Thursday, November 24, 2011

Race to Deliver #2: A New 4 Mile PR & Free Broadway Tickets!

Short Version
Distance: 4 Miles
Time: 32:44 (8:11mm) - New PR and NYRR bib time
Overall Place: 1212/4501
Gender Place: 294/2384
Age Place: 96/625

Long Version
This past Sunday was the Race to Deliver, a 4 mile race that takes place in Central Park. It is put on by God's Love We Deliver, an organization that delivers meals to those who are unable to shop or cook for themselves.

This was my very first race last year, and it was an entirely different experience this time around. Last year, I had no previous races with NYRR, so I had to estimate my pace per mile when I signed up. Mom & I estimated about 11mm and we were placed in the last corral. I was excited and terrified at the same time - I had no idea what to expect in a race, and a part of me worried that I wouldn't be able to finish. However, with some good pace setting from my mom, we ended up finishing the course in 42:59 at a 10:44 pace. 

A lot has changed over the last year, even if the race shirt stayed almost exactly the same. Before this race, my best 4 mile time was a 33:33, and my NYRR bib time was 8:23, so because of that I was in the fourth coral, which is a 3xxx green bib. This time, I had a definite time goal, which was finishing in under 33 minutes, or 8:15mm. My reach goal was under 32 minutes but I knew that it was a very long shot. 

Sister Act the musical was a co-sponsor of the race this year, and so the first 500 people to pick up their race packets would receive nun-habits, and if they wore their nun habits at any point of the race (and walked up to a table), they would get two tickets to the show. Since my friend got to pick up early, she picked up my stuff and so I was able to do this. Note: I didn't race in the costume, and I literally just threw on the main part of the costume, walked up to the table, and the person let me sign up. So no costume pictures this time. 

I ran a warm-up mile, and then met up with my friend in the corral. As we were waiting for the race to start, my mother's friend ran by, but she was too far away for me to call out to her. Although I had been looking forward to this race, for some reason, I wasn't in the mood to race. I literally woke up and I thought, "ugh, another Central Park 4 mile race?" (This was a clear sign that I did too many races this year). In addition, the race started over 5 minutes late, and I was getting a little annoyed. It wasn't until I crossed the start line did the adrenaline come back, and I instantly remembered why I was out there. 

The race started out a bit slow since the people in front of me were a bit slower than I thought they would be. It didn't help that some people were barely jogging 100 meters into the race, but it didn't take long for me to get into a rhythm. (The picture on the left is me just passing the first start line. I'm the one in the grey t-shirt)

The first mile included Cat Hill, which is one of the larger hills in Central Park, but since it was at the beginning, it didn't feel that difficult. The mile marker ended up being a little short, but according to my Garmin I finished mile 1 at 8:04

Going into this race, I realized that I always tended to slow down on mile 2 of this course because it was flatter, and mentally, I was giving myself a break, so this time, I focused on trying to gain some time before the very hilly mile 3. Thankfully, it worked, and I finished mile 2 in 7:51 (but as usual, the garmin hit a mile shortly before the actual mile marker showed up).

Although I was on track for a sub-32 minute finish at this point, I knew that the three successive rolling hills on the West Side would make this very difficult to maintain. No matter how many times I do these hills (almost every day), running them easy is a different experience than racing them, especially when the first two miles are done at about an 8 minute pace. I fought as hard as possible not to slow down, and was pleasantly surprised to see a 8:12 on my garmin (the mile marker came after the garmin though so my pace was probably closer to 8:2x).

I wanted to speed up for mile 4, and although my garmin was off, I think I did a little bit. I did the last part at a faster pace, even if it wasn't reflected in mile 4 (you can see my splits here). Most of the last mile is downhill, so slowly but surely, my legs started to move faster. I started to speed up even further as I was turning around the last bend because I looked at my watch and started to worry that I wouldn't get in under 33 minutes. Thankfully, I made my goal - my garmin said 32:47 but my official time was 32:44 (8:11mm) - this is the first time I've reached BQ pace in a race - too bad it's only a 4 miler though. I was very happy with my time - to me, it was a reflection of my training for the Cape Cod Half. I would eventually like a sub-32, but hopefully it will happen next year.

My friend Abbey was within my sights for most of the race, but she finished ahead of me at exactly 32:00. After we reunited, we found her daughter, Kayleigh with the babysitter, and we set off towards the kids races. All of the races had the same finish line, but the start lines were in different spots depending on how old the kids were. The older the kids, the further back the start line. They originally planned on having the 3 & 4 year old girls run together, but they ended up splitting them. I got a picture of the adorable mother-daughter pair after the race (and also immediately decided that when I have kids, I plan on entering them into the kids races too)

How adorable is this?

Overall, it was a fun day, and I look forward to receiving the free tickets to sister act! There are more pictures to see, so if you are interested, feel free to look here. As always, thanks for reading! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How did I become the crazy one?: Reflections on a year of running

Mom and me posing
after a midnight run
New Year's Eve
My mother started running regularly in the early nineties, and completed 4 marathons (3 NYC, 1 Boston) between 1993 and 2003. While I admired her for her accomplishments, most of my family thought that she was a little crazy, myself included. Why would anyone want to go out at 6am and run several miles around Central Park when they could be sleeping/watching TV/doing anything else?

I was never much of an athlete. I played soccer and basketball in middle school, but I wasn't especially good at either of them. But after watching the marathon year after year, and hearing about a few friends' marathon experiences, I started to think that the marathon was something worth aiming for. In other words, I got attracted to all of the hype and the mystique of doing a marathon. I also figured that I should lose weight and get in better shape, so this would be killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. I investigated my options, and decided to start running and do the 9+1 required for guaranteed entry in 2011 in order to get into the 2012 marathon.

Of course, this required actually getting out there and running. With trepidation, I went to the Central Park reservoir the day after the 2010 marathon and told myself that I wouldn't go home until I did two laps of the reservoir loop (3 miles). I ran very slowly, and I stopped more times than I wanted to admit to catch my breath, but I eventually got the miles done. Well, ok, that wasn't so bad, I thought. Let's try that again tomorrow. It felt a bit easier, and I could almost run the whole time without stopping. To my surprise, I went out 6/7 days that week and ran a total of 24 miles, joined NYRR and signed up for a 4 mile race later that month.

I completed my first race, which was 4 miles, in 42:59 (10:44 pace) about two weeks after I started running, and although it was not a fast time, I was extremely proud of myself. My mother was nice enough to pace me, and having her there made all of the difference. It was also much easier waking up in the morning when I knew that someone would be out in Central Park waiting for me.

My first 15k race in late March
I never thought that I would ever get infected with the running bug, but before I knew it, I found myself enjoying it more and more. I lost some weight, got in better physical shape, and slowly but surely got faster. I signed up for as many races as possible to keep myself motivated to keep going out there, and before I knew it, I started planning for my first half-marathon. I used to think that running was something I had to do to get in shape, like a chore, but now I find that my mornings flow much more smoothly and I concentrate better at work when I run beforehand.

Throughout the year, I had several great race experiences, and a few not so great ones, but I felt like I learned something each time, and proved to myself that I was capable of more than I thought I was. Pictures from my running journey from 2011 can be found here and here

I also made a whole new group of amazing friends from all walks of life who I would have never known had I not gotten into running. There are way too many of you to name, but other than my mother and her running buddies, you guys were the ones who tolerated my running neurosis, were supportive, and gave me advice on how to train properly. I wouldn't be the runner I was today if it weren't for the support and patience of all of you.

Since I am almost as type A as one can possibly get, it's time to evaluate what I've accomplished over the past year, and set new goals for myself for the upcoming year (and beyond).

Wallis, Rachel & me at Grete's Great Gallop HM
We clearly coordinated our outfits :P
Things I've accomplished
- Completed the 9+1 for the 2012 NYCM (ok, it was more like 20+2 - someone got a bit overenthusiastic when it came to racing this year :D )
- Raced almost every distance under the marathon in under 9mm, including my first sub-2 hour half marathon
- Ran over 1,000 miles this year so far. Final YTD number is to be determined, but my guess is somewhere near 1,300

Goals for this coming year / 2012
- Run my first marathon - ideally under 4:30 but I'll take making the NY Times
- Beat my 2011 PRs
- Run 1,500 miles for the year
- Increase base mileage (this will be easier once I graduate business school in June)
- Get an AG rating of 60% in at least one race this year (my closest was 59.41% in the 5th avenue mile)
- Get a NYRR bib time of 7:xx (current bib time is 8:23)
- Eat healthier and actually keep an accurate food log. I started to do that this year but I fell off track and never quite got back on

Long Term Goals
- Sub-4 hour marathon on the way to...
- BQ: The likelihood of happening before age 35 are slim to none. Under the new standards, BQ means doing a 8:12 pace, which I could possibly do over a 5k at most. Perhaps this will happen when I'm 40
- Do the Clam Chowder Challenge in Cape Cod

A year ago, I could have never imagined becoming a runner, and now, I feel like running is a vital part of my day to day life. I look forward to seeing what the next year brings, and hopefully all of the hard work I plan on putting in to improve my running will pay off. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Veni, Cucurri, Vici: The Cape Cod Half Race Report!

My previous HM PR had been from my first attempt at the distance, which was the Brooklyn Half back in May. My goal was to get under 2 hours, but in hindsight, I really didn't know how to properly train for a half marathon. My mileage was probably not high enough, I took my easy runs way too fast, and speedwork seemed far too intimidating to attempt. In addition, after my one attempt at taking GU gave me a bad reaction, I was too scared to try anything else in time so I only drank water during the half. Big mistake. With all being said and done, I got a 2:01:50 after bonking in the second half, so that gave me hope that I could get a sub-2 half in the future.

I started training for the Cape Cod Half 12 weeks out, after taking a week to recover from the Queens HM, which I had trained more efficiently for, but didn't PR at since it was way too hot out. I used a smart coach plan I generated based on my half-PR, and managed to hit almost every workout on the plan. I peaked at 37 miles, and averaged around 30 mpw for the entire thing. I felt that this was my best cycle yet for a few reasons: I incorporated speed intervals for the first time, I got over my fear of doing them on the treadmill, and I managed to include two additional HMs as training runs and earn my 4/5 to get entry into the NYC half.

My parents were nice enough to come with me to the Cape to cheer me on - they probably also came because the Cape is simply an awesome place to be in the fall, so I was able to get a ride up from them. The five hour drive to the Cape was fairly scenic. We stopped at a popular diner that also had a used bookstore inside of it. I was amazed to see that there was already some snow covering the ground in the area. There was a possible threat of rain/snow earlier in the week, but thankfully it wasn't going to happen until a couple of hours after I finished my race at the earliest. It was still supposed to be cold, so I ended up going with a long sleeved tech shirt instead of my usual short sleeves.

After checking into our hotel, we went to number pickup at the local high school and I got the lowest bib number I would ever receive in a race since it was done based on the order of registration (as in there is no way I'll ever be fast enough to get #25 in a NYRR race). They actually had a special edition of their town newspaper where they printed up all of our names, bib numbers, and our previous best times (if we submitted them). They had the same thing for the marathoners. I did feel better once someone told me that there would be volunteers marshaling the course so that I couldn't make a wrong turn somewhere. After walking around town a bit, and having a nice pre-race meal of pizza with a glass of white wine, I got an early night and plenty of sleep.

I woke up at 6am, got ready quickly, ate my usual pre-race half of a bagel, and then we drove five minutes to the post office where most people were standing outside waiting. It was dark when we left, but as we arrived it started to get lighter out. After using the porta-potty, I stood around feeling awkward because it seemed that most people knew at least one other person. I eventually started talking to another girl who had the same time goal as I did, and we decided to start out together. At about 7:20, we all started to line up. There were no corrals, so I settled for somewhere in the middle of the pack.

I didn't know this at the time, but the person who was supposed to sing the national anthem was not able to make it, so they asked the audience for volunteers. Someone clearly stepped up to the plate, and moments later, we heard a loud gun go off. As I crossed the start, I pressed the start button on my garmin and off we went!

I ended up losing my running buddy shortly after the start when I started passing people. To me it felt like people were barely moving, but maybe I should have lined up a bit further towards the front. I tried to enjoy the scenery as I got a pace, and eventually I was hovering close to where I wanted to be. However, the one "crisis" of the race arose when I glanced at my garmin to find that it was....going into POWERSAVE????? I don't know what happened there, but I quickly reset my garmin and decided to wait until the mile 1 marker to restart. That's why my splits only include the last 12.24 miles. As I passed the marker, I heard a volunteer say that it had been about nine minutes, but after comparing my final time with my garmin time, it must have been around 8:41. I kept re-adding nine minutes to the watch to see how I was really doing throughout the race to be on the conservative side.

I had told myself that I wouldn't go faster than 8:45 (ideally 8:50-9:00) for most of the race, and I managed to stay close to that on average for the first 10 miles. I knew that I was going on the faster side, but I figured that the hills from miles 6-9 would slow me down and that I would reevaluate once those were done. The miles seemed to go by very quickly, and I had the mental advantage of knowing that I was really one mile ahead of what my garmin told me. Most of the route was very scenic, and in the earlier part of the race, we were running along a bike path that was right along the beach, so there were a lot of pretty views. I even managed to take my eyes off of the garmin long enough to enjoy them for some of the race. There was very little traffic on the route - there were maybe 5 cars and 1 bike and they weren't a big deal.

My parents were waiting for me at around the halfway point on a bridge. They got to see all of the runners go under the bridge, then come around onto the bridge itself before passing by. My dad took pictures of the lead runners as they passed. Eventually, I came around, and there were pictures taken. At the time, I was talking to a Scottish guy who was doing both the half that day and the full marathon the next day - otherwise known as the Clam Chowder Challenge (the Massachusetts version of the Goofy Challenge). When I passed them, I gave her the hat she loaned me since I no longer needed it.

Shortly after the halfway point, we hit the rolling hills they were talking about. I thought that I would slow down significantly, but I didn't find the hills to be such a big deal after the hills of Central Park. I think I actually sped up during those miles. As I was getting to mile 10, I realized I was speeding up and decided to go with it for the final 5k. I realized around that time that sub-2 was almost certainly going to happen. It was simply a question of by how much, and that by itself inspired me to go faster towards the finish. Other than a sore ankle towards the end, I felt great all the way up to the end.

There were two sets of costumes that were particularly memorable to me. There were these two girls who wore green t-shirts that said "two peas in a pod" and two girls dressed up as insects. I ended up playing passing games with them before passing all of them in the end. The girl I had lost at the beginning of the race ended up finishing less than a minute behind me, and I saw her at the end as well.

As I approached the final half a mile, I turned around the bend to see people cheering, and was surprised to hear many people yell out my name. How did so many people know my name? (my mother apparently told them to cheer for me so that she could run towards the finish line). I vaguely heard my dad shout "you're going to get under 1:55!" - I didn't believe him but as I went around the bend and crossed the finish line, I realized that he was right - I crossed the finish line when the clock still said 1:54:xx. Later on I found out that my gun time was 1:54:45 and my net time was 1:54:27. I was stunned - I was expecting 1:58 as a best case scenario. In fact, three days later I'm still kind of in shock.

Yes, the craziness runs in the family, or at least on one side, at any rate
This was my first non-NYRR race, and I was very pleased with how well the race was organized. The course was beautiful, and I enjoyed doing a smaller race for a change. There were only a couple of things that I wasn't thrilled about. Their water stations could have been spaced out a little better - there was one at mile 3, then one at mile 4.8, but we didn't see another station for a while after that. It kind of messed with my nutrition, but I ended up taking one shot blok at mile 5, 7 and 9 and it seemed to work out. Also, they determined all AG placements by gun time, not net time. Looking at my results, there were people who were really faster than me who were placed behind me, and people who were slower than me who were placed ahead of me. I would care more about that, but since I was 62 out of over 200 people in the 14-39 year old open division, it didn't really make much of a difference. Still, assuming my first marathon goes well, I will probably come back within the next few years to do their full marathon (or maybe even their Clam Chowder Challenge :D )

I picked up a pretty purple medal (my first medal for running a half, and only my second medal for a race) along with my long-sleeved t-shirt at the marathon expo, and then went out to brunch with my parents and one of my college friends that lived in the area. Don't those pumpkin pancakes look amazing? Unfortunately, our drive back wasn't so pleasant, but we eventually made it back through the snowstorm (even if the trip took 3 hours longer than it was supposed to).

In the end, I had a great experience, and I'm very happy with the results of my training. If anyone is interested in seeing all of the pictures, they can find them here. I'd also like to give a shout out to all of my running buddies, and thank them for having the patience to listen to me constantly talk about it for the past several months. Hopefully I'll be able to get a sub-2 hour time in my next NYRR half as well. Next up? I aim to smash my four mile PR at the Race to Deliver later this month so that I can lower my NYRR bib time. My one year running anniversary is also exactly a week from today, so I intend on posting about that as well.