No expectations, but plenty of Hope

 

Last year I participated in a race that was put on by my division’s parent company. Before the race even started, one of my colleagues shared the tweet he planned to send after he finished. I told him that I never write my headline until I’m done with the race. Too many things can happen between the start and the finish lines. I don’t know what my friend ended up tweeting, but I still hold fast to that policy. I ended up having a far different race experience than I’d anticipated that night.

Tomorrow is the Hope for Warriors 10K and I’ve set no expectations in terms of how I might do. I’ve done this event twice and have a good understanding of the course. Two years ago, I attained a 10K PR at HFW, after almost skipping it because I hadn’t really trained. 2011 was a year of personal bests. I got a another PR at the Long Beach 10K Turkey Trot, just one weekend after Hope for Warriors.

This year has not produced many race highlights. My best performance came early on at the Long Beach 4 mile Snowflake race, where the Petite Pacer beat me over the line in an impressive burst of speed. Since then, I haven’t broken a 9:00 pace in a race, even in 5K’s. I’m going to run the best race I can tomorrow. As always, I’ll wait until I finish before I compose my headline.

Hill running on marathon day

The long and windy road

Today’s run (street): 4.6 miles

It’s marathon day in NYC and I got an early start on the coverage. I didn’t take advantage of the extra hour’s sleep from DST, because I wanted to have my run completed prior to the marathon pre-show. There wasn’t much drama in today’s race, but it was still fun to watch. I was hoping all my friends who ran it had great experiences. I thought about them on my run knowing I’d be covering far less distance today.

Today was my last chance to do a good training run prior to next weekend’s 10K. I decided to head over to the Greenbelt bike trail and run south so I could take on the long hill along Sunnyside Boulevard. It was cold enough for long pants and sleeves, but I remained comfortable (except when the wind hit me head-on). The Sunnyside hill is just long enough to wear you down because it gets increasingly steeper along the last half mile. I just kept reminding myself that I’d get to run it downhill on the way back.

Today’s run went well and I’m hoping I’ve built my fitness to handle a brisk pace over 6.2 miles next Sunday. This will be a busy week with early mornings into the city. I’m not sure how I’ll handle my taper, but I’ll figure it out. Although the Hope for Warriors course is fairly flat, this weekend’s hill heavy training should yield some conditioning benefit.

Comparing race times is easy but results are confusing.

A tale of three races

Today’s run (street): 5.25 miles

This morning I downloaded my recent runs to Garmin Connect. I noticed a feature that compares selected runs, allowing users to see performance data by split (click above picture to read). The difference between this year and the last two year’s times are easy to see. One thing that puzzles me is that the times on split 4 are really inconsistent. This year I covered .11 miles in 50 seconds at 7:55 pace, Last year it took me one second less but the pace was 7:18. In 2011, it took one second more to cover that distance, yet the pace showed 23 seconds per mile faster than this year. Very strange.

Today my thoughts were on recovery rather than performance. Due to my tapering, I covered far less than my normal 18-20 weekly miles since last Sunday. I took it easy and aimed for five miles. Although the temperature was a moderate 54°, it felt colder. I wore a light running shirt with 3/4 length sleeves and shorts, along with a pair of light running gloves. It was a good combination to start, although by the end I was wishing for shorter sleeves and no gloves.

I ended up running faster than I planned, but not all that fast. Recovery runs are a strategy to facilitate muscle repair and eliminate the built up lactic acid that causes soreness. I wish I’d taken it just a little easier. I’m looking ahead to November 10, when I’ll be running the Hope for Warriors 10K. It’s a great event (although the course itself is only so-so). My prep for this weekend’s 5K fell short, and I want to do better. 10K means more base runs as well. Better get started soon.

Race report: 2013 Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor’s Run

Seconds after crossing the line

photo courtesy of The Petite Pacer

Today’s run (Town of Oyster Bay 5K): 3.1 miles – 28:39

This morning I ran the Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor’s Run for the third time and had a great time. My performance was puzzling because I thought I’d do better than I did. I had an RPR (reverse PR – just made that up), having run my slowest ever 5K. Aside from that, it was great. I met The Petite Pacer for the first time in person and she was every bit as personable and charming as she is on her blog.

The morning started out well. I arrived a few minutes before 8:00 AM and parked at the high school. It’s a fairly short walk the hill up to the Community Center where they do registration and hand out race numbers and sweatshirts (hoodies this year!). I gave them my name, but it wasn’t on the list. After being referred to some GLIRC volunteers, I realized I’d never actually signed up. Not too smart of me. The GLIRC people were incredibly nice and gave me a race number after I’d filled in a registration slip. They didn’t even ask for money, but I had the cash on me and insisted they take it.

After pinning my race bib, I ran into The Petite Pacer. We headed toward the starting line that’s located about a quarter mile away on South Street. TPP suggested doing some strides so we ran a few hundred meters and returned to the starting area a couple of minutes before 9:00 AM. Our position was at the front and I mentioned that we should probably move back to keep from getting run over by the 6 minute milers.

The race started, but I found it hard to move in the crowd. I regretted suggesting that we move back before. TPP broke away and I saw her farther ahead before losing sight of her as we turned on Berry Hill Rd. I could not get past the clumps of runners ahead of me and I think it lengthened my first mile time quite a bit. According to my Garmin, I ran the first mile at 9:35 and came through mile 2 around 19:18. I did the last 1.1 miles in 8:21.

I thought I was in better shape for this race and didn’t struggle on the long hill, so I was puzzled by my time. The hill gets steeper after the first mile and I remember feeling the increased burden. Still, I felt like I was maintaining a decent stride. I obviously made up a lot of time on the mostly downhill second half and passed a lot of people along that pretty tree-lined road. The peacefulness was broken only by a runner behind me who was singing loudly and off key to the music on his iPod.

All hope of finishing under 27:50 (which would put me below a 9 minute pace) was dashed when I saw the 3 mile clock. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the line at 28:39. TPP was already there, having finished a few minutes before me. She videoed my crossing the line which was an unexpected surprise. I’ll return the favor the next time I finish before her, which will probably be never.

Post race recovery with TPP

TPP and I got our time slips and I saw my official pace – 9:13. It was far slower than I expected to run this race. Last year I averaged 8:22 per mile. I have not had a good year in terms of race times but I still have a few more races on the schedule to improve my standings.

More important than my time was the great experience I had with the kind volunteers who helped me get registered and the opportunity to spend some time with The Petite Pacer. Tomorrow I’ll get out and go as far and fast as I feel like running. That’s the best part of a Saturday race. You have a bonus day to do another weekend run.

Managing the pre-race energy

 

Why is it that I usually feel energized the day before a race? Could it be that I’m closest to my training peak at this point? I suspect it’s related more to wanting to run because I shouldn’t. I always take one or two rest days before a race and that seems to work for me. In the few times where I’ve violated my taper plan with a run or hike, I’ve regretted doing it the next day.

I’m sure it’s more psychological than physical, because I should be able to do a moderate workout the day before a race without penalty. But a positive attitude about my state of conditioning on race day is almost as important as the work that it took to get me there. I need to ensure that I’d done everything I could to be prepared.

So even with this extra energy today, along with perfect fall weather, I won’t give into the temptation to walk the hilly bike trail at Bethpage. It’s been a low mileage week and even with the race I won’t have covered ten miles. The good thing about a 5K is that I usually don’t need to take the next day to rest. I can make up for the shortfall on Sunday. I hope that the energy I have today will still be present tomorrow morning.

Race report: 2013 Great Cow Harbor 10K

See, some people finished after me!

Today’s race (Great Cow Harbor 10K): 6.2 mile – (9:53 pace)

Another Cow Harbor race has come and gone. Just like the three that I’d run prior to today, I’m incredibly impressed by both the effort and the execution. It’s a massive undertaking, with many moving parts. Cow Harbor relies on a well organized army of dedicated volunteers at every stage, and they make it one of the greatest races in the country.

The flow of a Cow Harbor morning has a certain familiarity. First you have to find the high school (I often miss that tricky left on Old Pine lane), find a parking spot (easy at 7:00 AM) and get on a shuttle bus. The ride from there to the Laurel Ave school takes me back to junior high (do we have gym today? I hope we don’t have to run!). The walk from the bus to the school provides time to evaluate your level of energy and to gauge weather conditions.

Starting line an hour before the race

Every time I’ve run Cow Harbor, the heat and humidity have been a factor. However, before the start, it can feel chilly. I usually head into the building to maintain warmth and people watch and then go outside to get in line for the Porto’s before they stretch as far as the starting corrals. I ran into some friends this morning who were also running the race, although I didn’t see everyone I’d hoped to see.

Elite runner registration desk

I found my place in the 9000 section and made small talk with my corral-mates while we waited. After the playing of the national anthem the announcer started the first wave, that consists of elite and semi-elite runners. A minute later the 1000’s went, and eight minutes after that, my group was unleashed. I never really know how ready I am until I’m actually on my way. Those first few minutes told me that I might have some problems today.

Scudder Ave is the first main component of the course and everyone talks about the temptation to run it full tilt because it’s pretty much down hill. What I always forget is that Scudder starts out with a noticeable uphill, and today it felt difficult just getting past it. Uh, oh. If that was hard, how would I do on Bayview and James?

Once Scudder began to slope down, I felt some rhythm return to my stride. We reached Woodbine and then passed Main Street to big crowds and bagpipers. Bayview is mostly uphill, but mildly so, and I was doing okay, although I definitely wasn’t feeling my best. I was amused when a spectator yelled, “You guys look great!” and the runner behind me yelled back, “Thank you for lying!” We all knew what was in store for us in a couple of minutes.

As I rounded the corner onto James Street, I thought about whether I’d like Cow Harbor more if this hill wasn’t part of the route. In that moment, I realized that “Widow Hill” was the defining element of the race. Today it defined me as well.

I’ve prided myself in races past, on my ability to take James Street at a steady pace and make it through, sweating but unscathed. I really struggled this morning and was tempted to walk, but I never had before and I wasn’t going to today. I kind of wish that I had, because it took me another half mile before I felt my strength return. I lost at least a minute off my overall race time as I worked back to race pace.

Coming down Ocean near Eatons Neck turn

I was doing okay at three miles and was delighted to see an ex-work colleague at the point where Ocean Ave meets Eaton’s Neck Rd. I told her that I’d be coming through around 9:15 but it was closer to 9:05. She yelled, “You’re doing better than you predicted!” Sadly, no. I just got the math wrong.

The rest of the race was a puzzlement. While I wasn’t feeling my best, I was running credibly and attacking every downhill I could find to make up some time. Waterside Rd, with its long uphill slope, can hit you hard in the later miles of the race. I felt that I was maintaining my targeted cadence and speed and the split announcements made me think I was tracking for a mid-9:00 time or better.

There was no point in the race where I felt overwhelmed by the effort and I remained hopeful that I’d match or exceed last year’s time. The last big challenge of the race is Pumpernickel Hill and I found it slightly tougher (and seemingly longer) than in past years, but I got over it and put everything into the remaining distance (about .9 miles). I didn’t back off the throttle until I crossed the finish line.

When I looked at my Garmin and saw that it took me 61 minutes to get through the course, I was a bit disappointed. I couldn’t understand why I missed my target, especially after the speed, hill and base training I’d done. At the same time, I was thrilled to have completed the race and managed an average pace within the nine minute rage (if just barely).

The thing about racing is that you can do everything to support your success but it all comes down to how you feel on race day. I’ll admit that I’ve been tired this week and, in retrospect, I may have been better off not walking the hilly Bethpage trail for 80 minutes yesterday (although I enjoyed spending that time with my wife). My taper-ending five mile run on Wednesday could also have contributed. Today’s shortfall may have had to do with other factors, like not enough sleep. I really wanted to hit 58 minutes.

After the race, Cow Harbor puts on a great finish line festival. It’s like Woodstock for sweaty, emaciated people. I skipped all the carb snacks and flavored juice bottles and went right to the banana truck and then over to the Poland Spring truck. The band they hire to play is really good and the crowds, energy, music and harbor view reinforce that you are participating in something special.

I happily avoided the baggage check this year
I may have placed mid-pack, but I was the first one on my bus!

I ran into a few people I know who had also raced, and then headed over to the bus line. The transportation process is well managed and, without a long wait, we were on board. A woman who’d run the race for the first time today sat next to me and we talked about our favorite races on Long Island. Her son won the 2K fun run! I don’t know if her husband ran the 10K as well, but I’m guessing he did, because the whole family looked athletic. She was a really nice and funny person and it was a great way to cap off my Cow Harbor day.

My next race will be the Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor’s run in October. It’s a 5K and the first half is a steady incline while the second half is equally downhill. The challenge doesn’t match James Street, but I’ll still have to train. In the meantime, I’ll be taking a couple of days to recover from Cow Harbor. I hope my friends who ran it had good experiences today. No matter what, it’s hard not to have a good time at this race.

Minor taper violation at Bethpage

Today’s workout (Bethpage bike trail walk): 4.4 miles

Tapering is harder than you’d think. Not hard in the sense that it takes any effort. It’s really the opposite of that. Even someone who embraces downtime (like me) can find it difficult to be completely inactive. After focusing on training for a month, our bodies are tuned for action. At least they should be.

The morning was quiet on the business side, so my wife and I decided to head over to Bethpage State Park for a low impact walk on the bike trail. I figured that level of activity wouldn’t significantly violate my taper, and it might just help shake out some built up lactic acid in my leg muscles. The weather was cool and sunny and we went south on the trail as far as the Beach St. exit. We’re both brisk walkers, but we kept it at a comfortable pace today.

On the trail back, we talked about the number of cyclist we’d seen who weren’t wearing helmets. I noticed the sign above that encouraged the use of helmets with the plea, “Do not lose your head.” Good advice.

We’ll be heading to the Laurel Ave school in Northport a little later today, so I can pick up my bib number and race bag. My family won’t be joining me tomorrow, so I won’t have any place to stow my race shirt in the morning. I could do the UPS baggage check but, with 5,700 other runners, the wait for pickup can take a while. It’s hard to believe that it’s just hours until the start of Cow Harbor. I hope I’m ready.

2013 Marcie Mazzola Race Report

Last turn before the finish

Today’s run (Marcie Mazzola 5K): 3.1 miles

This morning I ran the Marcie Mazzola Foundation race for the fifth year in a row. This race was originally scheduled for last April, but the date was moved to the end of June because of a Mazzola family issue. I was concerned about running this race in the summer heat, but the ample shade made it bearable. This year I was joined by a couple of industry colleagues who were running this race for the first time.

As I’d expected, my performance did not match prior races I’ve done at this distance, but I was not disappointed. In previous years, I was racing every month and that helped me maintain my competitive focus. It’s halfway through the year and I’ve only participated in two races so far. I ran about 15 minutes on the treadmill yesterday to “activate” my leg muscles, with a combination of elevation (training for the hill on Woodhull) and speed. It’s hard to know if that helped, but I don’t think it did any harm.

Team Emerging Runner arrived at 7:45 AM for the 8:30 start. Unlike the spring race, when the morning temperature requires extra layers prior to the start, it was nice to be comfortable in just my race gear. Registration went fine, and we watched the kid’s fun run that happens 30 minutes before the 5K start. Soon after that I saw my friend Bill, an experienced racer, who had never run the Marcie Mazzola race.

Bill and I made our way down to the starting line on Park Ave and I noticed that the crowd was smaller than last year. No doubt this was due to the race date change, because the organizers announced that there were over 500 registrants. The race results showed 15 DNS’s, most likely runners that signed up for April but had scheduling conflicts today. There were 103 less finishers this year than in 2012.

Once Bill and I established our position behind the line, we were joined by another friend, Mike, who had walked to the race from his house. Mike runs triathlons, but had not run Marcie before today. As we waited for the countdown, I described the course and tried to prepare them for the hill on Woodhull Rd. Neither seemed intimidated by it.

The official Marcie 5K Pace car

The race started on time and soon after seeing my wife and kids on the sideline, we took the right and climbed the big hill that goes on for half a mile. I felt like I was moving at a decent clip and I passed a number of runners along the way. I’m still experiencing upper respiratory issues and as I made my way up Woodhull, I started to wheeze and cough. I think I’m getting closer to recovery (it’s been three weeks now!) but I was concerned about pushing too hard. I backed off the throttle slightly, until my breathing regulated. With all that, I was a little disappointed to see that I ran the first mile in 9:30.

Seconds after the start

In past years, I’ve run that first mile even slower and still finished in the 26:00 range. I ran as fast as I could today, but missed my average 5K finish time by almost two minutes. I was hoping to break 27:50, but I ended up finishing in just over 28 minutes. If this race had a timing mat at the starting line, I may have have hit my targeted time. Considering the lack of race training I did to prepare, I’m fine with today’s number.

Post-finish hydration and electrolytes

I ran miles two and three in the high 8:00 range, bringing my overall pace close to 9:00. I never felt concern about sustaining my pace, although the last segment going east of Heckscher Park, followed by a brief but noticeable hill, always makes it challenging at the end. I always want to break nine minutes, but that didn’t happen today. Still, even with a small field of runners, I ended up in the top 40% of finishers.

Racing buddies, Bill (left) and Mike (right)

Bill came in half a minute before me and Mike came in shortly after I’d finished. The path to the finish line is on an incline that has a dogleg that points runners to the chute. I thought the timer said 27:58 when I went through, but the official results have me 10 seconds after that. Either way, I was happy at the end, with my family cheering me on as I crossed the line.

After taking almost three months off from racing, it was great to be back in competition. I didn’t have any expectation that I would perform well today, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself either. Another Marcie Mazzola race is in the books, and I’m looking forward to my next race, that is likely to be the Dirty Sock 10K. That’s a race that demands some real training so I’d better get started. But today, I’m going to focus on a little post-race relaxation.

Will what I do today affect how I’ll do tomorrow?

Aspiration or underestimation?

I’ve only run once since last Sunday and this will go down as the lowest mileage week I’ve had in over a year. There’s no one reason for this lapse, it’s mostly circumstantial. Monday was my rest day, Tuesday was taken up with family activities, Wednesday I ran, and Thursday and Friday were days in the city that started very early and ended late. Tomorrow I’m running a 5K so I need to decide whether I should do any running or maintain my hiatus/taper.

I’m tempted to run some intervals to activate my fast twitch muscles (assuming I still have any after a week of sloth) or play out my extended rest and see if that produces a better than expected time at the race. There’s an argument for both, although one involves  a lot more sweat and effort. I usually rest two days before a race, although I sometimes cut that to one day for 5K’s. If I stay on the rest vector and do well, it might result in a new taper strategy for future races.

Given my utter lack of focused training for this race, my goal for tomorrow is to finish below 27:50. If I met that goal it would be the slowest 5K I’ve ever competitively run, but I’d still be okay with it.

No race next week : (

I had no opportunity to run today, but I did cover enough territory on foot to reach my daily distance goals. I know this because my Fitbit has a full charge and it dutifully recorded my every move. I’m planning to go for a few extra miles tomorrow instead of doing speed work. Here’s why:

This would have been my fifth straight year running it

I’m sad that this race (that my family enjoys so much) is being postponed. I hope it’s due to something bureaucratic and not a personal issue affecting the race organizer’s family. So no race to train for at the moment. Maybe it’s a good opportunity to return to the Bethpage trail this weekend.