4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

Archive for January 2010

January 2010 in Review

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Running – 102.5 miles over 16 runs.  Big mileage month, my 2nd biggest ever, a hair behind Jan 2009.  Lots of miles without trying too hard!  Year is definitely off to a great start in the running dept.

Races – 2 (Fred Lebow Classic 5M – 43:15; Manhattan Half Marathon – 1:58:54)

Biking – 9.3 miles over 1 ride – earliest in the year I’ve ever been on on the bike.  Although left elbow is in much better shape, still have some concern about my right elbow.  For now, will try to bike once every 2 weeks.

Swims – 2 – gotta get this up to once per week

Gym workouts – 5 – not bad but need to step this up too.

Softball games – 0 (but spring training is coming!)

Injuries – 0 (wow! zero injuries to speak of right now.  Sure there are lots of little tweaks and annoyances here and there, but nothing to keep me off the road)

Sicknesses – 1 (just a cold mid month that kept me indoors for about 3 days)

Weight – Lost 1 pound over the last month, adding to the 1.7 lost in Jan.  Still have 4 more to lose to get back to where I was last summer


Written by SCL

January 31, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Month End Summary

Right Now

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My run tonight was intended to be a ho-hum mid-week 5 mile run, but it turned into one of the best non-race running experiences I’ve had in a long time.

Let me back up to this morning. I set the alarm early, intending to get up early for a bike ride. Although I did get up early, ended up staying home to work. Partly because I was too lazy, and partly because I’m still worried about my elbow, and partly because I had a lot of work to do. So, I vowed that I would, absolutely, get out for a run tonight. I have a long run planned for Saturday, and so today’s run was really for nothing more than getting some miles in and giving me a rest day tomorrow, my literal definition of junk miles.

Fast forward to tonight. My first responsibility was to pick up my 14 year old from her dance school at 7:30. Home before 8, and my next responsibility was to hang out with my 8 year old until 9, as my wife was working in the bedroom till then, and my 8 year old has a cute way of missing me when I’m not around and wanting my company. This meant no run until 9:30 or so. And, unfortunately, the temps were dropping steadily by the hour.

Layered up, 3 shirts, tights and pants on bottom, extra pair of gloves, ‘gator’ thingy that covers the neck and throat, and I was finally ready to go. I really was dreading this, but also looking forward to the challenge. WeatherBug was reporting 24 degrees, but with sustained 25 mile per hour winds, out of the north! Ouch!

I decided on a route that takes me south (with the wind) and then back up north (against the wind). On a day like today, I thought it was better to have the easy effort in the first half with the wind and then once warmed up, battle the wind in the second half. This is against what one would typically do in the winter time, where common convention says run against the wind first to have an easier second half.

Last decision was playlist. I have a ‘running’ playlist of about 16 songs that I typically listen to on short runs. It would have lasted for my planned 5.2 mile run, but for some reason, I decided to play the 5-star playlist on my iphone, which is about 90 songs that I don’t mind hearing when running. I think in my mind I was hoping for some variety. And, this ended up being the highlight of my run, and a big reason I got through it so easily.

First up was Bat Out of Hell. That is one of the perfect running songs, and one I don’t hear so often. It is long, and one I can really get into. One can get lost in that song, and at a good 10 minutes or so, by the time it is over, a mile has gone by. And that is what happened. I was running, with the wind at my back, like a bat out of hell!

The song ended, as I worked my way down Allen St (1st Ave), approaching Delancey St. I didn’t really notice though, as I was focused on the intersection and getting through it. Delancey is tough, because if you miss it, that means up to 60 seconds of waiting to cross. As I approached, I saw there was no way to catch it on the green. But, with literally dozens of runs down that way, I knew that the westbound traffic has a left turn light, and then a slight delay before it goes green for everyone. And, later at night, it is definitely possible to slip behind the turning cars and before the rest of the traffic comes through. I saw my opening, and went for it. As I hit the island in the middle, I could see that the full green had not occurred yet, and I was able to get all the way across. Victory!

Once I made it across, and shifted into a lower recovery gear, my brain registered the next song that had just begun, The Boss’ Born to Run. How perfect is that: “baby we were born to run!”. Once past Delancey, you hit a nice downhill down to the East River. With the wind at my back, listening to Born to Run, literally felt like I was flying. I think I may have hit that runners high people talk about. As I approached the river, in the darkness, I noticed the huge hulking Manhattan Bridge, high above, and it struck me how just yesterday morning, I was literally running a couple of hundred feet above my head, over that same bridge to Brooklyn. Was just in awe.

Got down to the river and turned south, headed for South Street Seaport and my turn-around point at Wall St. I was anxiously waiting to see what song would come up next, and it was another gem of a running song, Van Halen’s, Right Now. “Don’t wanna wait till tomorrow. Why put if off another day?”. I felt like it was perfect, it did perfectly define the run. Right Now perfectly summed up what I was doing. Getting the run in, despite the weather, despite the time, despite how busy my life is. Exactly, “why put it off another day?”

Those 3 songs took me almost all the way down to the turn-around point. I knew that it would get hard once I turned around, and I would have to deal with the wind head on, but I had such a great start to the run, and I was in such high spirits, that it didn’t matter.

The rest of the playlist doesn’t matter, in fact, it is a bit of a blur. No doubt, the rest of the run was hard, as I came down from the runners high. On the way back, I started feeling bogged down by the layers, and started noticing how my legs were not fresh and how my quads were a bit sore, and then the wind kept blowing until the finish.

But, finish I did, and after I hit stop on my watch, and then hit stop on RunKeeper on my iPhone, the iPhone battery promptly died. Even that worked out perfectly.

So, at the end of the day, my junk mile run turned into one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had on a ho-hum daily run in a long time.

Written by SCL

January 28, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Manhattan Half Marathon Race Report

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Yesterday was the Manhattan Half Marathon, 2 loops of Central Park, and the kick off of the five borough NYRR grand prix of half marathons in NYC.  Half marathons in Central Park are very tough, 2 full loops of the park, but this was my 8th (3 Grete’s, 5 Manhattan halves) so I knew exactly what I was in for.  As predicted earlier in the week, I did not see a PR in this race, and was predicting a finish between 1:59 and 2:00.  A month ago, I would not have thought sub 2-hours was possible, but I’ve been working really hard, putting in lots of miles (for me), and had a great start to speedwork in Jan, and so I felt I was ready for sub 2-hours.

Last year I ran the race, but didn’t ‘race’ it, (race report here) as I was planning to add on miles afterwards.  Turns out I didn’t because it was freezing cold that day.  But 2 years ago, I did race it, and surprised myself by running under 2 hours.  I felt like I’m as well, or better, trained now than I was 2 years ago, so my real goal was to beat that time from 2 years ago, which turned out (I found out afterwards) to be 1:59:05.  It requires a very smart effort.  It is very easy, on this course, to lose it in the 2nd half, so my goal was to keep within a comfortable, but strong pace, the first loop, and then push as I felt possible in the second loop.  2 hours is 9:09 pace, so at each mile marker, I’d be able to gauge where I was.

Was really a great day for racing.  37 degrees, although humid and overcast, and very little wind.  At the last minute, I decided on lightweight long-sleeve shirt, and no gloves or winter hat, just regular cap.  I was very comfortable, although started getting a little cold in the 2nd half when there was no sun, and the temps did not rise at all.  Was at the park around 7:15, and had just enough time to use the bathrooms, change, go through my preparations, check my bag, and get to the corral with 10 mins to spare.

At 8am, we were off!  I did get caught up in the race excitement to start and found that mile 1 was 8:55, too fast.  Was hoping that my comfortable pace would be around 9:10, with gas in the tank to push the last miles to ensure sub 2-hours.  Fast early miles would not help.  Slowed a little for mile 2 (although that mile has cat hill) and then evened out in mile 3.  Mile 4 has the Harlem Hill upswing, and a crowded water stop with Gatorade.  Combined, those caused the slowest mile yet at 9:31.  However, made that time up on the long downhill on the West side into mile 6, and completed the first loop in 55:04, which was ever so slightly over my goal, but very close, and I was feeling good.

  • Mile 1 – 8:55
  • Mile 2 – 9:18
  • Mile 3 – 9:11
  • Mile 4 – 9:31
  • Mile 5 – 9:10
  • Mile 6 – 8:56

In loop 2, tried to keep the same consistent pace, but push a little in spots where it felt right.  First 3 miles of the loop were very consistent, but right at my goal pace, didn’t make up any ground here.  Then, mile 10, which has the same Harlem Hill and important water stop as mile 4, was done again in 9:31 (hows that for consistency!).  I panicked a little at that point.  At mile 10, I figured I was about 30 seconds BEHIND my 2:00 goal, and thus 90 seconds behind 1:59, and thought it was time to start pushing hard.  In mile 11, you have the rolling hills of the west side, and I pushed up each of the hills, finishing the mile in 8:47.  Mile 12 is mostly downhill, and as I was able to maintain the same pace as mile 11, but with less effort, using the hill to save something for the last mile.  Mile 12 was 8:37.  At that point, I knew 2-hours was in the bag, but, I really wanted to beat my 2008 time, and would be awesome to finish under 1:59.  Mile 13 was very tough.  There are uphill and downhill sections, and I tried to use every one to my advantage.  Last quarter mile is on a downhill and found the last bit of gas to push it hard.  Mile 13 was 8:37!

  • Mile 7 – 9:07
  • Mile 8 – 9:10
  • Mile 9 – 9:09
  • Mile 10 – 9:31
  • Mile 11 – 8:47
  • Mile 12 – 8:37
  • Mile 13 – 8:37
  • Mile 13.1 – :46

Crossed the finish with an official time of 1:58:54!  6 seconds faster than my predicted 1:59, and 11 seconds faster than my course PR, set 2 years ago.

I was very happy with the effort in this race, executed exactly as planned, and I am excited about the prospects of setting a half marathon PR later in the year.  In 2008, when I ran 1:59:05 in Manhattan, I then beat 1:57 both in Bronx and Brooklyn in the upcoming months.

In a final summary, this was a strong negative split.  Last 6 miles were finished in 53:43, more than a minute faster than the first 6 miles!  Also, this was my 4th fastest half marathon ever, out of 31!

Written by SCL

January 25, 2010 at 6:48 am

Posted in Race Report, running

PR? No, and that’s OK

with 4 comments

Came back from an early morning run, which was autotweeted by RunKeeper.  TK (Pigtails Flying) was up and out early and we had a little twitversation and she asked me if I was going for a PR at the Manhattan Half on Sunday.

It’s funny.  I hadn’t really thought about it yet.  The quick answer, of course, is no, as I’m not quite in PR shape yet.  But it got me to thinking about PR’s, a bit of history with them, and reminding me just how special they are.

My running goes in cycles.  It ends up slightly different every year, but if you normalize out my years, it goes something like this: Start running hard in Jan, including speed work.  Run hard through winter and spring.  Start getting run down in late spring.  Virtually stop running in summer when it is too hot.  Start up again in August when I panic about fall marathon.  Train for fall marathon, run it, and end the year in recovery mode.

For me, in that cycle, late winter and early spring is my sweet spot for a PR.  In fact, if you look at my half marathon history, scroll down in my results page, (how is it possible I’ve run 30 of them???) you can see my PR’s.  They have ALL come in the springtime, or late winter: Brooklyn 99, 00, 05, 07, 08, Queens (which used to be in spring) in 99 and 01, and Bronx 08.

But, this gets harder to do in each year, and that is the key point.  With each successive faster PR, you have to work THAT much harder each time to work back up to that peak performance to reach the PR. My last half marathon PR was Brooklyn 2008, where I ran 1:56:41.  Right now I know I am not near that pace, but yes, I’d love to beat it in a spring half marathon this year.  However, I’ll need to work harder than ever to get there, and hope injuries don’t hold me back, or there are no adverse conditions on race day, or any other number of things to keep a run from being perfect.

But, if I can get to that PR, it will be mighty sweeeet, and you know I will savor it, because once I hit that down cycle and start to work back up next year, who knows if I’ll be able to reach the same level of peak performance again.

Last year, I ran a winter marathon (Austin in mid-Feb), so I actually did not have a down period after the NYC marathon, and I was in peak condition in winter.  I actually PR’d 5 mile, 5k and marathon distances between Jan and March 1.  I will never forget how great things were in that period of time, and how special it was.  I hope I can get somewhere like that again, but it will take a lot of hard work.

Good luck to everyone running the half this weekend.  Conditions should be great, mid to upper 30s and dry.

Written by SCL

January 22, 2010 at 7:30 am

Posted in Reflections, running

Every other day?

with one comment

Why does my blog traffic spike every second or third day?  So strange.  It’s not like I put a new post up every 2 or 3 days.  New posts go up maybe once per week, if I’m lucky!

Written by SCL

January 17, 2010 at 11:24 am

Posted in Reflections

The fun part…

with 3 comments

I love so many things about marathon training.  Running with a purpose.  Eating whatever I want.  Watching the miles pile on.  The journey to meet a difficult goal.  Impressive comments I get from people who don’t run.  But the thing I love most of all, the part that I have the most fun with as I get ready for a marathon, is the PLANNING!

I absolutely love the planning aspect.  Starting with planning which race it will be.  Then, for the out-of-town races, the planning of when to go, where to stay, what to do, etc.  Planning the race day logistics.  And most importantly, planning the training.

It is funny, because on the one hand, I don’t really plan my training out very well at all.  For the most part, I wing it.  My marathon training has no start date.  I don’t count the weeks left to the race.  What I do on a given day is typically based on how I feel and how much time I have that day, and not what the ‘training plan’ says I need to do.  I watch at the macro level to make sure that I’m generally getting enough miles in, that my mileage is increasing properly, and that I’m getting the right cross training in, but I do not micro-manage the day-to-day workouts.

However, on the other hand, the one aspect I do plan very carefully is my long runs, and my goal activity for each weekend leading up to the race.  And that is what I’m working on now for my May 2 marathon, Rhode Races in Providence RI.

Couple of holes still, but here is how it is shaping up now.

  1. weekend of 1/23 – Manhattan Half
  2. weekend of 1/30 – 15 miles
  3. weekend of 2/6 – TBD, default being 10 miles.  Maybe long bike ride?
  4. weekend of 2/13 – on vacation
  5. weekend of 2/20 – on vacation
  6. weekend of 2/27 – long run 18 miles
  7. weekend of 3/6 – Coogan’s 5k race
  8. weekend of 3/13 – TBD, default being 10 miles.  Maybe long bike ride?
  9. weekend of 3/20 – long run – 20 miles
  10. weekend of 3/27 – March Madness Biathlon
  11. weekend of 4/3 – 131 New York Half Marathon
  12. weekend of 4/10 – last long run – 21 miles
  13. weekend of 4/17 – start of taper – 10-13 miles
  14. weekend of 4/24 – taper
  15. weekend of 5/1 – BIG RACE


Written by SCL

January 16, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Dec 2009 in Review

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Wow, realized in the excitement of year end, and my year in review post, that I forgot to post the simple December month in review.  So, here goes:

Running – 94.9 miles over 19 runs.  Met my goal of 800 miles for the year (801.0) on the last possible day!  94.9 miles represents my 2nd highest mileage month ever, behind Jan 2009 effort of 103.1 miles.  19 runs in a month is easily the most runs I’ve ever done in a single month.  Very happy with such a strong finish to the year, especially considering the stomach virus that knocked me out for a few days, the big snowstorm we had (messing up the streets for a week) and the super busy holiday season.

Races – 0

Biking – 0 – elbows still messed up.

Swims – 0 – To start in the new year

Gym workouts – 6 – starting to make this a habit again!

Softball games – 0

Injuries – 1 (improving hip injury)

Sicknesses – 1 (nasty stomach flu took me out of commission for 2 days, and then several more days to get back to full strength)

At the end of November, I stated that I needed to lose some weight.  While not much, my average weight did drop some – 1.7 pounds by the end of the month.  I’ll take it.  Better down than up.

Written by SCL

January 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Month End Summary

Fred Lebow Classic Race Report

with 3 comments

Today was the Fred Lebow Classic, 5 mile race in Central Park.  It was also my birthday!  I won’t repeat my thoughts on this wonderful race, you can read the first part of my race report from last year for that.

First, a view of my long history with this race:

My first was the first year the race was held, in 1995, and this was my 12th out of 16 years!

With all the troubles I’ve had in the last months of 2009, I knew I would not be able to approach the PR I set last year of 41.24, 8:16 pace.  But, with the great effort in Dec, and nice speed session this past week, I was hopeful I could finish in 42:30, or 8:30 pace.  You can see from the picture above that this did not happen, but I was very close, and I am satisfied with the effort.

I’ll go back to the beginning.  Was up at 5:30, dressed in my race layers including 3 tops and 2 tights.  Threw on a couple of jackets for good measure.  Packed my sneaks, running hat, gloves, etc and headed out the door around 6:20.  For a Sunday race, I would pick up my race number ahead of time, giving me some extra time to get to the race, but this was a Saturday race and I didn’t have time to get my number earlier in the week.  This meant I needed to stop by the NYRR office before heading up to the race start.  Even with said stop, everything went quicker than planned and I was in the start area by 7:05am.  Took this picture of the start line.  Just loved the flags flying and the sun coming up beyond the horizon.

Wandered around the start area, used the bathroom before they got too crowded, pinned my number, attached my D-Tag, changed my necessary clothes, and check my bag in the cluster&uck known as the bag check.

Actually, the bag check was completely ridiculous.  The bag check itself was fairly narrow, only using half of the 102nd St entrance roadway.  The other half was completely closed off.  Also, they were only letting people out on the East side of the check so there was a massive line of people trying to get into the narrow space to check their bag, and an equally massive line of people trying to get out, in the same place, to get to the start line.  Very poor logistics, as far as I’m concerned.  I don’t know how it could have been done better, but I know it was NO GOOD.  And I was checking my bag 20 minutes before race start, which I know was earlier than most people in the race.

Even with the bag check delay, I was in my corral with a good 10 minutes to spare.  Speaking of the corrals, I actually had a number in the 2000 range, putting me in the 3rd corral.  I think this is the first time I was that low.  It was nice to get that much closer to the start!

Shortly before 8am, Mary Wittenberg talked about Fred, introduced the singer for the Star Spangled Banner, which was played, and then we were off!

Tried to take it easy in the first mile.  Since I was pretty close to the start, it was not that crowded.  It was so cold my toes and nose felt frozen.  I knew they would thaw as the race wore on.  We hit the west side and I tried to push up the hills and recover on the downhills.  Felt pretty good, until the toes on my right foot started thawing and I realized my right shin was bothering me.  Ruh Roh.  Wasn’t horrible, so just continued to run through it.

Made it easily through the hills on the West side, but it wasn’t enough to loosen up my shin.  My shin tends to loosen up on uphills, and get worse on downhills, and I had run out of uphills, at least for the moment.  Again, although bothering me, I was able to continue to run through it.  However, my splits were a little slower than I wanted, 8:50 and 8:40.  I knew after 2 miles that 42:30 was out of reach, but pressed on to see how close I could get.

Took it easy on the downhills on the west side so I would not further aggravate the shin.  Finally, got around the bottom of the park and started hitting the uphills again.  This is where the shin started to loosen up to the point where it was not a problem at all.  Mile 3 seemed to go by really fast, although my time was still on the slow side, 8:52.  Mile 4 is where I really turned it up, and was able to breeze up cat hill.  Kept pushing hard in mile 5, especially in the last quarter mile with all the downhills.  Splits here were 8:33 and 8:16.  Finished with 43:15, only :45 behind my goal.

After that, stuck around to cheer the rest of the runners through the finish line.  All in all, very happy with the race and effort.  And then proceeded to have a great birthday.

Next race is Manhattan Half Marathon, where I fully expect sub 2 hours…

Written by SCL

January 10, 2010 at 12:11 am

Posted in Race Report, running

Wind Chill or Real Feel?

with 5 comments

I’ve always measured my winter running primarily by the temperature and secondarily by the wind chill.  Wind chill is a relatively simple calculation, or chart, based on the air temperature and the wind speed. No doubt, it is a highly subjective number for us runners, but a good measurement to compare cold weather runs to cold weather runs, and also a good guide on how to dress, if it is windy.  I don’t like to rely too much on this number, or use it as the comparison point when talking to other runners, as it literally changes minute by minute, based on the wind, and also depends on what direction you are running in, or if you are in a place where the wind is shielded, like a park, or a place where the wind is stronger, like on the wind tunnel streets of NYC.

I have noticed two trends:

First, some people are reporting a new number, called the “Real Feel”.  Actually, it seems like *most* people are quoting this number, or at least calling the number real feel rather than wind chill.  I had never heard of it before the last couple of weeks, so was curious to find out more about it.  Well, it is the trademarked new formula used only by AccuWeather to more accurately calculate what we’ve always called wind chill.  In theory it is more accurate because it takes additional factors into play.  I guess the reason I was caught off-guard is because so many people are talking about it.  Yet, weather.com, wunderground.com, weatherbug.com, intellicast.com, and weather.noaa.gov, ALL the places I go for my weather, use the wind chill number.  So, why are so many people talking about Real Feel?  Where are they all going to get this number?  I guess congrats to AccuWeather for getting the term so far into the runners mainstream?

Second, and more troubling to me, is I have seen some people report the wind chill, or real feel, as if it is the actual temperature outside, without even mentioning the air temperature.  I understand it is a lot sexier to say I ran with a Real Feel of 5, than to say I ran with a temperature of 20 and a real feel of 5, but as I said above, the wind chill, or real feel, is a highly subjective number, constantly changing, and based on a number of factors, primarily wind speed, which is always changing.

To each his or her own, of course, but for me, I will primarily report on the air temperature for my runs, and only really mention the wind chill if it is a really windy day or some kind of extreme, like today!

Happy winter running folks, and to all of you out there in these extreme cold temps, you are all HARD CORE!

Written by SCL

January 3, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Reflections, weather

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