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.