Monday, February 18, 2013

Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon 2013

I love Myrtle Beach. More specifically I love the Dasani Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon.

I ran this race last year and dropped my half-marathon PR from 1:20:07 to an outstanding 1:17:43, a time I haven't really come close to since. My race report from last year is here but reflecting on some of those splits after this weekend's race makes them seem slow.

Baby Tigers at the Expo
I left Clemson on Friday afternoon with Meredith who was running her first half-marathon and her parents were kind enough to house and feed me over the weekend! After meandering through painfully slow traffic entering Myrtle Beach we made it to the race expo and picked up our packets before checking out all of the vendors as well as the baby tigers that were there as part of the race's partnership with the Rare Species Fund. After the expo we headed home for a delicious pre-race dinner of manicotti and red velvet cake. After some last minute preparations we went to bed, excited about what lay ahead the following morning.

Saturday morning rolled around and I awoke from a surprisingly restful 5 hour sleep at 4:15 am. After a quick breakfast (my tried and true pre-race meal of rice krispies and 2% milk), we drove to the start and had a little bit of time to kill. Partly to help us relax, and partly for the fun of it, we decided to "warm up" by dancing in the parking spot next to the car, much to the enjoyment of some passers by.

Thirty minutes before the start we wandered over to the bag check area and made our final preparations for the race. Although it always pays off later on, I can never get used to stripping down to a singlet and shorts 15 minutes prior to a race in 40 degree weather. Nevertheless, it must be done and after a little bit the temperature doesn't seem quite so bad. After wishing each other good luck Meredith and I ventured off to our respective places in the mass of people at the start. It was time to focus on the 13.1 miles ahead.

Before the race I knew I had a very good chance to run fast. I've been joking since I ran 1:27:19 in Miami (3:12 faster than 2012) a few weeks ago that I could do the same in Myrtle Beach and run 1:14:31. I had no idea how close that would be to reality 13.1 miles later. As with last year's race, I had a modest goal of running 6:00 miles to start out and see how I felt.

The race's partnership with the Rare Species Fund provided possibly the weirdest start command I've ever heard. Instead of a gun, flare, horn, car, or verbal command we were sent on our way by an elephant trumpeting into a microphone. I quickly found myself in about 10th place and felt extremely comfortable. I recall last year's start being far more chaotic, but I settled into a nice rhythm and came through the first mile in  just 5:47, 8 seconds slower than last year and slower than many of my previous half-marathons. I felt great and just kept the legs turning, though, and rolled through mile 2 with a 5:50 split (11:37 for 2 miles). I dropped to 5:49 (17:26) for mile 3 and cruised through mile 4 in 5:54 (23:20). Unbeknownst to me at the time, that 5:54 would end up being my slowest mile of the race. A surge in pace from my first half running companion pushed mile 5 to 5:45 (29:05) and I reclaimed pacing duties for mile 6 in a steady effort to pull away from a pack closing down on us. Mile 6 came by in 5:48 (34:53) and I hit the 10k mark in 36:06; just off my PR of 36:02. Winding through Market Commons I began to string out the pack and used my natural ability to run fast on twisty courses to my advantage. I threw down a 5:41 mile 7 (40:34) before stringing off a 5k stretch a mere 5 seconds shy of my 17:21 PR. Heading away from Market Commons in mile 8 (5:40, 46:14) 15 year old Jack Ratterree caught up to me. At first I thought he was certainly in my age group, but when I asked he revealed that he was only 15! Regardless, I was happy to have someone to push the pace with down Ocean Drive and we clocked an 11:11 next two miles (5:35 & 5:36) to hit the 10 mile mark in 57:24! I knew I had run faster from 5k-15k than my previous 10k best (I estimated about 35:40) but I was still going strong and had just 5 kilometers to go to a certain half-marathon PR. Jack mentioned that 1:15 was within reach and while I calculated having to run another blazing 5k to achieve that, I knew sub-1:16 was very reasonable. I told Jack that he ought to watch out if I stayed with him, though, because I have utter confidence in my finishing kick ever since my sub-6:00 pace final quarter mile at the Kiawah Island Marathon. He pulled away slightly in mile 11 as my pace dropped to 5:43 (1:03:07) and my 12th mile turning back inland to the finish did little to close the gap going through in 5:52 (1:08:59). With the final few turns in sight I somehow found another gear to close the gap down and overtake Jack. A 5:38 split for mile 13 (1:14:38) and a final 0.16 according to my Garmin at 5:14 pace (58 seconds) brought me to the line in 1:15:36 for another huge PR!!

TrainingPeaks outputs the following times as my fastest (unofficial) splits during the race:
400m - 1:22 in the penultimate quarter-mile
800m - 2:45 last half-mile
1k - 3:27 last 1000m
1 mile - 5:35 starting at 15k
5k - 17:26 starting at 7 miles (5s off PR)
5 miles - 28:14 starting at 5.68 miles (PR by 41 seconds)
10k - 35:17 starting at 4 miles (PR by 45 seconds)
15k - 53:08 final 15k (huge PR)
10 miles - 57:10 final 10 miles (2 minute PR)

Meredith also managed to run a big negative split on her way to a 2:15:53 half-marathon debut, running her last 6.6 miles at sub-10 minute pace!!

It's hard to argue that this weekend's race was the best I've ever run. I may not have improved on my 3rd place in the 20-24 AG from last year, but I did come 11 places higher overall in 12th!

My next race is the Cary Short Course Duathlon on March 9th where I will certainly by fighting for the overall win. Knowing that I should be able to have a pair of stellar 4k run splits to bookend the 17.6 mile bike will certainly help! A week after that I'll be looking to run another fast half-marathon at the NYC Half before trying to qualify for the World Duathlon Championship at the Double Oak Duathlon (April 6th) and chasing my marathon PR (and a Fukuoka Marathon qualifying time of 2:42?) in Boston on April 15th!

Thank you to The Sport Factory, my coach Eric Limkemann, my family for their continued support, and to Meredith and her parents for a great weekend! The next couple of months look like they could be incredible!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

ING Miami Half-Marathon 2013

A couple of weeks ago I flew down to Miami, FL to race at the ING Miami Marathon & Half-Marathon for the 4th year in a row (half in 2010, 2012, and this year; full in 2011). I was in great shape going into the weekend and it seemed as though very little could stop me from running a great time. The weather forecast never looked too bad, but I knew that could turn around in a hurry, and even if it ended up being just a little warmer or more humid than forecast I'd struggle to run as fast as I hoped to.

To put things in perspective, going into the weekend I had never run under 1:30 for just a half-marathon in Miami. I'd run 1:34:55 in 2010, 1:30:31 last year, along with 1:51 and 1:35 half-marathon splits on the two occasions that I raced Miami 70.3. Oddly enough, though, I ran 1:24:48 & 1:26:15 splits for each half of my marathon PR set in Miami in 2011. I don't recall it being quite that much cooler in 2011, but 10-15 degrees and less humidity can clearly make a big difference.

Annoyingly I also felt a slight ache deep in the back of my left thigh the night before the race. I tried not to worry about it too much but I mentally checked off all of the injuries that I seriously hoped it wasn't in my head. The following morning it didn't feel much better but I knew I could still make it through the race.

In the corral it was fairly crowded and with so many people around me I could feel myself begin to sweat before we even started to run! I knew I'd have to dial back my expectations a little so I judged my opening miles mostly on HR as I had done in my half PR race last February. The chaos of the corral made me forget to retie my shoes before the gun as I had intended, so I wasn't surprised when one came untied a mile into the race. While I've run most of a 5k with an untied shoe before, I wasn't about to do that for the next 12 miles so I laced back up shortly after the 1 mile mark (which I hit in 6:03). The second mile, including the brief stop to tie my shoe, was a solid 6:23 and I tried to remain as relaxed as possible over the next couple of miles. My HR was slightly above where I would have liked it to be, but the pace continued to lag - 6:19, 6:29, and 6:37 for the next few mile splits saw me drifting far off my target pace close to 6 minutes per mile. All I could do was keep pushing and try to avoid blowing up as badly as I did last year. 6:49 and 6:46 miles brought me to mile 7 and I thought to myself, "3 more miles until 10, then just 3 more after that."

With a few runners slowly beginning to pass me as I fell backwards through the field I plodded through the toughest stretch of the race with 6:45, 6:58, and 6:51 miles to bring me through mile 10. Just before the 15k mark a runner came up beside me and we began chatting about how we had both wanted to go way faster than we were running by that point. The camaraderie always tends to ignite my competitive spirit a little and I managed to pick the pace back up as we headed through the ING Cheer Zone at mile 11. I hit 6:41 for mile 11 and followed it up with 6:32 and 6:35 miles before kicking hard to the finish. According to my Garmin I ran the last 0.28 miles at 5:09 mile pace which doesn't necessarily surprise me after some of the kicks I've had in the last couple of months, but it does surprise me that it wasn't quite enough to close the gap in front of me completely.

All-in-all, I left Miami that afternoon having completed a half-marathon under 1:30 (1:27:19) and placed 82nd overall, a full 122 places higher than last year despite only going 3:12 faster. Later, when looking at the results, I noticed that the average times and times by place seemed to be about 3 minutes slower than last year. Having run 3 minutes faster under those conditions, then, makes me that much more content with the result. Finally, if we assume that the 3:12 I ran faster in Miami translates to that much faster next weekend in Myrtle Beach, I should be looking at running 1:14:31... but I'm not so sure it'll be that fast.

I also have to thank The Sport Factory for their help and support in my pursuit of my athletic goals as well as my dad, family, and friends for all of their support and hospitality. Incredibly I will be able to say I raced in Richmond, Kiawah Island, Miami, Myrtle Beach, & NYC between November and March without having to find a hotel, thanks so much everyone!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adjusting to Uncontrollable Events

The title of this post probably sounds much worse than the situation really is. In fact, I never really had to think about how to adjust to the circumstances that changed earlier today. Just before 11 am this morning I was notified that the 2-20-2 Duathlon originally scheduled for February 23rd would take place on February 16th due to a scheduling conflict at the race site. This race is extremely low-key, but last year was my first overall multisport victory, during which I absolutely decimated the field by more than 12 minutes.

Despite being such a low-key race I was the 2nd person to register for the 2013 edition way back in mid-July last year. I knew that I wanted to defend my title and attempt to improve upon my course record of 1:22:48. With training going so well this year it seemed that both would be almost certain come race day. Unfortunately, fate intervened and the race was moved to the same morning that I will be running the Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon, the site where I set my half-marathon PR last year (1:17:43). Choosing to drop out of the duathlon rather than the half-marathon was a no-brainer for various reasons, not the least of which was my belief that I can also better my half-marathon time given the right conditions. While not being able to race the duathlon is unfortunate, I also know that it's not the end of the world. My course record is an extremely strong time that took two sub-12 minute 2 mile runs and averaging 22 mph on a challenging bike course to set and I have no doubt that it will stand up to the competition this year.

The developments left me with an interesting quandary, however, as it makes my first planned multisport race  of the year the Double Oak Duathlon on April 6th - my world championship qualifier. It is not ideal, nor practical, in my opinion for my first multisport race in almost 6 months, and first duathlon in 10.5 months to be my biggest race of my spring campaign. I turned to the internet in search of a possible race to replace 2-20-2 that would fit into my hectic race schedule. Enter the Winter Warrior Duathlon down in Bluffton, SC on March 9th.

Whilst there is every possibility of the Winter Warrior Duathlon being even less competitive as 2-20-2 was last year, it could actually suit my strengths even more. The format is a 2.5 mile run, an 11 mile bike, and another 2.5 mile run for a total of a mile extra running and 10 fewer miles biking compared to 2-20-2. Last year's winner won with a time of 1 hour and 10 minutes... I would aim for breaking the 1 hour barrier at the very least. The extra running distance and the flat out-and-bike bike course both play to my strengths and would allow me to see my competition at the midway point, whether that is to see the gap I must close down, or to intimidate my opposition with an insurmountable lead.

The change of schedule ultimately means slightly more travel as I'd be racing down near Savannah rather than close by Greenville, but it has some overall advantages:

  • Instead of racing another 80 minute race the week following a hard PR attempt at Myrtle Beach I'll have 3 weeks to prepare for a strong duathlon performance
  • A 1 hour race with almost half of that on the bike should still allow for a strong race in the NYC Half the week after
  • The race would provide a vital tune-up just 4 weeks before Double Oak rather than 6 weeks before
  • It provides a good reason to visit friends in Charleston after the race who I promised I'd see during this semester at some point
In the end the focus remains the same for this season - race my absolute best at the Double Oak Duathlon in order to qualify for the World Duathlon Championship and make a big statement.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013 Week #1 Recap

I couldn't have asked for 2013 to start much better than it has for me athletically. Having trained far more consistently over the past month than I have in a long time my two low-key races last week showed that I am in great shape for so early in the season.

NYRR Thursday Night at the Races 3000m

On January 3rd I went into New York City to run at the Armory for the first time. The Armory is one of the fastest indoor tracks in the world and now plays host to the world famous Millrose Games each year. It was my first indoor track race in almost 4 years, and first time ever running the 3000m distance. I knew my PR outdoors in high school was around an even 10 minutes as I had run 10:40.4 as my best ever time for 3200m. I thought I'd have a good shot at breaking 10 again, despite that being my outdoor PR from when I regularly broke 2:10 for 800m and 5 minutes over 1600m - two distances I certainly couldn't compete with my high school self at right now. Nonetheless, I took off in the middle of the pack and came through the first 200m in a quick 36.6 seconds. To run 10-flat I'd have to maintain 40 second laps so when I came through the 400m mark in 1:13.8 I knew I was well ahead of pace. I consciously allowed myself to drift back from the lead pack and started to settle into laps right around the 40 second mark. The next 2 laps were actually dead on 40 seconds apiece followed by a 39.2 second lap to hit the first kilometer in 3:13.1. I then proceeded to rattle off 5 more laps of 39.1, 40.0, 40.7, 40.7, and 40.7 seconds to reach 2000m in 6:34.2 which may also have been a new personal best over that distance. I struggled a little over the next 800m running laps of 41.9, 42.0, 42.5, and 40.9 seconds to reach the bell lap with the clock at 9:21.4 - I had to run under 38.6 for the final 200m to break the 10 minute barrier. 37.2 seconds later I hit the line with a new 3000m PR of 9:58.6! Although I didn't place particularly well against the high-level of competition (22nd fastest on the night which put me right in the middle of the field), I was overjoyed with my time.

Boston Buildup 10k

Three days after my 3000m race I lined up for a local 10k in Rowayton, CT. Despite being a local race, it tends to attract a competitive field as it's the first and shortest race of a Boston Buildup series that features progressively longer races for athletes leading up to the Boston Marathon in April. I ran this race 2 years ago and struggled to a 39:19, a time that certainly did not reflect my fitness at the time as I ran new half-marathon and marathon PRs the following week and 3 weeks later, respectively. As I mentioned in a recent post, however, I have become increasingly confident in my racing ability over the past year and I've enjoyed a good amount of success that I feel has stemmed directly from that extra mental edge over my competitors.

At the start I saw a pair of runners who I knew would beat me, even if they had a bad race they'd probably beat me, and then there were several others who I thought might be close. One of those I'd knew would be close to me was Nick, the runner I had outkicked over the last mile of the 5k I won just 3 weeks earlier.

The course doesn't lend itself to a negative split very well at all. In fact, it doesn't really allow for a good even split run. The first couple of miles drop straight downhill to the shore of Long Island Sound before leveling out to reach the 5k mark. The next 5k features several challenging uphills and a long stretch in the 5th mile that seems fairly flat but steadily gains elevation. To put the icing on the cake, at 5.5 miles there is a steep quarter-mile climb before the relief of a slightly downhill stretch to the finish.

The race went out fast. I am used to going out fairly fast as I tend to go to the front in races, but this time I didn't really have a chance. Through the first mile in 5:39 I was sitting way back in 8th or 9th. I gradually moved up during the second mile but was still sitting 7th despite dropping down to a 5:35 second mile and hitting the 2 mile mark in 11:15. Nick was about 15 yards ahead of me and it was beginning to seem like he wasn't going to come back but I waited, knowing that there was plenty of time left to strike. I hit the 5k point in 17:45, just 8 seconds slower than my time 3 weeks earlier. With Nick still ahead of me I knew he had just broken his PR over the distance, surely he couldn't hang on much longer!

As we hit the first few big hills I maintained my effort and caught Nick. Now I was up to 4th overall and I could feel 3rd place within my grasp which would have been "best of the rest" in my opinion, given how far ahead the 2 leaders were. On the long straight rise in the 5th mile I did my best to close down the gap to 3rd place but I slowly lost ground. Just after 8k my focus turned to maintaining 4th as a developed a painful side cramp. Doing my best to keep going and aleviate my cramp as best as I could I managed my only mile over 6 minutes up the steep final climb. I still felt like 3rd was almost with reach but even my final quarter mile at 5:14 pace couldn't close the gap enough.

I'm still very happy with my 4th place overall in a fairly competitive race that saw 13 runners break 38 minutes, and I managed to hold off the 3 close behind me who also broke 37 minutes. My time of 36:35 is also my second fastest 10k ever and on a very challenging course, that bodes well for my upcoming half-marathons!

Training Update

So far in 2013 training also couldn't be going better! I'm finally into a great routine of doing my workouts and I am determined to execute each to the best of my ability whether that means suffering on a trainer to do bike intervals or easing back for a light trail run. In the first 9 days of the year I've trained for 8, it's almost a shame that I happened to have a rest day to start off the New Year!

Week 1 was a fairly light training load with the two races and an off day for New Years, but for January 2nd-6th I hit 18.54 miles of running and rode 24.01 for an easy recovery ride on the trainer. I am going to add a tab at the top of this blog to keep a log of my weekly training miles and time. This will also hold me more accountable to getting my workouts done!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January-May Preview

With the cold winter weather upon us, the early months of the year have always been my favorite months to focus on improving my run fitness. Two winters ago I broke through into marathons with a shocking 2:51:03 in Miami improving my PR by almost 28 minutes! Last year I was running extremely well building up to the Boston Marathon and lowered my half-marathon time from 1:22:33 down to 1:17:43 in the span of a month. Unfortunately a foot injury, but primarily the heat, kept me from running fast in Boston but I rebounded and raced well for the remainder of 2012 including 3 overall victories.

In 2013 the year will start off in much the same way as 2012 with 3 big half-marathons mixed in with some serious bike training in preparation for 3 duathlons that I hope to be competitive in.

My spring schedule (aside from a couple of tempo races this week) looks like this:

  • January 27th - ING Miami Half-Marathon
  • February 16th - Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon
  • February 23rd - 2-20-2 Duathlon (Defending Champ & CR Holder)
  • March 17th - NYC Half-Marathon
  • April 6th - Double Oak Duathlon (World Championship Qualifier)
  • April 15th - The Boston Marathon
  • May 11th - Clemson Triathlon
  • May 19th - Shamrock Duathlon

Three half-marathons, three duathlons, one marathon, and one triathlon. Bring it on.