Category: Racing

2015 Dipsea Race

Running Time: 1:05:13
Finish Time: 1:04:14 (1-minute head start)
Pace: 8:41
Place: 263 of 1419
AG%: N/A

It feels like it’s been a long time since I updated this. Normally I would have been writing something around April about the Boston Marathon, except that in February of this year I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my tibia. This meant a complete cessation of running in February and March, and only a gradual resumption of run/walk starting in April. While my doctor had cleared me to start running (ok, run-walking) by the Boston Marathon I was not in the position to run a marathon.

That meant my first real race would be the Dipsea in June — the annual trail run from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. This race is the oldest continuing trail race in the country, having started in 1905 (though was not run for a few years during the Great Depression and WWII) and continuing on today.

I decided I’d take a month to do some rehab-running (April), and then a month to start to introduce proper training (May) before the 105th Dipsea on June 14th. With only a bit more than a month worth of training, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get back up to speed to handle the Dipsea. Not only is the Dipsea a competitive race, it’s also extremely hilly and challenging — with both massively steep uphills (688 steps of stairs to start with) and super fast descents (with names like “Suicide”) through some gnarly terrain.

Last year I was run as a Runner and qualify with a 1:09 to be invited for the 2015 race as an Invitational runner. To keep that status, I figured I would have to run a 1:07 this year but I wasn’t sure I could knock off two minutes from last year’s time. Granted last year was warm and times were artificially slow, but I had gotten to the start without having any injuries along the way.

The famous Dipsea, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach
The famous Dipsea, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach

Based on Russ Kiernan’s previous splits, I had three course goals that would keep me on track to maintain Invitational status and run around a 1:05: 1.) hit the top of the stairs at 7:40, 2.) hit the bridge across Redwood Creek at 18:45, and 3.) hit the top of Cardiac at 43:50. If I could hit Cardiac in 43:XX, I knew I could run the remaining couple of miles pretty strong since they’re fairly runnable and downhill/flat.

Connor and I decided to start off together, mostly because he wanted to keep from going out too fast, although I told him that I wasn’t sure what the final miles would have for me. I wasn’t sure if my strength could get me through the final fast miles and said he should drop me if he still had the legs to go in the last downhill 2 miles.

Connor and I got in the corrals and before we knew it the countdown started. “Your race begins in 5… 4… 3… 2…….. 1!!!!”

Immediately I saw Rickey Gates fly off the front of the pack. This was no surprise, and he would go on to post the fastest run of the day. What a talent! Our group was fairly fast so I tried not to get caught up in the excitement of the start, nor the jockeying for position. I wanted to save my legs for the two massive climbs in the race.

The Dipsea course elevation profile.
The Dipsea course elevation profile.

I hit the stairs taking two at a time, monitoring my breathing and heart rate. When I found myself working too hard, I’d stay to the right on the stairs and let faster people pass left. Once in a while I’d pass left when my heart rate had come down, but I made sure to stay in a fairly aerobic zone because so much of the race still lie ahead. It was on these stairs that I saw Alex Varner fly by me and I knew I’d never see him again. I wondered if he’d be getting his 7th consecutive fastest-runner triumph.

Hitting the top of the stairs, Connor and I emerged exactly at 7:40. Wow, what pacing! I was happy that I hit my first course goal, and looked forward to the descent down to the creek. Of course I had forgotten that between the stairs and the descent to the creek, there’s still a sizable climb passing the 1-mile mark. Ugh. Lots of people were passing me at this point, but I was trying not to worry. I’d catch them on the downhills and still wanted to conserve energy.

Soon enough the descent along Muir Wood Road came and I let my legs turnover to gain some speed. Hitting the bottom and crossing the creek at 18:40, I was so please to be on pace. Still, I knew the climb to Cardiac would make or break the race.

The climb from the creek gets pretty crowded; by this time we were catching up with a lot of the earlier groups. “Passing left!” was coming out of my mouth constantly, whether I was running or power-hiking my way up. I tried to pay attention to any section that got remotely flat, and therefor runnable, and sped up. When at one point Connor slipped ahead of me on an uphill climb, I found myself quickly catching up to him on the flats. Knowing that he and I were primarily road runners and have more raw speed than most of the other trail runners, I shouted to him as I caught up: “You gotta push on the flats!” Most of the other runners were recovering on the flats after hard uphill efforts, and us pushing the flats up to Cardiac is where we really started to make up ground.

Cardiac this year felt a lot easier than last, and I’m not sure why. I kept my head up when I could sense the summit approaching, and looked at my watch. We were around 41:00 and I told Connor that if we hit the top at 45 minutes, that’d be good. But if we hit the top at 43 minutes, that’d be great! We hit the top at 43:24. I was so happy to have hit this split. I knew if I kept up the effort I would finish right at 1:05.

Once at the top the running gets pretty good. I slowed down for a quick Gatorade, and in that half second a dozen guys jumped ahead of me seeing the flat and fast section atop Cardiac. That meant Connor was now way ahead. The trail gets super narrow, so passing was not always an option — especially if the person I wanted to pass was passing someone. The congestion and narrow trails made it impossible to catch up to Connor, which was frustrating. Not only did I want to run with him, I didn’t want him to beat me!

I was feeling good so I didn’t worry about Connor dropping me. I’d pass when the trail allowed it and had the confidence that I could put in a properly hard charge over the final two miles.

Unfortunately after Cardiac we entered the Swoop, a section that this year that was so massively overcrowded that at times we were forced to come to a full stop; other times we were able to march a a snail’s pace, which was unacceptable considering it’s downhill. While it was incredibly frustrating, there was nothing I could do about it so I just bided my time and took the opportunity to recover a bit.

Exiting the Swoop, there’s a bump called Insult. I can’t convey how much of a bump this really is. Everyone talks about it but I feel like it’s over before it starts. It was nothing to sweat over. With only a little over a mile left and the trail a little wider than before I decided it was time to make my move to catch up to Connor. I’m a good downhill runner and don’t get [too] scared about taking stairs or hills fast going down and I made it my mission to pass everyone to catch him.

I powered down everything and anyone in my way, and with about two hundred meters before hitting the Shoreline Highway (about a half mile from the finish) I managed to meet up with Connor on some stairs that I was attacking. I yelled at him to come with me and we had only 800 meters of downhill road separating us and the finish. We kicked and managed to average 4:50 for that final stretch, crossing the finish together in a chip time of 1:05 and managing to maintain our Invitational status for 2016.

Crossing the finish, I couldn’t believe how perfectly the race had gone. I hit each of my sub-goals within a matter of seconds and crossed at exactly my goal pace. It’s not often a race works out with such perfection, especially a trail race with such varied terrain. I was ecstatic.

I had guessed at the start that we’d need a 1:07, and it turns out that the cutoff this year was 1:08:02. It was good knowing that we were several minutes under this, because next year the pressure will be a little less. We’ll know exactly what it takes to qualify again and I think we’ll even be in better shape.

This year my goal was to finish uninjured and to qualify to run again next year. Next year my goal is a bit more ambitious: run under 60:00 and juuuuuust maybe crack the top 100.

2014 Mohawk Hudson River Marathon

Overall Time: 2:53:53
Pace: 6:37
Place: 22 of 897
AG%: 71.83%

The build-up to this marathon was a little short training wise, but mentally I had been preparing myself for a PR for almost a year. In 2013 I had a successful year of distance running, setting PRs from the 5K to the marathon and 50-mile distance. I was ready to take 2014 seriously and continue the trend. So when a difficult 2014 Boston Marathon came my way and I was barely able to sneak under the three-hour mark, I knew I’d be forced to plan a fall marathon and attack the 2:55 barrier (and perhaps 2:50!).

I chose to run the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, the site of my first “real” marathon back in 2010. The scheduling would allow me to pace the NYC Marathon again and still have time to get in training before the JFK 50 Miler in late November.

The race starts in Schenectady and runs east along the Mohawk River before joining the Hudson River where the marathon turns south into Albany.

mohawk-map

The course is mostly flat, with two notable sections of downhill — one in the first 10K and another at mile 16. The rest of the course has a few rollers with the final miles being pancake flat. It’s a good course for a fast time, but ultimately all the course potential in the world doesn’t get you to the finish line. Your legs and your fitness do.

mohawk-elevation

The beginning of this year was particularly difficult for me as my mother fell ill to pancreatic cancer. From March through June I made several trips that included visiting her when she was sick and then unfortunately to be with my father and family when she passed away. Between recovering from Boston and dealing with much more important life concerns, running was put on the back burner.

I started my training in July for a solid three months of training. During this period I would see both my 5K and 5-mile PRs fall fairly drastically, which all pointed to increased fitness and my ability to be somewhere around 2:50 in the marathon. I was excited to be making these physical jumps and nervous at the thought of running 6:30 pace for 26.2 miles. I had put in a lot of 70+ mile weeks, including a 20-mile run almost every weekend. The longest run was my 33-mile perimeter run around Manhattan for my 33rd birthday.

As I began my taper I felt great. With 10 days to go, I put in my final speed workout and the bounce in my newly rested legs became to return.

And then I pulled a muscle in my back.

I have no idea how, but with a week to go my back became incredibly painful. It felt like a pulled muscle and caused my back to stiffen up. Every time I stood up from a chair or turned over in bed I felt like my back was going to snap in two. How was it going to be possible for me to run a marathon in a week? I wasn’t sure.

Over the course of the week leading up to the marathon I was not able to run for a couple days. It was just too painful. Wednesday (4 days before the big day) I was able to run a loop of Central Park at an excruciatingly slow 9:15 pace. I hurt but not terribly so. Thursday was better, and by Friday I was thinking I would be just fine for the weekend, but not confident about what my back would feel like running for almost 3 hours at a fast pace.

I headed up to Albany Friday after work so that I’d have all of Saturday to do the marathon thing — packet pickup at the expo, one final shakeout run to calm the nerves, walk around town to relax the mind. Connor joined me Saturday afternoon, as he had agreed to meet mile at mile 20 of the marathon to run the final 10 kilometers with me.

On Saturday night two more friends showed up and joined us for dinner. Daniel G and Jeff W were also up from New York City to run this race, so we met at my friend/weekend host John’s apartment for some pasta (and wine for me). Jeff and Daniel weren’t shooting or PRs, so I felt like I was the only one nervous about the next morning. Still, they were tired and the night was called to a close fairly early and that made me happy. I was in bed by 9:30. Everything was going just according to plan. Even better, I had a decent night of sleep.

Sunday morning brought pretty good marathon temperatures. My back was a little stiff but I figured that adrenaline and pain in my legs would silence whatever my back hard to say on the course.

Waiting in the fields around the start line was cold but as the sun poked out from the clouds it was comfortable enough that we weren’t shivering. I wore some arm warmers to get me through the opening warmup miles (thanks for bringing these, Connor!), but I planned on ditching them with no regrets as soon as the temperatures warmed up.

With five minutes left to go I seeded myself at the front of the coral, figuring on finishing in the top 25. There were some pretty fit-looking runners at the front and when I overheard two runners discussing their race plans and paces, my thoughts were confirmed (the top three men were all in the 2:20s). My back was feeling like it would hold out for the distance, so there was nothing holding me back. It was time to run.

With nothing more than a “ready, set, go!” the race was started at 8:30:00. The first mile in every race is a shit show and this was no different. The 3:05 pacer, who before the race started cautioned his group not to go out too fast in the first two miles, literally rocketed off the start line and was firmly ahead of me. The pack chasing him and all the other go-out-too-fast marathoners were quickly ahead of me. I wondered how many of them I would reel in after 5K, 20K, 30K. Morons.

The opening mile was of course slow. I’d rather lose 30 seconds and take it easy than bank 30 seconds and blow out early. My watch read 6:55, but that was just a warm up so I wasn’t concerned. I settled into a decent groove and found myself running with a young runner named Hunter with the same goal as me — to run mid 6:30s for the first half and then try and pick up the pace the second half to threaten a 2:50; the thought being that if 2:50 proved unrealistic, salvaging a 2:52 or 2:53 would be just fine. He had run a 2:52 the prior year despite going out a little fast, so he had hoped this year to run a more conservation race and finish much stronger.

I felt good running with him because at 6:55 for mile 1 he was already proving to be capable of not letting the race excitement get the better of him. We ran shoulder-to-shoulder and split mile 2 in 7:00. Shit. Time to move.

Mile 3 (6:39), 4 (6:39), and 5 (6:34) were feeling really smooth and like clockwork. I was pleased at my consistent pacing despite a few morons surging past me only to fall back for no reason, then again surging ahead. I still do not understand how people can train for so long and then ruin their pacing on race day on a flat course. Hold your damn pace and focus on your own race.

Mile 6 was pretty pancake flat. I was feeling like the pace was all Goldilocks — just right. Then I saw the mile split. 7:01. Shit. Surely the mile marker was off (looking at the Garmin data, I’m confident the mile markers were more suggestions than hard fact). Mile 8 was 6:49. Mile 9 was 6:46. How did I go from ‘easy’ 6:30s to struggling at high 6:40s? This wasn’t good. I was not comfortable at this point mentally or physically. My legs were straining and I realized this was going to be a long day. Hunter went ahead and I was glad for it — I didn’t want my bad day to affect his. He resumed his routine of 6:30s and slowly disappeared along the course.

Early in the race. I still have my arm warmers, at this point hanging around my wrists before I would ditch them before Mile 10.
Early in the race. I still have my arm warmers, at this point hanging around my wrists before I would ditch them before Mile 10.

There was no real strength in my legs, so it would be up to my heart to get me to the finish. Going under 3:00 would be difficult today and potentially worse, would I embarrass myself when Connor met me at Mile 20 to run me in? I had told him I’d hope to be running mid 6:20s to 6:30s at the end but… would I be scraping by at 9:00 pace? I was terrified at the thought, but it was definitely a possibility.

I began taking Gatorade at every aid station, each spaced two miles apart. Maybe a little sugar would help me. I was determined not to give up. I didn’t come up to Albany to throw in the towel. The only way to run a good race and set a PR is simply to do it.

Mile 10 (6:42) was a little faster but still slower than my goal. Miles 11 (6:50) and 12 (6:41) were confirmation that despite my decision to give a solid effort, this was going to be a struggle. But I was going to press on. With the halfway point coming up, I knew I could push the second half and either blow up or come home proud. I’ve never faulted anyone for trying and failing, but I’ve always been disappointed at those who never reached and always stayed safe. I decided to try to be the type of person I respect and push on.

Mile 13 (6:20) was definitely mis-marked, because mile 14 (6:46) was long. The two averaged to a 6:38 which was back on pace. I was hurting but the pain would be gone soon.

I split the half in 1:28:08 (6:43 pace), a full two minutes slower than my original plan but still something I could turn into a decent race. If I could run like I knew I was fit to do, I’d be able to split the second half much faster 1:25 and PR. 2:50 was not possible but a PR still was. And so my real work began.

Mile 15 (6:32) began the typical marathon game of catching and passing people who were slowing down because of overzealous early miles or unrealistic goals. Around mile 16/17 (12:57 for the two combined) I caught up and passed Hunter. I had told him before that my race began at mile 18, and was a little sad that he was slowing down after a fairly well-paced first half but hoped that he’d hold on to a decent finish. Unfortunately I would later learn that he would finish in 3:04:51.

Connor would be coming up soon, so pancake flat miles 18 (6:31 and 19 (6:27) I sped up a little knowing that I could finish a strong final 10K with how I was doing.

Somewhere around Mile 22. Connor's shadow is on the right.
Somewhere around Mile 22. Connor’s shadow is on the right.

I was happy that I was able to pull my head out from my ass and get back to race pace, but still terrified that I would blow up in the final couple of miles. I knew that when Connor joined me I’d still be managing decent pace but anything can happen in the final miles. I just hoped it would be awesome things happening!

Coming to mile 20 (6:25) with a slight downhill I picked up Connor. He had a handheld bottle with some sports drink that I had asked him to bring, so that I’d be able to get proper sugar in the final miles and not have to drink it from a cup. It was a relief not to suck down so much air trying to get in a little fluid.

I continued to hit my marks. Mile 21 (6:35) and mile 22 (6:34) were right on target but I was hurting. It was around 22.5 that my mind began to wander. Did I have 2.7 or 3.7 miles to go? I hoped for 2.7. I glanced at my watch and I was wrong. 3.7 — ugh.

It dragged on and on, but I was happy when I finally reached mile 23 (6:38), knowing that I had just a touch over 5 kilometers to go. I could do this, but I knew I wasn’t home free until a mile to go. I started doing math in my head and knew I could hit a 2:53 if I kept it under 6:30 pace the rest of the way. This was a big ask — to speed up in the last miles of the race — but I had done it before and I was going to die trying again.

Mile 24 (6:29) came and went. I was on the hunt for 25 and began passing people hurting in their final miles. This is always good motivation and I began to recognize segments of the course and felt like I could see the finish in my mind. I pushed.

The course began throwing in urban elements and without having to look at my watch I knew I was closing in on the finish area. My legs hurt. I wanted to vomit.

The course rejoined the river side and mile 26 (6:32) greeted me with the knowledge that in 385 yards I would be done. I ran on my toes the final stretch and scalped a few suffering runners, running 78 seconds — just under 6:00 pace — to chase down the clock and record a 2:53:53.

There's nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a marathon. Exhaustion and elation at the same time!
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a marathon. Exhaustion and elation at the same time!

I had run the second half in 1:25:45, a 2:23 negative split. My decision to run a harder pace despite struggling through the opening miles was the right one. I finished 3rd in my age group, which really means nothing except that this was a small marathon. Still, I was a little disappointed when instead of a little plaque or award, all I received was a beanie and a lunch tote.

It was a PR, but it felt like I had done it the hard way. All my other marathon PRs came with ease. They were achieved with a moderate effort first 16 miles, followed by an 8.2-mile tempo run. This race felt like a slugfest from after the 10K mark. This was a 10K warmup and then a 20-mile pain cave.

Of course it makes sense that suffering the most leads to the fastest races. Running faster than you have ever done before means more discomfort and breaking barriers your body has never broken through. But this race seemed unnaturally hard and the final 20 miles taught me a few things. Firstly, I learned that a difficult race is always worth suffering through and can be salvaged. Secondly, I was probably in 2:50 shape but just had a less-than-ideal day.

I’m pleased with my time – it’s faster than I’ve ever run before. But at the same time I still want more. I want to go under 2:50, and running a PR but still not breaking 2:50 has made me more hungry. I’m motivated to train more, I’m confident I can do it, and I can’t wait to suffer through it all over again.

2014 North Face Endurance Challenge : Bear Mountain 50 Miler

Twelve days after a torturous Boston Marathon, I found myself waking up at 2:15 AM to depart for Bear Mountain for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler. That’s sort of a mouthful of a name, so I’m just going to refer to the race as the Bear Mountain 50 (or BM50). With a 1-hour commute and a 5 AM start time, half the battle is waking up on time and getting to the start.

This year 4 others were silly enough to sign up with me for the BM50: Daniel G, Dominic D, Kurt S, and Luc B. This was Daniel’s 4th consecutive running of the event, despite having sworn last year never to do it again. But like any good ultra runner, the pain of the race fade away and quickly he’s on the hunt for a new challenge.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of my legs for this race. It was long enough after Boston that my legs weren’t sore but I still wasn’t sure how much I’d have in the tank for the last 15 miles of this race. I always feel “fine” but this isn’t the sort of race you can just wing. Additionally my mother had fallen ill two months prior to this race, and was still in the hospital unable to walk or support herself. With constant phone calls between my father and me, I had more on my mind than running around in the woods.

Starting in the dark at 5 AM, I took the first few miles super easy. There was plenty of race ahead of me and I just wanted to get the heart moving and the legs warmed up. As it turned out, my legs weren’t as fresh as I thought. I could tell early within the first 10 miles that it was going to be a very long day. They didn’t have any strength in them, but at least they weren’t sore. They were just tired. The initial goal was to start conservative (mission accomplished) and then to start picking up the pace around mile 21 and maintain a steady push to the end.

I soon found out that my easy starting pace would become my “picking it up” pace the rest of the day. I don’t know if I just didn’t have the fire in me to keep pushing or if my legs had a deep fatigue from a long training cycle that I couldn’t shake, but I wasn’t going to try and force anything that would result in a DNF. I accepted the reality and forged on.

The course this year was visited by a few inches of rain during the week leading up to the race. Mud of course was everywhere. Streams became rivers and uneven paths became long trenches of puddles and mud. Rocks became great opportunities to slip, and anyone who knows Bear Mountain knows it’s nothing but rocks: big rocks, little rocks, sharp rocks, rocks for climbing up, rocks for climbing down. In the first few miles people did their best to avoid the muddy trails and water puddles. They kept to the high side of the trail and tip-toed around as much as they could. But it was inevitable — feet would become wet. Within a couple hours most people had stopped dancing around the water and just plowed straight through. This was a trail race after all.

Things got tougher around mile 13, when a mysterious left hip pain appeared along with an old ankle injury on my right foot. Fan-fucking-tastic. It got pretty bad; bad enough that I’d inadvertently wince and hold my breath, which of course is not the most productive thing to do when trying to run. A fellow runner even asked if I was alright as he passed me by. Mind you I was still running and at the time I was surprised and dumbfounded (insulted, even) as to why he asked if I was OK, but later I realized I probably looked like a lame horse — bum right ankle, painful left hip, visinbly wincing and perhaps even audibly gasping.

With more than 35 miles left to go, thoughts of dropping from the race were going through my head. I told myself I could just drop at the aid station at mile 19 before the really difficult sections of the course started. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it to the finish. Every step hurt both sides of my body. And that’s when I started thinking about my mother.

When I had spoken to my father a few days before the race, it had been approaching 60 days that my mom was still in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph’s Hostpital recovering from a major surgery to remove a very aggressive cancer. She wasn’t able to stand up, sit up, or walk on her own. Her biggest accomplishment every day was having nurses assist her out of the bed to sit in a chair nearby for a half hour or more. While my mom could have chosen to just lie in bed and receive pain killers, she opted against that and tried to do as much as she could. Walking thirty feet down the hall may have taken over an hour, but that was only more reason to do it. If she could summon the mental and physical strength to will her body that had been torn apart, then I could finish this race. I could never look at myself again if I dropped from this race just because it was hard or just because I hurt. I chose to be in this race. I wasn’t going to dishonor my mother by choosing to fail. I wiped those thoughts of stopping from my mind.

The remainder of the race can be summarized in a single word: pain. My right ankle made it difficult to descend quickly, and my left hip made it difficult to climb. All time goals went out the window and I just went into survival mode. Initially I was gunning for a finish time of around 9 hrs 30 min, but now I was just trying to get to the finish in one piece. Whether it would be 10 or 12 or even 14 hours, I was going to finish this.

I reached the aid station at mile 24 and already I was seeing lots of people struggling. By mile 28 some runners began picking up their pacers, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Pacers became handlers and motivators as exhausted runners wanted to stop.

The stretch of road from 28 leading up to 33 were fairly runnable. At least a mile or two were on road, albeit straight uphill. I began catching a lot of people here; people who had started off too fast (all too common even in 50 milers) and were reduced to a walk with 20 miles left to go. I continued my run — really, more a shuffle — and gained momentum as I passed each runner.

Around mile 38 I heard my name called from behind. It was my friend Kurt! He had caught up to me and was making good time in his first 50 miler. We exchanged pleasantries and continued to the mile 40 aid station together. He had “lost his brakes” and couldn’t control himself from flying downhill, which is how he ended up passing a lot of people. He had a “no running” policy on all uphills, so as we exited the mile 40 aid station up a very gentle incline he refused to follow me running. The section began on paved road and for once continued on a relatively runnable trail. Despite the incline I wasn’t going to walk this and so mentally I said “good bye” to Kurt figuring that he’d catch me later on the downhills.

I glanced at my watch and did some mental calculations. I had to maintain a fairly decent 12-minute pace for the last 10 miles to come in under 11 hours for the race. While this was much slower than my original goal, it became something to motivate me. With Timp Pass around mile 46, I knew that there would be some real slow paths ahead. I’d have to fight for every second.

Power hiking my way as fast as I could up Timp Pass, I managed to get to the mile 47 aid station at 3:34. I had 26 minutes to go three miles. This would be just under a 9:00 pace, but I knew that the final stretch was fast and I was going to do anything to get under 10 hours. So I ran. I didn’t even stop at the aid station; I yelled my number out and started flying down the smooth, flat trail. Oh, what a feeling it was to finally run on something other than rocks! I didn’t care about how much my body was protesting, yelling at me in pain. My pace quickened and I flew past other runners. The course was now shared with those doing the 50K distance and the marathon, so I was catching the back of those packs. I was a man out of control.

My watch’s GPS connection had been lost around mile 21, so although I knew my overall time I had lost track of distance long ago. Each aid station mile marker was clearly labeled, but in the last three miles I was cutting a sub-11 hour finish so close that I wanted to know exactly how far I had to go so that I would know if I had to pick up the pace or not. I felt like a rabid dog, running without knowing where I’m going or how far the finish line was exactly.

Then things started to look familiar again. The final half mile of the race is the same as the first half mile. I realized I would make it to my sub-11 finish!

On the final descent to the finish area, a local area hiker spotted me from 50 meters away. She was barefoot to protect her shoes from the mud, gently making her way through the muddy and wet path. Her friends were taunting her, yelling at her to pick it up and not worry about getting dirty. I saw the fear in her eyes as I approaced running at full speed. She yelled out, “please don’t splash me!” Sorry honey, I had a race to finish. Mud and water be damned, I kept pace and flew stright by her.

I crossed the line in 10:55. I had run the final 3 miles in just under 21 minutes, averaging under 7 minutes per mile after 47 miles of running.

A 10:55 finish any other race would be massively disappointing for me. But this race became about something other than time. Sometimes people ask (and I wonder) why I run, especially the long distances. I don’t always know, except that it is what I do. But today when I didn’t want to run, I was running for my mom who could not. For the two months prior to the race, I would write a letter to my mother almost every day. I’d tell her about my day, or my exciting weekend adventures, or what was coming up next. I wasn’t about to pen a letter telling her that I had dropped from this race.

My mother ended up passing away less than two weeks after this race. While it was not unexpected, I was not prepared for it. It was her strength that allowed me to finish this race, and because of that I can take pride when I look back at my experience.

If there’s one thing I learned, it is that choosing to stop — when I still have the option not to — is not something I’m about to do. Pain be damned, I was not about to feel sorry for myself and call it a day simply because things weren’t going my way. My mom had survived two episodes of cancer and 18 years on dialysis without ever giving up. Her third and final battle with cancer got the best of her, but that didn’t keep her from trying until the end. If I can ever be half the person she was, I won’t ever be throwing in the towel either.

2013 Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Trail Race

Overall Time: 8:58:24
Pace: 10:46 min/mile
Place: 21st of 201 finishers (400 registered)
AG% : N/A

Weather: 35, rainy, windy, muddy, overcast, miserable, pneumonia-inducing
Start Time: 7:30am

It’s a little odd but the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile trail race is now the first race that I’ve done three times. It’s not odd to do a race three times. But it’s odd that of all the races I’ve done and all the distances — 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, etc. — it’s this particular 50 miler that I come back to every year. It’s over a thousand miles away, it’s up and over a damn mountain, and it’s 50 miles — it’s not just something you wake up and do on a Saturday.

Why do I come back to this race? I think it’s very simple that it was my first ultramarathon. It is when I started to explore and define my niche as a runner back in 2011. Was I a road runner? A distance runner? A trail runner? … Or perhaps a bit of everything?

Understandably I came into this race with some good expectations. Last year I had a good race, and after a 2013 of PRs in distances from the 5K to the 50 mile I was definitely feeling good about giving 2013 Lookout a hard effort and breaking my course PR from last year (8:35).

Then the weather happened.

Quite simply, the biggest obstacle for me and others in this race was the weather. The race started off in semi-darkness as the sun struggled to rise from the east and cut through the heavy layer of mist that had settled on the mountain. With temperatures just a few degrees above freezing and a steady stream of rain coming from the skies (with no foreseeable end in sight), everyone had to find a little extra motivation to get into the wet and muddy start chute.

At the crack of the sun at 7:30am, the race began and did so with the familiar sprint-out-too-fast feeling that all races (even 50 milers) are known for. I counted around 50 people who had gone off ahead of me in the first mile and this felt about right. I figured that I would catch up with most of them on the long 2000′ ascent from mile 14 – 22, and then another dozen or so in the second half of the race. I always adopt a fairly conservative start during 50 milers and it’s always seemed to work well. It really helps prevents blowing up in the end and the mental boost of passing people in the latter miles of the race helps translate into a physical boost.

A wet, damp, misty morning race start atop the mountain.
A wet, damp, misty morning race start atop the mountain.

I fell into just the right train of people when we hit the single-track around the second mile. It was so well-paced that everyone kept the same speed and there was no passing until the first aid station at mile 6. From there the trails opened up a bit and we more or less all kept our positions heading to the Nature Center aid station at mile 14.8. This section is the most runnable of the course, but the rain had made the conditions slippery and muddy. Rocks became a great opportunity to lose traction, and anything with wet leaves was always a bit of a gamble. The mud wasn’t too bad here and thankfully this year there weren’t any thigh-deep water crossings, but looking at my watch just past the 1-hour mark it didn’t appear that the rain would be letting up anytime soon.

While the rain continued for quite a while, at least it was warming up a bit. Being wet is one thing, but cold and wet is quite another. Once the sun managed to come overhead a bit things warmed up and the rain was a lot easier to deal with. It was still misty, but at least it wasn’t freezing.

Making it to the aid station at 14.8, I noticed a few people already falling back  a lot (near-walk speed). Clearly a lot of people had gone out too fast, and I felt bad knowing that some of these people had blown their race in the first 14 miles.  The first 14 miles are all net downhill, and following that is a big climb (2000′) back to the top of the mountain. If so many were hurting on the easy opening miles, I knew there would be carnage at the top of the mountain and a lot of DNFs. I had little sympathy for these foolhardy runners, and didn’t skip a stride passing them.

Just as last year, I felt pretty good on the long ascent back to the top. I have a fairly good uphill technique and intuit fairly well when I’m pushing too hard and need to back off. It was on this ascent alone that I passed 14 people. One of them was a friend’s father who I had passed at almost the exact same spot in 2012. It’s funny how things repeat themselves.

The ascent itself is long but never unmanageable. I always feel comfortable on it because after every steep, intense uphill it will level off a bit and allow you to catch your breath. It’s never as daunting as it looks in elevation profiles. Before I knew it I had reached the top, and was coming back across the start / finish line to head to the southern end of the race — a 28-mile out-and-back section with some pretty fun sections to keep things interesting.

It was good to be at the top, and even better it had stop raining. We had all spent almost 4 hours in the rain and it may have been a little too unbearable for many to complete the entire race soaked from head to toe.

Beginning this second half, I quickly found myself on a trail section that runs along some power lines. This trail has clay dirt trails, which when mixed with water just becomes HELL ON EARTH. The rain had stopped but the clay was saturated, making it slippery one second and then threatened to suck your shoe off your foot. Somehow my shoes stayed attached to my feet, and I made a mental note that when I was returning in the final miles through this section I couldn’t bitch about it because it would only be 2 miles from the finish at that point.

I continued along the trail making my way to the Lula Lake aid station at mile 29.9. This is always one of my favorite parts of the course and I’m not really sure why. It’s pretty, but then so again is the rest of the course. It’s downhill, but half this race is downhill. There’s just something about it that makes it very pleasant — it’s far along in the race that I’m never really running with anyone, so it’s quiet and calm. I feel alone, and not in a bad way. Yet it’s also early enough in the race that my legs aren’t yelling at me and I still have enough energy to look around and enjoy being in the wilderness. I’m not yet yelling, “GET ME THE FUCK OFF THIS MOUNTAIN!” It may have something more to do with my mental state in the middle of a 50-mile race. The first half of warming up is done, and I get into a good zone while still quite energetic. It makes the middle miles (25 – 40) all the more enjoyable.

It’s also something about the sound of hearing the water feeding into Lula Lake / Lula Falls. With all the overnight and morning rain, the falls were extra active and I made it a point to stop dead in my tracks and soak it all in. Having been in New York City for almost 8 years now, I need to do this once in a while.

I made a mental note there that I had spent 4:45 on the course so far. Last year I had taken exactly 4:30, so I was 15 minutes slower this year through the first 30 miles. Given the conditions, I figured this to be just about right and continued on. I knew I wouldn’t be going under last year’s time of 8:35, but I wanted to make it under 9:00 and knew it was going to be a fight until the very end.

I just ripped this picture off the internet, but you can see Lula Falls in the background. This year the falls were extra active from the rains.
I just ripped this picture off the internet from a previous year’s race, but you can see Lula Falls in the background. This year the falls were extra active from the rains. That is not me in the picture.

Passing through Lula Lake I was looking forward to the Long Branch aid station at mile 34. For me that’s when the race finish starts to materialize mentally. At mile 34 there is a 4.5-mile loop that you do before then heading back to the finish along the same trails that span from mile 22 – 34.

There are a few bonuses to this setup. Firstly, miles 38.5 – 50 are the same as 22 – 34, but just in reverse. You head back to the finish on the same trails but reverse direction. This means the route is fairly familiar. It also means that if you’re near the front, you are heading “back” as lots of others are heading “out.” The runners are typically very encouraging and cheer you on, so it’s a good boost of energy. Secondly, I can always start to taste the finish line when I’m physically running toward it. At the end of the ascent back up the mountain at mile 22, you pass through the start / finish chute to do an out-and-back section on the southern part of the course. Obviously as you begin this section you pass through the start / finish line and are heading away from it. It’s not until another 15 miles that you reverse directions and start heading back. There’s something very simple about the act of running back — actually physically making yourself close to the finish line — that really excites me even if I had several hours of running ahead of it. It keeps my spirits high and my legs moving.

Thus when I reached mile 34 and did the 4.5-mile loop before heading back to the finish, I felt fantastic. The race was entering its final miles. A lot of people stop at the Long Branch aid station (miles 34, and 38.5) because it offers a much larger assortment of food and beverages. It’s very common for people to load up on potatoes, soup broth, and instant noodles here. I was so motivated to get to the finish that I just went through only taking the time to say hello to a few friends. One of them told me that I was in front of her brother, Jonathan W., which came as a surprise to me. He’s a fast guy and I had figured he was way up ahead of me. I was wrong! I couldn’t think much about it so I made my way back to the course. I had a race to finish!

I looked at my Garmin to try and see what possibility I had of finishing under 9 hours today. Unfortunately the GPS signal was inaccurate that day, partly due to the switchbacks in the first half of the race and perhaps also because of the weather. It made it impossible to get an accurate estimation of how many miles were left, and because I knew that my time would be very very close to 9 hours I just couldn’t estimate with any certainty. It was going to be close.

Heading toward the finish with 11 miles to go I saw Markus A. making his way to mile 34 while I was heading back to the finish. I placed him around 75 minutes behind me and was impressed at his time given that it was his first 50 miler.

Before I knew it I had hit mile 40 and saw two more friends, Daniel and Dominic, in the exact same spot that I saw Daniel the previous year. This made me nervous because last year he took 12:41 to finish and this year the race had a cutoff time of 13:00. With the mud at the end of the race, I wasn’t confident that they’d make the finish. I said hello to them and kept on.

A mile later I saw yet another pair of friends, Luc and Mel. I shouted to them, “Ca va!?” but was met with not-so-happy faces. Luc had a foot injury and had been forced to slow down dramatically. Given the injury and the 13-hr cutoff time I knew he wasn’t going to make it. I gave him a look of sympathy but couldn’t stand around just yet. I had to make it to the finish.

Reaching Lula Lake at mile 42.5, I sucked down some warm ramen for whatever extra calories I might need to finish up the last section of the course and continued on without breaking much of a stride. I started thinking about all the carnage on the course — Daniel and Dominic probably not making the cutoff time, Luc’s injured foot, and the absence of seeing my friends Bernie and Cindy on the course — and realized it was a pretty brutal day for a lot of people.

Lula Falls again.
Lula Falls again.

Me, I was feeling fine. I was struggling on some sections and my right ankle was giving me issues, but my legs and head felt fine. Yes the conditions made the course slower than last year — I kept thinking to myself that I had never felt so good yet struggled so much! — but I felt like as long as I kept my head on straight I wouldn’t have any blowups today.

The miles were whittling away and soon there were only 5 miles to go. Then 4, then 3, then 2… then there was the muddy clay trail leading to the finish. It’s not very long, but man does it just stuck all your energy out of you. I walked it. I couldn’t be bothered to run along that torturous stretch of soul (and shoe) sucking filth. When I spied the end of this stretch, I made a hard right to follow a metal fence and thanked heaven and earth that stretch was done with.

I started checking my watch more often to see if I could make it under 9 hours. I had done this a little bit on the course earlier, but things like that are just so hard to predict but now I knew I was within a mile or two of the finish. But was it one mile? Or two? I wasn’t sure. Argh, the uncertainty was killing me. I knew only one thing : whatever the distance, it was short and I had to try and push toward the finish as hard as I could. There weren’t a lot of people around me so motivation was sparse. But all I needed to do was keep my head down for a few minutes and listen for the finish line. Right as I looked at my watch’s overall time hit right around 8:56, I figured my chance at sub-9 had gone out the window.

Then I heard some cowbells. And a loudspeaker. And someone announcing race finishers. The finish line was somewhere just around the corner! I booked it up the incline and saw a volunteer cheering me on. “It’s muddy and slippery, but the finish line is just around the bend!” Holy shit. I looked at my watch: 8:58. Muddy and slipper be damned, I sprinted up the final bend and crossed the line in disbelief that I had pulled off a sub-9 race through shit weather. I closed my eyes and with smiled with relief. I was happy. I hadn’t blown up at the end. I beat my friend Jonathan W., even though he probably doesn’t even care one bit about beating me (or not). I was done.

2013 Boston Marathon

Overall Time: 2:55:28 (1:28:00 / 1:27:28)
Pace: 6:41
Place: 1305 of 23,336
AG% : 71.19%

Weather: 48 degrees, sunny
Start Time: 10:00am

The Boston Marathon was my “A” race for spring 2013, and I’m very pleased with my performance. I had put in some decent training — not quite perfect training due to some small races along the way that made it difficult to strictly adhere to my marathon plans, but respectable enough to get me a PR on a moderately difficult course.

I had read a lot about the marathon course and had the chance to run the last 20 miles of it three weeks prior to the race. In the back of my head I kept a good piece of advice from my friend Chris F: take the first 10 km of downhill easy, so as to save my quads for the last 10 km. I decided to take advantage of the first 10 km and just hit my target pace, and then hold it until the half. I’d need these “free” marathon-paced miles to save energy for the hilly second half.

I opted also to jump back three corrals, figuring that those who qualified with my pace (around 2:56) would even then go out too fast. I’m a believer in easy starts and fast finishes (negative splitting marathons), and I didn’t want to get sucked into going out too fast.

The first 5 kms were definitely tricky. They were rolling downhills and crowded. Trying not to use too much energy jockeying for position was a little difficult, both mentally and physically. I was irritated, but tried not to let it get the best of me. This was my first Boston and I was going to try and remain as relaxed as possible.

Despite a first mile of 7:15, I hit the first 5K in 21:12 (6:49 pace) and executed the next 5 km more or less the same way, with a 20:42 (6:39 pace). The Boston crowd is fast and I had settled into a good rhythm with those around me. There wasn’t a whole lot of passing at this rather early stage of the race. I think everyone was just trying to find a nice gear to keep for the remaining 30+ km.

When I passed the 10 km mark, I was happy to know that at that point I would be familiar with the remainder of the course (having run it three weeks prior). The comfort of familiarity really helps me gauge my energy expenditure, so I felt confident with my pacing at this point knowing how to run the rest of the course.

In all honesty, the stretch from miles 6 – 12 are pretty much a blur — just typical marathon miles and running through small towns on my way to Boston. I hit my next 5 km in 20:53 (6:42 pace) — nice and steady.

It wasn’t until mile 12 that I woke up. I don’t think I had a choice : the wall of screams from Wellesley was absolutely mind-bending. I had heard about it before (who hasn’t?) but I was still caught off guard at the intensity of it. I was on the right side of the road, where the girls are, and quickly had to dart to the left side so that the guys cutting to kiss the college girls wouldn’t trip over me. The energy, the excitement, the craziness of it all caused us all to speed up a bit; it was a lot like the NYC Marathon coming off the Queensboro Bridge to the thousands of screaming fans along 1st Avenue in Manhattan. It’s impossible not to get excited.

I tried to keep my cool, and hit the next 5 km in 20:43 (6:40 pace). My pacing was very even. I was pleased.

Crossing the halfway mark shortly after, I was exactly at 1:28:00. It was about a minute slower than I wanted, but I think my pacing was about as good as I could have expected. I don’t think I could have gone much faster and still had life left for the last half. I was still feeling very good, but I could sense that the last 10 km would be a real dog fight.

I started mentally preparing myself for the 4 Newton Hills from miles 16 – 20. When the first hill came around mile 16, I was lucky enough to see two friends, Gabe and Kelly. Seeing them gave me a little boost and enough energy to crest the hill with a lot of strength. I hurt going up, but relaxed enough on the downhills to conserve energy while maintaining pace.

The next two hills were almost the same story : pain going up, relief coming down. Knowing that Heartbreak Hill was coming up around mile 20, I charged up it with everything I had left. I caught dangerously close to dropping to a 7+ minute mile, but managed to hold onto a 6:57 pace for the mile before flying down to the last 10 km to Boylston Street.

At this point I was hurting. I was hurting bad. There were only two sights I wanted to see: The Citgo sign (marking 1 mile to go), and the finish line (no explanation needed). When I saw the Citgo sign creeping up in the distance, I heard my good friend Mike O screaming my name from the sidelines. I had my head down at that point, but instantly sprang to life when I heard him screaming my name. That gave me a big smile on my face, seeing Mike and knowing that I had only a mile to go…. and so I went. My last mile was around a 6:00 flat, and making that left turn on Boylston and seeing the finish line in the distance was just… amazing.

I crossed the finish line in 2:55:28, a new PR. I was now a Boston Marathon finisher. So many of my best friends have run Boston, and I was honored to share this accomplishment with them.

My 5 km splits were remarkably consistent despite the hills: 21:12, 20:42, 20:53, 20:43, 20:29, 20:39, 20:57, 20:44. I couldn’t have done it without a lot of hard training, and without the massive support of my friends along the way.

Unfortunately as we all know now that’s not the end of the marathon story. The bombings that occurred at the finish line are a tragedy that left everyone in disbelief. I was with a large group of friends in Boston and we spent the next 24 hours trying to process exactly what happened. My blog isn’t about politics and it’s not about anything more than a single person’s race experience, so I don’t want to speak much about the bombings at the finish line.

That said, many people (myself included) were in a very awkward position — how do we feel good about our race, when we should be feeling sympathetic for the victims? The truth is that the two feelings are not mutually exclusive; we cannot let the bad over shadow all the good that occurred for so many on April 15, 2013. We cannot forget those who lost their lives or were injured in the bombings and we cannot allow the bombings to affect us so that we cannot celebrate our accomplishments. As runners we are a community — we mourn together and we feel pride in others’ accomplishments. And when the start gun goes off in Hopkinton in 2014, we will all remember 2013 and run our hearts out for them and for ourselves on our way to Boston again.

2011 Teterboro Airport 5K

Overall Time: 18:08
Pace: 5:50
Place: 33 of 838
AG%: 71.02%

Weather: 75 Degrees,
Start time: 8:30am

Splits: 5:46, 5:59, 5:53, (:31 for the last .1)

This was a pretty awesome race. I signed up for it months ago, just because it was sort of interesting having done the JFK 5K. I guess it was just an extension of the runway series in my mind.

In all honesty I hadn’t been doing any speedwork whatsoever. In fact, as we stood in the corrals a friend asked me, “So what’s your goal?” I had no clue what I was going to do. I told I wasn’t sure — but that I would know after the first 400 meters.

Well the gun went off, and that was it — I was racing. My legs kept a comfortably hard pace and soon I had done a 5:46 opening miles. The sun was coming down pretty hard and the blacktop of the runway wasn’t helping; but at least it was flat, and I’ll never complain about missing hills in the middle of a race.

Mile 2 included a crazy u-turn around an orange cone just like at JFK, so I recorded a slower 2nd mile of 5:59 due to losing a lot of speed maneuvering around that stupid cone. Looking back it was sort of fun, because when you turned at the cone it then meant you were seeing the slower people still running “out” while I was heading back already. I saw my friends that I came with, and some random back-of-the-packers were yelling words of encouragement to those of us finishing up our 3rd and final mile. How cool!

Mile 3 was your typical mile in a 5K — incredibly painful — as I just told my stupid legs to hold the fuck on and cross the mat. It’s just one mile, and it’s just sub-6 pace. I wasn’t asking anything out of the ordinary, and I wouldn’t let my brain talk my legs out of a good race.

Blah blah blah, crossed the line, got a PR. The end.

2011 JFK Runway 5K Run

Overall Time: 18:20
Pace: 5:54
Place: 8 of 660
AG%: 70.43%

Weather: 50 Degrees,
Start time: 9:00

Splits: 5:50, 5:57, 5:48 (+ some change for the .1 mi)

The JFK Rotary Club has a very cool fundraising race every year — a 5K race on an actual JFK runway! It’s aptly called the JFK Runway Run, and it’s an out-and-back on a perfectly flat and fast course, with planes taking off overhead and all the cool stuff that comes with international jetsetting.

Despite 1.) wanting to focus on longer distances, 2.) having just done a 5K in March and 3.) a NYRR 10K points race in Central Park the same day, I couldn’t let the opportunity to race on the runway pass me by. Two of my Mikes (Sanderson and White) and I went down for this race, and bumped into a half dozen other FRNY folk out there.

As I always do, I got a tiny bit nervous before the race. What if my legs didn’t show up? I’m not doing any speed training, and a 5K is all about speed. On top of that, Benjamin Corbett (a fellow FRNYer) was there and I just couldn’t let him beat me, at whatever cost. Ego is a dangerous, dangerous thing!

The event is fairly small, and there were no real corrals or bib numbers that seeded the fast runners toward the front. We were asked to line up next to different poles that indicated our predicted pace (5 min, 6 min, 7 min, etc.) and after a minute the horn sounded and we were off!

Only a quarter-mile into the race, I notice Benjamin is well in front of me and another kid, Ned, is right next to me. I should be well ahead of Ned but I felt like my pace was good. Were my legs betraying me? Was I going slower than I thought? Based on my effort it sure felt like sub-6:00 miles but judging by the company I was keeping (or rather, *following!*) it seemed I was running much slower — that is, until the first mile marker came up : 5:50 on the nose. Perfect.

GPS Map of the 2011 JFK Runway 5K

Being in the front of the race meant that I ran solo just about the entire way. I was never more than a few seconds away from my friend Sanderson, but without a large group to pace off of or to chase I had concerns about losing focus / concentration (i.e., speed), and also about losing motivation. As annoying as big races in Central Park can be, at least there are familiar faces and rabbits to chase.

In the next half mile I’d keep my pace steady and would soon blow by both Ned and Benjamin. Sanderson was running right with me, but passed me slightly before the hairpin turnaround at the end of the runway. The hairpin turn was really tricky and it seemed to come out of nowhere, which probably cost me at least a few seconds in the middle of that second mile (5:57).

Heading back to the start/finish line, I could judge how much distance I had put between myself and Ned/Benjamin. It seemed pretty respectable, and I felt comfortable pushing the pace just a little bit to try and catch Sanderson. The last thing I wanted to do was to not push myself the last mile of a 5K, because that’s what 5Ks are about : constant but short-lived pain. The only regrets come after the race when you realize you didn’t suffer enough.  With a final mile of 5:48 and a nice kick to the finish I was the holder of a new PR (18:20) and came in 8th overall — my first Top-10 finish in a race to date. I wasn’t able to catch up with Sanderson (18:12), but it was good motivation while it lasted.

2011 Coogan’s Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K Race

Overall Time: 18:29
Pace: 5:56
Place: 189 of 5374
AG%: 69.8%

Weather: 50 Degrees, 89% Humidity, 7 mph winds, Rain
Start time: 9:00

Splits: 5:55, 5:52, 5:56 (+ some change for the .1 mi)

Well, I’ve finally done it : I’ve finally gone sub-6 pace at an NYRR race. I knew it was long overdue for me to finally break 6-minute pace, except that my race season was cut short last year due to injury and I had done no speedwork since August. Given those conditions, it was a little surprising (and incredibly satisfying!) that I managed to both PR and go sub-6.

I ran almost the entire race alone. It was so crowded at the start that I didn’t see anyone that I knew. Also I wasn’t wearing my FRNY garb, so a lot of Front Runner friends probably didn’t notice me until after the race was over.

The details of the race itself are pretty boring. It’s just a 5K, so I just went out a sub-6 pace and tried to hold on. And by the time 3.10685596 miles had gone by, that’s exactly what I did. There was light rain, which was helpful to keep me cool. Everyone complains about the hills at Coogan’s, but to be honest they didn’t seem to bother me at all.

I’m going to try and use this little victory to motivate me for my bigger goals in the year: putting in a hell of a half marathon (1:22?), and then attempting to break 3 hours in my October marathon. It’s going to be a lot of work getting there, but anything worth having is worth fighting for.

2011 Al Gordon 4-Miler in Prospect Park

Overall Time: 24:54
Pace: 6:13
Place: 81 of 3992
AG%: 67.7%

Weather: 31 Degrees, 54% Humidity, Fair
Start time: 9:00

Splits: 6:13, 6:11, 5:57, 6:27

Well it’s about goddamn time that NYRR had a race in Prospect Park! For once I could do a warm-up jog to the event, and didn’t have to wake up 3 hours to make sure I got to the start on time!

Only 36 hours before this race, I had participated in a 10K relay at an indoor track meet. My hamstrings were totally blown, and and knew this wasn’t going to go terribly well. I dialed back both the pace and the expectations. While this doesn’t mean that I allowed myself to give up completely, it did allow me to not worry about breaking a 5:59 pace this time around.

Racing the Al Gordon 4-Miler

My hamstrings were tight, and my legs had absolutely no “go” in them. It’s amazing how dead legs can feel after a hard speed workout — especially when said legs hadn’t done a speed workout in almost 6 months.

My only real goal was to break 25:00, which I did despite slowing way way down that last mile. I’m not really sure how I went from a 5:57 mile to a 6:27, but the Garmin ain’t lying and I’ve got no reason to doubt it.

As much as I do love 4-mile races, this will be the last one I do for a while. Racing the short distances seriously means that I forego long runs on raceway weekends — and with my emphasis being the half marathon and marathon this year, I can’t afford a little ego boost to get in the way of proper long-distance training.

Finishing the Al Gordon 4-Miler

2011 Manhattan Half Marathon Race Report

Overall Time: 1:28:35
Pace: 6:45
Place: 173 of 4369
AG%: 66.8%

Weather: 14 Degrees, 56% Humidity, wind 7mph
Start time: 7:00

Splits: …absolutely no idea. For once I decided to run this one without worry about time.

First, a note on the weather: it was mind-numbingly cold. The windchill brought temperatures downy to the single-digits, and everyone was fighting to stay warm. There were icicles hanging off peoples’ beards, mustaches, hair, eyebrows — it was insane, and it really slowed everyone down. I don’t know if it was more mental or physical, but very few people I knew had a good race.

After having been out of running hard or racing for almost 5 months, the Manhattan Half Marathon marked my return to the NYRR scene. Afraid of re-injury, I decided against racing it full-on. Instead, I would run with some friends (Mikey B, Matt) who were going to treat it as a fast-ish run (but not all-out). For a number of reasons, that didn’t end up happening, probably for the best — had I ended up running with them, I think I would have run slower than I had wanted.

At the beginning of the race, my Front Runner friends we were all running a little late getting to the corral, and couldn’t find each other so well. We more or less started together, but if I had any hopes of running some easy miles with friends that was quickly dashed as the horn went off and all 4000+ runners tried to jockey for position at the beginning of the race. Due to the snow and small streets in the south end of the park, the course really narrows down quite a bit. It left very little room to maneuver, and it bottlenecked pretty badly at the beginning. I immediately found myself behind my friends (who smartly let right ahead of everyone at the beginning of the race), and had to fight the next 3 miles just to find any of them.

Approaching the 102nd Street Transverse in the park around Mile 3, I saw my friend Matt. I caught up, and asked, “Where’s Mikey B?”

“Mikey? He’s way behind!”

“Well, where’s Sanderson?” I replied, referring to my training and racing partner.

“Ahead. Go catch him!”

And so I left Matt. I had passed Mikey B much earlier not knowing it, and trying to find him now would be impossible at this point. My mission was to find Sanderson, and that meant speeding up.

So speed up I did. One loop of the park (~10K) later, I saw the orange FRNY logo on Sanderson’s back. He was within striking distance, although I’d have to catch him up Harlem Hill (lately, hills are not my strong suit). If he had been on pace to PR, there’s no way I would have been able to make up the ground to catch him, but he was struggling in the cold and not having a good race. By the time I caught up with him, he looked like death. I’d later see that his splits according to his Garmin were hovering around 7:00 at that point, only to be taken down to 6:30 when I showed up.

We ran the last 3 or so miles together, and crossed the finish line at the same time. I was happy to have run what felt like the easiest 1:28 in my life, and Sanderson was just happy to have the whole damn thing finished.


It was a big confidence booster that I could run a 1:28 without really racing 100%. I ran fast, but not all-out and it’s nice to think of what I might be capable of when I do decide to race a future half marathon. At the beginning of the race, I was nervous that I had lost all my speed and aerobic base — I’d be humiliated if the people who I used to beat were now beating me. But that wasn’t the case. I hadn’t lost much fitness, and in fact cross-training on the bike may have actually helped.

This isn’t to say I’m going to start PR’ing all over the place, or that the rest of the year will be easy. I have a lot of work if I want to hit a 1:23 half marathon and a 2:59 marathon. But at least at this point I know it’s not as far as my worst fears.