4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

Archive for November 2009

New York City Marathon Race Report – Part II

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I know, I know, it is late, but better late than never!  Check out part 1 here:

As I started on the 2nd half of the marathon, I really felt completely comfortable, and happy with my pacing.  However, the voices in the back of my head said “you should still be feeling good at this point, only halfway”, and I also reminded myself that I still had the hard half to go, and so could take nothing for granted.  Would still just focus on taking it slow, and conserving energy for the late stages where I would need it.

The Queens portion of  the course is very short.  In my first few NYC marathons, it was also pretty sparsely populated with spectators, but that has changed in recent years.  Now there are lots of people watching, and making lots of noise.  I never liked how the course seemed very jig-jaggy through Queens, with lots of turns.  However, they made some subtle changes this year to reduce some of the turns and straighten things out.  I think this makes the Queens portion of the course slightly shorter, which is made up with a little extra room in the Bronx.  I can only otherwise say that I was feeling good here, and got lost a bit in the support of the crowd.  Mile 14 was completed in 10:09, and before I knew it, we were approaching the Queensboro Bridge.

At that stage of the race, the bridge is a killer.  I firmly believe that charging hard up the bridge last year was my downfall in missing 4:30.  So this year, I decided to just take it easy up the bridge and incorporate walk breaks.  I walked early on up the bridge for about 2 minutes, and then again as we reached the top.  This is actually where I started feeling my first muscle issues, namely spasms in my hamstrings.  It was not bad, but just the first cause of concern.  Seemed related to the cold wind, which could be felt here as a cross breeze from right to left.  It went away as soon as we were off the bridge.  In addition to dealing with the incline is the challenge of dealing with the congestion.  You essentially have 2 lanes of traffic for running, but with lots of people walking, (sometimes 3 and 4 abreast) there is a lot of energy lost in just weaving your way through the walkers up the hill.  My approach was to try and find somebody running at my pace and just stay right behind them, and let that person pick through the crowd.

I do enjoy the relative serenity of the bridge.  With no people cheering, it is very quiet, and a chance to recollect before you hit the big crowds again when you come off the bridge.  The cool thing I saw here, that I didn’t remember from years past, is that as we were coming down the ramp off the bridge, there were people stationed above on the main structure of the bridge, literally hanging over the concrete side, above the runners and cheering.  It was a nice welcome into Manhattan, and to the 16 mile mark.  Only 10.2 miles to go!  At this point, was still right within my strategy as mile 15 with the uphill was 11:08, and mile 16, with some uphill in it, was 10:46.  Little slower than I wanted at this point, but still no cause for concern. At this point, my time was approx 2:40, which meant I had 1:50 to cover 10.2 miles, or almost 11 minutes per mile.  So, still feeling good about 4:30.

  • Mile 14 – 10:09
  • Mile 15 – 11:08
  • Mile 16 – 10:46

At this point, we hit 1st Ave, which on TV they tend to call the  “Canyon of Sound”.  In my experience that is not really true.  Yes, the crowds are HUGE on 1st Ave, but they are very sterile.  They tend to stand around and watch, and are not so into the cheering and screaming, as they are on other parts of the course.  This may be because the Ave is so wide that the spectators are set apart quite a ways from the runners.  Again, I just focused on slow and smooth and enjoying the energy.

I had two people to look for here.  Michelle, was going to be at around 72nd St, and a work friend, CW would be in the 90’s.  I didn’t know which side they would be on, so guessed left.  Started looking for Michelle after 70’s St, and was able to easily pick her and her sister out from the crowd.  A quick hello, high five, and an awesome picture, and I was off on my way again. 

Mile 17 at NYC Marathon

As I approached 90’s St, started looking for CW.  Lot of people watching here, so I was focused on the front set of watchers, and almost ran right by her, and her boyfriend as they were set back in the sidewalk.  Luckily, she saw me and called out my name, and I heard, so I was able to see her, give a wave and smile, and carry on.  Still feeling great through this stretch.  I did not take a walk break, with the exception of the water stops.  However, this is where I started getting worried, as my times were slower than my pacing felt.  I was feeling good, but my miles were slowing here, in the 10:45 to  11 range, rather than the 10:30 range I felt.  That was a bad sign.

  • Mile 17 – 10:34
  • Mile 18 – 10:43
  • Mile 19 – 10:56

No only did I take it up 1st Ave without walking, but I also ran the entire length of the Willis Ave Bridge, which is also a clear first for me, and a good half of the Bronx portion without walking.  Did take a walk break towards the end of the Bronx portion, but thought I did pretty well through this area.  Over the Madison Ave Bridge back to Manhattan and the 21 mile mark.  This is where everything changed for me.  As I crossed 21 and hit the button on my watch, I simultaneously noted the really slow time of 11:47 for the mile, and first felt the twinges and muscle spasms that would haunt me the rest of the race, in my legs.  It was at this moment that I knew that 4:30 was totally out of reach.  Even though I was “feeling good”, my times were just way too slow.  And now, in my defeated spirit, my legs started barking at me big time.

The muscle spasm that I had was weird.  Sort of felt it in my lower quads, almost at the top of my knees.  Felt it in both legs, and it seemed to hurt regardless of whether I was running, walking, and stretching didn’t help that much.  At times I was able to run through it, at times it was too much and I took significant walk breaks.  The uphill stretch from 110th to 90th St before you enter the park was the worst.  I walked most of this, and it resulted in my slowest mile, 14:16, for mile 24.  The crowd is so loud and encouraging here, but I just couldn’t get myself together enough to make a real push.  The emotions felt here were truly mixed.  I was very disappointed and upset that 4:30 was not going to happen.  Not only missing 4:30, but I could see that 4:35 wasn’t going to happen, and then 4:40.  On the other hand, I really did feel a huge sense of accomplishment for getting as far as I did.  I was going to finish the race, and I was also going to beat thousands of people also running the race.  And since this will be the last NYC Marathon I will run for awhile, I tried hard to enjoy the last miles, through the most amazing park, the most amazing crowd, in the most spectacular mass participation sporting even there is.

  • Mile 20 – 11:44
  • Mile 21 – 11:47
  • Mile 22 – 12:49
  • Mile 23 – 12:46
  • Mile 24 – 14:16
  • Mile 25 – 13:17

I walked through the mile 26 sign and water stop, and then started to run again, and managed to keep running to the end.  It is mostly a blur, but I really did savor the very loud crowd on Central Park South, and appreciate and enjoy the final third of a mile through Columbus Circle, back into the park, and the final stretch I run hundreds of times up into the finish line.  My pace was still incredibly slow (14:44 for last 1.2 miles) but I ran it, with no walking, and was happy I was able to get that done.

  • Mile 26 – 12:24
  • Mile 26.2 – 2:30

My finishing time was 4:44:05.  In the end, really not that bad.  It is my 2nd fastest NYC Marathon, and my 4th fastest overall out of 11.  While disappointed I didn’t get to, or close to 4:30, I was still very happy with the overall experience.  Of course, then started going through the inevitable reflection of what could I have done better?  A suggestion was made that taking salt in the race may help to avoid muscle cramps.  I will need to experiment with that next time around.  Otherwise, I don’t know there was much else I could do differently.  I think the slower time was simply a reflection of not having trained well enough.  I worked through several injuries in the last few months, starting with a severe lower back spasm in late July, and then shin and groin issues.  I got a lot of miles in, but there were not hard, quality miles.

Anyway, with the exception of the approx 50 minutes it took me to get from mile 21 to mile 25, I totally had a blast and enjoyed every other moment of the day!

My tentative plans for 2010 include Rhode Races Marathon on 5/2, and possibly Chicago on 10/10.  Will also mix in two triathlons, possibly a duathlon, and lots of road races and biking!  Trying to get to 800 miles for 2009, but since I’ve continued to have groin issues and have put in limited miles in the last 3 weeks, it is not looking like that will happen.  If I don’t make it in 2009, then it WILL happen in 2010!

Happy running…

Written by SCL

November 25, 2009 at 9:17 am

New York City Marathon Race Report – Part I

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Wow, hard to believe another year has gone by and another New York City Marathon has also come and past.  This is the third year in a row that I ran, and my 7th NYC since 1996.  As I’ve also run in 4 other marathons, this was my 11th overall.

My goal, of course, was 4:30, obtained at the Austin Marathon in Feb, 4:22, in friendly conditions (downhill, wind at back for much of last 8 miles).  Last year in NYC, I just missed out, finishing in 4:31:xx.  Even though I had put in lots of miles, in fact, more miles in the 12 weeks before this race than any other marathon previously, I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t really have it in me to finish in 4:30 (outlined here).  In many ways I had a great race and a great time, which you’ll see here, but, at the end of the day, I started coming apart in mile 19 or so, and totally lost it after 21 miles.  But, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

I was in the 3rd wave this year, which meant I’d have a 10:20am start time.  I was also assigned to the Staten Island Ferry, as transportation to the start.  Although I could actually take advantage of the ferry and get a much later start than in years past, I just found myself so jumpy and nervous about the race, that I ended up getting almost as early a start as I have in years past.  Was up at 4:30, out the door by 5:15, and at the ferry in time for the 5:45 ferry.  Ferry was not super crowded, certainly less crowded than a typical weekday or weekend trip, and everything was well organized.  Took awhile between the ferry ride and the shuttle bus to the start area, but eventually we were dropped off in a HUGE line of people trying to get into the fort.  Line moved slowly and steadily, delay was essentially a cursory bag check, and then we were in the fort!

First job was just to scout around.  Find my corral in the blue start, find the food, all the bathroom lines, etc.  First thing I noticed was that even though the orange and blue corrals are right next to each other, you cannot get through from one to the other.  That worked out nicely for us as there were a ton of port-o-sans in the area that would prove to never get very crowded.  This was my first blue start, Alberto Salazar Village, and I thought it was the best organized of the bunch.  Very large open concrete (key) space right next to the corrals with all the food and drink stations, and then another large tent area further away, again with all the food and drink stations and port-o-sans.  Passed the time with a careful eating strategy, changed into my race clothes and shoes, and checked my bag at around 8:30.  Was not terribly cold out with temps forecasted in the 50’s, so decided to go with short sleeve top and shorts.  With 2 hours to kill, mostly standing around, went with a throwaway long sleeve t-shirt and shell jacket, the kind they sell at the expo.  Spent much of the rest of the time walking around, using the bathrooms, eating, and just watching the insanity at the corrals.

I have to say the corrals seemed much better staffed this year than last.  Last year, it seemed that it there were mostly high school age girls trying to keep the peace, and that was not working.  Or, perhaps, they do a better job with the blue corrals than the green corrals?  In the blue corrals this year, there were big guys from the US Coast Guard trying to keep order.  That still didn’t stop people from rushing the corrals, jumping the fences (much higher than last year by the way) or otherwise loudly complaining about the injustice of their not being allowed in, when they were in fact LATE.  I really find it amazing how people can not take enough self interest in where they need to go or need to be to get themselves to the assigned place on time.  And I have no sympathy for the people that wait until the last minute to go to the race, check their bag, and try to find their place.  This is the NYC Marathon, with 43,000 participants, not some rinky dink 1000 person race where you can waltz right up at the last minute.  When will they learn??  I’ve seen in race reports that the green corrals were poorly done, but in the blue, everything seemed well organized, and everyone that showed up on time made it to the proper wave.

As for myself, I was in the 2nd corral of the 3rd wave.  Even in my corral, after wave 2 had completely gone by, there were many people trying to rush the front of the 3rd wave to catch up.  Even through the gates were completely closed, and those people were completely late, having already missed the cannon, these people were still completely unruly, threatening and downright ugly towards the volunteers trying to keep everything nice and orderly and safe for the rest of us.  Finally, about 5 minutes before the start, they allowed us to walk up to the start line.  After a few turns around a maze of buses parked in the toll plaza, we were in front of the start line!  I had worked my way up most of the way through the first corral of people and was about 5 rows deep from the start line!  Right in front of the place where the announcer guy was doing his thing from, and where a military lady sang God Bless America.  I was literally standing right under her while she sang.  When it was done, after a few short words, they moved us right up to the start, and the cannon boomed, and we were off!

This was my 7th NYC Marathon, and this start will be one to never forget.  It was as if I was in the lead pack going up the bridge.  It was a truly awesome experience.  Since most people in wave 3, presumably, are not faster than 9 min per mile pace (slowest third of the participants, the lead group didn’t even break away from me that quickly.  Virtually all the way up the bridge, I could clearly see the empty bridge ahead, and the running lanes were not very crowded.  It was a great experience.  Unfortunately though, it was windy, really windy, almost directly a headwind, although slightly from the left side.  After a few minutes of fearing I might lose my hat, I took it off and carried it the entire length of the bridge.  Brightroom got 2 nice pictures of me holding my hat!

My goal was to try as much as possible to stay completely “within” myself for as long as possible, and not jump out to fast in the classic areas (bridge, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, 1st Ave).  A 4:30 marathon is approx 10:18 per mile.  My goal was to keep to 9:45’s or so for the first half.  Each mile clicked off in 9:45, or better, was 30+ seconds that I was ‘banking’ for late in the race, when my pace would most definitely slow down.  So, here, in the first mile, in the lead pack, with little in the way of crowds or obstructions, I tried very hard to hold back, and succeeded.  First mile was in 9:48, and then the 2nd mile, all downhill, was in a reasonable 9:05.  Then I settled into a nice easy 9:30-9:50 pace for the early miles.

Once we hit the 2nd mile, then the faster people behind me in the wave started to pass, and there were a lot of people passing me in the first 5-6 miles.  It did not feel crowded at all though, until we hit mile 4, which is where we merged with the green start.  In theory, the people in the green start are even slower than those in the blue start, and this was likely the case.  While we picked up an additional set of people at that merge, it still didn’t feel too crowded.  One thing that struck me in these miles is that this is where I was having so much trouble 2 weeks earlier, when I bagged on a 21 mile run, and went into the subway at 36th St, after only 13 miles.  On this day, continued breezing down 4th Ave, feeling great and having a grand ole time.  At this point, 4:30 felt totally possible.  I kept telling myself that I felt great and just needed to stay within myself and hold back.  However, the other voice in my head said that it is a long race, and of course you should be feeling great at this early point.  If you were feeling badly this early, then it would truly be a very long day.

At around mile 6, I noticed that I was starting to pass people, slow people, walkers.  Uh oh, this means we’ve caught up to the slower people from wave 2.  This would actually turn out to be an unexpected problem for a long time.  I wasn’t expecting to have to do the dodge and weave thing until much later on in the race.  I guess that is the worst part about being in wave 3.  When I was in wave 2 last year, I didn’t have that problem and didn’t have to worry about passing people, for the most part, until much later on in the race.  My last observation from this first third of the race was the improved merge section at mile 8.  This was slightly altered from years past, and made for a wider and more controlled merge.  Good job NYRR!

  • Mile 1 – 9:48
  • Mile 2 – 9:05
  • Mile 3 – 9:28
  • Mile 4 – 9:40
  • Mile 5 – 9:50
  • Mile 6 – 9:38
  • Mile 7 – 9:48
  • Mile 8 – 9:46

This next section is actually my favorite part of the race.  When you make that right turn at mile 8, onto Lafayette Ave, the nice controlled 4th Ave course turned into what seems like mass chaos!  The street is narrower, so the running lane is packed, and to top it off, the crowd is large and very wild and enthusiastic.  The whole section of Lafayette, from mile 8 to mile 9, mostly  uphill, mind you, just feels great.  The crowd gives some of the best vibes here and really makes for such an enjoyable experience.  Yes, the crowd is better in the last miles in Central Park, but by then, I’m so miserable I don’t really notice it.  Here, in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, in mile 8,9, I’m still feeling fresh, and able to fully experience, enjoy and embrace the power of the crowd.  I do have to remind myself to not push hard here and stay within myself.  The 9th mile, through this area, uphill, was 9:58, and right within what I would expect.

I continued to have very consistent and reasonable miles through this area.  Mile 11 was slower, but that was because I decided to take my first Gu at the 10 mile water stop, adding a good 30 seconds to my time.  Mile 13 was also on the slow side, but that was because I decided to take a bathroom stop here.  That probably added 30-40 seconds as well.  So even though I lost a minute between the Gu and bathroom, I was still cruising along, seemingly on autopilot, at 9:45-10 minutes per mile.  This is EXACTLY where I wanted to be, and I was very pleased, and happy with my race so far.  I still thought it was totally possible to finish in 4:30.  I crossed the halfway mark at 2:09:07, which meant I needed to do the 2nd half in 2:21, or about 10:50 per mile.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Written by SCL

November 10, 2009 at 12:07 am

October 2009 in review

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Running – 85 mile over 11 runs.  In lead up to NYC Marathon, had long runs of 20, 13 and 13.1  664.1 for the year, will need 2 strong months to get to 800 for the year.

Races – 2 (Staten Island Half Marathon – 2:01:14, Nike Human Race – 58:29)

Biking – 0 – taking a break to try and get my elbows better

Swims – 0 – hope to start up again after marathon

Gym workouts – 4

Softball games – 3  (2 loses and 1 tie, but still good enough for playoffs)

Injuries – 2 (shin splints, nagging groin issue, re aggravated whenever playing softball)

Sicknesses – 1 (mild cold)

Written by SCL

November 5, 2009 at 7:50 am

Posted in Month End Summary

New York City Marathon DONE!

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Crossposted from DailyMile. Full blog post later in the week:

My 7th New York and 11th Overall. 4:44:05 is good for my 2nd fastest NYC, and 4th fastest overall.

I had a great race on so many levels. Unfortunately, my finishing time doesn’t necessarily show it, 15 mins slower than my goal.

Highlights:
– Getting almost right to the front of wave 3 and starting up the bridge almost in the ‘lead pack’
– Perfectly executing my strategy. Purposely held back in the early miles and in the classic ‘awesome crowd’ spots, hoping it would lead to a strong finish. 2:09:17 in the first half, right in my goal range.
– Seeing Michelle at mile 17 and CW (someone I work) with at mile 18
– Not stopping for a walk break AT ALL on 1st Ave (outside of water stops), a first for me. Not only that, but I also ran the entire way through the Willis Ave Bridge. Even running half of it would be a first for me
– Running the full last mile – from 25.2 to 26.2

Lowlights:
– I could tell in miles 19-21 that 4:30 was probably not going to happen. Even though I was ahead of schedule and wasn’t walking, my times were gradually slowing too much. Would have to turn it up to meet goal
– Just past mile 21, started cramping in my quad. Well not quite quad, maybe more like just above the knee? Anyway, stopped to stretch several times, and had to do a lot of walking.

In all, had much fun, as always. Finishing, and pushing through the adversity, is such an accomplishment., and I’m proud I was able to do it. I know others out there had a worse time. Saw a 4:15 pacer having a tough go in the last miles, way behind schedule.

Future plans – my next marathon will be Rhode Races, in Povidence Rhode Island on May 2. I’m thinking of running Chicago next fall, as the race falls on 10/10/10 – I think that would be so cool.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get some speed back and will focus on shorter, faster runs through the winter, and sub 2 hour half marathons in Manhattan and Bronx.

Written by SCL

November 2, 2009 at 9:05 am