What does the typical builder/developer tract house have in common with most marathoners today? If you are a runner you might see yourself in the answer!
Nearly every runner training for a marathon follows some sort of plan. There are hundreds of well intended training plans published by very reputable sources available to the runner. Typically these plans total about 16 weeks in training, prescribe how many miles to run on each given day, may prescribe how fast or slow to run without prescribing a time, and will more than likely include at least one 20 mile training run to be completed just before a tapering period before race day. Sound familiar?
My observation is that first time marathoners try these plans and they receive a result, they at least finish their first marathon. Then at some point they think they should try another. Then there is the next marathon, followed by another, and yet another, etc. Before you know it four or more years have passed, the runner’s marathon performance has likely plateaued by now and they also may believe they have come to know everything there is to know about training for a marathon. I mean, how many variations of the published training routines are there? They all pretty much boil down to the same thing, right?
Back to the tract housing scene. Tract housing typically is designed to be constructed easily, it is aimed at a spectrum of the general marketplace, focuses on a myriad of features (i.e. stainless steel appliances, stone counter tops, etc.), and can be constructed on virtually any vacant parcel of land. Tract houses pay little attention to being unique and by definition, are not designed to meet all of the unique requirements of the individual homeowner. It only takes less than an hour or two of viewing any HGTV show to realize that every house lacks something for a particular homeowner. Obviously there are many tract homes work very well for many people, but in order to satisfy a broad market segment, they loose some level of individualization.
Thus it is with the “Out of the Box” training program. They do work, but do they work well enough for the widely diverse groups of runners? For all the hours of running, all the hours of other training, all the sacrifices the runner makes during a training period, why do runners SETTLE for only generalized, non-specific training when it comes to the total marathon experience? How can they break away from a plateau and make a significant improvement in their performance?
Back to housing. Architects understand that homeowners, particularly homeowners seeking to construct a new house, can more often attain a better final result that benefits the specific homeowner in many ways than compared to tract housing targeted at the general marketplace. Pictured is a custom home I designed in Novi, MI for a husband and wife. The husband was from Santa Monica, CA. The wife was from a coastal town in North Carolina. They were seeking a house that would look like it would fit on either coast. They were very pleased with the experience of the design process and the final results. I seriously doubt plans for this house could be found in any selection of a builder’s plan book.
Similarly for runners, especially runners that feel they face a challenging training session or unique race, or result. It could be the runner’s first 5K or the runner’s umpteenth marathon. The best advice to runners is to avoid the “Out of the Box” training program and seek out a qualified running coach who will work closely with the runner to help assure the runner’s success.
With a qualified coach the runner should expect regular feedback to help address the myriad of variations the runner faces during their training period. A good coach , like a good architect will provide personalized advice on not only how to much, far, and fast to run, but also many more topics in order to help assure the runner (or homeowner) achieves their targeted goals. It is nearly impossible to expect any runner to fully abide by the template programs available to them for 117 consecutive days! How can a predetermined impersonal fixed schedule ever help a runner when the runner feels extra tired, or know when the runner may be over training, and many more variables that come into play during training?
So as an architect with 43 years experience who has successfully designed and constructed private residences for average homeowners, I urge you to at least talk to an architect if you are considering any change to your home or constructing a new house as an essential first step. Start at http://www.aia.org and seek out a local chapter in your area for further assistance.
As a certified running coach with over 50 years of running experience and if you are either in the midst of training or look to start training soon, I urge you to seek out a certified running coach that is as anxious to work with you are with them. Of course I would especially appreciate it if you would contact me. I can be reached at Therunningarchitect@gmail.com and you can also view my coaching services website to learn more too at http://www.therunningarchitect.com
Thank you for taking time to read this post and as always, Run Happy 🙂
It’s official, after being referred to as “Coach” by many of my running friends for years I can now officially call myself “Coach”. Following several years of comfortable procrastination a series of circumstances over the past several months combined to enable me to become a nationally certified running coach via the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) coaching certification program.
The RRCA is the national running organization that has been promoting the sport of road running and racing since the late 1950’s, about the time that I began to take a curious interest in long distance running. It’s coaching certification process is focused on training coaches to train runners of all types for all types of road races. Coaches that achieve certification can be counted on as having a high level of integrity, knowledge of the sport, and passion to help their runners succeed.
The process to become a RRCA certified coach in a challenging one. It involves committing at least two full days of classroom training, successfully passing a lengthy exam, and becoming certified in CPR and first aid. You might think so what’s so tough about that? Well, it begins in finding an available class. That alone is more difficult than it appears as classes are held at various locations across the country and the enrollment is very limited. I was fortunate in that the RRCA National Convention was scheduled to be held downtown Detroit in Mid-March and the coaching certification class was being offered as a part of the convention. This duel opportunity meant that the fee for the class was higher and the classes would be spread over three days. I justified the higher cost by reasoning that I could avoid any travel cost. The higher cost also meant that this opportunity remained “open” a bit longer than normal and I was able to schedule this class within weeks of the actual class date.
The Class Experience
Approximately 30 candidates enrolled in the class. What surprised me was how far away many came just to attend the class! Out of the 30 maybe seven were from the Detroit area. The rest came from places like Tuscon, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Houston, Florida, and even one person from Bombay! About a third of the class traveled from nearby states such as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and one person from neighboring Windsor Ontario. It was quite a cross section. There were also a few more ladies in the class than men which reflects the national demographics of the sport too.
Thanks to the National Convention, we were treated with four very experienced instructors. Each presented their specialty in various topic areas. Topic areas covered physiology, psychology, training theory, running form, nutrition, injuries, business aspects, and even the history of coaching. There was quite a lot of information to cover and I was glad it was spread out over three days. Unlike similar classroom scenarios involving the architectural profession, I did not find my mind drifting even once off track from the presentations. We were in a small room, no windows, basic table and chairs, yet I found myself being comfortable and even invigorated with the discussion and presentations. Before I knew it each long day was over and I was anxiously awaiting to take on the next day.
The dreaded test. It was made very clear when signing up for this venture that each candidate would be required to take an exam. The exam consist of 100 questions, taken online, and an open book format that must be successfully completed within 30 days, Also, in order to pass, one needed a score of 85% or better. If not, then it was back to the starting line and repeat the process (and cost) all over again! So the pressure was on.
Immediately following the course, I spent a week organizing my study book (about 1″ thick of full pages). Yellow sticky tabs were everywhere by the time I was done. Then came the day I had planned to take the exam. My Saturday afternoon was planned to start, I had made it this far, I needed to continue. Much like approaching the half way point of any race, time to concentrate and “kick it in”.
The first few questions appeared simple, then I started to ask myself doubting questions. Even though I knew what the answer should be I made it a point to look up and verify the location of each answer in the book. This became very time consuming. Each block of the exam consisted of 10 questions. After you answered 10 you could save that section and continue. There was the opportunity to re-visit each section and change any answer.
About two hours later I had completed 50 questions! Half way! Yikes, this was taking much longer than I had planned. I saved my work and took a nap with the thought that I could finish the last 50 questions on Sunday. But I could not rest. After about 30 minutes of this anguish, I returned to my desk thinking that if I complete one more section then it would be that much less I would need to complete on Sunday. Well, one section merged to two, two to three, and before I knew it I only had one more section to go. Done!
Done, but not so sure of certain questions. I was tempted to the the FINAL SUBMIT button but decided to think about it over night. It was late Saturday evening, I was drained from my long run earlier in the day and nearly four hours of questions. When the final submit button is hit, you receive your results instantly! I was not mentally prepared for this. So instead, I printed out the questions and my answers and placed the papers aside until Sunday.
I was able to get a long run in late Sunday morning but it was not a quality run as certain questions from the exam lingered in my mind. Upon looking at my printed answers I discovered two or three that I had obviously incorrectly answered. Then there were another four or five that I was reading too much into the question and did not have confidence in my answers.
I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon dilly-dallying around. I returned to my desk with every intention to hit that dang SUBMIT button. Well… I also thought that before I do, I probably should have a glass of wine . . . or two.
Finally, after dinner, I returned to my desk, and like stripping a band-aid off your hairy arm, I hit that SUBMIT button and I swear, my finger no sooner came off the keyboard when a message flashed 95% ! I passed! In time I will be able to learn the answers to all of the questions.
You’re Almost There!
The worse was over and I truly was almost there, unlike certain points in a race course where well intended supporters think they are helping when in fact they may be hindering your race effort, all I needed to do now was take a 6 hour class to become CPR and First Aid certified. Fortunately for me I had taken such a class three years ago and knew exactly what to expect. Regardless, it’s always good to brush up on one’s readiness.
I was able to locate a class very nearby and attend this past Saturday. Good thing too because it was a cold and rainy day, who wanted to run in this mess. I simply moved my long run to Sunday. I had an excellent instructor, learned and re-learned my important items, and glad this part is now complete.
The first thing Monday morning, I sent my CPR/FA credentials to the RRCA and received prompt congratulatory notice and within a short time I will receive my official certificate documenting my achievement of becoming a certified running coach from the Road Runners Club of America!
The Next Steps
I plan to offer my services to the members of the newly formed 501 Running Club (formerly Running Fit 501) and continue being a helpful resource to the members of the club as each of them may see fit to seek my advice.
I also plan to establish my own business as a running coach in the very near future. I am already well into the process of laying the ground work for my new venture. Stay tune in the coming weeks for more news regarding this venture. In the meantime, I have NO plans to quit my day job as an architect at OHM Advisors. I do not foresee my coaching effort as a career change, rather I see it as another opportunity to further explore and share my passion for running with long time runners as well as those who only think they might like to try running someday.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post, please check back for updates, or better yet sign-up to follow by blog and you will receive updates as I post.
Well it’s all over except the memories and the memories will always be good ones. Despite not hitting my personal goal time I did thoroughly enjoy the trip and marathon experience. The memories of the preparation, sights and sounds of Boston, a pre-race dinner, race morning, the race itself, and of course all of the many great people whom I was able to share my experience.
Since race day I have had many people ask me how I did in the Marathon. I realize that only fellow runners really want to hear all the gory details and most folks are seeking not more than a 30 second answer to their question about a 252 minute race. Thus the format of this blog allows me to provide both types of answers. To the person expecting a 30 second reply I can be extremely brief and simply direct them to this blog. Same works for the person who would be thrilled to learn of all the details. Thanks to each type for taking a personal interest in my running of the 120th Boston Marathon.
Seven months after booking our trip to Boston it was finally time for my wife and I to pack up and fly out. We had a 6:00 AM departure flight from Detroit Metro on Saturday morning. The good new was that that time and day are not exactly peak times at Metro. I don’t think I have ever been on an airplane so full of skinny people! They were mostly dressed in Boston Marathon jackets from previous years. The flight was a good one as was our arrival in Boston. Our hotel was just around the corner from the staging area of the race finish, meaning only a minimal walk back to hotel after running a grueling 26.5 miles! Bags checked, we headed out to the Expo a few blocks away. Picking up my race bib was quick and easy as was my quick sprint into the Expo to purchase a few race souvenirs including, coffee mug, cap, label pin, and of course the free poster containing the names of all the runners, including mine, somewhere. The folks at the Westin Hotel were able to get us into our room early and so we were onto the next stage of our trip.
We arrived while the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) was in the midst of several special races involving local youth groups. What a thrill it must have been for these kids to race along Boylston St. and under the finish sign of the Boston Marathon. Thrill for the kids? It was a thrill for me to visit the finish line less than 24 hours from my official finish!
Whenever we travel to a major city we always connect with a local guided tour bus. A perfect arrangement if you are running a marathon in a few days and you need to stay off your feet. We actually traveled several times on Saturday and Sunday with various tour guides and learned something new and different with each guide. I never knew Paul Revere lost his horse to the British army in route to warn the patriots! And now of course I know what a Smoot is too (hint, it’s a measurement of distance that only someone from MIT could ever invent).
The final pre-race event was a group dinner at Stella’s Restaurant. Most of the runners from our training group were able to attend the very tasty dinner and compare notes about our race strategies and what to expect the next day. At the same time it was also a welcomed opportunity to forget about the race and comfortably relax a bit too! Thank you 501 runner Mami for volunteering to organize the dinner event.
Unlike all the other major races in my life, I actually got a full good night’s sleep the night before the marathon! My brain did send me an automatic wake up call about 10 mins prior to my alarm sounding at 4:45 AM. I need to finish prepping my race gear, get dressed, eat my first breakfast (honey soaked bagel), and get out the door of the hotel not later than 5:45 to walk several blocks to board a charted bus for Michigan runners. Kudos to Bauman’s Running Store for taking on this task. It made a huge difference in the pre-race morning. While the first wave of runners were not scheduled to start until 10:00 AM the bus needed to arrive over 26 miles away in Hopkinton for security reasons. On Patriots Day the safest spots on planet earth are Hopkinton and Boston MA.
While nearly 25,000 other runners board school buses in Boston Commons for their ride to Hopkinton, they must exit the bus upon arrival at the athletes village. Imagine a high school football field and adjoining sports fields being overtaken by several large tents, hundreds of porta-johns, and tens of thousands of runners. Runners must deal with the local weather conditions. This year the conditions were near perfect, well, at least they were early in the morning. The chartered buses allowed runners to remain in the comfy cozy buses until near race time. But the real advantage was the large number of porta-johns available to the runners in the chartered buses! Unlike the runners in the athletes village who needed to wait in lines with nearly 100 people, we had the true luxury of only needing to wait a few moments, if at all. Only an experienced runner can truly appreciate the luxury of such an arrangement!
With nearly an hour before my scheduled start time (10:50 AM) I was getting a bit antsy waiting in the bus as was one of my long time running buds and protege, Robin. We decided to leave and head over to the athletes village to absorb the atmosphere of the Boston Marathon. The temps at that time were starting to feel nice and warm. Nice unless you were planning to run a marathon of course. Robin and I were seeded to start in the third of four waves. She was further seeded in corral 8 and I in corral 7. After sitting in the shade waiting for the prior wave runners to clear we were cleared to proceed to our corrals.
From the athletes village to the actual starting line is about a 1 mile walk. It begins just outside the village in the Hopkinton High School parking area. Your starting position is listed as a corral and how appropriate as there were nearly 10,000 runners being herded like cattle to their appropriate slot. The first corral was released to start the walk followed by another seven groups. What was both oddly strange and reassuring was the military sharp shooters standing along the parapets of the high school building. High above were several military helicopters circling and protecting the athletes. For a brief moment I felt I was in a foreign country. At the same time, it was great to feel so secure.
The walk to the start was much longer than I had remembered from 10 years ago but no doubt it was the same path. The race conditions were deteriorating as the sky was clear of all clouds and the sun felt great on our very exposed winter protected skin. There were several opportunities to take advantage of free sun block. Thanks Robin for helping cover my shoulders. All during this time of about 15 minutes I continued to drink my special fluids from the bottle I carried. Needless to say, Mother Nature was calling. Robin assured me that “little known” porta-johns were just ahead. We finally, arrived at them and realized that they were obviously very well known now. We found a relatively short line with only about 20 people but, it was also only about 5 minutes to our start time! Needless to say, we gave up and continued to our respective corrals.
As I arrived at my corral I noticed more military sharp shooters on the roofs of the buildings along the start corrals. I also remembered that I needed to find my nearest friendly GPS satellite too. What normally might take a minute or less suddenly seemed to take forever! My Garmin watch was simply not connecting! Was it due to the crowds? The cause did not matter, the national anthem for wave three had started, still searching for a satellite. Then came the starting gun, still searching. The mass of runners way ahead started to move, still searching. Finally my group had started to walk towards the start line, still searching. The runners just ahead of me started to run. Why? Why start 50 yards ahead of when you need to start running? Still searching. At the last possible minute I started into a slow jog, still searching. Then just before I was to cross the official start line, CONNECTION! So I was able to totally track m every move. Runners are an anal group.
The Marathon – The Early Miles
My game plan was to start slower than my normal training pace (8:30 per mile) for the first 14-15 miles, then to survive the hills between miles 17 through 22, then push strong to the finish line.
The start was crowded and I had no choice but to start slow but before I knew it I was briefly running faster than I knew I should. I had planned to run between a 8:45 to 8:50 minutes per mile pace. I slowed my pace down as I looked along a mile or so ahead of me and all I could see was a road filled solid with runners. I was carrying my water bottle still filled with UCAN. Along the route the crowd support varied from almost none to boisterous gatherings along the side of the road. I ran mostly along the right side of the street looking to “Low 5” young kids along the way with their outstretched hands awaiting to be slapped by runners and there were plenty of such opportunities for the entire length of the marathon route.
The mile marks seemed to take longer to reach then I had remembered in previous years. I found myself thinking only 1 more mile to the first 5K split. This is not a good thing to be thinking so early in the race. Nonetheless, the 5K mark came and I remember thinking that my family, friends, and coworkers now could see I hit the first split as my computer chip was scanned and my split broadcast to the world. I forgot to set my watch to view my total actual race time but I knew I was within seconds of being exactly where I wanted to be. The next task was to hit the 10K mark on target.
For nearly the entire first half of the marathon I maintained a very steady pace with minimal variation. Running nearly 30 seconds slower than my average training pace I should have felt very fresh. Actually, somewhere around the 5 mile mark I could feel my legs begin to fatigue, not a good sign this early into any marathon and especially so for Boston. The downhill trek of the Boston route was already beginning to have an impact on my performance. I remembered what my trainer, Kirk Vickers had taught me about breathing. At the next water stop I stopped running and walked through the stop taking deep cleansing breaths following my water. Kirk has preached the need for such breathing as our tired muscles were straining for oxygen and the deep breaths helped to supply oxygen to my tiring leg muscles.
IT WORKED! Shortly after resuming my run my legs no longer felt fatigued and I was able to continue on with my enjoyment of the Boston Marathon. Actually, I felt pretty good during all of the early miles, legs fresh, pace felt easy, and I continued to “Low 5” as many little hands as I could all along the way. Then it came! The sound! The thunder! I was more than a half mile away but I could already hear the roar of the young ladies of Wellesley College and the half way mark were approaching!
The Wellesley Experience
The girls of Wellesley are world famous for their loud boisterous support of runners at the half way point of the Boston Marathon but that’s not all they are well known for. They are probably best known for their long line of coeds leaning over the rails reaching out not only their hands for slaps but also for their kisses! This is one part of the route where the guys definitely veer to the right of the road while the lady runners tend to stay in the middle of the road. I intentionally slowed my pace and tried to slap every single coed’s hand. Along the way I also felt so so sorry for two young Wellesley ladies. There they were standing a bit apart from the rest of the crowd, holding a sad looking sign indicating their desire to be kissed by a runner, so what else could I do but stop momentarily and give them each a big kiss (on the cheek) for good luck!
Then there were the two young brave coeds near the end of the 1/4 mile string of Wellesley ladies wearing ONLY A SIGN! Their sign read “Run Fast and I Will Drop My Sign”. You need to think about that message. I did not dare reach out to slap their hands for fear their signs may fall, but I did give one of the brave ladies a slap on her shoulder and told her she was looking good 🙂
The Wellesley support soon waned and I was on my way to run the last half of the 120th running of the historic Boston Marathon.
The Middle Miles
The Wellesley experience was very fun and actually it provided a bit of a spike in my pace. Not a bad time to do this, after all, I was aiming to hit a targeted finish time of about 3:50 and up until now had been running a very conservative pace. However, I was beginning to get concerned about the warming race conditions. The temps were a bit too warm at the start and not getting any cooler as the race continued. We had also been fighting a wind most of the route too. At times the wind came from the side but mostly it was a head wind. The winds were not particularly strong so I did not figure they were affecting my performance. That was a mistake.
The combination of the wind, the heat, and of course the hills all combined to give me a distortion of the race. The wind actually kept me dry and thus I never really felt the sweat and fluids I was losing without realizing it. I did walk many water stops to continue my breathing technique but also to gather more than one drink too. The cups of water or Gatorade were minimally filled thus most runners were not really taking in the amount of fluids they needed and more importantly would need later along the finishing portion of the route.
Only with the benefit of my perfect hind sight can I now say that I was in the midst of becoming dehydrated only I did not know it at the time. I also had failed to accurately remember the course. I thought that about 1 mile past Wellesley I would make the famous turn at the Newton Fire Station and head into the uphill portion of the route. Mistake! It really was more like 4 more miles! Thus my mind kept thinking this was a really really long portion of the route, when is this going to end? Why don’t I see all those runners ahead of me turning right yet? Then we came upon a very deceptive long uphill as the route travels over the I-128 and a nice long uphill, an uphill soaked with baking sun. Now I remember that I was warned of this hill. My goal here was to not over work this hill but rather to simply keep running and get ready for that big turn at Newton.
It was also during this stretch that I had planned to start using my energy gels. I have had great success with a product called BOOM. Still thinking I was about to enter the Newton Hills, I reached to my belt and treated myself to a BOOM. It must have worked because the last two miles were inching over a 9:00 pace, the next mile was closer to the 8:40 mark and more importantly, I STILL FELT FRESH!
Finally I could see the stream of runners several hundred feet ahead of me bend to the right. Were my own eyes deceiving me? The body and mind do strange things when you run long, especially in the heat! No, before I knew it I was around the bend and in front of the Newton Fire Station. There was cool mist tent runners could run through but I opted to keep a straight path and take on the first challenging hill. The Newton hills are a series of 4 hills and downhills the last of which is the infamous “Heartbreak Hill”. Each hill is not particularity a tough hill to run. What makes these hills difficult is their location in the route and the fact that the runners legs have taken a beating by running mostly downhill for the past 16 miles. One of my goals for this marathon was to figuratively survive these hills and come out of them still feeling strong. When I ran Boston 10 years ago I had already ran out of steam heading into the hills. While feeling some fatigue after running 17 miles, I was still feeling much better than I was at this point 10 years ago.
Well, so much for that great feeling of feeling good.I could feel my running form slump, I was starting to stare at pavement and not the road ahead, not good. I forced myself to keep my head up and eyes out over the longer horizon. I actually remember telling myself that this part of the route looked so much nicer than what I had remembered from 10 years earlier. Not surprised as I was likely starring at pavement 10 years ago. As I started my climb of the second, or third? hill, I saw an American flag stretched out over the crowd at the top of the next hill. It was several hundred yards away, but I focused on continuing to run as strong as I could at least until I reached the flag. By keeping my focus on the flag I think I was also able to get to my target a little bit faster too!
Before I knew it I was on my way up infamous Heartbreak Hill. Not so bad really, then again it could be much better. By now my pace was starting to slow. Where for the first 17 or 18 miles I had averaged in the 8:50 range and now I was edging closer to the dreaded 8:59 pace. This meant I was within my one goal of finishing in less than 3 hours but not by much.
And The Rest Is All Downhill
Or so they say. True that most of the rest of the course is downhill but that does not make it any easier. By now the leg muscles are toast for most runners and mine too. I could keep the running going but not at the same pace. I was beginning to slow to a 10 minute pace. I was beginning to think “when would I see that Citco sign”? The Citgo sign is most often associated with the Green Monster wall of Fenway Park. It can be seen in nearly every homerun shot over Fenway’s left field wall. Runners know it as the 1 Mile remaining mark of the Boston Marathon.
As I began my decent down Heartbreak I welcomed the entry into the Boston College portion of the route. Legs still moving downhill but taking every advantage to stop and walk the water stops. Not sure which is actually tougher, to keep running or to start running again after the water stop. It really does not matter, tough choices either way.
I was given continued encouragement ALL 26+ miles by onlookers along the side of the route shouting my name. As I passed through the Boston College area a group of hefty guys started to shout LEE, LEE, LEE, LEE! Looking good Lee! No I am not really that famous, I simply used the same name tag I made for myself in the Chicago Marathon and pinned it above my race bib. My “Fans” were super supportive all along the way and surely they made a very positive difference for me too.
Then I saw it out in the distance, CITGO! I was told by Robin that our mutual friend and running bud, Jessica was planning to be near the CITGO sign to cheer us on. a few miles before approaching the sign I told myself “only 3 more miles to Jessica”. This was simply my way of boosting myself to the point where I would only have a mile to go.
I did see her too! To my left along the rail, somewhat isolated and thus easy to spot among the hundreds of people supporting all of the runners was Jessica cheering me on. I was able to identify her voice as being different than all the others who were shouting my name. Having someone you know along the route in a major race such as Boston is a huge boost! Unfortunately it did not boost my pace. By this time my pace was over 11 minutes per mile and I was doing all I could do to keep my legs from stopping.
The Last Mile
I finally made the turn onto Commonwealth Street. A very famous and beautiful street lined with classic row- house style brownstones and of course, more of my adoring fans! The crowd support was simply awesome and very loud. There were still young kids with their hands outstretched seeking a slap. I was way to tired to move a few steps to the right and bend a bit to fulfill their wish. Sorry kids, maybe next time.
For the last several miles the heat of the day had diminished. Not that it was cold but it did feel good to be a bit cooler. Too little too late? Probably so. I remember passing the various cross streets that intersect Commonwealth. Our tour guides told us that the intersecting streets were named in alphabetical order. I don’t remember the name but I do remember crossing a street and thinking only two more letters to H were I can make the second to last turn on the course at Hereford!
I had to battle one last stinking hill first. The nasty little incline down under a via-duct and back up to the main street. In an odd way it was good to get away from the cheering crowds and under the via-duct. It was a very short hill but I took advantage of being visually disconnected from my cheering fans to walk about 10 yards coming up and out of the slight hill. But I could not walk too long for as soon as I was back in sight some guy with a huge voice yelled at me in the way only a Boston native can speak to “GO LEE”! What else could I do but start running again? As I passed my fan I could hear him continue to urge me on by saying “WHAY TA GO LEE, YOU GOT THIS”.
Up the hill I climbed and my legs slowly moved a bit faster with every step. I cannot explain how loud the crowd was as I turned onto the final short stretch along Hereford before the final kick. Even if I could explain, it would leave me speechless to explain the truly great roar of the crowd as I finally hit Boylston Street and headed to the finish line, FINALLY!
My legs were finally moving again. I was running the fastest pace of the entire marathon! I looked at my watch and saw I was moving along at 8:08 minutes per mile pace. I looked to the right side of the street to see if I could see my wife who was planning to be at a certain spot, but I saw that the crowd of onlookers was at least 12-15 people deep.
I kept running strong, taking in all of the thrill. I began to think about the finish photo opp that was just ahead. I felt I could easily take on the group of runners ahead of me and pass them but then I realized I was running alone along Boylston, no other runners were anywhere near me. So I took of my hat, ran a few more yards, raised my arms in a victory stretch and grinned.
In the flash of a camera’s light, I had finished the 120th running of the Boston Marathon!
The glory of being a marathon finisher never gets old. It does not matter if it’s a world class marathon such as Boston, New York, Chicago, or a very small local marathon. All marathons require the runner to successfully complete the same distance of 26.2 miles.
After crossing the finish line it’s very important to keep on moving. You do not need to be fast anymore, just move. Keep that tired blood from wanting to settle down to your legs. You will have plenty of help as the volunteers keep you moving through the post race lines where runners receive a bottle of water, bananas, sometimes other treats, but most importantly, especially at Boston, THE FINISHERS MEDAL!
You keep on shuffling along and while they were not really all that necessary the next best thing to is for a volunteer to greet and wrap you with a mylar warming blanket. A direct decedent of NASA technology, these blankets do an extremely great job of keeping the runner warm. Even on this warm Boston day my race experience was not complete until a volunteer wrapped my shoulders in my Boston blanket. Turns out I really needed too!
I was able to exit the post race chute rather early, only two blocks or so after the finish. I was looking forward to a slow but short walk back to my hotel. It may have been slow but it was not short. I needed to walk a few blocks out of the way due to street closures and crowds. In the shadows of the tall buildings it was rapidly becoming cooler in the late afternoon. I also became very aware of barrier free design standards. As an architect I practice accessible design. I was suddenly very thankful for curbless sidewalks! At this point after any marathon the runners legs start to stiffen up and it becomes very difficult to lift your foot more than an inch or two above the pavement.
It took a bit of shuffling, but I did manage to return to my hotel. I was congratulated by my wife as I collapsed on the bed. It took a few moments but I eventually was ready for the shower and clean-up time. Hotels that host marathon runners need to have curbless entries to their showers! I will spare you the rest of the details and jump ahead.
After cleaning up and a “brief” two hour nap, I was ready to chow down on the biggest, juiciest burger in all of Boston! Luckily we found such a burger at the hotel’s restaurant and I did not need to walk around Boston to reach my next meal.
Later that evening I received a hand written personal note from the young lady who originally checked us into the hotel. She congratulated my on my effort and noted my finishing time of 4:12. It was not until I read her note did I first know of my actual finishing time! My time was far off the mark I had aimed for and represented my second slowest marathon time of the 12 I have run in my life. Not a problem, no worries, I still had a great “TIME” and plenty of excellent stories to pass on from now and long into the future!
In a race of 25,600 finishers, where 97% of the field was younger than me, and I was able to finish in the middle of the pack, I feel proud and grateful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy report. It was a marathon I ran, so hence the length of the report.
Following our return home I was contacted my a local (Novi MI) newspaper reporter. She was interviewing the local runners (6 of us) from my town for a story in the local paper. Here is the link to the wonderful story she published this week:
This blog reflects my world of architecture and my running experience. Accordingly, I have goals and intentions in each of these areas. This post will focus on my running life for the year ahead.
My plans for the 2016 running year actually became quite defined back in September of 2015. Even though I had qualified twice in the past 12 months to compete in the 2016 Boston Marathon, I really did not give running Boston in 2016 until only a day or two prior to the application process. I ran Boston in 2006 and had always felt once was enough, until September.
The chance to return to avenge my previous poor experience in Bean Town and to do so with about 16 others from our training group were significant influences in my decision process. However, the kicker was the opportunity to earn my second Boston finisher’s medal and pass two medals onto two of my three grandchildren. For my third grandchild, I have thoughts of running again in 2017. I have already more than qualified for 2017 and official acceptance from the Boston Athletic Association should not be a problem. It does not hurt that I also will move into a new age group if I run in 2017! So in the end, three finisher’s medals for three grand kids. Should a fourth or more grand kids show up I guess I will need to qualify again!
The other significant item that occurred in late September was my official notice from The Crim Foundation that I had completed 29 Crim 10 mile races thus qualifying me to be one of about a dozen other runners who will join the prestigious 30 Year Club. As a member of this group I will be provided special recognition and receive a 15 minute head start ahead of the elites. My goal is to make it to the Bradley Hills (about 4.8 mile mark) ahead of the Kenyans and other elites. This will also be the 40th anniversary of the Crim and no doubt there will be special events leading up to Crim Race day.
Other races will include a return to the Tobacco Road Marathon in Carey NC in mid-March. This will be a tune-up race for Boston but I also believe I can be a strong contender to win my age group. I have also competed in all of The Brooksie Way Half Marathons. In September 2016 I will compete in this race for the ninth time. The difference this year is that it will be a focus or destination race for me. In past years it has primarily been a training race for me.
Finally, I look forward to bringing the world of running to many new people I already know and others I have yet to meet this year. This will be done via my workplace and the Running Fit 501 training program where I enjoy helping others as a coach.
Oops! Correction, this is the final goal, I resolve to visit this blog on a much more regular basis (weekly?) this year as I attempt to share by preparations for running in the most prestigious marathons in the world, the 120th Boston Marathon.
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As a coach for the past seven years to many adults who are training to run a half marathon or marathon as a part of the Running Fit 501 program, I offer advice on how to successfully train and attain their goal for their race. The problem is that what I tell these runners is much easier said than done. I ought to know for I have not been able to fully follow all of my marathon advice until the Detroit Marathon this past October.
First let me set the stage. I thought I had retired from competing in marathons in November of 2011 when I won my Age Group in the “City of Oaks Marathon” in Raleigh NC. That was until sometime early last summer when my daughter Alexis and I each were selected via a lottery to compete in the Chicago Marathon. It would have been Alexis’s first marathon. Unfortunately Alexis became injured late in her training and could not compete. On race day, I found myself alone again at the start line facing the challenge of a 26.2+ mile run. I knew how I was suppose to run a marathon, start slow, be smart, etc. But this was Chicago, a nearly totally flat and therefore fast marathon. I am accustomed to hilly courses. So when I started faster than I should have, I thought this is great! I may run my fastest marathon in nearly 20 years! Somewhere around mile 16 I was reminded of how all marathons can be very humbling. I will spare you the details, let me simply say the next 10 miles were not pretty. Nonetheless, I was able to qualify to compete in the 2016 Boston Marathon with nearly 10 minutes to spare. Regardless, I knew my poor performance was my own mistake and I did not set a good example for my runners.
So it came to be that my daughter Alexis, her in-laws, and my other daughter Bridgett wanted to take a trip and run the Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City at the end of May (2015). Instead of running the half marathon, I was determined to avenge my Chicago disaster and compete in the full marathon at Bayshore. Like Chicago, Bayshore has a reputation for being a fast and mostly flat route to race. Well, I will spare you the details of that marathon except to say I made the same mistakes again. In fact if I had not had to make a pit stop at mile 16 my finish time (3:46) was nearly the same as Chicago.
Bayshore was not to be my last Marathon. My daughter Bridgett, was planning to run her first marathon at Detroit in October. My plan was to surprise Bridgett at the starting line and run the entire marathon with her. This would no doubt mean I would run my slowest marathon time, but instead this would be a once in a lifetime type event. I prepared a training plan for Bridgett and she did very well adhering to the plan throughout the summer until the combination of higher miles, the hot and humid weather where she lives (NC), her final term as a grad student, along of course with family and work obligations all combined to cause her to pull out of her marathon training in mid- September. Her decision was the right one for her. But it meant I had only a few weeks to “tweak” my physical and mental preparation. Yes mental too. I firmly believe that a marathoner needs to mentally prepare to compete in a marathon as much as they do physically too.
People can appreciate the time it takes to physically prepare to endure a marathon, but only a very few understand the importance and time required to prepare mentally. With less than 5 weeks to marathon day the time to tweak my body and head was minimal. Nonetheless, I was convinced in my mind to make this my best marathon since my previous decoration to retire from marathoning 4 years earlier. I decided to minimize my taper time from the normal 3 weeks to a minimal time of 2 weeks. On each of my training runs I began to visualize my upcoming marathon. It helped greatly that over the course of the past several years I had participated in several marathon team relay events so I knew the quirks of the course, especially the final half. I had also ran the first half of the course even more times as it is the Half Marathon route. That along with being a native Detroiter and toured Detroit in the back of my grandfathers car more than half a century ago all helped greatly in taking on the mental challenge of the race course. So each training run I visualized a part of the route. My training hills became the stretch up the Ambassador Bridge. My speed work on the track became my final kick along Fort St. and so on for many segments of the course.
While mental preparation is important if not critical, no amount of mental prep will result in a successful marathon if the runner fails to train their body for race day. Some of the training advice I offer runners for race day include:
Get plenty of rest the day before your marathon and hydrate
Start slow, make your first mile your slowest mile
Concentrate on running a negative split (second half faster than the first half).
Fuel properly during the race.
Do not go out too fast
Do not do anything new, do not experiment on race day.
Do not go too slow or too fast as you run up and down the Ambassador Bridge
Do not get caught up in the cheering crowds as you exit the underwater mile tunnel, you will waste too much energy too early (mile 8) in the race.
You would think these all are very sensible items therefore simple to do correct? Well, no, ironically as simple as they sound they are very difficult to actually achieve. In fact I have never achieved all of these during my marathons. I have never run a negative split in any race yet alone a marathon. I tend to be the runner who believes in miracles and start races a bit too fast thinking this time I can hang in there to the finish. No, not even close, witness Chicago and Bayshore results!
If I was not going to run with Bridgett then I was convinced I would run my smartest marathon and avenge my Chicago and Bayshore Marathons.
The day before the marathon (rest day) I went downtown to watch my grandson Charlie run a kids mile race with his mom Alexis. Bridgett, her husband Shane, with granddaughter Katie, and I enjoyed watching Charlie and his fast finishing kick to the finish line. Following Charlie’s race we trudged over to the race expo to pick up our race bib and a few souvenirs. This was all fun and good, but I was on my feet too long! Remember rule number one (see above) Lee! I remember thinking most of that day that I really wished I had not entered the marathon. What was I thinking!
Race morning came early, very early as we left the house at 4:00 AM to get to downtown. Parking was to be easy. Our training group had once again rented out Cobo Joe’s Bar. It is strategically located near the start and finish area, but we needed to get downtown early to avoid the street closures. Our bad, as the streets had closed much earlier than we had planned. Our normal parking area was not accessible! This only added to my stress and anxiety of not wanting to run not to mention a long walk to Cobo Joe’s too.
Soon enough it was time to lose my warm clothing, face the chilly elements wearing my thin racing gear, and get to the start line. I always prefer to race in shorts and singlet (tank top style) race shirt. My rule is if it is 40 degrees and rising then singlet and shorts are my dress. This morning the temps were in the low 30’s and it was a bit breezy, and this was in and around the protective buildings of downtown Detroit. Imagine the wind high on the open Ambassador Bridge! So I decided to wear a lightweight long sleeve shirt under my Brooks singlet. This would still not be enough to ward off the predawn chill, so I also added my usual garbage bag cloak.
The half marathon and marathon runners start together and run the same course until about the 13 mile mark. Thus as you line up at the starting corral you don’t know who is running which race, unless you are able to see their bib color. They also place you somewhat in order of each runners anticipated pace. Faster runners to the front and slower runners towards the rear. Runners are further divided into waves. Each wave consist of a limited number of runners and the start of each wave is about 2 minutes from the previous wave start.
I found myself up near the very front of the second wave with a bunch of other scary fast looking runners. Again, why am I here? Am I really going to run more than 26 miles, at a reasonably fast pace, without stopping, and hope to be done in about 3 hrs and 40 minutes?
Joining me at the start was Meg Schulte, a fast runner from the 501 training group. Meg had run the Chicago Marathon only one week ago and was planning on competing in the half in Detroit. We chatted about race strategies, she asked about my plan for the marathon, asked if I was planning on an 8 min or so pace. I simply said no way and proceeded to explain my last two marathons. My goal was to start out very slow (for me) perhaps not any faster than 8:45 and I would not be disappointed to start even slower maybe 9:00 pace. I explained my goal to run a smart race and run a negative split. That was my focus!
I started as planned, very slow yet warm in my garbage bag cloak. I did force myself to keep it slow and not stay with other runners, I just kept repeating “run my own race”. It wasn’t long after that that teammate Meg Schulte came up along side of me and while I was tempted to run along with her I knew it would be race suicide to stay with her, so she ran off into the still dark of the pre-dawn ahead of me as I ran down Fort St.
My garbage kept me warm and I was determined to keep it on as long as possible. The problem is that runners need to be able to display their race bibs to Homeland Security agents as you approach the Ambassador Bridge (about mile 3) and begin to leave the good ole USA and run into Canada. So for nearly a mile I ran with the bottom of my bag pulled up over my stomach to display my bib. Normally it probably would have been OK to lose the bag by now but we were heading up and over the bridge about 400 feet above the Detroit River and nothing to block the somewhat strong winds. I continued to focus on holding my pace, no need to spend too much energy on this hill climb, yet no need to slow down too much too.
Top of the bridge, a beautiful view in all directions. Two countries and thousands of runners. Pace picked up a bit on the downhill route into Canada. Off came my garbage bag as it found it’s next home appropriately enough in a garbage barrel. Running through Windsor Canada is always fun. Its great to look up and see the thousands of runners behind me strolling down the Ambassador Bridge, great crowd support along Riverside Dr. too eh? I remember seeing the Canadian election signs out in the yards.
I also remember watching runners who appeared to be candidate for my age group ahead of me. I ever so slowly gained real estate on them to the point where I could peripherally glance a peek at their race bib and see that they were in the Half Marathon. Not a problem as I continued to slowly pass and see yet another potential competitor just ahead.
In the past I made the mistake of looking at my Garmin to see my pace etc. During the past few years as a Garmin runner I had come to depend too much on the device and less upon my “feel” as a runner. I knew that if I was to run a smart race I needed to rely more upon the feel of my legs and body and less on a satellite in outer space to run a smart race. After all, it worked well for me for over 40 years of running. Nonetheless, of course I gave an occasional glance at my Garmin but this time it was truly only occasional and it was to assure myself that I was still holding the pace back and not running too fast. All through Canada, it felt like a very easy controlled controlled jog and I was still holding back. In fact, I had actually began to run a bit faster pace but not by all that much. I told myself “all is going according to plan”, “you have been here before Lee”, “just hold this pace”. In other words, a whole lot of positive reinforcement.
Running along Riverside Dr. in Windsor offers runners the best view of Detroit. Within the a few stride lengths the runner can see Detroit’s entire riverfront. I was remembering back to my childhood the image of the riverfront, the Boblo boat docks, concrete silos, and an overall industrial look. Today’s view is much improved and will continue to improve. I also noticed the river walk location. The 23rd mile mark is along that area. I quickly put out of my head how much farther it was to there and redirected my brain to running consistently along Riverside Dr.
Runners soon make a few turns and head out of Canada and back to the good old USA by way of running under the Detroit River! The tunnel is a truly unique feature for the marathon. While I was not cold, neither was I overheated in my running gear but the tunnel would soon change that. During the nice downhill path into the tunnel I unzipped my turtleneck shirt and removed my hat. Yes, as always, the tunnel air was warm and dry. Just about the time that the tunnel’s warm air was truly becoming uncomfortable my legs felt the pavement’s incline and there really was that light at the end of this tunnel!
Back in the USA
One recommendation I always share with Detroit marathon runners, especially new marathoners, is to avoid a fast spurt of energy when you come out of the tunnel. There is always a huge crowd awaiting and cheering the runners and you can easily get an adrenaline rush that will cause you to waste too much precious energy too early in the race. Mile 8 of a marathon is not when you want to start your “kick”! I thought I did pretty well in holding my pace out of the tunnel. When I exited and turned left onto Jefferson Ave. a race announcer announced “Lee Mamola, Novi, MI”! Talk about trying to avoid an adrenaline rush! Nonetheless, I have literally been down this road before and I managed to keep my cool and continued to the next downhill, under Cobo Hall.
The next stretch of the course was not to be my favorite. Runners run along a part of the Lodge expressway before returning to the streets of Detroit via the incline of an exit ramp. It felt like this part was added only because officials needed to add some length to the route at some point. Then when you do return to the streets the route becomes long and straight. A few years ago my legs fell off at this point in the route while running in the Half Marathon. I remember that this part required continued concentration. I continued to tell myself my pace was good, I still felt very fresh and relaxed, no sense of tiredness at all.
Before I knew it we were back onto the winding streets, into historic Corktown, and the bricks of Michigan Ave. The half way point was only a bit more than a mile or to be exact, 8 minutes and 37 secs away. It was at this point that I started to target a runner ahead of me and focus on slowly gaining on them if I could. Some I could, or rather wisely decided not to chase too, but of the ones that were maintaining a pace near mine, I did pass. It’s especially fun to pass runners that are clearly at least 30 and sometimes 30+ years younger than me at this point in any race. It was a great confidence builder as I headed to the midpoint of my marathon in Detroit.
Half Way There
Actually just prior to the 13 mile mark the half marathoners are separated from the marathoners as the half marathoners make a right turn to their finish line and marathoners continue the route. My guess is that about 3 out of 4 runners are competing in the half marathon. So all of a sudden what was once a pack of familiar fannies you have been following suddenly diminishes to a much smaller group of serious marathoners. You also quickly realize that this is serious business and you need to continue to press ahead.
My second half began with a downhill along Griswold and between Detroit’s tallest and significant buildings. I remember a little more than a year ago walking down this very street with my boss at the time Lou Trama. We had meetings in the Ford Building and Guardian Building. Lou had been ill and had a difficult time breathing during this short two block route, his lungs were not healthy. Within 6 months he would pass on to his next life. I was remembering Lou and that day when I came across two enthusiastic members of the Running Fit 501 group. Thanks to the cheers from Ron Smerigan and Liz Wright my mind was just as quickly refocused to the marathon. These streets of Detroit have been in my head for over 60 years, it was like running in my own neighborhood.
It had also helped that for the past several years I had competed at various legs of the Marathon Relay too. Familiarity with a race route, especially a marathon is crucial to a successful race. Last year I ran a nearly 7 mile leg of the relay beginning from just prior to the 13 mile mark to the 19+ mile mark. This helped me greatly for the marathon. The long stretch along Lafayette became more bearable. I also remember trying to listen closely to my body. The time to hold my pace was behind me, if I was going to reach my goal of a negative split then I needed to slowly increase my pace without increasing too much. I remember passing the historic streets of St. Aubin, Beaubeon, Mt. Elliot, and how these streets were named for the families that settled along the Detroit riverfront. With each passing street I knew I was getting closer to historic Indian Village.
Fueling My Marathon
During the summer I experimented with a new sports drink, a product called UCAN. This product is designed to minimize the peaks and crashes of other energy sources that are primarily sugar based and instead it forces your muscles to burn energy from fat sources within your body. It has a taste that takes some getting use to liking but once you do it’s not all that bad. I loaded up on the drink for 48 hours in advance of marathon Sunday while resting as much as I could. Then on race morning I also drank sufficient amounts to extend my energy to about 2 hrs.
Throughout the marathon I would take cups of water or gator aide at every aid station (roughly every mile or so). It also was very apparent to me that I was more than adequately hydrated for shortly after I drank a cup, I also lost a cup, all throughout the marathon. But for the first time ever I had never raced this length of 16 miles without some sort of energy gel or candy. The UCAN was doing it’s job! Then shortly after the 16 mile mark I could begin to feel my legs beginning the start of feeling fatigued. Every runner knows this feeling. I did not bring any UCAN product with me, so at the next aide station at mile 17 I would take a gel. I had packed a few “emergency gels” in my pants just in case they would be needed. But at mile 17 they were passing out a gel product called “Boom” I had actually used this product in the past and had very good results. So I grabbed a banana flavored gel and washed it down with water as I began my entry into Indian Village. But before I did, I grabbed another “Boom” gel from a volunteer.
Boom gels are very appropriately named because my legs did feel a boom as I returned to my senses and reminded myself that the 8:05 pace my Garmin was telling me was too fast at this point. The run through Indian Village is essentially a run around a big city block. It’s a block that includes many of the older and finer homes in Detroit. It also has maintained a vibrant neighborhood over many years despite the myriad of challenges that eternally seem to plague the city especially for the past 50 years or more. But on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning filled with God’s autumn colors, all was just fine with me. My pace was steady, continued a bit faster as I started to pick off more and more runners during the next two miles. Then before I knew it my trip to and through Indian Village was coming to an end. As much as I enjoyed this part of the route I was glad to take on the next segment.
I remembered this route from my leg of the marathon last year. Runners leave the cozy confines of Indian Village and are thrust onto the wide open venue of Jefferson Ave. I remembered this stretch to be a short distance before the route takes the runners over the Belle Isle Bridge. In fact this segment along Jefferson was much longer than I remembered. No problem I was still running strong, I felt relaxed, and kept telling myself how awesome this was as I continued to “pick-off” even more runners ahead of me! My pace continued to steadily increase albeit at only a few seconds per mile, I looked at my watch and noticed I had crept down to below an 8 min mile pace, ouch! A bit too fast Lee, cool it! So, I did, I relaxed, smiled and waved at the DJ along the course offering encouragement and focused on the next milestone which was a relay exchange point.
It was at the Jefferson Ave. exchange point where I ended my leg from last year passing off to my son-in-law Steve. Steve was a good sport just to participate in the family relay team last year. It was this same spot several years ago that I stood awaiting to receive the relay tag from my teammate Jessica Shehab. I was very familiar with this point in the course and the many fond memories of running here in the past came back to me in a flash.
It wasn’t much longer when I found myself feeling isolated as I ran the length of the MacArthur Bridge and approached entry onto this famous island. As an architect I appreciated the fact that the island park was designed by the famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. For those who may not know who Olmsted was, he is to the landscape architecture profession what Frank Lloyd Wright is to the architecture profession. He was also designed New York’s Central Park, many other parks in the city of Detroit, and even nearby Ypsilanti. This sense of history did not help me as I was beginning to bake in the warming morning sun.
Once again I unzipped my turtleneck and removed my hat to release some warmth. I could begin to feel my legs begin to fatigue. This was surely the result of the “crash” side of taking the Boom gels earlier. I needed to fend off this fatigue. I remembered the last minute sage advice from my training partner, an excellent marathoner herself, Jessica Shehab. She sent me a note reminding me to have my mantra to get me thru any rough spot(s) in the race. So as I was about to begin to exit the bridge, I knew I had to maintain my pace, I could not let myself slow down at all. So I told myself the following: “I am a running machine, I am a running machine” over and over. As I entered onto Belle Isle I could see that I as also approaching another aide station so I reached for my honey gel, grabbed a cup of water to wash it down and noticed the sign that read “Mile 20”. I had just run 20 miles and frankly still feeling pretty good! My pace was about 8:10 per mile, not too shabby for this point in the race.
Despite the natural beauty, scenic urban vistas, and level flatness, the Belle Isle portion of the marathon route is not a welcoming part of the marathon. In many prior marathons the runners ran entirely around the island (about 6 miles) and in the early years the marathon finished on Belle Isle. More recently the organizers cut the marathon route to about half of the island, the half that looks back to downtown Detroit and where the finish line is located. The reason the island is not favored by runners is the nature of the elements along the route here. Despite the weather conditions on the mainland, Belle Isle inevitably offers tougher running conditions. Runners will experience stronger head winds, minimal crowd support along the way, and most runners are battling the effects of “Hitting The Wall” all combine to make this a difficult struggle at best.
The head winds of Belle Isle were upon me as I ran along the southern edge that overlooked Canada to the South. Yes, this is the only area of the world were Canada is actually south of the USA! I could feel my form weaken and I knew this was that turning point in the race where it would be easy to give up emotionally and struggle to finish the final few miles. Thankfully I was able to fight this off and began to focus on catching the runner who was about 50 yards ahead of me. I focused on maintaining a steady pace as I fought off the head wind. Up ahead I could see the fountain. This is where the route would turn and the wind would be at my back. I caught the next runner as I passed the fountain.
Just ahead was the next relay point. I was very familiar with this part of the route from running here the past two years. I had flashbacks of passing off to my teammate Marianne Carter here. Before I reached the actual relay point I ran over the finish line of the Detroit Grand Prix! I also grabbed another gel to fuel up for the final portion of the course. Mile 22 was now behind me. I told myself the race was going good. “I was a running machine, just continue to hold your strong pace Lee”.
There were not many runners arond me as I headed for the final turn before leaving Belle Isle and the long run over the bridge. There was a woman standing along side the route cheering. She noticed my name on my bib and shouted encouragement to me “Lee, you’re a running machine Lee, you look strong”! How did this woman know my mantra that had kept me going through the toughest part of the course? I took it as some sort of a magic sign, took her advice, and picked up the pace over the bridge back to the mainland.
There was great crowd support for runners departing the bridge. Their cheers helped me keep strong as I ran down Jefferson Ave. heading towards the Detroit River Walk park. Between Jefferson and the River Walk we ran down a part of the course where Charlie had ran the day before. I remembered how Charlie managed his “final kick”, if Charlie could reach down and go for it surely his Papa could too!
I finally reached the River Walk, the part of the route I was both anxiously awaiting and dreading. I welcomed this part of the route as it represented the beginning of the end. I dreaded it because of the uncertainty of the winds a runner might need to resist and certain twists and turns in the route would require additional energy resources from my continually dwindling reservoir.
I remember a young lady runner was attempting to pass me. I decided not to let this runner who was likely 40 years younger than me pass this old dude. It meant my pace would need to increase slightly as I fought her off for the next half mile or so. This was the part of the river park where there were several twists and turns in the route. My proven radar for running the tangents (shortest distance between two points) ultimately allowed me to pass this young runner for the last time. Next, focus on another runner.
The next runner was actually RF 501 coach Suzi and 501’r Raymond Yost, They acted surprised to see me and yelled encouragement, told be I was looking strong (I felt strong too). Suzi encourage me to catch the only 501’r who was only a few hundred yards ahead of me. Another young-in 30 years my elder, Anthony Miller. I was not going to focus on Anthony I was going to focus on my own race effort. I felt strong, knowing too that the end was coming. I continued to run strong along Atwater St. passing runners as I did. I remember some runners turning their heads as I passed them and telling me I was looking strong! Keep up the good work guy! When you receive encouragement from fellow runners along the way it only serves to keep you going even stronger.
The next part of the route was a challenging little hill between Atwater and Jefferson. This was a huge struggle! It was short but relatively steep hill at a very strategic part of the course. Normally I charge up hills, not this time though. My brain decide to take it easy, do not waste any energy, just get to the top in one piece. It was slow, but my legs kept turning and before I knew it the hill had passed and I was crossing Jefferson, approaching Larned.
The Final Kick
I survived the little hill and was turning onto Larned. Ahead was the parking lot I used to park in when coming downtown for meetings with AIA Detroit and the Michigan Architectural Foundation. I was surrounded by buildings I was very familiar with for many years. My legs were feeling totally drained. The crowds along the route where larger again. Many voices from strangers reinforcing my effort. I could not let them down. I came upon Woodward Ave. How many times have I been at the intersection of Woodward and Larned in my life?
I was aware the finish line was approaching but I was not ready for the next turn leading to the finish line approaching so fast! Before I knew it I was back on Griswold for a short stint, an uphill stint too! Ugh! There were two runners just ahead of me as I approached the bottom of the hill. They were running strong. I was determined to show these “young kids” how to finish a race. Knowing this was the last hill in the marathon and that the finish was near, I kicked my pace into another gear, pumped my arms, held my head up high, finished the hill and rounded the final turn!
There it was the finish! Yikes it was not that far away, just a few blocks to go! So I continued to run even a bit faster passing several more marathoners! I simultaneously felt totally fatigued and strong as I did my best to focus on the finish line. The announcer called out “Lee Mamola from Novi finishing”. Finally, arms reached in a victory reach as I crossed the finish line! My final kick was at a 6:10 per mile pace!
I was relieved the marathon was done, I was greeted by volunteers placing a finisher’s medal around my neck and another wrapping me in a mylar heat blanket. Over to my left were Bridgett and Alexis who each had finished their half marathons and came back to see me finish and finish my strongest marathon too!
It took some time and effort to exit the finish area but before I did, Bridgett and Alexis joined me in the area and we posed together for a finishers final picture. Between the three of us we ran 52.4 miles this Sunday morning!
The final numbers are in, once you have completed a race there is nothing you can do to change the actual results and nobody can ever take away the fact that you completed a race, especially a marathon!
My final net time of 3:41:06 (8:26/mile average pace) was good enough for a 3rd of 68, Place finish in my age group, 503 of over 3,800 other marathoners. I hit my goal of running a negative split by nearly two minutes, felt strong throughout the entire marathon, and finally avenged my previous two marathons in Chicago and Bayshore (Traverse City, MI). The final notable mark is that I also qualified to run the Boston Marathon (should I elect to run) with nearly 10 minutes to spare for 2017! I finally ran a race the way I coach other runners to do.
Following a slow and somewhat chilly walk from the finish area with Bridgett and Alexis, I returned to Cobo Joe’s to be very warmly greeting with applause and cheers from all the great folks and running buds from Running Fit 501! I must admit that caught me totally off guard. I don’t remember what I wanted to do more at that moment, change into dry pants or devour some of those juicy looking chili fries and onion rings some folks were already having. I do remember the fries, onion rungs, and the suds that washed them all down tasted great!
I was onto the long walk back to our car, a refreshing shower, and more eats as we celebrated our youngest granddaughter Katie Jane’s second birthday too!
Thanks to all who took the time to read this long story, it was about a marathon after all. This has taken me weeks to gather and ultimately post. I look forward to any comments, feedback, and especially from anyone who may now be inspired to run a Marathon!
This was originally written shortly after The City of Oaks Marathon, Nov. 2011. During a visit back to Raleigh this past weekend I met up with some avid runners and we shared a few running stories. I am reposting this race report for their review and to continue my mental prep to run the Chicago Marathon with my other daughter October 12.
There are probably as many reasons to run a marathon as there are people who run marathons. With seven previous marathons to my record I had thought that I ran out of reasons earlier this year. After all how could it get any better than my last marathon in New York City in 2008. The conditions were perfect in NY, I ran my best marathon ever and had fun all along the way. You always hear about the elite athlete who retires while still on top of their game, so why not just call it a career for the marathon?
Early this year I had decided to participate in the City of Oaks races in Raleigh NC on November 6th. I had run the Half Marathon races there in 2007 and 2010, earning a second place finish in my five year age group (AG) each time. This year however I would be competing near the end of my age group. Being one of the older runners in my AG it becomes tougher to be competitive against the younger runners. So I decided that if I was not going to be able to be competitive this year then why not run the full marathon course? I would certainly not be competitive in the marathon either but this may be my very last opportunity to run through the beautiful and scenic Umstead State Park which Runners World magazine cited as one of the most beautiful running routes in America.
So it was. I would run the marathon as strictly an enjoyable experience. Take in the sights and experiences and be happy to be able to run a very tough, hilly, and challenging course before I start the sixth decade of my life. How many other people are able to take on such a challenge and how many (or few) of them actually do take on this type of a challenge?
My serious training to prep for this marathon began back in late June shortly after I paid the entry fee. My weekly running mileage was at least 40 miles/week and my weekly long runs became longer. Then it happened! Somewhere in the middle of the summer I did my due diligence research on the race and discovered that the winning time in last year’s marathon was 3hrs and 29 minutes, which was my finishing time for the NYC Marathon just 3 years ago. The City of Oaks Marathon course was a much tougher course than NYC and it certainly did not have the crowd support of NYC but it was still the same 26.2 miles long. How much tougher could the course be after all?
The summer training morphed into fall racing and before I knew it the fall races were over and the time had come to begin my final preps for the marathon. Perhaps the most critical part of any marathon training period is tapering. The final three weeks prior to race day is the toughest part of the marathon training to pass. If not done correctly you will find yourself in a state of tired anguish during the marathon. If done correctly, running a marathon is the last thing you really want to do in the final days before the race.
So it was for me, as our bags were packed and my wife and I began the 12 hour drive to Raleigh. I was looking forward to the trip to visit my daughter, her husband, and their dog Barley, but I did not “feel” like a runner at all. I felt fat, bloated, and generally not too interested in running period, let alone a full marathon. As if this was not enough incentive not to run, I was fighting off a nasty cold and I was beginning to have a hacking cough too!
The day prior to race day included a drive around most of the first half of the course. This is the part of the course I had ran last year during the half marathon and the challenging hills in and about downtown Raleigh were all still there! This year’s race featured a new start and finish area in front of the iconic clock tower on the campus of NC State University. We were able to drive a short way along part of the second half of the course but most of the last 13+ miles would need to be experienced by me for the first time during the actual marathon. This was just as I preferred too, I wanted to be surprised by the beauty of Umstead.
While many marathoners focus on running long distances and logging mega miles per week during their training, I instead focused on running many hills. The long runs were there, but I only had two weeks where I ran over 50 miles. I did this in prep for the Raleigh course and specifically the hills in Umstead. The profile of the race course was published on-line and the most challenging part of the race would begin somewhere after the 13 mile mark with a series of never ending hills highlighted by a several hundred foot climb beginning about mile 18 through to mile 24.
My race strategy was to start slow and easy, do not allow myself to become caught up in racing with others but rather to run my own race. I also did not want to be embarrassed and have a bad effort on race day. After all, I had been telling many other runners in our training group how to run a marathon and just what to do. They were all on my mind come race day too. I was thinking it would be nice to run a 3:30 marathon, (8 min/mile average pace) but that it was not going to happen on this course. “Just run your best Lee and let the time take care of itself”.
The City of Oaks Marathon field included about 600 runners and several thousand half marathoners with hundreds of others there to run a 10k race too. It would also be a crowded field at the start.
Because the race rules would be using the “gun time” (versus chip time) as the official scoring I made it a point to line up near the start of the crowd. The conditions could not be better including the time! It was the first morning of the time change from daylight time and the 7AM start really felt much closer to an 8AM start, including temps that were rising from the low 40’s. So there I stood dressed in my skimpy and very light weight Brooks racing outfit, throw away painter’s hat and a huge garbage bag over my body to keep me warm up until gun time. With 30 seconds to spare, I shredded my bag and was ready to race.
The first mile was generally downhill. Not a good thing when you need to start slow and run 26.2 miles. I did start what I felt was a slow pace. Many runners were quick to pass me and I fought off the urge to run fast, “just take it easy Lee”. As we crossed the mile mark my watch read 7:30! Way too fast for the first mile! Not to worry as the next mile was all uphill. So I continued to relax and not get too worried about the hill. Before I knew it the second mile split came up, another 7:30 mile! Dang, I was now worried that I might be wasting an entire summer/fall training season by this quick start.
It did not take too long for my continued internal mindset to take over and before I knew it I was running very comfortably along at just under an 8 min/mile pace. Perhaps too fast but then I also felt very comfortable and relaxed, so I just continued to tell myself to enjoy the scene and run my race according to my feel.
The aide stations came and went. I took my Accelerade gels at the appropriate times as planned. Generally early in the race so the chemicals would be in my system later when needed in the race. The first came at 4 miles, then at the 8, 14 and 17 mile marks. Much of the first half of the course was in and around downtown Raleigh and most of the course was very familiar to me from having run the half marathon event in prior years. It was not until the course began to meander out of the city that I felt the real marathon race was beginning. This was at the 10 mile mark. I remember hitting the 10 mile mark at nearly exactly 78 minutes and thinking that 78 mins was a decent finishing time for the Crim 10 Mile race and here I had more than 16 miles yet to go! But I continued to feel good.
It remained a cool day but the sun was out and shining brightly. My kind of day for a run. A few more quick turns in the course and the marathoners were separated from the half marathoners. What was somewhat of a bunched pack of runners quickly became a long line of isolated runners with long stretches between each runner.
Almost as instantly the crowd support became non-existent too. The road that was previously totally closed to all traffic became open to guarded traffic and a lane for runners. It was just the runner, the road, the elements, and the mind of the runner. It was all good.
Following another turn we came across a farm field where huge Guernsey cows were grazing nearby. How ironic, here at about the exact same time some of my good running buds were on Staten Island about to start their journey in the New York City Marathon and here I was already deep into my marathon running along side a field of beautiful cows!
I was a bit surprised by the extent of traffic that flowed along the road as we turned to begin the several mile journey along side the edge of Umstead. It was getting close to the 12 mile mark and I still was holding my pace and feeling good. The runners were scarce. I had passed several runners in the previous miles since splitting to solely the marathon field. I then sensed and heard a runner coming up from behind me. Was it one of the runners that I had passed? I hate to have a runner pass me after I pass them! It was not someone I passed but rather another runner. A guy who was easily several age groups younger than me. It’s OK to let a much younger runner pass me. We exchanged greetings but I was not there to battle him. Before I knew it I was at the official 13.1 mile or halfway mark. My official split was 1:43:48. Still way too fast but it was a downhill for the last mile too.
The course continued to flow downhill although it was difficult to see any actual drop in topography. The downhill slope helped to speed my way along the roadside to the 14 mile mark but before I could actually complete the 14th mile I would have to run up a hill that was definitely discernible! The roller coaster portion of the course was here! While I had yet to enter the forested trail through Umstead, I was apparently close enough to the park to enjoy the ever changing terrain that Umstead is also famous for! It became very tough to run my pace during next two miles. So I didn’t. While I did not give up, I simply did not try too much harder either. I kept telling myself to continue to run MY race.
I was also surprised to see that the small group of runners who had been several hundred yards ahead of me or so were now much closer! Apparently they did not do as much hill training as I did this summer and they had to have been feeling much worse than me, actually I was still feeling fine at this time! Well, at least as fine as one can feel for running a hilly marathon course.
Suddenly, the reason I was motivated to run this race came, I was approaching the 17 mile mark and ready to enter Umstead Park. However before we could do that there was a slight quirk in the course. Race officials were there directing us to make a right turn instead of a left turn? There was one confused young man ahead of me who did as directed. He was the last of a group of runners I had been chasing up the last long hill. The right turn was actually a brief hairpin turn that was likely required to make the course the official distance. I used the hairpin portion of this turn to pass this fellow who was easily 20 if not 30 years younger than me to pass him! A few more strides, a shot of my Accelerade GU, a drink of water, and I was onto the path in Umstead!
Urged on by the group of volunteers at the last aide station as I entered Umstead, I found myself running all alone. There were a few runners behind me, but the next closest runner was several hundred yards ahead of me. My run through Umstead was going to feel like a nice solo run through a park. The path changed from asphalt pavement to a hard packed dirt with gravel path about the width of a single lane road. The sun shone through the dense forest of tall oaks with their golden leaves waiving gently at me. The road began to climb a bit as it also began to meander. This was everything that had been promised it would be, except that I was still running a marathon. A few runners began to pass me! But not to threat for as they were running much faster than I cared to run, they also were wearing a sign on their back that read “Relay”. Meaning they had just begun to run their part of their relay leg. Since these folks were not my competition and since they were obviously had much fresher legs. I let them on their way. It was actually a small blessing for now I had someone to follow through this course.
For the next three miles the course continued much the same. Hills that only seemed to go in one direction and the quiet of the wooded forest. There were no aide stations apparently allowed within the park, it was all about running. There were an occasional runner or two running in the park purely as a part of their personal workout for the day. There was also a few people following along on their bikes too. One lady on a bike came up from behind me and congratulated me and told me I was looking very good (as a runner I assume). I did not realize it at the time but at this point in the race there were less than 70 runners ahead of me and nearly 500 runners that were behind me! So I guess I was looking sort of good 🙂
It was not all uphill in Umstead, there was a point at which shortly after passing two runners we came upon a downhill. The downhills were never as long as the uphills of course. Nonetheless I used this strategically placed downhill to race hard, kicking out a 7:49 18th mile! Was I nuts? Apparently so, for I slowed a bit the next few miles.
It was a little bittersweet to see the next aide station after the 20 mile mark for I was now leaving Umstead and returning to the sun drenched asphalt bike path and roads. I was still feeling good and remember mistakenly thinking that I had survived the worse of the hills. I might have survived the worse but I was not done with the hills yet. I had at least two more miles of “rolling” hills to conquer before I could begin to think about the finish. It was at this point that I began to break down the balance of the course into 2 mile splits. I also continued to pass the few runners that were ahead of me. Some were walking now and that certainly did look inviting, but it was not in my vocabulary that day.
I remember making one of the last turns back onto the main road and feeling totally lost! Which direction? left? right? Fortunately there was a traffic cop there to direct me in the right direction but I feel I lost several hundred feet at least of distance. Surely the next turn would put me back onto the main road to the finish! Uhm, no… well maybe the next turn? No, my mind was playing tricks and I could not think right any longer. Why waste the effort, I was finally able to spot the last turn and I knew just a few more miles to the generally flat to downhill finish.
It was at this point that another runner came up to me and began to pass me. This fellow looked at least my age and was not wearing a “Relay” bib either! I really did not feel like racing him at this point and my fatigued brain let him run ahead of me for a few hundred yards, at least until the next aide station. It was here that he STOPPED to take a drink and while I wished I could stop I saw this as an opportunity to pass him and take the lead versus him for the last few miles.
There were a few folks standing along the side of the road cheering me on again. Now they were able to see my name on the race bib and gave me a personal “Go Lee” cheer. Of course it probably helped that I was running slow enough for them to actually read it too.
Before too long the isolated cheers gave way to the lined streets of the finish line. I still had at least a mile and a half yet to go, 6 laps I told myself. There was one last stinking hill! It came and went and I ran as best as I could towards the sound of the PA speaker at the finish line. I could see the finish banner ahead now too. I had a few miles in the mid to upper 8 min/per mile pace while in Umstead and I knew I was not going to hit the magical 3:30 mark but I also knew I was running well and in just a few moments the marathon would be history!
The finish line clock read 3:34 ! as the seconds continued to tick away I passed the last runner ahead of me and watched the clock hit the 3:35 mark with just a few strides to go! Not to shabby for this old body today 🙂
Official chip time, 3:35:09, official clock time 3:35:12.!
I wanted to stop but had to keep my legs moving, keep the blood flowing. I walked around the crowded finish looking for my daughter Bridgett and her husband Shane. They had each ran the half marathon. I am proud to report that they each achieved a personal record (PR) for their effort in the HM too! For Bridgett it was her first HM and she battled through a number of injuries during her summer training to finish more than 15 minutes better than she anticipated! We posed for a small group picture at the finish and headed back to their house.
It was not until later that evening that I discovered that I had actually won my Age Group! I had WON A MARATHON! What makes this win especially important to me is that I did this with only a few weeks left as a competitor in the 55-59 age group too, for next year I move up to the next 5 yr group.
So the question is, is this the time to retire from running marathons? At this time I truly have no desire to return to defend my position next year and I lack the fire within to run another marathon. I will however have a very good and lasting memory of The City of Oaks Marathon.
Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and people of Raleigh for this event, you are all to be congratulated.
Thank you for this extra long race report, it was a report about a marathon after all 🙂
Sharing the Running Experience and My World of Architecture
Being confronted with adversity in your life is inevitable. Just keep in mind that it does not have to defeat you. Adversity is often short lived. Giving up is what makes it permanent. As a certified fitness professional, this blog is my way of helping you feel capable of anything.