Race Report: 2012 LI Half Marathon

Proud to earn the medal

LI Half Marathon: 13.1 miles — 2:08:47 (PR)


This morning I ran my second half marathon and the results were (happily) better than the first. I finished the race almost 14 minutes faster than last year. All those weekends at Bethpage clearly paid off, and a healthy knee took care of the rest.  


My day started early and I was joined by my friend TC who came by my house at 6:00 AM. We did last minute preparations, like pinning bib numbers and packing our gear bags, before we headed over to Eisenhower Park. The roads were clear and we made good time. We quickly found parking spots and walked over to Charles Lindbergh Boulevard where the start of the race was being staged. In our excitement we forgot to take notice of where we’d parked. It was something we’d regret later.


Even though we were early, the crowd was already large. It quickly grew to thousands and, before we  knew it, race time had come. Last year there was a dearth of porto-pottys and this year it appeared as though they’d doubled the number. That made things much easier for people and prevented the need to use the grounds along the starting line as ad hoc facilities.


I located a spot in the 9:00 pace range and after some unexpected fireworks, the crowd was off. With over 5,000 runners on the move, we basically shuffled past the starting line. It was good that the race provided a starting line sensor that captured net times for runners, but for some odd reason “official” times are calculated from gun time. 

Consequently, my “official” pace was based on a time that was three minutes longer than my actual time.  It’s a bad policy because it punishes people who follow the rules and line up at their pace range, rather than move to the front of the line. I really don’t understand that. Since they record the runner’s net times, why don’t they use them?


But while this race is about performance, it’s also about the experience. Knowing what to expect after running the race last year really helped me manage my expectations. The loop around Nassau Coliseum, that felt so long the last year, went by very quickly today. I couldn’t believe how soon we reached the 5K mark and I appreciated my healthy knee when we passed the four mile sign. That was the moment of truth for me last year, when I debated whether to drop out to protect my knee.


I maintained a steady pace as I made my way up Post Road to Jericho Turnpike, stopping for the briefest time to grab water to wash down some GU Roctane I had put in my gel flask. That turned out to be a great way of managing fuel. I hit the 10K mark in just about an hour and I ran strongly through the next few miles. At one point, on Brush Hollow Road, a band was playing a fast tempo blues song that perfectly matched my cadence. Although I usually prefer silence when I run, I appreciated all the live bands that played for us today.


When I reached Wantagh Parkway I was still feeling good, but the sun had come out and the entrance to the Parkway was the steepest incline we’d yet encountered. I made it up fine and enjoyed some of the downhill sections, although one uphill section went on for a while. All along the race, I thought about the quote: “Run the mile you’re in” and that helped me focus on the moment, instead of thinking about the miles ahead.


Once we hit Carmen Avenue I was pretty psyched because I knew that I would beat last year’s time by a measurable amount. I was careful not to mistake the full marathon’s 24 mile marker for a sign that we’d reached 12 miles (like I did last year) and when I saw the 11 mile marker, I knew I had enough in reserve to finish with some strength.


We entered the park and I actually needed to pass some runners on the narrow pathway. I saw my dentist up ahead and greeted him as I caught up. I yelled “Let’s go!” and we picked up the pace. He was able to sustain it, but I needed to drop back to my previous pace after a couple of minutes. I knew when I was getting close to the end, and started to feel some excitement. My Garmin said 2:04 and I knew I had a good chance of breaking 2:10, which was my stretch goal.


The last quarter mile was hard and the crowd along the path was deep and LOUD. I saw the finish line and put in as much effort as I could until I crossed. I was in so much better shape than last year at the end. I saw TC, who had nailed the distance in 1:50, waiting near the line. We celebrated each other’s performances and made our way slowly to the Finish Line Festival. The crowds were so thick that we decided to skip the festival and head to the UPS trucks to get our stowed gear.


We had no clue where to find our cars, so we walked around for over thirty minutes until we finally located the lot where we’d parked. I thought back to last year when I could barely handle the ten minute walk to my car after the race.


A foot soak with Dr. Bonner’s peppermint soap helped a lot this afternoon and I’m going to take a couple of days off from running to recover. I am pleased and happy with today’s race and I’m proud of my friends who also ran today. Is it realistic to think that I could break 2:00 in a half marathon some day? I’m not sure I can, but after today’s race, I can considerate it a possibility.

Crossing the T’s before crossing the line

Staying the course on Sunday

There’s less than 20 hours left until tomorrow’s race. The only things left to do are to pick up my race number at the Expo and then prepare my gear. Actually, there’s a lot of detail to that part. If the weather follows current predictions, we will have great conditions at the start of the race. In that case, I’ve identified which shirt, shorts and shoes (Kinvara 3’s) I’ll use. Along with that are many other tasks (filling my gel flask, charging my Garmin, SPIbelt items, sunglasses, warm up clothes, gear bag, etc) that must be completed.

Last year I made a list that came in very handy in the morning, because I was able to quickly verify that I had everything I needed before I left. I’ll do the same this year. I’m still undecided if I’ll start the race with bottled water that I can throw in the trash when I’m done with it. Water stations serve that purpose so I’ll likely just use them instead.

Yesterday I went over the race course with a colleague, BL, who is running the LI Half for the first time (his first half marathon in fact). He’s only been running for a year but he’s made great progress and puts in the hard work to train. BL frequently races and that will yield benefits for him tomorrow.

Another colleague, TC, will be coming by my house around 6:00 AM tomorrow and we’ll head to the race together. TC ran a 1:55 half marathon on a tough course two weeks ago and he is planning to run the Brooklyn Half next weekend. I’ll see him at the start but I’m guessing he’ll beat me to the finish line.

Thoughts before my half marathon

I’ll admit that I’ve assigned a lot more importance to this weekend’s half marathon than is probably justified. After all, it’s just a race, one of ten or eleven that I plan to run this year. It’s not even my first half marathon. But the LI Half Marathon is important to me, because race performance is a reflection of all the work I’ve done to train for the event. Races validate conditioning and reveal shortcomings.

I think of Sunday’s race two different ways. On one hand, I’ll wake up early and think about the fact that I’ll be racing a distance equal to traveling from mid-town Manhattan to Newark, NJ. Two-plus hours of constant motion — running, not walking. On the other hand, I think about how almost every Saturday, for the past eight weeks, I’ve run a distance at Bethpage that was progressively longer than any run I’ve done this year. No stress on those runs. I just ran until I finished.

I hope I keep the latter point in mind as I line up for the 8:00 AM start on Sunday. I definitely want to do better than last year and, thankfully, I am not suffering the same knee pain that made the 2011 race especially difficult. I have a stretch goal time, a realistic goal time, an expected time, and last year’s time. I’m curious to see what the timing clock says when I cross the finish line.

Kinvara 3, Spira Stinger faceoff

Kinvara 3’s – a worthy successor to the original
Spira Stinger XLT’s – light, fast and comfortable

With less than six days until the LI Half Marathon, I’m still undecided about which shoes to use for the race. Six months ago I wouldn’t have hesitated to go with my Hattori’s, but I haven’t run with them much over the last two months. I’m not sure how those flat, non-cushioned shoes would feel after 13.1 hard miles, especially with my recent issues with mid-foot pain.

It has really come down to two shoes to wear – the Saucony Kinvara 3 and the Spira Stinger XLT. The Kinvara 3 is a minimal running shoe that I’d anticipated for a year, only to be initially disappointed when I finally ran in them. My issues, it turned out, were not with the shoes, but with the foot inside. An acute pain along my left mid-foot was actually a slight injury that has since healed.

The other candidate shoe, from Spira, has been a delightful surprise. I agreed to evaluate this model on Runner’s Tech Review, thinking they were the type of gimmicky running shoes I often lampoon. It turns out that the Spiras are one of the most comfortable and runnable lightweight shoes I’ve ever encountered. As far as their promise of slicing 15 seconds per mile off my pace, I’m not so sure I’m seeing that benefit. But the Stingers have carried me well over many 8+ mile runs.

I wore both pairs on my runs this past weekend and I’m definitely leaning toward the Kinvaras. While the Spiras have their energetic “Waveform” technology, the Kinvara 3’s feel like my original Kinvaras, the highest compliment I can give to a running shoe. Saturday’s 12 miler was grueling, but my feet felt great. The light weight and low platform of the Kinvara 3’s have almost convinced me to go that way. Almost.

Psychological struggles on the Bethpage trail

Six down and six up

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 12 miles

Unless you are an elite runner, or someone who covers 70 training miles a week, 12 miles is a long distance to run. It’s 92% of a half marathon and it felt very much like a full marathon this morning. I know a good number of people who run marathons and half marathons, and I am privately amazed by their confident view of these races. To me, a half marathon is an “Event” that takes many weeks of tough training and still guarantees to beat me to a pulp. My friends certainly give their training its due, but they don’t seem as intimidated by the challenge.

It was a chilly 34 degrees when I started this morning’s run at Bethpage and I decided to start with a lap around the large parking lot before reaching the main trail. I thought that front loading some distance would give me a psychological edge, making my long miles on the trail seem a little shorter. Unfortunately I miscalculated a little and paid for it at the end.

I ran without water because my Amphipod bottle is not usable and my Ultimate Direction bottle had not arrived. I could have run with bottled water but I decided to go without, rather than deal with the need to carry a bottle without a hand grip. I took along a GU gel in case I needed a boost later in my run. I ultimately chose not to take it because I didn’t want to consume it without water.

My extra distance at the beginning of my run provided the surprise of reaching the 4 mile point earlier than I expected. My milestone for that distance is a point just south of the Southern State overpass near the Linden Street crossing. Before long, I was running in the Massapequa Preserve where I planned my turnaround after six miles. That was a mistake.

Bethpage is a rolling trail that does a good job of torturing me at certain points in my run. There are some hills to manage during the first few miles, but it isn’t until I reach the Southern State overpass where it becomes hard. The section is steep, but not too long, and I get over it fine. The problem is knowing that I’ll soon face it coming back, the northbound section being longer, with two difficult inclines.

I like the Massapequa Preserve because the path is macadam, not concrete, and everyone on that section of the trail seems to be friendly and smiling. I cruised along well but I did begin to feel fatigue as I approached the six mile mark. I considered having the GU, but I didn’t want to deal with the stickiness without water to wash it down. That won’t be the case for the Half where I’ll run with water or take GU at a water station.

Once I cleared the Southern State I tried to feel good that I wouldn’t have to deal with big hills for a couple of miles. For some reason I began feeling down and was questioning why I was subjecting myself to this long boring run. I knew even then that much of running is psychological and that I needed to get my head straight if I was to cover the next five miles without going insane.

I did recover from that malaise, but my boredom was soon replaced by dread. I was facing the two big hills near the end and wasn’t feeling very strong. I again considered taking my gel but decided that I’d almost be finished with my run by the time I felt any effect from it. As I approached the Quaker Meetinghouse Rd. crossing, I seriously considered taking a break. The wooden bench looked tempting but, when I reached it, I just kept going.

The first of the two dreaded hills was easier to handle than I’d expected, though I knew I was running pretty slowly. Another runner passed me and disappeared into the distance and I cringed before looking at my Garmin to check my pace. The last big hill was harder than expected, but I knew once I passed it I’d soon be done.

Wrong!

In my decision to turn around at six miles, I failed to consider that I’d run about half a mile prior to starting on the bike trail. That meant that, by the time I reached the parking lot, I’d only covered 11.5 miles. In order to reach my 12 mile goal I needed to circle the entire lot. While the parking lot is flat, my mind was set to come off the trail and trot over to my car, stop the Garmin and rest. Instead I had to make that last loop, trudging through final half mile as I wistfully viewed my waiting car.

I was beat up pretty badly, but I succeeded in reaching all my training goals for next weekend’s race. I will definitely take gels when I fatigue and stop at the water stations or carry my own hydration. Next Sunday will be 1.1 miles more than I covered today. I know it will be hard, but at least the LI Half race course doesn’t have Bethpage’s hills. That’s what I kept telling myself this morning.

Racing glory is relative to ability

Well Monday has rolled around again, and I’m pleased with my weekend’s running. The progress I’m making to prepare for the LI Half Marathon is fully on track. I’ve been getting some interesting perspective from reading the blog of an elite runner named Jesse Armijo, from Albuquerque, NM. This runner, who competes at the top level, faces similar concerns about preparedness and training as a mid-packer like me. But for Jesse, the stakes are higher. He’s a humble guy and I’m rooting for him.

Sometimes I wonder why I compete. It certainly isn’t for the glory of victory. I often finish at the top of the bell curve, coming in just before the last 50% of runners in a given race. My performance really couldn’t be  more average. But against my age group, I sometimes land in the top third, and that makes me happy.

Saturday’s 8+ mile run was much harder than staying home and watching the news on TV. But I had to do it, because I have to be ready to run 13.1 miles on May 6. I’m not likely to finish at the front of the curve, but I sure don’t want to end up in the back of the pack.