Monday, October 31, 2011

NYC Marathon 2011 - A Ryan McGrath Interview

1. You are preparing for the ING NYC Marathon, which will be your first (NYC). What does this race mean to you?
It means I qualified for it. I would never send my money into an open lottery system, and for that reason I’ve never attempted it. Last year just after GEER 100k I decided to give it a go and try the marathon for a qualifier. I thought NYC qualification was sub 3hr. About 8 days before Miami marathon I realized it was 2:55. I knew I was in shape at Miami, but coming through in 2:51 was a treat. I signed up for NYC just a few days later.

After a hard fought injury this year in which I was in an air cast and on crutches for 5-weeks (still hurts daily), the race really means my comeback to fitness has been filled with pain and hard work. I want my result at NYC to reflect the pain of this shell that encloses understanding, and I want it to reveal itself on race day.

2. New York is not viewed as being a “fast” marathon. How do you feel the course suits you as a runner?
I’m ready for some hills. Hills hurt. We all like pain: Right, it reminds us we’re still alive? But really, I’m a bit nervous about how my body will respond to this course after the last bridge into Upper Manhattan, about mile 22-ish. This course, on paper, reminds me of Boston. Perhaps not quite so much downhill, but in the pain in the ass factor of getting to the starting line and using too much energy in the process. I think my experience in this regard from the marathons I’ve run since 2002 will give me an edge. I think I’m as ready as I can be, and I’m going to go there and crush butts.

3. Do you have a goal time for the race?
Before my injury that riddled me out of running for 2-months I was shooting for sub 2:50. Now, I’m shooting for a PR, and still hopefully sub 2:50. This is still in line with my cue card goals from awards night last year.

4. Let’s talk about your training for this event. When did you start training specifically for this race?
January 30th, 2011 at 9:11:22 A.M.! That’s one second after I crossed the finish line @ the Miami marathon. Being a bit more realistic, I was able to put in marathon training efforts about mid-June, so right at the edge of spring/summer start. I had to spring the right (injured) foot of summer into this fall. Haha, corny – oh well, that’s what happened.

5. Do you prescribe to any training ideologies? How do they impact how you structure your training?
I tried to follow the Daniels Running Formula this year, but my injury was too much of a setback. I had a plan laid out for a 24 week program, but obviously that got scaled back, and virtually cut. I had to re-evaluate weekly, sometimes daily, just because it took so much longer to regain my fitness. It took much longer than I expected. So, in a shell, I tried to take advice of those in our awesome group including key advice from Ed Aramayo, Ryan McGrath, Arjun Majumdar, and Kris Simms. My hometown running coach Dr. Death, personal experience, and many key workout tips and assisted workouts from Brennan Feldhausen were instrumental this season.

6. What are some of the principles you feel are important to follow during a marathon training cycle?
In no particular order: Tune up races, Long runs, weekly speed workouts, Tempo runs. Obviously easy days are clutch, too. Sounds trivial, but this is the formula. Running when I’m tired, for about 2-months straight is the key to gaining strength. Let the taper recover the body, and trust the taper. Here I am, 5 days away, and my legs (quads primarily) have FINALLY rebounded from the beating I’ve delivered to them this cycle. Without training on tired legs, I’ll never push through the marathon after 30k with force and aggression needed to surmount my tired mind. The mind is the weakest ally in the marathon. It’s also the strongest supporter. Tell my legs they are NOT tired, and push through it… If I train on tired legs, I can race on tired legs (after 30k most critical for the marathon).

7. What are some of the key workouts and runs you have done, or look to do, during your lead-up to the NYC Marathon?
When I came back to fitness, I was 100% out of shape. In early May I began doing very fast and short, quick twitch muscle exercises. I didn’t have the endurance to do long workouts, and I hadn’t worked on my true sprinter speed in a few years. So I started there. With a few summer track races, boasting my first sub 5min mile, I pushed into interval workouts, and the last 2 months primarily Tempo based efforts.

One thing I did this year that I’ve never done before was the likes of this long run. 4-miles easy, 4-miles Tempo or Interval, 8-miles easy, 4-miles Tempo or Interval, and 2-4 mile easy warm down. So, long, hard runs with a workout mixed in there. The middle “easy” miles are really the hardest part – knowing I’ve got another late long run workout ahead, and I am already running on tired legs. This shit works! Thanks Brennan Feldhausen.

8. While this is your first time racing New York, this isn’t your first marathon. Can you describe your progression through marathons, and how you’ve grown from each?
Harrisburg 2002 was my first marathon. I decided at mile 18 of the race that I’d finish, as my previous long run was 16-miles, and I was only out there to pace a friend. I got to mile 21, and took a 5-minute break and ate Halloween candy. I realized the pain and agony of a 3:44 effort, and thought, hmm, I could probably do better at these if I tried, or actually trained.

So, I went ahead at “trained” for Pittsburg 2003. A disappointing 3:59 where I got passed by a fat chick on the Jumbo-Tron inside Heinz Stadium with 100 meters to go was just unnerving. This race was terribly painful, and I realized 3 critical things. 1) taper does not mean don’t run more than 6 days in the last 23 days, 2) I’m not running another one of these until I know I can qualify for Boston, 3) Don’t Fuck with the marathon or its’ distance.

Frederick 2006 was the real trial – the first marathon I really trained to race. I remember coming down mile 25 with 10-minutes to go to qualify for Boston. The 26th mile would not show itself, and I felt I was slowing. Finally, finally, I saw mile 26 and knew I would qualify. The feeling I got in the last ¼ mile was indescribable – one that keeps me seeking my best performance. I had qualified for Boston.

Boston 2007 – All I can say if F-You Boston. I had trained very hard, and was in sub 3-hour marathon shape (or so I though, in reality probably 3:02). With a noreaster and nasty weather, cold, wind, rain, I was thoroughly pissed at the city of Boston, the marathon distance, and the whole concept of training for 1 race when this can happen. Then I realized how well I had placed overall compared to my bib number… That’s what it means to race. I ultimately did not PR by 21 seconds, but ran a 3:09:59 and re-qualified.

Marine Corp 2007 – Well, I had already signed up for this, but in the summer I inflicted upon myself a debilitating injury that ever reminds me on each step of my left leg that one who pulls a split on a dance floor the day after running a PR 3.55 mile race will tear a calf muscle and strain 4 others between the calf and hamstring. So, needless to say, I DNF’d this race at 22-miles. In the process I again realized not to F with the marathon, as I came down with a stress fracture in my right foot.

Boston 2008 – With a long run of only 17 miles and lacking fitness, I really just went to Boston “well rested” and in shape only to finish. I had expected to thoroughly hate the race and city, but I actually had a great time and had a fun marathon running a leisurely 3:23. That was fun!

Baltimore 2008 – With a chip on my shoulder and trying to prove to myself I had turned a corner, I raced smart and in the hometown crowd amassed a PR 3:08:39. Later I’ll find out the chip outgrew my shoulder, and I’d have to chisel some more… in time.

Megatransect 2009 – Putting aside road marathons, I attempted this 25 mile trail effort. To simply say, it was hard, was an understatement – but it was super fun. It took me 6hours and 30 minutes – I learned how to take energy with me and to enjoy the thrill of trails

Catoctin Mountain 50k 2010– I had to endure ultra marathon pain before I could run an ultra (the true goal being GEER 100k 2010), so with the help of Alyssa Godesky and Melissa Mujumdar I was able to put a training and nutrition plan and surmount both obstacles. It took 6hours and 24 minutes to cover 35 miles at Catoctin, and another 14 hours 11min and 57 seconds to cover 100k at GEER. Both courses were nasty, and hard as shit! There were a few undercurrent reasons I ran them. First, to give myself an edge in the marathon, as my fastest marathon finishing 10k’s had been 47 minutes, typically 50, and often 1hour 30min. Terrible. Second, and more importantly, to change my lifestyle around – sometimes one must take a look in the mirror and inventory the wreckage of the past, and strive forward to a better tomorrow.

Ultra distance Relays: Reach the Beach Relay 2000, 2001, 2005, and Tussey Mountain 50-Mile 2003, 2006, and 2010 – The takeaway lesson is to learn how to run on a tired and fatigued system. The distances are mild, mostly 6 or 7 mile legs. But doing them a few times with a break in-between is difficult to adjust. The reward is the team camaraderie, the adventure, and the stories.

Miami 2011 – 2:51:21 was a 17-½ minute PR and obviously a tremendous feeling. I had worked really hard and got blessed with a great day to race. Everything fell into place. I didn’t crash in the end, and negative split the course. This race re-fueled my marathon aspirations.

9. How has your training evolved from training for your first marathon?
Simply put, I actually train for them now and I’m honest with myself. I’ve also added a lot of base mileage, and during marathon season it’s not uncommon for me to go 10 or 12 weeks over 50-miles each week. I’ve peaked at 96-miles and 85-miles in a 7-day stretch for the last 2 marathon cycles respectively. When I trained for Frederick 2006, my highest mileage weeks were 50 and 51 respectively.

10. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned through training for, and racing, marathons?
The most important is twofold – Staying healthy and consistent.

Eating during running is crucial. If I feel even the slightest bit of a queasy stomach, or nausea, or hungry – EAT. Once it’s too late, forget it, I can’t rebound.

Hydration – salt tablets, and staying completely hydrated the entire week leading into the key event is critical. I avoid caffeine for at least 7 days prior to a marathon, as the diuretics will keep you less than hydrated. Also, I take water at each and every water stop along the course – even a tiny sip.

Focus on today. Today is day 1 of training. Do that for several months on end, and race day will be fun!

Peaking at the right time is all that matters. I can have a bad day, bad race, bad workout, bad week, bad month. But, that’s training! As long as you believe in the plan and the action to do it, it should work out on race day. If not, it’s only racing, and I can scrape myself up and do it again!

11. What are some of the keys to a solid race day execution, in your opinion?
Confidence and honesty send one to their best performance. In a 5k, 10k, even 10 mile, we can go out balls hard and try to hold on. Good luck with that strategy, and it sometimes works. Marathons are so different. If I go out comfortable, stressing only the cardiovascular system in the first 5 miles, and letting the body slowly adjust, I can get stronger and stronger as the race unfolds. “Listen to your body, and let the race unfold” – Bill Martens.

More so, reflection and positivity are elements I cannot forget deep in a race. I have to know why I’m doing it; believe in what I’m doing; like doing this to myself. If I stay positive and tell myself I will do this, and DBAP along the way, I will succeed.

12. What will you consider a successful NYC Marathon, for yourself?
One or all of the following: 1) Surviving injury free 2) Race the entire race without running short on gas; ergo, finishing hard, not slumbering to the line. 3) Starting the race with energy and enthusiasm. 4) Finish in the top 500. 5) Sub 2:50 would be awesome!

13. What part of the NYC Marathon are you most looking forward to?
The race day atmosphere, including personal reflection, race day execution, and hopefully the achievement of finishing this awesome race! I’m excited for 1st Ave and Central Park. Also, I’ve never been to the Bronx – hopefully I can run fast and hard away from thugville. F You Boston. Hopefully I’ll walk away still saying eat me Skankees. Go O’s!

14. Moving away from NYC-specific questions, how have you felt about your training and results this year?
It’s been a super wavy year. I’ve PR’d in the Marathon (2:51:21), Half Marathon (1:23:40), 10-miler (61:02), 1-mile (4:57), and 800m (2:08). I’ve also come away with some upsetting performances at Leesburg 10k, Baltimore half marathon, and Z’s race in the summer. I’ve learned from them all. Injuries suck – but putting them aside, I’ve had a very successful year and have been overall pleased.

15. What is your favorite race distance, and why?
I’m not short to answer anything… So I like a few things. I like the lure of the mom and pop 5k (or whatever type distance) that benefits groundhogs suffering with hillbilly gun sights on their foreheads, “and the such.” Something about just showing up to a rinky-dink 5k and paying $25 bucks on race day for a cotton shirt and knowing that even on half ass trained legs I’ll get a top 5… those races make for a fun morning. And knowing I can just hit snooze and go for a 12 mile run later takes all the stress away from those races. But to be truly honest with myself, I thrive on the sprint. I really miss kicking the shit out of people in the 100meter dash!

16. What is your favorite race (any distance), and why?
Z’s Race is my favorite without a doubt. Held the 3rd Saturday in June each year in memory of the late Irv Zablocky, this hometown favorite is both difficult for a 3.55 mile course, luring because it’s always reminiscent of good times, family and friend packed weekend, and always over my birthday weekend. Often the race IS on my birthday! Z was my high school teacher, running mentor, inspiration, and started the Oregon East Running Club in the late 70’s early 80’s. Without that club, I would not have gotten into distance running as I did. Z dropped dead on a run in 2000, and the friends and family still talk about his running accomplishments. One of his was running every single road in Lycoming County Pennsylvania in 1 year (it’s the largest land area of the 67 counties in PA). Irv logged over 75,000 miles, and once placed overall 36th at Boston. Back then, they gave medals 35 deep, so of course he was the first loser! Not in our hearts though. I still wear Z’s on my knee caps and shoulders during big races. So, his memorial race is the most inspiring, and that race goes with me into other races each year.

17. What is the best race you’ve ever run? (best result, most memorable, hardest, etc)
GEER 100k was the hardest run I’ve ever endured. Not simply the training, which was intense, but seriously not knowing what would happen to my body after 35-miles. I can enter any marathon today knowing I can cover the distance. But at GEER, I did not know that. The 63-mile race took its toll on my system. My left knee was absolutely in torturous pain by mile 40, and it was upwards of 90 degrees that day. The 15,000+ elevation gain throughout the course was brutal. I was pleased with a 6th place overall finish of the 42 who started. Only 24 finished. GEER felt like an accomplishment.

18. People often talk about what running means to them, how it’s shaped them as an athlete or even as a person. Do you feel running has done more for you than just keeping you in shape?
Health, friendships, something to strive toward, avoidance of apathy; these are all elements of why I love it. I heart food, and lots of it, so running 10-miles a day on average during peak marathon training allows me to consume 3,500 cals per day and enjoy it! I feel inspired by other runners, and I know deep down that I inspire others around me as well. My father ran his first ever road race when he was 73 years young. I know he wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t seen my running unfold the way it has.

19. After NYC, what are you looking forward to the most? (holidays, time off, vacation, etc)
I can’t wait to eat, sleep, perhaps watch TV (at someone else’s place since I don’t have cable), and archery hunting. I’m excited for the holidays this year to take a few days off and go out with my rifle to harvest some deer for my freezer! I just sent in for my passport renewal, so maybe a trip somewhere with Christa too.

20. Looking ahead a little bit, what do you hope to accomplish in the next year, if you’ve given any thought to it? Not necessarily specific times to run, but goal events, non-running goals, etc.
Boston 2012. Because, F You Boston. Also, not certain, but I’ve always wanted to run the TusseyMountainBack 50-mile race. The 50-mile road race at Penn State mountains is beautiful, but unfortunately it always falls on the same day as the Baltimore Marathon.

My biggest goal next year is to stay healthy and relaxed, and put some base mileage together. There has been a rumor of Germany marathon in September too – that would be MAB!!!

21. What is the hardest thing about training for a marathon?
Attrition! Putting all your marbles in one basket and trying to find the best of the bunch on one day. There are so many variables, over the course of 6 months that staying focused on 1 event is often impossible. Weather, sickness, work/life business, health, happiness, the list continues. Depression and disappointment are a fine line away from exhilaration and triumph, and the tightrope of burning out or pushing too hard, or not working hard enough, is often transparent, illusive, and opaque all at once.

22. What is the most rewarding thing about training for a marathon?
I love race day – good or bad, it’s always memorable. I cannot tell you how I felt at the 3rd kilometer of John Doe’s 5k in 2004… But I can usually take away vivid memories and feelings from the grueling distance races.

A few questions about yourself…

23. How long have you been running competitively, and how did you first get introduced to the sport?
I only ran 1 year of track and field, my rookie senior season in 1997. As a sprinter I thrived on natural speed to win, not technique, hard work, or any serious dedication. My first real distance race was the Spartan 5000, a road race, on June 7th 1997. This was the day after I graduated High School. Z came up to me after the race, and said “Eh, 21:14, well, not too bad sonny – for a sprinter!” My true distance running evolution began to take shape when I took a gym class at Penn State, “Jogging” in the summer of 2000. This was just after Z died, and I began running with OE.

24. Do you remember your first race? How did it go?
Spartan 5000, June 7th 1997. I remember rabbiting the hell out of it, dropping off, recovering, and then surviving the last mile. I ran through the finish line to my best friend’s house a block away and had my first post run explosion of my bowels; the first of many stomach issues in my running career.

25. Where is your favorite run in the world?
I haven’t found it yet!

26. Where is your favorite place to run in Baltimore?
Down shady alleys and through the hood and ghettos, which remind me to be thankful for what I have, add an element of “oh shit”, keep my guard up, and also enjoy a part of the city that most don’t venture toward.

Other than the shithole that is 80% of Baltimore, I really enjoy the Wednesday night run around the Harbor (along the bricks), and the Federal Hill Monday Night runs. These, mostly because of the company, are the most memorable. TNT kicks ass too.

Patapsco park of the days of old will always hold a spot in my mind for the days I took my training to a level of being serious, and understanding what higher mileage really means.

Thanks for taking a few moments to chat, and all the best on November 6!
No problem! Thanks for all your help Elf. You have kept me going through the years - Thanks bud!