4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

Archive for October 2009

Final thoughts before New York City Marathon

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In about 23 hours, I’ll be crossing the start line of the New York City Marathon, on the Verrazano Bridge!

On the one hand, I feel over-confident in the sense that I’ve run this race 6 times before and feel like I know everything there is to know about it, the hills, the bridges, the bends, the crowds, the morning preparation routine, etc.  I’ve also spectated a few times.

On the other hand I don’t feel like I’m properly ready.  I’ve put in a lot of miles, but not as many as I’ve wanted with nagging groin and shin injuries lately.  Also, my last long run was cut from 21 miles to 13 miles.  Also, my speed is down from where I’ve been in the past.  In short, while my goal is to beat last years 4:31, and to beat 4:30, I really am not sure I have it in me this time.

4:30 is definitely possible, but I’ll need to run a smart race and have everything fall into place. In particular, I need to make sure I hold back in the spots later in Brooklyn where the crowds are really great, Clinton Hill from mile 8-9, and in Williamsburg / GreenPoint from 11.5-13.  Those are spots where I tend to go too fast, and I think part of the reason I start to lose it at the end.

4:30 comes out to about 10:18 per mile.  So, the trick, and the key, is how long can I keep the miles in the 9:45-10:00 range.  For every 9:45 mile, I gain 30 seconds to allow for slowing down at the end.  In a perfect world, I would not be slowing down at the end, but in practice that always seems to be the case.  My strategy is to run 2:07-2:10 in the first half, and be fresh enough so that I could run the second half in under 2:20.  A tall order, and something I’m really nervous about, but welcoming the challenge.

The one thing I have going for me is my mileage base.  I analyzed back 12 weeks prior to each marathon I’ve done since 2000, and I’ve put in more miles for this one than any other!

  • 2000 Vermont City – 180.8
  • 2000 NYC – 164
  • 2002 Jersey Shore – 139.5
  • 2002 NYC – 187.1
  • 2005 Big Sur – 201.5
  • 2007 NYC – 137.1
  • 2008 NYC – 217.6
  • 2009 Austin – 232.9
  • 2009 NYC – 242.9

Some years, the mileage was pathetic, like in 2007, where my goal was, of course 4:30, but I finished in a disappointing 4:51.  The 242.9 miles I’ve done in the last 12 weeks (just over 20 miles per week) is the stat that helps to alleviate my anxiety.  You can also see from the screenshot below, that I’ve had a nice steady progression and taper. (Daily Mile has some great metrics as part of their latest updates!)




Running - Past 26 Weeks

With the exception of week 30 (back spasm) and weeks 35/36 (sick), my running numbers, for me at least, are pretty solid.



In terms of preparation, ate a nice big pasta dinner last night, with those leftovers planned for tonight.  Drinking a lot today to stay hydrated.  I will drink a ton today, and then once hydrated, will hardly drink in the morning before the race.  This strategy has worked very well for me in the past and prevents me from having to use the bathroom multiple times during the race.  Of course, will have some candy tonight, after trick-or-treating is all done!

Also just trying to stay calm and relaxed.  By myself in my NJ house last night, so it was very calm, peaceful and quiet.  Just me and the 5 loads of laundry assigned to me 🙂  Also had a really good night sleep.

I like to get to the race early, and sort of enjoy the calm before the storm at Fort Wadsworth, and so will probably take the ferry at 6 or 6:30.  The best advice I can give anyone running this race for the first time, especially if you are in the first wave, is to get there as early as possible.  You will not believe how crowded it gets, how long it will take for you to use the bathroom, check your bag and find your corral.  Last year there were almost fistfights between the marshals (mostly high school kids best I could tell) at the corrals, and the people fighting to get into their space even though they were late.  Anyway, I will get there early, get my bag checked in a leisurely fashion, and just have extra throwaway layers so I don’t get too cold during the wait.

The weather is looking to be pretty good.  Rain is forecasted for tonight and maybe early in the morning.  Once the rain clears out, it will be in the 50’s tomorrow, but maybe windy.  That is the biggest wildcard.  If it is windy, it will be out of the north, which means we would be running into the wind for much of the first 20 miles.  Will cross my fingers that it is not so bad.

In the end, I just want to have fun and enjoy the experience.  Especially since this will be my last NYC Marathon for awhile.  Starting next year, I’m going to run fall marathons in other states, so want to make sure I savor this one, and hopefully with an under 4:30 finishing time!


Written by SCL

October 31, 2009 at 10:24 am

New York City Marathon Expo

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48 hours to go to the start of the New York City Marathon, and I have caught the bug! No, I’m not sick, although my wife and Katie (my 8 year old) are.  I think they got sick from me, so I’m safe!  The bug I’ve caught is the super excitement of what may be the greatest mass participation sporting event out there!  The city is really transforming this week into marathon mode, and yesterday I headed to the expo to take part!

On a side note, when I checked my RSS feed this morning, I *already* had 4 completed marathon expo reports!  Wow, I’m behind the times!  Check out their great blogs…

Don’t have time to go into full details, but I had a lot of fun.  The only complaint that I do have about it (its human nature to complain about something, right!) is that the exhibition space is relatively small (the Austin Marathon exhibition space was almost as big), with much of the space is taken up by the big name vendors, Asics, Nike, Foot Locker, Garmin, Timex, Polar, Saucony, Poland Spring, Gatorade, and so on.  There were not a whole lot of the smaller vendors with more interesting items.  Yes, there were some, but just not enough!  I think that is why I liked the Austin Marathon expo so much, because there was a greater mix of bigger vendors and smaller vendors.  Here, many of the smaller vendors were actually a subset of the large Paragon section.

Anyway, expo really was great overall, and I picked up lots of stuff, including:

  • tech tee
  • White cap
  • Heavy gloves
  • singlet
  • long sleeve under layer
  • throwaway jacket
  • light gloves
  • Amphipod
  • Socks

In short, I went hog wild!  Here are the pictures I got on my phone:

My favorite ‘swag’ item is the Timex refrigerator magnet where you can punch out the pieces of a digital clock grid to show your finishing time, just like a real digital race clock! 

In all, spent about 2 hours wandering around, very tiring work.  Was also able to meet up with Michelle and chat for a few minutes.

Can’t wait for Sunday and will try and write up some final thoughts beforehand.

Written by SCL

October 30, 2009 at 9:04 am

Nike Human Race Race Report

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Saturday, Oct 24, 2009, was “the day the world runs”, and I took part in the New York event, a 10k race in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  I jumped at the chance to run this race, because, I enjoy running in Prospect Park and rarely do.  Only chance I really have has been at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, which I’ve done on and off over the years.  This 10k race was also the perfect taper event for 8 days before the New York City Marathon.

Weather was potentially a factor, but luckily, it held out and there was no rain.  Rained hard overnight, but stopped early in the morning.  By racetime, only remnants were the wet roads and the humid air.  It was actually quite humid, but luckily not too hot at about 60 degrees.  Showers started to kick in after the race, but thankfully the race itself was dry.

Start was at 8am, so 5:30 alarm, 6:15 out the door, and arrived at the park around 7:15.  Plenty of time to get the pre-race stuff done (change of clothes, bathroom run, bag check) in a leisurely fashion.  Had the bag checked by 7:40 and lined myself up with the 8 minute per mile people.

I’m so used to running NYRR races in New York City, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not an NYRR event.  The start was very professional, and well staged with enough port-o-potties, an organized start line by pace time, and buses to transport our bag the half mile from start to finish, and keep them dry in case of rain!  But I did a double take when the announcer guy was none other than Ian Brooks, who has announced at many NYRR events over the years.  Lately I’ve heard someone else doing the race announcements for NYRR, so nice to see that Ian is still out there, with his awesome British accent.  Although (sorry for the mini-rant here as I am a stickler for logistics and details), he incorrectly referred to us having the D-Tag chip rather than the ChampionChip.  First of all, D-Tag is not a ‘chip’, it is a ‘tag’!  The confusion is because NYRR has started using D-Tag, although at the Staten Island Half, the announcer there kept referring incorrectly to the ChampionChip.  Cmon people, let’s get it right!

Anyway, back to the point! Shortly after 8am, the horn sounded, and we were off!  I could tell right away that I was going too fast.  I almost started hyperventilating early and could feel myself breathing heavy.  I tried to back off a bit but keep a hard pace.  My 10k PR, set in early 2007, is 52:43, and I was thinking that if I could keep my pace around 8:45, I would have a chance to PR.  Then, the bad news started to surface.  In the first mile, I could feel my shin acting up.  I’ve had my fair share of shin issues lately and was praying it would hold off and allow me to run through it.  The advantage to running in the park is that there are a lot of uphills (and downhills), but in particular, the uphills are good to loosen up the shin and sometimes make the pain go away before having to stop and walk.  The big hill is in mile 2, so I felt I just needed to hold up to that point.  Even with slowing down, and taking a water stop before mile 1, I crossed mile 1 in 8:15, which is way too fast.  I have a feeling that marker was not quite accurate, but hard to tell.  Anyway, dialed the pace back a notch, hoping it would help, and worked up the big hill in the northeast corner of the park.  Crested it, and started working down the other side, but shin was still tight.  Very tight. 

Made it as far as the water stop just after mile 3, and decided on a walk break.  Walked about a quarter mile, trying to stretch it out, etc.  Then started back into run mode.  Shin pain was still there, but starting to abate, so just pressed along.  Very soon we completed the first loop and started the second time around.  This time, finally, in mile 4, as I worked up the hill for the second time, the shin pain subsided significantly.  Was then able to safely push hard the last 2 miles into the finish.  My biggest complaint about the race occurred here, namely the 5 mile marker placement.  The placement was highly suspect, as you will see by my splits below.  I am a very consistent runner, and miles 5 and 6 were run at a similar hard pace, yet you’ll see the major difference in time.  Finish was actually on a nice downhill, so cruised in very fast.  Finished in 58:29, which is not bad at all, but several minutes slower than I thought I could do if my shin didn’t act up.  After finishing, I went out to the last straightaway and cheered many more runners into the finish.

Overall, this race was great.  Water was plentiful and there were many stops with lots of tables.  The post race spread was great, although the grounds were completely muddy.  Hope they run this again next year, and again in Prospect.  If so, I will be there!

And to top it all off, ended with a fantastic brunch in Park Slope with great company, namely 5 new friends met over the last year on DailyMile and Twitter.  Great food and great conversation.  Then off to the rest of my weekend!

  • Mile 1 – 8:15
  • Mile 2 – 9:48
  • Mile 3 – 10:20
  • Mile 4 – 9:41
  • Mile 5 – 10:54 (I DONT THINK SO!)
  • Mile 6 – 7:44 (I WISH)
  • Mile 6.2 – 1:42

Written by SCL

October 26, 2009 at 4:31 pm

New York City Marathon Course Changes Confirmed (???)

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About a month ago, when reading the NYRR Runner magazine, I noticed a brief mention of  course changes in the New York City Marathon for 2009.  There have been slight course changes through the years, and I’m always interested in logistics such as these.  The original quote from the magazine was:

“This year, a few adjustments – including a new placement of the start on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and an expanded loop in the Bronx – will make the route faster and more exciting than ever.”

At the time, the map posted online was unchanged from last year’s map, but in this, the final run up to the marathon, I took another look and found the updated course map here.  I’ve noticed 2 subtle changes so far.  The quote suggests that the start will be higher up the bridge, which can’t be confirmed, of course, until race day.  The other changes seem to be:

  1. McCarren Park – In some past years, the marathon went through north Williamsburg on Berry Street and thus around the west side of McCarren Park.  In the last few years, the route went up Bedford Ave, but then made an unfortunate end around the park, with a left turn on N12th and then a right on Nassau, essentially going around the park, rather than continuing straight up Bedford.  Well, this year, looks like the course will go straight up Bedford, and through McCarren Park, eliminating the 2 turns required to go around the park!  This more direct route actually is shorter, so this length needs to be made up elsewhere, namely in the Bronx.
  2. Bronx – In past years,  after Willis Ave Bridge, there would be an immediate left on 135th St, a right on Alexander Ave, and finally a left on 138th St to the Madison Ave Bridge.  Will be different this year.  Wonder if it is related to the massive construction occurring on the Bronx side of the Willis Ave Bridge, but instead of the left off the bridge, we will continue straight to 138th St, make a left, and then take an odd detour around Morris and Rider Aves, up to 140th St.  I guess what is unfortunate about this is that it adds back the 2 turns that we lose in Williamsburg!  I seem to remember 135 being a downhill and Alexander being an uphill, so I wonder if the new route eliminates a hill – that would be a bonus!

Anyway, not sure why I’m so interested in the logistics, but in case it is not highlighted in the pre-race materials, thought you should all know!

Written by SCL

October 25, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Taper time for New York City Marathon

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Really wish I had more time for posting here.  So much to tell, and no time to sit and write it down.  In a nutshell, things are OK.  Not perfect, but still very much OK.

I’ve had a mixed go of it in my long runs.  The good news is that my best long runs have been my races – awesome job at the Tune Up 18 mile race and the SI Half Marathon.  My other long runs have been OK, but less than spectacular, and then my last long run, this past Sunday, was cut down to 13 miles, from a planned 21, due to the cold and windy weather, but also because of my not so fresh legs.

My legs are a bit of a concern.  In the last few weeks, I’ve had issue with a shin split on the right side.  Been manageable, but it is ‘there’ and I have to pay attention to it.  I do not fear it giving me a hard time in the marathon, since uphills always loosen it up, especially at the start of a run, and, the New York City Marathon has one long hill to start the race!  But also, I’ve had problems with my groin.  I’ve had nagging groin issue for probably almost a year now, but it had not been a problem at all when running.  However, last week, I somehow tweaked the right side playing softball, and it has been much worse in the last week.  I’ve been resting quite a bit, working it out in the gym, icing, stretching, etc, and I seem to have it under control.  Did a hard 4.6 mile run last night with no ill effects. Not so much worried about it, but a little concerned about what it will do when I’m 20 miles into the race and ready to push hard in the last miles to get myself under 4:30.

All in all, I’m in really high spirits, and very excited about marathon week.  Hoping to join in on some Tweetups, or DailyMile meetups, etc, and meet some of the great people in person that I’ve met online in the last year.  I’m also really going to try to savor the week and race, as I do not intend to run this marathon for at least 5 years.  This will be my 7th in New York City, and I will start running fall marathons in other states next year, so I can add to my state collection – which stands right now at 4 – and maybe hit 50 states sometime around when I turn 65!

Anyway, good luck to everyone out there preparing for the big race, and I’ll try to be better about posting updates here.  Looking forward to the Nike Human Race on Saturday in Prospect Park, despite the rainy forecast.

Written by SCL

October 21, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Staten Island Half Marathon Race Report

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Let me start by saying that I love the Staten Island Half Marathon.  Of the Grand Prix events, I enjoy this 2nd most, just behind Brooklyn.  The course is not particular difficult, has great water vistas and great views of the Verrazano Bridge.  It also has a wonderful staging area in the parking lot of the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, and top it off with the wonderful opportunity to take the Staten Island Ferry in the early morning.

This was my seventh running.  I ran 4 times in the 90’s, on the old course that ended in Fort Wadsworth.  This is the third year in a row I’ve run the newer course, as part of my final preparation for the New York City Marathon.  Considering the marathon is in 3 weeks, I decided I wouldn’t run this as a race, but rather as a strong tempo run.

This year the race had an 8:30 start, an hour earlier than in prior years.  I felt the 7:30 ferry was cutting it too close, so decided to go for the 6:30 ferry.  That necessitated a 5am alarm, and getting out of the house by 5:30.  The early morning ferry ride, starting in the darkness and ending with the rising sun, was so peaceful.  Sat on the Brooklyn side, views are just stunning with the sunrise on a nice morning.  Was quite cold though.

Once at the staging area, got my number, used the ‘facilities’, and then sat on the waterfront and read my book (The Mists of Avalon) for 15 minutes.  Then used the facilities again, changed my clothes, dropped off my bag, and made it to my corral with 10 mins to spare.  All in all, a perfect pre-race strategy.  No stress, no waiting on lines, etc.

My goal was to finish under 2:05, and if things went really well, perhaps push it down to 2:01 or so, which is similar to what I did last year.  So, the early strategy was to do about 9:30 per mile and then slowly push the pace faster in the second half.  My shin has been acting up lately, and it was starting to bother me in the first 2 miles.  Luckily it was not so bad and I was able to push through it to the third mile, where my shin started to loosen up.  Uphills are good for the shin, and there were enough uphill spots in the early miles to keep it under control.

  • Mile 1 – 9:26
  • Mile 2 – 9:27
  • Mile 3 – 9:23
  • Mile 4 – 9:13

The other nice thing about this course is that the streets used are very wide, and have lots of straightaways.  This is especially true when you get to mile 5 and the out and back on Father Capodanno Blvd.  It starts with a nice long downhill into the straightaways.  Was still feeling really good here so did start to push a little.  The out portion to mile 6.5 was slightly into the wind, so required a little more push to maintain the pace.  I knew that I could coast a little with the wind on the way back to prepare for the big hill as you approach mile 8.  Mile 7.5 to 8 is a pretty steep uphill coming off the Blvd and into Fort Wadsworth.  It is the toughest part of the course, and I knew that it was mostly downhill after that part, so I pushed it hard as well, and finished that mile with a very strong 9:28.

  • Mile 5 – 9:36
  • Mile 6 – 9:16
  • Mile 7 – 9:24
  • Mile 8 – 9:28

With the hardest part behind, and only 5 miles to go, now was the time to start pushing, especially on the downhills.  Significant downhills in mile 9 and 10.  Was still feeling super strong here and was able to maintain a nice hard 9:00-9:15 pace, and then really pushed it all out on the last mile, and finished with a very hard sprint into the finish.

  • Mile 9 – 9:12
  • Mile 10 – 9:02
  • Mile 11 – 9:23
  • Mile 12 – 9:07
  • Mile 13 – 8:23
  • Mile 13.1 – :45

My official time was 2:01:14, which I was very happy with.  Overall, was very similar to the race I ran last year.  Virtually the same pacing, with a similar hard finish.  My time last year was about a minute faster, at 2:00:19.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still really happy with my time, and my race strategy, but since the strategy and conditions were almost identical to last year, and last year was 1 minute faster, it unfortunately tells me that I have not gotten any faster in the last year, with all the running and biking I’ve done.

Feeling great going into the last weeks of New York City Marathon training.  Planning for a 20-21 miler next weekend, and then a 2 week taper into the race!

September 2009 in Review

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Running – 85.8 miles over 12 runs.  Very good month in terms of mileage, and on par with what I did last year in Sept.  Included 2 long runs.  Currently at 589.1 miles for the year, within striking distance of the annual record I set last year, at 762.4 miles

Races – 1 (NYC Marathon Tune Up – 2:54:40 PR)

Biking – 37.1 miles over 1 ride – May have only been a single ride, but it was a great one, over GW Bridge and up 9W to Alpine.  I am done for the year, though, as my elbows seem to be in pain after I ride, and my left elbow still hurts, more than 3 weeks later.  Need to heal that up, and get my bike sized, for next year

Swims – 0

Gym workouts – 3 – still not so great

Softball games – 3  (3 wins!)

Injuries – 0

Sicknesses – 1 (cold for a week, but really only down for the count for 3 days)

Written by SCL

October 2, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Month End Summary

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