I’m bound for the Brooklyn Half

Got my ticket

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.25 miles

I love the idea of running adventures, but nowadays I rarely venture more than a few miles from my house for a run. This is mostly due to time constraints and schedules. I’m fortunate that I live in an area that offers numerous nearby options, especially for trail running. But over the 5+ years since I’ve become a serious runner, I’ve only run two races outside of Long Island (NYC and Cape Cod, MA).

Last year was not my best in terms of racing. I only ran eight competitive events and I wasn’t particularly competitive in most of them. Unlike the prior two years, I didn’t run a half marathon, just three 5Ks, three 10Ks and a 4 mile race. Looking back, I wonder if the half marathon base training I missed last year correlated to my mediocre race times throughout the rest of 2013.

Well that won’t be an issue this year because I have registered for the NYRR Brooklyn Half. This is new ground for me and I’m really excited to participate. I tried to get into this race the first time I was ready to run a half, but I was locked out. Subsequent to that, I’ve run the uninspiring Long Island Half a couple of times. Runner’s World called the LI Marathon & Half a “Golden Oldie” that has aged well. I now have to question everything I read in that magazine.

The things that excite me about the Brooklyn Half:

1. It’s in Brooklyn.
2. I get to run past the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Grand Army Plaza.
3. I’ll finally get to run in Prospect Park.
4. Five miles of the race is a straightaway down Ocean Parkway through the heart of Brooklyn.
5. It finishes on the Coney Island boardwalk.

Both my Runsketeer buddies are running this race along with 20,000+ others. This will be the biggest race I’ve ever run and my first NYRR event. I’m also excited that I’ll have motivation to do those 10+ mile runs on weekend mornings at Bethpage to prepare for the distance. The race is in May so that training will start before spring.

I swear I didn’t run through my neighbor’s houses

I love data visualization

Today’s run (street): 4.2 miles

The sky is as white as paper and the temperature is dropping. We’re supposed to get two inches of ice and snow by late afternoon. Nothing so far, but I can tell it’s coming. For that reason, I made sure I got outside early to get in a few recovery miles before conditions got worse.

I had no intention of running as hard as yesterday and had to throttle my speed a couple of times. A recovery run is supposed to be done well under anaerobic threshold to help flush lactic acid from leg muscles. I used my heart rate monitor to guide my pace, averaging 75% of HR max throughout the run. It was a nice relaxing workout, although my (gloved) hands got surprisingly cold.

No actual yards or living rooms were entered

I’ve written a lot about the variability of GPS as a measurement tool and today’s margin of error was particularly egregious. Not only did the Garmin show me starting the run three blocks from my actual beginning point, the accuracy was laughably bad throughout the entire route. The Garmin route map (see above) makes it look like I ran through many people’s yards and houses.

Distribution of pace times through the year

Reflecting back on 2013’s racing season, I charted my race paces to see if there were any obvious patterns. The data doesn’t show any trends that would explain my performance, as times were all over the map. I’m hoping that next year will yield faster times and more consistency. At least I finished the season in a good place.

Is 93% of max the magic number?

Not far from 180spm, so where’s the speed?

Today’s run (street): 3.5 miles

I’m a little disappointed with today’s run because I could not generate any speed. Despite clocking my first mile in 8:57 (easy for many, but hard for me lately), I ended up averaging an unremarkable 9:29 pace over 3.5 miles. After a good start, I’d lost time on mile 2 and then tried to make up for it over the last 1.5. I felt like I’d made a good effort, but according to Garmin Connect, my heart rate across the whole run ranged only between 77-85% of max.

I took a look at my race history and compared my pace performance with my average heart rate. Since I’ve only run about a dozen races using a heart monitor, this wasn’t a statistically significant representation. Directionally, it seemed to indicate that my best times happened when my heart rate averaged 93% of max HR or greater.

Does this mean that I’m somehow holding back, even as I work to push my speed during a run? The numbers seem to point to an opportunity to unlock some speed by adding even more effort. My cadence rate has actually improved over the 5+ years since I’ve starting daily running, but that hasn’t translated to speed. I will do my best to hold the effort on Saturday. I’m not asking for much, but beating 27:50 would be nice.

Short & sweet threshold run

Today’s run (Threshold): 3 miles

This year’s racing experience has been a mystery. After a decent start in February, my performance has really tailed off. I’m not sure if it has to do with my change to a less structured schedule this year or less intensity in terms of training. Whatever the reason, I haven’t been satisfied with my results. November has always been my best month for achieving personal bests, but that’s not been the case this year.

The Hot Chocolate 5K happens next week and I’ve hoped that the two 10K’s I’ve done in November have put me in racing form. I debated whether to go to the track today to run intervals or do a threshold run. I decided a run in the neighborhood would more closely duplicate race conditions.

It was another cold morning with mid-20’s temperatures. I was chilly at the start, because I wore fewer layers. If I was going for speed, I didn’t want anything inhibiting my progress. I took off fast up the road, looking to get into high gear quickly. The street has a slight incline that gives way to an equally slight downward slope. I knew I was moving faster than I do on a normal training run and my Garmin shows I covered my first mile in 8:25.

I didn’t have a set distance for this threshold run. It was more about running a short (but not too short) loop with some urgency. I lost some speed on the second mile, but came back fairly strongly by the end of the run. I wasn’t paying attention to my distance, but after I’d stopped I saw that I’d covered three miles at 8:46. Not too bad considering my HR only averaged 85% of max.

A year ago I might have done that run 25 seconds per mile faster, but I won’t complain about today’s performance. I slightly regret not monitoring my Garmin and completing the full 5K distance. I doubt the numbers would have been much different. If I can hold my pace below 9:00 next Saturday, I’ll consider it a successful effort. I’m hoping I’ll do better than that and certainly no worse.

Race, rest and hot chocolate

Today’s run (street): 4.2 miles 

I usually rest the day after a race, unless it’s a 5K that’s held on a Saturday. In that case I might go out the next day for an easy recovery run. Mondays have been my defacto rest days since 2009, when I made the decision stop running 7 days a week. So taking the day off after a Sunday race is perfectly timed with my schedule. I always expect to run faster after a race, because racing primes your leg muscles similar to speed work. In reality, I usually end up with a pace that falls between mediocre and satisfactory.

I once read an article that said you should take one day off for every two miles raced. That means three days rest for a 10K and a full week off for a half. That seems a little too extreme for me. I took three days off after running my half marathons and thought that was the right amount of time. I’ll occasionally take two days after the Dirty Sock 10K because that event is especially grueling. Otherwise, one day seems about right.

Before I headed to the city this morning, I got outside for a four mile run. It was 37° and overcast and once again I had hopes of leveraging the fast twitch muscle fiber I’d (supposedly) cultivated at the race. There were no 29 MPH winds to slow me down today. I felt like I was running well, but I ended up closer to mediocrity than satisfaction. I was very surprised to see how long it took me to cover that distance.

 

My next (and probably last) race of the year will be the Hot Chocolate 5K that’s held on December 7th. I’ll admit that, compared to other years, my 2013 race performance has been sub-par. The best race I ran was the first, the Long Beach Snowflake. If I properly train for speed, the Hot Chocolate could provide some redemption. If not, at least there will be hot chocolate at the end.

Conditions are ideal for Dirty Sock race prep

 

Today’s run (street): 4.3 miles

I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming Dirty Sock 10K that happens on August 18th. I ran this race in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but I skipped it last year. It’s a hard race, especially at the end. Conditions are often brutal, with temperatures near 90° and humidity approaching 100%. The website describes the course as “USATF Certified and Sanctioned, fast, mostly flat, picturesque, wooded trails, only 2/10 mile paved. Splits, water stops, road apples, uneven terrain.” The last mile of this race always feels as long as the previous five.

The best way to train for this race is to run the course, something I’m planning to do with my friend Mike in early August. In the meantime, I’m planning to push my speed more often in the training runs I do each day. This might be a challenge if the weather remains hot and humid, as it was today.

This morning I got out reasonably early. After a quick loop around the northern section of my neighborhood, I headed to the middle school where I could access the foot path that leads to a service road and local business park. I ran the park loop clockwise so I could take on all the elevation at once, rather than endure the long, but less steep elevation I’d encounter going the other way.

During yesterday’s run I’d moderated my pace in response to the sweltering heat. Today was slightly cooler and the sun was less intense at the start. I focused on my turnover, in hopes of achieving a faster pace than Friday’s. I ended up with a respectable time, although I’d like to improve that by 20 seconds per mile by race day. I’m thinking of visiting Bethpage tomorrow and hoping that this evening’s rainstorm will chase away the heat and make running conditions more pleasant on the running trail.

Considering a new concept: running fast

Comfort or competitive?

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.1 miles

It was nice to put some speed into my running yesterday, after so many weeks of moderate workouts. It’s easy to fall into the trap of running an equilibrium pace, something that I define as the speed I run when I’m not thinking about running. Enabling this behavior are all the articles I’m reading that challenge the long term health benefit of high intensity workouts. But if you want to be a competitive runner, you need to train fast every once in a while.

I envy people who have trouble running slowly. In the early ’90’s, I went out fast on every run and I think that led to my eventual disenchantment with running. When I returned to running in 2008, my strategy was to ease into my training, building my fitness over time. My enjoyment of running was tied to the experience of being outside and active, without suffering every time I did a run. That’s possibly why I am perfectly comfortable running easy.

Every time I race, I want to race again soon. I’m debating whether to subject myself to a July race, or wait until the Dirty Sock in August that has always been the kickoff race to my busier fall and winter race schedule. 

This morning I broke from tradition and did a run the day after a race. I usually take Monday as a rest day, but an early day tomorrow prompted me to do the day trade. In deference to recovery, I ran easy, but the humidity made it feel hard. The wet weather kept me inside on the treadmill so at least I had the floor fan to mitigate the heat. I was happy when I finished.

Weather permitting, I’ll be back on the road on Wednesday. My plan is to add some speed to my run, at least during some segments. Who knows, some day I could be one of those people who have trouble running slowly.

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.

No Ho Ho Holiday run

Today’s run (treadmill): 25 minutes

I’m not exactly sure why I’ve veered away from racing for the time being, but I’ve decided against running in tomorrow’s Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K in Bethpage. Good thing I didn’t prepay that $20, huh? I know if I did choose to participate, I would enjoy the race a lot. Racing provides many layers of experience: the chill of the morning air, the throngs of runners gathered for the start, the exciting first steps of the race and the combination of relief and exhilaration you feel after (finally) crossing the finish line.

Of course the time spent between the start and finish of any race is the reason why you are there. My experience during that time has ranged between sheer joy and sheer will. I’ve had at least two experiences when running 5K’s, when I actually wished the race was longer because I was enjoying the experience so much. On the other hand, my first time running a half marathon (plagued by injury) and my second time running Cow Harbor (with oppressive heat and humidity) could be best described as voluntary torture.

Another event that happens tomorrow is the NYRR Ted Corbitt Classic 15K that’s run in Central Park. Friends FS, CG and KWL will be running this 9.3 mile race that’s almost two times around a loop that goes between 61st to 104th Streets. The course this year avoids the Harlem Hills, but that doesn’t mean runners will have an easy time. There’s still Cat Hill and they have to climb that twice. I’m rooting for my colleagues and hope they have a blast.

I still need to decide where I’ll run tomorrow. I may try to get onto the Bethpage bike path from one of the connecting roads if the park entrance is still closed. I know I’ll be missing the excitement of tomorrow’s race and the feeling of accomplishment that comes at the end of a competitive run. On the other hand, choosing my own venue allows me to set my own pace and distance and I can sleep in a little later in the morning. Right now, that seems to be the better choice.

My motivation to race is at an all time low

Today’s run (street): 5.2 miles

Lately, I’ve been struggling a little with motivation, but not to the point where it affects my commitment to running. After having two of my favorite races canceled in November, I think my competitive spirit has gone stale. The next race on my schedule is the Ho Ho Ho 5K Holiday Run that takes place in Bethpage. I ran it last year, but I’m considering skipping it this year.

5K’s require speed work, but I’m not that interested in doing tempos, fartleks or intervals right now. I recognize the benefits of a hard workout, but I think the moderate training runs I’ve been doing provide the same value. The idea of of lining up on a cold morning for a race doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. I’m thinking that the LIRRC 5 mile Hangover Run on January 1st will be my next organized event.

The Hangover Run appeals to me because it’s non-competitive. There’s a timer but no timing chips. In fact there’s no registration at all. Just show up, run and record you own time. But if I run my fastest time during this event, I will certainly claim it as a PR.

My big issue today was a feeling that I’d be bored on today’s run. Yesterday’s run around the neighborhood was a bit tedious and I was planning to go out even longer today. I started thinking about running with other people and how much I used to enjoy my workday runs in Central Park with Adventure Girl, JQ and others, or my runs at Bethpage and Belmont Lake with Dave and Brian. It made me reconsider joining a running club.

It turned out I wasn’t bored after all today. The lactic acid buildup in my legs was gone and though my performance was average, I felt great throughout the run. I do like running on my own where I can determine my preferred route and speed, but the experience of running with others also has great appeal. Perhaps I’ll find a weekend morning meet-up in the area. Running with a group might be a good step towards regaining my racing spirit.