All Things Considered, Not That Bad!

Today I ran the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in 6:09. Not great, but not that bad considering this intense summer of work!

Today’s race was my slowest Fifth Avenue Mile ever, but I didn’t legitimately train for it as I had hoped to do. My last time running this race was 5:51 in 2018, so this race was 18 seconds slower. However, I’m not too bummed about that, and I’m actually slightly impressed that I pulled off a 6:09 because I’ve been really pressed to get in runs and workouts amid working nearly seven days a week with early calltimes, while training for a fall marathon.  I don’t have the kind of time some people do to train!

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

Like last time, I jogged from my home area to get to the starting line around E. 80th St.  That was a 1.43-mile run that I lazily did at an 8:29 pace — not too fast, and not super slow. It was cloudy, almost as if it could rain. The humidity was 70%, the dewpoint was 61, and the temperature was around 72. It didn’t feel all that humid, but they were suboptimal conditions, especially considering my lack of training.

I wasn’t sure what would happen in this race. My last run — a 10-miler on Thursday — had me running my last mile at a 2022 “record” (per Garmin) of 7:16. I had some sense that might be my upper border for this race, unless sprinting overcame me. But my training has been mostly longer runs often of 8 miles or longer, and I’ve only sporadically added in hills and sprints, pretty much in ways that unlikely had measurable impact. My calltimes have been such that I would get into Central Park often in the 5am hour, and it was a desperate race to get in my mileage before a 12-hour day on a TV show coupled with voiceover orders after. If I didn’t feel like a long run, instead of opting for a short run, I’d hit the gym, which I generally couldn’t also do on running days. It’s a wonder I didn’t end up injured after all this, because I’ve been getting by with about 4 hours or so of sleep too many nights!

My math was that hitting 71st St. at 3:00 meant I was on pace to possibly run this race in 6:00. Drilling down, my math was that at the 1/4-mile mark, that meant running a 1:30. I thought it unlikely either of these events would happen, so I also figured that a 1/4-mile 1:45 and a 71st St. 3:30 would mean I was on pace for a 7:00 mile.

After the gun went off, it actually took me about 30 seconds to cross the start line. I was surprised by that, but not unnerved — it just meant the clock wasn’t that telling about my actual pace. My watch was a bit hard to read with respect to my current pace, but I figured that somewhere vaguely around the 3/4-mile mark I was at 4:43. This was telling me that I could try to speed things up. I know I’ve powered through fierce sprints at the ends of these races, and I actually enjoy them. I ended up putting on those jets again with one of my classic “super sprints” around the sign for 200 meters to go (perhaps not as impressively as I might have liked), but it had to help. I probably ended this race was some gas still in the tank, but that I didn’t expend it all was because at the beginning, having not trained, it was difficult to mete out my energy, especially considering the first part of the race with exuberant runners is downhill, and I’ve learned not to go too fast at the start of this race.

I’m carrying more muscle than usual (not to say I’m at a fully health weight), weighing for this around 186.8 lbs at the start. (About 8 lbs heavier than last time.) This added weight probably slowed me down a little, but it’s hard to blame my weight for the slower time. Although not having trained is the most important factor, the humidity and warm temperature also played a factor, perhaps the scariest factor in the leadup to this race as I felt it would dictate how good or bad I felt running this.

As I write this recap, I’m wondering if next year I can run this race by focusing solely on it and not on any marathons. We’ll see!

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!