Thursday, March 25, 2010

Red Rooster Ramble 2010, #1

The glorious day has finally arrived, March 25! I have been looking forward to the first day of the Red Rooster Ramble very much, ever since my last race of indoor track season when I realized that I should really do some tempo runs. I got this idea from reading this article about Bernard Lagat (on page 6):
In refining Lagat's training, Li conferred with his mentors. "I've had several," he says. "Coach Chaplin, of course. Bill Dellinger at Oregon was very generous with me. I have a monthly lunch with coach Joe Vigil (the former coach of Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor). I sat with Bob Larsen of UCLA at the Mt. SAC Relays and shared my puzzlement with athletes in general. My question was, where is the correlation between great interval workouts and racing well? Because a lot of guys do one but not the other. He said he had found tempo runs helping his guys. I tried it, and it helped mine." It sure helped Lagat. Tempo running is sustaining a pace near the edge of one's aerobic capacity, not as hard as racing, in a zone around 90 percent of maximum heart rate. Lagat would become famous for doing tempo runs of 5000 meters or longer on the trails.

I have sometimes had the problem of running harder in workouts than in races, so I felt that this tempo strategy could work for me. Red Rooster Ramble to the rescue!

Sarah and I biked 10 miles to the start of the race, mostly along the bike path. There was a stiff headwind and it was all I could do to go about 14 mph (the bike path has mile markers, and we were going 4:00-4:20 per mile). We managed to get there and sign up and get to the starting line by 6:30, but they didn't start the race until 6:40, so we were there in plenty of time.

When the gun went off, a guy in white took off like a rocket, Alan was behind him, and even with a conservative start I found myself very quickly in third place. I soon realized why when I got to the mile mark in exactly 6:00! I was planning for this to be a tempo run, so I was trying to run just 6:30 per mile, and 6:00 was thusly a little over-excited. I tried to slow down for the next few miles and hit miles 3 and 4 right on pace. In any case, I ran alone for the rest of the race, with no one in sight ahead or behind me even on the long straight stretches, with mile splits of 6:00, 6:17, 6:27, 6:32, 6:11. My right foot fell asleep for the last mile or two and didn't really improve much on the cool-down, but I attribute it to the biking because Sarah said the same thing happened to her.

Alan and the guy in the white shirt tied for first (!) in a course record (!) and I was third overall. Sarah ran a PR! After eating some pizza, Sarah and I took the RIPTA -- my first time on the bus! free with the Brown ID! it really works! -- back to Brown.

Monday, March 22, 2010

St. Pats 5k

(Results) I was very nervous in the days leading up to this race. I thought I had a good chance to win, which made me fret over the race more than usual. When I tried to visualize the race, my heart rate would skyrocket and adrenaline would course through my veins. Every time I tried to imagine the race, I would be racing someone neck-and-neck and have to out-kick them at the finish line. One of my reasons for wanting to win the race is that I saw pictures of last year, and there was a finishing tape. After I won a couple of races last year, I decided I wanted to win a race with a tape, and I was hoping that they would have one this year also, and that I would be the one to break through it.

Saturday was sunny and warm. I walked down to the capitol building with some other people in the club, and immediately lost them all when I went to get in line to get my tech shirt. I made a few laps of the huge crowd, but didn't find any of them. I did luckily find Trish H. [my new experiment to refrain from using people's full names, so this blog doesn't show up so high in search results] and gave her a book which she had expressed interest in reading. I abandoned my effort to find my teammates and went for my warm-up jog, to the 1-mile mark and back. I made sure to note the various mileage marks on the way back -- for instance, when the capitol building came into view, there was 3/4 mile to go, and at the Dunkin' Donuts, about 1/4 mile to go. I changed into my racing flats and hoped that no one would steal my warm-ups and sneakers, which I left in a bag near the start/finish line.

Luckily, I ran into Melissa and we made our way to the starting line. "Excuse me, you have to go around!" said a volunteer, pointing us to the sidelines so that we could line up in the very back of the huge crowd of people behind the starting line. "We're running the race," I explained redundantly, and headed towards the starting line. "In the front?" he asked. "Yes." No one ever said I looked like a fast runner! This guy clearly thought we were not starting line material!

Once on the starting line, I looked for all the people who I should worry about. Trish was there, and Melissa. I saw a woman in a TNT uniform that I recognized, so I introduced myself and learned her name, hometown and occupation. I looked around and didn't see anyone else who looked dangerous. My nervousness subsided a little bit because I knew exactly what I was dealing with. But then there was the whole deal with the starting gun... There wasn't a gun; there was an air horn, but not a regular air horn; it was like an air horn whose engine was backfiring! I didn't think the race was starting, but everyone else started running, so after a fraction of a second, I was off and running, too. I'm sorry for the person behind me!

The first mile was relatively uneventful. Lots of men went out really fast, but I didn't see any women in front of me after the first 100 meters. Trish appeared on my left at about 3/4 mile, but I didn't see her after that. I passed the mile in 5:43. At about that time, I heard a female breathing right behind me. I have mistook a man behind me for a female before, so I took a quick glance back: definitely female. And not one of the three I recognized; someone completely unknown. Now the race was much more interesting.

On the starting line I had asked Trish about the course, because I didn't have a chance to run the middle mile. She helpfully told me that there was a steep but short hill in the second mile (unlike the race volunteer, who told me it was a gradual uphill on the way out and gradual downhill on the way back!) so I was prepared for it when we got to it. This girl was hanging right on my shoulder. I tried to drop her by accelerating up the hill (didn't work). Tried the same thing going down the hill (didn't work). Gosh, it was turning out to be just like what I had imagined, running neck-and-neck with someone the whole race! Shortly before the two-mile mark, we got back to the out-and-back section of the course, which meant that we were passing by the thousands of people who were behind us in the race. So much cheering! It seemed like half of the people we passed screamed as we went by, and some shouted "Yeah, first woman!" or (less frequently) "yeah, first women!"

We passed the two-mile mark in about 11:45, for a 6:02 second mile. I was satisfied with this because of the hills. Now it was just a question of the long straight mile back to the capitol. I surged, and the breathing on my shoulder got further away, but only for a moment, and when I took the pressure off she came right back. Now I was getting worried. Alan was by the side of the course and said something encouraging. "How much?" I said. "She's right behind you." "How much, how much?" I said again. "About two seconds," he said. Maybe a minute later, he shouted something encouraging again and I realized that after I passed by him, Alan had started running and was now shadowing us from a few meters back (like he did at the Tufts 10k).

Well, now things were getting desperate. When I got to my 1/4 mile to go mark, she was still there, so I surged again, but this time, I wasn't going to let up. I told myself, if I can stay in this level of pain from now until the finish line, she won't be able to keep up and I will win the race. When I started the surge, her breathing got further away, and as I kept pressing, I didn't hear it come back. With maybe 150 meters to go, three motorcycles came off the sidelines and converged in front of me to usher me to the finish line. For the first time I thought I really would win. Up ahead of me I could see the finish line, and I saw that they were holding up a tape! I ran straight towards it and lifted my arms before I got there. Wow, I had actually won the race!

I ended up running a (net time) PR of 18:24.3, winning by about seven seconds. I thought it was much closer than that. In this picture you can see the second woman (who ended up being named Kaitlin), in blue, over my shoulder:

The race results say that I set a new course record:

But that is wrong, because the woman who ran 18:43 listed above was actually second, and Trish ran 18:22.55 last year, which is faster than my time:

so I have e-mailed the race results person and asked them to take out the part about it being a course record. I hope they do, because it's not true.

Everyone I have mentioned won the same prize, a pair of running shoes. I chatted with the other women for a little while after the race, and everyone was very nice and personable. I was quite thrilled to see Matt and Tom, who had come all the way downtown to see the race! (Tom has confirmed that I actually did not have the nose-squinching expression that the above photo has captured.)

The running club ended up winning our division, for which I believe we won a plaque (they hadn't tabulated the results yet one hour after I finished, so I left without picking up the team prize). We had the third-fastest time of any team in any division, and all the scorers of the two faster teams were all men (our team was two women and one man). I was 20th overall, out of about 3600 people.

As an aside -- you know how sometimes you ask people about running, and they say "I only run to catch a bus"? Less than three hours after the race ended, I did have to chase a bus. I chased it down and caught up to it while it was driving, waved down the driver, and got him to let me on. So it was a success.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mixed drink arithmetic

Consider the following "easy" way to add fractions:

a/b + c/d = (a+c) / (b+d).

An elementary school teacher's nightmare! With this sort of reasoning, 1/2 + 1/2 = 2/4 = 1/2. Bad news.

But we can find a situation where this actually works, as my professor pointed out the other day: mixed drinks. If the fractions represent the concentrations of alcohol in a mixed drink -- the numerator being the amount of vodka, and the denominator being the total amount of screwdriver (vodka + orange juice), the math works out perfectly!

For instance, if you have one drink that has 1 oz of vodka in a total 8 oz beverage, and another with 2 oz vodka in a 4 oz beverage, you pour them together and you get 3 oz in a 12 oz beverage:

1/8 + 2/4 = (1+2) / (8+4) = 3/12.

Do not show this trick to your ten-year-old child!

The resulting fraction is always between the two that you added together, which makes sense in the context of drinks -- if you mix together two drinks, the resulting drink can't be weaker than both of the original ones, nor stronger than both of the original ones; it has to be in between.

I am wondering whether I should show this to my students this summer. Last summer, we did many problems of the form "two gallons of a 20% concentration are mixed with five gallons of a 10% concentration. What is the resulting concentration of the mixture?" Even after the initial confusion of "what the heck is a gallon?" (most of the students were from abroad) these kinds of problems were beyond many of the students. They liked to add the percentages, average the percentages... anything but "total amount of concentrate over total volume of the mixture!" as I would always repeat, tailoring it to the situation. ("Total amount of cheerios over total amount of cereal! Total number of cloudy days over total number of days!)

Perhaps if I twisted it so that they would be "allowed" to do this "crazy" fraction addition after they set it up properly, they would think that was fun and learn to set it up properly. (Although some of them came in not knowing how to add fractions, so that could be dangerous! "What did your crazy American teacher tell you about adding fractions?")

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A new PR in the 400

My indoor season ended kind of dismally, so I wanted to end it with a bang and try to get a PR in the 400. When I was "sharpening" for the 5k, I did a workout of 5x400, and I was supposed to do each 400 in 75. I accidentally did the first one in 71.2 without even trying to run so fast, so I thought I had a good chance of breaking my PR of 68.9 in the 400.

The evening of the mini meet proved eventful, as the five guys and I went to the OMAC only to find that it was closed. So our indoor track meet had to move to the outdoor Hope High School track, which was blessed with a very strong wind yesterday evening. This was good for the 200m but not so good for the 400m, which had to fight it.

Lucky for me, two guys also wanted to do the 400m. I was hoping that I could draft off of one of them on the windy stretch from 100 to 200 meters. When our starter said "go," one of the guys (Brian) absolutely took off, and he was gone immediately. However, the other guy (Dave) was faster than me on the start but not much faster than me after that. So after we had done our one-turn stagger in lanes, I cut into lane 1 and drafted off of him down the straight, and stayed out of the wind.

As we neared the 200m mark I prepared to pass him, accelerated, and got right behind him. But as soon as Dave heard me behind him, he accelerated and appeared to simply zoom away. So I spent the curve catching back up to him (didn't want to pass on a curve anyway) and prepared to pass him at the beginning of the straight. However, just as soon as I caught him and was preparing to move into lane 2, he sensed this and zoom! away he went again. About 50 meters from the end, I realized that I was clenching my face all into a scowl, so I relaxed my face for the last little bit and zipped over the finish line in a more proper sprinting form.

Since I couldn't catch Dave, I was afraid that I might not have achieved my goal of a PR. After all, last spring I tried to run a PR and ended up running 70.2, well off my goal. (The fact that I had just done a workout half an hour before the meet might have had something to do with it.) So I was pleasantly surprised to see 65.16 on my watch! The official timer had it at 65.0, so that was nearly a 4-second PR.

I thought it might have been the largest percentage decrease in PR that I had ever achieved from one race to the next, but actually it's not. From 68.9 to 65.0 is about a 6% decrease, which is pretty huge. However, last spring I improved my half marathon PR from 1:40:19 to 1:30:47, which is a decrease of 10% and therefore even more huge.

65 seconds puts the world record at 73.2% of my time, which is the same score as I got in the half marathon. So I am about equally good at the 400 and the half marathon. (For comparison, the world record is 81% of my indoor 3k time, so my indoor 3k is much better.) However, I plan to change that at New Bedford when I hope to run much faster than 1:30:47 for the distance.