Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Conquering the Big Apple Part I: The NYC Half

Short Version
Distance: Half Marathon
Previous PR: 1:54:27
Time: 1:52:28 (New PR!) 
Overall Place: 5423 / 15324
Gender Place: 1696 / 7879 
Age Place: 470 / 1893 (58.5%)

Long Version
After last year's NYC Half lottery fiasco, it was announced that for the 2012 NYC Half, NYRR members could obtain automatic entry if they completed 4/5 Borough Halves in 2012. I missed the Manhattan half, but I did BrooklynQueens, and Staten Island, and received credit for the Bronx since it was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. So in October, I knew that I had earned guaranteed entry for this race. 

My previous PR was at Cape Cod in October, but although I had one sub-2 half under my belt, my personal best NYRR half was 2:01:50 in Brooklyn, and I wanted to rectify that. The NYC Half course would be more difficult, but I hoped that being more experienced and better trained would lead to a PR, or at least a similar time. 

This time around, I used a Glover plan from their book and averaged 31mpw over the 12 week plan. There were some high points during this cycle. I completed my first 16 mile run and my first 25K. In addition, I ran a half-marathon in a snowstorm which improved my mental toughness. However, there were also some low points. I started having knee issues, and decided to DNS a 4 mile race I had planned at the end of February. I thought that skipping speedwork and racing would be enough, but after the pain got worse, I took three days off. Thankfully, my knee felt better after that, but missing a lot of speedwork and a couple of runs left my confidence shaken. At that point I thought I would be lucky if I could get sub-2. 

On Friday night, I went to pick up my bib, shirt and goodie bag at the expo. I was told that I might be able to fit into an x-small, which usually doesn't happen, but when I got there, they were all out, so I took a small. The tech shirt was ok, but it would have been nice if there had been gender specific shirts. The unisex ones were kind of poor fitting. I didn't spend too much time at the expo - I got  a free odwalla bar (which I didn't really care for), and then left. The next day, after going to the St. Patrick's Day and running a million errands, I prepared my outfit for the next day

My friend Rachel crashed at my place the night before. She got us a few course specific pace bands for the course, one for 1:59, 1:57 and one for 1:55. I took the 1:57 thinking that as long as I got at least that, I would be happy enough. As we were packing, I realized that I had run out of clif bloks, but luckily Rachel came to my rescue with extras. I would return the favor the next day when her clear NYCH luggage bag broke and I fit her warm clothes in my bag. Are we a good team or what?

We wake up at 5:15am, and after eating our pre-race bagels and packing, we left my place at 6am and got a downtown bus. Checking in my bag was easy enough, and we made our way into the corrals. Although Rachel and I put down the same predicted time, she was assigned to the corral ahead of me, but she ended up waiting with me and a super-speedy friend of hers.  I couldn't hear any of the announcements up front, but an actor from the Book of Mormon sang the National Anthem, and it sounded really good.

Ultimately, it would take the field at least 45 minutes to cross the start - according to news coverage - and my corral crossed around 10 minutes into the race.  We all were jogging the last bit, but after almost running into a couple of walkers who clearly wanted to get trampled  the race finally began. 

The first 10K of the course was in Central Park. We completed one full loop plus a little bit extra. The first 5k was easy, and I started out a little faster than I should have. I reached the 5k mark at 26:19 (8:27mm), which beats my 5k PR by over a minute. 

After this point, I hit the hardest hills in the park, so my 10K split was the slowest one of the day. Harlem Hill and the West Side Hills were tiring, but I kept going, knowing that Times Square and the rest of the city weren't so far away. Although it was my slowest split of the day, I still got a new unofficial 10K PR of 53:43 (8:39mm)

Shortly after that, I left the park and ran on 7th avenue heading into Times Square. It was so nice running through the city streets that I had to keep reminding myself not to slow down. As I passed through Times Square, I saw a video screen of Mary W.  (head of NYRR) interviewing the female winner of the race. After that, we turned down 42nd Street and ran west towards the highway. 

My Garmin started acting a bit wonky and was telling me that I was running 9:30s but I knew that it was a signal problem so I just kept going. Mile 8 came really late, so I thought that I had missed it, but I found it just as we were turning onto the West Side high way going downtown. For a moment, I thought that it was going to be as awful as Ocean Parkway was in Brooklyn, but the weather and course entertainment prevented that from happening, plus I knew that I wasn't going to bonk this time.  I reached the 15K point at 1:20:31, which was about a minute slower than my current 15K PR.  I had sped up slightly from the 10K point, averaging 8:38mm

As I hit the 10 mile marker, I looked at my pace band and realized that I was at least 3 minutes ahead of a 1:57 finish. At that point, I started to hope that perhaps a PR would be within reach. After stopping for water at mile 11, I resolved not to stop for the rest of the race and to keep going at a fast, but steady clip.  The race continued down past the world trade center, where some enthusiastic cops were cheering us on, and around the bottom of the city. I started to get excited when I saw signs for the Battery tunnel, knowing that I was almost there. 

It's a good thing that I did my splits manually
The time column was significantly more accurate this time
The tunnel itself was a bit stifling, but it was interesting to run through. I had heard that there would be this big incline, but I wasn't sure when that was going to happen. My garmin signal was lost completely, so I was very happy that I had decided to manually indicate the miles. I hit the 20K point at 1:46:54, and had sped up slightly to a 8:36 mile. Shortly after that, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, leading into....a massive uphill???? Really? I was warned about it, but while NYRR said it wasn't that big of a deal, one of my other running friends was right to warn us about how steep it was. However, I refused to let it slow down my momentum, so I went up it as fast as possible so I wouldn't lose pace. 

I then started seeing signs closer to the finish....800m....400m....13 mile sign (still hit the lap button)...as I got within the last 200 meters I realized that I was within reach of finishing under 1:52:30. I ran as fast as possible, and then as I approached the finish, I waved my arms up as I crossed, stopped my watch, and knew that I had done it. 1:52:28 was my official time, which is technically a 1:59 PR (but I enjoy rounding). One of my friends was volunteering at the finish, so I said hi to her. She said that I was "beaming ear to ear".

I'm in the light blue t-shirt with my arms up in the air
 Since it was such a huge race, I was able to get many cool statistics from the tracking website, including a pace graph.

The finish chute was the only awful part of that race. The closest subway was blocked off, so we had to walk about a mile to the next closest station. Also, the medal was ok, but I know that last year's was much better. I usually don't care about medals, but it's clear that NYRR went as cheap as possible this year compared to last year in terms of tech shirts and medals. Considering the price increased dramatically, it should have been the other way. 

That being said, I enjoyed every other aspect of this race. I was afraid that the increased field size would ruin my race, but ultimately I was able to run the entire time. The weather was amazing, and the aid stations were well stocked. While I would not want to go through the 4/5 ordeal to qualify again, I'm glad I got to experience this race once. 

This time also indicates that I have not reached my potential for any of the shorter distances, but that is a discussion for another time. For the half, I would like to eventually get sub-1:50. Perhaps I'll chose a target half next year once marathon training is over and see if it's possible.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part II....after I complete the NYC Marathon in November!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Setbacks & Triumphs - the Silvermine 25K RR

Short Version:
Distance: 25K (15.63 miles)
Time: 2:38:26 (10:12mm) - Auto PR
Overall Place: 235/252 (not quite last place but close)
Overall Female Place: 70/80
Open Women: 31/34

Long Version: 
The past few weeks have been difficult for me in terms of training. Three weeks ago, I spent most of the week travelling for an academic competition, and before that, I spent a few weeks spending every available moment preparing for this competition.

Up until this point, I hadn't missed any runs (except maybe scale back some speedwork), but the week after I got back from the competition, the stress started to catch up to me physically. In the middle of last week, my knee started to hurt when I bent it. Since I was still able to run without pain, I kept my runs easy, but the pain didn't entirely go away.

So, as a result, I made the decision to not do the 4 mile race I was signed up for that Saturday. I had been looking forward to it because I was going to attempt to lower my NYRR bib time, but I figured that if I ran easy in Central Park instead, my knee would heal.

It seemed to start getting better over the weekend, and after taking off Monday, I ran Tuesday. Then, I realized I was in major trouble - my knee hurt the entire day, even when walking. Clearly, running easy wasn't enough. I iced and panicked for 3 days straight ended up taking 3 days off, and after day 2, I stopped feeling pain mid-afternoon. I knew that if I felt good after 24 hours, I could go on a run again.

I went out on Saturday and ran 5 miles, mostly on the bridal path to be on the safe side, and thankfully everything felt great.

The next day, I took the train to Connecticut to do the Silvermine 25K with my friend Rachel. We were never planning on racing it, but instead taking it as a last long run for NYC half training. I was initially worried that I would have to DNS this one as well, but thankfully, that didn't happen. I was still nervous about the hills and the distance, but I knew that her boyfriend would be on hand to bail me out if I needed to stop early.

The 25K was part of a build-up series for people training for Boston, so we knew that we would be among the slowest people there even if we did our planned pace of 10mm. Since we were worried about making the cutoff, we took the option of starting early and wearing yellow bibs. We set out 10 minutes before the start, but it took so long to get a Garmin signal that we only started about 6 minutes earlier or so.

How hard were the hills? Let me put it to you this way: I will never never ever complain about any of the Central Park hills again. Not even Harlem Hill. Or Cat Hill. When I start complaining about them again, someone should remind me to go run in CT sometime. The course took us through 4 towns in CT, and even crossed over into NY for a short period of time.

Blink, and you miss NY State entirely!

Here is a picture of the elevation if you don't believe me
Central Park has nothing on this!

The first half was far more brutal than the second half, hence the negative splits. I didn't end up walking at all, but I was tempted! The first few miles were hard because I was warming up, and then the worst hills happened, but for most of the second half of the race I was feeling good. I lost Rachel after the last water stop - she was feeling really good and took off - but by that point I was talking to other people and I knew that I was going to finish.

I look terrible in running gear. Especially shirts that were
bought over a year ago and don't fit right. At least I'm smiling!

I finished in 2:38:26 - I think my garmin lost signal at some point as I only got 15.31 miles (a 25K is 15.63) - my official pace was 10:12 in the results. Since I started early, they used the honor system and asked me my time since there were no d-tags. They initially did not have my name listed as I switched bibs last minute, but thankfully the race director was really gracious and fixed the results very quickly. I got 253/252 overall, 70/80 women, and 31/34 in the under 40 (open) age category. Considering the field, I did about how I expected (and was surprised not to be DFL). At least I got an auto-PR out of it, even if I wasn't really racing it.

The course was overall very scenic, and finishing while crossing over a bridge was very nice. The water stations were well run - I just wish there were more than 3, but thankfully I carried my own water because I knew about this in advance. There were unfortunately no bathrooms on the course - the one drawback in a very enjoyable race.

So, ultimately, my knee got better, but I still don't have as much confidence as I did when training for Cape Cod. Hopefully the next couple of weeks will go well, and I will still have a great race, even if I don't PR.