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!

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10/7/2015: Morning Run: November Project PR DAY YAYAYAYAY!

Yesterday’s Training

I hit the gym and did my leg day routine, which consists of: 1) leg press; 2) abduction machine; 3) adduction machine; 4) glute press; 5) hamstring curls; and 6) squats, usually with a kettle bell pressed to my chest. I also stretched a bunch, and then I ran 6.2 miles after work. Leg day always falls on a running day, but as I’ve been doing it this way for a couple months, my body is used to it.

November Project NYC PR Day

Of course, PR day doesn’t always fall on the day after leg day plus run day, but no matter! When it comes to NP_NYC, you #justshowup and hit the workout hard. I knew that this would be my second to last high intensity run before the NYC Marathon (the other being the Staten Island Half coming up on Sunday!), so I planned to give it my best effort. My first run on the course on last month’s PR day netted me a 22:34. I was hoping to break 21:00 this time.

A quick explainer: The first Wednesday of each month is NP_NYC’s PR day. We run eight loops of a course in Carl Schurz Park on the east side, which makes for a 3.5ish mile run. The goal is to improve every month and earn a PR. Very straightforward. The course itself is mostly flat except for two sets of stairs at the end of each loop. As I’ve discovered both times I’ve run the course, the stairs really slow the run down.

NP_NYC had a surprise for us this PR day: Strava had helped the group create a race within their app, so we could track our individual and team results by logging the run with the Strava app. I dislike running with my phone strapped to my arm, but went for it anyway. I thought it would be cool to see everyone’s results.

After Lew got us going with the bounce, we lined up and John started the timer. Boom! We were off.

I ran the first two loops with Myles, a strong runner who unofficially manages NP_NYC’s NYRR running team efforts. Myles and I tried to make small talk, but I was in the zone pushing hard and not exactly capable of continuing a conversation. Myles pushed the pace after the second loop, and I ran the rest of the way by myself.

I view this run as a great example of my mindset during most races. First, I charge out of the gate, ready to conquer everything and everyone. After a couple of laps, I settle into a groove, and usually slow my pace down. Once I sense the end is near (in this case, the last two laps) I pick up the pace again and fight hard to the finish. This mirrored my efforts from this morning, except that I pushed so hard during the first three or four laps that I had trouble finding that extra push in the last two laps. My legs screamed and I had to fight through some negative thoughts to keep on moving.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 21:07 (John said 21:02 when I crossed, but Strava tells me 21:07, so I’ll go with that). Not quite my goal, but damn close and a solid effort overall. At the end of the day, whether I meet the goal or not isn’t the most important part. I felt great because I gave the run a strong effort, and remembered that no matter how much I’ve improved over the past few months, I can still get better.

November Project NYC

We keep improving one step at a time. Woohoo!

I hung out and cheered on the rest of the Tribe, all of whom were crushing the course. My sister ran what I think were her fastest mile splits ever, which was great. I ran with her for her final lap and was pleasantly surprised when she picked up the pace toward the end and pushed me to run faster. Good work, Katie!

As always, I love NP_NYC and fully support any and all friends coming out. You just have to show up and give it your best effort. No judgment!

Tomorrow’s Workout

Tomorrow I’ll run 10 miles at an easy maximum aerobic heart rate pace. Friday is a day off, and Saturday I’ll run two miles in anticipation of the Staten Island Half on Sunday! We’re so close to the marathon now. So pumped.

Happy running, everyone!

10/4/2015: Long Run, 2:40 p.m., 20 Miles, Central Park Loop x 3.3

I like to run in the mornings. A morning run forces me out of bed and provides an energy boost. It also allows me to focus on activities not related to running for the rest of the day. If I don’t get the workout in, I’ll often find myself thinking, “Well, damn. Now I have to rearrange this and that activity so that I can fit in a run.” In other words, I stress myself out.

This weekend, however, I traveled into the foreign lands of New Jersey to visit my girlfriend’s cousin for an early Halloween party. We explored a pumpkin patch, ate brownies and more brownies, and watched a couple of foreign horror movies I had never seen (including “The Babadook” and “Fragile”). Throughout all of this, I was developing a slight cold, so getting a night of mediocre sleep in a foreign bed was worth it for the fun, but not the sickness.

Pumpkin patch

So many pumpkins (and decorative gourds . . . so seasonal) for such a little state!

That said, between the train back to NYC and an extra two hours of sleep, I didn’t make it to Central Park for my 20-mile training run until 2:40 p.m. Would I finish before the sun set? Would the weather still be cloudy and wet as it had been all weekend? Would there be a million tourists clogging the running lanes?

The answer to all these questions (of course) was: just relax! I ran a fairly steady pace and felt strong for most of the run, although my right leg began to feel sore after mile 15. The weather was absolutely fantastic: blue skies and 60 degrees with a slight breeze to keep you cool. And the running paths were mostly clear, with the occasional tourist cutting in on a bike because he or she wanted to take a picture of a tree or something. Besides the slight sickness, I’d rank this as one of the nicer runs I’ve done this training season.

Central Park Running

All smiles after a good effort.

I tried out some new things on this run. Recently, I’ve been using gels instead of pinole/chia in large part because they’re easier to consume. I had one before the run began, one around the start of mile 9, and one in the middle of mile 15. I also didn’t carry a water bottle, utilizing the many water fountains in the Park. I only had to wait on line once, which wasn’t so bad. That’s always my biggest fear about not carrying a water bottle on long runs: waiting forever at water fountains. Perhaps my fear is unfounded.

Anyway, looking forward to the Staten Island Half on Sunday, and then the NYC Marathon in just under four weeks!

Here are the mile splits for the run:

Central Park 20 Mile Route 20 Mile Splits

Happy running, everyone!

Maffetone at Work! Also 9/22/15: Morning Run, 5:30 a.m., 6.2 Miles, Central Park Loop

I’ve written a lot of training run recaps. This morning’s will be short: I ran this morning, and it was lovely. Check out my Training Plan for updates on what I’m up to on a daily basis. I’ll be expanding that page to include the exercises I do at the gym, and welcome any and all feedback on my plan.

Now, for something far more interesting!

I have posted relentlessly about Dr. Phil Maffetone’s 180 Formula for heart rate training, and written about my experience training almost exclusively using this method for almost five months. I have discussed how I PR’d at the Percy Sutton 5k—running a 5:56 per mile pace and besting my previous 5k PR by over a minute—by performing training runs at my maximum aerobic heart rate, and doing (at most) three anaerobic workouts prior to the race. In short, Dr. Maffetone’s method has worked for me. But what about for other people?

Larisa Dannis

Larisa Dannis (reposted from Runner’s World)

Here is a great example from Runner’s World of the Maffetone Method at work. Larisa Dannis, a former recreational runner, ran the USA 50-Mile Road Championship in 5:59:11 in October of 2014, becoming only the third American woman to run 50 miles in under six hours. She will represent the United States in the IAU World 100K Championships in Doha, Qatar in November. She also came in second in the women’s race at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, and was the first female finisher from the mass start at the 2014 Boston Marathon with a time of 2:44:14, only 74 seconds shy of qualifying for the Olympic trials.

How does she train? You can probably guess! From the Runner’s World article: “Dannis trains via the Maffetone Method, doing all of her training runs and races in very specific heart rate zones. It’s an unconventional approach, but one that’s helped her transform herself from a relatively average runner to one of the best American ultrarunners in just a few years.”

The article also discusses her specific heart rate training: “Dannis wears a heart rate monitor to make sure that she’s doing all of her training runs and races in the proper heart rate zone. Over time, she’s learned what heart rate she can sustain for various distances, and uses those numbers to guide her in all of her training and racing. For example, she averaged 134 beats per minute during the Western States this year, and she knows that she needs to be in the 163-165 range during a marathon.”

Finally, “Dannis spent nearly two years building her aerobic base, aiming to not exceed a set heart rate in training. She estimates that she still does more than 90 percent of her training at an easy, aerobic pace.” She has incorporated more speedwork into her routines over time, she says, which also contributed to her excellent finishing time at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Dannis also employs the piece of the Maffetone puzzle that I am just starting to put together: the nutrition plan. From Runner’s World: “Dannis credits the transformation in her running to three things: training via the Maffetone Method, focusing on whole-body strength (she particularly likes kettlebells), and eating a whole-foods diet high in healthy fats and high-quality protein” (emphasis added).

Such a diet contradicts the common wisdom that runners need to consume a diet high in carbohydrates before, during, and after a race. Anyone who runs road races knows what I’m talking about: carbo-loading for two-three days before a race, sucking down multiple sugar-happy gels during the race, and pounding all sorts of pancakes and other starchy treats after the race as a reward for a job well done. The idea behind the carb-heavy diet is that the body burns lots of sugars while running, so the runner needs to consume lots of sugars to stay properly fueled.

A diet high in healthy fats and protein, however, combined with the maximum aerobic heart rate training advocated by Dr. Maffetone and others, leads the body to burn more fat for fuel. Fat is a more efficient energy source than sugar, and the body creates fewer harmful byproducts at a cellular level when training aerobically and burning fat. This allows faster recovery times, more efficient training, and overall improved health.

At least, that’s the theory. As I do more research, I will expand on this topic. For now, because Dr. Maffetone’s heart rate method has worked for me, I’m willing to explore his guidance on the dietary component of endurance sports. As one running buddy once said after declaring his love for tuna melts, “I sometimes wonder just how good I could be at this sport if I nailed the nutrition component.” Some “food” for thought. Get it?! I’m such a dork.

Finally, I like Dannis’ attitude about racing. She says, “‘Running has always been a very personal endeavor for me. I find satisfaction and excitement through challenging myself rather than competing with others.”

Love it. Focus on improving and running each race better than the last. Results come in many forms.

Happy running, everyone!