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How I qualified for the Boston Marathon

In the weeks leading up to the Indianapolis Monumental last Nov. 5, I was feeling properly trained, thanks to Angie Spencer and MTA Coaching.

At that point, her plans had guided me through two ultras and then onto recovery and preparing for Indy.

I knew I was physically ready for my first real attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which would mean a 3:25 or better. But I also needed to make sure that I was mentally prepared for the challenge.

With today (Sept. 10, 2017) being the final day to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon, I am taking a look back on my training and mindset leading into my first qualifier. At the same time, I am gearing up for a shot at another BQ — and PR — at this year's Indianapolis Monumental.

The training plan

I currently do not have a running coach but am following a similar plan to what Coach Angie laid out last year. The main principles of the plan include:

• Progressive long runs on weekends, topping out at one 20-miler three weeks before race day. This is a significant deviation from my previous self-created plans in which I did two or three 20-mile plus runs leading up to race day.

• Regular speed work, including Yasso 800s. The Yasso repeats are a great way to introduce speed workouts and see how you are faring in time goals. I also did paced runs during my latter long runs in order to get my body to understand the pace necessary for a successful race day.

• Regular yoga and strength training, an obvious oversight in my own workouts.

Learn more about my BQ training from my guest appearance in this podcast episode with Marathon Training Academy.

A coach’s positive message

About a month before last year's Monumental, Runner’s World launched a new online marathon race predictor. I plugged in the scant information on the form, which churned out a prediction of 3:44:34. I knew it was a flawed result for a variety of reasons — it did not ask for my marathon PR, did not take into other data such as number of marathons run or race times from distances over a half marathon, and did not figure in the type of course. Indy is flat and fast.

I knew the 3:44 was ludicrous. My previous marathon was a 3:36 PR — on a day when rain fell from start to finish, and I knew my body was even stronger now. I had no doubt that I would PR in Indy.

A few days later, I was talking with a friend at our sons’ cross-country meet when he asked me about my race calendar. When he was younger, he had run marathons including Boston, which he qualified for.

He knew I needed a 3:25 and asked about my half marathon PR, which was 1:41 and change. “Oh,” he said. “Well, they say you double your half marathon PR and add 10 minutes for your marathon. You’re looking at 3:32.”

Perhaps those doomsayers were what I needed. After all, it was great motivation to hear their voices (computer-driven data voice in one case), saying I couldn’t BQ this time. Tell me I can’t do something, and that gives me extra motivation to prove you wrong.

Still, I needed some positive support.

Enter Coach Angie.

At that point, Coach Angie had guided my marathon training for a little over two years since I reached out to her with a goal of a BQ. I really didn’t know when I would be able to have a legitimate shot at that goal when we started. After all, my PR in the BA days — Before Angie — was a 3:51, and I needed to trim roughly a minute per mile to BQ.

Days before the Indy Monumental, Angie sent me a good luck email message, which included a reference to BQing. That was the first time she has specified that in any of her communications with me. In previous races, a BQ was on my mind — including my then PR of 3:36 last April — but those were not realistic.

The Indy Monumental was a realistic shot at a BQ. I knew it. Angie knew it.

Race day

The day was tailor made for a great race. Coach Angie’s training plan got me to where I needed to be at the starting line, I had my nutrition locked in and the weather made for prime running conditions. 40 degrees at the start, almost zero wind and a comfortable 50something degrees by race’s end.

I started out between the 3:20 and 3:25 pace groups with the idea of starting out slow — easy to do, given the volume of runners in this race — then hit a series of time goals. Due to the jam-packed corrals (or corals as the PA announcer kept repeating), I started out closer to the 3:25 group then the 3:20 but figured I could gain some ground once the herd thinned.

About 2 miles in — while running around Indy’s downtown traffic circle, Monument Circle — the 3:25 pace group sidled up beside me. Heeding Angie’s pre-race advice — “Do whatever it takes to stay ahead of them” — I sped up and put some distance between them and me.

Less than a mile later, I noticed my left shoe had come untied. I stopped right at the 3-mile marker and tied it as quickly and firmly as I could with my cold and numb hands. As I stood back up, I saw the 3:25 group about a half-block ahead of me.

“Do whatever it takes to stay ahead of them,” I heard Angie repeating.

I launched into a sprint to catch up, and put them exactly where they belonged — behind me. After all, I did not want to finish in 3:25, I wanted to catch the 3:20 group to ensure that not only would I qualify but I would make the cutoff for actually running Boston in 2018.

Hitting my pace

I had set a goal of 48:00 for the first timing mat at the 10K mark. I hit that pretty close, crossing it in 48:07.

As the miles ticked off toward the next timing mat, the halfway point, I felt strong and was consistently under the 7:45ish pace I would need. At the 13.1 split, I hit 1:40:39, which was 39 seconds slower than I wanted to be for the BQ. However it was a PR for my half marathon time, and I was well on my way for a sub 3:25. Still, the question remained: How far under that mark would I be?

Things continued to go well in the next section, which led to the timing mat at the 30K mark. I had slid off my goal a little more, crossing it in 2:23:28, about 90 seconds slower than I wanted. Still, my pace was right on target for the BQ goal.

Through 20 miles, I remain locked in with mile times at 7:45 or better.

However, in miles 21-25, I slowed to around an 8-minute pace, not enough to derail my BQ but enough to have an impact. I rebounded to finish strong with a 7:47 final mile and a finishing time of 3:23:26.

It likely won’t be enough to make the Boston cutoff, however. The margins for the last few years have been 1:02 in 2015; 2:28 in 2016 and 2:09 for those running Boston next April. The 2018 cutoff time may certainly recede but

it is unlikely to include myself and others who beat their times by 1:34.

‘Dude, I qualified for Boston!’

As I hit the final timing mat, I slumped to one knee, exhausted, happy and thankful. An emergency services volunteer immediately bear-hugged me, pulled me up and asked if I was OK. “Yeah, I’m fine. … Dude, I qualified for Boston!”

He didn’t seem to care much about that but was assured that I was OK, and let me walk off on my own power.

Then it a gleeful yet slow walk for the traditional medal, space blanket, photo, food, chocolate milk and water.

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston qualifier, I spent some time contemplating my journey. But it wasn’t and isn’t just my journey.

Coach’s guidance pays off

Just over two years ago, an IT Band Syndrome injury forced me into a DNS (Did Not Start) at a local race. It’s been my only DNS or DNF, thankfully. It was then that I knew I needed a coach to help me run healthy, as well as faster and longer.

So, I approached Angie Spencer since I had learned so much from the Marathon Training Academy podcast. At that time, my marathon PR was 3:51. My goal was to BQ but also to run injury-free.

To put it mildly, Coach Angie saved me from myself with her carefully tailored individual training plans. No more overdoing it as I did two years ago when I approached her with an ITBS injury, thanks to too many hard runs in too short a time. Her plans have guided me on a holistic approach to faster and longer running, working in core workouts and introducing me to yoga.

As I told her after the Monumental, this is her BQ, as well as it is mine. I know for sure that I would not have achieved my first BQ without Coach Angie’s guidance, cheerleading and listening throughout this journey.

It's been about 10 months since I have qualified and now the wait to see if I get into Boston is down to a matter of days. If so, I'll start making plans to be in Boston next April. If not, It's less than two months until my next Boston qualifying race, again in Indy.

I get by with a little help from my friends

In addition to Coach Angie's guidance, training plans and inspiration, I had support from various products en route to my Boston qualifier. Among them:

  • Ucan: I start my race days and long training runs with a single serving of the chocolate flavor of Generation Ucan, and peanut butter on a gluten-free bagel. It’s a good combination of protein and carbs that works well for me. During the Indianapolis Monumental, I used a Ucan bar for fuel during the race.

  • Tailwind Nutrition: During races and training runs, I mix Tailwind with water to make sure that I am replenishing as I go. I generally use a half serving of the individual packets for 16 ounces of water. You may prefer more or less, depending on how it meshes with your system.

  • Saucony: My road shoe of choice is the 7.7-ounce, 4mm drop Saucony Kinvara. I am on my fourth pair and all have treated my well. Not everyone may embrace the neutral shoe but for those who do, I would recommend trying out the Kinvaras.

  • Swiftwick: Last, but not least, are the compression socks I wore in the hours after the Monumental. My recovery went better than expected thanks to the Swiftwick compression socks I wore.

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