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.