RR #27: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k

I thought that Ragnar DC was going to be my last run for a while.  My plan had been to run that event, enjoy myself, and then take some time off from running to focus on some CrossFit goals.  I like how running makes me feel, but sometimes the actual doing of the thing is not my favorite.  And then, I ran Ragnar DC, and the curious thing that happens when you get around other runners having a good time … happened.  We started talking about the next events we want to run, the next races.  We started making plans.  And the next thing I know, I’m signing up for races.

I ran the Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k last year.  That was my first real attempt at getting back into running shape and running a race.  That 2016 Pancake Run represented my first “serious” race in over two years.  And I had a good run – I missed a PR by a minute or so, which was still a good outcome for me.  The race was pretty well run, though small, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was raining and not a generally nice day.

My sign-up for the Pancake Run this year was prompted by two things.  First, I thought I was capable of finally breaking through the 30 minute barrier in a 5k.  The fat guy holy grail of a sub-30 minute 5k had eluded me now for several races, and this looked like an opportunity to get it done.  For whatever reason, 5k races don’t make my calendar much anymore.  Since that Pancake Run last year, I have run three 10ks, two half marathons, and a Ragnar … but no more 5ks.  This was a chance to see what I had.

The other reason to sign up for this was that they do a kid’s fun run – and the kids get medals.  My 5-year old has shown a lot of interest in running in these events with me, and he particularly likes the idea of starting a medal collection to begin to rival mine.  He has asked several times about kid’s runs as part of my larger events, and this one seemed like an obvious choice.  The start line is about a mile and a half from my house, and though my race started at 7:45am, the kid’s run wasn’t scheduled to start until 9am.  That sets up perfectly, so I signed us up.

Relatively last minute, we got a nice surprise – my brother-in-law, good old 6-minute, was coming to visit that weekend and he had signed up to run the 10k, his first.  So my family was represented in each of the events.  Dan is fast enough that I told him ahead of time he had a shot of winning the whole thing.  You never can tell if these things are important to him, but I found the idea very cool.

5k Start

They did a packet pick-up at town hall the day before.  I swung through on my way to work to pick up all three bibs and the shirts for me and Dan.  Our bibs had chips on them for timing, so they were obviously specific to us, but the bibs for the kid’s run were a stack of the race bibs you can buy at any running store.  Because I was the first one to pick up a kid’s bib, I got #1 for Noah.  He was excited for the run, anyway, but this was extra cool.

Where’s Matthew?

The morning of the race, Dan and I headed over a bit early to take care of bathroom and warm-up duties.  Plenty of port-a-potties, and a lot more people than were there the year before.  There was apparently a group warmup that we missed, and they sang the National Anthem though we were way back and couldn’t really hear it.  Dan lined up at the 10k start and took off at 7:30am.  The starting line for the 5k is in a different place than the one for the 10k, so they actually have to move the timing mat between the races – this causes a delay in the 5k start, and we got lined up to go.  Last year I lined up near the middle and got bottled up nearly immediately.  I learned that lesson and lined up about three rows from the front this year, and that worked out perfectly.

3-2-1, and we were off.  Because I was shooting for 30 minutes, which requires a 9:39 or better pace, my goal was to go out fast and try to hold it as long as I could, and then settle back into a 9:30 or so pace to bring it home.  I know from recent runs that I am capable of handling the 9:39, so I just wanted to build myself a cushion at the beginning.  And that is basically how this turned out.

My spot for lining up was perfect.  The guys in front of me took off, never to be seen again.  But nobody really passed me, either.  So I wound up being in just the right place.  This course winds around a little bit, and one benefit I had was that I knew where we were going.  I tried to focus on my breathing and hitting the tangents as closely as possible.  The weather was nice – temps in the upper 60s, low 70s, and low humidity – so everything was set up for this to go very well.

The first mile was a standard 5k first mile – get out really fast and try to figure out whether you can hold that pace.  Maybe half a mile in our course converged with the 10k course, so by the second turn there were several fast people around, which helps with that motivation as well.  I was being passed by super-fast 10k runners, but that was it.  My brother-in-law was already ahead of me by this point, and I didn’t see him again until the finish line.  I finished that first mile in 8.23, which may be the fastest mile I have run since high school.

Mile #2 featured a little out-and-back into one of the big parks in town, and so I was able to see a couple of friends and gym-mates that were also running.  I still felt good, though my shins were starting to act stupid, like they do when I’m trying to run fast without warming up super well.  I didn’t think I could hold that 8.23 pace, so I was deliberately throttling down to avoid a major blow-up near the end.  I finished the second mile in 8.57.

By this point, I was so far ahead of my goal pace that only an injury or something really weird could have kept it from happening.  I was 2 miles in in 17.20, so I had over twelve and a half minutes to run 1.1 miles.  I throttled back again, just to make sure I didn’t bonk hard, and tried to focus on my breathing.  The last bit of this race runs by the elementary school in town and then heads back up to the finish line.  My brother-in-law had already finished his 10k, but wasn’t expecting me in for another couple of minutes, so was surprised to see me coming.  He ran me in the last hundred yards or so for a strong finish.  Mile #3 came in at 9.31, and then the last 0.1 mile at 29 seconds, for a finishing time of 27 minutes and 20 seconds.

So … THAT’S spectacular!  I beat my goal time by over two and a half minutes.  For the first time ever I ran a sub-9.00 mile for more than one mile – my overall pace for the race was 8.49 over 3.1 miles.  And I obliterated the line for the fat guy holy grail of the 30 minute 5k.  I now am in the sub-30 5k group, hopefully never to leave it again.  I finished 5th out of 18 in my age group (Male 31-40), about a minute and a half behind the guy that finished 4th.  The craziest stat, though, is that I finished 28th out of 242 runners overall – just outside of the top 10% .

I am now officially in better shape than I have been in since high school.  And though I was faster back then, I am almost certainly stronger now – if I could use the hopper test, there is a good chance I am in better shape than I have ever been.  It is immensely gratifying to know that all of this work and focus is paying off, not just in how I look and the clothes I wear, but also in the physical things my body is capable of doing.  27.20!  Woot!

Notes

  • My brother-in-law finished third overall in the 10k and won his age group. His time was 38.43 – a 6 minute, 15 second pace.  A friend described that time as pornographic.

Dan-the-Man, coming in for the win!

  • One thing that was cool about this race was that they did a kids fun run. The kids even got a medal and everything. When I did packet pickup, I was the first one there that asked for a fun run bib, so my five-year old got to be bib #1, which was even more exciting.  At the event, the lady running the fun run saw my 2 year old and asked if he didn’t want to run?  Turns out that they have an under-3 group for the run, as well.  So both kids got bibs and got to do their own runs – and got their own medals, which we are hanging in my office near where I hang mine.  That whole little thing is a big reason I’m doing all of what I’m doing – I want my kids to grow up in and around an active lifestyle … I want them to never know anything different.  It worked this time – they had a blast.

  • This was a pancake run, so there were pancakes and sausage and coffee and orange juice after, which is nice. The race takes place at the fire department, so they had the trucks out.  And they had bounce houses and games for the kids.  There was also a raffle.  Lots of activities, and on a perfect weather day.
  • Speaking of perfect weather – the turnout was much higher than the year before. The 5k had 242 finishers, and I think last year’s race was in the 150 range. So I hope the Rotary Club had a good day of fundraising. The timing and location are pretty perfect for me, so it looks like this one is going to be an annual 5k for me.
  • The SWAG for this one is good, too, especially for a small inexpensive race. There is a cotton race shirt, a small medal, and of course the pancake breakfast free for runners.  I’m still a little perplexed at the idea of getting medals for 5ks, and it still feels weird hanging it next to my half marathon medals.  But not so weird I don’t hang it…

The kids were happy that their medals were bigger than mine…

  • My next scheduled race is the Celebration Half Marathon on January 28th. I got my PR in that race last year, by something like 15 minutes.  I don’t expect to take another 15 minutes off this year, but I’m definitely going to try and go PR it again.

A three minute PR, under 9 minute miles, getting the fat guy holy grail, and watching my family be a part of all of this?  That’s a good day, right there.

Race Report #23: Celebration Half Marathon

When I registered for the Celebration Half Marathon, I actually viewed it as more of a training run than a goal race.  I’m registered for the Gasparilla Half Marathon in late February, and I had registered so early that I believed I could get in a “practice” half marathon and still have time to recover for a real push at Gasparilla.  Also – I live in Celebration.  It felt like if I were going to be doing a 12 or 13 mile training run in town, I might as well get a medal for it.  All indications are that the race is very well run and very runner friendly … so I signed up.

Training went well.  I’ve clearly gotten faster, which I attribute largely to endurance gained with Crossfit.  My taper was very non-traditional – two weeks before the race I ran most of the actual course, about 12.25 miles by the time I was done.  And then I didn’t go for another formal run for those two weeks.  I went to Crossfit 6 days a week, and that often included running, but at no time did I go out for a run.  For dinner on Saturday night I made a chicken barley soup and homemade bread to carb up, and called it a taper.  My prior half marathon PR was 2:36 flat – my stated goal going into this was a PR, my secondary but really no-brainer goal was under 2:30, my stretch goal was under 2:25, and in my wildest dreams I hoped to get under 2:20.

Florida in January is generally a glorious place to be.  For the last several weeks the highs have been from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with lots of sunshine and low(ish) humidity.  Winter training here is a completely different thing than winter training in New York.  Everything was going great until we started checking the forecast a week or so out – mid to upper 40s and rain.  From like 4am to 10am on that Sunday – the exact window that the race was scheduled to run in – Central Florida was going to get rain.

<sigh>

The race expo was at town hall, from 5pm to 9pm on Friday and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.  My thought was that I’d get there right around 5 on Friday and beat the rush.  Apparently that was a good idea, because by the time I got there the line to pick up bibs was quite long.  They moved it along quickly, though, and we got our bibs and a bag full of coupons and headed inside to the expo.  We all got very nice steel tumblers as part of our SWAG (very nice), and my bib number won a door prize – which was one of last year’s shirts.  The shirts we all got this year are very nice, and there was a small but nice expo with several vendors and local companies.  Then I did my best to stay off my feet until Sunday morning.

Race day, I got up 20 minutes earlier than normal, ate my traditional pre-race oatmeal and coffee (got to keep things, well, moving) and prepped up.  Because of the rain I had purchased a throw-away rain jacket at BJs for $13, and tried to dress warmly but not too- warmly.  The walk down to the start line was a bit over a mile, and about halfway there I passed a parking lot and entered the masses.  I’d brought along a coat in a gear check bag, so when I made it downtown I went and checked that at the very neat little area they had set up and then started wandering around trying to stay warm.  I knew several people running the race, but never did see any of them before we got started.  Of course, there were 2,500 of us milling about between the half and the full, not including family and volunteers, etc.

celebration-half-start-line

The corrals were not formal, but there were plenty of signs designating where to start.  There were also professional pacers scattered throughout, so there was plenty of signage.  Lots of port-a-potties, so I got one last stop in, and then lined up just in front of the pacer with the 11:05 pace sign.  National Anthem, 3-2-1 go, and we were off.  I dropped my raincoat just on the other side of the start line and the race was on.

Lots of congestion early on.  The first mile of the course features several turns through a nice neighborhood, which is lovely when you’re running with a handful of people.  When you’re running with several hundred, though, those turns really bog down as people try to run the tangents.  Also, and I hate to be negative about this, but there is really no excuse in a start area this well signed for people that are going to be walking within the first mile to have been in front of me.  There were a few people running a Galloway-type run-walk program, some even with beepers, but they were all very courteous about stops and starts and stayed over to the side.  Other than that, though, if you’re going to be walking that early, line up farther back.  <sigh>  My first mile was the third slowest, at 11:09.

celebration-half-route

Right at the first mile marker, two things happened.  First, we turned out of that neighborhood and began running a much more straight course, which cleared up much of the congestion.  Another, though, was the first of the spectators that was specifically cheering for a group of friends running the race, including me.  She and her kids had created a sign with “You Can Do It!” on one side and “Go <insert names here>!” on the other.  I could tell I was the first of our group to go by, because I seemed to take her by surprise, and by the time she got the sign turned around I was already by.  That kind of support, though, makes a monster difference – it was cool.  My second mile settled into very comfortable pace and came in at 10:39.

The third mile is a big out-and-back through a neighborhood called North Village.  I don’t like out-and-backs, but I had practiced this particular one several times since I knew I’d be running it.  I passed the time on the way out scanning the runners that were coming back, and then vice-versa on the way back.  I didn’t recognize anybody, but it sure made the miles go faster.  Mile 3 was a 10:38 mile.

This course is very, very flat.  Over the whole 13.1 miles, my Garmin only picked up 32 feet of elevation gain, total – and that’s not net, just the number going up.  Mile 4 goes through a stretch, though, that I’ve always felt like is slightly downhill.  Any time I run that stretch I always feel great going through there, and this time was no different.  Nothing remarkable – we wound around near the Water Tower Shoppes and then ran in front of the Disney offices here in town, headed toward the hospital.  Only one turn in mile 4, which helped it come in at 10:31.   At this point I was feeling very good and knew I had a very good chance to hit my goals, even the stretch or dream goals.  The rain had been spitting all morning, and it was chilly, but overall things were going very well.

For mile 5, we wound in around behind the Celebration Hospital, running through their parking lot and access road.  Here I should also say that the support on-course was GREAT.  There were police and volunteers at every intersection, and water stops with water and Gatorade at very regular intervals.  Particularly with the weather like it was, it was great to have that much support.  In my practice run two weeks before, I had refueled with a Lara Bar at the end of mile 5.  It felt too heavy on my stomach, so this time I brought lighter Nutri-Grain bars.  There was a water stop just before the mile marker, so I took my first walk break to eat that bar and wash it down.  Because of that little stop, mile 5 was a bit slower at 10:50.

At that point, though, we turned off onto a roughly 2.5 mile stretch of just straight running.  They had blocked off a lane on the main road coming into town and we had the whole thing for that stretch.  Wide lanes, no turns, just running, leads to good splits, and miles 6 and 7 were my fastest in the race – 10:29 and 10:21, respectively.  The marathon organizers had several signs printed up to line this stretch (“You’re running better than the government!” and “Hurry up marathoners, the half-marathoners are eating all the food!”, etc.)  There were also a few spectators, including one couple that had a big sign “Free Gatorade for runners!” and a cooler full of 20oz Gatorades.  Again, the support means a great deal.   These miles seemed to fly by, and I hit the official 10K split in 1:06.44, which is less than 3 minutes off of my 10K PR that I set on Thanksgiving.  And I still felt strong.

Just after the mile 7 marker we turned off onto a potentially hazardous stretch.  Celebration was basically built on a big swamp, and throughout town there are miles of paths that include boardwalks through some of the old forest.  These boardwalks are very nice, and make a lovely stroll or even a run under normal circumstances.  They are also very slippery when they get wet – and it was raining.  Between that and how narrow they are, we were warned multiple times to be very careful, and to stay right unless passing but don’t even really do that.  Most of mile 8 was on a boardwalk, and though I didn’t see any accidents or incidents, I also slowed down to a manageable 10:48 pace.  I both wanted to stay safe and also wanted to start conserving energy – my legs were starting to feel the miles, and about mile 9 was when I bonked pretty hard on my long training run.  So I throttled back a bit, and in the end this was the right strategy.

2017-01-29-09-21-37-1

At about mile 8.5 we came off of the boardwalk and crossed over a bridge into a neighborhood called Artisan Park for about 1.5 miles.  That bridge is the only way in and out of Artisan Park, so that’s where I’d told my wife to be if she wanted to bring the kids to cheer.  Both of my kids, but particularly the young one, have been pretty sick lately – and it was raining – so I had told her the night before that if they couldn’t make it I would not have my feelings hurt.  It was more important to keep everybody healthy than to get them all wet.  So I rounded that corner not knowing what to think – and there they were!  Part of my motivation for doing all of this is to be a good role model for my kids – I want them to see their Daddy doing healthy things and making active choices and living that kind of life.  And so when they see me and smile and give me fives and act excited – well, there really isn’t anything better.  It was awesome.  Just past my family I took another walk break to eat my second Nutri-Grain bar.  Between stopping to say hi and then eating that bar, mile 9 was by far my slowest at 11:29.

I have a standard loop that I do through Artisan Park … and this course actually cuts that loop off, making it feel like I’m cheating.  That helped.  I also saw another group of spectators that I knew – some friends live down in Artisan Park, and the wife was also running the race.  It is always good to get personalized words of encouragement – in this case a big “Go Hogs!” in reference to the Arkansas Razorbacks pullover I was wearing.  This got me through mile 10 in 10:37.  We also crossed the 15k mat in Artisan Park – my official 15k split was 1:40.44, which is nearly a 9 minute PR at that distance.

2017-01-29-09-22-49

My family was still there when I came back over the bridge – so another round of high fives and smiles later, I had my motivation to finish.  The final three miles are always a mental exercise, making sure your mind doesn’t tell your body to stop.  At this point I knew that I was going to finish in under 2:25, and what kept me going was the chance at getting under 2:20.  But I was also tired, so I started hitting every water stop … and then it was just put your head down and get to the finish.  Mile 11 goes through a little neighborhood called Aquila Loop (10:54), Mile 12 is partly in East Village and partly on a very nice path on the back edge of town all the way to Lake Evalyn (11:11), and then at the beginning of Mile 13 the full marathon course turns for its second loop and the half marathoners loop around behind the main lake in town, cross through the original startline, and wind around to the finish right in the middle of downtown.  In Mile 13 the rain picked up a little, but it was an 11:00 mile, and that last 0.1 mile I did at a 10:00 pace, to finish in 2:21.52.

Nearly a 15 minute PR!

celebration-half-preliminary-results

So, yeah, I was pretty amped up.  They’ve got a chute set up to run through at the finish, and they were calling names.  Lots of people were cheering, music, a great atmosphere.  In the chute we got our medals, a Clif bar, a bottle of water, orange slices, bananas, and a little cover-up from the rain.  I inhaled all of that that was edible, probably through a big smile.  I went over and retrieved my checked bag so I could put a heavier coat on, and then cheered the other runners until my friends came by.  At about 2:40 the winner of the full marathon came through, flying – I saw him coming and thought “Wow, that guy is running fast” before I could see his bib and tell he had run a completely different race.  Once everybody around me realized what he was, there was a really big cheer.  It is impressive watching somebody do something you can’t.

And at that point I headed to the after-party, which is really really great for a race this size.  All of the local restaurants had a tent set up with food.  You got a card with all of their logos on it, which entitled you to a sample at their tent.  It was awesome.  We got two beers at the beer tent, a mimosa at that tent, and the restaurants had awesome food – standouts were the clam chowder from the Tavern, the black beans and rice from the Columbia, and the chili from Market Street diner.  Café D’Antonio had big doughy pizza, and Upper Crust had hot rolls.  I didn’t make it to all of the tents, but I know Imperium Wine and Avocado’s Mexican were out there, too – as well as Starbucks.  Just an awesome perk for the runners.

2017-01-29-10-25-14

I could not be happier with that run.  My training was good, but at the end of the day my mileage was lower than when I trained for the half marathons I did in the past.  I’m convinced that the difference is Crossfit – my cardiovascular endurance, as well as my leg and core strength, are drastically improved from what they were, and I got there without pounding my legs out on all of those miles.  To be this much faster than before, AND injury free, is an awesome feeling.

If you’re looking for a small, flat, fast, runner-friendly race, I’m not sure you could possibly do any better than the Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon.

15 minutes!

Notes:

  • Everybody on social media is raving about the race, as well they should. Lest I be considered biased, there is one decent complaint – the area where they do the bag check is not covered, and if you didn’t put your stuff inside something waterproof in your bag, your stuff probably got wet.  Mine did.  That was a bit annoying – to have thought ahead to pack a dry warm coat, and then have it be pretty wet, was not what I was looking for.  BUT – it wasn’t all that bad, and I’m going to give them a break.  I’m going to bet they haven’t seen weather this crappy since they started this race, and I’ll also bet that the next time it rains on race day they’ll have a solve for this.  At the end of the day, this was pretty minor.
  • It turns out that I’m not going to be running Gasparilla – the cost and logistics of getting to that area on that day are just prohibitive, and the Crossfit Open starts that weekend. Also, it’ll be nice to take a break from training for a race – though it’ll be a short break, because the next one is not that far out.  All of that to say – running this was absolutely the right call, all the way around.
  • There is something really odd about running a decently big goal-type race in your own town when you walk to and from the starting line. These are routes I run all the time, and this was just like a training run – except with a couple thousand of my closest friends, and water stops along the way.  Kind of surreal, really.  I imagine it’ll be even worse the next time I get out there to do a regular run.
  • The encouragement I got from my Crossfit box was incredible, and really means a lot. A couple of my fellow athletes also ran (go Nanette, Joanne, and Brooke!) also ran, and I got several texts and other encouragement from others.  The community is the best part of Crossfit, and this is just another example of that.
  • Also a big congrats to Holly and Elizabeth for killing that race, and thanks to Laura and William for standing out in the rain with a sign. I’ve never lived in a community where friends all root for friends like this.  I like it.
  • This race is worth it for the food after. Seriously – the beans and rice from the Columbia was absolutely perfect after this.  Also, for dinner that evening we came back down to the Tavern and I absolutely crushed a cheeseburger & fries & onion rings & beers & a post-race meal that I’d been planning for several days.
  • Back on the wagon on Monday morning, though.
  • Speaking of Monday morning – I had a checkup with my doctor the morning after the race. The nurse that took my vitals engaged me in my single favorite medical interaction of all time:

Nurse:  Is your pulse always very low?

Me:  Oh, uh … I run.

Nurse:  Ah – ok.

End of conversation.

(for the record, my resting pulse was 45 bpm) (#running)

  • The SWAG was awesome, too – our shirt was organic cotton from RawThreads, and is a shirt I’ll actually wear. The steel tumbler is exceptionally nice, and unlike anything I’ve ever gotten in race SWAG before.  And the flyers and coupons included are all for discounts for local restaurants and stores – which is handy, because I actually live here and may use them.  There was also a light-up safety arm band and something they called a “buff”, which really saved my ears going to and from the race.celebration-half-swag
  • My next scheduled race is The Dark Side Challenge on April 22nd and 23rd at Disney World. That’s Star Wars Dark Side weekend, and I’ll be running the 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.  Which, in retrospect, was crazy for me to sign up for.  May the force be with me.

 

RR #22: Ashburn Farm 10K

In retrospect, I should have expected the email.  For whatever reason, though, I didn’t, and was a bit surprised when:

“Looking forward to seeing everybody on Thanksgiving – hey, there is a 10K about 45 minutes away – anybody want to do that?”

So, I signed up for a 10K on Thanksgiving morning.

This was the 23rd running of the Ashburn Farm 10K, which is a fundraising event organized by Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn, Virginia.  They support a charity in Uganda that helps young people with school – a worthy cause.  They were expecting around 2,300 going into the event, though I did hear the number 3,000 at one point that morning.

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Six of us went – our hosts for the week, Dave and Erin, two of their kids, my sister-in-law, and me.  When I announced we needed to leave around 6:30am in order for me to be comfortable about getting there, my sister-in-law groaned a rather lot.  But we were out of the house by 6:40 – not bad.

We parked near the start line, which was about two blocks from the finish line and therefore a perfect place to make a quick exit after.  Packet pickup was in the church, and then we headed back and stayed warm in the car until the 10K start, which was 8:15.  Dave and one of the girls were running the 5K, so they came out and cheered and then presumably headed back to the car.

Couldn’t hear much from the back of the pack, 3-2-1, go.  It took about 45 seconds to get to the start line (this will be important later), and we were off.  I never felt crowded at the beginning, which was nice.  I had looked at the elevation profile, so was prepared for the hill in Mile 1 – a hill that was especially daunting for the Florida runner.  I can do an 8 mile long run and my Garmin will tell me that my total elevation gain is 8 feet.  So a 100 foot hill is a monster.

My goal was to PR, which is to say that I wanted to beat the time I ran less than two weeks before at The Florida Run – which was a 10:43 pace.  Mile 1 was a 10:38 mile, so ahead of pace even with the hill.  But I felt OK, so I went with it.

ashburn-farm-10k-course

Mile 2 was kind of rolling, with some downhills after the crest at the end of Mile 1.  Miles 2 – 5 were a big out-and-back, and at the end of Mile 2 is where I met the leaders going the other way, near their Mile 4.  Looked like running club or track kids – they were flying. Mile 2 was a 10:21.  In Mile 3, also kind of rolling, I met the three people I was running with coming back on the out-and-back, as well.  I wasn’t as far away from them as I might have thought.   Mile 3 was 10:22 – very consistent.

About halfway through Mile 4 we turned up a hill that, again, wasn’t that bad for most, but … Florida.  It sucked.  That hill continued into Mile 5, but by then I knew I was on a real PR pace and took off.  Mile 4 was 10:33, Mile 5 was 10:15.

And then the elevation turned downhill.  Mile 6 was a downhill bomb for me, losing 100 feet of elevation in the mile.  There was nobody around me – really not anybody in front or anybody behind.  I was on an island and decided to uncork it.  It felt … great.  I ran Mile 6 in 9:38, which is one of the fastest miles I’ve ever run in a race.  And to have that happen in the sixth mile of a 10K, well … that feels good.

Near the end of Mile 6 we met up with the 5K race, and because of my time that means I was with the walkers.  I spent half a mile dodging walkers, and as we neared the finish line we were in a residential area with turn-y roads and apartment complexes, so you couldn’t see the finish.  It was maddening.  A couple of hundred yards out Dave and his daughter came back to cheer for me and told me it was close, just go.  The clock at the finish line said 1:04.24 when I crossed it, and my watch said exactly 6.2 miles and 1:03.43.

My official time was 1:04.24, a 10:22 pace, and the timing company posted that my net time and my gun time were identical.  And that appears to be the case for most of the people that ran – there are very few people that have a different net time and gun time.  Of course, that doesn’t make sense.  It looks like their start line failed to register our bibs, so they had to go with the gun time at the finish.  That sucks – I’m convinced I ran this nearly 40 seconds faster, at a 10:15 pace, which is spectacular for what I’ve done in the past.

Update:  They updated the times!  My official time for this was race is now 1:03.38, or a 10:16 pace!  Not sure what made me look, but … woot!  The next paragraph has been edited to reflect the updated time.

I PRed by nearly 3 minutes, off of a 6.5 minute PR that I set less than two weeks before this race.  In the last two weeks, I’ve taken 10 minutes off of my 10K PR.  10 minutes. I’m crediting Crossfit – I’m about the size I was when I was running these a couple of years ago, but my aerobic threshold is so much higher.  I’m thrilled with this, even if I did lose a few seconds.

PR!

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Notes:

  • Much of the course was not completely closed to traffic, and I saw two different instances where cops were yelling at drivers.  Thanks to the boys in blue for coming out on Thanksgiving morning and keeping us safe.
  • Because they all finished a few minutes before me, I didn’t really get a chance to visit the after-race amenities inside the church.  They said it was a zoo in there though – fortunately, they grabbed me a water and a banana.
  • I don’t like uphills, of course – but I remember now why I don’t mind hills in general.  Downhills are awesome.  That last mile was a bomb and felt like it – I have almost never run that fast.
  • A few people cheering for me at the end by calling out my bib number.  It was cool.  I’ve got a couple of races coming up where my name is on the bib – I think that is going to be a good thing.
  • Afterward we went back to the house and WRECKED Thanksgiving dinner. Wrecked it.  My early calorie deficit did not last very long.  I ate a lot, is what I’m trying to say.
  • Not a lot of SWAG – a nice long-sleeve cotton shirt with the logo that you saw above, and some coupons to local places.  Apparently there were some door prizes, but I spent so little time in that area that I have no idea. Not complaining – it was a $35 race and they were raising money for charity.  And it is a nice shirt.
  • Next race:  Celebration Half Marathon, January 29th.  I may try to find a 5K between now and then, but other than that, a big one is next.  Given what has happened in the last two weeks, I feel REALLY good about that one.

PR!

RR #21: The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park

Update – 12/19/2016 – the race published pictures!  I talked about each individual picture here, but I want to come back in and put them into this post for anybody that might be looking for reports on this race.  Pictures!

Here’s how the website describes, in part, The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park:

Known as one of Central Florida’s more challenging and unique races, the course will take runners on paved surfaces, dirt trails, grass trails and some sand.

Lake Louisa State Park is in Clermont, Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the house.  I was worried about timing for my traditional pre-run oatmeal, so I had my coffee and a bowl of cereal, snagged a couple of Lara bars, and headed out.  I have visited the park before – and I hit the gate at about 6:20am for an 8am start.  Normally the park opens at 8am, but they make an exception on race day.  I made my way to the back of the park and headed over to the lakeside bathrooms for a quick break … and saw this – which is a sunrise that you normally don’t get to see:

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Well.

After that auspicious start, it seemed it might be a good day.

This is a really small race but is very well managed.  The Florida Run includes a half marathon, the 10K, the 5K, and a kid’s fun run.  There wound up being 114 finishers in the 10K, and it was probably a few more than that for the half marathon.  But, packet pickup was smooth and easy, and the timing company did a great job.  There was an announcer, a nice chute, and good signage throughout.  Just very well run.

For whatever reason I needed two more trips to the restroom, and then headed over to cheer on the half marathon start, which left at 7:45.  While the mosquitos chewed on me, we had an opening prayer and then a very well done National Anthem – 3-2-1 go, and they were off.  Took maybe two minutes, maybe less, to clear the chute.  15 minutes later we lined up in the chute for the 10K, same 3-2-1, and off we went.

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Because we were in a state park and running what can only be described as a rural route, there was no spectator support.  We were on our own almost immediately.  The first mile was paved, was uneventful and maybe slightly rolling.  The first water station was at about the 1.5 mile mark, followed immediately by one of the bigger hills I’d seen in a while.  By my New York standards it almost doesn’t even count as a hill.  By my new Florida standards, it was tough.  But I powered up and did OK.  And then at about 1.8 miles, we turned off of the pavement onto a path, and the second mile marker was a bit down this path.  Mile #1 clocked in at 10:44, and Mile #2 at 11:04.

This part of Central Florida is basically one big sand dune.  And these paths were like a beach that had a lot of grass growing on it.  The ground was always a bit soft, and if there was no grass in an area it was not all that different from any sandy beach.  Obviously we tried to avoid those.  Maybe 0.75 mile into this we made a sharp right turn and headed up one of the bigger hills I’ve run in literally years.  Again, by non-Florida standards I don’t think it was so bad.  But, when you factor in the sand and the pancake-flat ground around my house that I train on, it was pretty brutal.  The next aid station was at the top of this hill, and they laughed when I said “Well – that sucked.”  The top of this hill was also the third mile marker – Mile #3, which included that crappy hill, was an 11:17 mile.

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At that point, we were back on pavement, and started back downhill, and I knew I was going to have a good day.  Even after those hills I was feeling good, and I knew that the hardest part of the run was behind me now.  Given that, I decided to uncork it a little and start reeling people in.  That got easier because at about this point the 10K and half marathon courses converged, and I was suddenly in the middle of a bunch of runners that were halfway through a race that they had started 15 minutes before I had started mine.  If this were a Ragnar, I’d say it was a target-rich environment, and I started focusing on picking people off.  Mile #4, which included some more off-road sandy trail, was a 10:31 mile, and Mile #5 – where we passed the first water station again going the other way, was a 10:41.

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At some point in all of that the half marathon course had diverged again, and there were only two 10K runners in front of me within reach, so I focused on trying to pick them off.  I actually got both of them with less than a quarter of a mile to go, but one guy apparently didn’t like that I passed him and hit the gas – he finished ahead of me by about 10 seconds.  I had passed a girl, too, and right at the very end she went by me at full sprint speed – again apparently not liking the idea of being beaten by a fat guy.  I wonder how far she would have been ahead had she portioned that energy out a little better.  Mile #6 was a 10:44 mile, and then the last little bit took a little over a minute – I forgot to hit the button on my watch until well after I crossed the line, so I don’t know exactly.

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I’m not sure who the spotter was as we came in to the finish, but the announcer called my name and town as I entered the chute, and I collected my very nice medal and bottle of water and headed over to the food tent.  They had Clif bars, oranges, bananas, and chocolate chip cookies – not a horrible spread.  About 10 minutes after I finished the first half marathon finisher came in, at about an hour and a half.  Dude was flying.

My stated goal going into this was a PR (1:13 and change) and my really hope-to-get goal was 1:08.  My finish time was 1:06.32 – a PR by nearly six and a half minutes!  I was and am thrilled.  Especially with the hills and the sand, I never would have expected to be able to do that.  I know based on my recent 5K and some recent training that I’m capable of that speed, but I didn’t think I would have been capable of that kind of endurance.  And my weekly mileage isn’t really that high – Crossfit is getting me into the best shape of my life.

I’m officially on the training schedule for the Celebration Half Marathon in January – this makes me very optimistic for that.

PR!

Notes:

  • Can’t say enough about how well the race seemed to be organized, especially for such a small race. I’ve run races that were quite a bit bigger than that one that didn’t have some of the niceties, and that didn’t go as smoothly.  Well done.
  • Those hills could have been worse, but they also weren’t exactly smooth. I’m going to have to figure out how to get hill training in somehow if I ever want to run any events outside of Florida.
  • I haven’t been training with water, so I didn’t take any at the first two water stations. I took Gatorade at the last one, with the thought that maybe I’d get a boost.  Not that I could tell, but it didn’t hurt, either.
  • When I got done with the last bit of trail running, there was a volunteer there that was yelling “No more sand!” I told him he was my hero.  I meant it.
  • I wish I had taken a picture of the trophy table. Other than a trophy that was designed for local teams to pass around, the trophies were all pieces of cut 2x lumber that had been laser printed with the race logo and the winner’s category.  Unique, and very cool.

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  • Actually got a SWAG bag, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. There were some coupons and flyers, a couple of medicine samples (Advil, etc.), and a little tube of sunscreen.  The race shirt was cotton but very nice (though they only had XL, so I may never be able to wear it … <sigh>).  And we all got a very nice medal.  I still don’t know how I feel about getting a medal for running a 10K, particularly since it is the exact same medal the half marathoners got (and, not for nothing, that the 5K runners got).  BUT – I am not conflicted enough to not hang it with all of the other medals.  The bib also was not only race-specific, but it was distance-specific … the different distances had different colors and descriptions.  I love that detail
  • Next race: Ashburn Farm 10K, Ashburn, Virginia – a Thanksgiving day race that I now intend to try and absolutely bomb.  We’ll see.

Onward!

RR# 14 – JFK Runway Run

You are not having déjà vu, and there is nothing wrong with your television set.  This 5k14-0002morning, for the first time in my running “career”, I ran in a race that I had competed in previously.   Last year’s JFK Runway Run was my second ever race, and I was coming off of an ankle injury that I’d sustained three weeks earlier at my first race.  All of which means that it was slow.  This year I was, barring injury or something weird, a lock to better last year’s time by several minutes, be competitive as hell with my PR, and hopefully even take a shot at a 30 minute race.

This is a rather unique race because of the setting – they actually shut down one of the runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens for the runners.  Both times I’ve run it we ran from the same place:  you run out about 200 yards and then hang a right, run for a bit less than a mile and a half in a straight line, and then turn around and run back.  There is no scenery at all (it is a huge airfield), though airplanes are landing over your head throughout the race, which is pretty neat.   The course is also perfectly flat and generally pretty windy – though this year the wind was not as bad as last year.

JFK Runway Run Course

JFK Runway Run Course

Because of the perfect flatness I decided to push hard and see what I could do, and that strategy worked out.  Other than the congestion in the first couple hundred yards my pace was remarkably consistent throughout the race – +/- 10 seconds at any given time.  This is a course where you can hit a groove and just go with it, and that’s what I was able to do.  My finishing time was 30:39, which is a 9:53/mile pace and a new 5K PR for me by 36 seconds!  For awhile I had hopes that I could seriously threaten an under-30 finish, but that was not meant to be … which does not do one thing to take away from my excitement at a new PR.

I consider this to be the first race of the season (as opposed to the last race of winter, which is what the USA Half was), and I’m ecstatic with how things have started.  I currently don’t have another 5K on my calendar for the year, so this PR will stand for several months – and I’m good with that.  The next time I take a crack at the distance it will be under-30 minutes or bust.

Start / Finish Line - I actually took this last year, but the setting was identical

Start / Finish Line – I actually took this last year, but the setting was identical

Notes:

– As cool as the setting is for this race, the logistics are a bit inconvenient.  They obviously can’t let people just randomly show up out on the airport runway, so all of the race infrastructure (check-in, prize stage, etc.) happens at an office building and they bus the runners out to the runway.  In order to make sure you get out there with plenty of time, though, you wind up killing quite a lot of time out on the runway with no shade or windbreak.  And this also discourages spectators, so the wife and child didn’t make the trip.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run it if you’re in the area … just know that there are challenges.

– The other thing about this one is that the organizers are kind of at the mercy of the TSA and Port Authority police.  The runners actually wait behind a barricade a few yards from the starting line, and then when we’re released we go line up under our pacing signs.  We wound up starting nearly a half-an-hour late, but I’m convinced by the way they acted that this had nothing to do with the organizers.  That stunk – it was chilly and windy –but comes with the territory for the cool setting.

– This race is an absolutely fascinating slice of humanity.  There were all ages from little kids up to elderly runners.  There was an ethnic mix that would actually be hard to put together outside of Queens.  Several teams run this race – a local martial arts dojo, corporate teams for airlines at the airport, that kind of thing – and that brings with it a bunch of people that clearly don’t run many races.  Many people there, in fact, weren’t there to run at all but to walk the course and get a look at the airport.  Several people were wearing jeans, and one walker was wearing a shirt that said “Airplane Spotting is NOT a Crime”, which gives away his motivation, doesn’t it?  There were half a dozen guys that ran the race at a sub-6:00 pace and many people that took well over an hour.  There was a guy in a wheelchair and two girls in full-on ballet tights with tutus.  Just a fascinating group of people.

Somebody tell these two girls they're officially blogged...

Somebody tell these two girls they’re officially blogged…

– All of that, of course, means that many people had NO idea how to line up even though there were pace signs.  When I line up at the back of 9:00 group and spend the first half mile passing people that are walking it takes all I can do to not scream “why did you line up so far up in line?!?!”

– One of my favorite things in these out-and-back (or loop) courses is watching to see when I see the leaders.  In this case the leader came by me at just past the mile mark for me and just past the 2 mile mark for him – just over 11 minutes into the race.  This same guy won the race last year, too, and he absolutely crushed it.   I couldn’t even see second place when he came through and he wound up winning by nearly a minute and a half.  Just impressive to watch.

– Basic swag – a cotton t-shirt, a bib that is unique to this race (which I love) and that’s about it.  There was water right past the finish lines, and bananas when we got off the buses back at race central.  They also had a raffle, which I didn’t stay for.  Photographers were at the start/finish line, and I’ll add pictures when they get them posted.

– That was April’s race, which means my streak of running at least one race or event per month has now been extended to 14 months.  I am registered for races in May & June, have targeted races in July, August, & September, and am registered for two events in October.   That would get me to 20.

– Next race:  Superhero Half Marathon, Morris Township, New Jersey, May 18th.  I’m debating buying Batman stuff – we’ll see.

Random people as we approach the finish line...

Random people as we approach the finish line…

RR#13 – Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon

So … I was a bit nervous about this race.

My original registration for Rock ‘n’ Roll USA was for the full marathon – it was to be my first.  And then I learned why people that live as far north as I do don’t often register for early spring marathons.  As I got further and further behind in my training, I realized that I was not going to make it … and so I switched over to the half and took a deep breath.  And my training was not really great even then – just too many distractions excuses and such.  And I even entertained the thought of backing out altogether.

And then I realized that was crazy talk.  Even if I had to walk it, I could do it – and even with relatively poor training I’m in better shape than I was last September when I did the half in 90 degree heat.   So I committed to making it happen, and I am so glad I did.  This was an awesome race.

Got to the expo on Friday afternoon and was confronted with a line out the door.  That wasn’t the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks, though – because the expo was in the DC Armory we were being screened by security.  That went quickly enough, and then I had no wait at all to pick up my number and get to the shopping.   My wife and 2-year old were with me on this one, so that got interesting – and a great big THANK YOU to the folks at the Williamsburg Marathon booth that gave him the Chik-Fil-A stuffed cow.  Anything to distract him at that point.

We were staying at my brother-in-law’s house in Alexandria, which is on the metro.  My morning nutrition was not optimal:  granola bars at their house and a banana at the race.  Not enough, but that turned out OK.  WMATA opened up the metro two hours early, and getting to the start could not have been easier.  It was so easy that I’d left myself entirely too much time and wound up needing to kill an hour.

Starting Line - I'm way back in Corral 27

Starting Line – I’m way back in Corral 27

This was easily the biggest race I’ve ever been a part of – I was in corral 27 and there were an awful lot of people behind me.  If you’ve ever done a Rock ‘n’ Roll race you know there is a ton of energy at the start line, which is nice … because it took 45 minutes for me to get to the start line.  And we were off.

The course itself was absolutely great, and we got nearly perfect weather.  We started on Constitution Avenue – my corral was directly in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – and headed down the mall.  In the first mile we ran past the Washington Monument and the White House headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Mile 2 was an out-and-back on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with a gorgeous view of the cemetery.  Miles 3-6 were up the Potomac Parkway, so relatively quiet but very pretty.

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

 

Mile 7 had The Hill, which, um, sucked.  Once we topped out on the hill we ran near the National Zoo and then were in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.  From there on, the course was distinctly urban with GREAT crowd support.  That area is full of row houses and people were out on their stoops and porches and lining the streets cheering and holding signs.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll folks always have bands along the course … roughly one per mile.  I bring that up here because the absolute best was the Batala Drummers All-Women Percussion Band.  They were set up at the bottom of a big hill just as we turned to run through Howard University.   Hard to describe how very cool this was…

 

Another very interesting thing happened at roughly mile 9, just before we turned south on North Capitol Street and had that gorgeous view of the US Capitol.  I’ve been in races where somebody random sets up a table with “Free Beer!” or “Mixed Drinks!”  These are awesome, but not for me.  And so I almost ran by one of these tables until I realized the sign continued.  “Free Beer” was followed by “Free Brisket!”  And, yeah, I couldn’t not check that out.  And while a big ol’ slice of brisket is non-traditional mid-race fuel … it was incredible.

Incredible.

After we turned off of Capitol Street we wound through different neighborhoods for the last 4 miles or so for a finish at RFK Stadium.  The marathoners and half-marathoners split up just before mile 13, and the thought at that time of taking for another 13 miles made me cringe.  That’s going to happen, but not soon.

My family missed my finish by about 10 minutes, which legitimately sucked, but I was very very happy with my race.  My pacing was remarkably consistent – the fastest mile was mile 4 at 11.15 (because that’s always my best mile) and my slowest was mile 7 at 12.37 (because hill – 271 feet of elevation gain in that mile).  My overall time was 2:36.0, for a total pace of 11.54 / mile.  That takes nearly 19 (19!) minutes off of my previous half marathon time.  I also set PRs with my official 10K (1:13.04, nearly a 2 minute PR) and 10 mile (1:58.34) splits.

Here’s where I think I am – this is the race I had expected hoped to run in Virginia Beach last summer.  The conditions forced a much different race, though.  But I’ve been able to maintain that level of fitness through this winter even though I don’t feel great about my training.  The huge PR is a great validation of where I’ve gotten to – and I am feeling very motivated to blow right past here.  I’ve got another half scheduled for late spring, and I hope to blow that one away.

In the meantime – I LOVED this race.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll people did a great job with everything as far as I could tell.  And the overall vibe from the competitors, spectators, and city was just some of the most fun I’ve had running.   Thanks for everybody that worked on it and came out to cheer – you made it an awesome experience!

Approaching the finish line...

Approaching the finish line…

Notes:

–  Apparently the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks had some troubles at this race last year, especially with port-a-potties and the gear check.  They made a lot of noise about listening to the complaints and changing things, and by all accounts they got it right.  While there were lines at the port-a-potties throughout the race, the start and finish seemed to be fine.  And I didn’t check a gear bag because my family was coming, but the feedback is that they fixed that, too.  Kudos to the organizers for making it happen.

–  Speaking of port-a-potties, I had to make a pit stop just past mile 9 and lets just say that glad I’m a guy and move on.

–  I struggled with my fuel belt, strictly due to lack of practice.  I started the race with it on my back, but the way it bounced and pushed on my shorts was not comfortable.  So I turned it around like you see in the pictures up there … which blocked the pockets I usually keep my iPod in in that pullover.  So I wound up carrying the iPod in my hand for most of the race. The two times I tried to put it in the pocket interfered with the water bottle in the belt and made it fall out.  So … in the hand it was.  That’s what I get for using something I hadn’t used in 6 weeks.

–  Favorite signs:

  • Series:  “Harder Faster Stronger Better” followed by “That’s What She Said”
  • “Where Are All You Guys Going?”
  • “Its Not a Hill, Its a Beastmaker”
  • “Free High Fives” followed by two little kids, probably 6ish and 4ish

–  For whatever reason the nutrition didn’t hurt me.  I started fueling with gel relatively early and I think that helped.

–  It turns out that I’ve become a bit of a snob about walkers.  Not that I mind the walking, mind you – I do some of that myself.  But, for the love of Joe Pesci, when you are going to stop and walk move over to the side of the crowd.  Especially in the first mile or two when there is still a lot of congestion.

–  At around mile 25 for them the full marathoners came around the back of the parking lot where the finish line festival was.  My son and I walked over to cheer them on for a bit.  I’ve just got a ton of respect for those folks … they’d been running for 4 hours or so and just looked beaten down.  I can only imagine how they felt when they finished.  I want to feel that some day.

–  Not really any SWAG at this one, which is interesting.  The shirt is a Brooks technical that I like but caused some bitching because it is black.  People will complain about anything, I guess.  We got that and our gear bag and a couple of random little medical things (basically icy hot) … but that’s OK.  I did pick up my pint glass and 13.1 sticker, and then we did a little damage at the expo.  I intended to get my medal engraved like I did at Virginia Beach, but the wait was too long.  That does not take away from the medal, though, which is pretty awesome.

–  That was March’s race, which means I’ve now run in a race or an event in 13 consecutive months.  I am registered for a 5K in April, another half marathon in May, and a 5-miler (automatic PR!) in June.  Targeting an 8-miler (another automatic PR!) in July and a 10K in August.  And then Ragnar Tennessee in October.  So when I get September figured out that gets me to 20 months.  Who’d have thunk it?

–  Next Race:  JFK Runway Run, Queens, New York City, NY … April 6th

Another medal on the wall...

Another medal on the wall…