Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Joys of Small Races: Rockapulco Runs

Sorry for the radio silence folks! I had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend out of the city but came back to a ton of work. Since I'm still playing catch-up, the blog posts will be pretty light for the next few days.

I've blogged about small races before, but this weekend I had the opportunity to experience a great one, the Rockapulco Running Series Memorial Day 5-Miler. As the name implies, this is part of the Rockapulco Series, a nice set of runs out at Rockaway Beach. These races are small affairs run on the boardwalk with minimal perks, though most are chip timed. I didn't actually run on Saturday (still trying to take it easy) but I would still recommend these races to anyone.

So what makes them so great? I have never seen stronger community support than at this race. Every runner knew every other runner by name! I was there to cheer on a friend (who ended up coming in first for the women, by the way) and while I was milling around I was really impressed by how friendly folks were. The swag wasn't bad either. For her $20, my friend got a really nice t-shirt (I wish I had taken a picture) and even won a cheesecake and a sweatshirt for her first place finish!

This summer they also have a FREE Thursday run series with three distances, a 400m, a mile, and a 5k. I'd love to do these but I forgot to mention the one downside to these Rockaway races: they're a long way from Manhattan. Saturday my fried drove so it only took about 30 minutes to get to the race, but if you're taking the subway, allow yourself lots of time to get there.

Lastly, I have to post something from their website. See if it sounds like they're referring to any mega-running group you might know:

We think you should enjoy running and walking and not have to wait hours to run OR pay a lot OR go on lotteries to enter OR be forced to volunteer to enter the event :)
Did I mention the Rockapulco folks also put on a marathon?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Confession: I Cheated, Sort of

I cheated? What?!? I mean I ran fast last night even though I'm taking it easy. I pretty much decided to take the whole week off, something I don't think I've done since I sprained my ankle back in my junior year of college. I haven't been lazing around, though: I've done some strength and core work, things that get semi-neglected when I'm really training hard. 

A real life benchmark
Anyway, I said I cheated and I did. Four times a year my team has a benchmark workout where we do several "tests" to see where each person is at in terms of explosive strength, heartrate recovery, and VO2 Max. The last one was in March and it was my first benchmark workout and since the next one won't be for three more months I didn't want to miss last night's workout.

Unfortunately, as any of you on the Eastern seaboard likely know, mother nature wasn't so cooperative last night. I poured for quite a bit so the track was pretty wet. That meant we had to modify our tests so the only one I can compare to the last workout is the VO2 max test. The good news? I improved slightly since the last benchmark. The bad news? My legs still felt like crap last night. That's okay, though. I'm going to use it as an excuse to relax on the beach this weekend, catch up on crappy television, and probably visit a couple bars I've been meaning to check out. 

I promise this blog will return to real running soon but right now I'm kind of enjoying my break. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Brooklyn Half-Marathon Race Report

I don't think any race on the NYRR calendar this year has been as hyped up as the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. Well, at 4am on Saturday it was finally time to check out the hype. After a long ride on a 5am local train packed to the gills with runners I arrived at the Brooklyn Museum. I honestly could not believe the number of porta-potties (not all the runners were there yet--soon I couldn't believe their numbers). It felt more like a big city marathon than an outer-borough half. Before I get to the meat of my race report let me say a big hats off to NYRR for putting together a really well-run event.

The start corrals on Eastern Parkway
Somehow I found my teammates though I missed warming up with them because I had to wait in line for one last bathroom visit. After a brief warm-up on my own I made my way to the corrals. There may have been 15000 runners but since I was in the first corral with a bunch of my teammates it was easy enough to find folks. I even saw one of my running buddies, Bobby, who was there to cheer. Unfortunately I missed him on course later.

After a string of local politicians told us to "run smart," it was time for the start. Several of us had decided to go out at between a 1:24 and 1:25 pace. This was pretty conservative given that most of us have PRs several minutes lower. The first mile of the course is a mix of gentle downhill and uphill. I felt okay but not great--it wasn't effortless like the way I felt the last time I PR'd in the half. I passed mile 1 in 6:30 and we headed towards Grand Army Plaza. As I looped back around the circle for mile 2 in 6:23 I was beginning to "feel Boston" in my legs. Still, I was trying to hang with my teammates for as long as possible. That's why I did mile 3 in 6:10.

As we ran around the outside of Prospect Park, I started to convince myself that there was no point in trying so hard since it was clear my legs weren't going to let me PR or even break 1:23. I was running with one of my teammates who had also done Boston and I figured I would stick with him and then reassess. We entered the park and I did mile 4 in 6:28. I knew the only real hill of the race wasn't too far ahead and I think I started slowing accordingly. Miles 5 and 6 were 6:47 and 6:45 respectively.

As the course headed south again I realized I had lost my teammates, though several passed me at this point. I did mile 7, the last full mile in the park, in 6:25. As we exited onto Park Circle I saw several teammates out cheering which was awesome. I smiled and made the turn onto Ocean Parkway. All I could think about was the long stretch of monotonous miles ahead of me. I never felt bad but I never felt the rush that I expect in a race--it never felt like I had truly hit my stride.

My miles on Ocean Parkway went by in 6:33 (mile 8), 6:42 (mile 9), 6:40 (mile 10), 6:33 (mile 11), and 6:38 (mile 12). At one point I saw Matt, one of the team captains. I had run with him earlier and he had gone ahead but a pit stop had lost him some time. I said hi but didn't try to keep up. Instead of worrying about my time I made my goal to thank as many volunteers as possible. At mile 12 there was a large group of Whippets members cheering which was tons of fun.

Before I knew it I was turning onto Surf Avenue for the final stretch. I saw the "800m to go" sign and then it was time to turn onto the Coney Island Boardwalk. I charged up the ramp--probably the only time I passed anyone in the final 5 miles--and could see the finish. The time was getting close to 1:26 and I decided I had to have a finish time with a 1:25 in it so I picked it up and crossed with a net time of 1:25:50. It was my second slowest half-marathon (only my debut race back in 2008 had been slower). I had a really fun time thanks to my teammates--we hung out at the beach afterwards and enjoy comically large beers at Nathans--but had I been running alone I would have rated the day a failure.

As I posted yesterday, it was a true learning experience. I've done some of the toughest workouts in my running career over the past 6 months and run intervals at faster speeds than I thought possible but I've simply done too much. There's a reason I haven't PR'd at any distance other than the marathon since 2010, I haven't been training smart. So now it's time for some serous R&R because I'm ready to run fast and feel good again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Tough Decision, or Taking Some Down Time

I'm kind of starting with the end on this one. I'm going to post my Brooklyn Half-Marathon race report in the next day or so, but for now let me start with what I got out of this weekend: I realized something important on Saturday during the Brooklyn half, I need to take some time off of training.

Trying out my PowerPoint skills.
In December 2010 I began training for Boston 2011. After Boston (a PR) I took a week off and then began training for Bay to Breakers 2011 which was roughly one month later on May 15. Following Bay to Breakers I did take it easy for about two weeks, but then I dove into marathon training for Chicago which dominated the rest of the summer. After Chicago (another PR) I dialed back the mileage for a week but then ramped it up again since I was running New York. Although I ran New York for fun it definitely took a lot out of me. Unfortunately, about two weeks after New York I began seriously training for the Houston Half (not a PR). After Houston I began training for Boston 2012 (anyone who reads this blog or is even slightly connected to the world of running knows how that turned out). Of course, I took a week off after Boston but then it was back to training for Brooklyn.

The point of that long paragraph? It's been a long time since I took some serious down time. After a less than stellar performance on Saturday I've realized that I need some rest. Except for one workout on Thursday (a quarterly benchmark workout that won't take too much out of me), I'm not running at all this week. Next week I'll let myself run, but my rule will be no watch, and no schedule (though I'm doing a 3 miler on next week, the Wall Street Run). Basically, the plan is to pretty much take it easy until the Portugal Day 5 Miler. I'm not going to do any speedwork between now and then and I'm going to keep my mileage light and easy. I have a feeling this is going to be tough mentally, but I think it's what my body wants.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Random Friday Post: Race Signs

For anyone who has ever run a marathon or other big, you know you can usually expect to see plenty of fun spectator signs along the way. Many are specific to a particular runner, like "Go Dad!" or "Fred, you got this!" But there are plenty of awesome generic signs that can inspire every runner, or at least provide a good mid-race chuckle.

Too bad in the middle of a race our memories don't always work that well and we quickly forget some of the best signs. Well, the creative genius behind Jogging Jeans (which I've blogged about before) has created a relatively new site to capture some of the best race signs. Oddly enough, it's called Best Race Signs. I highly recommend checking the site out, but here a couple of my favorites:
I've seen "Don't Poop Your Pants" quite a few times, but I've never seen one this, um, family friendly before.
I never get tired of seeing signs about beer during a marathon since at that point I've usually been beer-free for about three weeks and am really looking forward to a cold one.

P.S. I'm going to be cheering at the New York Road Runners' Mini 10k, an women-only race, in a few weeks. Let me know if you have any great ideas for a mildly offensive/hilarious sign.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Incomplete History of the Brooklyn Half

This Saturday is the much anticipated (don't ask me why) Brooklyn Half-Marathon. New York Road Runners has been doing this race since 1981 and even though it's changed in many ways over the past 30+ years, this year includes what are likely the most sweeping changes in the event's history. What follows is not so much a complete history as it is a collection of random facts about the evolution of the race. Enjoy!

The 2006 start on the boardwalk from
In 1981 the inaugural race, which ran along Ocean Parkway, had about 1800 finishers. Back then the race was held in March, a tradition that lasted for more than 20 years. This meant that some years the runners had to deal with snow and ice instead of the heat that is sometimes a problem these days.

In the early days the Brooklyn Half was particularly competitive, attracting world-class runners like Dick Beardsley in 1983 (though he was forced to drop out at the 9 mile mark due to an Achilles injury). 

In 1996, after a showdown between the Mayor's office and then-Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden, the race returned to city streets for the first time in 5 years. The almost 2,250 finishers began on Coney Island, ran up Ocean Parkway, and ended the race in Prospect Park.

In 2002 the registration cost for members was $14, $20 for non-members.

In 2004 the race was moved from March to April and it included an out and back on the Boardwalk before heading up Ocean Parkway. Since 2008 the race has been held in May with it falling as late as Memorial Day weekend in 2009.

In 2009 the direction of the race was switched, with the start on Prospect Park's Center Drive and the finish on the Coney Island Boardwalk near the Parachute Jump.

Will any of this information help you run a better race this weekend? Probably not, but it may help you appreciate the race as a living breathing thing. Good luck to all of you running!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Visit to Harlem River Park

Yesterday I was officially sworn in as a member of the New York State Bar. Since I got the day off of work, naturally I did a celebratory run. Normally I celebrate with long runs (example, on the last day of law school I celebrated with a 14 mile run along the New Jersey side of the Hudson) but with a half-marathon next weekend I decided to keep the run short and easy.

There's been a whole lot of Central Park in my life lately (thanks in part to the "race" I did this weekend) so I decided to head north to Harlem River Park. Right now waterfront access on the East side is a little spottier than on the West. Currently you can run or bike along the water pretty much all the way from Batter Park to Inwood Hill Park on the West side without being interrupted by city streets. On the East Side, the pathways aren't as comprehensive.

Harlem River Park, built in 2009, was an effort to add a few more missing links to the East Side's waterfront greenway system. Right now the park stretches from E 132st St to W 145 (it ends at 5th Ave which we all know divides the West Side from the East Side). You can access the park at 135th Street, 139 Street, and 142 Street. Eventually the city hopes to extend the park southward so it can connect with the East River Greenway, which currently ends at E 125th Street, and the northern Harlem River Greenway, which runs from W 155th Street to Dyckman Street. For now, it's just a nice quiet little park that's definitely worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.

Friday, May 11, 2012

My, How the Park Has Changed!

There's a great article in tomorrow's Times (no I can't see into the future--it's already posted online) entitled "When Walkers Were Weird and Runners Few." The subject matter you ask? The Central Park Reservoir, a topic I've written about a few times.

As Christopher Gray begins:
Almost everyone calls the dirt path undulating around the Central Park reservoir the “runners’ track.” But ever since the ugly chain-link fence from the 1920s was replaced with a reproduction of the original in 2003, the path has often been crowded with walkers, dog owners and even cyclists jockeying for position. Runners resent the new arrivals on their course — but is it theirs?
He goes on to talk about the reservoir's long history. Construction began in 1858 and by 1862 it was actively supplying water to Manhattan. Apparently in 1926 the original wrought iron fence was replaced with an ugly utilitarian chain link fence. In 2003, after scuba divers found a remnant of the old fence at the bottom of the 40 foot deep reservoir, the Central Park Conservancy commissioned a replica, finally replacing the nearly 70-year-old eyesore.

The article does a nice job of saying that the runners weren't here first (although they arguably kept the track alive during the 1970s and 1980s when many folks thought it too dangerous for a leisurely stroll). At the end of the day we need to remember it's shared space.

I really encourage you to real the whole article--it has some nice historical vignettes.

Running in Circles

I remember in law school when Thursday nights meant Bar Review (read: copious consumption of alcohol). Before that, I remember college where Thursdays meant Thirsty Thursday (read: copious consumption of alcohol). These days, however, Thursdays mean track time (read: a brutal workout followed by a more moderate consumption of alcohol). Any of these three can leave you feeling a little beat-up the next day.

After last week's mile repeats I didn't figure it could get much more difficult, but I was wrong. Last night we had a ladder workout. That means the we started with shorter repeats but worked our way up to longer repeats and then worked our way back down again. Just based on that premise it doesn't sound too bad, huh? I forgot a couple of details though.

I think my paint skills are really progressing.
The repeats were 2x800, 2x1600, 1x3200, 2x800, 2x400--for the first seven sets (everything before the 400s) we only got a 200m rest in between. These repeats were to be done at half-marathon pace. For the final two repeats, the 400s, we got 400m of rest in between but they were to be done at 5k pace.

When it was time to divide up into pace groups there was a 6 minute group, a 6:30 group, a 7 minute group, etc. I knew I wouldn't make it if I went with the 6 minute group so I opted for the 6:30 group, even though that's a little slower than my half pace (by saying that I have probably jinxed myself for next week's half-marathon).

We started off a little fast with the first 800 in 3:04. The next one we did in 3:09. That was fine by me because that meant they were a little closer to my true HM pace. However, going into the first 1600 I began thinking about how truly short a 200m recovery is.

We did the first 1600 in 6:28--pretty much spot on. For the second one we somehow picked up the pace (I say we, but I was leading most of the time so I guess I mean me) to run 6:17. I was dreading the 3200 since I've never run that far on a track before but it wasn't too bad. We did it in 12:46 (or 6:23 pace).

Now, I forgot to mention earlier that the final set of 800s was optional. At this point most of the other guys running my pace decided to stop. Thankfully, one other runner, Ren, is as much of a glutton for punishment as I am. Of course, after doing the optional 800s (3:08, 3:07) we had to the optional 400s. I really felt myself pushing on these--1:24 and 1:25--and was thrilled to be done. At that point, however, one of the other guys who'd been running with the 7:00 minute group had one more 400 to go. Ren and I both decided to join him (what's one more 400?). I had wrongly assumed that it would be a slower lap; it wasn't. We did the final 400 in 1:23.

It was a punishing workout but that's what I was looking for when I joined the group--new challenges. I never would have made it through that workout on my own (I'm pretty sure I would have quite after the second 1600) but having other folks there to push me helped. Sadly, I was too tired afterword for beer. Next week?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tempo by Twilight

My posts have been a little sporadic this week because I'm getting ready to be sworn in as an attorney. Becoming a lawyer is like going through puberty: it seems to take forever, it's filled with uncomfortable moments, and just when you think it's almost over, there's another step. Anyway--barring any last minute surprises--I will be sworn in next Monday. 

Now back to running-related content.

On Tuesday night (boy does that seem like ages ago!) I met fellow Whippets in Central Park for our Tuesday speed workout. This week we had a tempo run on schedule. Out of all the different kinds of speed work, I find long tempo runs to be the hardest to do by yourself so I was only too happy to have other folks to run with.

The term "tempo run" gets thrown around a lot these days and folks seem to have very different ideas what it means. In my book (and by that I mean my copy of Daniels' Running Formula), a tempo run is a run done at a "comfortably hard" pace, something you could sustain for about an hour.

We didn't quite fit the Daniels definition on Tuesday, though we weren't far off. After an easy mile warm-up our goal was to do 6 to 8 miles at 15 to 30 seconds slower than half-marathon pace. The idea was that the pace wouldn't feel too difficult for the first several miles, but in the later miles it would be more difficult to maintain. It may be helpful here to throw in an alternate name for tempo runs: steady state runs. You're trying to maintain a consistent pace throughout the run even as fatigue sets in. [Note: Someone reading this blog might blow a gasket because some folks, like Greg McMillan, do not use these terms interchangeably.]

So, how did we do? I ran with three other guys and only one of us had a GPS watch. Since we were doing a four mile loop with no intermediate markers, we only had two chances to check our pace. That meant the run mostly went by feel. For the whole run we average around 6:45 pace. Our second loop was about 2 minutes faster than the first loop which probably isn't ideal, but it did serve as a confidence booster. Had I been running on my own one of two things would have happened: (1) I would have slowed down during the second loop, or (2) I would have called it quits by mile 6. All in all in was a great workout. Better still, it didn't start raining until after we had finished.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Previewing the Brooklyn Half

I'm a firm believer in the benefits of knowing a course before you race it. There are tons of variables on race day--the weather, how you're feeling, etc.--so anything you can do to make things more certain is a plus. By checking out the course before race day you can get a better sense of the terrain and adjust your pacing accordingly. You can also get a sense of what the tangents are (more on this in a late post). Obviously, when a race is in another city you may only be able to look at maps of the course before race day. When it's in your own backyard, however, it's worth doing a little pre-race recon.

This weekend I had the chance to run the Brooklyn Half course with some fellow Whippets. Since the race is only two weeks away, this seemed like a good weekend to check it out. I've run this race before, back in 2009, but they've changed the course since then and even if they hadn't, three years is a long time.

After a late night in Queens on Saturday, I hauled my butt out of bed on Sunday morning to catch the train to Grand Army Plaza to meet fellow runners. We had a great turn out--probably around 20 people--so we were able to split up into pace groups. It was a little warm but nothing too bad. If it's warmer on race day I'll definitely pack some beach gear for after the race.

I'm not going to summarize the course since you'll get that as part of my race report when I run the darn thing in two weeks. Instead, I'm just going to offer a couple of observations that might be helpful to any of you running:

  • The only "big" hill is inside Propsect Park around mile 5. Don't waste you energy here because you'll have plenty of downhill later to make up any lost time.
  • Ocean Parkway goes on forever! Don't let that discourage you, just remember that it's actually a net downhill. 
  • There's little to no shade in the second half of the course so sunscreen is a must.
  • The stretch on the boardwalk is extremely short so don't fret if you've never run on that kind of surface before.
  • It takes a long time to get back to Harlem from Coney Island so you might as well enjoy some hot dogs, ice cream, or pizza before heading back.

Friday, May 4, 2012

East River Mile Repeats

Thursday nights are track workout nights for my running team, the Dashing Whippets. Although I've been running with them for a little over two months now, before this week I had only made it to one track workout. There are two main reasons why I haven't been to more workouts. First, when I joined, I was halfway through my marathon training plan and didn't want to switch plans midway through the cycle. Second, these workouts are at the East River Park track. While it's a pretty decent facility, it happens to be about 1.2 miles from the nearest subway. As you may remember from a previous post a good track is hard to find in Manhattan.

I really want to get faster this year so last night I sucked it up and headed to the East Village after work. I always dread track workouts (any speed work, really) and I was still sore from Tuesday's workout so I had no idea what to expect from myself. The schedule called for 4 - 6x1600m repeats at 10k pace with 400m recoveries in between. As Scott, the coach, explained, the idea is to train yourself to run tired. It's as much mental as anything else. He offered the three of us who had run Boston an alternate workout (3 - 5x1200m with 800m recoveries) but we all decided to try the 1600s.

The workout actually went pretty well. I did the first 1600 in 6:10 but felt surprisingly good. After what seemed like an incredibly short recovery I did the next one in 6:06. Scott had said that those of us still in marathon recovery could stop at 3 if we wanted so as I began the third one I paid special attention to how my legs were feeling. I did it in 6:07 and decided I felt good enough to end on a even number. It helped that one of my teammates, Tom (who also did Boston), was running at about the same pace.

For the final repeat I tried to stay on pace for the first three laps. Once I got to the 200 mark, though, I began picking it up. When I hit the final straightaway I kicked it to finish the mile in 5:57. It was definitely tiring but I was extremely happy that I stuck with it. Now I'm really looking forward to a summer of speed work.
 Yesterday's Run: 7.5 miles total.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Getting Your @$$ Kicked By a Cat

Last night was my first speed workout since Boston and, as it turned out, my first set of hill repeats since last year's Boston training cycle (in my usual training I replace repeats with hilly long runs).  Anyway, on Tuesday nights my team--like so many others--meets for speed work in Central Park. With Brooklyn just over two weeks away I figured it was time to get my legs moving again.

Last night's workout? 5x800m hill repeats on Cat Hill. For those of you who (a) don't live in New York or (b) don't run in Central Park, Cat Hill is located on East Drive between approximately E 75thand E 81st. It's called Cat Hill because of Edward Kemeys' bronze "Still Hunt" sculpture of a cougar.* At just about a quarter mile and an average of 3.7% grade it's not the longest or steepest hill in the park--those distinctions belong to Harlem hill which is a third of a mile at 4.4% grade--but it still makes for a good workout. To get 800m we kept going after the crest of the hill, enjoying some downhilll, another rise, and some flat to finish just past the Met.

Our goal was to do the repeats at 10k pace. I haven't run a 10k since last summer but my old pace was around 6:10. Several of the guys said they would be running around a 6:15 pace and that sounded good so I set off with them. The first one felt comfortably hard. Could I have kept running at the end? Yes. Did I want to? No. Turns out we had run it in a sub-6 pace. We jogged back down and tackled the next one--5:45 pace. I joked about doing the third one at 5:30 pace--we didn't, but it was still sub-6. By now I could feel the marathon in my legs.

After three I wanted to stop (the workout schedule did say 3 to 5 repeats) but one my teammates suggested I do the next one a little slower and at least get in an even 4. I heeded his advice and did a 4th, still under 6:00 pace. After that one I knew I had to do all 5 but I took the last one a little easier, right around 6:08 pace--probably my actual 10k pace these days. After the repeats (including a slower 6th one to pace a teammate who still had one to go) I jogged home making it 9 miles for the night. It was a tough workout but I was really happy with myself afterward. I can't say my legs were happy with this morning, but that's why they invented the recovery run.

* Before Kemeys' statue was added in 1883 this stretch was called Cedar Hill.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dumb Ideas: Running the Brooklyn Bridge at Lunchtime

Yesterday I decided to go for a lunchtime run. Things aren't super busy this week at work and the extra hour or more of sleep that I get when I don't run in the morning sounded nice. All would have gone well but I overlooked one crucial fact--as soon as the weather turns nice, the Brooklyn Bridge walkway turns into a clusterf***.

Photo credit:
While the iconic bridge offers some of the best views in the city and is tantalizingly close to my office, it is no place to run at lunchtime on a nice day. Early morning? Okay. Raining outside? Should be fine. Warm and sunny? You'd have better luck traversing the seventh circle of hell. Of the three East River bridges that connect Brooklyn to Manhattan none draw tourists like the Brooklyn Bridge which unfortunately happens to have the narrowest walkway. It's divided by a white line between bikers and walkers, but few tourists manage to stay inside the line. I'm hardly the first person to document this phenomena (check out Vincent Mounier's post from last year for some great photos on the subject).

I have nothing against these tourists but the moral of the story is clear: if you want to quickly traverse the East River during peak hours, you are better off going north to the unloved Manhattan Bridge. The extra distance is more than made up by the time you save dodging oblivious tourists and the occasional angry biker. I think I'll save the Brooklyn Bridge for my crack of dawn commute runs from now on.
Yesterday's Run: 5.2 miles at 7:48 pace.