Monday, December 16, 2013

How to Enjoy the Treadmill

I like the treadmill.  There, I said it.  You heard me right...I LIKE IT.  Now, I didn't say I LOVE it, but I do like it.  It's definitely not running outside and far from perfect, but I don't have the same hatred of the treadmill as others.  Commonly referred to as the "dreadmill", it can be a perfectly good tool to make you a better runner.  This doesn't mean that every run should be on the treadmill, much like every run shouldn't be in the same pair of shoes.  But what it does mean, is that you can benefit greatly by incorporating treadmill runs into your regular routine.  Now before I go any further, I'd note than outdoor runs are almost always preferable,  since it gives you the closest simulation to what your actual race will resemble. 

Let me clear that I haven't always been a huge fan of the treadmill.  I've said my fair share of four letter words when realizing that I'd be running on one.  But what I've learned or found over time is that it doesn't have to suck.  It can be enjoyable and you can find some of the same appreciation for running on a treadmill as you can for doing it outside.  So while there are plenty of reasons to dislike it, let's talk about why you should be enjoying the treadmill more than you do:

  • You are what you think you are - Only the space inside your head decides it's a "deadmill" run versus another opportunity to improve your running.  Change the mindset and your perspective of the run changes as well.  It doesn't all have to suck.  View the positive and focus on it.  Use it as a mantra if you need it to get you through the run, but bringing a positive outlook will almost always result in a more positive experience.
  • Find the purpose - As with any planned run, there should be a purpose to the workout.  If you simply hop on the treadmill with no idea other than "just run", my bet is that you'll find it boring.  But find a purpose, whether a speed/tempo workout or simply an easy run, and the clear goal helps bring clarity to your mind about why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Focus on new things - When you're outside, chances are you're thinking more about your next step or something else you that requires your immediate attention.  But treadmill running allows you to focus on things you might not have an opportunity to think about otherwise, such as form.  Have a friend take a short video from multiple angles and use the run as motivation to run with good form.  Then, when you're done (or even in the middle of the run), you can review it to determine if there are any immediate changes you'd like to implement.
  • Multitasking for the overachiever - We're all busy people and sometimes life isn't ALL about running.  Well, the nice thing about the treadmill is that it can allow you do accomplish other things.  If you have an ipad or an e-reader, you can keep tabs on work or virtually anything else.  An easy run can be a great opportunity to zip through some articles you've been wanting to read.  Simply crank up the font size so you don't have to squint and read away.
  • TV/Movies galore - The most surefire way to get through a run on a treadmill is to dial up your favorite series or movie and get running.  Seriously, time flies when you don't have to think about running.  Now, be sure you are running at a half decent speed and not slacking off.  Its too easy to slog through at a slow pace and get stuck in the show, but you can log some serious miles by going through your Netflix queue.  Just make sure they're quality miles.
  • Embrace the suck - I'm not saying every run is rainbows and unicorns, so I am well aware that some runs just suck.  Even 10 minutes can feel like torture.  Embrace it and remember that the person that comes out the other end of that run is stronger because of the struggle to get through it.  Training for something always takes effort, both physically and mentally.  Sometimes, a treadmill can bring the more mental aspect of a workout to the table.  That should be something you can embrace, knowing that you'll be more ready to fight when things get tough.
 With the addition of a treadmill, you really don't have any excuse for missing a run.  And as much as we all like to commiserate with being stuck on a treadmill, it can be beneficial, but you need to make peace with that fact.  Trust me, you'll be better for it. 

With winter already rearing its ugly head in most of the country, its time to hunker down and get ready for some treadmill miles if they are called upon.  Consistency is king, so don't let some nasty winter conditions prevent you from becoming your best. 

The real question is, will you be able to handle it or will winter get the best of you?  My recommendation is to be ready and willing to do what it takes. I know I am.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lessons Learned From The 2013 New York City Marathon

After any race, I like to go back and review the race itself, the training cycle, and anything else surrounding the race to determine areas for improvement.  New York City has been a tough one to write an assessment about.  The race report was easy.  I had a great time enjoying the experience, raced well given the circumstances, and fully moved on from the race.  However, it has been difficult to sit down and do a fair assessment and review.  Why?  Most likely because I've been savoring the race.  I know there are things I'd do differently, which I'll describe below, but it has more to do with closure on the race.  I feel like once I do my review, its over officially.  And to be honest, I've been enjoying the post-race glow, freedom to run how I feel, and not be driven by a plan.  The month since the race has felt like ages in some respects, while I can practically replay much of the day in my head as if it was yesterday.  But the time has come to close this chapter and move onto the next, so without further adieu, my lessons learned from New York City:

- Hills - Do Them Up and Down: No matter how the course of your goal race is designed - flat or hilly.  They build strength, secretly work some speed, and help improve your running form.  But most importantly, work both the ups and downs.  One of the main reasons I believe I experienced early cramping at NYC was due to focusing primarily on the ups.  Knowing I had bridges to cross, I wanted to make sure I had my climbing legs.  However, what goes up must come down, and in order to run NYC or any hilly course well, you need to have the specific strength on both sides or else the fatigue will get you.  Run short hills fast, long hills steady, both at race effort, but most importantly, alternate focusing on ups and downs.  It frustrates me that I didn't think of this during training, but that's what these reviews are for, right?

- Adjusting Paces - Gut It Out and Get Over It: It's easy in the thick of training to opt for the less challenging route when you are fatigued both mentally and physically.  The same could be said for life.  Usually, if you have to work for it, the end result is better.  For example, choosing the slower range for a workout, which may not provide as much benefit as would nailing the faster end (as long as it is still within the purpose of the workout).  As my paces have progressed faster, I had gotten a little complacent in adjusting them downward.  We all have mental barriers, such as easy runs that start with a 9:xx becoming 8:xx, even if it is only a matter of a few seconds.  Well for me, my lactate threshold pace dropped below 6:30/mi for the first time to around 6:20/mi and it added a little mental stress/intimidation before those workouts.  My marathon pace also dropped below 7:00/mi to around 6:55/mi.  And while running a workout close to the goal still gave me a great workout, I'd be lying to myself if I didn't think I could have trained a bit harder.  Too frequently, I hung on to my old training paces, which were still challenging, but I was more comfortable with those as my goal.  I need to get over the mental barriers and just train at my ideal paces, even if they scare me a bit.  I can't expect optimal results if I don't train to optimal paces.

- Strength Work: Add Variety: Throughout this training cycle, I've held on to my commitment to make strength work a part of my usual business, whether it was included in my warm ups, cool downs, or as a separate workout.  I am proud to have kept that promise to myself, because I truly do believe in the power of strength work to building a better runner.  However, I've been set in my ways through a few pretty standard (to me) routines.  I know them like the back of my hand, which means I can do them anywhere and much faster than a routine I'm not familiar with.  And while the targeting of different muscles through these routines no doubt made me a better runner, adding some variety will offer alternative ways of hitting those same muscle groups.  Variety is good, as long as you know what you're doing.  I need to seek out alternatives to add to my rotation so I don't get stale.  There are plenty of other resources out there that I trust, but I just need to make the effort to learn those routines rather than defaulting to my usual ones.

This is a relatively short list, but each one is meaningful and can provide direct results in future training cycles (for both myself and for any runner seeking to become better).  I was very pleased with my race and felt like I mostly met my expectations (aside from the time on the finish line) given the conditions.  I have more work to do and my commitment to do so never wavers. 

So you're probably wondering where I go from here?  What's next?  Well, I'm still trying to figure that one out.  There are a handful of Spring marathons I am considering (primarily March-April time frame), but am always open to recommendations if you've got them! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Race Report: New York City Marathon

There I was, standing on the left side of 1st Ave in the middle of the New York City Marathon, having just descended the Queensboro Bridge around Mile 16, unable to run.  The Queensboro is often referred to as the most difficult of the bridges in the New York City Marathon course for a number of reasons: 

1) It is the only place on the course where there are no spectators, so you are on your own;
2) Having already run 15 rolling miles including the Verrazano and Pulaski Bridges, your legs are already tired before starting the climb; 
3) Next to the Verrazano, which you run with fresh legs, the Queensboro is the 2nd largest, so you need to save something to get over it with relative ease.   
So after descending off the Queensboro, I entered the wall of noise that awaits runners as we take a sharp downhill off the bridge and a left  turn onto 1st Ave, only to see my race seemingly slip right away from me at the exact moment I had imagined myself turning up the intensity.  For 16 miles, NYC was the loudest, most amazing race I’ve ever participated in.  But at that exact moment, I heard nothing except the curse words that were coming out of my mouth as my left hamstring abruptly decided its day was done.  Literally thousands of people were yelling at me to keep going, but all I could do was hold a slight stretch for a few seconds and attempt to jog off in the hopes that my body would simply snap back.

But let me back up first and explain how I got to that point, because there is way too much to say about this race.  In so many ways, it was one of the most amazing races I’ve ever experienced.  But it was also disappointment in my eyes, because I wasn’t able to soak in as much of the race as I would have liked due to my predicament at Mile 16.

The race weekend began much like most out of town races for our family – an insanely early wake up Friday (on the road by 4 am!) to both beat rush hour traffic in the DC/Baltimore area, as well as to ensure Z was able to sleep for most of the ride.  In trying to minimize the time spent in the car, we’ve found its best to simply drive when he is sleeping.  We got up to Brooklyn Friday morning and after unpacking the car, we left go head right over to the expo.  Knowing all too well what a crowded expo can do for one’s patience, let alone with a 1.5 yr old kid in tow, we wanted to get there as soon as possible.  We arrived to find a long snaking line outside the convention center, but it moved very orderly and quickly, so we were inside within only a few minutes.  Kudos to the event staff for being able to make it an easy process, despite the enhanced security presence.  The expo was decent sized, but not as large as one might think for the largest marathon in the world.  I honestly didn’t see many good deals being offered either.  Sadly, some nutritional vendors present weren’t even sampling their products and were simply there to sell and make some money.  Lame and a missed opportunity IMO.  

We walked around to see what else was there, but it wasn’t the kind of place you could spend all day at.  I think we were in and out in about an hour, having spent most of the time shopping and waiting in line (again, a very quickly moving line) to buy some official gear.  The one last place I needed to swing by before leaving was the Saucony area.  I found out a few days earlier that Jeff was working the expo, so I wanted to say hi.  I was surprised to learn that Jeff had a special present for me: the special edition New York City Marathon Saucony Kinvara 4.  I was super excited and honestly was torn as to whether or not to simply wear the shoes in the race, violating the marathoner’s #1 rule: Thou Shalt Not Wear New Shoes On Race Day.  Despite those temptations, I stuck with my plan to use the same Kinvaras I trained in (Kinvara 3), since they’ve worked so well for me this training cycle, having never received a single blister while wearing them.  It was the right call and I knew it, but a hard decision nonetheless.  The rest of the day was spent mostly lounging around, trying to spend minimal time on my feet.

Saturday rolled around and I had 2 goals on the day: 1) Go for a short taper run; and 2) Don’t spend much time on my feet.  Being in NYC, it is nearly impossible to not spend some time on your feet, but I did my best.  We went down to the Brooklyn Piers and while Z played in a park, I went for my short taper run (1 mi easy, 2 x 3:00 at marathon effort for those curious).  I felt like I was flying, which got me even more excited for race day, as I could tell the taper had worked its magic.  I felt fit, fast, and ready to race.  Of course, then it hit me that while Saturday’s weather was near perfection (50-60F, no wind), Sunday would be anything but.  The forecast was calling for temperatures in the 40s, but with 15-20 mph sustained winds.  Having already raced an equally windy course this year, I knew too well what that might mean.  Regardless, I remained positive with the mindset that I cannot control the weather, only how I react.  I prepared myself mentally for a tough day, but was hopeful that the crowds might block some of the winds.  While the winds remained in the back of my mind (I might have checked 15 weather sites and their hourly forecasts), I focused my thoughts in remaining relaxed.  I’ve put in the training, I’ve raced in similar conditions, and I knew in my head that I was ready for this race.

Race Day
Super early and I'm rockin my throwaways
Sunday morning couldn’t have come any sooner.  With so much anticipation and the excitement of a big city cheering us on, I didn’t sleep much.  In fact, I woke up well before my alarm, due to it being daylight savings and had to stare up into darkness thinking about my race.  But when it finally came time to get up, I threw everything on (including my kids sized XL throwaway ski jacket) and headed out the door.  I signed up for the Staten Island Ferry, which was only 1 stop on the subway from where I was staying.  So I took it over and followed the masses heading in the same direction.  I couldn’t help but notice the winds already starting to whip around.  According to the forecast, the winds were to get more intense as the day pressed on.  Again, I told myself that I cannot control it, so I just focused on soaking in the whole experience.  

After waiting about 20 minutes in the terminal, we boarded the ferry and were graced with views of the Statue of Liberty to the west and the Verrazano to the east.  It was a pretty quick ride, but the views helped pass the nervous time.  Once we exited the ferries, it was time for the next leg, the buses.  We simply kept walking along the endless line of buses queued up for transport until being told to get on.  After another 20 minute ride, we finally arrived at Fort Wadsworth.  It was here where I first felt the heightened security presence (and more wind).  As our bus pulled up to our designated spot, we were swarmed by dozens of NYPD stationed at each bus exit to check our bibs and make sure we only brought in a clear plastic bag provided by the race.  As we passed through each checkpoint, we’d come across another, and another, and another.  Though it wasn’t crowded at the time I was heading through this process (approximately 6 am), I would imagine either they didn’t continue with that scrutiny later on, or there were incredibly long lines as a result.  Either way, I felt safe and content to show my credentials each and every time.  They were there for us and I hoped others going through the same process realized that too.  I’d rather be checked 100 times and feel secure, than walk right in and wonder where all the enhanced security was.  Once through the multiple checkpoints, I finally made my way to the Orange Runners Village, where I’d spend the next four (yes FOUR!) hours.

Big races like NYC know how to make you feel better about the simple fact that we’d have sit queued up in our designated runner’s village for so long.  Dunkin Donuts was there to hand out winter hats for those who didn’t have one, provide coffee, and bagels.  There was also Gatorade and water.  As the hours passed, the crowds within the runners village grew.  It was never packed like sardines, but the line for DD and the port potties was pretty long.  However, since I was in no hurry to go anywhere, I didn’t mind it.  After laying on the ground in my throwaway winter jacket for a while, I finally heard them announce that Corral 1 was now open.  I eventually made my way over by doing a quick jog.  Note that within the Runner’s Village or anywhere, there was no actual place to warm up and run.  While heading over to the corrals, I found a small section of space (maybe 2-3 minutes worth) to slowly jog.  Since it was cold and I had been sitting around for hours, I feared that 1st uphill mile on the Verrazano.  Anyone who knows enough about running marathons well knows that you can’t go from 0-60 in the early miles or else you’ll blow up later.  But without much of a choice, I tried to take any opportunity to get my muscles moving.  Once I got into the corral (numbers 5-000 through 5-999), I really felt like we were packed like sardines.  One end of the corral was lined with porto potties and the remainder of the corral was filled with lines for each of them.  There was virtually no space to sit down otherwise, except for on the ground between the lines.  It was while waiting in line that I finally met Hollie.  We had discussed meeting up prior to the race since we were both targeting similar paces, so I was happy to see her. 

Not too long after meeting up, our corral started moving forward, which meant we were heading toward the start!  We continued to talk and then ran into Susan, who joined our slow walk toward the Verrazano.  As we inched closer toward the bridge, it became real that I was there to run a marathon.  Up until that moment, it was all just a big spectacle.  Stepping foot on that bridge, one I’ve driven over many times previously, gave me the chills.  After Mayor Bloomberg gave his welcome and send off to the Elite Women, it was our time to start the show.  They introduced the Elite Men and before we knew it, it was go time.  The cannon boom caught me by surprise, but I still had about 2 minutes before we actually crossed the line.  Once we made our way up, Frank Sinatra was blasting and Hollie and I went off looking for some open space.

The Race
In my head, I had the course broken up into a number of segments: the Verrazano (Miles 1-2), Brooklyn up to the base of the Pulaski Bridge (3-13), Queens over to the Queensboro Bridge (13-16), 1st Ave to Willis Avenue Bridge (16-20), Bronx to the finish (20-26.2).  Each section had a goal or mental reset associated with it, so my plan was to be in the moment of each segment and not worry about the next until I was in it.  Be in the mile your in.  So that’s how I’ve broken it down below.

Miles 1-2
Pretty sure I'm somewhere in there!
With fresh legs, I never even felt like I was working to run the first mile.  Maybe it was because I was running above an 8:00/mi pace for ¾ of it, but my intent was to take this mile easy.  I knew I’d gain most of the time back in the 2nd mile back down the other side.  For both miles, I simply wanted to remain in control.  It was crowded and I had to weave some, as I didn’t want to give up too much time.  My limit was nothing slower than 8:00/mi, because I didn't want to have to run other parts faster than planned to make up the time.  After that first ¾ mile, the bridge became more flat and I began picking up the pace a bit to come through Mile 1 in 7:50.  Right around this time, the bridge sharply descended and with freshly tapered legs hopped up on adrenaline, many runners ran way too fast.  I would cautiously glance at my watch to make sure I wasn’t falling into the same trap, but my goal here was to stay in control.  I ended up running a 6:40 mile, which is by far the fastest mile I’ve ever run in a marathon, but given the context of running down a large bridge, I felt it was a conservative way to start.  

Miles 3-12
We just met in real life but we're totally holding hands
Mile 3 began as we entered Brooklyn and started the long trek up 4th Ave.  My goal for Mile 3 was to settle into an easy/steady effort, which in my plan was between 7:10-7:15.  We were immediately greeted with crowds and loud music playing nearly every block.  I kept telling myself to don’t let the excitement force my pace, so I’d reign myself in a number of times.  I soaked it all in and crossed Mile 3 in 7:12.  I had lost Hollie in the 1st mile on the Verrazano, but didn’t want her or myself to stress about sticking exactly together since it was pretty crowded and we each needed to run our own races, despite having similar goals.  Sure enough, somewhere during Miles 3-4, she ran up on me and we ran together for the next couple of miles. 

Sneaky uphill stretches through Brooklyn
The course generally trended uphill in the form of extended false flats rather than actual hills, so you felt like it was mostly flat, but it wasn’t.  We both had family expected to be spotting us between Miles 7-8, so we were on the lookout.  Unfortunately, I missed my family, so I passed through without seeing them.  With a 1.5 yr old, I never assume anything, so I figured he didn’t take so well to standing around.  Turned out, at around the exact moment I probably came through, one of the NYPD nearby requested to randomly search my sisters bag.  Oh well, onto the race.

Cruising through Brooklyn
As the miles ticked by, it was cool to see the changing dynamics of the neighborhoods, both in the people spectating as well as the music being played.  Brooklyn was loud.  In my opinion when I came through, louder than any other borough (including 1st Ave in Manhattan).  And while I’d like to think I soaked it all in, the reality is that I spent most of my time looking 3-5 ft in front of me.  Anyone who has driven in NYC knows that they aren’t known for the pristine shape of their roads.  Well when you cram all these people through these streets, everyone has to put their foot somewhere.  I just wanted to make sure the place I put my foot wasn’t a pothole or on top of someone else.  The worst thing that could happen in a race like this is a stupid injury.  So I had to spend much of my time watching the road.  I did make sure every once and a while to look up when I could, which always left me in a better mental state.  Seeing so many people along the course, literally without a gap, gave me one of the most proud feelings to be there running this race.  But I quickly came upon one of the only breaks in crowds, which meant only one thing – the Pulaski Bridge was near.
Headed up the Pulaski Bridge at Mile 13

Miles 13-16
Exiting the crowded masses onto the first of two big bridges gave me a sense of accomplishment.  I was now entering the section of course where I knew it was time to get started to work.  While I never intended the push the pace on the bridges, my goal was to hold steady effort.  I found myself passing quite a few people, a number of which were already cramping.  Based on my research of the course in advance, I never considered the Pulaski Bridge to be a big climb.  But as we started the climb at the foot of it, it sure seemed like it, not to mention the wind that was fully slapping us in the face.  I pressed on and crossed 13.1 in 1:34:28, which was right where I wanted to be.  I was still feeling fresh and I loosened up on the downhill as we entered Queens.  After winding our way through Queens for a short bit, we quickly entered a more industrial stretch that brought us closer to the Queensboro Bridge, which was looming in the distance.  There were still crowds around, but a bit less so than in Brooklyn.  DJs spun music with some fast beats to get us ready to hit the bridge.  I made sure not to push on the climb, so I backed off the effort some.  I was still passing lots of others who appeared to be struggling from the early miles and felt really strong.  While I didn’t have a goal pace on the bridge, my goal was to run it by feel, knowing that I held back.  I felt I did a good job of keeping a steady effort without going too far into the red.  Once we crested the top, we gradually headed downhill.  The one thing I remembered about descending the Queensboro Bridge was that the downhill wasn’t nearly as steep as the uphill, meaning you didn’t get the chance to run equally fast downhill and you had to slow on the uphill.  That is, until we hit the exit ramp off the bridge.  A sharp u turn literally drops you out onto the street, with a quick turn onto 1st Ave and a return to the crowds.

Miles 17-20
My pre-race plan was to get off the bridge feeling relatively good and start to up the pace a bit slightly.  I turned onto 1st Ave to find the streets lined with people screaming (though still less loud than Brooklyn, but with more people) and a wicked headwind.  I haven’t much mentioned the wind, primarily because it was there all day.  It never stood out for me, other than being a nuisance to my overall time goals for the race, but once we hit 1st Ave you could really feel it whipping right into our faces.  As I started to pick up the pace, I quickly received a shockwave down the back of my leg.  Out of nowhere, my hamstring began to tighten up.  I couldn’t believe how good I still felt and was having this happen.  I pulled off to the side of the street to stretch, only to find thousands of people yelling me to get back and run.  Trust me people, I’d be running if I could.  

So there I was, having the best marathon race, feeling better than I’ve ever felt 16 miles into the race, and my hamstring has decided it has had enough.  I started with the usual attempt at slowly running again in the hopes that my body would gradually relax and I’d be able to get back on pace in a mile or two.  Over the next couple of miles, I’d continue to keep running, but would learn that every downhill would cause my hamstring to tighten to the point of having to stop.  Not good when you had every intention of blasting through this section of the course.  I started going into emergency mode and grabbed Gatorade from each and every aid station.  In the past couple of marathons, I’ve found this stuff, which I typically despise, to help me late in races.  I’d run through an aid station and grab two cups to drink.  This section of the course was very rolling, with a fair amount of uphills, but also some downs.  Each time I hit a down, I’d get that same shock into my hamstring.  The only thing I could conclude was that the downhills from the bridges caused too much fatigue that my body wasn’t ready for.  Truth be told, I ran lots of hills in training in preparation for this race.  Too bad it was the uphills I focused on.  And while many of my tempo runs and long runs included stretches of downhill running at race pace, I probably should have spent a bit more time doing some focused downhill running repeats. 

Cresting the Willis Avenue Bridge at Mile 20
By the time I got to the Willis Avenue Bridge, I was mostly running ok, but if I kept the same pace, I was pretty confident that I’d come in slower than my last marathon, which would leave me short of my goal to PR despite the tough course and conditions.  So with nothing to lose, I made an executive decision to do the one thing I’ve never considered doing in marathon when things were tightening up and my body was slowing – Go as hard as I can for as long as I can.

Miles 21-26.2
I had only 10k left to go and my body had raised its white flag to surrender.  But I was not about to have any of that.  I worked too hard, spent too many early mornings, had come too far to give up that easily.  So I fought with everything I had in my heart and mind to say shut up to my body.  And for the first time in a marathon past the 20 mile marker, I felt reborn.  While the huddled masses were cramping and slowing, similar to myself only a short bit ago, I was flying.  As I continued picking up the pace while heading up and over the Madison Avenue Bridge, I passed by Hollie and wished her a strong finish in her first marathon (she killed it in 3:17!).  In her words, after discussing our races, “I took off like a missile”.  

Despite it being Mile 24, I still look pretty good!
 When planning my race strategy, I had read all about Mile 22/23 and the long uphill stretch up 5th Ave once we came back into Manhattan.  I knew it would be tough no matter how my race was going since it was so late in the race, but given my recent revival, I hit that hill with a mental state of “bring it on!”.  I passed by my family, who said I looked like I was still moving really well.  In fact, I threw down a 7:09 on that uphill mile!

Focused on the finish
As we crested the hill, we entered Central Park, which despite my tunnel vision of just wanting to be done, was loud and encouraging.  Unfortunately, most of this section of the course was yet more downhill.  So despite my ability to run again, the downhills still bothered me.  I did my best to keep pushing with everything I had as I slowly counted down the minutes I had left to run.  With only 2+ miles to go, I knew I’d be done in 15+, so I just kept pushing.  
Almost done!
 After weaving through the winding road in Central Park, we dropped back onto the road along Central Park South, for what seemed like an eternity as we headed toward Columbus Circle in the distance.  Once I made it to Columbus Circle, Central Park West seemed like the longest stretch ever, not to mention all uphill.  Having signs started with 800m to go helped break things up, but I was starting to get a bit fuzzy in the head.  I was running on fumes by now and knew that the finish line was near.  The difficulty with the last ½ mile is that you can’t see the finish line until you’re virtually there.  The emotional boost one gets from seeing (not hearing) the line typically helps give you a little bit of extra oomph for the last stretch.  I was hurting.  I knew it was coming, because I passed signs that said 400m, then 200m.  I visualized myself running on the track and how little I had left.  But until I saw the actual finish line, I was convinced those signs were a big fat lie. 

Finally, after 3 hours, 13 minutes, and 1 second I crossed the finish line with a new PR (by 1:34)and earned every bit of it.

Exhausted at the finish
Division Place: 304 out of 4,259 Finishers
Gender Place: 1,647 out of 30,589 Male Finishers
Overall Place: 1,775 out of 50,134
Pace: 7:23

Doing some rough math based on research I've come across of running into a headwind that is at about the equivalent speed as you are running (my pace is about 8.2 mph and it was widely reported to be at least a 15 mph sustained headwind), it would have cost me about 10-15s/mile.  Seeings as how the winds were blowing faster than I was running for nearly 21 miles, I think its safe to assume I've left myself quite a bit of room for time improvement next time.
Proud of my effort on a really tough day
Sometimes you have the race you dreamed of, and sometimes you don’t.  For me, part of my dream was completely fulfilled.  I ran my absolute best effort on the day, which gave me a PR of 1:34.  No amount of “what ifs” have haunted me since this race.  I can’t control many things like the course or the weather, but I can control my effort.  I gave this race 100%.  And while I have much greater aspirations in terms of a finishing time, I have no regrets.  This WAS the race I dreamed about.  I’ve always dreamed about having a race where I ran the last 10k strong without sacrificing the early miles by going too easy.  And while I experienced some issues prior to getting there (cramping at Mile 16), those only added to the accomplishment of it all.  This race had all the excitement and drama, and I came out the other side stronger.  Stronger knowing that I can push through the pain when it sets in no matter where on the course.  Stronger knowing that even on a challenging course in even more challenging conditions, I can still run my best effort. 

Not gonna lie - having my name on ESPN was one of the highlights of the day!
Anyone who has spent some time with me knows that I have greater goals than what I ran here.  But anyone who knows me also knows that I will keep running no matter what.  My fire was lit before this race.  Now, it is bigger than ever.  I’m hungry for more and I have the patience to do it right and keep chipping away.

Couldn't have done it without the support of my cheering squad!
 This is already getting long enough, but I'll follow up in another post about my post-race thoughts and lessons learned going into the next one.

For those interested, below are my 5k splits, followed by my hand timed splits at each mile marker:

Monday, September 30, 2013

Race Report: Perfect 10 Miler

Once the temperatures start dropping in the morning after a long, hot, humid summer, you start to realize the fitness gains throughout those hard fought sweaty miles.  Fall racing season is upon us and it was about time to kick things off by racing the Perfect 10 (which also offers a 10k), a relatively hilly race put on by =PR=

With 5 weeks to go until the NYC Marathon, now is the perfect time to check in on my fitness.  And the only way to truly test that fitness is by racing. The purpose of running a longer tune up race 4-6 weeks out from a marathon is primarily to make sure your goals are in check with the state of your fitness.  It also helps to try and simulate some of the same things you'll be doing on race day (nutrition, gear, etc).  By proving you can race at an equivalent performance (this can be validated against a running calculator) in a slightly shorter distance, you are proving your goal paces are right in line for an equivalent performance at the marathon distance.  And while a shorter race will never exactly correlate to a longer one, you should be in the ballpark.  If you race slower or faster than expected, it means you have a few weeks to reevaluate your goals and adjust accordingly. 

Running Buddies (me, Jeff, Jess, Natasha, Meghan) post-race
Race morning brought about perfect Fall conditions - 50 degrees, clear, and no wind.  With the hills on the course, we didn't need any added factors to slow us down.  About an hour or so before the race, I met up with a bunch of my running buddies for a warm up.  I quickly learned that Jess was planning to race at a similar pace and Jeff was going to cruise along at his marathon-ish pace too, so that meant I'd have some company.  The more the merrier!  We ended up doing about 2.5 mi of mostly easy warm up running.  I ran a couple of race paced pickups about 5-10 minutes before the start.  Other than that, it was just a chill start before the race.  I was nervous to prove to myself of the fitness I knew I had, mainly because I didn't know how my body was going to respond with a hard effort in the midst of peak marathon training.  I knew I should be able to PR, since my previous 2 PRs have been during 13.1 races.  However, my legs had felt pretty heavy all week, coming off 2 out of the last 3 weeks where I ran some rather speedy 22 milers.  I was hopeful for some race day magic in my legs and a chance to prove my fitness.

The Race
10k/10Milers are off!
After lining up and chatting for a few minutes, the gun suddenly went and we were off running.  A bit surprised by the sudden start, we inched toward the line and hit our watches right as we crossed.  Both races started at the same time, so it was difficult to determine the 10k runners vs the 10 mile runners.  However, it was nice to have company along the route.  It was only until Mile 5 or so when we learned who was running the 10k, as most of those runners sped up toward the finish, while we settled into our steady pace.

Miles 1-5 
Cruising downhill through Mile 5 with Jess
The entire course was rolling hills, but the 1st mile started on a bit of a downhill, so most runners went out a bit fast.  Reviewing my splits show the first .5 mi of the race run at about 6:15/mi, but at about that same point, we hit a steep uphill to bring us back to finish out Mile 1 in 6:28.  Once over that hill, my pace again shot down into the 5:45/mi range as we were thrust down a steep grade before entering the start of a longer uphill grind for the next 1.25 mi.  Once we settled into the even effort on the climb, we just kind of locked in.  It was nice having friends shooting for a similar pace range, as we all knew to stay in control and stick together.  Mile 2 came through in 6:31 and we slowly crested the last bit of the climb.  The next section of the course was the one I told myself would be the most challenging: a nice short, steep downhill, into a steep 1/4 mi uphill, followed by another short steep downhill, followed by a longer .5 mi steep climb.  I crested the first steep uphill and hit Mile 3 in 6:32.  I knew that if I could get through that tough stretch and recover on the next downhill, I'd have the legs to make it through the rest of the race.  Only 4 miles into the race, but a lot of tough hills already conquered.  Mile 4 was run in 6:36 and my legs felt like jello.  I used the next mile of rolling (more down than up) to shake out and try to re-gain my composure.  I crossed Mile 5 in 6:26 feeling really good still and ready for the 2nd half of the race.  Toward the end of Mile 5, we split off with the 10k runners, so a few people who had started surging made their exists while we all cursed them for being done.  Meanwhile, we started the longest climb of the course.

Miles 6-10
Mile 6 - Jeff leading the pack, me in the middle, Jess right behind
Moving steadily through the uphill section of the course, I spotted Rebecca and Z there cheering us on.  It was a great pick me up and got me through a tough mental spot in the race.  Mile 6 was hit in 6:32.  Our little pack was still together at this point and we were all working to encourage a steady effort up the 1.5 mi climb.  The climb started steep, but then became a consistently steady uphill with only a few short flatter sections.  We finally crested the major uphill section, but were starting to split apart.  The grind of the climb definitely was a tough one and with only a short downhill, followed by another steep climb, the course was unforgiving.  I knew we had a long downhill coming, but I struggled a bit with the last climb before it.  Mile 7 was 6:42 - I knew all the hard work was done, with less than 5k left and more downhills to push onward. 

Pushing up one of the final hills
While I would have liked to run some of these downhills a little harder, my hamstrings were fatigued from the hills and I didn't want to risk any cramps, so I held back a bit.  But don't worry, I was still moving.  The downhill was so steep that I hit my fastest stretch of running on the day, topping out at 5:14/mi, while still holding back.  Yep - that was a steep downhill!  Of course what goes up must come down (and vice versa).  That steep downhill rolled right into another .25 mi climb, which would be the last real climb of the day (thank goodness!).  I hit Mile 8 in 6:34 and started picking up the pace a bit as the course started heading more downhill.  While heading downhill, we took a sharp left taking us closer toward the finish and I could hear the announcer and music.  I crossed Mile 9 in 6:20 and picked up the pace some more.  I knew where we were now - heading right back to the school where we run all of our track workouts for the training program.  Unfortunately, we had to run a bit of an out and back before heading down to the track for the finish.  The out and back included a 180 degree turn on a slight downhill (meaning uphill on the return) about .25 mi from the finish, which threw a bit of a wrench into my pace.  I quickly rounded the cone and tried to surge to get back up to speed and weaved through a number of 10k runners who were also headed toward the finish with a quick dump out on the track for the last .1 mi.  I heard my name over the speakers get announced and I just ran steady through the finish.  Mile 10 (and change, since I ran a little extra due to not hitting exact tangents) was 6:10.  As I got closer, Rebecca snapped a photo of me as I narrowly missed sub-65.

Bringing it home!
Final Time: 1:05:05
Avg Pace: 6:30/mi
Overall Place: 23/520; 19/224 Men
AG Place: 3/33

Post Race Thoughts
  • This race answered my inner voice and confirmed I am right on track for where I hoped I'd be.  I actually ran a bit faster than expected, not even factoring the peak training load my body is under.  All this points to keep doing what I am doing for the next 5 weeks.  Mission accomplished!
  • The entire group earned some Age Group awards.  It was pretty cool to be able to celebrate a hard earned effort with awards all around.
  • Nothing beats running buddies when it comes to racing.  Whether its the pressure to not let them down or to keep up with them, racing with others you know is a good thing.  I'm pretty sure I would have run a bit slower if I didn't have them to stick with me.  I probably would have gone out a bit slower/more conservative.
  • I'm happy with the way I ended up executing my race.  I turned in a 15s negative split (32:40/32:25), which is pretty close to an ideal race, especially given the hills.   
  • This race result shows that my fitness has improved since running the Brooklyn Half.  My race correlates to about a 1:26 half marathon.  I could have run a 21:00 5k (6:45/mi) for the last 3 miles and still come in at 1:26:xx.  This was on a more challenging course in my opinion, so I am pretty confident that my fitness is quite a bit better than it was in May.  All of this bodes very well for New York.
Age Group winners!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Things I Don't Get

As someone who works with a variety of different athletes, I've got the bases covered on the different reasons people train.  While most people train to push their limits, what that actually means can equate to a wide range of motivations.  Everything from completing a new distance to setting a PR to not getting hurt; these are all valid reasons people train.

However, at the same time, there are a number of things that I simply don't get.  And while I support any method that gets one moving, I am constantly reminded of the premise of this article, which is probably why I don't get the things I am about to mention.  To me, it isn't about the slowing down of race times, which has nothing to do with the assumption that we are getting slower.  The slowing down in actuality might have more to do with a larger sample size of participants and the fact that many of these runners are people who might not have participated in running races previously due to it being a fringe sport.  We now find running as a sport that accepts people of all speeds and levels of experience, so we see a large participant base of runners just starting the sport spread across many more races that now exists, hence slower times. 

However, to me this article hits on the concept that many people aren't just into training for and running a given race.  And I agree with that.  Many see this as the anti-competitive runner mindset.  Their schedules are filled with races with little to no interest in finishing them in a given time.  Or in some cases, they aren't even "races".  To them, the goal is to complete them all.  This is nothing new though.  The Marathon Maniacs have been around for a while now.  This is just another spin off that same general mindset of quantity over quality.  Anyways, my point is that whether you like it or not, people get into the sport of running for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with performance and others are on the exact opposite of the spectrum.

I get the idea and hear many runners say it all the time: "We'll I'm not competitive, so I do races for fun."  While I agree that there are many alternatives to competitive racing, I think many of these people fail to understand that everyone CAN be competitive.  To me, running isn't about what others are doing.  Your race results aren't defined by how everyone else did (unless you are racing to win, which most of us are not).  Your results show how you are able to be competitive with yourself against your own times.  Everyone can set a PR.  Being competitive with yourself means training to beat that time.  I just want to make sure people are clear - being a competitive runner has nothing to do with speed or place.  It has to do with a mindset and how you approach your training.

So while I understand many of these non-competitive reasons and motivations, I just don't get most of the actions these runners take or for that matter, actions some competitive minded runners make.  Here are just a few off the top of my head:

  1. Training Marathons - While there is a time and a place for putting races in the middle of a training cycle, some runners take training races to a whole new level.  For example, when training for a marathon, there is no reason to run a full marathon before your race.  This may sound foolish to those who know better, but so many people are under the false assumption that you need to run 26.2 miles before your actual marathon.  You simply are putting too much risk of injury into a single workout, while also compromising future training as a result of the recovery time needed after the race.  What results is a sub-par marathon performance in your training race, sub-par training because you need to factor in recovery, and likely a sub-par goal marathon because of a lack of optimal training.  At the end of the day, you end up with less than optimal results and potential injury.  In my eyes, if you are training to do well at a race, do it right.
  2. Streaking - I know many people who are oddly proud of their impressive run streaks dating back years or in some cases decades.  That's great, but I don't see how a streak serves any purpose other than forcing you to compromise your health at the expense of continuing with a streak.  I've known people who run through stress fractures to keep their streak alive and/or received them as a result of continual stress from run streaks.  Your body is always sending feedback about how it feels.  Refusing to listen to it will always result in one thing - injury.  Count me on the list of people who tries to avoid the "i" word as often as possible.  So while I'm all for non-performance goals, streaking is one of them that I believe encourages ignoring the signals your body gives you and can lead you down the wrong path.
  3. Multiple Race Events - Popularized by the Goofy Challenge, and now the even more ridiculous Dopey Challenge, the whole goal of these events is to complete the races.  Nobody can run them competitively (and I mean this in terms of your own relative best as mentioned above), so we are again faced with another situation of doing what you can to not get hurt.  After shelling out so much money to both participate in the events and stay reasonably close, it seems like such as waste to jog a 5k, 10k, and half marathon, only to hope your body is still capable of supporting you for another 26.2 miles.  Not only do you get 4 medals for each race, but you actually get 6 (!) because you get the Goofy and Dopey Challenge medals as well.  Talk about a medal obsessed culture!  If you are interested in running a long distance over an extended period of time, why not sign up for an ultra?  Seems to make more sense, since you'd pay a whole lot less.  Then again, you'd only get a buckle or something less blingy, so there's that.
  4. Running Faster Than Planned in Workouts - This doesn't have to do with non-competitive types, but more of a general observation of something I don't get.  Some people don't have an idea of what paces they should be running, so they just do what others do or they simply run faster than planned to show how they "killed it".  Wrong.  Running faster than planned, no matter if it is an easy run or speedwork means you won't get the desired training benefit of the workout.  What do you get?  More stress on your body than you bargained for and a bragging instagram photo as your #proof. If you have a plan, stick to it.  Goal paces aren't meant to be "beaten".  If you constantly beat them, you are either running your workouts too hard or you don't have realistic goals.  Either option isn't great.
I'm sure there are lots more that I could list, but you get the idea.  In my mind, this is why coaches exist: To encourage you to achieve your goals, while still keeping running fun.  I'm not saying all training has to be serious.  I simply mean that many runners would be better off listening to someone who knows what they are doing, rather than trying to do it themselves or copying what others do.  Each person is an individual requiring individual approaches.  Most of us lack the self awareness to train the right way without giving in to the temptation to do what everyone else is doing.  Train smart and be consistent is all I like to say.  The rest is just details.

Are there any other things about runners that you just don't get?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Digging Out of The Grind and Starting to Feel Race Ready

When you're training for a marathon or any endurance event that causes you to create a large amount of fatigue, it seems logical to think about the workout you're executing and trying to correlate THAT workout to your race.  Often times, we seek instant gratification that what we are doing today will pay off tomorrow.  Unfortunately, training with this mindset often results in a constant war between your mind and your body to keep improving in the form of faster paces for every workout.  And while you should see a general progression toward faster paces as you get closer to race day, you can't simply force it.  The whole point of a training cycle is to stress the system appropriately so that you can improve your fitness and peak when it comes time to race.  Training is a process and an art, so it is never as simple as "If I do this workout, it means I'll be able to run my race in this time".  We know better than to turn a piece of art into a simple formula, but many of us do.  Those running calculators and predictors help guide you, but they will not guarantee you anything.  You have to work for it, day in and day out, over the course of a training cycle (or multiple training cycles) to teach yourself how to race.  And for those with ambitious goals, it is ever so important to do this a few times throughout the training cycle so you know you are on the right path.  However, the emphasis is on a few times, not every workout.  I've written before about feeling race ready and creating a confident athlete, both of which will help you get to where you need to be to know you are on the right path, so I won't delve back into that area. 

When I last posted, I was in "the grind", churning away those workouts, but a bit lost, as I was too far away from my race to feel the urgency, but close enough to know that every workout mattered.  Well I'm happy to say that I believe I am on my way toward exiting that feeling.  Some days, it really does feel tough to get out there.  Others, I'm hitting the pavement without thinking.  So how did I get there?

First, I've had a few runs that went extremely well, giving me the confidence I needed to know I'm moving in the right direction.  Second, the weather appears to be finally cooling off a bit, renewing my sense of enjoyment in being out in nature.  Its no surprise that these two things go hand in hand.  This is now the time to start reaping the reward for plowing through sweaty, humid miles all summer.  Our bodies have become efficient at dealing with the heat and humidity, so cooler weather brings more efficiency at the same paces or faster paces at the same effort, both of which are huge benefits. 

With a quick shot of cooler weather last weekend (of course, immediately followed by extreme heat, but I digress), I set out with some running buddies for a 22 miler.  Now these weren't just any running buddies.  They were some runners I admire for many reasons, the least of which for the fact that they are fast by anyone's definition.  They are all real people with real lives, and can make any long run feel like a short jog around the block.  This was just what I needed with a tough 22 miler planned.

Meghan, Jeff, and Jess (they were too cool for me and took a photo of themselves later)
 I knew we'd be running faster than what I'd typically be running if doing this solo, but had a race simulation workout in mind, where the bulk of my miles would be at or close to my goal marathon pace, which happens to be Meghan and Jeff's easy pace (and probably slower than they'd be running if they were running solo).  This run helped me not only to break the cycle of grinding out long runs, but also truly restore my confidence in my fitness.  I never pushed the effort on this run and simply felt strong the whole way, even with a few miles that might have happened to sneak a 6:xx in there.
Probably one of my best long runs ever
So while I hope to race at a bit faster paces, this was all done in the midst of some high mileage training.  My legs were nowhere close to fresh and I had only taken two days completely off in the previous 3 weeks.  I've been putting in the work, staying consistent, and getting it done.  I KNOW I am moving in the right direction and now it seems like race day is inching closer.  With only 5 more weeks of training, I've got some killer workouts planned, but nothing I don't think I can execute.  Just have to take it one workout at a time, and not read too much into the result of each or any of them.  I know where my fitness is, and it is exactly where I want it.


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