If you’re going to print up t-shirts… Edmonton Marathon race report #runreal

My neighbor, John, and I  both ran the Boston Marathon this spring. He surprised me with some cool t-shirts for me and my family. Of course, I had nothing for him. Sigh. So, when we decided to take one last shot at a BQ before the window closed (with registration opening September 8th) by heading up to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for their marathon, I thought I would return the favor:

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Yep. “Kohler-Kardis International BQ Project.” If you’re going to print up t-shirts, you’d better deliver. It’s not going to make a top ten list of victory guarantees … but for comparison, here’s a few famous ones, both successful and unsuccessful.

  • “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.” – Joe Namath (FTW)
  • “One hundred-percent, sterling silver victory. The Lombardi Trophy” – Ryan Kalil (FAIL)
  • “We want the ball, and we’re going to score!” – Matt Hasselbeck (FAIL)
  •  “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round.” – Muhammad Ali (FTW)

So, I wore my shirt on the plane to remind myself what I was going there for. My training had been going well and I felt like I had been progressing as Coach Kyle helped me to push harder during my hard workouts. Knowing someone is looking over your shoulder at your stats after you’re done with a workout is very motivating. Also, props to John and Nelson for doing several of my hard workouts with me – it’s easier to go fast when you have someone else pushing you. It was great having the RHSW along for support (all kinds!) and photography. When we got off the plane in Edmonton and made it through customs (I declared my foodstuffs – energy gel) there were two baggage carousels in the international part of the terminal – one decorated with life-size Edmonton Oilers (NHL, duh) mannequins, the other with an Edmonton Eskimos theme (CFL, a bit more obscure – fun fact, their uniforms are pretty much the same as the Green Bay Packers).

I went for a nice shakeout run through downtown as soon as we got to our hotel, since I’d been up since 4am. Four easy miles, with occasional nice views of the Saskatchewan River. Edmonton reminded both me and the RHSW of Kansas City a bit – river town, similar population and geography. Mosquitos.

We ate at a great restaurant that evening with John & his wife, Katie. “Woodwork.” John and I have similar “tastes” and we had both picked it out independently before travelling up there after reading reviews of Edmonton restaurants. Ok, it was also RIGHT across the street from our hotel. Unfortunately, we neglected to get a shot of us walking out the front door so I could caption it “coming out of the Woodwork.” Use your imagination. Perhaps I was harboring some latent resentment for a little GI distress that I was attributing to my meal there. It happens. Signs point to whatever John and I both ate and the ladies didn’t.

The day before the race I did my carb-loading workout and started loading right after. I felt great on the run. Slight modification to the magic elixir – I purchased sucrose in Edmonton (table sugar) because I didn’t want to put dextrose in my checked bag (it’s more powdery than sucrose, if you know what I mean). I also mixed it with grape juice instead of lime juice. The result was extremely sweet. I felt pretty blah most of the day thanks to the GI distress the night before.

We did have a wonderful breakfast at De Dutch. I was almost tempted to try the Pannekoeken but stuck to my Paleo guns. There was a GF version, but sometimes that stuff bothers me almost as much as wheat. I had a nice omelette with Edam (think swiss) and DeBakon (Dutch bacon, a pork product). Then we took a bus to the West Edmonton Mall – which really gives the Mall of the America a run for its money – if not surpassing it.

Here’s a description from their website:

The Mall’s stores, attractions, and services combine to form the most comprehensive retail, hospitality and entertainment complex on Earth. … West Edmonton Mall’s concept is inspired by the traditional urban bazaars of Persia, where shopping and entertainment were plentiful and operated in tandem, fulfilling a variety of consumer needs all in one place.

Man, I wish I could write copy like that.

A quick snapshot for comparison:

Stores:

  • WEM 800
  • MOA 400

Attractions (all indoor, of course):

  • WEM (amusement park “world’s largest”; water park with wave pool “world’s largest”; bowling; aquarium with amphitheater for sea-lion and penguin performances; full size hockey ice rink (duh, Canada); two 18 hole miniature golf courses; life-size replica of the Santa Maria)
  • MOA (nickelodeon-themed amusement park; aquarium; American Girl; Lego store; flight simulator; miniature golf; mirror maze; Barbie Dreamhouse; Star Trek and Beatles exhibits)

You be the judge. So of course, with all that set out before us, all we actually went there for was the Roots store. Seriously. The only store we walked into. Mission accomplished. From WEM, we decided to check out the “Fringe Festival,” billed as “an 11-day event … showcasing a variety of independent theatre performances from more than 1,200 local, national and international artists.” It was a bit underwhelming. I did see some jugglers, and we didn’t stay long enough for our bus transfer to expire, so there was that.

I was still a bit green and watched everyone else eat dinner. After we got back to the hotel I got my courage up and headed downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant for an omelette and some ice cream. I tolerated it. Our friendly British (!) waiter chatted us up about my race. Like several other people we had talked to around town, when I told them I was in town for the marathon, they all assumed I was in town for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, since teams had started to arrive for that. Apparently several were staying at our hotel – there were posters. It’s a good thing I wasn’t full of hubris. “No, I’m just doing the marathon.” I’ve never been a “just a half” or “just a 5K” guy, and it’s a good thing because I would have been put in my place several times! There are people who excel at some distance or event but not others.

On race morning I awoke feeling MUCH better. Whew. Do I look relieved? New blue/silver Skora FITs are ready to roll!

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The race setup was really convenient. Huge conference center right at the start/finish line, so I ditched my sweats and we waited inside before the start. Here’s John and I right before we headed out:

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At the start line, they asked us to raise our hands if there was anyone from outside of Canada. That’s us! (and 10 more from the US – mostly Texas, for some reason)

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Then they asked, is there anybody that came farther than Bangalore, Indonesia?

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Nope, can’t top that.

 

This was my first race where “O, Canada” was played before the start:

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That lady is not honoring Canada like I am.

 

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Do I look nervous?

 

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And we’re off! Perfect conditions for most of the race. Temp at start was 52F and was supposed to drop before heading up. Nice and cool, overcast skies (good!) for most of the race with only a peek of sun for a few minutes. Virtually no wind at the start, a bit of a breeze by the end.

The course is an out and back and out and back. First we headed northeast out of downtown past some apartment high rises, then into a residential neighborhood with kind of a Brookside feel. I knew I wasn’t going to be keeping pace with John (running about 25s a mile faster than me) so I settled in with several runners who seemed like they were competent enough to keep a steady pace. Mind you, there were no pace groups, and I wasn’t pacing off them in the truest sense of the word. However, after you get several miles into the race you’ve weeded out anyone who has absolutely no idea what they’ve gotten into. Actually, there were two of those guys – one of which I have my doubts as to whether he was a legitimate finisher. *cough* Rosie Ruiz *cough*

The course is marked in kilometers, of course. It was funny hearing everyone’s watches beeping off the kms. Hardly any milers out there. I was tempted to switch my Garmin over, but resisted since I think in miles and it’s important to me to know how far above or below mile pace I am. I could have easily figured my km pace, but since a km is shorter than a mile, I was concerned I’d deviate too much by thinking I was closer to on pace than I really was. My Garmin had the last laugh – when I pulled up my data at home, all my lap and pace data was in km. Weird. It’s back to normal now.

The course was nice and flat. The first half featured a dip (barely noticeable) and an actual hill down into and then coming back out of the residential area. There was a checkpoint and a turnaround at the 1/4 mark (halfway through the out and back half). That was the last time I saw John until he was waiting for me at the finish! Flat is really nice for hitting a pace. This is by far the flattest course I’ve ever run. My splits for the first half were all within a few seconds of goal pace, 7:15. I went out a little hot, but not sub-7 or anything. I was 44 seconds ahead of pace at the halfway mark (well, not exactly – at the 13 mile mark). I still felt great at this point coming through the start/finish line headed west for another out and back:

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I love educated race fans, and Edmonton had them! Not that I don’t enjoy “yay” and “way to go” or “you can do it” but it’s nice to hear something a bit more specific. Now I didn’t for a minute think that these compliments were carefully crafted just for me, but they are the kind of thing a runner loves to hear:

  • “You look strong!”
  • “Great pace!”
  • “Here comes a marathoner!” and “Way to go marathoner!” (as you are passing the slower pace half-marathoners at the end)
  • “Nice form!”
  • “He makes it look easy!”
  • “Your flow is awesome!” (not exactly sure what that mean, but I enjoyed it.

There was definitely a mental hurdle to jump coming through that start/finish line at the halfway point. It was momentarily thrilling to see the RHSW and hear the crowd, but the course definitely had a “back to work” feel after getting through the downtown area. It was cool to see some blazing 5K or 10K elites come at me through this section.

I waited until halfway to start hitting my extra calories. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d start that sooner, maybe at mile 6. I have done this differently at different races. It’s hard to say what works best for me. I didn’t feel nauseous at the start like I have sometimes.  I don’t think I even made it halfway through my 400 calorie flask. I like the stuff and had tried it out before a couple of times, but it’s really hard to put anything in my gut at that point in the race.

There was a nice crowd gathered at a pinch point about 3 miles after halfway – I think it was at a college campus – we were ever so briefly on kind of a trail/sidewalk before coming back out onto the road. Not quite Wellesley but pretty good volume! The first 3 miles after halfway were pretty good, but I noticed I was starting to slow a bit around mile 17. I was about 5-10 second off pace until mile 23 – and that’s where the suffering began. I don’t want to overstate it, but it’s something you go through at the end of a race. Thanks to the cool weather, I had done pretty well, but I did have a pretty good sweat going. I didn’t really feel like I was taking in enough fluid. I wouldn’t say there weren’t enough aid stations, but the cups were tiny – and I don’t take time to stop and take several. As a result I was probably only getting a swallow of fluid every other mile. I was running for a while with a guy who had a CamelBak – maybe that was a clue. I can’t say this is a legitimate criticism as opposed to personal preference. Not everything on course is going to be tailored to your needs.

Back to the suffering. I had a really painful stitch in my side for the last 3 miles – easing up a little in the final half mile. I gritted my teeth and just tried not to let the wheels fall off. I’m not great at running math, but I know that I had enough of a buffer against 3:15 that I’d be ok for a secure BQ as long as I didn’t start letting it creep up over 8. I was 30s slow on miles 23 and 24, then my worst split was mile 25 at a 7:56. I got a boost from the mile 25 completed beep on my Garmin, and an even bigger one from 26. I then found I had a kick for the last several hundred yards. There is nothing like seeing that clock and knowing you’re going to bring it in on time! Here’s the joyful expression on John’s face as he meets his goal:

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I didn’t put up his “angry face” picture. It’s pure adrenaline. I’ll show you mine in a minute. Here’s the kick, such as it is:

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…and the finish:

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I acted a little goofy at the finish, but the lady handing out medals was the catalyst. I run through the finish line, not to the finish line. She was only a few steps beyond trying to put a medal round my neck, and I certainly wasn’t going to put the engines in full reverse to stop for her so I ducked my head and ran into it. We both had a laugh about that, but I hope she backed up a bit after me.

It was great to have the RHSW as well as John and Katie at the finish line. I’m still in the moment here:

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But then I started to get (1) cold; (2) nauseous. I thought I was going to barf, but managed to keep it in.

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I’m not holding up two fingers for “two” or “peace out” – I was about to put them up to my mouth to feign the puffed cheeks of someone about to blow. I guess the worst was past. Then we went inside the convention center for a full breakfast. I was shivering at this point and got my sweats back on and drank two cups of herbal tea, which got me back to normal. Then some fruit, ham, juice, coffee and I was back to normal. We stayed for the awards after seeing that John placed second in his age group!

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John’s in the ORFB hoodie. “Indiana Football” guy is not from Indiana – John and I were the second and third Americans, and this is his age group podium, all faster than me. The race winner hailed from Chicago, although he’s Latvian. Does anything about this quote make you want to root for him? Not me:

“(Sunday) was sort of a training run for me, I’m getting ready for the Frankfurt marathon,” [he] said. “It was a good effort to practice and run close to – about five minutes off – of what I’m trying to do in Frankfurt, so it was OK. I think it was right about 22K. We were all running together, and then I felt like the pace was slowing down a little bit, so I picked it up a little and I just kind of cruised the whole way. I was in full control. If somebody was to come up, I could respond if I had to, but there was no need, I just wanted to enjoy the training run.”

Humility is a way better PR move.

Here are my final stats and splits. I don’t see a 21.1 (km) split, which is the one I would have liked to see the most. That was the start/finish line – maybe they didn’t have it set up because of the other races coming back from the other direction. Who knows.

My average pace was 7:20.5 min/mile (or 4:33.7 min/km to continue the metric theme). Just another 5.5s per mile and I’m at 3:10! I was thrilled with the time – a pretty safe BQ-2:39. Not as much buffer as I had for last year, but well above the BQ-1:38 last year that was the toughest cutoff in Boston history.

If you’re going to print up t-shirts… that talk about a BQ you’d better hit it! So glad John and I both did.

A final note on gear before the numbers. I can’t say enough good things about the Skora FIT. Just my favorite road distance shoe. Light, zero drop, and just enough cushioning to take the edge off of the crummy uneven pavement that’s inevitable on any road course.

Thanks Edmonton! On to Chicago!

Place Name Residence Bib # Time Chip Pace Category Cat. Place Gender Place 10 km 21.1 km 35 km
36
Theodore Kardis Olathe, KA, USA
323
3:12:24
3:12:21
4:34
Male 40-49
7/66
34/322
44:23 2:37:49

Does anyone love runners more than Boston? #runreal

It’s practically a rhetorical question. This year’s Boston Marathon was my first – but I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get any better than this for the amateur runner. I ran on the same course on the same day, at the same time (and in the same “wave”!) as the world’s best marathoners. I wore bib 8362, which meant that roughly 100 elite males and females, as well as bibs 100-8361 were all in front of me. Despite the fact that 8000 runners had already gone by before me, I was still treated to the same cheering crowds that urged on Meb, Ryan, Rita, and Shalane. Scores of people – race volunteers, spectators, and people about town personally thanked me for coming to the marathon. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It’s also Marathon Monday in Boston and the surrounding communities. Some estimates predicted that a million people would line the race course for this year’s race. I wouldn’t disagree. Boston loves this race. Boston loves the people who run it. You feel it! The best way I can describe it was a purely physical response I had three times during the race. I found myself getting so excited and pumped up by the crowd that I realized I was about to hyperventilate. It wasn’t my pace – I was just forgetting to breathe properly. All I had to do was move over into the middle of the road and take some deep breaths to recover.

I felt great the whole race. I can’t ever remember finishing so strong and feeling so good. You can see it:

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The RHSW accompanied me to Boston. It was great having her there. I can get a bit wiggy before a race, and far beyond her bib-pinning skills she is a calming influence. We decided to leave our kids behind with Grandma and Grandpa, rather than trying to keep track of all four of them in the crowds. My neighbor and friend, John, brought his family along. He had a very personal reason for doing so, as he, his wife, 2 children, and his in-laws were all gathered in the Forum Restaurant last year post-race when the second bomb went off right in front, blowing out the glass windows in the restaurant, and wreaking havoc on the innocent crowd gathered along the route.

We arrived in Boston late Friday night. We had already picked up a few marathoners on the flight from Kansas City – a couple from Topeka running together. Since I was wearing my fluorescent orange Boston jacket, I got my first of many “good lucks” from a Bostonian within moments of getting off the plane.

The RHSW and I slept in a Saturday, then went on a nice shakedown run together along the Harborwalk. That afternoon, we walked down to Boston Common, the finish line, and various other marathon-related sights with John as our tour guide. I wore my Blue Camo Skora Forms around town – the color scheme was perfect this year – blue and orange. They got lots of admiration and questions, which I happily answered. That evening, we feasted at Mooo with my childhood friend Dan and his girlfriend. I didn’t have the chicken.

Sunday was a pretty busy day. I do the Western Australian carb load method, so I did my speed workout early, then started in on the sugar. I do allow myself eggs and yogurt, but no fiber. Breakfast with John & his entourage, followed by a worship service with a wonderful group that met downtown in a nearby hotel. After that, we headed over the race expo. I’ve never been impressed by a race expo. This one was bigger, but no more impressive. I did see Bart Yasso.

After that it was on to the Red Sox game. Much to my dismay, my friend Dan informed me as we arrived just in time for the first pitch that there had been a moving tribute to the marathon victims, with on-field appearances prior to the game. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t turn on the television for a few days. We hung around for about 5 innings, before the cold and my need to get in bed drove us out. Fortunately, everyone else was more than happy to oblige. Mandatory Green Monster shot:

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Finally, Marathon Monday was here! I got up at 5:30 for the 10:00 start. I had a simple omelette, more carbs, and dressed for the walk to Boston Common. Just outside my hotel, I made fast friends with Max, an entrepreneur from London. We walked together and rode the bus to Hopkinton. I might have convinced him to give my Skora FITs a try. As it turns out, we were about the same age and had qualified with roughly the same time (ok, he was 2 minutes faster). He injured his Achilles over the winter doing speedwork for a sub 3:00 attempt. As a result, I passed him on the race course – and amazingly I spotted him and encouraged him. We exchanged emails after the race and I’m happy to report he finished quite well under the circumstances.

After you get off the bus in Hopkinton, you’re herded into Athlete’s Village (did somebody say “athlete”?) where a cornucopia of carbs, caffeine and plenty of porta-potties await. I had several Gatorade carb energy drinks – 100+ calories each, minimal fluid; plus some coffee. The morning started off chilly, so it’s a good idea to bring some sweats to wear until you’re called to load into the corrals. Here’s my ensemble:

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My orange Illinois sweatpants fit the year’s colors, but were simply too awful to display publicly. Also, high-waters. You have to show your bib to the photog if you want to see the pic later. My Cub Scout sweatshirt with “Olathe, KS” on it got me noticed by a guy who had emigrated to the East Coast from Olathe. His adult children were going to be there to cheer him on in the race. We also talked about my Skora FITs – he had on the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris – a shoe I liked quite a bit as a trainer before discovering Skoras. They are discontinued – and also a bit too much shoe for a race, in my opinion.

There was a moment of silence for the victims of last year’s bombing while we were in the village. About 9:15, they called us out of the village and into the parking lot where we were sorted into our corrals for the first wave. I made another friend in Bob, a runner from the U.P. of Michigan. When you’re in your corral, everybody’s compatible pace-wise, so we decided to run together at the beginning for a while. Once in order, we walked up to the start line (well, the 1/4 mile behind the start line). You’re practically bursting at this point. It’s like horses in the starting gate. Before the gun, there was the National Anthem, introduction of the elites, and a fly-over by 4 air ambulance helicopters that assisted in the emergency response.

My friend John (who has a much faster PR than I) was running on a charity bib, so he decided to linger at the very end of the last wave before beginning his race. A photojournalist (Stephan Savoia/AP) documented this moment, as he knelt to kiss the start line at his return to this great race:

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What a great picture! Better than any of mine!

Once the gun goes off, first you stand, then you walk, then you shuffle, and finally a couple hundred feet from the start line you break into a full run. Actually quite a nice warmup, although when you’re doing it you’re thinking “I hope I don’t need those hundred feet back at the end….” Because you’re all so well-sorted by qualifying pace, there’s not a lot a weaving in and out at first, since in theory everyone in front of you is faster. Of course, since you could have qualified as much as 18 months before, a lot can happen in that time – injury, a lower level of conditioning, etc. Bob and I warmed up for the first couple of miles on the long downhill – everyone says don’t waste energy going out too fast. I think I hit it about right – about 10-15 seconds above my goal pace. Then I started cranking it up and ran the next several miles through mile 13 mostly below goal pace (7:15). I lost Bob to a porta-potty, and after seeing Max fairly early on, the rest of the race was on my own – just a few familiar strangers passing me back and forth. I passed more people than I was passed by during the race – my overall finish of 5577 (lower than my bib number of 8362) bears this out. Even in the early miles, the crowd support is still better than anything I have seen in my previous 6 marathons. There was a very enthusiastic pocket at Ashland, and larger crowds at Framingham and Natick. Every once in a while you’ve got to head over to the side of the road and gently high-five one of the little kids that are out there cheering for you.

Wellesley lives up to its reputation. Around mile 13 or so, first comes a tunnel of evergreens, followed by a tunnel of screaming college girls. It’s deafening. Seriously. I moved to the middle of the road – although I heard one guy around me remark that he could go for another 13 miles of that.

The Newton Hills begin just before mile 16. My pace had slowed a bit in mile 14, but I was still within 10s of goal pace miles 14-16. Miles 16-21 are most certainly the 4-5 (depending on who’s counting) Newton Hills. I ran these strong, about 30s under goal pace. I love hills! There were a lot of walkers. By this point in the race it was getting pretty close to noon – a 10:00 start is something I knew would be difficult – and the temperature was really starting to rise. Not a cloud in the sky, and I’m sure it was upper 60s by my race end.

The second of the Newton Hills is marked by the Newton Fire Station at the bottom. For some reason I look a bit pensive here:

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The final Newton Hill has a name, as you probably realize. Heartbreak Hill. Ain’t so bad. A few walkers around me as I wave to the crowd – not the camera (there was a camera?):

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Once you get to the top (and there is a false top) soon after is a downhill followed by another unnamed hill. I can’t remember if that’s before BC, but here’s St. Ignatius on campus:

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I am clearly in the middle of one of several emotional moments here. Right around this point in the race, I saw Juli Windsor, the dwarf featured in last month’s Runner’s World. She was stopped by the bombs last year in her bid to finish Boston (although not her first marathon). She was looking strong – I’m sure she must have finished.

Mile 23 was one of my favorites. Thanks to a long downhill before a left turn, I cranked it back up to 7:23. I felt like I was flying downhill. I had to move to the far left to overtake, and there was a huge crowd along the barriers here. One guy saw me, made eye contact, pointed right at me and let out a huge yell followed by a high-five. It was exhilarating.

After that, some tough work began. I fell off my pace again – although I didn’t run a single mile out of the 7’s. The last “hill” is a man-made one; the Mass Pike overpass:

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I’m chuggin’ – but I’m not walkin’.

There was a lot of attrition in those final miles. I saw several collapsed runners – which is kind of new to me, although probably because most of the races I have been in are so small compared to Boston. As you can see from these pictures, there is ALWAYS someone around you. You never have a clear path. The only thing I can compare it to are some 5Ks where I didn’t get up close enough to the start line and had to pick my way through.

Mile 26 was the toughest of course. My partial split from the last 0.4 miles (you always run a little bit farther than 26.2 – it’s harder to take the perfect race line at Boston than anywhere else) was my fastest of the day though: 7:08. I could smell it. Here I am on Boylston, working for the finish:

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At the finish line, it’s all sunshine and bunnies. I’m pretty sure the broader photo-op line is before the actual finish line – otherwise who would keep running at this point:

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That last one’s my favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, the “real” finish line is the last race pic:

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After that, it’s on to the finish chute – which is so long it feels like a marathon in itself. First: the medal. I’m not sure what possessed me to see if it was gold or not. It wasn’t:

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You can see the evaporated salts on my shirt. After that, it’s water, a space blanket, Gatorade, protein shakes, bananas and a bag of assorted other foodstuffs. Yes, please. I think I put down at least 50 oz. of fluids in the 5-10 minutes post race – and that’s with trying to take a couple gulps of the Gatorade Endurance formula they had at each aid station every mile (I did skip the first few as I was VERY topped off pre-race).

Here’s my final stats from the BAA:

Net Time 3:16:28
Overall 5577/31931
In Gender 4902/17575 (Male)
In Division 966/2628 (M40-44 Age Group)

And my splits from my Garmin:

1 7:25.7 1.00 7:26
2 7:20.4 1.00 7:20
3 7:18.0 1.00 7:18
4 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
5 7:10.5 1.00 7:10
6 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
7 7:05.3 1.00 7:05
8 7:17.8 1.00 7:18
9 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
10 7:17.0 1.00 7:17
11 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
12 7:19.8 1.00 7:20
13 7:16.4 1.00 7:16
14 7:22.8 1.00 7:23
15 7:25.0 1.00 7:25
16 7:20.8 1.00 7:21
17 7:42.9 1.00 7:43
18 7:44.5 1.00 7:44
19 7:42.3 1.00 7:42
20 7:47.9 1.00 7:48
21 7:56.8 1.00 7:57
22 7:29.9 1.00 7:30
23 7:22.7 1.00 7:23
24 7:41.9 1.00 7:42
25 7:46.5 1.00 7:47
26 7:52.0 1.00 7:52
27 2:50.2 0.40 7:08

I want to explicitly thank Skora for the pre-release FITs they provided me with. See my full review in a previous post. I don’t rave about shoes I don’t love because they’re free. I rave about great shoes. Despite warmer than ideal conditions and a punishing net downhill course I once again had zero shoe/foot issues during the race. The FITs just stayed out of the way and let me run joyfully. I paired the FITs with some Icebreaker Run Ultra Light Micro socks and a light coating of Alba Unpetroleum jelly. No blisters or hot spots.

Here I am relaxing in Boston Common before meeting up with the RHSW et al.:

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I relaxed (briefly) at a restaurant one street off Boylston before heading to the curb to watch John finish:

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RHSW to my right, John’s entourage including his adorable kids fill out the frame.

Here’s John and me after meeting up with him at Boston Common:

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And a celebratory kiss with the RHSW:

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Not only did I feel great after the race in the FIT, I decided to sign up for my hometown marathon that Saturday: the “Garmin Marathon in the Land of OZ, Olathe, KS.” (Kind of a mouthful). I ran it just under 2:00 slower than Boston. A less comprehensive race report on that one, coming soon! Spoiler alert – love those FITs – couldn’t have done 2 in 6 days without them. Spoiler alert #2: flying monkeys.

@Skorarunning FIT shoe review: Between minimalism and maximalism is just-rightism #FITfriday

It seems to me that running shoes are like a lot of other things we put on our bodies: they’re subject to trends. For instance, I recently discovered that men’s ties have drastically reduced in width this last season. I now have a few in the new “right” size, but a closet full of “too wide” ties – including a few purchased just last year.

It’s true that I discovered “minimalism” in running shoes after reading the 2009 book “Born to Run.” Initially a niche, minimalism widened to a chasm filled by the major shoe companies. Conversely, I’m not sure when maximalism crept into my consciousness – some time early last year I’d say. The max-cushion movement has gone mainstream in the last few months – with the major shoe companies looking to cash in on the latest trend (with some offerings better described as max-marketing than as max-cushioned, I’d say).

Through all this, a few shoe companies have stayed trend-proof and true to their mission. Skora running shoes are one of this small group – as they say, designed by runners, for runners. As a runner, I appreciate that! I didn’t seek out minimal shoes as an end – they were a means to an end: allowing me to run the way my body was designed. To my way of thinking, the new Skora FIT is the best expression of that I’ve run across so far (can’t. resist. pun.).

What do I look for in a shoe?

  1. Zero-drop. Allows for a natural foot strike.
  2. Anatomical. An object that goes on your foot should be foot-shaped.
  3. Roomy toe-box. Your toes should splay as you run. When they can’t move, or worse are pinched together, pain ensues.
  4. A locked-in midfoot and heel. If your foot is moving around in this part of the shoe, hello blisters.
  5. Laces. This is really 4a. I have found a few shoes that worked for me that relied on elasticity and/or Velcro closures (“Aww, he got the Velcros…”), but nothing compares to laces when it comes to customizing your fit.
  6. Goldilocks cushioning. On pavement, I need something. Too little can be torture at 20+ miles. Too much means my foot can’t tell my brain what’s going on down there. Oh, and weight. Light = fast.
  7. Value. There’s a happy medium here. I’ve tried poorly made shoes from other companies that checked some of these boxes that didn’t make it to 100 miles. I’m willing to pay for quality design, materials, and construction when it means I’m going to get more wear out of a shoe.
  8. It should cover your foot. Duh, right? Well, “I don’t always wear shoes, but when I do, ….” Sandals? No, thanks.
  9. It should look cool. I consider myself a function-over-form guy, but I love it when I don’t have to choose. I’ve owned a few pairs of shoes that I would prefer to only run in at night, if you know what I mean.
  10. Gestalt. The whole should be more than the sum of its parts. A shoe that is there, but not there. Om.

If I scored the shoes I’ve run in over the last 5 years in these categories, I’m sure the FIT would have the highest score. Zero-drop? Check. Roomy toe box? Check. The light, stretchy upper really contributes to that:

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That’s my hand. My toes aren’t that flexible. However, they are quite long…

Locked-in midfoot/heel/laces? Check. I love asymmetric lacing. Traditional lacing bugs some folks on the top of their foot – but when you sweep it off to the side it takes pressure off that area. Just lacing these shoes up is a joy. The combination of the stretchy upper and the asymmetric lacing makes it super easy to get a “Goldilocks” fit. If you’ve ever taken off on a run and felt like you laced up too tight or too loose, you know what I’m talking about. That is not going to happen with the FIT:

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Goldilocks cushioning? Check. I think the FIT is “just right.”  The FIT borrows some of my favorite things from Skora’s other models – one of these being the R01 “platform” (or last, if you prefer) which is like Skora’s BASE and FORM. It combines a rubber outsole with compression molded EVA foam midsole. An extra bit of cushioning is found in the Ortholite insoles. This insole is slightly thicker than those found in Skora’s other offerings. The insole from FORM is on the left in the picture, FIT on the right.

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That FORM insole has roughly the same number of miles on the shoe it lives in – perhaps even less.

Also, the reverse dimpling on the insole is a little more pronounced than other models – I like it – it’s stimulating in a good way when you put the shoe on but not at all intrusive:

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You can actually make them out in the above photo. This next photo, for comparison, is an insole from FORM:

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The reverse dimpling is there – but smaller.

Value? Check. The FIT is probably the best value in Skora’s lineup. My pair have 200+ miles on the odometer already and there are zero durability issues despite virtually all of those miles being on the pavement. As you can see, the high-abrasion rubber on the outsole is holding up really well:

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I can’t find anything wrong with the material on the upper or any of the seams. I would be shocked if this shoe didn’t push past 1000 miles. Mille Miglia! They should make it in Ferrari red and yellow! The FIT’s price point stays out of the 3 figure range as well.

Cool? Check. If you don’t think the FIT is a cool-looking shoe, I can’t help you. The black 3D-printing on the upper is functional (more support where it’s darker, more flexibility where it’s lighter) and gives the shoe a really unique look:

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Gestalt? Ja! My perfect shoe is a shoe I’m not thinking about while I’m running in it. It should disappear. Even when I’m on pavement I want to be able to close my eyes and feel like I’m running barefoot. No shoe is that good, but the FIT is just a great combination of all of the qualities I look for in a shoe. I’ve done speedwork in the FIT on a small track without blistering. I’ve taken it on multiple pavement long runs. I went back and looked at my mileage log today. (Umm, I might track mileage on each shoe on a spreadsheet with weekly, monthly and annual mileage totals – message me if you share my sickness and want my excel file). Since receiving the FIT, I’ve run in it 19 times, with just 3 runs in all other shoes. I like it so well I’m planning on running the Boston Marathon in it. It doesn’t hurt that “Orange is the new yellow” at Boston this year! I would probably prefer the lighter PHASE or CORE for a shorter distance like a 5k or 10k, but I think it’s FIT for half and full marathons.

Here’s a few action photos of me and my friend John (not wearing the orange FITs – yet…) running a 10+ mile segment of the One Run For Boston cross-country relay last week:

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I’m a fan of the FIT. If you’re thinking about trying a pair of Skora shoes, this is the model I’d try first.

 

Check out the FIT – follow the link by clicking on the banner to the right, or:

http://www.Facebook.com/skorarunning

http://www.Twitter.com/skoraRunning

http://www.Instagram.com/SkoraRunning

Will you taper or peak? @HospitalHillRun

What’s in a name? When you’re training for a race, those last few weeks before a race on a training schedule often get the name “taper.” I’m tapering for my spring marathon right now (Ok, it’s Boston. There, I said it. Boston Boston BOSTON!!! Whew. Sorry, I’m extremely excited – it’s my first!).

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Here’s a photo of my friend John and I (I’m on the left, unable to resist making eye contact) running a leg of the cross-country fundraising relay “One Run for Boston 2.” Please consider donating to the One Fund for victims of last year’s bombing through this organization. John ran last year’s race and was in the Forum Restaurant with his family when the bombs went off. We’re both running it this year.

Anyhow, tapering conjures up all kinds of images of slacking off, backing down, fidgeting, etc. Yes, it’s literally true to the extent that you need to back off on the mileage. Any training schedule worth its salt will have a peak mileage week several weeks out from a race, followed by one to three weeks of lower mileage. This can be a source of anxiety for anyone who’s been pushing it, feeling good, and is looking forward to the challenge of a race. Multi-month training schedules have cutback weeks all through them to give you a chance to heal. The “taper” is your last chance to heal up before the big day – don’t waste it.

I’ve heard the term “peaking” substituted for the taper a few times. I like it. It conjures up an image of a roller coaster. You’ve been flying along, going up and down hills and you come to the last big up before a downhill push to the finish. You’re going fast but you’re slowing as you near the top of the final big hill. There’s plenty of momentum to take you over the peak. The coaster has already done all the hard work to get to that point. Push too hard and you just might fly off the rails!

Peaking is getting your body to that sweet spot of conditioning where you are ready, but not exhausted. Better undertrained than overtrained, so they say. You’re not going to improve your fitness with a 20 miler the week before your big race. I’ve read that it’s okay to hit your goal pace in your “peaking” weeks – cutting back on mileage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give good effort.

It’s encouraging and it feels good to be hitting your pace at lower mileage in those last few weeks. I feel ready for Boston – like I’m peaking, not slacking. I’m looking forward to that great race and then transitioning into getting ready for another – Hospital Hill!

I’m reaching for what I cannot. #runreal #Boston2014

I have been running with renewed joy since discovering Skora shoes halfway through 2013 and becoming an ambassador. I’ve been a minimalist and barefoot runner for several years, but bounced from shoe to shoe – always knowing what I wanted but never quite finding that ideal realization of a shoe that allows my body to run efficiently and naturally as it was designed. My first four marathons were run in 3 different shoes. My last two have been in Skoras, and my only choice will be which Skora model to run Boston in. I ran my two fall marathons in the Base and Phase, and loved both. But, I hadn’t yet tried the Form, which effortlessly carried me through my trail Ultra pacing experience. Despite obliterating my previous annual mileage high of just over 900 miles by running almost 1400 miles this past year, I have been injury-free.

While I was on vacation a few days ago, I received my first e-newsletter from the BAA. I had already started training, but somehow that email put the spurs to me. It also coalesced a thought that has been taking form in my head ever since I found out that I’d be running Boston.

I am just an amateur runner. Very few people will take notice when I cross the line. However, I feel a unique responsibility to this great race. I want to give it my best. Yes, I will be both a participant and a spectator. I will marvel at what promises to be the greatest celebration of running I have ever taken part in.

I will not chase the elites – a group of professional runners whose combination of genetic gifts and will to succeed make them the best in the world. They will be running at a pace for just over two hours that most of us cannot keep up for more than a few minutes.

I will chase the clock. I will chase my personal goal to be my best. My goal setting has always been unconventional. Recently I realized that the modern Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis has expressed my method: “Reach for what you cannot.” I always seem to set my goals just a bit further out than I can achieve. However, by reaching for what I cannot, I achieve what I otherwise would not. If I had conceived that qualifying for Boston was a bridge too far, it would have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, I set my goal at a BQ – 5:00. I haven’t achieved that goal yet, but I have BQ’d twice.

My new goal is an ambitious one: to run a sub-3:00 marathon. I believe that I can achieve it with the right physical and mental training. I’ve set my training program up with that goal pace in mind: 6:51. It is a furious pace.

The point at which “the wall” (or the central governor, if you prefer) kicks in and seduces you to slow down comes at a cruel place in the marathon – but that’s why your mind is doing it – it senses the end. You are close to the finish – 6 miles or less. In the six marathons I have run, this has always come at a point in the race when no one else is looking. No competitors are near me – we are strung out along the race course. The crowds are thin or nonexistent. This will not be the case in April. Although the physical challenges of the Newton Hills begin at mile 17.5, followed by Heartbreak Hill at mile 20.5, I intend to draw on the power of the cheering crowds and my fellow runners. The crowds won’t be cheering for me in particular, but they will be cheering for me and the men and women running with me.

If I don’t achieve a sub-3:00 in Boston, I will have already signed up for the Chicago marathon in October. Flat. Fast. Cool. No excuses. I have also heard the siren song of the Ozark Trail Ultramarathon in November – 35 miles of pacing last year have me believing I can do it.

I’m reaching for what I cannot.

Yikes! Winter Training begins soon!

Thanks to a tweet, I was reminded that the Boston Marathon is 20 weeks from today yesterday. That means if I’m going to start an 18 week training plan, it starts December 16th. I knew it was coming… putting on the calendar makes it real though!

So, the question is: how should I train this winter? I’d love input.

Option 1: The advanced marathoning 18 week, 55 mile week peak plan. This is the plan that I used for the KC Marathon in October. Thanks to this plan, and an injury-free year, I’ve blown away my past mileage training totals. My feet have been doing really well – which I attribute to the anatomically-correct Skoras I’ve been running in primarily in the second half of the year. The arguments against this plan are first, that I was well off my PR (-6 min) at the goal race. Also, it will be hard to put these miles in during the winter months. The argument for it is that it didn’t get a fair shake (i.e., I didn’t give it a fair shake). I ran a September marathon 5-6 weeks prior. I was also involved in some fairly radical (for me) diet experimentation leading into both the September and October races. I switched from ketosis back to glycogen dependence just 3 weeks before the race, and I gorged on fine food at Disney the week before the race. C’est la vie.

Option 2: A lower mileage plan. TBD. I could simply replace some of the medium effort, medium distance runs on the AM plan with cross-training. E.g., run 3x a week (cross-train 3x, rest 1x) instead of run 5x (cross-train 1x, rest 1x), subbing in cross-training for those runs. I’ve done this before successfully. The argument against this plan is less running means less goal-specific training. The argument for it is that my PR came in April at Garmin after a winter of heavy cross-training substitution into a running plan. My use of the AM plan had another failing: the “leveling effect.” This is the key to mediocre training: too fast on the slower target pace runs, too slow on the faster target pace runs. With this option, I won’t have the “I ran pretty hard yesterday” excuse going into the faster tempo workouts.

Option 3: Suggestions?

When your #BQ isn’t

Last fall I ran a 3:13:55 at the 2012 KC Marathon. I was elated – finally a BQ after 2 unsuccessful attempts! However, soon after posting that time, I ran across a blog that informed me, much to my horror, that a BQ didn’t necessarily mean you’d be running the race. Boston has a double-secret (ok, it’s not actually secret) cutoff time that is only established after all registrants submit their names. I don’t recall what the cutoff was for which prior year, but I do know that one of them was in the BQ-1:30 range, i.e., if you didn’t beat the BQ time for your age by 1 minute, 30 seconds, you weren’t running.

Since I had a BQ-1:05, I knew that I once again had a time that probably wasn’t going to get me to Boston. (In my marathon “debut” I put up a time that would have got me in under the old 3:20 standard but I ran it about a month too late to register for 2012 . Since registration was closed, it wasn’t good enough for 2013).

With that in mind, I attempted my first spring marathon, the Garmin Olathe Marathon in April 2013. It can be very hard to train for a spring marathon during a Midwest winter. I put in the work, and my reward was the 3:11:03 I needed to beat the BQ-1:38 cutoff for 2014. That race came just one week after the senseless bombings at Boston 2013. I never doubted that there would be a Boston 2014, but it was to some degree an open question in the aftermath. I was unashamedly emotional at the finish line of Garmin.

In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t let off the gas after KC 2012. You never know when you might need a few more seconds.

“Fun” with numbers – my #BostonMarathon chances! #runreal

With the announcement today that 7500 people signed up for the 5000 spots left, I decided to see what number I am sweating by the end of this week. So, fun with math. Engineers: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Btw this is based on the assumption that the times submitted are equally distributed across the 5 minute range.

My time is a 3:11:03 (a BQ-3:57 for the 3:15 cutoff). Using the BQ-3:57, that means I’m in the 79th percentile for the 5 and under group.

There are 5,000 spots remaining. So, solving for x in this equation should yield the number of equally distributed registrations that cannot be exceeded for my 79th percentile time not to make it:

x – 5000 = .79x

If you want to use this equation for your own time, figure out your percentile and put it in the spot of the .79 in my equation. I’m not going to show my work. Plus, I cheated and used an equation solver. But I did make up the equation myself. Could you smell that burning smell?

Solving for x yields 23,809. So, if more than 23,809 people register this week, I won’t make it, since 79% of 23,809 = 18,809, or 5,000 less than 23, 809.

My head hurts.

“Dress Rehearsal” for #HOA in @skorarunning Base; #ketogenic testing; #BostonMarathon

I had a great “dress rehearsal” run in my Skora Bases this morning (brain cramp – just bought my wife the Cores). I did 7 miles with Jeremy and John, 2 at race pace. Pre-dawn makes for some interesting proprioception training! I am ready to roll for the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, MO, Labor Day.

My ketogenic experiment is going well. I seem to feel a bit sluggish starting out on runs, but once I get going, I am not having any problems. I am experiencing a little more thirst than usual upon waking. The 2 week mark is today, and I am going to test my fasting ketone levels tomorrow morning. I am going to be encouraged if I break 0.5. That is the threshold for nutritional ketosis.

Boston Marathon registration procedures were announced today. The big news is that the field will be significantly expanded, as expected. I hope this means that the secret unpublished qualifying standard (allegedly roughly 1:30 faster than BQ last year) won’t move all that much as a function of both increased supply and increased demand. I hope I will be ok – I’m 3:57 faster than the standard.

The Electrolyte Debate: What to drink during your marathon?

I’ve previously dabbled in the alchemy of finding the magic elixir of running. Look for a future post on my weird marathon carb-loading regimen (I use the Western Australian method). I’ll also probably write one about what to eat on race morning, so I am excluding those subjects from this post.

I have fought to push GU down during my previous 4 marathons. I just can’t seem to stomach it at race pace, although I don’t have nearly the problems others note. This, coupled with a recent depletion run bonk, caused me to rethink what I should intake during a race.

There is a significant debate out there over hydration, electrolytes, and calories during a run. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on tv. So, take all this with a grain of salt (or don’t, more on that in a minute).

I am not going to plow any new ground here. I’ll lay out the basics, give you my conclusions, and pose a few questions along the way. I’m interested in what works for all of you though – what have you tried?

My main sources for my conclusions here are “Advanced Marathoning” and “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.” There are 3 components in this equation: 1) how much fluid?; 2) how many calories?; and 3) electrolytes – yes/no/which/how much? (obviously the muddiest issue).

#1 – Virtually everyone agrees that you need to take in some fluid during the race. Except maybe Alberto Salazar. Elites will dehydrate themselves to a certain degree during a race, but there is a point at which this becomes counterproductive. Studies show that a certain amount of dehydration does not decrease performance. You can also drink too much during a race – especially if you’re out there for a long time and are drinking only water: this condition is called hyponatremia, and it can be just as deadly as dehydration – it’s just not as well-publicized. Exactly how much fluid you need depends on your sweat rate – which varies based on the environment and you. You lose 3-4 pounds of water during a marathon on a hot day, 2-3 on a cool one. Also, your stomach can only empty so much fluid per hour. It looks to me like average consumption should be around 24-28 fluid oz. per hour. Conclusion: I’m shooting for 6 oz. every 15 min.

#2 – My two main sources agree on the amount of calories you should intake during a race – basically 200-300 per hour. Conclusion: for 3 hours out there, I’m targeting 700+ calories.

#3 – Electrolytes. Sodium is the biggie. AM says you need it – recommending a ratio of 250mg/L. AM specifically recommends it to avoid hyponatremia and improve caloric uptake. The Paleos don’t agree as to its benefit – but waffle on the conclusion. To be fair, I think what they are saying is that it really doesn’t help as much as we think, although on balance it seems to recommend it. Also, I think I see a flaw in their reasoning. Basically the theory is that the sodium content of your sweat is less than in your body, thus sodium becomes more concentrated in your body as you exercise and sweat so you don’t need to replace it. But…(and I didn’t go to the source study so maybe they just skipped a step) if you’re sweating out sodium and other electrolytes and drinking straight water (or something with calories and no electrolytes) during a race, that should dilute the concentration of sodium in your body, right? Duh? The Paleos admit there’s no known downside to taking in sodium during a race and may be a slight advantage – improving the rate of absorption of water and carbs – thus ultimately concurring with AM. That’s enough for me. Conclusion: a dash of salt. The AM ratio is designed to not exceed the level of palatability. I have seen other formulas with 5-6x the sodium. I tried one. It’s barely drinkable. The new Gatorade Endurance formulation boasts 3x the sodium and 2x the potassium of regular Gatorade. However, it doesn’t have sufficient calories in my estimation – 80 per 12 oz – only 480 if you drink 72 oz. It also has a lot more sodium in those 72 oz. – 1740 mg – than the AM formula would recommend (532 mg). Plus, I can make this stuff way cheaper than a $30 canister of powder, and without any food coloring. I’m going to split the difference between Gatorade Endurance and AM: 1120 mg/72 oz.

On to potassium. AM and the Paleos are silent on the subject, but Gatorade includes it in their formulation. PDA does discuss it in the context of cramp prevention – but says available studies show no benefit. PDA does recommend it as part of recovery. Anecdotally, whenever I had a huge calf cramp after 2-a-day soccer practices in HS I’d make sure I had a banana or two that night. I eat a lot of bananas these days, which seems to ward off the cramps for most purposes, however I have experienced significant calf cramping in 2 of my 4 marathons. Also, one of my other sources – a Doctor/runner who passed along the World Health Organization’s Oral Rehydration Solution (“ORS” – for treating severe dehydration) includes potassium as an ingredient, but again in a fairly high concentration. Since I am not planning on suffering a bout of explosive diarrhea before the race, I’m going to compromise with a lower concentration closer to the Gatorade number of 840 mg potassium: 795 mg/72 oz.

There are other electrolytes to consider, but I am not adding them to the witches brew at this time, primarily magnesium. Spinach and pumpkin seeds have a lot by the way. So does swiss chard.

The recipe:

72 oz. of marathon electrolyte/fuel/fluid (that’s a lousy recipe name. Maybe MEFF72? Sounds vaguely Victor Conte-ish. Maybe I should go register that with the PTO).

  • 1 cup of dextrose
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Nu Salt
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (or to taste)
  • water to fill to 72 oz.

Notes: 1 tsp of dextrose has 15 cal. There are 48 tsp. in a cup. So 1 cup of dextrose is 720 calories. Dextrose aka glucose is used because it is a simple sugar – a monosaccharide – rapid absorption. It’s also more easily tolerated than fructose. Sucrose is an ok substitute, but it’s a disaccharide, so there’s a metabolic process there. You can get dextrose at a brew shop or Amazon. Sea salt is sodium chloride, obviously. 1/2 tsp. yields 560 mg of sodium. Nu Salt is potassium chloride. It’s sold just about everywhere as a salt substitute. There are alternatives, but watch out for Lite Salt that also contains sodium – then you’re doubling up. I’d really prefer 1/6 of a tsp., but who has that measuring spoon. 1/4 tsp. yields 795 mg of potassium. If that sounds like a lot, you need a lot more K per day than you do Na. A banana has over 500 mg. So I’m not worried about OD’ing on K. Lime juice is purely for flavor. I like Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice. It’s the next best thing to fresh.

Using the recipe:

I am going to be such a wannabe at the Heart of America marathon. I’m going to split these 72 oz into 6-12oz. bottles and have the RHSW place them at aid stations for me. The advantages of a small race! Run like the elites! I’m going to try to pick one up every half hour and drink 1/2 right away, the other 1/2 15 minutes later. I’ll start the first bottle pre-gun.

I’ve tried it out once already and tolerated it well. I think it will be easier than GU to get down. I was a bit nauseous in the first few miles of the Garmin marathon. AM tells me that’s because I’m pushing harder than I should at the beginning. Well, that’s how I race. I can race a bit better than my training would predict, but not without a price.

As with any “new” thing – try it before you race it. If you try it, let me know what you think!