Posts tagged ‘race report’

April 14, 2015

Still Squeaky

On Sunday I had the Run For the Parks 4-miler, another NYRR race in my quest for the 9+1 and guaranteed entry for the 2016 NYC Marathon.  After a 20-mile bike ride on Saturday I was in no mood to get myself up and in Central Park by 7:45 AM for a race that—if all went well—was going to take me less an half an hour. Off I went, though, hoping that my tired legs and squeaky toe were up for it.  The subways can be kind of a crapshoot on Sunday mornings, so I allowed a lot of extra time for travel and ended up (for once) arriving a good bit early for the race.  It was still fairly cool out so I used the time to warm up and probably put in close to a mile before I started working my way to the start.  I hadn’t run since Tuesday due to the toe squeak, so I was anxious to get some strides in and feel out a good race pace before we started.  I was hoping for a pace in the low 7’s, but every time I thought I was probably approaching that and checked the Garmin, my pace was actually low 7’s/high 8’s.  It didn’t seem like the best sign, but I finally hit it and held it long enough for it to sink into my brain and then headed off to the start.

The race had a strong turnout, which is great since 100% of the proceeds go to park programs, but 8,000+ people in Central Park does get a bit crowded.  I was in the third corral thanks to my Prospect 4-miler time, and I figured having fast people around me would help a lot with the pacing.  We got off to a quick start and I focused on breathing and finding a good rhythm.  I pushed pretty hard and I really don’t remember much of the race other than trying and succeeding in overtaking some chic in a Boston Athletic Association jacket, and dropping one of my gloves half a mile from the finish.  That was upsetting because 1) they’re my favorite lucky running gloves, and 2) I knew it was stupid to try to take them off when I was that close to the end.  I clocked in at 28:55, which was 7:14 splits—30 seconds/mile better than my Prospect 4-miler in February.  As soon as I cleared the chute I worked my way back to where I dropped the glove, waited for a break in the runners, and did something resembling one of those football player drills to dart out, grab the glove off the ground, and then run back to the curb without disrupting the flow of the race.  Thus reunited with my gloves, I headed back to the finish to wait for LRB, who was running with a newbie friend.  When the results were posted it turned out that I had finished 13th in my age group and 103rd overall woman, which, given the field size, is probably my best finish ever.  It was totally the gloves.

After the race and some brunch with LRB and his friend, I hit the pool to work on the two-beat kick we had learned in class last week.  (And by “learned” I mean attempted with much awkward flailing.)  Since I had already put in a hard cardio effort I decided just to really focus on technique on the swim.  I spent 30 minutes kicking down the pool one length on my back, then working on the two-beat kick swimming back.  Since I could catch my breath on the kicking lengths, it took some of the pressure off timing the breathing with the two-beat, and by the end I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it.  I suspect that my kick form could still use some work, though.  It feels more like flinging something icky off my foot than a singular flutter kick, but I think it’s progress nonetheless.

This weekend I also officially joined the Brooklyn Tri Club, and we had our first bike workout of the season bright and early this morning.  I was able to hang with the other newbies, but I am getting my first bout of seriously cold feet for the upcoming races.  When I started this whole tri endeavor, it was the swim that scared me.  Now it’s the bike that I find myself dreading.  Despite all the time I spent on the trainer this winter, being on the road is a whole different world.  I find riding in traffic really nerve-wracking, and I still find  the feeling of being clipped in terrifying challenging.  After my ride on Saturday I decided to wear running shoes when I’m riding on the streets for the time being, and only clip in when I’m in the park or otherwise out of traffic.  That has at least eased some of the anxiety I have when cabs are whizzing by me inches from my elbow.

I’m actually surprised at how vulnerable I feel when I’m just riding fast in the park, though.  I love going fast on skis or skates, but on the bike I just keep thinking about broken bones and road rash.  This morning we were working on keeping a fast cadence and spinning on the small chain ring, and I was having a really hard time convincing myself to pedal downhill.  I hope know that a lot of this will work itself out as I get more comfortable on the bike and log some more road time.  My first sprint tri is a month away, though, and I feel woefully underprepared at the moment.  I’ve been focused on running these past few months and I still haven’t done a real brick workout, let alone an open water swim.  I need to just sit down and layout my training calendar for the next four weeks, get the key workouts scheduled, and I know I’ll feel a lot better. But between work, training, and minimal sleep requirements I can’t seem to find the time.  Also, I’m getting worried about the squeaky toe.  Before the stress fracture, I would have just run on it and not worried unless I could hear it over my ipod, but now I’m afraid of another boot-bound month and lost training hours.  I keep reminding myself that part of the reason I wanted to do the tri was for the challenge—to learn to swim properly, to get better at biking, and to do something that a few years ago I thought I could never, ever do.  Then there’s the part of me that keeps screaming, “screw this!  I just want to run!”  One of these days, she’ll come around, right?

Advertisements
March 16, 2015

A Good Day for Mollies…

Okay, so all that yammering I did last week about my cold, time off for the stress fracture, and whether I’d be able to handle an 8-minute pace?  Poppycock.  Whether it was race day magic, the perfect conditions, or my new and improved core and leg strength, the NYC Half was a dream.

As is my habit, I spent about an hour on Saturday studying the course and elevation map and constructing the perfect playlist.  I have long been a believer in the motivational power of music (which is also backed up by science), but race day playlists are something special.  I just don’t believe in Pandora or even those podcasts that target specific cadences.  Race tunes need to be hand-selected, and the playlist carefully crafted.  When it’s done well it sets the tone and the pace for the race, gives you an extra boost when you need it, and even lets you know if you’re on target for time goals.  I suppose in some ways it’s kind of the last stand of the mix tape, and my grand theory of running playlists is something like Rob’s in High Fidelity.

For me, the first section is all about starting big and setting the tone.  It has to start strong with a song that really gets me excited.  From there, you have to maintain the momentum, but really lock in the pace with the next couple of songs.  This is where your race can run away with you, so those first three or four songs is where I really pay attention to cadence.  The next section is really course-specific.  This is where I choreograph uphill and downhill efforts, and any other course features that I really want the soundtrack to reflect.  In anything longer than a 5K, I always feel like there’s a no-man’s land somewhere around two-thirds of the way through the race, which I think of as the Loneliness-of-the-Long-Distance-Runner phase.  For this stretch I want good music that will hold my attention a little more, but is relaxed and just rolls along.  (Jesus, Etc by Wilco is always my go-to to kick that section off.)  After that, I start building to a hard finish, again dusting in anything course-specific that I might need.  I also make sure I have a good hard finish song for both my A-goal time and my B-goal, because there’s nothing more depressing than missing your time goal and having that point further driven home when your playlist starts over.  Since my very first half-marathon, the A-goal kick song has been and always will be Shipping Up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys.  A girl can dream.

On Sunday, I arrived at Central Park with my earbuds in, already listening to some chill music to calm the pre-race nerves.  The Park Lane Hotel across from the Simon Bolivar entrance to the park was being incredibly nice about letting runners congregate and stay warm in their lobby, and I chatted with people about races and courses while we waited to use their lavish marble bathrooms.  Ah, the luxury of flush toilets before a race!  I enjoyed the warmth in the lobby as long as I could and then warm-up jogged to the start about 10 minutes before the corrals closed.  I had been kind of bummed because I missed getting a Wave 1 start by 5 seconds on my splits, but I ended up in the first corral of Wave 2, which was probably better positioning anyway.   The first few miles were the usual dodging and weaving, but at least the crowds were fast and I split an 8:05 first mile.  It seemed like we got to the lollipop turn-around in Harlem in no time, and then it was up and down the Harlem Hills.  I dialed the pace back a bit on the uphills, but pushed to low 7’s on the downs.  I was a little worried I was going to pay for the faster pace later, but I felt comfortable and in control and decided just to go with it.  My splits through the park were all hitting right around 8 minutes, and soon we were exiting at 59th St. for the run to Times Square.  I had structured the playlist for 8’s, and I knew I was right on target when we turned onto 7th Ave and Empire State of Mind started on cue.  Once again, my Garmin lost satellites for the full stretch through Midtown, so I tried just to lock in the pace and keep up with the runners I’d been seeing for the last few miles.  When I finally turned onto the West Side Highway I got telemetry back, and I was still on pace with high 7’s.  That was my Loneliness-of-the-Long-Distance-Runner section, and I managed to pretty completely turn my brain off and just run.  I actually wasn’t checking the watch much either, but when I did I was clocking in slightly ahead of pace.  The whole stretch seemed much more downhill than it usually does, and I just kept my eyes on the Freedom Tower up ahead and focused on getting there.

The strangest part of the NYC Half course is the tunnel into Battery Park City, and I was totally unprepared for it last year.  This time I made sure I had turned off the auto-stop on my watch so that at least the clock wouldn’t pause when I lost satellites.  The tunnel is probably three or four-tenths of a mile long and curves, so you really can’t see the light at the end until you’re almost out.  The good part is that once you come up a steep little hill out of it, you’re just over half a mile from the finish.  Again, I had no pace info from the time I got into the tunnel until just before the finish line, but I knew from the overall time that I was tracking to come in under 1:45.  (I highly recommend trying to run splits with even numbers–the low-blood-sugar math is much easier.)  NYRR is great about putting up markers at the 800m-, 400m-, and 200m-to-go points, and I hammered as hard as I could.  I came in at 1:43:29, which was sub-8 (!) splits and a PR of more than 6 minutes.  I honestly never in my life expected to run a half marathon with a 7 handle on the pace.  I texted Long Run Buddy as soon as I cleared the chutes and he told me that Molly Huddle had become the first American to win the women’s title.  (I get a little fan girl about her and Shalane…)

I’m still recalibrating my season goals and trying to decide if this was a freak of weather or not.  When I think that less than two years ago I was struggling to break two hours, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I can’t believe I’m saying this publicly, but I think if I squint hard I might be able to see Boston from here.

October 22, 2014

Baltimore Marathon Race Report

Baltimore Marathon Medal    Baltimore Marathon Medal

Going into this race, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  I did my homework.  I ran four 20-milers and a 22.  I ran hills.  I studied the course as much as I could and visualized the race.  The week before, I figured out all of my splits based on the elevation profile.  I was sure I knew was I was in for.  I was completely wrong.

Race morning we arrived at the stadium about an hour and half before gun time.  We parked, located the baggage drop-off, found the bathrooms—real ones!—in Camden Yards, and then I did a few warm-up strides to try to shake off my nerves.  I had slept badly the night before and had gotten maybe 3 hours or so, but still felt alert and ready to go.  With only 2,700 marathoners, there were no formal corral assignments—just signs denoting min/mile paces.  The Caveboy and I positioned ourselves at the back of the 8’s/front of the 9’s, and after the usual prerace fanfare we were off.  I knew that the first three miles were uphill, so I tried to focus on calming my nerves and settling into a nice 9:15-9:20 pace, figuring I’d make it up on the long downhill to come.  From the start, pacing turned out to be a lot more difficult than I’d imagined.  What had looked like a long, slow grade on the elevation profile was in fact continuously rolling terrain.  We’d run up a 30’ rise, hit a very short downhill and lose 15’ of gain, then run up and down again.  We were definitely climing overall, but the short hills were much harder to pace properly than a gradual slope would have been.  The downhills weren’t long enough to really open up, and by the time I’d get a good turnover going I’d realize we were already heading uphill again and I was running a suicidal 8:10.

Elevation as per my Garmin. And yes, Garmins are admittedly wonky.

Elevation as per my Garmin. And yes, Garmins are admittedly wonky, but you get the idea.

We continued in this fashion until we got to the zoo—a recent course addition—which was probably my favorite stretch of the whole thing.  There were more hills there, including some steep and twisty downs, but the course itself was quite pretty.  The sun had come up fully by then, and zookeepers were posted along the route holding a raven, an oriel, and—by the time the Caveboy got there—a baby penguin.  The real challenge through those miles, in addition to the continual hills, was the number of turns.  The pack was still reasonably crowded and the pace would lag on every uphill and turn.  I was having a hard time holding anything close to my 8:50 pace even on the downhills, and starting to get worried.

Finally, the long downhill stretch began, or so I thought.  Again, it turned out to be much more of a rolling net downhill, and I was already starting to struggle with my mind going negative.  As much as I tried to relax, to just let the nervousness be there and not worry about it, I just could not tune out and run.  In retrospect, I think that had a lot more to do with the course than I realized at the time.  Until this race, I really never realized how much I count on being able to lock in a pace and tune out.  At the time, though, I hadn’t quite realized how the terrain was affecting me and instead I further beat myself up for not being able to relax.  By the time we got to the first semi-flat section at the Inner Harbor, I knew I was in trouble.  I was running 9’s and working hard to hold them.  At the water station around 11 I was passed by the 4-hour pace group, and decided to hang with them for a few miles while I figured out the plan.  I was going to a very dark place and I knew I needed to pull it together if I was going to get through the rest of the race.  I stayed with the pace group for five or six miles and just tried to focus on breathing out the side stitch that had been nagging since the start.  The four-hour group was running inexplicably fast—8:30’s it seemed—and I ended up falling behind them at an aid station past the halfway point.  We were back into the hills and the longest climb of the race by that point, and I really didn’t have it in me to surge to catch them again.  To add to the difficulty, it was getting warmer and there was no protection from the sun on the second half of the course.

Letting the pace group go actually helped a bit mentally—I made my peace with not breaking four hours and actually was able to relax a little bit.  The half marathoners joined us at mile 16, and the influx of energy was nice as well.  Though the course was now more crowded, most of the halfers were still running the uphills at a decent pace, so I tried to hang with them and ignore the increasing numbers of marathoners who were now walking.  With about 7 miles left, the side stitch I’d been fighting for most of the race was really starting to hurt, and I worried that if it cramped completely I wouldn’t be able to breathe or finish faster than a walk.  I finally gave in a walked a bit of the next uphill and felt a bit better after that.  The downhills actually hurt it worse than the ups, I think just due to the impact, so I kept trying to keep up a 9:30ish pace for as much of the uphills as I could and then walk fast as briefly as necessary.

Over the next several miles of climb I had never wanted to stop running so badly in my life, but the weird thing was that my legs still felt pretty good and I really wasn’t running all that slowly.  The mental fatigue of the impossible uphill-downhill pacing, not to mention the race nerves had me completely worn out, though.  Miles 20-21 were a mercifully flat loop around Lake Montebello.  A lot of the runners around me groaned when they saw it, mostly because it’s one of the few spots in the race flat enough to actually see a large expanse of the course in front of you.  The two-mile string of runners threading around the lake looked impossibly long, and we all knew that it was only a small portion of the distance still left to run.  I, however, felt nothing but a flat, grim resolve.  Strangely, at no point during the race did I ever think about how many miles were left, or whether I’d be able to run them.  I also never once worried about getting through the ‘unknown’ miles 22-26, which I can’t really explain.  While the nervous part of my brain was running wild during the race, the emotional part seemed completely gone by that point.  I counted every breath the whole way around that lake, and thankfully, had at least two flat miles to lock in a pace and zone out a bit.

After a lot more hills, finally, FINALLY, we hit the last downhill at mile 24.  I tried to pick up the pace as much as I could and managed to hit mid to high 8’s.  By this point, though, so many people were walking that I had to dodge and weave just to maintain steady progress.  The crowds got denser as we neared the stadiums, and finally we were headed for the finish line.  The mile 26 marker must have fallen over; I never saw it.  I just kept grimly running, trying to keep my form and knowing that if I kept it up long enough it would eventually end.  Before the race, I had worried that I’d get so emotional heading to the finish line and that it might be hard to breathe or run hard.  In the end, I felt nothing at all.  For the last half mile, I just kept running, putting one foot in front of the other until it was over.  There was no emotion, no sense of accomplishment, just a muted relief at being able to stop.

My final time was 4:08:43.  I wasn’t as disappointed initially as I might have been since I knew I absolutely could not have prepared better or run harder.  When I checked the results—the bibs had a QR tag that allowed you to get your results within 10 minutes of finishing—I was a little shocked, though.  I had finished in the top quarter of women, the top third overall, and the top 50 in my age group.  When I saw the numbers, I recalibrated a bit and considered that I might possibly have done pretty well.

All in all, I’m still not really sure what to make of it.  The course was not at all what I expected.  Still, the hills really got me mentally more than physically.  I learned a lot, including just how mental this sport really is.  I also learned to scout the course in person well ahead of time.  When I consider the full experience of training and racing, it was totally worth it.  Still, I’m surprised at how flat I felt at the finish.  I will do another marathon, but I’m not sure if it will be in a few months, or a year.  I know I need to let my body recover from what’s been nearly a solid year of racing and training, but I HATE that I can’t run for a few more days.  Part of me can’t imagine doing it all over again, but I’m already reading Running on Air to learn how to breathe more efficiently (and hopefully eliminate those nagging side stitches), and thinking how to train better next time.  Mostly, though, I’m sad that it’s over.  I should probably mention that I’ve gone off coffee for a week while I recover from the race, so this may all be the lack of caffeine talking.

 

October 6, 2014

Fast

Last week was the final push of my overload month before the taper.  I had strength training Monday, intervals Tuesday, easy run Wednesday, tempo Thursday, and an easy run Friday, followed by the Yom Kippur fast on Saturday.  It took until Thursday for the soreness from the strength training to finally subside, and by Friday I was pretty wrung out and facing  26 hours without food or drink.  To top it off, I had my final 20-miler scheduled for Sunday, which gave me about 10 hours to fuel up and rehydrate.  Oh, and I needed to get a good night’s sleep in there, too.

I’m beginning to think that Paleo might be the answer to Jewish dietary laws, though… It’s easy to find dairy-free meat recipes, Passover is no sweat, and it turns out that being fat-adapted makes fasting much easier.  Friday post run I made sure I hydrated thoroughly, and I made us some Bulletproof herbal tea after dinner to kick up the fat-burning.  I got through it without too much difficulty this year, and as soon as it ended I started pounding water.  Sunday morning I felt surprisingly good, and it was time to get down to business, as I had a tight schedule to keep.

Grete’s Great Gallop – Race Report

I had signed up for Grete’s Great Gallop in Central Park, which started at 9, but I needed to get in another 7 make it a 20-miler.  I wanted it to be as continuous a run as possible, so I had worked out some fine-tuned logistics with Long Run Buddy.  Caveboy and I took the train into lower Manhattan, then started running up Hudson River Greenway toward Central Park.  I was hoping to hold a 9 minute pace for the duration, and getting to the corral on time put some pressure on holding pace.  LRB was also racing the Gallop, and had kindly agreed to pick up our numbers and shirts and handle the bag check.  I arrived at the park about 10 minutes before the start with three quarters of a mile left to run.  After a couple of out-and backs near the start I met LRB at our corral just as the Star Spangled Banner ended.  I was fastening the last pin on my number as our group shuffled toward the line, and we were off.

The weather could not have been more perfect for a race—it was 50 degrees and sunny at the start with a light, cool breeze.  My goal for the run was to do the 20 under 3 hours, and I was hoping the race atmosphere would keep me focused for a strong finish.  The course was just over two laps of the park, run clockwise (not the normal direction), presumably to emulate the end of the New York Marathon.  Looping that way, the hills are shorter and steeper, and I felt a little sluggish on the climbs for the first lap.  I tried to keep our pace right around 9’s, but like the Bronx run, the crowd and terrain made keeping a steady pace nearly impossible.  Also, LRB and I evidently don’t like getting passed.  Right around the start of lap two we caught the 1:55 pace group leader, who seemed to be running too fast and appeared to have largely lost his pack.  We decided to stick with him for a while, mainly just to outsource the pacing duties.  Maybe it was the psychological relief of knowing that I was ticking off each hill for the last time, but somehow during lap two I felt better and better with every mile.  We ended up passing 1:55 Guy a few minutes later and at that point I stopped checking the Garmin for the rest of the race.  I had a bit of a kick left for the finish, and by my watch it was 2:59:43 for 20.2 miles. I still haven’t come down from the high.

This week it’s on to the taper, and I’m planning to follow the Runners’ World recommendations here. I’ve never tapered for more than a few days for a half marathon, so I’m curious how I’ll handle two weeks.  If only I could apply all that excess energy and enthusiasm to cleaning out my closets.

-ModC