My grandfather and my father are the two men whose habits laid the groundwork for my own athletic goals. My grandfather, a semi-pro football player and boxer in his 20s, stayed in shape his entire life. In his 60s, he was still such a workout fanatic that the staff at his local YMCA gave him a set of keys so he could swim at 5am every morning. My father, one of the best all-around athletes I’ve ever met, has run 10 marathons throughout his life and continues to put in over ten hours per week at the gym. The two men’s lifelong dedication to fitness tells me that exercise and competition are in my blood for life.
My grandfather had a successful career working for the Boston Fire Department, which stages a 10k memorial race in Dorchester every year. In 2014, I decided to run the race as a way to honor my grandfather, who had passed away several months earlier. At the time, I was light years away from being in running shape. Although I was doing a large amount of sprinting for martial arts, I had only gone on and handful of proper runs in the past several years. I finished in just under 43 minutes, and I caught the bug to start taking running semi-seriously for the first time since high school.
A lot happened over the next year. I ran about 20 miles per week getting ready for a Spartan Race in May of 2015. After feeling terrible in that race, I started eating a vegan diet, which completely transformed my body and gave me a renewed physical energy. And eventually, I decided I to make running my sole focus in the hours I could dedicate to training in between the business of everyday life.
I signed up for the Firefighters’ 10k again in 2015 and dropped over six minutes off of my 2014 time, taking ninth place in 36:31. I vowed to come back the next year and win. After another 365 days of training, I lined up again in 2016 and just missed the first place spot, taking second with a 34:49 time.
This year, I took a fourth crack at the race after a solid 20 weeks of training. After my hometown’s 10k in early September, I recharged for a few days then continued speed workouts, all of which were going well. My legs were definitely feeling the long-term volume without a rest period, but I continued to take care of my body, eating all clean foods and getting to bed (the floor) early every night.
Race morning was warm and humid, which, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, is awful for runners my height. But as uncomfortable as it is to run with a high core body temperature, the pain is — like anything else — something you can get used to. I’ve run in lousy conditions so many times now that bad weather has almost become an afterthought.
I got out to a quick lead and did my best to maintain the relaxed form I’ve been training to improve these past few years. The floor sleeping, the strength work, and the strides I had put in over the past few months really helped my posture. Around mile 2, I thought I had a pretty sizeable lead based on the cheers of the people along the course. I was hot, but thankfully the sun had just tucked in behind clouds, lowering the temperature enough to not affect the rest of the race.
Around the 2.4 mile mark was a turnaround, allowing me to see the trailing runners. I only had about 20 seconds on the second place guy, who looked really strong. I put in a surge, hoping to increase my lead.
The next two miles felt solid. My body’s tolerance for all of the acids and ions that build up during fast running has definitely increased this year, allowing me to run at faster paces for longer periods of time. But after a few tight turns and some wind gusts, I began feeling my body breaking down as the race approached Pope John Paul Park. If the second place runner was anywhere close, I knew I was in for an uncomfortable 11 minutes to hold him off.
But at the very moment my body went from feeling strong to weak, I heard the sounds of nearby bagpipes. My grandfather was undoubtedly cheering me on, and I wasn’t about to let him down. I surged on adrenaline the final 3k of the race, with my grandfather with me every step of the way. I thought about him and all of the serendipitous life events that had led me to where I was in that very moment. And I continued to push through the finish line to put the Horgan name in the number one spot. The morning was absolutely surreal, and my parents and my grandmother were there to share what was one of the best moments of my life.
I finished in 33:38, which was a big PR for me. I will absolutely put in another big cycle focusing on faster-paced running in 2018, continuing to focus on structure and stride efficiency. After seeing what has been possible since 2014, I’m excited to put in another three years of training to reach new heights.
Moving Forward: Boston Marathon Prep
I took the past few weeks to recharge my body after four-and-a-half months of hard training. I put in 45 miles this week to get my legs back, and starting tomorrow, I’ll begin base building for April by upping my weekly mileage. My goal is to put in two 9-week training cycles with two 2-week taper periods.
To reach my new mileage goals, I’ll continue the habit of easy running first thing in the morning. By putting in 15-20 minutes of easy running right when you wake up, you start your day with healthy blood flow, clean oxygen (there are few cars on the road at 6am), and a few extra miles to your weekly total. What’s more, the morning jogs get your mind thinking about running before anything else. And by the time you do your real training later in the day, your legs won’t feel like they’ve been taxed at all.
In addition to more miles, I hope to improve my downhill running form, which will be extra important in Boston in April. Specificity is king in any type of alternative running form, so I’ll be taking advantage of my hometown’s rolling hills by doing mid-run downhill strides. In addition, I’ll continue my core routine and floor sleeping, which has absolutely made a difference in my back and stomach strength.