Tuesday, May 13, 2014

13 Questions with Colorado Marathoner Tom Nichols

13 Questions with Colorado Marathoner Tom Nichols

Name: Tom Nichols
Age: 31
Born and Raised: Auburn, Nebraska & Clarinda, Iowa
Currently Lives: Parker, Colorado
Day Job: Internal Auditor at TW Telecom
Fave Training Shoes: Brooks Defyance
PR's: 2:25 at Chicago Marathon 2012, 1:08:14 at Lincoln Half Marathon 2014
Marathons Completed: 10

Tom Nichols at the Lincoln (Nebraska) Half Marathon in early May where he finished 2nd. (Photo courtesy of The Lincoln Marathon and Gary Dougherty Photography)

Respect The Run: How and when did you get into running? Was running always your "first love" or would 8th grade Tom have chosen basketball or football? 

Tom Nichols:
I got into running in 5th grade after my family moved to Clarinda, Iowa.  We had to run a mile in PE and I had never done anything close to that before.  I was the 2nd fastest in my class and from there always wanted to get faster.  My first love is football.  Growing up in Nebraska, my dream was always playing for the Huskers.  Looking back, choosing cross country over football was the right choice. (Note: Tom lived in Clarinda, Iowa from 5th-12th grade and graduated high school there.)

RTR: How was your college career? Why do you think you have stayed with running as a post-collegiate when so many college runners just call it quits after graduation? 

I would call my college career "above average".  I ran at Graceland University in Lamoni, IA which was an NAIA school.  I qualified for Indoor Nationals in the 3k and 5k, but the standards weren't very strong.  I would say I under-achieved in college and wanted to prove to myself that I could run faster, which is why I kept going.  My running style (high-mileage/lower intensity) differed from the Ideas of my coach, so I was injured a lot trying to add more mileage during college and learned how to train the way I like now.

RTR: Congrats on a PR (1:08:14) and a 2nd place finish at the Lincoln (Nebraska) Half Marathon on May 4th, 2014. How did you feel out there and how does that race fit into the bigger picture of your 2014 racing?

Thank you!  Very much appreciated.  I felt good out there.  I wanted to keep the leaders in sight, but Sammy (Rotich) got out so quick I was kind of on my own, til I picked up some Marathoners at mile 4 and they kind of latched on to me until mile 10 or 11.  My plan was to go easy the first 5k then build off that.  I really wanted to see if I could break 1:08, and I'm now second guessing the race to think where I could have dropped 15 seconds.  The wind caught me off guard the last 5k, which was when I really started wearing down.  Other than that I felt really good and am happy with the race.
That race is the 2nd of my 3 big races this spring.  The first was the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in Chicago, where I set an 8k PR (25:00).  The other race is Grandmas Marathon, and the Lincoln Half is big for my confidence and seeing that my training is paying off.  Going into Grandmas with 2 PR's will be very helpful.
RTR: Is your ultimate goal an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier of 2:18? Does Meb's run at Boston (just days before he turned 39)  give you some confidence that you may just be coming into your prime marathon years? 

The Trials are the ultimate goal.  The time keeps getting lowered, which makes it tougher.  I still have a chunk of time to knock off, but I'm hoping Grandmas will get me closer. 
Yes, Meb's run at Boston is huge for knowing there are still more good years to come.  I'm nowhere near his level, but seeing guys in their mid-to-upper 30's setting PR's lets me know I have a shot to do that too if I keep working hard.

RTR: What's a typical week of training like for you during a marathon build-up? 

My typical marathon training is anywhere in the 90-110 mile range.  I usually build up for 3 weeks then take a down week.  I don't run a lot of workouts, as mentioned earlier.  The big one is usually incorporated into my weekly long run of 20-24 miles.  That usually involves some sort of tempo or goal pace work at the end of the long run.  The other workout usually comes in the middle of the week and varies by the week.  One week it could be a longer tempo, the next it could be some sort of fartlek faster than goal pace.

RTR: Has your training changed at all compared to when you were 24 or 25? Are you smarter now about training, racing, and recovery?

Adding to the question above, I think I'm being smarter about training and racing now.  I've had a few injuries that set me back (Hip in 2008 and Plantar Fasciitis in 2012).  I'm taking on a "less is more" approach when it comes to speed training and racing.  I learned over the years I recover very slowly and want to make sure I'm not sacrificing recovery to get in quality.  I love racing but have to pick and choose the big ones and sit out the smaller ones or use them as workouts now rather than racing as often as I did when I was younger.  I'm also running less intense workouts at this point, which seems to be working out well.

RTR: I understand you just moved out to Denver from Nebraska within the last 12 months. Do you feel like you are getting a benefit from living at altitude? 

I moved out here to Denver about a year ago, and yes, I am noticing a benefit.  Its hard to describe, but running faster and hills are much harder out here.  I do find when I run at sea level I can work harder for a longer period of time.  As long as it isn't humid!!!

RTR: Are you finding some fast guys in Denver to run with? How important are training partners for you? 

Slowly...  I'm not the most outgoing person, so meeting new people to run with is hard for me.  I live in Parker which is away from the areas that the large pockets of runners call home (Boulder, CO Springs).  I am finding a few guys and getting in good shape pushing my niece and nephew in the double stroller when I run with my twin brother and his friends. 
I would have to say the worst thing about moving from Lincoln is leaving all the great training partners I had behind.  I think the year before I left I had about 10 runs total by myself.  That was great.  Now I run at least half of my runs on my own.  It's nice when Ryan Regnier (Lincoln-based marathoner) comes out to Denver for work.  

Tom Nichols at mile 11 of the Lincoln Half Marathon.  (Photo courtesy of The Lincoln Marathon and Gary Dougherty Photography)

RTR: What's your key pre-marathon workout that lets you know you're ready to roll? How far out from race day do you run that workout?

Usually it's the long runs that signal I'm ready to race well.  A lot of days I don't wear a watch, but I normally do on long runs and just get into a good rhythm and without knowing it, I'll be running 6:00 miles.  I've never been one to need a lot of speed work to feel fit, it's the strength runs that get me there.

RTR: Do you have a mantra/words that you repeat or a song that you sing in your head when a marathon gets tough? Maybe Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," the Chariots of Fire song, or Katy Perry's "Dark Horse"? :-)

Sometimes I'll get a song stuck in my head, but that varies every run.  I normally think to myself just get to the next mile and go from there.

RTR: What's your personal theory on the marathon taper? Cut mileage but maintain intensity? Cut back on both? Or don't taper much at all?

I definitely back off, but not a ton.  I cut both mileage and intensity.  I usually start gradually lowering it starting 3 weeks out.  The 3rd week out I'll run about 70-80 miles with a day off, 16-18 mile long run and a shorter workout. Two weeks out is closer to 60-70 with a day off, 14-16 long run and short workout. The last week is just some shorter runs and strides to loosen up.  At that point the work is done, so I just want to get to the start line feeling as fresh as possible.

RTR: What's your take on the growing popularity of MUT (Mountain/Ultra/Trail) Running? You're in Colorado now, which is where UROC, Wasatch, Leadville and many other ultra races take place. Will we see you out there running a 50-miler in the mountains anytime soon? 

I think it's great.  Anything that brings attention and more people to the sport is a good thing.  It's not my thing, because of weak ankles.  I love seeing people getting into it.  My twin brother is doing some longer trail runs this summer so I'll probably go with him and watch his kids while he races.  I wouldn't count on me joining him anytime soon.  Maybe after I give up my competitiveness on the roads.

RTR: Who is your running idol and why? 

I've never had a huge running idol.  I liked following guys growing up, but I'd say I follow the guys I know more than certain professionals.  With that, I'd say Mike Morgan would be the top of the list.  Seeing a good friend of mine go as far as he can with the talent he has is fun to watch.  He is one of the toughest guys I know.

RTR: Tom, thanks for your time and best of luck at Grandma's Marathon in June!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Race Report: Lincoln National Guard Marathon (5/4/14)

My Day at the Lincoln National Guard Marathon

I had the race day kit all laid out. I had my banana and baggie of Kix on the nightstand so I didn't wake the family to get breakfast. Alarm set for 4:40AM. Socks, shoes, warmup pants, everything decided in advance.

I went out Saturday night and hid 3 water bottles along the course at miles 5, 11, and 17.5 so I could drink my own special sauce on the course. The forecast called for 50 as a low temp, highs in the 70's and windy conditions. This would be my do-over debut marathon after my 20 mile hamstring burnout at Quad Cities Marathon last fall, and I wasn't leaving anything to chance.

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Race day gear laid out the night before.
I didn't sleep well the night before the race, but who does? I went over everything in my head way too many times. What if I get out too fast? too slow? How fit am I right now? How fast is Ryan or Pete or Ivan or Nate going to run? How many elite guys will swoop in from out of state for some prize money? The weather, the wind...? blah, blah, blah.

Just get me to the starting line.

Starting line about 6:20AM. 

I left my house in Lincoln at 5am for the 7am start time. I only live about 15 minutes away. But what am I going to do at home except agonize over which socks to wear. So I was there by 5:20 looking for a good parking spot. I got myself over to the Coliseum and just soaked up the excitement at last minute packet pickup for about 30 minutes or so. Something oddly comforting about listening to other people talk about their upcoming race and how they hadn't trained properly.

I'm normally a loner before a big race. This day was no different. I had about 15 Lincoln Running Company teammates running either the full or half marathon and doing a team warmup. Thanks but I need my space before a big one.
I ran just over a mile for a warmup. I normally do two miles or more. But this was my deliberate attempt not to feel too warm or too "ready" when the race started. That can lead to getting out too hard and racing right from the gun. I wanted to just settle in the first few miles and make sure I didn't blow myself up.

It seemed to work. I lined up for the race in about the 4th row of runners. I let the Kenyan marathoners (several guys from Minneapolis) and the fast half-marathoners get away from me so I didn't feel the urge to go with them. I started the race at a very easy pace (6:22 first mile) and talked with teammates Ryan Regnier and then Hayley Sutter during the first couple miles.
Looking up the road, I could see the race working out in front of me. Nate Stack was out very strong with his Team Nebraska teammates, but they were running the half-marathon.

Also in front of me were Ivan Marsh and my teammate Brian Wandzilak. I caught up to them around mile 2 and ran with them for a few miles as we passed through some historic neighborhoods and had some great crowd support along Sheridan Boulevard. Brian announced that it was his 'hood. And I guess I can't argue, he really does live a block or so off the marathon course.

Myself, Wandzilak and Marsh around mile marker 4.

I had run 6:22, 6:10, 6:10, 6:09 for the first 4 miles and I felt like I had the brakes on, so I started to press just a bit during mile 5 and left Wandzi and Marsh behind. I climbed the hill at 48th and Calvert (probably the first real hill of the day), grabbed my first water bottle from under a nearby tree, turned onto 48th street and hit mile 5 (6:09). There's a long downhill here for nearly a mile. I sucked on my water bottle during that mile and was running with Jerrod Anzalone from team Nebraska Run Guru Elite (NRGE). We passed several guys during this downhill mile. I went 5:48 for mile 6 and was feeling good.

Miles 7 and 8 were along the Highway 2 trail. I left Anzalone behind and caught up to Pete Kostelnick from team NRGE during this time and we ticked off a 5:53 and 5:57 together. Somewhere in here I had a GU. Then Anzalone caught us again as we climbed "The Hill" on 20th street together. There were some good groups of spectators along the way. But I called out a couple of quiet groups and said, "It's not a funeral YET, you can make some noise!"

View from the bottom of "The Hill."

View halfway up where "The Hill" levels off before rising again. 

"The Hill" is a moderate climb of about half a mile and it really wasn't too bad. It's definitely the longest hill on this marathon course. But the thing about this course is that it never stops rolling. Even the "flat" parts along Highway 2 have just enough elevation change to mess with you. (If you think that Highway 2 trail is flat, think about the climb up to the Arby's/Rock Island Trail interchange coming from east to west.)

I split 6:10 for miles 9, 10, and 11. Or at least I split 18:30 for those 3 miles---I forgot to hit my watch during those miles because I was talking with Kostelnick and Anzelone and trying to pay attention to the turns we had to make. At this point it was myself and Anzalone working together and Kostelnick was starting to fade. I had another GU and grabbed my next water bottle at mile 11 (sitting beside a telephone pole only a foot off the road) and sucked on that for a mile or so heading up 10th street toward downtown. I was feeling pretty good, feeding off the crowds, and passing more half marathoners during miles 12 and 13. I left Anzalone behind as we approached downtown. I went 5:54 for mile 12 and 5:55 for 13.

This is where the half marathoners turn into the stadium to finish and you can get a sense of where you stand in the marathon field. Up to this point, when you passed another runner it was common to ask "you in the half or full?" and maybe say a few words of encouragement as you pass. But now with the half marathoners gone there was no more mystery, and it felt lonely pretty quickly. I split right around 1:19:40 for the half marathon (the timing mat missed this one somehow). I would have preferred to be more like 1:18 at the half marathon mark, but I was trying to stay relaxed and not burn myself out too early so 1:19:40 was fine.

I could see Nate Stack in his red Team Nebraska singlet and also a National Guard runner maybe 30 seconds ahead of me as we headed from the half marathon point onto the lonely Antelope Creek Trail.
The wind, which I hadn't really noticed during the first half marathon, was now smacking me in the face as we headed east and south. Miles 14, 15 and 16 were just me slowly reeling in Stack and the National Guard runner. Stack even gestured to me a few times to get up there and help cut the wind. I felt decent on miles 14, 15 and 16 and had splits of 6:02, 6:07, and 6:08. I caught them somewhere around the 16 mile mark.

I downed another GU and settled in with the two guys I had been working to catch. Unfortunately, the spectator support was really lacking on this stretch compared to the first 13 miles. And the wind seemed to get increasingly worse as we ran miles 17 and 18. We were all suffering. Just before I grabbed my final stashed water bottle at mile 17.5, I remember thinking it wasn't just the wind that sucked, but it was getting hot outside too.

I took a couple drinks from my bottle in the next block or so and then tossed it. I felt like the bottle was slowing me down as I tried to keep pace with the other two guys. After less than a mile I knew dropping that bottle was a bad idea. I had a drink called Tailwind in there, which is similar to Gatorade but with a higher salt content. I had split 6:10 for mile 17 and was still with the pack. But during mile 18 I started to see spots and lose my vision.

I backed off late in mile 18 on the steep climb up to Holmes Lake and lost touch with Nate Stack and the other runner. I knew I needed some salt but I had thought the Tailwind would be enough so I didn't have any salt pills on me. I started to wonder if I could finish this race at all.
My legs, and especially my calves, were starting to feel like stone at this point. I wasn't sure if I had perhaps gone too minimal on my shoe choice or if the little rolling hills had taken a bigger toll on my legs than I thought. Probably both.
The Skecher's GoMeb Speed 2 is a light shoe and felt great on my foot the entire race. Meb swears by it, but I'm 6-4 and 160 pounds.....he's not. I'll explore this more in another post......

Skecher's GoMeb Speed 2 in action.

Luckily, I was able to get Gatorade at an aid station at mile marker 19. I knew that I would get to pass that same aid station again at mile 20---after the turnaround loop on 70th street. So the thought of more Gatorade carried me through mile 19, even though my vision wasn't the best. I ran exactly 6:24 for miles 18, 19, and 20. The wheels were coming off for sure and I was suffering. But these were also rather hilly miles and I literally couldn't even see straight.

The good news was that I had made the turnaround at 19.5 miles so I got a look at who was chasing me. I had been counting runners and I was in tenth place. Everyone behind me looked like they were suffering too. My teammate Ryan Regnier was the only one within a minute of me at the turnaround and he looked strong. I got my vision back at that mile mark 20 aid station and I was determined to hold my teammate off as long as I could. We had expected to see each other somewhere around mile 20 or 22. I knew going in that his strategy over the first 10k was even more conservative than mine. This is a guy that I meet at 5am twice a week to run with, we weren't being secretive about our race day strategy. He truly likes to build up his pace, stay comfortable, and come from behind in the marathon. I'm just not that patient.

I ran mile 21 and mile 22 in 6:20 and 6:12, respectively. But still I could feel Ryan Regnier getting closer and closer behind me. I passed my wife and kids for the last time at mile 22 and my wife gave me a cold towel, which was great. My boys were handing out fruit snacks to the runners too.

Samson, 5, and Gavin, 9, eating donuts and waiting for me to run by.

Ryan Regnier passed me just after mile marker 22 and I tried to go with him but my legs just wouldn't respond. I hung close to him for mile 23 but only ran a 6:28. I knew it was a mental game from here on in. 3 miles to go. I was convincing myself to push to the next block, then one more.
I was also passing many marathoners now (face to face) who were still on their way out to Holmes Lake and some offered encouragement. (The second half of the marathon is out and back.)

It wasn't pretty, but I went 6:33 for mile 24, 6:43 for mile 25 and 8:06 for the final 1.2 miles into Memorial Stadium. The finish at the Lincoln Marathon is on the 50-yard line right on the "Big Red" letter N. Pretty cool, especially for Nebraska fans. By the way, it was nice to have an entirely separate full marathon chute leading into the stadium because so many half marathoners were finishing at the same time as me.

I finished in 11th place in 2:43:03. I was about 75 seconds behind my teammate Regnier. And one spot out of the prize money! On the bright side, as bad as I felt, nobody else passed me or was even near me those last few miles. See Results Here.

My race didn't go perfectly, but I rolled with the punches and was able to finish my first full marathon with a respectable time. If I had a mulligan, I may have pushed a bit harder in the first half and definitely would have taken in more salt and fluid the whole way. I had 3.5 GU's/Gels during the race and probably only about 30 ounces of water and sport drink. Despite having my own fluids at my disposal, I just hadn't trained properly on taking in large amounts of fluid while running fast.

Special thanks to my sports chiro dude Dr. Rob Lane in Lincoln for keeping me healthy enough to run a March 1st 50k and then a May 4th marathon on a hammy that is still a work in progress!

Race Organization and Goodies

After I finished, things were a bit of a cluster. But with 12,000+ entrants this year (up from 10,000 last year) you have to expect some congestion. Tons of half marathoners were finishing when I was and we were all being herded off the football field and into the ground floor of the stadium where they had drinks and snacks available. But you had to grab it fast as you were being pushed down the hallway. It was just too many people at once and my legs were rubbery. I congratulated Regnier and Stack, then I grabbed a Gatorade and headed straight to the massage area and got worked on. They gave priority to marathoners (over half-marathoners) and they got me right in!

Kudos to Lincoln Track Club on a great race. The event was organized very well from packet pickup to pre-race emails to bike marshals on the course. Having the National Guard there in uniform, and seeing them working a water stop and the finish line, was awesome too.
More spectators on the second half of the course would be great, but you can't have it all.
Finisher medal, age group award, and salt-crusted hat.
Lincoln Track Club has done a really nice job growing this race over the last several years. I see why it sells out so quickly each year and why all 50 states are represented. But it's definitely time to stop and evaluate that growth/entrants allowed. The awards ceremony (with free lunch) was a great time to catch up with rivals and teammates. The awards themselves are nicely done and they offer awards deep into each age group. The finisher medals are substantial and handsome.

The race shirt looks more like a 4th of July theme, but this is the Lincoln National Guard Marathon and apparently serves as a championship race for that branch of the military. And the Guard did have some tough competitors out there. I know at least one Guardsman beat me to the finish line.

The Bottom Line
This is a hometown race with heart. Even if Lincoln isn't your hometown.

My splits are listed below:
Mile 1: 6:22
Mile 2: 6:10
Mile 3: 6:10
5k: 19:25
Mile 4: 6:09
Mile 5: 6:09
Mile 6: 5:48
10k: 38:06
Mile 7: 5:53
Mile 8: 5:57
Mile 9: 6:10 estimated
15k: 56:54
Mile 10: 6:10 estimated
Mile 11: 6:10 estimated
Mile 12: 5:54
Mile 13: 5:55
Half Marathon: 1:19:40 estimated
Mile 14: 6:02
Mile 15: 6:07
25k: 1:34:27
Mile 16: 6:08
Mile 17: 6:10
Mile 18: 6:24
Mile 19: 6:24
Mile 20: 6:24 and 2:02:44
Mile 21: 6:20
Mile 22: 6:12
Mile 23: 6:28
Mile 24: 6:33
Mile 25: 6:43
Mile 26.2: 8:06 and 2:43:03 total time

Friday, May 2, 2014

Meb Falls Off His Elliptigo!

My Pre-Lincoln Marathon Training Rundown (Meb makes a cameo below, please read on!)

I ran just 27 minutes today. Crazy.  Below is how I taper.
From page 266 of Jack Daniels' book Daniels’ Running Formula. This is the 24th week of the "elite marathon" plan. I didn't really follow the training plan this time around, but I still like the taper. And I believe the Daniels pace tables, which tell you exactly how fast to run your workouts, are still the best out there. 
In college I thought Coach Schmaed was crazy for relying so heavily on his paper binder with Daniels' "VO2 Max" tables, but like most things, coach was right.

Since I have this extra time on my hands from tapering my training, now seems like a good time to put out an update on my training. Only two more days to the Lincoln Marathon. 

I have been intending to get going on Strava or some other site that I can connect directly to my website, but I’m not there yet. I do use Training Peaks and log everything religiously, I’m just not sure how to make that public yet, despite a chat with Training Peaks help desk. 
If anyone wants to explain all this new-fangled technology to me, feel free. I’m due for a new GPS watch anyway.

Today I cracked 1300 miles for the year so far. And I’ve also biked 446 miles on a stationary recumbent.  I got into the biking early this year when my hammy was pretty tight, but I found a recumbent bike wouldn't aggravate it (Spin bikes do aggravate it). I still bike about once per week now for variety, usually as a second workout.

4 months of training summarized in one pie chart.
And, no, I don’t have an ElliptiGo! It would need fat mud tires to go on the trails and gravel I like to run. Plus the Nebraska wind (or a drunk Husker Football fan) would knock Meb on his butt if he rode that contraption down the street in Lincoln. I would pick him up and dust him off though. Love you, Meb.

Photo credit: Running.competitor.com
Meb also made a cameo in a dream I had last night. I was warming up for the marathon and when I went to put on my racing flats, all that was in my bag were track spikes. Several pairs of track spikes with a plastic bottom! They started the race without me and Meb took the early lead. Guess I had no chance of winning that marathon, even in my dreams. Sad but true.

But back to my training.

My training mileage the last 8 weeks looked like this: 
33 miles + 11 bike (recovery week after 50k)
79 miles + 53 bike
102 miles + 17 bike
85 miles + 51 bike
104 miles
96 miles + 14.5 bike
85 miles + 14.5 bike
58 miles (week ending 4/27)

This wasn’t a full marathon build-up/training cycle by any means. It was more of a “hurry up and recover and then do all I can” with these 8 weeks between my March 1st 50k and the Lincoln Marathon the first weekend in May. So it has really been an abbreviated cycle, but I did have a decent base of easy January and February miles coming in.

Two training weeks from April.

My mileage goal in most any training cycle these days is to have a peak mileage between 110 and 120 and then stay in the 85 to 105 range for the “meat” of the cycle. Basically, I train (mileage-wise anyway) like I’m 22 again but I run the easy stuff easier and I stay under control on my speedier work. 
Although, I didn't really hit my mileage goals this cycle in pure running miles, the biking must be worth something. And my goals are a bit high for coming off a lingering hammy issue anyway. 

That being said, February through April getting mileage in wasn’t as challenging as I had expected. My body has been allowing me to log easy miles without too many issues. Adding the sufficient intensity (SPEED WORK!) while keeping my hamstring/glute area from rebelling has been my issue. So I’ve slowly dialed up the intensity this year (while working my hams/glutes along the way). From no speedy workouts at all, to one per week, and now to two per week. And I’m day to day. But I have the sports chiropractor (Rob Lane in Lincoln) put me back together every week with soft tissue work, strength exercises, Graston, ART, whatever is needed. 

Would I take another 3 or 4 weeks and move the Lincoln Marathon back to the last weekend in May if I could? Probably.
But Thankfully, I have really started to feel fitter and have increased the intensity (actually adding track work for the first time this year) these last few weeks. I have been careful not to push the pace too much on my track or tempo work.

But, long story short, I feel good this week and I look forward to a big run at the Lincoln Marathon this Sunday May 4thMy goal is to break 2:40 and a have a top 10 finish. My bib # is 2539 is you want to track me. 

Lincoln is a great American running town and this marathon sells out in a matter of hours every year, so I know this will be a great experience........Even if Meb falls off his Elliptigo in front of me and steals my racing flats out of my bag before the race.