Marathon Kickoff

psmk2013Marathon week is usually a fun time in New York City. In addition to the marathon-related activities, there’s also the Halloween Parade in the East Village. This annual freakshow is a spectacle that many marathoners work into their trip and come to town a little early just to bear witness to. There’s also the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff race, a 5M loop of Central Park that routes competitors along portions of the marathon path including the grandstand finish. For me, in addition to running part of the marathon route, the race offered up the opportunity for a competitive run out after a fairly lengthy break from middle distance competition.

Conditions were perfect as I arrived at the park. The weather was still warm enough for shorts, and short sleeves. The park was in full transition mode, with barriers and grandstands almost ready for the upcoming marathon. There was quite a large crowd already gathered and the mood was lively as runners basked in the early morning sun. Personally, I was looking forward to running at the front of the field in part because of my fast time at the Fifth Ave Mile. The course was clockwise around the park, one of only two races that travel in this direction. I had enjoyed my previous experiences running this direction. After a couple of weeks of good training, I had a feeling that a PR might be possible but tempered my expectations because of my ongoing knee issues.

The race started out very fast, more so than I had expected even. I tried to run my own pace initially and didn’t panic when quite a few runners started passing me over the first mile. Controlling my pace, I put in an 8:10 first mile and an 8:06 second mile. However, the pace started to catch up to me by the time I reached the 102nd St Transverse and at the water station I slowed down to take on some fluids and give the legs a break. This time last year I was capable of doing the same run and pace with no breaks, but given the shoddy year I have had it’s no surprise that my strength and stamina are off.

Over the remaining miles I clocked an 8:30 average pace to finish in a time of 41:43. After the race I felt fine and took only a couple of minutes to fully recover and head home. Looking back on the race, even with two walk breaks and a reduced training workload leading up to the event, I was less than two minutes off my PR for the distance. This is not the first time I have been in that position, and yet again I’m faced with the realization that, were I to have a decent period of uninterrupted training, I could probably beat all of my PRs.

If only…

My First Did-Not-Finish

“Shame, boatloads of shame,
Day after day, more of the same.”
– The Avett Brothers

manhattanhalf_001In the year or more that I’ve been running competitively I’ve had some interesting race day experiences. The vast majority of them have been positive, one of the reasons I have stuck with it so long and had so much success losing weight and getting into shape. However, it was somewhat inevitable that I would eventually have a dodgy on the course and my luck eventually ran out last Sunday at the Manhattan Half-Marathon. For the first time ever, I failed to complete the full race distance.

This was the first race of the five borough series, a set of races that takes place in each of the cities boroughs and provides automatic entry to the following years NYC Half-Marathon. I planned to run the race with Zhenya, my occasional training partner. In the days leading up to the race, the forecast promised an cold but dry morning and sure enough the wind that morning was bone chilling. I layered up with my favorite tights and under armor shirts, and then stacked on tech shirts, hats and gloves to give extra protection against the elements. It wasn’t enough!

After stripping off the outer layers and checking our bags, we made our way to the start corrals. For the next fifteen minutes we stood around in freezing temperatures (the board at the bottom of the park said it was 20F) and tried desperately to stave off the chills.

Once we started, I hoped that the run would bring my body temperature back up and keep the cold out, but as I completed the first loop of the park I couldn’t shake the cold from inside of me. Coming around the southern end of the park and up the east side, I passed the seven mile marker in a time of 57:30. My time was pretty reasonable, but my mind just couldn’t fathom keeping going for another 45-50 minutes. And that’s when I stopped.

Almost immediately I regretted the decision. I sat on the guard rail and debated started up again, but as each minute passed by the thought of spending another minute in these freezing temperatures became less and less attractive. I decided I had had enough, and walked back toward the finish line to pick up my bag and get put back on my sweats. On the way there one of the course marshals asked me if I was ok or needed medical attention. I responded automatically and as I heard myself say the words, “I’m fine … I just don’t want to do this anymore,” I felt that growing sense of shame inside of me. For the next few days I tried not to think about what happened, and as time passed and I spoke to more and more people, I began to realize that I was being a bit too hard on myself. These things happen – I’m going to have some bad days from time to time. The key things is to learn from the experiences, see what works for me and where the issues are and manage my race schedule going forward.

I’ve stopped beating myself up over my first DNF. It probably won’t be my last.

Hey Joe …

kleinerman_10k_002This was my second time running the Joe Kleinerman 10K. Unlike last year, when the race started and finished near the 102nd St. Transverse, this edition of the race had the start and finish located in the area of the 72nd St. Transverse. It’s all much the same to me, although the biggest difference with the new course is that the big hills come towards the end. I have to admit that I do like getting the Harlem Hill over with early on when running in Central Park.

I really hadn’t done a whole of running or training over the holidays. I used our trip to Europe as an excuse to take a break from everything running, especially after the intensity of the prior couple of months both leading up to and immediately after the Philadelphia Marathon. Being the first post-holidays race, I figured my fitness and stamina levels would be down from their peaks and I might struggle to put up a good time.

Apparently not!

The morning was relatively nice for January, with temperatures a little above freezing and no breeze to speak of. My morning routine had gone off without a hitch, and I felt really good as the race wound it’s way around the southern end of the park and up toward Cat Hill. My legs were turning over nicely and as I powered up the hill, I felt no pain in my knee. By the third mile marker I was clocking a faster than expected pace of 8:00 per mile, with most of the major hills remaining.

Funnily enough, Harlem Hill and the three sisters on the West side failed to significantly slow me down, and I completed the second half of the race with a slightly slower pace, to hit the finish in a time of 50:19 (8:07 per mile) – a new personal best for the distance.

In the immediate aftermath of the race I felt a little guilty, mainly because I thought I hadn’t worked hard enough to earn the personal best distinction. It was the first time I had ever felt that way after a race and took some time to rationalize. In the ensuing days however, I read a lot of articles about training styles and the effects of long-term stamina training. As it turns out, even though I took a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays, the rate of decline was incredibly slow because of the intensity of my marathon training. Running experts and publications alike all spoke about the benefits of rest and allowing the body to recover following high intensity training. It’s an area I didn’t pay a lot of attention to up to that point, but something that I plan on incorporating into future training plans to create a more balanced regimen going forward.

Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park

cpc_001Central Park – home to thousands of runners every day and an essential park of the running culture of this city. So it stands to reason then, that each year New York Road Runners and it’s members celebrate the park and contribute to it’s maintenance by supporting a run in aid of the park’s conservancy organization. This year the four mile race was scheduled for Saturday, July 14 and encompassed a loop of the inner circuit – between 72nd street transverse and the 102nd street transverse. Without the strength sapping Harlem Hill to slow the pack down, and with some fine weather forecast for that morning, the race held the promise of some fast times for those in the right frame of mind.

I considered myself one of those people – I had been back running for about a month following my knee injury and everything was going fine. I had eased myself back my slowly increasing my weekly distances and there were no issues to report with my patella. I felt no pain or discomfort, and I was back up to my pre-injury running pace. Physically, I felt in good shape and if the weather cooperated (i.e. not too hot or humid), I thought that I might be able to take advantage of the relatively flat course to put in a good time. Maybe even a personal best!

The race started well for me. Making my way up the east side of the park, I was in a groove as we struck Cat Hill and motored up the incline with little trouble. By the first mile marker I was clocking just over an eight minute pace. The rest of the east side was familiar territory, and I used my experience on the roads to manage my output until rounding the bend at the 102nd street transverse. Crossing the two mile marker, I was still on pace for a personal best, coming in around 16:30. However, my excitement was quickly tamed as I started down the west side and the notorious three sisters hills. I must have been going too strong too soon, because half way up the second hill I felt my legs turn to solid weights and had to slow down to a walk for about 30 seconds. Similarly, cresting the third hill and the water station, I had to take a walk break because I was overheating and feeling tightness in my legs.

I kept going though, because my time was around 25 minutes and there was still the potential for a personal best. Unfortunately, my average pace had slowed too much because of that third mile, and even though I covered the last mile in just over eight minutes, the combined time as I cross the line was 33:15 – 21 seconds slower than my personal best. Slightly disappointed to have missed out by such a slim margin, I made my way to the baggage area to collect my gear and head home. As I sat on the subway going back to Brooklyn, I reflected on what might have been. Did I really need to take those two walk breaks? What would my time have been had I kept going?

Of course, I’ll never know the answers to those questions but I did come away from the experience knowing that I had come so close to a personal best on a bad day. The next time out, if it’s a good day, I have it in me to shatter my fastest time. Roll on September 15. that

Achilles Hope & Possibility

achilles_001I was a little apprehensive coming into this race for a number of reasons. I had only been back running less than a week, and was still favoring my left knee after the recent injury. The previous weekend I flew back from Poland and in the intervening days I had managed only a single leisurely 4 mile run. I was definitely hesitant to put a lot of pressure on my knee, but after setting an easy pace on the treadmill I found that there were no lingering effects of the tendonitis. It seemed as though the break, along with the ice pack, stretches, and strength exercises were actually making a difference.

The morning of the race I headed off to the park. I resolved not to push myself too much, preferring to finish the event and chalk up another notch in my 9+1 quest for entry to next years New York City Marathon, rather than risk further injury and setback. I knew I had a long summer ahead and my mind was also on my training for the Philadelphia Marathon, due to start in mid-July. If I was going to be ready to take on that workload I had to make sure my knee was in the best condition possible.

That morning was hot and humid. I had been somewhat sheltered up to that point, having only run in relatively mild or cool conditions. I learned that morning that running in the heat and humidity is really not for me. The whole race was a struggle for me because of the heat, the drop in my fitness level from a month off, crowding at the start of the race, and general stiffness in my legs. But primarily from the heat and humidity.

We started on the west side of the park and circled the southern end. By the time I hit the the first mile marker I was already struggling and somewhat reluctantly checked my watch. Imagine my surprise when I saw it registered just shy of ten minutes. As I said, I had resolved to take it easy but ten minutes for the opening mile was much slower than planned. There was some crowding at the start that led to bunching and slow downs, but certainly not enough to have that much of an impact on my time. From that point on I knew it was going to be a rough day, so I settled in and tried to make the most of it.

By the time we reached the west side at the 102nd St transverse I was starting to take walk breaks every half mile or so. My knee was fine but my legs felt heavy and the humidity left me feeling sluggish. I remember feeling an immense sense of relief as the finish line came into view. I had picked up the pace enough over the middle miles to end up with a respectable time of 47:40, averaging 9:32 per mile. This was by far my slowest ever race, but given the conditions, my recent break and the fact that I was still protecting my knee, I felt like I had accomplished an important milestone in my comeback.

The Scotland Run

scotland_001On Saturday I ran my second 10K and first warm-up for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on May 19th. In my previous 10K race, the Joe Kleinerman 10K in Central Park, I completed the course in a time of 54:45 while averaging 8:46 per mile. To be fair, I had not trained all that much for this race as I had spent about two weeks following the NYC half-marathon recovering and easing back into running. In the weeks leading up to Scotland Run I got in a few 4 mile runs but was not feeling exceptionally fast. As a result, I did not have a particular target time for this race and was simply aiming for an improvement over my previous 10K best.

The Joe Kleinerman 10K started and finished on the east side around 102nd street and circumvented the park in a counter-clockwise direction. The Scotland Run was slightly different in that in started on the west side around 68th street and traveled clockwise around the park. Interestingly, I had never run the park in that direction so although all the sites were familiar, it felt somewhat strange to be running up sections I was used to traveling downhill and vice versa.

The weather on the day was perfect and I lined up in the 5000 corral. The early stages of the race felt slow and there was definitely some dodgy moments as I picked my way through a heavy crowd. Imagine my surprise then when my watch showed 8:30 at the first mile marker. With that as motivation I pushed on and knocked out the next two or three miles at an average pace of 8:10 – including the triple threat on the west side and the Harlem Hill. The east side provided some respite and allowed me recuperate slightly and hold back some reserves for the final push.

I kept the pressure on over the final couple of miles, and cresting the last hill, felt a wave of emotion come across me as the sights and sounds of the crowd at the finish line hit me. Although I suspected I was going to post a good time, when I glanced at my watch and saw I was on course to beat my previous time by three minutes I felt elated. The grin on my face as I crossed the line defied the pain I felt inside, but was just a reflection of how proud I felt about my accomplishment.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Eleven

nyc_half_w11It’s really hard to believe how fast the time has gone by, but here I am in the second to last week of the training plan. So far, I have managed to stick pretty well to the program, only skipping out on two sessions – although I have moved some sessions around to accommodate my schedule and various niggles and strains. Speaking of … following tonight’s resistance training I felt a little tightness in my right quad. Depending on how I feel in the morning, I may switch my moderate paced 5 mile run from Wednesday to Tuesday, and do my speed work on Wednesday evening. Otherwise, the sessions are consist with prior weeks. Thursday is another resistance training day involving stationary bike, weights, and swimming. Saturday is my final long run, a 12 mile trek consisting of two full loops of Central Park. And Sunday is another easy 4 mile run to help warm down and loosen the muscles going in the final stretch.

I have to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 11 weeks. I have more energy throughout the day and feel a lot better about myself. I also have a lot more confidence in my ability to complete a long run – far more than I did when I first set out on this journey. Even now, the thought of running a marathon is less daunting than it might have been three months ago when the idea first took root. The two most important things I have learned over these 11 weeks are preparation and balance. Preparing properly, building up over time to the race distance and keeping to an appropriate pace will help me get the results I want without risking injury. Jess has also taught me the importance of balancing my running with other activities. She has been very patient throughout the program, and I hope that I have become a little more flexible now than in the beginning.

Gridiron Classic

gridiron_001This morning’s Gridiron Classic took place amid perfect conditions in the park. It’s days like this that make outdoor running a treat and help me produce exceptional performances that continue to improve upon my previous best.Today’s race was scheduled to start at 9am, slightly later than typical race schedules but the opportunity to grab an extra hour in bed was very much appreciated.

Starting on the East side around 68th St., the course wound up the East side and across the 102nd St. transverse. The initial stretch took in a slight incline as the path approached the museum and then leveled off until we turned southbound on the West side. My split times were looking good through the first half of the race, hitting the first mile at 8:20 and the second mile at 16:30. I knew I had plenty in the gas tank for a short 4 mile course and was looking to produce a fast time, somewhere below 33 minutes.

Even though I have run the park on a number of occasions, for some reason the hills on the West side really took a lot out of me over the remainder of the course. I definitely clawed back some time on the downhill stretches, but with at least two long drags in the second half of the race there was very little opportunity for me to pull more time back and set a really blazing speed.

I covered the third mile in 8:15 and as I approached the finish at West 68 St., had barely enough left to cross the line in just under 33 minutes. Despite the struggles, it was still my best time and pace for a race in the few short months I have been running. That’s all I can really ask for at this point.

Joe Kleinerman 10K

kleinerman_10k_001This race was always going to be a challenge when you consider that it was the longest run I have ever embarked on, in terms of both time and distance. As a relative newcomer to the ranks, I have built my stamina and endurance over the last year from almost nothing to where I can now run four or five miles at a comfortable pace and recover within a few minutes. Hardly surprising then that I was looking forward to seeing how I would manage with pushing myself an extra mile. This was also the first time for me to complete a full loop of the Central Park circuit, including the dreaded Harlem Hills. In the past I had taken in the reservoir and lower loops, but never had the courage to extend myself to complete the entire thing.

My preparations were not ideal. My sister was visiting from out of town that week, and we had been out with Jess and some friends the night before in Brooklyn. I only got home around 12:30AM and had to work with six hours sleep. Thankfully, I had no hangover when I woke up and was able to get to the start at East 102 St. with plenty of time to spare. In the week leading up to the race, I mapped the course so I knew what to expect in terms of hills. I picked a bad spot to start and got caught up in the crowd, which meant my first mile took around ten minutes. By the time we got to the top of the Harlem Hill the field had thinned out somewhat and I was able to step up the pace to just under nine minutes a mile. All the way down the west side of the park I maintained a healthy pace and as we swung across Central Park South I was feeling very strong.

I picked up the pace, intent on clawing back the time I had lost during that first mile, and even the slight inclines on the way up the east side did not deter my spirit. As I took the bend at 86 St. and reached the plateau that would take me all the way to the finish, I found an extra gear and challenged myself to really push it. Crossing the line in just under fifty five minutes, I was delighted by the result and still felt very strong. I could definitely have done another mile or two.