5k Time Trial and Final Stretch for BK Half

Less than two weeks away from the 2019 Brooklyn, I have to talk about goals. But before we go there, I want to quickly mention my workout this evening.

Over the last 8 and a half weeks, I’ve been following a 10 week training plan I’ve been following, courtesy of New York Road Runner’s “Virtual Trainer”. The basic plan is 4 workouts per week, with a “flex day” and two designated rest days. This isn’t particularly aggressive, but when you get to a certain age, conservative is the best way to avoid injuries and burn out.

So each week, I do a long run (usually at the weekend), a regular run (which is a speed you’re generally comfortable at and can sustain), an “As You Feel” run, which can be a recovery run, a regular run or even a push for a workout if you like. Finally there’s a workout, which varies between Fartleks, Intervals or a Tempo run.

Tonight I ran a “tempo” which was prescribed as a mile at a regular pace (for me about 9:20/mi) then 3 miles within 5 mins (around 8:20/mi) and then 2 miles cool down. Those middle 3 miles are supposed to be at the upper range of my Half Marathon pace (we’ll talk about that in a moment).

Well it just so happened that where I usually do my workouts, NYRR was conducting an Open RunScreen Shot 2019-05-07 at 10.01.17 PM for the evening, which was a coordinated 5k, so after running to the start I decided to join in.

As it turns out, I ran 23:12 (which would be a PR) during my 5k, which I am pretty pleased with considering I did it after a 1.5m warmup and then followed with a 1.5m run home, so basically I broke ,my 5k record within a 6 mile run.

My intention this year is to PR my Half Marathon and PR my 10K (In June at the Queens 10K which I’ll cover in another blog).

My current Half PR is 1:56:07 set in 2014, so on May 18th, I am hoping to beat that!

Over the next few days, I’ll go over some of my training in details and work through the strategy for the race and likely outcomes.


2016 – A Year of Bests, or Near Misses?

This post is mildly scatological, so apologies in advance. If you’re squeamish, give it a miss.

Today was the New York City Half Marathon, and I was running it for the 3rd time. In 2014, I managed my first ever sub-two hour race at this event by two seconds (1:59:58) but since have only come in under that time on one other occasion, despite being a much more experienced runner now than I was back then. Today I was planning to at least score a Course Best and perhaps have a go at my PR at this distance, which stands at 1:56:07

I started the day incredibly tired, and my stomach felt ‘not quite right’, perhaps due to a slightly poorly judged Chipotle on my lunch break yesterday, but I managed my coffee and some breakfast and managed to stay reasonably warm hiding in the subway at 59th St until the last minute.

The first few miles also went well – I needed a 9:07 or so per mile to hit my target. Mile 1 was a nice warmup of 9:26 followed by an 8:39 and 8:56 (on the uphill in Central Park). But then the stomach cramps hit me(!) If you’re a runner and know what that’s like, you’ll need no further details, but if you’re not and you don’t, just take my word for it that it feels terrible.

Somewhat amusingly (read that again with your ‘dripping sarcasm’ voice), New York Road Runners decided for reasons only they will ever fathom, not to put any porte-potties on the west side of New York’s central park. So from mile 3 to mile 6, there is no bathroom.

Now you might think this would make you run more quickly (as is often remarked and joked about amongst runners) but for me at least the opposite was true. I was too tense and too uncomfortable so my pace slowed to 9:12 and then 9:24 for the next two miles. Finally just before mile 6, an oasis of Royal Flush ports-loos beckoned, and I took my break.

Stopped Off for a Whoopsie

Three minutes later I was off again. I felt so much better, and cranked out six sub-8:42 miles (8:32, 8:18, 8:41, 8:36, 8:36, 8:28) and for those 6 miles caught and even overtook (for a short while) the 1:55 pace maker who was running around 8:46.

In the very last mile, I dropped to 9:17 and the last 400 meters took me 2:17 (in my track repeats training I can often do these in 1:48). The tank was just empty, and so I crossed the line in exactly 2:01:00… the three minutes I lost, plus the prior 2.8 miles at 9:xx almost certainly cost me a course best, and perhaps a PR given I was chasing the race for 6 miles faster than planned, or I had trained for.

However this does give me great hope for beating my other records this year. A 4 mile “Run for the Parks” race is in a few weeks, and I’m looking to beat my PR which is 34:22. The Brooklyn Half Marathon is in may, where my course best is 2:00:11, but I really want that PR in my home town race, and then there’s the Red Hook Crit 5K, where last year I set my 5K PR with a 23:36 time, which I am also hoping to beat.

So this year with either be a year of records… or a year of excuses. Let’s see.

A Second Crack at the NYC Marathon (Part 2: Lies, Damn Lies, and Your Phone’s GPS)

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.

Here is what my GPS thought I ran
iPhone GPS Measures This as One Mile

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.

Mile 4 (Real)
Measured Distance I ran

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?

Mile 10 Central Park (GPS)
Last mile of a 10 miles run. My GPS happily tells me I’ve run it in 9:34, which was at the faster end of my target that day.
Mile 10 Central Park (Measured)
Really I had run 0.94 miles, so my 9:34 min/mile was closer to 10:11 min/mile.

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).

Honest Garmin

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

Prospect Park Mile 3 (Garmin GPS)
Mile 3 of 10 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, today.

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.

Prospect Park Mile 3 (Measured)
Garmin stole 10 meters!

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):

Garmin 800m Splits
The .49 on the far left is the split distance. 800m is (to be very precise) 0.497 of a mile. Again, Garmin is robbing me of about 10 meters!

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.

Happy Running!