Maraton PR – How I Beat a Younger, Faster, Fitter me.

It has been 6 days since I completed the NYC Marathon and set my new marathon PR of 4:25:07 (still unofficial but I’ll be within seconds of that time). My goal this year was always to beat my 2014 time (4:33:33) and although I did it, I am somewhat surprised at the way in which it happened. For much of 2017, the signs have not been good. In most of my races, and in all of my training, I was slower in 2017 than in 2014 although I ran more miles and more consistently in 2017 (912 miles up to Marathon day compared to 848 miles, and additionally in 2017 I only had 2 weeks with zero mileage, compared to 4 weeks in 2014). It seems it’s true what they say, miles count.

So while 2014  was my first full year of running seriously and I was highly motivated to get into shape after years never really having a fitness regime, 2017 was a year I thought I could build on that base fitness.

So let’s take a quick look at my 2014 preparation and performance Vs 2017. First off, the races.

2014 Vs 2017 Race Pace and Time
2014 looks good until the big day!

So what’s going on here? In 2014, my long races were consistently in the 9:10 – 9:20min/mile range, which is pretty consistent, all the way to the Bronx 10m. That was one of my best races in 2014 (and perhaps of all time) with a pretty cool 8:31mins/mile pace over 10 miles (my current PR). The Staten Island Half 2 weeks later was another PR at 8:52min/mile. In 2017, I haven’t run any races over 10m at faster than 9:38/mile and although I slowly increased my pace, it didn’t come close to even my 1st race of 2014.

The 18m tune up is really what I thought would be the major predictor of my marathon form. 31 minutes (1:40/mile) separated my 2014 form from 2017 which is huge. There is no doubt that 2017 me could not possibly keep up with 2014 me in any of those races.

So what happened in the marathon? Well truth be told, I ran a pretty poor marathon in 2014, considering my condition – looking back now and seeing I only consumed 2 gels and missed breakfast, it’s amazing that I finished at all.

If there’s one chart that tells the story of my two races, it’s the one below.

 

2014 Vs 2017 Cumulative Pace
How to run a marathon, and how not to run a marathon in one handy chart.

This chart shows my cumulative average pace per mile, so is effectively a smoothed out line of my pace from start to finish, where the last mile is my average pace for the whole race (not the actual pace of my last mile).

Miles 1 – 5 show a similar trend. Mile 1 is just getting started, some selfies, some crowding and an uphill start – it’s supposed to be slow. Mile 6 both times was when I took a pit stop (my bladder was consistent, even if my pace wasn’t) hence the sudden brake on my pace, but from then onwards it’s two very different stories.

In 2014, from mile 7 – 10, I am maintaining a 9:30 pace pretty evenly. From mile 10, I start to slow down for the rest of the race. That’s a 16 mile decline in pace which gets more and more dramatic. Remember this is a smoothed out chart and each mile the impact of the decrease is less and less (because you’re averaging it out against the whole distance) and yet that line gets steeper and steeper as I slow more and more dramatically. To give you an indication, my pace at mile 10 was 9:34 (close to the 9:31 average at that time) whereas my pace at mile 20 was 10:57, a full minute slower than my average at that time.

In 2017, there’s a completely different story. From mile 6 all the way to mile 21, I am slowly getting faster, and more remarkably from mile 7 to 21, there is only an 8 seconds per mile difference in average pace. To contrast with 2014, mile 10 was a 9:51 pace (17 seconds slower than in 2014) and mile 20 was 10:03 pace, or 55 seconds faster than 2014.

I read somewhere once that for every 10 seconds you try and ‘bank’ in the 1st half of a marathon, you will loose 30 seconds in the second half. What that really means is going out faster than you’re able to maintain in the 1st 13 miles will cost you 3x more than you’ll gain. With my slow and steady pace this time around, I did not start to slow significantly until mile 23, and by that point with only 5k to go, you can dig in really deep and finish it off. In 2014, I was feeling the same way by mile 15 with still 11 miles to go. That can crush anyone.

2) Hi5Marathon

I knew from the start that to get my PR, I had to beat 10:26 per mile, and keeping my pace as close to 10:00/mile would certainly do that. I didn’t know if this was something I could maintain over 26.2 miles for certain, especially given my 18m tune up was actually slower than this, but two significant things changed since then.

The first was that my NYRR Virtual Running Coach scorned my after my 20 mile long run, because I reported how much water and gel I consumed, which was far too little. Despite access to the right information, it never dawned on me that given my age, weight and gender, I really needed to be consuming gels every 3 – 4 miles, not every 6 – 7 miles which I had been doing. Changing that strategy in my last few long runs took out almost all of the fatigue I was feeling in the last few miles.

The second was the temperature. In was 55 degrees on race day (most of my long run training days had been in the 70’s or 80’s) and there was misty rain as well, which kept me cool. Had it been in the 40’s, I could have been faster still, but it’s been such a warm autumn in New York that it could have easily been in the 70’s.

3) Speed

I am honestly not sure if I will run another NYC marathon, or another marathon at all. You sacrifice a lot, you can’t really train for other types of races at the same time, and almost everything defers to it for 4 months of the year. Having said all that, it’s an amazing feeling and something I am still buzzing about six days later. Tomorrow I am having a recovery run with my running club, and will have just a slightly lighter spring in my step than if I’d missed this PR. This really has made my 2017!

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Reboot. Restart. Marathon Day.

It has been five months since my last post, and I’ve had a somewhat indifferent summer of running and I’m heading toward a disappointing year. I set out with the best intentions and didn’t have the focus, will power or determination to see things through. My head hasn’t really been straight in regards to many things this year, perhaps I am falling into a mid-life crisis of sorts, but my running is definitely one area I thought I’d persevere. But I didn’t.

It all started reasonably well with 5k and 4m PR’s back in April… but I didn’t push hard enough in the Brooklyn Half Marathon to get my PR (course best but 3 mins short of my half PR). My Queens 10K was respectable, but again short of a PR I set in 2014 by about a minute. After that, I’ve done nothing special and frankly barely keep up the weekly miles to stay still – I’m struggling to maintain 10 mins miles.

Even the relatives easy You Vs Year challenge on MapMyRun / Under Armour challenge is now something I could miss out on. I’m barely 40km ahead of schedule, whereas at one stage I was 200km ahead.

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Just staying ahead of the baseline!

In the first half of this year, I averaged 16 miles a week (no a lot, but enough to maintain a point of fitness). In the second half of this year, I’ve average barely 8 miles per week. Not nearly enough to meet the goals I set out to achieve.

So what now? Well today is NYC Marathon day… I am going out for a run right now, will target 8 miles (a well known course I do) and take a look at my time and statistics Vs other times I have run that exact course, and see what I can do to pull things back into shape in the remainder of the year. I’ll be right back, after that run…

…back! So after a puffing 8.01 miles @ 10:04 pace, I actually feel a bit better about things. First of all, being able to run 8 miles non-stop after a pretty atrocious few months of barely keeping in touch with running, is somehow hugely motivational. My body seems to be telling me, I’m still hanging in there with you!

I have two 4-mile races coming up in the next 4 weeks, the first on Nov 20th and the second on Dec 3rd. It would be great to end the year on a high and set some new goals for 2017.

Also, yesterday I completed my volunteering for NYRR, which means I am on target to be eligible for next year’s NYC Marathon as well as running all of the major Borough Races; Fred Lebow Half, NYC Half, Brooklyn Half, Queens 10K, Bronx 10m and Staten Island half.

Onward and upward…

Now the Marathon is Over, I Can Focus on my Running

OK, let’s talk about my 2015 NYC Marathon. It would be a mild understatement to say it didn’t exactly go as I planned. Back in July on this very blog, I was pretty bullish about getting this one right compared to 2014, but a combination of a niggling foot injury, a personal loss and what my wife described as “second year marathon syndrome” somehow combined to knock me off track. What’s frustrating is that I knew as early as late September that I had missed far too much training to really have a go at last year’s record, but I allowed that to be an excuse to give up entirely on a decent run. I am going to describe below exactly what happens when, and how it feels to, entirely abandon your training. My time was 5:25:55, or 52 minutes longer than in 2014.

2014 Vs 2015!

In 2014, with the 5% adjustment for the GPS inaccuracy, I ran 481 miles during my training from July 17th to Nov 2nd (not including the marathon itself). That’s an average of 4.5 miles per day for 108 days.

In 2015, I ran just 335 miles in 112 days (July 11th to Oct 31st) or an average of just 3 miles per day. So in 2014 I clocked 50% more miles than this year. The effect?

2014 Vs 2015, 5K section paces and cumulative time.
2014 Vs 2015, 5K section paces and cumulative time.

The difference is dramatic as you’d expect. I started much slower and slowed down much faster, and from around mile 9 onwards (around 15 km) I was really uncomfortable. 17 miles is a long way to run when you’re already struggling and I’ve never had a bigger urge to quit something than I did on that day. Somehow though I convinced myself to keep going (after all I didn’t want to miss out on a post-race poncho) and made it across the finishing line.

Looking OK at about mile 22... I was faking!
Looking OK at about mile 22… I was faking!
Finish Line
Crossing the Finish Line!
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Self at the Start
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Brave Face at the Finish. Walking the almost mile stretch from the finish line to the poncho pickup was pure agony.
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The Sea of Ponchos!

In the title I said that now this is over, I can concentrate on my running. Well that’s true to an extent. It feels like a huge burden has been lifted and at this point I am not intending to run another marathon on 2016. I have two more races this year, a 5K in a week and a 4-miler in early December before a trip to Chile. Next year I am going to focus on the half-marathons and some middle-distance improvement before doing this again in 2017.

7 miles here, 3 miles there…

Back to basics this week and a routine.

7.5 miles on Tuesday evening, at a not-too-shabby 9:27/mile for a good 70 minute workout, and squeeze in 3.2 miles this evening in a chirpy 27:41 (8:52).

I’m feeling more positive about my running.

The Staten Island Half Marathon

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Staten Island lit up during sunrise.

The Staten Island Half is one of my favorite races of the year, and definitely my favorite of NYRR’s Five Borough Race Series, which also includes; the Fred Lebow Half Marathon (Manhattan Half), NYC Half, Brooklyn Half, Queens 10k and the Bronx 10m.

The Staten Island Half is probably the most low key of all the races, as it’s out on New York’s often unfairly maligned Staten Island. All of the races have their own characteristic and running all six of them is both challenging and very rewarding, but I like the Staten Island one the best. Here’s why.

If I look at the other races first, there’s the Fred Lebow, which is just over 2 laps of Central Park in January. It’s always freezing cold, and you never leave the park, and it’s right in the middle of the “off season” meaning on the most hardy runners participate, or those looking to qualify for something else. I ran it in 2014, and will definitely run it in 2016 for the sheer hell of it, but it’s no glamor race.

ManhattanHalf_Course07
Fred Lebow Half Marathon, AKA Manhattan Half, first of the Five Borough Series

The New York City Half in March follows, which is the headline race, and one which you can qualify for by running four of the previous years’ six races. Confused? You will be. Regardless, this is the one everyone wants to run, and it’s a fantastic course composed of a single lap of Central Park, then a dash down Fifth Avenue through Times Square before heading out to the West Side Highway and down to the Financial District. You get to see a fair bit of Manhattan and run through a traffic-free Times Square, what’s not to love? Well it’s very crowded, very expensive and unless you qualify it’s tough to get into.

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The Brooklyn Half this year was a wet one!

Next up in May is the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Given this is my home borough, it should be my favorite, but there’s a few things about it that I don’t like. First off, as New York’s ‘hippest’ borough, this is very quickly turning into the one race you just have to run. NYRR has been quick to pick up on this, and are marketing it as the country’s largest half marathon. Sure enough, with over 26,000 finishers in 2015, this is a huge race. It’s crowded at the start and things don’t really start to open up until mile 6 or 7. Still, with such high participation, including 14,000 women in 2015, it’s hard to knock an event that attracts so many young people, and it finishes on Coney Island’s famous boardwalk!

In June you get the Queens 10k. This one really isn’t that much fun in my opinion. It’s always baking hot (this year’s was a simmering 88˚ at 7:30am) and it’s in an area inland and goes through some heavy marshland. If you love 99% humidity and mosquitos, this one’s for you, but otherwise it’s just a grueling 10k in the middle of summer in the middle of a suburban landlocked park with highways on both sides. Still, getting anywhere near a PR is a real badge of honor in this race.

Next up is the Bronx 10m, which is a great race, right in the middle of peak marathon training. I really like this one, and the t-shirt is the best of the bunch! My only minor complaint is they run a 5k at the same time, and the start line gets crowded and confusing, but otherwise this is a close contender for my favorite.

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Staten Island is home to lots of cops (and ex-cops), FDNY and military personnel. This is a race for patriots and fans of the flag!

Last, but not least, is the Staten Island Half. This race gives you all the benefits of a small town race (friendly spectators, a little quieter, nice cops, finish line is in a baseball stadium, and it’s a little bit hilly. Staten Island being the home of many NYPD and FDNY families, means the race attracts plenty of flag bearers and has a genuine ‘all-american’ feel, that lacks in some of New York’s other races. The race starts at the northern tip of the island with a view of Manhattan’s southern skyline, and heads south for around 6 miles. New to 2015, the course loops back up the north western side of the island along the beach road and eventually along the wooden boardwalk. The temperature for the two years I have run it has always been perfect for this length of race (around 55˚) with a little breeze and no clouds. The last part of the race takes you through Fort Wadsworth (which is where the marathon starts) up a very steep incline and over a bridge to the final mile back to the stadium. It’s a tough little race!

Staten Island is full of large beautiful houses, mixed with some oddly deserted spaces.
Staten Island is full of large beautiful houses, mixed with some oddly deserted spaces.

Even though Staten Island’s course is hilly, there is a relatively small field of runners, so it’s not too crowded, it’s very quiet which lends itself to a quick race. My half marathon PR was achieved here; another reason I really like it.

So, for this year I knew I was going to be slow, and my 2:11:24 (10;02/mile) was my slowest half ever by a full five minutes, but getting through it was a minor victory in itself.

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Sometimes your worst performances make you feel like you earned the medal the most!

Loss and Losing

My last post was on August 9th, some 10 weeks ago, and much has happened since then. Not all good, but much to learn from and much to take great strength from. Before that, what happened in week 5? Well I am so glad you asked!

After week 4’s slow improvement, week 5 built upon that and was (and still is) my best week in this training plan. I ran 38 miles, although my average pace was quite slow, only 9:38. On the Sunday, I cut short my long run from a scheduled 15 miles to 12 miles, and this was the start of my problems with training this year. It was a stick 86 degrees; not the worst for an August day in New York, but warmer than you’d want for a long run.

A few days later, after a subway ride I got an intense pain in my right foot across the top. This was similar to the injury I had in 2014 after over-stretching it on a sidewalk step, but somehow felt different. I managed to keep my running up a little in August, but it was characterized by being slow and skipping runs. Between August 16th and the end of August, I only ran 5 times for a total of 33 miles, less than half my target distance.

Also at this time, I found out that my faithful Beagle had cancer. Only weeks before he’d become sick and after taking him to the vets, he was treated for pneumonia for 3 weeks before the vet realized it was something much more serious. A CAT scan and a visit to a radiologist and a surgeon later, we were told that there was little hope and he wasn’t going to get any better. In the space of 8 weeks, he’d gone from a seemingly healthy eight year old beagle, to a dog that could barely breath in his own bed. It was a heartbreaking episode and my wife and I made the decision on September 1st to have him put to sleep.

Best Dog in the World
Best Dog in the World

Dog’s really are beautiful animals that sit in your heart and won’t leave even for the tastiest treat. You don’t realize it at the time, because like so many things in life, while they’re there you take them very much for granted. Losing him was really like losing my best friend, and even now I feel a deep sadness I have never felt before with any loss.

My running in September took a big hit, and I only managed 68 miles, barely half what I should have run. That, along with my foot injury which is still bothering, has pretty much put an end to any hope of cracking last year’s marathon time.

In October 2014 I ran 141 miles. So far this October I have managed only 16.
In October 2014 I ran 141 miles. So far this October I have managed only 16.

As if to hammer home the point, I suffered terribly in two warm up races. First off the 18 mile Marathon Tune Up race in central park. 3 grueling laps which I am very happy to say I managed to complete, albeit at a snails pace. In 2014, I ran this in 2:47, a very healthy 9:20 per mile. This year I ran it in 3:21:51, which is 11:13 per mile, a pace I’ve never dropped to in any race prior.

Perhaps even more tellingly, the Bronx 10 miles just a few weeks ago I ran in 1:31:05, which was a 9:47/mile pace. In 2014, I ran that race in 1:20:01 (my 10 mile PR) which is a quite respectable 8:31/mile.

What has been difficult to know for sure is how much of this is all in my head. I started the summer running slower than expected after a fairly decent start to the season, but haven’t really picked it up at any point. In my head I am saying it’s OK to stop, OK to hit the quit button, OK to slow down to 11 min/miles and this is something that wasn’t going on last year.

Tomorrow I have the Staten Island Half Marathon. Again, last year I ran this in 1:56:07, which is still my Half PR. Tomorrow I am not expecting to beat 2:05, which would make this my slowest half yet. I know I am in no shape to run it hard, but perhaps if I can get my mind into a better place, I can beat my expectations and give myself a lift 3 weeks before the Marathon. I rarely if ever exceed my own expectations, which is troubling given they’re not particularly high.

Dedicated to my beautiful dog, Ranulph. Aug 2007 – Sept 1st 2015.

Ranulp Roller

Marathon Training Week 4, A Slow Improvement

After last week’s capitulation, this week needed to be pretty decent to give me a little more confidence. Luckily, or perhaps by design, it was exactly that and I feel more or less back on track. But it didn’t start out that way.

Two days after I abandoned my long run at mile 7, I had to run an 8 mile ‘regular run’. This is one of the things I don’t quite get about NYRR’s Virtual Trainer. This was supposed to be my recovery week, and yet it kicks off with an 8-miler at marathon pace, which I’ve been struggling to hit for the entire training period. Sure enough, I ran 7.43 miles in 1:12:05 (9:42). It was 82˚ and I was feeling a little unwell, but even so that’s a weak performance after a day’s rest.

The next day I was scheduled to run my intervals, and then had 2 consecutive days off. I switched things around and took the two days off, and instead ran my intervals on a Friday evening, in the cool (almost dark) and with no thoughts of an early rise the next day or work. Guess what? I nailed it…

I was supposed to run 3 miles easy, then do 8x400m at 2mins and reduce down to 1:48 if I could managed it. My splits after the 3 miles were: 1:58, 1:48, 1:48, 1:49, 1:51, 1:50, 1:48 and 1:47. After the splits, the idea was to run a mile at marathon pace (my range is 9:06 to 9:16) and I rain it in 9:10. That’s about as good as it gets to nailing your training.

Intervals Wk4

The next day, I ran an As You Feel Regular Run (7.43 miles, same as at the start of the week) and managed it in 9:24 without really trying. The difference was huge. I think there is a lot to be said for putting in a 2 day break for people who clearly have not been running as much as the training program demands. Jumping from ~20 miles per week to 33 – 35 in a space of 2 weeks, in mid summer, doesn’t seem particularly wise.

Finally an 11 mile long run on Sunday, with 2 miles at marathon pace, wrapped up a week that wasn’t easy, but seemed designed to help. I just wish the rest days were a little better placed.

With my adjusted 2014 distances and times, I am now clearly ahead in 2015 than 2014, and feeling better. I am looking forward to my rest day tomorrow, and what looks like a tough week in training.

Week 4 Summary