Posts Tagged ‘marathon training’

On Sunday I ran Heartbreak Hill one last time before it counts.  I actually ran all but the first 4 miles of the Boston Marathon course and I wasn’t the only one out there.  There had to be 100-200 other people running their last long run along the Boston course!

As I was running up Heartbreak I was thinking about the history of the race and how it got its name.  A lot of people think the name is given because it’s the longest, steepest hill (neither of which is true) – or that it’s at a point in the race where fatigue is taking its toll on the runners.  While the later it definitely true, the real reason Heartbreak has its name is because of a man named Johnny Kelley.   A two time Olympian, Johnny Kelley has run the Boston Marathon for 61 years.  He has won the race two times (1935 & 1945) and come in second seven times.  The year after his first victory he was favored to win again.  That year, the race was led from the start by Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, until the hill section where Johnny caught him and passed him – briefly.  It was at the top of the hill where Brown passed Kelley again and eventually went on to win.  Boston Globe reporter, Jerry Nason who covered the marathon for 50 years saw the look in Kelley’s eye and knew Kelley was broken-hearted.  The name stuck.  About a mile before Heartbreak is a bronze statue of Johnny Kelley, two of him actually, holding hands.  On the left is a 27-year-old Johnny (when he first won Boston) holding hands with 84-year-old Johnny (when he ran his last Boston) as they cross the finish line together.  Don’t look for the statue along the course as you’re running the marathon.  The large crowds obscure its view on race day.

In his most recent years of running Boston, Johnny would run the last 7 miles of the course so he could have the recognition he deserved from the crowd.  Before that, when he was still going the full distance, he would be given a 15 minute head start before the rest of the field.  Johnny Kelley died in 2004 at the age of 97.

I had a very rare chance to meet Johnny Kelley at his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1996.  It was an Olympic year and a local paper interviewed Johnny Kelley to tell the story of his Olympic days.  The article ended by giving Johnny’s home address and saying that fans often stopped by to say hello.  Not wasting a second, I dug out my map (no such thing as Google yet) and found where he lived.  It was actually on my way from work, so I went and knocked on his door.  I very clearly remember Johnny opening the inner door and from behind his screen door saying rather abruptly “wadda ya want?”  I introduced myself and told him what I had read in the paper and I just wanted to shake his hand and meet him.  He opened his door and invited me in.  The whole interaction was kind of a whirlwind experience because as I would learn in about 5 minutes, his sister was on her way over to pick him up.  He quickly stepped out to his garage and came back with a book- it was his biography.  He said, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else to give you.  This book isn’t very heavy reading but you might find something interesting in it.”  He signed and dated the book and asked me a few questions before his sister came in.  Once she was there Johnny wished me luck and hurried me along.  I can’t help to think that if my timing had been better I may have had a chance to talk to him a little more.  But I still remember that day very clearly and consider myself extremely fortunate to have met him.


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This is my final week of high mileage before tapering for Boston.  Today is a challenging workout of 15 miles with the last 7 miles alternating between my goal marathon pace (6:15) and half marathon pace (5:45).  I remember doing this on a cold, windy day last year – I hated it.  Today looks like it will be hot & breezy, that’s better.  Today in Burlington the temperature is going to reach 80 (exactly when I plan on running), it’s usually in the 40’s this time of year.

This weekend I’ll be heading down to Boston to run the marathon course, and I have a feeling I won’t be the only one out there running it.  The way I see it, people come from all over the world to run Boston.  Since I have the opportunity to train on the actual course, I might as well do it.  I’m going to warm up for a few miles then do 3×5 miles at marathon pace with mile recovery in between.  I’m not sure if I’ll do the whole course yet, I’ll see how I feel after the repeats.  Fortunately, the final miles of the marathon follow the Green line so I’ll just hop on the train when i feel like stopping.

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There are just about 5 weeks to go until Boston 2012.  I have 2 main goals for this year’s race.  First – do NOT let the hills beat me this year.  I can remember my first rational thought after crossing the line in 2011 was to train more on the down hills…much more.  Second is my time goal – I know I’m capable of running under 2:45.

So far things are going very well.  I started training for Boston back in early November.  I was thrown off slightly at the end of December when the flu took me out of commission for a couple weeks.  I went to Houston to watch Olympic trials for the men’s & women’s marathon.  It was very inspiring to watch the country’s best runners that close.  I got a chance to meet Ryan Hall that weekend as well.  Unfortunately, technological issues persisted and this was the only picture I could manage to get from the trip

Hall leading at 2012 Olympic trials

Hall leading at 2012 Olympic trials

I ran the Houston Half Marathon the next day, hoping to have a pretty good race on the flat, fast course.  Instead, I felt the overall effects of not running for two weeks prior – as if gravity had singled me out and decided to pull more heavily on my feet, legs, arms and shoulders.  My quads tightened up on me as soon as I crossed the finish line, I felt like I had just finished a full marathon.  The result of that disappointing race was renewed motivation to get back into the swing of things shortly after.

Fortunately here in Vermont, hills are EVERYWHERE.  I’ve designed my training routes to have miles of continuous downhill early on, followed immediately by rolling hills.  I’ve also been incorporating more high intensity strength workouts in to my plan.  I’ll be giving a presentation this May at the Vermont City Marathon expo on The Effects of High Intensity Training for Endurance Athletes.  Experimenting on myself seemed like a great way to gain some insight on the topic.

In February, I went to Boston to run the last 10 miles of the course.  Knowing the course more intimately will give me a mental advantage.  During the marathon my brain has checked out around mile 16 and the crowds lining the course hide most landmarks that would give you any idea of where you are.  Sure there are mile markers, but my cognitive ability at that point is dangerously low.  The metal barriers that keep the crowds back are also there to prevent people like me from running off the course – similar to the way the heavy concrete walls direct racecars that are spinning out of control and consumed in flames.  I’ve run Boston 2 years in a row and I still didn’t really know where Heartbreak Hill was.  As I tried to recall the course in my head I realized that the details of the final 10 miles were hazy at best.

My memory of the last 10 miles of the race unfolds something like this:  Uh oh, my legs shouldn’t be feeling this tired yet.  Finally! The big right turn at the Newton Fire Station!  Oops a hill.  Another hill.  Oh man these downhills hurt.  Big rush from the cheering crowd heading up another hill – I needed that.  I hope I don’t look like that guy.  Which one of these hills is Heartbreak? Ouch! did I just get shot in the hip?!  Now I am that guy.  I think that was the last hill.  Hey, trolly tracks – don’t get your feet stuck in them.  Now why was that so hard to step over them, they’re flush with the ground.  Where’s that stupid Citgo sign?  There it is!  It’s still there.  Still there.  Am I on a treadmill?  I just ran a hundred miles and it’s still not getting any closer.  I can see the buildings that surround the finish line!  The 40k mark!  I can run one more mile… I think.  Does 40k mean one more mile?  I think so.  Hereford St., one more turn!  I love the crowd down the final stretch.  These last 4/10 of a mile are more like 4 miles.  200 yards. Go! Go! Go! aaaaaaaand done!!  Wow… whoa….. I can barely move… I don’t really wanna move… that was awesome… that was horrible… I can’t wait for next year… a bag of chips would be sooooo good right now.  So it goes.

Heartbreak Hill

Heartbreak Hill

After running this section of the course in February, I learned a few things that will help me get through the final miles in this year’s race.  The pavement changes right at the base of Heartbreak Hill.  The stretch to the Citgo sign is only 3 miles long and goes uphill a little near the end.  Hereford St. is uphill and Boylston St. is slightly downhill.

I plan on getting back one more time to run the entire course before April.  That will further build my excitement for the race and keep the route fresh in my head.

The downhill training and the high intensity training seem to be working.  Three weekends ago I ran the Hyannis Half marathon.  I pushed the race pretty hard on a very windy day and crossed the line feeling like I had done no more than 5-6 miles.  I did a 20-mile run last weekend feeling great afterward.  Very encouraging.

Boylston St.

Left on Boylston

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14 Days after Boston:

With the Boston Marathon two full weeks behind me, my legs still feel like they’re still recovering.  I’ve been running 4-7 miles a day for the last week but have yet to feel the “spring” back in my legs.

Within 5 minutes of crossing the finish line at Boston, my quads and calves started tightening up and walking became very uncomfortable.  I must have looked pretty bad because I attracted the attention of several medical people who came up to me asking me if I was ok.  I could tell by the way they were looking at me that they didn’t care what I said, they were making their assessment based on how I responded.  If a person says they feel fine but are unable to fix their gaze on you, they’re not fine.  I might have been doing that because these people were pretty relentless.  I finally said to one of them that I could use some ice and they happily escorted me to the medical tent.  Given my pre-race history of calf and Achilles issues I knew I immediately needed to be proactive about recovery.  I wanted to get some ice on my calves and Achilles ASAP.  I sat down (finally!) and kept moving the ice bag around to various locations on my calves and Achilles, leaving the ice in one spot for no more than 15 minutes.

The next couple of days, as expected, are the worst for post marathon pain.  This is when the inflammation from the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the greatest.  But it’s also a very important first step for the healing process.  Family and friends were incredibly entertained by watching me take a full minute to stand up or walk across a room.  And stairs!  To me, I felt like I should have had help from the fire department getting up and down the stairs.  It was suggested that tickets be sold to watch me negotiate stairs…the “down stairs without a railing show” would undoubtedly get the highest price.

rocky surf

retreating from the rocky surf

Since I had good results from the ice bath in the past I wanted to do that again, but this time include my quads.  One of the amenities of New England this time of year is very cold lakes and ponds.  I found a small lake and waded up to the top of my quads for 15 minutes.  A couple of concerned passers-by stopped to question whether I was doing this under my own free will and/or would I eventually need a flotation device.  Their concern quickly diminished once I told them I had just run the Boston Marathon.  While it was uncomfortable at the time, my legs felt much better afterward.  Since I was on Cape Cod I figured I should attempt wading into the ocean.  However the surf, adding insult to injury, was tossing many sizable rocks against my feet so I quickly abandoned that idea.

An active recovery is probably the best plan following a marathon.  But first, take the day after the marathon off, you deserve it.  Two days after the marathon, walking from 10-30 minutes, depending on how your legs feel, is a good way to begin the active recovery process.  Other options are light massage, easy cycling or swimming.  These activities increase blood flow to the muscles and facilitate the healing process.  I suggest people increase time spent walking over the following few days, but as far as returning to running: wait until you feel like you could go for an easy run and then wait another 2-3 days before you actually do go running.  Case in point:  My legs were feeling pretty good by the following Saturday (5 days after the race).  I was playing with some dogs and tried to run across a grassy area with them.  Within 15 feet, my quads cramped up and it ended up setting my recovery back a couple of days.

calf foam roller

self calf massage with foam roller

I decided to go for my first post-Boston run 8 days after the race.  It was moderately uncomfortable and my quads were flirting with the cramping sensation again.  After another day of stretching and using the foam roller on my calves, the next run was much more tolerable.  Each successive run has been a little better, and the recovery from each run, shorter.

Up next:  In 4 weeks, the Champlain Valley of Vermont will be in full bloom and runners in the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon will be filling the streets of downtown Burlington.  My plan is to run the 2 person marathon relay with my friend Eli Enman (Kasie’s husband.)  Our team, cleverly named “On Track to Sleepy Hollow,” won the 2 person relay last year and we’ll attempt to defend our title for VCM 2011.

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11 Days to Boston:

It turns out that the successful long of 23 miles last week wasn’t as successful as I originally thought.  I think it was a combination of the long run combined with a tempo workout and the lack of volume through February.  I woke up Tuesday morning and had some pretty significant swelling in my Achilles tendons…I did too much.

The result was a few extra days off last week.  One of those days that I missed was another intensity effort of 3×3 miles which I was really looking forward to.  This is where being surrounded by a network of supportive people helps a lot.  Even though I knew that time off was the right thing to do, I still needed to hear it from other people.  I first referred to my running coach Kelly Liljeblad.  She’s great because in addition to setting me up with an awesome semi-last minute training plan for Boston, she is very good at things like reassuring me that I’ve done all the hard work and I’ll be ready for the marathon.  Kasie Enman, my friend/neighbor/supplier of Organic Vermont Maple Syrup also helped talk me out of doing too much this close to the marathon as we set out on a long run this past weekend.  She’ll be taking her place in the elite woman’s field of runners at Boston this year.  She also reveled in the chance to give injury prevention advice to a PT…thanks for being my external voice of reason Kasie.

The good news is that I’ve been noticing improvement every day.  In addition to extra rest days here is what else I’ve been doing to expedite the process…



Sleep well: Our bodies do the majority of the repair work when we sleep.  In marathon training, sleeping well is just as important as running, even if you’re not injured.

rest days







More rest days: Every time you feel an injury become painful (usually by running on it), you’re re-irritating the site and prolonging the healing process.  Taking extra time off, as difficult as it may be, gives the tissues a chance to heal more thoroughly.

ice bath






Ice Bath! It’s as uncomfortable as it sounds, but it works…see my earlier post- “Icing an Injury (Cryotherapy)”

x friction massage






Cross Friction Massage: Massaging the tendon and muscle across the fibers has been shown to facilitate healing.  I usually do this 3-5 minutes before stretching.

gastroc stretch

gastroc stretch (straight knee)

soleus stretch

soleus stretch (bent knee)









Stretching: Stretching the calf helps the injury by removing tension from the muscles associated with it.  Gastroc and soleus stretch 3×30” each side, 2-3 times a day.




I’ve been gauging this Achilles issue by how I feel when I first get up in the morning.  Each morning I’m able to walk a little easier and this morning was nearly pain free!

Here’s a general rule of thumb for injuries: if you can run without feeling like your gait is being altered, (limping or changing your posture are two examples of altered gait) the injury has most likely repaired sufficiently.  If a pain gets worse as you run, stop!  More time is needed for healing…and go see your PT.

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