Monday, November 14, 2011

Eight good miles (Seacoast half marathon)

(Results) Well, this was quite an embarrassing race for me. You never want to be the one who goes out too hard and dies, and that's certainly who I was yesterday. On the other hand, you can only run a course record if you try, and I certainly did try.

It was a beautiful day for running, a cool fall day with patches of sun and clouds. I had been planning to wear arm warmers, but they weren't even necessary. Alan and I did a short warm-up and I headed to the starting line. Not one of the women I saw was wearing a singlet. That was strange but I took it as an encouraging sign.

The gun went off and I found myself running next to a blonde woman in a long-sleeve shirt (Kim). I asked her what she was planning to run and she said she didn't know. A man had given her last-minute advice in another language at the starting line, so I had no idea who she was or anything.

I started out at a comfortable pace, and I could tell that there were a few other women behind me. I was feeling so comfortable that I was very surprised to see 6:00 as the mile split. Hmmm. The first mile had some steep downhills, so I figured I was probably right on, effort-wise, for my goal of 6:15 pace for the whole race.

Over the next few miles I kept almost a perfect 6:15 pace (12:14, 18:33, 24:49, 31:04). I felt fine. I caught up to and passed a few men in succession. A race vehicle came in front of me, and Eric, sitting in the open trunk, videotaped me running for a while. One of the guys I was running with told me that there were no women anywhere behind me.

A little before six miles, Alan ran up to me and told me that I'd soon have company; the second-place woman was catching up. I was surprised about this. It was Kim, as I expected. I was a little concerned anyway, because the pace was starting to feel harder than I thought it should at this point of the race. I was having to breathe quite hard to maintain the pace, and my legs were starting to hurt -- and we hadn't even reached halfway! -- and the second half of the course was going to be hillier!

Kim caught up and she, Alan and I ran together for maybe a mile and a half. I had no idea who she was or how fast she could run. My natural inclination would be to assume that she's really fast, and now that she had caught me, she would probably pass me and I would not be able to keep up. But I reminded myself that it could be like in the St. Pat's 5k in 2010, where this woman was breathing down my neck the whole race and I was afraid she would sprint past me and win, but actually she was just trying to use me to run as fast as she could, and she didn't think she could beat me (and she didn't).

We made a turn just before 8 miles and Kim put in a surge. "Go with her!" Alan said. But I couldn't. I had run hard to try to shake her in the previous two miles and I couldn't go faster. I passed 8 miles in 50:23 and knew that I was still on pace to break the course record (which was 6:23 pace). Kim was running quite fast at this point, and maybe she would burn out and slow down -- who knew? It could happen. I had to just focus on running as fast as I could and try to stay in the race.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. From 8 miles to the end, I ran about 6:50-6:58 for every mile. Imagine, 6:00 for the first mile and almost 7:00 for miles 9 through 13! That's really embarrassing.

On the bright side, my quick early miles brought me through 10 miles in 64:15, a PR by almost a minute. (All my 10-mile PRs are from half marathons.)

At about 11 miles, another woman (Megan) passed me. I tried to go with her, but failed. I had been so far ahead of third place that she wasn't even visible, and now she was ahead of me. Not inspiring! And in fact, Alan could also see the fourth-place woman (Kristen) behind me and she was catching up. Unacceptable. Then I would be out of the money completely. My 11-mile time was about 1:11, so I calculated that if I ran just 6:50 pace I could still run a PR (1:25:20). That seemed totally doable -- I mean, right? 6:50 pace? That should not be hard.

From 12 miles to the end Alan kept giving me updates on how far behind me Kristen was, and exhorted me to push harder and run faster. I had not been going as fast as possible for the previous couple of miles because it was so far to the end, but now I ran as hard as I could up the hills so that she would not catch up. Luckily, it was enough to hold her off. This is somewhat amazing, because I didn't even achieve my 6:50 pace. I have no idea how that is possible, that my sprinting pace could be slower than 6:50. But that's what happened. I finished in 1:25:36, 16 seconds off of my PR.

So I went out too fast and then died, and ended up four minutes behind the winner. Oops. If I had known I would end up averaging 6:32 pace, I would have gone out in maybe 6:25 pace, and then maybe I would have been able to avoid blowing up, and would have had a faster finishing time. If I had known that this mystery blonde woman had just run under 1:22 a few weeks ago, I would probably have started behind her.

Essentially, I hit the wall. Why? Because I have not been able to train properly. If I were a professional athlete, I would have pulled out of this race, no question. I have done two long runs in the past 10 weeks or so. I've been trying to get over an injury, so two weeks out of the past three I've run under 30 miles, because I was pool running instead of actually running. But I had already paid for the race, and I like visiting NH, so I went and did it anyway. My race plan was to run 6:15s, and I followed it very well for 8 miles. So it goes. My 8-mile split was two minutes faster than what I ran at the Stowe 8 Miler in August 2010.

I like the half marathon distance, and I like training 80 miles a week, and when I am able to put together a solid block of long-distance training, I will race the half marathon again. From this race, I learned that it is totally possible to blow up in a race even if I am mostly fit, and I learned to push myself hard at the end of the race even if it won't get me very far or very fast.

My legs hurt so much after the race that I gave up on the idea of a cool-down run after one minute of a pathetic attempt at a jog, and did a "cool-down walk" instead. Today my calves are quite shredded and I am having trouble walking down the stairs. I find myself pushing on my knees when I get up from a chair. Clearly, it was a hard effort, a good workout even if it wasn't a great race.

It was a well-organized race and I enjoyed talking to friends afterwards, and the food was plentiful and delicious.

Pictures (and maybe video) to follow.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The best running photo of me, ever (yet).

Here it is. It wasn't a great race for me -- I had lingering effects of a cold, and while I battled back and forth with the same four women from mile 2 to the end, all four of them ended up beating me -- but at least this awesome photo came out of it. I look like I deserve my elite number! The photo is by Brightroom, of course, and I am seriously considering purchasing it. In most of my race pictures, I look either uncoordinated or dumpy -- but not this time!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Smoothie for dinner

I have a rule for my dinner: it must include vegetables. Current favorites are pasta with spinach sauce, shrimp with snap peas, marinated salmon with asparagus, and ground pork with cilantro and tomatoes. When I run out of meat or fish and I don't want to have pasta again, I fall back on the green smoothie.

 The first time I tried one was when my sister posted her favorite green smoothie recipe. Unfortunately, I took the "5-6 cups of spinach" literally and applied it to frozen spinach. The result was a thick green sludge that tasted as though the delicious raspberries, blueberries and strawberries I had put in there had disappeared and turned into spinach. I think I might even have poured some of that wonderfully antioxidant paste down the drain, because it was not really even palatable.

But I backtracked the next time and put only a little spinach, and it was true: I couldn't taste the spinach at all; I could only taste the delicious fruits. So, when I am not I interested in spending a lot of time making dinner, I simply blend up a smoothie. The only thing that takes time is washing the blender afterwards, but I can handle that.

Here is what I put in it:
Frozen banana
5 frozen strawberries
Frozen raspberries
Frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen spinach
Oatmeal and wheat germ
Vanilla yogurt
Skim milk up to the level of the top of the fruits (otherwise it will be too thick and clog the blender; you can also use water.)

 This makes over two pints of smoothie. I am not sure how many calories it is (most of the calories come from the yogurt and milk), but I don't think it's more than a regular dinner even with all that volume because fruit and vegetables are low in calories, so I just drink all of it. It is also extra hydration.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The best place to PR (Downtown 5k)

(Results) Today was a good day. Lots of really fast people came from all over the country to Providence; many of my teammates came down from Boston; and I ran a road PR!

 My tiered goals were to run faster than I ran here last year (18:10), to run under 18:00, to run 5:40 pace, and to be able to finish strong. And I did! I was very fortunate that one of my much faster teammates was tempoing the race, and when she passed me at 1.5 miles I latched on and ran directly behind her for the rest of the race. The pace was tough, but I set little goals like "keep up with her until the next turn... Okay, now keep up until the next turn." In this way I kept up until the final turn uphill, at which point she sped on ahead of me and I contented myself with passing the two women who had been with us for two miles or so and also a the group ahead.

Here is an awesome sequence of pictures from Capstone Photo where I pass someone who, as it turns out, is currently a Williams student! Our clock times were only 0.6 seconds apart.

I achieved my goal of 5:40 pace, basically, with time-clock splits of 5:34, 11:20 and 17:02 before the finish tape at 17:36. (I started three seconds behind the starting line, so subtract that from the splits.) This is a four-second road PR for me, eclipsing the 17:40 from last year's JCC race. My actual time was 17:35.62, but in road running the timer is supposed to round up to the nearest second, so 17:36 it is.

I was 28th among women and 102nd overall, not as high up as last year when I was 16th woman, but the competition was much stronger this year. I feel great, and I've only done a few workouts so far, so hopefully I will only get faster and sharper as the fall goes on. But right now, I'm happy with a PR. As I have said several times today, the national championship is the best place to PR, because it's the race that matters.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The rainiest race yet (Bobcat Bolt)

(Results) June 25, 2010

This is a race that has caught my eye for a few years: a 5k and 10k, nearly in my hometown, with plenty of prize money. We knew that Lesley, Dan and Bob would be doing the 10k, so Alan and I did the 5k.

We thought the race started at 10:00, but it was at 9:30, so we arrived a scant 15 minutes before the start of the race and had only a few minutes to sign up, change into racing flats and do some warming up. Warming up was necessary because there was a light drizzle that threatened to strengthen into rain. Bob was nice enough to loan me a hat for the race.

The race start. Photo from Foster's Daily Democrat article

The 10k and 5k were together for the first 5k, and then the 5k runners stopped and the 10k runners kept going. So when the race started, I ran with Lesley (10k) and another woman (Nicole) who was doing the 5k. We ran exactly together around the high school and up the hill to the middle school, retracing the "Bagel Challenge" that I ran weekly in gym class in middle school. I felt that the pace was pretty honest, and yet Lesley and Nicole were chatting! Hmmm, this Nicole was apparently quite legit. I missed the mile mark because, although I saw both of them glance at their watches simultaneously, I didn't think that it had been close to a mile yet. Time flies!

We passed Stoke and took a right to go past the town pool, and I was getting a little worried because Nicole was still right there. I was hoping to win the 5k! At about 1.75 miles, she tucked in behind me to draft, and from there she slowly drifted back. We got to two miles in 12:01. Now it was really pouring. Lesley and I splashed through the puddles, passing men now and then.

We went into a little housing development with about a half mile to go, and I noticed that it was raining so hard that the road was covered in water. Maybe 1/2 inch of water was sitting on the road, with more pouring down -- it was raining so fast that the water couldn't drain fast enough. I was really glad I had the hat to keep the rain out of my eyes!

I was not worried about Nicole, and I didn't particularly care what my time was, but I didn't want Lesley to beat me through 5k since she was running twice as far. So I turned it up a little for the last half mile or so. In this picture, you can see that I got a little ways ahead of her by the finish:

Photo from Coolrunning by Richie Blake
See those "rocks" on the ground around my feet? Those are raindrops. The ground was covered in a sheet of water, with big raindrops pelting down.

I am doing a weird motion in the picture because they guy in front of me stopped running as soon as he crossed the line, whereas I decelerated gradually, so I nearly ran into him. Luckily, this moment was preserved for posterity and showcased on Coolrunning.

Lesley had asked me during the race if I wanted to keep going and do the whole 10k with her -- joking, but I offered to meet her with a mile to go and help push her to the end. So as soon as I finished, Alan and I changed our shoes (he also won the 5k -- see photo, above) and ran backwards along the course. We met her with a little more than a mile to go. I was surprised at how difficult it was to turn on the fast pace again! Alan had no trouble keeping up, but I was straining to stay just behind her. We ran with her for about 3/4 mile and then figured she would have plenty of motivation from there to the end.

After the race, the five of us all cooled down together, and then the photographer took a picture of us for the paper:

Photo from Foster's Daily Democrat article

The post-race meal was very generous, and we had a good chat (despite everyone being soaked through). They gave each of us a plaque in addition to a check. I was hoping to see some of my former classmates, but I only saw one or two people that I barely knew.

As an aside, first place in the 5k and second place in the 10k carried the same prize -- $100. I finished only 20 seconds ahead of Nicole, and she certainly kept the pressure on for the whole race -- whereas in the 10k, the second place woman's time was 43:10, which is much closer to my training pace than to my 10k race pace. But I'm glad I did the 5k anyway.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Miles over the Moon 4-mile

(Results) July 15, 2011

We did this race because a bunch of friends were doing it, and we were planning to hang out with them before and after. It ended up being a fun evening, and a good outing for me.

The race was at 8 pm, and was themed as a night race; they handed out glowing necklaces to pre-registered runners. (I didn't pre-register, but I also finished before it was dark enough to need a glowing necklace!) The race was hosted by the Wicked Running Club, whose mascot is a black cat (Salem, MA -- get it?); the mascot handed out medals after the race.

Alan, Brett and I warmed up on the course with some other guys. It was warm, but not too hot. The race was through downtown Salem, and the roads were not closed during the race, so there were lots of policemen. We ran past the 1- and 2-mile marks, which ended up being helpful since they were positioned on the right side of the course, so I might not have noticed them if I hadn't known what they looked like.

No other women lined up on the starting line. There was one high-school-age girl (Nicole) on the edge. When the race started, she sprinted to the front, running alongside Alan. I knew it wouldn't last, but I felt I needed to cover it just in case. So I ran behind her, and next to Brett. Nicole checked her watch twice in the first minute of the race. She hung tough for about two minutes, which was impressive, but then I passed her and stayed with Brett's group of four guys.

Here is a video of the start. I am visible if you know what to look for, in white, behind the girl who is in the front:

Alan is very visible. He is wearing sunglasses and a white and grey singlet.

I was running just behind them when we passed the mile mark in 5:29. I asked aloud, "do you think that's right?" and one of them said it was 0.97 on his watch. I had been planning to run a little under 6-minute pace, so I decided to slow down even though I didn't think it was actually 5:29. I had thought about trying to beat Brett, but I certainly didn't want to kill myself to do it, so I consciously slowed down. One guy passed me before the second mile (Doug), with whom we had warmed up. I let him go.

I got to the second mile mark in 11:17 (5:48). I hadn't looked back at all to see if there were any women nearby, but with that pace I decided it was unlikely that anyone was (especially since there was no prize money). I kept my effort at about 90% -- not all-out, not jogging, just a good effort. I passed Doug. A guy ahead of me jogged over to the sidewalk and started walking; as I approached, he started jogging again. Doug called out to him, "Don't push it; live to race another day." I passed a high school kid in orange basketball shorts (Scott). At this point, Brett was the next guy ahead of me! But there was a big gap between us.

The third mile was at a water station; I passed it in 17:08 (5:51). I was hoping I could break 24 minutes (my previous 4-mile road race PR was 24:27), and at this point I was pretty confident that it would happen. I wondered if I could catch Brett. To determine how far Brett was ahead of me, I counted my breaths: I breathe once every three steps (two steps in, one step out) and my stride rate is just about 180 steps per minute, so I breathe just about once per second. Brett rounded a corner and it took me 12 breaths to get there. I decided I couldn't make up 12 seconds in one mile, especially because I knew Brett would be trying his hardest to stay ahead of me. In reality, he was far enough ahead that I was having trouble seeing him as dusk was falling.

The last 0.4 miles or so of the race was around a triangular park in Salem. I had done my pre-race striders around the triangle, and I noticed that each side was deceptively long, more than a comfortable strider distance. So I picked it up, but not too much. On the final straight, I could see the bright lights of the spotlight and the time clock approaching, and I kicked really hard. Spectators told me, "run hard; you can break 23 minutes!" Since I couldn't read the time clock, I had no idea if it was saying 22:57, 22:58... or if I had more time. Luckily, I was kicking as hard as I could anyway. I crossed in 22:54.

I was pretty sure that the course was short. I consulted with Alan (who had a much harder race than I did, taking the lead only in the park) and he agreed. A friend with a GPS watch got 3.92, for a converted time of 23:22 (5:51 pace). Still a PR! We cooled down in the park, and stayed for the awards ceremony. The people cheered really loudly for all of the age group winners who were Wicked Running Club members. Alan and I each got a sparkly red trophy. There were also orange slices, which is my idea of a perfect post-race banquet. Afterwards, we hung out with friends at their house, and had delicious food.

From this, I learned that taking a few weeks between races is really key to my success. It's been three weeks since I ran the Bobcat Bolt, and I was able to run fast in Salem without killing myself. I am going to do my best to space out my races, and at least allow a few weeks before my most important races.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Eighteen times two (10k, NBB Twilight Meet #2)

5/21/11 (Results) All throughout the spring, when people asked "what are you training for?" I would say, "I'm training to run a fast 10k at the Twilight Meet in May." Saturday, May 21 was the day.

"So, what are you doing this weekend?" one of my friends asked me on Friday. "Sitting around, drinking water, eating bread, being nervous, and then running a 10k at 8 pm," I told him. That pretty much summarizes my Saturday. I went for a short shakeout when I woke up, and then sat around all day, finally driving to the meet in the afternoon.

My ambitious goal was 35:30 (the Tier 1 standard). The goal I was aiming for was 35:45 (the time standard for winning money in this 10k, and what I thought I could run). My backup goal was 36:00. Any of these would be a huge PR, as my 10k PR was 37:53 from the Tufts 10k, and my track 10k PR from college was 41:59.

My coach suggested that I not engage mentally too much for the first four miles, make it like a tempo run but faster, and then start racing with two miles to go. The idea is that if you focus a lot in the beginning of a 10k, you will run out of mental focus by the end. That seemed reasonable to me, so I tried to find someone to share the pace in the first four miles. I talked to Carly, whom I had met at the previous race, but she was planning to go 1-2 seconds slower per lap, which is a lot in a 10k, so we decided not to run together. She suggested that I ask Jordan, which was a great idea because we were both hoping for 35:45, so I introduced myself to Jordan, and Jordan and I decided to lead alternate 800s. Great! I did a 20-minute warm-up on a field and around a parking lot, because I didn't want to run any hills.

The 10k was at 7:50, just as darkness fell. Usually the wind dies down at sunset, but in this case it picked up, and was really kind of windy. I did strides in only one direction because of it. The hip numbers were different this week, which was good because both of mine came off in the 5k, and we were instructed to stick them directly to our arms.

Teammate: "Right on the skin?"
Official: "Yeah. For you, it might go all the way around and overlap, but we're trying it this week."

It worked; it stayed on, and I didn't think about it after the first few laps. Anyway, now for the race. I was seeded #9 out of 11, one of which didn't show up, so I was seeded 8th. The gun went off and I started really slow (see video below), second to last, being cautious in a 25-lap race. I tucked in behind Jordan and she led the first 800, as planned. The first lap was a little fast (85); the second a little slow (87); pretty typical for the beginning of a long race, finding the pace. I took over and led the second 800 just about like the first. The wind on the backstretch was really something -- I tucked in tight when I was behind, and had to fight it hard when I was leading. We came through the mile in 5:46 or so, right on pace. Jordan took over again and I was happy to not have to think too much. I took over and brought us through two miles in 11:34 or so, again just about on pace. I could tell that I was pullling away from Jordan, so I was not surprised when she didn't pass me to take the next 800. From here on out, I would be mostly alone.

About 20 meters ahead of me was a runner in white (Megan). "No matter," I thought, "I'm running my own race." I ran with a consistent gap between us for about two laps, until Alan shouted, "come on, catch up with her!" So I put in a surge, and almost before I had really accelerated, I was on her shoulder. I ran behind her for a lap or two, following the plan to not think too much in the first four miles, and also to conserve energy on the windy backstretch. We were catching a runner in orange. I could hear people cheering for Shauneen. "The runner in orange cannot possibly be Shauneen," I thought; "she was a national champion for AmHerst in college." But indeed it was. I stuck behind Megan just until we caught and passed Shauneen, but by that time I could tell that she was running slower than I wanted to run, so I passed both of them and ran on to face the wind myself.

My goal was to go through 5k in 17:50. After 12 laps, Alan ran across the track to give me my 5k time: 18:05. "WHAT?" I had no idea that I was running so far off the pace. But one or two seconds on six or seven laps really adds up. Now it was go time. Running behind Megan, I had been chomping at the bit, ready to get out there and race. When I heard the 18:05, I abandoned the plan to wait until four miles and just went for it. I pretended that it was a 5k starting right then, and ran hard. I was rewarded with a couple of laps in the mid 85s.

Around this time, Katie lapped me. I knew that I would get lapped, because there was a group that was going for the national qualifying standard of 33:40, and they had a rabbit leading them through a 16:45 5k. I thought I would get lapped with about a mile to go, and my plan was to tuck in behind whomever lapped me, and try to hang on. When Katie lapped me (at 18:30 in the video), I stuck with the plan for a few seconds, and then realized that (a) it was way too early in the race to accelerate like that, and (b) Katie was running much too fast for me. On the race video, the commentators wonder aloud whether I knew I was getting lapped, rather than just passed by a competitor. I knew. So I accelerated briefly, and then went back to my regular pace.

Last Thanksgiving, I ran a five-mile race in a PR of 30:09. I was a little annoyed to not break 30, and I decided that the next time I raced five miles, I wouldn't break 30; I'd break 29. A few days before this 10k, I realized that this was my chance. Alan measured out the five mile mark on the track (just past 20 laps) and stood ready to take my split. So, coming up to 20 laps, I knew I was running for my preliminary goal. Unfortunately, I didn't break 29. Fortunately, when I broke 30 for the first time it was in style, with a 29:05.

When I passed the invisible five-mile mark on the track as described above, I was running with Jenn. She lapped me at a perfect moment, with six or seven laps to go, and this time I followed my plan. She passed me, and I stuck right with her. In the video (at about 27:15), the commentators remark on this, and that I actually closed the gap after she passed me. I ran behind her for two laps, before she surged on the windy backstretch and dropped me. This was really helpful, and I only wish I'd been able to hang on longer!

With a mile to go, I started running harder. It should be noted that while I started engaging the race and running harder at 5k, I didn't actually run any faster, still around 86-87 per lap. My friend and training partner Erin was sitting on the water jump barrier, and every time I ran by she would tell me I looked smooth, and she'd say to run faster. I was running smooth! I felt fine! But I wasn't really running faster. I had asked Alan to tell me, with one lap to go, what I needed to run in order to achieve my goal time. This "goal time" would be either 35:30, 35:45, or 36:00 depending on my time at the end of 24 laps.

With one lap to go, Alan told me I needed a 78 to go under 36:00. (They rang a bell for me, which was nice -- they were ringing the bell for everyone as they passed the "one lap to go" mark, so each person had their own personal bell lap. I've never had that happen before, but then again I've never been in a strung-out 10k with only 10 competitors!) I started running faster. I told myself it was a kick. I could see an orange singlet ahead of me and was shocked that I had a possibility of lapping Shauneen (which I didn't end up doing). Alan ran to the next corner and told me what I needed for the last 300. He met me at the water jump and shouted again. Finally, he ran to the top of the homestretch and read aloud "nineteen, eighteen, seventeen..." I know what a 17-second 100 feels like: it's really fast. I accelerated and kicked down the homestretch for all I was worth. (In the video, they remark that it's almost as though I know the 36-minute mark is approaching. I sure was running fast.) I kicked through the finish and it was over.

On the result: In my second-ever track 10k, in college, I kicked the last lap in 80 seconds and just squeaked under 42 minutes, with 41:59.06. This time, in my third-ever track 10k, I hammered out a 78.5 last lap and didn't quite make it under 36, running 36:00.50. So it goes! It's a nearly-two-minute PR, and I can now succinctly state my 10k PR as "36 flat." My two 5ks were 18:05 and 17:55; hence the title of this post, "eighteen times two." It would have been 18:05+18:03=36:08, if it weren't for my ferocious kick! Alan was fond of pointing out that the first half 18:05 was my fifth-fastest 5k ever, and the second half 17:55 was my fourth-fastest 5k ever (which demoted the 18:05 to #6).

In the end, I was fourth, just as in the previous week's 5k. The only people ahead of me were the three people who were chasing that 33:40 standard -- Katie and Jenn, who lapped me, and Teresa, who almost lapped me but finished just after they rang the bell for my last lap. I did a nice cooldown with Katie and Jenn, and then celebrated my successful race at the team party with lots of nice folks until the wee hours.

On the plan: Strangely enough, I never got bored or mentally drained during the race. This could be because I conserved my mental energy during the first 5k. However, I actually think it's because I had trained for several months for this particular race, visualized this race in my workouts, told everyone it was my goal race -- how could I get bored in a situation like this? This is the day! This is the race! It's go time! I doubt that I'll have enough opportunities to race 10k on the track to actually experiment with different strategies, but if I did, I would certainly experiment with engaging from the beginning. If I had a perfect group at my goal pace, then I would just tuck in, but if I had a situation like this again where I had to run my pace myself, then I would try the strategy of focusing from the beginning and see where it took me. A 10k has a lot of laps, but when you've focused on it for several months, focusing for 25 laps isn't so difficult.

On the wind: During the race, I didn't think too much about the wind, except for trying to tuck in behind people, and obviously fighting against it -- in particular, I never thought, "It's windy, so I guess I won't get a fast time." Far from making excuses, I never even thought about it. But after the race, I started to realize that it was seriously windy. Hip numbers were blowing across the infield. The NB tent almost blew over (see video). I think that the wind probably affected me, that without it I would have run a few tenths of a second faster per lap. Also, if I had had a group to run with at perfect 35:30 or 35:45 pace, I probably could have trotted right along behind them; I wasn't very good at hitting the splits myself, but I was quite good at sticking right behind everyone I ran with (except Katie, who I never really ran with).

So I think I can run faster, and I hope to have the opportunity to run another fast 10k on the track next year, when I have another year of training, and perhaps less wind and a larger group at my goal pace. In the meantime, I'm very happy with this one.

Watch more video of 2011 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #2 on

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Running by the numbers

After the end of winter track season, I took my mileage down under 60 for two weeks, and I didn't do any workouts. During this period, something strange happened: I would run just like normal on my standard running loops, and I would return home two or three minutes earlier than usual. My training pace, which had been around 7:30-7:45, was suddenly down around 7:10 pace.

I was thrilled! All that hard work was paying off! My coach was not as thrilled:
Just because you CAN run faster doesn't mean you should... If you'd like to be more scientific about it, we can get you set up with a heart rate monitor with target zones, but I think you'll work out and most importantly race better if you're a bit more relaxed on "off" days.

Get all scientific about it? Say no more; I'm on it! I got out the heart rate monitor and, since March 1, I have been recording my average heart rate for as many runs as possible. I've been graphing HR vs. pace as I go along:

I know this is hard to read. Sorry. You can view the full size. The trend is clear: As the pace slows down, the heart rate comes down.

It is a fact that if you run at a constant speed, your heart rate will slowly increase. So for a given pace, the average heart rate will tend to be higher for a 10-mile run than for a five-mile run. Because of this, I labeled each data point with the run's distance.

This graph contains many stories. There is the hilly 13-miler that I slogged through with a heart rate averaging 159 (bordering on "tempo effort"). On the other hand, there's a smooth 8-mile run averaging under 7:30 pace but with my heart rate at a cool 142.

I now have a better sense of what my heart rate is when I'm running; I can sometimes guess what it's going to be, without looking. If I'm running along and I don't feel very good, I'll glance down -- "oh, heart rate is 157, maybe that's why."

Something unexpected: My team does the same loop for both warm-up and cool-down on workout days, but my heart rate is drastically different for the two loops. This data is typical: Warm-up, 7:30 pace; heart rate 142. Cool down, 7:30 pace; heart rate 159. Gosh, track workouts must be really tough on the body!

A side benefit of graphing my heart rate is that I am less annoyed when I find myself running faster or slower than I intended. Fast people show up to the fun run? No problem, that's a new data point at 6:30 pace! End up running with the slow group? No problem; that's a new data point over 8:00 pace!

I think that a graph like this is a great way of measuring someone's fitness. My friend, who was also trying to keep her heart rate reasonable on recovery runs, wanted to know if we'd be able to run together, and a quick look at my graph told her that we would. If you want to know whether you and I can run together, you can easily tell from the graph that I do most of my runs between 7:30-7:45 pace (from the swarm of data points there), and a glance at the scale on the vertical axis tells you that this is usually a conversational pace for me (under 145 BPM).

The numbers on each data point tell you the run's distance, but there's no way to express change over time on the graph, so I made sure to keep track of the data points separately, with the date, in case I want to look at that later. I think that I am getting in better shape, because when I add data points, they are usually towards the bottom, with a lower heart rate for a given speed.

If I really try to peak for some of these upcoming races, and stop doing hard workouts but keep collecting heart rate data, I hope to see the type of thing that started this whole experiment: easy recovery effort, fast pace for the effort level, low heart rate. In other words, I hope to continue to make excellent happen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New 5k PR! (NBB Twilight Meet #1)

Last September, I lowered my 5k PR from 18:21 to 17:40 at the JCCRI 5k. Lots of people said, "great job, Diana!" but inside, at least a few were thinking, "the course was clearly short. Who takes 40 seconds off of their PR in one race?" (Never mind that it was USATF-certified and the course measurer was there.) So I was thrilled to follow it up with a 17:43.7 three weeks ago at the Scott Carlson Memorial 5k. And now I'm even more thrilled to have taken another 23 seconds off, with a 17:17.1 at last night's twilight meet!

The race was at night, so all day I hydrated and rested (with a 10-minute shakeout run) and ate cereal and bread. I got to Bentley a few hours early, and was happy to see that it was cool and calm -- no heat, no wind, no rain. Perfect conditions! I sat in my car for an hour or so and thought about the race, how I would feel and how I would react.

Ever since the end of indoor track, I've been training for this series of twilight meets, and in particular I've been training to run 83-second laps for the 5k. I reviewed what my times should be at various points (5:32 mile, 11:04 after 8 laps, 11:45 with four laps to go, etc.). All spring, I've been doing lots of intervals(800s, 1200s, miles, even 400s) at 83 seconds per lap, so the pace should be well-ingrained into my muscle memory.

I did about two miles of warm-up, and befriended Carly from the BAA. When I had seen her name on the start list, I had looked up her training on Athleticore and thought she might be trying to run 17:20 also, but it turned out she was planning to go out a little slower than that. We chatted for about a mile. I did a bunch of stretching and strides, and felt very loose by the time we lined up.

When Dan fired the gun, a Canadian runner went out really fast, and I went out well behind her, settling into second place and trying to settle into an 83. I could tell I was leading a pack, and the first lap turned out to be 80. Oops. Melissa from BAA was running directly beside me as I led the group through the second lap in 84. When Melissa heard that time, she jumped into the lead and I went with her. The third lap was 82, for a 4:06 1200. I stuck right with her even though the fourth lap seemed kind of hard, and it was -- 79.9, for a 5:26 1600. That was faster than my goal of 5:32.

It is well-known that it is easier to run 83s if you can tuck in behind someone who is running 83s, than if you have to run them all by yourself. However, it's not necessarily easier to tuck in behind someone running 82s, than to run 83s on your own. This was the problem I faced. I decided to stick with her and see if I could run a 17-minute 5k (81.8 seconds per lap). I fleetingly thought of my friend Caitlyn, who once found herself in a group and just went with it and ended up running 17:00.5. "Get on the train and ride," I thought.

The fifth lap was 82, for a 6:48 2k. At this point I was starting to lose contact with Melissa. She would get a little gap on me, and I'd have to put in a surge to catch back up. I did this twice or three times. Marissa, a high school runner, was running just behind me, and when I let a gap open up again after six or seven laps, she took the opportunity to pass me and get on Melissa's shoulder. I was able to stay in mental contact with the pair of them until about eight laps, passing that mark in 10:59, for a 5:33 second mile -- right on pace.

Before the race, I had mentally broken it up into the first four laps, the next four laps, a 200m, and then the last four laps. I knew I should get to "four laps to go" in about 11:45. I passed it in 11:44, so then I knew I was just about on pace. I had decided that I would run a little harder on each of the last four laps, so with four to go I increased the pressure. I was running harder, but only managing 84s. So it goes.

As I passed 4k, I heard 13:50, and made a mental note of that (I looked it up later; my previous 4k PR was 14:21). This means that I passed 3k in about 10:19, which is pretty good since I actually ran a 3k at BU in 10:16 when I had a bad race. Up ahead, Marissa had passed Melissa and I harbored fantasies of catching her as she slowed down. Though I was running hard, I wasn't able to close the gap between myself and Melissa. Although I was running hard and obviously in pain and oxygen debt, I also knew that the race was going perfectly, that I was running exactly the pace I was supposed to be running, and that everything was going exactly like it was supposed to go, so I had a certain calmness. I wasn't going to break 17, but I was going to live up to expectations.

I had decided that 15:50 was as slow as I could be with one lap to go and still get under 17:05 (NBB's Tier 1 standard), since a 75-second 400 is pretty much my limit. The clock said 15:57 as I poured it on. I ran 80 seconds for the last lap, 38 for the final 200, coming in at 17:17.10. If I'd only eased up just a little, I could have run 17:17.17!

Here is the video. My teammates are taking the video and narrating, so I get more airtime than a normal fourth-place finisher:

Watch more video of 2011 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #1 on

I can't wait for the 10k next week!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Scott Carlson Memorial 5k

(Results) After last week's frustrating near miss, I wanted another chance to run fast. A little sleuthing told me that both of the women who beat me at the Carlson race last year would not be racing this year, making it likely that I could grab the $250 for first place. Also, the weather forecast was 100% chance of rain, plus 15 mph wind -- decidedly nasty weather that would eliminate anyone who was wavering. But not me!

We got there just after registration opened so I could get my size S shirt, and so we could see whether Alan should register or just run with me. He decided to register after EL and a high school team were the only fast-looking guys. It was only lightly raining during our 3-mile warmup on trails. I had heard that the NB flats were slippery on wet pavement, so I tried them out, but the traction was fine, so I wore them for the race (and never thought about it again, so that was a false rumor). It was cold and raining, so I ran about an extra mile doing light jogging and strides in the 10 minutes before the race started, just to stay warm in my singlet. I saw a couple of intense-looking women, but I could tell that they were masters runners, so I was not too concerned. According to the announcer, this year had a record-breaking field, despite the rain! Hopefully this will contribute to a speedy cure for ALS.

The race started and we ran up the initial hill. I went out behind JY, who goes out fast in every race. I was hoping to run between 3:30-3:35 for the first 1k (this course marks every k and every mile!). I passed a group of the high school boys' team before the 1k, and hit it in 3:34. Great! It was windy and rainy and I had to remember to look ahead so that I could cut the tangents properly. There were two high school boys ahead of me, one in the team uniform and one in a white cotton undershirt, and I worked on catching up to them. I passed the mile in 5:46. Great! I could see Alan up ahead, and it was clear that he would get second place, also great!

The guy in the uniform came back to me and I passed him just after the mile. Then we ran past some girls who were cheering, and he surged to pass me. I kept running the same pace and caught him again. We passed 2k in 7:10, for a 3:36. Very consistent! As we made a gradual right turn, I saw some runners in black (not in the race), and when they cheered for me I realized it was some friends who were out for a 20-mile run. We hit 3k in 10:44 for a third k of 3:34, still consistent! I was very happy to be running such an even pace, running the times I wanted without having to go all-out do to it. We got to 2 miles in 11:30 for a 5:44 second mile. I was wondering if this was good, and then I remembered that my goal last week was 11:35, so I realized I was on pace for sub-18.

A little before 4k, a man passed me who was clearly a masters runner (gray hair). He ran near me for a while and I tried to draft off of him and the uniformed high school runner, who was still right near me. (The drafting was unsuccessful, because it was a crosswind.) I figured he didn't know, so I told him: "Catch that blue guy, get 100 bucks." About 30 seconds later, he asked me what I had said. "Pass the guy in blue, third place. 100 bucks, no joke, three deep," I replied. During the race, this seemed like perfectly clear communication to me. Now that I am typing it, I realize that the only people who could parse that message are the sort of people who would already be well aware of the prize structure. But I figured that, as a masters runner, he probably wasn't picking up cash very often, and it would be cool if he could. He never did understand what I was saying -- he asked me after the race -- and he didn't catch the kid, in any case.

I went through 4k in 14:21 (new 4k PR! Previous 14:48) and it was all downhill to the finish. The men were running away from me and I tried to stay with them to run a fast time. I went under the bridge at 3 miles and saw 17:11 on my watch. Wow, it would be a fast time! I kicked hard as Alan and JJ cheered for me. I saw 17:40 come and go on the clock, so no PR, but still close. My official time was 17:43.7 (for a fifth k of 3:23). My second-fastest 5k ever!

I was impressed to see that the second and third finishers were quite fast also, both under 19:00. They turned out to both be very accomplished multisport athletes, one a recent national champion duathlete and the other a Hawaii Ironman champion, both masters runners.

The rain really started to pour just after I finished, so I quickly put on more clothes and Alan, EL and I headed out for a four-mile cooldown on the trails. It was not wet in the woods, and we had a good conversation. There was a nice post-race spread with pizza, fruit and sherbet. I was very happy with the cash prize, and even happier when it turned out that they double-dipped and I got a great goody bag for the age group! Alan got one too, of course, so now cumulatively from this race we have:

$400, two tech shirts, 8 PawSox baseball tickets, a one-hour massage certificate, $45 to a gift shop, two chocolate bunnies, 24 marshmallow Peeps, two Army water bottles, two Army lanyards, an Army mug (what are we going to do with these? This is a Navy family), a red baseball cap, two fancy pens in cloth cases, two ALS wristbands -- and hopefully, someday, a cure for ALS.

RI State Police 5k Foot Pursuit

(Results 4/17/11) I had been planning to do this race for a long time. They were giving $100 for first place, plus an extra $200 for breaking the course record of 17:58. Considering that I ran 17:40 last fall, I figured I could probably run under 17:58. I had heard that times in this race completely depend on whether it's windy, since the last mile is along the beach, so I checked the wind direction all week, and was very happy to see that it was projected to be about an 18 mph south wind -- perfect! It would push me to the finish line.

Rain was forecast, but when I arrived it was a brilliant sunny day. As forecast, there was a very strong wind. I did the last mile of the course as my warm-up, and found that we would have a strong headwind on the way out, and hopefully a strong tailwind on the way back. But it wasn't the kind of consistent push that I was expecting; something about the buildings, road curve, and seawalls made it come from different directions at different locations.

Huge headwind on the starting line. I jokingly asked my friend Hunter (who is very tall) if he was planning to run a 5:50 first mile -- obviously, I wanted to draft off of him. The race started and I tried to stay behind various men, balancing my desire to run fast with my desire to avoid running into the full force of the wind. The first mile had some uphill, and I found a guy at a good pace, going up the hill. He was wearing a T-shirt that said TMS. I wondered if it was my TMS? I passed the first mile in 5:50, as advertised, but I felt like it had taken a lot of effort to run that pace. (Hunter was at least 5 seconds ahead.)

The second mile was about 3/4 mile of gradual uphill followed by about 1/4 mile of downhill. I slogged that mile, trying to motivate myself to put in more effort, but discouraged by the hill and the headwind. The men were running away from me. I had a goal of 11:35 for two miles, so that I could break the course record. Instead, I glanced at my watch as I made the turn onto Ocean Road, and it said 11:47. A 5:57 mile! Who am I to try to run under 18:00 if I run almost six minutes for a mile of the race? I became very discouraged and I didn't think that I could go under the time.

For the last mile, there wasn't much of a tailwind. A guy in a Cobras singlet slowed down and I passed him, but then he sped up and went away again, and I didn't go with him. Too bad, because he dipped just under the women's course record! I got to three miles in 17:33 for a 5:46 third mile; not bad. People shouted, "run hard! kick it in! lots of money on the line!" but I know that you have to get to 3 miles in about 17:27 in order to break 18; it's hard to make up a lot of seconds in the last 0.1 miles, because percentage-wise it's a huge increase in speed.

I finished in 18:06. Just before the finish, this police officer passed me:

Photo by George Ross, Digital Photo Concept

I should mention that this race was (obviously, from the title) sponsored by the police, and so the police presence was huge. I always run with my car key pinned to my shorts, rather than hiding it on or around the car, because I don't want to take a chance of someone stealing the car. But if there were any race where I would take the chance, it would be this race, with a line of six police cars parked close by, and troopers in uniform (see in background of photo, above) everywhere!

Interestingly, while there were tons of police in the parking lot and race headquarters, there were none on the roads; the roads we ran on weren't even closed after the first 1/2 mile or so. But it makes sense, because there was barely any traffic. The only police officer out on the course was the one who inspired the race, a guy who was hit by a car while running, and now competes in races by pushing himself backwards in a wheelchair with one foot. One of the men I was running with shouted encouragement to him as we passed.

For my efforts, I received $100 and a race hat. There was a nice barbecue after the race, and I had fun hanging out with my friends KC and AH. There was even a Del's Soft Frozen Lemonade stand giving out free tiny cups of Del's! I had three of them; it was very delicious. I felt like I should have run faster, especially considering the generous prize for doing so, but luckily there are always more races.

Wild for Winsor 5k

(Results 4/2/11) Doing this race was poor judgment. The night before the race, we happened to be looking at upcoming races, and noticed that there was one the following day in Smithfield -- a RI town in which we had not yet run. Also, it was a new race, so we figured no one else would have found out about it. Might as well show up and run a 7-minute pace 5k and pick up $50, right?

On the starting line, I saw TH, as I expected, and I decided to let her go and just run for second (first place = shoes; second place = cash). She ran well, in third place overall at certain times during the race. Unfortunately for me, some other legit people also showed up, so I found myself running a 6:05 first mile just to hang with second place (IN). Luckily this slowed to a 6:20 second mile and 6:30 third mile, but I threw in a kick at the end just to make sure all that fast running paid off! It turns out that the woman I was running with (IN) is an ultramarathoner; she told me after the race that she has no kick. Not surprising for a person who does a 50-mile race one weekend and a 5k the next! That's an impressive range.

All in all, doing this race was a very poor choice. I had done a track workout the day before, and the whole point of a track workout is to stress the body and then recover, in order to improve. A 19:30 5k is not burning up the road, but it's certainly not recovery pace, either. I had been having calf pain, and while I didn't feel it during the warm-up or during the race, I felt it afterwards.

The experience taught me that I shouldn't do a race unless I am planning to go all-out and really race it, that when I have a goal race, I should focus on it and not let small road races distract me from that long-term goal. I hope that I can remember this in the future!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Running' down a dream (St. Pat's 5k)

The St. Pat's 5k was the third and final race in the Tour de Patrick series, to which I devoted my March racing schedule. Last year, I was hoping to win the race, but I was extremely nervous because I knew there would be over 3,000 people there. It ended up being a tough battle just as I had feared and visualized, but in the end I did win, immortalized in this awesome photo (which was published in New England Runner magazine and led to months of teasing from my runner friends!)

This year, I walked downtown with three other runners from Brown, and we arrived over an hour early, giving us plenty of time to chat with various people. One of the photographers working with George even took this nice picture of our group:

I had a nice talk with the man (IB) who does the announcing for all of Charlie's races, whom I had met several times, but we had never chatted off-microphone. He told me about Ireland, and in particular that I should look forward to ham sandwiches and tea. IB said he thought I would certainly win the race that day. I thought about how humbling it is to look around at the thousands of people who are milling about, and think that I will beat every single female who is wearing a race number (and most of the men). It is a strange and unbelievable feeling.

I also talked to my photographer/runner friend SM, and we agreed that it is dumb when people stop their watch just as they cross the finish line, because (his reason) it makes for bad photos, and (my reason) you can look at the results later to see your exact time.

I did my two-mile warm-up and then changed into my flats. Because I had walked there, I didn't have a car where I could stow my stuff, so I left it with IB at the announcer's table, where it would be safe. Thus, as the race was about to start, I was very near to the announcer's table, and as I was about to head to the starting line, Charlie pulled me aside and asked if I could say something on the microphone to all the people (because I was the current Tour de Patrick leader). No pressure -- there are only 4,000 runners, a couple of hundred spectators, and the mayor of Providence! IB asked me some easy questions; I thanked everyone for coming out and said I was so excited for the race, then gave a thumbs up:

As I was leaving the area, Mayor Taveras shook my hand and told me good luck! That was nice of him.

Okay, now for the race. I hadn't been doing a great job at my Tuesday workouts, and I had the series title well in hand, so my coach told me to only run between 18:40 and 19:00 in this race. I thought it would be cool to win all three races in the series, so I was hoping to win this one. But then I discovered that my friend KJ was at this race, and she ran 18:15 last fall, which meant that winning the race and running slower than 18:40 would be mutually exclusive goals. I decided to go out behind her and run only just fast enough to win (if I could win -- KJ is fast).

The siren sounded and I was ready for it this time -- you can see that my reaction time was faster than almost anyone else's. That's because I was prepared for the fact that I would only barely be able to hear it!

I jumped off the line, but then slowed down until KJ came up even with me, then ran beside or just behind her. She was chatting with Nate. The pace seemed relatively comfortable, but it was hard to tell exactly because we had a big headwind. After maybe 3/4 of a mile, KJ wondered aloud what pace we were running. Nate consulted his GPS watch -- "5:38," he said. "Oh no! That's too fast!" KJ said. I told her that we were not going 5:38 pace, that Nate's watch was wrong, but she decided the pace was too fast, and slowed down. The pace seemed plenty comfortable enough to me, so I abandoned my plan of staying behind KJ, and just kept on at the same effort level. I went through the mile in exactly 6:00.

A funny thing happened on the way out -- I was running with men, trying to draft off of them into the headwind. Every so often, one of the spectators would notice that I was the first female, and would say "go first woman!" or something. A guy who was running just ahead of me apparently thought that this was insufficient, so he kept trying to drum up support in the crowd. "Hey guys, she's the first female! Cheer for her!" he exhorted the spectators. I was embarrassed, because it's not like I need cheering in order to keep up my blistering 6:00 pace, and also it was an out-and-back course, so I knew what I was in for. "It's okay," I told the well-meaning guy, "I'll get it in spades on the way back." (This is literally what I said -- "in spades." I don't think I have ever used that phrase before.)

We made the small lollipop loop with the short downhill and uphill, and then headed back along Smith Street to the capitol building, running right next to the slower runners who were still heading out. Just as I rejoined Smith Street, I heard a group of female runners shout, "go Diana!" and I knew it was my friends from Brown (two of whom are pictured above). Basically the whole way back, people cheered for me as the first female! (I think the singlet helped.)

Here's the part of the story where you know I'm a scientist. I mentioned that there was a headwind on the way out, so I was looking forward to a tailwind on the way back. However, on the way back I was unhappily surprised to find that there was once again a headwind! What the heck? On the warmup, I had a tailwind! Then I thought back to a run I did recently along a highway, where I had a headwind in both directions because, running on the left, the cars nearest me were always going the opposite direction. That was what was happening here -- because thousands of people were running in the opposite direction from me, they were actually creating a headwind. Crazy.

I went through two miles in 12:06 -- okay, but not very fast, and I could see KJ's blue singlet behind me. I kicked my pace up a notch. Just as I was thinking, "man, I'm having to work really hard to run this speed," the quantity of runners/walkers going the other direction tapered off, and I got a nice tailwind. Sweet. I drifted along with my tailwind and worked on getting to the capitol. On the way, I made sure to pass Nate and BH, whom I had beaten in the previous two races and didn't really want to finish behind.

I went through three miles in 17:48 and was very surprised that the third mile was so fast! I momentarily wondered if TH's course record of 18:21 might be in reach, but I remembered that I had agreed to not run very hard, and I figured it would take 40 seconds to reach the finish, so my time would be over the course record; too bad. Ahead of me I saw them putting out a tape and I ran for it. Someone on the other side was gesturing for me to put my hands out, so I did:

I had done it! I won all three races in the series! Wow!

As it turned out, my time was only 1.15 seconds from the course record. That's a little annoying, because I could certainly have gone two seconds faster at any point throughout the race. But I am very happy with the result! I did another microphone interview, and told the crowd (as per Charlie's instruction) "I'm not going to Disneyworld; I'm going to Ireland!" Ha ha, very funny. (The irony is that I have never seen any of those commercials. I just don't watch TV!)

After the race, I talked to lots of people -- Alan finished despite his food poisoning; Sarah and Kasondra had an epic sprint finish separated by only 0.1 seconds in which they both ran PRs; people I didn't know gave me high-5's. I also did an interview with SM from the Pawtucket Times, which was apparently also for New England Runner! The article has lots of nice quotations:

Pretak, Davis cop individual titles at St. Pat's 5k
PROVIDENCE — After battling a stiff headwind for the first mile of the St. Pat’s 5K, Stephen Pretak knew his goal of running close to 15 minutes would not happen Saturday morning.
But the less-than-favorable conditions in the Providence race didn’t stop him from breaking the tape a winner.
The 26-year-old Connecticut native captured the final stage of the inaugural Tour de Patrick, finishing the out-and-back course with a time of 15:31.7. Pretak held off defending titlist Eric Lonergan of North Kingstown, who claimed the runner-up spot at 15:35.4.
In the women’s race, Providence’s Diana Davis defended her crown from last year by taking 30th overall among the 3,547 finishers with an 18:22.5 clocking. She beat 32-year-old Kim Jackson of Providence, a second-place finisher (35th overall) at 18:36.0.
Davis’s performance completes a victorious sweep in the Tour de Patrick, a three-race series that awards the overall male and female winners (based on cumulative time) a trip to Ireland. The 25-year-old Brown University PhD student also copped the Irish 5K in Pawtucket on March 5 and the Celtic 5K in Worcester last Sunday. Lonergan, a victor in the two previous races, was declared the men’s champion of the series.
“I won (St. Pat’s) last year so I sort of wanted to go in and win it again,” Davis said. “It was nice to win all three, but I was definitely the most nervous for this one.”
Pretak, a 2007 graduate of Southern Connecticut University, was making his second appearance at the St. Pat’s 5K. He was second two years ago in the initial race when he ran a personal-best effort of 15:02 to former Providence College All-American Mark Carroll’s course record of 14:26.
“My goal was to run as close to 15 flat — if not under — as possible,” Pretak said. “Two years ago I ran close to that and was mad at myself for not doing it. Today, I went out a little slow and it’s tough to come back from that.
“The whole mile out we were just running right into the wind. I kind of realized (running 15 minutes was not possible) when I saw 4:59 at the mile mark. It was not the pace that I was looking to run.”
For about the first 1,200 meters of the race, Pretak and Lonergan ran alongside each other on the moderately, challenging course. Pretak broke away from the former all-stater from North Kingstown High before he hit the mile mark.
Coming down the final stretch on Smith Street, he had just enough in the tank to hold off Lonergan to the finish, just in front of the R.I. State House.
“I heard his footsteps the whole time through like 2 ½ miles,” Pretak said. “Then he came alongside me at 2 ½ and I knew he had a kick. I guess I just had a decent kick today.”
Davis was more than 25 seconds slower than her winning time of 17:56.2 at the Celtic 5K last weekend, her fastest clocking in the series. This race, however, was her most difficult to come out on top.
“Absolutely, no question,” she said. “The other two I won by two minutes. This one I won by (about) 10 seconds.”
Davis assumed sole possession of the lead after about a half mile, but then had to worry about Jackson during the late stages of the race. Third place went to Framingham’s Amanda Van Cleave, who also dipped under 19 minutes with her time of 18:57.3.
“There were some fast people that showed up today,” Davis admitted. “(Kim) and I were running together at the beginning. She thought the pace was a little fast so she slowed down, but she really caught up the last mile.”
“It feels great,” she continued. “I was nervous the whole way because I knew Kim was behind me, but when they put out the banner I knew I had it. I am really, really happy.”
Nathaniel Broomfield of Pawtucket was the first R.I. local runner to cross the line. The 38-year Broomfield placed 31st overall in 18:24.9. Lincoln’s Richard Botelho, 50, was 54th overall at 19:18.2.
Tiffany Spearman, a onetime distance ace from Woonsocket High, was fifth among women and 59th overall. The 29-year-old Spearman, who now resides in South Boston, ran a time of 19:24.4.

The online version, linked above, only has a picture of the male winner, but the print version has a nice photo of the whole starting line. Also, the part in there about my time being 25 seconds slower than at the Celtic 5k is a little misleading, because the course in Worcester was short.

I have now run 18:25 three times this year, or four if you count the 17:56 on a short course. So now we have:

Four ways to run 18:25
(Super 5k) Kill the first mile, loaf the next two, and then sprint in the finish.
(Irish 5k) Run hard the whole race, uphill and/or into a headwind.
(Celtic 5k) Do a tempo run before the race; go out comfortably and then accelerate in the second half.
(St. Pat's 5k) Run the first two miles comfortably and then negative-split the heck out of the last mile.

I am very happy about how this series went. It's a steep hill from downtown Providence up to Brown University, but as I walked home from the race I basically floated up the hill, ecstatic that I was able to not only win the series but also win each of the three races. I expect that this series will gain in popularity over the next couple of years, and I'm happy to have done it in the inaugural year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Final standings in Tour de Patrick

I'll write a detailed race writeup soon (of course!) but I thought I'd post the final standings from the Tour de Patrick. The St. Pat's 5k results has the total time for most of the runners who did all three races, but there are some omissions (notably, Alan). I used chip time, rather than gun time, because many of the runners listed were not on the starting line.

Interesting things to note about this chart:

In all three races, Brendan and Nate finished right together, with no one between them. Brendan beat Nate in the first two races, but Nate beat him convincingly in the third, and in the end their time difference was an astonishingly small 0.9 seconds.

Alan ran the St. Pat's 5k while suffering from food poisoning in order to hold onto his #2 spot, which he did, by a margin of 34 seconds. He had to be there, in case Eric didn't show up.

You may wonder why some people who signed up for all three races only did two -- when they were in the top 10, no less! (not that they knew, or cared). In fact, over 4,000 people signed up for the St. Pat's 5k, and "only" 3547 finished. This is in line with the industry standard of about 90% of registered runners showing up, and 10% of those who sign up not running.

Eric and I are going to Ireland!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tour de Patrick standings after two races

Inspired by (the other) Double D's meticulous accounting and frequent sharing of runner rankings and statistics (here is the most recent example), I decided to compile the rankings in the Tour de Patrick after two races. No one else seems to be doing it, so I did.

I would be fifth in the men's rankings, 3.3 seconds behind Dave.

I often watch the Tour de France in the summer, and at the conclusion of each stage they publish the current standings with the time gaps from the leader. My goal here is to do the same thing.

I just took the top 10 women and men from the Irish 5k who had signed up for all three races. There are about 500 people signed up for all three races; I am not interested in taking on that programming challenge. Corrections are welcome; please comment below.

The third and final race in the series is on Saturday.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sneaking in under 18 (Celtic 5k)

(Results) Today was the Celtic 5k, the second of three races in the Tour de Patrick, which brought us to scenic Worcester, MA. All three cities in the Tour de Patrick -- Pawtucket, Worcester, and Providence -- are gritty, working-class former mill towns. Of the three races, today's was the one where that was most clear.

The course started alongside a nice park, and ran 1.5 miles out on a straight, flat section of Route 9, past chain restaurants, auto body shops, and strip malls. We made a 180° turn around a traffic cone by the Friendly's restaurant, and ran back exactly the way we came.

Because I raced to a two-minute lead in last week's race, it became clear that I wasn't going to have to go all-out to win the series, so my coach devised a workout for today that would let me use the race in a way that would make me stronger for the spring.

After a two-mile warm up, Alan and I did the course at about 6:10 pace. The mile markers weren't out yet, and the street was still open to traffic, so we dodged red lights, cars, pedestrians, balloon sellers, and lawn chairs as we ran the course. We weren't sure where to turn around but we knew it was near the Friendly's, so we made a guess of where to turn, which as it turned out was exactly the right place! That was lucky. We ran 18:23, so we knew we had run too short of a distance, but we were confident that we had been going at least 6:10 pace, so it was not a problem in terms of workout value.

We got back at 10:40, 20 minutes before the start of the race. I put my long pants and jacket back on and waited a while before going to the starting line. I didn't do too much jogging or strides, because I figured I was pretty warmed up from the first run.

You can see Eric and me with our awesome Leader singlets. I am laughing at the pathetic excuse for a starting siren. Photo by George Ross.

The siren sounded and man, a lot of guys took off! I had been ninth overall last week, and I was figuring I could only do about 50th this week because of all the fast guys. I felt kind of tired in the first mile, which I thought was due to the first run, but I started feeling better as the race progressed, so it was probably due to my lack of sufficient striders. I passed lots of guys in the first mile, and then tucked in behind a high school team that offered to block the wind for me (such gentlemen!). Dramatic foreshadowing: I ended up 14th overall.

I am on the left side of this picture. Copyright Worcester Telegram.

I reached the turnaround about 11 seconds faster than in the first run, so I started thinking, huh, if I just do the second half a tad bit faster, I will break 18 minutes! At that point I knew the course had to be short, but if you can break 18 minutes for whatever reason (other than cheating), why not? My wind-blocking high school boys spread out into a line to high-five everyone coming the other way, so I was on my own with regards to wind on the way back. I timed the second female and I saw her 24 seconds after the cone, for a difference of 48 seconds -- much less than last week, but in the end, the gap would be almost two minutes again.

I was surprised to see my perennial rival Dave S just ahead of me after the turnaround, because I had already remarked aloud that because of my pre-race interval, I would certainly be behind Dave S during the race. But there he was, and I slowly began to catch him. Poor Dave; all the people coming the other way were saying "first girl!" and "first woman" (and mysteriously once, "second woman," maybe because the third-place male had long hair?) and he had to listen to this for about a mile as I inched my way forward. I passed Dave about 1/2 mile from the finish, and from there the race seemed to go very quickly. I managed to sneak in with just under 18 minutes on the clock.

They grabbed me right away for the awards ceremony; I seriously took about 10 steps to decelerate past the finish line and then I was turning around to walk up the steps to the stage. I said all of about twelve words in the microphone interview, because I was still breathing hard, and then they gave us nice plaques and took lots and lots of pictures. I was even interviewed for the Worcester Telegraph, none of which information ended up in this article (from which I took the picture seen above).

Once again, Alan was second to EL, and the Brown Running Club won the Gym Team competition and won a really nice plaque. The three people we brought to the race all ran PRs, even when the distance adjustment for a short course was taken into account. So it was a fun day, and I feel like I know Worcester better than I did 12 hours ago.

Monday, March 07, 2011

I want to go to Ireland (Irish 5k)

(Results) Way back in October, Charlie Breagy told me about his new St. Patrick's Day race series that he was planning for 2011. "It's going to be a Tour de France style series, where the top male and female win a trip to Ireland and represent the USA in some races over there," he explained to me. Keeping the race series a secret, from that moment until yesterday, was very challenging for me because I was so excited about it. But I didn't want the word to get out, because I wanted to win the trip to Ireland!

For the past two weeks, I obsessively searched the race web site's entrant database for fast people's names. A week ago, I realized that not only were no other fast women signed up, but no fast men were signed up, period. So Alan signed up, because wouldn't it be cool if we could both win a trip to Ireland? As of race day, one other fast guy (EL) had signed up, but still not one of the women I didn't want to race had signed up.

I was nervous all week. I was nervous even on the starting line. Several times, I have arrived at a race having seen no one else that looks fast, only to have some fast woman show up on the starting line one minute before the race starts. Not a single other female had even positioned herself within 10 feet of the starting line; every other female had chosen to start behind the "7 minute pace" sign. And I was the only female doing strides. A few minutes before the start, they started playing Irish music, and I started smiling. My dream of winning a trip to Ireland might just come true.

The air horn sounded and I went out behind a big group of men. The course was basically a lollipop shape, with a big hill on the beginning and ending section. It was a perfect day for running, 45 degrees and overcast, except that it was very windy. I was planning to run 5:45-5:50 for the first mile, but I wasn't sure how to gauge my effort on the first hill. I tucked in behind some men as we entered quite windy parts of the course and came through the mile in 5:54. I figured that was okay, considering the uphill.

During our warm-up, we had discovered that the small out-and-back section in the second mile was very windy. At that time, I had vowed to tuck myself behind a guy when heading into the out-and-back, but when I got there I was in a big gap, with no one to shield me! (What's the point of scouting out the course if you don't apply your knowledge?!) I didn't want to slow down and wait for someone to pass me, and I wasn't going to catch the guys ahead of me, so I just ran into the strong wind. Sigh. I checked my watch at the turnaround: 11:14. I waited until I saw the second-place female and then checked again: 11:50. So I had about a 70-second lead. Hmmm. That's a lot. I was thrilled to see that my friend Sarah was in fourth place! I also passed the 2-mile mark in about 11:56 for a 6:02 second mile. Not that fast, but clearly it was enough to maintain the lead.

The last mile was flat and downhill back to the downtown area. I tried in vain to catch my perennial rival Dave S, but he was too far ahead. As I entered the beginning/ending section of the lollipop, there were some women were still on their way out on the course, and as I ran by one of the women said, "she's going to Ireland!" I ran down the hill and into town, hitting 3 miles in about 17:54. At least it was under 6:00! The straight section was much longer than I remembered and the finish seemed very far away, but as I approached I saw them pick up the finish tape and stretch it really tight, so I spread out my arms and splayed my fingers and tried to give George a good photo, which indeed he got:

As soon as I finished (in 18:25), the race director told me to be back in 30 minutes for the awards because they wanted to do them ASAP before the parade. So Alan (who was second, as expected, in the race) and I ran immediately back to the car to change our shoes, and then did a two-mile cooldown. So imagine our surprise, when we were blocks away and only 20 minutes had elapsed since I finished running, to hear our names and times being announced on the loudspeaker, as the announcer repeatedly summoned us back to pick up our prizes! We also got caught at a traffic light about 50 meters from the announcer, as he kept asking us to appear, but the cars just kept having a green light and there was no traffic gap in sight! I am sure the many spectators were happy when we finally appeared and picked up our lovely prizes.

We both got interviewed for the paper and here is the result:

Lonergan, Davis snare crowns at Irish 5K
PAWTUCKET — When Diana Davis ran up the steep incline during the first mile of the inaugural Irish 5K in Pawtucket, she didn’t just see the top males in the field.
Davis, a third-year PhD student at Brown University, also saw some green.
“I want to go to Ireland,” she said.
The 25-year-old runner took the first step to making that trip to the Emerald Isle a reality Saturday morning when she was the first woman to cross the line in front of City Hall, placing ninth overall among the 849 finishers with a time of 18 minutes, 25.1 seconds.
The 5K was the first of the three-race series of the Tour De Patrick, an event that awards the overall winners (based on combined time in the series) a trip to Ireland. The series, created by race director Charlie Breagy, continues next Sunday in Worcester with the Celtic 5K and concludes in Providence on March 19 with the St. Pat’s 5K.
“I won the St. Pat’s 5K last year and had a really good experience,” Davis said. “Charlie’s also a good friend of mine and told me about this series back in October and about the trip to Ireland. I decided right then that I was going to do it.”
Davis earned her prize with ease in Saturday’s race, posting a two-minute victory over Kasondra Iadarola (34th, 20:25.5) of Sutton, Mass.
In the men’s race, it was slightly more contested. North Kingstown’s Eric Lonergan put on a surge just before two miles to break away from Providence’s Alan Bernstein and win with a 16:12.4 clocking. Bernstein was second at 16:31.3. Martin Tighe, a 52-year-old runner from Providence, was third at 17:20.2.
“I just want to see where I am at,” said Lonergan, who copped last year’s St. Pat’s 5K. “I haven’t raced yet this year. This will be the first one of many.”
The 25-year-old Lonergan, a graduate of Rhode Island College, battled Bernstein in the initial stages of the out-and-back race. Running within a few strides of each other, the two runners distanced themselves from the field by the midway point of the race near McCoy Stadium.
“I know Alan pretty well,” Lonergan said. “He’s a pretty good runner so I figured I would pace off him.”
Lonergan made his decisive move for the title right around St. Raphael Academy on Walcott Street.
“It was rough with the wind and the hills and it started to catch up with me, especially in that third mile,” said Bernstein, an assistant women’s track and cross-country at Brown. “I just saw Eric disappearing into the distance. He got twenty seconds on me and just kept it consistent. The last mile we were both kind of hanging on.”
For Davis, she assumed the front-runner position the minute the gun was fired from the Roosevelt Avenue start. She increased her cushion considerably as she took the left-hand turn onto Main Street shortly after for the challenging incline of the first mile.
“I was in the lead the whole way,” Davis said. “I went out kind of hard going up the hill. I looked in front of me and all I could see was men. My plan was to run hard but consistent. I went through the first mile in a little under six minutes. It was very, very windy out there.”
Davis and Lonergan will now don the Tour De Patrick Green Jersey — awarded to the individual leaders in the series after each race — at next week’s Celtic 5K, also a first-time event.
“I really hope I can keep the lead,” Davis said. “I really would like to go to Ireland.”

It's a nice article. I can't imagine how they got Alan's name wrong since he spelled it for them AND it is correct in the results, but these things happen somehow, I guess. At least it lets you know how I feel about Ireland.

Happily, the Brown Running Club also won the team competition, and we got a nice custom plaque. And my friend Sarah ended up third, and got a prize! Everyone who came with us to the race had a good race and a good time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Two second-bests (USATF-NE)

(Results) This was the race where I was going to break 5:00 in the mile. I prepared for it all week, and I made sure I was as ready as possible to do the best I possibly could. However, things did not go the way I had planned them out; the race got away from me, and I ended up running 5:11.69. If I had not had a breakthrough race at Terrier, then this would have been a slight PR, but because I ran so well at Terrier, I had hoped that I could do much better than this. Under 5:00, even. But it was not to be.

I followed my plan of sticking behind my teammates who were sure to run a few seconds under 5:00 in the mile. We went through 1/4 mile in 73.4 and I stuck right behind them. Then we went through three laps in 1:53 and I knew something was not right. When we went through 1/2 mile in 2:31.6 (thank you, time clock, for having tenths) I was totally off of my plan. That was more than 2:30, therefore more than 5:00. NOT part of the plan. I didn't want to pass my teammates on the outside, so I stuck behind them and slowed down for the next four laps. My legs were just not giving me any power. My last lap was a 40. It was not pretty. Of course, I can say "I felt terrible and I still ran 5:11!" but I would much rather feel great and run fast than feel bad and run a moderately acceptable time.

This was the fifth weekend in a row that I raced, and I just have to acknowledge that racing many weeks in a row is not a recipe for success, at least for me. I should have learned this in the fall, when I had 3-4 weeks without a race and then ran a 41-second 5k PR in the JCC race. The lesson should have been underscored a few weeks later at the Tufts 10k, which was my fourth race in five weeks, in which I felt awful. So I am going to try to plan out my racing schedule better for the spring and the rest of the year, and have my goal races follow a good training block, rather than after a bunch of other races.

I doubled back in the 800, but someone entered my seed time as 2:34 instead of 2:24, so I was in the last section. I ran 2:24.95, with splits of 70-75 or maybe 71-74 depending on how you take the 440-yard track into account. My PR is 2:24.74, so this is very close to my PR (which I also ran as a double). It was basically a time trial; because I was in the slowest section, I was 10 seconds ahead of second place, and I even lapped someone on the final turn. As one of my friends indelicately put it -- "You weren't in the fast section; you were in the FAT section!" Sad, but true. At least it makes for good stories to tell later.

Unfortunately, 2:24.95 is a 0.79903 performance index, falling short of my goal of 0.8. Well, my streak of 0.8s had to stop sometime. It would have happened on a long distance event anyway (my 1:26 half marathon is only 0.77) and 0.799 is very close to 0.8. My teammates were kidding with me about breaking my streak of PRs -- and they're right, you can't PR every race, certainly not if you do a lot of races, especially five weeks in a row.

Now I will try to get in a good training block before outdoor track starts, and do my best to rein in my desire to do road races just to win money. That's so 2010.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Finally, a poor performance (Valentine Invitational)

Did you notice that neither the GBTC Invitational nor the Valentine invitational is actually an invitational? Anyone can enter -- you can just sign up, pay your fee, and run. This is not what "Invitational" means. Here is an example of an invitational that is actually Invitational:

Giegengack Invitational: As is noted on the page where you can sign up for the meet:
Collegiate Athletes ONLY. Invited teams ONLY.

That's pretty clear. A previous version of the page also mentioned that to request an invitation, you could contact someone.

Here is another example of a truly invitational Invitational:
New Balance Collegiate Invitational: As is noted on its signup page,
Athletes who wish to be considered for inclusion in the Open events must contact the event coordinator ... no later than Monday, Jan. 24, 2010.
Also clear. And exclusive: only fast people need apply.

For Valentine, anyone can run (as long as you aren't in high school). I ran for the past two years, when I was neither particularly fast nor on a team. Truth in advertising, please. If you're going to call it an invitational, invite people.

(Results) I was looking forward to this 3k and I knew that I could run fast, certainly under 10:00. My plan was to run the first 1600 in 5:20 or a little under, then maintain for three laps, and then kick and really race the last 800.

I had a bad start and found myself in the back. I ran in lane 2 and passed most of the people to put myself near the front by the end of the second lap. I was surprised to see 39 on the clock after 200m. Usually it goes out faster than that! The next couple of laps I fought to stay near the front, and I was working hard, so I was disturbed to see that each time I came around, the time ended in a 9. I was running 40-second laps and having to work very hard to do it. My legs felt tired and I was having trouble breathing. I was thinking, "this is not my day," and then putting the thought out of my mind and running. But it definitely was not my day, and that became increasingly clear as the race went on.

I went through the mile in 5:20 as planned, but I felt awful. After that, it just fell to pieces. I was slowing down, and when people passed me they would cut me off, and I had to stop suddenly to avoid running into them, and then get on the outside to pass them again. The second half of the race was awful. I was running 42s and 43s, getting passed by person after person, feeling completely out if it, with this pain in my chest and heavy legs. I even lost count of my laps at one point. With one lap to go, I saw 9:33 on the clock. It was pathetic. And then the really pathetic part was that I kicked, and I still didn't make it in under 10:15. My final time was 10:15.54. After I crossed the finish line, I bent over and then found myself tipping forward and had to catch myself with my fingertips (you can even see this in the video).

Here is the race video. Be advised that it is twice as long as the last one, and not nearly as interesting. I should have been at the front of the race, one of the people the camera was filming, and instead I am languishing in the back, out of the frame for much of the second half.

Watch more video of 2011 BU Valentine Invitational on

So, my streak of great races has ended. I ran a race in the blue and white singlet that wasn't a PR. I'm not sure why I felt so bad; I felt good on the warm-up, and doing strides, and I was confident going into the race. Maybe I shouldn't have done 11 miles a day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Maybe I shouldn't have warmed up so long before my race. Maybe the track dust and dry air triggered, for the third or fourth time in 10 years, the exercised-induced asthma that the doctor told me I had back when this same thing (trouble breathing, pain in chest) happened during a 5k in tenth grade. I'd like to know what caused me to feel so bad during the race, but I'm not inclined to be very discouraged about it. For me, at least, there are many races.

There are certainly some positive things to take away from this. First, even though I felt awful, I was able to come through the mile in 5:20. I also stayed near the front and used the front-runners' pace reasonably well for a few laps -- after my bad start and before I started slipping. Finally, despite my legs and lungs not cooperating, feeling awful, and basically just surviving the second half of the race, I still ran 10:15.54. It's not a bad time, and it's faster than I ran all of last year. It's significantly slower than I wanted to run, but that just gives me more motivation to run fast next time.

After running poorly in the mile at Harvard and then much better just five days later at BU, I decided that BU's track was magic. But I felt, running on BU's track last night, like I did at Harvard three weeks ago. So it's not the track. That means that I can run a fast mile at Harvard next week, if my body feels like it did at BU two weeks ago. I hope that's what happens, and I'll do everything I can to ensure that I arrive prepared to run fast.