Fast — But Fast Enough?

Today I ran the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in 5:51 — and what a race it was!

While today’s race was my slowest Fifth Avenue Mile to date, I actually trained for it, beat my goal of a sub-6:00, and felt a little disappointed that I didn’t race harder because I had a long-lasting sprinting finish!

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

I jogged from my home area to get to the starting line at E. 80th St.  That was a 1.43-mile run that I lazily did at an 8:15 pace — not too fast, and not super slow. We had a surprise break in the temperature — it was about 56 degrees with a dewpoint around 51, which meant the 80% humidity didn’t do much harm. It felt like perfect race weather!

I ran on the bridal path while it rained a little and the ground was wet. I noticed after landing at the start that this meant I got a few specks of dirt in my shoes and in my socks, so I made sure to clean them out before the race began. Imagine if during the race I had to deal with a painful rock in my shoe or sock!

My training has been mostly focused on this race for about a month. I had been running mostly single loops around Central Park before I entered, and after I entered, I decided to start putting sprints into my schedule. I used the 102nd Street Transverse as my nearby location to do those sprints. My first couple times were doing .12-mile sprints (roughly 200 meters), and eventually I did .25-mile sprints (roughly 400 meters). The latter distance was basically the entire distance of the transverse. The 200s I’d do were largely flat, but the 400s had hill that affected my times going back and forth.

Closer to the race, I finally decided to bring in the hill work using what I call “Great Hill” — from the south, running up it, then going back down it. These turned out to be short but really decent workouts, especially in the persistent heat and humidity that stalked most of my training during this period. I regularly dealt with temperatures in the upper 70s but with high humidity and high dewpoints, making for not-so-enjoyable but that-much-more-effective workouts. I would run up Great Hill from the overpass, finishing at the pedestrian landing near the stoplight at the top. All in all, the distance was about .25 miles, so it was considerable.

Outside of running sprints, I did my loops of the park, and I started to notice that my speed had been improving even despite the humidity. I was getting some paces down to around 7:40s over 6 miles, even when it was gross out. This was also probably because I incorporated weight training into my training as well — namely, doing squats with heavy weights — at my prime, up to about 160 lbs. of weight plus the heavy bar, in reps of 10. Only weeks ago was I complaining that my legs were lacking the shape I remember they used to have, and now they are starting to look to my eye much better and much stronger. Performancewise, they started to deliver.

This training was good, but the main thing it lacked as a true understanding of what kind of mile I was capable of! I was essentially going into this race not really clear what I was capable of in terms of running a mile. Because of that, and because of my experiences running this race, I decided to keep it conservative. I decided I’d lay off the speed in the beginning 1/4 mile, which is tempting because it is downhill. I wanted to spare myself from melting down when hitting the hill at E. 74th St. Well, because of my training, I got up that hill ending at E. 70th St. without much issue! So next year, if I’ve done my hill training, I should keep in mind that I can probably pick up the pace in the beginning because the hill starting at 74th Street won’t be so bad!

My quick math was that I want to cross the 1/2-mile marker by 3:00, because that would mean I’d be primed to finish (if my splits were consistent) at 6:00. I started about 6 seconds after the gun, and crossing the 1/2-mile marker right around 3:06 meant two things: a) I’m on pace for finishing in 6 minutes, and b) if I am able to pick up the pace in this second half, I am a candidate for finishing in less than 6 minutes. With the slight downhill that was the second half of the race, I wanted to see if I could manage a sub-6:00 finish

After mounting the hill at the half-mile mark, I pushed myself to go fast, but not so fast that I wiped out. I recalled from prior experience that when I finally see the finish line, it still takes maybe 20 seconds to cross it. The advice to myself was to lay back when I saw the finish line — but I was feeling so good at this point, I decided to go into what I call a “super sprint”: pumping my arms and extending my legs, running full speed like a machine. Bearing to the west side of 5th Avenue, I had a clear route to the finish. And when I got to the finish, I had to cross the finish line while slowing a bit because it narrowed and there was a man finishing right beside me, blocking my path over the finish line. What I did manage with my long ending sprint was to blow a lot of the men in this heat (40-49) away by a second or few.

But immediately after finishing, having had all that gas in the tank, I started to regret not having pushed myself harder. It seems my training was good enough to allow me to run faster than the 5:51 that I pulled off. I’m not sure how much faster I could have done, but I would have guessed that maybe I could have pulled off maybe 10 seconds faster? Who knows. I will only have to try again in the future, hopefully training even better for this race. It only took about a month of more concentrated training to get here. Just remember to do some time tests, Ben!

Some last stats: My weight was around 178 lbs. for this race, and I was carrying more muscle than maybe I usually do. I could have been leaner but I am happy with my physique. I felt strong and it was great to see my legs really work for me.

After my race, I met my wife who had my bag because I had to walk to work and wear a suit at Last Week Tonight for a relatively early 10am calltime. My overall feelings were positive about this race. Given that this was my slowest race, that made me cringe a bit, but that I was so well trained for it, some 5 years after having raced it before, I felt happy. Plus, I beat my goal!

Really, Really Happy!

A Race!  Philadelphia Marathon 2017

7:33s  |  26.2 miles  |  ~51°F

Today I ran the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon.  I completed it in 3:17:59 (7:33s).  It was really nice to run this race much faster than I ran the NYC Marathon two weeks ago. As a result of running Philly at this pace, I got validation that my training this year was better than the race I finished in NYC.

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

The Philadelphia Marathon official results had me finishing 650th overall, 579th in my gender, and 79th in my division (which is maybe age?). My splits were 46:12.9 (10K, 7:26s), 1:36:02.2 (Half Marathon, 7:20s), 2:17:09.6 (30K, 7:21s), and a finish of 3:17:58.8 (7:33s).

Today’s race started with sub-optimal conditions. It was raining! When I got to the starting area around 5:30am, it had only been sprinkles for me to that point, but then the sky opened up for a long, windy shower. At least I didn’t have to walk there in the rain!

By the time the race actually started at 7am, though, the announcer pointed out the sun was starting to come out — just as forecast!  However, also just as forecast, it was windy. REALLY windy.  Like, 20 mph windy, with gusts to 40 mph windy. The effect of winds like these was felt throughout the race, at times making for some real pushing. There were maybe three times during the whole marathon when the headwinds were so strong that it took a real effort to keep moving into them.  At one point, a crosswind knocked my lifted foot into my other leg! As for tailwinds, there weren’t as obvious. That said, the winds didn’t seem to have that much of an influence on my race.

As for my strategy, I learned a lot from NYC two weeks ago. For one, since I trained with little water and never got cramps, I decided to hold back a bit on the water and be a bit more strategic about having it as well as gels.  After studying my splits in NYC, and my splits over the last three Philly Marathons I did (2010, 2011. and 2012), I realized it would be smarter for me if I tried for a slower, more even pace out the gate. That meant if I felt the desire to run 6:40s in the beginning, I should really slow down — at least in the beginning. Training had suggested that sometimes I run a second 10K faster than a beginning 10K, so if I felt like picking up the pace after 6 miles, then that might be okay. In the beginning, my first six splits were 7:03, 7:16, 7:51*, 7:28, 7:20, and 7:11. (*I stopped at a bathroom and lost about 45 seconds, and added some compensatory speed going into it and leaving it.) These splits were clearly slower than my 2017 NYC Marathon, with opening splits of 8:05, 6:30, 6:57, 6:43, 6:42, and 6:39.

The reason to go slower was obvious to me: In NYC, I flamed out around the 10th mile after having run superfast miles before that point. Plus, I didn’t have any training this year in maintaining those splits, or even really running miles that fast except on very rare occasion. So, it made sense that for Philly, I should run above 7:00s, and probably at a pace more like what I’d trained at.  That was a hard estimate to make, though, because my summer long runs were 8:05s at their fastest, but as it got a little cooler I was doing 7:45s and sometimes faster. Not knowing the target time was not a big deal.  What mattered was just to relax and run at a slower pace than I might want to. So after the first mile, I slowed myself, and subsequent miles I just tried not to pick it up that much.

As for the course, it was basically as I remembered it, with a few changes. The most noticeable change was at the top of the hill halfway through mile 9. Instead of veering to the right, the course continued down a ways. Then we ran through completely new, peaceful, rolling roads that had some nice downhills to them. On the downhills for most of this race, I refrained from picking up the pace, fearful that I’d wear out my quads in the effort to steal some cheap downhill time.

The hill after Drexel University, halfway through mile 7, isn’t so bad and not that long if I don’t go too fast before it. I think if I were sprinting in the beginning, it would have killed by the time I reached it. There is a distinctive building at the top of it that serves as an actual sign of the hill’s completion, rather than a false flag of its summit. After it’s pretty much downhill for a long while.

My pace started to slow around mile 10.  That made some sense because the longest hill in the race was in the second half of mile 9, so in a way losing maybe 15-20 seconds wasn’t so bad, and in looking at my past Philly stats, that seemed to be a common thing to happen. Still, at this point I didn’t know if this meant my time would start to balloon, so I started to put the pressure on.  In fact, I had told myself that after the first 8 miles or so, I’d start my running “work,” so it was now okay to push myself. And by pushing myself, it mainly meant protecting my pace from ballooning much over 7:20s.

While my half marathon was in the 1:35 range, I did the math and figured out that if I kept up the pace, that meant I’d pull off a 3:10. That was pretty respectable, and since I was running at a pretty relaxed pace, I knew I wasn’t going to get a 3:10 but maybe I’d score a 3:15. That gave me hope and a challenge. The challenge was putting on the pressure, especially if toward the end (when the racing is toughest) I was close to achieving a 3:15.

Kelly Drive was pretty much as I remembered it. This year, there was no exit onto a bridge and down a hill to a turnaround point that dumps you back onto Kelly Drive. Thank you for not having that! That was so demoralizing. This year it was straight down Kelly Drive all the way to Manayunk and the turnaround point. From prior years, I recalled that Kelly Drive seems downhill going out, which means that coming back would seem uphill. However, in truth, most of the return down Kelly Drive is a noticeable downhill, however slight. The only memorable uphill is toward the end, as you struggle to locate the finish.

On my return to Kelly Drive, I saw my times were starting to balloon to 8:10s.  Doing the math meant I might still finish in the upper 3:15 range (under which would mean a Boston Qualifying time for my age), or I might even finish 3:16.  That was VERY promising! And while it probably seemed as if I had some energy still in me, it was such a gamble: If I picked up my pace now, I might flame out later — before the finish when it counted. So rather than pick up the pace, I just tried to maintain, maintain, maintain, until I knew where the finish line actually was. I had thought it was an uphill finish, too, so that was another factor — I wanted to have gas to get across the finish line.

One part that was mucking with my math was that my Garmin would tick off miles about .2 miles ahead of the mile markers. So what that meant was that I’d cross the finish line at 26.4 miles rather than 26.2. And it takes about 2 minutes or more for me to run that last .2 miles of the marathon, so in doing math in my head, should I add two minutes to my projected finish time, or four minutes?  That is, would the finish line be where my Garmin says 26.2 miles is, or where it says 26.4 miles is?  Should I protect for another two minutes of running, or sprint early?

It didn’t matter much. As I got close to the finish, I couldn’t really up my pace much. I saw the clock, though (they don’t have them along the course, so this was the first clock I saw!), and I could see it was ticking close to 3:18. I wanted to see if I could finish sub-3:18. I crossed the finish line shirtless (which is how I did the run), and the announcer humorously called out my pecs. I stopped my watch a second or two after crossing the finish line and my Garmin said I finished in 3:18:01. I thought that meant I might have done a sub-3:18.  I didn’t confirm that I had in fact run 3:17:59 until I got back to my hotel room.

I was so, so, so happy to finish so much faster than the 3:30:03 I did in the much harder course of NYC. In past NYC-then-Philly combos, I’d sometimes run Philly slower than NYC, even despite the flatness of Philly. So, I didn’t know how I’d do in Philly this year. My training between the races was different, and I thought improved: I did a Friday 12-miler after the NYC Marathon, then a Saturday 18-miler with some fast parts. I missed a few days of training then did a Thursday 12-miler, followed by a Friday 6-miler. That was a lot more mileage between races than I think I’ve done before — I don’t think I’d ever run longer than a 12-miler between races. The reasoning to run longer and more was to keep my fitness up in the latter parts of long runs rather than to let it slide. Plus, in a way, the NYC Marathon was a training run for Philly! I think the heavier mileage coupled with the rest day before Philly helped.

What also helped was a big pasta dinner the night before the Philly Marathon.  I ordered Seamless from Trios Pizzeria & Tratorria: Ortolana pasta with broccoli and olives, a small piece of bread, a salad, and a fudge brownie. (Remember to order utensils in the future!). The food was delicious and despite the size, not overwhelmingly filling.

All in all, while this was not my fastest marathon ever, it was some reassurance that all this running I did this year meant something.  It meant I could run a marathon pretty fast — at least faster than a 3:30, and even faster than a 3:20! It made me think that if I did more distance speed work despite the warmth of September and October, it might have paid off in my endurance. It meant I still “got it,” even if I didn’t run a 3:08 or less. Running a faster marathon than 3:17:59 seems totally plausible. The question is: When?

I’m thinking about doing the Icebreaker International Marathon in East Meadow, NY, for January 28th.  It’s close enough to NYC and it’s inexpensive. It might be a way for me to try again to lower my time while I have this level of fitness.  We’ll see!

Surprised, Not Disappointed

A Race!  NYC Marathon 2017

8:01s  |  26.2 miles  |  ~57°F

Today I ran the 2017 NYC Marathon.  I completed it in 3:30:03 (8:01s).  While I’m not feeling disappointed, I’m more surprised at how slow my time was because I had thought I trained better for this!

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

I studied up for this race the night before.  I looked at my Garmin splits for the 2010 and 2011 NYC Marathons I did, and I noticed a curious pattern.  I noticed that if I subtracted about 5 seconds from the time on my first mile, I arrived at the minutes above the 3-hour mark that I’d finish.  That is, in 2010 I finished mile one in 7:33, and my finish time was 3:27:08.  In 2011 I finished mile one in 7:18, and my finish time was 3:13:59.  My first mile in this year’s marathon was 8:05, so I was confused about what to estimate my finish time as, especially considering I thought my training would finish me between the times of 2010 and 2011. I also held back a bit in that first mile, partially because of all the runners but also because the 3:05 pacer was just ahead of me!

Well, during 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, when I was ticking off miles with paces of 6:57, 6:43, 6:42, then 6:39, 6:42, and 6:50 to finish mile 8, I had to shake that theory. I was running very fast — faster than all my training this year, at paces that were generally far better than any of my paces this year! — and I decidedly was unsure when this party would end.  I knew that come about mile 10 I would potentially start to fade.  For the uphill over mile 9, I kept up my pace, logging a 6:55. And for mile 10 I kept up that same pace. But on Bedford Avenue, I had forgotten any notion that it was a long, low-grade uphill, and runners quickly started to pass me as I felt my body power down.  I powered down so much, mile 10 was 6:55 but mile 11 was 7:41!  That was surprising.

It also might have been a signal of my training to some degree. My standard run in the summer was 10 miles.  While I hadn’t done a 10-miler in a while, it was maybe interesting that I broke inside mile 11. Or maybe it was that I had fewer than recommended long runs in the last month, spelling out that I would tire rather than sustain a pace, or at least hold on a bit closer to 6:55. I mean, there was also a long hill, plus I’m considerably older than I was in 2011.  And it was a warm year, with 60s-70s holding all of the way through October into November, with a number of humid fall days. But whatever.

Not far ahead of me, though, was the Pulaski Bridge and with it the half-marathon mark. I don’t like that bridge! It’s a slow trek up it to the anti-climactic half-marathon mark. It can be draining. Plus, I’m only HALFWAY done at that point, and the second part of the NYC Marathon is tougher than the first! Still, knowing that Elizabeth Corkum was lurking in Queens to cheer me on helped to motivate me and to look strong, and sure enough I saw her just after 46th Road and high-fived her. Woohoo!

After that point, though, I could just tell I wasn’t doing well, and I was dreading the massive Queensboro Bridge.  I knew I would considerably slow down on it as I had in the past, and while my uphill mile 15 was faster than in 2010 (it’s partly on land), my downhill mile (partly uphill) was slower than both 2010 and 2011.  I remember simply plodding along with much better runners pouring past me.

Up to this point, my gel consumption was based on whether I felt a power-down. I consumed an AccelGel just before the race. I had one at mile 5 when I felt myself power down, so I calculated then to have a gel each 5 miles. I consumed water and/or this watered-down Gatorade Endurance formula at most stations, looking for fuel. Did I not have enough carbs in my system? I had sushi for dinner the night before and no sizable pasta or anything before the race. I don’t think I would have run much faster had I carbed up, but maybe I would have sustained myself longer.

Once on 1st Avenue, I just had to keep going. I never really looked at the crowd, just trying to keep going and ignoring the hills in getting to 77th Street for mile 17, 97th Street for mile 18, and 117th Street for mile 19. That’s a lot of blocks!  At mile 17 were Poland Spring sponges soaked in cold water, of which I grabbed two and squeezed them over my head which felt really good. At mile 18 were PowerGels, and I consumed one with 25mg caffeine which may have given me a tiny boost. Around this time I was dealing with leg cramps. One was on my right leg, on the outer side, in the quads area. There was another cramp forming somewhere on my left leg — I can’t remember where. I just focused on keeping on and eventually the sensation passed.

Crossing into the Bronx, since it’s only for a mile and I remembered the course better this year, I was more encouraged and it seemed as if my pace picked up a bit. Not really much, though, as I was running deep into the 8:00s at this point. I grabbed a banana inside the Bronx to give myself real food but more so to help stave off any future cramps, which I remember in the past happening in my lower legs around mile 22.

I was encouraged once in Harlem to see my friend Sharon at the place where I thought she would be, just after mile 22, but I felt frustrated when there was no sign of her there. (Apparently she was in a different place, and while I thought it was clear where she would be, we did not communicate this clearly enough between us.) I shifted to focusing on 5th Avenue, which is another low-grade hill for too many blocks. Sure enough, it delivered, with seemingly endless blocks of uphills.

I remembered to start calculating my finish time once passing mile 23.  I figured at this point I’d finish about 29 minutes after this point, which seemed to pace out to a finish around 3:29 or 3:30, especially considering there was no real chance of my picking up my pace any better than the trek I was doing now, but also considering the rolling hills in Central Park I was about to encounter. I expected at this point my fiancée Rachel would be watching on the app, gearing up for my meeting her at the sign for one half mile to go, and that expectation kept me motivated and going forward. I got more eager once I hit the mile 25 mark, because from there it’s a faster downhill then a turn onto Central Park South where I’d see her.

I saw her! I started to break down emotionally as I saw her, and I stopped for a few seconds to give her a kiss.  She grabbed a few photos as I was advancing toward her. She said because I ran this marathon shirtless, it was a bit easier to spot me — not a lot of people were shirtless this year, and I noticed maybe one runner during my journey.

After that point, I just had to finish. I had researched during my last days of training not to sprint until I hit the “F” sign the NYC Marathon posts close to the finish, because that’s the top of the last hill, and just far enough from the finish to warrant not sprinting sooner. I did, though, get to pick up my speed and finish this marathon sprinting. As of this post, my unofficial finish time was 3:30:03, which means that if I didn’t stop to kiss Rachel, I would have finished under 3:30. Not a bad reason to give up on that goal!

Right after I crossed the finish line, and probably because my blood pressured dropped from the sprinting, I asked to walk with someone who was in a red coat.  I put my arm around his shoulder and we walked for a few yards until I recovered. Then it was the long walk to get my bag and exit at W. 85th Street. Rachel rendezvoused with me there, and we simply walked another 14 blocks home.  So, in addition to the marathon, I walked all the way from about W. 65th Street to W. 100th Street.  Until I finally laid down in my apartment around 2:20pm, I figured I had been on my feet without sitting since about 8:05am!

Next up is the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon, which is two weeks away.  I think given this race, I have a better sense of what my body will do in it. If I stubbornly try to run Philly in sub-7:00s for the first few miles, I’ll probably tank similarly before the half-marathon mark and have a grueling finish. But if I hold back, I may have more endurance through the middle miles and maybe (maybe!) the energy to pick up my pace then rather than dissolve. I shouldn’t expect a PR at Philly, and I might even have to expect a finish around 3:30. Given my notes from the prior years, it helps when I train between these races, so it would be advised to train well between these races. I also probably should carb up before.

I kept saying, and keep saying, that I was more surprised by how slow my NYC Marathon was this year than disappointed with my time. I’m older too, but it’s hard to use that as an explanation because there are older, faster runners than me. Still, it’s really great to have finished. It was not fun. Maybe it would have been fun were it cooler, brighter, and not so rainy and humid (the start was 57 with about 80% humidity, cloudy, with the rain seeming to hold off for the run unless maybe there was drizzle). Of course, it would have also been fun had my body been responding better to the running! But having gotten in via lottery this year, not even thinking I’d be doing another marathon, it was a great achievement to finish NYC again.  I think this was my sixth running of it: first in 2001, then 2003, then 2005, then 2010 and in 2011. Hurricane Sandy wiped out my 2012 running (I ran a replacement marathon instead), and I elected not to run 2013 for lack of training.

As for pain, I had almost zero chafing, and my legs felt pretty good a few hours later!