|Posted by Strength & Speed on November 12, 2018 at 5:45 PM|
The world of ultra-endurance is growing with people wanted more than a marathon (26.2 miles) or more than a century (100 mile) bike ride. My sport is Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) and is no exception. Since 2011, athletes have been tackling events like the 24 hour long World’s Toughest Mudder and as of 2017 the CBS Televised 8 hour Toughest Mudder Series. The events require going over (usually) a 5 mile strength of land with around 20 obstacles. Some involve crawling, some hanging from your hands, others strength to carry or climb over a wall and sometimes they test your fears with things like a 40 ft. cliff jump.
I’ve been competing in endurance sports since 2003 with my first marathon followed in 2004 by my first (unofficial) ultra-marathon (a 40 mile unsupported run from Baltimore to Washington D.C.) and my first iron distance triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). However, I didn’t find my true sport until 2014 when I raced my first Ultra-OCR, the 24 hour long World’s Toughest Mudder.
The distances covered in Ultra-OCR are a little lower than of a regular running course of the same length. The uneven terrain, the obstacles, the water crossings and often the extreme conditions requiring athletes to put on a wetsuit to prevent hypothermia slow your pace. However, I would argue the stress on the body can be greater. You are not just taxing your legs but your arms, your back muscles, your grip strength and putting your body through some terrible conditions including ice baths, swim crossings and adrenaline inducing cliff jumps. In 2014, after World’s Toughest Mudder, an especially windy and cold year, I had trouble controlling my body temperature for three days afterwards.
I go to the race every year and every year the hardest part is not the terrible conditions, sleep deprivation or exhaustion, it is the walk back to the car when my feet hurt more than anything. The course designers can do whatever they want to me, but when they make me walk a half mile back to the parking lot they break my spirit every year. This year is different though because I got my first pair of OOFOS.
OOFOS recovery sandals (and now shoes) are the best post-event purchase you can make. OOFOS feel good any day of the week and they feel better after a long training day/week. However, nothing can compare to putting on OOFOS after an ultra-endurance event. The shoes literally make me change my stride from “I can barely walk” to “I’m walking almost normal”. I’ve tested a lot of products from the fitness industry and there are few where you can feel the effect immediately, OOFOS is one of these products.
I’m skeptical of all new products and I was skeptical of OOFOS too. The first time I tried them on I’ll admit I did the stereotypical “ooo” that gives OOFOS its name. They are comfortable, there is absolutely no doubt there. However, the first time I put them on after one of my endurance events, it was life changing. They are now part of my race essential kit as much as my running shoes that I use on race day.
If you don’t own a pair of OOFOS, you need to order some today. Not even my post-cheat meal feels as good as OOFOS after a long event. The best part is you don’t have to run insane distances to get this feeling. It is available to anyone that pushes their body and wants to recover faster, whether that be 10k, 10 miles, 100 miles or just someone that spends a lot of time on their feet. Do yourself a favor and stop living in the past. OOFOS are the future of post-endurance recovery and that future is now.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on May 12, 2018 at 11:05 AM|
Chances are if you are reading this you are part of some fitness focused Facebook group that likes to do monthly challenges. Events like see who can run the most miles in a month or do a certain type of daily exercises every day for a month provide a goal for fitness enthusiasts. Although I think a larger periodized training plan will bring you better results (reference previous article 30 Day Challenges Bring 30 Day Results), I also understand that many people are simply looking to stay active and enjoy these monthly challenges as goals. If you fall into the latter, then I do think 30 day challenges might be a good option for you.
However, I think there is a better way to do these 30 day challenges than simply who logs the most miles in a month. If you are part of these groups or helping run these challenges I advise switching it to a 21 day challenge instead. This allows athletes to push hard and build fitness for three weeks and then allows for a down/deload/recovery week before starting the next month’s challenge.
Three weeks of building and one week of recovery will lead to better fitness in the long run and will help avoid overuse injuries as overzealous athletes try to reach the top of the leaderboard every month. Back to back 30 day challenges means the people in the group are never taking recovery weeks. These recovery weeks help consolidate fitness improvement, allow for minor injuries to heal and provide a much needed mental break. If you see no other reason to shorten the challenge, consider how closely your body’s ability to perform is tied to your mental strength. A down week will allow you to attack the beginning of the next challenge with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
Be sure you challenge yourself to create growth, but let’s do it in a manner that incorporates required recovery to maximize our fitness improvement. Train hard, stay consistent, take a recovery week each month and enjoy the journey!
|Posted by Strength & Speed on March 28, 2018 at 7:35 AM|
As someone who has never setup, produced or run a large-scale race, it is easy to show up to an event and harshly judge the way things are done. Complaining about long lines or less than knowledgeable volunteers is easy when you are not the one that has to organize everything. Therefore, when I judge a race I try to use some common sense mixed with my opinion on how they handle problems.
In 2014, I had a history of bad luck with timing chips. At Warrior Dash World Championship my chip broke so I was listed as “Unnamed Participant” on the official site. At Obstacle Course Racing World Championship I lost my chip and bib number somewhere on the course. At World’s Toughest Mudder my timing chip started registering my laps as over 3 hours despite their actual time being about half that. Luckily, it still correctly counted my laps. At The Battlegrounds I had another chip error and my finishing time was an hour slower than it should have been. This resulted in my placing going from 3rd to around 260th.
With that being my first year of OCR, I could have easily lost hope in the quality of OCR events. It would have been easy to whine and complain about all these events, instead I look at how each of them handled the problem. In all cases, after a quick email or talk to the race director they corrected the error without any drama. At The Battlegrounds they even went above and beyond sending me a gift certificate to the winery located on site. It is actions like that, which help me judge an event.
I expect everything to run relatively smoothly and as long as there are no major problems, I realize the race organizers are doing their job the best they can. When you are trying to get volunteers to stand in the sun all day, you do not get to choose who shows up. It is really anyone that is kind enough to donate his or her time. Frankly, I am just thankful volunteers come to races that enable me to race hard and then go home to spend time with my family.
Next time you think about writing a scathing review of a race, take a moment to really think through what they did wrong. If it was something that happened to you personally (broken timing chip, misunderstanding on the course, volunteer providing poor instructions, etc.), did you tell the race director or someone of authority? If you did and he told you “sucks for you”, then by all means give an honest assessment online. However, if he did what he could within reason to fix your problem, than to me that shows better treatment of athletes than a smoothly run event.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on February 17, 2018 at 9:35 AM|
When my friends, peers and acquaintances see that I am sponsored by Hammer Nutrition I frequently get a flood of questions. Occasionally, they see my water bottle, shirt or sticker that lists Hammer as “Endurance Fuels” and they say something like “I only run 5ks though, these products cannot possibly help me.”
This line of thinking is both faulty and inaccurate. As I trained for my first attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I noticed something strange happening. Despite almost no speed training, I was getting faster by the week. In addition to getting a personal record (PR) my marathon by around 15 minutes, I also got a PR in my 5k and 10k within a month of my Boston Qualifying Race. This high volume approach to short distance success is nothing new, but runners who are trying to improve often miss this concept.
When explaining this to the average runner, I ask them “How far do you think a professional 5k or 10k runner runs in a week? Do you think it is 20 miles like most recreational 5k runners?” Looking at an elite 5k or 10k runner, their training plans will have volume a lot closer to an advanced marathon training plans available in running magazines or books. The reason is because high volume works at building aerobic strength and running economy. Both of these enable for short fast races. Adding in high volumes with some VO2max and lactate threshold work, has allowed me to PR for 5k almost every year.
Although I usually prepare for marathons in this way, I rarely use this approach for shorter races. This year, I decided to focus on Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). Most of the OCR races are short, around 5 miles, minus a couple of really long ones that occur later in the year that are ultra-distance in length.
After four months of high volume training that was fueled by supplements from Hammer Nutrition, I have started getting great results in OCR. Over the course of 2015I walked away with 10 podium finishes. My best results came in late July when I had four podium finishes in three weeks including a 2nd place overall at 24 hours of Shale Hell, an ultra-distance OCR in Vermont. This resulted in me being on the top 20 leaderboard in the world for OCR, reaching as high as the 9th spot. I show these results to athletes that race short distances to convey the message that just because you do not do long races, does not mean you should not do some long distance training to build your aerobic base. With high volume training, nutrition becomes very important and that is where Hammer comes into the equation.
Using Hammer Nutrition products I have found that they are the perfect counterpart to this type of training. Morning runs are fueled by a bottle of Heed to ensure I have energy throughout the entire workout and to prevent a loss of electrolytes. Post-run I refuel with Recoverite to ensure my muscles are full of glycogen for my evening training session run and protein to help rebuild. In the afternoon, I typically conduct strength training and follow that session up with some more Recoverite mixed with a scoop of Whey. Prior to bed, I take REM Caps and a scoop of Whey to maximize my deep sleep and boost growth hormone. The following day the cycle repeats itself, but I allow for 1-2 rest days per week.
For those that are reading this and think endurance supplements are not valuable to the short course racer, you are wrong. The products created by Hammer Nutrition are useful for any athlete that is serious in achieving results. Whether you run 5ks, lift weights, run ultras or are an OCR athlete, Hammer provides one of the key variables in the equation for success.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on July 10, 2017 at 4:35 PM|
As we watch the largest sporting event in the world, the Tour De France, I like to try and pull lessons from other sports into Obstacle Course Racing. As a warning, if you know nothing about cycling, you may not understand good chunks of this article, but I encourage you to read anyway. The principles are still important, you just will not get the comparisons.
Not Everyone Gets to Win the Grand Tour: There are around 180 riders that start the Tour De France every year. I consider myself a cycling fan but could probably only identify about 30 of them by name. There are racers who work their whole lives and come away with a stage win at the TDF or maybe just a stage win at a different lesser known stage race like the Tour of Qatar. Cycling fans may think, “Who cares who won Stage 3 of the Tour of Qatar?” The winner of that stage cares because he busted his ass for that win. The lesson to learn here always try to reach higher but at the end of the day be happy with what you achieve. Not everyone can podium at the OCRWC. You should be proud of your competitive accomplishment whether it be a podium at a local OCR, an age group placing or just a personal best. Although you should be proud, you should never be completely satisfied. This ensures you always have the hunger to go back out there and strive harder to reach higher goals next race/month/year.
Go for the Points: One man keeps winning the green sprinters jersey at the TDF (Peter Sagan), but he usually is not the one that wins the stage sprint. How does this happen? He plays the game well, is consistent and goes after points. If you are not the fastest, you can still achieve some other goals through points systems. Spartan has a points ranking and previously OCRWC and the defunct BattleFrog had a points ranking. Consistent strong efforts and finishes can get you high up on that leader board. Try going for a new PR on the leader boards as a different type of goal that you can be proud of.
Specialize: The TDF has sprinters, climbers and all around riders. Not everyone in the peloton is good at every aspect of the race. As an OCR athlete, feel free to specialize. If you never run more than 5 miles, why are you trying to compete at the Ultra-Beast or World’s Toughest Mudder? The same goes in reverse. If you know you have great endurance but poor speed, maybe you should stick to events like the Beast, Shale Hell 8 hr or 24 hr and Toughest Mudder. Guys like Junyong Pak and Ryan Atkins who do well at ultra distance and short races are a rare breed. Not everyone has to be good at every distance. Take a look at Cassidy Watton, her specialty is stadium sprints and she dominates without trying to enter events like WTM.
Go for a Jersey: Just as cyclists specialize, they also only go for one jersey at the Tour De France. Some go for the Green Sprinters jersey, others the Polka Dot Mountain jersey and of course some are aiming for the Yellow GC jersey. Typically, athletes only go for one of these. If you are racing an event like WTM, which has different color bibs like a sprint bib, black ops bib and overall mileage bib, it is probably best to set your sites on one. Rarely does the winner of the sprint bib walk away with a overall high mileage (Wesley Kerr you are the exception that proves the rule).
Enjoy the Tour De France as cyclists compete in what I consider the most grueling endurance event on the planet. While I have run OCRs for 7 days straight as part of OCR America, the thought of cycling around the country of France makes me nauseous. Even with all the doping scandals that have rocked the cycling world, these are still incredible athletes that go through three insane weeks of cycling every year. Some even do it multiple times a year at races like Giro D’Italia and Vuelta A Espana. Put on your spandex, saddle up and enjoy the ride.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on May 17, 2017 at 10:10 PM|
Every fitness magazine series has their elephant it he room that they rarely talk about. For lifting magazines it is drug use. Rarely talked about but clearly visible are advertisements filled with bodybuilders or fitness models clearly on steroids. Instead magazines like Flex, Muscle & Fitness and Train are filled with rep schemes and diet advice. That is all great stuff, but they never talk about the steroid use used to achieve the physiques that accompany the pictures of the good diet and training advice. The running “elephant in the room” is far less dramatic, but is just as important. The “running elephant” is volume.
Magazines like Runner’s World fill their pages with new shoe types, diet and articles like “How to get faster while running less.” All of that is good information but the secret to getting faster for readers of Runner’s World is usually just run more. People reading these magazines do not want to hear that the secret to getting faster is just more work, because they feel like there has to be something else. The truth is that most people who are reading this magazines are running below 30 miles a week (that is based off talking to friends and coworkers that read running magazines). That is well below the almost 100 miles many professional runners put in each week.
You can change shoes, tweak your diet or buy new garments all you like, but the answer to getting faster is usually just consistent hard work. I’m not saying don’t read these magazines, because you will learn a lot regarding running related topics, but don’t forget that at some point you need to put in the work. If every issues just said do more work, it wouldn't be very interesting so I understand why they are written the way they are. The magazines provide much more than just training advice, they help you connect with the sport. I know I have used these magazines for motivation in the past, which makes the hard work required for success easier. Keep reading and enjoying, but also keep that consistent hard work going.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on March 15, 2017 at 4:05 PM|
If you have not looked into the value of adding some mental training to your repertoire you are missing out on achieving your peak performance. I covered a little bit of the importance ofmental training in my book “Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite ObstacleCourse Racing” but there are so many topics to cover, I could not cover mentaltraining in depth. To truly understandall the benefits it really requires a book focused on just mental training.
I recently picked up Matt Fitzgerald’s book “How Bad Do You Want it” and wasblown away with how great his book was. He provides real life scenarios of top level athletes using the power oftheir mind to unlock their full potential. He takes examples of athletes like cycling’s Thomas Voeckler, GregLemond and Cadel Evans explaining how they could summon super-humanperformances when the conditions were right. Add in some running examples of Sammy Wanjiru, Jenny Simpson and StevePrefontaine and you have an all-star line up of truly amazing stories.
I personally thought it was the best book on mental training that I have read sofar. It is definitely something I planon reading again as I get ready for major competitions. The stories included in the book and thescience that supports them will help you create your own stories of greatness.
His book was go good, I wanted toread more on unlocking my personal mental potential and immediately picked upanother book called “The Champion’s Mind” by Jim Afremow. With such high expectations, I wasimmediately disappointed. MattFitzgerald is heavily involved in both competing in running/triathlons and anexperienced journalist. His bookreflects that. Jim’s background is inpsychology and his book reflects that. Althoughhe works with athletes, he is not a high level athlete himself unlikeMatt. Matt understands the importance ofthings like reserving mental strength for races , periodization, trainingcycles, peaking and the importance of rest. I felt like Jim’s book did not reflect that as well focusing more onjust doing your best every day. In reallife when you give 100% everyday, that leads to burnout, injury and loss inmotivation. Unlike Matt’s book, I won’tbe reading Jim’s book again.
Matt used real life examples andJim’s book is filled with fictional stories that don’t necessarily translateinto real life. Bottom line is if youare looking to pick up a good book on mental training, buy How Bad Do You WantIt”. “The Champion’s Mind” fell short ofexpectations.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on February 15, 2017 at 3:00 PM|
Idecided to pick up Phil Knight’s book ShoeDog, about the founding and history of one of Nike. Today, Nike is viewed as a giant in the shoeand athletic clothing industry. However,they were not always like this. Afterreading this book, it gave me a whole new perspective on Nike and how difficultit can be to start a business.
ShoeDog takes a look at Nike focusing on the early days and follows through all theway up to modern day. The later years ofthe story are mostly glossed over, but the early years are very in depth. Hearing how they struggled to make ends meet,took large risks and were almost sued out of existence in their early daysreally gives you a new view of the company. Their persistence and innovation revolutionized the running industrydespite several points in the story where their existence seemed like it wasdestined to fail.
Thebook is also filled with a ton of stories that are just interesting to hearincluding stories about the legend Steve Prefontaine, how Nike came up withtheir name and Bill Bowerman’s historic waffle design on the bottom of Nike’sshoes. While Nike is sometimescriticized today because they are often viewed as “the man” or “a superpower”when it comes to the athletic world, just like every other company they startedout very small (as Blue Ribbon Sports).
Ireally enjoyed hearing the backstory associated with Nike. While obviously written from a biasedperspective (owner Phil Knight is the author), in my opinion he still sharedsome stories that does not paint Nike in the best light. However, he explained his side of the storyand how he saw the situation at the time. If you are a fan of Nike, a fan of running or just someone who likes toread about the backside of the athletic industry, this would be a good book toadd to your reading list.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on February 1, 2017 at 8:00 AM|
I was recently in the middle of a binge listen of Hunter Mcyntire and Ben Greenfield's Obstacle Dominator podcast when I noticed something peculiar. Both have bodybuilding backgrounds and are now competitive OCR athletes.
I too have a background in (natural) bodybuilding and compete in OCR. So what is it that turns bodybuilders into OCR athletes. The two seem opposites with one focusing on aesthetic and isolation movements while the other has a large running and functional movement component.
Here is my take on the topic...
First, you can't be too good at bodybuilding otherwise your probably won't leave it. I don't know much about Hunter or Ben's background but I know I was good enough to qualify for the Drug Free Athlete's Coalition World Finals for natural bodybuilding but knew I stood no chance on that big stage (side note, natural bodybuilding is splintered with numerous organizations and championships). I had been bouncing between sports for years (that's the reason S&S exists) so the change was nothing crazy for me. I did expect to go back to bodybuilding in a year or two but have since wholly committed to OCR. For me the things I didn't like about bodybuilding helped push me towards OCR. I grew tired of how subjective it was for results, compare that to races which have a clear winner. Plus, even in natural organizations I still thought there was drug use both within the rules and outside the rules. For example, most naturals organzations let you take DHEA, which is against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but okay by almost all bodybuilding rules. For me, I knew I would be competing in WADA sports in the future, specifically running and triathlon, so refused to take that supplement or other ones banned by WADA. This put me at a disadvantage compared to my competitors. I also saw some guys competing in natural organizations that were clearly on steroids, which is obviously outside the rules.
Second, the obsessive, meticulous nature translates well from bodybuilding to OCR or really any other sport. The same effort used to make meal plans and workout programs can be applied to OCR. I'm not saying you should train the same, but the attributes of analyzing and adjusting based off perceived weaknesses is a good lesson that can be applied not just in OCR but life in general. Diet, a huge part of bodybuilding is also important for any competitive athlete and was a smooth transition with OCR allowing for more variation and higher carbs than a traditional bodybuilding diet.
Third, the willingness to suffer also crosses over. Suffering is involved at the type of any sport as your push your body into fatigued states and then taper for your big race. Bodybuilding is one of the ultimate sufferfests. Having single digit body fat and continuing to workout twice a day (hard lifting and light cardio) is awful. Easily the worst I ever felt just standing around was the final three weeks before my last show. This willingness to push your body hard can be applied not just to OCR but athletics in general.
So should you expect more bodybuilders to cross over into OCR. Not likely, the sports themselves are just too different. Bodybuilders do cardio but it is either very, very low intensity (to stay in fat burning) or very brief high intensity sprints (to boost metabolic rate). Both which are not the best for most OCR courses. One day I will return to natural bodybuilding, but that is a long way off because I love this OCR thing too much right now.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on June 7, 2016 at 3:40 PM|
This past weekend I had the opportunity to race the Rock’n’Roll San Diego Marathon. My sister-in-law moved to San Diego last fall to go to PT school and my wife and I decided to plan a trip to visit her around the marathon (I did the full and my wife and her cousin did the half). I learned early in the trip that I won’t plan on running any big races at the end of a weeklong vacation, as tapering and trying to eat healthy are not the best ways to spend time that is supposed to be relaxing.
The Training Cycle
I started my official training cycle back in February and loosely based most of my training off the Nike Running App’s Coach feature. We had signed up for the race months before, but due to resting a foot with plantar’s fasciitis, a work commute that wasn’t great for training, and a relatively new edition to the family I had let my training slip to a fairly nonexistent level. I found that my running snapped back relatively quickly, and I was shaving minutes off my 5k time weekly as I approached where I had been last summer.
During my training cycle I took a leap of faith and left my job, which left me with a lot of time to train while looking for work (which I eventually became employed at my dream job, so it all worked out). I was also selected to participate in the Strength & Speed OCR Development Team, which allowed me to get great access to training and nutrition information and gave me a great group of peers to inspire me to aim high with my goals. For New Years I set a number of goals for myself, one of which was to qualify for the Boston Marathon and the other was to run a sub 3:00:00 marathon.
While I had set goals based around marathons, my true passion is OCR and I use my marathon training as a means of improving my aerobic base and running speed. As a result my training was a healthy mix of trail and road running with some weight training and bodyweight WODs mixed in to keep the strength necessary for my OCR events that will start a few weeks after the marathon.
Rock’n’Roll San Diego was set to be my first chance to achieve those goals and I felt 100% confident until May when I got a two-week cold that ended in me losing my voice for a couple days and waking up several nights in cold sweats. After feeling better for a weekend and cranking out a solid 22 mile training run I got hit with a viral infection that left my throat swelled nearly shut and looking like Freddy Krueger’s skin. I had to take an entire week off training at what I felt like was a very important phase of my training, missed out on running the Battlefrog Xtreme event in Minnesota that I had been looking forward to since last fall, and caused me to overcompensate in the last two weeks of my taper to regain some of the fitness I had just lost.
The Race (The First 13.1)
Rock’n’Roll started off on a good foot. Their logistics game is on point; they were in contact early and often with pertinent information and the race expo was easily the best of the now four marathons I have completed. There were a ton of booths giving out samples of different gels, gummies, sports drinks, bars, and various health foods. The higher prices of clothing and gear were in line with other race expos I’ve attended as well.
The morning of the race I had a usual breakfast of oatmeal and coffee about an hour and a half before the race and tried using BeetElite for the first time at a race (I had experimented with it in some time trials during my training with positive results and did a three day load leading up to the race which had been recommended by a few regular users). We walked just under a mile to the start line and dropped off our bags with ease. I looked around and despite the rows and rows of port-a-potties the lines were still incredibly long (note to races with 37 corrals… you can NEVER have too many bathrooms at the start of a race). I was set to start in corral 2, but due to mistiming I ended up starting with corral MEB, in between 3 & 4 by the time I was able to squeeze through the security barrier.
The beginning of the race was extremely crowded due to marathoners and half marathoners being released together and it was hard to get into a good rhythm while dodging around people. I was taken aback by the amount of people that had started to walk within the first two miles given that they had started in early corrals; I would have thought that having prior races times to justify being in an earlier corral they would know enough about race etiquette to know to voluntarily move to a later corral or at the very least to move to the right side of the road, but apparently that’s too much to ask. My first few miles ended up higher than what I was realizing was an ambitious sub 3-hour goal, but not so high above that the negative split I had hoped to run wouldn’t be able to make up for them.
My late start turned out to be a bit of a blessing because it gave me the chance to shake hands with Meb Keflezighi (2004 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2014 Boston Marathon winner and 2016 USA Olympic Men’s Marathon Representative, among other things) who was pacing a group for the half marathon. It was crazy to see how effortless he was maintaining his pace.
I noticed around mile 6 that the course forced us to run on the left side of many of the roads. This worried me because my PT-in-training sister-in-law had recently confirmed that my right leg was longer than my left and I had planned on trying to run on the right side of the road as much as possible to alleviate some of the knee and IT band pain that has started in on later miles in the past. The roads were also cambered more than normal, so I started getting in my own head (a recurring theme of the day) worrying about how I was going to feel later instead of focusing on the present. All the worrying turned out to be for nothing because I had the most pain free marathon I’ve ever ran.
After the half marathon broke off between mile 7 and 8 the road opened up and I was only able to see a pack of five or six people in front of me. With some room to breathe I set my sights on slowly picking them off one by one and using that as a way to keep myself engaged in monitoring my pace. There were a lot of rolling hills through the first half of the race that I managed well due to my training on trails and was usually gaining ground on those in front of me on the uphills. My pace was getting better and better, and just short of the halfway point we came to a long downhill that I decided to use to my advantage to try to make up some of my slower early miles. I came across the 13.1 mat at 1:31:55, a few minutes off my goal, but within what I thought I would be able to make up on the back half.
The Race Continued (The Second 13.1, where the wheels fell off)
Miles 13-16 went fairly well, I maintained a steady pace and was abled to see some of the race leaders on an out and back portion that I had predicted the night before would be exactly where I would see them. At mile 16 we were down near Sea World and had the flattest second of the course to deal with, which I was excited about because I thought I’d be able to get a nice steady pace going. Unfortunately for me my pace was about 10 seconds per mile slower than my goal pace.
This part of the course is where the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my right shoulder started to get into an argument. The angel was telling me not to worry, just push a little bit and focus on getting to your BQ pace and you can always push hard for the last 10k if you are feeling good and want to try to get to the sub 3 hour mark. Meanwhile, the devil was telling me that if I couldn’t maintain my pace on the flats that I wasn’t going to make up that time on the climb up Highway 163 later in the race. Unfortunately for me there was no fan support on this section of the course, so I got to listen to this internal battle for several miles. Even more unfortunate was that the devil seemed to be getting in more punches with each step.
I was doing a lot of mental math leading up to each mile to determine what pace I would need for the rest of the race in order to meet my goals. By mile 20 I was at 2:22:12, and thought that if I had a great final 10k and final kick I could just scrape by with a BQ time under 3:05:00.
By mile 22 things were looking bleak. My legs weren’t responding the way I wanted them to. I kept telling myself if I could make the next mile split that my body would maintain its pace, but the devil on my should had landed an uppercut, the angel was on the ground, and the 10-count was starting.
Then came the hill…
I had seen it on the course map and the video preview of the course: an approximately 230ft ascent over the course of a little over a mile from up Highway 163 to get to downtown San Diego. I had been doing hill training for the past three months up much steeper hills to prepare for the Spartan Sprint at Welch Village Ski Resort in Minnesota at the end of June. Spaced out over a few miles that should be no problem. My training should have prepared me for this hill; had it been in the first half of the race it probably would have. But I made a rookie mistake in my preparation by thinking running steep hills on fresh legs would translate to a sustained climb at the end of a marathon after over two hours of pushing myself. I broke the cardinal rule of specificity of training and quickly realized I was going to pay the price. I kept making demoralizing glances at my watch as the numbers for my pace and heart rate kept creeping higher and higher. The hill seemed to be going on a lot longer than I had remembered on the map and there was no end in sight. For the first time I walked through an aid station to try to clear the fog from my brain and realized I would have to run a 5k PR to get a BQ time and I still couldn’t see the top of the hill.
The 10 count was over and the little devil on my shoulder was dancing around with his new championship belt. I had never felt so demoralized during a race before; I barely kept my pace above a shuffle for the remainder of the hill while I kept thinking about all the things that had gone wrong leading up to the race and what I could have done to get my time. Once things flattened out I picked up my pace slightly in an effort to pass some runners that I can only assume from the dejected look on their face had also been humbled by the hill. After the course joined back up with the half marathoners there were a lot of fans and I was able to draw enough energy from them to step up my pace before finishing in an official time of 3:12:15. Playing head games again, I was unable to find any glee in setting a new PR by five minutes, and instead focused on all the things I didn’t do.
I crankily made my way through the throngs of people at the finishing line to get my medal and jacket so I could sit and digest what happened. It took me a while to realize that while I could have been better prepared for that hill and things would have been better if I hadn’t gotten sick leading up to the race, I beat myself. I am usually very strong mentally. Last year at the St. Louis Marathon I was able to will myself to shattering my old PR by fifteen minutes and beating my goal for the race by five minutes. But upon reflecting I had beaten myself before the race started. I’m not the firmest believer in positive thinking, but I know I had overanalyzed and put enough doubt into my head about what had gone wrong that I would have had to have woken up feeling like a million bucks to overcome what I had put in my head. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
On the positive side, there is nothing like a missed goal to light a fire within you. I found the chinks in my armor and know how to train smarter for my next race (and select a more friendly race for my next try). More importantly, after having a day to think about it I am happier with my results. I was able to get a new PR despite some setbacks and feel out what my fitness base is so that when I start my next training cycle I will have to improve less to meet my goals next time I take a stab at them.
Kevin is a member of Team Strength and Speed's OCR Development Team. He is a running and OCR enthusiast in the pre-dawn hours and weekends, but spends most days as a criminal prosecutor in Carver County Minnesota.