Saturday, October 27, 2018

Day 4,318: Fast Pace 5K

I had never thought of myself as someone who was afraid of the pain of racing, but now as I charged down the field during a race, I was aware of the absence of any hesitation. The marathon had so altered my perception of suffering that there was no hurt holding me back in the shorter distances.
 - Deena Kastor, Let Your Mind Run
CUMMING, Ga. -- I was crestfallen at the end of the race when I could see the finish line clock and it occurred to me that once again I'd failed to break 22 minutes for a 5K.

But then my acceleration -- the last tenth at a 5:28/mile pace -- brought me closer and now I could make out the minutes when before I could only watch the seconds roll by. I could see the number "21" in the minute slot. I'd made my goal in the Fast Pace 5K, to break 22 minutes for the first time in more than two years!

After running in the Berlin Marathon last month, I wanted to work on speed before my next marathon training cycle starts in November and signed up for a few 5Ks. Another goal was to break 22 minutes and refresh my qualification for Group A of the Peachtree Road Race.

After running a 22:34 in the Run Like Hell 5K two weeks ago, it didn't appear likely I would accomplish my goal. Add to that I tweaked my left hip right after that race and couldn't do any speed work for a week. The number of 800 meter intervals I ran prior to this race was two.

I finished this race in 21:30, more than enough for Group A and another testament to the dividends a marathon training cycle brings -- in April just weeks after I'd run the Snickers Marathon, I shattered my 10-mile PR with a time of 1:14:52.

Advertised as a downhill race, the Fast Pace 5K, promised to be exactly what I'd been seeking. I almost didn't sign up, since I didn't know about it. I'd planned on running in the Race for Rest 5K on the Westside instead. But once I came across the listing, I immediately registered. It was great that  even a late signup was only $25.

I left home at 6 a.m. the day of the race and got to the fairgrounds at about 6:45 a.m. There were plenty of parking spaces but it was tricky walking around in the dark. I made my way to a large barn-like structure to get my bib number and was able to bypass the large line in that building for the restrooms -- the larger restroom area of the fairgrounds that I walked by, was open and had few people inside.

I waited in my car for a few minutes while I waited to run up to the start, about a mile away. At the time it was cold and rain misty. I had to go back to my car a few times just to get extra items, such as my visor, when I thought the start of the race would be rainy.

Getting to the start was pretty easy, it is basically as they described it, a left out of the fairgrounds and then a right on W Maple out of town, up a hill where they were still inflating the starting gate.

There were a lot of youth running in the race, which also made me think this would be a fast race, thinking of past races such as the Bowerman 5K in Oregon. I saw two adults wearing Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%. I'd left my pair(s) at home, instead opting to run in for the first time (for a race) my Nike Zoom Streak 6 shoes, which a recent New York Times analysis said had the second greatest improvement of marathon times (3 percent) instead of the Vaporfly's 4 percent.

The race started and normally while I would have thought about reining my speed in down the huge downhill on the other side of the starting gate, I adopted the strategy of the Revel race series coaches and decided to go with it as long as I wasn't putting too much effort into it. It felt easy and I was running at about a 6:30/mile pace.

About eight-tenths of a mile in is the first hill. I'd wondered how it would be, since for example in the Vinings Downhill 5K, the first hill is major. I noted to myself that this hill was minimal, yet still a hill. I crossed the first mile in 6:42.

At this point, the course goes around a residential block. I felt myself slowing and a quick glance of my watch proved it -- I was running at a 7:29/mile pace, not good enough for my intention to break 22 minutes. But I passed a lot of people here. I tried to draft behind a guy but he was running too slow. I kept gunning it and hoped for the best.

When I exited the neighborhood and passed Mile 2, I saw that the race clock had just turned 14 minutes (I ran Mile 2 in 7:19). I didn't despair here and told myself it was a push -- I'd run the first two miles at a 7-minute-mile average. All I had to do was run the final mile in 7 minutes and I'd be golden.

I also decided to break down the race into six half-mile pieces. With two of these pieces left I gunned it at this point, knowing that it would be basically all downhill. We crossed through bits of downtown and then there were only a few turns before the final rush to the finish. At this point I took a turn with a young woman. As I approached she put in a surge on the outside and so I took a step and turned on the inside. She surged again but as soon as I took the final left turn toward the finish I gunned it. I told myself I could always slow down if I was running too fast. My 3rd mile was in 6:52.

(As a tangent, I always interpret surges when I approach as race inexperience. Because you are running near maximal in a 5K, my belief is to let someone go and run at your pace if they pass you and then you can evaluate if your speed is going to be greater than theirs and that a surge is not going to help you in the long run).

When I thought that the finish line clock said 22 minutes had elapsed I briefly paused a little but it was only a few seconds before I realized only 21 minutes in the race elapsed. With very little fast running prep under my belt I was running at the very edge of my fitness and was relieved to have finished with a 21:30. I'm pretty sure that's my second-fastest 5K and it will be nice to not have to worry about qualifying for Group A of the Peachtree for a few years.

And yet ... I wonder if there are faster times ahead? I would love to prepare for this very well run race next year and see if I can shave 13 seconds off my time for a new PR!

Time: 8 a.m.
Temp: 52 degrees, rain mist
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Big Peach Sizzler '09), shorts, Nike Zoom Streak 6.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Day 4,304: Run Like Hell 5K

It only took a second but I outkicked a guy who passed me at Mile 3 in the last four seconds of my race.
The last two marathon training cycles I'd steered clear of running in any extraneous races to hopefully prevent myself from being injured like I'd done after the Craft Classic Half Marathon in 2016, a month before the Chicago Marathon.

So I eagerly signed up for a few races during this "downtime" before the training cycle for next year's Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon begins. One reason is to hopefully get a fresh qualifying time for Group A of the Peachtree Road Race (I've been using my 1:39:14 time from Boston's Run to Remember half marathon the last two years).

This race, the Run Like Hell 5K, seemed like a great warmup. It was one of the first races I ran in Atlanta when I moved here 15 years ago. The race is not in my scrapbook but I think I might have run it in 24:30 or so.

It starts and ends in the historic Oakland Cemetery and later the race director announced that it is now the largest race in a cemetery in the world. The route empties out on Memorial Drive along the Memorial Drive Greenway and then turns on Capitol Drive before returning to the cemetery via Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. I guess I should have known better but I didn't realize it is full of rolling hills, especially inside the cemetery.

The race started with a swing of a golf club from an imitator of the famous golfer Bobby Jones, who rests in the cemetery. Then you go up a rise and then a slightly steep downhill to the first corner. It was here that I accidentally hit a guy who crossed in front of me in the back. "Sorry!" I called out. (I chased this 42-year-old guy the entire race and he ended up finishing first in our 40-49 age group in 22:10).

Then the course turns again and you go up a hill that reveals the finish, which is in front of the base of the Confederate Memorial Obelisk. But in the initial part of the race, the course turns away and winds around another hill before you are led out of the cemetery. After a straightaway and a short turn you turn onto Memorial Drive where Mile 1 is. I crossed here in 7:21.

The road rolls toward Capitol Avenue where there is another incline before you turn onto MLK Jr. Drive. Somewhere around the Interstate 85 overpass, a guy in a white T-shirt passed me and then, at least it seemed to me, kind of got in front of the track I was running and slowed down a little bit. I wasn't sure what this meant, so I tried to pay it no mind. I ended up passing him after Mile 2 (7:17) and then I mentally prepared myself for the last bit inside the cemetery.

There's an incline just after you enter the cemetery and then you get the incline that happens right after the race starts. On the downhill section (near where I clipped the guy I mentioned previously) I told myself to keep it steady, to not accelerate until/unless someone were to pass me on this section. That didn't happen and I was greeted with the final uphill past Mile 3 (7;21) and the finish.

With about a tenth of a mile left, the guy in the white T-shirt passed me on the uphill to the finish. I let him go by as we both passed a third guy who was working his way to the finish. Then I realized as we were really close to the finish that I was kicking faster than the white T-shirt guy, and he was riding the middle lane just as he was in Mile 2.

A series of 14 pictures (I bought and posted the one above) taken from the finish line gun camera captures the sequence pretty well. In the last four seconds of my race, I come up alongside of him and in a second I've broken free of the white T-shirt guy to finish in 21st place overall (of about 1,222 people). My 22:34 time is basically what I typically run in a race with a bunch of rolling hills. I hadn't done much speed work since the Berlin Marathon and really looked at this race like a baseline.

But I was happy to have taken second place in my age group -- when you are in the latter part of a 10-year age group it's hard to beat guys whose age is in the first half of it. I'm also glad I had something left for the finish.

Time: 9 a.m.
Temp: about 60 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Publix Georgia Half Marathon), shorts, Saucony Type A6, Stryd footpod sensor, Headsweats visor, goodr sunglasses.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

My Berlin Marathon (Day 4,277)

My Jerry Maguire moment: That's me in the lower right hand side trucking to the finish.
BERLIN -- It was only after I reached mile 25 that I told myself, "There's no way you can fuck this up now."

All day I'd been experiencing a race in less-than ideal conditions, whether it was the warm weather, a congested start, a left shin injury and even the gastrointestinal foibles of racing on the road. And yet, here I was, only a mile to go and had yet to have the other shoe drop, experiencing the painful calf cramps that have marked my previous seven marathons and other long races.

The first thing that should be noted is the relatively late starting time for the race compared to other marathons I've run in. I was to run in the second wave at 9:35 a.m. Already in the morning it was to be in the mid-50s and by wave start, up into the low 60s.

There was nothing I could do about this and so I settled into the extravagant complimentary breakfast provided by my hotel, the Westin Grand (really convenient near the Brandenburg Gate, on the direct bus line to the airport and pretty near the last mile or so of the race course, so it helped to be in familiar surroundings late in the race).

Normally I would eat something like a slice of bread with peanut butter and maybe a banana before my race but since I actually ate something closer to a real breakfast before I ran in the March 3 Snickers Marathon, I decided doing this breakfast wasn't a bad thing, provided I stuck to things I might eat before a long run. So I chose a slice of bread with jelly on it, a banana and just a little bit of egg (I ate part of an omelette before the Snickers Marathon) before going back to my room to get ready.

I headed out toward the Brandenburg Gate at about 8:45 a.m., giving me plenty of time (or so I thought). I hadn't ventured in the Tiergarten where the race starts and ends because of all the fencing for the marathon, and so really did not realize how vast -- and forested -- it was. I just decided to blindly follow the masses of runners all headed toward the corrals.

Because I'd heard from a blog account of last year's race that they did not check corrals, I headed toward Group F (3:30 to 3:50 finish) instead of my actual Group (G, 3:50 to 4:15). When I applied for the race last year, my last marathon time was the 3:59:30 that I ran the 2016 Chicago Marathon in with a stress fracture in my shin. They had no idea I'd run 3:40 just this past March and the smaller race had no certificates that I could bring to the expo to try to change my corral.

Near the race corrals it started to get extremely congested. At one point I followed a bunch of runners off the asphalt road/path of the park along some single-track dirt road, thinking how funny it was that I was going off-road in a brand-new pair of Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes. At any event, I made my way to the corrals. I passed huge crushing lines to portapotties, thinking people in these lines would not possibly be starting the race on time.

It turned out that Wave 2 (Groups F and G) were starting at 9:35 a.m., not 9:45 a.m. as I'd thought the informational guide said. I also learned that Group G was starting 10 minutes later after Group F. Because I didn't want to run 10 minutes later (and have the course be warmer) I approached Group F. But people were checking bibs at the gate. I wandered back towards the start a few yards and followed many others who were climbing over the waist-high gate into Group F. On the other side of the path, people were just standing up next to the taller fencing next to the forest, openly urinating just feet from runners in corrals.

Here it was a jam of people and I could not see the 3:30 (or 3:45) pacers anywhere. It seemed like Group F just started right after Group E and we were off. The start, and maybe the first few miles were extremely congested, partially because of the narrow roads. I was running somewhere in between 8:20 and 8:30/mile and way off what I thought I would run. There was nothing I could do about it, so I decided to just think this was a fun run in Germany.

One thing I did to pass the time was to follow the blue lines. I'd heard about these before, the marathon paints a line to show the exact shortest route. It basically follows the tangents and as I paid attention to this line on this extremely crowded course I found that when the line turned it many times almost brought me right into crowds of runners who did not pay attention to it at all. (Later on, after the 20K mark, I no longer paid attention to the line but found that the roads were narrow enough that if I had extended my arms out I was often no farther from the blue line than that).

At one point in the first few miles the 3:30 pacer came by, holding a flag that said 3:30 on it with a few black balloons. Following him were several young women. Some guy near me commented to someone else that these women were trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I thought about trying to pick up my pace to stay up with them but decided not to since it was that congested. When I saw them weave their way forward it looked like they were doing so in a crowded concert hall instead of one of the six World Marathon Majors.

I had my first gel at 7K. It was past the first water station (at 5K) so I brought a small bottle of Dasani I'd been given on the plane over a few days prior. The next few miles I really was starting to get uncomfortable. I hadn't needed to use the porta-potty prior to the race but now I really needed to. I tried to hold off as long as I could but after Mile 7 I dashed into one. I hadn't needed to use one since my first marathon in 2000 (Portland).

Back on the course I even thought I could make up the time lost and ran the next mile at an 8:08 pace, having my next gel shortly thereafter at 15K. I kept going and felt good but then after the 20K mark I ducked into a porta-potty again. I was glad I did this, as it appeared that I was extremely dehydrated, something I didn't feel at the time. So for the rest of the race, I grabbed two cups of water instead of one that I'd been doing at every water station.

About a month ago, on Aug. 18, I injured my left shin after doing my last long run of the training cycle in Henderson, Nevada. For all intents and purposes it was a shin splint that came on as I ran. So I wouldn't aggravate it, I drastically lowered my mileage the last three weeks before the race (running 26, 22 and 23 miles) and my longest run during that time was 9 miles.

It was starting to be clear to me that I had a propensity to become injured doing two training cycles in a row, just as I'd done when I had a stress fracture in my right shin before the 2016 Chicago Marathon. During that time I'd also cut back my mileage severely and started to get calf cramps after Mile 13 of that race.

So as Mile 13 approached I braced for the worst. I knew I wouldn't be surprised if the calf cramps came. I knew that I could end up with an extremely slow race time -- it's one thing to run at a 7:50/mile pace for 16 miles, get calf cramps and suffer the rest of the way and still run a 3:40. It's another to start running at what looked like no better than an 8:30/mile pace and then ...

But nothing happened. I kept going merrily on my way. When Mile 16 came, I knew that this would be where I'd get calf cramps, since this traditionally has been the spot where I'd always get them, no matter what pace I ran. Portland, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Honolulu and even tiny Albany, Ga.

Yet my calves were unscathed. This training cycle I'd sought the help of a personal trainer, who helped me work on getting stronger. She also introduced me to her physical therapist, who gave me a few dry needling sessions and extra exercises to help my calves and my hips.

But the one thing I focused on during this race was using a higher than normal pump of the arms with each stride to help me use my glutes instead of my calves for running. The theory is when you don't run with your glutes other muscles including your calves take the brunt of the race, causing them to fatigue and cramp. And just doing this, for hours on end in a crowd of strangers, seemed to be working.

My next goal was 30K. When I passed that, I wanted the record -- 20 miles, the longest I've run in a race without getting them. I went that distance in the 2010 Chicago Marathon before my calves gave out on me right before Chinatown. After getting calf cramps that spring in the ING Georgia Marathon at Mile 14, I trained for Chicago by running 20 miles every five days to try to build my endurance. I can't imagine what I'd do if I ever saw that on my training schedule. (I finished Chicago that year in 4:06, crushed thinking that at age 39, my best chance at a sub-4 race was over).

Twenty miles passed and with that I had given myself permission to run as hard as I wanted to the finish but at that point I was slowing down with my pace closer to 9 minute miles.

"There is no wall," I told myself at Mile 21. Often I would feel myself hit the wall right after getting calf cramps in previous races, so I was always unsure if one was related to the other.

I felt a slight tinge behind my right ankle at mile 23 but nothing else. A warning light that disappeared. A slightly larger 3:45 pacing group passed me but I didn't try to match their pace. A mile later I decided to just skip water stations every now and then. This race was excellent as the water stations appeared in greater frequency the last half of the race.

Then Mile 25 came. I knew at this point there was nothing that could really happen that would prevent me from finishing the race and finishing it in under 4 hours. That wasn't really a goal of mine but at that point it was motivating enough. I was in a familiar neighborhood and just focused on running strong until the next turn, the next turn and ...

Finally the Brandenburg Gate appeared. It looked like it literally was 26 miles, the race continued for a few tenths of a mile more to the finish, reminding me of Tenth Street after Mile 6 in the Peachtree Road Race.

I finished in 3:53, which was not nearly the time I was looking for but probably the best I could have done on this historic day where the world record was broken on this course. It still, as my wife points out, is my second fastest marathon time. I was extremely pleased that my legs had gone the distance without my calves giving out.

I still have lots to work on. I would love if this all was a matter of running form and actually have  more marathon PRs ahead. It was hard to train through the heat this summer, so maybe I'll forego fall marathons in the future.

Even this is an improvement in thinking as I recently wanted to walk away from 26.2. After the 2016 Chicago Marathon, calves cramping while I hobbled through Millennium Park, I told my wife, "Maybe this is not a good distance for me."

Marathon #8 in the books.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Day 4,206: "Plogging" away in Piedmont Park

A bunch of "ploggers" with trash bags in hand, in Piedmont Park.
It's become the norm for local rSunning stores to organize group runs throughout the month. This outing at the Phidippides running store caught my eye, however -- it would be a run that would also help cleanup nearby Piedmont Park.

Sponsored by shoe company Saucony, the run incorporates the growing trend of "plogging," basically a running fad in Sweden in which the activity's name blends that country's word "pick up" with jogging. The company this month is celebrating "The Great American Running Shop" and Phidippides was selected as the only running store in Georgia to be recognized. In turn, this event was called "The Great American Cleanup Run."

I've organized a few dozen cleanup activities on behalf of geocaching and thought this would be a good way to get in a run and help the park.

A shoe rep met us outside the running store -- he had gloves and bags for us to use. We would run the store's regular 3-mile route into the park and back.

At first getting used to plogging was a little tricky for me. I brought my own garden gloves to pick up trash and I immediately remembered how much I hate wearing gloves while running. I also realized that you had to be a little careful if you stopped to pick up some trash on the sidewalk since we were running in a group. Thankfully no one had any collisions!

There were plenty of little pieces of trash in the bowl of the park where the recent Peachtree Road Race had its post-race gathering. Lots of bottle tops from water bottles, for example and other small things. It reminded me of how in the Marine Corps Marathon they ask you to be careful with your trash on the route -- after the race Marines go through and pick up every piece of litter on the course.

The run gave me an opportunity to try Saucony's most recent edition of their Kinvara shoe, the Kinvara 9. I ran in Kinvara 5s when I trained for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon -- they were my first low-drop shoe. I enjoyed them immensely but really did not like stepping on rocks with them.

The newer version, however, was a real joy. They are now cushioned with Saucony's Everun, basically the same cushioning in the Saucony Zealot ISO shoes that I've worn the last few years.

I tested out the Kinvara 9s by deliberately running on small rocks that I encountered on the park paths. I also ran them straight through mud, something I cannot do in Nike's Epic React Flyknit, because those shoes become extremely slippery in mud or water.

The group I was with made our way back to the newer part of the park, Piedmont Park Commons and then ran under Piedmont Avenue along the unimproved portion of the Beltline trail. Here there was plenty of trash to pick up.

Back at Phidippides, we posed for pictures with our trash and the Saucony rep even had recycled shoes and flowers for us to create a unique flower planter. It was a great way to get out in the humid morning and get a run done!

Time: 8 a.m.
Temp: 72 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (CS yellow), shorts, Saucony Kinvara 9.

My plogging haul wearing the Saucony Kinvara 9.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My 14th Peachtree Road Race

My 14th Peachtree Road Race.
After I ran the Snickers Marathon in March I worked on a 10K training program to increase my speed. I largely abandoned the program after I had to start training for Berlin (7 weeks ago) but even in the speed workouts I aimed to keep my 10K speed at a 7:15/mile pace.

This year I wasn't sure what I would do about the Peachtree Road Race, as it falls in the middle of my Berlin training and ever since I developed a stress fracture running in a half marathon before the 2016 Chicago Marathon, I've been wary of running in lots of races.

Still, the Peachtree is a pretty iconic race and I felt like I would be able to run it well if not smoothly going on 55 miles a week.

Race morning I didn't eat very much and had hoped to find water to eat a gel before the race started. But I didn't encounter any water and ended up taking a gel right after Mile 1 in the race. When the race started I didn't get any faster than about 7:30/mile, a little slower than I'd been training but it felt ok given the effort so I didn't worry about it. My splits for the first three miles went 7:30/7:31 and 7:23.

On Mile 4 up Cardiac Hill I was pretty amazed I didn't lose much time, running that mile in 7:48. Mile 5 was the same, 7:46. In previous years I would lose more time and the effort felt challenging but not like in previous years in which I hated being on those hills. In the last mile I gave myself a steady effort and ran it in 7:11.

After having run the last part of the course recently I knew that kicking at 10th Street and Piedmont would be too far away so I settled on a section known as "Yoshino Cherry" as there is a Pokemon GO Pokestop there. At that point I ran my final kick in three parts, each time going a little faster and wondering if anyone would pass me at that point. It didn't happen and I finished in 47:02, which is my second fastest course time in 14 tries.

All in all I felt pretty good about the race. I enjoyed wearing the Nike Epic React flyknit shoes -- I saw a lot of people wearing the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%s today and I was in a real dilemma as to whether I would burn the precious limited miles on one of my own five pairs of Vaporflys (my first one only lasted 229 miles as opposed to the traditional 500 miles I can get on most running shoes) and I'm glad I didn't.

I feel like the Epic Reacts are a better tactical shoe in shorter races than the Vaporflys, especially on hard hilly surfaces. I don't like the way the Vaporflys tend to squish in my feet on grades and the added bounce of the Epic Reacts on hills give me a psychological boost -- it feels like I am saving energy with each bounce up a hill. I also was glad that I didn't have to burn those miles wearing the Vaporflys walking about a mile from my drop off on Piedmont Avenue to the race and another mile home afterward.

Still, I could have benefited from hitting my 7:15/mile pace right out the gate with the Vaporflys and it will always be a tug of war in my mind.

Time: 7 a.m.
Temp: 72 degrees
Gear: Technical Tank (Pactimo/Nuun Hydration), shorts, Nike Epic React flyknit.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Day 4,136: Run for Research 5K

If you like free snacks that you can get at a convenience store, the Run for Research 5K is for you.
I ran in the RaceTrac Run for Research 5K last year and came within 9 seconds of placing in my age group.

This year the race was on a new course that started and ended at SunTrust Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves. It actually looked like the course was the one that I thought I was going to get to run last June in the Braves Country 5K.

I arrived early and was glad I did. I'd forgotten that RaceTrac's snack vendors were out in full force giving out freebies of Oreo cookies, Utz chips and other things like Payday candy bars. I picked up my shirt and bib and had a whole bag of snacks before the race started.

When the race started it was a screaming downhill. I tried my best to keep it under control -- I did 6:49 for the first mile and it felt good. Mile 2 had a little bit of uphill and while I wanted to keep pace I faded a little bit to 7:12.

Mile 3 has the huge hill at the end going over Interstate 75. I just tried to run up it carefully and made my way down the hill toward the stadium. There's another rise right before you turn into the stadium -- Mile 3 was 7:25.

I remembered though that in last year's Braves Country 5K I noted that you have to kick when you turn to go into the stadium because once you get on the warning track, there isn't much race left. So I did, passing three guys and a woman who'd been in front of me the entire race. I finished the last .19 of the race in 1:03, at a 5:52/mile pace.

I finished in 22:29, good for 6th place in my age group and while the hills were hard, I felt really good about my run. It was the first time I ran in Nike's Epic React Flyknit shoes and these were everything I thought they would be for a 5K. They were very smooth on hard surfaces and didn't give me too much squishy give that the Nike Vaporfly 4 percent did going up a hill at the end of the race.

Still, I marveled how eternally consistent I am in hilly races -- 22:30 is my going time.

Time: 8:30 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: T-shirt, technical, short (Ukrops 10K 2016), shorts, Nuun hydration PRO Compression socks, Nike Epic React Flyknit.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Day 4,116: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler (PR)

Third time is the charm! PR -- 1:14:52
WASHINGTON -- "Blue Leader," I said as I spied a guy in a blue shirt making his way past the other runners up the final hill of the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler.

A guy in front of me turned around to look at me, likely not knowing that I was invoking Star Wars lore as I readied myself for a fast finish to the race. I'd only done this once before, streaking through the wooded trails of Nike's World Campus during what to me was an extremely fast 5K.

This time around, I was focused and running fast, on my way to breaking the 1:18:05 PR for the ten-mile distance I just set last month at the Snickers Marathon. I crossed with a kick equivalent to a 5:36 mile.

In December we saw the lottery had opened for this iconic race in D.C. and we knew that it would come at the tail end of our kids' spring break vacations. Why not, we thought? Less than two weeks later we received notification that we were in.

A few days earlier in November I'd just signed up for the Snickers Marathon. After training and running in that race, the timing wasn't perfect to run in the Cherry Blossom race but after completing the marathon I tried to maintain mileage and a few 6-mile tempo runs at the new pace (about 7:28/mile) along with interval training for spring and summer 5Ks I'd hoped to participate in. Even last week's 5 to Thrive 5K was in the hopes of aiding my quest for a new 10-mile PR.

What I wasn't sure about, however, was pace. When I trained for the marathon, I ran pretty much at a 7:40/mile pace with some strength interval work at 7:30/mile. I would be running much faster, at a goal of 7:28/mile to PR with the chance of making the Group A standard (last year was 1:14:40) in the Peachtree Road Race.

It was a plan.

After having trouble with my headphones during the Snickers Marathon, I thought I would go without music for this race since I planned to run in the 7:30/mile pace group. At the last moment I decided to bring the headphones with me and I was glad I did -- the pace group was in the corral in front of me, which started two minutes earlier than mine! I never caught up with that group (or the 8:00/mile group for that matter) in the race.

I walked with the wife from our hotel across the National Mall over to the Washington Monument where the start was. The corral was pretty crowded and even though there was time to warm up, it wasn't clear I would be able to get back in the corral if I did. So I went without the warmup, thinking that the longish walk would be ok.

When the race started, I was concerned there would be congestion in the first mile or so (this happened to me in the two previous races I did here) but that wasn't the case. What I found was that I had to dial my pace waaaay back and my Garmin said I ran 7:28 for Mile 1.

Over the next few miles I struggled to maintain my pace and I really thought that I was on the verge of blowing up and not being able to maintain a decent pace. I ate a gel at about 4.5 miles. The official splits show that I ran the first 10K at a 7:38/mile pace, definitely slower than my goal and more like my body wanted me to rein in the faster pace for the speed that I trained for the marathon.

At this point, however, we had entered Hains Point, an isthmus where the last few miles of the race are located. I was running behind a young woman who was maintaining a good pace -- I saw on my watch I was running 7:20/mile. I wasn't blowing up and I decided that I would try to hold onto this pace as long as I could. The woman had two red horizontal lines running across the back of her white tank and I dubbed her "Red Leader."

By Mile 8 or so I'd ended up passing her and was setting my mind up for the finish. I saw the race clock at this point and knew that I could run 7:30 miles the last two miles and be at or under 75 minutes. But this kind of went out the window at Mile 9 when I looked at my watch and it said "7:30." (My split time was 7:21 or probably more accurately 7:25 at this point since my watch recorded 10.12 miles instead of the official 10). I ate my second and final gel at about 8.5 miles.

The official split shows that my average time had vastly improved to 7:32/mile in less than 3 miles. I knew that when you leave Hains Point there is a sign that says 800m were left. This is where I saw "Blue Leader." I made my way up the last hill, which I used to dread, following him, but ultimately passed him.

I selected another target, "Orange Leader," and then passed him before I crested the hill. As much as I didn't like wearing my Nike Vaporflys last week in the 5K, they felt aggressive and fast in the last section.

I finished in 1:14:52 for a 7:29/mile pace and a PR. I missed my Group A target by 12 seconds. Despite that, I was elated the rest of the day. My marathon recovery in the five weeks leading up to this race was more like a taper for this race. I felt extremely fresh and confident on race day. The faster interval sessions also helped, especially in the last 800 meters of the race.

The new PR gives me much more to work with. I felt like I just ran out of race -- if there were three more miles in it, I might have been looking at a new half marathon PR instead.

Time: 7:32 a.m.
Temp: 36 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Nuun Pactimo '18), shorts, Brooks arm warmers, Headsweats visor (Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler) Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4 percent.

A trip highlight was meeting Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon champion Olympian Meb Keflezighi!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Day 4,108: Atlanta Children's Shelter 5 to Thrive 5K

5 to Thrive 5K: Not my best race.
"We should have fucking gone straight!" I yell to the lead two runners as we are well on our way along the Active Oval, running literally parallel to the finish line.

It's the end of the Atlanta Children's Shelter 5 to Thrive 5K, a race I've run in the last three years and had hopes for getting a new qualifying time for the Peachtree Road Race.

Already there were quirks, which should have been warning signs. First the race was going to be held in the afternoon, at 2:15 p.m. at the hottest time of the day. The last two years the race had been in the morning, the traditional time of races in the park. The weather is usually cooler and there are less people mulling about in the park.

The last time I ran in a non-morning race in Piedmont Park, I ended up off course before correcting and getting my first Master's win.

The next warning sign was they decided to have the same goofy age-group categories as last year, putting me in direct competition with guys in their 30s (typically age groups are five year spans, such as age 45-49). It looked like they were only awarding first place age group winners instead of three deep as last year when I placed third in the race for the hybrid age group but on Athlinks was first in my traditional age group category.

But whatever, I thought. The race is USATF-certified, meaning I can use it as a qualifying time if I run fast enough.

When I got down to the race, it was apparent the race was not going to be the same one as the one that is accurately measured and listed in the USATF archives.

Even then, I wasn't really nonplussed about this, just thinking I would use it as a tempo run and would just try to enjoy my first 5K since the Vinings Downhill 5K last August. I knew I would struggle a little bit but that these kinds of races have been extremely beneficial when run the week before a longer race.

When the race started, I intentionally told myself to hold back ... way back. I mainly accomplished this goal, even though I fell behind quite a few people. My first mile was 6:59 as we made our way down and around the splash pad in the northern part of the park.

I knew I was slowing after this, putting up a 7:22 mile as we rounded the bowl in the southeastern part of the park. Still I felt pretty good, as I passed a few guys that had been ahead of me or passed me earlier and was running behind a teenage girl as the course made its way back up the hill behind the tennis courts.

As the hill reached the top of the Active Oval, two guys who had been in the lead came up and ran by us. I wasn't sure where they came from but I think they had somehow been told to run down in between the Active Oval and the pavilion where the finish is and then been told to rejoin the course.

I passed the girl and was running behind the two leaders with the final turn toward the finish on the path that goes by Lake Clara Meer just before us when the leaders turned into the Active Oval. There were children's shelter signs with arrows pointing this way and as I turned I didn't see any signs on the path where the final turn was.

I followed the guys and then it dawned on me as I ran on the gravel of the oval we were way off course. I followed the leader up around the Active Oval, and out down toward the finish in between the tennis courts and the oval. My watch showed 3.1 miles on this path at about 22:44 for me. I ran Mile 3 in 7:34.

By this time I knew everything was screwed up. I could see runners crossing the finish from the proper way. I made my way around to the finish and maybe was 7th with a time of 23:44.

I'm not sure whether we three runners were officially disqualified as I left immediately after the race feeling it was pointless to stick around when I likely did not even win the age group. I took it in stride as this really was just a community fun run for a good cause instead of the Olympics. It happens, right? But not too often, since this is the first time in 30 years of running that I have ended up off course in a way that was not correctable.

It's too bad it happened, though and I'm really unlikely to run in this race in the future, especially since the design of the park always gets in my head somehow and I run 5Ks here in the 22:30 range, maybe about a minute slower than what I'm probably capable of.

Still, I could tell I was way out of 5K shape, I tried to take things too easily and not aggressive enough. While my Vaporfly shoes probably gave me a cruising cushion to run with, I felt like they were too soft and not responsive when I really thought I should be running harder.

Time: 2:15 p.m.
Temp: 64 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Big Peach Sizzler 10K), shorts, Nike Vaporfly 4 percent.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Day 4,080: Snickers Marathon (PR)

I ran the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with a stress fracture and while I came within 2 minutes of setting a personal record in that race, I'd always thought it was not a fair fight.

Four weeks leading up to that race, my training came to a standstill. I couldn't run with any intensity and I didn't know why I couldn't accelerate. I knew I would want another chance at the marathon distance.

I'd had the Snickers Marathon in Albany, Ga. (about three hours south, southwest of Atlanta) on my radar since last year. It's known as one of the top Boston Marathon qualifiers because of its generally flat course. When I learned last November that I'd been picked to run in the BMW Berlin Marathon I knew I wanted to run in a spring marathon to set the stage for that race.

From November I carefully planned out my mileage, using Hansons Marathon Method as the template, and carefully built my training up to avoid any chance of injury. My training was pretty lackluster, until in January when I did an 18-mile run on a park loop outside Las Vegas. At that point, everything clicked. It was like a sports team that finally galvanized after a win on the road.

For the next seven weeks or so, I was crushing workouts -- 10 mile tempo runs at a 7:40/mile pace, 6-mile strength intervals at 7:30/mile or better. I entered this marathon with a high level of confidence.

It was pretty easy to get to Albany, once I got out of Friday's rush hour traffic in metro Atlanta. The race expo keeps its doors open until 9 p.m. (maybe for Atlanta participants who travel after work?) and I easily got my race bib -- and a bunch of Snickers bars as per the race sponsor -- and settled into my hotel. The hotel offered a free late checkout of 1 p.m. race day and even opened their complimentary breakfast at 5 a.m. so marathoners could get a bite to eat before heading out.

Race morning it was pretty cold out -- my Garmin has 36 degrees as the official temperature. There was plenty of parking in the civic center lot (where the expo was) and while I didn't exactly know where the start line was, I just followed everyone else there. I did about a half-mile warmup, mainly to find a spot in the woods before the race began.

I shed my layers (long sleeve shirt, arm warmers and a visor) and was a little slow to the corral and was in the 8:12/mile pace group. Up ahead was my goal, the 7:50/mile pace group.

Although I'd trained for this race at a 7:40/mile pace which is the pace for a finish of 3:21 or so (my age group standard for the Boston Marathon is 3:25), for some reason there was not a 3:20 pacing group, the lowest was 3:25. I'd previously talked to my friend Anna who was doing this race and she was planning to be in the 3:35 pace group that I was currently standing in before the race started. I didn't mention my ambitious plan to be in the 3:25 group but instead ran up to that group after the race started.

Since the 3:25 pace group existed (and the 3:20 one did not) I decided to run in that group because a 3:25 marathon time would qualify me for Boston (although probably still not fast enough to run in the race because of the sheer number of qualified runners who do apply) and would give me guaranteed entry into the Chicago Marathon. I also felt like it would give me a little physical cushion for a time that I'd never before tried to do.

The race started and a bunch of us were off in the pace group. I'd never run in a pace group before simply because many times the pacers were too fast for me (I have many memories of seeing the group slowly fade away in the distance from me). This time it was pretty exhilarating. A bunch of us were all running with the pacer, who was a 2:50-ish marathoner, all in time. We did a bunch of surges depending on how close we needed to be to our mile pace.

Sometimes I felt like it was too fast and I tried to slow a little. I probably should have slowed more, but was relieved when I made my way back to the pack. One thing was sure though -- I was not confident I could maintain this 7:50/mile pace on my own. To get separated from this pack would be death.

We crossed the race's first official timing mat at 10 miles. Timing mats give you an idea of how you are doing and also serve to prevent anyone from cutting the course to get an ill-gained race time. I crossed in 1:18:05, which gave me a four-minute PR for that distance, one that I was unsuccessful in breaking last fall in the Army Ten Miler and the Atlanta 10-Miler.

At the half marathon mat, I felt like we had increased our pace a little. It felt a little harder to keep up but I still felt like I was doing well. Maybe around Mile 15 I felt a slight warning -- a small tinge in my right calf. In the next mile, a few things happened that I think set me up for doom.

I was wearing a set of wireless headphones and had my iPod clipped to my shorts waistband. We were at this point running in a residential area and up to Mile 16 the headphones cut out three times. Each time I would have to pull my right hand up to my ear and hold down the part of the headphones to turn it back on. It would have to re-establish its connection to the iPod and I would also have to play the track before trying to tuck it in my waistband.

Each time I did this I would lose a few seconds from the pack. The first two times I caught up with not much effort, but the third time my right calf started to cramp and I knew my goal of a 3:25 marathon would be over.

At this point I reached into my hip pouch and pulled out a bottle of what's marketed as "Pickle Juice." It basically serves to help alleviate pain from cramps. I'd never tried it before and popped open the top and drank it. It basically was pickle juice. Drinking it reminded me of the drink in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster -- and that's what I called it the rest of the race.

I only had two bottles with me -- I threw them in my pouch almost as an oversight, since I'd run 18 miles, then 20 miles and 17 miles up to three weeks before this race with no calf pain. At Mile 16, I had to stop when the last remaining bottle popped out of my pouch onto the street. Then my iPod fell on the ground. The pack was nearly out of sight now. I will never wear headphones in a marathon again.

I've never run a marathon without calf cramps and I should have known better. But one thing for sure is that when you have had as many bad races as I have, you know better than to just give up. I trotted along, each time surprised that my watch hadn't shown double-digit split times. Sure, my time had gone up but not by too much. Mile 17 was 8:13. Mile 18 was actually under 8 minutes and I wondered if I could continue this pace with my calves playing ping-pong with each other.

At Mile 19 I ran 8:32 and I was just trying to get to Mile 20 to eat the fifth of the six gels that I carried with me. I continued on until Mile 21, when I decided to use my last pickle juice. People were passing me, in ones and twos and I knew at some point my friend Anna and her 8:12/mile pace would too. I prepared for this by thinking I would say "You're doing great -- I'm still going to get a PR." At one point, a guy in a small group of spectators at the side of the road said aloud, "That guy isn't doing too well." (Anna's friend later mentioned the same thing to me when he saw me crossing the finish).

Through Mile 24 I plodded along and wanted to just drop out of the race, although I still wasn't seeing double-digit split times. I mentally broke down the remaining distance at this point in two-mile segments, much as I did in November when I ran a very slow Rock'n'Roll Savannah Half Marathon (in 1:56). Just get to this mile and the next two miles will be crucial.

Unlike in the Chicago Marathon when the whole crowd around me started to speed up at Mile 25, there was really no one to do so. I knew that at this point I could walk and still get a PR as long as my last mile was under 30 minutes. I really wanted to drop out at this point but remembered the sections from Alex Hutchinson's book Endure about human endurance and thought, "Why in the world would my brain want me to drop out of the race when I'm so close to finishing it?"

And so I plodded along, my split now dropping to 10:25 for that mile and finally 10:57 for Mile 26. At the end you run through an archway into a park and can see the Mile 26 sign, followed by the 13 Mile sign for the half marathon.

At this point I knew there was just a tenth of a mile left, but I really didn't have any speed in me (I finished the remaining tenths of the mile at a 9:42 pace). There was a timing clock at the slight turn before the finish and I could make out the seconds ticking. I'd thought that I was probably running at a 3:44 pace but it turned out the clock was still on 3:40. (Had I known that I was close to running a 3:39, I might have run faster but I didn't know and thus didn't care).

I finished with a 17-minute PR despite the calf cramps. It was a relief to be done and after the finish I stood for a second, not knowing whether to backtrack to the medical tent or to just get a draft beer (I chose the beer but I just didn't feel in regular health at that point).

Later, I saw my friend Anna after the finish. She finished in 3:43 and I thought about that whole section of the race where I just knew she was going to pass me. In the parking lot, a lanky guy asked if I ran in the 3:25 group. I told him my predicament and he mentioned that he was one of the last people who ran with the pacer but in the end, the pacer was the only one to run 3:25. The cool weather was near-perfect but many people ended up a little slower than they'd planned.

It was an amazing day, such a nice community event where all the organizers and volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful. Because of the calf cramps, I went through a range of thoughts on whether I should do another marathon again but I have an idea now why they've happened to me in every marathon I've raced, whether I've tried to run fast, too fast, or slow.

I came back home happy and refreshed. I didn't get the PR that I wanted but was super pleased with the result. After the 2016 Chicago Marathon it took me months to determine if I ever wanted to run in another marathon again ("I don't think this is my distance," I told my wife). I delayed for so long that I missed the October application period that year to run in the 2017 race.

This time around, I set another running-related record -- it only took me a day before thinking, yeah I want to run in another marathon again.

Time: 7 a.m.
Temp: 36 degrees
Gear: Techncial T-shirt, short (Nuun Pactimo 2018), Mizuno shorts, cep compression calf sleeves, Nike Vaporfly 4 percent.