Course specificity

This is a wonderful short video on Eliud Kipchoge’s preparation for his first Boston Marathon. There’s a ton more in preparation beyond this two-and-a-half-minute video clip. The preparation for a race, if one is indeed preparing for a specific race, can be boiled down to a word: specificity.

Simply put, you train for what you want to do. If you want to run fast, you practice running fast. If you want to run far, you practice running far. If you want to power through hills, you practice on hills. And that list can go on and on. And if you need to accomplish a multitude of things, you practice all of them, and you have to give yourself the time to incorporate all of that practice in a dedicated training block.

I’ve been on a perpetual training plan since September of last year, leading up to six races in this past year’s Austin Distance Challenge. I built that plan specifically leading up to this year’s Boston Marathon. Boston is my “A Race,” and everything leading up to Boston needed to line up and work out just right. In January my Boston training began in earnest, especially the beginning of introducing more volume and long runs on weekends. And things lined up, by design, as the 3M Half Marathon (January) and Austin Half Marathon (February) incorporated a lot of hills.

The week after the Distance Challenge ended with the Austin Half Marathon, I went straight into a peak week for Boston Training. That meant my first 20-miler, one week after having run a 1:20:20 at the Austin Half. I specifically planned my three 20-milers to mimic the Boston course — downhill for the first half, and uphill for the second half. And since the start of my training in September, I specifically worked on training for distance and, more importantly, speed. I pushed hard on the tempos and intervals and really worked on turning my legs over and getting faster and stronger.

This will be my fourth Boston Marathon. My first was in 2018, arguably the worst Boston Marathon in terms of weather. The temperatures were barely above freezing, it was pouring rain the whole day, and we all had to push against 20 and 30-mile per headwinds the whole way from Hopkinton to Boston. I ran a negative split that year and I couldn’t be stopped. I ran Boston again in 2021 and 2022. Both years presented perfect running weather — clear skies and mid-50s temperatures. However, the Newton Hills brought me to a walk both years. And hills don’t usually bother me. But they’re the Newton Hills. They start at mile 16. Heartbreak Hill is at mile 20.

I specifically designed my three 20-milers so that the first halves were downhill, and the second halves were uphill. I have trained so that I can control what I can control. No one can predict the weather or other conditions in Boston. It could be raining, windy, cold, or hot. Those are all things that I can’t control. You just have to be ready and accepting, and confident in controlling only what you can. I’ve worked on being ready for the hills. They are my #1 adversary. I feel confident that my body is ready. A huge part of training is preparing the mind. I will use these final three weeks while tapering to continue to train my mind and mentally prepare for my adversary.

I will be ready.

First peak week 20-miler long run

Second peak week 20-miler

Third peak week 20-miler

Sugar wagon

Short of a jovial Facebook post or two, I didn’t really boast or advertise that I’d gone on an added and refined sugar strike that’d started on January 1st. And that wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution thing. I decided to cut back (or try to cut out) on the sugar because over the Christmas holidays, I admittedly let myself go wild with the holiday candies and cookies that are abundantly available at the in-law’s house.

And prior to the holidays, I still ate a lot of sugar and carbs in general. And while I didn’t proactively seek and crave sugar and sweets, I kind of justified its consumption by the fact that I run a lot and can afford to consume a lot of calories. I can easily justify an additional 1,000 calories per day.

But a calorie is not a calorie.

During the holidays I decided to cut out the sugar because, to put it simply, added and refined sugar isn’t good for anyone. I think everyone can agree on that. And by and large, refined sugar is just empty calories. Aside from glycogen, I’m sure it can be argued that refined sugar doesn’t really do the human body much good.

I know at some point I’m not going to run as much, and if I’m not running as much, I can’t keep eating like someone who runs 50 and 60 miles per week. So I decided to refrain and retrain. So I cut back on the added and refined sugar, and it just so happened that that date January 1st when we were driving back to Austin from Des Moines after the Christmas holidays.

And I did really well for a good month or so. I didn’t get overly strict about it. But I didn’t buy or consume cookies, candy, ice cream, and all of the other sugar-laden stuff that I’d ordinarily treat myself with on a daily basis. I became conscious of the foods and drinks I’d consume. I’ve never been much of a sugary drink consumer, so the vast majority of my sugar calories came from sweet treats.

It was finally on Elise’s birthday that I decided to indulge. Just for once. I made a Boston Cream Poke Cake for her and I had a small piece with her and the family that evening. And that was it. I was good. I was surprised by how overly sweet it was. I mean, a sheet cake punched with a bunch of vanilla putting and then smothered in chocolate icing really is nothing but sugar. But I hadn’t had any refined sugar for over a month, so the sugar hit was a pretty significant.

And then the next day I justified having some more cake because the cake existed. I would indulge until the cake no longer existed. And, like returning to any kind of addiction, I fell off the wagon. I was back on the sugar as easy as that. I probably wasn’t as “bad” as I’d previously been, but it wasn’t difficult to get back to a bit of a daily indulgence again.

And what is interesting is that I can admit that I noticed a difference.

In the first couple weeks, I noticed I had some withdrawals. I don’t think they were sugar withdrawals so much as they were habit withdrawals. I’d grown accustom to having a mid-afternoon sugar treat. You know, right about when that post-lunch food coma sets in and all you want to do is hop on the couch and take a nap? Instead of napping, I’d plow through a fist full of candy or a stack of cookies. I didn’t get cranky or jittery when 3 p..m. rolled around. It was more my brain reminding me, “Hey! This is when I usually get a huge surge of calories!” So then it became an exercise in finding calories that weren’t sugar. And since sugar gives us a false full feeling, I sought filling calories. I’d mostly try to find something with a lot of fiber, like fruit. And that was also a good reminder to drink a lot of water to fill my belly and give me that full feeling.

And I think I scientifically proved to myself that the omittance of sugar reduced muscle inflammation. When I’d cut out the added and refined sugar at the new year, I was in the thick of training. I was mid-way through the Austin Distance Challenge and I was training hard for the upcoming 3M Half Marathon and the Austin Half Marathon. I’d go to the track or do a hard tempo run on Tuesdays, and I’d feel 100% later that day and the day after. I had very minimal (if any at all) muscle soreness or fatigue.

A couple of weeks ago we were at the grocery store and Elise wanted Oreos for something. Since I was “off the wagon,” I told her I wanted some chunky chocolate ice cream to accompany said Oreos. So we went home with chocolate ice cream and Oreos. And that night I packed a large cup with cookies and ice cream. And I’d have that nightcap every night until the ice cream was gone. And recently Elise made some cookies — I believe they’re called “trash can cookies,” or something like that. These are chocolate chip cookies that also have chopped potato chips, pretzels and toffee chunks. Of course I had to buy some good ol’ plain vanilla ice cream to go with the cookies. And I’ve been plowing through the ice cream and cookies on a nightly basis per my recent normal.

While I say I didn’t boast or advertise that I’d gone on a refined or added sugar strike, there were some who knew about it. Obviously, the folks who live under the same roof as I do knew, but so did some close friends, just by means of casual conversation, usually in the form of conversation about post-run donuts.

My friend Scott was on a week-long cruise with his family for Spring Break last week. Scott’s one of the friends who knew about my sugar strike. I’m assuming he indulged in the all-inclusive indulgences of a Caribbean cruise, so he emailed me yesterday to tell me that he was home and that he wanted to pick my brain about cutting sugar out of his diet. Since Scott’s a good friend, I replied and “confessed” that I’d fallen off the wagon and, in fact, that very day I’d consumed more cookies than any other food.

And that got me thinking that I should really get back on the wagon. I’ve done it before and, looking back, it wasn’t that hard to cut back or cut out the added and refined sugar.