Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Tag Archives: PR

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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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!

Redemption on Boylston Street

Summary Results:

Official time: 3:20:41 (new PR by 27 seconds)

4748/22588 OA

4175 OA Male

535 in 45-49 Age Group

Redemption.

The very word had been driving me for a year, maybe even longer than that. But let’s just say it was ever since I struggled to the finish line at the 2009 Boston Marathon. That day I carried the burdens of an injury with me and I was never able to have the race I had trained for and envisioned. After finishing that day there was little I could do but take some time off to heal…and to resolve that 2010 would be different.

Eventually I did resume training and I went on to have a great fall season. While I stayed away from marathons during this time, the thought of Patriots Day, 2010 was always in the back of my mind, questioning me, challenging me, motivating me. When registration opened there really was no doubt whether I would be returning.

Not long after that I received some very sobering news. A good friend of mine and Lynn’s, Liz Rugaber had been diagnosed with leukemia at the age of just 38. Within our circle of Liz’s friends we all thought about what we could do to help in her win this fight. We pitched in with babysitting, meals, shopping trips and so forth but a thought continued to nag at me, that there was something more I could do. Then finally it clicked. Team in Training, an organization whose work I had long admired, was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s athletic fundraising arm. Liz had already asked on her website that we support LLS if we could afford to do so, so the calling to me was loud and clear.

I needed to join TNT. For Liz. And for redemption. Yes, redemption. Running is such a single-minded sport at times, requiring a certain amount of tunnel vision. And that focus can sometimes come across as selfishness. Yet I’ve always felt my running could be a force for good. And this was an opportunity and a challenge to prove it. Joining TNT now was the right thing to do, and I knew it. However, after checking their website I learned that the spring training program had been underway for a month and while I wasn’t concerned about the training part, I was worried about the fact I would be starting a month behind in fundraising!

Luckily I called the local TNT office, and I also sought some advice from my friend Jen who was training for TNT in Boston, and they both put my mind at ease. They convinced me I could do this, and I signed up.

From that point on I proceeded with my training and fundraising. I didn’t make a lot of the TNT group runs because of my own training and racing commitments, not to mention a string of blizzard-induced cancellations in February, but I got on a roll throughout the winter months, notching new PRs at 20k and 12k in the process. Meanwhile, the generosity of so many friends and family got me over the top on my fundraising requirement, which in turn meant I was ready to finally represent TNT at the National Half Marathon, where I scored yet another PR!

But I wasn’t done yet. I had another big moment in store for the spring. Yes, that redemption thing again. I was going to Boston, and I was going to wear the purple TNT singlet. It all made perfect sense to me, and I couldn’t wait for Patriot’s Day.

I finished up my training, had one final tune-up race at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and seemingly just like that, it was time to board a plane for Boston.

We flew into town on Saturday and spent much of the afternoon at the expo but made sure to firm up our plans to meet up with some other Kickrunners at Picco on Sunday. On Saturday I did my final run before Marathon Monday, a little trot through the rainy streets of the North End and Charles Town. I followed that up with some weight work and pronounced myself ready for Monday.

Sunday went by somewhat uneventfully, the highlight of the day being the lunch meetup. It was great to meet so many friends who I had known only through internet contact, and we had a great time together. Later, I got to bed at a fairly reasonable time, having laid all my gear out and then I slept perhaps 5 hours, not all that bad the night before a race.

I awoke and dressed quickly Monday morning and was off to Boston Common, with a quick stop at Starbucks on the way. At the Common I quickly boarded a shuttle to Hopkinton and arrived there with much earlier than expected. I headed over to the TNT Boston house on Grove St. where I was graciously welcomed by all on the team from Boston. It was so nice to relax indoors, stretch and get mentally prepared to run and I really appreciated this piece of hospitality. Then at 9:15 or so, it was time to check my bag and get to the start line. As I got outside I noticed how much it had warmed up in the past 90 minutes. It was going to be a great day for a long run.

I got down to the corrals in plenty of time, got to hear the women start, the national anthem play and see the fighter jet flyover. Then it was time to quietly get in the zone one last time. As the start drew near I was completely relaxed. Finally the elites way up front got off the line, then several minutes later we began to shuffle our way towards the start. A total of 7 minutes elapsed before I finally crossed the line. And finally, we were off.

I knew the first mile wouldn’t be particularly fast; last year I think I ran about 8:00 in Mile 1. Nevertheless I got out a little bit quicker than that this year, in 7:35. Then the pace really started to pick up as I went 7:13, 7:18, and 7:15. In Mile 5 I slowed to 7:26 as I caught Jay Wind, a friend of mine from Northern Virginia and chatted with him briefly. Then it was back to the previous pace: 7:12, 14:39 (2 miles), 7:12, 7:15, 7:21, 7:14. Along the way I got lots of high fives from kids, and lots of “Go Team” cheers, every one of which I tried to acknowledge with at least a smile. At one point I heard a group yelling for me from the opposite side of the street. I gave them fist pump salute and that only made them yell even louder. Cool. We also passed through the scream tunnel at Wellesley, which is always fun. That was where I hit the 7:14 and it was perhaps inevitable the pace would slow a little after passing through there.

The next two miles went down in 14:43, and the following mile in 7:28, which told me I needed a boost. That got me thinking about the TNT cheer station which I knew would be at Mile 15, followed by a PowerGel station around Mile 16. As I approached the 15 mile mark I saw the TNT supporters and they didn’t let me down. I felt energized once again and put in a 7:19 for Mile 16.

I was feeling great, but knew that the hills of Newton were about to commence. And sure enough they started to take their toll on us all. I now started to see walkers for the first time. My pace slowed as well but I wasn’t too concerned about that. The next two mile each went down in 7:44, followed by a 7:38 and 7:58. I told myself I was saving my strength but also was starting to feel the first signs of fatigue.

As we reached the bottom of Heartbreak Hill I decided to dial it back even a little more and take it slowly. I wasn’t happy about running my first over 8:00 mile of the day but it seemed to pay off when I bounced back to go 7:41, passing both another TNT cheer station and somewhere along the way, my wife. She tried to get a picture of me here but because a tall guy got in the way at the last second, had to settle for a shot of my back.

Unfortunately that second wind was short-lived. As I hit the 22-mile mark, almost on cue, my calves started to cramp. Dehydration was setting in and this stretch was a fairly long one between aid stations. I toughed it out as best I could but I was clearly slowing down now, to 8:06, then 8:14. As I approached the 24 mile aid station I then did something I almost never do: I slowed down to a walk so I could take in as much fluid as possible. I knew if there was any chance of finishing and getting a new marathon PR this was what I had to do. Then I plodded onward, waiting for the liquids to kick in…and waiting…and plodding…and waiting…

By now we were in the final stretches leaving Commonwealth behind then turning right on Hereford. Here I finally started to revive just a bit. As we made the famous left onto Boylston, with the finish arch now in sight, I checked my watch — 3:18. Oh boy…I told myself to dig deep, find the strength somewhere to push. I was breaking the finish down into tenths of miles at this point, telling myself to try to go just a little faster each tenth. As I got to the 26 mile mark I stole one last glance at the watch. I was going to make it in a new PR, as long as I didn’t trip over myself or something. Happily I held my form together and jogged across the line with my arms in the air, in 3:20:41, indeed a brand-new PR!

The celebration, while boisterous, was short. I quickly remembered just how badly I needed some water. A volunteer handed me a bottle, which I downed in seconds. Then I grabbed another and finished half of that one. Meanwhile all the soreness I had blocked out for probably the last 10 miles started coming to the forefront. I shuffled my way to the baggage bus, retrieved my gear and very slowly put it all on. Then I hobbled over to a Starbucks to happily reunite with Lynn. During this time, thanks to her companionship along with a dark cherry mocha and tuna melt sandwich, I started feeling much better.

Soon we were ready to meet up with another Kickrunner friend, John and his wife Natalie and daughter Olivia for a post-run celebratory drink. It took quite the circuitous route to get to the bar we had selected in advance because it was so close to the finish. I guess we hadn’t banked on all the pedestrian sidewalk closures. But we finally got to toast our runs and that made it all worth the wait.

As the afternoon and evening went on I was pleased to see my recovery was already progressing. Now two days later, I have just a trace of soreness remaining, nothing more. It couldn’t be more different from my experience of a year ago, in so many ways, and for that I am so happy.

National Half Marathon race report

Carefirst National Half Marathon 3/20/2010

Summary Stats:

Time: 1:29:11 Guntime, 1:29:03 Nettime (new PR by 6 seconds)

Place: 209/6,246 Overall, 6/271 45-49 Male Age Group

Funds raised for Team in Training: $1,844.20

Total Team in Training National Marathon & Half Marathon finishers: 44

Full Report:

I love racing, have been doing it for years. There’s just something about stepping up to a starting line and having a go at not only the other runners but at yourself, challenging yourself to be all you can be that day. Racing also provides motivation for all those hard weeks of training, and when you race well, it’s really a culmination of all that effort. I was fortunate to get that feeling once again this past Saturday when I completed the National Half Marathon. But that wasn’t all I got to experience. I also got the satisfaction of knowing my running had meaning beyond just my own goals or the competition itself. That’s because this season I committed to raise money for Team in Training while I trained and competed. I joined the TNT effort in the beginning of the year after learning that my close friend Liz Rugaber had been diagnosed with leukemia. I had never taken on this type of a commitment before but after talking with my wife Lynn, Liz and some other friends, I took the plunge, and I’m glad I did.

As mentioned last week, I was pretty antsy around mid-week for this race to finally get here. I knew I was ready and that all I needed to was stay relaxed and focused. Things seemed to be moving right along until Thursday morning. Then on the way to what I knew would already be a hectic day at work, I got involved in an auto accident and my car took quite a bit of body damage on the rear passenger side. Luckily no one was injured, but I spent a good part of the rest of the day on the phone with the insurance companies (mine and the other party’s), and the body shop. Amazingly I still found time to get in my final run before the race, a little 6-mile trot on the trail near home; that actually did wonders for me and I felt much better afterward. That evening, I slept really well.

The next day flew by and before I knew it I was headed downtown for the TNT pre-race pasta party. I normally skip these types of events, preferring to either have a nice dinner out with my wife and maybe some friends or just having something at home. But I thought the chance to bond one more time with other TNTers, combined with the inspirational effect from being around so many compassionate, positive people, would be well worth the time spent — and it was. I left the event feeling energized and excited once again about the next day.

Saturday came really early, 4:30 am. After my usual pre-race breakfast (oatmeal, coffee, energy bar, water), it was time to head out the door. I got down to the RFK Stadium area at just about 6:15 am.  There was a line starting to grow at the entrances to the stadium parking lot, so I bailed from that and easily found a parking space on Constitution Avenue, just a short walk from the start & finish area. The weather forecasts were calling for a very warm day but at this point the temperatures were still only in about the high 40s. Based on that I decided to go with my purple TNT singlet on top with no base layer under it, but arm warmers and light throwaway gloves to ward off any cool breezes.

I went about my usual pre-race preps and was at the start area in plenty of time. I was in Corral 2, just one behind the elites and before long it started filling up with lots of runners, most of them younger than me, all of them very “fast” looking. As the sun started rising, I took a few deep breaths to relax myself and felt totally composed when the gun went off (what a far cry from younger days, when I would have been a nervous wreck!).

The first mile went off a bit slowly, not surprisingly. This race has grown in popularity over the past several years and there was a little bit of congestion in the first half mile. So I knew my first mile would be a bit on the slow side, and it was at 7:22.

As expected things really started to open up in the second mile, as we proceeded over a flat and very fast piece of East Capitol Street and then Constitution Avenue, heading towards the Potomac. It was also during this stretch that I heard something I was to hear quite often over the next hour or so, the cheer “Go Team!” I gave the person a thumbs-up because that’s what TNTers always say to each other.  Around Mile 2 I ditched the gloves because my hands were already starting to sweat. I didn’t see the Mile 2 sign but knew I was moving.

Soon we were at Mile 3, where I did get a split — 12:17. I thought, did I really just run that for two miles?! It was around this point as well that Joan Benoit Samuelson passed me; she was moving, all right. I would later find out the 1984 Olympic women’s marathon gold medalist ended up running a 1:22 on the day, not bad for a 52-year old!

There was a turnaround on Constitution Avenue, just a little bit after 4 miles (split 6:37), after which we headed back on Constitution for a little until turning left onto 18th St. Here is where the hills began. First was a long gradual one, basically going all the way from Constitution to about L Street. Here I took my first gel, knowing I would need it for what lay ahead. The pace slowed a bit, to 6:50 and I got my first 5 mile benchmark of 33:07. Wow I thought, if I can hold that I’ve got a massive PR in hand. But could I hold it? After a brief spell Connecticut Avenue we turned onto Columbia Road, which has another long, but steeper climb. The fast pace I was on before was definitely starting to level off. I expected this would happen but I also knew a long downhill stretch would come later.  Still I was a little concerned to see miles 6 & 7 average over 7 minutes (Mile 6 & 7: 14:09).

Mile 8 was perhaps the most challenging of the day as it included both a big uphill then a equally big drop as we flew past cheering Howard University students.  I clocked  a 6:51 mile here, followed by a 6:50 as we passed the reservoir just off North Capitol Street. So for now, at least, it seemed I had settled back into a manageable pace. But that pace was about to pick up yet again, as we turned onto North Capitol Street and headed south down a very long descent. As I reached the 10 mile point I saw Jack, one of the TNT coaches, and that gave me a nice little boost. I put down a 6:39 mile split and hit the 10-mile banchmark in about 67:30. I had slowed a bit in the hills but was still running very well.

In thinking about my race strategy beforehand I had decided I really wanted to run my best in the final 5k. I had done this at the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. But it was definitely coming with more difficulty today. The earlier hills – both up and down – had taken their toll on my legs. On top of that as we turned off North Capitol and headed east the paved street turned very rough, with lots of ruts and potholes, punishing the legs even more. Somewhere around Mile 11, TNT coach Jim was there to give me some more encouragement, but I thought to myself, “boy I wonder if he realizes I’m rigging right now.” Nonetheless I pushed on, trying increasingly in vain to stay ahead of the 3-hour marathon pace group. Based on my pace there was no way they should have been with me, but apparently their pacer was really hauling. Sure enough at around Mile 12 they caught me, and I was not happy about that (Miles 11 & 12:  14:05).

Heading towards the finish, just after the half-marathon/marathon split

The pace group catching me apparently gave my mind just what it needed to overrule my tiring legs. As the pacer passed to my immediate left, I decided there was no way in hell he was going to elude me. I took up a spot right on his shoulder, but that also meant the rest of the pace group surrounded me. By the time I had gathered strength and was ready to make my move, I had nowhere to go. I was boxed in by the group. At around 12.3 miles or so I made one attempt to break through, and the gap closed on me. Finally at around 12.5 there was a brief opening and I seized on it, broke through and started leaving the pace group behind once and for all. A few paces later we reached the split, where us half marathoners headed towards the finish while the marathoners continued on to the second loop. After the struggles of the past two miles I had blown all the time I had banked earlier and now I would have to dig really deep to salvage a PR. As I made the turn back towards RFK I started really picking it up. With 400 meters to go I was hammering the pace as hard as if I was running a mile race. I went 7:20 for the final 1.1, crossed the line and hit the stop button on my watch to see I had made it, by the skin of my teeth. It wasn’t a pretty final 5k at all, and I had to really fight at the end for it, but I had indeed improved on the half marathon standard I had set in Philly just a few months before, and I was ecstatic about that.

After the finish I made my way through the food line and eventually back to the TNT runner check-in area. I was the first on the team back and enjoyed welcoming teammates returning after their finishes. I also got to meet up with some friends who had come down, including Liz herself. We had a great time soaking in the post-race atmosphere and then eventually adjourned back to Arlington, so Liz’s husband Chris could give their children could some well-deserved playtime at a park while we chatted and enjoyed what had become a gorgeous Saturday.

I’ve done a lot of races in my life, but this was probably the most satisfying for me, not only because I ran well, but because I ran for something more than just myself. And it wasn’t just me, either. It was my 43 TNT teammates on Saturday. It was the TNT coaches and volunteers. It was everyone who contributed to my fundraising campaign (which you can still do, by the way). It was a team effort if there ever was one, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

I can’t wait to do it again in Boston.

Race report – MLK 20k

For the first benchmark/mini-target race of the spring 2010 season I chose a small DC Roadrunners Club race, one that I’ve done two times before in the past. Its distance, 20 kilometers, seemed just right for some solid tempo training that could benefit me later this year at Boston.

The day’s weather forecast called for nice weather, for a change, but at 9:00 am when the gun was set to go off, the temperatures were still quite chilly, in the mid-30s. Still I told myself to be brave and stripped down to my shorts. Once I did a little warmup jog I felt fine, ready to go.

Just before the starting line I ran into Franco, a frequent training and racing buddy of mine from the club. We chatted a bit and decided to go ahead and team up for this race. Our objectives were basically the same: to get a solid training run in at a hard tempo pace. I suggested we try for a negative split, by running the first 10k at marathon pace and then pick it up for the second half and he agreed with that plan. And so we were soon off.

The first half went by easily as we moved along at comfortably hard pace. In the first few miles lots of runners surged ahead boldly, runners who I knew we’d be seeing again later in the race. But the key for us was to stay patient and stick with the plan, which we did. Each mile fell perfectly within our marathon pace range. The fastest was around 7:08 and the slowest was about 7:16 (thanks to a very large ice patch that was difficult to navigate).

When we hit the turnaround I knew I was ready to step up and it was effortless to do so. Before we knew it we were knocking down 6:50, then 6:45, then 6:40 miles. With about 3 miles to go we even hit a 6:34, which seemed a bit fast, so only then did we dial it back…but not by much as we continued cruising in at low 6:40 pace. I don’t know how many runners we passed in the second half of the race but it was a lot. And nobody passed us the entire second 10k.

We crossed the line together in 1:26:22, which was not only faster than I expected we would go but it was also a 3-minute negative split, and a new PR. A PR? In a race where I deliberately held back early? How did that happen? Not that I’m complaining or anything. 😉

In short, it was a brilliant start on the road to Boston. The next big benchmark is still a while away, a ten miler in Columbia, MD on 2/28. Between now and then are a lot of training miles, and maybe a few short races.

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!

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.

Army Ten Miler 10/4/09

Summary:

66:28 – PR by :14
546/21289 OA
501/11690 OA Male
44/1549 AG

Report:

This was my fourth consecutive year of running the Army Ten Miler. In every year, I’ve taken a big chunk of time off the previous year’s ATM performance, on average about 2.5 minutes. But I knew that would be tough to repeat this year. Still I went ahead and set myself a goal for this race of 65:00 which would represent yet another 2:30 or so improvement. I figured, why not? It’s aggressive but you have to aim high, right?

I set myself an alarm for 5am the night before, but when I got up I quickly found out that I must have accidentally reset the alarm for 6am!  So much for taking the metro, I’m driving now…luckily it’s not that far and I still had plenty of time. I parked, made a quick bathroom stop in the Pentagon City Mall, and I even got over to the bag check a good bit earlier than I probably would have had I taken the metro.

I checked my gear, grabbed a bottle of water and started casually walking towards the start. At this point it was about 54 degrees and I felt fairly comfortable in my singlet. By the time I waded through the crowds and got to the second corral, the wheelchair racers were about to start. Good, still lots of time to stretch and everything.

About two minutes before the cannon was to go off I took in about 4 Gu chomps and felt ready to go, as good as I’ve felt before a race in a long time. I had a feeling good things would happen today.

Soon the cannon went off and about 30 seconds later I was across the line. 65 minutes meant going at 6:30 miles but I also didn’t want to be a slave to that every mile, especially early with all the crowds to wade through. I tried to stay relaxed and run evenly. First mile – 6:32. Perfect, I said to myself.

At this point the race crosses into DC over the Memorial Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial straight ahead. This is also where some initial jockeying begins as runners try to settle into their cruising pace and sometimes mark off another runner. There is a team competition after all and especially for the military base teams, it seems to be a pretty big deal. I wasn’t too concerned about this as I felt I was already where I wanted to be. I missed the 2-mile split mark and after that came a water stop, which thanks to having a bottle of water beforehand, I didn’t need water yet, so I continued on past it. Not far after that was the 3-mile mark…2 mile split – 13:08. Still right on.

At this point we turn onto Rock Creek Parkway and head briefly underneath the Kennedy Center. This was a bit of a relief as there was a cool breeze blowing. Then it was onto Ohio Drive heading towards Independence Avenue and the 4-mile mark. Split – 6:35.

I then bypass yet another water stop, telling myself I’ll take water at Mile 6 if I need to. But right now I’m still feeling fine on hydration. My legs are starting to tire just a little bit, however. So I concentrate on working my arms more, letting my upper body do more work and that seems to help. Still my pace does slip a little. Split – 6:40, but that still leaves me averaging 6:35 at the halfway point.

Now follows the long straightaway on Independence, passing so many well-known landmarks — World War II memorial, Hirshorn Gallery, Air & Space Museum, to name just a few — and lots of spectators. This is also where you get your first glimpse of the leaders, as they head in the other direction back towards the Pentagon. I saw the eventual winner Reta, and man he was booking. Meanwhile I am trying to hold on to my aggressive pace, but it’s getting harder. I feel a hint of dehydration kicking in too, so I grab a couple more Gu chomps out of my pocket before the 6-mile aid station, then grab a water and within seconds I’m feeling fine again. Amidst all that I forget to hit my watch for a 6-mile split but get a split at 7, after the quick loop on Constitution, across the Capitol and back onto Independence. 2-mile split – 13:25. It’s getting tough; 65:00 is fading away but I know I can still beat my PR of 66:42 (set in Columbia MD, Feb. 2008 ).

Here the wind gets pretty tough. It was already blowing against the way we’re now running but the buildings on each side add the wind tunnel effect. My quads and calves are starting to burn a little from the effort but once again I focus on the upper body to propel me. I hope like hell that my pace doesn’t drop into the 7s as I yo-yo back and forth with some guy in a red singlet from some Army base. We turn the corner and there’s the water stop. I take just a little for the final push. Next up is the 8-mile marker. Split – 6:48…I’ve survived my worst mile of every 10 miler.

We head past the Jefferson Memorial towards the 14th St. bridge, which is feared and loathed by many who run this race and the Marine Corps Marathon later this month. I’ve never found it that tough, but I have to say this time it felt a little more taxing. Still I’m faring better than a lot of others. I drop red singlet guy only to get caught by somebody in Virginia Tech ROTC singlet. We work off each other a bit and then he really takes off on me at around 8.5. I decide it’s too early to go with him, to just keep my pace. Split – 6:46, coming back now. What is it about that 8th mile?

We’re now across the bridge and back in Arlington County, with just one more hill to climb. I know what comes next: downhill and then the furious sprint to the finish. Checking my watch I know the PR is still there for me, but I’m going to have to work for it. I step it up a little bit each 60 seconds, until the final downhill drop comes with about 800 to go. This is my time, I tell myself, now bring it! I’ve even caught back up to VA Tech guy. Now it’s around the hairpin turn for the final 200 and I’m in my element as the old track guy…full sprint to the mat. It’s the best feeling in the world when I see that I’ve nailed the PR. Not only that but my last mile turns out to be my fastest of the day at 6:31!

After the finish I run into a friend of mine and we chat for a while and then next thing you know we’re both talking running with the mayor himself, Adrian Fenty. In addition to being mayor of the nation’s capital the guy’s a triathlete and marathoner, and a really good one at that. It turns out he’s running the same 5k as me next weekend. Hmm…maybe I’ll finally take him down there. Admittedly it’s a pretty lopsided rivalry so far.

I can’t say enough how thrilled I am about this race falling together for me. After a spring injury, that led to a difficult day at Boston, and then to a lengthy rehab, to be back in top form so soon has me really excited for the prospects at my other big target this fall, the half marathon at Philadelphia next month. I’m hoping with some more endurance runs under my belt I can go out there with this same pace and nail a monster HM PR!