Monday, October 19, 2009

My Better Half - Bay State 2009 Race Report


After fulfilling my BQ dream earlier this year and then falling short of a sub-40:00 10K in August, I had thought achieving any new running goals would have to wait until 2010. Having decided to skip a fall marathon, I ended up agreeing to pace the 3:50 in Manchester (NH) on November 1st, which then turned into a 38-mile run for legal services. However, as the fall marathon season ramped up, and runner friends near and far, real and virtual prepared to meet their goals, I tried to fit in a competitive half-marathon. The only weekend that worked was October 17-18th, and the Bay State Half-Marathon was the ideal event: close, flat, fast. By the time I went to sign up, though, it was sold out. I e-mailed the Race Director, explained why my fall running schedule had been a work in progress, and got a "late invitational" entry.

As my recent training reflects, by the beginning of September, I'd done very little lactate threshold work. The 6:40 (downhill) mile I ran during a 3-mile LT workout before the middle of September did not inspire me to think that I could knock off 13.1 miles at 6:52 (or better) pace. However, after my performance at Reach the Beach, I was confident that a sub-1:30 half-marathon was within the realm of possibilities, if I trained well for the next few weeks and if conditions were favorable. It turned out that I was half-right.

With my recent weekly mileage consistently in the 60's, including two "quality" workouts each week, I felt pretty confident going into Bay State. The plan was to try to run 6:45 through 10 miles, re-assess then and hold on for a solid, sub-1:30 finish.


At least when it comes to important races, I've had some bad luck as far as the weather, so much so that some running friends are asking - jokingly, I hope - whether I really plan to run Boston next year. :-) The weather forecast for Sunday, October 18, 2009 in Lowell, Massachusetts went from mediocre to bad to awful, with everything from snow, sleet, high winds and heavy rain popping into the reports in the days leading up to the race. I started down the path of negative self-talk, and dealt with my anxiety not by revising my race goals, but by obsessing about what to wear. A stern talking-to by my wife on Saturday night also helped me avoid getting too deep into the wading pool of self-pity.

I opted for having a range of options, with the staples of the day's wardrobe being SmartWool socks and a Gore-Tex cap. I applied a spray-on waterproof coating to some thin fleece running gloves, and wore my favorite new Saucony shorts, a Zoot triathlon singlet, tie-dyed Moeben arm-warmers, along with a long-sleeve tech shirt that I planned to ditch as soon as I was warmed-up.


I got up a little before 5 am, ate my usual pre-race breakfast, got my gear on and applied tons of BodyGlide. I got to Lowell right around 7 am, drove around looking for a spot, and "marked" the spot by dropping a "pin" in my iPhone's GPS application. It was not raining . . . yet.

Getting my bib number took longer than I'd expected, as did finding the gear check en route to the start. I ran into Bendy Wendy from RWOL in the Tsongas Arena, and saw coachbr as we headed over to the start. I wished him them both well.

I felt crunched for time, so my 1.5-2-mile warm-up became a zippy half-mile, with a quick burst at the end. I went to the half-marathon start area and waited. I pushed the sleeves up on my white shirt, exposing the bright orange arm-sleeves. Two fifty-something women behind me started admiring them and pawing me shamelessly. I told them to go ahead, that they didn't need to ask permission and that I was glad not to be wearing similar compression shorts. LOL We laughed, discussed our goals and wished each other well. Another RWOL forumite, Rovatti, stopped by to say hello, as he decided to follow through on his original plan to run the full and shoot for a sub-3:00 finish. I'd miss running with him, but knew he was making the right call. Turns out that all three of them had incredibly solid performances in the full marathon, despite the conditions worsening as the day went on.

As I always do, I lined up in the "second tier" of the start corral. It filled up quickly, and all-too-many people who had no business doing so lined up ahead of me. At 8:07 a.m., a few minutes behind schedule, the Mayor of Lowell started us off, and my quest for sub-1:30 was under way.

  1. 6:51 - Congestion was the name of the game here; did more weaving than I would have liked, but didn't feel like I was pushing too hard to get to pace
  2. 6:40 - Settling in, with a tailwind and what seemed like a slight downhill, I took advantage and made up for the first mile's lag
  3. 6:37 - Finding a rhythm and feeling pretty good; I can tell I'm working hard, but at this point I make the conscious decision NOT to check my heart rate, lest it make me back down unnecessarily (turns out that it was a good thing that I didn't, as I topped out at 178 during this mile)
  4. 6:48 - Plugging away, into the wind, but trying to stay relaxed; in this mile we broke off from the full marathoners and turned to cross the river, running smack into a nasty headwind as we thinned out
  5. 6:53 - Settled into a groove with another runner, a younger guy named Pierson; We chatted briefly and agreed to try to hang together for a while, taking turns leading so the other could get a break from the wind; he didn't totally get the concept, but it was nice to have some company; working hard into the wind, with some GI trouble percolating (I'd had a touch of stomach bug the last couple of days, which I essentially "treated" by eating some bananas)
  6. 6:49 - Decision time about whether to take my one gel (a caffeinated Gu Roctane) and risk aggravating my stomach; I decided to go for it, and didn't slow down much
  7. 6:44 - Coming up to the end of the first loop, passing right by the minor league baseball stadium where we'd be finishing; effort feels hard, but manageable; it's getting colder, as I can now see my breath, and my ears, hands and other "vitals" feel cold
  8. 6:41 - Bearing down; Pierson is hurting a bit, while two guys fall in with us,looking all-too-casual; I ended up dropping one guy, while the other guy and I were together off and on until the finish
  9. 6:39 -The consistent splits are now making me believe that sub-1:30 is going to happen
  10. 6:40 - Wanted to hit the 10-mile split under 1:08; quick glance at my watch showed 1:07:40; I realize I'm in the hunt and try to stay focused; Pierson falls back (he finished a little more than a minute behind me, getting his sub-1:30)
  11. 6:55 - The combination of seeing that I had some "wiggle" room and the still-fierce wind might have caused me to ease up; when I saw the mile marker, I hit the lap button (resulting in a 29-second "overage") and told myself not to have another mental lapse; I increased my effort slightly at this point
  12. 6:40 - Holding steady; passing some of the slower runners who are still on the first loop; starting to creep up on other fast runners
  13. 6:30 - I dig in and and start picking off a few people; I might have passed 10 or so runners in the final mile-plus, while 2 runners passed me
The final 0.3 or so mile takes you into the Lowell Spinners' stadium, through a back gate and around the field. I finished with the Garmin reporting a 5:31 pace for the post-Mile 13 segment, and a 4:55 maximum pace. I passed a very fit-looking woman with about 50 meters to go. The finishing arch, the Mylar blanket and the volunteers were a welcome sight. Finishing time on my watch: 1:28:47, over a five-minute improvement from April. Official time was 1:28:55 (no chip time for the half-marathoners), 41st place overall (out of over 1250+ half-marathoners), 7th in the 40-49 male age-group. Qualified for the 2010 NYC Marathon if I choose to run it.


I was so cold after the race, that I could barely handle the soup, water and banana provided to me by the wonderful volunteers at the stadium. I went into a men's room bathroom stall (unheated) and changed into dry, warm clothes. I bagged my planned 4-mile cool-down run; I was plenty cool, thank-you-very-much. I updated my Facebook status and sought news from other friends' races. At 10:00 am, I headed for my car, following the directions on my iPhone. After cruising the streets of Lowell in the cold rain, I found my car at 10:59 a.m. There's a lesson about not putting too much faith in technology. Of course, that walk would have been much less tolerable if I had not had a good race. ;-)


It was very, very fulfilling to get a solid PR this fall. After a disappointing summer, I feel like my running is "clicking" once again. Now I am brimming with confidence that I can improve markedly when Boston comes around in April, but will not set any specific goals at this point. We'll see how training shapes up.

For what it's worth, I'm starting to feel like a "real" runner, which is not to say that I have any delusions of greatness, but I'm becoming a better practitioner of the sport, especially when it comes to racing. This race involved an honest self-assessment of what I could do, with the development and execution of a straightforward racing strategy, and enough faith in myself to go for it despite adverse weather conditions. Those are lessons which I hope will stay with me in future races.

Having achieved a modicum of personal glory yesterday, it's now time to focus on running for others, via pacing and fundraising on November 1st. More on that later.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. -ESG

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Short & Sweet - Chicago & My Next PR Attempt

A brief entry this week. First of all, a HUGE congrats and shout-out to my friend Paul (a.k.a., screaminzab) for an astonishing performance at the 2009 BoA Chicago Marathon. He PRed by 24 minutes, running a seemingly effortless 3:05 to qualify for Boston 2010. Congratulations to him and the rest of my friends (real and virtual) who ran in Chicago. On balance, there was far more joy than heartbreak, and it was inspiring to watch them from afar.

Otherwise, all systems seem to be a "go" for my sub-1:30 attempt on Sunday at the Bay State Half-Marathon in Lowell, Massachusetts. By all accounts, it's the flattest course in New England, and the weather is usually good. Temps look favorable (high in the 40's), but it may or may not rain (and, if it does, how heavily is not clear) on Sunday. Attempting the previously unaccomplished always causes me to think that my goal is too ambitious, but I am reasonably confident that I can dial in a 6:45/mile pace for the first 10 miles (again, not worrying about hills makes it possible to go on "cruise control" for a while). Whether I can hold it - or even accelerate a tad - is the big question, but I don't think I'm risking much beyond a fade by going out at that pace. With sub-3:10 shaping up as my early goal for Boston, Bay State could give me some serious confidence that I'm on the right track.

Last week, I ran a total of about 62 miles, including Tuesday's pretty tough track workout and a modified 10/10/10 Hudson workout on Friday (early, and on the TM - yuck!). That was 10 minutes at MP (7:20-ish), 8 at HMP (6:55-ish) and 8 at 10K pace (6:30-ish). I cut the last two short because I was struggling to get my legs moving that fast that early and my hips felt a tad tight. As an aside, my iPod is dying, and while I can get by outside without it, I NEED it to drown out the numbing sound of the TM motor. Time for a new one, I suppose.

On Sunday, I ran 15 miles at an average pace of 8:24, with the last 3 as a progression. Splits for those last three miles were 8:03 (uphill), 7:35 and 6:58. Got home in time to check Chicago finishing times and begin celebrating.

So, this week is shaping up like this:
  • Monday - 5.5M easy, with 5x10 seconds hill sprints
  • Tuesday - 8M, with 3 @ goal HMP; splits were 6:43/6:45/6:40 all at sub 170 heart rate(goal is 6:45, so we seem to be on track)
  • Wednesday - 6M easy
  • Thursday - 6M easy
  • Friday - 4-5M easy
  • Saturday - 4M easy, with 4x100-meter strides
  • Sunday - 1M warm-up/13.1M at sub-6:52/mile/3-4M cool-down

Somewhere over 50 for the week, with hopefully a great race thrown in there for good measure. Not sure how to handle the two weeks before the pacing/ultra gig, but we'll have to see how it shapes up. I will likely do no "quality" workouts between Bay State and Manchester, just logging easy miles, with the longer runs being focused on holding an 8:45 pace. Should be interesting, if nothing else.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Having a Little Peak

No, I'm not losing my fastidiousness for proper word choice and spelling . . . the "peak" of the title refers to the vibrant colors of our lovely fall foliage season. I had my first real treat last Thursday and Friday, as I attended a non-profit board retreat in the northern part of the state, where despite some mixed (i.e., "lousy") weather, I enjoyed a luxury hotel and its amenities. I ran 8 miles on Thursday after our meetings but before cocktail hour, and 6 miles early Friday morning.

To give you a sense of how things look around here right now, here are two recent photographs from the Concord Monitor, our wonderful local daily newspaper:

The top photo is from an area about an hour north of Concord. The bottom is of the two leaders in a recent cross-country meet. There are worse places to live and run.

Thursday's run was fine and pretty straightforward, though the "out" part was downhill and the "back" was thus mostly uphill. Still, unlike last year, I did not get lost or otherwise waylaid, and ended up getting back in plenty time for cocktails and a multi-course gourmet meal.

Friday morning, it was dark and cold when I left right at 6:00 a.m., shooting out in the opposite direction, with the steeply downhill early part making for a rough return. At around the turnaround, the light mist turned into light sleet, turning the final couple of miles into a slog. I thought of the warm, dry room and huge breakfast which awaited me and that got me through. I saw no wildlife, and the occasional car which passed seemed like it was doing 100 mph.

The weekend saw more lovely running conditions, with a 7-mile trail run in the rain on Saturday and 20-miler with my ultrarunner friend Nate on Sunday, about half of which we did on the trails. It slowed down the pace, but made for a very enjoyable 3-plus hours of running and chatting about running and life.

I ended up with about 65 miles for the week, including a great LT/HMP workout on Wednesday. The week of Reach the Beach, I did a 3-mile tempo run, with the last mile on a downhill stretch in 6:40. Last Wednesday, I did 2x2.5 miles on the flat (and windy!) track with none of the 5 miles slower than 6:40. My HR stayed where it should be for a half-marathon, and I had enough left to run the final 0.5 mile in around a 6:00 pace, with the final 200 meters taking me about 42 seconds. Don't bother with the math; just know that for me, that's fast.

So now it's time to focus on how to go sub-1:30 at the Bay State Half-Marathon on October 18th, while still maintaining the volume necessary to pace a marathon and cover 38 total miles on November 1st.

Here's how this week is shaping up:
  • Mon - 5.4M easy (with 4x10 sec. hill sprints), plus light weights, core and stretching
  • Tuesday - 10M, with VO2 Max work of 3x1000 and then 2x800 (hips felt tight, so I revised); paces were 6:01/6:01/6:05 for the 1000's and 5:49/5:44 for the 800's (amazing how much better I felt cutting a mere 200 meters)
  • Wednesday - 9.6M on the second half of the Manchester Marathon course
  • Thursday - 7M easy
  • Friday - 8M, with a 10/10/10 workout, meaning 10 mins. at MP (7:15-7:20), 10 mins. at HMP (6:45-6:50) and 10 mins. at 10K pace (6:20-6:25); I have not done this workout, and it's supposedly a lot tougher than it sounds; I don't do so well on fast running first thing in the AM, so I may "cheat" and do the workout on the treadmill (yuck!), so it'll make me hold the right paces
  • Saturday - 6-7M on the trails
  • Sunday -16-17M easy, with the last 3 miles "hard" (whatever that turns out to be pacewise)

That will be over 60 miles for the week, and then I will front-load and taper steeply over a few days for the half-marathon on the 18th. The current strategy for that race is to go out at 6:45/mile pace and try to hold it through 10 miles on the flat course. At that point, I'll do one of three things: (1) hold on at that pace for a comfortably sub-1:30 finish; (2) feel so good that I'll be able to speed up a bit and have a great PR [though this never really seems to happen], (3) tell myself that I can slow up to 15 seconds per mile and still reach the goal. If it turns out that I'm not in shape for sub-1:30, so be it, but I'm prepared to risk a blow-up in this race.

The pacing gig is starting to feel very real, and a bit daunting. I'll post more on that later.

Finally, a shout-out to my Chicago friends (real and virtual), including Paul, Walter, Jess, Jay, Digby, Snoop, Matt, John, Chad, and a few others. I've done my part by staying away and guaranteeing good weather for you. Now you have to go out and get your BQs/PRs/personal goals. Can't wait to hear about it. I'll miss being there, but it was the right call this year.

Cheers, ESG