Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Tag Archives: Northern Virginia

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!

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Spring Season Race Roll-Up

Normally I post a race report after every race I run, but in the early part of 2011 I fell off the wagon so to speak. Not with my running; that proceeded as always, but rather my reporting here. I could make lots of excuses but what would be the point? Instead I’ll just quickly bring everyone up to date.

Basically I’ve cut back on overall racing this season. After running the New York City Marathon last fall, I needed to dial back the intensity a little bit and focus on rebuilding my fitness. So the early months of 2011 saw a lot of base-building mileage and almost no speedwork. I still raced, but only about once per month, nowhere near my normal competitive volume. In March I finally started adding some speed to my training, but largely have kept to the lighter racing schedule. That may change as spring turns to summer, but I’m not sure of that yet; time will tell.

In any case, here’s the wrap-up of my in-progress spring season (I still have one more big race to go).

1/15: JFK 20k, Washington DC. This was one chilly day, about 30 degrees at the start. That may have kept a few people home and in bed but after doing nothing but easy runs I was eager to get a gauge on my fitness as I began to ramp up training. I had no particular expectations but ran quite well on the day anyway, going 1:25:45 for the distance and getting a new PR in the process. Thanks to the somewhat smaller than normal turnout, I also notched my highest finish at this event, coming in 6th overall and first in my age group. All in all a nice start to the season.

2/27: RRCA Club Challenge 10 Miler, Columbia MD. Throughout February I really ramped up the distance and added in some tempo training but the lack of trackwork was something I knew would handicap me in this highly competitive race. Not surprisingly I was a little flat this day. On a course where I had once set a PR of 66:42 (since broken), I only managed a 68:46. As with the previous month’s race I looked at it, however as an opportunity to assess what I now needed to do. The target races in April in May still loomed and those were the true objectives.

3/6: Burke Lake 12k, Fairfax Station VA. This was never a target race, more of just a hard workout on one of my favorite trails. I had modest expectations, not only because I had run the 10-miler in Columbia just a week prior but also because the weather that morning was awful. The temperatures weren’t bad for this time of year – mid-to-high 40s – but it was raining steadily, sometimes quite heavily. The skies calmed a little bit while I warmed up, only to really open up just as we lined up at the start. But off we went, slogging through deep puddle after deep puddle. It was actually kind of fun, even if the finish time was nothing special at 50:58. And the finish was good for 8th overall.

4/3: Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, Washington DC. Finally one of my target races arrived. I trained very well in March and felt ready to rock in this race. Unfortunately, I was undone by a logistical nightmare of a journey to the race. The Metro train from Vienna to the Smithsonian station took what seemed like forever and I arrived at the Washington Monument grounds with barely enough time to strip off my outer gear and get into a corral. The corral I had been assigned near the front had already left and I was now near the back. Throughout the race I weaved my way through slower traffic, probably passing a couple thousand runners, but never really settling into a consistent pace. It all made for a very frustrating day as I ran a 68:50 and was barely even tired after the race. Frankly the highlight of the day had nothing to do with my own performance but rather that of my wife, who completed her first ever 10-miler. After my finish I jogged back out to the 9-mile mark and waited for her; we ran most of the final mile together with me pulling off the course just before she headed to the finish.

4/23: Race to Stop the Silence 8k, Washington DC. This was another non-target race, one that I jumped into with fairly short notice. I did so mainly to get a tune-up for my race the following weekend, the Broad Street Run. This was a downtown affair that had a course that was flat but loaded with turnarounds, 7 in all. It was also another rainy day. I didn’t expect a PR and didn’t get one, but got a solid 32:39 result out of the day.

5/1: Broad Street Run, Philadelphia, PA. Finally the race I’d been really pointing to arrived. I had long wanted to run Broad Street but with Boston on my race calendar in previous years, I never felt I’d be sufficiently recovered in time to enter Broad Street. I had heard of Broad Street’s fast “net downhill” course and envisioned a big result in the form of a smashing new 10-mile PR. Throughout April I had sharpened my pacing and I had a good taper week leading up to race day. But sometimes even the best-laid plans can be undone and that’s what happened on Sunday morning. This time the culprit was intestinal issues that had me making numerous visits to the bathroom in the early morning. When I finally toed the line I felt dehydrated and warmer than I should have felt. On top of that the corral was extremely crowded and when we got off the line the start was slow. I only managed a 7:20 first mile, then was able to pick it up a bit, but the events of earlier in the morning limited my ability to really get after it. By Mile 6 I was starting to slip again and I fought hard to beat back a crash. I continued to struggle and very nearly slipped back over the 7-minute mile barrier in Mile 8 at 6:59. But in the final 2 I put it all back together and finished strongly, going 6:33 in my final mile. I came across in 67:32, which was 1:04 off the PR I was initially so sure I would destroy this day, but given what I had dealt with, I was pleased with the performance.

As mentioned earlier, my spring season continues. The official capper of it will be on June 5, when I run the North Face Endurance Challenge‘s half marathon trail race. To be honest I’m not really sure what to expect of this one. I certainly have no illusions of threatening my road half marathon PR. In fact I think if I break 2 hours that will be quite an accomplishment. That said I will do my best to be prepared to run well. I’ll be increasing my emphasis on trail runs, but will keep up the track work and fartlek runs. I’ll also probably knock down some long bike rides on my cross-training days. Ironically my other cross-training activity, soccer, will probably also be a help for this race because of its emphasis on quick turns and varying speeds. I’ve only done one truly “hard” trail race, so this will be something of a learning experience. But if it goes well, I wouldn’t mind adding the occasional trail race to my repertoire.

After I finish my post Broad Street recovery week, let the training begin!

The Road to NYC, Week 14 and the final preps

What started in the heat of the Northern Virginia summer has nearly reached its conclusion as the leaves turn from red to yellow to brown. Six days from today will enter the one of the green starting corrals at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, and at around 9:40 am, start heading for the Verrazano Bridge and Brooklyn. Three hours and twenty minutes later (hopefully, perhaps a few less than that), I will cross a timing mat in Central Park. It will be my seventh overall marathon finish and my first New York City Marathon finish.

Last week was a taper week, the penultimate one of the cycle, and it was a fairly busy one. I kicked it off with one final long run, a 14 miler on the trail near home, then gradually eased off on the intensity throughout the week, all in preparation for yesterday: a final tuneup race.

I did the Marine Corps Marathon 10k, looking to air it out one last time. Going in I figured this would be a perfect benchmark to find out where I really stood for next weekend. So I wanted put out a good, hard effort — but not too hard. As I thought about a goal, I decided that a sub-40 minute time would be a nice stretch goal, as long as I didn’t have to stretch too hard to get it.

I got up in the dark, dressed and quickly had breakfast with the idea in mind of making it to Vienna metro by around 6:15 am, which I did. Not surprisingly when I boarded the train at Vienna, the first stop on the Orange line, it was already packed, mostly with marathoners who would be departing the train at Rosslyn. Then the 10k runners proceeded on to the Smithsonian stop and the start of our race.

I had budgeted quite a bit of time, based probably on my hair-raising metro experience before the National Marathon in 2009, when the metro crawled along so slowly I barely had time to get in the corral before the gun went off. In any case, when I got to Smithsonian grounds there was still over an hour to go before start time. Not sure what to do with myself, and not ready to strip down to my singlet and check my gear bag just yet, I decided to go for a little walk to warm up the legs. So I strolled towards the Capitol for a while, then turned back and found a place to stretch. Finally I felt ready to line up, even though there was still a good 25 minutes until start.

After I nudged my way through the crowds milling around the baggage drop and got in the corral, I still had enough time to do some dynamic warming up and even a few short, quick strides. I chatted with a guy from upstate New York to pass the time and then finally, Miss DC sang the national anthem, the cannon blasted and we were off on a beeline for the 14th Street bridge.

I quickly tried to settle in and find a comfortable pace. It had been a while since I had run a 10k and I wasn’t sure what the first mile might bring. The mile marker came up while crossing the bridge and as I looked down I saw 6:13 on my watch. Um, that’s a little fast, even for someone who wants to run 39 minutes and change. I quickly sought to dial it back, but not too much. I felt a little better as we crossed into Virginia and passed the 2 mile mark while descending the bridge, as I hit 12:41 for 2 miles and felt a little more in control.

We now headed south into Crystal City where the pack started to string out. As we made a quick loop along Crystal Drive I could first see the leaders heading back from it, then after I completed the loop, seeing the masses beginning to swell behind us. Meanwhile I was trying to run efficiently and evenly, and pass people when the opportunity was there. It was in this mile I started seeing a lot of runners who had surged out in front of me in the first mile; now I was catching and dropping them.

Still I could tell I was tiring bit, too, after that hard start. As we hit the 3-mile mark near the Pentagon my split time was 19:19 and I had slowed again to a 6:36 mile. I also knew that Mile 4 would be toughest of the race mentally and that I had to start digging a little deeper. As we proceeded along Jefferson Davis highway and past the Pentagon I could feel the chilly breeze coming off the Potomac and that wind seemed to slow us all down a little bit. I ended up clocking a 6:43 for that mile, which again was too slow, but I told myself it’s OK, I had survived the toughest mile, and now get after it.

Mile 5 continued up the highway and I did start feeling better here. I worked on keeping my cadence quick and holding my form together and that seemed to help me along as I came through in 6:35 for a 32:38 5-mile split. Quick calculations in my head told me a sub-40 was just about out of the question but that a 40-ish time was vey much in reach if I just kept it all together. I didn’t worry about making a final kick in this mile, just about staying strong and running smoothly. Finally I hit the 6-mile mark, stole a quick look at the watch for a final split time (39:19) and it was time to turn up the same hill that the marathoners would soon be scaling for the completion of their race, the famous finish at the Iwo Jima memorial. Despite the uphill grade I felt pretty strong and determined that no one was going to pass me in the final 0.2 miles. I got across the line in 40:45, while not a sub-40, still a very satisfactory result. It was good for 60th overall and 5th place overall in the age group. And actually, it was a master’s PR of sorts, the best time I had run for 10k in a road race (my PR time came in a track time trial).

Once I caught my breath and started making my way back into Rosslyn (for what turned out to be a very long walk to to the baggage truck), I could tell that despite going fairly hard I was still feeling fresh, and with a good taper week ahead I would be ready for next Sunday.

So there it all is. The hay is in the barn. My resume is written. Use whatever metaphoric expression you like.  I’m as ready for New York as I can be, and that’s not something I felt I could say even a month ago. It really took a long time to hit my form this fall, but better late than never, I say. Now I just can’t wait to get it on!

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.

Road to NYC, Ramping up in Week 3

I’m just about done with the third week of this marathon training cycle and this should be my strongest week yet in terms of overall mileage. Add in a midweek trail race and it definitely looks like a “power week” of running. There is one big hurdle to get over yet, however, and that’s an 18-miler tomorrow.

Done so far:

  • Monday easy progression run 6.4 miles
  • Tuesday 6 miles including 4.5 mile trail race
  • Wednesday double easy runs of 8 and 4 miles
  • Thursday hill repeats, total 6.9 miles

On tap for the rest of the week:

  • Friday 6-8 easy trail miles
  • Saturday long run of 18 miles
  • Sunday rest day (traveling for vacation)

About the race: there’s not much to say about it. It’s a DCRRC race I do just about every year, at Burke Lake where I frequently train. One loop around the lake is 4.5 miles. I ended up 17th overall and 3rd in the 40-49 age group, in 31:09. That’s 12 seconds slower than my result last year but the heat and the fact I trained through the race probably had something to do with that. I’m pretty certain my conditioning is much better than it was a year ago and that when I actually start tapering for some races I’ll see more optimal results.

If all plays out as planned it will be about a 53-55 mile week. I’ll be on vacation next week. While the running certainly won’t stop I expect the totals will be a little lower, but with lots of other “active” vacationing activities taking place. Then I’ll be ready to go roaring back into another big week heading towards Labor Day.

More races, and a milestone!

I’ve had a hard time getting over here to post updates about training, and musing about running and other topics these days. Life has been busy. But the good news about that, in part, that I’ve also been busy with my running.

After taking a break from racing over Memorial Day weekend I got out there last weekend, first for a little DC Roadrunners Club event known as the “Triple Crown.” Run on the same day as Belmont Stakes every year, it’s actually three races — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes — at the same exact distances the horses run in each.

I got to the track at Wakefield High School in Arlington not sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure what other runners were going to show up for an afternoon race on very hot day, and it’s not like I ever train for specifically for a distance like, say, 1-3/16 miles. But as I warmed up I noticed a very light turnout, and none of my typical rivals/nemeses in attendance. I began to get the feeling I could have a very good day, at least from a finishing standpoint. Sure enough when took off from the line for the Derby, I quickly got out in front and never relinquished the lead. Then after a 20 minute break, we ran the Preakness…same result. And then again for the Belmont Stakes. And just like that, I was the club Triple Crown champion for 2010.

So what was the milestone all about? Well, it was my first time winning any race outright since I was in high school. And to think I won three in the same day! I was probably just lucky that some of the really elite members of the club stayed home, but then as my old coach in college used to say, “there’s no such thing as a bad win.”

Anyway, here are the official results from the Triple Crown. These even got published in the print edition of the Washington Post on Sunday. So I even got a press clipping to keep. Sweet.

It wasn’t long before I got out for my next race, two days ago at Bluemont Park in Arlington. Dubbed the “Run After the Women” because it takes place right after a women’s 5k race in the park, this was another DCRRC race and the course is the same one used for holding their annual club 5k championship race in August. In other words it was a great opportunity for a trial run. All day long at work my legs felt ready to go. Moreover, the weather conditions were great, a little bit on the cool side with no humidity in the air whatsoever.

As we got started I fired off the line quickly, a little bit too quickly at first. But after about 400 meters I settled myself down to a little more manageable pace and let the obvious leaders do their thing. Knowing I wasn’t going to win I just told myself to run my race and not worry about the placement. I hit the mile split in 6:02, not as fast as I could be but faster than I have been in recent 5k races. But then as we hit a slight uphill my pace slowed a bit. I picked some speed back up at the turnaround and subsequent downhill, and came through 2 miles in 12:28. That told me that breaking 19:00 would be a mighty tough haul. Nonetheless my pace continued to pick up, even as a really fast finisher (in his 60s no less!) went by me. I couldn’t get back past him but I think keeping him in sight helped me hold on to a strong pace.

I crossed the line in a very respectable (for me) time of 19:27, which meant I did the final 1.1 miles in 6:58, or a 6:15/mile pace. That pace also turned out to be my composite pace for the whole distance. In other words I had opened with a fast mile, then had a slow mile, and then finally returned to the mean. Not bad at all. The finish was good for 9th overall and 2nd in the 40-49 age group. After a couple of May 5k races where I was not sharp at all, this was a very encouraging result. Now I just need to figure out how to shave off some more seconds and get under 19!

And congrats to my friend and sometimes soccer teammate, Sarah, for taking 5th place in the women’s 5k race!

Next up? I’m not sure yet. I probably won’t race this weekend, but almost certainly will the following weekend. Then on July 2 I’m signed up for the Independence 5000 in Fairfax. All this short-distance racing should have me ready to resume marathon training in August. But for now I’m enjoying all this short, fast stuff.

We’ve Got Your Back 5k, Reston VA

Coming off a nice 3rd place finish in my neighborhood’s tiny 5k race earlier this month, I took a stab at a faster race course, and faster competitive field this past weekend in Reston. This race had actually been a 4-miler in past years, and I might have been better off it the longer distance had remained.

I think maybe the one-hour race I ran previously in the week took something out of me because I never really was able to get it going on this day. For whatever reason my energy level just felt low right from the start, and that’s not good in a 5k race where you really need to fire off the line. This was an out & back course and the first mile was downhill. Yet even then I just didn’t feel right. Indeed it was almost comical to look down at my watch at the posted one-mile mark and see a 5:17 on my watch…that marker was definitely short!

In Mile 2 we progressed towards the turnaround point, which was at the top of a short but steep hill. I was hoping that after the turnaround the quick roll back down that hill might give me some energy that I could put towards a strong finish. I did manage to pick off a few runners in front of me but wasn’t getting anywhere near the front runners in my age group. Sure enough the second mile came up ridiculously long in 7:46, basically making up for the short first mile.

By this point I knew it simply wasn’t my day, so I just concentrated on keeping a steady pace and not wasting myself for future races. I’ve been here before and I know when it’s time to live for another day. So I kept my effort consistent and came home in 19:45, 38th overall. Actually given how little I had in the tank that’s a decent result. And since I helped out with the setup and take-down of the finish area afterwards, I got to run for free.

I’m not sure when the next race is, but it might very well be the sister race of this one, which takes place in Bucks County, PA on June 6. If not that one, there are some other options locally that look good that same weekend. I’ll decide later. In the meantime I’m looking forward to a short break from racing this Memorial Day weekend.

Busy start to summer racing

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since my last post here. After having a few days to bask in the glow of a successful marathon at Boston, I then got thrown into a hectic project at work. I found myself working long hours and squeezing in recovery runs whenever I could.  My attempts to recover from the race still moved along, but slowly. There’s no question the race took a lot out of me.

Nevertheless, I  picked it back up after two weeks, finally started doing some speedwork again and  got myself as ready as I could be to lace up my new Brooks Green Silence racing flats for a race I wasn’t about to miss — the Mantua Raccoon Run 5k, on May 8. In many ways this race is antithesis of the Boston Marathon with all its glamour, huge number of racers and spectators and complicated pre-race logistics. The Raccoon Run, by contrast, is my neighborhood’s annual 5k race and the start is about 4 blocks from my front door. Race size is probably no more than 150 runners.

The bottom line is I knew I would be one of the front-runners this day.

I jogged down to the Mantua Elementary School at about 7:30 and quickly registered, got my goody bag and bib, then jogged back home. There I put the bib on my singlet, stretched and jogged back over the start. All these little jogs back and forth gave me a nice little warmup of about 1.2 miles. Then after a few words from Congressman Gerry Connolly, who just so happens to live in our neighborhood, we were off!

I should mention I run this course, oh, probably 20-30 times a year at a minimum. So I know every single inch of it. Here’s a course map.

The first couple hundred yards of the race were somewhat amusing as lots of elementary school kids darted out off the line, showing off their sprint speed for the local news photographers. Finally the race started shaking out a little and as we got to about the half-mile point there I was, in third place, with the bike escort leading us up the hill on Christopher St. The lead pack stayed that way until a little past the mile point, which I reached in a very disciplined 6:09.

Then suddenly a couple of guys passed me from behind. One looked to be around my age and the other couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. So now our lead pack was a group of 5, with me at the back of it. But I was fine with that as I knew Mile 2 was a downhill mile; my plan was to basically coast through it and hold a strong position. We remained fairly bunched as we completed the first loop, passing nearby the school again. But then things began to string out a little as the two guys who had passed me earlier surged ahead. They continued to open up distance on the Colesbury Loop, leaving the other three of us to duke it out for third place. After the water stop I got ahead of one guy into fourth but he quickly passed me back as we went downhill on Colesbury.

At this point I knew there was maybe three-quarters of a mile left. My legs felt tired, still not recovered from that little Patriot’s Day marathon. But I knew I had enough in me to finish strong and decided it’s time to make my move. The last mile, like the first mile is a net uphill and I was pretty sure I could handle both the runners in front of me and maybe if I was lucky, reel in the #2 guy (the kid). So I made my move and quickly passed #4 as we prepared to turn off Colesbury and back onto Glenbrook. Before long I passed the #3 going up the hill on Glenbrook. I could see both #1 and #2 ahead but they had a substantial lead. I dug in and picked up some ground on #2 but it wasn’t quite enough. As I turned back onto Kirkwood heading back towards the school for the final 0.1 I was all alone in 3rd, crossing the line in 19:49.

That’s hardly what I can run at my best; in fact back in late March I ran 19:04 at a 5k in Falls Church, which would have been good enough for first place in this race. But given how my legs felt, it was the best I could do this day and I was very happy with the result. It turns out our neighborhood’s got some fast, fit folks. Being third best here is nothing to be ashamed of and I’ll take it!

Next up, I’ve got two races, both this week. The first is tomorrow night, a one-hour track run sponsored by DC Roadrunners. I’ve never done one of these before, so I’m not quite sure what to expect. It’s an hour running around in circles, let’s leave it that for now. 😉  Then on Saturday, I’ve got another 5k race, the 5K Run/Walk for Spinal Health Awareness in Reston. This one tends to draw some fast elites, so I won’t be a frontrunner in it. But I’m hoping the speedsters and what is said to be a fast course will pull me along to a nice time!

Snowpunked

As I sit at the kitchen table watching the latest version of winter’s endless assault on the Washington, DC metro area, I alternate between dread — “what’s next?” — and plotting “what’s next.” For the past week, it seems we are in an endless 2-3 day cycle: snowfall, recover from snowfall, brace for the next snowfall. I hear this one is the last for a while, this punch is a strong one, and as for the end, I’ll believe it when I see it.  It’s hard to believe right now the average high temperature in this area, for this time of year is 46. Or, that spring training starts for the Phillies in about a week.  The George Washington’s Birthday Marathon, DC Roadrunners Club’s signature marathon race, is scheduled for Sunday in Greenbelt. I was secretly thinking of jumping into it at the last minute for a long, supported training run, but now I doubt it will be run (UPDATE – it has indeed been canceled).

Our driveway this morning, after the latest blast of snow

Suffice to say spring marathon training has taken a hit. Luckily it hasn’t been a total loss; I’ve been able to train on our home treadmill a lot but the events outside still have a way of imposing themselves. For example, sometimes plans to run indoors get trumped by marathon snow-shoveling sessions outside. Or there are days like yesterday, when our Lexus SUV’s battery died in the middle of our street. Thankfully most of our neighbors were in good spirits and helped us first with trying to jump it (unsuccessfully) and then finally pushing it into a safe spot in our driveway while also freeing the Prius, which is for the time being our one working car.

At least I’ve been able to hone my chili-making skills using the slow-cooker my brother gave us for Christmas. We made some on Super Bowl Sunday that was an improvisational type — meat base was cubed pork of all things — and it turned out quite good. Today I’m going with a more conventional ground beef base, plus onions, garlic, green pepper, jalapeno pepper, and black beans. For spicing, I started with some Hard Times Cincinnati Chili Mix and then added some more chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin and cinnamon, and just to really add my own touch a spoonful of a chocolate-based chili barbecue rub someone gave me a while back. It’s starting to smell really good and with its high protein kick it will no doubt fuel a lot of post-run recoveries — once I can get outside for long runs again.

Chili’s cooking, time to hop on the treadmill.

2009 In Review

I haven’t gotten a chance, until now, to really take a look back on what type of year 2009 was for this runner. It’s been a roller-coaster, that’s for sure…started off with a bang, then got quickly derailed by injury and recovery, yet finished strongly. Most importantly I’ve learned a lot that will help me be better this year.

January – I entered the year with two different targets in mind. One was the Boston Marathon in April, which would be my first Boston. The other was a target showed up in late December 2008, the USATF Masters Indoor Championship meet in Landover, MD in March, where I would run in the 3000 meter. For the most part I kept Boston in mind as the primary goal and really stepped up the mileage to get ready for it. But I also did a lot of speedwork and took advantage of the Potomac Valley Track Club’s indoor meet series in Arlington. I ran the 3000m in the first of these and put down an 11:09 – not bad but I knew I could do better. Later in the month I got a 5:30 mile time, just a second off my PR.

February – This was a very busy month indeed. Up first was the USATF Cross Country championships, also in Maryland, where I was part of the DC Roadrunners masters team. That was one tough 8k race and against some very good competition, I got my head handed to me. But it was well worth the experience. Getting to see some top flight runners, like Meb Keflezighi, in the elite races didn’t hurt, either. The very next day, I dragged myself to the last PVTC indoor meet of the season, and somehow managed a 3000m in 11:09. Based on that result I felt pretty sure I could break 11 minutes for 3000m at the USATF meet in March. Finally there was the RRCA Club Challenge 10-miler in Columbia, MD. Again I was running for DCRRC – and again I had a tough day, very tough indeed. I felt terrible from the beginning, because the previous night’s dinner wasn’t agreeing with me. Let’s just say I made it across the line just in time to, um, get rid of it. My place and my time (67:32) were both substantially diminished from the previous year’s performance at this race.

March – Here’s where I really started to lock in the big targets, mixing in both short hard speed workouts with long runs of over 20 miles. It was all coming together nicely.  Then came the USATF indoor meet. I came into it rested and ready, and I nailed that 3000m time, in 10:36, even better than I thought I would do! Then the next day I got up early and headed down to RFK Stadium for the National Marathon, which I did as my final long training run before Boston. I ran a 3:35 and barely broke a sweat.

April – The momentum seemed to keep right on rolling early in the month as I did a final 10k time trial on the track in 38:56. Boy was I ready to roll at Boston, I thought. But then disaster struck, for the second year in a row at that. The day after Easter Sunday, one week before Boston, on a routine trail run, I started feeling an intense pain in my lower leg. At first I feared a stress fracture but it turned out to be a soft tissue injury: not enough to keep me out of Boston as the previous year’s groin injury had done. But it clearly turned my race strategy into “just survive and finish” which I did in 3:41. And then it was shutdown time.

May – There’s not much to say here. I couldn’t run, but after a week or two I was at least able to get in the pool and swim. On Memorial Day I tried a little trot of maybe 2 miles and it went OK. But wow, had I lost conditioning.

June/July – I spent these months rehabilitating and ramping back up. I had to take it slowly, first doing a lot of mixed running and walking while my heart rates recovered to their old levels.  By late July I was feeling more like my old self. I hadn’t done much speedwork but felt like it was time to get out and race again, just to see where I was.

August – I started the month off with my first race since Boston, the Friends of the W&OD 10k in Vienna, VA. I had very low expectations on the performance after such a long layoff, plus it was hot. Under the circumstances the 42:59 result was just fine with me. I rode my bike to and from the race to make it a brick workout. The rest of August was pretty active and results quickly started to pick up.  I had a nice 5k result (19:43) three days after the 10k, then later in the month, I ran a 4.5 mile trail (30:57) race to tune up for the month’s final race, the USATF 10k Trail Championship in Laurel Springs, NC. Befitting a race of this caliber the course was brutally challenging, basically climbing a mountain at 18% grade, four times.  It’s probably the hardest race I’ve ever had to do at any distance. But it was fun and I promised myself this would not be my last trail race.

September – By now I was back on course with my training. With no fall marathons planned, I felt free to really work on shorter distances, which I did starting with 5k races.  I also started a string of age group award finishes at this distance, placing third at the National Press Club 5k (19:35) and then first at New Orleans Rebirth 5k in Alexandria, VA despite running only 20:02 that day. Then it was off to Miami for some vacation – and some very warm runs on the beach.

Displaying my medal after a great Army Ten Miler!October – In early October it was time for my first big fall target race, the Army Ten Miler. When it finally came, I was ready. I had a great day and nailed a new PR of 66:28.  Then I added yet another age group award finish at 5k, this time a second place, at the Great Pumpkin 5k in Reston, where I ran my best 5k time of the season, 19:22. I finished off the month with one more trail race, the Black Hill Trail 10k in Montgomery County. The course wasn’t as tough as the USATF course in North Carolina but it was no pushover. I was happy to come in with a respectable 45:36. After that it was time to train hard and get locked in for the last of the fall targets, Philadelphia in November. I ended the month with a 20-mile training run, my longest run of any kind since Boston.

November – I continued working really hard throughout the month, focusing on training and not racing. Around mid-month I started to feel a little fatigue but I pushed through until it was time for a 10-day taper prior to the Philadelphia Half Marathon, where my goal was straightforward: break 90 minutes and thereby earn qualification to the 2010 New York City Marathon. As race day approached I was nervous; one hand I knew I could do it, but I kept wondering if something would go wrong again, like it did before Boston. But I stayed healthy this time and when race day came, I was up to the task. I ran ahead of the 3-hour marathon pacer for the first 11 miles, and then broke away for a ferocious finish in 1:29:09. I had done it!  I finished off the month with one more race, just for fun, a high school reunion race over Thanksgiving Weekend in New Jersey. Still tired from Philly, I ran 20:13 for 5k and – you guessed it – won another award, this time for finishing top 5 overall.

December – After a very busy fall I decided to step back a bit in December, and give myself a break before training for Boston would start again on New Year’s Day. Then I got hit with a bad cold, and a couple of long nights at the office, which ensured my mileage would be low. Still, I managed to get some racing in anyway. First there was the club’s annual Christmas relay where a teammate and I each ran 10×400, relay-style (i.e., rest while your teammate runs). I put down some strong splits despite not doing any speed training this month, topping out with a 79-second quarter for my last one. Then on New Year’s Eve, I ran the Fairfax Four Miler in a cold, driving rainstorm over slick, icy roads. Despite the conditions I earned myself one final PR for the year, a 25:27.

All in all, it was a pretty good year despite the injury setback:

  • 2 marathon finishes
  • 4 5k award finishes
  • new PRs at 3000m, 4 miles, 10 miles and half-marathon
  • 2 10k trail race finishes

With 2010 now underway I think I’ve learned a lot from 2009 and am approaching this year’s Boston with, hopefully, a little more balanced approach. There’s no track target this time so all my training can focus on what I need to do to be ready in April and that helps (I’ll have more on training in a later post). Meanwhile I’m excited about the prospects ahead and also for representing Team in Training this spring. Well, with all that riding on my training, it’s time to stop blogging for today so I can get ready to run!