Wednesday, October 17, 2012

PEAC Ewing 5K

Right from the start I was a bit behind. Frank is all the way to the right. Matthew next to him in red and in the lead!

20:57 (6:45 pace) 6th Overall (My highest place finish in a race, ever? :)

I had considered possibly doing a race just like my training schedule suggested, but never got around to actually looking for one, so I decided I would just do a tempo run instead. But then I talked to Frank, who is also following a Pfitzinger marathon plan (although he is peaking at over 70 miles) and he was doing a local 5K by him in Ewing. A couple days before the race I decided why not go for it. It also helped that Andy was planning on doing a 5K the following day. I had traded the speed work earlier in the week for a few strides so I was feeling relatively fresh for the race. I knew that my fitness wasn't at it's peak, but I was thinking I was more fit than I was when I did my last 5K. I was definitely thinking I was going to get a new PR. I had even thought about the possibility of breaking 20 minutes if conditions were favorable and the course was flat. Well conditions were questionable (32 degrees at the start) and the course was definitely NOT flat and I  missed a PR by 7 seconds.

The Race

I was so cold when I first got there. I had a hard time filling
out the form with my shivering hand!
I arrived about 45 minutes before the start. I knew it was a very small race (about 100 people) so I wasn't worried about getting there super early. It was ridiculously cold outside for this early in the season. It was the first frost, actually. I had the usual level of nervousness and after signing up and attaching my racing bib, I did a little warm-up. It was a bit too short and then I got a text from Frank saying he was there. I met up with him and his family and waited with them for about 15 minutes before the start of the race. A few minutes after 8:15, we lined up and I was pretty much right at the front. The mayor of Ewing said a few words and we were off.

The first 100 meters were pretty fast as expected. And even so, Frank and his son, Matthew were already way out ahead. I was feeling like I was likely running fast enough so I decided to take it easy. Perhaps too easy. What I didn't realize was how much of a downhill the first half mile really was, but I would find that out later. I hit the first mile in just under 6:30 which sounded perfect to me, again if this was totally flat. The start of the second mile was a fairly significant hill. I looked down at my Garmin a little after I started and it said 8 something! I remember thinking "What is this nonsense?!" I knew I was going up a hill, but I didn't think I was going that slow. That whole 2nd mile I just tried to get it under 7 minutes, and I couldn't do it. I was pretty upset but then I figured, I would just really have to pick it up in the third mile.

I think I actually said "Crap" as I crossed the line and stopped my Garmin.
Ha! The third mile was ridiculous. It was pretty much entirely uphill. My thoughts of picking it up started to fade. I was pretty upset at this point, because it was dawning on me that I was not going to be getting a good time, but I still thought  I could eek out a PR. Usually at about half a mile out I start to really pick it up, except this was the point where the hill got even steeper, so even though I felt like I was pushing harder, my pace stayed at right around 7 minutes.

The last quarter is flat to downhill, but it was too late by then. I kicked it in pretty well, but I could already see 20:4X when I was still more than 10 seconds away from the clock and I realized I wasn't going to even PR. I crossed the line in 20:57 and I was pretty darn upset.

I just thought this was a great picture of
Frank and Matthew (happy with a PR!)
Frank came in a minute ahead of me in 4th place in just under 20 minutes. That made it the 3rd time he broke 20 minutes in a 5K. I remember when he was chasing that for a while. After him, was his son Matthew (age 13) in 20:32. I remember only 2 years ago when Matthew came in just ahead of Abby in about 27 minutes in the Princeton 5K. He improved over 6 minutes from then! It's pretty clear he has a bright running future ahead of him. I'm going to make a prediction and say his high school PR will be 17:14. I was behind him in 6th place overall.  Despite my upsetting performance, this turned out to be my highest place finish in any race I've ever run. I guess that's what you get with  a local 5K with a field of ~100 runners.

Here come the factors (AKA excuses)

So what happened? Why did I not even PR? Were my expectations off? Was I not as fit as I thought? Now that I've had some time to think about it, I've come up with my list of reasons in order of increasing affect on final race performance.

  1. It was too cold. I am totally down for cold weather running. Even 32 degrees is fine, but I was not fully ready for it this early in the season. When the race started and I was huffing and puffing the cold air, I felt a little like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz.  +5 seconds.
  2. Not enough warm up. This kind of goes with the cold weather. I ran less than a mile and only did a couple strides and I don't think this was enough of a warm up especially for how cold it was. +10 seconds.
  3. Too Hilly. This course is definitely the hilliest 5K course that I've run on since High School. Now granted, I've been mostly running on flat courses, so it doesn't take that much to be the hilliest. But still, this course starts with a major down hill and then you are running up and down some hills in the 2nd mile and then going back up the big hill on the last mile. There's about 125 ft. of elevation gain for that last mile. My previous PR at the Hillsborough Hop has a net downhill of a bout 70 ft. and it feels like a pancake compared to this one. +20 seconds.
  4. I did not push hard enough. Ultimately, these other factors are beyond my control. But, this is what really gets under my skin. I finished the race feeling like I had more to give. I was upset with the hills and I did not push hard enough. If I compare this race to two years ago when I ran a then, 21:16 PR at the Princeton 5K, I remember not having much of a kick at the end because I was too tired. That's when I know I have pushed enough. Here, I had plenty left in the tank. And this was made even more clear once I looked at my Garmin results. Average HR of 169! What the heck?! That is way too low. Maybe part of it was the cold, but still, I should be pushing way closer to my max for such a short race, and I did not do that. This is what I am most upset about. +25 seconds.
Add it all up and you get 60 seconds and a new sub 20 minute 5K PR! Ha, if only it really worked this way.  It's not like I really believe these made up numbers have any value, but I like to play around with things like this anyway.

The take away

Right now I am mainly focused on the Marine Corps Marathon in 11 days. This race doesn't change anything in that regard. If anything, I feel like based on the conditions and my HR, I'm in a good spot to go for my 3:30 goal, but I will really have to work on number 4 to get there. Now, once the Marine Corps Marathon is over, then I think I would like to focus on running a faster 5K time. I plan on doing a November 5K at Colonial Park which I believe is relatively flat. And then I think I would like to continue working on some shorter stuff into the early Spring. I am still optimistic that the 20 minute barrier will go down in the coming months!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ups and Downs

The last year of training broken down weekly. Blue = distance, Red = fitness (VDOT/HR).

There are of course ups and downs during the course of training. They are expected. But, that doesn't stop me from trying to figure out the cause each time I have a great run, and even more importantly, figure out why things are not going well. 

The graph above is my last year of training broken down weekly. The blue represents my weekly miles (topping out at 70 during the week of my 50 miler). The red line is my own custom indicator of fitness. It is a combination of pace and distance (VDOT) divided by my average heart rate to produce one number. Back in February when I was really pushing the miles into the 50s and 60s as well as doing some quality workouts before the Rutgers half, I was at my peak fitness. Then in March and April, I had to back off a bit because of some calf issues and I stopped doing the faster workouts. I lost a little fitness, but I still was able to run a pretty darn good half and get a new PR.

Marathon then and now

2 years ago, I ran my 2nd marathon which was a 17 minute improvement over my first. I ran a 3:37, averaging 8:17 pace. I was very happy at the time, but since then, when I was at the peak of my fitness, I was pretty confident I could have managed a sub 3:30 marathon which would be sub 8 pace. When I was making my list of goals for the new year, I was pretty darn confident that I could take another 17 minutes off and get a 3:20 and I even put that as a medium goal. I was planning on going into 70 or maybe even 80 mile weeks to do this. 

Then, after the 50 miler in May, I realized a I had a bit of a knee injury so I really laid off the miles. This also happened to be during the summer, and one thing my chart does not take into account is temperature. So during the summer months, with the low miles and the hot temps, my level of fitness seemed to have really dropped. But as I kept adding more weekly miles and then the temperature started to go down, my fitness started to come back. 

I was happy to see the improvement, but I still wasn't back to where I once was, and no where near my hopes of running a sub 3:20. I  was running out of time before the marathon. I was trying to figure out what kind of pace I'd be able to run and whether I could even get a new PR after two years. After having a fairly good week of improvement, I had a few runs in a row that went terribly. I had some ideas as to why they went badly, but I really started thinking that I would probably have to completely abandon any ideas of a major improvement and just try to PR again. I was pretty darn bummed at this point in my training. But then I has a breakthrough run!

Breakthrough Run

My plan was to finish my long run at my planned marathon pace, and based on the couple terrible runs earlier this week, I decided 8:15 to 8:10 is probably where I am at. Although I plan to do this all the time, I know that really I'm going to try to go a bit faster than that. I decided that if my HR was in the low 160s it would be alright to get the pace down to around 8:00 if I was feeling good, but I didn't want to push it into the high 160s to low 170s range like I had done before.

I was also a bit torn on the distance I wanted to run. I had been reading more recently about how doing long runs in the 20 mile range when you are not doing enough weekly miles was more injury risk for the reward of going that far. I was only going to hit 50 miles this week, and a 20 mile run meant 40% of my weekly miles. According to what I read, 1/3 of weekly miles is really the longest your long run should be which would be more like 17 miles like I had done in previous weeks. But I wasn't really following the rest of the advice of these plans and I figured I'd done it two years ago and was alright and c'mon, I ran a 50 mile race in May. I decided to just go for the 20 for this one time.

I decided at least part of the reason for my recent crappy runs had been dehydration. I just wasn't on top of my water intake and I decided I would not make that mistake again, so I was sure I was drinking plenty of water the days before. I knew I was we'll hydrated based on having to take a pit stop about 5 miles into my run.

Another factor in my crappy runs is I wasn't running until later in the day so it was a little too warm reaching into the 70s. But this morning it was Sunny, no wind and in the mid 50s. I was a little chilly in just shorts and a t-shirt. Perfect. I had 3 GUs in my pockets and a single hand held. I was ready to go. 

The first several miles were pretty uneventful, as is normally the case on long runs. It was a lot hillier than my normal tow path runs which was on purpose since the marathon has some hills in the beginning. I ran past the old home at Jackson ave and past the playground where Abby and Sadie and even Lucy for a bit (although she'll never remember) spent some time growing up. I was in a good mood and feeling strong. My pace was nice and easy in the 8:40s and my HR was in the mid to low 140s. This was a great start, but I have enough experience to know that this mean little this early on a long run.

Next came the hill on Mt. Lucas. This was always my favorite go-to hill when I lived at Jackson. I'm going to guess its at least a 200 foot climb over the course of a mile, which is more than I will come across at the Marine Corps. I decided that once I climbed Mt. Lucas and started going down the other side at around the 8 mile mark I would naturally pick up the pace on the down hill and just keep it at marathon pace all the way home. 

Cruising down Mt. Lucas was as fun as I remembered. I was just letting my legs go and my HR dropped back into the low 140s after hitting the mid 150s going up the hill. By the time I got near the bottom, my 9 minute pace turned into 8:20. I was now heading into Princeton and feeling great. I already had two GUs and my water was about half gone which was about right. 

There are a few rolling hills in Princeton but I was able to keep the pace in the low 8s with my HR still in the 150s so things were good. There is another really nice downhill heading into the tow path so I decided to take it really easy and head in just under 8 pace with a low HR. Now it was going to be all tow path for about 8 miles. Because of the beautiful fall weather, there was a ton of runners out there. And running near Princeton meant passing a few of the faster college kids which is always inspiring.

I had my last GU at around mile 13 and I realized I had been going a bit faster than I had expected at this point. I was in the 7:50 range and feeling great. I started to slowly creep up to this guy ahead of me. I was at a point where I was going to pass him, but it would have been to slowly as our paces were so close, so I decided to pick it up just a bit to pass him quickly. I did and as I looked down, I realized I was now running 7:40 pace. I was feeling really relaxed though and my HR was in the low 160s so I just went with it. This guy ended up passing me then, which was fine with me, and this time I just stuck behind him. For then next few miles I was cruising along in 7:40 - 7:45 pace and feeling wonderful.  This is the best I had felt this late in a run and going at that pace. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. I started thinking about how I was really going to start to fade when the last few miles came up, but it never happened. Instead, when I had one mile left, I decided to pick it up some more, and finished it in 7:26 pace. I can honestly say I was holding back some.  I think if I really pushed with everything, I could have gotten close to or maybe even under 7.

Last 5 months of daily runs and VDOT/HR showing the last long run as my best fitness
When I got home, I was absolutely ecstatic. I plugged in my data and uploaded it to fitcharts and sure enough, there it was.  A new peak for my highest VDOT to HR ratio, although this time I didn't need the graph to tell me it. When I looked further at the stats and compared them to a pretty much identical run from two years ago, I got even more excited. For this run, I finished the last 10 miles at 7:45 pace with a 161 HR. 2 years ago on the exact same run I averaged 8:02 pace for the last 8 miles and I didn't have a HR watch then so I don't know that stat, but I did write in my log that I started to fade a bit at the end. 

So what does this mean for Marine Corps?

Of course, the first thing I thought of while I was enjoying my wonderful runner's high from this run, was that it was time I made my pace bracelet for the Marine Corps Marathon. And that's exactly what I did. Having finished the last 10 miles of this training run with a relateively low HR and a 7:45 pace made me think I have a real shot at breaking the 3:30 barrier which would mean averaging 8 minute pace. I did a bit of research online and found this great pacing guide site. I created my pace bracelet and I am ready to do this. As a last check to make sure I wasn't crazy, I posted my intentions of going for sub 3:30 on the sub 3:30 marathon thread at runningahead and a couple folks weighed in thinking I was in great shape to go for it! Now I just need to have as great of a day as I had on this long run and I think I've got a good chance! With my new adjusted expectations I am once again, super excited for my 3rd marathon.