The 5K is often wrongly considered the “beginner’s” run, thanks to many fun runs and charity runs around the country being that distance. The 5K is actually one of the toughest races you can be in, if you actually race it. In the ideal 5K you are literally on your last legs as you cross the finish line, with nothing left in the tank other than sweat and spittle. If you find you have an extra spurt over the last 100 meters, you didn’t run hard enough mid-race, but if you cramp up and collapse after 3 miles, and don’t make that final 0.1, you ran too hard or just were not prepared. The 5K is literally 13- 14 minutes of agony, if you’re a serious 5K athlete.
Thankfully I am not a professional runner in the 5K category, so it won’t quite be like that of me, but the 5K is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and maybe just about get a PR. I don’t often run this distance, but have enough races under my belt now to know what to expect; good, bad and ugly.
My PR for 5K was this year in April, when I ran the Red Hook Criterium in 23:36 (7:36/min), on a flat road-course of 4 1.25KM laps.
The slowest race I have run, for which I still have the times, was in June 2013 when I struggled in New Jersey finishing in 31:28 (10:09/mile) in blazing heat having been grossly under prepared.
Tomorrow I am running the Fred Lebow 5K Cross Country race in t \he Bronx at Van Cortland Park. In 2013, I ran the same course in October 2013 in 28:12 (9:06), although I had forgotten my running shoes that day and ran in some very flat minimal Merryl shoes.
So, after a middle of the year lull, I am hoping to go out with a bang (I have a 4m race in 3 weeks as well) – I should beat my 2013 time fairly easily, but probably won’t get close to the Red Hoot Crit time given the hilly course.
OK, let’s talk about my 2015 NYC Marathon. It would be a mild understatement to say it didn’t exactly go as I planned. Back in July on this very blog, I was pretty bullish about getting this one right compared to 2014, but a combination of a niggling foot injury, a personal loss and what my wife described as “second year marathon syndrome” somehow combined to knock me off track. What’s frustrating is that I knew as early as late September that I had missed far too much training to really have a go at last year’s record, but I allowed that to be an excuse to give up entirely on a decent run. I am going to describe below exactly what happens when, and how it feels to, entirely abandon your training. My time was 5:25:55, or 52 minutes longer than in 2014.
2014 Vs 2015!
In 2014, with the 5% adjustment for the GPS inaccuracy, I ran 481 miles during my training from July 17th to Nov 2nd (not including the marathon itself). That’s an average of 4.5 miles per day for 108 days.
In 2015, I ran just 335 miles in 112 days (July 11th to Oct 31st) or an average of just 3 miles per day. So in 2014 I clocked 50% more miles than this year. The effect?
The difference is dramatic as you’d expect. I started much slower and slowed down much faster, and from around mile 9 onwards (around 15 km) I was really uncomfortable. 17 miles is a long way to run when you’re already struggling and I’ve never had a bigger urge to quit something than I did on that day. Somehow though I convinced myself to keep going (after all I didn’t want to miss out on a post-race poncho) and made it across the finishing line.
In the title I said that now this is over, I can concentrate on my running. Well that’s true to an extent. It feels like a huge burden has been lifted and at this point I am not intending to run another marathon on 2016. I have two more races this year, a 5K in a week and a 4-miler in early December before a trip to Chile. Next year I am going to focus on the half-marathons and some middle-distance improvement before doing this again in 2017.
The Staten Island Half is one of my favorite races of the year, and definitely my favorite of NYRR’s Five Borough Race Series, which also includes; the Fred Lebow Half Marathon (Manhattan Half), NYC Half, Brooklyn Half, Queens 10k and the Bronx 10m.
The Staten Island Half is probably the most low key of all the races, as it’s out on New York’s often unfairly maligned Staten Island. All of the races have their own characteristic and running all six of them is both challenging and very rewarding, but I like the Staten Island one the best. Here’s why.
If I look at the other races first, there’s the Fred Lebow, which is just over 2 laps of Central Park in January. It’s always freezing cold, and you never leave the park, and it’s right in the middle of the “off season” meaning on the most hardy runners participate, or those looking to qualify for something else. I ran it in 2014, and will definitely run it in 2016 for the sheer hell of it, but it’s no glamor race.
The New York City Half in March follows, which is the headline race, and one which you can qualify for by running four of the previous years’ six races. Confused? You will be. Regardless, this is the one everyone wants to run, and it’s a fantastic course composed of a single lap of Central Park, then a dash down Fifth Avenue through Times Square before heading out to the West Side Highway and down to the Financial District. You get to see a fair bit of Manhattan and run through a traffic-free Times Square, what’s not to love? Well it’s very crowded, very expensive and unless you qualify it’s tough to get into.
Next up in May is the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Given this is my home borough, it should be my favorite, but there’s a few things about it that I don’t like. First off, as New York’s ‘hippest’ borough, this is very quickly turning into the one race you just have to run. NYRR has been quick to pick up on this, and are marketing it as the country’s largest half marathon. Sure enough, with over 26,000 finishers in 2015, this is a huge race. It’s crowded at the start and things don’t really start to open up until mile 6 or 7. Still, with such high participation, including 14,000 women in 2015, it’s hard to knock an event that attracts so many young people, and it finishes on Coney Island’s famous boardwalk!
In June you get the Queens 10k. This one really isn’t that much fun in my opinion. It’s always baking hot (this year’s was a simmering 88˚ at 7:30am) and it’s in an area inland and goes through some heavy marshland. If you love 99% humidity and mosquitos, this one’s for you, but otherwise it’s just a grueling 10k in the middle of summer in the middle of a suburban landlocked park with highways on both sides. Still, getting anywhere near a PR is a real badge of honor in this race.
Next up is the Bronx 10m, which is a great race, right in the middle of peak marathon training. I really like this one, and the t-shirt is the best of the bunch! My only minor complaint is they run a 5k at the same time, and the start line gets crowded and confusing, but otherwise this is a close contender for my favorite.
Last, but not least, is the Staten Island Half. This race gives you all the benefits of a small town race (friendly spectators, a little quieter, nice cops, finish line is in a baseball stadium, and it’s a little bit hilly. Staten Island being the home of many NYPD and FDNY families, means the race attracts plenty of flag bearers and has a genuine ‘all-american’ feel, that lacks in some of New York’s other races. The race starts at the northern tip of the island with a view of Manhattan’s southern skyline, and heads south for around 6 miles. New to 2015, the course loops back up the north western side of the island along the beach road and eventually along the wooden boardwalk. The temperature for the two years I have run it has always been perfect for this length of race (around 55˚) with a little breeze and no clouds. The last part of the race takes you through Fort Wadsworth (which is where the marathon starts) up a very steep incline and over a bridge to the final mile back to the stadium. It’s a tough little race!
Even though Staten Island’s course is hilly, there is a relatively small field of runners, so it’s not too crowded, it’s very quiet which lends itself to a quick race. My half marathon PR was achieved here; another reason I really like it.
So, for this year I knew I was going to be slow, and my 2:11:24 (10;02/mile) was my slowest half ever by a full five minutes, but getting through it was a minor victory in itself.
My last post was on August 9th, some 10 weeks ago, and much has happened since then. Not all good, but much to learn from and much to take great strength from. Before that, what happened in week 5? Well I am so glad you asked!
After week 4’s slow improvement, week 5 built upon that and was (and still is) my best week in this training plan. I ran 38 miles, although my average pace was quite slow, only 9:38. On the Sunday, I cut short my long run from a scheduled 15 miles to 12 miles, and this was the start of my problems with training this year. It was a stick 86 degrees; not the worst for an August day in New York, but warmer than you’d want for a long run.
A few days later, after a subway ride I got an intense pain in my right foot across the top. This was similar to the injury I had in 2014 after over-stretching it on a sidewalk step, but somehow felt different. I managed to keep my running up a little in August, but it was characterized by being slow and skipping runs. Between August 16th and the end of August, I only ran 5 times for a total of 33 miles, less than half my target distance.
Also at this time, I found out that my faithful Beagle had cancer. Only weeks before he’d become sick and after taking him to the vets, he was treated for pneumonia for 3 weeks before the vet realized it was something much more serious. A CAT scan and a visit to a radiologist and a surgeon later, we were told that there was little hope and he wasn’t going to get any better. In the space of 8 weeks, he’d gone from a seemingly healthy eight year old beagle, to a dog that could barely breath in his own bed. It was a heartbreaking episode and my wife and I made the decision on September 1st to have him put to sleep.
Dog’s really are beautiful animals that sit in your heart and won’t leave even for the tastiest treat. You don’t realize it at the time, because like so many things in life, while they’re there you take them very much for granted. Losing him was really like losing my best friend, and even now I feel a deep sadness I have never felt before with any loss.
My running in September took a big hit, and I only managed 68 miles, barely half what I should have run. That, along with my foot injury which is still bothering, has pretty much put an end to any hope of cracking last year’s marathon time.
As if to hammer home the point, I suffered terribly in two warm up races. First off the 18 mile Marathon Tune Up race in central park. 3 grueling laps which I am very happy to say I managed to complete, albeit at a snails pace. In 2014, I ran this in 2:47, a very healthy 9:20 per mile. This year I ran it in 3:21:51, which is 11:13 per mile, a pace I’ve never dropped to in any race prior.
Perhaps even more tellingly, the Bronx 10 miles just a few weeks ago I ran in 1:31:05, which was a 9:47/mile pace. In 2014, I ran that race in 1:20:01 (my 10 mile PR) which is a quite respectable 8:31/mile.
What has been difficult to know for sure is how much of this is all in my head. I started the summer running slower than expected after a fairly decent start to the season, but haven’t really picked it up at any point. In my head I am saying it’s OK to stop, OK to hit the quit button, OK to slow down to 11 min/miles and this is something that wasn’t going on last year.
Tomorrow I have the Staten Island Half Marathon. Again, last year I ran this in 1:56:07, which is still my Half PR. Tomorrow I am not expecting to beat 2:05, which would make this my slowest half yet. I know I am in no shape to run it hard, but perhaps if I can get my mind into a better place, I can beat my expectations and give myself a lift 3 weeks before the Marathon. I rarely if ever exceed my own expectations, which is troubling given they’re not particularly high.
Dedicated to my beautiful dog, Ranulph. Aug 2007 – Sept 1st 2015.
After last week’s capitulation, this week needed to be pretty decent to give me a little more confidence. Luckily, or perhaps by design, it was exactly that and I feel more or less back on track. But it didn’t start out that way.
Two days after I abandoned my long run at mile 7, I had to run an 8 mile ‘regular run’. This is one of the things I don’t quite get about NYRR’s Virtual Trainer. This was supposed to be my recovery week, and yet it kicks off with an 8-miler at marathon pace, which I’ve been struggling to hit for the entire training period. Sure enough, I ran 7.43 miles in 1:12:05 (9:42). It was 82˚ and I was feeling a little unwell, but even so that’s a weak performance after a day’s rest.
The next day I was scheduled to run my intervals, and then had 2 consecutive days off. I switched things around and took the two days off, and instead ran my intervals on a Friday evening, in the cool (almost dark) and with no thoughts of an early rise the next day or work. Guess what? I nailed it…
I was supposed to run 3 miles easy, then do 8x400m at 2mins and reduce down to 1:48 if I could managed it. My splits after the 3 miles were: 1:58, 1:48, 1:48, 1:49, 1:51, 1:50, 1:48 and 1:47. After the splits, the idea was to run a mile at marathon pace (my range is 9:06 to 9:16) and I rain it in 9:10. That’s about as good as it gets to nailing your training.
The next day, I ran an As You Feel Regular Run (7.43 miles, same as at the start of the week) and managed it in 9:24 without really trying. The difference was huge. I think there is a lot to be said for putting in a 2 day break for people who clearly have not been running as much as the training program demands. Jumping from ~20 miles per week to 33 – 35 in a space of 2 weeks, in mid summer, doesn’t seem particularly wise.
Finally an 11 mile long run on Sunday, with 2 miles at marathon pace, wrapped up a week that wasn’t easy, but seemed designed to help. I just wish the rest days were a little better placed.
With my adjusted 2014 distances and times, I am now clearly ahead in 2015 than 2014, and feeling better. I am looking forward to my rest day tomorrow, and what looks like a tough week in training.
For some reason it’s not as much fun writing about the week when it’s been a bad one. Lethargy and motivation problems have plagued me, and I cut back on mileage on a couple of key runs. My target mileage this week was 36 miles, and I stuttered to 30.
I can’t put my finger on why this happened, but on a number of runs this week I have just not been up to it and have taken my foot off the gas and then eased up before the end. It’s not unusual to have an off day or two during a long training plan, but a week is a bit more worrying.
Onwards and upwards next week; it’s looking very slightly cooler, and the mileage increase eases off. In the meantime, it looks as though I have fallen slightly behind last year.
Mileage is off, although mins/mile is still slightly higher on average.
Time flies when you’re running (yes it really does!)
So week 2 cranks things up ever so slightly, from 33 miles to 35 miles. The extra two miles come from the long run going from 9 to 10 miles, and an interval session early in the week which is 7 miles.
The interval session was the hardest run of the week. It’s a 2 miles warmup, and then 7x800m intervals, with 45 seconds passive rest between each (passive rest is walking, rather than jogging/running easy). It’s one of those workouts that looks easy, starts out easy, and then bites.
The first lap is supposed to be 4:24, then a reduction of 2 seconds each lap if you feel strong enough. If you’re at full stretch, then maintain the speed. My splits were 4:21, 4:26, 4:24, 4:20, 4:15, 4:13, 4:12 – not bad for an old timer. I do remember doing this last year and starting faster and ending slower, which was the wrong thing to do. With a heart rate monitor, it’s interesting to see how your body responds to such a workout.
Above you can see the splits and the effect of the interval and following rest. For my age, my workout heart rate is quite high, and my resting heart rate if about 62bpm currently. The idea of this exercise is to get a high intensity workout without introducing the fatigue of a race. The heart rate peaks show this is exactly what is happening.
After this interval run, my easy run and regular runs immediately afterward felt hard because my legs were sore, but I’ll be feeling the benefit of this workout within a couple of weeks.
As for 2014 Vs. 2015, after figuring out my GPS error last year, I’ve adjusted all of my 2014 workouts to reflect the times I would be getting with a GPS watch (i.e, reducing the distance by about 5% or 0.05 miles per mile. With this adjustment, I can see in 2015, I am very slightly faster (which I would expect)
One thing that jumps out is that in 2014, even with the adjusted pace, week 2 was faster than week 1, with a lot more mileage. In 2015, I’m slightly slower with marginally more mileage. One of the reasons is that my watch still counts the rest times during intervals as part of the total workout, and I was walking in one part of the track to stay in the shade so it looked like no movement. Otherwise my average speed is 9:38, slightly quicker.
Another thing is that for most of my regular runs, I have actually missed my target speed. I should be going for 9:05 – 9:20, and over the last two weeks my average regular run speed has been 9:27. It isn’t far off the low end of the expected speed, but it’s enough to be noticeable. I’ll see if my coach recommends switching to a more conservative plan until my fitness improves.
Week 3 cranks it up a notch again to 36 miles, introducing 7 miles to my regular run and a 7 mile fartlek. More on that next time.
In part 1, I took a look at my 2014 approach to the NYC Marathon. Here in part 2 I’m going to take a look at something pretty significant I didn’t talk about last time, which is GPS accuracy.
During the 2014 training, although I had a sports watch, I actually used an iPhone app called MapMyRun and the iPhone’s GPS to track all of my runs. I used my watch at the track and during races, but otherwise this app was king. The reason is that I’d been using it since I started running, and wanted the continuous record to track my total miles, improvement and share with the community on Facebook. All of this is possible simply by syncing MMR with your watch or other apps, but at the time I didn’t know that. So, why is this important.
Your iPhone’s GPS is Lying to You
OK, it’s not just the iPhone… pretty much any phone’s GPS is a bare-faced liar, and certainly not as accurate as a dedicated GPS watch; even a fairly low-cost one. Let’s take a look at two examples.
This is typically what a phone GPS thinks you’re doing in an urban area. Buildings, bridges, cloud cover and other things interfere with the GPS signal. Not only that, but iPhones and some other phones use wifi signals, and even your mobile signal to estimate location, neither of which are as accurate as a GPS signal on a proper GPS device, despite what the marketing tells you.
Above you can see the true distance I ran, which takes out the curves and wobbles, and is actually 0.94 of a mile. Usually in my street running, I found my phone to be anywhere between 0.02 and 0.07 per mile off. Over a typical training session of 6 miles, that’s about 0.35 of a mile, or about 5 – 6%. So how significant is this? It’s huge!
Let’s say you record a time of 57:10 for your run (like I did in the above example). If you’re following a training plan, or your coach (especially a virtual coach or one you correspond with over email/Skype etc), it’s the difference between running 6.35 @ 9 mins/mile, which is what your GPS is telling you, Vs. actually running 6 miles at 9:32/mile. So not only do you think you’ve run further, you think you’ve run faster.
OK, so what if you’re running laps in a park, or even a track? Is it more accurate then?
As you can see from above, the compounding effect of time and distance is quite significant, and if you’re giving feedback to your coach, the times are going to be misleading. During marathon training, the combination of your regular run (5 – 8 miles) and long runs (10 – 22 miles) are usually done at or just below your predicted marathon pace. Its a self feeding cycle designed to get you to the time you want, but also to see if your body is really up to it along the way. Inaccurate timing is going to mess this up.
Given the stage of my training I was at, and that it’s the 10th mile of a long run, this pace was supposed to be an indicator of what my pace should have been. At 9:34/mile, I would complete a marathon in 4:10:39 (which is what my predicted time was, within a few mins). At 10:11/mile, I would complete a marathon in 4:26:48 (much closer to my actual finish time).
OK, so is a dedicated sports watch any better? A decent GPS watch is going to set you back anything from $250 to north of $500, and given a top end smart phone can be had for lower end of that scale, it’s tempting to not bother. But you should reconsider. The GPS tracking on your watch, even if you have a ‘budget’ GPS watch, is likely far more accurate than your phone. First of all, your watch will actually wait until it has a GPS lock until it tells you to start running. Sometimes this can take up to a minute. You probably thought this was your watch being a bit crap, because your phone locks on immediately, right? Wrong. Your phone only tells you when it has a GPS signal, which might be from only one satellite, and just because it has a signal, it can’t necessarily tell you where you are located exactly. Your watch on the other hand will know where you are to more or less within 30 feet, or about 10 meters. Don’t quite believe me?
Here is a workout from today… a 10 mile long run in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is the ugly heat of July, and I’ve cracked mile 3 in a humbling 9:40
Using the same mapping tool to check the accuracy of MapMyRun on the iPhone, I measured this distance, which came out to be 1.01 miles. If anything, my Garmin is robbing me, but the difference is very small.
On a track, and using Garmin’s own mapping, I see the the same thing. Earlier in the week, I did 800m intervals on a track (2 laps). Here’s the distance my watch recorded for those intervals (I started and stopped the timer exactly as I crossed the line after 2 laps):
So, in conclusion? Don’t believe your phone! If you’re serious about running, you probably already have a dedicated watch, but you may be leaving it at home on occasion. If you don’t have a watch, think about getting one. They’re getting better and better (I have a Garmin 225 and think it’s fantastic, more on that another time) are easier to look at while running, and actually do a better job of telling you what you’re doing. Most watches from most companies allow you to export your workouts and import them into your favorite app (MapMyRun, Strava etc) and some (like Garmin) allow you to sync everything without ever having to click a button.
While I don’t expect necessarily to run any faster this year, simply because I am using a more accurate GPS, I do expect my marathon prediction to be more accurate. In part 3, I’ll crack open the training plan and see what’s in store.
I survived week 1, although barely. Today in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, runners were struggling with the heat, even as early as 8:00am, as NYC basks in a heat wave over the next two days.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am using New York Road Runner’s (NYRR) Virtual Trainer, which I am going to review fully later. One of the good things about this plan is that after you input your current running regime, fitness and experience, it creates a plan based on that and gives you a target time for your marathon, which should be realistic. What’s a little surprising is the huge jump in mileage right from the start.
I told it I was running about 20 miles a week, and 3 runs (barely true) and had 3 years’ running experience. Most coaches and most literature tell you not to increase your mileage by more than 10% a week. Instead of suggesting I slowly increase my miles until the official training kicked in (I signed up at the start of June) it actually told me to maintain my current mileage. So imagine my surprise when week 1 is 33 miles, which is more than a 50% increase. I can tell you I felt it.
To be completely fair, the VT did actually tell me I was making a big jump and suggested I move to a more conservative plan, but even that plan starts at 31 miles, still a 50% jump on 20. It might be better if it suggested a slow increase in mileage before the 16 weeks starts.
Week 1 by the numbers
The week was 4×6 miles, at different paces, plus a long run of 9 miles for a total of 33 miles.
Day one was a regular run. My prescribed pace range is 9:05 – 9:20, but in the 77˚ heat and 81% humidity, with zero wind I wilted and only managed a 9:33 pace over 6 miles. Day 2 was an ‘as you feel’ day again over 6 miles, meaning I was supposed to run however I wanted. I ended up doing 9:22, the temperature was 79˚ but the humidity was only 58%.
Day 3 was a tempo run, with a mile warm up, 3 miles at sub-9 mins miles (8:50 – 8:55) and then a 2 mile cool down. My splits for the tempo part was an average of 8:56, although my Garmin 225 seemed to lose the per mile splits because I entered the 3-miles as a single split in the training (more on that another time). After a flex day, when I did almost nothing, I had another regular run day, 6 miles at 9:36 pace, again 75˚ with 79% humidity. So hot hot hot.
Finally today I ran 9.2 miles in what I can only describe has brutal heat and humidity and collapsed to a saunter of 10:24 per mile overall. More wrongly my heart rate went from the low 160’s to spiking at 173… and this was my ‘long run’ which is supposed to be slow, and around 60% max effort.
So overall a inconspicuous start to my training. I get tomorrow off, but will be looking for some improvements over the next few weeks, as I feel and actually am slower than this time last year!