Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gainesville 5k - March 2013

Gainesville 5k - Gainesville, VA

2nd place overall!
What better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than running a 5k?  OK, fine...I guess there probably are better ways to celebrate. :)  But this race, which was on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day at Gainesville Middle School, was still pretty fun.  I had run the race twice previously in 2010 and 2012, finishing 3rd overall both times.

The Gainesville 5k is a nice, local race, which being in early March, can serve as a good tune-up for some spring races.  Or it could be used as a benchmark to see where you stand after your winter training.   I was very pleased with how I ran last year when I finished 3rd overall.  I finished in 17:32, but the course was short (only 3 miles instead of 3.1), so my actual 5k time would have been around an 18:10.  My average pace that day was in the low 5:50s.  Since I was running the same course again, it would be a good chance to compare to last year, and see where I was at with my fitness.  I have struggled with a couple of slow VO2 max and basic speed workouts lately, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.

At the start line, I immediately noticed that there were a lot fewer people here than last year.  Like the Reston 10 Miler, this race has also grown over the years, and last year had well over 300 runners.  But all week, the weather forecast was calling for a cold, rainy morning on Saturday.  It ended up being in the upper 30s at the start, and there was only a periodic light drizzle - a relatively nice day to run.  But I think the inaccurate forecast was enough to scare away a lot of people, as this year only about 150 runners showed up.  At the start line I didn't immediately see anyone who would challenge me, although there were a lot of teenagers, who can be unpredictable - both with their running, and also in a more general sense.

The race started on the Gainesville Middle School track.  You begin with a lap and a half around the track, before veering off onto a path around the back of the school, and then out onto a road.  I don't really like the start of this race, because after your first lap, you are running into the back of slower people as you come around the track for the second time, before you veer off.  I think I really startled one couple as I flew past them on my second lap!  Also, some of the volunteers didn't know that you were supposed to do more than one lap at the start, so they were telling me to veer off after only the first time around.  Luckily I was in the lead at the time, so I was able to correct them, and everyone else followed me (and the correct route).

I led the race for the first mile, but I heard a couple runners' breathing not too far behind me.  I finished the first mile in 5:50, which I was pretty happy with.  I ran my first mile faster last year, but I wanted to try going out more conservatively in the beginning and seeing if it would help me speed up my 2nd and 3rd miles, and overall time.  Right around the first mile, someone passed me, but I was able to stay just behind him.  He looked pretty young, and a lot of time the teenage runners will go out really hard in the first mile, and then just crash for the rest of the race.  I was hoping this would happen to him too, but he looked pretty comfortable.  We ran close together for the entire second mile.  Unfortunately, I only ran the second mile in 6:09.  I really wish I had run that mile faster, especially given that I had taken a little "heat" off my first mile!  I was still running right with the other guy, but realized that I would probably have to put some ground on him now if I wanted to win.  If it came down to the final kick, I didn't like my chances against teenage legs.  So, I picked it up on the 3rd mile, and surged ahead.  But the problem was that the other runner just stayed right behind me, and his breathing didn't sound very labored either.  I just couldn't put much ground between us.  Around 2.5 miles he, passed me again. I stayed close behind, but once we got close to the track for the finish, he kicked it into another gear, and really took off.  He ended up finishing about 9 seconds ahead of me, even though I was only a step or two behind him with about 800 meters to go.  I suspect he could have run the race considerably faster if he wanted, but he seemed to be just racing for 1st place.

Plaque - not the kind on your teeth
I finished 2nd place overall out of 147 runners in 18:50. (Gainesville 5k Race Results!)  My award was a plaque and a $25 gift certificate to The Running Store in Gainesville.  I have now finished 2nd place overall in two out of my last three races!  They added some distance to the course from last year.  By my watch, the course was 3.16 this year, so my real pace was 5:58/mile.  Last year the course was barely 3 miles, so I guess they were overcompensating, and made this year's course extra long!

Speaking of race course measurements, a friend recently sent me a good article (In GPS We Trust - Article) about problems with relying on GPS watches in races.  If you don't feel like opening the link and reading the whole article, then here is the gist:  Basically, GPS watches are not as accurate as the USATF certification, which is done with a calibrated bicycle, using a Jones-Oerth counter.  One reason GPS watches frequently give you a "long" reading in a race is that the calibrated bicycle measures the shortest possible path you could take on a race course.  In real life, we swerve to pass other runners, get water, etc., so we usually do end up running farther.  Another reason is that to get a course USATF certified, you actually need to add 1 meter extra per every 1,000 meters to your course - to ensure it is not short.  This means that a certified 5k is actually 5,005 meters (not 5,000).  Only an extra 16.4 feet, but that can add distance to your watch reading, especially as you get into longer distances like half-marathons and marathons.  Finally, the actual measuring technique of the watch can cause some inaccuracies.  The watches are effective 95% of the time within 3 to 10 meters.  The other 5% of the time, the watch could be off by more than 10 meters - per reading! The watch does not actually follow your path 100% of the time.  The satellites give a reading once every 1 to 20 seconds, and then the watch just connects the dots, which might not reflect the path you actually ran, especially if the readings are closer to 20 seconds apart, or if several of the readings are off by 3 to 10 meters (or more).  The article compared a GPS watch to a dog that starts and finishes your run with you, but veers off sometimes to chase a squirrel or run through a puddle along the way.  In the end, you may have run 4 miles, but your dog (metaphor for the watch), ran 4.18.

Your GPS watch - 95% of the time, it works every time!

Anyway, going back to the race - I know I finished 2nd place overall, which is great, but I was actually not very happy with my performance.  Last year, I averaged a 5:51 mile pace on the exact same course.  I feel like I should be faster this year, but it just didn't happen today.  I was actually about 7 or 8 seconds per mile slower this year!  Also, I ran an 18:09 just two months ago, back in January. Why am I running slower now?  I think I need to run the first mile of my next 5k faster.  I tried slowing down my first mile this time, but then I didn't even really run the second mile that fast.  Or maybe if I do slow my first mile down, I just need to really focus, dig in, and push the pace harder on the second mile of my next 5k.

 I am also worried that I might have tried to do a little too much over the winter this year.  Last year, all through January and February, all I did was build up easy mileage.  I did eventually build up to 50 miles per week, but I rarely ran anything faster than an 8:00 mile in all that time.  I didn't do any serious races in January or February either.  At the end of February, I took one week off completely, and then, in the beginning of March, cut my mileage back to 30-40 miles/week and then went into hard core basic speed and vo2 max workouts.  I think taking it easy in January and February helped my body to recover from the fall races, and supercompensate, and lock in my fitness gains before getting back into racing again in the spring.

This year, I trained really hard up through the Philadelphia Marathon in November.  I did take a couple easy weeks afterwards.  But I kept doing some LT and vo2 max workouts throughout the entire winter this year.  I also ran two tough 10k races at the end of December, a fast 5k in early January, a 20k in January, another 5k in February, and a 10-mile race in early March.  I wonder if I would have been better off just running easy mileage through the winter like I did last year?  I guess only the rest of my spring races can provide the answer to that question!

I did feel kind of flat in this race, so I decided to do something drastic last week, before my big April races - take a week off from running for the first time in over a year! Now, I will focus on low mileage/high intensity training.  Maybe 30 to 35 miles per week with lots of basic speed (all out 200s, 400s, hill sprints) and VO2 Max workouts (800s, 1000s, 1200s, 1600s at slightly faster than 5k pace).  Hopefully the week of rest, combined with lower mileage, and higher intensity runs, will give me that extra boost I need to run 10-mile and 10k PRs in April.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reston 10 Miler - March 2013

Reston 10 Miler

My first race of March was the Reston 10 Miler, which starts and finishes at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA.  This was my second time running this race, having previously run a 1:11:40 (and finished 3rd in my age group) back in March 2011.

Another flattering race photo

This is a great, low-key, local race if you are looking for a 10-miler, but don't feel like dealing with a lot of hassle (i.e. driving into DC, finding parking, having to go to a dumb race expo to pick up your bib number the day before, large crowds, corrals, etc.).  The race is only about 10 or 15 minutes away from my house, so I was basically able to roll out of bed about 1:30 before the race started, and still got there in plenty of time to warm-up and make it to the start line. The only bad thing about the race, is that it is very hilly, and therefore not a fast course (see Elevation Map below).  There are much faster courses (Cherry Blossom, GW Parkway 10 Miler, etc.) if you are looking for a PR.
Reston 10 Miler Course Elevation Map

The registration is $35, which is pretty fair for a 10 mile race, and you also get a Nike dri-fit shirt and a finisher's medal.  The shirts were nice, but personally I think they should just save their money on those medals.  I don't think anything shorter than a half-marathon (or maybe even a full marathon) really requires a finisher's medal.  I even got a finisher medal for a 5k one time at the Arlington 911 5k!  A medal for a 5k? Really?!

Reston 10 Miler shirt and finisher medal

 My primary focus right now is on the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in April, so the Reston 10 Miler was really more of a tune-up race for me.  Still, I did run it at pretty close to maximum effort - I would say at least 90% effort - but I definitely felt like I could have shaved another minute off my finishing time pretty easily if I had wanted to do so.  The main disadvantage for me was that I did not taper at all for this race.  Because it was not a key race for me, I simply trained straight through it.  I did not cut back my mileage at all, and I also ran a tough VO2 Max workout (4x1200) on Wednesday before the race. When you run as many races as I do, you can't taper for all of them, or else you would never get any serious training done.  You just have to train through some races, and then focus on the important ones where you want to go for a PR.  The week of Cherry Blossom, I plan on taking it much easier, and going into that race well-rested, and ready to perform at a high level. 

It was extremely cold on race morning.  It was 30 degrees, but very windy.  The "feels like" temperature was 18 degrees!  I struggled a lot with deciding what to wear before the race.  I generally always like to wear shorts in a race, but 18 degrees convinced me to wear tights under my shorts too.  I wore an Under Armour mock neck shirt on my upper body, with a short sleeve dri-fit shirt over top of that, just to help cut the wind a little bit.  I also started the race with a fleece hat and thin cotton gloves.  One good thing about this course is that it loops back by the school around the 6 mile mark, so you can toss unwanted clothing here and easily retrieve it at the end of the race.  I thought I might have been kind of a "wuss" by dressing so warm for a race, but I actually felt really comfortable with my outfit the entire way.  Not too cold and not too hot....just right.  I did toss my hat aside at the 6 mile point, but decided to keep the gloves.

I started out with a 6:21 mile.  I was kind of surprised at how many people were running ahead of me during the first mile, but I figured a lot of them were just going out too fast, and would crash and burn later, probably around mile 4 or 5.  However, my hypothesis turned out to be wrong.  I actually only ended up passing about 5 or 6 people after the first mile, and 3 of those came during the final mile.  I wasn't accounting for the fact that the race was much larger and much more competitive than when I had run it just a couple years ago.

I was pretty happy with how I ran the rest of the race.  I stayed pretty steady, although I had a couple of slower miles when running uphill, into the wind, or sometimes both. Here were my mile times:

1 -  6:21
2 -  6:36
3 -  6:33
4 -  7:03  (uphill and into the wind)
5 -  6:24
6 -  6:30
7 -  6:57 (uphill and into the wind)
8 -  6:48
9 -  6:26
10 - 6:02 (Wow!)

I was really happy with my 6:02 last mile!  Around the 8.5 mile mark, I heard someone coming up behind me.  I felt pretty strong at that point, so I figured I would pick it up and try to hold him off.  He passed me momentarily around the 9 mile mark, but I still had a lot left in the tank, so I decided to really go after it on the final mile.  Not only did I hold off the guy who tried to pass me, but I also passed two additional runners before the finish  I really enjoy this race's finish too.  You run into South Lakes' football stadium, and onto the track for about 3/4 of a lap to the finish line.  It kind of feels like you are running the Olympic Marathon, and entering the stadium for the big finish with thousands of fans cheering you on.  Except no one there is actually an Olympian, and there are only maybe 100 people cheering.  But these are minor details.
The exciting finish on the track! Looks
like my 6:02 closing mile tired me out.

I finished in 1:05:43 (6:34/mile pace), taking 35th place overall out of about 1,100 runners. (Reston 10 Miler Results!)  I did not win an age group award this year.  The race has grown exponentially over the past couple years.  When I ran it last in 2011, there were only about 250 runners, and my 1:11:40 was good enough for 28th place overall and 3rd place in my age group.  This year, even though I ran 6 MINUTES faster, I was only 35th overall and 6th place in my age group.  But this makes sense, given that there were about 900 more runners to compete against this time. My wife made a big improvement too, setting a new 10 mile PR by about 5 minutes!

This race made me feel good about the upcoming Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  Back in 2011, I ran Reston in 1:11, and then ran Cherry Blossom in 1:08 just a few weeks later.  So, based on that, I should be able to knock at least a couple minutes off this year's Reston time when I race Cherry Blossom in April.  My goal is to beat my 10 mile PR from last year of 1:03:19 (6:19/mile pace). It will be tough, but I think I can do it!

Friday, March 1, 2013

By George 5k - February 2013



Hains Point - Washington, DC
February was a pretty quiet month for me with only one race - the By George 5k.  The race took place at Hains Point, which is a peninsula in Washington, DC.  It is a fast, flat, out-and-back course which starts and finishes at East Potomac Park.  The only things to slow you down are a 180-degree turn around a cone, and some wind which can range from mild to downright nasty.  The wind was on the mild side on race morning, with very cool temperatures in the low 30s.

The By George 5k was held over Presidents' Day weekend, and hosted by Potomac Valley Track Club (PVTC).  The race only cost $10! I am proud of myself so far this year, because I have now run three races - two 5ks and a one 20k - for a total of only $40!  There is no t-shirt for this race, but for $10 I wouldn't really expect one.  Also, I already have about a million running t-shirts anyway. And I don't really feel like making a quilt out of them, so I just end up donating a lot of them.

There was a small field of 50 runners competing in the 5k.  It was actually a 5k/10k.  The 5k started at 7:50, and the 10k started 10 minutes later.  Only 40 people ran the 10k.  I think the cold weather kept many people away.  Also, most runners are not in peak shape in February, and are not usually looking to race at that point.  With 5k/10ks, oftentimes the 5k is far less competitive.  I have actually raced some 10ks before where my average pace per mile was faster than that of the 5k winner! So, if you are looking to win an award, the 5k is often a smart bet.  I didn't really care if I won an award in this race. I wasn't even planning on running it all-out. My goal was just to hold a steady 6:00 pace, and get a good workout.

I was glad that I was not running this race too seriously, because the night  before the race we actually ate Indian food!  We went out to dinner with our awesome new neighbors - who are also runners!  We had a really fun time at Bollywood Bistro in Fairfax (Bollywood Bistro), which is an excellent restaurant with delicious Indian food.  Unfortunately though - as you might imagine - Indian food is not the best pre-race meal. I had to make a couple of "pit stops" the morning of the race, including one just 10 minutes before the race started!  My stomach didn't feel terrible while running, but I probably would never eat Indian food before any serious racing effort.

After my last-minute pit stop, I hurried over to the start line.  When I looked around, I was surprised at how small the field was.  I only noticed a couple of other competitive runners who would have any chance of beating me - although there were also a few high school runners who I wasn't sure about.  However, I knew that one of the runners was very fast - faster than me.  I recognized him from some previous races where he had usually been down in the 17s for 5ks and 35s for 10ks. 

Michelle and I both won our age groups - and cherry pies!
The race began, and I opened up with a 5:55 first mile.  I want to work on running my first miles a little more even this spring, so that I don't crash and burn later in races.  At the 1-mile mark, there was only one person ahead of me - the person I had recognized earlier - and there were two other runners not too far behind.  I ran the 2nd mile in 6:05, and was right on pace for the 6:00/mile average that I was shooting for.  I had put some space between myself and the two runners behind me by this point.  The first place runner was not too far ahead though. I picked a landmark around 2 miles and counted that he was only about 12 seconds ahead of me.  If I were running all-out, I probably would have been running right with him, or even ahead of him.  He didn't seem like he was really going all-out either though - given that he usually runs his 5ks in the 17s.  It was sort of like we had an unspoken agreement. I knew that he was faster than me.  But he didn't want to run all-out, and neither did I.  So, as long as I didn't try to overtake him, we could both just continue cruising along at our comfortable paces.  I am fairly certain that if I had picked up the pace and tried to run him down, he would have really taken off and blown me away.  Running races as workouts can be a perilous endeavor.  It is hard not to get caught up in the emotion of racing.  But today I was perfectly happy running my 6:00 miles, and pleased that I was still in 2nd place.  I slowed down a bit on the 3rd mile and  ran a 6:13.  The last mile was into the wind, which slowed me down some.  And I think I lost concentration somewhat too, since the first place guy was too far ahead of me and no one was really pushing too much from behind either.  I crossed the finish line 2nd overall in 18:56 (6:05/mile pace)!  (Race Results!)  My heart rate during the race never even got up into the 180s, so I definitely could have pushed it much harder if I wanted.  But I got the good workout I wanted, and it's hard to complain about 2nd place overall.

They don't do overall awards at this race, just age group awards.  My wife and I both finished first place in the 30-39 age group! PVTC gives out funny prizes at their races.  For their Thanksgiving race, they give out loaves of cranberry bread. At their Christmas race, they give out Christmas-themed popcorn tins and decorations.  Since this race was on Presidents' Day weekend, they gave out cherry pies as the age-group winner awards!  I guess it was in honor of George Washington and the cherry tree he allegedly chopped down? So, it was a fun day and a fun race.  On the way home from the race, my wife and I stopped at Starbucks for some coffee to go with our pies.

Now it is on to March.  I have two races planned for this month - the Reston 10 Miler and the Gainesville Middle School 5k.  The Reston 10 Miler is a very hilly and challenging course - not a smart one to run if you are looking for a PR.  I am hoping to hold a steady 6:30 pace.  It should be a great tune-up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in April.  And I am really looking forward to the Gainesville Middle School 5k later in March.  I have run this race twice, and finished 3rd overall both times.  So, I am looking forward to getting out on the course again and really seeing what I can do.  I don't know if I will break 18 minutes, but I know that I will be going all-out that day - no Indian food the night before that one!  It is fun to run the same races from year to year, because then you can really compare to previous years and see how your fitness has progressed (or regressed!)