Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Tag Archives: Philadelphia

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.

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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!

Recent Races – belated report

Well, leave it to me to take 4 months to post a marathon report but here it is. In a way it’s appropriate that I do this a few days before Patriots Day, because the result sets me up to to toe the starting line in Hopkinton a year from now.

So, let’s go way back to November, to the Philadelphia Marathon. After missing time over the summer due to injury, I only had 11 weeks to train for the race, which I joined as a replacement for my original target marathon, Chicago. I started ramping up slowly in early September, with my first long run actually being a race, the Maple Leaf Half Marathon in Manchester, VT. I ran it at my normal training pace, just looking to put a good run down while my wife and I were visiting my parents in that area. I was pleased to put down a 1:41:52 that day and not even feel winded afterwards. That told me I was ready to step it up and get ready for Philly. Training proceeded quickly and on race day, November 20, I was ready. I often shoot for my “dream” goal of 3:10 in marathons, but I knew that wasn’t happening, so I focused instead on just running 7:40-ish pace for the distance with a 3:20 goal in mind. I could fade back to 3:25, I figured, but not slower than that, because I needed a 3:25 to reestablish my Boston Marathon qualification. As we headed down Benjamin Franklin Parkway I resisted the urge to get caught up in the early jockeying and dialed into a relaxed marathon tempo, and kept it there. I had one tough mile at around 18 where I ran my slowest mile of the day at 8:26 then picked it right back up. Later, miles 24 and 25 on tired legs were around 8 minutes each. But I again bounced back, finished strong and came across the line in 3:23:52. It wasn’t a PR but I was very happy with the result just the same, because I executed my race plan to near-perfection and I requalified for Boston. I’ll be there on Patriot’s Day 2013!

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.

Philadelphia Half Marathon – A Goal Race Trifecta

Summary Stats:

Philadelphia Half Marathon, 11/22/2009

1:29:09 – first sub 90:00 result, new PR by 3:44, 2010 New York City Marathon qualifier

122/7191 OA

109/2534 OA Male

8/257 Male 45-49 AG

Intro:

All roads lead to Philly, or so it seems. Maybe it’s because I still think of it as my hometown even though I relocated to Virginia years ago. Or maybe it goes back to my time in college, where I spent three years as the low man on the totem pole of the St. Joseph’s University track team. For either of those reasons, or perhaps both of them, I often find myself returning to Philadelphia to run, to race, and to prove a point. And so it was again two Sundays ago, when I stepped into the maroon corral to run the half marathon in this year’s Philadelphia Marathon event.

Background:

As this year’s fall racing season shaped up, I made a decision early on in the summer that after already running two marathons in 2009, I would do no more for the year and focus on shorter races. After running Boston on an injured lower right leg and having to take a month off to rehabilitate it, that made perfect sense. But it also meant I could focus on distances where I think I’m stronger and have a bigger upside, specifically 10-milers and half-marathons; they are I think, my true sweet spot.  Sure enough in October, I nailed a new PR at the Army Ten Miler and then set my sights on the next big target, Philly’s half. In the meantime I kept up a very busy and successful fall racing season. In addition to that great Army run, I also put together a nice string of age group award finishes in 5k races and knocked out two very demanding 10k trail races.

Still, as the half marathon approached I wondered if I had done enough to be ready. After finishing less strongly than I would have liked in my final scheduled race prior to Philly, on 10/24, I felt that I needed to boost my endurance. So the following weekend I fell back on my old marathon training ways, and went out for a 20-miler. It was probably a lot more than I “needed” to go, and it was basically just a long easy run, but more importantly perhaps, it did wonders for my confidence. I knew that if I could go 20, even at an easy pace, I could go 13.1 hard. The race performances were already there as indicators of what I could do, and I was still nailing my interval workouts even as a little fatigue from the long season kicked in. After a few more quality workouts, it was time for a brief ten-day taper period to gather my strength.

Race Weekend:

After a week of anticipation I finally made the drive up I-95 on Friday night.  For some reason there was a lot of traffic and it was a slow trip. I met up with my brother Pete and his companion Elizabeth at the General Lafayette Inn for a beer and thankfully, they were still serving food, so I got an awesome turkey burger, too. Then we got to his place and turned in very late, but I wasn’t too concerned about that, figured it just meant I’d sleep in, which I did. Then Saturday afternoon it was off to the expo. I got my bib, chip and shirt quickly and had time for a little shopping. Then later that night we met up for dinner at the Plough and Stars with my friend Jill, a fellow Kickrunner who was running the marathon. After two years of chatting with Jill as on online friend it was nice to finally meet her in person. We were both pretty excited about our upcoming races and the relaxed atmosphere also helped calm me down as I had been feeling a little nervous all day. By the time we parted ways, I knew I was ready for the next day. I even slept fairly well when I got home…that never happens the night before a race!

Finally, race day!

The alarm went off at 5am and I dressed quickly then headed downstairs for my usual pre-race breakfast: oatmeal, energy bar, banana, coffee. By 5:45 I was out the door headed downtown. I parked at 23rd & Cherry Sts. and was in the race area by 6:30, plenty of time, I thought, until I saw the lines before the porta-johns and the bag check trucks. I didn’t really need to go, but I waited in a POJ line for a few minutes anyway, until I calculated it simply wasn’t moving quickly enough and I knew I would be fine. I got to my assigned UPS truck and then it was time to strip down out of the track suit, the beanie, the turtleneck to my race outfit — DC Road Runners Club singlet, arm warmers, shorts and over-the-ear headband, gloves. As usual for this distance I had opted for my Nike Air Zoom Skylon shoes. As I jogged my warmup to the corral I felt comfortable even though the temperatures were in the low 40s. I got into the corral with about 5 minutes to spare.

Soon the cannon blasted and we were off. Despite being in the maroon corral, 2nd fastest behind the elites, the start seemed a little slow. I couldn’t tell what pace I was running because I opted not to use my Garmin, and relied on how it felt. The first mile or so “felt” like about 7 minutes. I don’t know the exact split because I never saw the mile marker. I didn’t see the Mile 2 mark either but someone near me with a Garmin told his buddy they head just hit 2 miles in 13:30. Okay, I thought, 6:45/mile is about right.  Ideally I would have liked to be about 6:40 pace but I knew 6:45 was still in the range I needed to be in, so no worries.

Shortly after that we made a right turn at the Delaware river waterfront and headed down Penn’s Landing. The mile 3 point came up along here and I finally got a clean split of my own – 20:10.  That seemed a little fast and I think the mark may have been a little short (I seem to remember the same thing about the marathon in 2006). Mile 4 was a little more to form, 6:44. The next several miles went down much the same way, all in mid-6:40s to low 6:50s. Mile 5 split time was very encouraging, at about 33:50; that was the first true benchmark I was looking for. The next would be at 10 and of course, 13.1.

As we wound our way through Center City and towards University City, the first of the hills hit us. Philly is not a course reputed as being hilly. In fact, it’s considered a fast course by many. I think of it more as a “fair” course, mostly flat but with enough elevation change to challenge you and really earn a good result. Mile 8 turned out to be a real tough one, as it headed not only uphill slightly but also into the wind. Here I dropped my slowest mile of the day 7:02. Going over 7:00 was not something I wanted to do and I knew I had to step it back up, and I did in Mile 9, going 6:44 again.  The Drexel frat boys on 34th St. probably helped with that. They are so loud and boisterous in their support, it’s impossible not to get an extra bounce from them. Still I knew I would have to work hard for the result I wanted. As we hit Mile 10 the biggest hill on the course greeted us in Fairmount Park and again I slowed down, going 7:01. This time it was somewhat intentional though, as I gathered my strength and also took in a Gu.

As I hit the 10 mile point I got my next benchmark…68:22. I quickly calculated that it was going to be a real dogfight to get that sub-90 result that I so badly wanted. Worse, the 3:00 marathon pacer was now right on my shoulder. Perhaps that provided me the motivation I needed, because I stepped it up at this point. As we hit a turnaround on Martin Luther King Drive in the park, my legs finally stopped shaking from the hill climb and started feeling strong again.  Knowing I had little time to spare I bypassed the water stop at Mile 11 and just kept driving. I was finishing strong, and I could feel it.

Mile 12 went much the same way, and by now I had put about 30 yards between myself and that 3:00 pacer. At this point I finally started feeling a little more confident about making my goal, but that just made me want it even more. As if on cue, the 3:00 pacer then yelled out, “Half marathoners, you’ve got a mile to go. If you’ve got anything left, go for it! You’re ahead of 1:30 pace right now!” So I dropped the hammer; it’s go time, I told myself, go get that result! By now I’m blowing past most everyone around me. As we cross back over the east side of the Schuylkill and the half and full marathoners parted ways, I looked ahead for the finishers arch. Once I saw it, I sprinted home to it, looked down at the watch and saw that I had made it with room to spare at 1:29:09.  My final 5k had gone down in 20:47,  and the final 1.1 miles in 7:17, so I had indeed saved my best for last. I let out a loud whoop and said “New York City, here I come!”

Afterwards I got changed, and headed back out onto the course, this time to the 25 mile point so I could cheer on some friends. I was hoping to see Tonya, another Kickrunners friend, but didn’t. So I waited a while longer until Jill passed by. She looked great and was running strong, like someone who knew she had her goal of a sub-3:50 in the bag. What a spectacular first marathon performance for her!

All in all, it was an exhilarating day, and my race performance is one that I’m tremendously proud of.  I didn’t feel quite as fresh as a month ago when I PRed at the Army Ten Miler. That day, it all seemed to fall in place and I was playing with house money the whole race; this time I had to dig deep in a target race, and fight for what I wanted, and I did it.  As a reward I got not only a new PR and my first sub-90 but also the New York City 2010 qualification. A trifecta, and I couldn’t be happier.

And I can’t wait to toe the starting line at the foot of the Verrezano Bridge next November as qualified entrant. In the meantime, though, there’s Boston to prepare for…and some redemption after last April. Training starts January 1.