In 2016 I returned to run my second Boston Marathon. I never wrote a report of my first race there because I could never work out the story I wanted to tell. That first time took place in 2013 and many narratives of that race have already been told.
I was joined in 2013 by two great running mates. On a remarkable day in fantastic conditions, all three of us managed to achieve best times over the marathon. It was a day to be celebrated, and it started off that way as we enjoyed drinks in the Lenox Hotel, with a view of runners headed down Boylston St towards the finish line from one story above street level. The bombs that went off were to either side of the hotel.
By the following day armoured vehicles were parked on Boston Common, and at the airport, as we prepared to depart two days after the race we were interviewed by the FBI. The manhunt was still ongoing and they were interested in any photos or video from the finishing area.
I knew that Boston would respond and considered returning for the 2014 race, but it didn’t fit in with my travels at that time. So in 2016 I returned to enjoy a Boston Marathon trip from start to finish.
I had no company for this trip, but as I waited in a toilet queue I started up a conversation with a guy just behind me when I spotted his Seattle Running Club cap. Then it turned out that the guy in front of me was also from Seattle so we talked about favourite running spots.
I had qualified with a time five minutes faster than in 2013 but would start from the same wave and corral. In another parallel to 2013, my target was not to race flat out but rather to slip in under the three-hour mark. In 2013 I had gone three minutes under that mark for a PR.
Control every variable you can, but accept the variables you can’t control
On Valentine’s Day, I achieved my first running target for the year by breaking 17 minutes for 5 km. A month later I was ready for a single attempt in 2016 at my second target, to break 35 minutes for 10 km.
My time over 5 km predicted that I should be able to achieve my target and the intervening training had gone well. I found a perfectly flat course, although the nature of the race (predominantly targeting novice runners) meant that I would likely be running alone. But despite all of the steps you can take in preparation, a variable that cannot be controlled through training and preparation is the weather. Race day was cold, wet, and most importantly, windy.
With an extremely strong wind I would have likely called off my plans but instead, it was only stiff enough to ensure a tough day. The course featured a 2.5-km section of paved trail around the outside of Seward Park, run as an out-and-back, and then repeated once more. The headwind would be faced at the end of each “lap”.
A couple of years ago I realised just how difficult it can be to achieve great race results across varying running distances. The only times I felt in shape to mount a challenge at a respectable time over 5 or 10 km was in my training towards longer-distance races. At those times I wasn’t willing to incur the lost mileage of taper and recovery that the shorter distance race would require. Furthermore, my training was never focussed on improving pace over such short distances, so any times achieved would still have been short of my potential. With my focus firmly set on racing marathons and further I conceded that I would never achieve 5 or 10 km personal bests that would be representative of my capabilities.
Then in 2015 I had a period of struggle following a tough ultramarathon. I needed to refresh myself, and I decided to do that by focusing on shorter distances. All of a sudden I was including new speed workouts into my training plan, I had signed up for a series of short road and cross country races, and two very specific time targets evolved. I would look to break 17 minutes for 5 km, and 35 minutes for 10 km. During 2015 I did not quite make it, managing to lower my times to 17:13 and 35:17 respectively. I would start 2016 by having one shot at each target.
I signed up for a Valentine’s Day race over 5 km around Green Lake in Seattle. It was fast and flat, and other fast runners in the field meant that I would have company.
In late November I ran my 9th and final race for 2016. During that same period, I wrote only a single race report for my 100-mile effort at Cascade Crest 100.
But I have decided that this slow start can be overcome by a sprint finish. Therefore I will attempt to complete race reports for each of my seven road races over the last 15 days of the year. For each race, I will highlight a lesson either newly learnt or reinforced.
Every mountainous 100-mile race offers something different. Cascade Crest will possibly remain unique in being the only 100-mile race where I was able to sleep in my own bed the night before the race (unless someone knows of a good job in Durango). After a great night’s rest, I drove one hour up Snoqualmie Pass in early morning light for the very respectable 9am race start.
I arrived at the start line in the best shape of my life, having completed a fantastic 10 days of training at high elevation in Colorado, as well as enjoying some amazing experiences on trails throughout the Pacific Northwest. When race director Adam Hewey asked about my target in the calm before the start I felt comfortable to tell him about the 21:30 pace chart I was carrying. As a stretch target, I had also worked out a 20-hour pace chart to understand what that would entail in case I was able to pull ahead of plan.
I set off from the start line along the flat John Wayne Trail for the first mile at around 8:15 min/mi (just over 5 min/km) pace. If the profile had remained flat and the trail smooth for 99 more miles then I might have finished in under 14 hours, but we soon took a right turn and started the first climb of almost 3,000 ft (900 m) up Goat Peak.
Today I say farewell to the final incarnation of a dear friend. We have been together through many times of great enjoyment and many times of great challenge.
Brooks Green Silence – Blue & Yellow
Brooks Green Silence – Black & Green
I can’t remember the exact reason behind my first purchase of a pair of Brooks Green Silence. I had just started incorporating barefoot running into my training, so it is possible that they represented the “path to minimalism” that was seriously trending in early 2011. With an 8-mm offset from heel to toe, they were lower than the Brooks Adrenalin and Asics GEL-Kayano that were the workhorse of my running shoe stable. They also had an interesting environmental spin with 75% of the materials being post-consumer recycled. But most importantly, weighing in at under 200 grams (~7 oz) they were the lightest shoe I had owned up to that point.
The Green Silence made me realise how much of a difference a lighter shoe can make. The first time I ran my club time trial in them I set a new 8 km PB that felt comfortable, and they were also with me the first time I broke the 40-minute barrier for 10 km. In that race one shoe lace came undone with 1.5 km remaining, but without time to spare I continued running as the lace repeatedly slapped against my other leg. Luckily the shoes offered a great slipper-like fit, even when unlaced.
I owned a number of pairs over the years, starting with my first green and black pair, and including a very funky red and yellow pair (pictured below) where the left and right shoes were inverted in colour. The shoe was discontinued way back in January 2013, and in its relatively short lifespan it had quite a few colours but never underwent design changes that would have been as likely to displease as to please. I found a couple of very cheap pairs at a factory outlet in Australia in mid-2014 and knew that they would be my last pairs. Today I retire the second of those pairs and say farewell.
It also comes at an interesting time, with the current workhorse of my shoe collection (the Brooks PureConnect) having just been discontinued. I guess another eulogy will be due when my final pair of those shoes is also lain to rest.
The first race in my new home state of Washington is one that nobody seems to have heard of. Taking place in the town of Lynden, just 4 miles south of the Canadian border, even residents of the 12,000 population town had no idea that a race was taking place. While sitting down for a coffee prior to the race the waitress mentioned that she only realised the race (which ran straight past the restaurant) was taking place on her way into work that day, and vaguely recalled the first running of the event last year.
I signed up for the race as it offered a fast and flat course that is rarely available closer to home. I had initially been planning on attempting to break the 35-minute barrier, but the training disruption caused by an intercontinental relocation made that unlikely. After warming up I headed to the start line, noticing one other runner who had done likewise. It was the two of us that stood towards the front of the field as the countdown started.
Setting off from the start I needed to settle down into race pace, but I realised a problem. I had switched my watch from kilometres to miles earlier in the week, but had no idea of my required pace in min/mile. I was at the front of the race, using the first mile to perform some mental arithmetic to calculate what pace I should be running. It turned out I had set off slightly fast on the gentle descent out of town so I eased back as I ran alongside corn fields on the country roads with low-lying fog creating surreal, muted colours.
IMTUF is likely to forever hold its position as my craziest spur-of-the-moment, last-minute race signup.
With the difficulty in securing entry to popular and enduring races these days it is important to plan ahead, and I already have most of my key races for 2016 pencilled in. The problem is that you can’t know whether you will be able to secure entry into the race until much later. I will have my name in the November lottery for next year’s Hardrock 100, but if I miss out again (this will be my 3rd attempt) then it will be necessary to complete another qualifying race prior to next November in order to enter the lottery in 2016 for the race in 2017 (I hope you could follow that).
Only 23 races count as qualifiers for Hardrock, of which 10 are outside the US and one of them is Hardrock itself. Wanting to stick to US options gave me a list of 12 races to consider. Further looking into those races uncovered a number of already sold out options and some that didn’t fit in with other races already planned. I was struggling to find a 2016 race that was still available for entry and fit into my schedule. But why did the race have to be in 2016?
The day after my 15-km road race in Ballarat I woke early for the drive to the top of Mt Macedon for a 30-km trail race. It would be my first back-to-back race weekend since 2013. My legs felt strong after the first race so I decided that I would still run a firm (but not fast) race at Macedon.
Wet weather and a low single-digit temperature (Celsius) greeted me for the race start, which is at almost the highest point on the course. Obviously that meant that the race would finish with an uphill.
My watch refused to start and after playing around with it for a few hundred metres of running on technical trail I decided to give up on it before my lack of focus caused a fall, which some people consider worse than a run not showing up on Strava. After traversing around the mountain for the first few kilometres with just a slight drop in elevation we climbed to the top of Camel’s Hump, the highest point on the course. I ran the entire way up and then gazed out from the platform at the top to see nothing but mist in the miserable conditions.
I turned up for the Athletics Victoria 15 km at Lake Wendouree in Ballarat (90 minutes outside Melbourne) certain that I would record a best time over the distance. That certainty was heavily related to the fact that I had never raced 15 km, and had therefore never recorded a time.
It is a race in which a graph of my pacing really does tell the whole story.
Taking place on a 6 km circuit around the lake, the race started with 1.5 km in an anti-clockwise direction before turning around (the sudden dip in the graph), returning back to the start/finish area and then completing two complete clockwise circuits. Still working towards peak fitness I started at a slightly conservative pace, thinking that I would speed up somewhere between halfway and the 10-km mark.
After inconsistent pacing in traffic for the first 3 km (the many ups and downs on the left) I was able to settle into a rhythm. Heading away from the start/finish area we were pushed along by a tailwind (my pace increased to follow the dotted white line of my average), so that on the return journey along the opposite shore of the lake the headwind slowed many of the runners down. I only slowed down slightly (dropping just below my average once more), starting to consistently pass runners.