Race Preview: The NYRR NYC 60k, November 14, 2015

I ran the NYC Marathon just under two weeks ago. I took six days off from running to allow a sore ankle to heal. I took it easy for the past six days, running about 16 miles since Sunday. I stretched, worked my core, and nailed my nutrition plan by eating all the leftover Halloween candy and pie of which a boy could ever dream. Essentially, I followed the runner’s plan in some ways, and completely disregarded it in others.

Despite all that, I will run the NYRR NYC 60k, my first ultra marathon, tomorrow! I first found the 60k around the time I was accepted in the lottery for the NYC Marathon. At that time I was reading Born to Run and all amped up about ultra marathons. I kept it in the back of my head throughout the year, and decided to add it to my schedule over the summer.

While I was injured and on crutches in April, May, and part of June, I doubted whether I could train for this race on only four months of training (July-October), with July being a slow return to running. After reading numerous recaps of the race, however, and realizing that many people ran and finished it after the NYC Marathon on marathon training only, and reading further that people training for a 50k often train based on a marathon training plan, I realized that I could enter the race on my limited training and treat it as an opportunity to learn about ultra running.

And here we are.

The race follows a very straightforward course in Central Park:

  • Beginning at Engineer’s Gate (90th Street and Fifth Avenue), run a 5.2-mile lower loop of the Park (no Harlem Hill)
  • Upon returning to Engineer’s Gate, run eight inner loops (four miles each)
  • Collapse, arise victorious, eat all the food known to man, collapse from insulin shock, arise beaten but not broken

The race also carries limited fanfare: no professional photographers, no live tracking (the race is manually scored by an NYRR worker checking off how many loops you’ve run whenever you cross the starting line), and a much more lax participation policy: anyone can hop in and run a loop or four with you. Friends, who wants to keep me company/sane?

Further, NYRR allows us runners to bring a clear plastic bag filled with liquids and foods of our choice, to be placed on a “nutrition table” at the starting line and filled with whatever food we want.

Sounds easy, right? You get your own food and all the friends you could ever want supporting you. Here’s what’s going to make this run a beast (besides the 37.2 mile aspect of it):

  • Nine cat hills. Yes, we get to run Cat Hill (3.3% gradient, .25 miles) nine times. As my friend Sam joked, “By the end, it’ll feel like Cat Mountain.” For real.
  • While Cat Hill complicates the east side of the Park, the cluster of three rolling hills that I call the lesser Harlem hills dominates the northwestern corner of the loops. None of these hills are particularly long or steep. However, the constant up and down could affect pacing. Because I’ve trained in Central Park on these hills many times, and in training I tend to run the hills slowly so as to keep my heart rate down, I think I have an advantage here, and will run as if training.
  • Nutrition nutrition nutrition. Having never run an ultra before, I have limited knowledge about how to fuel properly for the race. A friend told me to employ my marathon fueling strategy over the 37.2 miles, make sure to drink a lot of water, and to recognize that most people experience some kind of wall around miles 29-30. He recommended bringing a decarbonated Coke to slam back at this point in the race.
  • So, based on my marathon nutrition and my friend’s advice, here’s what I’m going to bring to the race:
    1. 10 GU gels with sodium and caffeine
    2. Smaller bags of pretzels for extra sodium and carbs (I’ve eaten them in training run before, and they don’t hurt my stomach)
    3. Extra water bottles
    4. Bananas
    5. One 20-ounce decarbonated Coke
    6. Faith, hope, and love

Even though I’m going into this race at less-than-top shape (you know, having run a marathon less than two weeks ago), I have two basic goals: 1) to finish; and 2) if possible, to break five hours (an 8:00/Mile pace gets you 4:57ish). I will try to settle into a rhythm and see how I feel around the marathon point. If I’m dying, I’m happy to adjust and focus on finishing. If I’m still going strong, giddyup.

Ultimately, though, the goal is to finish so that I can earn the right to wear this year’s race bling:

NYRR 60k

Awww yeahhh

And seriously, who wouldn’t want such a handsome belt buckle?

I might not sound like it, but I am PUMPED about this race. I’m currently trying to figure out if I want to run a 50-miler next year, so this race will help me sort out 2016’s running goals. It also seems like it’ll be fun to run with friends as I attempt to go farther than I’ve ever gone before. And also, why not? If 300 other folks (about how many who finished last year) are attempting something awesome less than a mile from my apartment, why would I stay in bed?

Happy running, everyone!

Race Preview: The Staten Island Half Marathon, October 11, 2015

Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

In two days I’ll run the Staten Island Half Marathon for the second time. Last year’s Half was my first half marathon, and I finished in 1:44:42 (8:00/mile pace). I then ran the Fred Lebow Half Marathon in Central Park in January at a 7:22/mile pace, finishing in 1:36. Due to my injury, I was unable to run the Brooklyn Half this spring, but ran a 1:29:36 while training (6:50/mile pace).

After my strong finish at the Bronx 10-Mile two weeks ago (1:00:20, 6:02/mile pace), I am confident that I can PR. While I am targeting a 1:20 time (6:06/mile pace), I’ll be happy to finish the race with a strong effort. This race is just a chance to gauge my estimated finish time for the NYC Marathon.

How can we put forth a strong effort on the windy, deceptively hilly course? Let’s go through our race prep analysis:

Know Your Race: As discussed above, I’m going to attempt to average a 6:06/mile pace if I’m feeling strong out there. I will likely start off around a 6:15/mile pace, run harder than usual in the middle flat section of the course, relax around mile 10 (see the Know Your Course section), and then run hard the last 5k.

Know Your Course: The course is an out-and-back finishing at home plate of the Staten Island Yankees’ stadium. Last year’s course (this year’s is slightly different) consisted of 3-4 opening miles flowing through a series of small hills, similar to the first three miles of this year’s Bronx 10-Mile. I’ll take a lot of deep breaths and let other runners charge past me on the uphills, and smile as I surge past them on the downhills. I want to save my quads for the later half of the race.

Miles 4-9 include a long downhill and then 4.5ish miles of out-and-back flat running. As indicated above, I want to push the pace through this section to make up any time I might have lost on the initial hilly section, and any time I might lose on the following hilly section. Other runners recall a strong headwind on the return section of this run (miles 7-9), but I don’t remember the wind. The goal here is to average 6:00/mile or faster.

Mile 10: This mile killed last year’s dreams of finishing under 1:40. Mile 10 starts with .7 miles of uphill at an average 3.3% gradient, the same gradient as Cat Hill in Central Park but twice as long. Last year I completely underestimated the toll this hill would take on my quads, running hard up the hill to maintain my 7:40/mile pace and being unable to maintain anything close to that after the hill. This year I plan to give the hill a moderate push, preserving my legs for the final 5k. Even if I run mile 10 at a 7:00/mile pace, as long as I can push hard the last 5k, I’ll be happy with my effort.

The last 5k: As hard as I can go. This part of the course is different from last year, and seems to have some hills. At this point in the race, hills become opportunities to accelerate, not hold back. The final half mile is mostly downhill, which culminates in a steep descent into the stadium. That will be a good feeling.

Be Willing to Adjust: The course might be windier than I remember. If so, I might have to adjust my overall pace expectations. My legs have recovered from the Bronx 10-Mile, but I still have the remnants of a cold. If I’m still slightly sick during the race, I might have to adjust expectations. If I’m not careful and run the hill at mile 10 too hard, I cannot get mad at myself for “ruining” the race. I have to maintain positive thoughts and fight through any physical pain that arises.

Nutrition: The positive eating has already begun! Breakfast today included two slices of sourdough bread with some peanut butter, and a protein shake made with 2% milk. Snacks will include cashews, and lunch will be ramen with egg and baked chicken. Not sure about dinner yet, but tomorrow will feature Greek yogurt, more eggs, more salad, and probably some rice with chicken and vegetables for dinner.

During the race, I plan to have a gel right before the start, one around mile 5, and one around mile 10, with water right after each gel. I’ll use this as an opportunity to practice marathon fueling without the fear of bonking.

Woot! I’m excited, although for reasons unclear to me I feel less confident about this race than I did for the Bronx. It might have to do with putting forth another hard effort; it might just be the slight cold talking. It’s just a feeling, though, so I am going to work on replacing it with a feeling of confidence. That’s one of the great revelations of my adult life: feelings are not facts! Relentless forward motion.

Good luck to everyone running the Chicago Marathon this weekend!

A special shout out and good luck to my cousin, Kristen, who is running her first marathon in Hartford this weekend!

And to everyone, happy running!

Race Preview: The Bronx 10-Mile, September 27, 2015

Bronx 10-Mile

Reposted from nyrr.org

With the Bronx 10-Mile plus eight additional training miles scheduled for this Sunday, I am taking today and tomorrow off from running. I’ll hit the gym for upper body and core workouts, and maybe run an easy two miles tomorrow morning, but otherwise I will be spending time off my feet.

Bronx 10-Mile

Previous Bronx 10-Mile start. Reposted from nyrr.org.

Yesterday, I wrote about race preparation, and offered three pieces of advice: 1) know your pace; 2) know your course; and 3) be willing to adjust. I’ll add a fourth: nutrition before and during the race. Here’s how I’ve followed my own advice in preparing for the Bronx 10-Mile:

1) Know Your Race Pace: I’ve overcomplicated this question, and here’s why: Because I’m running the NYC Marathon in five weeks, I don’t want to hurt myself or ruin my strong training base by going too hard during this run. However, I have only raced once since March (at the Percy Sutton 5k), and am pumped to be racing again. I also plan to run an additional eight miles for marathon training after the race, so running the race hard—at a pace faster than my anticipated marathon pace—will likely lead to muscle soreness and extended recovery. But! I want to see how my right hip has healed post-injury, and a hard run will provide some insights. Also, racing is fun!

So, the answer to the question is not that difficult: If I choose to race the Bronx 10 Mile, I will try to hit a 6:15/6:20 minutes per mile pace; if I choose to tempo run the race, I will hit a 6:35-6:45 minutes per mile pace. Which option I choose will likely be a game-time decision.

As for overall race pacing: I plan to start out slightly slower than goal pace, adjusting for downhills and uphills, and pick up steam throughout the race until I’m pushing well past goal pace for the final 2.5-3 miles. During that final push I will focus on passing other runners and maintaining my position.

2) Know Your Course: The Bronx 10-Mile course is an out-and-back on the Grand Concourse, with two additional out-and-backs between miles 4 and 7 (Bronx 10-Mile Course Map). With eight aid stations (at miles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6ish, 7, 8, and 9), there will be plenty of water. Since NYRR did not publish an elevation map, I created my own (rough estimate) using MapMyRun. Outside of a mild uphill between miles one and three, and again around mile 6.1, the course is fairly flat, and features a generally downhill final three miles.

Bronx 10-Mile

Not 100% percent perfect, but a rough estimate of the Bronx 10-Mile elevation profile.

Thus, besides the limited uphill portions, this is a “let ‘er rip” kinda course. As long as you recognize that you will run miles one through three and mile seven slightly slower than goal pace, you can post a solid time by maintaining your pace on the flats and exceeding it on the downhills.

3) Be Willing to Adjust: Because my knowledge of the course came from a self-created elevation map and other runners’ recaps of past Bronx 10-Miles, I might be missing something. Therefore, I am willing to accept that I could encounter additional uphills or wind resistance or other factors that make the race more difficult than anticipated. And that’s OK. The only expectation I have for myself is to finish and to have fun.

4) Nutrition: I wrote briefly in a previous post about my interest in learning more about the low-carb high-fat diets that many ultra endurance athletes favor. While I might embrace that method in the future, for now I’m sticking with what I know: carbo-loading two-three days before the race, and either a gel or a pinole/chia snack about 4-5 miles into the race.

The following comprises my meal plan for the next couple of days:

Breakfast: non-fat Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of added honey; two slices of sourdough bread with peanut butter; two-three eggs

Lunch: baked chicken with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce; kale salad with carrots, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese; one cup cooked brown rice

Dinner: another cup cooked brown rice, chicken or other protein, baked or stir-fried vegetables

Snacks: vegetables, bananas, nuts (my current favorite are cashews, but almonds and walnuts are also tasty), and lots of water

That’s about it. I will spend the next day or two overthinking whether I want to race or train this run, but in all likelihood, I’m going for it. I’ll be heading up to the race with my sister and my friend, Mike.

Are you running the Bronx 10 Mile? If so, good luck and say hello!

Happy running, everyone!