Monday, October 28, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon Race Report, including made-for-tv Dramatic Ending(tm)

So as not to bury the lead on this race report, I'll just come right out and say that I hit my goal -- I got my sub-4 Marathon, although it was a nail-biter:  3:59.  I readily admit that all I was hoping to hit was between 3:54 to 3:59.  I couldn't hope for anything more, Yasso times or not.  After all, prior to this race, I'd only run a single marathon trying for a specific time, as the other 4 were just to finish. 

The story of how I got to 3:59 is, well, the story.

This race had lots of downs, ups, and drama.  My mind was an utter maelstrom of inner demons, mind games, and euphoria.  It was a battle, plain and simple.


I hopped on a near-empty blue line train on Capitol Hill, and headed towards the Pentagon.  It filled up around Rosslyn, and a solitary guy with a suitcase applauded us as we filed out of the train at the Pentagon station.  I flashed him my standard "hang loose" sign, and waited to exit.

It didn't take much to find the UPS trucks, but I was already alarmed at how far one has to walk from the Pentagon Metro the starting line.  I'd say it's easily a mile.  At this point, every step felt like I was using up precious glycogen.  I turned off my phone after a kind couple got a "before" shot of the Marine's picture on my back (I was running for him as part of the "22 Too Many" awareness group), and quickly found a spot in the corral marked "expected finish time 3:40-3:59."  I also immediately felt like a fraud even standing there.  I'd run ONE marathon with a shot at sub-4, and missed it by 5 minutes.  Yassos or not, all my other marathons were nowhere near this time.

Almost Time for the Howitzer shot!

I want to take a second to mention something special that happened in our corral.  The MCM had some wounded warriors doing a precision parachute jump prior to the race.  One of them was carrying the largest U.S. flag ever jumped with, a 7,800 square foot flag.  It was SO large, that it actually trailed off behind him, into our corral, as he landed.  Almost immediately, several runners rescued the flag, and started to untangle and unfurl it.  I'm sure someone got pictures of it.  But, I was on the far right side of the corral as you faced forward, and the flag was directly to my left.  As it was unfurled, I stepped around it, and took hold of it, along with dozens of runners.  We stretched it out.  7,800 feet of patriotism.  Someone started to shake it, to make it wave in the "breeze."  We all just stood there, holding it.

It was then, we realized that we weren't really getting direction on what to DO with the flag.  Fortunately, someone at the stripey end led the runners at the far end to start to gently roll it up.  I let go as it passed me, and resumed my position.

The Race Begins.

Boom!  Off went the howitzers, marking the 8:00 start of the runners.  About 3-5 minutes later, I crossed the start line, along with my sea of runners, all hoping for a 3:40-3:59 finish.

And promptly went nowhere.

I had just run the Army 10-Miler a week earlier, so I was already used to crowds, but this was VERY thick.  For all our supposed planned speed and finish times, we weren't able to get going. 
Miles 1-4 (aka, the wilds of Arlington, VA)

The first two miles came in roughly 10 minutes per mile each, but I knew that we had horrific hills to start off, and plus, with that kind of crowd, there was no reason to panic.  I fell in behind a visually impaired runner and his two guides, who were quite adept at traffic navigation.  They were SO adept that they left me.

A note:  I am particularly vocal about screaming, "GET TO YOUR LEFT" as wheelchair and handcrank athletes come through the pack.  People usually get moving, which is nice.  Except for one:   A petite blonde in her oh-so-trendy capris wearing EARPHONES.  She then had the gall to look back, see that she was blocking the athletes, and basically just ease over as if an afterthought.  Grrrr.

We continued making our way through, and I continued to manually lap my Garmin, knowing that I needed to know EXACTLY where I was, time-wise, for me to work the pace bands, and otherwise make sure I was on the right side of 4 hours.

I took my first nutrition shot at mile 4.5.  I've learned one thing from all my races.  I must take stuff early.  Late nutrition just means I feel great afterwards, but that doesn't help the end miles.

As we crossed the Key Bridge, I was at roughly 37 minutes through 4 miles, or about a 9:15/mile pace (4 hours = 9:09).  No big deal.  I know this course.  It will clear out.  It has to sometime, right?

Miles 5-10 (Rock Creek Park to the Kennedy Center)

Wrong.  Oops.  I hit the 10K mark picking up my pace a bit, because I had just the smallest kernel of fear creeping into my head.  Perhaps it was self-doubt.  I'm good at that.  I'm a walking BQ when it comes to self-doubt, and when it comes to self-hatred, I'm practically Kenyan.

Regardless, I was picking up SOME time from the initial start, but frustrated by the continual stops of momentum, detours around packs of runners, and general inability to find a steady pace.  We went up into Rock Creek Park, and I continued to shout at Marines ("THANK YOU DEVIL DOGS!") and also gave some love "to the people in the cheap seats" (standing on the overpass bridges).

I screamed a LOT at this race.  In retrospect, I probably burned energy.  But is that so bad? Shouldn't these things be fun, even a little bit?

I also took my second nutrition shot at mile 8.5.

Miles 11-13 (Hitting the Half, and making decisions)

Coming out of Rock Creek Park, and past the Kennedy Center, I knew what was coming.  Hains Point.  A lot of people don't like it, because there's little crowd support.  I don't love it a ton, because the course is VERY narrow there.  Still, it's where I do my bike training, and I know the loop around Hains Point like this was my own neighborhood.  Hell, this whole race is practically IN my neighborhood.

I hit the Halfway mark at 1:59:59.  TECHNICALLY, I was on pace, but the margin for error, was rather, um, tight.  I was worried, sure.  But ever since I've come back to running post-injury, I'm smarter, and have always trained for negative splits.  All my runs finish with the fastest miles at the end, regardless of whether they are a 4, 6, or even 10 mile run.  Hell, even the 20s ended fast(er).

So I picked up the pace, trying to trust in my training, even if I wasn't going to trust myself.

I also took my 3rd nutrition shot.  One to go, and then nothing else.  Front loading.

Miles 14-16 (Revving up)

Heading back towards the National Mall, we ran along the outskirts back towards Lincoln, and then turned back to the Washington Monument.  My miles steadily increased in speed.  9:09, 8:50, 8:45.  Perhaps too fast?  But my pace bands indicated I was making up some time, building a cushion.  I liked that.  It improved my mood.  I needed good news.

Miles 17-19 (OORAH!) (or, around the tip of the MCM's junk -- see the map)

We hit the heart of the National Mall.  Here, the pendulum of momentum swung even further towards optimism (foreshadowing alert:  this was a BAD IDEA).  I went NUTS with the crowd.  "Devil Dogs!" to all the Marines.  "Good morning!" to the spectators.  I was fired the hell up.  I took my last nutrition.
  8:51, 8:39, 8:26.

Note.  I know now that this was too freaking fast. 

For those of you doing the math, I had built 134 extra seconds over my goal at this point: 

2 minutes and 14 seconds of room.

Just in time for mile 20.  The Wall.

The first thing I remember is that the wicked wall located on the 14th Street Bridge wasn't nearly that bad this time, the site of many broken race times.  I was still moving, although I let up, just a touch, based on what I knew about the new course's elevation.  Mile 20 took me 9:06, so give me another 3 seconds.

So call it 2 minutes and 17 seconds now. 

137 seconds of cushioning over the next 6.2 miles, having run 20 already.

Miles 21-24 (I'm bleeding here . . . )

These miles hurt.  I can't describe them any other way.  They've altered Crystal City's course so you don't run through in an out/back anymore, but WHOA there's some serious elevation gain here for late in the race.  Leave it to the Marines!

I tried to high five kids sticking their hands out, but at this point I was working.  The screaming had subsided (from me).  I was constantly doing the math, studying my 4-hour pace band.  But I didn't need superb math skills to know that time was bleeding off me. 

The Mile 24 marker came, right near the Pentagon.

I looked at my Garmin, I lost 55 seconds in the hills of Crystal City.

That left me 82 seconds of wiggle room left to make my goal.  I was slowing, but not by much.  Doing quick math, I had about 2.2 miles to go, and a touch over 20 minutes to do them.  All with a touch over a minute of room for error.

Miles 24-25.5 (Math makes my head hurt)

I lost another 10 seconds going from mile 24 to 25, running about 9:19/mile.  

I was now down to 72 seconds of cushion by mile 25.  I needed to go 1.2 miles with no mistakes, and no letup.

Except one thing.  One big thing.  The crowd of runners here was HUGE.

Don't get me wrong.  The race was well-populated from start to finish.  But runners were giving way here from running, to walking, to stopping to stretch.  They were quiet.  They were also congesting.  I needed room to move.  This was no empty Mount Vernon Trail.

Initially, I was forced to settle in.  I didn't think I had the energy to weave through the crowd, so I thought it was perhaps better to find a slot and just finish.

As I cruised along, somewhere between mile 25 and 26, two things occurred to me.

#1.  I'm still losing time.  I might not make this after all.  I had tried so hard.  Trained so long, and--

It was.  Bart-freaking-Yasso was standing along side the course, off to the right, wearing his red Runner's World shirt.  I'd recognize him anywhere.  So I did what any idiot would do.  I screamed, "BART YASSO!  I'M GOING TO BREAK FOUR HOURS BECAUSE OF YOU!"

I kept running at a pace which (I thought) would stop the bleed-off of time.  Then, a few moments later, I took another moment to look at my Garmin.  I then said to myself, "Did you seriously just tell Bart fucking Yasso that you were going to break 4 hours when it is entirely possible that you're not?"

Yes.  Yes, I had.

Cue the music, when some intrepid director makes a movie of this.

I increased speed.  By "increased," I mean, I reached down, and summoned some epic fucking power, the likes of which I have NO idea where it came from.  But it was prompted by these magic words:


(yes, I said them out loud)

I'd like to think I said them like Gandalf, or King Arthur, or even Christian Bale in his rave-out audio, but I think it was more like a kid who was told to clear his room.  

Seriously.  I whined it.  But, for a guy who had already run over 25 miles, I started hauling serious non-Kenyan ass.

Miles 25.8 - finish (Really, you can't script it like this)

I screamed my silly scream. I wailed my silly wail, a combination of despair and defiance.  I then shifted to the far left outside lane. Seconds were ticking by.  Seconds I didn't have to give.  But I knew this.  I was already past 3:58:00, and I wasn't even to the hill.

I had the shoulders of spectators along my left side, and almost all runners to my right.  I called out "ON YOUR LEFT!" to a couple of runners who moved right for me, and freaking CHARGED the course, including that hill.  Ran it with every ounce I had left.  I was vaguely aware of some spectators going crazy, since I'm pretty sure they hadn't seen anyone run like I was running for a while, but I was cranking and ignored the spectacle I was making of myself.

I had the remainder of Route 110 to run before the left turn up the hill.  Because I am COMPLETELY MENTAL, in the middle of my breakdown/panic/desperation, I still looked down and hit the "lap" button on my Garmin as I passed the Mile 26 marker.  I'm not a well person.  I get that.

From the numbers, it looks like I had than 40 seconds of room at this point.  I know my Garmin said my time was now 3:59:something.  I was less than 60 seconds away from devastation or redemption.

I kept charging up the hill.  I was aware of the bleachers to my left, and vaguely recall seeing one or two people stand up out of their seats, but was staring straight ahead, looking anywhere for daylight, and then running towards it. 

The hill flattened into a straightaway.  I was aware that there were some mats across the road, which I'd hoped were finish lines, but the large, red and gold banner with balloons told me it was a bit farther.  I kept going.  More traffic to dodge.  I had to slow, but I didn't look down.

Finish Line.

I crossed, and looked down at my Garmin.

I didn't see by how many seconds I'd made it, because I didn't stop my Garmin immediately.  I kept walking, in utter disbelief.  I recall throwing my pace band, which I'd already pulled off my wrist and crumpled into a little ball, up into the air.  I'd done it.

Update:  You can see video of my finish here.  Go to the 4:40 mark.  I'm in the middle of the field, starting from right to left, in a red shirt.  I came lumbering up behind a guy in a blue shirt and black hat.  At the 4:45 mark of the video, I crossed, and immediately looked at my Garmin.  Two more steps.  That thing I'm tossing in the air is my 4:00 pace band.  Whee.

It turns out I had just under 25 seconds of room to spare, which means I was WAY closer to missing my goal than the 72 seconds I thought I had.  But a 3:59 is a sub-4 hour marathon, just like I'd always said.  No pace groups.  Just me.

Did I cry?  A little, probably.  I wanted this for me, yes, but I also wanted this for the family of the Marine on my back as part of the 22 Too Many group.  I knew they were tracking me.  I knew I wanted to do something, anything for them.  Apart from my time, they're getting my medal.  I don't need it.  I'll never forget this race.

Post Race:

Normally, you go and get a banana, water, yada yada and go find a way home.  Not me.

I walked back out onto the course.  I walked BACK down Route 110.

I found me some Bart Yasso.  I shook his hand, told him I was the idiot who wrote the love letter to his track workout, and that I'd just run my first-ever sub-4 marathon, and that I genuinely believed it was because of him.  He was gracious, and looked down at my bib number a couple of times (perhaps to alert the police?).  But he was seriously kind, friendly, and enthusiastic.  I quickly left to not overstay my welcome or monopolize him.

I paused a bit in the tunnel just before mile 26, imploring the runners (this wave was trying to break sub-5, as a couple of spectators told me they were waiting for family members with that goal), and went nuts again.  Cheering them in.

Anyway, it's done.  I'm now a member of the sub-4 hour marathon club.  Groucho Marx said that he's never be a part of any club which would have him as a member.  I wonder if a bunch of runners will quit marathons now that I've joined.  ;)

Which brings me to this question:  What's an Ahab to do the day after he catches his White Whale?

By the numbers:

Top 27.7% of all men
Top 26.6% of all men in my age group
Top 21.6% of all finishers 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Track Mindedness: A love letter to Yasso 800s


I’ve always wanted to run a sub-4 hour marathon. The closest I ever came was in 2009, when, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, I was faced with substantial winds. I also made some REALLY stupid hydration decisions, leading me to miss my goal by about 5 minutes. I’d done other running-related “feats” like run the 2010 Dopey Challenge at Disney, but my best shot at doing what I used to think was an impossible task (a sub-4) was in Richmond 2009, and I blew it. Then, I got injured. Finally, in 2012-2013, healthy and ready to seek my goal again, I turned to track work.

This blog entry is about Yasso 800s, and what kinds of things go through my mind as I’m running them. 

Let’s get a couple of preliminary things out of the way, in case you’re unfamiliar with them: What are Yasso 800s? 

The SHORT version is that Yasso 800s are a workout some people do as part of their marathon training. 

The less short version is that they’re timed 800 meter repeats, with a 400 meter jog in between each one. Bear this in mind: One loop around a track is 400 meters. So it’s a single walking or jogging “warmup” loop, followed by two fast running loops. Those 3 loops (1 “slow” and 2 “fast”) equal one Yasso. The trick with a Yasso workout is that you’re shooting for the same number of minutes in your warmup loop as your two fast loops. The name “Yasso” comes from their inventor, Bart Yasso, a senior editor at Runner’s World Magazine.

Bart Yasso posited that if you ran 10 sets of 800 meters, each under 4 minutes, with proper marathon training the rest of the week, you could reasonably predict a 4 hour marathon. If you ran 10 sets of 800 meters in less than 3:30 minutes, you could reasonably predict a 3 and a half hour marathon. You get the rest. The other part of the trick is your slow 400 meter loop should ALSO take the target time. Do those “Yassos” 10 times, and you’ve got a decent ballpark prediction of your marathon time, assuming other proper training.

I’ve been doing weekly Yasso 800s since March of 2013, and have missed –maybe—four workouts in six months. Otherwise, I’ve done them obsessively. A lot of thoughts have gone through my head while I’ve done them. I wrote some down:


One-Track Mindedness: A short 10 chapter Yasso story.

It’s when I pull up to a running track in my car that I’m the most tense. The tracks around the DC area seem to only be at high schools. Will the track be open? Is there an event of some kind? Where else will I go to do my workout? I’ve been looking forward to these Yassos all week. Please, please be open.

As I look for parking, I see one or two people trotting around the loop. Sometimes, I’ll spot some soccer or flag football players on the field.

Either way, I exhale. It means I can do my track work for the week.

Speedwork, or, “Track work,” is easily my favorite workout of the week. Long slow runs? Boring. Can’t tell what I’m getting out of them, other than annoyed at whatever podcast I’m listening to, because, you know, I gotta be mad at SOMETHING if I’m running for 2+ hours. Regular weekly runs? Those are fine, but I’m often forced to dodge tourists on the National Mall WALKING THREE ABREAST ON THE LEFT WTF IS WITH YOU PEOPLE?

Ahem. Sorry. 


It’s usually about 2-3pm (!) when I get out of my car. I gather my kit of supplies and walk onto the school grounds. I’ve got my Garmin searching for a satellite already, but I’m more focused on a very old digital stopwatch I bought years ago. It still works. Hell, I ran my first marathon holding it the entire way.

I’m immediately struck by, and excited by, the smell of the track itself. It’s rubbery, bouncy, and well-marked. It will feel far better than the concrete of the National Mall, or of the Mount Vernon Trail. The rubbery smell of the track tells me that the warmer months are coming, and that I haven’t noticed it during last winter’s training in the cold, when I’d go out and just run various types of repeat workouts.

The decision to start doing Yassos was relatively easy. It’s a well-publicized track training program, and plenty easy for someone like me to remember and understand. For someone like me, focused on a sub-4 hour marathon, everything will be 4 minutes. Even *I* can figure THAT out.

On my birthday in late March, I went out and did 5 Yassos. 40 minutes of easy/hard running. 1 of the Yassos came in over 4 minutes, thus missing my goal. But I left the track excited at the prospect of what could happen from doing regular Track Work.

Over the months, I’ve gone from 5 Yassos, to 6, and finally settled at doing a weekly set of 8. As I’ll write about, I even hit the magic 10. I’ve had ups and downs for time goals, but, from what I can tell, I appear to be getting faster. It’s slow in progress, but it’s happening. I won’t move off the 4 minute time goal, though. Because all I want to do is break a 4 hour marathon, and I’m not worried about anything else. 3:59:59 is still a sub-4 marathon. So that’s all I shoot for while on the track. 3:59 per single/double loop.

Yasso One:

March. I’m in Herndon, VA. A girls’ varsity soccer game is about to start. There is just a smattering of parents in the stands. It appears that there are less parents in the stands than there are girls from one team, which immediately strikes me as sad. But there are a few walkers on the track, and a couple of runners. Clearly no one considers us objectionable, or that we’ll disturb their enjoyment of the game.

I start off with a trot, out as far as I can be in lane 8, shuffling along, warming up, trying to keep from taking off. Runners pass me far to the inside. They’re moving at regular speeds, doing loop after loop of vanilla training.

Before I know it, I’m trotting out of turn 4, back to the starting line. I quickly reset my stopwatch, and shift to lane 1, slamming my thumb down on the “start” button as I cross the line.

Off I go.

A week’s worth of adrenaline is released, as I take off far too fast. I’m a kid out of school for the summer as I run this first Yasso. This workout will challenge me, but I’m at my happiest right now.

As expected, when my 800 meters are done, I’ve finished them far too fast, in 3:45. “You won’t see that time again today,” I tell myself. Little do I realize, that over the coming months, 3:45 will become one of my slower times.

Yasso Two:

April. Herndon, VA again. “TAKE THE SHOT HEATHER!” screams a coach from the visiting side to Heather, who appears more annoyed with him than with anything happening on the field. The players are encouraging to each other throughout the game (at least the ones on their own team). It’s nice to know that at least SOME team sports still have camaraderie.

I’ve concluded that my least favorite part of an individual Yasso is about the 200 meter point of the 800m. What’s happened is I’ve blasted through 100 meters at a strong effort, turned, and am on my way out of turn two, when I realize I have six more turns to go. I’m already breathing hard, working, and definitely wishing these were done. I feel myself let up, ever so slightly, defeated before I’ve even gone halfway in this loop. But, I continue to push. That Yasso loop is done, and I feel so grateful to shift to the outside lane and slow down.

Yasso Three:

May. I’m in Arlington, Virginia at a large high school in a wealthy neighborhood. The field here is as good as many small colleges elsewhere. Today, there are yuppies playing flag football, complete with refs and yardage/down markers. I don’t watch them as much today. I’ve got my eyes fixed on my Garmin and stopwatch, checking my heart-rate and remaining time.

That’s because it’s freaking HARD this week. Maybe that’s because it’s also hot. Clearly, the long Spring is gone, and we’re into summer. My breathing is labored. I’m gushing sweat. It’s creeping over my sunglasses, stinging my eyes. I keep lifting my shirt to wipe my brow as I walk the entire 400 meter rest loop. By the time I get back to the start of the 800 meters, I’ve gone slightly over 4 minutes, and have to take off, fast, as if I’ve seen my bus pull up a block ahead of me. I feel my legs palpably resist the command to run, and force them to pick up the pace. I’m not feeling it today. Well, that’s not quite true. The only thing I’m “feeling” today is unrelenting heat.

It’s so hot that while I’ve cruised through 4 Yassos, the (virtual) wheels come off for number 5. I miss 4 minutes. Yasso number 6 is dominated by my mind screaming at me to walk. I don’t. But I miss my goal. Again. I cannot get a breath. The air is hot. Heavy.  

Screw it. My daughter wants me to take her and a friend to see “Star Trek” this evening. I pack up early, despite a goal of 8 Yassos, and leave the track, guzzling my hydration, and drive out to see her. When she asks later how my track work was, I deflect the subject, as if I were asked about an ex-girlfriend.

Yasso Four:

June. Back in Herndon again. No soccer game today. Instead, some members of the Boys’ team are practicing with a goalie, taking shots. Some miss, and dribble out onto the track. If they’re in my field of vision, I pause my run, and kick the balls back to the players. My kicks are AWFUL. I’m topping the ball for some, and for others, I’m somehow managing to kick other balls at a right angle AWAY from the players. How can I be so inept at EVERY sport other than running? Hell, how can I be so inept at everyTHING other than running?

I fully anticipate a “Charlie Brown-esque” whiff with a leg, and landing flat on my back to uproarious teenage laughter. But I kick the balls back anyway. Later, as they leave the track, one of the boys fist bumps me as I trot by, thanking me for sending shots their way.

The rest of today’s Yassos are done with a broad smile. That’s me. Joe Cool, track star, friend to soccer players.

Yasso Five:

May. Herndon again this week. Just in time for another Girls’ soccer game.

This week, the goalie for the visitors is having herself a rough day. She’s already been scored on twice, and is being replaced. Her teammates are supportive of her. I’m clearly more tired at this point, because I can’t remember which Yasso I’m up to by now. 

I’ve noticed something as I do my various Yassos. The trotting loops are becoming more like walking loops. I’m tired. Spent. I’m working hard to catch my breath. I notice that I only have sub-30 seconds before I should be running again, and I’m not that close to the loop’s start. Crud. Gotta pick up the pace and complete this loop. It will be months and months before the Marine Corps Marathon, and I’m already dejected.

My mind is wandering today. I feel myself almost burning out. Too much drama in my life, and the dissatisfaction is finding its way onto here. I make my desired Yassos (8 this week), and quickly scurry off the track. The teams have broken for halftime, and the referees eye me curiously as I keep my head straight down and skulk off the track, proud of nothing, mind on everything.

Yasso Six:

June. I’m at a new track for this one: the fabled TC Williams High School (the subject of the movie, “Remember the Titans”).

It’s quiet. In fact, I am the only person on the entire track, field, or stadium today.

That’s because today isn’t just hot. It’s dangerous. The heat index is squarely over 100. Normally, I can deal. Today, however, I just don’t have it.

Like earlier in the year, the first 4 Yassos go smoothly. I run one, I move to the outside lane to walk (I pretty much walk at least 300 of the 400 recovery meters nowadays), and the process repeats.

Immediately, though, Yasso 5 is a problem. I’m ordering my body to pick up speed, and I’m almost shuffling. I’m sucking in hot air, and feel it burning my throat. Even the (normally) lovely smell of the track is more like an odor I can’t avoid.

Yasso 5 comes in over 4 minutes. Not the first goal I’ve missed, but my walk is already slow. I’m not going to make it around for another 400 meters. So I stop all timers, and walk, slowly, to my hydration. 

At this point, I’m not sure if I’m going to quit. But I do know I’m loopy. So, I do what comes naturally to me: I goof around, since nobody's here.

First, I make a Vine (vines are 6-second videos, almost like a video version of a tweet). Then, I make another one, linked here, which I thought was funny. I watch it a few times, decide to Tweet it out, and find myself actually smiling. I’ve got some air back. I’m feeling better. I make MORE Vines, just a sweaty, stinky, goofy guy alone at a blazing hot track, making himself laugh.

Content that I’ve finally rested myself enough, I run one more 800 repeat, but the time doesn’t even matter to me. I’d given myself tons of rest, so the effect of the Yasso is probably nil. But, I know as SOON as I complete it, that I couldn’t do another one again if my life depended on it. Maybe, at this point, because of the heat, my life DOES depend on me stopping. I call it a day, and head for the car, smiling more broadly as my phone chirps out notifications of retweets and favorites over my Vines. So … I got something productive done today, I guess?

Yasso Seven:

July. I’m back at TC Williams for this one.  

There’s some sort of placekicking camp going on in the field. It’s not as interesting as watching girls’ soccer. These guys are kickers, but they’re HUGE. They’re also throwing each other perfect spirals in between booting the ball between the uprights. I feel almost embarrassed trying to rumble my bulk around the track. If I had lunch money with me, I’d almost feel compelled to just give it to them for old time’s sake.

I shift to the outside lane for my recovery loop, and start to evaluate my knees, ankles, and hamstrings. Any pain? Not anything worth stopping over? Should I shorten today? Maybe just to Seven Yassos? Or still go for Eight? Your marathons aren’t for months, who cares? Too late to debate. I’m back around the slow walking loop (in only 3:35, but I’m too close to the starting line at this point), so I reset my stopwatch and take off.

The change of scenery has helped. I spend less time thinking about personal drama, and have instead spent my time focusing on my foot strike, breathing, and counting loops. I leave, sweaty, but, for the first time in a while, almost proud. All Yassos came in under 3:40, including the cooldown portions. Forget it jocks, you can’t have my lunch money, I’m using it to buy a slurpee. I should go tell them that. Then again, I don’t want to know how it would feel to get a wedgie while wearing compression shorts.

Yasso Eight:

August. Back at TC Williams. Today there are a couple of runners, and on the field are three huge guys practicing rugby moves. They’re also flipping a tractor tire around the way I would toss a coin.

But, today I’m not feeling the heat as much for this Yasso session. Sure, it’s hot. Plenty hot. But, I guess I’m adjusting at this point? I’ve been running in the high heat for months. Whatever the case, I’ve already decided to just do 7 Yassos, and not look down on myself for the lower number. I’ve got months – months – until my two marathons (The Marine Corps Marathon in DC, late October, followed 20 days later by the Richmond Marathon in mid-November). There’s no rush for THIS track work.

I crank through loop after loop, forcing myself to hit all my goals, including my rest goals. It’s hard, and I actually exhale out “Hell yeah!” on my last Yasso, when I see that I’ve hit it in 3:51, despite the heat. Worried that one of the football/rugby guys heard it, I don’t stick around to stretch at the track, a little embarrassed at my outburst.

It’s funny, by the way. I've seen 3:51 a LOT this summer. Mostly towards the end Yassos, but that exact number. To the second. Glad I don’t believe in fate or magic, because I think I’d sell my soul for a 3:51 marathon finish.

Yasso Nine:

September. I am back in Arlington, at the rich school’s track. There are way more runners training here than at TC Williams, and it looks like there’s a full-fledged Ultimate Frisbee game going on. Meh. Not as impressive. Then again, I throw a Frisbee only slightly worse than I kick a soccer ball, so maybe I’ll just focus on my task. Over these months of training, there was one random week at this track when I decided, instead of doing just 8 Yassos, to do the full 10. I did them right here, at this track. They wrecked me.

The difference between 8 and 10 Yassos isn’t much if you’re counting (a mere mile and an half extra of distance), but they have an amazing effect. Sleeping that night was near impossible. My legs ached. I was restless and uncomfortable. They hurt most of the next day, and the recovery run I tried was almost no help. 

Yasso training is not an easy workout. I got cocky, and paid for it. Somewhere, Bart Yasso is snickering at my insolence.

Yasso Ten:

As I write this, it’s October. I’ve been doing Yasso 800s once a week for six months. September was uneventful at 8 weekly Yassos all month, but showed steady, progressively faster times. But, this month, I’ve run 3 Yassos sessions, doing 10 Yassos each. The “magic” number of 10 Yassos. No ill effects. They’ve all come in under 3:45. Some came in under 3:30.

But, the problem is that marathon race directors don’t let you walk up to the starting line, show your Yasso loop times, and give you credit for a sub-4 marathon. You have to run the thing. And my long runs are disappointing me at every turn.

I’ve also realized, to my horror, that there is a chance that all I’ve done this past summer is just teach myself to run Yasso 800s well. What if I've just gotten USED to doing Yassos? Don't answer. It means I'm screwed.

Will I break 4 hours? Maybe. Dare I say, even probably? But will I finish under 3:45? Let’s put it this way – I have no intention of finding out. I just want 3:59:59. I’m not going to run the Marine Corps Marathon pacing for 3:45. I’m stupid, but not delusional.

There is no “chapter”eleven. No “Yasso eleven” for this story. That’s because it isn’t written yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know that the rest of the story has to be written, but I honestly have no idea how it ends. 

I know that I WANT there to be a happy ending. I WANT Charlie Brown to kick that football to the moon. I WANT to believe that my body won’t fail me during an actual marathon, as it did when I last tried to break this barrier in Richmond a few years ago. 

But there’s no such thing as fortune tellers, or magic. And even Bart Yasso would tell you that when running his Yasso 800s, there are no shortcuts.

Wish me luck on 27 October in DC, or again in Richmond on 16 November if I miss it at MCM.

Monday, October 21, 2013

No Frills 2013 Army 10 Miler Race Report

I've got a major blog post coming about Yasso 800s.  One that is very personal, and which was written over the course of months.  But I wanted to say a few things about the Army 10-Miler race I just ran, since it resulted in a PR for 10 miles.  So here's a no-frills race report:

Good things about the race:

--Finishing time (PR!)
--Negative split (a pretty significant increase)
--Post-race brunch with friends from Twitter (including bottomless mimosas!)

Bad things about the race:

--I think all WalMarts on Black Friday have less people.

--I didn't see a lot of conspicuous mile markers, but I'm told they were there, off to the left.  They could have stood to had them on both sides of the road.  I was having to guess when to hit the lap button on my Garmin.

Navigating the crowd was awful, both pre-race, and during.  To my delight, it seems I finished soon enough that I didn't experience the water stop issues some did, and likewise had an easy time getting the shuttle back to the Metro.

One thing:  In roughly the last .4 of the race, some woman wearing a beige peacoat of some kind, carrying a Starbucks cup, tried to CROSS the race.  As in, she was basically between two sets of barriers, but just decided to go for a little stroll between them.  I was flying down the course (along with a few thousand faster people), came to a complete stop without hitting her, said, "Oh my GOD!" and had to re-accelerate after moving around her.

Final stats, or, the race by the numbers:
Final Time:  83 minutes and change.

First 6.2 miles:  53:23 (8:35 pace per mile)
Remaining 3.8 miles:  30:02 (7:54 pace per mile)

Fastest mile:  Last one, 7:21 (7:15 if I had chosen to plow through Starbucks/Peacoat Woman)


Top 30% of all men.
Top 27% of my age group.
Top 20% of all finishers.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Runner's Guide to the Mount Vernon Trail

I recall reading this post by Beth, known as "RunTraveler" on Twitter, about her walking around Mount Vernon, and how expensive it was to park.  You might also notice her reply to me appears to be missing my tweet.  That's because I delete most of my replies.  Because, well -- (1) long (2) story.  

Anyway, when I saw her tweet, it hit me that I should do a short guide for runners to the Mount Vernon Trail.  Because it's a long trail, and I've run literally every mile of it.  No, not all at once.  Pfft.

Over the summer, during my Twitter hiatus, I wrote a lot, and this post was one of them.  Then, as I prepped to release it this Fall, we had the Government Shutdown, which effectively shut down the Mount Vernon Trail to most people, because the parking lots were closed.  With the reopening of the government, I thought I'd finally publish this short guide to the Mount Vernon Trail.


The Mount Vernon Trail is a lovely bike/running trail that goes from Teddy Roosevelt Island all the way to (surprise) Mount Vernon.  This link here, to gives an exhaustive list of all the various parking lots that are along the MV Trail.  If you've got a bike with you, or even want to run/walk, you'll find plenty to see and do along the trail.

For me, however, I break up the Mount Vernon Trail into roughly three distinct sections, and I think most folks will understand it better, and have an easier time planning runs if they do too:

1.  The "North" part, made up of the Iwo Jima Memorial (which is really called the Marine Corps War Memorial), and also includes Teddy Roosevelt Island, a wonderful tribute to our 26th President.  Parking in the North section CAN be tough.  However, you've got two choices here.  First, parking can be done at Iwo Jima, particularly in non-summer periods.  You can go from Iwo, and, basically, run South, and hit Gravelly Point, which will work out to about a 5-6 mile roundrip run for you.  Next, you can approach Teddy's Island by driving on the GW Parkway NORTHBOUND and there will be some sizeable parking.  From TR Island, just run South, since you're at the start of the trail.

Assuming you've parked at Iwo, however, what you'll want to do is run down a hill past the Netherlands Carillon, and along the outside of Arlington Cemetery.  AVOID the Memorial Bridge leading to the Lincoln Memorial, and BEAR RIGHT on the trail.  You'll cross the GW Parkway (short crossing), and you're now on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  With Arlington Cemetery BEHIND you, if you turn left, it's a short run/ride to Teddy Roosevelt Island, if you're so inclined.  Otherwise, if you turn RIGHT, you're clear all the way to Mount Vernon.

It's nice here, but a little tricky to find your way to the trail if you're a visitor.  But if you brave it, you'll get amazing views of the Lincoln Memorial (from behind), Arlington Cemetery, and of course the famous Iwo Jima Monument.

Actually, I've gone and made a GMaps-Pedometer map for you which should (roughly) show you how to get from the Memorial to the Mount Vernon Trail.  It's linked here.

Restrooms:  There is a set of well-maintained port-a-johns right near the War Memorial on the way to the Carillon.  If you bypass them, you'll have less than 3 miles until the "Middle" section of the MVT.

2.  The "Middle" part is best thought of as Daingerfield Island, which I covered briefly in my discussion of Gravelly Point in a different blog post.  Lots of parking here.  This is a favorite site for bikers to base their rides from.  Here, as you FACE the trail, and the GW Parkway is also in front of you, you have two choices:  (a) Left turn, and you're in Old Town Alexandria, which, if you follow this map linked here, will keep you going all the way to Mount Vernon, or (b) Right turn, and you're headed North towards Iwo Jima.

The nice thing about this section is that if you run North from here, you'll go right through Gravelly Point.  The bad thing is that this Middle section has, per capita, the highest percentage of bikers/runners.  So if you're riding, remember to give an audible warning.  If you're running/walking, stay to your right!

Restrooms:  There are a few port-a-johns at Gravelly Point, and also one near Daingerfield Island.  These are in varying condition, but should be ok if it's an emergency.  If you keep going south from Daingerfield, you'll go through Old Town Alexandria proper, with a bunch of smaller cafes, stores, and even the choice of a CVS or 7-11 to make a pit stop (Google for exact addresses, but suffice to say you'll have options).  From here, it's another 3 or so miles to places like Belle Haven in the South, conveniently called . . . .
3.  The "South" part, which has MANY little parking lots (and some big ones).  Basically, get past Old Town Alexandria, and check the link for various lots:  Belle Haven, Fort Hunt, and Riverside Park all have free public lots.  From here, if you continue South, depending on your means of transportation, i.e., bike, run, depending on how pregnant you are (Beth was about midway at the time she tweeted walking the MV Trail), you can make your way up to the Mount Vernon Estate for free.  You'll likely have to pay to get ONTO it, but regardless, you can get there for much cheaper.

The nice thing about the South part, for someone like me who does his weekend long runs starting (really) at 2-3pm, is that there are many sections of the trail shaded by a canopy of trees. Unfortunately, those trees are also along a serious of significant hills/dips.  You don't see as many Tri-bikers out along this part.  It's far too woodsy, and also the trail has lots of twists/turns for this section.

Restrooms:  There is a brick restroom M/F facility at Belle Haven Park.  Further to the south, maybe another 4ish miles, Riverside Park also has a brick facility.  Less than two miles after that is Mount Vernon.  Once you're there, of course, you can answer nature's call on the same lands the the Father of our Country probably went wee-wee himself.

So each of the three sections has their pros and cons, but it's a great place for training.  I often wear Washington Nationals gear on the trail, and will flash a Hawaiian "hang loose" shaka sign for my wave, so if you see me waving -- wave back!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon lottery

Registration for the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon was, by all accounts, a nightmare.'s servers were awful. The race itself sold out in about 2.5 hours, but many people who TRIED to register couldn't get through.  The MCM organizers were, to put it lightly, less than pleased.

From the earliest stages, I'd hoped they would shift to a lottery system.  This "race to the flag," ordering as fast as you can, might work for teens wanting to go to a concert (and line the pockets of Ticketmaster), but not for runners.  And, as the MCM organizers announced today, they have indeed shifted to a lottery system.

Some people are happy, some are not.  As near as I can tell, the primary criticism seems to be that if the MCM uses a lottery, "It's not the people's marathon anymore."

Let's just say, "I disagree."


Does this race have minimal qualification times?  Nope.  The slowest of runners can get in, and, as long as they "Beat the Bridge," they'll have a good shot at being awarded a finisher's medal by a Marine Lieutenant at the end of the race.


What the race using a lottery DOES do, however, is ensure that people with varying access to computers, bandwidth, and resources have an EQUAL shot at registering for the race.  The effect is that the registration process levels the playing field for prospective runners, and doesn't differentiate based on a runner's ability.


When everyone races to their computers at the same time, and only a limited number get through, does that REMIND you of something?  Like, perhaps, a LOTTERY?  Because that's what it is.  A server that only takes a few people (the lucky ones) is just as random as a lottery.  In this case, coming out with the lottery actually reduces the frenzy, panic, and potential for double billings, which DID happen as well.


Well done MCM folks.  Let's hope this is better than  It would be tough to perform worse.

P.S.  The MCM organizers have already confirmed that --in April-- they're still going to run the small "Access Granted" early registration race, so people in the DC area can still avoid the lottery worry.