The Road to Boston – Part 4

Hello Friends!

Happy Easter to you all, I hope that you are enjoying the holiday Friday as much as Matt and I are! We both slept in this morning (for the first time in a LONG time), and then I went to a 90 minute BodyFlow class which was absolutely beautiful. I really need to make more of an effort to attend BodyFlow, it’s the perfect mix of Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates, and I always feel so much more centred and balanced when I leave.

Today, with the Boston Marathon only 3 weeks away, I wanted to continue along The Road to Boston. If you missed Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3, you can catch up with them below!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

We last left off with Matt completing his 2nd Boston qualifying attempt at the Manitoba Marathon in 2005. In the process he shaved 40 minutes off his personal best. What lay ahead was a major eye opening when it comes to training and racing. Matt was entering into his first year of university at Lakehead; he was majoring in Physics. After a long summer of working 2 jobs at the Ministry of Natural Resources and the local KFC/Pizza Hut Express there hadn’t been a lot of time to train. In fact after his June marathon, he only did one run the rest of the summer.

During Matt’s first day of classes he got bored during a break, and went onto a computer to start looking up running stats. He realized that his university had a cross country team. He decided to email the coach, but to be honest that he hadn’t trained all summer and that the last time he had raced it was a marathon.

The coach replied before the day was done and told him that the team trained 6 days a week, starting at 4:30pm Monday to Thursday and 10am Saturday and Sunday. Monday and Wednesday were recovery days which made for 3 hard working days and a Sunday long run. Matt believes to this day, that the coach told him all of that to scare him off. Matt simple reply was: “When can I tryout?”. Matt’s first day with the team was an easy recovery 10km run, he survived and was happy to perhaps become a part of the team.

The next day was a fartlek workout, something Matt had never done. The coach said “Ok, the workout is 10x3min with 1min recovery, at 85 and 60”. If this makes absolutely no sense to you, don’t worry, Matt was confused as ever. His plan was to hide in the back of the pack, do what the rest of the runners were doing and just try to keep up.

Side Note: The coaches instructions meant: run 3mins at 85% effort, 10 times. With 1 min recovery at 60% effort between each.

As the workout got going, Matt felt for the first time that he was very “slow”. He had no watch, and after the first 3mins he got left by the group and was all alone. He had to guess the 3 minutes and 1 minute recovery intervals. After the run was finished, he talked to the coach about what he had to do to improve.

Matt believes the coach was hard on him to force him off the team, as his speed and fitness was light years behind the rest of the team. Slowly as time went on the coach realized Matt’s complete and utter willingness to suffer and hurt. Matt believes that this made the coach believe he had potential and he began to work one on one with him directly.

Matt’s previous racing strategy was to go out hard and try to hold on to the finish line. The problem with this is that in a distance race, your second half is typically slower then your first. If you can conserve and have energy to finish your race faster then you started, your times will increase, even with the same level of fitness. The coach had Matt race every second Tuesday in a small local trail series. The coach would give him a pace then somewhere near half he would wait and when Matt saw him it was time to pick up his speed, empty the tank and chase people down. After weeks of practice of this strategy, Matt started to get the hang of it.

With all this time on his feet, his entire body started to get sore. Matt being in residence found a girl in nursing that had a freezer full of ice packs. He would borrow one or two ice packs from her freezer and exchange them for another one or two the next day or even later that night. It was during this stretch that Matt learned the difference between “sore” and “injured”. The first major pain that he experienced was in his feet, then his knees, and then his hips. Matt had always avoided telling the coaches when he was hurting in every sport he had ever played. If he could just find a way to get to a rest day then it would all be ok. He did his best to get to the end of each workout and then get as much ice as he could find.

As a varsity athlete, Matt had access to ice baths and medical staff, however he believed that if he took advantage of any of that stuff then his coach would know that he was hurting and complaining. Something that his Dad told him rang true (and is still true to this day): “You need to rest as hard as you train” That meant that if he wasn’t running he was laying down on a couch doing school work or sleeping. He told himself to rest at all cost, and slowly the pains would go away.

During this whole time Matt also learned what a “hard day” was. He felt that if at the end of a Tuesday or Saturday workout he didn’t feel the need to vomit then he could have worked harder. Slowly, with a lot of hard work, he started catching the slower guys on the team. He wasn’t finishing the workouts alone anymore. By the indoor track season he had made it into the bottom quarter of the team. He had thought that the cross country workouts were tough, but then he met the track. The first track session the coach placed Matt running with the top girls, which meant that he was still too far behind the other guys. Matt would have none of that, he worked his ass off on every set and finished way ahead of the girls every time. He wanted to run with the rest of the team; he felt that this was another test. He must have passed the test because the coach was happy and the next week at the track session he placed Matt back with the guys.

Another big lesson learned was that even though it was called the “indoor track season”, only one workout a week was actually inside. Thunder Bay is a cold place in the winter with most of the winter being -20 or colder without wind chill. Learning how to dress to stay warm and cool at the same time was tough. Wearing too much will make you sweat until you are totally soaked, which then freezes in the ice cold air. The opposite is obvious, if you don’t wear enough you would freeze as well. It’s kind of the Goldilocks thing: you have to find that happy medium.

By the end of the indoor track season Matt had made some major improvements, he was getting to be near the middle of the pack. As the season ended so did the school year. That meant going home to work in the summer and no structure for his running. In his end of season meeting with the coach, everything was very positive. The coach’s biggest complement was that he loved Matt’s willingness to suffer and hurt, that he doesn’t give up, and gives 110% every workout.

The next thing that his coach said, Matt believes was one of the biggest errors made in his entire running career. He told Matt that he didn’t want him to run the Manitoba Marathon that summer. He said it would put his summer training behind due to the recovery needed after the marathon. Matt believes to this day that he might have been able to run a 2:50 Marathon that summer with all of the training he had been doing 6 days a week. We will never know.

After a month of training on his own, Matt stopped running. He was working at the mine in town and was doing 12 hour shifts rotating between days and nights. He got tired, had no race to look forward to and lost interest. To this day Matt regrets this decision but it is these journeys and lessons learned that make running so much more then just a sport.

At the start of the next season Matt talked to the coach, told him the truth and tried to pick up where he left off. After a month back on the team, Matt was invited to play up on a tier 2 Junior A hockey team. Matt had worked toward that goal since he was 15, and he jumped at the chance. Suddenly, running didn’t matter anymore. He told the coach that he was going to stop and thanked him for all his time. He apologized for not being able to pan out for the coach.

After one more year at school, Matt decided that college was a better option for him. Life took him down a completely different path, and one year later, he applied to join the Army. The best decision that he felt he had made to that point in his life.

I am so excited to bring you the next part in this series. Matt and I started dating about a year into his contract with the army, so I entered the picture during Part 5. I can’t wait to give you my perspective on this incredible journey.

Happy Easter Everyone!!!

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