Thursday, April 21, 2016

Boston Marathon 2016 Recap

The factors I cannot control are the ones that seem to bother me the most. There was the sun at the start, making it feel like a 70 degree day to start the race. There was the headwind pushing me back the closer I got to Boston. And, there were um, stomach issues, the night before the race. So now that I have my excuses out of the way, let's talk about what happened at the 120th running of the Boston Marathon.

Someone took a candid of me as I entered Athlete's Village

Heading into the Boston Marathon, I was feeling strong and confident. I was coming off of some very serious personal bests, namely the Houston Marathon in January in 2:59:31 and the Rock N Roll DC Half Marathon in 1:23:54, plus a very strong course PR at my club's Langley 8K, a hilly and challenging course. I wasn't concerned with my poor showing at the GW Birthday Marathon Relay (we got second place with no shot of taking first or any real challenge from the third place team), my withdrawal from the Club Challenge Ten Miler due to tired legs, or my hamstring issue that forced me to take a couple of days off prior to our Ireland trip including my final true long run. When I stood in the starting corral, I felt pretty good. I knew a personal record was unlikely due to the temperatures, and coach and I agreed that I should keep my pace between 6:55-7:05, aiming for a 7 minute pace. That would have given me a 3:03/4 and a huge course PR and another BQ. In retrospect, I probably would have been better served holding a 7:10-15 and aiming for a 3:10.

The day began early as my father drove me to the start in Hopkinton. We left by 6:10 and he dropped me off a few blocks from the runner's village around 6:40, plenty of time for him to get back on 495 before they shut the road. I vowed to spent less time on the course than I would spend in Hopkinton waiting for the race to start. 3:17 < 3:20 so mission accomplished. I found a spot in the sun and laid down and relaxed. I chatted up with a guy near me, Chris, who ran with Capital Area Runners. This was his second Boston and third marathon. At 8:30, I met Derek Bailey, my friend from Houston, by the "It all starts here" sign. We exited the village, headed down to the starting line in our corral, and waited.

Derek and I devised a plan to race together. For the first few miles, we were talking to each other, getting into our rhythm, and grabbing each other water. I went over the plan which was to hold on to a 7:05 pace, nice and easy, survive the hills intact, and make a go for it the final five miles. We mostly stayed together in the first 10K, but I had to run my own race. In my head, I told myself to get through the first ten using my head, the next ten using my legs, and finish strong using my heart (the final 10K). The first ten went according to plan, and the plan stayed mostly true until the Newton hills. Someday, I'll be fresh when I hit those hills, but Monday wasn't that day, and rather than waste myself trying to maintain pace, I climbed them trying to just keep moving forward.

In the past, I knew I wouldn't have a good day in 2012 when at the 10K, it felt like the 20 mile mark in that almost 90 degree heat. In 2014, I think I made it to the ten mile mark before I started to negotiate with myself as I backed off the pace. This time, it wasn't until mile 16 when I knew coming in under 3:10 wasn't going to happen. I know they say there are four hills in Newton, but I somehow counted six. At the top of Heartbreak, I felt some freshness return to my legs and thought about picking up the pace. But, given that 3:10 was no longer realistic, I lost my motivation to put myself through any more struggling. I certainly didn't quit, but I didn't have the same positive view I had in Houston in the final miles. I'm confident that had one of my time goals other than to set a course PR been achievable, I could have willed myself to push it

What kept me going the final few miles was looking forward to seeing my family at Coolidge Corner. We scouted a spot on Saturday at the corner of Beacon and Harvard, so I knew exactly where to look for them. As I approached, I slowed to kiss them and say hi and demand a picture. My wife pushed me away, worried about my time, but you can see that in this video my father shot. They were just before the Mile 24 marker, and I left them at right around 3:00:00 on the dot, so I knew I could do about two and a quarter miles in less than twenty minutes, perhaps as quickly as 17 minutes. With my mind set on 3:17, I tried a few surges and with one mile to go, I had 7:30 to break 3:18. My watch had me on 7:30 ish pace for most of the mile, but when I turned left onto the final straight-away, I entered the pain tunnel and pushed my body across the finish line with time to spare. A 3:17 and a new personal course record!

After, I wobbled through in a daze, freezing as the wind had picked up and there was no more sun since the buildings blocked it out. I met my friend, went back to his apartment for a shower and change of clothes (gave them to him Sunday at the expo), and took off to the T (Back Bay to State and transfer to Blue to the airport and then a shuttle bus to the C Terminal). At the airport, my father and wife picked me up, we got food nearby in East Boston and a beer, and then we were onto the airport. I had time to sit at Boston Beer Works before our flight home to DC.

I received the following official email from the Boston Athletic Association:

Your finish time is listed below.
Kenny Ames
Net Time3:17:49
In Gender3870/14471 (Male)
In Division2309/4807 (M18-39 Age Group)

This gives me a chance to compare my results of my four Boston Marathons:

2012 - Bib # 4186
22:44 5K; 46:14 10K; 1:11:24 15K; 1:38:09 20K; 1:44:55 Half; 2:08:07 25K; 2:41:38 30K; 3:17:14 35K; 3:52:47 40K; 4:07:40 Finish. 10122 Overall; 6956 Gender; 2947 Division.

2013 - Bib # 4935
21:47 5K; 42:58 10K; 1:04:27 10K; 1:26:46 20K; 1:31:46 Half; 1:50:18 25K; 2:15:15 30K; 2:41:14 35K; 3:08:03 40K; 3:19:41 Finish. 5774 Overall; 4962 Gender; 2730 Division.

2014 - Bib # 6304
21:51 5K; 43:33 10K; 1:05:32 15K; 1:29:48 20K; 1:35:00 Half; 1:54:55 25K; 2:21:42 30K; 2:49:37 35K; 3:17:49 40K; 3:29:06 Finish. 9029 Overall; 7076 Gender; 3311 Division.

2016 - Bib # 4174
22:11 5K, 44:16 10K, 1:06:26 15K, 1:29:07 20K, 1:34:02 Half, 1:51:59 25K, 2:16:13 30K, 2:41:58, 35K, 3:07:43 40K; 3:17:49 Finish. 4438 Overall; 3866 Gender; 2309 Division.

I know I am getting better and smarter as a runner, but I would have had a faster race if I set my goal to 3:10 instead of 3:05. I should recognize I do not fare well in heat, especially if I have not had a chance to acclimate. Hopefully, future races give me the perfect 45 and overcast weather where I thrive! On to the next one...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Running in Ireland

Laura and I traveled to Ireland for our one year anniversary, and like all of our trips, I am quite excited to run in new places. Last year ( May 2015), we took our honeymoon in Europe, and I was able to run in Reykjavik, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Paris. Three years ago (August/September 2013), we went to Brussels (only a layover so no time to run), Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, and Zurich. And, this past September (2015), we traveled to Montreal for a weekend. Prior to traveling with Laura, I had run in Madrid, Rome, and Florence (August/September 2012); Warsaw (July 2011); Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (June 2010 and December 2011); Berlin (December 2010); and London (October 2009).

Irish flags - that's how you know you're in Ireland, or South Boston.

Dublin: March 25-27

Dublin is a pretty neat town. We were quite jetlagged as we barely slept and when we landed, it was already morning. After getting the rental car, I had to adjust to driving a car on the wrong side of the road with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. Plus, the stick shift was done with my left hand (not a problem since I’m ambidextrous), and the street signs are in metric. Once at the hotel, we were able to check in and then wander around for someplace to eat. We found a cafe across from Trinity College and then booked one of those hop-on/hop-off buses to take us around Dublin for two days. We stayed on the bus for a while to get our bearings of the city. We learned where the Guinness Storehouse was, passed by Kilmainham Gaol where there was a ceremony commemorating the 1916 Uprising, and went out to the Phoenix Park, which would make a lovely running route. When we went back to the hotel to rest, I set out to run an out and park in Phoenix Park. Unfortunately, I hurt my hamstring earlier in the week and the pain started to bother me near Guinness. I wisely stopped two miles into my run and walked back to the hotel. Laura was sleeping so I soaked in the bathtub.

I'm happy because I haven't yet aborted my run.
Prior to dinner, I went to the hotel bar while Laura finished getting ready. Oddly, no alcohol can be served on Good Friday in all of Ireland, but apparently the loophole is your hotel can serve its guests. I brought my book, Round Ireland with a Fridge, and was reading it when a local plopped down next to me. Since he couldn’t order for himself, I bought PJ a Guinness and he gave me advice on what to do in Dublin and around Ireland. He had lived in San Diego, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City as he worked in construction; now, he is retired but owns and manages property. At dinner, we found a pub that could serve us dinner but nothing spirited to drink. For dessert, we enjoyed Murphy’s ice cream, which is based in Dingle and we would enjoy more than this one time.

On Saturday March 26, we took a long walk of about two miles from our hotel to the Guinness Storehouse. Once inside, we toured the factory, and it was pretty much a zoo. There were long lines everywhere. While I found it interesting, it wasn’t actually a brewery but an "experience." When we made it to the end and sat down at their nice dining restaurant, but they didn’t bring me my drink until after I had finished my lunch. At least they didn’t charge me for it, as I barely drank it. We finished by going to the top to redeem our drink ticket and get a Guinness and look over the city. But, it was too crowded and I had a few sips before we decided to leave. After, we took the hop-on bus to the Kilmainham Gaol, but when we arrived around 2PM, we were told there were no more tours for the day - they had sold out. Instead, we hopped on the next bus and went back to the downtown area and instead went into Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and their old library.

Trinity College Old Library next to the Book of Kells
At night, we went to O’Neill’s (misspelled according to my good Irish friend), for a drink before finding a proper pub for dinner. We had a nightcap and dessert at the pub near our hotel. That night/early morning, I experienced springing forward a second time as their clocks went into daylight savings time.

Phoenix Park and an obelisk.
I arose early to get in a run and see if my hamstring was all right. It held up without pain, just discomfort, for the six mile route I planned for Friday which was by the Laffey River and to Phoenix Park and back. They were preparing for the 1916 Easter Uprising parade and celebration, so I snapped a few pictures.

1916 Easter Rising Centennial Run

Kilkenny: March 27-28

Having walked most of Dublin, it was now time for my first real driving experience in the countryside. The drive out of Dublin took a while as much of the city was blocked off for the 1916 Easter Rising parades and celebration. The GPS kept taking us into barriers, but we eventually figured out how to leave town. Once in Kilkenny, which took less than two hours, we checked in, found the garage for the car, and found a hotel bar that would only serve us scones and croissants.

After, we took the Smithwick’s tour, which was another "experience" as it isn't a brewery. On our tour were a couple from Freetown and two couples from Olney, Maryland. The Freetown couple - he was a state trooper and she was a paramedic/firefighter. Another couple was living in Colorado, but originally from Michigan. This was a better tour than Guinness as it was more personalized and informative and less crowded. And, at the end, I got to enjoy a beer and posed for a pour of a beer. For lunch, we hopped into a pub for pizza and a pint where we chatted it up with a newlywed couple from the Jersey Shore - eight months married. We toured the Kilkenny Castle which reminded us of Downton Abbey and went back to our hotel room to rest before dinner. At night, we went to Kyteler's Inn where we enjoyed authentic Irish traditional music. For a drink, we found the Hotel in the Wall Pub, which was a tiny speakeasy.

Monday morning, I took a run on the River Nore and the hamstring was even better. I was going to add an eighth mile, but I started to feel it and decided that seven was fine. It was a beautiful run through the woods and along the river. If I needed more miles, there were more paths and sidewalks.

View of the Nore River in Kilkenny

Waterford: March 28-29

Waterford was a quick drive from Kilkenny. We were there really only to tour the Crystal Factory. It was quite the fascinating experience to see crystal made in front of us. I had a ball, literally. In the morning, I went out for a longer run which was out and back along the river and then past the hotel, past Reginald's Tower (which we toured after the crystal factory), and to a park that was one kilometer around (I ran six loops).

Sunrise over Waterford
Reginald's Tower
Dingle: March 29-31

On our way to Dingle, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel, which offered great views but cold and wind. We posed by the castle on a sunny day. That drive to the rock took us through some one lane roads that were traveled in both directions while the drive to Dingle from the Rock took a good three plus hours. But, once we hit the Dingle Peninsula, we were rewarded with incredible views! In fact we saw some amazing weather off the shore and a pretty cool classical music song was on the radio so we took a video that came out well done. We checked in, walked to the town and stopped in every gift shop. For dinner, we ate at Danno's, and celebrated our one year anniversary. Of course, we had Murphy's ice cream for dessert.

Slea Head Drive

In the morning, I rose early to test out the hamstring and ran out five miles clockwise around the Slea Head Drive and then back. It was dark and cloudy when I departed but I got a good view of the sunrise. Going out, it was a bit hilly, but the views on the way back were incredible. I particularly liked all the sheep baah-ing at me. I have some great photos and video of the sheep telling me to go away.

The drive was really pretty. We stopped at a pottery place - we noticed that many of the pottery shops were also cafes. Halfway around the loop, we stopped at a cafe and ordered a scone and milk. At another spot, we pulled over and saw people climbing to the top of a hill, but decided not to hike up the trail. At another point in the road, I almost hit a dog that was in the road and wouldn’t move. He looked soaked and scared and Laura had to get out of the car to help him move along so he wouldn’t end up dead. Poor little guy.

That night, we got a drink at Dick Mack’s pub and met a couple from Charlotte, NC, that attended one of the UNC (Chris and Jennifer). Chris graduated in 1996 and married in 1999, but they haven’t traveled much since they have two kids. I discussed politics and the absurdity of North Carolina passing an anti-LGBT law. Chris defended it saying it was protecting the children. I usually find that protecting the children is code for, “We just don’t like this behavior.”

Just prior to sunrise, eight miles out from Dingle town
For my second run in Dingle, I arose quite early and ran in the dark going counterclockwise on the Slea Head Drive out eight miles and back for a total of sixteen. It was completely dark for the first half as the road was lit only by the moonlight - going out, I saw one car with its headlights on, but no one was in the car as it was parked by a house. It was a terrifying yet exhilarating run, and I kept thinking that I better not get mauled by the sheep or wild animals! I passed Mount Brandon and took a picture at the halfway point. The last four miles were mostly downhill, so I decided to hold a pace just slower than my half marathon pace, finishing up in 6:33/35/36/15. The hammy felt good!

I'm pretty sure this is Mount Brandon as seen during sunrise on my way back into Dingle.

Breakfast at the hotel was amazing as they had a full buffet then took your order. Yesterday, we stuffed ourselves on the breads, fruits, and cereals that we didn’t have room for anything from the kitchen. Today, we were wise to leave room and were not disappointed. David, Cameron’s son, is taking over the bed and breakfast and was the chef. During breakfast, I spotted a full rainbow outside the B&B and took a fantastic photo.

Ennis: March 31-April 2 (Cliffs of Moher and Galway)

We drove from Dingle towards our destination for the day, the Cliffs of Moher. The best way was to take a ferry from Tarbet to Killimer for €18. On the ferry, I asked the steward for the wifi password and he replied “Not Working.” I asked if that was all lower case, but he didn’t get the joke. Then it was another hour to the Cliffs of Moher. We again traveled down an unnamed side road where we could barely tell if a car was approaching due to some high climbs.

At the Cliffs, we ate lunch consisting of soup before going out to explore. They have a barrier to keep you safe and recommend staying inside. We saw a number of idiots crossing the barrier including a father who took his two year old son over the rail. There have been several folks over the years to fall over - there is a plaque memorializing them. I took a nice selfie but was photobombed.

Be careful!

From the Cliffs, it was a short drive to Ennis. There was no hot water for me to soak in the bath. We walked around the town, guided by Martin who is one of the workers of the hotel who needed to stretch his legs. He is also a runner and detailed a 5K loop that I dubbed the Roundabouts of Ennis since it turned left at each roundabout. We ate dinner in the restaurant, Poet's Corner, attached to the hotel. It was really the only option we considered as we ate there both nights. And, both of my runs consisted of loops of the roundabouts of Ennis - eight miles on Friday that was two loops plus an out and back through the town center and ten miles on Saturday that was three loops plus a shorter out and back through the town finishing with eight striders.

Ennis was the only place I ran where I didn't take any pictures on my run. On Friday, April 1, it rained most of the day and we spent it in Galway, an hour away. After lunch, we walked to the City Museum and saw the underwhelming and overhyped Spanish Arch.

The "famous" Spanish arch - do you see it?

Running was fun in Ireland. I started out injured in Dublin but gave the hamstring the proper rest and as I write this with about a week to go until Boston, I feel that I am at full strength and ready to at the least set a personal course record (3:19 in 2013). Not only did I enjoy most of my runs on the Emerald Isle (except for Dublin where I aborted one and was tender for the second one), but I left behind my "JHU-labeled" shoes as they hit 500 miles: I need the room in my luggage for souvenirs for the niece and nephews.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

New Half Marathon PR at Rock 'N Roll DC

My coach mentioned that often one can secure a half marathon personal record while training for a marathon. We decided to go for it and ditched last Saturday's workout in favor of a simply long run with no push so that I would be fresh. Plus, we scheduled a mini taper this week to aid in my goal to walk the start line with fresh legs.
I left my house around two hours prior to the start, walked to the BikeShare and took a bicycle, rode down and docked by the NoMa Harris Teeter, and started my warm up run by running to and around the Capitol then down the Mall near 12th Street. I put in three slow but steady warm up miles followed by my pre-race routine. In the starting corral, I saw Rob Wolfe (2:55), Alex Albertini (3:07), Amanda Hicks (1:28), and Dan Burns (1:33). Many of us chatted it up and talked about our goals for the race. Alex was hoping to qualify for Boston and he did since in 2017 he will be 35. I think his time should be enough under the qualifying time of 3:10 to get back to Boston.
When the race began, it was crowded for the first few miles. I held steady and put down a 6:37 which was in line with my goal for the first mile. Two guys in front of me were chatting and blocking me until one asked if I wanted to pass them. When I replied that I did, they parted and I darted ahead. As I left them behind, I heard one say to the other something about he didn't want anyone other than his girlfriend breathing on him. I found that funny yet I thought to myself, "If you don't want to be so close to people, don't race a large race," since the first few miles are always so crowded and people try to get around others. The second mile through southern Foggy Bottom and toward the Lincoln Memorial allowed me to begin to quicken my pace. I recall that the first water stop was manned by DC Front Runners. I didn't have a chance to get any fluids and went along over Memorial Bridge, around the traffic circle in front of Arlington Cemetery, and back over the same bridge then left down towards Rock Creek Parkway. Once I passed the 5K mark, I noticed a white guy with long dreadlocks and I thought he might be some runner I ran with at the Rocket City Marathon. I asked him if we met in Huntsville and he said he'd never been, so it wasn't him. I wished him a good race and he slowed down, realizing he went out too fast for his projected marathon pace.
On the slope and just prior to the Kennedy Center, my club, DC Road Runners Club, was manning that fluid station. I grabbed a Gatorade from Miguel Cuya and found Michael Pryce-Jones who handed me some water and cheered me. Rock Creek can be a challenging section with its rolling terrain, but I held steady in the 6:20s with my goal to keep it close to 6:25. The "Calvert Climb" is the real challenge for this course. I planned to expect to lose thirty seconds and was fortunate to keep the mile under 7:00 (barely at 6:59). Once I crested, there were more rolling hills through Adams Morgan, but I recovered well to keep the next two miles close to 6:21. I frequently run this stretch in training and knew exactly what to expect. The final real climb of the half took us up Harvard and once we crossed Georgia Ave, we were headed downhill and past the McMillan Reservoir and Howard University. Here, I simply wanted to stay consistent. Right when the race took us onto North Capitol, we passed mile nine and I did some bad math in my head and thought I was going to come in around 1:25. My course PR set in 2014 was 1:25:47 and I had to work hard at the end for it, passing a fellow club member in the last half mile.
After a mile on North Capitol, we crossed the ten mile mark which meant there was 5K left. At that point, I thought to myself that I could certainly finish within twenty minutes and that would put me close to 1:24:30 or so, which would be close to my PR and certainly faster than my course personal record. But, I felt good running through H Street - where I was cheered on by the H Street Runners and fellow GW alumni, Adam Siple - and ran a strong 6:21. The last challenge was going from H Street up 13th Street then left on Constitution and another left on North Carolina. That puts you on C Street and within the final mile where I was able to really turn on the jets. My finishing kick and the friendly downhill left me average a blistering 5:45 for the final 1.1. That effort not only earned me my personal best but helped me sneak in under 1:24 - a thirty-one second personal best!
The course was much harder than my previous PR at the Navy Air Force Half in the fall, also here in DC, which is basically the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler Course with part of Rock Creek added onto the route. If I can get under 1:23, I can qualify for the New York City Marathon; or, if I can hold onto my time and age up into the over 40 men, under 1:25 will do it. Either way, it was a great day for a race, a great job sticking to the plan, and perfect weather to accomplish my goal!
My splits = Thirty second PR and nearly a two minute course PR! Ran smart. Started off easy and held a strong pace. 6:37/27/22/20/27/24/59 (Calvert Hill)/ 21/22/11/21/26/ 5:46 for mile 13 and 52 seconds for the final .16 according to my Garmin for a 5:34 sprint finishing kick.
99 overall/14470; 89 Male/5731; 12/929 Division
Next race = the best race in the world, the Boston Marathon!

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.