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.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run - April 2013


This year marked my 5th consecutive Cherry Blossom race.  My wife and I have both run the race every single year since we moved to the DC area. And every year, I have run it faster.  I ran a 1:32 in 2009 (not in great shape that year), a 1:14 in 2010, 1:08 in 2011, and 1:03 in 2012.  I didn't think that another 5 minute improvement was realistic, but my goal for this year's race was to set a new PR, and hopefully finish in the 1:02s.

Just getting into the race five years in a row is somewhat of an accomplishment in itself. The race has a capacity of roughly 17,000 runners, although many more attempt to register.  A lottery system is used to decide who gets in, and somehow both my wife and I have "won the lottery" and gotten in every year.  If only I could win the actual lottery!  Although I have read that people who do win the actual lottery tend to be less happy after winning than before, for various reasons.  But that is neither here nor there.  

Unlike winning a lottery where you get a lot of money, winning the Cherry Blossom lottery means that you get to pay them $40 to enter their race and then you have to run 10 miles - not quite as glamorous.  But still, I was happy we both got in, and I do plan on signing up for this race every year for as long as I live here.  It is one of my favorite races, always held the first Sunday in April on a beautiful, almost entirely flat, fast, PR-friendly course.

 My plan for the race was to start off somewhat conservatively, run between 6:15 and 6:20 pace for the first 10k, and then really go after it in the last 5k, and try to run the last few miles between 6:00 and 6:15 pace.  Following this plan would lead me to a PR.  I got a little too excited in the beginning of the race, and went out with a 6:04 first mile.  But I was able to reel it in, and settle down for the next 5 miles, running right on pace.  I finished the first half in 31:28, and passed the 10k mark in 39:08.  I was right on pace, but the problem was that right around the 10k mark, the race course arrives at Hains Point - a peninsula in DC.  Hains Point is very flat, but it can also be very windy on some days - and this was one of those days.  The wind through Hains Point was brutal - and we ran dead into it for almost the entire 7th and 8th miles.  Around the 8 mile mark, you finally come around the edge of the peninsula and start heading back the other way, which means that the wind is now at your back.  However, a tailwind never helps you nearly as much as a head wind hurts you.  The graph below is from Daniels' Running Formula.  It shows the % increase/decrease in VO2 max demand based on various headwinds or tailwinds.  You will notice that the curve is much steeper on the headwind side (Quadrant I), than on the tailwind side (Quadrant III).  This means that headwinds increase your VO2 max demand much more than a tailwind decreases it.  One example that Daniels uses in his book is that if you are running into a 15 mph headwind, running a 6:00 mile pace requires the same effort as running a 5:00 mile with no wind!  That is a really big difference! And the wind at Cherry Blossom probably was in the double digits.  

The effects of headwinds and tailwinds - from Daniels' Running Formula

 So, I struggled through miles 7 and 8 (especially on 8).  I even tried to be strategic and draft off another runner.  But there were two problems with this.  Problem one - the wind seemed to be coming from everywhere!  Even when I was right behind the other runner, the wind seemed to be blowing from the sides too.  Problem two was that the runner in front of me was not quite large enough to block the wind enough.  I definitely don't think I'm fat, and I like my body and all that stuff.  But, if I am being honest, there are not too many 5'10", 170 lb people out there who are running as fast as me.  So, drafting off a 5'7", 135 lb runner didn't really block quite enough wind.

After I came around the peninsula curve and had the wind on my back, I really wanted to go after it on those last two miles.  I ran a pretty strong 9th mile, but honestly just didn't have much left for the 10th mile, and pretty much coasted into the finish line on fumes, running a 6:27 final mile - my 2nd slowest of the race.  Last year, the 10th mile was actually my 2nd fastest of the race - a 6:05.  Here were my mile splits:

1 - 6:04 (oops!)
2 - 6:12
3 - 6:09
4 - 6:10
5 - 6:20
6 - 6:12
7 - 6:22 (wind)
8 - 6:31 (ugh, more wind!)
9 - 6:18
10 - 6:27
last 0.11 - 41 seconds (6:06 pace)

As you see, my watch's distance was a little off - either because of slight watch inaccuracies, or more likely because of my own swerving during the race.  My friend, Tyler Pake, shared a great idea of using the lap button at each of the mile markers to get your true "mile" splits.  And of course I totally forgot to use his great idea in this race - D'oh!  Next time!
I finished in 1:03:31 (6:21/mile pace), taking 215th place amongst males (and 264th overall) out of over 17,500 runners.  (Cherry Blossom Results)  I missed my PR by just 11 seconds!  I felt kind of like Apollo Creed in Rocky II when he said, "Look Stallion, when you won that last fight, you won by one second. You beat me by one second. That's very hard for a man of my intelligence to handle."

Immediately after I finished, I remember feeling a little bit annoyed and disappointed that I hadn't beat my PR from last year.  But as I walked back to the bag pickup, I thought about it some more.  With the wind this year, my performance this year was actually probably better than last year even though my time wasn't.  When I checked later, the winning men's time was almost a full minute slower this year than it had been last year! So, clearly the wind had slowed down many people - even the elites.

I know that 264th place might not sound that amazing (especially when I usually finish in the top 10 of most of the smaller races I run), but with such a large and competitive field with elite runners from Kenya, Ethiopia, and all over the US, I was very proud to finish where I did.

I made the results board!

There was one cool thing about finishing 215th amongst males. Right after the race, they post the top 250 men and women to a results board near the finish. Last year, I was pretty cocky about my 1:03:19 and was watching as they posted the results looking for my name.  I was disappointed when I saw #250 was just about 30 seconds ahead of me.  I had just missed the results board!  It wasn't a real serious goal or anything, but I do remember thinking that it would be really cool if I could run an even better race the next year and finish on that results board.  When they posted the sheet this year with my name on it, I did a little happy dance.  This also validated my thoughts that I actually had run a stronger race this year than last year even though the time was slower.  Last year I finished 274th amongst men, and 316th overall.  So, even though my time was 11 seconds slower this year, I actually finished about 60 places higher!  I think that clearly shows that I ran a stronger race this year.  So, I turned my attitude around and chose to be happy with the race.  But, still, you better believe that I will be going after a 10-mile PR with everything I have next year.

I also got excited this week when I plugged my 10-mile time into McMillan's Calculator (McMillan's Race Pace Calculator).  My 10-mile race times project out to about a 2:57 or 2:58 marathon.  MacMillan's is not a perfect instrument.  And it does not mean that I could go out and run a 2:57 next week.  But it does show what your potential is, assuming you were to train specifically for that race distance.  

So, I think I definitely need to run another marathon this fall. Last year, I got sick right before the Philadelphia Marathon, but still managed to run a 3:15 at far less than 100%.  So, I know that I can do better.  This year, because I am more "mature", I only need a 3:10 to qualify.  I didn't realize this before, but a friend pointed out to me that your qualifying time is based on the age you will be when you run Boston, not your age when you qualify.  So, because I will not actually run Boston until 2015, I can qualify now with an easier time, even though I have not actually advanced to the next age category yet.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings this week, several people have asked me if I still plan on running the race.  My answer is that I want to qualify for the race now more than ever.  It is only when you allow acts of terror to change your way of life, that terrorists have won.  Fear is a choice, and I choose to be unafraid to pursue my dream of running the Boston Marathon.