4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

Archive for January 2012

Brrrrrooklyn Hot Chocolate 10k Race Report

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Been awhile since I wrote a genuine race report.  Was absolutely necessary this time, because it turned out that I TIED MY 10K PR, which had been set 4/1/2007.

PR’s are really great, and should be savored.  They are just not easy to come by.  My running career is 18 years, and I’ve run dozens of races at the common distances.  To PR, it means I have to be better today than I have *ever* been at that distance in the past.  This is just harder and harder to do as time goes by.  Don’t get me wrong, my PR’s are all still “attainable,” as I don’t feel I have ever been so well trained as to not be able to get to that level of fitness again.  The surprise to me was that I have already reached the level of fitness where my PR’s are in reach again, only 6 months removed from injuries, and only focusing on speed in the last month.

With NYC Runs entry to the race scene, I’ve been reinvigorated to run races here in the city, as NYRR races are unwieldy big.  Yesterday’s race was the first of their Freeze and Fuhgeddeboudit winter series, a 10k in Prospect Park.  With the promise of hot chocolate after the race, and souvenir mugs, I’ve had it on my radar for a few weeks.

Based on recent training runs, and the success I’ve had so far in the three speed sessions done in January, I thought I could realistically run under 9 pace for the race.  I’m very familiar with Prospect Park, and the hills there don’t scare me very much.  With that understanding, my goal was 55 minutes.  Prior to the race, I casually checked my race results page, and saw that this would be my 28th 10k race, and that my PR was set in 2007.  I did not have a PR on my mind at all, and it barely registered with me that my PR was in the 52:xx range.

Pre race was definitely a chill scene.  First, race organizers emailed us to let us know the Q train had service changes this weekend, so I knew to get up a little earlier to take a different train.  I arrived at the race site around 35 minutes before race time, which was plenty of time to pick up my number, change my clothes, drop off my bag, and walk the half mile to the start.

The only problem of the day is that it was announced that the race would be untimed, due to problems with the new timing equipment that was to be used.  I was a little bummed, but didn’t really mind.  NYC Runs will certainly show some growing pains as they get bigger, and we’ll just have to be patient with them.

Crossing the start line, I had a hard time pressing the start button on my Runmeter, and so I estimate that I started it about 1-2 seconds late.  The start was about half way up the hill leading to Grand Army Plaza.  This was nice because it meant on the 2-loop course, we’d only have to run that hill 1.5 times, and the first being right at the start.  I worked hard up the hill and was noticing that I was having a hard time getting loose in the 2nd half of the mile.  I realized that I started out too hard and was running a pace I could never keep up.

I crossed mile 1 in 8:16, too fast.  I backed off the pace a bit and just focused on a good steady effort.  I was really surprised to see 8:24 in mile 2, almost the same pace as mile 1.  I backed off even more and hit 8:37 in mile 3.  By then I felt completely warmed up and loose.  Mile 4 would be the hardest mile in the race, for me, as it included the uphill into Grand Army Plaza, with then rolling ups and downs afterwards.  When I hit that mile in 8:37, I knew I had 2 mostly downhill miles to go and thought I would be able to average 8:30 pace for the entire race.

At that point, I started to do the math in my head and figured that an 8:30 pace would be 53 minutes, give or take.  I was hopeful I’d be able to finish strong and beat 53 minutes.  I thought my PR was close to 52 minutes, so again had no thoughts of a PR.  I stayed focused and was able to finish the last 2 miles in 8:31 and 8:25, with 1:49 rounding out the last .2 (Note that I think the 6 mile sign placement was short due to its placement in the middle of a construction zone, and the very slow time I manually clocked for the last .2).

I stopped my watch right at the finish and was super happy with the 52:41 it showed.  I knew I had to add 1 or 2 seconds to compensate for the trouble I had at the start.  First thing I did was check my race results page, and was beyond surprised to see that my old PR was 52:43.  Since I was slow getting my clock started, and the race was not officially timed, I just called it even and am saying that I tied my PR.

Was beyond elated.  Beyond the obvious of knowing that my training is in a great place right now, and has me in a position where my PR’s are within reach, this very strong and consistent effort on a hilly 6+ mile course gives me a lot of confidence in my ability, and gives me hope that it will be a great running year.  My last great stretch of running was in early 2009 when I set PR’s at the 5m, 5k and marathon distances over the first 3 months.  I’m optimistic that I’ve got another great stretch coming up, hopefully culminating in a strong Georgia Marathon on March 18…

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Written by SCL

January 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Posted in Race Report

Flat Marathon – no thank you

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This thought has been hanging with me for awhile, but thanks to two recent blog postings I came across, I was reminded to write about it.

My best marathons have come on hilly courses, NOT flat ones.  What?  Doesn’t make sense, you say?  If you think about it, it kind of does make sense, because on a hilly course, the flats, uphills and downhills make great use of a variety of muscles over time, spreading the damage, so to say.  Others have recently proffered their explanations:

  1. Laura / Absolut(ly) Fit / 50 x 25 – you know, the first youngest female to run a marathon in all 50 states?  Yes, in her recent post on how to recover quickly from a marathon (great post by the way), she devoted a couple of paragraphs on her thoughts regarding hilly vs flat marathons.
  2. Georgia Marathon Blog – my next marathon is the Georgia Marathon, and on their website they have a TOTALLY AWESOME BLOG that consists of a variety of (presumably) regular running people who write great posts on distance running.  How cool is that?  Other marathons should take note and copy… Anyway, a recent posting on that blog provided some additional insights on exactly the same topic!

In looking at my own history, some of my very best marathons were quite hilly:

  1. Big Sur 2005 – Has a very hilly reputation, lots of big hills, and a monster hill in the middle of the race.  It was my 7th marathon, and can you guess what I did?  That’s right, a PR! 4:37:37.  This PR would stand for almost 4 years, through a few more marathons, lasting until:
  2. Austin 2009 – Not nearly as hilly as Big Sur, but definitely a hilly course.  I had an unbelievable (for me) PR of 4:22:16,  The nice thing about this hilly race is that the last 6-7 miles are downhill, and in that particular year, those last miles had a tailwind.  While that combination of factors allowed me to cruise to that amazing PR, I believe it was the hilliness of the course that kept me relatively fresh at the end of the race.
  3. First Light 2011 – While not necessarily billed as a hilly marathon, this race is interesting because the first 10 miles are pancake flat, and then miles 10-21 are very, very hilly, and then the last 6 miles are pancake flat.  I treated the first 10 miles as a warm up, and then attacked the hills, and honestly, this was the only marathon I ever ran where I didn’t feel like I hit the wall.  My finish of 4:37:10 was far beyond what I thought I was capable of that day.

Of course, there are other factors that go into a successful race, like the training leading into it, and the weather on race day.  Maybe it is coincidence that those 3 races I mentioned are the ones I feel are my best marathons, and were the hilliest ones I ever ran.

Also interesting to consider is my half marathon PR history, where FOUR TIMES my PR was set on the old Brooklyn Half Marathon course, the one that started in Coney Island and spent the first 8 miles on the boardwalk and on flat Ocean Parkway, and ending with 5 brutal miles twice around Prospect Park with LOTS of hills.  Yes, every time I ran that race between 1999 and 2008 (4 times), I set a new PR on that very hilly course.

While several of the worst marathons I ever ran were of the flat variety, interestingly enough, the weather was not cooperative for any of them: New Jersey 2002 (cold, windy and rainy day), Chicago Marathon 2010 (super hot),  Providence Rhode Races 2010 (super hot)

Another thought is perhaps I’ve always trained harder when I knew I had a hilly marathon coming up?  Possible, I suppose, but I usually approach my marathon trainings in much the same way.  Yes, my small sample of races certainly isn’t definitive, and perhaps many of my flat races were done in less than favorable conditions, but like I said, my best races have been on hilly courses and my worst on flat courses.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

My next marathon is the Georgia Marathon on March 18, which I hear is a hilly course. 🙂

Written by SCL

January 22, 2012 at 7:08 pm

2011 Highlights – Part 2

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As you all know, I’m not so great at posting here anymore.  My we’ve come a long way (and in the wrong direction) since I posted for 28 days straight leading up to the 10-10-10 Chicago Marathon!

Anyway, this post concludes the ‘highlights’ I wanted to point out regarding 2011.  Find Part 1 here.  Upon further reflection, this post is not so much about anything in particular I did in 2011, and so the ‘highlight’ title is a bit of a lie, as this is more a celebration of January running (for me), and my inverted bell curve of running over the last 13 years.

Below you will see my total miles per month, from the years 1999-2011, covering 13 years.

  • Jan – 798.6
  • Feb – 706.1
  • March – 631.7
  • April – 659.7
  • May – 517.7
  • June – 316.1
  • July – 433.8
  • Aug – 532.4
  • Sept – 692.7
  • Oct – 706.4
  • Nov – 682.7
  • Dec – 730.7

What is striking about this is that I ‘peak’ in Jan in mileage, generally decline through June, and then start another steady increase, peaking again in Dec.

For one, it is clear backup for the statement I keep repeating to anyone who might listen, namely, “I hate running in the hot weather!”  What more proof do you need?

For two, it is a clear indication of the other statement I keep repeating to anyone who might listen, namely, “January is the month I always renew my love for running.”  Partially it is the clean slate of a new year, and partially it is probably due to my birthday, which occurs early in Jan, but whatever the reason, January is the month I most consistently run.  I can only count two years where January was my highest total month of the year, so it is not that January is always my biggest month, however, it is my most consistent month, and every year is among the top few months in total miles.  Since 2005 (past 7 years), January is at least in the top 4 monthly mileage for the year.

If you look at the numbers above, the inverted bell curve is quite clear.  However, it is not perfect.  My goal for 2012 is simple.  March must have at least 28 more miles than April, and November must have at least 24 more miles than October.  If I can accomplish both of those, and keep the other months in their relative places, then I will have attained perfection!

 

Written by SCL

January 21, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Speed training and cold weather

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This is the week of the year that I am always the most excited about running.  The start of the new year always invigorates me to do more and better, despite the cold temperatures.  Therefore, I typically sign up for speed work in Jan.  In fact, and this will be the subject of my next planned blog post, January is the month of the year in which I’ve logged the most cumulative miles, at least over the last 13 years of my running log…

I love my Excel running log, and sometimes I can get lost in it.  Tonight is the first session of the NYRR speed training class that I’ll be taking, which runs for the next 10 weeks.  My log tells me that this will be my 20th NYRR speed class session since 1/1/1999, and my 11th time taking the session in Jan out of the last 13 years!  I skipped 2011 because I was a bit burned out after training for a Jan marathon.  I’m not quite sure why I skipped 2003.  It most like was due to injury (?) as 2003 was my lowest running year on record with 123.2 miles.  I think that was the year I had a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that year that took months to heal.  Or was it the year I had patellar tendinitis?  Who knows anymore…

Anyway, my interest today was in the weather.  I can’t help myself, as a recovering numbers AND weather geek!  It has been interesting to see so many people comment on Twitter on both the exceptionally warm weather we had over New Years (highs in the low 50s), and the exceptionally cold weather we are having today, 20s and dropping. 

I took a look at the weather conditions for the first day of the Jan speed session I attended over the years, and was not so surprised to find it is pretty evenly split between cold, normal and hot:

  1. 1-4-00 – 55 – rain
  2. 1-2-01 – 21/2
  3. 1-8-02 – 34 / 26
  4. 1-6-04 – 28 / 22
  5. 1-4-05 – 48
  6. 1-3-06 – 35 – fr rain
  7. 1-4-07 – 55
  8. 1-8-08 – 57
  9. 1-6-09 – 31 / 25 – fr rain
  10. 1-5-10 – 27 / 15

Four times over 45 degrees, three times under 30 degrees, and three right in the 30s.  Tonite will certainly compete for coldest yet, as the temperatures might get below 21, but it is not very windy and so the wind chill should stay above the 2 degrees it was in 2001.

Written by SCL

January 3, 2012 at 4:48 pm

2011 Highlights – Part 1

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Hi, it’s me!  Been a long time since I posted anything of substance.  Now that we are at year-end, figured I’d try to put some updates out here.  Isn’t that what all the cool kids are doing these days?

In this post, rather than bore you with lists of details of what I did, didn’t do, and want to do, I’m highlighting a particular accomplishment I am very proud of, which is participating in 16 races.  Yes, on the face, that’s a nice accomplishment, and something I’m happy about, but even more importantly, only one of those races (Brooklyn Half Marathon) was organized by New York Road Runners.  While they once were a staple of the race scene for me, times have certainly changed and I am just not interested in their races, for a number of reasons many of you are aware of, such as fewer races on the calendar, huge numbers of participants, race caps which creates inflated demand, among others.

For me, races are so much fun, and the motivation for all the training I do during the year.  Without races to look forward to, my training would most certainly dip significantly.  I know we all refer to them as ‘races’, but the reality is that I’m not a ‘racer’.  I’m out there to have fun, complete the distance, and depending on where I am with my training that day, if the result is a fast time or a PR, that’s just icing on the cake.

I (sort of) managed only a single running PR this year, which was at a 4 mile race by Long Island Road Runners on 3/6 which I completed in 34:03.  I say sort of because my old PR, set in Central Park on 4/9/2000, was in the days before we had chip timing.  My official time in that race in 2000 was 34:23, but the fact is that it took me 22 seconds to cross the start line that day, which I recorded on my Timex.  My net time was therefore 34:01, but in those days, net time was not officially measured.

EDIT: Sorry, after double checking some more, I see I also set a PR at the unusual 8k distance, which I had only raced once before, way back in 1998!

Here are my 2011 races, and where applicable, the host:

  1. 1/9 – First Light Marathon
  2. 2/12 – Cupid’s Chase 5k NYC
  3. 3/6 – LIRRC 5 Miler (Long Island Road Runner Club)
  4. 3/27 – March Madness Biathlon (New York Triathlon Club)
  5. 4/2 – 13.1 New York
  6. 4/10 – Tough Mudder PA
  7. 5/1 – Flying Pig Marathon
  8. 5/15 – Red Bank Triathlon (Sandy Hookers)
  9. 5/21 – Brooklyn Half Marathon (New York Road Runners)
  10. 7/27 – Fla-Vor-Ice 5k (NYC Runs)
  11. 9/10 – East River Park 5k (NYC Runs)
  12. 9/11 – War at the Shore Triathlon (Sandy Hookers)
  13. 9/18 – Yonkers Half Marathon (NYC Runs)
  14. 10/25 – Roosevelt Island 5k (NYC Runs)
  15. 11/27 – Duck Run 8k (Long Island Road Runners Club)
  16. 12/10 – Rehoboth Beach Marathon

I really spread things out, with three marathons, four 5ks, two triathlons, a duathlon, and numerous ‘small’ events, which I find I enjoy much more than the behemoth NYRR events.

16 races in the year equals my total from 2001, and is my 2nd highest yearly race total ever.  The prize for most races in a year is awarded to the year 2000, when I ran 20 races.  Of those 20 races, 19 were organized by New York Road Runners.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that currently runs 19 NYRR races in a year due to some of the reasons already mentioned, but I’m sure it was quite common in the past.

I’m really happy to see NYC Runs emerge as another option here in NYC.  I ran 4 of their races last year, and expect to run even more of them in the coming year.

In 2012, I already got my first race out of the way earlier today, and am looking forward to planning out another jam packed schedule.

For more info on my career race history, check out my Race Results page!

Written by SCL

January 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Posted in Reflections