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On Pace for Greatness

Once again my goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I believe it can be done, but it is only up to me making it happen.

Today I am 40 days away from my seventh marathon and what I would consider my fourth realistic shot at running under the qualifying standard. The ones that don’t count are my marathon debut in Monterrey, running a marathon with the flu in Houston and coming out of a torn groin and hamstring injury when I recently ran the California International Marathon not even two months ago.

My fourth attempt at making it to the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts will be in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico at the “Maratón Internacional LALA.” I’ve learned a thing or two about preparing to this kind of races on my previous marathons, but nothing can really prepare you for one, you just have to live in that moment. 40 days away, here are some of the things I’ve been working on.

Between the C.I.M. and the LALA Marathon I have less than 100 days in between. That means almost no time off after the first one. I usually take two-three weeks off, but this time I cut it down to 10 days. I was sort of dissapointed on my performance at Sacramento, I felt I played it too safe and could have done a better job. At the same time I wanted to take advantage of my conditioning to get in track for the next one. I looked at the possible options based on my criteria and found LALA to be the best bet.

This marathon is one of the most popular 26.2 mile races in Mexico. Most winners run it under 2:10:00 and many others punch their ticket to Boston in that same course. It is flat and in a time of the year where heat is still not a factor. I may have not fully recovered from the injury that slowed me down on the way to Sacramento, but the drive to make great things happen is there.

For Sacramento, 90% of my training runs were in altitude, for Torreón 95% of my training has been done at sea-level. This has allowed me to do faster runs without getting completely exhausted. Working on building up endurance in Mexico City was a challenge by itself. The same energy required to run a 5K in altitude is almost the same as a 12K where I am now.

Now I am more confident on my pace and my endurance that I was heading into Sacramento. Most of my runs are between 4:30 and 4:45/km, just a few under that pace. With this I am trying to work on my turnover agility while not putting to much pressure on the injury I am trying to come out of. At the same I am not burning myself out before the race, something I have done in the past a few times. Adding gym workouts has also made me stronger this time around.

With 40 days to go and six marathons under my belt I somewhat know what to do from here on out. I just have to try and stay calm, the 20+ mile runs are coming up. Just a couple of time trials between now and March 1st, but it’s mostly endurance I have to focus on. If I don’t have it where it needs to be, being fast will barely get me past the 13 mile mark.

Finishing a 26.2 mile race is something I have experienced, but doing it under 3 hours and four minutes is something I haven’t. It is a long race and it is a long time out there. I am preparing to show up at the starting line with my best physical and mental game. Because once the legs give up, the mind takes over for good or for bad.

The next 39 days might fly by, but it is day 40 that counts. I want to be there knowing I have a shot at a dream that has been denied to me for the past six times. If I get to “fly” on day 40 this guy has a real shot of making that dream come true. I believe I am on pace for greatness, that means, Boston, I’m going for you!

Remember the Feeling

Once again it took guts, once again it took pain, but once again I reached for glory. It definitely never gets easier, you just start to believe in yourself a bit more every time you do it. I am now a six time marathoner and even though it was my slowest one, I can end the year having done something I had forgotten about in 2013, cross a marathon finish line.

When I ran my first 26.2 mile race back in 2009 I had no idea what I was gettig myself into. Exactly five years later I am fully aware of what it takes to do something like this. Different to the past five experiences, due to my long hours at work and school I had stayed away from running for a long time (on my standards). Running two-three times a week was a miracle and going over five miles was not that easy. With that being said, I had a lot to work on when I got back to running back in July aiming to run a marathon by the end of the year and dreaming of a Boston Qualifier performance.

I don’t choose race for their prestige, I come up with the decisions based on the weather, the altitude, the size of the field, if there are pacers and the type of course, hoping it is as least boring as possible. The California International Marathon met most of my requirements but what made it shine among other options was that is was considered one of the top B.Q. races in the country.

Little did I know about Sacramento except for it being the capital of California. When I watched the video of the course I saw rolling hills and a flat end. It would be my first point-to-point marathon so that would make it interesting. I tried to keep some element of surprise alive by the time I got there so I kept my research on the place once the decision was done to a bare minimum.

Training started well but it had an abrupt pause at the beginning of October when I tore my left hamstring and groin at the same time. That really put into question if I would be able to participate in what I considered my last big goal of 2014. Fortunately I was able to push through and declare myself ready but I did have to give up on my idea of going for Boston.

Once race weekend approached and I arrived to Sacramento I was happy I was there but really nervous of how my body would react to a big race after a very irregular training. I was not nervous about finishing, I was nervous about how I was going to finish. I liked the scenery, so I tried to feed off that and I also liked it that it felt like a small marathon. Going to San Francisco for a short visit two days before the race trying to make the most of my trip to the heart of California.

Race day came and for me it started at 4:20 am. At that moment I woke up, changed into my running gear and my extra layers to stay warm and headed out the door towards the bus stop that would take me to Folsom, where the race would start. I tried to sleep during the 30 minute ride but ended up just daydreaming about what was ahead. Once we got there you could feel the beginning of the end. This journey started even before I signed up, it began the same day training did.

The race started just a few seconds after it was scheduled but the distance ahead stayed the same. The first mile went by quickly and that was good news, the worst thing is to have the first mile feel like three or more. I clocked the first 13 miles within five seconds of each other. I was feeling good and enjoying the rolling hills. My injury did not bug me for the first third of the race. Once I reached the middle miles I was extremely confident I would finish and that I had a chance to run my fourth fastest time. I just had to keep pushing.

I believe it was around mile 18 when it sank in that I was running in a fast marathon. I had not seen many people walk or cramp as I had seen past the halfway mark in other races. It was just a matter of about an hour to get done. I passed mile 20 and halfway through I thought it would be a good idea to walk and recharge energy for the last five. Huge mistake!

It was impossible to regain a solid pace for the rest of the race, it took me forever to run again and when I did I cramped twice in the same leg. I now think I should have kept running even though I was already over the 8:00/mile mark. That would have saved me at least ten minutes and probably a sub 3:40 finish. 3:52 was my finish time. A race I was proud just like any other marathon to finish but upset I did not try my very best. I was glad my injury did not come into play as bad as I thought it would.

Just like any other race there are many lessons learned from this one that will help me for the next one. I now remember what it feels to run a marathon, to get to the halfway mark feeling good and to get to the wall still with some energy. Yes, the next one will be much harder. My halfway split needs to be ten minutes faster and my marathon time almost an hour faster. For now, enjoy the accomplishment, let my legs rest and get ready because in 81 days I will do it all over again. Maratón LALA 2015, you are next!

From a Joke to Formula 1

I am trying really hard to put into words what this week meant to me. In my short career I have worked at Cowboy’s games, UFC events, NBA Playoffs. At the end of the day none of them come close to the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix.

This week was a dream within a dream which will be impossible to forget. Working at a Formula 1 Race is by far the best job in the world. I came back to the United States thanks to F1. The way it all began was kind of a joke. I was looking for tickets to come to the United States Grand Prix in Austin as a fan but without a job it was hard to afford. I tried looking for freelancing jobs that could send me there but that also did not work. I had been wanting to go to this race for the past two years but it just wasn’t happening. I then had the idea of asking a friend, that had worked there the year before if she was going back, unfortunately for her, she wasn’t. Then as a joke I asked if I could take her spot. Before I knew it I was being contacted by a german tv station to help out at the USGP. I did not think twice, and said yes to the offer no matter the conditions.

I knew I was heading to a big event but many times the expectation I have of something does not live up to its hype. Formula 1 definitely lived up to it and even surpassed it. Here is why.

The first day was pretty simple with the exception of buying groceries for about 40 people, it took forever but we got it done and then headed to the circuit where I saw where the media outlets from around the world were setting up. Then went up to the tower that overlooks the where you can see the whole circuit. It is an iconic part of the Circuit of the Americas I got to experience without making a long line. The next day the highlight was going for a run around the circuit. I’ve ran around the “Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez” a few times but this is a much more complex race track. More curves and more hills where turn one is by far the hardest one even for the cars but once you get up there the view is great. It was a short run but I loved every step of it.

On thursday I started to meet some of the drivers as I realized I had access to the paddock. That when I was starting to really realize when I was getting into and it would just get better. Just that night, since I was working for a german tv station we got to do an exclusive interview with 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Even though I did not understand what was going on during the interview (all in german) I was just happy to be there.

On friday I spent most of my day in the van driving the crew around the circuit and barely had a chance to see the F1 cars in action but I did get to meet even more pilots that day and walk around the pits while the teams were getting ready for the second round of practice sessions. At that moment I knew this was already better than what I expected to do this week and I still had the two most important days ahead of me. I had heard a lot about the low sound that the cars make this year since they have downgraded to a V6 engine and have a 100 kg limit on fuel for every race. I remembered well how in the French GP of 2006 I was barely able to hear a thing after the race but this time my ears never popped no matter how close I could get.

Saturday was a bit more hectic as it was the first time the station would broadcast live so everything had to be done quick and in time. Traffic started to become an issue as more people were coming to COTA. That day the highlight was meeting Pamela Anderson, one of the VIP guests at the race and someone who was really easy to talk to and approach. At the end of the day out of nowhere I met Nico Hulkenberg who was riding his bike while his mechanics ran around the track in a small race for media and F1 entourage I was not aware off. This was done at the same time as the paddock girls rehearsed the routine for the national anthem ceremony. Now the countdown was on for the big day.

Having to buy groceries at 8 am was the start of probably the most exciting day in my post-college life or probably my life. I headed out to the track a few minutes before 10 and made it there around 10:30 thanks to me avoiding a close to one mile line to get to the circuit, if not I probably would have been in line for about another hour. I unloaded the car and then headed to the paddock to help out the production crew and later on we went into the track for the driver’s parade. It was an awesome experience to have all the drivers walk right in front of me. Then walked along the pit lane while mechanics were making the final touches on the cars. Continued with going to turn one to watch the beginning of the race and then to the hospitality suite of Mercedes. For the next hour I walked around the track to see the race from different points and just before the race was over I had the chance of seeing the finish from the Mercedes garage. It was just the icing on cake that was needed to make it an almost perfect week which was slightly damaged when Sergio Perez was out after the first lap.

Things slowly unwinded from that point on, but it was just the right moment to think about everything that went on in the past six days. I was and still am at a loss of words to say how I really feel about it. I knew it really happened since it is now a thing of the past but something I will remember for a lifetime. I went to heaven and came back, I lived in a fantasy world for six days that I will never forget for as long as I live. All I know is that I am beyond lucky to have this on my resume from this point on. It was a job that definitely took me further than I could ever imagine.

Standing next to a legend. Niki Lauda.
Standing next to a legend. Niki Lauda.
Running on the track was definitely a highlight.
Running on the track was definitely a highlight.
A picture with Nico Rosberg was probably one of the highlights.
A picture with Nico Rosberg was probably one of the highlights.

Boston via California

No matter how hard things get, determination will get you to the finish line.
No matter how hard things get, determination will get you to the finish line.

I’ve been running for almost 22 years and for the last 14 I started specializing in it. The sport has given me the chance to live in another country, to challenge and learn a lot about myself. Just as there are many things I have accomplished through it there is one I am still missing out on.

It took me a while to understand what made running special. Running without chasing a soccer ball is a crazy idea in my country. It makes no sense to the human eye. For this sport it is what it makes you feel inside what makes it special. After overcoming a thousand obstacles while running you will feel accomplished once you get it done.

I grew up in a town where the sport was really underrated. I would say a race with 20-30 people was a big one for the most part. I got to know those 20-30 people pretty well as the years went by.Americans are used to racing in courses where streets are closed for hours while a race is going on. In Tampico, Mexico, for a very long time that was unheard of. I raced side by side with drunk drivers, taxis and public transportation buses closing my eyes at almost every intersection hoping not to get hit. 

My first official race was a 100 meter dash race, and that was long distance for my age group. Then came the 5 K’s, the 10 K’s for which I would usually travel to compete in Mexico City. In 2007 I was living in Canada and decided that by the end of my time there I would try the 13.1 mile race (21 kms.) at the Vancouver Half Marathon. I ran it and I barely remember finishing it, I did make it to the medical tent afterwards and hours later I found out I placed second on my age group on my first half-marathon ever with a 1:32:33 finishing time.

I stuck with half-marathons for a long time. To this day, it continues to be my favorite distance. It’s not as long as the marathon but it gives me an edge over middle distance runners that may be quicker the first 6.1 miles but get tired on the second half allowing me to catch up or pull away. My best time is a 1:23:30 so I have made some improvements since Vancouver and hope to one day run it under 1:20:00.

Running is a sport where you have to constantly challenge yourself in order to keep it interesting. I knew there would be a day that I had to run a marathon. I always thought that would be after college, but the marathon bug hit me way before that. I was finishing my preparation for the NJCAA Half Marathon National Championship when my mom told me to run the Monterrey Marathon with her by the end of the year. I agreed to the challenge without any idea of what it entitled. I had prepared myself really well for National’s so I was sure I could hold it for another 13.1 miles no problem. Well, I was wrong.

The whole idea of running a marathon seems to be messed up by any normal human being. The thing is, runners are not normal. With that being said, I am not normal and just two weeks after competing at the most challenging half marathon ever I was lining up for an even bigger challenge. My goal was to finish, I was aiming to do a good race, keep a good pace, and enjoy the experience. I started at a pace that I was used to for college races (too fast for marathons) and kept it together for 13.1 miles where I almost ran faster than at nationals. But the struggle came on the second half. At about mile 17 I felt a cramp during a race for the first time ever. It was so intense I had to stop. I stretched and started running again (I wasn’t going to walk for 13.1 miles). Then came more cramps and more stops. I actually drank coke during the race and that did not help at all, but it sounded like a great idea. All the way up to mile 25 I couldn’t go a mile without feeling a cramp. But with a lot of pride, courage and guts I ran all the way to the finish line and couldn’t be happier when I crossed that finish line in 3:40:00. December 2009 will never be forgotten.

I went back to college to compete in indoors less than a month later like if nothing had happened. I was living in Iowa at the time and moved to Texas in August. There I found out about the Dallas Marathon and said why not give it another shot. This was the first time I actually prepared for it. I trained on my own from August to December hoping for a better finish and my first legit shot to qualify for the world’s oldest marathon, the Boston Marathon. I trained well and felt that with a smart race I would be in Boston by next year. It was a great race, the weather really helped my performance and I was feeling great up to mile 20 where my body started shutting down gradually. I made it to the finish with one minor stop and crossed the line in 3 hours 16 minutes. I missed the mark by 6 minutes, I was happy but I felt I had it for the longest time.

I was determined to give it another try the following may. I kept a similar training program now focused on endurance. I was my own coach and taking a lot of pride on every result along the way. I raced in Lincoln, Nebraska which gave me a chance to say hi to some friends in the area. It was the smallest marathon I’ve been in and the course was the same for everyone the first 13.1 miles and then marathoners were on their own for the next 13.1. I struggled a bit to find a pace but once I did I got comfortable and ran a very solid marathon. I was on pace for the longest I have ever been. But again the last 3 miles seemed very very long. I was having problems keeping my eyes open due to fatigue. I was also trying not to fall with my legs becoming heavier every step of the way. I went through the mile 26 mark in 3:10:59 seconds. That was the time I needed to make it to Boston, the sad part, I had .2 miles to go. I crossed the finish line in 3:12:00. I had never been more happy and frustrated in my life. 

My fourth marathon was one to forget. It was in Houston just over six months after barely missing the mark at Lincoln and the day after the Olympic Trials were held in the same place.I was really prepared but when swine-flu hits you just 48 hours before the race the chances of a good performance are almost over before the race begins. I felt horrible by mile 5 and had 21.2 miles to go. Not much to comment here except for the fact that somehow I managed to finish in 3 hours and 41 minutes despite that horrible experience in a fast course.

Marathon number 5 has a lot of mixed feelings. I took preparation to a whole new level. I logged more miles than ever during training. I was breaking personal record on many races and speed workouts. I was on fire. The idea of running my first marathon major in a city that meant so much to me was exciting by itself. If there was a time to make it to Boston, it was then. I landed at the Windy City a few days before the race. I got the chance to soak up the whole experience of a city devoted to the race with over 45,000 people and I would be starting in the front. I probably got too excited but tried to keep it together. The day of the race was magical in many ways except for a cramp that at mile 17 pretty much left me without a chance to make it to Boston. I enjoyed the race a lot despite the cramp. With a 3:27:20 I hope to go back one day because for a runner it hardly gets better than Chicago during a marathon day.

Now I’m going on marathon number six. I have chosen the California International Marathon as the event where I will once again try to make it to Boston. There is nothing in my career as a runner that I want more than that. Since the qualifying standard for Boston changed to 3:05 I became obsessed with that number. When I get done with a workout I analyze my pace and compare it to what I need to make it to Boston. It means I have to go at 7:03 for 26.2 miles and around 4:25 per kilometer. I usually chose flat courses when deciding which marathon to do. This time things will get even better with a downhill course and considered by the Boston Athletic Association as one of the top ten courses to punch a ticket to the starting line in Hopkinton. I don’t consider it cheating since I still have to go the 26.2 but a great help when you have to go that fast. Training in altitude should really make training harder but the race easier.

It's all downhill to Boston
It’s all downhill to Boston

As I said before, running has given me a lot of things throughout my life. But the one thing it keeps denying me is the one I want the most. Once I accomplish that I can think about ultras or even Ironmans, but the idea of making it to Boston in 3 hours, five minutes is a priority before moving on. So from now until December 7, 2014 my mind is set on the challenge that takes me to my biggest goal. Nothing would make me happier than crossing the finish line in Sacramento, California earning my way to the Boston Marathon with a 3:05 or better. Once I get there I actually plan to jog it.