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 runthree10ks, two halfmarathons, and a Ragnar … but no more 5ks. This was a chance to see what I had. Read more →
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. Read more →
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:
You are not having déjà vu, and there is nothing wrong with your television set. This morning, 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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
– 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