2012 Pikes Peak Double: Post-race thoughts

It’s been a crazy week since I finished the Pikes Peak double.  Lots of driving, overnights in Denver, NJ and Long Island plus some one-on-one time with the 2-year old.  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get back into more of a groove.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the events of last weekend.  To sum it up:

  • Ascent (Saturday):  3:20:54, overall 122th of 1685 finishers, age group 25th of 203 finishers
  • Marathon (Sunday):  5:31:54, overall 74th of 736 finishers, age group 17th of 113 finishers
  • Double (total):  8:52:48, overall 6th of 130 doublers

My overall assessment of the weekend depends on the lens through which I’m looking at it.  If I look at it from a long-term perspective (i.e., the last 6-8 months of training), it’s a disappointment.  I didn’t perform up to my expectations when I envisioned the race back in March.  If I look at it from a short-term perspective (i.e., considering my level of fitness going in to the race), it was actually a reason for optimism.

Pikes Peak Ascent (Saturday)

Going in to Saturday, my plan was to run easy and focus more on how I felt as opposed to running a specific time.  I knew that I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be, and I could only guess what would happen in the race.  I was carrying the splits for a 3:15 ascent, using them as “red flags.”  A 3:15 pace should have sent alarm bells that caused me to slow down.

That didn’t happen.

I hit the Bottomless Pit sign in 1:48:09 (a 3:06 ascent pace) and the A Frame in 2:15:26 (a 3:10 ascent pace).  The alarm bells didn’t go off.  I got crushed in the last 3 miles above the tree line.  It took me 1 hour, 5 minutes to finish the three miles.  I was reduced to walking most of it as my legs were cramping, especially when I tried to navigate the step-sized rocks above the tree line.  Attempting to run just made it worse.

I was really discouraged coming off the mountain after the Ascent.  On the (seemingly endless) bus ride down the mountain, I just looked out the window, trying to figure out what happened.  I knew I had run too fast during the first half, but I had no idea just how fast.  I was actually nervous that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Marathon on Sunday.  Or that it would take me 6+ hours.  I also felt like a twisted-up pretzel after spending more than an hour in the bus on the way down.

I slunk back to my hotel room to start the recovery process.  I stretched, cleaned up, picked up my marathon race number and headed over to my friend’s camper which was parked at a local campground.  We ate dinner and I was back to my hotel to look at the numbers from the Ascent.

It was then that I discovered my mistake during the Ascent — I ran way, way too fast during the early parts of the race.  My split at Barr Camp (halfway point) was at 3:05 ascent pace.  At the Bottomless Pit sign (60% of the race) I was running 3:06 pace.  At A Frame I was at 3:10 pace.

No wonder I blew up at the top of the Ascent.

I was kicking myself, but also feeling a bit optimistic — if I could run a poor Ascent and still hit 3:20, it was possible for me to run better in the marathon.  The other good aspect of the race was that I managed to locate all the relevant landmarks on the course — from Hydro street to the 1 to go sign, I found all of them.  That was very different result from my first Pikes Peak race, where I got lost a few times and couldn’t find anything.

Pikes Peak Marathon (Sunday)

I woke up Sunday feeling better than expected across all dimensions — physically, emotionally and mentally.  Saturday’s race provided a ton of insight that I was able to use on Sunday.  Based on Saturday’s results and how I was feeling, I thought the best case would be a 3:30 ascent and 2 hours down, for 5:30 total.  My “red flag” meter was set at 3;30 ascent pace, and I was not going to go any faster than that.

The ascent portion of the marathon went much better.  I probably walked half the ascent, but at the A Frame I felt great.  No cramping and I was ready to run.  Unfortunately I was slowed by traffic, both people still running up as well as people already on the descent.  I really couldn’t do much about it though–those folks had gone up faster than me, so I just settled into a pace I could sustain and passed people as I could.

I reached the summit in 3:35:51, slower than my best case scenario but I felt very good at the top.  My immediate thought was to just bomb the descent, going as fast as I could from the very beginning.

Of course I was still slowed by traffic, sometimes as many as 5 or 6 downhill runners being held up by someone running a more cautious descent.  I tried to be as respectful as possible, but there were times when I got frustrated and found safe but aggressive ways to pass groups of downhill runners.  I was feeling great on the downhill.

Coming down past the A Frame, I was on a surprisingly empty trail.  Every once in a while I’d come up on a runer and pass right by, then I’d be on an empty trail again.  I got to worrying that I might have made a wrong turn somewhere.  Luckily that wasn’t true.

Just before I was halfway down the hill, I came to an open stretch with a slight downhill.  I was opening up and getting into a faster pace.  I remember seeing a large rock in the center of the trail, so I moved to the right to get around the rock.

The next thing I knew I was in the air.  I had tripped over something and was flying.  I ended up crashing hard on my right hand and arm, then I rolled to my back and skidded 5-10 feet to a stop.  Ouch.  Fortunately I was experienced with falling on the downhill (I hit the dirt 3 times in 2010), so I just got up and started running again.  Looking down I saw blood covering most of my right hand.  I wiped it off and took a closer look.  I saw a layer of skin flapping off my right hand where it met my wrist.  Luckily my wrist band (the paper one they put on when you pick up your race number) got stuck in the cut, which stopped the bleeding enough to ease any concerns.

The rest of the downhill was relatively uneventful.

I ended up getting passed right at the end by someone who was sprinting to the finish.  I was just jogging in, giving high fives, reveling in the cheers and just being happy to finish.  I wasn’t ready to sprint for place 5 hours, 30 minutes into the race.

I’m disappointed by a 3:20 ascent and a 5:30 marathon.  In March I was thinking I could go under 8 hours for the double.  I blew that chance.  I blew it in March, April and May.  I didn’t give myself a chance.  I was really annoyed to be walking up sections of the course that I ran up 2 years ago.  It felt awful (though I can’t say it was unexpected).

But it doesn’t help for me to beat myself up about that.

So what positives can I take from the weekend?

I was really happy with two things.  First, the way I adjusted from the first day to the second.  I rebounded well overnight and ran smarter, more positive on the second day.  Second, I was really happy with the confidence I showed on the descent in the marathon.  I ran assertively and with confidence.  I didn’t get discouraged by the fall.

All in all, it was a great weekend.  I got a chance to run in a beautiful setting, spend the weekend with friends and test myself.

Compared to three months ago, when I was ready to drop out, I’m really happy with how things turned out.


Kansas thoughts

For a while now I’ve been marking periods of time by the races I run.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing; maybe it puts too much emphasis on races.  I typically feel a sense of loss, maybe a kind of sadness, when a race ends.  It feels like the end of something.  That time isn’t coming back.

This race, in Kansas, I’m not feeling that sense of loss or sadness.  The feeling is more like “good riddance.”  I’m glad to have this period behind me.

I arrived in Overland Park, Kansas on Thursday.  I spent a few days here, running some miles and writing a ton of words on the novel.  The most vivid memories I’ll take from Overland Park:

  • Wind (yikes)
  • Concrete
  • Brick and stone houses, ranch houses (tornadoes anyone?)
  • Strip malls and stores as far as the eye can see

Overland Park reminds me of San Jose.  It’s a town that grew up in the shadow of a major city.  It’s full of office parks, planned residential communities and chain stores.  Almost every major chain store is within 3 miles of my hotel.

Since I wasn’t planning to race hard, I decided to extend my run—I ran the 2.5+ miles from my hotel the race start and then back again.  All tolled, I covered 31+ miles today.  And 50+ miles over 3 days in Overland Park.

The race itself, well there were some lessons.  Most of the lessons are just reminders of stuff I already knew.  Like if I don’t train well for a race, I can’t race well.  And I really shouldn’t go out too fast in a race, especially when I plan to run what amounts to a 50K.  That decision to run to/from the start?  Would have been great if I made it some time before race morning.

The first half went ok; the second half was a nightmare.  Starting around mile 9 I knew something bad was coming, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it would be.  I was thinking “crap, I am not even halfway there and I already feel bad.”  Around mile 21 or 22 I started to feel light headed, so I started walking.  Only I couldn’t walk straight.  At mile 23 I loaded up on Gatorade and Gu.  In a few minutes I felt better.  Much better actually.  Ended up finishing in 3:50 something, but the last couple miles were my fastest since mile 7.  I guess I can take that positive out of the race.

The course was good and the crowd was supportive.  I was initially surprised to hear so many cowbells.  Then I thought…”well, we are in Kansas.”

When I step off the plane on Monday, I will have put this race behind me.  I won’t forget it; I hope to use it as motivation and a reminder of what happens when you lose some respect for the distance.  No excuses—I didn’t do the work; I didn’t earn a better result.  I saw some guy wearing a shirt with a slogan that really resonated with me … “everything earned, nothing given” or something like that.  You can’t fake it in running.

I was really happy with the day-to-day rhythm I found while I was out here.  In bed early, up early, working in bursts, being active and not lazy.  I hope to continue that when I get home.  That’s the way I’ll earn better results.

I was out a bit earlier tonight and I counted about 6 cars in the hotel parking lot.  I thought it was odd at first, but on second thought it makes sense.  Who would come to Overland Park on vacation?  I bet a bunch of business travelers come here, but they probably show up on Monday and leave Thursday.

Better days are coming.


New York City Marathon thoughts

I only ran the NYC Marathon once, but it was memorable.  It was in 2001.

I nursed a back injury through the summer of 2001.  Although I was entered in the NYC Marathon, there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to run.  I remember being at the chiropractor’s office when I first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Obviously, that day changed everything for New York City and people like me who lived there.  I made a promise that day to run the race in November.  Like most everyone, I wanted to do anything I could to prove that I was getting back to life.

I remember starting the 2001 NYC Marathon…running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Looking to my left, I could see the smoking rubble.  I’ll never forget that picture.  I remember race organizers telling us to only take aid from authorized aid stations.  That was the mentality.  I remember thousands of American flags.

If you took the NYC Marathon course and plopped it anywhere else in America, it wouldn’t be all that interesting.  It’s a fair course—not too hilly, lots of turns.  They actually made it easier several years ago.  They bypassed a relatively big hill entering Central Park.

Stating the obvious here…it’s the city that makes the NYC Marathon.  For a runner, there is no experience like it in the world.

Each borough leaves its own distinct impression, even when you are trying to focus on the race.  I remember the cultural diversity and raucous atmosphere in Brooklyn.  I remember the quiet pragmatism of Queens.  I remember a specific section of Queens—a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.  The residents were lining the streets, but they were completely silent.  Periodically, a child would break the silence by clapping (which didn’t make the parents happy).  Shortly after that neighborhood, we crossed over into Manhattan and a scene that was very very different.  Throngs of screaming people.  I remember feeling alone in the Bronx until I ran into the gospel choirs.  Heavenly.  I remember finishing in Manhattan to a beautiful scene in Central Park.  I ran so many miles in Central Park, I knew the finish by heart.  It was great to be able to walk home after the race.

The NYC Marathon is a crowded, complicated race.  To get to the start, you need to get on a bus about 5 hours early.  It’s not for everyone.  I lived in NYC for 10 years and only did the marathon once.  I don’t know if I’ll do it again.  But I’ll always remember 2001.

Good luck to all the NYC Marathon runners!  Stay safe and run well.

When a goal gets out of reach

I’ve been grappling with a disappointing realization.

The goal that I set for my next marathon is out of reach.  My original goal was to set a PR.  The race is November 20.  Given my current level of fitness, there is absolutely no way I can do it.  I’m not even close.

As I grapple with this realization, my feelings swing from annoyed to angry to ambivalent to confused to embarrassed to regretful to relieved and being perfectly fine with it.

My big question right now is…how do I handle this realization that my goal is out of reach?  I can’t wallow in it.  I need to process it and move on.  I hope that writing this post will provide the therapy I need to get out of the mud and move on.

Question 0:  What happened?

Answering this question requires a bit of digging.  In Six Sigma there is a technique called the “5 Whys.”  The technique guides you to ask the “why” question 5 times to eventually uncover the root cause of something.  In this case, the “5 Whys” would go something like this:

Why #1)  Why did I miss the goal?
I didn’t take the steps necessary to achieve it.

Why #2)  Why didn’t I take the steps necessary to achieve it?  
I wasn’t committed to the original goal.  Even though I had set the goal, I wasn’t ready to pay the price to make it happen.  Maybe I thought that saying I wanted to achieve a PR would lead to the required commitment.  Ummm.  No.

If I were really committed, the goal wouldn’t be out of reach.  If I were really committed and I missed the goal, I’d be angry.  I’m not.

Why #3)  Why wasn’t I committed to the original goal?
This is where things start to get fuzzy.

There are countless potential reasons why I wasn’t committed to the original goal.  Perhaps a normal marathon no longer presents a compelling challenge.  Perhaps I’m more interested in running far than running fast.  Perhaps performing well in a race doesn’t have the same relative priority for me right now.

These potential reasons point towards re-examining my original goal, which leads to the next big question.

(And I realize that I only got to three whys, not five.  Sometimes that happens…)

Question 1:  Do I still aim for the original goal?

Aiming for the original goal would likely lead to frustration, burnout and injury.  Why would I bang my head against that wall?  I should reset my goal.

Actually, I think I’ve already reset the goal without acknowledging it.  I think I’ve been operating according to that reset goal for a few months now.  I’ve been committed to something; I just haven’t identified it.  So I need to discern that revised goal, figure out what it is.  Perhaps by naming it, I’ll be able to get behind it and eliminate some of the negative emotions I’ve felt by struggling to achieve a goal that I’m not committed to.

Discerning my revised goal wasn’t the intent of this post.  I’ll have more on that in a subsequent post.  For now, it’s sufficient to say that I need a revised goal.

Question 2:  Do I still race?

Yes, unequivocally.

There are valid reasons to postpone or decide not to race, the most prominent being injury and competing commitments.  I happily postponed a race earlier this year because it conflicted with a father-daughter Valentine’s Day dance.  Sometimes it makes sense to reschedule.

But not being ready to perform as well as I wanted doesn’t qualify as a legitimate reason to move a race.  It’s lame and I won’t do it.  I’m racing.

Question 3:  How do I make the race a positive experience?

Some people run marathons to enjoy the scene and just finish.  I’m not wired that way.  Just finishing doesn’t mean much to me.  And while the scene is interesting and fun, saying that I enjoyed the scene could never justify the cost of the trip.

Racing is a concrete way of taking stock of myself.  I need to prove or learn something about myself for the race to be a positive experience.

The most effective way to assess a race experience is to evaluate relative performance, not absolute performance.  I try not to compare my time against my previous times.  I try not to compare myself against other people.  I try to focus on how I performed relative to how well I was trained to perform.  Did I get more out of myself than my going-in fitness might predict?  Did I craft the right race strategy?  Did I execute it well?  How did I respond to adversity during the race?

Based on this philosophy, I can make the race experience positive by evaluating it relative to my going-in fitness.  My absolute time is clearly a function of the months leading up to the race.  That’s a dead issue now.  Thinking relative helps me isolate the race experience itself.

Whew, I just realized that I can still have a good experience even if I’m less fit than originally planned.  Race-day philosophy is another fascinating subject, but that’s not the intent of this post.  Perhaps another time.

Question 4:  How do I avoid this in the future?

It sucks to have a goal and then discover that you can’t achieve it.  I don’t want to go through it again.  I want to avoid it at all costs in the future.

To avoid this situation in the future, I need to assess the goal setting process itself.  I must have the right goals—goals that are challenging yet realistic in the context of my life, goals to which I want to commit.  Having the wrong goals is a recipe for failure.

What would happen if avoided goals altogether?  Would I be able to just experience and enjoy running (and riding) without having racing related goals?

I’m not there yet.

Maybe I’m insecure.  Maybe I’m more competitive than I like to admit.  Maybe I’m addicted to the rush of race day.  Whatever the reason, I need to race and I need to set goals.  I need something on the books, a target and an independent public forum to use as a measuring stick.  I wouldn’t feel right otherwise.  I’ve tried it; it hasn’t worked.

The right goals, especially big goals, bring out the best in me.  Even if it means I risk failing.

So for now, I’ll get back on the horse with a new goal.  I can’t see it any other way.

What to look for when choosing a marathon

Deciding which race to run is a fun aspect of distance running.  In recent years the number of marathons being run has dramatically increased.  This is a mixed blessing, however—for every good new marathon you can get several duds.

Everyone uses their own criteria to decide which races they want to run.  Here’s my list.

The course is the most important factor for me.  I always start by looking at the course map.  I review both the layout of the course (is it a loop, out and back, something else) and the elevation profile.  And then I look at the pictures.

I like to run hard courses, so degree of difficulty is key.  Big SurBostonMount Desert IslandPikes Peak.  These are not known to be the easiest marathon courses.  They’re certainly not known for being PR friendly.  I prefer a course that challenges me, where finishing is difficult and even unfair.  Hills, wind, elevation…the more the better.  If I can run a PR on a non-PR-friendly course, that’s saying something about my capabilities.

I like to run courses that are really scenic.  And scenery doesn’t have to mean nature.  I wanted to run the New York Marathon to experience the feeling of running across the middle of the Verrazano Bridge, up First Avenue, down Fifth Avenue without worrying about getting run over by a car.  Besides the NYC Marathon, I was “lucky” to have that experience one other time while I lived in NYC—I vividly remember walking down the middle of Broadway on the Upper West Side during a major blizzard.  It was a surreal experience.

Running marathons has enabled me to see places that I otherwise might never visit.  Nothing against these cities, but I may never have visited Cleveland or Memphis if I hadn’t raced there.  They just don’t rank crack the list of the top cities I’d want to visit.

I gravitate towards locations that I’d like to see but wouldn’t want to schedule a full vacation around.  Cleveland and Memphis are perfect examples of great race cities—places that can accommodate a couple days of sightseeing but don’t merit a full-fledged vacation.  In Cleveland I loved the aquarium and Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.  In Memphis I loved Beale Street and Graceland.  Beyond those attractions, I was ready to get going.

If you can couple a race with a day or two of sightseeing, that’s a perfect combination.

I’ve come to appreciate the value of great race organization.  It’s a much better experience when the race organizers know what they are doing.  The registration, logistics (packet pickup, baggage drop, start/finish area organization), course marking and support all go a long way towards creating a positive race experience.  The little things really make a big difference.

Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine whether race organizers know what they’re doing.  The race website can be a signal—if it doesn’t have important information or hasn’t been updated in a while, that could indicate that the organizers don’t have the experience or bandwidth they need to get the little things right.

The inaugural marathon is probably the best example of the value I place on race organization.  I don’t like running the inaugural version of a marathon.  When events are put on for the first time, even the most competent race organizers can’t anticipate everything.  How many people wait to buy the next “version” of an electronics gadget or car?  It’s the same idea—I like to wait until the kinks have been worked out.

At some point in their life, every marathon runner should experience a big marathon and a small marathon.  Big and small races can offer very different experiences.

Big marathons emit a vibe that extends beyond the race to the atmosphere of the town.  Runners are everywhere, the packet pickup is mobbed, the city is abuzz.  I always feel energized by the vibe around a big marathon.  Beyond just the vibe, there’s something exciting about competing in a large field.  I cherish the opportunity to test myself against a large pool of runners.  It’s one thing to place high in your age group when there are 400 total competitors; it’s something totally different when there are 400 specifically in your age group.  Finally, big marathons almost always mean great crowds and incredible support on race day.

Small marathons emit a different but still compelling vibe.  The pre- and post-race activities are more laid back and easier to navigate.  During the race, you don’t feel like a sardine packed with thousands of other runners into a small space.  You start running right away and don’t have to worry about waiting for room to run.  Even with smaller races, there can be great crowd support.  And sometimes I cherish the quiet times in a race when I can just hear the sounds of my running.  One potential downside—on most small courses you don’t have the whole course to yourself.  You need to be aware of your surroundings and share the course.

Most runners prefer either small or big races.  I don’t have a preference; the other factors are more influential for me.  The only time size comes into play is when I’m looking for that extra incentive to prove myself on a larger stage.

For many distance runners, the marathon is the ultimate experience.  It’s the culmination of months of training, sacrifice and planning.  Runners remember the races for years into the future.

Picking the right race is really important.  You want to get the most out of your marathon experience.

How do you choose?

Running Slump Over: Hungry and Humble Again

My fitness is terrible, but my running slump is over.

I’m on a regular schedule now, increasing the distance and looking forward to increasing the intensity.  I’m being careful so I don’t get hurt.  Most important, I’m looking forward to every workout.  My eating and sleeping habits are improving.  I’m out of the rut I was in.

Autumn’s perfect running weather is right around the corner.  I can’t wait.

I’ve got a brand new set of goals for 2011 and 2012.  Do they qualify as BHAG’s?  Pretty darn close.  I’m nervous, and I’ve already started re-thinking my training and recovery strategies.  I’m not sure I should publish these since I’m still not 100% committed, but here goes…

My new list of races and goals:

November 2011:  Marathon (Kansas).  As fast as possible (I may not have time to get fit enough for a PR)
February 2012:  Marathon (Alabama).  Get my PR, potentially break 2:50
April-May 2012:  Races TBD.  Weekend of back-to-back racing.  Saturday marathon, Sunday 50K.  I’m looking to find a marathon and 50K within reasonable travel distance
August 2012:  Pikes Peak double.  Ascent Saturday, marathon Sunday
Fall 2012:  TBD.  Either ultramarathon (50+ miles) or marathon PR

The centerpiece of my new goals is an old friend that inspired (scared) me to big breakthroughs in 2010 – Pikes Peak.  I intend to race the Pikes Peak double in 2012.  I’ve never done anything like that.  And just finishing isn’t good enough, I intend to compete.

Future posts will cover the training implications of all these races.  Training for a PR is different than training for a Pikes Peak double.  Right now, my main concern is getting this PR, so that’s my initial focus.

It’s nice to be thinking about serious racing again.

What caused the slump?

Understanding what caused my running slump probably isn’t important.  But I’m obsessed with improving, and diagnosing the root causes of this slump will help me get better.

While running slumps are common, the cause of this running slump is not ordinary.  It’s related to the intersection of running and life.  The two can’t be separated, but in my case they became too close for comfort.

For a while now, I’ve been wondering whether I’m in the right career.  I’ve been reading a lot about “following my passions” and building a career based on what I love.  My biggest passion is running.  That passion has led me to some modest success – I’ve done pretty well in races over the past few years.

I started this blog as a first step in transforming my running passion into a career.  When I decided to start this blog, I fully intended to make money from it some day.  I figured other runners would actually be interested in hearing my secrets to running success.  Interested enough to pay for them.

I didn’t expect what happened next.

Once my “passion” became the seed for a new career, it ceased being a passion.  I stopped thinking about running for the fitness and challenge, and I started thinking about running as work.  I started thinking about ways that I could turn running into a business.  Not what I was looking for.

I also started to believe my own marketing hype.  I lost my humility.  In my attempts to position myself as an expert, I inflated myself to the point where I thought I was invincible.  I thought I could get by on eating like crap, running poorly, and sleeping poorly.  I forgot what fueled my previous success.

It’s taken me a while to figure this out.  I had to do some soul searching.  But discovering these connections is huge, and ditching this blog over the past couple months helped me get out of the slump.  I’m back to running for the right reasons.

What’s next for this blog?

Against most conventional blogging wisdom, I’ve disconnected this blog from Facebook.  Disconnected it from Twitter.  Disconnected it from LinkedIn.  Those connections were lame attempts on my part to get people to read it.

I’m no longer writing this blog with the aim of getting readers.

I’m writing this blog to capture my thoughts and feelings as I pursue running breakthroughs.  It’s like a journal or advanced training log.  I enjoy the process of writing and it helps clarify my thinking, so I don’t see a need to stop writing altogether.

I plan to use this blog to capture my learnings and document the places I find useful information.  Sometimes I’ll probably just capture some feeling I had during a training run or an inspiration I got from somewhere.  Writing for those purposes will be useful for me; perhaps it will be useful for others too.

I’ll probably end up posting more frequently.  In the past, blog posts have taken a long time because I’ve tried to make them perfect.  Ironically, I’ve had trouble developing content that I thought was compelling for readers.  I don’t expect to have that problem any more – I’m getting unstuck.  If it’s compelling for me, it’s good enough.

I’m guessing that plenty of other people are searching for that running breakthrough.  If you’re one of them, you might find some value in what I write.  That would be great.  But I’m no longer worried about anyone else who might read this stuff.

I’m just happy to be back running again.

Two Sides of the Boston Marathon: Results and Advice for Handling a BQ Miss

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Bob Dylan

Over a month ago I wrote about two different aspects of the Boston Marathon.  One aspect was the race itself – I noted what made the race so special and wondered what would happen on race day.  The other aspect was the struggle for a BQ (Boston Qualifier).  I highlighted the story of my friend Eric, who was racing that same weekend in Olathe, KS in his ongoing efforts to attain that elusive BQ time.

When I wrote the post in April, I knew the Boston Marathon and my friend Eric’s race in Olathe, KS were connected.  I never anticipated that each race would unfold the way it did.

By now everyone probably knows the Boston Marathon results.

Ideal conditions – temperatures in the upper 40s with 16-21 mph tailwinds on the point-to-point course – helped Boston runners deliver fantastic performances.  The competition was exciting, with the women’s race decided by two seconds and the men’s race decided by four seconds.  Americans performed beautifully.  Below are a few amazing accomplishments from the 2011 Boston Marathon:

  • American Desiree Devila finished 2nd in the women’s race with a personal best of 2:22:38
  • American Kara Goucher finished 5th in the women’s race with a personal best of 2:24:52, less than 7 months after giving birth
  • Geoffrey Mutai won the men’s race in 2:03:02, the fastest marathon time ever (by 58 seconds)
  • Ryan Hall finished 4th in the men’s race with the fastest marathon time ever by an American man, 2:04:58
  • Four men ran times that were faster than the previous Boston Marathon record (2:05:52 set in 2010)

My friend Eric’s fortunes played out that same weekend in Olathe, KS.  While runners in Boston were aided by a 16-21 mph tailwind, runners in Olathe faced an equally stiff 25 mph headwind.  Eric’s blog entry tells the whole story.  In short, the BQ eluded Eric’s grasp again.

My friend Eric’s experience highlights why qualifying for Boston is such a challenge.  You never know what will happen.  Races seem to conspire against you.  The BQ gets into your head – you change your approach to a race with a BQ on the line.  My BQ miss in Philadelphia mirrored Eric’s in Olathe – I couldn’t hold my pace.

Advice for coping with a BQ Miss

Eric’s reflection offers some lessons for runners who recently missed a BQ attempt.

1.  Immediately after the race, avoid declarations or decisions about next steps

Your emotions will be strong immediately after you miss a BQ.  Avoid making statements or decisions about whether (or when) to attempt another BQ while your emotions are so strong.  Take some time, grab something to eat, and enjoy the post-race scene.  If you can’t resist thinking about it, use the time to identify and name the emotions you are feeling and the needs that are driving them.  Just don’t make any declarations or decisions.  There is plenty of time to decide your next steps in the days following your race.

2.  Re-connect with your “big picture” and how running fits in

Qualifying for Boston can take on a life of its own; missing a BQ exaggerates that loss of context.  Pausing to reflect on your “big picture” restores the context and helps soften the sting of missing a BQ.  Each runner has a unique “big picture” – yours could include the progress you’ve made since you started running, the impact of running on your health and life, or the places you have visited through running.  Whatever your “big picture,” specifically connect with it to put the BQ in perspective.

3.  Review the race and realistically assess your fitness relative to a BQ

After the strength of your emotions subsides, review the race to identify what went well and what went poorly.  Was your training leading up to the race effective?  Were you fit enough?  Did your race strategy suit the course, conditions, and your fitness level?  How well did you execute your race strategy?  Were race conditions a factor in the result?  This assessment will help identify areas to adjust as you plan your next BQ attempt (if you choose to make one).

One April weekend, two races influenced by the wind.

Since that April weekend, there have been many more races and many more BQ attempts.  Qualifying for Boston wouldn’t have its legendary mystique if it were easy.  My friend Eric plans to race again, and he’ll get his BQ when the time is right.  And he’ll have earned it.

Then he’ll be hoping for a tailwind when he takes the start in Hopkinton.

What do you think?  Have you missed a BQ?  How did you handle it?  Do you have other advice for coping with a missed BQ?