I’m Inclined

Just under 13 weeks stretch between now and the 2008 Boston Marathon.  As a point of comparison, here is an elevation profile of part of the historic course:

And here is an elevation profile of Elizabeth City, N.C.:


OK, I know; it’s an EKG monitor. But the area is flatlined — in more ways than one, although that’s a post for a different day, not to mention a whole other blog. What it means for Boston training is: I’ve got to head for the hills!

But where?

My planning-prone mind has a few schemes, from closest to farthest in proximity:

  • A smaller as far as overpasses go, but lightly used highway overpass about 10 miles from my house.
  • A large, but considerably busier highway bridge with a wide shoulder about 15 miles from my house.
  • The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. I can practice take-offs at the birthplace of flight!
  • Mount Trashmore Park, a landfill-come-grassy hill surrounded and bisected by paths in Virginia Beach, Va.
  • A couple of Boston-bound runners who train with the same coach are taking day trips to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to do some long downhill runs. I’m invited.
  • Last but definitely not least, I have been assured of a hilly long run next month when I visit a friend who is also preparing for Boston.

Luckily I have good options. The disadvantage on time-crunch days is they all involve anywhere from a 20-minute drive one-way to going through airport security. Today with a busy office work day and a committee meeting, none of my best-laid plans materialized. Plan B: a treadmill in the YMCA conveniently adjoining my office building.

I warmed up for two miles, then ramped up the incline and speed for 200-300 meters, recovery-jogged, and repeated. I watched my heart rate climb from 150 to 168 toward the end of the session. The workout was a great time. I felt strong and energized charging up the rubber belt peaks, but I wasn’t kidding myself. I knew I had barely tasted incline.

While I cooled down, I tried to imagine Boston’s famous hills. How big will they be? How long will they be? How much will they hurt? Will I have the energy for them all?  Will be I able to finish the race? What is this flatlander doing thinking I can run such a tough course? Wait — am I making mountains out of molehills? Can I learn to run hills smartly, in a way that is as gentle as can be on my body but well prepares my legs for the challenge? Of course I can.

Then my thoughts wandered to less literal topography. What part of life’s course am I currently ascending? Where does this upward momentum lead, and what will the view at the top show me? That mystery eventually revealed is also a blog entry for a different day.

Since my qualifying race, I’ve been on Cloud Nine. As much as I loved the hard training I told myself more than once that I would never, ever, EVER need to run or train like that again, unless I felt like it. I imagined a long running career of cruising destination road races and unspoiled trails at a comfy 9 minute/mile pace.

Training to run Boston involves a surprising, different kind of motivation than trying to BQ. By doing that, I apparently proved myself to be a certain level of runner. Now I feel pressure to uphold that, to run a smart race, to respect the course, and to not crash and burn before family, friends, and literally millions of spectators.

First and foremost, it’s supposed to be fun. It is fun. It will be so much fun. I need to remember that.

With just under 13 weeks to go, I am nervous. I am a little scared.  I am a lot excited. Based on that, just think what race week will be like!

6 Responses to “I’m Inclined”

  1. 1 Susan Rohde January 24, 2008 at 11:34 am

    It is your old college friend Susan!! Bug told me about your website and OH MY GOSH…..you are awesome! A marathon runner!! Good for you!
    Email me sometime so we can “catch” up!!

  2. 2 Andrea January 24, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Susan! Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’re doing well and that we can catch up soon!

  3. 3 Susan Rohde January 25, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    I am doing the “couch potato to 5K” training as we speak but you are dwarfing me with your marathon running!! That is super! I will be watching your blog to see how you do in Boston. Maybe you and KatE Holmes will be running together…although your time KILLS her time and you actually qualified and she is getting a courtesy entry…hmmmmmmmmmmm.

  4. 4 kemibe January 27, 2008 at 5:35 pm


    I have run Boston numerous times, and each one has reinforced the same lesson: the uphills are trivial, the downhills potnetial killers.

    The good news is that you really do not need to do a lot of specific hill training to run well there. Working some rolling sections into the latter portions of your long runs would be a good idea, especially if you can mimic potential race pace for 20-30 minutes in maybe half of these. But if you are putting in secent mileage generally, you can inure your legs to the pounding of a marathon per se without being overly dialed in to topgraphical considerations.

    What you need to watch out for more than anything else is not running those first four off-a-cliff miles too hard. If you do not consciously hold back there, it won’t matter how well-trained you are, on the hills or otherwise, because by the time you get to Newton Lower Falls and the fire station your legs will have glumly recalled the earlier extravagance and begun turning to shit. Shit doesn’t contact as well as muscle fibers, so your race will suffer accordingly. NO GOING OUT TOO HARD AT BOSTON. Thousands have tried the stratagy of “banking time” there, and none of them has done anything but fail.

    And yeah, it’s a nonpareil experience. I have finished in the top 50 overall a couple of times, suggesting I’m supposed to be a humorless, exquisitely focused type whose tunnel vision keeps him from appreciating the uniqueness of the event. Not so. Every one of my Bostons — even the misadventurous ones — has given me more memories relating to the crowds, the city, the other runners, and the well-earned hype than all of my other road races combined.

    I really like this blog (Chasing Amy gave me the link); it’s not easy to write race reports that aren’t soporific, much less ones that are actually fun and exciting to read. Kudos and good luck in April.


  5. 5 Andrea January 27, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    kemibe, thank you for taking the time to read and leave such an informative reply. Your considerable experience is evident. This former newspaper hack appreciates a “real writer’s” positive remarks on the blog scribblings, too.

    At this point my race strategy is “Get to the start fit, happy, and healthy. Finish feeling good and happy with how I ran that course on that day.” Right now PRing there isn’t part of my vocab. Basically I’ll plan to hold back and keep a lid on it all through Heartbreak and then see what’s left!

  6. 6 kemibe January 28, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Well, this “real writer” used words like “secent,” “topgraphical,” and “potnetial,” so let’s hope the advice I gave was better than its packaging.

    You are right in that aiming for a PR there, at least the first time out, is probably unrealistic unless you start in one of the first few corrals (and this is true even with the gun minus net differential factored in). But you can have a sublime experience if you run sensibly and let your emotional governor assume power of the control switches gradually instead of at the .01-mile mark.


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