Bad runs, good runs, fall training

With one notable exception, it’s been a bleh week for running. I spent Monday traveling to Iowa, Tuesday at a memorial service for my grandmother, followed by a reception at her retirement home, then Wednesday traveling back home with hours of flight delays.

So Monday and Wednesday, I did not run. On Tuesday morning, though, my sister and I headed over to the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, located along the Sac and Fox Trail, to attempt a run. Alas, after a week of rain the trail was a mudbath. So we hit the road; Otis Road, to be exact.

What a lovely run it was. I ran on ahead since I wanted to cover 8 miles to her 6 and we had to hurry along to get ready for the service later in the morning. We saw two trains pass by. She managed to get the conductor to honk by waving at him. Enthusiastic arm pumping by me on the way back yielded no honks from conductor number two.

Otis runs through farmland, and along the way I saw many deer, hawks, feral farm cats, a squashed squirrel and a bunch of friendly horses (or maybe just hungry ones) at a horse farm. We ran an out and back and at some point later in the run I was catching up to Susan, who was gliding over the crest of a hill, framed by a sterling Iowa morning sky. A beautiful scene indeed. I got choked up, realizing that the chances are slim that I’ll run in Cedar Rapids again.

Despite the fact that I was there for my grandmother’s service, I enjoyed myself. I spent a lot of time with my mother and her partner, my sister and niece, as well as with some extended family whom I don’t get to see that often. But, as was expected, it was also a rough trip emotionally. Not surprisingly, I came home feeling totally drained, and it wasn’t just from all the travel.

I did a terrible 4.5 miler yesterday. I gained about 3 pounds of water during the trip (eating lots of junk), plus I screwed up my left foot wearing formal shoes all day Tuesday. I don’t have bad runs very often, but they truly suck when they happen.

I got up this morning to try another, but it was pouring ran. So I did 5 miles inside on the treadmill at noon, and that went a lot better. Tomorrow I’ll do 10 in the morning, then 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Then a big 17 miler on Sunday, with the last few at marathon pace.

Westchester has changed the Bicycle Sunday rules, I’ve noticed. For most weekends in May, June and September Westchester shuts down several miles of the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays from 10AM – 2PM. It used to be limited to bicyclists and rollerbladers, but this year they’ve changed the rules to allow walkers, strollers and “joggers.”

Last weekend I was finishing up a 16 miler right around 10:30. I noticed that no runners were using the parkway. I suppose they either don’t realize they can, or, like me, they’re worried that it’s more hazardous than using the paved path. I’ll probably stick to the path again on Sunday — it’s more shaded there anyway.

One great aspect to Bicycle Sundays is the appearance of an ice cream truck right at the end of my long run. Last weekend I was starving for the last few miles and I cursed myself for not bringing either a gel or any money with me. I’ll take a fiver on Sunday so I can get a delicious treat after whaling on my legs for 17 miles.

I’ve mapped out my marathon training plan for the fall race: 8 weeks of base building, followed by a 14 week program that’s a modified version of what I used for the spring. The approach is pretty simple. The 8 weeks of base building consists of one long run on Sunday (alternating each weekend with marathon pace miles at the end) and one other hard run: either hills, tempo or intervals on the track. I’m also building up the miles from current 60ish to 90.

Then I go into 14 weeks of training in which I continue this approach, but throw in a midweek long run (to make it three hard workouts a week), more marathon pace miles, and a few tune-up races. The mileage tops out at 105, but I’ve put in more recovery runs (and more frequent full recovery weeks) this time around, so I’m hoping that will ward off injury.

I’ve decided to mix up the quality run types (tempo, hills, intervals) throughout training rather than doing them in phases. I believe that doing speed intervals every week for a month is what pushed me over the edge into injury. So I’m forgetting about Pfitzinger’s “mesocycles” this time around. Another grand experiment.

We decided to run the Fairfield Half Marathon on June 22. It’s supposed to be a well-organized race, and it’s a competitive field. I also need to get acclimated to running in the heat; what better way than to run a half marathon full out in late June? And I’ll do a couple of the Van Cortlandt Park 5K races on Thursday evenings, to replace tempo runs. Racing’s a lot more fun than a tempo run any day, even if it is hot. Especially if it’s hot. And at five bucks a race, it’s hard to pass up. Then, in September, I’ll do the South Nyack 10 Miler — my third year running this race. I missed an age group award by a few spots last year. I intend to come home with some cheap hardware this year, by hook or by crook.

Race Report: 2008 New Jersey Half Marathon

This report’s a bit late in coming, but better late than never.


In a nutshell, we both ran very good races. No, actually, that’s not fair. Jonathan ran a great race. My race merely gazed longingly at, but did not touch, greatness.

Jonathan did the full marathon, a race that had been his training focus for the last five months. He did the same Pfitzinger plan (from “Advanced Marathoning”) that I did, albeit with a bit more mileage (and, of course, faster training paces). His hard work paid off. Here are his impressive stats:

  • Finishing time: 2:44:43
  • First place masters male (with first place in 50-54 age group, obviously)
  • Seventh place overall
  • Age graded ranking: 85.4%

That last stat is particularly notable since it ranked him as the highest age graded runner in the entire race. Also, his new marathon PR is an improvement of nearly 28 minutes.

Is it obvious that I’m so very proud of him? Too obvious?

My performance was not too shabby either. My stats:

  • Finishing time: 1:34:39
  • Thirteenth place female
  • Seventh place masters female
  • Fifth place female 40-44
  • Eightieth place overall
  • Age graded ranking: 74.5%

My half marathon PR was five minutes faster than my time for the Manhattan Half in late January. It also gives me a marathon equivalent performance time of just under 3:20. Based on this, I’m using 3:18 training paces now, as I start my buildup for training for the next race in October, and so far my heart rates are in line. Something else: My age grading has jumped almost 15% in the last year.

It is so gratifying to have gone from placing in the top 40 percent of female finishers two years ago to consistently finishing in the top 10-20 females today. It really motivates me to do better and to dream of actually winning one of these things one day.

I had an interesting shift in perspective right after the race, too. I’d like to shoot for a 1:30:00 half PR in the next sixth months or so. That time is right around Jonathan’s first half marathon finishing time two years ago — a pace that I couldn’t conceive of being able to run at the time. This supports my theory that one reason why so many people train and train, but don’t improve very much, is that they get locked into thinking of themselves as only being able to run at certain paces. So they never push themselves enough because they can’t fathom ever running races at 7:00 pace, for example, since they’ve always run them at 9:00 per mile.

We both ran very consistent splits, with the only trouble spots being the 2.5 or so miles along the shoreline, where there was wind of 10-15 mph. The course is a good one; flat for the most part, with a couple of little hills.

Not a lot of crowd support, save for some very enthusiastic pockets at miles 5 and 18, but I don’t really care about having cheering crowds. It was funny, though. I was running with a guy who had a huge cheering contingent. They went totally nuts when we passed them.

I spent most of the race running within about 20 metres of the 3:10 marathon pacing group. For the first three miles, I was right behind them, but the pace leader’s variation in pace was driving me a little crazy — slowing down to 7:30, then speeding up to 7:05. So I finally passed them when they were in a slow cycle and ran about 10 seconds ahead of them until mile 10, when they passed me and I used them as a windbreak.

The race is exceptionally well-organized. Packet pickup and baggage were easy, there was plenty of food (although spoons were hard to come by) and porta potties, the course was well-marked and they managed the finish line split (between half and full runners) well, so it wasn’t chaotic.

One complaint was that the staging area was in a residential neighborhood, and there was too much traffic to warm up safely. But that’s a minor quibble. Best of all, they posted printed results quickly and there was no waiting around for hours for the awards ceremony. You just went and picked up your award (well, I didn’t…if I’d only run a few minutes faster…).

Finally, they have the coolest awards. It makes up for the horrible tee shirt. They feature a miniature replica of the town’s historic lighthouse, glued to a piece of marble (or maybe it’s granite; I can’t tell). To give you a sense of scale, the award pictured is about a foot wide and probably weighs about 15 pounds.

It was a good experience and supports my other theory (actually, I have lots of theories) that it’s possible to run a good half off of marathon training a month later, if you’re careful with recovery from the first race. I’d like to run this one again next year — maybe even the full race.

Lovely Betty

My grandmother died a few days ago. She meant a lot to me. Here’s the obituary I wrote for her, with help from my mother and sister.

I’ve had work to do this week, but took a few hours yesterday to plant some new flowers in our garden and reflect on my grandmother’s life and what I think about love, life and death. I don’t often use the term “bittersweet,” but it has been apt in those moments.

I’m off to Iowa again soon for the funeral. As my sister said to me recently, “Mortality sucks.”

We both ran our best races ever in New Jersey on Sunday, and I’ll give a full report soon. But I came home to this bad news that afternoon and it’s overshadowed everything for the past few days.

Greetings from (just south of) Asbury Park

Well, here we are in Long Branch, NJ. One aspect to racing that I enjoy (besides not being able to drink on a Saturday night and getting up at 4 a.m. on Sunday mornings) is the opportunity to see new places.

Long Branch is, um, interesting. The “downtown” (as it were) reminds me of the horrible neighborhood I used to live in on Staten Island — but with lots of weird public art. There’s sculpture everywhere — or maybe it’s just very interesting garbage — lying around in empty lots full of wall to wall knee-high weeds, hanging in the branches of overgrown trees, littering the front lawn of a Dunkin’ Donuts. What the hell? Did the town get some pork barrel dollars for culture or something?

The boardwalk features a monument to seven presidents, headed up by James Garfield, who came here in an attempt to recover from being shot in an assassination attempt. There’s probably a really great slogan for their tourism department in there somewhere, but I’m too distracted to think it up right now. (He died anyway, but at least he was near the beach at the time.)

We got here hours early, so killed time walking the boardwalk and then previewing the race course by car. It’s flat as pancake save for two little speedbumps. (But very windy along the section where you run along the ocean. The weather forecast says much less wind tomorrow, and it should be a cross-wind, so not too bad.) The course runs through crappy downtown, then to the hoity toity area, where we’ll pass by enormous Queen Anne Victorians and other mansions. It’s actually a nice little town if you can get past the first impression of rundown weirdness.

Since we’re such a pair of goody two shoes, we didn’t dare try to check into our Holiday Inn Express until *exactly* 3PM, instead passing the time in the local Dunkin’ Donuts where I had my first Boston cream donut in about two decades. Then on to the hotel, where the lobby was filled with other runners, sprawling their runnerly legs all over the furniture. We have a king suite, which means two, count ’em, two!, televisions, a jetted tub (which looks like a cross between a two-seater paddleboat and something that would be used in a hospital rehab unit…very romantic), and a Stuart Little-sized refrigerator and microwave.

Whoops! 4:19! It’s nearly bedtime. More tomorrow.

Big racing weekend…in Joizy!

We’re heading out to Long Branch, NJ for a morning of racing tomorrow. The forecast is for thunderstorms, low 50s and low wind. Except for the thunderstorms bit, perfect weather for racing! I won’t even have to wear my bug sunglasses.

Jonathan’s doing the marathon, which he’s been training for over the past five months. He’s gotten very speedy, so I have high hopes (all of them based in reality) for him tomorrow. At the very least, he’ll look fetching in his spiffy new racing togs. And I’m hoping to update my “Personal Bests” ticker with a new, faster half marathon time. If I can bring home some cheap hardware, more’s the better. We’ll see.

One side note: Can you believe what a piece of shit the NJ Marathon’s Web site is? What is this, 1996? Check out the tee shirts too; I think someone let their kid loose with Adobe Illustrator rather than spring for a professional designer. No wonder people laugh at New Jersey.

I’ll also be doing my first race in my hazmat orange Sauconys, which I wish I’d had for the April marathon.

I just hope we don’t get lost. Every time I got to New Jersey, I get horribly, irredeemably lost.

In other news, REI has the Garmin 405, for all you people who have to have the latest. I’m sure if there was a Garmin store in Manhattan, there would be a line of skinny people with ridiculously low heart rates lining up with lawn chairs 24 hours before the thing went on sale. I’m happy enough with my hulking 305 model for now, although I’ve promised myself that once I get down to a proper racing weight (meaning I’m not obviously fatter than everyone who beats me), I’ll spring for the new toy.

Race report to come…