Monday, January 25, 2016

12 Weeks to Boston

It is amazing to think that the gloves I am wearing to shovel the snow were worn last week, just a few days ago, at the Houston Marathon.  I'm quite fortunate the storm did not come earlier or I would have either not been able to fly to Houston or would have chosen not to go as I am not about to leave my wife home by herself for this.

This is what two feet of snow looks like.

The storm has forced me to take two consecutive days off from running - something I hadn't done in quite awhile.  I think it was actually beneficial as it gave me rest from the personal best and helps me recover so I can begin the next training cycle strong.  My goal is to replicate my feat at Boston on April 18.  Instead of running on Saturday and Sunday, I shoveled.  A lot.  Five shifts of ninety minutes over the two days to dig out our walkway to the main street, a path around the house to the trash and alley, clear the deck from snow so it doesn't ruin, and clear off cars.  The walkway was cleared from my attached neighbor's house (on our left as we look at 17th Street) all the way to Monroe Street.  With my neighbors on the right, the six of us cleaned the walkways and dug out many cars.

This is how you clear a sidewalk - not a path, the entire sidewalk!

This morning, I went for a run along the road next to Catholic University and then we went down the MBT.  The MBT had sections that were fine for running toward the head of the trail as we went past Rhode Island Avenue, but when we hit the bend and passed under New York Avenue, the path wasn't cleared and the footing became treacherous.  I ran with Shawn and we agreed that we would stick to the paved roads.  I also have not done any strength training or yoga, but if I do not do them for another week, that won't be an issue.

The path from the front to the backyard.

I communicated with my coach and we planned out most of the workouts for the next twelve weeks.  Nothing is foreign or new.  We will use some club races including Langley 8K, the Club Challenge, and the George Washington Marathon Relay.  We will also use the Rock N Roll USA as a preparatory race.  With our vacation to Ireland in March, we'll have to schedule accordingly.  Otherwise, I am hopeful that I can get into the kind of shape that will get me from Hopkinton to the finish in Boston in less than three hours - weather and more factors cooperating, of course.
The path to the alley.

Our back porch.

Monday, January 18, 2016


I am a sub 3 marathoner!!! All that hard work paid off: those early morning runs in the cold and dark, the strength training, the yoga (okay, that’s good for the mind), the long runs, the tempo – all of it.

24th Mile with Aimee Newsome (my right) and Derek Bailey (in red) in hot pursuit

Thank you Houston and thanks to my coaches, Ryan Vail and Mike Hamberger, pacer Derek Bailey, club DC Road Runners, too many club mates to mention that includes Stephen Easley, Alex Albertini, Joe Kane, Michael Rohlf, Shawn Zeller, Michael Pryce-Jones, and more, and my favorite running partner, Sammy Ames. But most importantly, thank you to my wife, partner, and muse Laura Goldin Ames!!! #sub3 #houstonmarathon #micdrop

Derek and I during took a photo during our easy jog.

To recap the weekend, I arrived Friday, January 15, 2016, into Hobby where Derek Bailey, my running friend who I met in 2011 at the Pocatello, Idaho, Marathon, met me and drove me to my hotel, the Club Quarters.  On the flight, I finished “Once a Runner,” a fun fictional story about a runner realizing his potential.  One of my resolutions for 2016 is to finish a book a month, and I had started this book a few times before finally finishing it this weekend.

Watching Chris finish the 5K.

In the morning, we met up with his friend Chris and ran an easy twenty minutes then watched Chris break 17 in the 5K.  The expo opened at 8:30 AM and we were some of the first people so we quickly grabbed our packets, shirts, and other goodies before headed off to breakfast.  We found a bakery along the early miles of the course, and I grabbed a green tea, a raisin bagel with lox and cream cheese, and two bagels for Sunday breakfast.  The three of us drove the course, which was helpful, as I knew what to expect on Sunday.  Back at my hotel, I went out to a nearby Italian restaurant that is also an Irish pub, and took the pasta bowl to eat in my room.  I rested most of the afternoon and watched the Patriots win their divisional matchup against the Chiefs.  At halftime, I went down to the hotel restaurant, ordered more pasta and bread, watched a quarter next to two Chiefs fans from Kansas City, and retreated to my room.  I spent a lot of time on my bed simply relaxing, watching football and other TV (Brewster’s Millions), and went to bed.

All the names of the runners listed in the expo.

I woke up a few times during the night since I was overhydrated and because some of my neighbors loudly returned to their rooms past midnight.  I think around 2AM I was up trying to fall back asleep, but since it was fruitless I just kept my eyes shut.  Around 3:30 AM I ate the first bagel, readied myself, and ventured out to the George Brown Convention Center, where the runners waited indoors.  Having never been to Texas before this trip, it was amusing to see several church services occurring.  Derek met up with his running group that was also sort of part of a church or prayer group – the minister had won the race in 70s and given Bill Rodgers a good race in Boston.  A runner from DC, Tuan, was connected with us as he was going to try to produce a three-hour marathon.  Around 6AM with an hour to go, we left to go to the start line.

Packet pick up
The weather was perfect for a marathon – it was in the 40s and I was cold waiting around for close to thirty minutes.  At the gun, we took off and tried to stick together as best we could, but there were so many people.  I took the first mile slow with the goal of easing into my pace by the 5K mats.  Derek and Tuan stayed in sight if not on my shoulder and he started to run with his friend, Amy, who was in the sub elite crowd.  I don’t recall the four of us ever running shoulder-to-shoulder, but that could be due to the fact that we were surrounded and then absorbed by the three-hour pace group.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were thirty runners relying on the pace group.  It wasn’t my strategy to hang with them, but there was a steady headwind that I avoided letting it beat me up by tucking myself into the pack and drafting off the leaders.  Derek and Amy took off by Rice University after the eighth mile but Tuan was with me.  I do remember passing the Hillel a mile earlier when Derek was with me and said the Shehechianu as this was our first time running Houston together.

As we neared the halfway point, I thought that Derek had sped ahead, but while turning I saw him behind the pack by about twenty seconds.  I later found out he pulled over to go to a port-o-john.  I did a self-assessment at the halfway point and everything felt pretty good, and I had clocked a solid 1:29:38.  Since I had read a couple of articles about the shortcomings of the GPS watch, I had an easier time ignoring my watch and focusing on the dude’s shirt in front of me or the pacers’ balloons.  Of course I still checked my pace from time to time, especially early on to make sure I wasn’t going out too fast, but for the most part I was able to focus on the mental game.  At the 22K mark, I vowed that if I can hang with them for the next 10K that I would make a push with 10K to go.

Each mile and kilometer marker became a milestone, one more marker to reassure me that I was still on goal of breaking three.  As I plodded onward, the countdown began just after where I thought 16.2 was as I knew I only had to run a solid ten miles in roughly seventy minutes to come under three.  Near the eighteen-mile mark, I passed Amy, but she caught me and we ran together for a few miles.  At mile twenty, my brain knew I had 10K to the finish and simply needed to put down a 43-44 to accomplish my goal.  After the twenty-first mile, it appeared that the pace group dissipated at a water stop.  At past water stops, runners would leave formation to grab hydration, but it always reformed with the two pacers and their balloons in hand taking front-runner status.  This time, I didn’t see if reform and had a decision to make: stay with the one pacer or forge ahead on my own.  I decided I felt decent enough to try to lay down the hammer.  In retrospect, that decision likely saved my race since increasing my effort was necessary to hold pace.  With four to go, I had a small cushion but began to really believe this was going to happen.  After the twenty-third mile marker, I had 5K to go and correctly deduced that my current pace was good, but I needed to hold it.  Around the twenty-four mile, I heard someone cheer for Derek and soon he caught me.  I tried to stick with him for a bit, but I knew that I only needed two more miles at seven minute pace so I let him go.  In retrospect, should I have pushed harder to give him a chase?  If there is a fault in my race today, this possibly qualifies, but you cannot be upset when you run a personal best.

Celebrating near the toilets
The final mile was tough and euphoric at the same time.  I knew I was going to achieve my goal so I used the extra emotion to pick up the pace, especially with half a mile to go.  When I hit that sign, I had about four minutes to break three and half of an eight minute pace would do it but I went faster to leave nothing on the course.  Then there was only one lap of a track left and then we entered the finisher’s chute and I crossed the line with a good push for a time of 2:59:31!  I was ecstatic yelled “PR!” “Sub-three” and “Thank you, Houston!”  Derek crossed about twenty seconds ahead and we celebrated our achievements together.  We marched into the convention center to retrieve our bags – I was eager to call my wife and coach – and our finisher’s shirt and beer mug.  Before parting, we took a photo by the port-o-john, a Derek tradition for some reason, and said goodbye.

Pizza and beer - the celebration lunch of champions!

 Back at the hotel, I showered, packed, checked-out, went to Flying Sauce around the corner for a pizza and some Texas IPAs.  I was able to connect with Brant Koch, the race director, and thank him for a great race and gave him a DC Road Runners Club shirt.  He’s a really nice guy – I met his daughter in DC as she is looking for work.  Then, Tuan and I shared a cab to the airport.

With the race director near the finish

None of my miles were in the 7:00 minute range.  Each 5K segment was in the 21 minute range.

Perfectly paced!

According to my Garmin GPS = 6:57/47/40/49/48/46/47/56/45/46/50/51/48/51/48/45/46/46/51/46/49/49/53/58/55/50/ 2:15/6:11 (.37) - 5K = 21:13; 10K = 21:10/42:23; 15K = 21:21/1:03:44; Half = 25:54/1:29:38; 25K = 16:48/1:46:26; 30K = 21:09/2:07:35; 40K = 21:38/2:50:30 Finish = 9:01/2:59:31.
OA = 219; Gender = 170; AG = 34

I only had a +15 seconds positive split – very even (1:29:38/ 1:29:53).  On Marathon Guide, my age graded time is 2:57:54.  I feel really good the day after and even could run a few miles if I had to - which I will not.  I predict my next run to be Tuesday morning - an easy four miler.

I remember when I finished I commented that I had nothing else to shoot for since I accomplished my goal.  He said there are plenty of more goals to set and sub three-hour marathons to run.  I hope he’s right – this was an amazing experience!! Next up: Boston!!

State 23 and Marathon 34

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Note to Self: GPS is Merely a Guide

A few of my running friends and I have read the articles circulating about the inaccuracies of GPS watches.  It is not uncommon to run a marathon and log 26.4 miles or a ten miler in 10.3 or a 5K at 3.2 miles.  Runners World wrote about this issue and here is a second article.  The basic idea article to the Hampton Rockfest piece is:

"A GPS measurement is often not nearly as accurate as a wheel measured course. The normal wrist-held or recreational devices are accurate to anywhere from 3 meters to 10 meters 95% of the time causing them to often report longer distances on an accurate measured course. There are many other issues that prevent a GPS measurement to be as accurate."

For my running, that means that often my GPS is close, but not 100% accurate.  When I started running, GPS watches were just starting to catch on with runners.  I remember early long runs training with a particular group because my friend Dave had GPS technology.  I'd ask how fast each mile was.  Eventually, I invested and bought my first GPS watch, which did help my times since I was able to measure time, distance, and pace.  Remarkably, I only have had two GPS watches: the Garmin Forerunner 205 and Garmin Forerunner 405.  The 405 is likely on its last legs, but until I need a new one, I'm fine with it.

I did start to rely too much on the technology.  In the Columbus Marathon, I ran through an urban canyon (tall buildings) and lost signal so it displayed a slower pace.  I picked up the pace and since it was early in the race, that likely cost me later as I would have been better off trusting myself.  Now, I only use my Garmin for long runs, speed work, races, or runs where I don't know the route.  When I have measured several routes through online mapping tools so I know the distance and can simply run without worrying about pace. At the Chicago Marathon, the same thing happened, but I knew better this time from my experience.

Knowing how the watches really work, for my next marathon scheduled for Sunday at Houston, I won't get discouraged when I see the mile record on my watch meters before the marker on the course.  Previously, I assumed I wasn't running the tangents well and was adding too much by going to get water or deviating.  Now that I know, I can relax and trust my pace and my training.  Remember, with regard to the GPS: it's more of a guideline than a rule.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Running Recap of 2015

2015 was arguably my best year so far.  In addition to running the most miles in a calendar year - over 3076 miles in over 420 hours according to Strava - I added yoga to my routine and revamped my strength training exercises.  I started training with a new coach, Ryan Vail, who added more speed during my long runs (tempo-long-tempo, fast finish, and Hansons Brothers workout.  We also got away from the track (mostly) and replaced it with longer tempo workouts.  Below are a few numbers to quantify 2015:

Miles run = 3076 (previous high = 2500)
New 5K PR = 18:22 (previously 18:34)
Fourth overall in Langley 8K
First place DCRRC Snowball Series age group 35-39
Second overall Prospect Park Spring Run (Bachelor Party weekend in Brooklyn)
Set then PR New Jersey Marathon = 3:04:01
First place age group and ninth overall Mad Marathon in Vermont on my 38th birthday
Course PR Leesburg 20K = 1:23:53
Set PR = 3:00:58 at Bismarck, ND Marathon and finished first age group and seventh overall
Course PR = 3:12:47 at NYC Marathon
Second place age group Morris Township Turkey Trot 5K = 18:31
Broke 40 on the tough Bread Run 10K

I added three more states towards my 50 state goal.
Completed = CA, VA, MD, PA, OH, NY, RI, ID, GA, MA, MN, UT, WV, DE, MI, AL, WA, IL, OK, NJ, VT, ND.  So far for 2016, I am registered for Houston and Boston.  I haven't picked my other marathons just yet.

2015 was indeed a great year for running, and I am hopeful for 2016 to be a solid year as well.  Next up is the Houston Marathon on January 17, 2016.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

An Amazing Long Run on the Capital Crescent Trail

Many times, I write about accomplishments in races, but this post is an accomplishment of the beauty of nature.  In order to experience the breathtaking sight in store for me, I had to be at a specific spot, and I was since my wife and I had to be somewhere at 10AM.  That meant I had to be home by 9:15 AM and showered and ready to go by 9:35/40.  In order to get in my long run, I had to wake up at 5 AM and be out the door by 5:45AM.  Normally, I like to start my solo long runs by the Department of Labor since I take a Capital Bikeshare from the Brookland Metro down the Metropolitan Branch Trail and Louisiana Avenue and park at the station at the base of the Mall, just a few steps from the Capitol.

I was able to start my long run around 6:15 by running down the Mall in the dark towards Georgetown.  There were a few other runners on the road, and I greeted them with a wave or a smile and nod or a "Good morning!"  Once passed the Washington Monument, I actually had to stop for a few cars before crossing 17th Street, running by the WWII and Lincoln Memorials, and then passed the Kennedy Center.  In Georgetown, I ran by the boat house and the water front, under the Whitehurst Freeway, and finally onto the Capital Crescent Trail.

I figure I was on my fourth mile of a twenty miler with the turnaround ten miles out somewhere in Bethesda as the sun began to rise giving me a real treat: the sun reflected off the cold water of the Potomac that must have been right near freezing temperature.  It created a cool fog and the bit of sunlight that shone hit off the cool fog to create an effect as someone had filled the path with dry ice.  The sunlight hit off it in interesting angles and it was a sight I hope to remember for a long time.  About ninety minutes later when I was on my way back, the sun had risen and the whole area was still engulfed in the fog giving it a different feel and look.  It was similar to before, but this time it was fully lit.

When I was younger, my mother used to tell me that the sunbeams through the clouds were divine signs telling us everything was going to be okay.  I remembered this and hoped that the message was true: that it was as if G-d himself was telling me that everything was going to be all right, that my wish had been granted, and that there was nothing to worry about.  I hope so.

Most runs I post about involve races, how fast I ran, where I placed, interesting tidbits - but this time I wanted to share about a regular long run and the gift nature gave me this morning.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Final Marathon of 2015 - NYC

I ran the 2015 NYC Marathon because I had earned a spot by fundraising for the canceled 2012 marathon in the wake of (Super?) Hurricane Sandy.  Since the options were to run the 2013 NYC Half or the 2013, 2014, or 2015 Marathon, I chose 2015 since in 2013 I was committed to Detroit, 2014 I thought I might run Marine Corps (ran Chicago), thus leaving 2015.  It is hard to believe it has been three years already!

On the heels of three very successful marathons this year (3:04 in April in New Jersey; 3:17 in July at the hot and hilly Mad Marathon in Vermont; 3:00 in Bismarck), I had high hopes for NYC.  When one of my running buddies broke 3:00 at Marine Corps the Sunday prior to my race, my competitive juices were stirred and I had visions of going sub 3:00 in NYC.  But, it didn't happen.  I ran a respectable 3:12, 14 minutes faster than the 3:26 I raced the course in 2010.

My race preparations went fine.  I felt mostly recovered from Bismarck.  At the Army Ten Miler, I ran a solid 64, but that was only once I determined I couldn't get under 63 and backed off.  Maybe that should have served as an indicator.  Yet, my speed workouts during training went fine, especially my 3, 2, 1 at 6:30 eleven days before the race.  My taper was fine - I was good to go.

Welcome to the NYC Marathon Expo!
In the expo
Laura and I traveled up after work on Friday the 30th and stayed with her folks in New Jersey.  In the morning, I went for a shakeout run, ate breakfast, showered, and then was dropped off at the bus which took me into the Port Authority.  From there, I visited the expo.  I did run into someone I had met in DC at a meeting - quite the small world!  For the afternoon, I met up with my friend John and his girlfriend for lunch at a famous (?) Italian restaurant across from their building.  He has quite the view of the city - we could see into Central Park and spot the finish line.  I then took the subway to Brooklyn where I was spending the night at my friend's place.  Since it was Halloween, they were giving out candy before taking their son out.  Laura and her folks met me and my friend Adam at a local Italian restaurant that was really good.  Adam and I hung out for a bit and chatted before I went to bed early.

Famous Patsy's?  Pre Marathon lunch.

Central Park from John's building

Can you spot the finish line?

Johns Hopkins graduates in NYC
Looking forward to a great race!
In the morning, I wake up naturally at the right time since I had gained an extra hour as the clocks fell back to regular time (can we get rid of DST please?).  A short Uber ride took me to JackRabbit Sports - I had paid $20 for a bus, bag check, and place to gather after the race at PS 87.  The bus eventually arrived just after 6AM (we were told to get there between 5 and 6AM), and then the bus driver started going the wrong way.  Her directions were to go the Holland Tunnel into New Jersey and then onto Staten Island.  The bus nearly revolted and she eventually agreed to get on the BQE and drive over the Verrazano Narrows, which is what we wanted in the first place.

Outside of JackRabbit sports prior to boarding the bus

At the runner's village, I found a spot and took a nap for about an hour.  I was rested and felt pretty good.  At 8:00AM, I began applying lube and getting ready to line up in my corral.  In line for my final pit stop, I chatted with a nice guy from Tel Aviv.  He gave me his cap with Hebrew lettering, but I had to toss that in the second mile since it was so warm.  In the corral, I ran into a guy who had run track at Stonehill College in Easton.  I also ran into a runner from my running club who is older and injured - I had no idea how he snuck up to the front.  On the base of the bridge, we waited as they sung the anthem and held the opening ceremonies.  I have no idea how I got so close to the start line - I didn't push or try - I simply followed the crowd from my wave.  There were some folks with high number bibs indicating they weren't in the proper wave, but I wasn't there to call them out for that.  In fact, some guys from Italy were taking their pictures and I got them to take one of me and email it.

This is how close I was to the start line.  The gun went off five minutes later.

Once the race started, I thought I was being very smart.  The first mile up the bridge was 7:15 and I was in control.  The second mile was 6:20, but that was just because it was a downhill.  It was in the third mile where I tried to settle in and ran into Adam from my running club.  We chatted a bit, but he fell back as he was recovering from an injury and this was his first marathon in quite sometime.  Around the four mile mark, I began to worry that something was wrong - I was sweating more than I thought I would this early and my legs didn't feel completely fresh.  For the next few miles, I tried positive imagery and telling myself everything was fine.  I took my first Gu at the fifth mile and when I hit the 10K and 15K I was telling myself that I was fine.

My run through Brooklyn was more of a struggle than I admitted at the time.  I passed near where Chris and Gwen live around mile 8-9, but I didn't see them.  When the 3:00 pacer passed me at the 11th mile, I tried to hold for a bit, but I couldn't.  I hit the halfway point in 1:31 and thought that if I lost only five minutes on the second half, I would be in really good shape.  Queens went fine, but then I hit the Queensboro Bridge where I lost nearly two minutes.  It is a long, tough bridge, but I ran it correctly judging by effort and not pace.  I told myself that when I hit Manhattan, the rush of the crowd would inspire me to run a good final ten miles.  That was almost the case.

Photo credit David and Mary - they were a huge boost to my psyche

I ran down First Avenue and heard my friend David and Mary calling my name and ran to them.  I needed their cheering which helped me refocus out of a bad mental place.  That got me to about the 18th mile where the 3:05 pacer passed me.  I was fine with that as I readjusted my goals for a BQ and sub 3:10.  I actually handled the Bronx pretty well as I got a boost of energy.  And, at mile 22, I thought I was going to come in under 3:10 since I just needed to hold a 7:30 for the final four miles.  I felt that was entirely possible until I hit the slow, long hill that is the 23rd mile that leads to Central Park.  That's where I lost all hope as my legs couldn't turnover anymore and my pace slowed a couple of minutes.  The 3:10 pacers passed and that was the end of my race.  In the park, I was able to toss in a few surges and a final push to get in under 3:13, but my race was over.  I felt ill and needed a medical person to walk with me for five minutes before I felt well enough to continue on my own.

And the award for worst race picture...
It took me quite a long time to get my poncho, get out of the park, find the meeting spot, and then hail an Uber to take me to the pub to meet Laura and friends.  In addition to walking slow, I had two Ubers cancel on me.  Normally, I would have walked the 1.3 miles, but I was tired and just wanted to get to the restaurant quickly to see my friends.  It was nice to see our New York friends.

Group shot

Race stats.
Weather = high 50 degrees to start, 60s at the end, warmer and more humid than expected, started sweating early, overcast with some sun.

Final time = 3:12:47
Splits: 5K = 21:19; 10K = 42:42; 15K = 1:04:20; 20K = 1:26:13; 1/2 = 1:31:10; 25K = 1:49:10; 30K = 2:12:20; 35K = 2:36:33; 40K = 3:02:13
Results: Overall Place = 1708; Gender Place = 1557; Age Place = 301

Next up: TBD

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Army Ten Miler - Midway Between Bismarck and NYC

The way the fall racing calendar shaped up, it was fortuitous that the Army Ten Miler fell three weeks after the Bismarck Marathon and three weeks prior to the New York City Marathon.  Having PR-ed in Bismarck and coming close to breaking three hours, New York City is on my mind.  The Army Ten Miler was a good opportunity to gage my recovery and preparations for NYC.

I met up with friend, Michael Rohlf; we share a mutual coach in Ryan Vail.  In fact, Michael recommended him to me.  Our plan was to race together.  I found him in the starting chute.  We stayed together for the first two miles, going out in 6:15.  We were to go out 6:20-15, and in the third mile, I had to back off as there was an incline and I felt that I wasn't 100% fresh.  I decided to back off from PR pace and just run what I was able on this day.  It turned out to be the smart choice.  I held it together over the rolling hills of the 14th Street Bridge.  With about a mile to go, another runner encouraged me by saying I would start the finishing kick to pace him and then he'd pace me to the end.  He said we'd have to run under a six minute mile.  In my head, I said okay and did kick a sub six minute final mile to get me across the finish line in 64:04.  While not a personal best (63:11 at Cherry Blossom 2014), it was a course PR (65:32 in 2011).

Michael and I celebrating our race.  He wore DCRRC singlet and I wore my company's running shirt, Fireside21.

Race Mile Splits = 6:15/15/31/10/26/34/32/28/28/5:57 (31 seconds for the final .10 in 5:20 pace).  I ran four miles of warm up and six miles of cool down to get twenty miles on the day.
My result
With NYC two weeks away (from when I write this), I'm feeling pretty good.  I wish my confidence were higher, but when you constantly feel sore, it is hard to feel confident.  Plus, I battled a cold this week and think it is on its way out.  My coach said I will be fine come race day - at some point, I just have to trust myself and my training.  Yesterday, I ran sixteen miles with three miles at marathon pace.  Today was an off day.  Next Sunday I get to go volunteer at the Marine Corps Marathon and hand out water with my club at the tenth water stop - just as the runners come back into Virginia near Pentagon City.  I always love the energy and can't wait to run another marathon.  I'm sure I'll be ready to run a great race in NYC!