November 18, 2011

The Journey (so far)

This is sort of the "part one" of my Philadelphia Marathon race report. I wrote it before we left because the outcome doesn't really affect any of this. At the end of "Once A Runner" there is a line about Cassidy's smile being a little sad after he ran the race of his life. My guess is that John Parker put that paragraph in there for a reason: to remind us that all too often, runners (or other athletes, or people in every part of life) focus so much on the final goal and the end result that we don't take time to step back and reflect upon the big picture... the "journey" we took to get to where we are, and what got us to the point where we could even attempt to do something amazing. So that is why I am writing this now, with an unbiased perspective, to have something to look back on down the road. In reality, that is the primary reason this whole blog even exists. We want to inspire others, but its also our "scrapbook" in many ways.

On Sunday I'll try to qualify for the US Olympic Marathon Trials by running 26.2 miles in less than 2 hours and 19 minutes. This isn't just a pipedream - I feel like I have an excellent chance of making this objective a reality. Physically, I've never been more fit. Mentally, I am confident and sharp. I've done the training, I have a sound race strategy, the competition will be top-notch, and the weather should be as close to ideal as you could ask for.

That being said, there are no sure things in the marathon. I'm not afraid of the distance, but at the same time I am acutely aware that many runners with credentials much better than mine have been absolutely humbled by this race. You have to respect the marathon, and run the first 20 miles with your head. The last 10K will come down to heart and desire. That is the part I am most looking forward to.

Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, I wanted to put down some of my thoughts and reflections on the journey leading up to Philadelphia, because experience tells me that the post-race time will inevitably be flooded with emotion and fatigue (both mental and physical).

Andrea on the summit of Sunrise Peak
The journey towards chasing the OTQ really began over two years ago, when I first met Andrea. Neither of us were running very seriously at that point and I had no illusions of the 2012 trials or even racing a marathon. I hate to say it, but you could probably have described us at that time as hobby-joggers. I hadn't even run a race since 2008. But at that time, a spark was lit. Andrea inspired me to realize my potential and never be simply content with the status-quo. I wanted to help her to do the same. Over the next year we pushed ourselves and each other. We climbed mountains and skied big peaks. We rolled the dice and moved to Utah. We backpacked the John Muir Trail. We had amazing highs, but also occasional points that were lower, as everyone does. Through all this we forged a bond in our relationship that I can't describe - its one of those things that you only can understand if you've been in a similar situation. This is the true "base" that has made everything else possible: unconditional support and encouragement for each other.

If we could survive a 225 mile hike together, anything is possible! :-)

The spark eventually became a fire, and about a year ago we both itching to get back into running more seriously, and more competitively. In my typical fashion, I jumped right back up to 100 mile weeks, then 120 mile weeks, then 140 mile weeks. But unlike in the past, I didn't break down. My body had hardened up with all the time spent in the mountains, and I got stronger and stronger as the high mileage weeks turned into months. Andrea built up her volume alongside me. We trained twice a day, every day, throughout the winter months. Long runs at 5:00am on a weekday before work. Ten hour days of backcountry skiing on the weekends. We were setting down the aerobic foundation that would make the latter part of this journey possible, although we didn't quite realize what was happening yet.

In the last 52 weeks I have run just under 6000 miles

In February I ran a 15K PR before I even started doing harder workouts. Andrea ran faster than her 5K PR pace for triple the distance in that same race. We were rolling. The excitement was contagious - we were in this together and there was a major synergistic effect to it. In March I broke the course record at the Antelope Island 50K. I was aerobically stronger than ever. We start to plan out workouts and a spring road racing schedule that would culminate with the Utah Valley Marathon. Every race went better than expected. We jumped to new levels. Two months out from Utah Valley, I would have been content running 2:37 (6:00 pace) in my debut at the distance. On June 11th I went out, ran without any fear, and came home with a 2:21:47. Andrea ran 1:17 to win the half-marathon that day. It hit me that this was just the beginning for us. We were having a lot of fun, and as previously mentioned, we were doing this together. The importance of that fact cannot be overstated. We joined the Fast Running Blog, and it didn't take long before our local support system grew exponentially.

After the Utah Valley Marathon, I was itching to run 26.2 again
Even after the successful run at Utah Valley, qualifying for the trials did not become the immediate goal. It took some time for things to sink in. About a week after the race I started thinking it might be worth going for. A couple weeks later Andrea and I spent 10 days on vacation in California. We talked about the trials quite a bit while in CA, and I decided that I was "all in"... I started to truly believe that I could do it. On the last day of that trip (July 4th), I talked to Josh Cox after a race in Mammoth Lakes and told him that I'd see him in Houston. Yep, all in for sure at that point!

Skiing in Yosemite - our teamwork and always looking out for each
other has allowed us to stay safe during our mountain adventures

It wouldn't have been wise to jump straight into marathon training in July. I came up with a plan that would get me to November healthy, fast, and ready to roll. During July and August I tried to improve all aspects of my running without focusing on anything too specifically. I ran 5Ks, long runs, a trail race, short reps, long reps, etc. I did a little bit of everything, all while keeping the mileage and building more strength. Andrea was battling an injury in July, but she never wavered from supporting me as much as possible - biking alongside me every step during times even when she wasn't running. I had a random back spasm in late July (lesson learned: no more waterskiing!) and couldn't move for almost 2 days. I thought the OTQ dream might be over before I had a chance to really give it my best shot. She was my rock and got me through it. It was just one example of thousands, but its safe to say that I wouldn't be in the current position I'm in without her day-in, day-out support.

The Top of Utah half-marathon marked the end of summer and the beginning of the real marathon training. Running 1:05:40 there was an indicator that I was on the right track. Andrea also PR'd in that race despite somewhat limited training in July/August, and soon after she decided to tackle the marathon and go for the OTQ as well. Now we were really on the same path and chasing the same dream. I was impressed that Andrea made the decision on her own to chase the olympic trials standard in her first marathon - doing so takes a lot of courage and confidence. Sometimes you have to go close to the edge and take some risks in order to achieve great things. She was not afraid to do that. I admire that about her and try to emulate it in my own running and life.

Jeremy Ranch is our "Magnolia Road"

For almost 3 months now, the focus has been exclusively on Philadelphia (with a trip to Long Beach and a pair of excellent half-marathon runs in there to break it up a bit). This marathon has dominated our lives over this time frame, but in a very good way. Our training logs speak for themselves, and I wouldn't have done anything differently in the buildup. I feel confident in the running and workouts that I have done, and I've been continually impressed with how Andrea has not only handled, but attacked the rigors of marathon training. We've learned so much about recovery, mental preparation, nutrition, and other aspects of training that I could write 20 more posts about these subjects (actually I think we did write that many posts!). And I think more than anything else, we've learned a lot about ourselves, about each other, and about what we are capable of. Our ceilings are higher than we had previously thought. That is a good thing to find out.

The journey doesn't end on Sunday. If we meet our goals, then we have to run another marathon in seven weeks for crying out loud! :-)  If we don't hit the times we are shooting for, then we regroup and move forward - the beat just keeps going on and on and on. We'll have more races, more crazy adventures, more ups and downs, more living with no regrets and making the most of every single day!

When the gun goes off on Sunday morning I am going to run with confidence and give it my best shot - for myself, for Andrea, for my parents and family, for my friends, and for all the people who follow our blogs. 

So that's a rough outline of what got us to here. Its fun to look back on... although to be honest, I'm more excited about where we are going next.

I spoke mostly about Andrea in this blog, but I can't say enough about my parents as well. I know they are proud of
me no matter what I do or how I run, but their support will be a driving force in my legs and heart this weekend.
Plus, they already booked plane tickets and a hotel for the trials, so I need to make sure that was a good investment! :-)
With my parents and sister - Grand Canyon 2009.
I know Jenna (my sister) is always rooting hard for me, and I'll be running to make her proud as well.


  1. That is a really cool write-up. It's your outlook and attitude towards running and life that are ultimately what will make you successful. Go kill it on Sunday. You're more than ready, you've earned it.

  2. Wonderful post! Both of your passion, dedication, and fire for success are incredible and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey with us… I know for me, I really appreciate it and learn lots from your posts.

    I think you two are very lucky to have found each other. It is difficult enough to find someone to share your life with; but to find someone who has so many commonalities and a zest for life is rare.