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.

 

Marathon PR – How I Beat a Younger, Faster, Fitter me.

It has been 6 days since I completed the NYC Marathon and set my new marathon PR of 4:25:07 (still unofficial but I’ll be within seconds of that time). My goal this year was always to beat my 2014 time (4:33:33) and although I did it, I am somewhat surprised at the way in which it happened. For much of 2017, the signs have not been good. In most of my races, and in all of my training, I was slower in 2017 than in 2014 although I ran more miles and more consistently in 2017 (912 miles up to Marathon day compared to 848 miles, and additionally in 2017 I only had 2 weeks with zero mileage, compared to 4 weeks in 2014). It seems it’s true what they say, miles count.

So while 2014  was my first full year of running seriously and I was highly motivated to get into shape after years never really having a fitness regime, 2017 was a year I thought I could build on that base fitness.

So let’s take a quick look at my 2014 preparation and performance Vs 2017. First off, the races.

2014 Vs 2017 Race Pace and Time
2014 looks good until the big day!

So what’s going on here? In 2014, my long races were consistently in the 9:10 – 9:20min/mile range, which is pretty consistent, all the way to the Bronx 10m. That was one of my best races in 2014 (and perhaps of all time) with a pretty cool 8:31mins/mile pace over 10 miles (my current PR). The Staten Island Half 2 weeks later was another PR at 8:52min/mile. In 2017, I haven’t run any races over 10m at faster than 9:38/mile and although I slowly increased my pace, it didn’t come close to even my 1st race of 2014.

The 18m tune up is really what I thought would be the major predictor of my marathon form. 31 minutes (1:40/mile) separated my 2014 form from 2017 which is huge. There is no doubt that 2017 me could not possibly keep up with 2014 me in any of those races.

So what happened in the marathon? Well truth be told, I ran a pretty poor marathon in 2014, considering my condition – looking back now and seeing I only consumed 2 gels and missed breakfast, it’s amazing that I finished at all.

If there’s one chart that tells the story of my two races, it’s the one below.

 

2014 Vs 2017 Cumulative Pace
How to run a marathon, and how not to run a marathon in one handy chart.

This chart shows my cumulative average pace per mile, so is effectively a smoothed out line of my pace from start to finish, where the last mile is my average pace for the whole race (not the actual pace of my last mile).

Miles 1 – 5 show a similar trend. Mile 1 is just getting started, some selfies, some crowding and an uphill start – it’s supposed to be slow. Mile 6 both times was when I took a pit stop (my bladder was consistent, even if my pace wasn’t) hence the sudden brake on my pace, but from then onwards it’s two very different stories.

In 2014, from mile 7 – 10, I am maintaining a 9:30 pace pretty evenly. From mile 10, I start to slow down for the rest of the race. That’s a 16 mile decline in pace which gets more and more dramatic. Remember this is a smoothed out chart and each mile the impact of the decrease is less and less (because you’re averaging it out against the whole distance) and yet that line gets steeper and steeper as I slow more and more dramatically. To give you an indication, my pace at mile 10 was 9:34 (close to the 9:31 average at that time) whereas my pace at mile 20 was 10:57, a full minute slower than my average at that time.

In 2017, there’s a completely different story. From mile 6 all the way to mile 21, I am slowly getting faster, and more remarkably from mile 7 to 21, there is only an 8 seconds per mile difference in average pace. To contrast with 2014, mile 10 was a 9:51 pace (17 seconds slower than in 2014) and mile 20 was 10:03 pace, or 55 seconds faster than 2014.

I read somewhere once that for every 10 seconds you try and ‘bank’ in the 1st half of a marathon, you will loose 30 seconds in the second half. What that really means is going out faster than you’re able to maintain in the 1st 13 miles will cost you 3x more than you’ll gain. With my slow and steady pace this time around, I did not start to slow significantly until mile 23, and by that point with only 5k to go, you can dig in really deep and finish it off. In 2014, I was feeling the same way by mile 15 with still 11 miles to go. That can crush anyone.

2) Hi5Marathon

I knew from the start that to get my PR, I had to beat 10:26 per mile, and keeping my pace as close to 10:00/mile would certainly do that. I didn’t know if this was something I could maintain over 26.2 miles for certain, especially given my 18m tune up was actually slower than this, but two significant things changed since then.

The first was that my NYRR Virtual Running Coach scorned my after my 20 mile long run, because I reported how much water and gel I consumed, which was far too little. Despite access to the right information, it never dawned on me that given my age, weight and gender, I really needed to be consuming gels every 3 – 4 miles, not every 6 – 7 miles which I had been doing. Changing that strategy in my last few long runs took out almost all of the fatigue I was feeling in the last few miles.

The second was the temperature. In was 55 degrees on race day (most of my long run training days had been in the 70’s or 80’s) and there was misty rain as well, which kept me cool. Had it been in the 40’s, I could have been faster still, but it’s been such a warm autumn in New York that it could have easily been in the 70’s.

3) Speed

I am honestly not sure if I will run another NYC marathon, or another marathon at all. You sacrifice a lot, you can’t really train for other types of races at the same time, and almost everything defers to it for 4 months of the year. Having said all that, it’s an amazing feeling and something I am still buzzing about six days later. Tomorrow I am having a recovery run with my running club, and will have just a slightly lighter spring in my step than if I’d missed this PR. This really has made my 2017!

Marathon Training Week 4, A Slow Improvement

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.

Intervals Wk4

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.

Week 4 Summary

Marathon Training Week 2

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.

Intervals (July 26th Blog)
Heart rate is an excellent indicator of how hard you’re working out. If it feels hard, it IS hard.

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)

Week 2 Summaries

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.

Happy running!

A Second Crack at the NYC Marathon (Part 1: What Happened in 2014)

In 2014 I ran my first ever marathon, something that only a few years earlier I never thought I would even consider, let alone actually do. My finish time was 4:33:33, and was a bitter-sweet achievement. At the time I was delighted I even finished, and I got so much support from family and friends, it was hard to be disappointed. However, my training all pointed towards a much faster finish, with my predicted time being around 4:08. All runners, regardless of ability, want to do the best they can on race day. So while my time probably isn’t as important to me as it is to say, Meb Keflezighi, it is was important enough to feel a twinge of disappointment, especially in missing it by such a large margin.

Race Strategy

Before the race, I had a strategy to bring me in just under 4:08 as predicted. This wasn’t based on pure fiction; two months before the marathon, I’d run an 18 mile tune up in 2:47:25, an average of 9:18 per mile, and never dropping below 10min/mile.

18m Tune Up
What would turn out to be my best ever long run, my marathon tune up 6 weeks before the race. I felt great at this point.

That was a good 10 seconds/mile faster than my marathon goal pace, so the theory was I could manage another 8 miles at 9:28 to get me to 26.2. In practice, perhaps my training runs were too fast (more on that later). However my race day strategy did follow the rule of running slower than my average long run pace, which is what I followed for my tune up (see chart below). It felt realistic.

Aside from mile one, which includes the long climb up the Verrazano Bridge from the starting line, I started too fast. After you descend into Brooklyn, the crowds appear and the adrenaline kicks in – you literally feel invincible, with 16 weeks plus of training behind you, you’re going to be in pretty good shape. Coming up to mile 6 was a long stretch up Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue, and there were constant gusts of wind up to 25 mph. On race day, don’t under-estimate the impact the wind can have on your effort and speed. Miles 7 – 10 I got back more or less on track, running through my old neighborhood, seeing my wife on the course, and the hundreds of cheering spectators.

Race Strategy
My marathon day times in red, Vs my tune up (light green) and strategy (blue)

Aside from mile one, which includes the long climb up the Verrazano Bridge from the starting line, I started too fast. After you descend into Brooklyn, the crowds appear and the adrenaline kicks in – you literally feel invincible, with 16 weeks plus of training behind you, you’re going to be in pretty good shape. This is a rookie mistake, and although everyone knows you shouldn’t do this, almost everyone does. I read somewhere once that for every 15 seconds you gain during the first 10 miles, you’ll lose a minute during the last 10.

Coming up to mile 6 was a long stretch up Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue, and there were constant gusts of wind up to 25 mph. On race day, don’t under-estimate the impact the wind can have on your effort and speed. Miles 7 – 10 I got back more or less on track, running through my old neighborhood, seeing my wife on the course, and the hundreds of cheering spectators.

During miles 11 – 14 I started to struggle, and could feel it. At the half way mark, I was at 2:05, and in theory in good shape, but I knew I’d slowed significantly and the thought of ‘only’ being half way seemed an enormous burden. The half marathon marker is at the foot on the Pulaski Bridge, which is relatively small compared to some of the others, but the slight climb and exposure make it seem harder than it should be. Mile 15 and 16 I faded below 11 mins/mile for the first time, the Queensboro Bridge in the middle of that. It’s more than a kilometer long (around 3/4 of a mile), there are no spectators on it, and it’s the one part of the race where you feel very alone.

On miles 17 and 18, coming into Manhattan and running up 1st Avenue, I clawed my way back to 10mins/mile (for the last time in the race) before a slow but steady plummet to a 12:37 at mile 24. The only time I really picked up again was the final 800 meters or so running along 59th street, the crowds and the thought of my wife being near there gave me a minor lift at the end. At that point, I did feel pretty good and the disappointment was cast aside by the excitement of the finish. At least I hadn’t quit, and that in itself was huge.

So what happened? What can I learn for next time, and most importantly what do I need to do differently this year to get closer to that magical 4 hour finish time. Let’s start with race day itself.

Race Day Jitters

I am pretty prone to have an upset stomach on race day, but never before a race. Usually it’s in the 24 hour after a race, probably due to over consumption of carbs and hydration aids after the event, along with the pure stress and strain of running as hard as you can for an extended period of time. On the day of the marathon though, things felt different right from the start. I was up around 4:00am, which in reality was 3:00am thanks to the clocks going backward on the same day, and immediately felt tired. After a coffee and some oatmeal with banana, my stomach turned over – it felt bloated and unhappy with life in general. This didn’t really subside prior to the start, and the the net effect was I was pretty much unable to consume any fuel throughout the race at the start. I didn’t eat anything until almost 2 hours in, and at that point it’s too late. This didn’t stop my enthusiasm, I actually felt pretty good despite this, but at the 2 hour mark I really felt it, and bonked at mile 18 (very common).

While the wind was a factor, obviously this affected everyone, and so I can attribute perhaps 5 mins or so to it, no more. Under-estimating New York’s bridges was also a small factor. I definitely slowed down significantly on 3 of them, and while that only accounts for a minute or so of total time per bridge, during a 26 mile race, it has a larger effect that you might think. Finally going out too fast, given my fueling situation, probably compounded the other problems. Just giving up 2 and a half minutes in the first 10 miles may have saved me 10 mins in the last 10, so perhaps I could have finished 7 to 8 mins faster.

Training

My marathon training plan was the most rigorous, and probably most difficult thing thing I have ever done as far as physical exertion is concerned. To give you an idea, during the 16 week plan, I ran 541 miles (including the race itself). That was more than half of my entire mileage for 2014, and more than twice as much as I’d run in 2013 and 2012 combine. I was, and still very much am, a novice runner. It’s easy to forget that some of the people I run with ran track in high school, or have been running for 10 or 20 years. Apparently for people starting running in their 30’s or 40’s, can improve continuously for up to 15 years! While that gives me great encouragement, it’s rather humbling to know even at year 3, just starting out.

I follow NYRR’s Virtual Training plan, but with a real coach (I will review this in a future post), and there are a few things now with hindsight I would change. Often I would exceed the plan’s suggested speed (although not always) and while it’s occasionally good to push a little harder on good days, it’s actually more important to conserve the energy and push through on the bad days. For example, if you’re supposed to do a 12 mile run at 9:35, and actually do it at 9:05. OK, sounds good right? But if the next day you’re supposed to do a 6 mile regular run at 9:05 and actually barely hit 9:20, the reason is the over-exertion during the long run. What’s more, the effect of doing that can’t be under-stated; it can last for days, and is unconsciously training your body to slow down under fatigue. Marathon training is all about doing exactly the opposite of this – to keep your pace down at the start when you feel great, and then keep going at a steady pace when you’re fatigued towards the end. I was unconsciously training myself to start fast, and finish slow!

Aside from the relatively minor indiscretions of knocking 5 – 10 seconds off interval splits on the track, I actually ran two races on days I was supposed to do slow long runs.

On September 28th, 2 weeks after my 18m tune up, I ran the Bronx 10 mile race in 1:25:10 (8:31/mile). A few weeks ago, I couldn’t even manage a 10k at that speed, but again it’s amazing what 10 weeks of training will do you for. Originally I was supposed to run 20 miles on that day, but my coach adjusted my day to take into account the race, and prescribed 12 miles (2 miles for warm up and cool down, plus the race) and gave me a target of 8:35 – 8:46/mile.

Not only did I blow away the target time (those 4 seconds are huge over that distance) but I stupidly went on to run the extra 10 miles AFTER the race, clocking in at 1:34:37, or around 9:28/mile.

The second time I did this, I ran the Staten Island Marathon on October 12th, only two weeks later. I got a PR of 1:56:07 (which still stands now). This time I was in the zone set by my coach, but again I ended up running the full distance prescribed in the original plan (prior to registering for the race) so actually ran 22 miles in total that day.

For someone with 5 -10 years’ running experience behind them, perhaps this would have mattered less. But I was naive, I really wanted to get the miles under my belt, and thought doing so would be better than resting. My biggest concern was not getting the full effect of running 18, 20 and then 22 miles continuously. Ironically I didn’t get that anyway, as I completed my mileage a few hours after the races in both instances, which while might give you more or less the same physiological workout, the psychological difference between running continuously for 3.5 hours, compared to breaking it up into a 2 hour and 1.5 hour workout, is huge.

Sleep

One final thing I’ll mention is sleep. It’s a wonder of the modern world that we crave more hours in every day. There just isn’t enough time for work, training, rest, eating, play and all the other distractions of the avant garde. As such, we’re often sleep deprived, and runners are probably the most sleep deprived. After training, the next most important thing, perhaps even more important than nutrition, is sleep. It’s only when you’re asleep that the body really recovers from what you put it through when you’re awake. Muscle regeneration and other physiological changes that are critical to improving fitness all occur while you’re catching your Z’s. I have a habit of staying up later than I should, and throughout my training probably averaged less than 7 hours sleep a night, with some nights more like 5. Ultimately I don’t know how much impact something like this has, but from what little I have read on the subject, it seems this is something that can lead to long term exhaustion and fatigue.

While it’s easy to be critical, and I just spent 1700 words being exactly that, I really should be very proud of myself. Sure, on the day I could have done better – it’s mentally difficult to keep going when you know deep down you’re going to fall short, and although I often felt like giving up, I never actually did. However, getting through 16 weeks of training during a New York City summer at that, is something I’ll never forget, and it’s a great baseline for 2015. That is something to discuss next time.

Training for NYC Half 2015

Tomorrow is the first day of training for my NYC Half in March this year. 400 miles of pavement pounding over 10 weeks… and I’m all set to beat the PR I achieved in 2014 during my marathon training at Staten Island.

Just a quick warmup today then… 5 miles or so should do it!

My NYC Marathon – Elated and Deflated!

Yesterday I ran the NYC Marathon, and I am completely torn between feeling really happy about something I honestly never thought I’d achieve, and being bitterly disappointed in my time of 4:33:33 (which at the time of writing is still unofficial). To put that into perspective, my predicted time (based on all the races and training so far) was 4:16!

Below, I had no idea what was coming. This is 2 mins before the start!

Before I beat myself up, I should reflect on the last 2 years’ work and results. This year alone I ran 4 half marathons, two of them under 2 hours. I’ve logged over 865 miles in 2014, compared to 267 in 2013 and barely 94 miles in 2012. This was the first year I really took my running seriously, and at the point I started my marathon training, I was running on average 2 – 3 times per week and scraping 15 – 20 miles in those weeks. The training program I started was recommended for people running at least 3 – 4 times a week totally 25 miles or more. Such a jump in mileage takes a toll (my average training mileage was 34 miles per week), as did the races I ran during the training.

Ahh, excuses excuses. But wait, there’s more. On the morning of the race I had an upset stomach, perhaps nerves, perhaps an unlucky bug, but it messed with my breakfast and my fueling. While I managed to take a glug of Gatorade every 4 miles or so, I only managed 2 gels and didn’t take on enough water. Every time I drank water, my stomach turned over like an angry jacuzzi. Where I am really happy is that I kept going, despite every part of me saying “you can stop, it’s OK”. So inevitably shortly after the 20k mark, I started to slow. At the half-way point I knew I wasn’t going to be anywhere near 4 hours, but even then I didn’t realize how much I would actually slow down. By mile 18 I felt like I was barely moving, and on entering Central Park, I was barely shuffling along. But, somehow, I did make it to the end, and despite everything, felt like a million bucks.

After escaping the insane maze the organizers created due to security concerns, I was finally greeted by my lovely wife, Maria, who fed me a hero’s helping of banana bread and hot chocolate. She didn’t care about my time, and neither should I. The reality is, a marathon is hard and I probably grossly underestimated it. The difference in my performance over the 4 half-marathons and the full one is startling (see below).

Next time I won’t under estimate it. 3 things I probably need to improve for next time – strength training (my legs are ultimately what gave in), carb-loading (I am sure I didn’t do that so well) and fueling during the race, which I have always found tough.

So bring it on 2015!