned my lesson. A week or so out, I had set up my Garmin with mile splits keyed to a range of -1 to -10 seconds below my course PR from 2015. As of Sunday night with the prospect of 70+ temps, I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain that. So, I stayed at the high end of that range for the first half of the race, planning to push as hard as conditions would allow in the second half. The answer was that conditions wouldn’t allow me to hit my pace range any more after mile 16. I kept my breathing to 3:2, and ran strong, but not over the edge. I passed a lot of people walking in the last few miles who had pushed past the edge, much like I had in the fall.

I was pleased with my finish, at 3:16:33. No PR, but a healthy BQ (sub 3:25) and a lesson learned and implemented. I recently heard John Marcus say he doesn’t talk about goals with his athletes any more, rather he has them establish “minimum performance standards.” That sounds like a secondary (or tertiary?) goal to me. My primary goal at Boston was a PR. My secondary goal was to run the best race I could, given the conditions, running the whole way. So, I met that minimum performance standard, and made it here: (a day after this was taken!)

 

Running Goals: What’s most important to you?

In my previous post, I laid out why you should set goals, some different types, and “good” vs. “bad” goals. This time I’ll move on to prioritizing your goals.

Of course to be able to rank or prioritize your goals, you have to establish what they are. My personal motivation for running is a combination of personal fitness for overall health and a competitive desire to continue to improve. My goals are affected by my recent history, factors such as an injury in the fall of 2015; a return to fitness in late 2016; and an “A” race in October where I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to. My goals are also colored by the ever-broadening running community I’m a part of. As a result, my 2017 running-related goals are both general and specific:

  • Stay healthy – run without injury.
  • Run 2017 miles for the year.
  • Purge refined sugar from my everyday diet.
  • PR at the Boston Marathon.
  • Share my love of running with others.
  • Run an ultramarathon in the fall (Arkansas Traveler 100).
  • Balance running with life.

But you can’t just set goals without some specific planning to achieve them. If you only have one or two goals, this is easier. With multiple goals, they may be at odds with one another. In this case, prioritizing your goals is the solution.

The simplest way to prioritize your goals is to ask the question for each one, “if I fail to achieve this goal, what is the impact on my other goals?” So, you might find that your big picture, less specific goals are actually more important than anything else. Here’s my earlier list, reordered with that in mind:

  1. Balance running with life.
  2. Stay healthy – run without injury.
  3. PR at the Boston Marathon.
  4. Share my love of running with others.
  5. Run an ultramarathon in the fall (Arkansas Traveler 100).
  6. Run 2017 miles for the year.
  7. Purge refined sugar from my everyday diet.

To illustrate, I’ve never run 2000 miles in a year before. But I surely won’t be able to do that if I’m not mentally and physically healthy (see #1 and #2!). And, if we’re just talking artificial numbers, I’ll take the PR over the 2017, thank you very much!

I approached the 1750 mile mark in 2014, 2015 and 2016. That number was inconceivable just a few years before that. When I started tracking mileage in 2011 I was putting in 900 or so but never breaking 1000. It’s not that I set out to track mileage at that point. I am pretty anal retentive, but I never logged miles in a training log – probably because I wasn’t ever training for anything before. Garmin streamlined that for me – my first Forerunner allowed me to indulge my numbers geek inclinations in an efficient way. So why do I think running 2017 miles is a good goal? Increasing your mileage volume from year to year should eventually pay off in faster times. 2017 miles is only marginally more miles than I have been running, and it’s a number I think would have been achievable in either 2015 or 2016 had my acute impact injury not truncated those two years. Typically, I haven’t suffered from overuse/chronic injuries, which I attribute to the shift in running form I made 6 years ago. Nevertheless, I do have a specific plan for achieving the opposed goals of staying injury free while increasing mileage. I’ve resolved, so far successfully, to consistently incorporate strength training into my plans. To a certain extent, I am always doing this – I warm up with a 5-10 minute routine of lunges, squats, and leg swings before every run. On the other hand, I go through phases where I emphasize or slack off on core and balance work. I’m trying to make sure I keep that up this year!

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2017 miles is a journey of millions of steps. I can’t run them all in six months. The higher mileage training plan I’ve put myself on had me at new monthly mileage PRs in December and again in February. I ran 246 miles in February despite only 28 days. I’ll be checking in on it, but 2017 miles is pretty far down on my goal priority list. If anything, it will be a byproduct of my plan to achieve my more important goals – but that’s the subject of my next post!

Effective Goal Setting for 2017 and Beyond

A new year is a great time to set new goals or reinvigorate old ones. The “New Year’s resolution” wouldn’t be such a cliché if there wasn’t something useful in it, right? Well, as it turns out, the majority of people aren’t always right.

In this first of a series of posts, I’ll discuss my thoughts on why we make New Year’s resolutions, types of goals, and good vs. bad goals.

Why?

The calendar is a cultural construct of sorts. There is no astronomical significance to the end/beginning of the year; no line crossed, no cosmic “ding” when the earth completes another turn around the sun. On the other hand, at least in the northern hemisphere, we are crossing into the winter months just days before the old year expires. There’s probably a numerology aspect in play here here too – humans love big round numbers. Nobody says “hey, 0.8743 of the year has passed – it’s time to make some changes!”

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The combination of the turn of the page, the approaching months of cold and relative isolation indoors, and the recent memory of the various excesses of the holiday season makes the New Year a perfect time to re-prioritize and rededicate. Better to do it right away than after the period of hibernation ends!

Types of Goals

Your goals may be centered on work, family, personal relationships, spiritual development, or fitness.There are many types of goals, even if you narrow the field to running. Psychologically, your goals derive from various directions – what motivates you to run, your prior experience both good and bad, and peer interaction. Categories that seem touchy-feely at first blush may still have both objective and subjective measures. In any event, specific goals are more likely to produce the desired result (e.g. lose 10 pounds vs. lose weight). Goals with both short and long time horizons can be valuable – and while long range planning is important, it’s more effective when a long range goal is broken up into shorter goals that can be reached sooner.

“Good” vs. “Bad” Goals

This is value neutral – I’m not judging the goal itself. I’m talking about setting goals that have a better chance to succeed, not goals that have less or no chance of success. For example, don’t set unrealistic goals. For instance, if I set the goal of winning the Boston Marathon, that would be an unrealistic goal. My PR is a 3:09. These days you have to run around 2:10 or faster to win it. However, a realistic short term goal for me would be to PR at Boston. A realistic long range goal would be to run a sub 3:00 marathon. My motto, “Reach for what you cannot,” seems to run counter to this advice, but not really. I am always reaching just beyond what I’ve already achieved – that’s my take on that credo. Your goals should be difficult, but not impossibly difficult. Goals should be positive, e.g. “run under 3:10”  – not negative – “don’t run over 3:30.”

Next time I’ll cover planning to achieve your goals and prioritizing.

My 2016 in numb3r5.

I thought about doing this in “good” and “bad” numbers, but it’s all a matter of perspective. For instance, I could call this first one a bad number, but even after starting the long process of getting back into marathon shape, I was still running. That’s something to be thankful for.

18: Days of no running in January after finishing my no run streak beginning 10/17/15 to quiet the inflamed bursa sac under my heel.

2: Half marathons raced.

1: Marathons raced.

1: 5Ks raced.

2: Races run with one of my kids!

1:31:21: The half marathon time I would have run if I hadn’t gone off course in a small town race.

1:34:16: A pretty good 13.1 split at KCM.

3:31:27: The final result after a really bad second half at KCM.

82.4: The temperature at the finish line at KCM.

20:23: A respectable 5K turkey trot time on a hilly course.

1583.42: Running mileage for the year. Not bad for having to ramp back up with low mileage treadmill running and a half marathon training plan through June.

226.39: Running mileage for December. The most volume I’ve ever run in a month.

capture: The pace I’ve averaged for 4mi. during my last 2 tempo/LT runs.

2017: The running mileage I’m going to do in 2017.

4: Races I have already placed on my calendar for 2017.

Which holiday is it again?

Here’s a picture of a Christmas Runner!

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I’m groaning too – but I didn’t race a Christmas-themed race. Instead, I’m catching up with a race report I never wrote from Thanksgiving.

The Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day Run was Hewitt’s first 5K (he’s my 9-year old, soon to be 10). Maybe I’m not an indulgent enough parent, but when my kids ask me if they can run a race with me, my answer is always “sure!” But… “just train for it first!” Races aren’t cheap, so I like them to understand that a race is a reward for putting in some hard work first.

Hewitt answered the challenge and he came out with me for quite a few runs in October and November. When the temperatures are reasonable (unlike the last couple of weeks) I usually ask the kids or Ellie (the dog) if they want to come on one of my recovery runs with me. Usually these are about 5 miles max, and you can’t run them too slow. Sometimes this backfires on me, but I am flexible. Hewitt is a trooper, and most of the time he’s up for 5, after he worked his way up to it. In fact, he outpaces me and Ellie frequently. Ellie is our 4-year-old Great Dane, and 5 miles is about my self-appointed max for her. She’ll do it on occasion, but more often than not she is happy with 2-3 and wants to turn around.

Race day was cold – I knew it would be hard to convince Hewitt to wear less clothing than he would feel warm in standing around. As a result, he wore pants and a zippered hoodie – too much, but I’m not an expert on how a 65 pound body responds to the cold vs. a 165 pound body. He wound up with the hoodie unzipped and flopping around on his arms only by the end.

You can see his finish video here. He’s on the right side of the frame – white t-shirt, dark pants. His chip time was 27:57 – placing him 9th out of the M9 & under crowd – a very competitive division as it turns out. The winner ran a 23:38. Great race, Hewitt!

His result was even more impressive if you consider this course – pretty serious hills for a 5K. It’s a loop, where you go past the start line on the other side of Ward Parkway and then come back to it. The first mile is downhill, the second mile uphill, the third a little of both.

I’m looking forward to the day where all of my boys can best me in a 5K, but the old man’s still got a few minutes on them.

I wanted to go under 20 minutes, but the combination of a chaotic start and the hilly course meant it was not to be. They started the 10K a couple hundred yards in front of the 5K, but not nearly enough. Enough said about that.

Here’s my finish. I didn’t really kick hard, because by the time I saw the clock, I knew I was going to be over 20:00. I felt great though – I think I would have had it on a flatter course. 20:23 is one of my better 5K times, and that was good enough for 2nd in my M45-59 age group.

Since then, I finished off my marathon recovery plan and I’ve started Boston training. I’m only two weeks in, but I had my most challenging workout so far yesterday – I’m happy with that 16 mile long run, with the last 8 miles at a 7:08 pace. The target marathon pace for this training cycle is 7:00. I was a bit tentative yesterday – I woke up to freezing fog. The driveway and even the street were glazed, and it was so slippery I almost turned around and went in for the treadmill. However, I hate the treadmill, so I explored a bit further and found decent and ever-improving traction on the edges of the cement sidewalk. I did see one crazy dude riding his bike – I don’t know how he stayed up!

Happy Holidays, and Happy Running!

Celebrating Failure! #runKCM #beatyesterday

Many successful people will tell you that the key to succeeding is being willing to fail. Celebrating those failures can become a springboard to success. My family has had some fun around the dinner table with this recently. The kids have attempted to persuade us to take them out for ice cream to celebrate various “failures.” The RHSW gets the credit for introducing this topic, telling us the background story of the founder of Spanx, who credits this practice as formative in her success. Mock those Spanx if you must, but she’s a 45 year old billionaire. Her advice is similar to my credo: “Reach for what you cannot.”

I was reaching going into my fall marathon, Kansas City. I hadn’t raced a marathon in a year, after recovering from an injury in August 2015. My training had gone well, and tune-up races and workouts pointed to a good performance. I was targeting 3:10 – a minute faster than I ran last year.

However, I failed spectacularly. A 3:31 – my slowest timed marathon ever. What happened? The analysis is simple. I was unwilling to be mediocre, and weather conditions didn’t permit me to be excellent. The result: a crash and burn beginning in mile 18.

Ideally, I’d like it to be about 45F at the start of a race. However, it was 65F at 7am, with high humidity and 30 mph winds from the south. Not good. There’s a physiological penalty for anything over 60F, as your body expends extra energy trying to cool itself. And of course a headwind never helped anyone run faster. Did I know these things at the start line? Of course I did! I probably could have eased off the gas and run a 3:15-3:20 without incident, but I didn’t know what the day had in store at that point.

A side stitch struck in mile 18. We’ve all experienced them before when running, and we have a vague idea that they happen when you’re pushing too hard. They’re caused by a spasm of your diaphragm, which is a sheet of muscle at the bottom of your rib cage that’s part of what allows you to breathe in the first place. Push the pace too hard, and hello side stitch!

There’s no question I was pushing too hard with an ambitious pace. However, in the past I’ve always been able to ease off enough to keep going. When the pain set in around mile 18, I slowed my pace and started massaging it by digging my hand into it. I have no idea whether this is actually therapeutic or not, but it did make me feel as though I was doing something. Unfortunately, the pain got worse and worse – so bad I was hobbling, and practically doubled over. It was disappointing, but I soon came to realize I was going to have to walk until it went away. I walked the better part of two miles – some of them with a new friend – Matt, who’d hit the wall in his first marathon.

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Surprisingly happy to be walking…

We got each other shuffling again and resolved to finish. I had to drop back to a walk again after getting nauseous and sent him on. The nausea passed quickly, and I started running again and ran to the finish. I did not want to walk 6 miles, or DNF, so I’m glad I got underway.

I wish I’d had this knowledge during the race, but my post-race research revealed a breathing technique that could have helped resolve the side stitch. Budd Coates, Runner’s World running coach, suggests: slow your pace; and exhale as the foot on the opposite side of the stitch strikes the ground. Not every step (you would probably hyperventilate). This releases the tension on the  side of the diaphragm in spasm. I hope I never have to try this, but now I know what to do!

So, how did I get to mile 18? Pretty fast. Too fast. I programmed a workout into my Garmin fenix 3 using the Smart Pacing 3:10 band they passed out at the expo. The bands are customized with mile splits that take into account the elevation changes of the course and the need to warm up intelligently and not go out too fast. You run a negative split. I programmed the mile splits into my Garmin with pace warnings set with the target pace as the upper boundary (too slow) and 30s faster as the lower boundary (too fast). Ideally, I think you’d like to be within about 10 seconds, not 30. However, I hadn’t tried this before and I didn’t want the watch alarming at me constantly. My first mile was just a touch over 30s too fast, the second was around 25s too fast. After that I settled into a pretty good range, mostly single digits faster than target pace. However, the cumulative effect of that was that I was over 2 minutes faster than target pace at the 12 mile mark. Everything before mile 10 was faster than the target split, mile 10 was dead on, and everything after was slower. Prior to mile 18 though, not much slower. At mile 17, I was still over a minute ahead of target pace, and at mile 18, just under a minute ahead. Of course from there, it just fell apart. You can’t walk two miles and get anywhere near your goal. In retrospect though, I doubt that a more faithful observance of the target paces would have saved me – I was simply running too fast for conditions – mine and the weather.

Around the 24 mile mark, the 3:30 pace group caught me. I’d already long since been passed by the 3:15 group and one other pace group while walking. At this point, I was running, and I decided I felt good enough to run to the finish with them – I managed about 2.5 miles at just over 8:00 pace. The pacer was a bit off (not his fault – I think the course was a bit long due to some signage/traffic control problems on the Paseo in the new section) and I might have run harder to the finish to get it under 3:30, but when the clock came into view, that wasn’t an option.

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Surprisingly sanguine…

I felt pretty barfy afterwards. No elation at a goal achieved or age group victory (although as it turns out I wasn’t that far off). After about 2 hours of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to celebrate my failure. I also decided I was eager to run again! I toed the line thinking go big or go home, so when that’s your mentality you have to accept that failure is a risk!

Your Guide to Running the Kansas City Marathon / Half / 5K #RunKCM

The Kansas City Marathon is my home town’s fall marathon, and we’ll toe the line this year on October 15, 2016. I also ran it in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015.

The course has evolved over the years. It was initially run in 1979 as a point-to-point heading south from downtown. More recently the course has become a challenging but scenic loop. It starts and ends in the Crown Center district. If you’re coming in from out of town, look for a hotel there, or downtown. From Crown Center you’ll head up Hospital Hill, and then on to the iconic Liberty Memorial, Westport, Country Club Plaza, Waldo, Hyde Park and the 18th & Vine Jazz district, just to name a few. Trees and fountains (it’s the City of Fountains, after all) are plentiful. Crowd support is sporadic apart from the start/finish line, but there are pockets of real enthusiasm and the course is well-staffed with lots of friendly, supportive volunteers. KCM can’t bill itself as “flat and fast” – but it’s a beautiful, well-thought out course that follows the Chicago model of showing you the town.

KCM is indeed hilly. The gain/loss (it’s a loop) is right around 1000 ft for the course. For comparison’s sake, Boston, a point-to-point course, is net downhill, with just over 500 feet of gain and 1000 feet of loss. Chicago has only about 100! There are only two sections in the KCM course that spike your heart rate – getting up to the Liberty Memorial early in the race, and when you climb up into the Sunset Hills area after mile 10 or so. The stretch from mile 20 up to the Paseo is tough — mainly because of where it is in the race — but gradual.

The race is well-timed on the calendar for optimal racing temperatures. In my experience it’s always been in the 40s at race start, where average daily lows sit at that time of year (46 F). The average high on October 15th is 67 F – a temperature not typically reached before noon. Anything over 60 F starts to affect most people’s performance. As far as rain on your marathon day (not ironic, Alanis, just inconvenient), I’ve never experienced a rainy KCM. Precipitation starts to drop off in October in Kansas City, so the odds of rain are only 1 in 3. My good fortune can’t last forever! Tip: the start can be chilly. Dress in some clothes you were going to give away to charity anyway, and peel them off at the start line just prior to the national anthem. This clothing is collected and donated to a local charity. I’ll also cut the end off some old tube socks to make temporary arm sleeves which can be discarded at an aid station when temps start to rise.

I wrote the preceding paragraph about a month ago. Unfortunately, it looks like the weather will be uncooperative in an unexpected way. I got this email today:

Prepare for warmer than seasonal average weather conditions on Saturday
Greetings runners! While there is still time for the forecast to change, we wanted to make you aware that warmer than historical average temperatures are expected on Saturday for the 2016 Waddell & Reed Kansas City Marathon with Ivy Investments. If the current forecast holds true, you can expect temperatures in the 60-65 degree range at the start of the race with a noticeable wind from the south, and a high temperature around 80 degrees late in the day.

Well, that’s a bummer. The 10 day forecast looked much better. Can I get a “reset”? I’m probably going to have to readjust my goal pace expectations by at least 30 seconds per mile.

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The course is 100% paved, a mix of concrete and asphalt on city streets. There are minor changes from year to year, often due to road construction or neighborhood considerations. This year’s changes include a detour beginning around mile 16, where it will head east for a bit before taking a different, hillier route back north to the Plaza. A couple of other sections are altered to accommodate this one. When I first started running this race, there were several turns in the last mile, but more recently the final stretch has been modified to get everyone out onto Grand sooner, putting the finish line in sight after you make the turn. It’s a big boost!

You’ll want to incorporate hills into your training – both ups and downs. Not only are they “speedwork in disguise,” but you’ll be running quite a few of them on this course. Nothing scary – no 10% grades – but you’ll be ready if you practice “even effort” on hills. Also, the race offers great pace groups at a wide variety of paces, and they follow the “even effort” mantra. In other words, it’s not just a fit 20-something with a GPS watch leading a group to the exact same split every mile. They’ve actually split up the entire course accounting for elevation change in each mile, as well as a warm-up period at the beginning. Another training tip is to train on the course. Familiarity breeds confidence. Those tough sections aren’t as tough when you know exactly when you’ll be through them. On race day, hitting the tangents can help quite a bit on a course that has a lot of turns. If you run with a pace group, they focus on this. Otherwise, if you’ve trained on the course, you’ll know how to set up for the next turn.

I’ve focused on the marathon course, but a half marathon is also offered. It follows the marathon course for the first 6+ miles into the Plaza, then rejoins it in mile 9 (just before 23 on the marathon course). There’s also a 5K and Kids Marathon, as well as a Team Relay. The presence of the relay runners is a good reminder that you need to set your own pace goals and not get caught up in what others are doing!

Kansas City is a great place for a marathon, and a great place to feast afterwards. For me, it’s usually one of our great BBQ restaurants. I hope you’ll join me in running this great race!