I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Pace Projection Quandary

So, feeling good about the new 5K PR I set yesterday, I decided to hit the world wide web and do a little projection math. There are a couple of sites (more, probably) out there that offer calculators to help you project your potential finish times for races in a wide range of distances based on your actual results in a race. I've done this before, but cutting 30 seconds off my previous 5K PR was a pretty big leap and I wanted to see how the numbers might have changed.

The best site I've found for this free calculator and data is: mcmillianrunning.com Greg McMillian is a successful running coach who will work in person and through the web with runners. I know about him because of his connections with Runner's World Magazine. That's where I learned of his website and the calculator page in the first place. McMillian's free service will not only project your race finish times for every distance from 100 Meters to the Marathon, it will also suggest the paces you should be running during your various training workouts. (ie., what your "easy" pace should be, or your "tempo" pace, etc.) Here is the link directly to the calculators page on his site. The Runner's World website also, now, offers its own, simpler version of the same tool.

You do have to remember that the projections are all just estimates. It's just a mathematical, educated guess based on a wealth of data from other runners over the years who train for and run multiple distances at consistent speeds. But it's a good way to get a ballpark on what you might be able to expect from yourself.

MY problem is, the times I've been recording for my long distance races aren't coming anywhere close to my projected times based on my 5K speed.

Here are my projections from both the McMillian and RW calculators:

5K - 21:31
10K - 44:42
13.1M - 1:39:28
26.2M - 3:29:46

5K - 21:31
10K - 44:49
13.1M - 1:38:48
26.2 - 3:25:59

And my Current PRs
5K - 21:31
10K - 47:50
13.1 - 1:45:10
26.2M - 3:59:09

See what I'm saying? Not adding up. Even if the calculators are just "ballpark" that still leaves my current marathon time over 30 minutes slower than the projections. That's huge! Shoot, that slightly optimistic projection from RW would leave me only 10 minutes shy of a Boston Qualifying time.

So, what's going wrong for me? Maybe - just maybe - my body simply isn't, what, "genetically" predisposed to running as well at the marathon distance as it does at the 5K. But I'm more apt to believe that it's my training program that is somehow lacking.

I can say, honestly, that I'm pretty good about sticking to the running program that I've used. Often, I use the free training schedules offered on the RW website. Sometimes I've set up my own schedules based on the RW system. Whichever; I get all my runs in, I hit my paces. I put in the work. Maybe I just haven't figured out the proper quantity of miles to be training on. Last year I did make an effort to up my weekly mileage, but the finish times remained roughly the same.

I guess, I also shouldn't forget that a number of the city marathons I've run have had the bad luck to be held on days when the weather was extreme and debilitating. Chicago '07 is the easiest example, but I've done 6 city-based marathons, and 3 were in unseasonably high heat.

Of course another of my marathons also came after 3 consecutive Ultras. That could be part of the problem, too: the sheer volume of ultra racing that I've done. The toll may be showing up in my marathon times. Or it could also be due to the minimal amount of hill training that I'm able to do in Chicago. I generally never get to do a weekend long run on anything other than a pancake flat course. (I'm often pinched for time during the weekend, so making long drives out of the city to look for hillier routes is tough.)

The answer for now is, I just don't know. The marathon this weekend will be a big test. I've cut out one of my variables by not running any race longer than a 5K since my 100K Ultra last December. For nearly 6 months, all I've done is build myself back up toward this one marathon. I'm also encouraged by the weather forecast for this weekend, which is still reading partly sunny with highs in the low 50s. I feel good about my chances on Saturday, but I've felt that way in the past and then turned in slow times. I remain cautious in my optimism.

If the results are different this time, though, I may have opened up a whole new territory of personal awareness about my body and my running.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Race Report: Ravenswood Run 5K

It was a big day today. Yes, I was excited about running my 6th Ravenswood Run 5K, but even more than that, I was finally going to get the chance to try out my new racing comps in an actual Race. Woohoo!

I’ve done the Ravenswood more times now than any other race. (There are a couple other events that I’ve race 4 times.) Why do I love this one so much? Well, because it happens practically in my back yard. The entry fee has gotten a little pricey (it’s now up to $30), but it’s hard not to love an event so close by that you can literally stumble out of bed 30 minutes to race time, walk down the block and you’re there.

The Ravenswood Run is also just a well-organized, tidy event. This morning was the 13th edition of the race, but ever since its 3rd year, it’s been organized by Fleet Feet Sports, one of the top running stores in town. There are plenty of 5 & 10Ks in the city every year, but this is one of only a handful that are run in the heart of a north side neighborhood. The April date makes it one of the first big races of the season, so it’s always been popular with all the local competitive runners. I remember, too, that it was one of the first events in the city that offered chip timing, even though, technically, it was still a small event. Back in 1997, at the inaugural running, there were just a couple hundred participants. By my first year in 2004, the total was up to 1229 finishers. After they got really serious and started using chips, the total jumped to 2433 in 2007 (after a bad weather year in ’06), and 2502 last year. Entries were capped this year at 3500, and they announced this morning that the race had been sold out. I’ll wait to for the results to see how many official finishers there were.

So, enough plugging for the event, right?

My race was a complete success. I tried to keep my expectations low these last two weeks. I’ve been having really good days of training but also really rough ones. Even on the good days, my legs have been feeling worn down. The real focus wasn’t the 5K this morning, but the marathon in Kenosha next Saturday. Last year at Ravenswood, after a similar schedule – but also after a couple of Ultras in the month before – I ran a good, decent race, but 50 seconds slower than my PR. In the only other 5K I ran last year, on Thanksgiving, I managed to break 22 minutes for the first time by just one second, with a 21:59. If I could just run 7 minute, even splits from start to finish, I could cut my time down to a 21:45. I felt like that would be reasonable, if I didn’t go out too hard and then blow up in the last mile.

It’s been the same route now all six years I’ve run it, but last year, for some reason, they decided to reverse the direction. They kept the new direction again this year, so it still feels kind of new – not a bad thing at all. I didn’t move up toward the start line quite far enough before the race, so in the first ¾ mile, I kept getting stuck behind slower runners here and there. I wanted to be patient, though, and not go too hard the first mile, so I didn’t let the slower folks bother me, or weave around them too much.

The half miles weren’t marked, but since it’s my neighborhood, I know how far it is between many of the streets. When I saw we were coming up on Berteau, I knew that was the first ½ mile. My watch said 3:25, so I was on target for just under 7 minutes, and the pace still felt relatively easy to me. A good sign, and permission to relax mentally and trust the feet. I hit the first mile split in 6:52.

In last year’s race, everything started to feel like forever to me in the second mile. That’s when it all started to feel a lot harder than it should have. Not a problem this morning. The water stop came up just past the 1.5 mark and I cruised through without pausing. We made the turn onto Leland and I knew I’d soon see the 2nd mile marker. I passed it with a split of 6:59. I might have relaxed a wee bit too much. I wanted to see if I could keep my 3rd mile split below 7 minutes, something I’ve never done before.

I’d have to push again just a little for the final mile. But it’s a fine line between lengthening my stride and increasing my turnover rate. Longer strides don’t help so much, and the short, quick steps that do are still not instinctive for me, yet. It’s something I have to focus on. There was a guy in front of me who looked strong and lithe and steady, and I tried to link onto him as a pacer. That seemed to help me too. We shifted up to Giddings, turned south on Leavitt and with over a half a mile left to the finish line, made the final turn, east again, onto Wilson. The small overpass for the commuter trains is a white, steel bridge right in front of the finish line and I could already see it looming down the street.

It was too soon for me to “kick”, but I did want to let the finish line pull me in, so I thought hard about running with power, like a muscle car cruising along in the low end of 5th gear. Soon, I could see the 3rd mile marker waiting and I hit the split button on my watch just as it ticked over to 7 minutes – 7:00.16, to be precise. So, yeah, my splits are all unofficial at best, but I’d missed that one little goal. The good news: I was still on personal best pace.

I didn’t have a whole lot left for a true kick, but I did start to stretch out my stride some and pushed it hard for the final .1 mile. I stopped my watch when I crossed the line at 21:32.21, nearly 30 seconds better than I’ve ever run before. A new PR! It’s also the first time I’ve ever recorded an overall race pace that was less than 7 minutes a mile, with a 6:56 average pace.

Not bad for a guy 2 months shy of 35, who never ran a race in his life until 2003!

I’ve still got some work to do this week, but mostly it’s maintenance work, a lot of stretching, a handful of “easy” miles. And then Saturday, we’ll see what I can do for 26.2 miles. The weather forecast currently looks ideal, mid-50s, partly cloudy and a gentle wind. Who knows if the predictions of rain and wind will hold, but there seems little chance that the temperature will be much different, so I’m much relieved about that. (Especially since we got up to 80 both yesterday and Friday.) If my legs keep healing, and nothing crazy happens, I’m starting to feel optimistic again about my chances.


Monday, April 20, 2009

USA = 3rd X 2

The Men and Women turned in two incredibly different races at the 113th Boston Marathon this morning. The Women posted the slowest finish in 24 years, and the Men launched out of the gate at a blistering tempo, passing the the first 5K in a time that translated to 2:03 marathon pace.

The end result for the Americans was the same on both sides: Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall each took 3rd place, the first time Americans have earned spots on both podiums since 1985.

There are already far better and more informed race reports available out on the web than anything I could cobble together, so I'll simply post a few links to those at the bottom.

I will say, it was incredible to watch Hall and Goucher racing on either half of my television screen during the live coverage this morning. It was Hall who set and led that murderous pace for the first 10K of the men's race, totally foiling my prediction that he would tuck in somewhere and wait, wait, wait. Instead he made a statement from the first step, and he stayed near the front of the lead pack, constantly in the mix until Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) made what turned out to be the definitive move after 18 miles. Merga powered ahead over the Newton Hills and by the time he had crested Heartbreak at 21, he had a 45 second lead. Merga has a reputation for being aggressive that way and then fading at the end, but he held on strong today for his first win at a major.

Hall initially fell a good distance back after Merga's charge. The lead pack had been 11 or 12 when Merga broke. A number of the men tried to go, too, but Hall held back and initially slipped to 9 and 10th place. A few marathons ago, that might have been it for him, but his experience is starting to show. He held strong through the hills and on each downhill moved up a little more, picking off a number of the top East Africans who had tried to keep touch with Merga. Hall made one last push in the final half-mile and nearly caught Daniel Rono (Kenya) for 2nd place. He was only 8 seconds back when he finally crossed the line.

The truly excellent folks at Flotrack.org have already posted this video interview with Hall from after the race. Listen to him talking about his own future pursuit of major marathon victory, with a "It's gonna be relentless. I'm just going keep coming back the next year and the next year and the next year..." and tell me you can't get fired up about this guy.

Goucher, on the other hand, was there and very strong for the entire race until the final half mile. The super slow pace of the women's race seemed like it could play to Goucher's strength as a track athlete and sprinter. It was Goucher who began to amp up the speed and gradually drop the hammer on the large lead pack with only 10K to go. With 2 miles left she had dropped everyone but last year's winner Dire Tune (Ethiopia) and Salina Kosgei (Kenya), both of whom stayed right on her heels, until, with about 800 meters to go, they both made their move on her.

Goucher made an effort to stay with them, and for a long moment I really thought she was about to power back ahead and maybe leave them behind. Kosgei and Tune were only a few meters in front of her and she - literally - pulled off both her gloves and slung them down to the side of the road. It was a powerful image and it had my emotions rising and my bottom on the edge of the couch. In the end, though, she just couldn't bring them back, and while Kosgei barely held off Tune for a 1 second win, Goucher finished 8 more seconds behind.

It was heartbreaking to see Goucher, moments across the finish line, in tears of frustration and exhaustion, knowing how much control she'd had for so long in the race, and how close she had come, only to see it slip away in the final minutes. It's so completely easy for me to identify with, because I've been through that exact same marathon scenario. Even if my magical goal wasn't as lofty as hers, breaking four hours meant just as much to me as winning the whole thing would have meant to her today.

Goucher cried, too, after her 3rd place finish last November in New York, but those were tears of pride and joy, finishing on the podium in her debut marathon. Her emotions today, post-race were easy proof of just how badly she wanted to win this thing today. Watch her here, at the official post race press conference (again, posted by those awesome Flotrack folks), and see how she was still struggling with her emotions, as she so honestly answers the reporters' questions. And again, here, interviewed a little later by Mark from Flotrack.

No doubt about it now: I'm a Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall fan. Kara says she's planning to try and have a baby with her husband Adam Goucher instead of running a marathon this Fall, but I'm hoping that Ryan Hall elects to run Chicago this year instead of New York or Berlin. I have a feeling he may want to return to the site of his Olympic Trials Triumph, but we'll see.

For more complete Boston Marathon Race Coverage, check out these links:
The Science of Sport Blog by Jonathan & Ross
Amby Burfoot's Report on Hall for Runner's World (which also includes plenty more excellent race coverage)
Here's the link to the Boston Athletic Association's Marathon homepage
And Finally, be sure to spend plenty of time exploring the video tidbits at Flotrack.org

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hall, Goucher Run Boston Tomorrow!

Americans Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher both make their debuts in the Boston Marathon tomorrow morning. The race will be broadcast live on NBC's Universal Sports channel. I'm stoked because this year i finally own my own digital TV and I'll be able to watch the event for myself at home. I've never been able to see Boston from start to finish before!

It's extra exciting, because both Goucher and Hall have a legitimate shot at winning the race. The last American male winner was Greg Meyer in 1983. The last American female winner was Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. So it's been awhile.

Hall actually has the fastest qualifying time of all the men in the field, with the 2:06:17 he ran at last year's London Marathon, though that time was only good for 5th place in that race. The Boston course is far more difficult than London and Hall will be racing a number of men with plenty of Boston experience, including Robert K. Cheruiyot, of Kenya, who has won the last 3 Boston Marathons, and 4 overall. The men's field is not quite as talented as London's was last year, but the top 4 or 5 men are all capable of crossing the line first with strong races. Hall really wants to win. I think, if conditions are favorable, he will knit himself into the lead pack, then hang on Robert Cheruiyot's shoulder. Cheruiyot likes to be in command in the 2nd half, especially in Boston which he has owned for the last 3 years. If Hall, or anyone, can stay with him, the last 5K should be interesting.

American (and 2008 Olympian) Brian Sell will be there, too. Though his PR is five minutes off the top men, he did gut out an impressive 4th place finish in Boston in 2006. He likes to start conservatively and then slowly pick off the runners ahead of him in the 2nd half.

Kara Goucher will be running just her second marathon, having debuted with an impressive 3rd place finish in New York last November. Goucher went to Beijing last summer in the 5 & 10K distances, but after a disappointing showing, she changed gears and went through a slightly abbreviated training schedule for New York. The NYC course is, I can attest by personal experience, a much more difficult course than it often gets credit for, but Goucher still set a record for an American debut marathon. She, too, will be running against the 2008 Boston champ, Dire Tune, from Ethiopia. However, though there is one other former Boston champ in the women's field, many of the other elite females are younger and, like Goucher, relatively new to the distance. In addition many of them have never run a major marathon that offers a course as difficult as Boston's. Goucher experience in New York last fall may prove valuable. It would seem that she has an excellent chance to break the tape tomorrow morning.

The elite women begin their race at 9:30 am EST tomorrow (Monday) morning. The men and the rest of the field start at 10:00 am EST. I'll be glued to my TV with a bowl of cereal in hand.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Weary & Wary

I'm only two weeks out, now, from the Wisconsin Marathon up in Kenosha, and I can feel the effect of all the training miles taking their toll.

I've tried a slightly different tact in the later portions of this cycle. I'm trying to keep my weekly miles from climbing too high, but also aiming for my weekly workouts to longer and more sustained efforts. Basically, more "easy" paced 8 and 10 mile jaunts, and the like.

But calendar has been busy, in general this spring, and even though I've tried to careful with my mileage weeks, the overall grind has begun to take it's toll. It's made for some extra creaky, extra groggy mornings, and worse, my IT bands have been barking at me a lot more than usual. I've been spending a lot of extra time stretching and rolling out my legs before and after sessions.

We'll see how all this translates to my performance up in Kenosha up on the May 2nd. I'm not just going up there for a fun run, I still have time goals I'd like to meet. It's supposed to be a flat course along the Lake Michigan shore, so it'll be a lot like running in Chicago. I'd be thrilled to turn in something at 3:55, or in the low 3:50s, but I've felt good about my build-ups before and then run marathons that fell well short of those goals. We'll see. I plan to manage my workouts the next two weeks very carefully. I want to be sharp for the race, but I don't want to go in feeling worn down, either.

After that, I'm not sure yet. My summer plans remain undefined. If Kenosha goes well and I feel good the week following, maybe I'll start to look seriously toward Burning River in Ohio in August - A race I could run for the experience, like a fun run, if you can call 100 miles that. Otherwise, I'll dial it back over the summer, focus on a few 5 or 10K and then slowly build my mileage back up for Chicago in October.

So, much depends on these next few weeks...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I love racing comps! I had musings about buying myself a pair of honest-to-goodness racing comps late last year. But despite my multi-pair running shoe collection, I never caved in and bought a pair. Somehow they seemed like one extravagance too many. My girlfriend, though, took note and got me a pair for Christmas. The perfect gift!

(Well, she tried to. Turns out the manufacture’s supply is thin at the end of the year, and the model that the shoe store ordered for her didn’t fit – nor the 2 larger sizes of the same shoe that we re-ordered. We then traded out for a “light-weight trainer” which the shoe store pushed on me while telling me that I’d never find a racing comp to fit my wide foot. Then I did just that: I found a racing comp – a true RC – that fit my foot. So, I took the trainers back to the store and kept the RCs I’d found on my own. Hey, it was an ordeal, but the end result was a success!)

They are a beautiful pair of bright orange and blue, New Balance 152s. It’s my first ever pair of real Comps. They weigh 5.5ozs, easily less than half the weight of my NB768 trainers, which I’ve always trained and raced in, until now. Last year, I wore my 790 trail shoes on a few of my tempo runs and speed workouts. Those are about 8ozs each, but I could feel a major difference in the ease of my stride over the heavier 768s. It made me super curious about how a pair of true comps would feel during a race.

I still haven’t had a race to test them out in. (I would have worn then at the Shamrock Shuffle, but 3” of snow talked me out of even going to the event.) I have done a couple of workouts in them though, to test them out and break ‘em in a little. Monday I went for a long, 10-mile tempo run and wore the comps to see how they’d do. Amazing. Seriously, I felt light as a feather. I wasn’t running for a specific pace, just running to feel, and aiming for that “comfortably hard” zone. I was shocked when my first mile clocked at 7:20. I didn’t want to do that the whole way, so I eased off a little, but still clocked easy 7:30s for the next 5 miles.

After my turnaround, I had to run back into a 12mph wind. I also started to tire a little, and my splits dropped back to 7:50s for the last few miles. But still a great work out. Far better than any other long tempo run I’ve done. It would have been a PR for the 8K distance, the 10K, and if I’d been able to hold just an 8 minute pace for 3 more miles, it would have been a half-marathon PR for me as well.

Maybe the light-weight shoe is mostly a psychological boost, but if that’s all it is, then it’s a really good one. They aren’t everyday shoes, by any stretch. They’re only for races, or maybe the occasional speed workout, but I’m in love with them already, I think. They’ll get their first race test at the end of this month in the Ravenswood Run 5K. I can hardly wait!