Marty and MCM medal.jpg

How Dropping Out of a Marathon Made Me a Better Runner

It was a perfectly cool October day for a run. I was on Mile 10 of the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and feeling great. I passed my fiance (now wife) and my roommate cheering me on by the Lincoln Memorial and things were going smoothly. As I continued past them and towards Hains Point, I began to think that I might have an okay marathon after all. My training had not been where I would have liked it, but in general, I was in better running shape than I had been in previous years.

Hains Point is the tip of a little peninsula that sticks out at the bottom of Southwest DC. Runners and Cyclists frequent it because it is a great place to do a three mile run or ride loop without worrying about cars. Other runners avoid it like the plague because it seems like there is always a headwind, no matter which direction you are running. I belong in the second group of runners. During the MCM, Hains Point is also known for low crowd support in an otherwise well-supported race. To help with that, I like to believe the MCM organizers did something smart by putting the halfway point of the race at the farthest part of Hains Point. This gives people a mental victory in the middle of the race’s lowest point. Unfortunately, for me, that was my last victory, as the wheels quickly went flat and came off.

I began to have my legs seize up on me. I was getting passed by individuals that I had passed an hour before. Around Mile 14, I began to switch off walking and running, and by the time I got back to my fiance waiting at Mile 16. I was in serious pain. I’ve felt this kind of pain in previous marathons, but those marathons were at Mile 23 or 24. This one, I still had another 10-miler to go. I was also only a mile from my apartment. So, I did what any reasonable runner in agony and not thinking clearly would do, I walked off the course, and received my very first and only Did Not Finish (DNF).

As soon as I got home, and the pain had subsided, I very quickly began to wallow in self-pity. Instead of an overwhelming sense of achievement I had been hoping for, I now felt doubt about my own abilities to run and to finish things. While I knew exactly how much worse it would have gotten for the next ten miles, it could not stop from thinking that I had made the wrong decision. My fiance came by and brought me a stuffed monkey to cheer me up. We named him Marty, short for Marathon, that’s him in the picture above.

It took me a couple of hours to decide that I had come to a decision point in my marathon training, and my life as a runner. How was I going to let this impact me? I decided that if I was going to commit to something, I had to make sure I allowed myself the time to do so and I had to set myself up for success. I started seeing a trainer and running much more regularly. I did not loaf on my long runs and made sure to make the time for them on the weekends. Not surprising that six months later with actual commitment, I was able to knock 18 minutes minutes off my personal best in the marathon.

While I to do this day hate that I dropped out of that marathon, I realize that in doing so, I was able to set a low point that I never ever want to approach again. That gut wrenching feeling of failure comes up every single time I don’t want to climb the next hill, or go the next mile. It is a sick disgusting taste that I never want to go through again.

While counter-intuitive, by dropping out of the marathon, I made myself a better runner. Since then, I have lowered my personal best in the marathon another 56 minutes to 3:46, and completed a half-marathon in 1:41. With each improvement in the marathon I’ve made over the past few years, I got a feel for exactly how committed I needed to be in order to overcome the next time hurdle in my running. Knowing what I know, I’m not certain if I would actually want to finish that marathon. I’ve learned so much from it. Marty’s medal there with is from the 2012 MCM that I finished in 4:24 a mere month after finishing the Berlin Marathon in 3:53. Both would have been personal bests when I dropped out in 2009. Through failure, I found success.

What have you learned from your failures? Please comment below.

Get Ready to Race!

Tips for Selecting Your Next Race

With the fall race season winding down, it’s time to rest, but more importantly, it’s time to find your next race.  I think picking out a race is almost as fun as actually running the race. It’s all of the excitement, without any of the work.  By Week Four of your training, you may be regretting signing up for the race, but selecting the race, will be glorious. With that in mind, here are a few tips I’ve figured out over the years to make sure that the race itself is every bit spectacular that you thought it would be.

What’s Your Goal?

What is the main thing you want to accomplish when you do this race? Do you want to run a fast race? Do you want run a new distance? Do you want to run in a new state/country/continent? Do you want to qualify for Boston? Some goals will be easier to meet than others, but once you know what you want out of your race, you can do a proper job of selecting a race that will help you achieve that goal. A good example would be selecting a spring marathon so that you have a reason to train through the winter and be beach ready for the summer. A bad example would be selecting a hilly marathon in June to get your first Boston Qualifying time (hills+heat = slow).  Set yourself up for success.

Is There Time to Train?

Once you’ve settled on a goal, make sure you have left yourself enough to actually achieve that goal. While you think you may be ready to run three marathons in three weekends, make sure you have time to do some lots of training that will simulate that physically for you, so you can set expectations for that race.  If you do pick a race where you don’t have enough time to fully train for, you may need to rethink how fast you may be able to run it.

Can You Afford It?

I’ve met so many runners that all of their money goes into gear, race fees, and traveling to the races. Which is great, if you can afford to do that. If you can’t afford it, you may need to relook at other race options in the area. The NYC Marathon is now $255, while two weeks later, the Brooklyn Marathon will run you $95. Both get you running in New York City in the fall. The experiences will be different, but so will the impact to your wallet. I love traveling for races because it’s a great way to see a lot of city in a short amount of time. But, you need to not break your bank at the same time.

What’s Your Family Going to Do While You Race?

My wife and I have a deal now, if I want to travel for a race, there has to be some other compelling reason to go there (new city, other event going on, getting to see old friends).  When I ran the Lima marathon in May 2014, two day afterwards, we did the three-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu with friends that flew down to join us on the trail. So, while I ran the race, my wife and our friends had a breakfast along the race route and cheered me and other runners on. It was a win-win for everyone. By the way, my legs held up great on the trail. I trained for that by doing ten-mile runs right before doing two-hour hikes so that my legs were used to that sensation. I digress, my point — make sure that there are things for your family and friends to do while you are off running your race. Some will cheer you on, others will want to enjoy their vacation.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy Yourself

That’s the point in all of this running, after all, isn’t it? Seriously, there are other ways you could maintain your health and make friends than running around covered in sweat. You should be out running because you’re going to enjoy it no matter what. Have fun, live a little.

Your Turn: What’s Your Advice on Selecting a Race?

Image courtesy of Nate Burgos.

Kona at Lincoln

Why Everyone Should Run With Their Dog and How To

For the past six months, my best running buddy has been Kona, my two-year old Labrador-Boxer.  He now easily runs three miles at a time a three or four days a week, which is a fair workout for the both of us. It’s really easy to love running with him.

He always has a smile.  He loves running. Whether with me, or chasing a Frisbee or another dog, he is always smiling. Running should always be fun, and Kona has made it his mission to focus on that element of the run.  Not only is he smiling, but his presence often makes other runners and passersby smile. Who doesn’t love a running, happy dog?

Good running partners stay close.  Kona is always close.  Even though he could put more space between us, he prefers to stay close to my hip. I’ve run with plenty of people who prefer to start together and each run their own pace.  Normally,  I’m okay with that, but with one exception.  Often, these runners stay twenty feet in front of me for like miles.  We’re not running our own paces: we are running the same pace, twenty feet apart.  Kona doesn’t do that. He really is the ultimate wingman.

Getting here was not without its issues.  Like most things, Kona had to be trained to be this model running dog.

  • Dogs like to sniff and do what comes to mind–including, not running.  For a while,  Kona refused to run in a direction that was away from our home.  He would hit the deck and pull the leash, which would feel like him trying to pull my arm out of its socket as that force was levered though the arm holding the leash. It was clearly not pleasant for either of us. To solve this, I got him a new action harness and me a hands-free waist leash. Now when he pulls, it’s not nearly as strong as it all goes straight to my center of gravity, proving to be mostly ineffective. He very quickly gave up on this behavior.
  • Kona loves to run, but usually all out for a short time at something of interest.  This was a bit different kind of running.  We built him up following the Pooch to 5K program. This helped him get used to running a little bit a time. It also gave a time for the human to be trained to run with him as well.

Yes, the human had to be trained as well.

  • Potty breaks. Make sure that before running,  you do a short walk and give your dog plenty of opportunity to do his business. I usually try not to stay until he goes,  or we’ve been out for at least ten minutes. Now, when he gives me a strong pull, which happens infrequently, I know there is a movement on its way.
  • It’s the dog’s run, not yours. Kona is going to run the pace he wants to that day. Just like us,  if he had a busy day of play the day before, he might be a bit slow.  I think of his miles as bonus miles. I do try to schedule his runs for easy days or as cool down runs, but if that’s convenient.  I never think I can do a speed or tempo workout with him.
  • I feel like Batman. With the waist leash, I have a thing of poop bags connected to it. With the summer heat, I carry a small bowl and water. House keys too.  Definitely carrying more stuff than I normally like too.  This goes back to my point, that it’s his run, not mine.

Not a runner? There is one exception to the it’s his run rule–you can use the pooch to 5k program to jump start your own running. As your pup gets used to the pace, so will your body.

If you’re dog appears to be struggling with speed,  slow it down. If she appears hurt, shut it down and confer with her veterinarian. You may want to ask your vet before starting a running program to okay it,  and if there are any limits that should be set for your particular dog. (We waited until Kona was at least a year-old because of concerns hip dysplasia,  which is common with large breeds. Our vet prefers lots of shorter runs of 2-3 miles compared to longer 4-6 miles runs)

Remember, to always obey laws and traffic signals.  No one wants your puppy to have a road accident.

Featured image is of Kona and I being DC tourists. He’s such a ham for the camera.

Boston Marathon Finish Line

Three Reasons Why Qualifying for Boston is Really Hard

The obsession of many a marathoner is the Boston Marathon. It’s the closest most of us (me included) will ever come to being an elite runner. In a world where every race is run for yourself, and yourself only, Boston has become the benchmark that we can all compare ourselves against. Running Boston itself is an amazing experience (so I’ve heard), but for those who qualified to get into Boston, it’s more of a victory lap than a marathon. While I will get to that starting line eventually, I’ve figured out three things that I need to master in order to be able to toe that line on Patriots Day.

You Have to Train and Train Smartly I was flying home with my wife five years ago, and I was reading her Runners’ World on the flight. This particular edition had training plans to help you get down to various different marathon times starting at five hours all the way down to three hours. It was only then did I realize the amount of training I was doing was not going to cut it. I was running three days a week, no speed work, no intervals.  For the four and half hour plan, there was way more work required than I was putting into to what I thought was good training to help me drop to get to Boston. How was I going to get to Boston if I couldn’t even master the 4.5 hour plan? It’s pretty obvious now, but I need to follow a plan and intensify my training if I was going to have any shot at Boston. Just running was not going to cut it. I needed to run smarter. I needed to train.

Garbage In, Garbage Out I love running, because afterwards, I get to eat.  After a nice long run, you’ve probably burned an extra 1000 or 1500 calories, and can indulge a little bit. The operative words there are indulge and a little. You body needs fuel to run, and it needs fuel to recover.  A healthy of mix of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates will help you recover and get ready for your runs. The biggest issue is that after that long run, it’s very easy to overeat and actually consume way too many calories. Because, you know, you earned it. What you actually earned was higher performance for future runs. By over-indulging, we’re basically negating some of the benefits of that long run. I’ve found when I eat a balanced diet and don’t overeat, my runs feel better. I’m going to feel a lot better if I don’t have to worry about running off a meat hangover or feeling bloated from a ginormous milkshake,   More importantly, my body will have the tools it needs to stay fueled during a run, and to recover after a run.  If you feed your body properly, you will see improvements. Those improvements mean minutes off your time.

Will Power and Focus Yeah, it’s almost a bit cliche, but what ties the two previous items together is the ability to focus on the task at hand, and the will power to avoid the things that would detract from them. It’s easy to skip a run or eat too much, but by focusing on the goal and exercising will power, you can make improvements and stick to the schedule. This has been where my personal shortfall has been. I have never been able to find the balance between all three of these things such that I am able to perform to my theoretical maximum. I’ve gotten better over time, and now it’s about figuring out what worked and doing more of that.

What challenges do you face in your training that keep you from reaching your goals?

Featured image courtesy of Wally Gobetz

Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea, The Great Refueler?

When I ran the Berlin Marathon in 2012, I came across something that I had never fathomed before, and I was a little surprised to find in Germany–Sweet Tea. Chilled, fully sweetened, black tea in plastic cups, ready for thirsty and glycogen-depleted runners to consume during the race. I would have expected something like this in the South or Midwest of the U.S., but not Germany. And, you know what, it was glorious!

The black tea offers up a bit of caffeine to get you moving, it’s gentle on your stomach, the cold cools you, and the sugar helps you refuel.  After taking my first glass around mile 15 kilometer 24, I could not believe I waited that long to try some tea during the race. I quickly took every opportunity to refuel with tea.

Since then, I’ve tried to mix sweet tea into my training runs. It always performs as expected, which is how it did on the first days. If you like to pick-up your drinks along your race, another one of the nice things about sweet tea, is that sweetened tea in a bottle or can is often cheaper than sports drinks, and offer the same amount of sugar and much more caffeine.

It really was a mind-blowing experience for me, because I drink a ton of iced tea on a daily basis at both home and work. It’s my favorite post-run drink. Often slightly sweetened, brewed strong, and with some ice is my favorite way to drink my tea.  But, the thought never once occurred to me that I should be drinking that during my long runs instead of after my runs.  I’m glad I have seen the light on this.

What are your favorite homegrown refueling methods?

Featured image courtesy of Cassia Noelle.

Fall Running

Five Mental Tips for a Successful Fall Race

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, it’s time for everyone to start focusing on that fall race, whether it’s a marathon, 10K, or triathlon. For some, it may be just three or four weeks until your race, while for others, you still have a full two months before race day. No matter what your situation is, these five mental tips will help your prepare yourself to maximize your race to be every bit successful that you thought it would be when you signed up for it months ago.  These are all lessons I learned racing, and a few of them, I learned the hard way.

Check the Race Day Weather in Advance

Fall races are supposed to feature crisp fall weather that is perfect for racing, which is why there are so many fall races. However, things don’t always go as planned. Rain, wind, and snow are all possibilities during a fall race. Or, most tragically, summer lasts a little too long and its 70 degrees at the start, which will make the runners the only ones cursing the beautiful weather. By checking the weather in advance, you can make sure you have the correct gear for the race. Most importantly for me, I am able to start mentally preparing for the adverse conditions, and how I would prepare for it. This paid off for during the Indianapolis Marathon, when I knew there would be a 20 mph headwind during the easiest part of the race, making it not so easy. I was able to plan in advance how to run the race to account for that. Without that mental prep, I probably would have gone out too fast, and then would have hit a (wind) wall when I thought I would be resting and have nothing left for the second half of the race.

Look at the Race Map Before You Race

Same as checking the weather, looking at the race map will help you figure out several things. You’ll be able to see where the difficult portions of the race will be, and how you will run your race there. If you have family or friends meeting you before, during, or after the race, you can plan that all out. You can also pick out a few landmarks to look forward to during your race to give you motivation. It’s great to know where organized crowd support will be as well. If you are running a new race in a new town, some of these steps may be difficult. Overall, the more you know about the race itself, the more successful you will be.

Layout Your Gear Out the Night Before

This is straight out of grade school, but by getting your gear ready the night before, you will not risk forgetting something in an early morning haze. You should even lay out your breakfast and any morning beverages. Leave nothing to chance and use no brain power, you’ll need that for the race. Most importantly, you may realize you forgot something important (glide, Gu, shorts, sneakers, bib) and can take a quick run to Target to rectify it the night before. Otherwise, you’ll be fretting about it 45 minutes before the race. Once everything is out, you can go to sleep knowing everything is ready and get beautiful restful sleep before the big race.

Run Your Race

So much excitement happens on race day, and it’s really easy to get caught up in the energy or excitement of the day.  There are going to be a 1001 reasons why the race you planned to run goes out the window. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t return basics. By now, you know exactly how hard you can push your body, and what is the appropriate level of effort that will get you to the finish.  You can always fall back on your personal level of effort. Everything else will fall into place. Don’t worry if you are passing too many people, or being passed. If you are running with a level of effort that you know you can sustain for the whole race, you will have a great personal race.

Have Fun

Running is supposed to be fun. Don’t lose sight of that. I am very competitive, and I always want to improve on my previous best. I realize that is not always going to happen on every single race. Sometimes, it’s bad weather, sometimes, it’s bad training. But, by the time race day rolls around, I’ve defined what successful will be for me that day.  I ran a half-marathon in May that I was not prepared for at all; I hadn’t trained much, and I thought if I could do it in 2:05, that would be great. I had a good first few miles and realized that it might be possible to break 2 hours. I pushed for it, but ended up at 2:00:37.  Thirty-eight measly seconds shy of a sub-two hour race. Was I upset? No! I destroyed my time goal of 2:05. More importantly, I finished the race without a meltdown, which was my real, unspoken goal, because I knew I had not trained for the race at all.  When I got to the finish, you better believe there was a huge dorky smile on my face.

Mentally preparing myself for all the external factors (Weather, Race Course, Gear) and internal factors (Running My Race, Having Fun) allows me to enjoy every race, and I hope that doing so will help you too.

What do you do to prepare for a race?

Featured image courtesy of Vincent BrassInne.

ShoeKicker Homepage

Review: ShoeKicker

I live overseas, so getting a new pair of running shoes is occasionally an issue. The shoe model and size are not always readily available. If they are available, American products overseas tend to get marked up significantly due to the local taxes and the extra shipping charges to send them overseas. As a result, most of my shoes have been purchased online. This is where ShoeKicker would be helpful. ShoeKicker will search for your exact shoe model and shoe size across the internet and let you know who has your shoe, and who has it cheapest.  The rarer your shoe size, the more useful it will be, since if you are 14B, you probably already know that not every store will carry your shoes. It will also show all the prices and it might save you a few dollars.

I test drove it looking for a Brooks Launch Size 11 Men’s, which is currently my shoe of choice.  My shoe size is actually pretty typical and it produced some surprising results.  There was retailer on Amazon that had them available for $69.99 and free shipping, which is $30 less than I normally pay for them.  It’s a very clean interface, with links out to the retailers. It took all of 10 seconds to produce those results.  Nice.


The site was started by a now-Stanford Business School student Imran Khoja who has an odd shoe size.  When he couldn’t find any easy way to search for shoes, he and a few friends built the site over a few months.  Problem fixed.

I did find a couple of small issues–the top price was for a previous version of the Launch, and not the newer Launch 2, which the site didn’t distinguish between them. Also, searching for a link to the Brooks Launch, I found that the Launch is on sale for $65 on BrooksRunning.  Both are small issues the site will fix soon enough, but neither devalued my experience using the site. If not for this article, I probably would not have even found the second item. I would have just been happy to find my shoes at $70!

Khoja is proactive about dealing with the criticisms of ShoeKicker. Runners’ World pointed out in its coverage is that local running stores have some concerns, which is not a surprise due to the growth of online shoe sales. According to the article, upon hearing this, Khoja reached out local running shoe stores and to learn how ShoeKicker can be helpful to their business. Local running shoe stores are necessary for any serious (or not-so-serious) runner, as the knowledge and analysis that you get in picking out a shoe is well worth the trip there. As part of that relationship with local stores, ShoeKicker looks to be aggregating its data into what it calls ShoeKicker Insights, which allows local running shoe stores to find out what shoes and sizes people are searching for. By making this data available, this could be a tremendous resource to help them better plan their purchasing, which means faster turnover of product, less clearance items, and more profitability.  The article also mentioned other ideas such as including a local running shoe store’s inventory in the online results (“Hey, your size 8EEE Brooks Adrenaline are available only a mile away from you, right now!).

Overall, ShoeKicker is a very simple concept that executes well, and you should check it out.


How I Finally Became an Athlete

When I was a kid, I could tell you the names of every player on every major league baseball team. I easily spent more time reading about sports, watching sports, and playing fantasy sports (before it became a thing), than I did actually playing being outdoors and playing sports. I was not very talented. I loved playing them, but I was never really that good. Now I know, if I had put all of that effort I spent tracking sports into actually becoming a better athlete by training and playing them, I may have actually developed into the athlete I always wanted to be.

Now, I may have watched three innings of baseball this entire season, unintentionally at that.  I spend my ‘sports’ time actually doing them. I’ve completed 11 marathons. I completed the four-day Inca Trail, which I started just three days after one of those marathons.  I’ve learned to swim and ride a bicycle, both after my 30th birthday. That feeling of accomplishment and stature that I always wanted to have as a kid, I have found as an adult as I have learned to push myself to improve just that little bit more than I could do the day before.

I still read and watch plenty about sports, but now that time is more focused on how it may help me better.  Between, work and family, time is more limited for sports, and I have to make the time count. Which gives me two options, Watch or Do.  I chose to Do.

The principles that have helped me along the way were:

  1. Setting goals just out of reach: Goals should always be something that are attainable, but not under current conditions. They should require changing something–the process, the time, the intensity involved.  Up your game, and you’ll achieve more.
  2. Making the time: If you don’t make the time for it, you are not going to progress. It’s that simple.
  3. Doing: You can think about becoming a better athlete, or you can go out and do something that will make you incrementally a better athlete.

There are times when I’ve regressed in my development, but those quickly become new challenges to not just get back where I was, but to then exceed it. Now, how do I tell my ten-year old self this?

What makes you an athlete?

Photo courtesy of Presidio of Monterey.


I Run. I Write. I Race.

Today, I ran 2.17 miles. It was my second run in my new neighborhood. Kona (my trusty four-legged sidekick) accompanied me as we dodged cars and sidewalk obstacles to complete this simple (and slow) run.  Somewhere in the past six months, my fitness has disappeared. I hope it’s just hibernating, or hiding behind the extra ten pounds I’ve put on that time.  In that time though, my desire to run has not gone away, just the regularity that I act on it has waned. I need to stoke the fire.

I’m not a fast runner.  I have trained well and have gotten slim enough to run fast, but I have not mimicked a gazelle on my best days. My marathon PR (3:46:26) is great, but it is still 36 minutes from qualifying for Boston (which is still a life goal). More importantly, running has brought many things to my life.  From the emotional highs of personal glory as I ran faster than I had ever thought possible, to the great friends and relationships that running has enabled me to forge, running is a cornerstone of my life and my identity for the past fifteen years.

So, I decided to build RunWriteRace to collect my thoughts and give back to the running community. Like a good run, there are plenty of directions I can take it, and I welcome you along. Let’s get some good mileage in.

Featured image courtesy of Anne on Flicker.