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Race to Stop the Silence 8K: Race Recap

26 Apr

Lace them up for another race

Anyone who has seen Drunk History’s take on the Edison-Tesla rivalry knows the best line from the spoof outside of “I’m inventing electricity… and you look like an asshole” is the following:

“This is hell. I’m in hell.”

This was the line I kept thinking about while shattering my 8K PR on Saturday morning in the Race to Stop the Silence 8K in downtown DC.

Positive thinking?  I’ll leave that for the yogis and New Ageists.

I’m Jewish.  I thrive on complaining.

So as my legs burned and my lungs heaved as I ran to break the 40-minute mark, that line was the only thing I thought about.  This is hell.  I’m in hell.

Because holy fuck balls, people.  It was hell.

Am I running a race in the 1920s?

I signed up for the race specifically because I love the 8K distance.  You run faster than you would at a 10K but without the lactic acid-burning horror show of a 5K.

My goal was break my previous PR — 41:32.  My secret goal, though, was to break 40 minutes, a lofty target I came up with shortly after running a 48:54 in the Marine Corps 10K in 2009, when I piggybacked my friend Heather’s jackrabbit pace and smashed a PR I still consider unbreakable.

But over the past few months, with knee injuries slowing me down and speed becoming a rarer and rarer feature of my running, the idea of ever breaking any PR started to creep in.  Maybe, I wondered, my fastest races were behind me.

Forget my opinion.  Let’s consider the facts:

Through the end of 2009, when running a race in which I had an opportunity to PR, I did so 9 out of 16 times.  This means I PR’d in more than 56% of the races I ran.

Since then, though, I have PR’d in only 2 out of 12 races I have run, good for a 16.7% PR rate.

In addition, I hadn’t PR’d at any major race distance since my last 8K, which was in May 2010.

Now I know that the law of diminishing returns dictates that of course I would PR less often over time.  Still, I didn’t think I had hit my ceiling so soon.

Race photographers could learn a thing or two from Epod

I woke up Saturday morning feeling good.  Epod and I biked down to Freedom Plaza with plenty of time for me to pick up my bib and packet.

With only about 600 people running the 8K, the race had a “small town feel” to it, which was great.  I was able to line up close to the starting line and only took me 12 seconds to go through after the proverbial gun went off.

Now, the course was a bit of a clusterfuck.  Though we were running southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue from 13th Street, we veered down and back up three streets before even getting to the 3rd Street turn.  If you had seen us from above, we resembled a saw.

This caused some groaning due to so many tight turns.  Still, I found myself running the first mile in the 7:30s and though I told myself I was going too fast and I might blow up, I felt strong so I allowed myself to keep going.

My usual game plan in any race is simple:  negative splits.  But as this race went on and I realized I was going faster than planned and the loop back would be slightly uphill, I threw the original plan out the window and came up with a new one, the Steve Prefontaine plan:  run like hell and hang on for dear life.  Which is what I did.

I tried to break the race into manageable thirds, starting out fast for the first third, cruising and conserving energy for the middle third, and then throwing caution out the window for the final third.  By the time I was in the final third, though, I was in serious pain.

But it wasn’t unmanageable pain.  It was all-out effort pain, which is what you need to go through sometimes when racing for a PR.  I kept chugging and chugging and was so happy to see Epod in the final stretch yelling my name but was too tired to even muster a head nod.

In fact, I didn’t even look at my watch to see if the elusive under-40 goal was in sight.  I just…ran.

When I crossed the finish line, I caught my breath and looked at my Garmin.  I couldn’t believe it.

This is hell. I'm in hell.

Epod came running over, knowing I had beat my PR.  She threw her arms around me and told me how proud she was of me.  I couldn’t even spare one second, I told her, trying to explain the situation while panting.

My splits looked like this:

Mile 1:  7:27

Mile 2:  7:59

Mile 3:  8:14

Mile 4:  8:10

Mile 5:  7:55

And the final 0.04 mile sprint to the finish line:  13 seconds, a 5:25 pace.

Now I know I still can break PRs once in a while.  Even if it means going through hell.

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Groundhog Day at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

4 Apr

When I first ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in 2009, I posted a time of 1:29:47.

That race was a pivotal moment for me since, at the time, it was the longest distance I had ever run and the first time I had ever run under a 9-minute pace.

History, it seems, has a way of repeating itself.

After not running it last year, I raced Cherry Blossom again yesterday and posted — yes, you guessed it —  exactly 1:29:47.

What are the odds?

Not one second off from my previous time.  What are the odds that that could happen?  I don’t think I could have hit that if I had tried to match the same time.

I didn’t go into the race thinking I would beat my course PR.  In fact, I had the same attitude I carried into the SunTrust Half last week and just wanted to enjoy myself and not have any ITBS pain.

Epod and I woke up at 5:30 AM and took the Metro down to the Mall.  I felt very excited to run the race again after missing last year’s to go to my best friend’s bachelor party (I gave my bib to a buddy) and had memories of my 2009 race, the run that changed the way I even thought about running.

Epod putting on her bib while we wait for the Metro

Ready to go

That was the race that made me feel like a real runner.  I had such a tremendous runner’s high that lasted days if not weeks that it probably led to my original ITB pain from overuse.  For days, I couldn’t not run.  I was out on the roads every day, pushing too hard, not being smart, and chasing that elusive high.  After a couple of weeks of increased workload, I felt pain in my left knee and realized I had aggravated my IT band.

Many miles later, I learned my lesson.  And yesterday was my reward.

I ran the beginning of the race extra slow, pacing the first 2 miles in a very easy 20:15.  Epod and I ran together for the most part, chatting and doing some fun people-watching.

Outta my way!

Corralled

But after crossing back into DC on the Memorial Bridge, I felt great and pushed my speed into the low 8:20s and 8:30s over the next 7 miles.

As each mile came and went, I knew I had a shot at beating my course PR and decided if I was pain-free and felt good, I would go for it.

View of Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial from Arlington

Cherry Blossoms at Hains Point

At mile 9, I looked at my Garmin and realized I would have to run exactly an 8-minute mile to match 1:29:47.  I knew I had the energy to try but if there was anything that would stop me, it would be the packed course.  I had been dodging runners left and right throughout the entire race and in the last stretch, it wasn’t showing any signs of thinning.Still, I buckled down and got to work.  My side was hurting and my legs were sore from the faster-than-expected turnover, but I told myself that if I didn’t try as hard as I could, I would be pissed at myself.  Just try, I told myself, and who cares what the clock says.

Chasing shadows

The last mile of the Cherry Blossom race course is lined with thousands of supporters, many with great signs (“You think this is hard, try dating ME”) and doling out high-fives and words of encouragement.  I busted ass up the hill and when I saw the finish line banner, I sprinted with everything I had.

I barreled that last mile in 8:05, plus the final .11 on my Garmin at a 6:40 pace.  I literally could not have run any faster.

I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and gasped for breath.  I walked a few steps after steadying myself and looked down at my watch.  1:29:49.  Two seconds? I thought.  I missed it by two seconds?

I would find out later, obviously, that my Garmin was off by those two seconds in my favor.  But at the time, all I could do was smile and shake my head.  I tried the hardest I could and made it close, so I was satisfied.

CB race medal

I picked up some water, a banana, a muffin, and my medal and met Epod by the Washington Monument.  We took some photos and shared stories of our respective race experiences (she also killed it, beating her course PR) before getting cold and going home.

Starting to freeze our asses off

After realizing I had matched my 2009 time, I thought about how I could have beat my course PR if I had just run one second faster.  By the same token, though, I also realized I could have missed my course PR if I had run one second slower.

Maybe next year, I’ll go for three in a row.

PRs for everyone at the SunTrust National Half!

28 Mar

One year after we ran the SunTrust National Marathon — our first 26.2 race ever — Epod, Heather, and I were back at RFK on Sunday to race the event again.  This time, though, we “only” did the half.

Eight months after they moved to Denver, Heather and her boyfriend D were back in DC to visit and run the National Half.  Their goals were to beat a certain time, maybe even get a PR.  My goal?  To run the whole race pain-free.

Also, to not fall while filming it:

Race week started with a couple of 5+-mile runs that felt great.  I had been icing and stretching and foam-rolling my right knee all week, determined not to fall apart at the end of the half on Saturday.  By Friday, I was feeling strong and confident as we went to the Stadium Armory for packet pickup.

There, I met a couple of giants in the racing world.  Kara Goucher, who’s running Boston next month and who seemed genuinely excited to meet me (celebrities sure seem taller in person):

And Dana Casanave, who last year raised thousands of dollars for an African charity by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks last year.  She gave a really inspirational speech and was super nice to random people approaching her and asking for photos (also, VERY tall):

On race eve, Epod, Heather, D, and I went to Pasta Mia for a carbo-loading dinner.  We consumed two bottles of wine, two baskets of bread, and four plates of enough pasta to feed a small village.  Seriously, we could have split one dish and I still would have eaten enough glycogen to get me through the race.  But since I’m not a quitter, I ate way too much and followed dinner up with a few beers at a buddy’s BBQ that evening (not the way to get a PR, by the way).

I had trouble sleeping and woke up at 4:30am on Saturday groggy and bleary-eyed.  I picked up Kate and we all drove to the madness that was RFK, where no one knew anything about parking or where to go but where we luckily found a spot on East Capitol that a cop implied would “probably” be OK to park in.

We hung out and stretched for a while inside Stadium Armory (and admired the hell out of Kate’s awesome running tights) before we headed out to the cold to start the race.

My goal, like I said, really was to just run pain-free.  For the first time in a while, I had no number in my head when it came to a time goal, so it felt sort of liberating not to worry about a quantifiable target.  I knew that if I ran too hard and aggravated my IT band, I would be pissed at myself.  And I knew I couldn’t break my PR of 1:54:44 so I decided to just have fun.

This goal was further cemented by the fact that there would be a huge hill around mile 7 that would wipe me out if I didn’t conserve enough energy.  Running up Connecticut and Columbia avenues is not the most fun aspect of running; luckily, there is so much support from Dupont to Adams Morgan that the time flies by.

Race support matters so much it’s almost surprising.  Random strangers cheering you on just makes you happier and you (subconsciously, at least) run better hearing their cheers.

I also had several friends who came out to watch:  MJ at mile 4 on Constitution Ave, and Ryan and Nicole both at mile 7-ish on Columbia.  I like to stop and say hi when I see friends but they seem to think I’m in a hurry or something and often make me keep going.  How about a breather, come on!

By mile 9, I was dragging and it was all too easy to walk a bit longer during water breaks.  But at mile 9.3, just as I was about to eat my second serving of shot blocks, I felt a hard slap on my ass as a runner flew by, her blonde ponytail swinging side-to-side.  “Fuck!” I yelled as I realized Epod, who had taken an early 3-minute port-a-pottie break, had caught up and passed me.

No time for shot blocks, I thought, my competitive juices flowing.  I cannot let her beat me.  I picked up the pace and started to trail her in the hopes of reeling her in.

Yet step after step, I could not catch her.  Her stride looked effortless and I knew she was running a special race.  Passing her would just be a dick move, I thought, even if I could catch up to her.  By mile 12.5, when I knew my knee would be OK, I finally ran faster and caught her.

We ran the rest of the way together, with Epod showing a surprising kick that left me in the dust the last few yards.  We ran the last mile or so at an 8:45 pace and finished with the same chip time of 2:08:38.

It was my third slowest half marathon time but one of my most enjoyable.  It was Epod’s PI-PR (post-injury personal record), which gave her a runner’s high the rest of the day.

We got through the clusterfuck of the finish line and food tent and met up with D and Heather, who ran a PR of 1:42:04 (maybe a slight hangover is good for running).  We also saw MJ, who I know wished she had been able to run it with us.

We warmed up inside the Armory and then went back out to cheer on Kate, who was running her first full marathon.  We saw her just as she crossed the finish line in 3:27:56 and had so much energy she was reportedly dancing at mile 16.

Kate invited us to her place for  a post-race brunch.  One of the great benefits of running is how tasty food is after a long race.  We scarffed down cookies, quiche, fruit, banana bread, and mimosas like it was going out of style.

When we got home that afternoon, Epod and I fell asleep and snoozed for I don’t know how many hours before waking up around 6pm.  It was a great race day, one I won’t forget anytime soon.

Next race?  Cherry Blossom 10-miler this Sunday!

NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon recap

22 Mar

No, you haven’t time traveled to the past.  Well, maybe you did, in which case, let me know how you did it.  I’m posting my video recap of the NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon from January since now I have a blog.

This race was my worst half marathon time ever — 2:17:58 (10:32) — thanks to some excruciating IT band pain that started around mile 8.  I received a cortisone shot just one week before the race but, apparently, it didn’t take.  Still, it was an outstanding event, got to run around Central Park, and I loved the die-hard attitude of so many dedicated New York runners.

Also, this is the first video I ever created.  So don’t be a dick: