“Skinny” Olympians at the Mini 10K: An Open Letter to NYRR

The following was written by my New York Harriers teammate Brigid Duffy and emailed to New York Road Runners (and subsequently posted to the team’s message boards). With her permission I’m sharing it here.

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Dear NYRR:

I was one of the 6,122 finishers who was fortunate enough to be part of the Mini 10k this past Saturday. Over the past several years I have run over 30 races with NYRR, including four NYC Marathons. While all of NYRR’s races are special and honor a multitude of wonderful causes, for me, the Mini always stands out as the most meaningful NYRR event. I’ve always thought of the Mini as less of a competition and more of a communal victory lap, where women of all ages can reflect, together, on how far we’ve come, not only within the running community, but within sports, the military, the workplace, and host of other social arenas. The Mini is the one race in the year when women are the athletes, and the men are on the sidelines cheering us on. It is with this in mind that I feel the need to voice a complaint concerning some of the pre-race announcements on Saturday.

While I was picking up my number and hanging around the baggage area on Saturday, the MC on the podium introduced some of the elite women athletes who would be competing in this year’s Mini. After introducing Edna Kiplagat, Hilda Kibet and a handful of other elite runners, the MC concluded: “They’re skinny, they’re fast, they’re Olympians!” Frankly, I was shocked that the first adjective used to describe the remarkable athletes in attendance was, “skinny.” In one sentence, the MC undermined exactly what makes this event empowering to women.

Women like Edna Kiplagat are remarkable and should be admired not because they are “skinny,” but because they are incredibly determined athletes who hopefully show other women that our bodies are capable of amazing feats. The MC’s comment implies that the chief accomplishment of our elite female runners is their slender frames and small waists. (Who cares about a sub 2:20 marathon if you’re a size zero?!) Moreover, the comment glosses over the fact that there is an extraordinary difference between “skinny” and “fit.” Glorifying our female athletes for their “skinniness” only reinforces the idea that a woman’s purpose, first and foremost, is to be objectified.

Everyday women are confronted with products, advertisements and airbrushed images that contain the same message: You are not skinny enough. Even perfectly healthy and fit women, when bombarded with these messages day after day, can begin to lament that their bodies do not live up to what is truly an impossible and unhealthy ideal. I have always maintained that sporting events, like NYRR’s races, give women the opportunity to value what their bodies can do over how their bodies appear. It is during races when women might start to realize, “I might not be 5’11” and 100 pounds, but I can run a damn good 10k.” Or, “I might not be a size 2, but I’m tough.” But these realizations can only endure if NYRR provides an environment where women feel comfortable in their own skin. Glorifying “skinny” female athletes because they are “skinny” creates a hostile space for all participants involved.

While I still enjoyed the race and the post-race festivities on Saturday, the MC’s comment was a major letdown. What is supposed to be a celebratory and esteem-boosting event for women was tainted by an insensitive and borderline sexist comment. I urge NYRR to be more responsible when it comes to the issue of women and body image within the running community, especially during the pre-race announcements.

– Brigid Duffy

Race Report: 1st Day 5K

2012 began with a race in balmy temperatures. It was 49F at the start of the 1st Day 5K, a little race in Fair Lawn, NJ that’s part of that state’s USATF Grand Prix series. With that distinction, I figured it would be a good race to use as a final tuneup for Houston since it was likely to be accurately measured and well organized. I was not disappointed in either regard. But what I didn’t expect were the hills. And the wind. Both colluded to rob me of my goal to get close to 20:30 today. I ended up with a 21:11. Meh. But, boy, did I have to work for it.

I decided (on Ewen‘s advice) to look at my watch in the first 1K to ensure that I wasn’t going out too fast. My goal was to run between 4:00-4:06 per kilometer (that’s 6:25-6:36 mile pace). Ha ha. Not today. My average was 4:12 per. But when I look at my kilometer splits and consider the course conditions for each, the data is actually pretty encouraging.

The course was a little turny — probably around eight or nine right angle turns, and a few gentler ones. But the turns weren’t the problem. At the start, I noted the flapping American flag. Wind was coming from east/southeast. Most of the first 3+ K headed either east or south. The race also started with a gradual uphill, and one steeper hop up a side street. I decided to run the first kilometer “conservatively” by trying to stick with 4:06. I managed a 4:08. Running into wind, my pace quickly cratered to 4:21, then 4:18. As we approached the start of the last mile I was struggling mentally. I knew there’d be no bettering my PR of 20:50 a few weeks ago, let alone hitting 20:30ish. I knew I probably wouldn’t even break 21:00 today.

I was so tempted to stop and walk at that point. But I decided to use it as a mental training session instead. I would try to get familiar with this feeling — this tiredness at the 2 mile mark — and make friends with it, make her my running partner. Didn’t Jaymee recommend that recently? I set new, impromptu goals — pass that guy in front of me; don’t let the guy running with the veteran’s flag get too much farther ahead; run the whole race without water and see if it makes any difference.

Once we turned out of the wind, things looked up. My pace dropped to 4:15 for the fourth K. There were two men running ahead of me, although I swear to God I thought one of them was a woman. A sturdy woman. This runner held fat in very womanly locations, so I just thought it was a short-haired woman who was built like a brick shithouse. Like me! “She” also had short hair, and had the mildly compromised skin elasticity that suggested a period on the planet of around 40 years. I had no idea how many women were in front of me but I wasn’t going to not pass this masters female.

I passed her, taking a surreptitious peek in the process. And she turned out to be a he. Oh, well. It was the motivation I needed at the time. I managed a 4:00 last kilometer, kicking it in at 3:24/k pace for the .04 extra that I managed to run. I’m glad I wore a Garmin today because otherwise I would have failed to see proof that I can run at 4:00 or faster at the end of a race. That alone was worth the trip and effort.

There were some familiar faces there, too, which I didn’t expect. First, I ran into Ansky and his daughter (AKA L’il Ansky) in the registration line. The last time I saw Ari he was on his way to PR in the Long Island Half as I was having a mile 9 meltdown. It was good to see him under happier, more relaxed circumstances. Then at the start I spied fellow Harrier (and 2nd F overall at the Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K last month) Shari Klarfeld. Shari won the women’s race, and as a bonus hung out in the home stretch and cheered me on to second place.

The highlights were, as they so often are in smaller races, at the finish. First, when I came in, the guy who was tearing off bib tags was talking to me and I guess I didn’t look so good because he stepped back a foot or two and mumbled, “Uh, oh.” I think he thought I might throw up all over him. My choked laughing at this realization probably didn’t help to correct that misconception.

After getting some water I sat down on the curb to watch other runners coming in. There was the usual mix of people you see in local races. But there was one man whom I was not expecting, a guy with a style all his own. I called him Ali Baba. He was fortyish, with a full beard and mustache.

He was frantically trying to break 29:00. But it wasn’t his finishing speed that I noticed. It was his choice of clothing. On the bottom he wore black MC Hammer pants. I don’t even know where you buy those anymore. On the top he wore a peasant shirt of some sort of semi-transparent material. It was bright yellow. It was also open to the bellybutton, revealing a square foot of chest hair that rivaled Karastan for its luxurious mat. But the crowning sartorial achievement was found on his feet. He was shod in what I think was some kind of bullshit barefoot running shoes. All I know is that he shouldn’t have worn socks because they caused one Vibram ballet flat to go flying off right at the finish.

So. Now you know. I am a terrible person. I laugh at people at race finish lines. (But only people who deserve to be laughed at.)

2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 11 – 17

Now we’re in the home stretch. There’s a month to go before my goal 5K race in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. The emphasis now is on (in this order):

  1. Staying uninjured
  2. Making tweaks to training to address weaknesses
  3. Determining what a reasonable goal pace would be

I’ve managed to remain uninjured since July. Since I’m not going to be doing anything radically different in the next four weeks, I don’t see that as being an issue. But I am being careful to warm up properly before speedwork or shorter races and do proper cool down runs. I’ve slacked off on rolling and massage, though. I like to live dangerously.

As for the second point, I will be doing more work that’s specific to race pace, while reducing the amount of pure tempo running in the original Daniels plan. I have a big workout planned for Christmas day — not in terms of length, but in terms of workload. I am hoping to learn some things from it. All of the rest of the workouts are typically a mix of 5K race pace running and tempo running.

For the pacing question, between the next 5K test race — two weeks out from race day — and a session of 1K repeats five days out, I should be able to arrive at a range of paces in which to run on race day.

This training week’s Tuesday session is typical of the weird shit Daniels assigns for late-cycle 5K training. I get what he’s doing: he’s put together a workout that taxes the spectrum of your system and works everything. While I think these are good to do, I have to consider that I have dropped his third workout every week (because I’m old), usually in favor of doing one very speed-focused session and then one like this one, which hits the tempo end of things. Other times, I’ve dropped his plan entirely, going for 1K repeats. These just work for me — I like the immediate feedback they give me, answering the question: how’s it feel to run goal 5K pace now? By doing the same track workout every few weeks I can see if there’s progress because I’m in a venue that removes the many variables introduced by, say, racing 5Ks on different courses.

My recovery run times are dropping too.

I ran a decent race on Saturday, nabbing a small (but psychologically important) PR, breaking 21:00 at last. On New Year’s Day I will again try for a 20:30.

In other news, I tried out a pair of Skechers Go Run shoes. Skechers is courting my running club and they gave out a coupon for free shoes at the Harriers’ holiday party. I ordered a pair and I have to say that they are good shoes. They are very light (maybe ~6 oz each?) and flexible. They are meant to promote a mid-foot strike. I already land on my mid-foot, so they’re comfortable to run in, but I suspect that if you’re a heel striker they might drive you crazy. My one issue with them is that the heel area is very wide, although the rest of the shoe fits very well. I like them enough that I will probably buy some heel inserts to try to fix the problem. I would love to try racing in them, but I’m afraid they’d slip off at the heel if anyone steps on me.

Race Report: Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K

This race, put on by the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC, not be be confused with the Long Island Road Runners Club — or, LIRRC), was the second of my three 5K tuneup races leading up to Houston in mid-January. I’m running these races to get a sense of where I am fitness-wise, so I can make any tweaks to training based on observations. I’m also running them to get some experience pacing the 5K, since this is the first time in my short running career that I’ve focused on training for and racing it.

This was a bigger race than I’d anticipated. I saw “Bethpage 5K” and thought maybe there’d be a few hundred people there tops. The race had over 1200 finishers. But I give kudos to GLIRC for putting on a good race. The streets were closed to traffic, there were plenty of volunteers, water stops were well-placed and well-manned. And the race started on time! I worried about this since it was near freezing and I was in shorts. I lined up in about the third row. Standing in front of me was a tiny woman who turned around and asked me my name. I introduced myself and she turned out to be Shari Klarfeld, a Harrier teammate whom I’d never met. She is a fast runner and won this race last year.

We wished each other well and watched as the wheelchair racers lined up, preparing to go out 30 seconds ahead of us. But then there was some chaos at the start as the race director intoned, “Only men who plan to run 5:00 minute miles should be in front; women running 6:00 miles.” He loosened it a bit and added 5:30/6:30, but people got worried and started moving back. Toes were trod upon. People were touching me. I thought, “If I’m going to get knocked down in a race, it will be this one.” So the start was a little dicey, but we got out okay and I had room around me.

I do not look at my watch when I run anymore. This is one of several pieces of advice from (former) Coach Sandra that I take to heart. It’s helped me, generally, although today I wish I had looked to confirm my suspicion that I was running slightly too fast in the first 1K. For 5Ks I set my watch to record each kilometer rather than mile. I like the more frequent feedback, knowing where I am in the race. But I don’t look it at it; I just note the buzz on my wrist every four minutes or so.

The course consists of a double loop through residential streets, most of which are wide enough to accommodate runners. There are quite a few momentum-killing 90 degree turns, but not nearly as many as the Flushing Meadows 5K a few weeks ago featured. The course is totally flat, which makes it a good one to run. But there was wind, unfortunately, along one long stretch of Stewart Avenue, probably totaling a little under 2K of the total 5K. It wasn’t terrible, but it was a noticeable, draining force.

Nothing that notable happened during the race. I did battle with a few teenaged boys during various parts of the race. And on the second loop there was a guy riding just behind me on a bicycle who kept screaming, “Go, girl! Come on! Go, girl!” It was kind of annoying and I was thinking, “Who is this girl? He’s not screaming at me, right? Because it’s annoying.” Then a teenaged girl in a rim racer pulled up alongside me and I understood that she was the girl. We turned into the wind at that point and I observed that I think it’s harder to race in a wheelchair into wind than it is to run into it. She was struggling and my guess is there’s more resistance because of the tire spokes. Just a theory.

Also, right at the finish some dude decided that he was going to outsprint me. But there were cones. He passed me, leaping over a cone at the same time, and his flying left fist nearly clocked me in the face. I hate idiots.

Anyway, about that pacing. Like I said, I had the suspicion that I was running too fast in the first 1K. And indeed I was. I had been going for a pace of 4:06 per kilometer (6:35/mile) to get me a 20:30. It did not play out that way, but I wasn’t ridiculously off either. Here were the splits:

1K: 3:53 (6:15). Oops! Dammit. That was extravagant.

2K: 4:11 (6:43) <– headwind

3K: 4:12 (6:45) <– mid-race torpor

4K: 4:15 (6:50) <– headwind

5K: 4:08 (6:39) <– “I will commit hari kari with a cheap steak knife if I don’t break 21:00 today.”

191 ft: 0:13 (5:34) <– did not hit tangents

Official time was 20:50. The good news is that I’ve finally broken 21:00, which is a major mental thing for me. The bad news is that I was way off my goal today. Here is what I need to work on based on observations from the last two races:

  • I need to rein things in for the first kilometer. If I run too fast, I develop a slow leak for the rest of the race. I may need to look at my watch, much as I hate to.
  • I need to work on endurance. I tend to flag both physically and mentally around the two mile mark. My mind drifts. I feel very tired. I know that I will not make today’s goal. Then I feel bad about myself. I wonder why I bother doing this. I start to give up. This whole fucked up mid-race cycle needs to stop.

I have a month left to fix these two problems. So I’m going to slightly alter training plans and start doing mile repeats rather than kilometer repeats. I will try a session with 3 x 1 mile at goal 5K race pace (I’m not telling you what that is yet), with 90-120 second rests. If I can do that workout then I’ll extend the next week’s to 4 (or 5) repeats with 75-90 second rests. If I can manage that, I’ll feel pretty good about Houston readiness. If I can’t, then I’ll adjust goals. In the meantime, I have one more 5K tuneup in two weeks. By then I will have done these two workouts. Between those track sessions and this New Year’s Day race, then a little bit of tapering, I am hoping I can reach a training peak in a month. Famous last words.

Other fun facts: I was 10th woman overall, although there were some speedy masters women there, so even with that I was second in the 45-49 AG.

Training: Dec 4 – 10

This was actually kind of a tough week. It started out with a race that went very well. Then a zippy recovery run on Monday (my pace is averaging right around 8:30 on most recovery runs these days). Then a very late night owing to going to see Sleep No More, a piece of immersive theatre in Manhattan. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but it’s long — about 3 hours — and requires a lot of mental energy. We got home and to sleep at around 1am.

The weather was horrible for the first part of the week — pouring rain, for the most part. So I was relegated to the treadmill for a couple of runs. I have no idea how I used to do 22 mile runs on that thing, since now I can barely handle 6 mile runs without losing my mind. Fortunately the weather cleared up overnight on Thursday and I could move back outside again, although it was muddy or flooded in spots.

On Friday I headed back to Edgemont High School’s track for another session of 1K repeats. It went extremely well. Even dodging people and running gingerly around the slippery turn for home I was able to easily hit 4:00 (6:25 pace) for every single one. When I was done I chatted with a gentleman who’d been jogging around. I’ve seen him a few times there. He is 80 years old and was the captain of his collegiate track team in India, where he ran the 100m and 200m sprints. He jog-walks 2 miles a day there. I asked him if he missed sprinting and he said, “No! I don’t want to run that fast. This is good for me now.”

On Saturday I felt that I needed a break from the muddy path so I headed to Van Cortlandt Park for 8 miles of recovery running. I spent about 5 of those miles on the flats (and discovered that the dirt path there is a mudbog after it rains). But the cinder path was good to run on and I measured it at a smidgen over 1.25 miles. So it’s a good place for doing tempo runs or mile repeats.

I got bored with that too, though, so I headed into the hills, running 1.5 miles out and back on their legendarily brutal cross-country course, which is marked with signs featuring a tortoise and a hare. I took it easy, but still worked harder than I should have. But I was having fun, which is what I went there for. 24 hours later those hills would be full of racers running the Pete McArdle Cross-Country Classic, a 15K effort. Among them were friends Hilary (who took first place in our age group) and Amy, with a 7th place AG finish, although more important than that was her return to successful racing after a period of injury and rehab. I like knowing all these fasties.

And speaking of good times, the week concluded with a trip in to the annual New York Harriers holiday party. I got to drink Newcastle and eat cake and talk to nice people and I also won something. Hoorah!

Up next: a bizarre workout from Jack Daniels and a 5K race on Long Island, where I hope to put all those 1K track repeats to use.

 

Race Report: NYRR Join the Voices 5M

This race, a 5 miler (this is known as stating the bleeding obvious), was NYRR’s final race in its 2011 club points series. They swapped it with the Joe Kleinerman 10K, which was moved to January. Good thing, too, because I’m a 5K runner now. I can barely race for 3 miles as it is. Racing for 5 miles taxed all of my systems today.

But. I PRed by 47 seconds (my 5 mile best being admittedly soft, an excuse I figure I can milk for at least another year). My previous 5M PR was also set on a hilly course, although not Central Park’s.

I learned some things today. One of the biggest things I learned is that I don’t necessarily need to do a “proper” warmup to race well, at least not for this distance. I was rushed after picking up my bib and checking my bag. I did a grand total of 90 seconds warmup jogging before heading over to the start corrals. No race pace running, no strides, no dynamic stretching. Just a stupid, barely-qualifies-as-a-warmup warmup. It didn’t matter.

This may have been partly the case because, as is the case with many NYRR races, the course was crowded and I was hemmed in and running slower than I wanted to for the first three-quarters of a mile. But this means that I got to have a nice chat with Hilary, who sidled up to me in the first minute of the race with a hale and hearty, “Excuse me, sir!” This, a reference to a thread we had on Facebook last night about the gender misidentification that having an extremely short haircut can cause, made me laugh. We chatted for a bit, but I said I’d stop being able to talk in about 30 seconds and she politely sent me on my wheezing way earlier than that.

Along the way I saw some Harriers, both on and off the course, and met a few new (to me) ones at the finish line, and reconnected with others whom I know already. But I probably missed others. I had a strange kind of tunnel vision this morning. It took a lot of mental and physical effort to race 5 miles hard. Now, after several months of mile/5K training, 5 miles seems like a very long way. I wore my no frills Timex and didn’t bother hitting the lap splits or even looking at it. I could tell from the course clocks that I was doing okay.

It was a good day. Temperature was 44 degrees (still a little warm for me), it was overcast and there was virtually no wind. I took advantage of the good conditions since I had no excuse for doing badly.

My chip time was 34:39, or about 6:56 per mile. That’s almost down to my best 4 mile pace on this course (6:53). I believe it was also a slightly stronger performance (relatively speaking) than was my 5K in Flushing Meadows a week ago. I took a day off on Friday and ran just 3 miles yesterday, after a week that featured just one hard workout. I’m becoming convinced that doing a mini taper (and no warmup?) is the way to go.

Aside from the warmup and mini tapering lessons, I also learned that I should ignore weird phantom injuries that crop up a day before the race. Yesterday, there was a weakness in my left leg. The quad felt like it was going to fail a few times, just while walking around. This morning, as I made my way down the stairs at 5:45 am, the left knee felt shaky. I was relying on the handrail to get downstairs. WTF. Well, you know what? Nothing TF. It’s just weirdness. It means nothing. Usually. Sometimes it means you’re about to get a catastrophic stress fracture. But most of the time, it doesn’t mean anything.

I remain grateful to have remained uninjured since July. Knock wood. It has been such a shit few years in this regard. I think that remaining uninjured, more than anything I’ve been doing training-wise, has been the key to my “sudden” improvement. If you can’t run, then you can’t train consistently, and you can’t get faster. But I also think doing a lot of different kinds of speed work (and a weekly tempo run) has been a crucial element in this training cycle. Jack Daniels’ training comprises about 80% of what I’m doing, but I’m substituting other workouts, like 1K repeats, that I have felt would help me more, given my training history. These are turning out to have been good instincts, I think.

Next up: a 5K in Bethpage on Long Island in two weeks. I hope that one doesn’t have hills or 23 right-angle turns. But if it does, I’ll be ready.

Race Report: Fifth Avenue Mile

I waited three years for this race.

The last good race I had, meaning I made real progress in, was the Steamtown Marathon in October of 2008. That wasn’t even a particularly good race experience. But it was a huge leap forward in performance. From there I struggled to improve and in the process got overtrained, injured and extremely discouraged.

Had I looked into a crystal ball back then and seen the failure, pain and frustration that was waiting for me, I don’t know that I would have bothered to keep trying. But ignorance has its virtues sometimes. As does stubbornness.

I trained for this distance, and this particular race, for three months. This was coming off of four months of injury from a sacral stress fracture last August, followed by three months of just trying to run normally again, then a winter and spring that were filled with personal crises, more injury and not much running. More sub-par races. More questioning. Then a decision in May to shelve the marathon indefinitely and do something wild and crazy: focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile.

My goal was to break six minutes.

This goal wasn’t just ambitious from a pure clock time standpoint. It also represented a leap in relative racing quality. Since I started running seriously four years ago I’ve hovered in the low 70%s age graded. My best performance was a touch over 75%. A few weeks ago at Sunset & Suds I ran around 73%. Today I nearly touched 80% age graded. That had been my goal for sometime mid-2012.

But I’m there already. What’s this mean? It means I’m good at shorter distances. I’m better at running a mile after three months of specific training than I was ever running marathons with three years of specific training. I never thought I had raw speed. But I do. Now I just need to work on raw speed endurance and I can see about 3Ks and 5Ks, perhaps some track 800s. But I’m not done with the mile yet.

I trained using a plan out of Daniels’ Running Formula. I modified it and cut out one of his three workouts a week — because I’m old, and I break down if I do three hard workouts a week — and cut down the volume of his track workouts. That worked: I got faster and I didn’t get injured. I will keep doing that.

I also visualized the living daylights out of this race beforehand. I lay down quietly and envisioned everything: the warmup, standing at the start, the gun, and each quarter, then the finish. I imagined reading a clock at the halfway point that read 2:XX and a finish clock that read 5:XX. I visualized racing in high heat and humidity. I visualized racing in pouring rain. I even visualized falling down and getting back up.

Races never play out the way you imagine them, but this was pretty close. Here’s what happened:

I got to check-in early, well over an hour ahead of my 10:45 start. Checked my bag and did, as usual, a terrible warmup. I was hot, my legs felt heavy, I had a side stitch. Absolute shit. But that was okay, because that’s how I’d visualized it. It would be fine once I was racing.

It was very humid, with dewpoints in the upper 60s and a temperature in the low 70s. I told myself over and over and over again that not only had I been training in weather worse than this all summer, but some of my best workouts had been in these conditions. “Ignore the weather. Weather like this can destroy a marathon. In a mile it’s meaningless.”

Got to the start and we had to wait and wait and wait at a penultimate start line before lining up at the real start line. It was a mad dash from the first to the second and I didn’t want to get caught a few rows back. I was in the second row and ended up nicely asking the woman in front of me if I could move up beside her. She looked a little annoyed, pissed even. But I couldn’t afford to lose a second in a slow start or getting around someone, so I was pushy.

So I’m in front. I’m in the center, so I’m not running along cambered road. Then I heard three women behind me talking about their race last year: “Oh, we went out too fast. We ran like a 1:17 first quarter.” I turned around and asked, “What are you planning on running the first quarter in?” They replied, “Oh, around 90.” Good, because I’m going out at 86 or so, so I wouldn’t have to worry about being in their way.

Two of my Harrier teammates are also in front, but they’re leaving me alone. I probably look grim and stern. I’m repeating things to myself, nearly berating myself, “You came here to race this. Don’t look at your watch. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t give up. You have to apply yourself the whole way and push.”

I’d lain on the couch before we left listening to the song I played while doing speedwork. I’ll admit it. It’s guilty pleasure. The song was Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.” I ran 100m in 17 to that song. It makes me run fast. So that was my brainwashing soundtrack, my cue for going postal. That and being hopped up on 150mg of caffeine.

I’m wearing my plain Jane Timex. While I’d love to have Garmina’s quarter (or even 200m) splits, the temptation to look at them will be too great. I need to just race and never look at my watch. The upshot is that I don’t know how fast I was running at any given point on the course.

FInally, we’re given our 30 second warning, then 10 seconds and “blam!” — off we go. I know I have to run harder than I did in Tuckahoe, and it will feel a lot harder because of the humidity. The first quarter is downhill and I fly. I’m running slightly too fast, but I’m banking time for the uphill second quarter. I’m in, like, fourth position (!), for that first quarter. Then fifth when we hit the little hill.

Sometime in the first quarter my left ear becomes completely blocked, like it’s full of water. I can’t hear anything except my own breathing, amplified to fill the entire left side of my head. It’s so fucking annoying, but I can’t do anything about it. It will stay blocked until about 10 minutes after the race. The second quarter is slower, I can just tell. But not that much slower. We crest the hill and I can hear my friend Amy Cooper screaming her lungs out at me. I’m touched but I know that if I do anything to acknowledge her it could steal from my time. I can’t afford it! I keep running.

Shortly beyond, I see a blur of bodies in black and I know they are Harriers. They are also screaming at me. I continue with my robotic running. I can be friendly later!

As is the case with track miles/1500s, the third lap was the hardest. That’s where I could feel a growing ache in my legs and the seeds of doubt really beginning to take root. I can see the pace car up ahead, and it says 3-something, but I’m fifty feet behind it and I don’t know where we are. I’m too much in tunnelvision to be able to look for the clocks along the course. Plus, I don’t really want to see them for the same reasons I don’t want to see what’s on my watch. It’s too much of a mindfuck risk.

I start to loose hope during that third quarter and I’m thinking all kinds of negative stuff: “I went out way too fast. People are passing me. I’m going to run something like a 6:10 today. This weather has wrecked my chances. I can’t run this hard alone.”

I can see the finish line. But it’s tiny. So far away in the distance. I was warned about this phenomenon. The moving mirage, like one of Zeno’s paradoxes, that tempts you with a big sign that says, “Finish!” — yet you can never seem to get to it.

I’ve one quarter to go. I have to push, just as I’m most tempted to give up. I can’t read what the finish clock says, so I’m just going with faith that I’ve raced hard enough. This is the hardest I’ve raced in recent memory. I see the 200m sign and then am able to make out the clock. It still says 5-something. But 5-what?!

As I’m about 50m out I can see it’s in the 5:40s. Okay, this is doable. I keep going. I cross. I hit STOP. It says 5:57.5. I can’t breathe. People come up and talk to me and I can’t speak. I’m drooling. This isn’t pretty.

Okay, I’m fine in half a minute. I chat with a few people, real friends and formerly those who I knew only in the virtual realm. I look around and realized that this was a competitive race. This is confirmed when I look at results — the 45-49 women were far harder to beat than were the 40-44 in terms of field depth. Where’d all these fast pre-menopausal women come from all of a sudden?

Six of them came in ahead of me. Another four in the 40-44 crowd beat me too. I was 11th masters.

I’m happy with this race, but I’m happier with what this race means: I have raw speed that I can develop; I have clues about how to train safely and effectively; but mostly, I feel as if I’ve discovered some kind of dust- and rust-covered treasure, lying in the corner, perhaps buried under all the piles of marathons. The Mile. The mile and its cousins.

Today’s race event featured two acts, actually. My race was Act 1. I’ll cover what happened in Act 2, the professionals’ races, in a post tomorrow.

Race Report: Sunset & Suds 5K

Racing a 5K while trying to peak for a road mile probably wasn’t the wisest move. Conventional training wisdom would probably dictate shorter, faster work in the weeks leading up to the Fifth Avenue Mile (which is next Saturday). But following conventional training wisdom has often been a crapshoot for me, so I figured I’d race it and get some fitness on the endurance end of the spectrum.

The heat in New York has finally broken (I hope) for the summer and we were given cool, overcast conditions on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, there was a hellacious NW to SE headwind (although it shifted around at times). I stupidly failed to heed it in the first half mile of the race and paid for that stubbornness later on.

Long story short, I finished in 21:46, which is 24 33 seconds off my PR at the 5K distance. I have a feeling that I might have been able to get closer to, or perhaps even best, that time had it not been so windy, but I’ll never know. The wind affected us for about half the race, which is run along a north-south path that runs along the Hudson in Riverside Park. I had a feeling that I was running slightly too fast in the beginning, but since this wasn’t a goal race I figured I could afford to experiment. I came through the first mile in 6:49. Yes, with that headwind, that was probably about 10 seconds too fast.

In the second mile we headed south, then turned around. But by this time the sun was down and we were running in the dark. Since was afraid of twisting an ankle on uneven pavement, I was somewhat cautious going under an overpass. Yeah, lost tons of time there. Sure. No, I was just tired during that mile. That one clocked in at 7:11.

Heading back north into the third mile I was feeling low energy. This was a good thing to experience because it convinced me that I need to lay off the calorie restriction in the days before the Fifth Avenue race. I was also incredibly thirsty and grabbed a bottle of water off the table, took a few sips and then — feeling awkward — dropped it off to the side. No one else was taking water and I hate throwing bottles on the ground. It seems so rude.

As we headed up toward the little loop that marks the northern end of the course I got some energy back, but, boy, was I sick of that full on headwind coming from the north by then. I will say that we had a lovely sunset over New Jersey (that’s the “sunset” part), although it’s hard to appreciate a sunset when you feel as if you’re about to puke up your spleen. We turned to head south and that was a relief, but I was feeling done. When the woman calling the splits at mile 3 said, “21:10,” I knew I’d blown a chance at a PR. And yet, in front of me was a woman with whom I’d been playing “Pass me! Now I’ll pass you!” throughout the entire race. I decided to try passing her, which I did, and found some speed for the last .1, which I ran at 6:22 pace.

The woman who won the race in just under 19 minutes is 39. So it’s a little hard to be proud of a “first master” status. I’ll take it, though. I was 7th female overall. The race field was probably under 100 total. I love small races. The post-race beer (that’s the “suds” part) and chitchat with teammates and others was a bonus.

What I learned, besides the fact that I need to eat more before racing, is that if you train for a mile it’s hard to pull off even a decent 5K. My endurance over anything longer than about 3K is not there anymore. That’s so odd to me. I’m so used to being able to sustain an effort over long (sometimes very long) distances. I wouldn’t dare enter even a 10K now.

Even though the mile race is next weekend, I’m already looking ahead. In some ways I feel that the Fifth Avenue race will take care of itself. There’s no workout I can do at this late stage that will get me any readier for it, and in fact doing too much will only detract. I have a little session planned for Tuesday, just 1-2 800s and a couple of 400s. But I may even skip that if I’m feeling at all tired or if anything anywhere hurts.

I’ll take a little down time in the week after that race and just run easy. Then I go straight into 5K training with one tempo run and one speed session every week, plus one longer recovery pace run. I think those will top out at 10 miles. Upper mileage limit will be around 55 or so.

My next planned race is a 5 miler in late October, the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff (a raincheck for the cancelled Percy Sutton race). The last time I ran that race I suffered a violent hamstring pull. Good times. I did find another road mile in mid-October, the Harry Chapin Run Against Hunger. That’s billed as a “fun run.” But I am incapable of doing fun runs. I will be out for blood as usual.

Race Report: Tuckahoe Mile

Well, I won. I wish I could say this was a hard race to win, but it wasn’t. In some ways, winning was a drawback. Read on.

My winning time was not great, but it wasn’t terrible either. It’s about where I expected to be: 6:09.

I was incredibly nervous before this race for some reason. My heart was pounding right before the horn sounded. I’m not sure why. I suppose one possible reason is that it’s been so long since I raced a mile that I wasn’t sure what the right effort would be, so I was afraid of blowing it by running either way too fast or way too slow. But I think most of my nervousness had to do with the fact that this was my one chance to evaluate how I would do in a road mile prior to the Fifth Avenue Mile. What I was most worried about happening was that I would race my hardest and steadiest, yet bomb and run something like a 6:30. What would I do with that? Give up? I wasn’t sure.

Fortunately, not only did I not bomb, but I could have raced harder. This was a good realization to have today, two weeks before the day on which I need to race race. I am confident that I can run a bit harder than I did today. If conditions are right, that could get me below 6:00.

With my handy Garmin set to record 200m splits, here’s how I made out (splits are rounded up or down from the hundredths):

200: 43
400: 45
600: 48
800: 48
– 3:04 at the halfway, hairpin U-turn –
1000: 48
1200: 46
1400: 45
1600: 46

I started in the second row, since I did not want to battle the likes of Joe Garland (Warren Street) and Kevin Shelton-Smith (Van Cortlandt Track Club) from the gun. The first 200 was a little “fast”* because I was somewhat crazed with trying to not get trapped by slower runners. For the first 400 I was feeling a sharp pain in whatever the smaller quad is in the front of my left thigh. That was worrisome and partially responsible for my lowering the effort a little. But that pain ebbed in short order.

For most of the race there was just one woman ahead of me (and I’m pretty sure I was well inside the top 10 overall). She was running a steady pace so I thought I’d have trouble catching her. But I passed her at about the 1300 mark, and as that happened I kind of settled mentally and didn’t kill myself in the last few hundred meters.

I had hoped to run even 45s and then pick it up for the last 400m. But I got freaked out by a headwind for the first half that, while not strong, was still noticeable. In my last few track workouts I’ve seen how quickly — instantly! — I can go from redlining to running out of air and/or muscle strength. I did not want that to happen in the first half mile. So I held back a little more than I needed to. That U-turn stole some time too, something that will not be an issue in two weeks.

I didn’t go into this race with a goal to win, but when I realized I was going to win my competitive instincts took a quick nosedive. I should have run harder those last few hundred meters, but I’m not going to beat myself up over that too much. This was a time trial and opportunity to make some experiential observations. The race was a success in those regards.

With the information gathered, I’ll have a few more specific training goals over the next few weeks. My pace sagged in the middle, which I suspect is a confidence issue and not a physical one. I need to focus on keeping up a constant effort without being afraid of a blowup in the second half. I have two more speed sessions. In those I’ll focus on running 800s in around 2:55 and doing some 400s in the 84-86 range.

There were some familiar faces in Tuckahoe today. As previously mentioned, Joe was there to run both the mile and 5 mile races, but suffered a pull early on in the mile race. I am hoping that it’s a big nothing like some other recent twinges he’s had. Joe has some video of today’s 5 miler up, including some of me, sitting (not running, thank goodness) and receiving Fifth Avenue Mile strategy tips from VCTC’s Ken Rolston.

Taconic’s Frank Colella and Emmy Stocker also turned up, and Emmy won the 5 Miler, despite protestations that she was tired. She’s not fooling me with this sandbagging act anymore, though!

Other random details: I was the only New York Harrier there, not surprisingly. But VCTC had a sizeable contingent — around six runners. Also, I wore my New Balance Minimus 10 Road racers. They were good to race in. I will probably try them for the 5K on Thursday. I discovered that one of the race’s sponsors is Hector’s Auto Repair, the scene of many repairs to our aging Toyota. Hector is a good mechanic — and by that I mean honest, accommodating and reasonably priced. The fact that he sponsored this race did not surprise me.

And, finally, here’s an idea for you race directors out there: pin one tee shirt of each size to the wall next to the registration table. That way, runners can evaluate way ahead of time what size shirt they will want. It’s so simple and obvious, yet I’ve never seen this done anywhere else.

Afterwards I decided to take advantage of Bicycle Sunday — the closure of a 7 mile stretch of the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays in September and October, along which bicyclists, rollerbladers (remember them?) and “joggers” are free to traverse between the hours of 10am and 2pm. I had a lot of life left in my legs because after a first mile at 9:20 I was cruising along in the low 8:00s, finishing up with a final mile at 7:44, for 6 miles at average 8:28 pace.

Good. Now I can eat.

*I use quotations around “fast” because ~44 is what I need to run my splits in for Fifth Avenue if I want to break 6:00. But let’s not think about that just yet.

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