Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Monthly Archives: March 2010

Doom and Gloom United?

Did anyone see that game on Saturday night? I hesitate to use the proper soccer term of “match” because clearly DC United was no match for its opposition, the Kansas City Wizards.  Simply put it was butt-ugly.

Don’t take my word for it. Watch here.

Many of my fellow United fans will say, “it’s early, relax.” And they may be right. But that was such a comprehensively bad performance it’s hard to feel much hope at all for the coming season, not after two bad seasons already in a row. Add to that the loss of Clyde Simms to a hamstring injury during the game, and there’s no doubt, this team is in a giant hole after just one game.

Maybe this was just one howler. Or, maybe we’ve got a long season ahead. I’ll be there next week, hoping for something better vs. New England at RFK.  If nothing else, the Black and Red have much to prove.

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National Half Marathon race report

Carefirst National Half Marathon 3/20/2010

Summary Stats:

Time: 1:29:11 Guntime, 1:29:03 Nettime (new PR by 6 seconds)

Place: 209/6,246 Overall, 6/271 45-49 Male Age Group

Funds raised for Team in Training: $1,844.20

Total Team in Training National Marathon & Half Marathon finishers: 44

Full Report:

I love racing, have been doing it for years. There’s just something about stepping up to a starting line and having a go at not only the other runners but at yourself, challenging yourself to be all you can be that day. Racing also provides motivation for all those hard weeks of training, and when you race well, it’s really a culmination of all that effort. I was fortunate to get that feeling once again this past Saturday when I completed the National Half Marathon. But that wasn’t all I got to experience. I also got the satisfaction of knowing my running had meaning beyond just my own goals or the competition itself. That’s because this season I committed to raise money for Team in Training while I trained and competed. I joined the TNT effort in the beginning of the year after learning that my close friend Liz Rugaber had been diagnosed with leukemia. I had never taken on this type of a commitment before but after talking with my wife Lynn, Liz and some other friends, I took the plunge, and I’m glad I did.

As mentioned last week, I was pretty antsy around mid-week for this race to finally get here. I knew I was ready and that all I needed to was stay relaxed and focused. Things seemed to be moving right along until Thursday morning. Then on the way to what I knew would already be a hectic day at work, I got involved in an auto accident and my car took quite a bit of body damage on the rear passenger side. Luckily no one was injured, but I spent a good part of the rest of the day on the phone with the insurance companies (mine and the other party’s), and the body shop. Amazingly I still found time to get in my final run before the race, a little 6-mile trot on the trail near home; that actually did wonders for me and I felt much better afterward. That evening, I slept really well.

The next day flew by and before I knew it I was headed downtown for the TNT pre-race pasta party. I normally skip these types of events, preferring to either have a nice dinner out with my wife and maybe some friends or just having something at home. But I thought the chance to bond one more time with other TNTers, combined with the inspirational effect from being around so many compassionate, positive people, would be well worth the time spent — and it was. I left the event feeling energized and excited once again about the next day.

Saturday came really early, 4:30 am. After my usual pre-race breakfast (oatmeal, coffee, energy bar, water), it was time to head out the door. I got down to the RFK Stadium area at just about 6:15 am.  There was a line starting to grow at the entrances to the stadium parking lot, so I bailed from that and easily found a parking space on Constitution Avenue, just a short walk from the start & finish area. The weather forecasts were calling for a very warm day but at this point the temperatures were still only in about the high 40s. Based on that I decided to go with my purple TNT singlet on top with no base layer under it, but arm warmers and light throwaway gloves to ward off any cool breezes.

I went about my usual pre-race preps and was at the start area in plenty of time. I was in Corral 2, just one behind the elites and before long it started filling up with lots of runners, most of them younger than me, all of them very “fast” looking. As the sun started rising, I took a few deep breaths to relax myself and felt totally composed when the gun went off (what a far cry from younger days, when I would have been a nervous wreck!).

The first mile went off a bit slowly, not surprisingly. This race has grown in popularity over the past several years and there was a little bit of congestion in the first half mile. So I knew my first mile would be a bit on the slow side, and it was at 7:22.

As expected things really started to open up in the second mile, as we proceeded over a flat and very fast piece of East Capitol Street and then Constitution Avenue, heading towards the Potomac. It was also during this stretch that I heard something I was to hear quite often over the next hour or so, the cheer “Go Team!” I gave the person a thumbs-up because that’s what TNTers always say to each other.  Around Mile 2 I ditched the gloves because my hands were already starting to sweat. I didn’t see the Mile 2 sign but knew I was moving.

Soon we were at Mile 3, where I did get a split — 12:17. I thought, did I really just run that for two miles?! It was around this point as well that Joan Benoit Samuelson passed me; she was moving, all right. I would later find out the 1984 Olympic women’s marathon gold medalist ended up running a 1:22 on the day, not bad for a 52-year old!

There was a turnaround on Constitution Avenue, just a little bit after 4 miles (split 6:37), after which we headed back on Constitution for a little until turning left onto 18th St. Here is where the hills began. First was a long gradual one, basically going all the way from Constitution to about L Street. Here I took my first gel, knowing I would need it for what lay ahead. The pace slowed a bit, to 6:50 and I got my first 5 mile benchmark of 33:07. Wow I thought, if I can hold that I’ve got a massive PR in hand. But could I hold it? After a brief spell Connecticut Avenue we turned onto Columbia Road, which has another long, but steeper climb. The fast pace I was on before was definitely starting to level off. I expected this would happen but I also knew a long downhill stretch would come later.  Still I was a little concerned to see miles 6 & 7 average over 7 minutes (Mile 6 & 7: 14:09).

Mile 8 was perhaps the most challenging of the day as it included both a big uphill then a equally big drop as we flew past cheering Howard University students.  I clocked  a 6:51 mile here, followed by a 6:50 as we passed the reservoir just off North Capitol Street. So for now, at least, it seemed I had settled back into a manageable pace. But that pace was about to pick up yet again, as we turned onto North Capitol Street and headed south down a very long descent. As I reached the 10 mile point I saw Jack, one of the TNT coaches, and that gave me a nice little boost. I put down a 6:39 mile split and hit the 10-mile banchmark in about 67:30. I had slowed a bit in the hills but was still running very well.

In thinking about my race strategy beforehand I had decided I really wanted to run my best in the final 5k. I had done this at the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. But it was definitely coming with more difficulty today. The earlier hills – both up and down – had taken their toll on my legs. On top of that as we turned off North Capitol and headed east the paved street turned very rough, with lots of ruts and potholes, punishing the legs even more. Somewhere around Mile 11, TNT coach Jim was there to give me some more encouragement, but I thought to myself, “boy I wonder if he realizes I’m rigging right now.” Nonetheless I pushed on, trying increasingly in vain to stay ahead of the 3-hour marathon pace group. Based on my pace there was no way they should have been with me, but apparently their pacer was really hauling. Sure enough at around Mile 12 they caught me, and I was not happy about that (Miles 11 & 12:  14:05).

Heading towards the finish, just after the half-marathon/marathon split

The pace group catching me apparently gave my mind just what it needed to overrule my tiring legs. As the pacer passed to my immediate left, I decided there was no way in hell he was going to elude me. I took up a spot right on his shoulder, but that also meant the rest of the pace group surrounded me. By the time I had gathered strength and was ready to make my move, I had nowhere to go. I was boxed in by the group. At around 12.3 miles or so I made one attempt to break through, and the gap closed on me. Finally at around 12.5 there was a brief opening and I seized on it, broke through and started leaving the pace group behind once and for all. A few paces later we reached the split, where us half marathoners headed towards the finish while the marathoners continued on to the second loop. After the struggles of the past two miles I had blown all the time I had banked earlier and now I would have to dig really deep to salvage a PR. As I made the turn back towards RFK I started really picking it up. With 400 meters to go I was hammering the pace as hard as if I was running a mile race. I went 7:20 for the final 1.1, crossed the line and hit the stop button on my watch to see I had made it, by the skin of my teeth. It wasn’t a pretty final 5k at all, and I had to really fight at the end for it, but I had indeed improved on the half marathon standard I had set in Philly just a few months before, and I was ecstatic about that.

After the finish I made my way through the food line and eventually back to the TNT runner check-in area. I was the first on the team back and enjoyed welcoming teammates returning after their finishes. I also got to meet up with some friends who had come down, including Liz herself. We had a great time soaking in the post-race atmosphere and then eventually adjourned back to Arlington, so Liz’s husband Chris could give their children could some well-deserved playtime at a park while we chatted and enjoyed what had become a gorgeous Saturday.

I’ve done a lot of races in my life, but this was probably the most satisfying for me, not only because I ran well, but because I ran for something more than just myself. And it wasn’t just me, either. It was my 43 TNT teammates on Saturday. It was the TNT coaches and volunteers. It was everyone who contributed to my fundraising campaign (which you can still do, by the way). It was a team effort if there ever was one, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

I can’t wait to do it again in Boston.

T-Minus 60 hours

Happy St. Patrick’s Day all!

Taper weeks sometimes feel like they go on forever. I can’t wait until Saturday gets here, so I can get my race on at the CareFirst National Half Marathon. But until then time just goes drip, drip, drip ever so slowly.

I know I’m ready for this race. I’ve hit all the right targets in my quality workouts, whether they’ve been on the track or on the road. Moreover, my race performances this winter, while not spectacular, have all been solid. What’s great about the latter fact is that I really haven’t let myself go into a race rested, until now. I’ve notched two new PRs without the benefit of any tapering, and I really don’t think I’ve run anywhere near my best race yet. Lastly, my affiliation with Team in Training for this race is sure to provide an extra motivational boost on Saturday morning; I’m not just running for myself this time and that gives this race a really special meaning.

Hopefully the next couple of days will provide opportunities to relax my mind. I’ll try to fill out a bracket and watch some March Madness, or maybe prep for my upcoming fantasy baseball drafts.  Then on Friday night, there is TNT’s pre-race pasta dinner downtown, followed by (hopefully) a few hours of sleep before rising at about 4:30 am. I still haven’t decided on whether I’m taking Metro down to RFK Stadium or driving, but right now I’m leaning towards making the drive after just making it to the start line on time last year when I ran the full marathon.  The more big races I run, the less I trust public transit to get me there on time.

As for details regarding Saturday morning — whether you’re planning to come down or check things out on the web — here’s what I can tell you.

  • I am bib #4505, entered in the half marathon
  • Results should start coming in about 30 minutes after finishers start crossing the line, how soon they will be posted to the website, I can’t say, but it will probably be on the same day
  • The start for both this race and the Sun Trust National Marathon is 7am
  • Team in Training will have a tent in the finish area, and there’s a good chance you’ll find me there at some point after my race (unless I decide to venture out on the course to cheer teammates running the full)
  • The race website contains lots of information on viewing spots for both the half and full (see link above).

For anyone coming down, hopefully I’ll see you there — most likely afterwards (I tend to be a quite a loner before races while I warm up and get myself mentally in the zone).  In any case, I’ll be sure to check in at my usual online running haunts later in the day with some kind of report. Probably with a belated Murphy’s Irish Stout in hand.

60 hours to go…tick, tick, tick…

Burke Lake 12k race report

The spring racing season got off to a nice start last weekend at Burke Lake. This location is one of my favorite training spots, with a forested trail that goes around the perimeter of the lake, most it unpaved. Every March, DCRRC sponsors a 12k race there, which basically goes about 3/4 of the way around the lake then turns back. I ran it once, back in 2008 and thought this year it would fit in very nicely as my final tuneup for the National Half Marathon, which I’m running for Team in Training.

On race morning the first signs of spring were beginning to make themselves evident. Morning temperatures were cool, but not cold (mid-40s) and there was no wind. By the time I got to the lake it was clear I would not need the long-sleeve shirt I was wearing, so after warming up I quickly switched to a singlet and arm warmer sleeves. I met up with Franco, a friend from the club who I often run with and we talked about race strategy a bit. We’re both at about the same level, so not surprisingly our goals were quite similar.

Pretty soon we were off and headed down a paved path towards where would pick up the trail. It wasn’t long before the lead pack of about 3 or 4 runners broke off from the rest of the field. That put us in the chase pack, not a bad place to be as we entered the forest. During that first, mostly downhill, mile I was concerned primarily about going too fast and putting the rest of my race in jeopardy. But for the most part I stayed calm; I don’t know what the splits were because there were no mile markers and I was wearing my Timex Ironman stopwatch rather than my Garmin, but I definitely felt like I was in control.

After about two miles my legs started to feel a little more relaxed and I opened it up a bit. To this point Franco had been doing most of the pacing so I surged ahead and told him to follow me for a while. As we came out into a clearing shortly before the turnaround I could see the other runners ahead. As the turnaround approached the leaders started heading back and it wasn’t long before I figured that I was sitting in 7th place overall. Moreover I was on a blistering pace at the halfway mark, well ahead of what I needed to meet my goal of breaking 50 minutes.

On the way back I finally started to tire a bit. Franco, who had been trailing behind me for a while, now caught back up and I let him go. At this point we had done our jobs of helping each other along, now it was “let the better man today win.” And with about 2.5 to go, he made his move strongly. I tried to go with him but the legs were just too fatigued on this day, no surprise really since I did not do any tapering prior to this race (I even ran 8 miles the day before).  So I focused on just trying to finish strong and not leak too much time. Then with about 1.5 to go I got caught from behind by someone else, who was clearly running a negative split race. There was no way I could go with him, but I resolved to keep him close.

As we came back out of the woods heading back towards the finish, I knew the big hill we went down at the start was now a big uphill to the finish, and that I could get up it strongly even on tired legs. I dug a little deeper and started powering up it from my 9th place position. The guy who had recently passed me was now really struggling to get up it, and I was drawing closer to Franco again, too. But before could complete the comeback, I ran out of real estate as the finish line approached.

I crossed the line 9th in 49:20, which was both my first top 10 finish in a while, but also a new PR for me. by over a minute. That’s not bad at all for somewhat tired legs. I also got 2nd overall in the 40-49 age group. All in all, it was a great start to the spring races and I was very pleased with the outcome. I think it sets me up well for a great race at National. For that one, I’ll be rested and feeling confident. Now I just have to get through this little 10-day taper…

Busy preseason underway

Well after two months of training through all the challenges that a winter can throw at me, some tentative signs of spring are emerging as the snow melts away. Not the least of these is that I suddenly find myself lined up to run some races again.

This actually started last week, when I ran in the RRCA Club Challenge 10 Miler, in Columbia MD. I’ve done this race now three years in a row. Back in 2008, I had a banner day, shattering my PR at the time. Since then the results have not been quite so stellar. It’s a tough course and a very competitive field so if you don’t have your “A” game you’re going to take a whipping.

Last weekend I didn’t have my best race in me at all, and it’s no surprise really.  I decided to train through the event this year, and even ran 14 miles with Team in Training the day before. Suffice to say, I was anything but fresh for this year’s club challenge.  I got out to a surprisingly fast start, one that would have positioned me for a great race on a better day, but I could tell right away that my legs were way too fatigued to continue at that type of pace. So I started to dial it back and by Mile 4 I had resolved to just take this as a marathon pace training run and save myself for another day. All that said I still ran solidly, albeit slower, finishing in 71:11, and 7:08/mile pace that falls right about where I’d like my pace at Boston to be. So I was pleased with the result.

Since Sunday, I’ve taken a step-back week of sorts to recover from all that running last weekend. I had a lot of soreness to work out. But by yesterday I was ready for some Yasso 800s and I knocked them out at about 3:06 apiece. That’s yet another great sign that I’m ready for Boston.

Next up, this weekend I will toe the line for the Burke Lake 12k, a DC Roadrunners Club race right near my house, on the lake trail that I often run during the spring and summer. I’ve really missed running at the lake during this harsh winter and I can’t wait to get there on Sunday morning. I hope to air it out; if I do, a new 12k PR should happen even though this is a trail race. This will also be my last tuneup for the National Half Marathon (which is itself a tuneup for Boston).

Ah, I love running, but I really love racing. Let’s get it on! 8)