Monday, June 29, 2009

Race Report: Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon

It wasn't until Friday that I decided to run this race. After running 19 hard miles in the heat and humidity of Grandma's Marathon last Saturday, I wasn't feeling all that great and I certainly wasn't fully recovered. But after a decent short run Friday morning, I felt like giving it a go.

A beautiful day for running. 56 degrees at the start and not a cloud in the sky. A dreamy day for the race organizers of this inaugural race.

Caught up with Paul Peterson briefly prior to the race. It's always good to chat with him. There was a woman in the race with a 1:08 PR in the half which had a few of us a bit nervous.

Race started just a couple of minutes late. First mile was pretty much flat through the industrial part of Tukwila, just south of Seattle. By the Mile 1 marker there was already a lead pack and a chase pack. Crossed in 5:14. Perfect.

Mile 2 was more of the same...industrial Tukwila. Slight uphill as we crossed over I-5 but right back down. Hit mile two in 5:15. Perfect again.

Mile 3 was more uphill than I remembered from my course tour the day prior. It wasn't anything crazy at all, but it was a slight incline virtually the whole way. By this time, the lead pack had gapped me pretty good. From this point on it was me and a local running friend Destry Johnson in our pack of two. We picked off a few guys in Mile 3 who wanted some camera time and went out way too fast. Despite the gentle uphill we hit Mile 3 in 5:12. Very happy at this point.

Mile 4 was basically flat and through the neighborhoods of south Seattle. This the was last mile that Destry and I passed anyone. From Mile 4 on we didn't pass anyone and no one passed us. Hit Mile 4 in 5:11.

Mile 5 was the hardest of all the miles. It's a steady 2-3% grade uphill the entire mile. I generally run well uphill but this is one of those points in the race you have to be really careful because you have almost nothing to gain by going too hard and a ton to lose by doing so. Crossed the mile marker in 5:48. Much slower than I thought but I think the mile marker was off as my watch had us at 1.05 for that mile and my watch is usually never off that badly.

Mile 6 plummets down to Lake Washington. It has one of those short downhill stretches that is so steep that you can't really get the full benefit of the downhill. All the elevation we gained over one mile we gave back in less than 1/4 mile. The next few miles are along a beautiful stretch of Lake Washington. Again, it was a race organizers dream. Mile 6 came in at 5:00 which was pretty easy to understand given the downhill stretch. Destry is a much better downhill runner I learned.

Mile 7-9 are all along Lake Washington. Again...just gorgeous...however the beauty has its risks. This stretch is littered with "S" turns that can lengthen the race by a ton. So Destry amd I focused on running the tangents. There is no prize for running 13.3. My coach is the one who measured the course and he warned me about this stretch. He measured mile 7 the correct way (shortest possible route) and then measured it again following the center line. The difference in the two measurements over just one mile was a staggering 100 meters! So run the tangents people. 100 meters is 20-35 seconds depending on your pace and that was for just one mile. Miles 7, 8 and 9 came in at 5:09, 5:27, 5:26. The only explanation I have for the slower miles is the wind did kick up off the lake and we were exposed to that more than I expected. I also think the markers may have been off. Mile 8 is where I really started to feel the effects of Grandma's. My calves were screaming way earlier than normal. At this point I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to stay with Destry.

Mile 10 starts with a VERY abrupt uphill as we climbed to the I-90 tunnel. It's probably a hundred meters in length but very, very steep. Once you get to the top you enter the I-90 tunnel which was really weird. There was a band playing at the far end of the tunnel and the echoing noise was eerie especially since you couldn't see the end of the tunnel around the bend. Mile 10 marker was inside the tunnel. Destry and I crossed at 5:10. Quicker than I thought.

Mile 11...pretty flat ending with a pretty aggressive downhill portion as we headed toward Safeco Field. Mark Mandi, a local elite guy had been showing signs of weakening and we were reeling him in. He was less than 100 meters in front of us now. Mile 11 was in 5:10 as well.
Mile 12 was through the heart of downtown Seattle. A little bit of up and down. Pretty gentle. Destry was starting to gap me...probably 15 meters ahead at this point. I was just about ready to concede at this point. Crossed Mile 12 at 5:10.

With a mile to go, we went down a really steep hill as we approached the Alaskan Way viaduct. This was a turning point in the race for me. Up to this point, Destry had crushed me on every downhill stretch. This time, he didn't gap me at all and I was right on his heels headed into a brief uphill stretch that put us onto the viaduct. It was here where I passed him. But Destry is a competitor and once we got onto the viaduct and it flattened out, he passed me one more time and took the lead with about 3/4 of a mile to go. With 1/2 mile to go, we hit one final downhill stretch coming off of the viaduct and I passed him as I started to make a final move to the finish. As we made the final turn the finish line was about 250 meters away. It seemed a lot farther than that. Destry and I were now in an all out sprint for the finish. I pulled away a bit and with 150 or so to go looked back and felt like I had him beat. Then I looked back with about 75 meters to go and he was right there giving it one last push. I managed to hold him off across the finish but it was a fantastic race. Mile 13 was in 5:07...a strong finish.

Finishing time was 1:08:58. Destry was just one second behind. I ended up only a few seconds behind Mark Mandi who was fading fast. Another 1/2 mile and Destry and I both would have had him.

Finished 7th overall. 5th American and third Washingtonian. So I just missed out on the money. Oh well.

Destry is a good friend and I love racing with him because we are so similar in ability and style. He totally pushed me to a sub 1:09 finish which I didn't expect given my partially recovered state. So thanks to Destry for pushing me the whole way.

Great race. Great organization. Good course. Very scenic and not as difficult as I would have expected.

Congrats to Paul on the nice PR. Amazing what a little extra oxygen will do. He ran a very smart race and knew when to back off the leaders. While he was in sight at the finish, he smoked me.
As I sit here, my calves are wasted. I'm just glad I'm sitting here in my kitchen and don't have to get on an airplane. Ugh.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Race Report: Indy Mini Marathon

Weather: 46 degrees; Thin overcast; NO WIND

I have never raced in better weather...period. It was absolutely perfect.

Woke up at 6am after a pretty good night's sleep. I brought my two boys and my dad along for the ride. My oldest son has the amazing ability of not falling asleep before 11pm, but once he was asleep, we all slept great.

By 6:20 I was out the door walking over to the NCAA Headquarters which was the Elite staging area. The race organizers were great and all the pre-race stuff went perfectly.

I felt slow, bloated and heavy during my warmup. This is very typical though so I didn't think much of it.

The start countdown was done by soldiers in Kuwait via cell phone. Kind of cool. As seems to always be the case, this race had its own "Michael Wardian" jumping out to an early lead for some good camera time. By Mile 2 we caught him.

The biggest surprise of the first mile was how slow the Kenyans went out. Paul and I were right together as we crossed Mile 1 in a very slow 5:23. That was really disappointing since it was a full 13 seconds slower than my desired mile pace. Even with 12 miles to go, that's a lot of time to make up. So I spent Mile 2 focused on hitting the desired split time. I wasn't going to try and get back any of my lost time, just get back on race pace. Mile 2 came in at 5:09. Much better. At this point, I think the "chase" pack was me, Paul and some young dude with floppy hair. I will refer to him as floppy from here on out.

The Mile 2 water stationn was staffed by well over 100 LDS missionaries. That was cool to see. They were probably very glad the weather was so cool.

The lead pack was still in sight at this point but they did begin to pick up the pace. I commented to Paul though that 1:02 wasn't going to happen based on the first two mile splits.

Mile 3 I still was feeling heavy and bloated. I had taken a few sips of water but was concerned I wasn't getting enough. Temps were low but the half is just long enough that hydration can be a concern especially with humidity. Mile 3 was 5:08. Perfect.

5k time -- 16:12

Mile 4. Don't remember anything exciting happening here. Me, Paul and floppy were still together. Floppy and I swapped the lead a few times but he seemed willing to take it back each time so I felt willing to let him. :-) Mile 4 5:08. Nice.

Mile 5..the last mile before entering the Speedway. We slowed a touch to 5:11. This was my first (and only) full swig of water and I tend to slow a bit when i take water. Maybe that was why. Who knows.

The Mile 6 marker is inside the Speedway just before you actually get on the race track. I had no idea how incredibly massive the Speedway was. A 400 meter track will forever seem very short. Mile 6 was in 5:07. I was starting to feel a little bit better about things although I was reserving judgment until Mile 10 which is 5k to go.

The 10k marker was on the back straightaway of the Speedway. Crossed in 32:15. It wasn't too long ago that this would have been a 10k PR. Mile 7 was inside the Speedway as well. I commented to Paul afterward about how slow this mile was. We did it in 5:16. By this time Paul had dropped back but me and Floppy were still together. We were both wondering what happened.

Mile 8 was almost entirely on the final straightaway of the Speedway and this was the only time during the race I felt anything resembling wind. Despite the slow Mile 7, I was content to let Floppy bear the brunt of the wind. Mile 8 was in 5:14. Slow but not too bad.

As we left the track it was good riddance from my standpoint. It's such an enourmous facility that it felt at times like we weren't covering any ground. So the Mile 9 marker was back out on the streets of Indianapolis. Crossed Mile 9 in 5:11. A smidgen slower than I wanted but I was just happy to be feeling good. At this point I was in 9th place and I think Paul was still in 10th. There was a Kenyan that me and Floppy were reeling in which was particularly motivating. Nothing quite like beating a Kenyan.

Mile 10 -- 5:12. Still slower than I wanted but the beauty of Mile 10 is that mentally, it becomes a very manageable race. 5k to go. I can get my head around 5k and I have a good idea of what i have left in the tank and how much to push it with 5k to go. It was right about at Mile 10 that Floppy and I passed the Kenyan. He put up a fight for about a 1/4 mile but we gapped him hard after that.

Mile 11 -- The biggest challenge which this mile is that you can see the Mile 11 marker from the Mile 10 marker. It's a really long straight stretch that felt like it went on forever. Crossed Mile 11 in 5:08. Beautiful. I was back to running my pace.

Mile 12 had us finally leave 10th St. and turn on to White River Parkway. I could see the marker early on and at this point, it was me and Floppy battling for 7th place. There was a slight breeze, but at this point, I wasn't even thinking about it. 5:12 was the time for Mile 12. 1/10 of a mile later you make the turn onto the New York Street bridge. They call it the Miracle Mile. At this point I had passed Floppy with the intention of never seeing the back of his head again. One of the great things of this course was they marked every final 1/4 mile. As I made the turn onto NY Street for the final mile, I made my move. I knew a sub 1:08 was still possible but it was going to take some real effort. I also knew there was money and pride on the line and I didn't want to let Floppy pass me. BTW...Floppy couldn't be older than 22 or 23.

With 3/4 to go, I was going to look back but decided not to. I told myself that I don't "get" to look back unless I hit the 1/2 to go mark on pace for a sub 1:08. So with 1/2 to go, I was on pace and looked back. I had gapped Floppy by about 100 meters. I kicked it into a higher gear telling myself I had only two laps to go. With a 1/4 mile to go I looked back again. Floppy had not closed at all. So I focused on trying to hit a 75 second quarter to the finish line. Crossed the 13 mile mark in 5:03! Wow...the extra effort really paid off.

The final 1/10 was awesome. I was really running hard and I could see the clock the whole way. One final look back and Floppy hadn't made any progress. 7th place was mine.

Finishing time: 1:07:53 (official)...a pace of 5:10.5.

In January I had set my 1/2 goal at 1:07:30. But that was a bit unrealistic. This past week I adjusted it to sub 1:08 which I did. Mission accomplished. That said, I do feel like a 1:07:30 is within reach.

The winning time was a high 1:03:55 by Festus Langat. The Kenyans really wasted an opportunity to take advantage of perfect weather. Joseph Mutinda was second in 1:04:28, just two weeks after winning the Salt Lake Marathon.

A couple of observations/learnings:

  • I continue to be astounded by how many elite runners do NOT run the tangents. This course had numerous opportunities to be lured off the tangents making the course longer than it needs to be. I just don't get it.
  • Improvement? The first mile was ridiculously slow. I'm terrible at gauging pace off the track but my watch said we were at 80 seconds at the quarter which turned out to be about right. I could have easily had 10-15 seconds back if I had run that correctly. I also want to start pushing it even sooner. I have never died at the end of a race, something I always have feared. So I almost need it to happen so that I know my limits better.
  • This is such a weird distance. It's only my fourth half and I feel like I have so much experience to still gain. Hydration is a fuzzy area. Pace wise it feels more like a 10k. It's just a weird distance.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Race Report: WWU Invitational

What a difference two seconds makes. This evening I achieved my second of four goals for 2009...I ran a sub 31:00 10,000m in a time of 30:58. How heartbreaking 31:01 would have been. But I was not to be denied.

[Full results here:]

The race was supposed to start at 9:15pm but was delayed until 9:45pm which made a late evening even later. It wasn't a big deal for me but my parents came to watch as did my wife and kids so it was pretty late for them.

The weather was simply perfect. 48-50 degrees. No wind and occasional light drizzle although by race time I think it had stopped.

There were about 15 people in the race. Western Washington University hosted the race in Bellingham. It is a D-II school and some of the other schools were CCs. So the competition wasn't top notch. The meet record for the event was 32:30 or something around there.

When I signed up to do the race a month ago, there were supposed to be five of us running it all with the goal of breaking 31:00. But three had to bail out so it was just me and Steve DeKoker, a WWU alum who also happens to run Brooks’ awesome Brooks ID program...something many on this board should check out. Great discounts and some get free gear and shoes.

Steve and I agreed on a strategy during our warm up. We would switch off the lead every four laps and just try and hit 74s the whole way. Unfortunately, we got stuck in the second row of the waterfall start. In hindsight, it would have been better to be way out in lane 8. The first 150 meters Steve and I were totally boxed. Just before the 200 meter mark, I found a small hole and went for it…just in time to see that the first 200 was in 40 seconds…WAY too slow. It should have been in the 37 range. By the 300m mark Steve had made it out of the pack and took over the lead as we had planned. Lap 1 was slow (76 seconds) but not as bad as it could have been. I didn’t get too uptight about it. Frankly, running a 76 was better than coming out in a 71.

By the 800 meter mark, the race was over in terms of place. Steve and I had gapped everyone and it was pretty clear that we would finish ahead of everyone. But neither of us was there to place. We wanted sub 31:00. The first 1600 came quickly (4:57) and right on pace. I took over the lead from Steve and led the next four laps which went smoothly but somehow a bit slower than we wanted (5:01). I’m not sure what happened because I felt great and was having no issues at all. Oh well. Steve then took over for his second set of four laps which we covered in 5:00 flat…still a second or two slower. I was back in the lead and carried us through the 5k mark, which is when I began to get a bit worried. We crossed the 5k mark at 15:38. Eight seconds over pace is manageable but not a gimme, especially with the hardest (at least mentally) part of the race yet to come. My goal at that point was to try and make up one second each lap. Mission accomplished as we crossed the 6400 mark (9 laps to go) in 4:56. That was more like it. We picked up three of the eight seconds with nine laps to go.

Then another bit of bad news…Steve began having GI issues and told me he was going to back off and couldn’t take over the lead for his third and final segment. Ugh. Steve is 6’4”. I am 5’8” with shoes on. I really enjoyed drafting behind him. Oh well. So with nine laps to go, I knew I was on my own in a race I had never competed in before and still five or so seconds over pace. First lap all on my own (#19) was in 74. OK, but I needed a few 73s or even a 72 to get back on pace. 20th lap (the 8k mark) went a little better in 73 crossing the 8k mark in 24:48, shattering my previous 8k PR of 25:03. That turned out to be a pretty huge confidence booster that I really needed with 5 laps to go.

I was really starting to hurt and have some doubts as I was doing fuzzy math in my head about what it was going to take to reach my goal. Lap 21 came in at 75. Not good. The first two hundred of this lap was in 37, the worst split I had had all race at the 200m mark so I knew the lap was going to be slow. So with four laps to go, I had given back another second. Ugh. But lap 22 I found some strength somewhere and pulled in a 74 with the cumulative clock at 27:07. So I needed to cover 1200m in 3:52 or better. Lap 23 was perhaps the most difficult. My sub 31:00 was still in jeopardy and I was running out of gas and had no help. I had lapped several people throughout the race and that serves as some motivation and help but nothing like having a 6’4” wind shield. Despite how hard lap 23 felt, I managed a 73. This was HUGE. With two laps to go, I was sitting at 28:30. In other words, I need a 2:29 final 800m to reach my goal. I knew I could do this. I began to pick it up a bit in Lap 24. I consciously made the decision to not leave any work undone for the final lap. So I kicked it up a notch. It turned out to be a smart move. Lap 24 was a 72, just the second 72 I had all race. With one lap to go, the clock read 29:46.

I still needed a 73 to get the job done and that was no gimme. The first 200m of the final lap was in a “blistering” :35. With 200 to go, I simply needed a :38 to break 31:00. With 100 to go, I could see the clock and just gave it everything I had. I crossed the finish line in 30:58…barely a second to spare. I was so thrilled. I think my dad may have been even happier. He was there at the finish to congratulate me which meant a lot.

As it turns out, the time was a meet record.

Some have said the 5000 meters is the most grueling distance. Maybe. But I found the 10,000 and its 25 sometimes monotonous laps to be pretty grueling.

One more thing about running in a pack. There are definitely very real and measureable physical benefits to running with a group at any distance. But there is a mental benefit that is every bit as meaningful. The key to any distance race is being able to break the race up into sections whether its miles, laps or even minutes. The 10,000 meters became much more mentally manageable to me because Steve and I broke it up into 1600m segments. There was something very powerful in trading the lead every four laps that really made the race one of segments not simply a 25-lap race.

So what can I improve on to do even better next time...

  • Lapping -- one of the challenges of such a long race around a track (unless you are running at something like a Stanford Invite) is you are inevitably going to lap people. My coach's estimate was that I lapped 25-30 people over the course of 25 laps. Unfortunately, many of those occured in the turns. I tried to avoid running in Lane 2 as much as possible but I spent more time there than I would have liked. Not sure what there is to do about that but it was a small factor.
  • Faster front half -- Only after thinking about my times more yesterday did I realize the huge differential in the 5k splits. 15:38 for the front half and 15:20 for the back half. A negative split isn't necessarily all that bad but one of 18 seconds is a bit much. Next time, I will go out in 15:20-25 and then try and hold that for the second half. It was my first 10,000m so I didn't want to do anything silly on the front half that would cost me later, but now with one under my belt, speeding up from the front 5k would be my first place to look to bring down my time.
  • Bigger Pack -- I outlined above the benefits of a pack. Laws of physics support this and real-life experience validates it. If I run a track 10k again, I will make sure it's at a meet where there is a larger group of guys to do what Steve and I did, but do it for the entire race. Losing Steve with 9 laps to go was noticeable and it could have only helped to have had someone else to trade off with for those final 9 laps.