Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Regaining the running mojo

I like to think I'm in perpetual training, but the reality is, my running calendar typically gives me light Novembers and Decembers. The past five years, my mileage in December is the lowest for the year, followed by a jump in January when training picks up.

Post NYC Marathon, I've taken it super easy and I took five days off. In fact, last week, I only ran 7 miles (gasp!). Time to get things going as I'm feeling a little soft in the middle.

Truth is, from the moment my taper began in early October for the multiple marathoning, my diet has gone to crap. Work's been busy and I haven't had a lot of time when I was spending every weekend preparing for racing. As a result of that and my recent layoff, my 3 mile run yesterday after work was tough. Also shaking of a cold.

Nice to put on the winter running gear and find it on the tight side. Today, threw down eight miles and it felt a little better so now it's the reset time.

Time to build my next pre-training calendar. Running five days a week, starting at 25 mlies and ramping up to 35 by mid-December. I want to shed a few pounds, start working on speed and start thinking of the next season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Race report: New York City Marathon 2010

Crossing the start line of the New York City Marathon, I was feeling nothing but awe. The amount of people running with me, runnnig to our left and under me was overwhelming. By thousands, it was the biggest race I’d ever done and it felt epic. I was a little worried about not finding my way around the crowd, but it was pretty smooth sailing quickly. Just look at the smiles of the faces of runners around me.

Like other runners, I was in total tourist mode snapping as many pictures as I could. I couldn’t get over how grand that view of the bridge looked like, and you can see other runners get up to the side to get pictures in.

The view was so great I ended up flipping my hat backwards so I could see the sky.

Running in such a crowd in the early miles did test me a bit. I did the customary checks of my legs with each stride and determined that I could go out at an okay pace. The uphill nature of the bridge was good to keep everyone in check, but by the time we hit the downhill portion, I was trying to hold back a bit. Still, I was passing runners here and there. No matter, there were always some faster runners around me.

A one-man band greeted us as we entered Brooklyn and I was surprised to see the size of the crowd, a mix of locals, police officers and people with signs cheering on. The look of awe on my face inspired by the massive start and bridge was replaced by a big smile sparked by this impressive turnout. Wow, I thought, this is amazing. The first mile was a little slow at 9:34 followed by a downhill at 7:50, but then I pretty much settled into pace, targetting a 3:50 or a little faster marathon.

5K in 27:05 or 5:24K pace
We made our way into Brooklyn and I was just soaking in the crowds, the beautiful weather and still getting used to running in such a massive sea of runners. I ran by the right side of the course and it was probably the best place for me. I could get a great view of the spectators, trade high fives and in most cases it was a good passing lane if I needed to ramp things up.

The course straightens up as we run up 4th Avenue and I could see well in front of us. The orange corral runners were across the street divide. I was just enjoying it and the miles really past by. I love that about big city marathons, there are plenty of things to take your mind of running before you hit the next mile mark or aid station. The water stops were plentiful and I didn’t really have any nightmarish water stops. In most cases, I could easily get a cup of Gatorade or water.

Here are the Green corral folks joining up with the Blues before mile 4.

10K in 54:26
(5K split of 27:21 or 5:28K pace)

Here are a few pictures I took while we were running in Brooklyn.

At around the 7.5 mile mark in Brooklyn

At the 8 mile mark, the course becomes one with all three routes coming together, it also marks some turns. I learned a lesson in my first marathon back in Chicago, and that is you can get the crowd going, if you choose to. Usually, the best places to do it is when you’re turning. Most runners run the tangents and hug the point where we’re turning, but across the intersection was a big group of spectators stationed far away. I swung out toward them, and hammed it up. What do you mean?

Hamming up consists of three actions
1. Breaking away from the stream of runners (ie take the corner wide)
2. Wave your arm (or arms) in an upward fashion and generally point at the crowd
3. If you hear no audible noise, put your free hand at head level, cupping your ear.
4. Enjoy the cheers

Now there seems to be easier ways to get crowd reaction
1. Wear your name on your shirt
2. Wear Italian or France colours at the NYC Marathon. I heard a lot of “Vive la France!” and “Italia!”

Anyways, I hammed it up heartily, yes I had much extra energy to burn.

I later explored parts of Brooklyn with R. near its downtown and was surprised how close we were to the actual course I’d run earlier. Gorgeous neighbourhoods.

15K in 01:21:51
(5K split of 27:25 or 5:29K pace)

We entered Williamsburg area an dI knew were were in the Hassidic Jewish neighbourhood. The sidelines of the street were pretty bare, and it was almost quiet. I’d read much about running past the Hassidic Jewish people, I remember John Stanton telling me you could feel the power and vibe running past them. I didn’t, but it was an interesting point of the race.

But the crowd support came back quickly, I was getting used to being part of a big running crowd. There were several moments that repeated itself. The spectators at some points were on the road that when we were running up the street, they’d have to move out of our way. It felt in a weird way like you see those Tour de France runners.

On my running, I felt great, no major pains, I was getting in my fuel (5 gels were with me and some ShotBlox) and I was actually speeding up. Past the 10 mile mark, I started to hook on to runners who were running a decent pace so I wouldn’t be stuck with the slowing effect where everyone around you is actually slowing down. To keep pace, I’d spotted some runners who looked strong and made sure they were within sight.

As we neared the end of Brooklyn, I have to say that it was an amazing place to run in. No one prepared me for the amount of support there. I had this idea that all the spectators were in Manhattan but they guys in Brooklynites, man they came out to party.

We hit the next bridge, Pulaski Bridge, which was around the half marathon mark. Felt like the race was on, and I was ready to go. You can see by my 5K splits I was starting to get faster.

01:48:32 (5K split of 26:41 or 5:20K pace)


Queens was pretty uneventful, but I think of it now as the calm before the storm. It was good to get a few miles in silence before we were to hit the big (and third) bridge. Before we knew it, we were running up Queensboro. It’s a tough never ending incline outside of sun view. We later learned that Halie dropped out there. The 25K mark was on the bridge.

25K in 2:15:13
(5K split of 26:41 or 5:20K pace)

Running up it, most runners around me were slowing. It was difficult at first, but I found an opening by following a runner from Holland who was weaving in and out through slowing traffic. He he no idea, but for at least a few minutes, he helped me find my way up the bridge. There were pretty awesome views to our left of Manhattan and I tried (unsuccessfully) to take a picture.

We made our way off the bridge with a loop and then up 1st Ave.

Running off the bridge

Huge noise, huge crowd, it was like we were parading in New York and all that was missing was the ticker tape. I was running up 1st Ave! I stayed mostly to the left and it was hilarious running in the streets of New York. Of course, everyone knows the numbered streets. We got off at E 59th Street and I was going to meet R. at 100. Forty streets, what the hell!?

I loved running up it, it reminded me in retrospect running in Boylston at the Boston Marathon, big crowds, wide avenue, huge noise. But we had so far to go. I tried to soak it in while trying not to run too fast given the the miles we had left. Pictures tell the rest of the story.

02:41:40 (5K split of 26:27 or 5:17K pace)

I was slowing reaching E 99th St, and took out my iPhone, after running up to and past 100, I wondered where was R.

I texted her and later she called me to tell me that she was at 94th and couldn’t get up to 100 in time. So we would meet me on my way back to Central Park at 94th. I was bummed since I had missed R. at every point at the MCM a week earlier. We’ve had much better races where I saw her multiple times.

After slowing down to try to spot R, I resumed speeding up. I made sure I was geting my water in, as well as my gels. By the time we reached the 20th mile and crossed into the Bronx, I was trying to stay focused and maintaining pace if not faster. In the Bronx, there was pretty good fan support and they had this cool massive jumbotron. We crossed the final bridge and we made it to run the final 4 miles in Harlem and Central Park..

35K in 3:08:15
(5K split of 26:35 or 5:19K pace)

Luckily, I had paid attention to the course and watched the course video at the expo. There are a few turns as we run our way around a little park before heading down 5th. Again, I was maintaining pace feeling a little cramping on my legs coming up but I kicked them out.

Before long, we were running alongside Central Park and the spectaor crowds grew. I spotted R. and stopped so she could take photos and we actually got another person to take a picture of the two of us (it’s on her camera). That was my only ‘stop’ break other than my pee break earlier in Brooklyn. After saying goodbye and telling her to meet me on the west side, we entered the park. I didn’t realize it until later how pronounced the hills were but I must have not noticed. I was just so happy to be in the park, one of my favourite places to run, and seeing all the fan suport. I ran the 25th mile in 8:09, one of my fastest miles of the whole marathon.

It was so inspiring see all those who came out to cheer or those who they were cheering for, including some team charity runners who were suffering (I assume they started in the 1st wave). I was running with good pace, and even though I was feeling cramps in my lower quads, I was kicking through it and taking in my water.

40K in 3:35:24
(5K split of 27:09 or 5:26K pace)

We exited the park briefly at 59th Street and I was actually sad it was almost over. I typically stay at hotels near this area so I can run in the park, so I knew the street well. Still keeping it strong, still kicking out the cramps and all of a sudden, we’re turning at Columbus Circle and back into the park with a sharp turn.

This was it, the final part, pretty epic with the crowds, the flags, the famed finish. I took out the camera.

26 mile

Stopped at the Canadian flag for a self portrait (didn’t come out) then enjoyed the final 200 yards until the finish, with my arms raised.

Final time
(Last 2.2K in 11:30 or 5:13K pace)

What can I say? That was an amazing experience. Thanks everyone for reading and following my victory lap. Four races in four weeks. Five marathons this year. Boston and New York. 2010 was an epic running year and I won't soon forget that experience. I enjoyed the ride.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pre-race report: 2010 New York City Marathon

A few days after the marathon, R and I took the obligatory tour up the Empire State Building and looked south. It's a breathtaking view no matter which way you looked. Peering towards downtown Manhattan, I saw the speck of a Statue of Liberty, and to its left, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn. What struck me was how far away that first two miles of the marathon seemed from midtown Manhattan, and how vast the New York City really is. I remember looking out on the other boroughs - Brooklyn and Queens especially - and thought fondly of the adventure I just had completed.

New York in marathon Friday was an interesting place to be. No matter where I was, I could spot the runners. On my flight, on the train ride in. There were quite a few international runners in town who pay a tour group in order to get a spot in the race, hotel and flight. My hotel was pretty hilarious, being the host hotel for the Italian delegation of marathoners.

It was exciting to be in the city for the weekend but we mainly kept to ourselves. The expo was massive but a little too packed. Bought some swag and made my way out of there. Rest of the pre-marathon time, we spent touring and hitting Italian restaurants. I was a little worried about the weather for marathon morning but settled on a long sleeve (The Shirt) with an option to wear a light singlet underneath, with shorts and gloves.

Marathon morning, I had no problem getting up and enough rest, I guess my body was expecting yet another race. Had an early breakfast given that the start was at 10:10 but as always, restroom breaks are among my biggest concerns for race day. I was out the door at 5:45 and headed down to the subway station that was only a few minute walk from my hotel. We waited, got on the wrong subway car only to catch the right one later to the ferry terminal. I had the chance to take an earlier ferry but I opted to stay warm a bit longer. Good idea.

The ferry ride was cool. Caught quite a few nice shots of the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island. Quiet vibe on the ferry, and I ended up forgoing my seat so I could take pictures. I ate a banana on board, probably a good idea to save some carbs for what should have been my three-hour-before-the-race breakfast.

We arrived at the station and quickly boarded the bus. Scored a seat at the back of a bus and it was a quiet trip to the staging area. We exited and man, there were a lot of people. There were also rows of portapottys with only three people lining up for each, so I quickly went into one, and decided to put on my singlet below my long sleeve. A good move.

We entered the blue corral area with the UPS trucks and I found shelter so I killed 15 minutes sitting in the sun trying to stay warm. Before I put my bag in, I would have to pack my jacket and running fleece. I regretted not having an extra top layer other than my throwaway old sweater. Hit the portapottys again, you know, for insurance, and put in my bag. Instead of heading to the corral area, I had more time to kill before they opened up the wave 2 areas. So I found a parking lot drenched in sun, and proceeded to sit it out trying to warm myself. Other runners, mostly international, were doing the same around me. I slowly packed my gels, my hydration belt and my iPhone holder (yes, I was ready for sightseeing marathoning) and killed more time.

They opened the wave 2 corrals and I decided that in any race I’ve ever done, it was always smart to go early, so I made my way to my entry point, where they would fit all the 25000s runners. Good idea, as in minutes I had a big group of runners behind me. We got in and I lined up for the third time for the portajohns that were in the corral. Thank god for that. We stood as our fellow runners got ready. I chatted with a woman who also ran MCM a week ago (she spotted another one of us on the ferry) and saw quite a few interesting characters including a guy dressed as Waldo, South Africans carrying a Vuvuzela, other Canadians and other accents. Throughout the race, I saw a tonne of Italian and French runners and later learned they typically make up the biggest contingent of international runners.

Pictures from the corral.

The 9:40 start went off and of course, we didn’t see a thing or even hear much, but there was plenty of conversation and anticipation. Pretty soon, we were on the move. I shedded my track pants before that, and had taken my sweater off but kept the arms on my to keep me warm. We had to throw that away pretty soon. I was excited, to say the least. I had no idea what the staging area looked like before we made our way to the front area, but we were quickly on the move by then. There was no jostling, just slowly moving, happy runners.

And before you knew it, we arrived at the famed start. I had watched this race on TV quite a few times, and it sent shivers up my spine to hear the “Runners, are you ready?” followed by a little Sinatra. I had to capture this.

Then took my own self portrait

Before I began the epic journey.

Next: Race report. (Sorry it’s taken forever, I’ve been off last week and now trying to recall the race).

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Done and done: The New York City Marathon and my triple play

I felt the love, all the way from Staten Island to Central Park. The New York City Marathon is almost beyond words to describe but I'll write that race report later. What I can say is that it is an amazing experience, one that every marathoner should aspire to run. It is everything you've read about and no one is exaggerating when they say the crowd support is second to none - dare I say it, even better than Boston.

My month of racing three marathons in four weeks is complete. I'm shocked my legs are holding up and my final marathon was fairly strongly run. No wall. Just slight cramping in the final miles but I only stopped to chat with R at mile 23. The final time isn't confirmed but my Garmin was stopped at 3:46:58, faster than the 3:50 I planned. So mission to run all three under 4 hours is done as well. Here are some pictures i took. Many more for my race report.

Plus watch this video I shot at the beginning Watch the video

Friday, November 05, 2010

Marathon fever in NYC

So here I am, in New York, to run this mother of a marathon. I've been here quite a few times over the past 5 years for work or quick vacations when R and I decide to meet halfway between DC and Toronto. So far, I've walked a lot, spent a lot on gear (I held back in the last three weeks), including a neat pair of running mitts with a built in LED light recharged with a USB port. Yes, it's geeky on all accounts.

Runners are everywhere. I know NYC marathon draws a lot of international runners but they are everywhere, including dozens in my hotel lobby a few hours ago.

Should be a fun week. I run the victory lap, then we do New York the following four days.

Took a walk to the finish line in Central Park. It is all set up for Sunday. Very cool to walk in the last half mile.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Race report: Marine Corps Marathon

It felt kinda odd running my way to the start area from the Pentagon entrance before the race. I knew the routine, the Marine checkpoint, the UPS bag drop, where the best place to line up for porta potties, and how fast I’d have to quickly make my way up to the corrals so I didn’t start a race of 22,000 in the far back. So much so that even though I left R.’s place at 6 a.m., there was barely enough time to settle into the start area to prep for the race start.

Fourth time, huh? Weird, I’ve done this race so much so that I feel like it’s my home marathon course. Of course, I have no where near PBed here, but that’s another story.

My goal was to start off at 3:50 marathon pace, and see how it’d go. I had done exactly the same thing last year (having run MCM a week after a solid marathon in Toronto) and felt great in the last half. Same goal, with NYC Marathon a week away. This time, I had my iPhone with me to take pictures as we went along. Goal was 8:47 miles for 3:50 and 8:24 miles for a 3:40. That’s around 5:11 to 5:27 kilometres.

A view of the start with the helicopters flying past the crowd.

The first part of MCM is probably the hardest, and although you can run up hills early in a marathon with power, its those initial miles in Rosslyn and Georgetown that will get you in the flat hot miles down the road. I took them relatively easy and just got used to running among so many runners. Just tried to go out comfortable pace.

1 8:29
2 8:47
3 8:25

I have a fuzzy memory, but I know I caught up to the 3:50 pace group on an uphill. Unfortunately, it could have been around mile 3. It was a packed group, so I went a little ahead of them before we hit Georgetown. It was the last I saw of that group until 20 miles later on an out and back.

By the way, it was Halloween, and quite a few characters in the crowd. Like this guy. Where’s Waldo! I spotted him then grabbed my phone to take this shot

R. later took this image near Lincoln.

5K split in 26:35 (Just a little off 3:40 pace)

Going into Georgetown, you got this slow incline and I just concentrated and ran up, focusing on the runners around me and the fact that we could all see our breaths. We finished the five miles of hills and I felt great. Perfect day, cool, slight wind at that point.

Running uphill

4 8:23
5 8:14
6 8:07

10K 52:49

Pretty much by the 10K mark, I knew I was just going to run the race by feel, not to look down at my watch too much for feedback. I had my pace setting at around 5:11 kilometres, so I was aware that I was going at 3:40 pace. So I went with it. The downhill miles and through Georgetown was a lot of fun. You see runners who are 3-4 miles behind you on the way back and it’s humbling to see the mass of runners. You can see my splits get mighty close to 8 minute miles.

Views from Georgetown

7 8:28
8 8:06
9 8:03

15K 1:18:22 (Just 23 seconds slower than 3:40)

I was expecting to see R. at mile 10, but I forgot that they split the runners into two lanes. Add to it, I told her I would run on the right side of the road (as I usually do), but as it turns out, she was on the left. Doh, I missed her the entire race at all three checkpoints. Fail.

Hilarious part was that I was able to text her (while running at 8 minute mile pace). An example:

Oh well.

The next 5 miles brings you around Hains Point, and I was noticing everyone was already pretty silent. We took gels, and I spotted the washrooms so I dashed in for a pee break (accounting for a bit longer mile 13)

10 8:02
11 8:16
12 8:03

20K 1:44:11
13 8:25
Half marathon 1:50:09
So I was, at the half marathon, perfectly on pace for 3:40. No pace bunny in sight, I was just running as usual. I was taking in my gels, enjoying the sunny day, trying to forget I was running a marathon.

14 8:11
15 8:18
16 8:15

Again, missed R. at mile 16 in the Mall, but it’s such a fun place to run in during the MCM. I love the crowds and the monuments I run around DC quite often.

25K 2:10:19

17 8:27
18 8:21

30K 2:36:26 (Still pretty much right on 3:40)

As a MCM veteran, I like to think that the race proper starts at 19. It’s not the ‘wall’, but the stretch before you hit the bridge. And by bridge I mean wall. Mile 19 and 20 are still on the Mall, but you’re headed out to the bridge/highway/hellhole. I remember mile 19 from 2008 when I hit the wall early (it was my second hard run marathon in a month) mostly becuase I knew what was next. It went okay, I was starting to pass more runners.

19 8:15
20 8:12

The bridge miles suck, and they are partly why I pack water bottles with me for MCM. They are two hot, uphill and unrelenting death miles where everyone around you seems to be slowing. I wish I took out my camera but I was busy getting to work. I targetted a runner ahead who was running strong and gave chase. People were walking, stretching, slowing and I just picked it up a notch.

21 8:01
35K split in 3:01:45
22 8:01

So it felt great to kick the bridge’s ass again, and into Crystal City, I got a surge of energy from a water stop that everyone else around me stopped at. I picked up the pace, did the turn around and felt I could run the marathon strong. I had designs on a faster end to the marathon.

23 7:58
24 7:50

40K 3:27:23

Of course, somewhere in the last two miles, I was passing another runner on the right side toward the curb when he suddenly stopped. I had to move and bumped into the curb, causing my left calf to cramp. Crap! So the last two miles became a measured approach to finishing the race. Stretch a cramp, manage the pain, try to save the legs for a week from now. So I took a few walk breaks near the end, knowing that I could manage a 3:40 or faster finish. The final stretch seemed a bit longer, and the final hill, well, it went by a little fast, I was willing it to end, with the mini cramps about to set in.

25 8:16
26 8:25
27 4:56

First half: 1:50:09
Second half: 1:48:58
Chip Time 3:39:17
Overall Place 1991 / 21972
Gender Place 1669 / 13257
Division Place 284 / 2148

Wow, never thought I'd finish a marathon thinking "and next week, it's going to be waaaay better." I have high hopes for New York.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Regroup, recovery, refocus

The quest to do four races in four weeks, three marathons and one half, is almost complete. My legs are surprisingly holding up.

Don't run a marathon until you forget your last? I think it's a proper strategy, in fact, by early last week, I had all but forgotten about the Toronto Marathon. But today, three races in, I can feel the effects of the hills of the Marine Corps Marathon. The delayed onset muscle soreness about to kick in.

So before I begin to try to forget the last three weeks as I prep for the victory lap in New York, a look back at the last three weeks:

Week 1: Toronto Marathon in 3:24:51, pace of about 4:50 a kilometre. Faster than the 3:30 I set as a soft target. Total mileage for the week was 41.5 miles.

Week 2: Niagara Half in 1:45:02 as a pace bunny. Paced at 5 minutes a kilometre. Mileage at 22 miles.

Week 3: Marine Corps Marathon in 3:39:19, pace of about 5:11 kilometres, much faster than the 3:50 I thought I'd target. Mileage for the week at 35 miles.

Notice a trend? Yep, I should target an even slower NYC. That is the plan.

Prescription is to recover and rest. I do feel worn down and I think I need to give myself some sleep. In fact, no race report tonight, it's bed time at 9 p.m.