Monday, November 7, 2011

Chicago, Baltimore, Waffle Cone, Halloweeny, and NYC


Basically since I recovered from Burning River, the race I've been focusing all of my training toward has been JFK50 on November 19th.  The focus race of the fall for my team was the Chicago Marathon on October 9th.  I was debating training completely through Chicago or doing a short taper for it.  A couple days after that Uber Rock 50K, I decided it'd be fun to give sub-2:50 a try at Chicago.  So I tapered and took it easy for about 2 weeks, feeling confident that I could PR in a marathon and get under 2:50. 

The goals I wrote down for Chicago before the race included hitting the half at 1:24-1:25, running 20-minute 5Ks, and "confident about PR, should go sub-2:50, perfect day=2:47/8".  Here is a basic rundown of the race:

  • 6:32/mile average for first 5K
  • Low 6:20s/mile average for next 20K
  • 10 Mile split in 1:04:07
  • 13.1 Mile split in 1:23:55
I was feeling great up to this point and thinking about 2:48.  The last time I was in Chicago, I ran very even splits, and wondered at the halfway point this year if I might be able to do something like that again.
  • Mile 17-20 average 6:39/mile (beginning to fade)
  • 20 Mile split in 2:09:09 (a PR for 20 miles...I struggled to a 2:14 a month earlier)
  • Mile 20-26.2 average ~7:00/mile (crash)
The last 10K was tough and I ended up with a 2:52:28.  It was slower than I thought I would be able to run, but I couldn't complain - it was still my second fastest marathon and I didn't see myself as in peak marathon shape.


So after Chicago, I got back to training.  In building up to JFK last year, I raced Steamtown, then ran Baltimore the following weekend, then Marine Corps on Halloween.  But I did little to no training in between those 'long runs'.  I had the same kind of schedule this year, but wanted to keep up my running in between long runs/races.  The few days after Chicago, I basically just did shorter, easy runs; but I was running at least.  Then on Saturday I headed to the Baltimore Marathon with Jackie, another long run/race in her heavy racing and training schedule.  She ran very well with a 3:15 clocking on a tough course on a brutally windy day.  This was my second time running Baltimore, and it is definitely the most difficult road marathon course I have run.  On top of that, there was a serious headwind for much of the race, most notably mile 20 to 23 or so.  I ran with Jackie and had a lot of fun, and got a great training run out of it.  A couple hours on the White Clay trails with Jackie in Delaware the following day felt pretty good, too.

Waffle Cone

I continued to increase mileage after Baltimore, and continued to feel really good.  I began falling into this trend I've observed over the last several weeks with a lot of miles at a faster pace than usual.  A lot of my runs have been ending up under 7:30 pace.  This summer, when I was doing a lot of 80 or 90 mile weeks, my pace was usually around 8 minutes or slower.  Since taking a day off before Baltimore, I had done about 110 miles in 8 days, much of them at a decent pace.  I was in Delaware again on Saturday, and the following morning was the Caffe Gelato Waffle Cone 10 Miler (or something to that effect).  Although Jackie had just done some 35 miles or something that day, we both seemed to think it would be fun - just a small, local race on a very nice weekend weather-wise.  It turned out to be a trail race, which made it interesting.  A few miles of it were singletrack and as I was racing through those miles, I realized that I had never really run all-out on singletrack trails before.  I ended up running 1:02:02, an unexpected 10-mile PR.  I've been wanting for a while to try to run under an hour for 10 miles.  This impromptu race gave me confidence that I'd be able to do that.  Give me a road course that's not too hilly, and I think I could do it.  It was a fun race, and Jackie and I added a few miles afterward before cashing in our free waffle cone coupons.

Halloweeny Fat Ass 50K

This "race" was ridiculous.  I put race in quotes because it was really just an organized fun run, fat ass event.  Jackie and I saw it as a good training run for JFK and a fun way to spend Halloween weekend, running in costumes bought at Goodwill.  Much of the course was part of the JFK course, plus a loop up the Maryland Heights trail (which was awesome) and a loop through Harper's Ferry.

The race was schedule to begin around 8:00am.  Here was a look out the back window at about 7:00 am:
It was Halloween weekend and snow was falling and sticking to the ground.  Surely once the sun came up it would stop coming down and melt away.

After a meeting with all the runners and the race organizers in a pavilion at the start, the RD said something like, "Okay well I think that's everything, so umm...Go, I guess!"  Of the 100+ people who signed up for this freebie event, apparently only about 40 showed up.  Many of those no-shows were probably deterred by the weather.  It was still snowing at the start, and we jumped onto the Appalachian Trail from Gapland to Weverton Cliffs:
My 'Candace Corn' outfit from Goodwill was certainly not made for this kind of weather, nor was Jackie's pom-pom tutu.  Once we got moving, I warmed up enough, but the worst part definitely came when we got down onto the C&O Towpath.  Down there, the snow was more like sleet or cold rain blowing into us with a persistent headwind.  After the second aid station, we started climbing the Maryland Heights trail, for which I was very thankful because I knew the long steady ascent would keep me warmer.  We went up for a couple miles, keeping a watchful eye on the trees far above us.  It sounded like a gun range at times with high branches cracking and falling to the ground all around us.  Luckily, all the runners made it through unscathed.  It was seriously pretty dangerous; if it weren't for the loud, gunfire-like cracking noises which provided a few seconds of warning, at least a couple people would quite likely have fallen victim to these so-called "widow makers". 

On the MD Heights loop, the snow was several inches deep and still falling.  It was beautiful, and I couldn't believe it was October in Maryland.  The only thing that could have made it better would have been the added comfort I would have had from wearing actual clothes.  But the trails were awesome and peaceful, and I was reminded how much I love running in the snow, especially after a long hot summer.  After an overlook over Harper's Ferry, I was a little disappointed to descend back down the to Towpath where the weather wasn't so pleasant.

There were four aid stations on the route.  We stopped at them each for at least a few minutes, and I mostly ate cookies because I was hungry and they were delicious.  For the Harper's Ferry loop, I really needed to rely on the turn sheet that was provided at the beginning of the run.  It was kind of cool running on this unmarked route, though.  Once in a while we would come upon an arrow drawn in the snow on the ground by somebody's feet who was ahead of us, indicating the right direction.

Eventually, we were back on the Towpath and then heading up the switchbacks at Weverton Cliffs, back on the AT toward the start/finish at Gapland.  The AT was much more snow-covered at this point than it had been in the morning.  The running was slow and meticulous, but really peaceful and fun. 

Before we rushed into the bathrooms to change into dry/warm clothes, this is what we looked like after finishing:
And I don't think I'd ever seen snow on a pumpkin before:

New York City

If you ever get the chance to run the New York City Marathon with the NYPD Running Club, I highly recommend it.  Running through the five boroughs past hundreds of thousands of spectators with NYPD across the front of my singlet was a remarkable experience.  The NYPD is clearly appreciated and loved by the people of the city.

After Halloweeny, I continued my heavy training which was still going really well.  I had a better than expected, relatively hard 20 mile run on Tuesday, and felt good throughout the week.  NYC was to be my last hard training run before JFK.  As such, the time I ran was not really a concern to me.  I thought it would be cool to get another sub-3 under my belt, but really wasn't sure how my legs would feel.  I had a feeling even a 3-hour marathon would be a pretty difficult effort, and was realistically expecting something in the low 3 to 3:05 range.

I went up to NYC with Ted, Charlie, and LT.  Ted and Charlie were shooting for something fast, and LT was kind of undecided.  He seemed to be planning on going out at 2:55 pace or so (maybe a little faster), so on the starting line I decided I would just run with him until I dropped off pace.  When the gun went off, we began running up the Verrazano Bridge and my legs felt completely dead.  I was kind of confused because they had felt fine on our short shake-out run the day before, which granted was short and easy.  But I assumed it was just from sitting on the long bus ride to the start and then standing around for a while at the starting line, and hoped it would go away soon.  Or if it didn't, then I'd end up with a relatively slower time, but still get a good training run.  Either way, I'd have fun.

After a 6:58 first mile up the Verrazano Bridge and a 6:09 down the other side, LT and I settled in to about a 6:30 pace and enjoyed the massive crowds and beautiful day.  Before I knew it, we were at mile 9.  Those first 9 miles flew by.  I was genuinely surprised when I saw the 9 mile mark, expecting something more like 5 or 6 I think.  When I hit the 10 mile mark in 1:05:22, I think I started to think about how I was feeling.  Excellent.  I was feeling excellent.  I was going way faster than planned, though, and knew I would be feeling the pace sooner rather than later.  Somewhere around mile 10 or 12, I started pulling away from LT a bit.  Admittedly, I was pushing a little bit at this point...but it was comfortable and I didn't feel like I was setting myself up for any kind of huge crash later on.  So I kept going and went through the half at 1:26:01.  Around mile 14, I started to think about that, and realized that I only had to run a 1:29 second half to come in at 2:55.  That would be way more than I was asking for out of this race.  But I felt good enough and told myself there was no reason I couldn't run a 1:29; it might mean getting out of my comfort zone a little bit later, but I knew I would be able to if I wanted.

As I ascended the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15, I noticed that I was passing a lot of people and that I thought I had been doing so for several miles.  I would see a pack up ahead of me and think, "Oh, I can catch up to them and just hang on to their group for a while."  But then I would catch up to them and go right by them.  And that kept happening.

After that bridge, there was a sweet 3 or 4 mile stretch down First Avenue.  It felt like Boylston Street in Boston, but 3+ miles long.  Just a long straight stretch with several rows of spectators cheering alongside.  My pace dropped into the 6:20s for this stretch, and I was still feeling really good.  At this point, I started telling myself that if I hit the 20 mile mark within 2-3 minutes of my 20 mile split at Chicago, then there would be no reason why I couldn't beat my Chicago time.  I hit 20 miles in 2:10:59, less than 2 minutes slower than my Chicago 20 mile split.  I knew what this meant: I was going to run under 2:52 at least.  But if I was going to do that, then why not PR and get under 2:51:02.  I felt great, so I started realizing this would be a real possibility.  Forget that, I felt so good, I could go under 2:50.  So that's what I decided.  I felt almost fresh still going into the last 10K, so I felt like I could really start pushing and still sustain it for a few more miles.

Mile 21...6:17
Mile 22...6:19
Mile 23...6:06

I was at 2:29:43 at mile 23.  I told myself before then that if I hit 23 in 2:30 or better, I could definitely PR and probably go under 2:50.

Mile 24...6:31
Mile 25...6:10
Mile 26...5:52

I was having tons of fun running fast for that last 10K.  I've never finished a marathon feeling so good.  I was pushing myself hard, but comfortably.  I crossed in 2:49:31 with the most unexpected PR I've ever had.  Looking at my running log, I had run 164 miles in the 12 days before this race.  Ironically, this turned out to be the best race I've ever had in a marathon.

Previously, I viewed Chicago '09 as my best marathon race.  It is still the most evenly paced marathon I've ever raced, with half splits of 1:27:36 and 1:27:38, and only a 22-second spread among my 5K splits.  In New York City, though, I opened with a 1:26:01 and continued to speed up for a 1:23:30 second half.  I don't know the 5K splits exactly, but I closed with a 38:32 10K compared to 40:40 for the opening 10K.

Since my mindset for this race was entirely in training run/fun run mode, the fact that I ran a PR didn't, and still hasn't, really hit me I don't think.  I crossed the finish line feeling like I just had a really good training run.  It did much for my confidence leading up to JFK, which was already high.  And it makes me wonder what I could run for a marathon under normal racing and training circumstances (also, I was hungry and had to pee starting at about mile 5 in NYC and consumed nothing but one gel at mile 16 and a little Gatorade or water every couple miles).  Not sure when that will happen again, but I look forward to it.

Now it's two weeks of taper while I chomp at the bit to toe the line at JFK50...

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