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.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

To run in the sun is fun (Super 5k)

(Results) This race went exactly as I wanted it to go, precisely according to plan. That certainly doesn't happen all the time!

First, the weather was perfect -- sunny and about 40° -- and the previous day's rain cleared the road of snow and ice. Then, the race went just as I planned. There was one person I was worried about, my friend MG, who usually runs marathons and hasn't run anything even close to as short as a 5k, but tends to win the marathons she enters. Plus, when I was talking to her and her friend/coach before the race, her friend/coach mentioned that he thought she should run 5:30 pace and that she could run 17:30. That was a little worrying; I wasn't planning to try to run a PR, and 17:30 is faster than my PR.

Best conversation during registration:

[Looking at the sheets of pre-registered entrants]
Me: Hey, some people have single-digit numbers! Zak and Alan are number 2 and 3! How do you get a low number?
Guy from NRA: If you've done well before, or if we know you.
Me: What if I won the race last year?
Him: You didn't.
Me: And was second the year before.
Him: Uh... really?

(The best part was the unequivocal "you didn't." I assured him that it didn't matter either way, that the extra ink for the second digit in my "54" would not weigh me down. After the race, he found me and told me that I can have a low number next year. Ha ha.)

Here we are a few hundred meters after the start. You can see me and MG on the extreme left of the screen (her in blue, me in sunglasses) and of course Alan right there in the center. She took it out hard and I followed on her shoulder.

She really was running 5:30 pace! Maybe 5:35-5:40, but no slower than that. I had planned to go out in a comfortable 5:45, and the pace we went didn't quite feel comfortable. In fact, I am always a noisy breather when running, and this time I noticed that I was breathing very noisily while MG was silent. To an impartial observer, she probably sounded like she was jogging in a park, while I sounded like I was doing my ninth interval in a set of 8 x 400.

I knew it was serious when we passed Dave S. He can be consistently counted on to run 18:30, so if we were passing him, we were committing to a time faster than 18:30. That was okay, but I was not surprised when he passed us soon after. "Good job, Dave!" I said. "Keep pushing!" he shouted. "Whoo!" I replied. (Eloquent, as usual.)

At this point I kept finding myself pulling even with MG. Each time it happened, I let off and drifted back to her shoulder, because I definitely didn't want to be the one pushing the pace. But a little before the mile, I let it happen and I sort of drifted ahead and didn't look back. A few seconds later someone pulled up behind me and I assumed it was MG putting in a surge and catching back up, but it was a guy. I hit the mile in 5:45. And that was it. It was an out-and-back course, and when I saw Alan coming back he said "no one in sight!" and after I made the turn, I saw who was behind me and where, and I knew I was safe.

Out-and-back courses are fun because the people further back are always shouting things. Like in the St. Pats 5k when I ran to a constant background of "first woman!" and "first women!", or at the Pie Run when people actually said "go Diana!", and of course the Tufts 10k where the women shout under the bridges and generally along a whole bunch of the course.

After the race I ran into my friend Wayne. "Did you hear me cheering for you?" he asked, and then said, "you looked happy -- you were actually smiling." And then I remembered that I was laughing and making jokes. In particular, people were shouting "First Lady!" so I shouted, "If I'm the First Lady, do I get to live in the White House?" I think a couple of men passed me in this section; I came through two miles in 11:57 for a 6:12 second mile. That is what happens when you smile and make jokes: hello, tempo pace.

But it didn't matter, because I wasn't trying to set any records. I was just running. The mile back to the finish line was pretty windy, so I tried to draft off of various men. They were (I assume) racing, so that forced me to run a little faster in order to stay right behind them. This one guy who passed me was wearing Tarahumara-type sandals with thin soles and just a loop going around his big toe and some straps up his ankle. "Slap-slap-slap" was the sound his feet made as he ran by.

With a quarter of a mile to go, I realized that I was running very comfortably. I saw Dave S just ahead of me, and I wanted to pass him. Then I remembered that I missed the Saturday team workout to do this race, so I had better get in a good workout at the race! So I surged to pass Dave S and the guy running next to him. As we came under the arch, there was a guy just ahead of me, who was wearing sneakers. You can see him on the edge of the screen, and me just behind him, in this picture:

I decided I didn't want to lose to him either, so I passed him and then turned towards the finish line and was slammed by a huge wall of wind. I went through three miles in 17:48 for a 5:51 third mile (not bad). The next guy in front of me was Sandals Guy, but he was too far ahead to catch, so I just ran through the finish and ended up with 18:25.

This #183 guy you can see in the picture talked to me after the race. It turns out that I also just barely beat him by a few seconds at the Scott Carlson race in April! Who knew? I assured him that it wasn't him I was trying to pass; it was Dave.

It's pretty neat that I can run 18:25 without excessive exertion. I set a PR of 18:26 in October '09, which was a breakthrough race for me, and now that time isn't too hard. This is my sixth-fastest 5k (after JCC, RMDH'10, CVS'10, Carlson and St. Pats). I am very happy with my current level of fitness, I'm working to improve it, and I am hoping to run a great 3k at Valentines this weekend.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Falling off the track (Terrier Classic)

(Results) On Friday night, I ran my fourth PR of the year -- 5:04.98 in the mile. This is a huge PR, of over 7 seconds, and it comes after I had already taken 4 seconds off of my PR just five days earlier. So in less than a week, my mile PR went from 5:15.90 to 5:04.98. A year of training has really paid off!

Upon checking in after my warm-up, I was happily surprised to find myself seeded in the second section. (In previous years, I have been lucky to avoid being in the very last section.) Within each section, we were randomized (the person wearing #1 was not necessarily the fastest), and I ended up with #10, in the forward part of the barrel start. Here is a video of the race, from FloTrack:

I was planning on an aggressive start, but everyone went out so fast that I just settled in the back. I was somewhat boxed in, but we came through 209 meters in 38 seconds, so I saw no reason to move. We went through two laps in 76. It felt the way it should -- not super hard -- so I was very happy with how the race was going. When we came through four laps in 2:32, I was thrilled. This was exactly the pace I wanted to be running! 5:04, here I come!

Here is a picture about 10 seconds after the start (we are still in the barrel):

There was a lot of jostling in the pack, even though I was near the back. People kept cutting me off; I had to put my arm out to prevent them from jumping in front of me, and on two occasions I thought the girl in front of me was going to fall down because I was about to run into her. I was thinking, "stop it! all I want to do is run!"I could have gotten away from it by running outside in lane 2, but then I would have to run farther than a mile, so I stayed on the rail.

We came through six laps in 3:48. "Three seconds over 5-minute pace!" I was thinking, and then suddenly the girl in front of me was going down, I was jumping over her, and I found myself on the infield. What the heck?! I had only two thoughts:

1. I've just been disqualified for taking more than 3 steps off of the track. I might as well not even keep running.
2. Get your feet back on the track!

Because I was sort of on autopilot -- I was racing a mile! -- I kept running, got on the track before I even though about it, and tried to catch back up to my group. My first priority was to get my feet back on the track so that I would only take three steps off the track, and in the video you can see that I basically cut off another runner in my attempt to jump back on the track at the first opportunity. As I was accelerating back up to speed, I was thinking that I didn't know how many steps off the track I had taken, but I was pretty sure it was more than three. (In fact, it was probably about eight.)

At that point, I just wanted the race to be over. I didn't really have my head in the game because I knew I was going to be disqualified, so I wasn't thinking about racing other people at all; I was just running as fast as I could.

I ended the seventh lap in 4:27. I instantly added 40 seconds and got 5:07. "Wow, I can still run a PR!" I kicked the last lap, but I wasn't really paying attention and I didn't even know, until I watched the video, that someone passed me at the line. (I did notice Yvonne taking a picture on the backstretch, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.) I was shocked to see 5:04 on the clock as I finished. I thought I would have lost a lot more time than that.

The first thing I did when I was done was to walk up to the officials and ask if I got disqualified. They didn't know, and they didn't even know who I should ask! Steve V. assured me that I wouldn't be disqualified, because I didn't gain an advantage. I was not as certain, because I knew I had taken more than three steps off of the track. After I took my spikes off, I walked up to the timing booth and asked them if I had gotten disqualified. They told me that no one had gotten disqualified in the whole meet so far! So that was a relief. And my coach told me that they would appeal it if I did end up being disqualified (which I never was).

Looking at the video, you can see that I lose about 10 meters from falling off the track. 10 meters is about two seconds, so I should have run at least 5:03. And if I had been with the pack and not distracted by imminent disqualification with two laps to go, I am confident that I would have raced the other runners, and at least tried to pass them all on the outside. I wouldn't have run under 5:00, but I think it's clear that my fitness is at 5:02-5:03 range (at least on BU's track). So I'm very happy with the race, and at least it has given me a good story to tell.