Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Tag Archives: half marathon

I’ll be home for Christmas…and training

With my recent offseason break, followed by a frustrating foray back into racing at the Gar Williams Half Marathon at Carderock this past weekend, it’s time to put a wrap on 2012. Gar Williams wasn’t the way I wanted to end the year, that’s for sure. It was supposed to be just a training run at far less than full intensity, given I was just ramping back up to running. On top of that the C&O Towpath, on which this entire race was run, was muddy and slippery after a night of hard rain. But when the horn sounded I foolishly took off as if I was in top form. Needless to say I couldn’t maintain anything close to that pace and even bonked at around 10 miles, sheepishly slogging home the final 5k at around 9:00/mile pace, dropping from 19th overall to 29th, and finishing in 1:39:36, or about 8 minutes slower than I ran at Philadelphia just three weeks ago. So what did I learn from the experience? Well, first of all, that you can lose a lot of fitness even over a short break. Second, not to be an idiot and run as if you are in peak condition when you are not. Third, it is possible to crash and burn in a half marathon the same way as a marathon if you are not properly trained. And fourth, running a race that long isn’t worth the post-race recovery issues if you don’t approach the race properly and/or fail to stick to the plan for the day. So now I go through a few days of recovery and rehab, mainly because my right calf is still screaming at me, hoping that I will be able to start marathon training as scheduled next week. Most likely I will be fine for that goal, but it has been a humbling couple of days.

So about that training. I’m looking to get into it, and for this cycle I am actually going to try following somebody’s else’s instead of using my own home-brew method. Doing my own thing hasn’t been bad; it has, after all brought me across 9 marathon finish lines. But there is a nagging feeling I can do better. The McMillan pace conversion table, for example, shows that based on my times at shorter distances, I should be able to run around a 3:10 marathon, but I never been able to crack 3:20. I have 5 results between a PR of 3:20:41 and 3:23:52, so the consistency is there, but so is the plateau. Unfortunately, high mileage plans such as Pfitzinger are not for me, though; the times I have tried to push the mileage numbers up to similar levels I have ended up injured. I need something else, something that will get me ready to run at my desired marathon pace for the whole distance while not taxing my joints too much and hopefully allow me to still squeeze at least some of the cycling and swimming I depend on for cardiovascular endurance.

Enter the Hansons Method. I had heard lots about it in the past, particularly about its “radical” cap of 16 miles on the long runs, but always thought the plan was something reserved for elites who were already super-fit and just plain genetically superior. But then last February a 40-something club teammate of mine told me he had just used the Hansons Method for a marathon and run under 3 hours for the first time. Then in the intervening time, Hansons runner Luke Humphrey published a very detailed book on the method, including why and how it works. I purchased the book about a month ago and decided maybe this was what I have needed. In particular I like their argument that while other marathon plans do a great job of getting you ready to run the first 16 miles of a marathon, theirs trains you for the last 16 miles of the race. The other key distinguishing characteristic is the amount of marathon pace running, which parallels what another club teammate advised, that for me to get better I needed “more miles and more marathon pace miles.”

So I will give the Hansons a shot.

I should be clear that despite the lower prescribed mileage numbers, this is still a pretty intensive plan, even using the “beginners” plan as I intend to do. As for why I chose beginners, my reasoning is threefold. 1) the mileage numbers correspond well to what I have been doing, offering a slight increase; 2) the plan ramps up gradually enough that I can continue to cross-train as an “optional” activity under the plan, particularly during the early weeks (1-5); and 3) there is enough flexibility built in that I can squeeze in a tuneup race or two along the way. Actually I had been planning to run about 5 races in the club series, but I am now backing off of that a bit. I think 2 races is probably the most I will do prior to Patriot’s Day in Boston.

In short, I want to give this plan a chance to really work, and that means following it as closely as I reasonably can. The early aspects actually seem a little too “easy” given my background but the plan is designed that way, so that before you know it you’ve been lured into something where you now are working really hard. By the time I hit peak I will be at probably the highest intensity I have ever been in a marathon cycle.

The 18-week plan starts next week. Until then, I just need to shut this calf muscle up.

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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.

Recovery break over, now for the pivot

After my Chicago Marathon experience last week, I returned to Virginia and took some needed time off from running. In fact, the little holiday is still going on as I will rest once more today. Over the past week I’ve been walking, getting a massage and I did a little bit of cycling in the neighborhood.

But I’m feeling the itch to get it going again. So this week I’ll start it back up, albeit slowly. 3 miles tomorrow, 5 or so on Wednesday, 7 on Friday. No speed work. And I will fall back on the bike again to maintain aerobic endurance. I’m hoping to maybe pop out a long easy ride on the road bike Saturday, 30 miles or so.

Time will tell how quickly I return to the prior training intensity. I have the Philadelphia Half Marathon awaiting as my season closing race. It will be my 4th Philly; so far I’ve done the marathon there twice, including last year, and the half there once in 2009 when I set a then-PR and qualified for NYC. I don’t think it will take much to be ready for that one, not with base marathon fitness under my belt. The biggest challenge will be to get accustomed to running a faster tempo for an extended time. So I anticipate several quality workouts to get sharper, and maybe a long run topping out at 15 miles.

After such a big target marathon race, it feels like starting a new season within the season. But if I can manage the next month properly I should be primed for a big Philly result. PR to beat is 1:29:03 and hopefully this time the standard falls!

Back in the saddle with Spring Racing!

After an up and down spring training cycle, the target races start to come whether you’re “ready” or not. And sure enough that’s exactly what happened on Earth Day (April 22) when I toed the line at Rutgers University for the UNITE Half Marathon.

To be honest I really wasn’t sure what I would have in me on race day. After starting off well with training in January, I hit a bit of a speed bump in late February, starting with a mediocre race performance at the RRCA Club Challenge Ten Miler in Columbia, MD. From there I went into a funk, either mental or physical, probably a little bit of both, as my workout performances just lagged. Then my sometimes-balky knee acted up – tendinitis, which has been nagging me since. I ended up taking about 2 weeks off from running in early March. While I clearly needed the break it didn’t do much for my race preparations. So when I started half marathon training again, I decided let’s not worry about PRs (sub-1:29) and certainly not the lofty goal of 1:25 I had conceived back in December. The goal was now just to get a solid run in that would set me up for Broad Street Run on 5/6. As for a time, I decided I would be happy with anything under 1:35.

Race day morning logistics went off without any hitch whatsoever and the shuttle from downtown New Brunswick got me and Lynn to the start area on Rutgers’ Busch campus with plenty of time to spare. I was completely relaxed at the start and when the gun went off I started with what felt like a comfortably hard effort. That ended up being a 6:39 opening mile, faster than I expected and I wondered if I could hold onto it. As it turns out I did hang on to it for a while, until about 5 miles or so. But then the gaps in my fitness started to show and by mile 7 I was running 7 minute miles.

We continued to wind our way through the Busch campus, until about 9.5 miles in when we finally crossed the bridge over the Raritan River and into New Brunswick proper. As we completed the crossing and turned to dip down into a park I saw Lynn who was with several other spectators.

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At this point I knew I was tiring – the pace had slipped into the 7:20s – but I also knew I could hang on and have a nice result if I didn’t do anything dumb. As I passed the 10-mile mark I noted my split time was better than the race result I had achieved at Columbia two months prior, which made me feel good. I knew that had just been a bad day but it’s always nice to have validation of that. We continued to wind around the park for another two miles; I chatted and ran alongside another runner for part of that stretch but had to let him go ahead as the finish drew closer. Meanwhile a female runner who had been jockeying places with me all morning surged ahead yet again and put a 100-yard gap on me.

We came out of the park into downtown New Brunswick, the finish just 0.6 miles away when I saw Lynn again. This time I was climbing a steep hill, whose placement seemed rather cruel given the stage of the race and my mounting exhaustion. Still it was great to see Lynn, and while I was suffering I still managed a smile for the camera, sort of. I have a great one-woman race crew. 🙂

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As we crested the hill I told myself, let’s see what we have left. I was easily going to beat the 1:35 goal I had set, no worries there. I tried to run steady but hard, not an all-out sprint. Just finish strong, that was the goal. I did get caught by one person from behind but in the meantime I passed two other runners, including the woman who had seemingly left me in the dust two miles earlier.

As I crossed the line I was tired, but could feel myself recovering quickly. That was a good sign because it meant my conditioning was just fine. Final results were 1:33:23 on the gun, 1:33:19 on the chip, good for 116th place overall out of a couple thousand entrants. In my age category (45-49) I was 7th overall with an age-graded result of 70.4%. For a guy not in top form, that’s a result I can definitely live with. Now it’s on to Broad Street…where I think I’ve got a good race in me!

Another restart

Well, I fell off the wagon on maintaining this blog yet again in the second half of 2011. Some events interfered, most notably that of being laid off from my old job in November. But happily, I have found new employment and things are starting to now settle down.

Through it all, my running and training have continued. I still have a race report to publish from the Philadelphia Marathon in November (it was a good day) and after a recovery period I am now back in the saddle training for spring target races. So far on my spring calendar, I have the UNITE Half Marathon in New Brunswick, NJ on 4/22 and a return to the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia on May 6. In any case there is lots to write about, so hopefully I will have some updates for you all very shortly.

Road to NYC, Week 12, taper time!

Life has kept me too busy to blog; the corollary of that is yes, I’ve been quite busy – in my job, following the Phillies in the postseason, celebrating a wedding anniversary, and last but not least, my training.

In fact, since my last appearance here I’ve not only recovered from a grueling half marathon race, but have put down some big peak weeks. I haven’t raced, just focused hard on training, and I think the results of those efforts are finally starting to show. Whereas back on Labor Day, I (no pun intended) labored through a 21-miler, this past Saturday I went 22 miles from my home all the way into Northwest DC, climbing a massive hill off of Rock Creek Parkway in the process. At the end I felt great, barely even winded, a far cry from that early September debacle.

The bottom line is after struggling through most of the fall training cycle, I finally seem to be hitting my stride. For example, a couple of weeks ago I did a Yasso 800s workout and only managed a 3:18 average. Yesterday I revisited the workout and hit about a 3:12 average, a lot closer to the 3:10 standard I would like to be hitting. I think I’m still making up some ground to get to where I’d like to be, and now that I’m in taper time, I have to recognize I might not get all the way there. Nevertheless I am enjoying the late rally in my fitness, and feeling much better about my prospects for the big day on November 7.

So how will I do in New York? I am not sure yet. I have not even set a hard goal yet. I may know a little more of what I can do after next Sunday, when I do the Marine Corps Marathon’s 10k race as a final tuneup.

Here’s this week, so far. Keep in mind this is Week 1 of the taper.

  • Monday 10/18 – planned rest day
  • Tuesday 10/19 – 7 mile progression run, finishing at 6:44/mile pace
  • Wednesday 10/20 – cross training, 53 minutes on the elliptical
  • Thursday 10/21 – Yasso 800s
  • Friday 10/22 – 6 easy recovery miles
  • Planned for the weekend – final long-ish run, 15 miles, probably some cycling on the other day.

 

Road to NYC, Week 8 and a Speed Bump

As previously reported, last Sunday, I ran the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, which turned out to be much more than I had bargained for. What was supposed to be a tuneup race turned out to be one of the most punishing runs I’ve ever had, thanks to a course that had us running over rolling hills, mostly on rock-hard concrete. In the aftermath of the race I had to confront something I hadn’t felt since my very first full marathon (Philadelphia, 2006): delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

So what, you might ask? We all get sore from time to time, after a hard workout or even a short, hard race. What’s the big deal? DOMS is a whole different beast than just the typical post-workout fatigue. It’s basically a thousand micro-tears in a muscle or muscle group, that collectively renders its recipient powerless to do much of anything for a few days afterwards. That’s basically what happened to me after Wilson Bridge.

The effect on my training this week, needless to say, has been profound. Whereas I figured I would bounce back quickly from a half-marathon and get right back on track within a day or two, I’m now rehabbing from what essentially, despite its fancy name, is really just another overuse injury. That means I go through the normal cycle: RICE, then gradually resuming activity and then ramping up when the symptoms clear up.

Suffice to say it’s been a very light week of “training.”

Done so far:

  • Monday – 1.25 mile walk/shuffle at lunch
  • Tuesday – 2.5 mile walk in evening, feeling a little better
  • Wednesday – 50 minutes on the elliptical
  • Thursday – 45 minute run, very slow (4.9 miles), still very sore
  • Friday – 40 minutes of swimming (3/4 mile)

And for this weekend:

  • Saturday – bike ride (distance TBD) plus maybe a short jog
  • Sunday – light run, again very easy

I’ll see how this recovery week goes; hopefully by Monday I’ll be able to start putting some more miles on and get back to normal training by mid-week. Then the next challenge will be rescheduling some of those missed workouts that had been planned for this week, most notably the 22-miler originally scheduled for tomorrow. With 46 days to go, I have time – I think.

Race report: Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

Week 8 of marathon training for New York City saw me get back to a starting line for the first time in over a month. I had signed up for the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon several months ago, lured by its timing (mid-September, good point for a fitness test), location and scenery (running from Mt. Vernon, VA to the National Harbor in Maryland), and the challenge of racing across a big bridge (bridge crossings after all, are a staple of the NYC Marathon).

Training so far this cycle has not been the easiest, starting in the brutally hot, humid conditions that enveloped the DC area all summer.  It was indeed a relief to see the humidity start dropping as the calendar flipped to September. Still I felt a certain amount of fatigue in the legs and things really seemed to come to a head the day before Labor Day, when I had a 21-mile run that turned really ugly with about 5 miles to go. Yet somehow, I bounced back from that day and by mid-week, I punched out a really nice interval workout and based on that I felt like just maybe, I was back to my old self. I then went into a 10-day taper period, and by race day I felt confident and ready.

I slept poorly on Saturday night – no surprise there, really – as I just couldn’t stop thinking about the race. But when I got up at 4:30 am, I shrugged that off, had my usual pre-race breakfast and got quickly down to National Harbor to catch the shuttle ride back to Mt. Vernon and the start.

I had trained at Mt. Vernon in the past, but always on the bike trail. Today would go parallel to that trail, on the GW Parkway. As the horn went off we all headed out from George Washington’s estate onto the parkway. I had never noticed, I guess never paid attention, to the fact that the parkway in this area is not asphalt but rather crushed stone/concrete pad. I thought, it couldn’t be like that all the way…could it? As we rocketed down a steep hill in Mile 1 it was hard to control my speed or the shock of running on that surface. Mile 1 split – 6:18.

In the second mile we started climbing back upwards a bit, and the pack at the front was now beginning to lengthen a bit. Knowing this was a fast field and it was a long race, I told myself not to worry about placement for now, just run and keep the effort consistent. I came through faster than expected, but wondering if I could sustain the pace. Mile 2 split – 6:38.

The next two miles were relatively flat but that concrete pad was still underneath my feet and it was beginning to let me know every step. We hit the first water station at 2.5. I knew I was probably going to slow down again, but that was fine with me; I just wanted to settle into a comfortable pace that would put me in position for a strong move late in the race. Mile 3 split – 6:52.

The next water station came up at the 4-mile mark and perhaps because of that I missed the chance to take my split. As in the earlier miles there were some rolling hills in this two-mile segment. I wasn’t sure after missing the split but I felt like I might be slowing down too much and told myself to work harder. As we hit the 5-mile mark there was a large group of cheering spectators watching from the overpass as we went through it. Miles 4 & 5 – 14:00.

Not happy with dropping to 7:00 mile pace, I stepped it up in Mile 6. The relentless pounding on the concrete road was definitely taking its toll, so rather than exacerbating it by overstriding I worked really hard on quickening my cadence and keeping my form together and it seemed to pay off. Mile 6 split – 6:50.

I was now at the point where it was time to start thinking about “making my move” – but maybe not just yet. In other words it was about staying strong. I took in a gel to get myself ready for that moment, whenever it would come. Still my legs were feeling every step; this course was brutal and we hadn’t even gotten to the bridge yet, though I could now see it ahead. Mile 7 split – 6:58.

We now entered more or less into Alexandria and at long last, the concrete pad gave way to asphalt pavement. It would be short-lived relief, but relief nonetheless. Unfortunately for me, it seemed the damage was done, though. I was still on a sub-90 minute pace, but had slipped off of my PR pace. I was fighting it tooth and nail, but slowly and surely, the wheels were coming off. Mile 8 split – 7:03

The mighty Wilson Bridge was shortly upon us, and we transitioned from the roadway to a pedestrian path that led to the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. As we turned the corner and headed up the bridge ramp, we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. On more concrete. Each pounding step just seemed to rip that goal time a little more out of my hands. My whole lower body at this point was hurting. I thought, how on earth could this be happening in a half marathon? I felt like I was in about Mile 21 of a marathon at this point! Still I pushed on despite some other runners who had started to walk. As we hit the Mile 9 mark, the climbing continued, unabated. Mile 9 – 7:23.

Mile 10 started level off a little bit and the remainder of the bridge crossing was reasonably flat. That is, until we came to the pedestrian footbridge that crossed over to the other side and would lead us down into National Harbor. So up we went again, passing the 10-mile mark and the timing mat on the overpass. I hit the 10-mile mark in 69:24. Quick calculations in my head told me that it would take a sub-20 5k to PR; that wasn’t going to happen today, not at the pace I was now running. Mile 10 – 7:22.

Coming off the pedestrian bridge we were now in Oxon Hill, MD having made the journey from Virginia. We got a blacktop slightly downhill stretch but another big hill loomed ahead. On top of that I could feel my left calf starting to cramp. As I passed the aid station I took in as much water as I could to try and stave it off. But I knew it would be battle with my body the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Michael Wardian came jogging by in the other direction, doing his cooldown. Mile 11 – 7:11.

We finally reached that hill and as I did the calf seemed ready to blow up on me. I once again tried to work on my form, figuring the better the form, the less likely disaster would ensue. I guess it worked, because I got up the hill, albeit slower than I would have liked. Then again at this stage I knew all the goals for the day were gone and it was all about just finishing. The course now took us onto a gravel & sand path right along the waterfront. The softer ground was a nice change but the gravel was not exactly hard-packed, and traction was definitely a challenge for legs that had already taken a beating for nearly 80 minutes. By now I was tired, physically but also tired of being beaten mentally by this race. As we slogged through the gravel and passed the 12-mile mark, I was mad, and resolved that this course was not going to have the last word. It was time to dig deep and fight back, cramping calf be damned. Mile 12 – 7:31.

The gravel path wound along and I struggled to find a faster pace. At 12.5 we hit the final water stop and I thought about taking some and then told myself, no, just run! Get to work! I pushed my aching legs as hard as they would go and finally after being passed by many over the previous three miles, now I was doing the passing again. The gravel path gave way to pavement and as we entered the National Harbor complex the crowds grew larger as spectators, bar patrons and confused tourists all got caught up in the excitement. I used that energy and pushed again for the final quarter. I was at least going to finish strong, nothing was going to stop me from that. I whipped around the final bend and there was the finish. Done! Final 1.1 miles in 7:58.

As I crossed the line I was greeted by a familiar volunteer, Lisa from the Pacers Fairfax store. We know each other well and she’s helped get me into a lot of good shoes over the years. After we shared a laugh and a sweaty hug, I quickly moved on, slammed down the water she had given me, and hoped my legs wouldn’t rebel too much.

According to my watch the time was 1:32:06 (later adjusted officially to 1:32:09). That’s nowhere near the time goal I had in mind (sub-90) but I did salvage one minor goal, to finish in the top 100 overall, not bad in a field of over 3200. I ended up 6th in the 45-49 age group, which interestingly is the same spot I finished in at National Half Marathon earlier this year when I PRed. So in some respects, relatively speaking it was a par-for-the-course performance, even if it didn’t feel that way initially.

This was one tough race. And in the aftermath, I have the DOMS to prove it. This is first half marathon I’ve ever run that made me “marathon sore” and moreso at that than several of my marathons. Without a doubt I’m looking at a recovery week now before resuming training. Would I do this race again? Not sure. But if it toughens me up for New York, it will have been worth it.

The road to NYC, Week 7: Mid-Term Exam Time

This week I’m getting a taste of what the three weeks before November 7 will be like; I’m in taper mode. It’s just a short taper of 10 days but I’m following all the same rules, of cutting back the mileage, focusing on sharpening, getting my rest, staying hydrated, and yes, resisting the urge to run more.  All this is for the weekend’s upcoming race, the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon.

I look at this one as an opportunity to get the most accurate sense possible of where my marathon fitness currently sits. Did I need to taper for Wilson Bridge? Perhaps not. I could have just trained through it, as I often have in the past when looking towards a bigger target down the road. But as the first 6 weeks have gone by in up-and-down fashion, I find myself wanting to really put up a nice number on Sunday, and considering that half marathons are in my sweet spot distance range, I’ve decided to save a little powder this week so I can really get after it on Sunday.

As for the past couple of weeks, I’ve had, as I said, some up-and-down results:

  • a 51-mile week,
  • followed by a vacation week that only saw me do 11 miles total (though I did do lots of hiking, biking and even kayaking that week),
  • a return to high mileage with another 51-mile week, capped off by a brutal 21-miler
  • a 30 mile running, 43 mile cycling week as the 10-day taper started to kick in

Until last week I really was not feeling confident about my readiness, particularly after the 21-miler went so badly. However, last week I did nail a great track session in my final “hard” workout before taper (4 x 5:00 @ 6:02/mile average pace) and that has me feeling better.  Either way, the hay is in the barn, at least for Sunday. Whether it’s enough or not, we’ll just have to see. But it’s all stacked.