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!

I Surprised Myself!

This morning I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. I ran it in 1:35:50, amounting to running 7:19s. That’s considerably better than I thought I’d do today!

Here are my Unofficial Garmin Stats:

I didn’t really realize the weather for today’s run until after I finished. It was gorgeous! The temperature was unnoticeable–somewhere in the upper 50s to low 60s–and the skies were clear and cloudless. While I tend to run better in temperatures about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than this, there was nothing to complain about because the weather didn’t seem to play a factor in my race.

I set out this morning thinking I’d hope to do 1:38, or at least a sub-1:40. Not that fast for me but it seemed about where my training was right now. Actually, I was a little slower in training but I figured the race would by its nature pick up my pace, which it did. But also what picked it up was the downhills! A lot of this race was slightly downhill or even explicitly downhill, and I told myself early on in this race to capitalize on the downhills …

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I started this race with a low-expectations mindset. I was doing it more for the fun of it, maybe even the obligation for 9+1, so it was a low-pressure situation. I realized soon after I started I had to pee, and while I could have held it, at the first mile I saw toilets and thought, what the heck. I did the same in the Surf City Marathon at the first mile, and it only consumed about a minute of time. Sure enough, it took me maybe a minute or two.

It was after then that I thought, Heck, let’s see if I can capitalize on the downhills. I used the first time as a way to catch up on some of the time I lost, and it wasn’t long before my average pace was something that was still ahead of what I thought I could do. I told myself to keep a steady pace, but these slight downhills were telling me, Go ahead, push it while you have it.

When I entered Prospect Park, I knew that this was an unknown territory for me. I’d never run it, only biked it, and while I remembered hills, I didn’t know where they’d be and I couldn’t recall how they’d be. It was the first half of my time in the park that was the toughest–and by “toughest” I mean that it wasn’t really that tough. Most of the hills at that point were unsurprising and very low grade. The second half was awesomely downhill.

Up this this point (that is, up to the 10K mark), I’d been running with a pins-and-needles sensation in my left foot. I figured this was because my shoe was probably tied too tightly, though nothing about it seemed extraordinarily tight. Whatever the case, my foot was presumably inflamed in the shoe and it felt as if I had a thick pancake underneath the ball of my foot on top of having the sensation. Just after the 10K mark I pulled over to loosen the laces on my shoe. I set out again only to pull off again because it hadn’t seemed to help, and I loosened the laces some more. It still didn’t seem to work, and I just carried on. I ran some wonderful downhills then and really picked up my pace while I was rolling down the hills.

It wasn’t until around mile 11 that the pins-and-needles sensation cleared. I could even feel it clearly suddenly! I had forgotten about it since the 10K. We were on Ocean Parkway now, a very long stretch of flat, generally slightly downhill roadway that takes you about 5.5 miles to Coney Island. I used numerous stoplights there as motivation to pick up my pace from one to another–nothing too much, but just something to keep me engaged. I was really measuring my breathing, trying to keep up with a guy in Vibrams just ahead of me whom I didn’t want to beat me. I was doing a pretty good job, though I didn’t pass him until about mile 12.

Fortunately I looked at the course map ahead of time, so I knew not to spaz when I hit the 13th mile marker. Usually .1 mile doesn’t seem like a lot, but the map had a couple turns and I knew there would probably be a ramp uphill. There was. I got up it, and the finish was just ahead, only so far away that I could basically do the kind of sprinting I tend to do on the 72nd Street Transverse in Central Park for races that finish there. When a challenger looked as if he was trying to finish in a sprint, I kicked it up another notch and was able to finish in a clearance with no other finishers. I remember slowing down minutely just before the mat, which if I could do over I would just for the sake of discipline. I was relieved that I did so well in this race, both timewise and pacewise, not to mention given my health in the last few days, which has felt dismal in light of what I’ve consumed while I stare at a computer screen doing the copyedit of my book. I have to say, it was nice to get out, even if I was up at 4:15am on 5 hours of sleep!

I consumed 2, 1x caffeine chocolate PowerGels about 10-15 minutes before the race, then had 1, 2x caffeine tangerine PowerGel at mile 9. I had some pretty great splits in this race, and my first mile could have been one of those but I intentionally held myself back after seeing how fast I was going. That was the last time I really held myself back this race!

P.S. I saw Ming!

I Placed First in “Fight Like Hell”(*) and Beat Lance Armstrong(**)!

* It wasn’t a race. I simply finished first.

* I finished before Lance Armstrong, but I didn’t “beat” him as it wasn’t race.

This evening I ran with Lance Armstrong and maybe 100 or so people for about 4 miles on Lance’s 40th birthday as part of his “Fight Like Hell” The Run concept announced over Twitter. His tweet originally read:

Hey NYC! – how bout a “Fight Like Hell” Twitter Run? Meet at Nike Town (57th St) @ 6pm this Sunday. 4-5 miles thru the city. #fightlikehell

I heard about it from the frontpage of Yahoo! yesterday, cancelled my evening plans, and decided this was an opportunity of a lifetime to run with someone who does slightly inspire my marathoning. Lance’s first marathon was a sub-3:00, which is something I hope to do by year’s end. There was a particular significance for me to be able to have this run as part of my training. The tweet was later updated with a new starting place (under the globe in Columbus Circle), and there is where I waited in the cool temps from 5:30pm until Lance showed at 7:22pm.

Below are my Garmin stats. Keep in mind that I forgot to turn off my Garmin at the end, probably for about a minute and a half. If you view my run in the Garmin Player, you’ll probably see where I forgot to turn it off. I suspect in my last .79 I was going around a 6:25 pace.

The opportunity was so cool. The sucky thing was that Lance showed up an hour and twenty minutes late, but I held out because I wanted this story. We were accompanied by one “Security” cyclist leading the pack (a group of VIPs along with Lance started at Niketown on 57th and met us in Columbus Circle as they exited Central Park), and also with us were about 4 cyclists in the bright Livestrong yellow, dragging skiffs of advertisting for In Columbus Circle was had a humorous police escort whom we were supposed to follow, but no one listened to him and we started taking off down W. 60th St. The road in this area has uneven pavement so I was careful to watch my footing but I was also trying to figure out, “Where’s Lance?” I hadn’t seen him yet! We turned left only 9th Ave. and went down a block or so before turning right down a steep hill, past 10th Ave., and eventually making it to the West Side Highway, where a large group of people were waiting to cheer us on. By this time I’d figured out where he was–basically leading the pack but with a lot of people keeping pace with him. Even taking photos while running!

It was manageable chaos. We were barrelling through intersections when we had red; we were trying to keep runners from entering the actual highway rather than running on the bike path; we were trying to avoid collisions with signs and other pedestrians using the bike path. It was dark out and tricky but a blast. (Why did some of the runners and cyclists yell “Pull!” when we went through pedestrian crosswalks?)

It was on the bike path along the West Side Highway that I suddenly realized I had primo real estate for this run. I was running right beside Lance Armstrong! For some time it was myself, a female friend he was talking to, then Lance. I chose not to say anything (I didn’t really have anything to say anyway), and just focused on soaking in the experience. Soon I realized though that my pace was faster than theirs, so I just accepted that and decided to unleash my pace. I ended up getting in front of Lance and the others, running just behind and alongside the Livestrong cyclists. I chatted briefly with a 3:11 NYC marathoner about his strategy for running it that fast (“Run the course” and “weekly speed training” were what he advised) then I soon pulled in front of him! I must say I’m not THAT great of a runner, but I had to take in this experience of leading the pack.

I was at the head of the pack or very near it toward the end of our time on the West Side Highway before we turned left onto W. 26th St. From there we took off up W. 26th St., eventually made our way to 25th St., then back to 26th St. where we passed a long line of ASSSSCAT audience members at the UCB Theatre. I wished I knew someone to say hi to in that line, being toward the head of this group of night runners! From there I confirmed we’d be finishing on 5th Ave., and I kept up my pace as best I could in that long straightaway.

For that last leg, it was basically just myself and another runner and the Livestrong cyclists. The other runner was usually a few strides ahead of me, then I would pass him at an intersection when he was slow and I would find my way across. He’d then overtake me. Around Broadway I said to him, “Don’t let me beat you!” but by the time we hit 5th Ave., we turned left against traffic to find where the finish would be. I made it to W. 27th St. where there was a truck with baggage … and the run was done. I got there first. I’ve never been in a position like that before. And I beat Lance Armstrong. I guess I get to say that now, though with lots of asterisks and qualifications.

I had thought the truck was going to give us shirts and waters (just an instinctual thing to expect something after a race) but I learned quickly that wasn’t the case when I put together the bags and the VIP runners. I then saw a horde of people at a building entrance just behind me: It was Lance finishing. What was going on?, I wondered, and I went over. He was signing a shirt but quickly he moved indoors and that was that. “Fight Like Hell” The Run was done.

I sprinted to the subway station nearby (I was soooo loose and springy!) when I realized my Garmin was still on. When I looked over the stats, I was pretty happy. I’ve been faster in my life, but I got up there in speed pretty easily. I managed my third mile in 6:25, after having run a 6:31 and before that a 6:48. And consider that this morning I did a 10-mile run at a 6:53 pace! I haven’t done a 2-run day in quite some time, and when I did last, I didn’t pull off something so speedy on BOTH runs.

So there you have it. Thanks, Lance and Livestrong. That was cool and very exciting.

Ben Hauck