Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Offseason in a sport that doesn’t have one?

After Philly, I have decided to shut it down for a couple of weeks. I’m not injured or anything, but the cumulative fatigue of the fall had me just feeling like it was time for a little break.

I know for some runners, the very thought of an “offseason” is sacrilege. And the race calendar certainly makes it easy to buy into the “there is no offseason!” mantra. Even now as turkey trots pass the baton to jingle bell jogs, it’s possible to keep racing right on through it all. But to what benefit? Surely these aren’t target races, and nobody can race at top form all the time. If you try to do so, you eventually end up on the sidelines before the real target races in the spring. For me, that’s Boston, a race which always demands one’s best.

So it’s a pretty simple decision really. Two weeks off now may drive me a little stir crazy but sets me up well for a little pre-holiday base building and even some low-key non target racing; after all I still have DC Roadrunners Club race series points to pick up. Meanwhile I am also reading up on potential training plans. I have no conclusions yet on what to follow, if any — I usually end up designing my own — but that’s the subject of another post.

Then a 16 week cycle leading up to Boston starts the week of Christmas. By then I will be chomping at the bit, ready to roll.

Half a loaf at the Philadelphia Half Marathon

The long fall season finally came to a finish yesterday at Philly, and I wanted to make it close out with a big result. But in the end I settled for something less than the PR I was seeking, although it was still a very solid result. I also used the race as a reason to put some money towards Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, which coexisted nicely with the 1700 New York City Marathon refugees that the Philly organizers allowed into yesterday’s race.

Sunrise on Ben Franklin Parkway, with a few thousand nervous runners in the foreground.

Leading up to race day I had a solid taper week. When I did my last bit of tempo work on Wednesday I hit 6:30 paces easily and that had me feeling confident. All I needed to do was get myself up to Philadelphia and run. But first I had to get through a very busy week at the office, and the long hours didn’t do wonders for my sleep cycles. Still when I got up Sunday morning I felt ready to go. I headed out of my brother’s house in Roxborough at about 5:20 am and got down to Center City easily, before most of the traffic would arrive. That gave me plenty of time to walk casually up to the start area, visit the port-o-potty and warm up a little before checking my gear. As I stripped down to my singlet and arm warmer sleeves it felt really chilly, more so than at the Windy City 6 weeks ago. But of course once I got in the corral and it filled up with other runners, that sensation ceased.

The cannon went off a little after 7am and being in the maroon corral I crossed the start seconds later. The first 2 miles at Philly are always a little bit chaotic; it’s crowded and you have to negotiate some tight turns at Logan Circle and then again in Old City. Through those miles I was 6:47 and 6:45, actually a little bit slower than I wanted to be (6:40). In mile 3 heading south down Columbus Boulevard I was a 6:39 and that had me feeling like I was in a groove. I slipped back into the 6:50s though as we started heading back towards Center City and the long stretch on Chestnut Street. When I hit 7 miles there things were looking good again, only to slow again in Mile 8 as we started climbing up 34th Street towards the Philadelphia Zoo.

And so it would be today, a roller coaster ride of sorts. It was becoming clear to me this was going to be a day where any PR was going to be difficult and that more likely I would be just fighting for the best result I could get. I don’t know if the cold conditions had something to do with it but it seemed all the way through that my energy level was just not high enough for what I wanted to achieve. I kept asking myself to give more, to dig deeper but I knew the 1:27 goal was out of reach and the 1:29:03 PR was slipping away. That was confirmed when the 3:00 marathon pacer caught me just past the 8-mile mark. Three years ago, that same pace group didn’t catch me until 10 miles, and then when it did I stepped up my pace and ran away from it. This time I could put up little resistance, though I held out hope that maybe I could make it up with a strong finish. Next I was caught by DC Roadrunners club teammate and club president Brian Danza; we chatted a bit before he moved ahead en route to a 3:04 marathon. Perhaps that chat helped motivate me to a 6:53 9th mile.

Mile 10 is by far the toughest mile on this course, as it takes runners up a long steep climb in Fairmount Park. In the years when I have run the marathon here, I haven’t had to worry about it too much; it’s just one hill on a 26.2 mile course. But in a half marathon, when I’m running significantly harder it’s a much stiffer challenge. Sure enough I fell back badly here, logging my slowest mile of the day in 7:26. Ouch.

Then it was downhill out of the park to MLK Drive and a turnaround leading to the 11 mile mark. I started thinking of it as “just a 5k” and tried to step it up again. Things got a little better but I was still on the wrong side of 7 minutes per mile at 7:04. As I passed 11, the time for excuses was gone. There was open road ahead of me and work to be done. So I pulled out to the right, away from the crowd and got busy. The fight was still in me, even if I was tired.

I went through mile 12 in 6:50, my best split in about 5 miles. I was laboring but I was going to finish strong, no matter what. As we crossed back over the Schuylkill River, past the art museum and towards the finish on Ben Franklin Parkway, I pushed as hard as I could. I took one last peak at the watch on Eakins Oval and knew there was no way I would break 1:31 but I was determined to make the best of it. As I crossed the line in 1:31:37 I knew I had given all I had for the day. And that is really all you can ask for.

So…it wasn’t the spectacular result I had craved but it was a very solid finish, my best half marathon time in over two years and an age graded result of 71.2%. Perhaps that means I am on the cusp of something big in 2013. We shall see. But first it’s time for a little off-season break, a couple of weeks to recover from a season that included a marathon and half marathon only 6 weeks apart from one another. By late December I will no doubt be chomping at the bit to start training for Boston.

Philly and a finish with purpose

Time really does seem to fly sometimes, and now I find the fall racing season to be nearly concluded. Next weekend’s race, the Philadelphia Half Marathon, will wrap it all up. For the most part my training has focused on recovering from the Chicago Marathon, then maintaining the fitness level attained for that race, and finally sharpening up my tempo paces for a half marathon as opposed to a full marathon. Now I enter a brief one-week taper period before heading up to Philly on Saturday. I’ll be gunning for a new PR, which means breaking 1:29:03. I think I’m ready to run well; the high-end goal would be a 1:27:19 (average pace 6:40 per mile) but that admittedly may be a bit aggressive. The bottom line, from a racing standpoint, is I will go out chase the best result I can get on the day. As Ryan Hall likes to say, “today I will PR for today.”

All that said, I really want to get on to the primary purpose for this post. Specifically, when I toe the line at Philly on Sunday morning I will be doing so for more than just meeting my own running goals. About two weeks ago, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy I learned that two women from New York and New Jersey areas, who I’ve encountered in various running forums such as Kickrunners in the past, had come together to organize a “virtual race” as a fundraiser in support of Red Cross relief efforts. The concept was simple, to just run the race you were already planning to run in November and using Crowdrise tools, turn it into a fundraiser that would be part of an overall campaign. It all seemed easy enough, and as someone who likes to make my running about more than just myself, I was eager to jump in and help the cause.

This is a rapid start-up campaign, in response to an unforeseen calamity, so my campaign has quickly started up in kind. We’re all trying to keep pace with the rapidly developing situation in the NYC area, and my Crowdrise website just went up this past weekend.

The bottom line is, my fundraising effort for Sandy relief efforts, centered around my race at Philly, is underway. And that’s where you come in. I’d like your help, not for me but those who really need the assistance right now. And I have already put my money where my mouth (or keyboard) is; I have donated $10 for every mile I’m running at Philly, for a total of $131. I ask you join me in this campaign and make the impact even bigger. Just click the logo above, where you can either match my donation or make a contribution of any other amount. Funds go directly to the Red Cross, not including an optional $10 donation that assists Crowdrise in processing your donation. Any amount you can contribute would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading and considering my request.

New storm gathering over New York?

This weekend brings the New York City Marathon, a race I was fortunate enough to run in 2010. It’s a World Marathon Major and that alone makes it a big deal. But as the 2012 edition comes to the fore, the circumstances surrounding the event are anything but ordinary. Superstorm Sandy brought the world’s mightiest city to its knees in a way that even 9/11 didn’t do. Having lived in the Bronx for a few years as a young child, I know of how resilient New Yorkers are and that they will bounce back from this stronger than ever. But right now the wounds are so raw, with devastation, deprivation and even death all around, that the “show must go on” mentality from the organizers regarding the marathon has a lot of New Yorkers in a downright ornery mood.

Truthfully I can understand the arguments both for and against going ahead with the race this weekend. This is after all a World Marathon Major, not just any other race. Whether you’re an elite or a back-of-the-packer, you’ve put your heart and soul into training for this race. And many of the ordinary folks in this race are running for more than just themselves, using the race as a way to raise money for a wide range of charitable organizations. Organizations such as Team in Training, who I’ve run for in the past, depend on these athletes as their life blood who make possible life saving research. And let’s not forget the economic benefit to the city, which runs into the millions, maybe even billions of dollars. For these and a wide variety of other reasons, canceling the race outright is simply a non-starter.

But the locals have a point, too. Marathons, in addition to being a source of civic pride, are a huge logistical undertaking that involves thousands of volunteers, city government employees, law enforcement, and emergency personnel. New York City has shown time and time again it has the muscle to put on a first-class marathon, but it’s never faced a calamity such as this year. Residents are shellshocked and desperate. They can’t find food, gas and some cases even a place to put down their heads at night; many of the hotels booked by incoming marathoners are housing suddenly homeless New Yorkers. The public transit system, which forms the backbone of the strategy for moving all those runners to Staten Island in time for the start, is crippled. Law enforcement is strained to the breaking point as are first responders, with no immediate return to normality in sight. To stage a marathon in three days indeed seems unthinkable. I can’t say whether it’s a majority or a loud minority but clearly a large number of New Yorkers are loudly and defiantly voicing their consternation about all this.

Clearly the city and the New York Road Runners Club are between a rock and a hard place. As I said above, canceling is not an option. And even postponement is tricky. However, to me it seems the only option. So what to do? Well, if I was advising Mayor Bloomberg or the NYRR, I’d tell them to put the race off by two weeks. One week is not enough as the city will still be getting back on its feet. Three weeks is not viable either because that’s Thanksgiving Weekend. And beyond that? Fugghedaaboutit. December is holiday season not to mention the weather in New York could start to get harsh.

That leaves the weekend of November 17-18. This of course, conflicts with the Philadelphia Marathon (where I am running the half marathon this year), which has grown considerably in popularity since my first marathon there in 2006. But aside from a few Marathon Maniacs I can’t imagine many athletes having to make a hard choice between running Philly or running New York. Those registered for both races will run New York. Everyone else will run Philly. It’s that simple.

I’m sure there are unbelievably complex issues and red tape to work through to make such a seemingly sensible compromise come about. But I start from the simple conclusion that the plan for going ahead with the race this weekend is just not going to end well. There’s still time to save face, support those who’ve lost so much, and then come together to put on a great marathon that lives up to its usual billing and celebrates another great New York comeback.

Update November 2: the race has been canceled. See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57544624/nyc-marathon-canceled-amid-outcry/