Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Tag Archives: Philadelphia Half Marathon

2012 in review and the road ahead in 2013

With yesterday’s little 45 minute spin workout on the trainer I put the wraps on an interesting 2012. I ended up with the lowest total run mileage in quite a while with just over 1300 for the year. But I also cycled over 800 miles and swam 22.5 miles. Some of the decrease in run mileage is attributable to a couple of nagging injuries in the early part of 2012, and some of it is due to introducing more intense bike training during the summer when I was training for the 2XRip Duathlon. Nonetheless when it came time to run the Chicago Marathon in the fall, I was ready; if anything I felt like the varied training brought me to the windy city stronger than I had been in a long time.

Lesson to be learned from it? I think so. Clearly varying my training is something that works for me. Biking in particularly keeps my cardiovascular strength at a high-performing level while easing some of the stress on my joints, especially the knees. Even now as I start on a Hansons program in preparation for Boston, I plan to leave a little room for the bike. I am also considering getting back in the pool, if I can fit it into my busy schedule. Cross-training is an essential part of my training, and besides, I haven’t ruled out another duathlon or maybe even an Olympic triathlon someday.

One of the more disappointing aspects of 2012 was the lack of any new PRs. That is, of course, except for the automatic PR earned at my debut duathlon. I thought Chicago for sure would be that kind of a day and I felt fantastic during the race, but at the finish I found myself two seconds shy of the marathon PR I set in 2010 at Boston. Still the fact that I cruised so easily to that result at Chicago leaves me encouraged that with solid, consistent training I can get that time down at Boston in 2013.

I’m now into the fourth week of the Hansons program and feeling pretty good. The first five miles of 2013 are now in the books so I am clearly off and running towards this year’s goals, which include the following:

  • Successfully complete the Hansons plan this spring and stay healthy
  • Boston and a new marathon PR (aggressive goal is 3:10, PR to beat is 3:20:41)
  • Make sure to allow myself proper recovery time after goal races (not always easy)
  • Sub-90 minute half marathon
  • Sub-19 5k race
  • At least one multisport event
  • Marine Corps Marathon? I’m thinking about it
  • Win my club’s summer racing series for my age group (finished 3rd in 2012)

I may add more goals later as the year progresses. Happy New Year to all and let the chase begin! 🙂

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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.

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!