Sunday, May 22, 2011

PR in the Brooklyn Half Marathon - 5/21/11

First PR of the 2011 season and my first half marathon PR in 2 years since the Long Branch Marathon in New Jersey on 5/2009.

I wasn't going into the race with the intention of PRing (merely trying to put in a strong 1:40 or 1:41 effort) since I haven't really been training, except for my usual 10 mile run each week, but it was a very nice surprise to come back with one. Even better for me, this was done without the help of a pace group, which I have come to rely on to carry me to a PR. This was done all by self pacing, which to me is just as good of an accomplishment as the PR itself. I went out a little bit faster than I wanted to and had to slow myself down alot in the beginning. But the shade and cool temps of the two Prospect Park loops allowed me to keep up a strong pace without getting too hot or fatigued. Once I left the Park, I new that the race would get easier with relatively flat roads ahead, which I used to my advantage. I realized at about mile 10 or so that I had a legitimate shot for a PR if I get up the strong pace that I had for the previous several miles. I gave a big push once the boardwalk came into site, and then gave maximum effort for the nearly 1.1 miles left on the boardwalk. I squeaked by with a PR of 13 seconds!

Mile 1 - 7:27
Mile 2 - 7:44
Mile 3 - 7:34
Mile 4 - 7:20
Mile 5 - 7:44
Mile 6 - 7:32
Mile 7 - 7:17
Mile 8 - 7:14
Mile 9 - 7:26
Mile 10 - 7:26
Mile 11 - 7:21
Mile 12 - 7:26
Last 1.1 miles - 8:28 (6:53 pace according to Garmin distance of 1.23 miles)

Overall time: 1:38:06
Overall pace: 7:29 min/mile

This half marathon, as well as my other weekly runs and races, has shown me that my pace has gotten faster since my marathons last year. I guess that is what training for a whole year and PRing can do for your body and your confidence. It has been hard to gather up the motivation since my marathon to go out and run but I have been getting out there three days a week, including one strength day in the gym. My work commute tires me out and the lack of consistent running partners makes it tougher to go outside and give a strong effort every time.

However, I see that my regular Central Park 6 mile pace has dropped so that I consistently run a sub 48 minute (7:55-8:00 min/mile) pace almost every time, and my 10 mile pace has dropped to around an 8:05-8:10 pace. And most of the time these are solitary runs without the benefit of a partner or group. I haven't done anything out of the ordinary to drive down my times. I was even afraid that by attempting to run without my orthotics would adversely affecting my running and cause me to have a lengthy transition period which hasn't happened so far. Running in my New Balance 860s without orthotics has been good. I don't feel any pain in my feet, just some strain in my hips and glutes which I have been working on more during my strength days in the gym.

So, let's see what the rest of the year brings!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hartford Marathon 2010 - #5 is in the Books!

Official stats:
Overall time: 3:37:45
Overall pace: 8:19
384th place out of 2209 runners
57th place of 227 runners age 35-39
1st Half 1:49:07 / 2nd Half 1:48:38
Pace after 10 miles: 8:19 – time of 1:23:06
Pace after 13.1 miles: 8:20 - time of 1:49:07
Pace after 20 miles: 8:20 – time of 2:46:33
Pace after 26.2 miles: 8:19 – time of 3:37:45

Overall Thoughts on the Race:
3:37:45 – a PR of over 10 minutes from Philadelphia in 2008. I can’t believe it! I am now officially a sub 3:40 marathon and I felt really strong doing it. Bar none – this was far and away the best marathon I have ever run and the best that I felt from start to finish, crossing the finish line and the days following. Everything that went wrong in New Jersey only five months earlier went right in Hartford. It took five marathons, but finally all of the pieces came together on the same day and allowed for a “perfect” race (or as perfect as possible, we all know that there is no such thing when it comes to racing) – weather, pacing, confidence, strong training, no injuries leading up to the race, a great pacer and pace group, negative splits, strong support on the course, etc. I don’t know the next time this will happen again, so I will savor it and document the day for future reference.

This was my ideal race thus far and the one that I felt I was capable of running since my times have been getting better and better over the last couple of years. It will be the model for which all of my future marathons will be based on, at least over the next few years. I stuck to a plan, stayed relaxed, and took calculated risks only after I did some hard thinking and had the confidence to move forward based on miles and miles of evidence. I was as consistent as could be and was able to run negative half splits for the first time. I never thought I’d be able to say that – negative splits! I am still in shock. Even as more and more miles passed by, I still didn’t feel like I was running a marathon. It proves how strong the mental aspects play in a race like the marathon. If you feel calm and relaxed, it breeds confidence within yourself and prevents you from tensing up, stressing out and pushing yourself too hard. I usually crumble at the end of the race and my pace, psyche, and body suffer to the point that I say to myself at least once, “Why am I doing this?” My mile times go up and up after mile 20, usually due to erratic pacing during the previous miles, and I just want the race to be over because I feel so bad and completely fried at the end. My past marathons had splits of 1:53/2:03 in NYC 2006, 1:50/1:58 in Philly 2008, and 1:50/2:10 in New Jersey 2010 (due primarily to brutal weather conditions but the pattern still applies). This was not the case in Hartford - 1st Half 1:49:07 / 2nd Half 1:48:38.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day. The weather was perfect for running, sunny and cool with a starting temperature in the low 50s, I ran with a very good pacer who was calm and consistent, I had the support of a fun pace group as long as I wanted it, the ability to run even splits mile after mile for the entire race, and feeling strong (physically and mentally) during the later miles, including mile 20 until the end where I have hit the “wall” several times.

Stay Relaxed and Run As Even a Pace as Possible
My mantra to myself over the last several years was to work hard on my pacing with the goal of keeping it as consistent as possible. Picking a pace and trying to hit it every mile for as long as I can. It is a tough task and takes a lot of discipline. However, I knew that it would only benefit me in the end if I was able to get better at it and would give me the chance for the best time and that is exactly what happened this weekend. Even splits makes the race seem that much easier when you are not varying your pace and effort every couple of miles. It keeps my stress level down, keeps me focused and relaxed, and a gives me a goal to try and reach for every mile. My best races are ones in which I am consistent and even in my mile paces, as evidenced by my times/relaxed mindset at the New Jersey Half in 2009 (half PR and ran with a great pace group), the Philadelphia Half in 2009 (second fastest half by only 3 seconds and ran with a great pace group) and now the Hartford Marathon (my marathon first using a pace group) in 2010 – which I believe is no accident. Incredibly, I achieved that for the entire marathon this time around, and I have no doubt that that is one of the main reasons I felt so good (almost too good) throughout the entire race and afterwards. I have never felt this calm and relaxed during a race. I should not have been feeling this good and mile 20, 21, 22 and beyond. But I did.

Race Day
Like most runners, I like to keep the same routine before a race. My alarm went off at about 5:25 in the morning and my race day clothes were already set out from the night before and I had my bag packed so I wouldn’t forget anything important. As usual, I had a plain bagel with peanut butter (one at the hotel and one on the way to the race) and a Gatorade as my breakfast. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance so I charged my Garmin in the hotel room the night before and I made sure to charge my iPod at home the night before. Unlike most marathons, I was able to pick up my number the morning of the race, which was a huge help since I didn’t have to rush in from work the night before to pick it up at the Expo. Luckily, my hotel was walking distance from both the XL Center, where I had to pick up my number as well as the start of the race. I left my room at about 6:15 and there was no turning back now. The weather was sunny and cool and I had a good feeling about the day. Once I arrived at the XL Center, I quickly picked up my number and goodie bag and dropped my stuff down. The shirt was a tech shirt as expected (although a light blue color) and the bag was one of the drawstring backpacks that I like. I pinned the number to my shirt and then it was off to Bushnell Park and the starting area. I saw a bunch of other runners walking in front of me and I was trying to take it all in before I started my journey in an hour or so. As I am walking, I figured I would turn on my Garmin and give it some time to pick up the satellite. However, I pressed the power button and nothing happened. My Garmin didn’t turn on and I was freaking out a little bit. I made sure to charge it the night before so there was no way that the battery was dead. Why would it decide to choose this as the time to not turn on? This is the reason I got a Garmin in the first place - to help pace me in a marathon! I stayed calm and thought about my options. I had my regular running watch as a backup, but I was really hoping for the Garmin. Luckily I remembered that it was possible to reset the watch when the same thing happened to me a few weeks before. I forgot the combination of buttons that needed to be pressed, but I at least knew it was possible. I knew that the reset button and the power button needed to be included. So calmly, I pressed all of the button combinations that included those two and after a couple of minutes, I heard one of the best sounds I could possible hear at this time – the sound of the beeps going off as the watch was resetting. Woo hoo! Crisis averted! After all the training, I couldn’t my watch not going on the morning of the race as the one thing that would derail my race.

At no point during the race did I feel like I was struggling or about to break down and the pace leader and group I ran with had a lot to do with it, keeping me calm and relaxed for longer than I ever thought possible. As usual with a pace leader, I was a bit nervous at the beginning. Your entire race is in this guy’s hands and you have no idea how it is going to turn out. Luckily, they listed the bios of all the pace leaders on the Hartford Marathon website and I was eager to check out the person who would be pacing the 3:40 group and hopefully guiding me to my first ever 3:40 marathon. He seemed to have all of the characteristics I was looking for – a PR that was well under what he was pacing (a 2:58), a recent PR (he ran it in Boston earlier in 2010), and a race strategy that relied on even pacing throughout. That calmed me down a little bit going into the race.

About a half hour before the start of the race, I went to gather with the rest of the pace groups and introduced myself to Neil (the 3:40 leader). He seemed pretty relaxed and confident, but I wouldn’t be sure until the race started. It is always a little stressful running with a pace group because you are going blindly into a race and pinning your hopes on a person without ever having run with them before. Adding to the stress was the fact that Neil told us that he was going to run to the bathroom at 7:40 (the race started at 8:00AM) and that he would meet us back in a few minutes. By 7:50, everyone else, including the other pace groups, we heading to the starting line and Neil was nowhere to be found. We were all getting nervous that we wouldn’t find him in time. Luckily we spotted him without about 7 or 8 minutes to go and we followed his lead towards the start line, past the slower paces. There was no corral system, so we had to weave our way through the pack. A few minute later, the national anthem was sung and I was getting excited. I felt good and I wanted to go out on the course and prove myself. The gun went off and it only took us 30 seconds to cross the starting line. I made sure to keep my eyes on Neil and go wherever he went. The last thing I needed was to lose him right away and to run the rest of the race on my own.

While Neil said to us before the race, as well as in his bio, that his strategy was not to bank time, we definitely did in the beginning of the race. The first few miles were a bit quick - we seemed to be settling into an 8:15 pace which is well under the 8:23 average pace needed for a 3:40, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. While I was a bit worried about it initially, I did not really mind since we were hitting consistent times mile after mile. No one in the group seemed to mind and neither did I. At least not yet. The start of the race is tough. You want to create some space for your group and it takes a little while to establish a rhythm. To me, comfort, feeling relaxed, and low stress levels are most important and if the pace is quick while all of these elements are still being maintained, then so be it. I decided that I would give Neil until mile about mile 4 or 5 (my original plan anyway) before I decided whether or not I would stay with the group. Even though we were going quicker than I wanted, I did not really mind at all. For me, speed is not as important as consistency. The longer I can go at a consistent pace, the more in a rhythm I get, the more relaxed I am and the longer I feel I could go without stressing out and feeling as though I have to push myself. As long as Neil was hitting about the same time each mile, I was totally fine with that. He was very calm, chatty, giving us tips on the upcoming miles (since this was his home turf), and keeping us all relaxed. Going into mile 5, I felt confident in Neil’s abilities and his race strategy. I felt great going at his (albeit quicker) pace and I decided that I was going to stay with him and the group for the duration and put my race in his hands. He did not disappoint. The group kept me very relaxed and the miles seem to keep flying by. Even when we hit the halfway point, it didn’t seem like I just ran 13 miles at all! I was that relaxed and I just needed to stay calm and keep that feeling going as long as possible.

After about 5 miles we were about a minute under pace and by the time we hit the halfway point, we were about 52 seconds under 3:40 pace. In my mind, I still felt comfortable and relaxed so there was no need to get worried. The more time we “banked” mile after mile, the more time reserves I would have at the end of the race in case I needed to slow down and still be able to go under 3:40. For every mile we went at under 8:23, the more I could dip into at the end. I was just hoping that even though I was feeling good at the quicker pace earlier in the race, that it wouldn’t deplete or exhaust me as the end of the race approached. That is why the marathon is so tough of a challenge and so hard to strategize for. You need to make decisions early on when you don’t know how they will affect you hours later. The group was still well intact and I just needed to stay with them and enjoy the support I got from them. No matter what, I was not going to do anything stupid like speeding up or leaving the group no matter how good I was feeling. And at the halfway point, I was feeling great. The weather was still cool and it felt as if I was just going on a leisurely jog, only though I was halfway through a marathon and still had 13 miles more to go. However, my mind and body were both in good shape and I had a good feeling about the rest of the race. After we passed the halfway mark, the group was getting a little thinner but I wasn’t going anywhere. It kept me calm and I knew I was going to need it for the later miles. I didn’t run with a pace group to get me through 13 or even 16 or 17 miles, I needed them to get me to at least 20 miles and beyond if necessary which is where my races usually fall apart no matter how well I am feeling in the beginning of the race. After mile 13, we were able to see the faster runners coming from the opposite direction. Neil let us know that the turn around point was coming at mile 17 and that it was a very slight downhill for a few miles after that point. We were still hit mile splits of between around 8:15 – 8:20 and I was still feeling in very good shape. I was still a bit nervous about what I would be feeling like after mile 20 on through to the end of the race. My feeling was to just stick with the group as long as possible and they will help push me through if I started to struggle. However, the struggle still hadn’t come yet. That’s not to say that the race wasn’t getting tougher for me but we already reached mile 17, 18, and 19 and my body still felt relatively fresh and the miles were still going by at a pretty good clip.

As we were approaching mile 20, I found myself ahead of the pace group and looking back at them, making sure that they were still close behind me. I was looking at my watch to see what my pace was, and it was still below 8:20. After we passed mile 20, I had the group within sight when looking over my shoulder, for a sense of security, but it seemed like they were getting farther and farther behind me. I had a feeling that Neil was going to slow down to make sure that he came in at just around 3:40 at the end of the race. I was still feeling good and I made a risky decision, but one that I couldn’t believe at that point of the race that I felt confident in doing. At around mile 20.5 or so, I looked back at the pace group for the last time and decided to go out on my own for the remainder of the race. My pace was still consistent, I felt pretty good and I had the feeling that my pace would not suffer too much. I didn’t want to mess up my stride or groove by constantly trying to slow myself down to keep up with the pace group. The group definitely did its job. It got me through 20 miles feeling as good as I ever had at that point, it kept me relaxed and relatively stress free, and it allowed me to run at a consistent and even pace for over 20 miles, which I was never able to do before. Thank you very much for your help all of your help – you did your job perfectly. I was still waiting for “the wall” to rear its ugly head, but I couldn’t believe it – it never showed up! While I was nervous to go out on my own so late in the race in a portion where I am notorious for crumbling, it never happened (however that is not to say that I wasn’t starting to feel the impact of running 20 or 21 miles, because I definitely did). My pace did not suffer at all and I was able to keep up around an 8:15-8:20 pace or below between miles 20 to the end of the race. I guessed it helped that I was in such a good rhythm going into mile 20 that it just carried over into the later miles of the race. I was in unchartered territory and I didn’t know what to do. When I passed mile 20, I told myself to make it to mile 22. When I hit mile 22, I looked at the rest of the race one mile at a time. I looked at my watch during each mile and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My pace wasn’t going down at all. I told myself to just stay calm. Even though there were 4 miles or less left in the race, anything can still happen. But with every mile that passed with me on pace, the greater chance I knew I had of reaching my ultimate goal of running under 3:40. With each passing mile marker, I was calculating my finish time and I knew that it was getting more and more likely. I was passing people during miles 22-24 and I couldn’t wait to see the mile 25 marker. Once I passed it, I saw the bridge in front of me that I ran down at around mile 4 or 5. That was the toughest part standing between me and the end of the race. I calculated my finished time once I passed mile 25 and I knew that I was going to do it. Even if I had to walk or shuffle for whatever reason, I had about 1:20 or so in the bank with only a mile to go. The bridge, although was only a relative incline, was tough but I knew with every step, I was getting close to not only finishing, but achieving a goal that I didn’t think was likely only a few years ago. It was a great feeling that my hard work and perseverance was finally going to pay off. By the time I crossed the finish line, everything was kind of a blur. It was weird, but it didn’t even feel like I just ran a marathon. I was tired and glad for the run to end, but I wasn’t exhausted, felt very good, wasn’t really that sore and I couldn’t believe that I just finished 26.2 miles with a huge PR to boot.

Mile by mile stats:
I never went above an 8:30 pace for any single mile and I only ran over an 8:20 pace four times. Amazingly, my pace didn’t suffer at all once I left the pace group at mile 20, staying extremely consistent until the end of the race, ranging from 8:04 to 8:18 – wow! - made all the more astonishing me to me since in the past I usually have several miles in the 9-9:30 range towards the end.

























































Post Race Thoughts:

My training this time around went really well, for the second marathon in a row, and I felt great throughout. By the time the marathon came along, it didn’t even feel like I was getting ready to run one. I was relaxed and my body felt really good. I ran three 20 milers, including two pretty tough ones at Croton and Palisades where I ran an 8:50 pace and 8:39 pace, respectively. They gave me the confidence that I was getting better and stronger and that a 3:40 marathon time was ambitious, but realistic. I think I turned a corner in this training cycle since I never really got exhausted even after the 20 mile runs. The preparation wasn’t too different for this marathon than my past two. I kept up my strength training throughout the process, ran only 4 days per week but never compromising my long runs, and ran three 20 milers that were tough, but I had the good fortune of running two of them with a group which really helped my mental well being and also helped push me to great training times. My overall fitness has gotten a lot better based on how I feel post 20 milers and post marathon. This is the best I have ever felt after those distances – like I didn’t even run a 20 miler at all. This is the race that I felt I could run for the past two years and I was ecstatic to get it done.

This is also not only the first time that I have run two marathons in the same year, but the first time that I have run two marathons within a year’s time span. Even though my body felt great this entire year and did not break down, I am not yet advocating to myself to do multiple marathons from now on. Let’s not push my luck. I want to run for a long time to come and it is not worth it to push yourself that much if there isn’t’ a specific reason. I didn’t want my year to end with the debacle that happened in Jersey when I knew what I was capable of doing. In my mind, I had a good reason to give it another try this year, especially since my body was feeling great and didn’t seem to feel the wear and tear of my training for Jersey.

I was proud of this one. I set an ambitious goal for myself, prepared for it properly and then went out and accomplished what I set out to do. It was a great feeling. This marathon gave me the confidence to know that I can line up with the 3:35 group when I am ready to do so. The fact that I felt so good throughout the race and at the end let me know that I have the potential to push harder and get a lower time. It won’t be easy though. It will be tough, but doable with the right mindset and conditions. I can’t expect to chop off these large chunks of time in the future. Each incremental PR will be harder and harder to achieve. The things in life that you want badly enough shouldn’t be easy to achieve. You should need to work hard for it, plan for it, and make sacrifices if necessary. It makes the accomplishment that more satisfying. However, I am very proud of this time and will be happy with it for a long time to come.

Thanks to everyone who helped me along the way and provided countless amounts of support and encouragement! It is incredible to have a group of friends and teammates that support and help each other and really want to see you do well. Now it is time to rest for a little while and then figure out my plan for next year.