Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Day 4,748: The runstreak is now 13 years!

A short 2-mile run today closed out 13 years of the runstreak! I ended up with 2,130.11 miles for the year, the most I've ever run for that time period (I ran 2,104.33 miles in 2014).

All in all, it was a pretty good year. I focused much of my training on two marathons (Revel Mt. Charleston and the Chicago Marathon) but was happy that my times in shorter distances were good, including an unexpected PR in the Peachtree Road Race.

I'm hoping to work on my half marathon PR (1:39:14) this year and am training specifically for a PR in the April Cherry Blossom Ten Miler (1:14:52). I got into the Chicago Marathon for next year and that will be my 11th marathon.

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year and a great 2020!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Day 4,732: First Watch Kennesaw Locomotive 5K

KENNESAW, Ga. -- After a few 5K races under my running shoes I had my eyes on one last one for the year, the First Watch Kennesaw Locomotive 5K. My wife and I had been to the race sponsor's breakfast/brunch restaurant recently and I wanted to see if I could win a gift card promised to age group winners.

This race is held the same weekend as the Jeff Galloway half marathon and 5K. I decided that after running in the Chicago Marathon in October, I would never be properly trained to run a December half marathon. I could have run in the Barb's 5K scheduled on Dec. 14 but my wife already was signed up to do another 5K. So in order to keep my "streaker" status for the Galloway race series I decided to run a virtual 5K so I could show up to this one.

Nine years ago I ran in the Kennesaw Locomotive Half Marathon, back when the race was held in September. At the time I was gearing up for my first Chicago Marathon. I didn't remember really any of the race route although there is some overlap.

I was happy to know however that the race overlapped a good bit of the Summer Steamer 10K that I ran in June. It was helpful to know exactly where to park and how long it would take for me to trek out to the suburbs for this race.

Instead of starting in the parking lot as in the Steamer, the 5K started directly on Vaughn Road, then turned down Cobb Place Boulevard NW before the hill at Auto Park Drive NW. Because I was following my power data, I let a huge group of people run ahead. Right before the turn I realized that I had not turned on my Garmin watch at all -- it was just showing my live power data. So with about a half mile in the race, my watch was finally on.

Running up Auto Park Drive I passed a man who was probably my age or so. I just kept going steadily up the hill, remembering how hard it was for me to run this section twice in the June 10K at a 7:15/mile pace.

The 5K turns southeast on Roberts Boulevard instead of going the opposite way in the Summer Steamer and I was greeted with another hill leading to Cobb Place Drive. At this point there was a boy ahead of me. I was running steadily but when he sensed I was close he would surge ahead. I didn't try to keep up with him since my experience with this (as recent as the previous weeks' race) is that surges in a 5K only serve to wear down the surger. I fully expected to overtake him at some point.

After Cobb Place we turned back on Cobb Place Boulevard toward Roberts Boulevard again. I ended up passing the boy on the descent and made my way through the Vaughn Road intersection to the turn-around point on Roberts maybe three-tenths of the way down the road. There was a clock at the turnaround and it said something like 17 minutes and change and it made me worry that I was going to run this race slower than 22 minutes.

When I reached the turnaround I saw that I was all alone in the race. The boy was not anywhere behind me -- when I turned on Vaughn Road to the finish I saw that he was only halfway to the turnaround -- and the lead pack was nowhere in sight. Tactically it was an interesting situation since I still had a bunch of running to do but really not the kind of running you would do if someone was close ahead/with or behind you. So I just plugged on. I tried to tell myself that the boy was about to pass me as I neared the finish (I finished almost a minute ahead of him).

I crossed the finish with a gun time of 21:51, on par with my last two other 5Ks. I was pleased with it but very unsure whether I had won my age group. I waited around for the awards and lo and behold I won my age group! There was a man in my age group who ran faster than me but he was the overall winner or the masters winner. I was seventh overall in the race.

During the wait for the awards I took a short stroll down the Noonday Creek Trail for a geocache -- this is part of the Summer Steamer course. I returned to the parking lot staging area and wasn't initially hungry but later decided to eat the very delicious pancake and chicken or turkey sausage First Watch provided for runners.

Because I started my watch late I only had partial data to work with after the race. My Garmin said I ran the first .4 mile at a 7:11/mile pace, then ran a full mile in 6:55 and the next mile in 6:48 before finishing the last .15 mile at a 6:27 equivalent pace. It was nice to win my age group but disconcerting that guys in my age group can run about an entire minute faster than me. Definitely more work for me in the future and this is as nice of a 5K I could hope to find in the area!

Time: 8:03 a.m.
Temp: 39 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Nike), shorts, Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit/B.

Running to the finish! (Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto.com)

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Day 4,724: Atlanta Running Festival 5K, my third Masters win

I signed up for this race about 10 hours before it started and it turned out to be my third Masters win!
I wasn't sure I was going to run in this race -- I ran a 5K a week the last two weeks and would another race in the park do anything for me? Still, I was buoyed by last week's 21:53 in the Leftover 5Ks event and wondering if my Stryd-paced footpod would come in handy again.

In the end I decided to register for the Atlanta Running Festival 5K the night before and I made sure that I got out to the park a little before sunrise so I could take advantage of street parking. I walked my way over to the registration table and got my bib and shirt (I felt a little guilty getting a shirt because of my very late registration) and returned to the car. It was only about 48 degrees out but it felt cold. Cold enough that when I started my warmup I debated running the race in my Under Armour running jacket that I was wearing.

Luckily after that mile I warmed up and ditched the coat in my car. It was really convenient to be able to change shoes from trainers to racing shoes and even, about an hour before the race, driving home to use the bathroom instead of a porta-potty. When I returned some minutes later, my parking space was still available!

When I got to the starting area, I grimaced, since the one guy who looked like he would win the whole race (and he did), wearing one of those Tracksmith sash tanks, also was wearing the exact same white Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit as I was wearing. I'm pretty sure we were the only ones wearing Vaporflys to this event. I debated wearing other shoes but after last week's great run I decided to see how the shoe would run in this race.

When the race started, I made sure that my wattage was under 300 and I pretty much kept it this way.. We made our way around the Active Oval and during this time I caught up with a younger African-American guy. He kept surging to stay in front of me and at times I would drop back, especially up the hill on the Active Oval, to keep my wattage down. I wondered if the entire race would be this way, with this guy pacing me. Eventually after Mile 1 and before the turn into The Meadow, I dropped him.

In past races without the footpod I would run way too fast around the Active Oval and then get dropped by people in the Meadow, only to have my slowest mile be Mile 3. This time I was passing people, but carefully and once I made my way back out of The Meadow, I caught up with a guy in a Georgia shirt. We basically ran step by step the rest of the way back to the Active Oval where we had to loop back around it toward the start.

Here I started to disregard my wattage up and back down the hill around the oval. Once we made the turn along Lake Clara Meer, I started to pick it up a little bit, waiting for the last turn as I did in last December's Jeff Galloway 13.1. When the turn came, I made for the tangent as fast as I could and outkicked this guy -- who was 14 years younger than me -- by two seconds to finish in 21:45. I was 6th place overall and first Masters male (the overall winner was 47 so the Masters win fell to me).

I was elated when I saw the results. I was worried that with only awards for the top runners in each age division I would walk home without an award, as I did the previous week in the Leftovers 5K. It helped that the popular Eastside BeltLine 10K also was held today, just an hour or so after my race started.

The Masters win was unexpected and great -- I got an award and a gift card to Phidippides running store. It also was my third Masters win, after the May the 4th Miler Be With You race in May 2015 and the Stamp Out Poverty 5K in December 2016. It's certainly the first time I've won a gift card for a race.

I felt extremely comfortable running this distance at this pace and this time around I used the footpod data to tell me when to increase my wattage and I included pace to appear on the screen to give me a sense of what the actual pace was during the race. My splits were incredibly even -- 6:57/7:04/7:00 and the last .13 miles I was running at a 5:50/mile pace. It will be nice to use this tool in a ramp up for longer distances -- and new PRs.

Time: 8:30 a.m.
Temp: 48 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Doug Kessler 10K), shorts, Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit/B.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Day 4,717: Leftover 5Ks and 2,000 miles for the year

Put a sticker over an unused race bib and voila! A new race bib!
Since running in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13 (I know, marathons take a long time for me to process) I haven't stuck to much of a schedule, preferring to just get regular runs in for Strava badges or even volunteering in the Thanksgiving half marathon (that post soon to come as well).

This race, however, intrigued me. Run Social Atlanta offered up the post-Thanksgiving Leftover 5Ks, two 5Ks that consisted entirely of leftover race bibs, T-shirts, medals and swag from the other races they've hosted over the year. Better still, a 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. race allowed the wife and I to participate while the other watched the kiddos.

Although I've owned it since before I ran in the 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon, I've started training with a Stryd foot pod. It basically calculates wattage of power similar to power meters for cyclists. The intent is to provide you with a smoother guide during your race to allow a very even experience without bonking.

A week before, I calculated my critical power doing a virtual 5K on a track at St. Pius X High School. This gave me a base number with a recommendation to run at 279 watts per kilogram for a 5K. So when this race came, I only had three sets of data on my Garmin -- the distance, my race power and the time elapsed. It would be the first time that I ran a race without knowing my pace.

The race started in Piedmont Park and we looped around The Meadow before heading down past the dog park and up the ramp next to the splash pad. Then we came down the hill, looped around the tennis courts and around the outside of the Active Oval before running back around Lake Clara Meer to the Meadow and the finish.

When the race started I saw I needed to back off, as I was running at 322 watts! I settled myself into about 272 and found it was nearly impossible for me to run at my recommended wattage. One lady passed me up the ramp next to the splash pad -- I let her go since I was running close to the power that I needed to run. Two men had passed me also during the race and I was able to pass one with less than a quarter-mile left in the race.

Since this was more of a community race, I opted to leave the Vaporflys at home. Instead I wore a pair of Nike Zoom Fly/SP shoes that I bought on sale on Amazon. They had been intended to be a replacement for the two previous pairs of Zoom Flys that I've owned; instead they appear to be some kind of hybrid that lends itself to faster running. I decided to wear those to test the shoes out. I found they were comfortable to run in although for the last mile it felt like my right shoe might come off my foot at any moment. Additionally, I didn't like the plush squish of the shoes as I was kicking my way to the finish.

I finished in 21:53 which is the first time I've run under 22 minutes in any 5K in Piedmont Park. Using the power meter kept me from using too much energy early on in the race and I felt pretty fresh during all points of the run. I need to find out how to be more comfortable running at my recommended wattage.

It turned out my time was only good for fourth in my age group -- if I'd run the 10 a.m. race instead I would have won the whole thing since, a male took that down with a time of 26 minutes. (EDIT: Actually the first male masters ran in 27:10, the male winner ran 22:44).

Still it was a great idea for a holiday weekend with great weather! With that race I reached my goal of 2,000 running miles this year with a month to spare and am only 50 miles or so away from running 20,000 miles for my near 13-year-old running streak.

Time: 9 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (rabbit), shorts, Nike Zoom Fly/SP.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Day 4,568: My 15th Peachtree Road Race (PR)

My decision to wear Atlanta United's King Peach kit in the race was rewarded with a PR.
It was hot out, running down Peachtree Street and somewhere around Mile 2 I noticed all the runners around me. We seemed to be running slow. I glanced down at my watch for my pace and saw the numbers 6:55, leading up to one of the fastest mile splits I've ever run in this race or any race for that matter.

Alright, I thought, and continued on.

Today was my 15th AJC Peachtree Road Race and what I thought was going to be just another ordinary race turned out to be epic, breaking a personal record that has stood for three and a half years and besting my Peachtree course record by more than a minute and a half.

There were hints this could happen as I ran 45:28 in last month's Summer Sizzler 10K in Kennesaw, proving that even without any speedwork since April's Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon, I was in good race shape. Yet the last time I ran a similar time -- 45:26 in 2017's Possum Trot 10K, it turned into a dud come Peachtree time with a 47:49 race that July 4th.

The weather looked like it would conspire against me, however, with morning temperatures at 75 degrees. Already the Atlanta Track Club's event system was at yellow, warning runners to take precautions because of the heat and humidity.

Still, I decided I would just see how things would go in the race. Even though I knew it was going to be hot and humid, I decided to wear the Atlanta United soccer team's King Peach kit -- I'd worn it on a similarly humid day and ran home after a game and thought it could be something I would run in. I'd actually worn most of my singlets in previous Peachtree races and thought it would be nice to wear something different.

I debated on my shoes for this race. If this race didn't matter very much to me, why not just wear my Hoka One One Carbon X shoes I wore in the Summer Steamer? But in the end, I decided I might need to rely on the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4 percent Flyknit's much better ability to accelerate when I needed it most. So that was that.

Another thing I did was that I made sure I got into the Group A corral early. The last two years I got in late because of lack of time or because I wanted to try to warm-up beforehand and would end up at the very back of the corral. This led to me inevitably running at a 7:30/mile pace in the crowd, much slower than what I'd planned on running and my time for the first three miles would suffer accordingly.

Today I was in the middle of the corral and when the race started, I was running at a good clip. I struggled early, my breathing was too hard and I wasn't really running that fast -- there are slight rolling dips before Piedmont Avenue, (something I dislike about the last part of the Labor Day Big Peach Sizzler 10K course) and it looked like I was going to have my typical Peachtree Road Race with Mile 1 ending at 7:19.

After this I tried to not look at my watch just to avoid disappointment and so I just kept going by effort, and was surprised that Mile 2 ended at a 6:58 pace. Mile 3 came really quickly, down to the bottom of the hill by Peachtree Battle and a little bit up the first incline. I ran this mile in 6:59.

When I got up Cardiac Hill, I was beyond sweaty in my Adidas Climacool kit. I kind of regretted wearing it but there was nothing I could do. I made my way up the best I could and slowed a little to get a cup of water to pour on my hands (they felt hot) and then took 3 sips from the next cup of water I grabbed. When I got to the top, I tried to hammer the decline and flat stretch before the next hill.

The next big incline, which goes all the way up to 14th Street, didn't appear to be as steep as I thought in years past, so I kept going as best as I could. I didn't look at my watch the whole time but I ran Miles 4 and 5 in 7:34 and 7:35, which gave me 10 more seconds of cushion over what I usually have run those hilly miles in years past. In recent years I'd thought about taking a gel at Mile 4 -- I actually had two gels with me on this race, one to take before the race started and one at this point but I decided not to take any this time around.

At 14th Street you could see that people were really pushing. I looked up and I was at 12th Street already and I just told myself to get to the 10th Street turn. From here, the course is all downhill to the finish. I made my way to the photographers at Piedmont Avenue and then I told myself I should be kicking from here, as I had just seen this part of the course the day before cheering my son along as he completed the Peachtree Junior One Mile race.

But I kept waving myself off. A little bit further was the "Yoshino Cherry" pokestop and Mile 6 (7:05), where I kicked in last year's race. I really couldn't do it here either. I kept pushing though and finally I could see the finish line at the bottom of the hill I started to accelerate. It wasn't really much of anything, though.

When I crossed the finish I finally looked at my watch and was startled to see the race time start with the numbers "45." (I ran the last .29 miles at a 6:05 pace). It felt like I had run a 46- or 47-minute 10K yet again.

It's a huge confidence boost to crush a course on an extremely hot and humid day. It's a little surprising I hadn't done any speedwork in a few months but the 230 miles I posted last month in the first few weeks of my Chicago Marathon training block certainly helped. And most of those miles have been under the same humid conditions.

At the same time, I could have done better. If I'd looked at my watch near the end of the race I might have pressed harder or at least understood what some of the runners who were kicking ahead of me were trying to do -- break 45 minutes. That's out there and I know if I can run so close to that mark under extreme weather conditions and a brutally hilly course, I have what it takes to PR again in a more favorable situation.

Time: 7 a.m.
Temp: 75 degrees
Gear: Atlanta United King Peach jersey (Adidas Climacool), shorts, Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4 percent Flyknit/B).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

For 3rd year, Peachtree Road Race relaxes time standards for early waves

For the third year, the Atlanta Track Club has relaxed time standards for the first four waves of the Peachtree Road Race. This year you needed a "projected 10K finish time" of 46:39 (about a 7:30/mile pace) for Wave A or 51:07 (8:13/mile pace) for Wave B. Even seeded runners caught a break, needing a time of 39:52 this year compared to 39:35 last year.

The new time standards can be found here. In applying for the 50th running of Atlanta's annual July 4th road race you had to submit a recent race time in order to not be randomly placed in a late starting wave of a race that attracts about 60,000 participants.

It makes a huge difference since the later the start wave, the later you start and the warmer it is on the course as the summer morning temperatures rise.

Presumably the 10K's time standards shift each year because of various numbers of applicants for each start wave and to make sure each one is not too crowded. Yet runners don't know if the race times they submit will qualify them for a particular starting wave because the time standards aren't released until a few months after the registration deadline in the spring.

Last year you needed a 45:47 (7:22/mile pace) for Wave A and 50:41 (8:09/mile pace) for Wave B. The time standards for the first four waves have been declining since 2017, when a time of 45:32 was needed for Wave A or 50:21 was needed for Wave B.

It's a little harder, however, to be placed into the next six waves compared to last year. This year, you need to have a projected 10K finish breaking 1 hour for Wave E (last year it was 1 hour, six seconds) and Wave K is four seconds more stringent at 1:20:04.

Also this year, a 10K time breaking 2 hours will get you into Wave N and a submitted time of 2 hours or more is good for Wave P. Runners without submitted race times are placed randomly in the remaining seven waves (R through Y).

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Day 4,549: Summer Steamer 10K (Carbon X race test)

KENNESAW, Ga. -- I haven't done any speedwork since well before April's Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon but with the Peachtree Road Race coming up in three weeks I wanted to race the 10K distance. I also wanted to put the new Hoka One One Carbon X shoes to the test.

So I decided on this race in the suburbs. It's on the same day as the Chattahoochee Nature Center's Possum Trot and I chose this one because of the other race's seemingly huge hill at the end (that really wasn't so big after all).

For the 10K, the race is two 5K loops that begin in an office park before going on a few streets and then through the paved Noonday Creek Trail and then back to the start. My race also started at the same time as the 5K so at the start I wanted to be sure that I held my pace in check as to not run at a 5K pace and then have to slog through the same distance again.

The start/finish gate was a little narrow and I started several rows back from the start. It turned out I was pretty far back as I was six or seven seconds behind the gun time. When I started there was a whole group in front of me and I wondered with my 7:30/mile pace if I was even going to run closer to the 7:15/mile pace I'd need for a PR.

There were a few people around me in the beginning and I could even see a woman running with a few dogs as we approached the turn for the second street we'd run on. I was pretty amazed since she was with the front group!!  I ran the first mile in 7:23.

After Mile 1, the course turns on Barrett Lakes Boulevard and is a 56-foot incline over .46 miles to Auto Park Drive Northwest. It is a little daunting but gradual and I made my way up it. Then it dips and resumes another climb of 58 feet between 1.55 miles and 1.8 miles when you turn onto Roberts Road. It starts to be screaming downhill until 2.31 miles when you enter the Noonday Creek Trail. (My second mile was 7:15).

At this point there were some people behind me and I was pretty much drafting off of a kid. On the bike trail he joined up with another youth and I decided to not keep running as fast since it was becoming apparent most of the people in this spot were running in the 5K and were kicking to the end of the race. Indeed when the turn off came for the 5K finish I was the only one running! My third mile was 7:18.

At this point running through the office park I could see one guy already on the streets running way ahead of me and although I thought it would be nice to catch up I decided to not press it too much. Mile 4 was in 7:18 right before the turn for the hill.

The guy looked behind to see where I was before he turned to start the Barrett Lakes climb and I was still a good distance away. Maybe halfway up the hill I could see one other woman starting the turn at the top of the hill (she finished in 44 minutes and change in seventh place overall and I wouldn't see her the rest of the race).

So it was just me and this guy. I think I passed him somewhere on Auto Park Drive before the next turn on Roberts. (I ran this hilly Mile 5 in 7:28 just after the turn) I was a little worried since I didn't want to run too fast and blow up but once I got onto the bike path I decided I would run as fast as I could with some in reserve and then make a decision if I got passed.

I kept pressing and when I exited the trail and got to the short .05/mile turnaround before the end of the race I could see the guy was still on the trail and I probably didn't have anything to worry about. Mile 6 before this turnaround was 7:06.

When I got into the office park, there was a guy telling me to turn right where the 5K finished in the first loop and another guy telling me 10K was straight. So I kept straight for a few feet and the first guy was really yelling loud at me, so I stopped and turned around and confirmed, "10K?" When I got that confirmation, I turned around and then loped through the chute at a 7:19/mile pace, much slower than I normally would kick.

I finished in 45:28 for eighth place overall, 12 seconds above my PR, good for second in my age group (first place was a guy wearing Vaporflys who ran it in 42 minutes so I wouldn't have had a chance anyway).

I was happy with this race since I haven't done any 10K specific speedwork as I was focused on recovering from one marathon and just now starting my Chicago Marathon training. I enjoyed running in the Carbon X -- it felt very smooth throughout but I also feel like in a 10K I prefer the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% as I feel I can generate my top speed at the end of races much faster. I probably will use the Carbon X for the marathon however.

Time: 7:36 a.m.
Temp: 66 degrees
Gear: Mizuno sleeveless singlet, shorts, Hoka One One Carbon X.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Day 4,535: Virginia-Highland Summerfest 5K

My seventh try at the Va-Hi Summerfest 5K and my first age group medal for it.
Now that the Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon is past and I'm a few weeks away from my training cycle for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I wanted to jump in a few local races.

The Virginia-Highland Summerfest 5K is my neighborhood race and this year was my seventh running of it. I hadn't run it since 2015 since at least for me, the course is pretty brutal with lots of rolling hills in the last mile. This year, however, I just thought I'd run in it. It also helped that I saw that I should have run in it in the years since 2015, since it looked like my average 5K time in a hilly race of 22:30 would have placed me in my age group each year. So it goes ...

I got down to the race start a few minutes before the race started and I was easily 8 to 10 rows from the start. The race started and I made my way, trying to take it easy on the downhill and then run carefully up the first uphill grade half a mile later. My first mile was 6:57.

This race felt difficult for me and I did my best to keep up. I didn't even want to look at my watch during the race out of fear that I would be running like an 8:30 mile through the hills. My second mile was in 7:08.

Then the really hilly portions happened and I felt like I wanted to quit but just kept on going. Mile 3 was 7:40. Up one hill, then down and up to another and then through the famous Virginia-Highland intersection and on to the final hill ... and then down two streets to the finish. When I turned I was surprised the finish was not too far away -- in years past it is slightly evil as it finishes on an uphill grade further up the street. I just tucked in behind a younger guy who passed me and kicked to the finish.

The course was short according to my Garmin watch and I finished the last .06 of a mile at a 5:41/mile pace for a 39th place at 22:06.

Afterward I chatted with the dad of one of my daughter's preschool classmates (who beat me by 17 seconds) and I wasn't sure if I placed in my age group or not until I received an email with the results. I placed third in my age group and was pretty elated since I'd never placed in my six previous attempts, even though my times in 2010 and 2015 were very similar to this year's.

The guy announcing the awards recognized my name as he came to it and said something to the effect that he's announced my name many times before. It was nice to get out there today even though with the heat and the hills it was a little bit of a struggle.

Time: 8 a.m.
Temp: 66 degrees
Gear: Mizuno technical sleeveless singlet, shorts, Nike Vaporfly 4 percent/B.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Day 4,500: Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon

This 3:48 finish was hard earned, with calf cramps, heat and a lot of walking.
"I have a rule, which is if you think you're at 70 percent, then start pulling back, because it's probably at 105." -- Robert Downey Jr. on fellow Avengers: Endgame actor Chris Hemsworth in Variety magazine
SUMMERLIN, Nevada -- I'm running, more like freefall, at a 7:23/mile pace down a 5.7 percent grade when I glance up at a sign.

"Holy shit, I'm running at 7,000 feet," I thought to myself as my Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit shoes carried me effortlessly down the mountain road.

Such was my initiation to a race that I always wanted to run, the Revel Race Series Mt. Charleston Marathon. After a hugely positive race last September in Berlin, I prepared myself for my ninth marathon in ways that I'd never done previously.

First I trained under an online coach, the one offered by the race series, and particularly because this race -- basically a 23-mile descent -- would be unlike any of the flatter races I've done in the past. The 24-week training program was my longest ever for a marathon, including grueling mile repeats up and down grade (I found a decent 4.8 percent grade near my house) and specific bodyweight workouts to prepare your quads for an epic downhill beating.

I also had a personal trainer once a week and twice a month subjected my leg muscles to dry needling via a physical therapist.

And yet? I still ran too fast for my ability on what came to be a very hot day in the desert -- 80 degrees halfway through the race.

The race starts and ends in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, several miles from the famous Strip. I stayed at a hotel nearby, wanting to make sure that I would be there in time for the hour long bus trip up to the top of the mountain for the 5:30 a.m. race start. After reading an account on last year's race, I decided to catch the bus at 3 a.m. so I wouldn't have to rush to the start.

It turned out the bus got up the mountain pretty quickly and around 3:45 a.m. I had a bunch of time to kill. Despite the long wait, I'm glad I did this since both last year and this year I'd heard accounts of people's buses getting lost or breaking down on the ride up the mountain. I had plenty of time to use the portapotties, hydrate, eat a small snack and apply sunscreen. I wore a technical hoodie under a fleece pullover -- it was pretty cold!

The race start was just on the road above the staging area. They had banners for the different time groups with the slower times to the left. But the race start was to the left of the slowest banner shown. I didn't pay any mind to this as I heard they would bring the faster groups along the cul-de-sac to the right to the start.

So right before the race start I waited with a few people by one of the banners. People were flowing to our left. Someone then came up and asked us why we were waiting. It turned out the banners were placed the wrong way and the race had started! I made my way to the left, paused to get my headphones working and was off!

The race preview warned of the hilly first half mile and I took heed. Only the altitude was 7,600 feet and I was sucking serious wind and then the course finally started downhill. My first mile was 7:51.

I tried to take it easy but the next few miles were serious freefall and I went 7:26, 7:29, 7:24. There was a little rise at Mile 4 and also at Mile 5, which took us through the parking lot of the mountain visitor center. It was a decent rise and I had just consumed a gel thinking the aid station would be at Mile 5 as printed in the guide. But it was after the parking lot so I had that gel in my mouth the whole time!

At Mile 7 and 8 I was cruising along -- but maybe too fast, with splits of 7:05 and 7:09. After Mile 8 I felt like I was having some GI issues so at Mile 9 I stopped at a portapotty at an aid station. I remember feeling my calf muscles not cramping but almost swimming in circles while I was standing still. I took this as a not great sign but I still made my way down the road.

At Mile 12 my headphones cut off, just as they did in the March 2018 Snickers Marathon. It probably is a good idea for me to not wear headphones as at this point I could hear my breathing, which could have alerted me that I was running at a harder effort than I should have been.

By the half-marathon mark (I ran it in 1:39:54, just 40 seconds off of my PR and it probably would have been a PR for the day if I hadn't had that Mile 9 stop) I could feel it starting to get warm so I backed off my pace. By Mile 16 it was genuinely hot and I started to develop calf cramps. This time around I carried Hyland's Leg Cramps tablets, some of which were the same ones that I never used in last September's Berlin Marathon and some of which were included in our prerace packet.

The tablets worked wonderfully. I could still feel the calves cramp but there was no pain at all. By this time because of the heat and the cramps I knew my race was done so I basically just stopped worrying about my finishing time at this point. So I would come to a complete stop at all aid stations and using the portapotty at most of them.

From here until Mile 20 I kept going back and forth with a guy who would walk until I caught up with him and then run and then walk again. I just made my way down the best I could and in this case it turned out that just running at a slow, constant rate beat out walking and running.

At Mile 23 they thankfully gave out wet towels and I held onto mine until the finish. In the next mile I had previewed the large 3/4-mile hill and I'd never been so thankful to see an uphill grade in my life as I was able to run up it completely. But there was still more race to go!

At this point I was running and walking when the cramps would start. They were impacting my ability to run and even in the last two-tenths of a mile I had to walk even though I could clearly see the finish. Once I made the final U-turn to the finish line I was able to jog a little as in the photo above.

My 3:48:58 finish is my second-fastest marathon time and it's amazing to think I was able to do that given the amount of stopping and walking that I did. I've learned some things for October's Chicago Marathon and I'm looking forward to executing a better race the next time around.

Time: 5:30 a.m.
Temp: 64 to 80+ degrees
Gear: Mizuno sleeveless singlet, shorts, cep compression socks, Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% Flyknit/B.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Day 4,459: Publix Atlanta Half Marathon

Prior to Sunday, I've run the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon course, in its several iterations, seven times. Six for the half and one for the full, in 2010. It is my favorite course around the city and one I call a meat-grinder for its many unforgiving hills.

Only once had I bested it, in 2016, following a jerk who kept bumping me on North Highland Avenue and ran off at an incomprehensible speed, leading to my then-PR of 1:42:40. Since then, I'd largely avoided the race until a few weeks ago when the Atlanta Track Club revealed the race shirts, which I liked.

So I impulsively signed up for it and then struggled to figure out how to fit it into my marathon training schedule. I pretty much have a no-extraneous race rule after getting a stress fracture after running a half marathon a few weeks before the 2016 Chicago Marathon.

My goal thus was to just run this like a long training run, say in the 8:08-8:38 per mile range. Easy, right?

In past races, I used to take advantage of free Sunday street parking downtown on race day but remembered that in the 2016 race I almost wasn't able to find any. This time around, I left home at 5:45 a.m. and parked on the street a mile away in Midtown. Then I hoofed it to Centennial Olympic Park where the race began.

After gear-checking the Nike Odyssey React shoes that I ambled over in, I slipped on a pair of Nike Vaporfly 4 percent racing shoes that I pretty much only train in. I debated wearing a pair of Nike Zoom Fly shoes since I wasn't going to run this race hard but then I thought, at this distance, why not run in a fast shoe?

I've actually had great results wearing both shoes at the last two Jeff Galloway 13.1 races -- a 1:41:47 in 2017 wearing Zoom Flys and a 1:41:15 this past December wearing the Vaporfly, although I probably would have run it a few minutes faster if I hadn't developed calf cramps at Mile 10.

I still had a few minutes to kill before the race and it was cold. Fortunately I remembered the 2016 race start, in which I didn't think I needed to bring anything before the race and ended up begging to huddle with the wife and her mylar space blanket before the gun went off. I brought an old painters jacket that they gave me at one of the Jeff Galloway halfs and planned to toss it when the race started.

Fortunately the Omni Hotel next to the race start was open and I was able to use the bathroom (no lines, I was surprised) and then wait in a warm lobby until a few minutes before the start. When the race started, I took it easy. It was really congested anyway and now I'm surprised to see an 8:34 mile -- I thought my watch said something more like slower than 9 minutes.

When the race turned off of Piedmont Avenue down North Avenue, I tried to focus on the downhill slant as per my downhill marathon training program. It was nice to be on a familiar stretch up Central Park Avenue (this course overlaps the Jeff Galloway half here). Then after a few turns the course goes over Freedom Parkway and toward Auburn Avenue and the resting place of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

At this point I'd still been wearing the painter's jacket over my technical T-shirt. I ended up taking the jacket off and balling it up to hold in my hand. I'd planned to toss it but I remembered the family might watch the race in Virginia-Highland, so I decided to hold it for a few miles and see if I could drop it off.

After crossing through Little Five Points, the course turns off Moreland Avenue and up the start of Freedom Parkway. I made my way past a bunch of people and there was another Asian guy who also was running pretty fast up it. His pace was faster than mine and I didn't want to press it at this point, so I ran to the right side of the road so as to not be caught up with his pace.

At this point there also had been a teenage boy running with maybe his mom. They both had a pretty good pace -- the teenager was running fast back and forth ahead and behind in spurts -- but I didn't think it was going to be sustainable for them. It's distracting to be going back and forth with people in a race and eventually after turning up North Avenue again I lost sight of them. I used to really fear this hill here but this time it didn't seem like much of anything.

Finally I was on North Highland Avenue and it is always comforting to be back on home turf. This part of the course is gradual downhill and then turning onto Virginia Avenue is downhill with a brief uphill to John Howell Park and then back downhill. At this point I didn't see any sign of the family so I decided I would ditch my jacket in a bush on the side of the road at the park and just when I did, I saw the family on the right side of the road! I made an abrupt turn back to the right to drop off my jacket and continued down the hill.

As I ran down Virginia Avenue at about Mile 8.34 I finally had my first gel since the start of the race. In training I typically have them every four miles and I'd brought enough gels to do this. But I'd been passing the water stations as I didn't want to dig out my straw. I finally just decided to eat the gel and then find a water station. I dumped the empty gel pouch in a trash can at Virginia and Park Drive.

At this point I discovered I'd been going back and forth with a woman who I didn't think could sustain the pace, but maybe she could? Finally in Piedmont Park she went right to grab water and I decided to grab water on the left in case there was going to be more fast paced back and forth. Fortunately there wasn't for the rest of the race.

On the turn out of the park onto 10th Street, I'd been steadily running faster with a 7:48 Mile 9. On these rolling hills I discovered that I could front these hills at pretty much full speed without penalty. It felt crazy. So I rolled up Juniper this way, up over Peachtree Street (Mile 10 was 7:45) and then down past Bobby Dodd Stadium (Mile 11 was 7:41).

Up the double hill on North Avenue along the stadium I cut to the outside and literally was passing dozens of people. I looked at my watch and I was running at a 7:17 clip. I came back down and then up Techwood Drive and Mile 12 was 7:30.

I literally was flying down Marietta Street. After about a quarter-mile, I came upon an older guy who impressed me. He was doing the marathon and was moving at my clip, about 7:25/mile. I should have complimented this but I didn't and before the Luckie Street stoplight he fell back. At this point I remembered I had about a half-mile and three more stoplights to go.

In pretty much every race I've run on this stretch in the past, I've always had calf cramps or tinges on this street. But nothing so far. Mile 13 was 7:25 and when I came upon the final turn I was accelerating well. I finished the last two tenths of the race at a 6:37/mile pace and passed people on the straightaway.

I finished in 1:44:39, which is a time I'm happy about since I started off really slow. I'd caught up with the tail end of Corral A and after I crossed the finish line, one of the 1:45 pacers (I didn't see them the entire race) gave me a high five. It gave me a huge confidence boost as I'd struggled to run faster paces in recent tempo runs. I think a lot of leg strength work and physical therapy has really helped me this marathon cycle.
It sucked to have to walk a mile back to my car (and then to basically repeat the miles again later in the day for the Atlanta United game) but I'm happy to report that I didn't have the hip strain that dogged me after the December Jeff Galloway 13.1.

Time: 7:03 a.m.
Temp: 43 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Team BEEF Georgia), shorts, cep compression sleeves, Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%/B.