Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012: Year of the Chicken

It's only fitting that I finally update this blog as 2012 comes to a close with your typical, and cliched, Year-In-Review post.

2012 started out as an experiment to see how far I could push myself.


Bermuda Mile, 10K, Marathon Challenge (Bermuda): Amazing experience and had a great time with a big group of GLRR's, along with my parents, in beautiful Bermuda. Hamstring issues hampered my races, but still managed to place in the money for the marathon. Came in 2nd in the Triangle Challenge, losing to fellow local runner and my new arch-frenemy, Justin Renz. I would get my vengeance four months later at Boston.


Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler (TX): You can read all about that race on here somewhere. I only made it through 60 of the 100 miles. My second only DNF. Ever. Most continuous miles I've ever covered in one race/run.


New Bedford Half-Marathon (MA): From my run log: Perfect conditions for a perfect race. My favorite race proves once again why that's the case. PR'ed by about 35 seconds, but more happy with the relatively consistent splits throughout. I had to fight hard over the final mile to get 1:17:57. Managed to tie Clint O'Brien's 1984 NB time to the millionth of a second...unbelievable, but i'm still getting a free meal out of it, since clint is a VERY nice guy:) Very cool to run next to the likes of GLRR legends Oliver and Reeder near the end. Almost got Reno too. Inspiring. Time to crank it over the next 3 weeks for a shot at sub 2:45 at Boston.

April 16th

Boston Marathon (MA): Uh, no. That 2:45 goal went out the window about 3 days before the race when temps were forecasted to be in the 80's (even though I had predicted that about one month prior - proof: Still managed a Buicide worthy run of 2:58:15 to finish in the top 500, and first vietnamese overall.

I then cleared my calendar and spent the next three months training for my first official triathlon at the Timberman Half Ironman in August.

I swam, biked, and ran every chance I had.

Biked to work. Ran home. Biked back to work. Stopped at Walden Pond. Out and back. Out and back. Repeat.

My weekends were endless hours on the bike and at the local watering holes. A lot of alone time. Just me vs. nature vs. myself. A lot of time to reflect on the past and where I wanted to take my life.

I remember going for 8+ hour solo workouts and pretty much having a meltdown in the middle of my swim/bike/run. This was the biggest mental test I've ever put myself through. I eventually pushed through it all and came out on the other side a much stronger person and athlete.

I stayed race sharp by taking part in the Good Times 5K series (spring and summer), and the biggest help of all, the Try the Tri series put on by TriFury.

I had done these mini-sprint tri's back in 2011 and learned quickly that I sucked at tri's, specifically, swimming. I remedied this by spending countless hours in the pool over the winter, and of course, the endless miles at Walden Pond.

No longer was I the last one out of the water. I was actually racing the swim portion and it felt amazing! To think that I didn't even know how to swim a year before. Nothing is impossible when you want it bad enough.


Great Cranberry Island 50K (ME): This was my tune-up race for Timberman. A mental test really, since it was a 50K race on a 2-mile long island off of the coast of Bar Harbor, ME. They don't call them Maineiacs for nothing.

I didn't go into this race expecting much, since I was just hoping to hang with Reno for as long as I could while he went for his age group record at this distance. I got more than I bargained for.

As posted by Level Renner:

I earned another PR, but all I really had to do was just finish.

Great Cranberry Island (GCI) was going to be my first attempt at the 50K distance. I didn’t really know what to expect from this race, since most of my training for this event had to cross over with my training for the Timberman Triathlon in August.

My running mileage leading up to GCI was between 45-70 miles per week in the final month, with only two of those weeks over 60. I did a 30 mile training run with Reno Stirrat, about three weeks before the race, and I pretty much died a little after the marathon mark. The heat of that training run got to me, so I had to get acclimated quickly since GCI was going to be in the middle of the one of the warmest summers on record.

Things finally began to click after the demoralizing training run, but then two weeks before GCI, when I was finally getting some speed back into my legs, I seriously tweaked my hamstring at the Good Times 5K in Lowell. Fortunately, the tweaked hammy was just a pulled hammy and not a tear. I suffered a tear last year and that took months to recover from.

Since it was taper time anyways, I just rested and ran a little every other day leading into GCI, hoping the hammy would be back closer to 100%. By the Friday before the race I was no longer compensating for the hammy, and I felt that the hammy was at about 95% by race morning.

The hammy felt fine around the 7 minute pace, but it would act up as soon as I tried dropping it below 6:30. Fortunately, I didn’t plan on going much faster than 6:45 at GCI.

This was as good as it was going to get, and that I just had to make do with what I had and pin on that race bib. I also had to remind myself that the power of the race bib acts in mysterious ways.

I arrived on the island, via ferry, by 9:45AM for the 11:30AM start and was quickly greeted by the wonderful island locals who hauled all of my camping gear to the “runner’s village” near the start and finish area. There are so MANY small touches at this race that make it feel really personal, such as our names and towns printed and hung on the telephone poles all along the 2 mile course.

Yep. A two mile long island for a 31.07 mile race.

Reno was the first person to greet me as I arrived at the center of town. Reno was here to go after the American age group record for the 50K. The co-race director extraordinaire, Gary Allen, soon found me and gave me a big hug! Where else do you get this kind of welcome?

With about an hour to go before race start, I went about setting up camp for the post-race. Most runners stay and camp out overnight for the festive after party that includes fresh lobster, “refreshments”, fireworks, karaoke, and a hearty breakfast.

The race course itself is an out and back on a two mile stretch of island road. Yep, out and back, and up and over, the same two hills situated on both ends of the island, about 8 times. Total ascent for this race was going to be 3000ft.

The gun went off at exactly 11:30AM with the bright sun directly above us. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and barely an ounce of shade on the course. It was warm, but not unmanageable.

The early pace was very comfortable with about 7 runners in the lead pack. Nobody was making any sort of move at this point. Reno and I quickly settled into a 7 minute pace and watched as the race unfolded in front of us. It wasn’t until about the 5K mark that any of the runners took charge, and even then, the pace was still relatively pedestrian. Reno and I just hung back by about a minute or two through the first 10 miles, and discussed race strategy while running our 7 minute pace.

The lead pack of five became three as they began to splinter around the 15 mile mark. Reno and I moved up and slowly reeled in each runner. We could now clearly see the battle taking place up front at each turn around point. The lead runners’ faces showed Reno and I everything we needed to see.

They were both wearing each down, and tiring quickly.

It was great talking race strategy with Reno during this part of the race. It helped me keep my mind off of my hamstring and to stay relaxed. I gave a mini-surge around 17, but Reno held me in check and told me that we would have plenty of time to catch them, even if we made a move at the marathon mark.

So I was a little surprised when Reno made a move around mile 21. I checked my pace and confirmed that I was still moving at 7 minute pace. Reno was just getting faster!

Reno smelled blood and now wanted to taste it. Even though he was already 7 minutes ahead of the American age group record pace at this point, Reno’s competitive side wanted the overall win.

I tried to follow suit but could only manage to hold my 7 min pace, and actually, my pace began to drop to the mid 7’s. It’s amazing the effect that running with someone else can have on you, especially over long distance.

I was now an island on an island.

Reno pulled farther and farther away and would soon catch up to the leaders and pass them both. I was still only about a minute thirty behind Reno at mile 23, but then something strange happened around mile 25. I managed to catch up to the 2nd and 3rd place runners that Reno had just passed.

They were both beginning to do the death march. Reno was now in first!

I easily moved into 2nd place behind Reno, but then two runners, who were part of the lead pack earlier in the race, came up from behind and passed me like I was standing still. They had been stalking Reno and I over the past five miles, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on us, and that’s exactly what they did.

In the span of about 30 seconds I had gone from 4th place to 2nd place back to 4th place! It was surreal.

Then the leg cramps started a little after the marathon mark. Just like during the training run. Damn.

I managed to get through the certified marathon mark in 3:07 (insult to injury – I didn’t qualify under the new Boston standards), but every step after 26.2 was accompanied by a twinge of cramping, either in my calves or on the inside of my right thigh. The inside thigh cramp was really strange and it felt like something was going to snap at any minute. I was seriously worried about being able to continue.

I gingerly kept on moving forward, one step in front of the other, up and down the same hills. The most painful cramps, thankfully, subsided by mile 28, with only the calf cramps asserting itself on every other step, especially on the up hills. I was waiting for the “big one” to happen and seize up my legs for good, but it never came.

I caught a glimpse of Reno at the 27.1 checkpoint and he appeared to be fatiguing too. I saw him do a quick stutter step and slight walk, grabbing his hamstring area. I told him I was having the same issues.

It was at this point that I was only 7 seconds behind Reno, and would eventually overtake him for 3rd around mile 28. There wasn’t much I could say or do after passing him other than offer a slight word of encouragement. We were all hurting.

Unfortunately, the two new leaders managed to build upon their lead and pull away from the rest of us. My pace dramatically slowed down over the final four miles (low 8′s) as I just hung onto dear life just to finish and to hold onto 3rd. I usually never look over my shoulder during a race, but I was slowing down so much that I had to make sure that nobody was sneaking up on me. I wasn’t sure if I would have a finishing kick in me if one was required. I finally crossed the line in 3rd with a time of 3:47:12.

I was proud to later learn that was I was also the first American to finish this championship race! I felt that this was probably my most disciplined and gutsiest race to date. It took a lot over the final five miles to not pack it in.

I definitely gained a ton of experience points during this one, and it should come in handy for future races, including Timberman. Even though neither happened, congrats to Reno for having the courage to go after the record and overall win. We both plan to return to this island paradise next year to improve upon our PR’s, and perhaps more.


Timberman Half Ironman (NH): I couldn't believe the day was finally here. 32 years of training for this one day.

Swim: Well, here we go. Bash, Lynn, and I got to the race site at about 5AM and got directed to a parking spot right near the swim start. So far, so good!

We went and prepped our bike transitions, and went back to the car around 7AM to wait for our wave start at 7:45AM. Lynn's start was at 7:05AM, so we didn't get a chance to see her off.

For Bash's 30th birthday, the organizers allowed him to start in my wave. Chris joined us in the car as his wave didn't start until 7:40AM.

The air temperature was in the upper 50's, no humidity, and hardly any wind. This was going to be a perfect day to test our limits. We were suited up in our wetsuits by 7:30AM when we went to test the waters and do our warmup swim.

Man, the water was absolutely perfect. It felt so good that I even took my first wetsuit piss. Ahhhhh.

Chris took off in his wave at 7:40AM, and Bash and I moved to the swim start, but not before being mugged by the Boo-Yah crew: Fil, Amanda, Luis, Pamela, Johan, and Linda! It was awesome seeing familiar faces right before the start. The hugs and kisses didn't hurt either.

Our wave went off as scheduled and there was the usual mad dash to the front. Bash and I positioned ourselves about 3 to 4 rows from the front right.

The swim start at Timberman is relatively shallow for about the first 25 yards, so it's a running dash before people start free styling. Bash did his best Phelps impersonation and took off with his dolphin dives. I settled right away into the freestyle stroke, and felt completely calm and relaxed.

It was eerie, but I can definitely attribute it to the 10 weeks of Try the Tri swim racing that kept me calm and cool. This feeling would stay with me for the entire swim. I had no issue sighting the really large buoys, and spent some time drafting behind others whenever I could. I didn't rely on my kick at all until the last quarter mile.

I know I could have done this swim a lot faster, but was very cautiously optimistic throughout the swim, since I've never raced this swim distance before.

The water was calm, with only a few waves after the first right hand turn. I hardly made any contact with any of the other swimmers, but did get a good bump on the noggin near the end.

I was a tad bit disappointed with my swim time as I was expecting to be in the 30's, instead of the low 40's, but not bad. Not bad at all.

I freestyled all the way to the swim finish, beaching myself as close as possible to the shore before starting my transition run into T1. Ran straight into the arms of the strippers (wetsuit strippers), and they removed my suit in about half a second. Unfortunately, my timing chip went with my wetsuit. I didn't realize this until I was out on the bike. Speaking of the bike...

Bike: After getting stripped of my wetsuit (and timing chip), I spent about two and a half minutes in T1. Most of this time was spent running in and out of T1, since I was pretty efficient at getting on my bike gear: shoes, BIB belt, glasses, brownie (yum), helmet, done.

As I left T1, I quickly ran through my checklist in my head to make sure I didn't forget anything. I'll have to add timing chip to the list in the future.

The slower swim time and missing chip rode with me mentally for about 5 miles on the bike. I finally shook it off and focused on the bike race ahead.

There are pros and cons to being the second to last wave of the day. Pro: there are a ton of people to chase out on the bike course, and everybody that you catch is most likely another position up in the standings.

The biggest downside to this is that there are ton of people to get stuck behind on the steep downhills, sharp turns, and no passing zones. I didn't have much issue with bike traffic, but did have a couple of close calls. One in particular nearly ended my day.

It was at the bottom of the Mile 8 hill that concluded with a sharp left hand turn. I was going at least 30+ mph when I had to slam on the rear brakes to make the sharp turn. I went wide and the rear tires began screeching along with some fish tailing. I quickly pumped the brakes as the other side of the street corner approached faster and faster. I was tempted to hit the front brakes, but that would have made it even worse. The stopped traffic and police detail probably looked on in horror as I managed to recover from the near crash. I finally navigated the corner with an "oh shit", but lost a lot of momentum doing so. I eventually got my heart rate below 300 and pedaled on.

My TriFury friend, Mike L., who did 4:57 at his first Timberman, told me to go out easy on the bike: average about 18-19 mph until the turnaround point, and then crush it on the way back in. I got to the turnaround point at mile 27.5 with an average pace of 18.5 mph, and I remember saying to myself, time to crush it.

There were huge packs of riders on the way back in, and it was a great feeling to catch each group. Nurition wise, I had one GU at mile 10, ate a honey stinger waffle at about 30, and a final GU at mile 50 for the finish.

This nutrition plan appeared to have worked as I didn't feel sick or weak throughout the ride. I did, however, only drank about 3/4th's of my own gatorade mix (very strong mix). This probably played into some of my leg cramps during the run. The rest of the cramping was due to me standing on the hill climbs, on the bike, way too much. It felt great to be in a different position, but by standing on the hill climbs, I was basically running a few extra miles, and uphill no less. The inside quad cramps popped up once in awhile, but it wasn't anything serious.

I passed Lynn around mile 39 (predicted mile 35), and she was looking pretty good herself. My overall MPH was right on 20 MPH by the time I entered the final no passing zone near the finish, so I averaged about 22.5 coming back in. I was hoping for a sub 2:40 ride, but got 2:45.

After reviewing my bike splits in the final results, I noticed that a of lot riders, Bash included, hammered it on the way out, and slowed it down on the way back in. I will have to try this for next year.

Overall, I was just happy to not have any mechanical issues during the bike, crashes, or major fatigue coming off of the bike. My legs didn't feel like bricks as a I gingerly dismounted (will have to practice the flying dismount for next season,) and jogged it into T2.

I spent about 2 minutes in T2 racking my bike, taking off the helmet, the bike shoes, putting on the running shoes (no socks), flipping the BIB belt to the front, quickly searching (2 seconds) my wetsuit for the timing chip (no luck), and running out.

Scotty G was manning the BIKE IN and he said that I shot out of T2 like I was racing a 10K.

My overall time at this point was about 3 hrs and 30 mins, so all I needed was a sub 1:30 half to get under my goal time of 5 hrs. Keep in mind that my half PR is 1:17. So, here we go. TO THE RUN!

Run: So, after swimming for 40 mins and biking for 2:45, all I had to do now was bang out a sub 1:30 half, and I'd be close to a sub-5 hr half IM. How hard could that be? Very effin hard as my legs would soon discover.

I felt great leaving T2, and was able to hammer a 6:37 first mile. Shit, I could do this all day! Yeah, no.

Mile 2 was almost as fast, but it came with a price. I was now paying for what I did on the bike.

Like I said, I stood way too much on the uphill climbs on the bike, so by mile 2 of the run, both of my quads were seizing up on me. Fortunately, the one thing that I learned at the Cranberry 50K was that the legs cramps would work itself out as long as I kept moving. So that's what I did.

I just kept pushing and blocked out the pain of the quad cramps. I was back down below 7 min miles for miles 3 and 4, but that was going to be the last time that I'd see 6's on my watch for the rest of my run.

I saw Bash around mile 4, as he was coming back in to finish his first loop, and he looked strong. I later found out that he was suffering from the same legs cramps. I knew he was definitely on his way to his first sub 5 hr half IM. I, on the other hand, still had 9 miles and about an hour+ of running ahead of me.

I began to pick my spots. Slow and easy on the uphills, and killed it on the downhills. I was able to keep my average mile pace below 8's for the next 6 miles doing this, but was running out of steam as the day got warmer. I was also running out of time, and by mile 10 I knew that sub 5 was out of the question. I now just wanted to finish strong like I always try to do at every race. Leave everything on the course.

Even with giving everything that I had, I could only manage a relatively pedestrian 8:30 pace for miles 11 and 12, although I was still passing a ton of people. I had passed about 500+ people since coming out of the water.

There weren't too many other runners who were looking fresh, and I think I was passed by only about 5-10 runners on the run portion.

Once I saw the mile 12 marker I knew it was time to bring it home.

The last mile is a downhill finish and there was nothing that was going to stop me. Not cramping, not dehydration, not the remaining age groupers in front of me. It felt faster than what my watch indicated, but I nailed the final run mile in 7:24, cramps be damned.

Bash was the first to greet me and I gave him a big, fat Muslim hug for getting me into this mess in the first place. Thanks, bro.

The rest of the team eventually came over and we gathered for pictures and discussed the race.

Official finish: 5:11:40. I wasn't tired or thirsty or looking for food. I was, however, hungry. Hungry for more. Now where the hell do I sign up for Ironman Florida?

I followed up Timberman weekend, and closed out August, with a 20 mile bike, 20 mile run, and my first olympic distance tri the following weekend at Cranberry Trifest. I didn't know it at the time, but I managed to qualify for the 2013 Age Group Nationals, for the olympic distance, at Cranberry.


Steamtown Marathon (PA): Was a relatively quiet month for racing, but I didn't let up on the training in order to prep for my fall marathon at Steamtown in October. Highlights of the month included getting in a training run with superstar runners, Lindsay Willard and Ruben Sanca.

This weekend sums up, and capped off, the peak of my Steamtown training when I managed to bag a PR of 108 miles of running for the week:

And then I managed to throw it all down the toilet with one of the worst two-week tapers in the history of marathon training. I was still nursing the remnants of my hamstring issue from all the way back in January, which I re-agitated during a Good Times race, so I basically didn't run again until Steamtown.

I felt like crap on race morning. My right leg was dead throughout much of my sub 2:49 attempt at Steamtown, and lot of rookie mistakes on top of that. No matter how many times I do this distance, I've still got a lot to learn.

From the run log:

I felt great going into this fall marathon with a goal of sub 2:49, and as close to 2:45 as possible. Training and mileage was about where I wanted it to be considering it's been a long year of racing across different distances and disciplines.

Only nagging ache was my right knee, but nothing major that I couldn't fight through during the race.

The weather was absolutely perfect on race morning: 40's, overcast, no wind (not even a breeze), and dry. Pacing strategy was to go through each 5K between 19 and 20 mins, the half in about 1:24, and try to really bring it down after mile 20 for the final 10K.

Right away my right leg felt dead through the first 5K, but I still managed to go through in 20 mins. It was the same feeling that I had at Bermuda with the slight hamstring tear, but it just got worse and worse at Bermuda.

Right leg finally loosened up after the first downhill 8 miles of the course. In my opinion, the infamous downhill start of the race isn't very beneficial unless you really know how to take advantage of it. It's a fine line if you decide to roll the dice and be aggressive. I played it conservatively and didn't go out as hard as I should have (in hindsight). EJ went for it and it definitely paid off big for him in the end. I went through the half in 1:24:30 (future reference: shoot for sub 1:22), and was feeling better and better as the race went on.

Only one minor issue reared its head at this point: I had changed out my laces on my sneakers the day before and I didn't lace it back up as high as I should have. Not a huge factor, but little things like this will add up over 26.2. It just becomes one more thing to think about while you're trying to stay relaxed and chase down a PR.

My feet definitely felt loose in my sneakers and I could feel a hot spot developing. First time in a long time that I've had this issue while racing. We hit the 2+ mile "trail" section around mile 15 and it was difficult to really pick up the pace. More effort to sustain the same pace.

EJ caught me around Mile 20 and I had no response. He started to pull away, but I managed to keep him in sight for the rest of the race. I could only maintain a steady pace over the final 10K. Didn't have the push that I wanted.

The first of 3 hills appeared at mile 24, and didn't really slow me down. Middle hill was manageable, but the final hill at 25.5 just took the wind out of my sails. It's a tough quarter mile climb that flattens out, so you can't even see the finish line down the street. To make matters worse, there were banners for other events lining the finishing area, so it was really hard to gauge when to make the final push.

It was basically Boylston St with a big hill and a couple of false finish lines :/ Missed my PR by 1:30+ minutes, but what can you do other than learn and move on.

One positive: one of my better marathon splits (positive split by only 2 minutes). Take away: be a little more aggressive through the first half if I want to go sub 2:49.


I completely went off of the reservation for the rest of October, and went into full-on Buicide mode following a personally disappointing Steamtown.

Hartford Marathon (CT): Fresh off of my sub 3 at Steamtown, I went for it again 6 days later at Hartford. This was my 3rd time running this marathon, but could only manage a 3:02.

Monster Mash Marathon (DE): On a wing, a prayer, and a dare, I drove down to our nation's smallest state for my 3rd marathon in 13 days. This was now uncharted territory, even for me. Much better results here as I managed to bag another sub-3 marathon state. Painful, but fun.


I thought I was done with marathons for the year when I got a last minute entry into the coveted Stonecat Trail Marathon & Ultra. I couldn't turn this down as I've never run a trail marathon before. Pretty logical reasoning.

Stonecat Trail Marathon (MA): Didn't die. Had fun. Would do it again. Twice.

And that's about where my workout log ended in 2012.

I spent the next month timing races in Mississippi, at Fenway Park, and throughout Mass. This took a physical and mental toll on me more than any marathon or race had managed to do in the prior 11 months.

I had no desire to run or workout, whatsoever, during this period. I tried starting back up again in early December, but was shocked to discover that my IT band and hamstring were still as bad as it was 3 weeks prior. This was not good with Boston training right around the corner.


I've been going to the gym every day in December, and have been doing leg strengthening exercises.

My lingering leg pains finally went away after two solid weeks of non-stop leg curls and leg extensions. I was finally able to run more than 5 miles without pain or the feeling of dead legs. More importantly, my core felt stronger, more well-rounded, and my desire to run was back in full force.

I just got back from 17 miles with Quintal, Downey, and Pancoast on the Baystate course. The miles flew by and the 7 min pace run felt absolutely effortless. I haven't felt this way since Sept, so I'm going to keep up the strengthening regiment for the rest of 2012 and into 2013 and beyond.

So, what's on tap for 2013? So far, here's the scheduled lineup:

January: Mississippi Marathon. Another state, another sub 3?

February: Martha's Vineyard 20 Miler. Sub $300 in expenditures? Not likely.

March: New Bedford Half Marathon. Sub 1:17?

April: Boston. Sub 2:49?

May: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Run. Sub death? Not likely.

June: Partriot Half IM - Sub 5 hrs?

August: Timberman Part II

Other goals include completing all of the USATF Grand Prix races, and compete in as many Spartan USA races as humanly possible....without dying.

Take down at least another 2-3 states in the sub 3 marathon challenge.

Help make GLRR the greatest running club in the history of running clubs.

Defriend Fil on Facebook.

Update this blog.

1 comment:

  1. I'm late to the party as usual, but better late than never. Helluva year J, and another nice writeup. You're on an amazing roll, keep that up and keep the blog entries coming. Onward angry young chicken, onward!