Tuesday, December 9, 2014

By George 5k - February 2014

By George 5k - Arlington, VA - February 2014

This was my 2nd time racing the By George 5k over Presidents Day weekend. Last year, I finished 2nd place overall in a time of 18:56.  This year, however, there were some "complications" with the race. 

We had a particularly brutal winter of 2014 in Northern Virginia, which included a late-week snow storm heading into Presidents Day weekend.  I wasn't sure if the race, which was supposed to be at Hains Point, would be cancelled or not. 

Late in the week, we got an e-mail that Hains Point would not be a viable option, but that they had secured an INDOOR location - the 200 meter indoor track at Jefferson Middle School in Arlington - to hold the 5k.  An indoor 5k? This sounded crazy! I had never run any race on an indoor track, let alone a 5k - which would be a dizzying 25 laps around a tiny 200 meter oval.  But, I am always up for trying something new and different, so I figured I would give it a go. By the Sunday of the race, I would probably be going stir crazy from being trapped inside with all the snow anyway, and ready to get out (or in) for a run.

I showed up on Sunday morning for the race, and the track at Jefferson was actually much nicer than I had imagined.  Sure it was smaller than a 400 meter track, but it had 4 lanes and a good surface. I could see this working.  They actually divided the race into several heats by age so as not to have the track be too crowded, which was a smart idea.  I ran with the 30-49 year old men.  The only thing I did not like was that the slower runners were told to stay to the inside lanes, and if you wanted to pass someone, you had to run outside of them, which adds distance to your run (and slows down your time).  But given the volume of runners on such a small track, that was the safest and easiest option.

I hadn't been doing much speed work over the winter.  My plan was to go out at 6:00/mile pace, and just see how long I could hold that for.  The one good thing about running on a 200 meter track is that it really helps you keep track of your pace. Every 1/8 of a mile, you get feedback on your pace and whether you are going too fast or slowing down. So, for a 6:00 pace, I was trying to run each 200 m segment in 45 seconds.  I was able to hold that pace for a little more than a mile, but then I noticed that I started losing a couple seconds each lap.  I was holding on pretty securely to 2nd place, but didn't really have a  good chance of catching the 1st place runner. I finished 2nd place overall out of 59 runners in 19:10 (6:10/mile pace). (Race Results)  I don't know my total distance run because it was indoors and my GPS watch did not work.  But I would guess that with all the passing on the outside lanes I had to do, my actual distance was quite a bit more than 3.1 miles.  And my true pace, therefore, was probably actually faster than 6:10.  But overall, it was a good race, and it was nice to get out of the house (even if it was just to go indoors somewhere else), and get in a run.  For finishing 2nd overall, I even won a cherry pie in honor of Presidents Day weekend. Yum!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Frozen 5k - January 2014

Frozen 5k - Manassas, VA - January 2014
We both won age group awards!
This was my first race of 2014. My wife and I also ran the Frozen 5k last year, and really enjoyed it.  It is a super-fast, flat course, which begins at the Freedom Fitness and Aquatic Center in Manassas. Last year I ran an 18:09, which ended up being my fastest 5k of the entire year.

Unfortunately, this year, I suffered a back strain about a week before this race.  I couldn't do any running all week; just laid around a lot, icing my back.  Luckily we were still on winter break from school, so I had time to recover.  My back started to feel a little better by Thursday.  On Saturday, I ran an easy 3 miles just to test it out, with a quick pickup at the end of the run to see how it felt to run fast. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do in the race, which was on a Sunday.  I thought I could (a) just not do it, (b) just jog it easy, (c) jog it easy, but drop out before the finish, so that my slow time would not be recorded, (c) run with my wife, (d) run fast but not all out - maybe just try to break 20, or (e) just run all out, and go as fast as I could, or my pain tolerance would allow. 

Sunday morning turned out to be bitterly cold, with sleet and freezing rain coming down - very appropriate for the Frozen 5k, I suppose. I ran an easy warm-up before the race. My back was still sore, but much better than it had been earlier in the week. It was a little tight, I think, just from not doing much all week.  I decided that I would try to run somewhat fast, and just see what I could do.  I also decided to just wear my regular running shoes instead of my racing flats, to give a little more cushioning, and perhaps more support and shock absorbtion to help out my back. 

I started the race with a fast, but somewhat conservative, 6:00 first mile.  Oddly, I think this actually helped me somewhat.  Many times, I will go out way too fast in 5ks and then crash at the end.  Going out more conservatively helped me run stronger 2nd and 3rd miles than I otherwise might have.  I actually picked up the pace over the last 2 miles. But it was definitely challenging running through the freezing rain.  The streets were also covered with icy patches in several places along the course, forcing runners to slow down and watch their footing.

I finished in 18:30 (5:58/mile pace), taking 16th place overall out of 449 runners, and 2nd place in my age group.  (Race Results)  The time was 20 seconds slower than last year, so I was not thrilled with it.  But, given that I was not 100%, and I was running in and on ice during the race, I think it was the best I could do.  And it was certainly much faster than I would have imagined I was going to run just a few days earlier when I was lying on the floor with ice packs on my lower back.

The Frozen 5k is a quality local race which I will be running again, and would strongly recommend to others. It is a well-organized event with a cheap entry fee ($20), good shirts, good awards, and a fast course. Who could ask for anything more?

Christmas Caper 5k - December 2013

Christmas Caper 5k - Washington, DC December 2013

We both finished 2nd in our age group!
This was my final race of 2014, my first race since the Philadelphia Marathon, and my only race in December.  The Christmas Caper actually has a 5k and a 10k to choose from - which I like, because it waters down the competition and makes it easier to win an award.  Last year, I ran the 10k, but was more in a 5k kind of mood this time.

The race was run at Hains Point in DC, which is about as flat as it gets.  The only bad part is that Hains Point is a peninsula, so sometimes there is some pretty nasty wind, which slows you down.

The 5k started at 7:50 and the 10k started at 8:00.  We were running the 5k, but for some reason, I was thinking that our race didn't start until 8.  I got back to my car at 7:46 or so after a warm-up, realized my error, frantically threw on my racing flats, sprinted over to the start line, and made it just in time to, well, start.

It cetainly was not an ideal warm-up, but I settled down during the first mile, running a 5:55.  I finished in 18:51 (6:05/mile pace) to take 4th place overall and 2nd in my age group.  (Race Results)  Not a bad post-marathon return to racing.  My wife also finished 2nd in her age group, and our prizes were quite exciting. I won a Christmas mug, and she won a Christmas towel set.  The race is put on by the Potomac Valley Track Club, and they always give out silly holiday-themed awards to age-group winners.

So, after 21 total races - including new PRs in the 10k and half marathon - that was a wrap on 2013!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Philadelphia Marathon - November 2013

Philadelphia Marathon - Philadelphia, PA November 2013

Not loving my race performance
This was the culminating race of my fall season.  I was shooting for a new marathon PR and, more importantly, attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  To qualify, I would need to run under 3:10 (7:15/mile pace).  Based on my half marathon time back in October, this should have been no problem.  My half marathon time of 1:23:55 projects out to a 2:56:36 according to McMillan's Calculator.  Of course, this website is not always 100% accurate, especially in terms of marathons.  Such long races have more room for unpredictability.  But, even if it were way off, I should still be able to qualify easily.

I also ran the Philadelphia Marathon last year, where I set my current PR of 3:15:17, even though I had a cold. So, I would need to shave off a little over 5 minutes this year to qualify for Boston.  But to actually get into Boston, you usually need to beat your qualifying time by a couple minutes.  So, just to be safe, I planned on running with the 3:05 pace group.  If I beat my time by 5 minutes or more, I would be able to register for Boston early, and basically guarantee entry.  Also, this would leave me a little flexibility if I had to slow down later in the race, or stop for a bathroom break, or to tie a shoe, etc.

Philadelphia Marathon shirt front
The plan and my training leading up to the race was rock solid.  Unfortunately, circumstances did not work out in my favor.  On Thursday of race week, my old nemesis - the common cold - made another unwelcome visit.  I was still able to run, but certainly was not 100% with the runny nose and congestion.  Also, I swear that every time I checked the Weather Channel website during the week leading up to the race, the temperature kept rising!  I was hoping for a nice morning in the high 30s like last year.  This is the kind of weather that you want for marathons.  But by the time race morning rolled around this year, it was in the mid-50s!  This was way warmer than average for Philadelphia in mid-November.  I know that to the average person, 50s sounds nice, maybe even a little cool.  But for marathoning, this is the point where it is just getting too warm to perform your best - especially since the temperature would continue to rise as the race went on.  30s would have been perfect. Heck, I would have even settled for 40s.  But 50s at the start, which turned into mid 60s by the end of the race, along with high humidity was just not the kind of weather that would allow me to be successful.  It was sooooo frustrating that these two simple events - catching a cold and temperatures that were about 20 degrees above average - conspired to basically erase all the benefits of my training over the previous 4 months.  I feel like I was in even better shape than last year. I was also about 5 pounds lighter, at 163 lbs.  And I was ready to go out and run an awesome race! But with the circumstances, I ended up being worse off than last year.  I was sick last year too, but at least we had decent weather.  It is really frustrating to not be able to go out and show what you are truly capable of.

I don't know why I have had such bad luck with marathons.  I think I stress out too much about them, which contributes to me getting sick.  And I have had bad weather on a few of them, which I really can't control.  The marathon is frustrating because you train for so long for it, and then it just comes down to one day, and a lot of stuff that you have no  control over.  And once you finish, you are basically out of commission for a few weeks after.  It's not like you can just do another one the next week if you have bad luck.  Realistically, you probably can't do another one for at least 4 months at best.

I really wish I had just not run this race at all, and found another one a few weeks later instead.  Runner's World actually has a "Plan B" for marathoners who encounter bad luck - race cancellation, bad weather, sickness, etc.  (Runner's World Plan B Marathon).  Basically, it suggests either running a different marathon one week later or five to six weeks later.  Finding a different marathon one week later would be ideal because it would just allow slightly more time to taper, while not effecting your race performance very much. Although it might be difficult to find a marathon with open registration on such short notice. Five to six weeks later would also work because this would allow you time to get in a few more weeks of quaity training and still allow time to taper again before the backup marathon. Interestingly, two to four weeks is sort of a "no-man's land" where it is not really enough time to resume training and then taper again before your back up race. And waiting more than six weeks is too much time to lose fitness gained from your training.

Philadelphia Marathon shirt back
I much prefer racing everything from 5k to half marathon.  If  you screw up one of those, you can usually find another one a week or two later, and go out and do better.  You also don't need as much recovery time.  I have raced half marathons before, and then raced well in a 10k or 5k the very next week.  I have even mowed the lawn the afternoon after running a half in the morning.  But full marathons are much different, and take much longer to recover. 

I really do love running - the way it makes you feel, the way it makes you look, the friends that it helps you make, and the things I have been able to achieve. And I have a lot of fun racing 5ks, 10ks, 10 milers, and half marathons. But, when I really think about it, I have not enjoyed running ANY marathon since 2005 when I ran Marine Corps.  I think I will probably eventually try one more time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But I also might not.  Maybe I am better off sticking to what I enjoy. After all, running is not a job. It is supposed to be fun! So, we shall see.

Back to the race....My wife and I had a hotel pretty close to the start line, so we just walked down.  We bought throw away pants, shirts, gloves, and hats for the race to keep us warm until the start.  But it ended up being so warm, that we left them back at the hotel, and I just walked down in shorts.  Our old friend, Bill Rodgers, was the race starter!  Here were my mile splits along with average heart rate for each mile

1 - 7:17 (151)
2 - 6:49 (158)
3 - 6:47 (159)
4 - 7:01 (161)
5 - 6:52 (165)
6 - 6:55 (167)
7 - 6:57 (166)
8 - 7:02 (170)
9 - 7:00 (167)
10 - 7:07 (170)
11 - 7:07 (165)
12 - 7:04 (169)
13 - 7:10 (171)
14 - 7:13 (170)
15 - 7:14 (171)
16 - 7:18 (172)
17 - 7:16 (174)
18 - 7:25 (174)
19 - 7:23 (176)
20 - 7:23 (179)
21 - 7:06 (182)
22 - 7:12 (184)
23 - 7:31 (186)
24 - 16:51 (145)
25 - 17:55 (124)
26 - 12:22 (135)
final 0.2 - 10:21 pace

I ran well for the first half and was exactly on pace for a 3:05.  My heart rate also was not too crazy, so I thought I might have a chance.  Due to my sickness and the weather, I was thinking of just dropping out at the halfway mark if I wasn't feeling it.  But my heart rate was just reasonable enough to convince me to keep going.  I intentionally slowed down in the second half to try to conserve energy to get me through to the end.  I was not really feeling a 3:05, but I knew that I only needed to average about a 7:27 pace for the second half to get my sub-3:10.  My heart rate started to get a little too high during the 20th mile.  I'm not sure why I sped up and ran a 7:06 on the 21st mile. I think it was downhill, but still my heart rate climbed into the dangerous territory of the 180s.  I think if I had run the 21st mile more conservatively, I might have had a better outcome.  By miles 22 and 23, my heart rate was skyrocketing well into the 180s.  I thought I could actually hold 180s for a while, through the finish.  But I think what I learned, is that there are varying degrees of the 180s.  I probably could have sustained a heart rate in the LOW 180s (180-183) for a couple more miles.  But during the 22nd and 23rd mile, I was in the mid and upper 180s.  My heart rate during the 23rd mile actually got up to 189, which is my max!  And that is no way to run a marathon.  During a marathon, your heart rate ideally should be between 79 and 88% of your max heart rate (certainly not 100%!)  Of course, my heart rate was higher than it normally would have been because of my cold and also because of the warm weather.  Try wearing a heart rate monitor in cool and hot weather.  You will see it makes a huge difference!  If I were not sick or if the weather had been cooler, I think I could have kept my heart rate low enough for long enough to push "the wall" out past the finish line.  But as it was, once I hit the upper 180s, I basically red-lined, and had to start walking during the 24th mile.  I briefly started jogging again, but could not get my pace back to where it needed to be in order to finish under 3:10.  So, I started walking again.  As I walked, I calculated in my head that if I just jogged an easy pace to the finish line, I could probably come in right around 3:12 or 3:13.  This would have been a new PR, but it also would have been mind-numbingly frustrating to only miss my qualifying time by 2 minutes despite warm weather and sickness.  It was all or nothing for me. As the wise Ricky Bobby once said, "If you aint first, you're last." 

I have never dropped out of a race before, but I seriously would have dropped out of this one at that point during the 24th mile.  The only problem was the course.  After the half way point, you basically run out to Manayunk, turn around at mile 20, and then go back down the same road along the river back to the finish at the Art Museum.  So, once you hit mile 20, there is literally no short cut to get you back.  You might as well just keep going to the finish - unless you are injured.  They actually did have a truck driving along checking if people were injured and needed a ride back.  They checked on me as I was walking, but I told them I was fine. I don't think anger or bitterness count as an injury.

I felt better as I walked.  The only annoying thing was the spectators.  I had my name on my bib number.  And people kept cheering me on. "Come on, Duane!"  "You can do it, Duane!"  "Let's go Duane! You're almost there."  They obviously meant well, and are all good people.  But I was just so angry!  I wanted to shout back, "Yes, I KNOW I can do it!! Maybe I just don't WANT to do it! Did you ever think of that?!"  But this, obviously, would make me an insane person. So, I did not, and instead just continued walking. 

During the last mile, I finally wisened up and decided that I would just tear my bib number off my shirt so that no one would see my name and therefore they would not be able to cheer for me and remind me that I was "almost there!"  Right after I tore my number off, I felt a spectator tap me on the shoulder and heard him cheering something.  How obnoxious! I continued walking, but then the spectator followed me, shouting, "Duane! Duane!"  How did he know my name? I already tore my bib number off.  I looked back and saw one of my fraternity brothers from Syracuse University, Rob!  He had run the half marathon, and was watching the marathon finish to see if he could find me.  Well, luckily for him, I was moving at a very slow pace (walking), and therefore easy to find!

Rob pushing me to the finish

It was great to see Rob.  He walked along with me and cheered me up.  I told him about my frustrations with the race for a few minutes as we walked.  Eventally, he suggested that we RUN to the finish. It was only another half mile or so.  I was kind of reluctant, as I had made a strong committment to being bitter and just walking to the end.  But eventually he talked me into it.  And so we ran together, and talked, and finally we finished the race.  I was really glad that Rob found me.  I was in such a bad place mentally during the end of the race.  Catching up with him at the end really helped a lot.  When we crossed the line at 3:34:20, he noted that many people would kill for that marathon time, which to me was a "failure."  It is good to put things in perspective sometimes.

2013 Philadelphia Marathon medal
I collected my massive medal (Seriously, largest medal I have ever seen!) at the finish line and Rob headed back home.  Once I came out of the finish corral, I met up with my wife (who had run the half marathon), and two other friends who had come to watch the race.  I feel bad for the friends who came to watch the race, as it was not a very good "show."  My aunt also came out to see the end of the race.  Afterwards, we went back to her house to watch some Philadelphia Eagles football and have a nice family dinner.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Jug Bay 10k - November 2013

Jug Bay 10k - November 2013
Upper Marlboro, MD

Passing a 5k runner on my way to the 10k finish
This was my second consecutive year running the Jug Bay 10k, and once again, it would serve as my final tune-up race before the Philadelphia Marathon.  Last year, I ran a 38:35, finishing 6th place overall and 1st place in my age group.  I was looking to defend my age group championship and maybe improve a bit on my time this year too.  I was running the 10k, but there was also a 5k, which my wife competed in.

The out-and-back 10k course has a few hills, runs on gravel trail for a couple miles, and goes back and forth over a 1,000 foot long wooden bridge.  So, it is not the best course if you are looking for a PR, but it is pretty fair overall.  In terms of pure scenery, it is a beautiful race, as it runs along the banks of the Patuxent River and through a wildlife preserve. 

Here were my mile splits for the race:
1 - 5:57 (156 average heart rate)
2 - 5:59 (172)
3 - 6:07 (177)
4 - 6:14 (179)
5 - 6:27 (179)
6 - 6:12 (182)
final 0.28 - 1:39 - 5:57 pace (184)

Race shirt
I ran well early on; maybe started a little too fast.  Later on, some of the hills caught up with me and I slowed down.  Mile 5 was where I really lost my chance to improve on my time from last year.  I also lost focus with some water troubles along the way.

 It is an out-and-back course, and they have water stations on both sides of the road around mile 2 (which is also mile 4 on the way back). Ideally, you would grab water from the water station on the right side each time.  But when we were running out, the water station volunteers on BOTH sides were all only handing water to the 5k runners (who were running the opposite direction - towards us).  I tried to grab a cup from a volunteer who was looking the other direction, but I startled her and she dropped the cup!

Then on the way back, no one was handing out water at the first table I saw on the left side of the road (I forgot there was another table on the other side of the road).  So, I had to make a 90 degree left turn to run over to the table, grab my own cup of water, and then go back onto the course and try to regain momentum.  Unfortunately, around a curve about 100 meters later, I saw the other table on the right side of the road, and they WERE handing out water to runners. Crap, if only I had waited! In hindsight, it would have been much better to just forget about water all together.  Hydration improves your performance, but when you are only racing for 38 minutes on a reasonably cool November day, you certainly don't NEED water.  I probably could have knocked 10 or 15 seconds off my time if I had just relaxed, kept running and not worried about the water.

The spoils of victory
I picked it up a little at the end with a 6:12 final mile and finished the race in 38:38 (6:09/mile pace), taking 5th place overall out of 211 runners, and finishing 1st place in my age group! (Race Results)  So, I ended up running a few seconds slower than last year, but finished one place higher, and succeeded in winning my age group for a second year in a row.  For my efforts, I won a free canoe/kayak rental at Bladensburg Waterfront Park and a $25 gift card to Ed's Plant World.  But the big excitement for the day came from my wife, Michelle, who ran the 5k.
 As I mentioned earlier, the 5k and 10k courses cross paths along the way, so I had a chance to see her a little before mile 2.  I cheered for as we passed, but didn't really think much of it.  Later on the course, I thought to myself - Hmmm...she was pretty far up there.  Did I see any other women in front of her? I don't think I saw any other women. Is she winning the race?!  Once I finished, I found Michelle and confirmed that she did indeed win the race, as the 1st place overall female!!  They got an awesome picture of her celebrating her victory at the finish line.
My super-speedy wife: 2014 Jug Bay 5k Champion!