4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

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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

Flying Pig Marathon Results

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A race report will probably come at some point in the next couple of weeks, but for now, here are the details of how I did today at the Flying Pig Marathon.  My goal was 4:45, and ultimately would be happy with anything under 5 hours.  I finished in 4:58:04, and had a great time, so overall I’m happy.  I had trouble trying to push the pace today but overall was pretty consistent, as you can see by the splits shown below.  In fact, I finished much stronger compared to others with similar pace.  My overall place was 2928, but my place was better in the 2nd half of the race (2702), and really strong in the last mile (1983).  I did pass a lot of people in the last 2 miles, in my push to beat 5 hours.  I’ll take it.

Marathon #15 and state #9

My slowest marathon since NYC Marathon 2002.

Written by SCL

May 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Race Report

Tough Mudder – Part I

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It has been 2 weeks since I completed the Tough Mudder with Joe and Nate.  This was easily the most bad-ass thing I’ve ever done in terms of physical activity, fitness or racing.  Here is the intro from the website, to give you a taste:

Tough Mudder is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race. It’s Ironman meets Burning Man, and it is coming to a location near you. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, andcamaraderie. Forget finish times. Simply completing a Tough Mudder is a badge of honor. All Tough Mudder sponsorship proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project.

In the moment before it started, I was easily more scared of this than anything I’ve ever done before.  I can think of 2 other instances where I was also scared to do what was about to be done, but they don’t compare.

  1. The 1st was my first Olympic distance triathlon, the NYC Triathlon.  I wasn’t scared of the race per se, but it hit me when it was my turn to get up on the pier to start the race, looking out into a mile of Hudson River to the finish pier.  It felt like that sickening moment when you crest over the top of a roller coaster and are about to go hurling down the other side.  In that moment, I was scared, but it was a fake kind of scared, because I knew inside I could get it done.  I had a wetsuit on, the swim was with the current, and in my mind I knew I really had nothing to fear.
  2. The 2nd was coincidentally my second Olympic distance triathlon, the NJ State Triathlon.  I was not scared of the race or the distance, but the fact that the water temperature was too warm to allow for wetsuits.  I would have to swim the entire 1500 meters without the buoyancy aid  of a wetsuit, which had gotten me through all my other triathlons.  In that moment, I really was scared that I would not be able to complete the distance.  I wasn’t scared for my life, as I knew there were lifeguards and buoys in the water, and if I couldn’t do it, the worst that would happen is that I would have to endure the embarrassment of being helped out of the water and then missing the rest of the race.  In the end, I got it done, and was so proud of the accomplishment.
But the fear this time was different.  It was the fear of the unknown, and the fear of really possibly hurting myself.  Not only was this an endurance event to the level I’ve never tried before – it was 11+ miles up and down a ski mountain, with several miles of technical trail running – but it also included dozens of obstacles, running the gamut from crawling through mud, to carrying a log up a hill, and jumping 15 feet into the water.

Tough Mudder is run on both Saturday and Sunday.  We did the event on Sunday, and adding to the fear was finding out that about 25% of the participants did not finish the course on Saturday, and that one of the obstacles was closed down because it was too dangerous.  There were also vague reports of people breaking bones, and that was something I was not interested in happening, an was actually scared about.

Joe, Nate and myself kept asking ourselves why, why were were even bothering to do this.  In a way, we all clearly like adventure and challenges.  Nate did the Tough Mudder last year and was disappointed because it did not live up to the expectations (it was apparently the first TM event and it was not as hard as billed and there were lots of kinks), so he wanted another shot at the tougher course this time around.  Joe had experienced serious heart problems in the last year, which ultimately were fixed, but he was reduced to running 11-12 minute pace per mile in his races, including the NYC Marathon.  Since he had a clean bill of health, he wanted to celebrate with something awesome, and this certainly fit the bill.  As for myself, I had no idea what I was getting into.  A friend had turned me onto mud events, and I thought it would be a fun challenge.  When Joe was asking for people to join him, I threw my hat into the ring.

I think I am speaking for all 3 of us, when I say that as we were sitting around Nate’s kitchen table on Saturday night in Allentown, we were all a bit afraid of what was to come…

Written by SCL

April 24, 2011 at 11:35 am

Posted in Race Report

13.1 New York Race Report

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This past Sunday was the 2nd annual 13.1 New York race, in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens.  For the 2nd year in a row I had a really nice time.  See last year’s report here.

I was heading into the race with low expectations, because my training has not been great, I was sick in the last 2 weeks and having a hard time getting back to 100%, and I’ve had a couple of nagging injuries in recent weeks.  That said, my goal is always to beat 2 hours, but I knew that was unrealistic.  I was also hoping to beat my time from last year, which was 2:01:52, but I knew that was also a bit of a stretch.  In the end, my realistic goal was 2:05, and so that was where I wanted to be.

The day was promising in terms of the weather.  Early in the morning, it was 39 degrees, with a bit of wind.  I was really undecided on what to wear.  I was thinking I could get away with shorts and short sleeve shirt, but I brought lots of extra clothes anyway, just in case.  I also brought my gloves and ear coverings, just in case.  At the last second, I grabbed a long sleeve cotton shirt, which I figured I’d be able to wear afterwards.

I got out to the park quickly, and was able to find the correct Citifield parking lot among the various constructions and road closures in the area.  I arrived more than an hour early, so had plenty of time for race prep.  I walked all the way around the trainyards to the start area, and then around the tennis center to get to the park proper, and the finish staging area.  It was a good 15 minute walk.  I used the restrooms twice, and then made a decision to go with tights, and a long sleeve tech shirt and a short sleeve tech shirt over.  But I decided to forgo the gloves and ear coverings.

Once finished up with the bathroom again, I headed for the gear check, AND COULD NOT BELIEVE MY EYES.  The line snaked all over the place, with hundreds of people in line, waiting to check their bag.  We still had 30 minutes to the start of the race, but I was not waiting on that line if not necessary.  And for me it was not necessary, since I had my car.  Unfortunately, the car was far away, but I had enough time to get to my car, drop my stuff, and make it to the start line with 5 mins to spare.  It was on the walk to the car when I realized I was overheating quickly, and not even running yet, so I decided to shed the heavy layers, and go instead with shorts and a short sleeve tech shirt.  I used the long sleeve cotton shirt as a throwaway, to stay warmer until the start.  Ultimately, I’d glad I made this decision.  For the most part I was plenty warm during the run as it was a very sunny day.  The only times it was a problem was when we were running into the wind.  Since the course had lots of changes in direction, when we were against the wind, it was never for long.  So for me, it all worked out.

On to the race itself.  My hopes were to start out at a 9:10 pace, and see if I could keep that pace easily.  I quickly saw that this would not be the case, as my splits, while consistent, were a bit too slow.  There was a lot of weaving around people in the first mile, as there was no structure to the start and a lot of slow people managed to get up front.  After 4 miles, I realized I was about a minute behind 2 hour pace and I didn’t feel like I’d be able to make it up.  From then on, I just tried to keep my miles under 9:30, which would keep me at under 2:05.

They did a great job with the water stops.  They were placed every mile, and each one had water and gatorade.  The volunteers were doing a great job, and they always had what I wanted.  I took a drink about every other mile, from mile 1 to mile 9.  I also took a Gu at mile 7.  You can see from my splits where I took my Gu, as it resulted in my slowest mile of the race, and the only mile slower than 10 mins.

In the late miles, I thought I had 2:05 in the bag, but at mile 11, I did the subtraction math and realized I miscalculated by FORGETTING ABOUT THE LAST .1 MILES!  Rookie mistake.  That meant I needed to make up a little time in the last 2 miles.  I was feeling good and so was confident I’d do it, but I really had to dig hard in both those last miles to push the pace.  The last mile was my fastest, at 8:56, which tells me I had a solid and successful race.  I came into the finish at 2:04:48, a mere 12 seconds under my goal.

The other interesting thing about this race are all the turns on the course.  I made a very conscious effort to ‘run the tangents’ to get as close as possible to the official distance of the race.  In fact, I think it is very possible that running the tangents and cutting the corners as best as possible might have been the difference in getting me under 2:05.  With a margin of victory of 12 seconds, it comes out to less than a second per mile.

Again they had a great post game spread and music/entertainment.  There was a beer garden, but I had to skip it since my bag was left at my car.  Had a great time at the race, and look forward to running it again.  A breath of fresh air compared to the NYRR efforts, so long as you show up early to get your bag checked before the masses 🙂

  • Mile 1 – 9:18
  • Mile 2 – 9:32
  • Mile 3 – 9:24
  • Mile 4 – 9:26
  • Mile 5- 9:29
  • Mile 6- 9:43
  • Mile 7 – 9:36
  • Mile 8 – 10:01
  • Mile 9 – 9:34
  • Mile 10 – 9:51
  • Mile 11 – 9:45
  • Mile 12 – 9:22
  • Mile 13 – 8:56
  • Mile 13.1 – :49

Written by SCL

April 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Posted in Race Report, running

March Madness Race Report

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Yesterday was the March Madness Biathlon in Central Park.  First the vitals:

  • Overall time – 1:28:08
  • Overall place – 197/376
  • Age Group – 26/41

Splits:

  • Run (2.3 miles) – 19:41
  • T1 – 1:00
  • Bike (12 miles) – 46:10
  • T2 – 1:42
  • Run (2.3 miles) – 19:32

History of Central Park Biathlons:

  • 9/16/2007 – 1:24:45
  • 3/30/2008 – 1:26:17
  • 3/28/2010 – 1:22:44
  • 3/27/2011 – 1:28:08

As you can see, it was not my best.  Actually it was my worst.  But I was sort of expecting it because I haven’t been on my bike much, I was sick last week, and have had a few nagging injuries.  With the negative stuff out of the way, I can say I really had a great time.  There is NOTHING better than being in the transition area of a triathlon or duathlon and just taking it all in.  Even yesterday, when it was 28 degrees before the race, everyone was so upbeat and excited about racing.  It really was a great time.

As far as my race goes, I went out a bit tentative on the first run, and then settled into a consistent 8:30-8:45 pace after cat hill.  I found I was able to catch quite a few people that must have charged up the hill and then found they could not sustain it for the full 2.3 (I’m calling it 2.3, although the official distance is 2 miles) distance.

I blew through T1 very quickly.  It helped that I didn’t need to change my gloves.  I only needed to get my helmet on and get on my bike.

I was surprisingly consistent on my bike on the 2 loops.  My best time for a loop around the park is just under 20 minutes.  I completed the first loop yesterday in 22+, and then was also pretty strong on the 2nd loop, just a hair slower.  The only problem I had was at the top of harlem hill the 2nd time around, when my chain came loose and then got stuck really badly.  An experienced bystander thankfully was able to help me get it loose.  I lost about a minute in total.

I had a little trouble in T2.  The bike rack I was assigned to was a little low to the ground and I could not secure it with my seat.  I needed to use the handlebars.  I unfortunately forgot this when trying to rack the bike, when I went for the bike seat.  When I realized my mistake, I had to get the bike all turned around again, which took some time.  Also, with my frozen feet, I was a bit slow getting through the transition area.

I did well on the last run.  It literally took about 1 mile for me to gain all feeling back in my feet because of the cold.  But once I got into my groove, I really was able to set a good 8:30-8:45 pace.  It felt like I was picking people off one by one.  I probably passed about 20 people in total on the run, and only got passed myself 3 or 4 times.  The finish is in front of the boathouse parking lot on the way down cat hill, and so this remains the only race I regularly run where the finish is on such a sharp downhill.  It makes for a fast finish for sure!  This downhill finish is even better than the downhill finish of Coogan’s.

Interestingly, the first run and last run took me exactly the same amount of time.  My official time shows a 9 second difference because the start was not chip timed, and it took me 9 seconds to get to the start.

All in all I had a blast again, and can’t wait to do this race again another time.  And yes it was cold, but interesting enough, I went back in my running log and saw that when I did this race in 2008, it was also the same 28 degrees at the start!  So perhaps not so unusual.  Afterwards, sampled a muscle milk (yuck) and picked up a few Zico Coconut Waters, which were the perfect recovery drink.

Next up, 13.1 New York on Saturday morning…

Written by SCL

March 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Posted in bike, Race Report, running

LIRRC 4 Miler Race Report

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Today I ran a 4 mile PR at the LIRRC race at Eisenhower Park! I had decided not to sign up for the Coogan’s 5k race, which was also today, and then found I actually had time to race, so decided at the last minute to go out to LI.

This fit for me as well because I had recently decided to scale back on my NYRR races and wanted to focus on other small and local races. LIRRC races certainly fit that bill. There were only 43 runners today! Yes it was rainy, but I’m sure the field would be similarly small even on a nice day. The small size was very refreshing. On the other hand, Coogan’s, while a fun and challenging race, has simply gotten too big in recent years. Ft Washington Ave simply can’t handle 5000 people. Also, it seems that in this race a lot of slow people sneak up to the first corrals, gumming up the works. I regret not going only from the standpoint that many of my Twitter friends ran Coogan’s and it would have been fun to meet up.

Anyway, back to my race. On the early Sunday morning, it only took me about 35 minutes to get to the park, which had plenty of parking and a clean bathroom. What more could you want!  About 20 minutes before race time, I put down my $10, and I was in.  It started raining about 15 minutes before the race and then tapered off to light showers and mist by start time.  The race director gave us a description of the 2-loop course, apparently a new course, and then waited it out until 9am on the nose, when they blew the start horn.

I realized shortly before the race that I had a shot at a PR.  My last 4 mile race was 2.5 years ago and my PR was set way back in 2000.  My old PR was 34:23, so I just needed 8:35 pace to beat it.  While still not in tip top shape, and my ultimate goal is to run 4 miles in 32 minutes, I was pretty sure I had 8:35 pace in me today, and so I was intent on keeping at least that pace.

I had a hard time pacing in the first mile.  While the race was really small, there were several guys at about my pace and I stuck with them.  I get uncomfortable running in a pack and so I was trying to create some separation between myself and the others, which I think caused me to speed up a bit too much in that first mile.  Mile 1 had a lot of turns in a wooded section of the park so there was lots to pay attention to.  Before I knew it we hit the 1 mile mark, at 7:57.  Yipes, I knew that was too fast for me, so decided to slow it down in mile 2.  It turned out I didn’t need to try to slow down, nature took care of it for me.  Mile 2 opened up through open spaces and ballfields, and unfortunately against a very stiff wind.  In fact most of the 2nd mile was into the wind, up until we turned back towards the start area.  Mile 2 was 8:38, which I thought was perfect for that stage of the race, considering the wind.  Miles 3 and 4 were a repeat of 1 and 2.  In mile 3 I was starting to tire, and also trying to save energy for the windy conditions I knew would greet me in mile 4.  Still, I was a bit disappointed to finish mile 3 in 8:50.  That meant I would need to turn it up in the last mile for my PR.  And turn it up I did.  Despite the downpour that developed by then, I managed to push it out in the last half mile and mile 4 was completed in 8:37.  Towards the end, I could see that 34 minutes was almost within reach, but I just didn’t have the room left for that last surge, and my official time was 34:03, which is a 20 second PR.

Overall was satisfied by my race, even though my fast first mile almost killed it for me.  I bet if I could have held back to 8:20 or 8:30 in mile 1, I would have had a much faster mile 3 and 4.  Good lesson learned.  Afterwards, I hung around for the awards ceremony, where I learned that I was 3rd in my age group, and won a ribbon, and that I finished in front of the female winner!  Then hopped back in the car for a quick 45 minute trip back home.

All in all, great fun, and I look forward to running another LIRRC race in the future…

EDIT: I forgot to mention that I really do appreciate PR’s.  I don’t get them that often.  PR’s should be hard to get.  To get a PR you have to be in your tip top shape vs any prior effort of the same distance in your entire running career.  I have to say it does bother me when people complain about racing and not getting a PR, or have an attitude of every time out they should have a PR, but I suppose that is a rant for another day.  My 4 mile PR has stood for 5 races over 11 years, and I’m glad it has been reset.  Before today, my last PR obtained was one year ago, at the Coogan’s 5k race!

Written by SCL

March 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Race Report, running

Cupid’s Chase 5k Race Report

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Found this sitting in my drafts.  Little bit late… 🙂

On Saturday (well, a few Saturday’s ago at this point) I ran the Cupid’s Chase 5k in Riverside Park.  All in all, I really enjoyed the event.  It is refreshing to be able to run a small 5k in the confines of Manhattan Island, and so I’ll gladly overlook the shortcomings, and instead focus on the good stuff.

First of all, I’ve never run a race in Riverside Park.  I’ve covered the promenade, obviously, and the park segments south of 96th, but I’ve never run in the park proper above 96th, which is where the race was located.  The park was absolutely beautiful, buried in probably still at least half a foot of snow and ice.  It was so bad that when you could find a bench to sit down on, the snow came almost all the way up to the bench itself…

There were lots of volunteers out there, and so friendly.  Although I did get the oddest question when I went to get my t-shirt.  “Are you single or taken”?  “Huh”, was my response.  She had to repeat the question a few times before I understood.  Of course, I’m taken, which means I got a white shirt.  The single folks got red shirts.  Many people work their race shirt on top of their running clothes, so you could see who was single and who was taken.  I thought it was fun.

The course was a little challenging because it was narrow, there was lots of ice on the course, and it looped around on itself.  I wasn’t expecting a PR effort anyway and so I didn’t let those things bother me.  Another odd thing was that the race was chip timed, but there was no starting mat, so the final numbers were gun time rather than net time.

The best part was that the loot bag actually had some interesting stuff in it, and there was a great spread of food for after the race.  I was able to bring some food home for my kids, which was an added bonus.

I had a pretty strong, consistent race.  While it was not quite as fast as I wanted, I’ll take it considering the race conditions and the cold weather.  My splits were nice: 8:22, 8:11, 8:00, 1:11, although I wonder about the mile marker placement as I know my last .1 was not that slow.  My finishing time was a respectable 25:46, which was 1:20 short of my PR, and my 4th fastest of 38 lifetime 5ks.

All in all, I enjoyed the time.  Sure it wasn’t so well put together as an NYRR event, but it was definitely more fun!

The staging area

Written by SCL

March 1, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Race Report, running