Tuesday, December 10, 2013

FAST Pace 10k - October 2013

FAST Pace 10k - Cumming, GA - October 2013

My new BFF, Bill Rodgers!
I took the midnight train to Georgia for a 10k race on this weekend.  Actually, it was an airplane.  And it left around 4:00 p.m, not midnight.  And the race wasn't really the primary reason for the trip.

My college, Syracuse University, joined the ACC this year for athletics, which meant that they now would be playing against my wife's school - Georgia Tech - in football (and other sports).  We are both big football fans, so when we saw this game on the schedule, we just HAD to go to Atlanta to see it!  We both have family and friends there too, so it is always a fun trip.  We planned the trip much earlier, but I realized that, according to my training plan, I was supposed to run an 8k-10k tune-up race this weekend too.  After a little research, I found an interesting 10k in Cumming, GA, which is not too far from Atlanta.  We would fly to Atlanta on Friday afternoon, get some dinner, run the race on Saturday morning, shower, and head to the game. 

This was my third consecutive weekend running a race.  Two weeks earlier, I had run a 5k in 18:18.  And just 6 days earlier, I had set a new half marathon PR of 1:23:56.  This looked like a fast, downhill course, and I would be shooting for a 10k PR, but my legs definitely were not as well-rested as I would have liked.  My PR was 37:33 (6:02/mile pace), which I set at the Pike's Peek 10k back in April.  I wanted to average about 6:00/mile (or slightly faster) pace in this race.

Pushing hard through the rain to the finish line

One interesting thing about this race (besides the fast course) was that Bill Rodgers was the race spokesman!  Rodgers is probably the greatest American distance runner of all time.  He won the Boston and New York City Marathons 4 times in a row back in the 1970s, in addition to numerous other achievements.  The FAST Pace Race was held to raise money for prostate cancer research.  Rodgers decided to become a spokesman for this race because he is a prostate cancer survivor.  And because it was not a huge race, we actually got a chance to really talk to him! 
My wife and  I approached him before the race, and were worried he might be annoyed.  But he could not have possibly been more friendly.  He took pictures with us and told us about the time he won the Boston Marathon even though he had to stop and tie his shoes.  He even asked about our upcoming races, and when I mentioned the Philadelphia Marathon, he said that he would be there too.  I was really excited to get to meet him!

The race start is a little over a mile (uphill) from the finish line and parking, so after warming up, we got in line for a shuttle to the start line.  Once I got in line, Bill Rodgers came walking out and got in line behind me! We got to sit next to him and chat some more on the bus to the start.

FAST Pace 10k elevation map
We got off the shuttle and headed over to the start line.  As you can see from the elevation map, the race does have some very nice downhills.  What I was not expecting, though, were the uphills.  Some of the smaller uphills along the way really wore me out!  This course was actually much more challenging than the Pike's Peek 10k, which is almost entirely downhill.  Also, my legs were pretty beat from races the past couple weekends, including a half-marathon PR just 6 days earlier.  Not to mention that we had just gotten into town on a flight the night before.  And it was also raining on race morning.  But enough excuses! Onto the race...

Bill Rodgers gave me my age-group award!!
The first mile goes steeply downhill, and my time showed it with a 5:38.  Even though it was downhill, this was too fast of a start for me for a 10k.  I slowed down to a more reasonable 5:59 on the second mile.  If I could just stay around 6:00 pace for the rest of the race, I would have a PR!  I did run a 6:04 third mile, but I was noticing some of the small uphills, and I was really starting to struggle.  The rain started to pick up here too.  A lot of the 4th mile was uphill, and I slowed down to a 6:23.  I tried to make up time during the 5th mile, but could only manage a 6:13.  I stayed consistent in the 6th mile with a 6:16, and averaged a 5:27/mile pace in the final 0.2 stretch, which was down a very steep hill.  I crossed the finish line in 38:01 (6:07/mile pace), taking 6th place overall and 2nd place in my age group.  (Race ResultsI got to see Bill Rodgers one more time at the awards ceremony, as he was the one giving out the medals for age group awards!  He congratulated me and wished me luck in the Philadelphia Marathon.  I was shocked that he remembered and actually took the time to say something.  What a great guy!  He remembered my wife, too, when he gave her an age group award for her 5k.

2nd place age group medal
56-0!!  Poor, poor Syracuse :(
 I was hoping to run faster in this race, but it just didn't happen.  I think if I had gone in to the race better-rested, I would have run a faster time.  Also, now that I know the course, I would run it more strategically if I were to do it again.  It is not just straight downhill the whole way.  You can't just go out with reckless abandon.  5:38 first mile, anyone?  If you know where the uphills and downhills are coming, you can figure out where to save yourself, and where to go for it and make up time. Maybe I will do the race again in two years when Syracuse comes back to Atlanta for a rematch with Georgia Tech!  And, oh boy, does Syracuse ever need a rematch - they lost 56-0!!  As the wise Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!"

Heritage Half Marathon - October 2013

Heritage Half Marathon - Haymarket, VA - October 2013

Heritage Half Marathon race shirt
This race was my "backup" plan after the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon was postponed due to the government shutdown.  It was only one week later, so luckily it didn't throw my training plan off too much.

I was already scheduled to do an 18 mile run with 14 miles at marathon pace on this day.  So, I figured that this would be a good substitute.  A couple of miles for a warm up and a couple of miles for a cool down, with a half marathon in the middle.  The only difference is that I was planning on running this race faster than my marathon pace, which is only around 7:00/mile.  I set my half marathon PR of 1:25:33 (6:31/mile pace) last October at the Wilson Bridge Half, so I would be attempting to beat that time.  I was hoping to hold a steady 6:25/mile pace, and finish in the 1:24s, or maybe 1:23s if it was a good day.

Heritage Half Marathon finisher medal
Well, it was not a good day - at least not weather-wise.  It was POURING rain all weekend, including the morning of and during the race.  Race morning it was right around 60 degrees, windy, and humid in addition to the rain. Not ideal.  The race started at Battlefield High School in lovely Loudoun County.  It was a beautiful school with an impressive football stadium in which the race started and finished.  The lights were on inside the stadium, which was helpful, because it was pretty dark between the rain and the early race start. The race finished with a lap on the track inside the lit up stadium.  I enjoy races like this because it makes you feel like a celebrity when you come into the stadium to finish with everyone cheering you on.

I wore a trash bag over my body to stay dry until the race started.  It was really pouring! Finally the race began, and 410 half marathoners set out in a driving rain.  I knew that I wanted to average a 6:25 mile pace, but this course had some hills, so I would have to be strategic about it.  There would be some places where I would lose time, and some places where I could make it up.  (See elevation map below)
Heritage Half Marathon - elevation map

Age group award - plaque
I started off pretty fast with a downhill 6:15 mile,  but then evened it out with an uphill 6:34 second mile.  Miles 3 and 4 were fast again with a 6:11 and 6:13, before I settled down to where I wanted to be for miles 5-8 with 6:28, 6:20, 6:23, and 6:27 respectively.  At this point, I knew that I was going to get my PR, even if I really slowed down a lot - as long as I didn't totally crash.  So, I went more conservative for miles 9-12 with a 6:43, 6:41, 6:36, and 6:44.  These miles had a lot of hills too, which slowed me down anyway.  I also had probably used too much energy early on by going out so fast.  But I did have just enough energy left to really push it on my final 1.1 miles, averaging a blazing 6:14 mile pace!

Finally, clothes drenched in rain, I entered the brightly lit Battlefield High School stadium, took a lap around the track, and crossed the finish line 10th place overall and 2nd place in my age group with a time of 1:23:56 (6:24/mile pace).  (Race Results)  This beat the PR I set last year by almost 2 minutes! 
A rainy day with a happy ending!

Despite the terrible weather, this race ended up working out really well for me.  I set a new PR, won an age group award, and felt really confident about my chances of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  According to MacMillan's Pace Calculator, my half marathon time of 1:23:56 translates to a 2:56 marathon - and all I need is 3:10 to qualify for Boston.

I would strongly recommend this race if you are looking for a cheap (only $40) half marathon that is easy to get to, with ample parking, where you don't have to get there too early, deal with big crowds, corrals, and general race hoopla.  You get a really nice long sleeve technical shirt and medal, in addition to abundant age group awards.  There is also a 5k, if you don't feel like going 13.1.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Race to Rid SIDS 5k - October 2013

Race to Rid SIDS 5k - Herndon, VA - October 2013

On the run!
I was originally supposed to run the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon this weekend.  Unfortunately, the government incompetence shutdown forced that race to be postponed, as part of the course involved federal parks.  

I found out about the race postponement on Wednesday night of this week.  To add to my annoyance, the race was postponed to one week before the Philadelphia Marathon, so I would not be able to do it at all this year.  Luckily, I was able to defer my entry to 2014 so I did not totally lose out on my registration fee.  

I was pretty frustrated that the race had been postponed, so on Wednesday night, I started frantically trying to figure out a backup plan and find some alternate races.  Luckily, I found another half marathon only a week later - the Heritage Half Marathon in Gainesville, VA.  But I was still antsy to get out and race THIS weekend.  I didn't have much luck finding 10ks, but I was able to find a nearby 5k - the Race to Rid SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) 5k.  The race was conveniently close to my house, and the course also ran right past my friend's house - twice!  

On Friday afternoon, before the race, I was scheduled for a 5 mile recovery run with some quick striders.  So, I decided to head over to Oak Hill Elementary School (where the race starts), to do a course preview.  While running the course, I ran into my friend and stopped to talk with him.  He is a runner too, but would not be able to run (or watch) the race because he was coaching at a cross country invitational the next morning.  But he said his wife would try to come out and cheer me on!  

During the preview, I realized that the course was a little hillier than I thought it would be (See elevation map).  I was in pretty good shape though, and thought I should be able to run a decent time - maybe in the low to mid 18s.  Although with marathon training, I was not exactly in "5k shape." Marathon training is mostly long runs and lactate threshold work - not VO2 max workouts, which are the key to a fast 5k.  After the Philadelphia Marathon, I'd like to focus more on faster speed work, and running some fast 5ks and 10ks - maybe try to get under 18 in a 5k.
Race to Rid SIDS 5k elevation map

Race to Rid Sids 5k race t-shirt
So, after a crazy week, with a lot of reshuffling of my marathon training plan, it was finally race morning.  I headed over to Oak Hill Elementary and registered for the race. The volunteers were very friendly and helpful.  The race shirt was a tech tee, which pleasantly surprised me.  For a "cause" race, starting at an elementary school, I honestly would have expected a crappy cotton t-shirt with some ugly design on the front that was chosen from an elementary student design contest. This shirt was actually decent!

After a one mile warm-up, I headed over to the start line.  It was fairly warm for October - mid 60s on race morning, and it rose into the 80s later in the day.  Luckily I was only racing 5k today, so it shouldn't effect me too much.  I would probably be finished with the race before I overheated.  It honestly would have been pretty lousy weather to run a half marathon - too warm and humid.  Maybe the shutdown race postponement wasn't so bad after all!

Encouragement along the way
Glancing around at the competition at the start line,  I thought I had a good chance to finish in the top 5.  The race began, and I got off to a good start, settling into 2nd place.  One super fast runner was there, and he headed out into the lead.  After about a half-mile, one other runner passed me, which put me into 3rd place.  I settled into a nice pace, and clocked a 5:47 first mile.  I passed my friend's house on the way out, and his wife was there to cheer me on!  When I circled back past the house the second time, she was still out there cheering, and I saw something written on the road.  I honestly was running too fast to read it, but I figured it was something encouraging.  After the race, I ran back there for my cool down, and talked to her some more.  She had used some chalk and written 'Go Duane! In it to win it!' on the road in front of their driveway for me.  How nice!

1st place 30-39 age group award!
I ran the 2nd mile in 5:53 - still in 3rd place, with the 1st and 2nd place runners out of striking distance.  However, I could hear footsteps and breathing right behind me.  Then I heard a spectator yell, "Way to go! First place female!"  Oh crap, the person behind me was a girl!  I'm not really too sexist or anything, but I just don't want to let anyone beat me...ever...especially not a girl.  She ran really strong though, and stayed right on my shoulder.  After a couple of hills, I was able to put a little bit of distance on her.  The third mile was definitely the most challenging, with a couple of steep hills, but I still managed a 6:06, and crossed the finish line about 5 seconds ahead of the girl.  I finished 3rd place overall out of 177 runners, and 1st place in my age group, in 18:18 (5:53/mile pace)  (Race Results)  However, when the results came out from Amazing Race Timing, there were two mistakes.  One - my time said 18:25 instead of 18:18.  I started my watch exactly when I crossed the start line, and stopped it right when I crossed the finish line, so there should not have been that much of a discrepancy.  They were wrong.  Second, the results said that the girl had finished ahead of me - even though I crossed the finish line before her.  This could have been because she started farther back, and it was chip timed.  But I thought she was standing right next to me on the start line, so I'm not sure where that timing discrepancy came from either.  So, Amazing Race Timing was not so amazing in my opinion. But the girl did not effect any of the male race results and awards, because I was still the 3rd overall male.  My prize was a hydration pack from Eastern Mountain Sports (retail value of $59.99!!).  I don't think I would ever use it, so I will probably sell it on E-bay.

Overall, the Race to Rid SIDS 5k was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone - nice volunteers, nice shirt, nice awards.  Even though I didn't get to run the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, this turned out to be a good back up plan.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

International Peace Half Marathon - September 2013


This was my second time running the International Peace Half Marathon, after having finished 3rd place overall last year.  I am still training for the Philadelphia Marathon, and this weekend I was scheduled to run 16 miles with 12 of those miles at marathon pace.  So, I decided to use this race to complete that training run.  My marathon pace is obviously slower than my half marathon pace, so I would not be running this race at an all-out half marathon effort.  But it is a challenging workout, so I figured that it would make it a little more fun if it was built into the context of a race.  Plus, even though I wasn't going all out, I still thought I had a good chance to win an award - after all, I did finish 3rd last year.  This is a good race to do as a training run too, because it is pretty low key - usually only a few hundred runners, and very cheap compared to other half marathons.

The race course is pretty simple, being entirely on the C&O Canal Towpath.  The towpath is a dirt/gravel path that starts in Georgetown and runs for hundreds of miles, all the way up to Cumberland, MD.  For this race, you start at Fletcher's Cove, run north towards Carderock for 6.55 miles, turn around, and head back to the finish.  I like the course because I do almost all of my long runs on this trail, so it almost felt like a "home meet" for me. 

There were a few changes to the race this year.  One change was that they added a full marathon, so you could choose which distance you wanted to race.  If you were running the full, you just ran the half marathon course twice.  Most runners opted for the half.  Another change, was that the race start was about a mile farther down the trail, at Fletcher's Cove, which allowed for more (free) parking options than last year when it started right in Georgetown.  One change that I didn't like was that they moved the start time to 9:00 am instead of 8:00 like it was last year.  Luckily it was a nice, cool morning with temperatures in the mid to high-50s.  But waiting from 8 to 9 can be a big difference in early September, and even on the race day, the temperature was a few degrees warmer at 9.  Hopefully they will change the start time back to 8:00 next year.  The race director did give an option to runners who wanted an early start at 8:00, but if you did the 8:00 start, you were not eligible for any awards.  I think the early start was mainly meant for slower runners who would take a long time to finish.  I actually would have done the early start in order to benefit from a slightly cooler racing temperature, but I thought it was pretty likely I would win an award, so I chose to just wait for the regular 9:00 start.

This race always falls around 9/11, and the race director does a cool thing before the start.  He rings a bell 184 times to honor the 184 people who died in the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11/01, and the runners count the bell chimes along with him.  When he did it last year, I remember wondering how long it would take him to ring the bell that many times, and just wanting to get the race started.  But once he gets about half way through, you start thinking about the bell chimes, and how they each represent a life that was taken too early, and with an understated simplicity, it actually is a pretty moving and powerful tribute.

Michelle and Dante came to cheer me on!

After the ceremony, the race began.  My plan was to run all my miles at my goal marathon pace (6:50 to 7:00/mile), or at marathon effort, which would mean keeping my heart rate below my lactate threshold rate of 172 bpm.  I like to gauge workouts by heart rate more than by pace many times.  I started off a little quick with a 6:39 first mile.  But this was good, because the C&O Canal Towpath is somewhat narrow, so I wanted to get out ahead of the crowd and establish position.  By the one mile marker, I was in 10th place - it looked like this race would be more competitive than last year's when I just stayed in 3rd place the entire way.  But I wasn't too concerned about place, just getting in a good workout with a reasonable effort level.  I settled down after the first mile into the 6:50s.  Here are all my mile splits (and average heart rates for each mile).

1  - 6:39 (154)
2  - 6:56 (158)
3  - 6:58 (158)
4  - 6:53 (161)
5  - 6:49 (163)
6  - 6:58 (164)
7  - 6:44 (167)
8  - 6:37 (167)
9  - 6:42 (168)
10- 6:46 (169)
11- 6:51 (170)
12- 6:34 (174)
13- 6:05 (182)

Georgetown Running Company
As you can see, I picked it up a bit in the second half of the race.  The towpath runs slightly uphill on the way out, and then it was (obviously) slightly downhill on the way back.  So, even though my pace picked up, my heart rate stayed in the 160s, which was good.  I started picking off some people in the second half of the race.  I passed one runner right before the half way point, and another right after the turn around.  A couple miles later, after leaving behind two more runners, I found myself in 6th place.  During the 12th mile, I noticed another runner a good distance ahead of me.  So, I decided to pick it up a little bit and see if I could catch him - which is why my 12th and 13th miles were so fast. He ended up finishing about 10 seconds ahead of me, but I did run my 13th mile in 6:05, which was awesome! I finished in 1:28:06 (6:45/mile pace), taking 6th place overall out of 245 runners, and 2nd place in the 30-39 age group. (Race Results)  My age group prize was a gift certificate to Georgetown Running Company.  I actually went right after the race, and used it to get some Balega running socks - which are excellent by the way.  At that point, I was only a couple blocks away from Georgetown Cupcake (which is featured on the TV show DC Cupcake), so I headed over to get some cupcakes to bring home and "refuel" from the race. 

Georgetown Cupcake
This race went very well for me.  I got in a great workout, and maintained a solid pace without working too hard.  I plan on running the Philadelphia Marathon in about 7:00/mile pace, so to be able to average a 6:45 pace here so easily was a good sign. As for the shirt and medal (pictured below)....well, let's just say that you shouldn't do this race solely for the shirt and medal. :)  My next race will be the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon.  That one I will be racing all-out, and trying to beat my PR of 1:25:33, which I set there last year.

Shirt and medal

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Virginia Beach Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - September 2013

Virginia Beach Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - September 2013

What better way to run out the clock on the final days of summer than a trip to Virginia Beach for some R&R (Relaxation and Running)?  I actually ran this race as a relay with a friend from work.  My friend, Scott, has been going to VA Beach over Labor Day weekend with his wife and other friends and family for about the past five years, and always raves about how much fun it is.  He has also run the RNR Half Marathon during each of those years.  Unfortunately, it is frequently hot and humid in VA Beach over Labor Day weekend, so it is not a great race if you are looking to run a fast time.  Scott did not really want to battle through the heat again this year, but he asked if I might be interested in running it with him in the relay division.  I would run the first 7.9 miles and he would finish the last 5.2 miles.  We checked the winning relay times from the past couple years and saw that we would have a really good chance of being the top overall relay team!  So, when we signed up, we named our team In It To Win It.

My wife and I headed down to VA Beach right around noon on Friday, hoping to beat some traffic.  But apparently a lot of other people like to go to VA Beach over Labor Day weekend too...and they also had the "clever" idea to leave early like we did. So, there was a good bit of traffic on the way there. This was actually the first time either of us had ever been to VA Beach, even though we have lived in VA for over five years now.  Despite the traffic, we made it in plenty of time for a yummy seafood dinner with everyone before heading back to the hotel.  Our hotel was right on the beach, and even had a spacious balcony outside overlooking the beach.  This was an excellent location, because we were really close to the stage for the American Music Fest, which is actually right on the beach.  We could just sit on our balcony and watch and listen without even having to pay to attend the concerts.  Chris Daughtry performed on Friday, Barenaked Ladies on Saturday, and Third Eye Blind on Sunday.  The hotel was also only about a quarter mile away from the race finish line, which was convenient too. 

The race started on Sunday morning at 7 am.  Even at 7 am, it was already 76 degrees with 97% humidity!  Yuck!  I was starting to see why Scott did not want to run the entire half marathon.  We took a short shuttle ride (along with our wives who came to cheer us on!) from our hotel over to the race start.  Once we got there, Scott had to take another shuttle over to the relay transition area at the 7.9 mile mark where I would hi-five him and he would run the final 5.2 miles to the finish.  I'm not sure why they don't just split the relay in half - with each person running 6.55 miles.  Maybe there just isn't a convenient area to have a bunch of people standing around at the half way point.  But I didn't really mind, since I am training for a marathon right now anyway.  It would just be like a long lactate threshold training run for me.

Once Scott hopped on his shuttle bus, I completed my warm-up, and then headed over to the starting corral.  There were a lot of runners - well over 10,000!  Still, I nudged my way up to the 2nd row of runners.  After all, I figured that the soon-to-be winning relay team should be positioned somewhere near the front.  After the national anthem and some speeches, the race was off!  I went out fairly conservative with a 6:30 mile.  I knew it was really hot and humid, and that I would not be able to run my normal pace - which for this distance would be about a 6:10 or 6:15/mile.  I wanted to run with a reasonable effort for the first 5 miles or so, and keep my heart rate just below lactate threshold (about 172 bpm).  Then I figured that I would pick it up for the last 2 or 3 miles before the relay exchange.  This turned out to be a good strategy, because I passed a ton of people after about the 3 mile mark.  They just went out too fast for the weather conditions, and started to overheat and fade.

My 2nd mile was a solid 6:36, but I slowed down on miles 3 through 7 with a 6:44, 6:44, 6:47, 6:50, and 6:43 respectively.  The weather certainly was a challenge.  However, I picked it up on my last mile and averaged a 6:31 pace.  Overall, I ran 7.98 miles in 53:22, averaging a 6:41/mile pace.  I was generally happy with this, given the conditions, but do think I probably could have pushed it harder on the 6th and 7th miles. 

In It To Win It - We won it!!
Around 7.4 miles, I could finally see the relay exchange area ahead in the distance.  I wasn't sure if I was winning the relay or not though.  There were a few other runners around me, but none of them had on a blue race bib, which signified that you were a relay runner.  As I came up a hill and veered left towards the exchange area, I could hear a lot of people cheering loudly.  I also heard a race announcer exclaim, "And here comes the FIRST PLACE relay team!"  Woohoo! I WAS in first!  I sprinted the final stretch to Scott, hi-fived him, and he ran off to finish the race for In It To Win It

When I looked back, I didn't see any other relay teams coming in close behind us.  As long as Scott did not self destruct, we should have the victory!  My wife met me at the relay exchange area, and we ran on some side roads to take a shortcut back to the finish line.  We made it back and met up with Scott and everyone else.  He said he didn't see any other relay teams pass him, so he was pretty sure we had won. Later on, the race results were posted, which confirmed that we were indeed 1st place overall out of about 280 relay teams with a time of 1:27:24 (6:40/mile pace)!  (Race Results)  The closest team to us was about 9 minutes behind.  In It To Win It had won it!! 

What a fun weekend!  Lots of beach time, concerts, yummy seafood, and a winning a race.  I will likely head back to VA Beach again next Labor Day weekend, where Scott and I will have the opportunity to defend our relay championship.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Go Fourth 8k - July 2013

Go Fourth 8k - Vienna, VA - July 2013

Patriotic t-shirt...which was made in India :)
As you may have guessed by this race's name, it took place on the 4th of July. And as you also may have guessed, it was hot!  Even though the race started early in the morning, the temperature was already mid-70s and the humidity was in the mid-90s.

I had never run the Go Fourth 8k before. In fact, I had never even run any 8k before.  So, I was guaranteed to set a PR. All right!!   An 8k is 4.97 miles (not 5 miles!) in case you were wondering. One of my friends and I had decided to do this race about a month earlier.  He ended up not being able to make it, but since the registration was only $8, I figured I would just do it anyway.  The Potomac Valley Track Club organized the race.  They put on several "low-key" races set around holidays which I have done before - the Cranberry Crawl 5k/10k around Thanksgiving, the Christmas Caper 5k/10k around Christmas, and the By George 5k/10k around President's Day.  The races are generally fairly small - usually 100-200 runners.  They don't give out t-shirts, but the race entry fees are incredibly cheap, and I already have about a billion t-shirts, so I don't mind at all.  If you are a more competitive runner, they give out some silly prizes for age-group winners.  I had won my age-group at all three of the previously mentioned races, and my prizes included a loaf of cranberry bread (Thanksgiving),  a Christmas popcorn tin, and a cherry pie (Washington's Birthday).

As I mentioned earlier, it was very hot the day of this race. I generally avoid doing most races in July and August for that reason.  The likely slow times you will run are frustrating and can mess with your confidence in your fitness level if you don't know any better.  I actually did something a bit crazy for this race - I wore a fuel belt!  I generally think that people who wear fuel belts for any race shorter than a marathon (or maybe half-marathon) are tools.  But it was hot enough for me to break my own rule today.

 I carried two 7-ounce bottles of Accelerade on my belt.  I just started using Accelerade a few months ago on some runs after reading about it in the book Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald.  It is basically a sports drink that has protein.  It has 120 calories, 21 g of carbs, and 5 g of protein for every 12 oz.  According to Accelerade, during a workout, you will experience 29% greater exercise endurance, 40% improvement in endurance in a subsequent workout, 83% less muscle damage, and 15% better
Accelerade - it's got electrolytes (and protein)!
rehydration than if you had used a conventional sports drink (ex - Gatorade).  Most of these factors (especially the reduced muscle damage) are due to the protein in the drink.  Unfortunately, the drink does have a lot of calories - 120 cal for 12 oz.  Gatorade has about that amount of calories in a 20 oz bottle.  So, Accelerade also makes Accelerade Hydro, which only has 60 calories per 12 oz, but still has 2.5 g of protein.  Accelerade Hydro is supposed to be equally effective as regular sports drinks, but with fewer calories.  I went with the regular Accelerade for this race.

After my 1-mile warm-up, I knew it was going to be tough running.  At least there was a bit of cloud cover.  My wife and I headed over to the start line.  The race was a simple out-and-back on the WO&D Trail, starting near the "train" in Vienna.  I looked around and figured that I should be able to finish in the top 5 today.  But I would have to be smart.  I knew that with the weather, I couldn't just blast off from the start line and run an insane first mile like I frequently do.  I would have to run conservatively over the first half of the race, and then pick it up over the last two miles if I had anything left.  Normally, I would be able to run an 8k in slightly over 6:00/mile pace.  But today, I figured I would aim for somewhere between 6:15 and 6:30 pace.  I knew other people would probably sprint out like it was a 5k on a 50 degree day, but I would have to do my best to ignore them and just let the heat bring them back to me after the first couple miles.

I started off conservatively, just like I wanted, and ran the first mile (which was a slight gradual downhill) in 6:12.  I was in 7th place after the first mile, but knew that some of the runners in front of me would not hold up.  The first two looked strong, but I thought I had a shot at the others.  I stayed conservative on the second mile and ran a 6:20, although the heat was definitely starting to effect me. They had one water stop at about the 1.5 mile mark, which you could also hit on the way back at about 3.5 miles, but I still don't think it was enough.  I was really glad I brought my fuel belt with me!  This way I was able to take in more fluid, along with the carbs and protein.  Plus I didn't have to break my momentum to grab water from someone.  I think this really did give me an edge over some of the runners who got dehydrated, overheated, and faded after the first couple miles. I passed one runner during that second mile to move into 6th place.

Do you have a problem with that?
I slowed down a bit more on the 3rd mile and ran a 6:36.  But the good news was that I passed one more person right at the 4k turn-around point to move into 5th place.  A little while after the turn around, I saw another runner about 200 meters ahead of me.  At about that same time, I also saw my wife running towards me, heading for the turn around point.  She pointed back to the other runner ahead of me and yelled, "Pass him! He's finished!"  I started laughing for a few seconds, but then took her advice, and did eventually pass him to move into 4th place.  She reminded me of John Kreese from Cobra Kai in Karate Kid.  I thought she might tell me to "Sweep the leg" next!  One of the many reasons I love my wife is that she is insanely competitive - almost as much as me (See - I am even competitive about being competitive).  She ran a great race here, and ended up taking 1st place in her age-group!

So, now I was in 4th place, but 3rd place was pretty far ahead.  I started to slow down more significantly on the 4th mile (6:50) and final 0.97 (also 6:50 pace).  But my heart rate was in the low to mid 180s, so I know that I was working hard.  I finished in 32:32 (6:34/mile pace), taking 4th place overall out of 91 runners! (Race ResultsI also finished 2nd place in the 30-39 age group (they don't do overall awards) and won a patriotic t-shirt as my prize...which was made in India.  :)  My wife won a patriotic towel for her prize.  So, after the race we took the towel to the pool to cool off and relax.  It was a fun day!

I probably won't do any races for a while now.  I am starting my 18-week training plan for the Philadelphia Marathon, and will focus on that for a while.  My next scheduled race is over Labor Day weekend at the VA Beach Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon.  I'm running it as a two-man relay with one of my friends.  I run the first 7 miles or so, and then he finishes the rest.  We were looking at the winning relay times from the past couple years, and I think we have a really good chance to win the whole thing! Thus our team name - In It To Win It. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Herndon Festival 5k - June 2013

Herndon Festival 5k - Herndon, VA
June 2013

One of the things Northern Virginia is known for is the multitude of festivals held in local towns throughout May and June.  One of those festivals is called the Herndon Festival, and a 5k/10k race is included in the weekend festivities.  2013 would mark my 4th time running this 5k.  I improved from a 20:33 in 2010, to a 19:47 in 2011, to an 18:50 in 2012.  I also won my age-group in 2011 and 2012.  So, this year, I was looking to continue improving my time and also to defend my age-group championship.

The race t-shirt

 The race shirt was a standard, white cotton t-shirt with the Herndon Festival logo and race distances printed on the front.  The white is kind of boring.  Although, I do like getting white shirts sometimes, because I can wear them under other shirts sometimes.  Many races also now give out dri-fit shirts, so the cotton shirt is a bit "behind the times."  Overall, I rate the shirt as a 4 out of 10.


It was a hot day for the race, with temperatures hovering in the mid to high 70s, along with high humidity.  The temperature wasn't outrageous, but in early June, most people are not acclimated to running in the heat yet.  When it is hot out, your heart pumps more blood outward to the skin to stay cool.  This means that there is less blood available to pump to hard-working running muscles, which makes it more difficult to maintain a given pace.  So, weather would definitely be a factor.

 The race course is moderately challenging.  The first mile is a breeze, almost entirely downhill.  However, the largest hill on the course begins towards the end of that first mile.  The rest of the course rolls, with some uphills and some downhills.  Not really a great course to set a PR, but not a terrible course either.

Herndon Festival 5k - Course Elevation


A large group congregated at the start line.  I tucked in behind a few high school boys who looked like they would get off to a fast start.  The race began, and the three high school runners took off like bats out of Hell.  Another runner also went along with them, and I settled into 5th place.  I ran a great first mile, using that downhill to my advantage to clock a 5:35.  Right around the one mile mark, I passed one of the high school runners who seemed to have gone out too fast and was tiring out.

I stayed strong up the hill and throughout my second mile, running a 6:04.  I passed another high school runner going up the hill.  Towards the end of the second mile, I finally passed another runner - who seemed to be struggling with the heat - to move into 2nd place.  There was one more high school runner ahead of me in 1st place.  I tried to surge to catch him at the beginning of the 3rd mile, but didn't seem to be making up much ground.  I felt pretty comfortable running in 2nd place, and didn't think any of the runners I had passed had much chance to catch me.  Maybe I got a little too comfortable though, because I slowed down to a 6:21 for my final mile.

I crossed the finish line in 19:09 (6:10/mile pace), taking 2nd place overall out of 609 runners! (Race Results)   It felt great to finish 2nd place overall out of such a large race field.  I beat a lot of people!  This was actually my 5th 2nd place overall race finish of 2013!  I had previously finished 2nd place overall in the By George 5k (February), Gainesville 5k (March), Run Me Home 5k (April), and the Lane PTA 5k (May). 

I was happy with how I ran this race.  Even though my first mile was fast, it was a reasonable effort considering that it was downhill.  I conserved enough energy to conquer a challenging hill and run a solid 2nd mile.  It felt good to stay strong through the heat and hills, and pass people along the way, as I moved from 5th place up to 2nd by the end of the race.  I wasn't particularly thrilled with my finishing time - which was almost 20 seconds slower than last year - but I attribute a lot of that to the heat and humidity.  Last year's race was much cooler.  I think I could have easily run in the mid-18s under better conditions.  I also ran a lot of extra distance in this race, measuring 3.18 miles on my GPS watch.  This was largely due to the 10k runners.  The 10k race started only about 10 minutes before the 5k race.  So, shortly after the 1st mile, I started running into the back of several of the slower 10k runners.  I had to run around many of them, which made it impossible to take the shortest tangents, and frequently forced me to swerve and take absurdly wide angles around turns.


Medal front
Medal back
I won a shiny "gold" medal for my efforts today.  A little lame, if you ask me.  In a race with almost 1,000 runners between the 5k and 10k, they should be able to spring for cash prizes or gift certificates for the top 3 overall finishers. Instead they only gave awards to 1st place overall in each race, and then did age-group medals for the rest.

 One cool thing about the medal, though, is that it was the 3rd consecutive one I have won from this race.  That makes me the 3-time defending age-group champion of the Herndon Festival 5k, as I continue my "reign of terror" over the 30-39 age-group!  My wife and in-laws ran this race as well.  My mother-in-law is a super-fit runner and triathlete.  She ran a great race, and joined me in winning her age-group.

3-time defending age-group champion!
One fast mother-in-law!

The next race I plan on running will not be until until July 4th.  One of my friends is visiting DC from out of town that weekend and we are running the Go Fourth 8k in Vienna. My plan for now is to just maintain some easy-paced mileage until mid-July, when I will start training for the Philadelphia Marathon.  I am going to follow Pete Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning 18-week, up to 55-miles/week plan.  This plan worked really well for me last year.  I felt really fit and ran some great 5ks, 10ks, and a half-marathon all through the fall.  And even though I had bad luck, getting sick right before the marathon, I still ran a great race there too, setting a new PR by 19 minutes.  I think that if I follow the plan again this summer/fall, and just stay healthy, I should be able to break 3:10 and qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Miles for Melanoma 5k - May 2013

May 2013
1st Place Overall!! Lots of prizes!!

With four second place overall finishes already under my belt in 2013, it was time to break through and finally win one.  I was looking for a fast 5k course to run this weekend.  The Miles for Melanoma 5k is a new race this year, which I had found out about through the school where I teach.  The mother of a former student at my school had actually suffered from Melanoma, but recovered.  So, she decided to organize this race to raise money and awareness.

The race began in Vienna, near the train on the WO&D Trail.  The course begins on Ayr Hill Road.  You run about 100 meters before making a right turn onto the trail.  Then you just stay on the trail until the half way point, turn around and come back to finish.  There is a slight, gradual decline on the way out and (obviously) a slight, gradual incline on the way back.  I have run this course before in two previous races, and finished in about 18:55 both times.  I knew from experience that it was a fairly fast course, despite the incline on the second half.

I really didn't have a good concept of what I could do in a 5k at this point. A few weeks earlier, I ran the Run Me Home 5k in the high 18s - but that was just 6 days after setting a 10k PR and not well-rested.  Then, just one week ago, I ran a slow (for me) 19:25 on a VERY hilly course at the Lane PTA 5k.  So, I still didn't really know exactly what I could do in a 5k, but I thought I should be somewhere in the low 18s under the right conditions.  I wanted to really go after it today and see what I was capable of.  The weather, however, was not cooperating.  It had rained the night before and the morning of the race.  The rain finally stopped just about 5 minutes before the race, but the humidity was suffocating.  It felt like you could eat the air with a spoon.

The race started and I went out like a rocket, with reckless abandon.  I ran the first mile in 5:35!!  Even though there was a slight decline, this was probably a little too fast, although effort-wise, it actually didn't feel that bad.  I knew I was in first place after the first mile, but wasn't sure by how much.

Eventually I reached the half way turn-around point in a blazing 8:52.  I had a great shot to get in the low 18s, or maybe even break 18.  And now that I was turning around, I could see my competition and how much of a lead I had.  But when I turned around I didn't see anyone.  I kept running and still didn't see anyone for a while.  Was I going the right way? Did the other runners get lost or something?  Fortunately, I knew I was going the right way, because there was a volunteer biker leading me along the course.

Finally I saw the other runners coming towards me and the turn around point.  It was probably about 45 seconds before I saw another runner after the turn around point, which meant that I was leading the race by about 1:30!  There was virtually no way I could lose this race.  I wanted to keep running hard, but it is tough to keep pushing yourself when everyone else is so far behind.  I started to slow down, but then decided that I would run hard through the second mile, and relax a bit during the 3rd mile.
1st Place Overall!!

I ran the second mile in 5:58, which I was happy with. My second mile has been kind of slow during my last few 5ks, so it felt good to run one under 6 minutes.  I was at 11:33 through 2 miles, which is on pace to break 18 minutes.  But again, being so far ahead with no one pushing me, it was tough to continue at this grueling pace.  I probably could have run a 10 minute final mile and still won the race.

I did not run a 10 minute mile, but I did ease off considerably on the third mile, and ran a "leisurely" 6:24.  I finished in 18:43 (6:03/mile pace), taking first place overall out of 200 runners!   (Miles for Melanoma 5k Results)  My wife and dog were at the race too, cheering me on.  Right after I crossed the finish line, my wife let go of our dog, Dante's leash, and he sprinted across the finish line to join me in the celebration!  Winning the race felt great.  I frequently place very high, but have not actually won too many races in my life.

My cheering section! (and a random kid)
The Miles for Melanoma 5k was an excellent event, which I would recommend to anyone.  I liked that they gave awards for the top 3 overall, and the top 3 in each age-group in 5-year age categories.  This gave a lot of people a chance to win awards.  Also, it is a fairly fast course if you are looking for a PR.

Now I will continue working on my 5ks with some basic speed workouts (200s/400s/hill sprints) and VO2 max workouts (600s, 800s, 1000s, 1200s, and 1600 intervals at 5k pace or slightly faster). My next race will be the Herndon Festival 5k.  I have finished in the top 10 overall there three years in a row.  But it should be a competitive race, which will probably push me to run faster than I ran in this race, especially in the second half.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lane PTA 5k - May 2013

MAY 2013

2nd place overall!! 1st place 30-39
This was my first time running the Lane PTA 5k.  I want to focus on 5ks for the next month or two, so I was looking for one to race on this early May weekend.  There were several to choose from in the area.  Lane Elementary School is part of the school system where I teach, so I figured this would be a good thing to support.  And when I looked at results from last year, I noticed that the winning time was only a 19:44.  Out of my previous 15 5k races, all but one has been in the 18s - and even the one that was in the 19s was a 19:01 (on a hilly course).  So, if times stayed similar this year, I liked my chances to win the race!

However, I almost didn't run the race at all.  It was pouring rain the night before the race.  My wife and I went out to dinner with another couple that Friday night, and we got soaked after dinner while walking from the restaurant back to the car.  I don't know if I have ever gotten that wet while walking that short of a distance.  I wasn't preregistered for this race, so I decided that I would just see how the weather looked in the morning when I woke up and then make a "game-time decision" about whether I was going to run it or not.  

When I woke up at 6:00, it wasn't really raining, maybe just a little drizzle.  So, I chose to run!  Once I arrived at Lane Elementary School, it really wasn't raining at all anymore.  However, it did feel kind of warm and humid.  I got registered, and ran my traditional one mile warm-up.  I was a little worried that I might get lost in the race.  I expected to win, but one bad thing about leading a race is that you have to know where you are going.  Luckily, I talked to a nice gentleman who had run the race previously.  He told me where the course went, and even where some big hills were.  Big hills? Uh oh!

I lined up for the start, and looking around, I only noticed a couple other runners who might be able to compete with me.  And the race was off!  Several of the Lane Elementary students were running in the race.  One annoying thing about kids in races is that they generally SPRINT all-out for the first 50 to 100 meters, and then just stop.  Not slow down, just stop.  So, the beginning of races with kids can be a little tricky navigating around all the traffic. Today there was a left turn about 50 meters into the race.  The kids all sprinted out as expected, but for some reason, they all turned right!  I was confused, but knew that you were supposed to go left, so I went left.  Someone yelled for the kids to go left too, and they all eventually did.  But luckily, the wrong turn gave me and several of the other faster runners just enough time to get out ahead of the pack and not have to worry about running around/through/over any of the kids.

The race course
I settled into first place and cruised through the first mile in 5:52.  I felt OK, but not that great.  I haven't done a lot of fast speed work yet this spring, so it felt difficult to really accelerate.  The first mile ended with a nice, long downhill on Hayfield Road.  I could hear one other runner not too far behind me, so I picked up the pace to try and run him off.  But it didn't work, as he stayed right behind me.  Then we made a right turn onto Kingstowne Village Parkway, and started a steep uphill climb of almost 1/2 mile, where the elevation increased by about 70 feet.  It really took a lot of energy to get to the top. At the top of the hill, we turned around and went back down.  The other runner was still right behind me as we went down the hill and past mile 2.  My second mile was only a 6:13, but with that steep uphill, I guess it wasn't that bad.

Then we made a left turn back onto Hayfield Road and began another roughly 1/2 mile climb were the elevation increased by over 100 feet!  I wanted to win, but I REALLY started to die on this hill.  I heard the other runner just behind me and was pushing hard to hold him off as we climbed the hill.  I wasn't wearing a heart rate monitor, but I think it was pretty close to my max during this part of the race.  Eventually he passed me, but I refused to give up, and stayed right with him for about another 100 meters.  Then he slowly got further, and further, and further, and further away.  He ended up beating me by about 40 seconds!  I thought he had run a really fast last mile to pull ahead, but when I checked my watch at the end, I realized that what had actually happened is that I had just run a really, really slow last mile - a 6:56!!  That is the slowest mile I have run in a 5k in a long time. But then again, this was probably one of the most challenging 5k race courses I have ever run.  I made the course elevation map below using veloroutes.org.  The website seems like a good resource if you want to find out the elevation changes for one of your running routes - although many GPS watches will do this for you if you can connect them to a computer.
Course elevation map:  It was one "hill" of a course!!

So, I ended up finishing 2nd place overall out of 96 runners, with a 19:25 (6:16/mile pace).  (Lane PTA 5k Results)  I won a nice medal and a $30 gift certificate to the Metro Run & Walk running store.  This is only the second time I have not finished a 5k in the 18s since the fall of 2011.  But again, I think the challenging course was the primary reason for that.  This was actually my fourth 2nd place overall finish of 2013!  I finished 2nd place overall at the By George 5k (February), the Gainesville 5k (March), and the Run Me Home 5k (April).  Second place finishes are nice, but I think it is time to break through and break the tape with a first place finish soon!

The Lane PTA 5k was a well-organized race on a VERY challenging course with generous awards for age-group winners.  There was a friendly atmosphere amongst the runners, as I talked with several interesting people before and after the race.  And there were also many helpful and friendly volunteers along the way.  I would recommend this race if you are looking for a small 5k that will give you a big challenge.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Run Me Home 5k - April 2013


This was my first time running the Run Me Home 5k. I hadn't really planned on running the race, but my primary motivations were that (a) it was free, and (b) I thought I could win.  

Family portrait!
The race was free thanks to a friend of mine.  He had recently won the Champions for Children 5k in Reston, and one of his prizes was a complimentary entry into the Run Me Home 5k/10k.  He couldn't run it, so he just gave me the entry.  I still wasn't sure if I would do the race though, until I checked the results from previous years.  The 2012 winning time was a 19:22, and the 2011 winning time was only a 20:12.  I should be able to beat that easily, I thought!  The race was also a 5k/10k, which tends to water down the competition and give you better odds of winning an award, especially if you run the 5k. (How You (Yes, you!) Can Win an Age-Group Award). 

I did absolutely no tapering for this race.  It was on the last Saturday in April, and just six days earlier, I had set a new 10k PR at the Pike's Peek 10k.  I also completed a tough 8x600 vo2 max workout on the track earlier in the week. So, my legs were definitely not fresh and springy.  But I figured that since it was free, and I had a good chance to win, it was worth a shot.

The course begins in front of Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg.  The race gets off to a quick start, with a mostly downhill first mile.  However, you climb about 100 feet during a challenging 2nd mile.  The 3rd mile is mostly flat, but there is a fairly steep uphill at the very end.

Run Me Home 5k Course Elevation Map

I arrived at the race about an hour before the start with my wife and our dog, Dante.  My wife did not run the race today because she was doing the Nike Women's Half Marathon the next day - which she crushed, by the way, breaking 2 hours for the first time and setting new PR!  So, her and Dante were just there to cheer me on.  

 The 10k started about 10 minutes before the 5k.  I watched the start of that race before heading over to the starting line.  One of my friends from work was there too, and his wife was running the 10k.  10 minutes later, the 5k race was off! 
My new running buddy!

I went out into the lead, and stayed there for about 3/4 of a mile until one other runner passed me.  Right after he passed me, the course made a left turn onto the W&OD Trail - which he was apparently unaware of.  This race was good overall, but it would have been nice if they had a couple more people along the course telling you where to go.  Luckily I did know that there was a left turn there, so I shouted, "LEFT! LEFT!" to the other runner before he went too far past the turn.  He quickly corrected and I followed closely behind.  I suppose I could have just let him go past the turn, and taken back the lead.  But if I had to win the race that way, I would rather not win at all.  I agree with the late Joe Paterno's sentiment that, "Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good." 

I finished the first mile in a solid 5:46, but then the 2nd mile climb began.  My goal was to stay close the the 1st place runner, and maybe try to surge ahead of him on the final mile.  But I really didn't run a very strong 2nd mile, with a 6:20.  Although I'm sure the 100 foot climb had something to do with that.  Still, I feel like I shouldn't have slowed down that much.  I want to work on pushing harder in the 2nd mile of my 5ks. Lately, it seems like I am running a fast first mile and then just "cruising" through the second mile, but not really pushing myself.  The good news is that I was still right behind the other runner at the 2 mile mark, and even passed him briefly right after the 2 mile marker.  Unfortunately, he really turned on the jets at that point, and took off.  I ran a 6:02 final mile, which, again, I wish had been a little faster - 5:50 -5:55 would have been nice.  I think the lack of a taper hurt me here. But it wouldn't have mattered much what I ran, because the 1st place runner ended up beating me by 29 seconds.  This means that he ran his final mile in about 5:30! No way I was keeping pace with that.

The final stretch was up a steep hill, and I finally reached the finish line in 18:58 (6:02/mile pace), taking 2nd place overall out of 190 runners! (Race Results2nd place was great, but I actually wasn't thrilled by my finishing time...I want to be down in the low 18s and high 17s eventually this spring.  But given the previously mentioned circumstances, I suppose it was a reasonable effort.
$50 gift certificate!

 I actually beat last year's winning time by 24 seconds, and the winning time from the year before by over a minute, but it just wasn't quite enough this year.  Sometimes racing is just about luck and who does, or does not, show up.  To add to my annoyance, the winning 10k time was only a 39:37!  Generally, in a 5k/10k, the 10k tends to be the more competitive race.  But this time, I actually would have had a much better chance of winning the 10k.  Oh well, 2nd place is still pretty good.  This was actually my third 2nd place race finish this year.  I had previously finished 2nd overall in the By George 5k (February) and the Gainesville 5k (March).  For finishing 2nd place overall at this race, I won a $50 gift certificate to Potomac River Running - not a bad return on investment for a free race!

I would recommend the Run Me Home 5k/10k to anyone looking for a small, not super-competitive race on a mildly challenging course.  It was pretty well organized (other than maybe needing a couple more people on the course showing you where to go), and they gave out nice awards (gift certificates and trophies).  And most importantly of all, they gave out Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits to runners after the race!  Yum!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pike's Peek 10k - April 2013

Pike's Peek 10k - Rockville, MD

This was my first time running the Pike's Peek 10k.  People had told me that it was a very fast course, ideal for setting a PR.  And as it turns out, they were not lying!

Yes, we'll take two 10k PRs, please. Thank you!

Before I get into the race details, I do want to briefly explain the race name, since I sadly only figured it out a couple of weeks ago myself.  When people hear "Pike's Peek 10k", their first instinct is generally that the race is in Colorado, which clearly it is not.  'Pike' here refers to Rockville Pike.  And 'Peek' - not Peak - refers to the fact that you are peeking (looking) at Rockville Pike as you run.  Very clever name.  Not exactly rocket science, but seriously, it took me way longer than it should have to figure it out, and I just wanted to save you the trouble.

The race begins on Redland Blvd., right near the Shady Grove Metro station in Maryland.  You run on Redland Blvd. for about a quarter of a mile, and then make a left turn onto Rockville Pike, which you take all the way to the finish line near the White Flint Mall.  This is a nice advantage, because with long straightaways, you can really build up some speed.  Races with many turns tend to be slower, as they break your rhythm and momentum.

The race also features a 140-ish foot net elevation drop from start to finish (although the race website advertises a 190 ft drop).  So, basically, you are running down a 14 story building over the course of the 6.2 miles.  There are actually a couple of uphills along the way too, but the downhills render them nearly irrelevant.  So, between the long straightaway and the huge elevation drop, you can see why this course is a runner's dream.

Pike's Peek 10k elevation map - enjoy the ride!

One of my goals for this spring was to break 38 minutes for a 10k, and to set a new 10k PR.  My previous race PR had been a 37:55 all the way back in my senior year of high school.  I also ran a 37:49 this past fall, but it was just by myself and not in a race.  Most of my 10k races over the past year have been in the mid-38s, so I was looking to finally break through and PR in this race.

We had nice weather for the race.  High 30s and sunny at the start.  It was a "warm 39 degrees" if there is any such thing. There was minimal wind, which played almost no factor during the race.  This was a welcome relief after a brutal windy stretch through Hains Point in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler a couple weeks ago.

I was aware of the downhills, but still didn't want to go too crazy at the beginning.  I was looking to dole my effort out consistently over the course, not just run 5:30s in the beginning and then try to "hang on" at the end.  My first mile was a 5:50, which was basically exactly what I wanted to do.  The second mile, I backed off a little and ran a 6:00, and still felt good.  My third mile was a 6:02, and when I crossed the 5k mark around 18:30, I knew that I would break 38:00 as long as I didn't totally melt down in the second half.  I stayed strong in the 4th mile with a 6:02, although the largest uphill on the course is during this mile.  I was starting to tire out a bit during the 5th mile, and slowed down to a 6:08.  On the final mile, I was really starting to feel it.  I also figured that I had a PR wrapped up, so I slowed down even more to a 6:13.  Luckily there was  pretty steep downhill at the very end, so I ran the final 0.23 miles at a blazing 5:33/mile pace.  I finished in 37:33 (6:02/mile pace), setting a new 10k PR!  I finished 98th place out of about 2,500 runners. (Pike's Peek 10k Results)    No awards for me today, as this was a VERY competitive race at the top of the field.  Lots of Kenyans and elite runners.  Just to finish 3rd place in my age group, I would have actually needed to run a 29:37!! A new 10k PR would just have to do for my award - which I was more than OK with! Here were my mile splits for the race:

1 - 5:50
2 - 6:04
3 - 6:00
4 - 6:02
5 - 6:08
6 - 6:13
last 0.23 - 1:16 (5:33 pace)

After the race, I met up with my wife who annihilated her old PR by about 6 minutes!  We also met up with one of my college buddies from Syracuse (Go Orange!) and his "buddy", and all we went out for breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Rockville.  Awesome spot for breakfast if you ever happen to be in the area - and hungry. 

So, it was a great day.  I was thrilled to set a new PR!  After all, those don't happen every day.  Especially when you consider that my previous 10k race PR had lasted for 17 years.  It is pretty cool that I ran faster today than I did when I was a teenager.  It also felt great to achieve one of my goals for the spring - breaking 38 minutes.  I would still like to run some more 10ks - either this spring or perhaps in the fall, and see if I can consistently run in the 37s now.  Obviously this course was very favorable, so it would be interesting to see if I could run a similar time on a more neutral course too.

Pike's Peek 10k duffel bag.  A welcome respite from race t-shirts!

Overall, the Pike's Peek 10k was an excellent, well-organized race which I would recommend to anyone.