Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tri-color champion(ships)

(Results) On Sunday, the USATF New England outdoor track championships took place at Regis College. Let me just take this opportunity to opine that Regis College's track facility is extremely nice. There are signs telling you where to go, and the throwing area is on the far side of the track.

The only weird thing about it was that the steeple pit was just past the finish line, so they had to start the steeple 200m around the track from where it usually starts, and it ended at the 200m mark instead of at the finish line (so they were hand-timed). That's okay, though.

I wanted to run the 10k, because I wanted to be the New England 10k Champion. Unfortunately, no one else shared my sentiment, so it was cancelled a few days in advance (there were only two entrants, me and a guy, for this mixed race).

(I also wanted to run another track 10k. I consider the 10k to be my best event, so I am sad that there is only one track 10k per year that I can do. Perhaps next year I will fly to California.)

Luckily, I had also signed up for the 5k and the 3k. Onwards to the 5k. What with my altitude training and all, I thought I might be able to run under 17:00, so I got on the pace train with Kyle and her pace-setting fiancé. I valiantly ran 2k of the 5k at 17:00 pace, and then I fell off the train. Precipitously. 2k later, Aly passed me. Bye, Aly!

I managed to finish up the race with a surprisingly respectable time of 17:32. Crazy, to have such a bad day and still run 17:32. My 1600m times were something like 5:24, 5:40, 5:52. Not the best way to run a race, but hey! You can't run under 17:00 unless you run 2k under 6:48, and that I did.

Bronze medal!

Then I sat in my car for a while to get out of the sun. I emerged a few hours later for the all-important task of informing my teammates that we would be running the 4x400. (My attempt to field a 4x100 team was stymied by our only having two people present; the others were coming later.) Why? So that there would be more than one team in the race! It's just embarrassing to sit there and watch the GBTC slurp up 5 uncontested points.

Much less embarrassing, of course, to lead off the relay with a 70-second quarter and pass off the baton literally 50 meters behind the other team.

Silver medal!

That left the 3k as my last opportunity to become the New England Champion. The 3k started approximately 5 minutes after the conclusion of the 4x400. There were two entrants, myself and a high schooler. I unashamedly asked her what she was hoping to run (10:20). I told her I was trying to equal my 3k split from my 5k (10:18).

The starter stood about 10 feet away from us. When he fired the gun, I literally heard my left ear go quiet. It hurt. And the starter wasn't wearing ear protection. Even now, a few days later, my left ear hurts occasionally. That wasn't cool.

I fell in behind as we went through 200m in 40 seconds, just a bit fast. Then she started sprinting! She came through 400m in 78, me at 82. I was pretty confident that dropping me by 4 seconds in the first lap of the race was going to come back to bite her, so I continued with my race plan of running 82 seconds per lap. Honestly, my legs were totally tired and it was still pretty hard. I came through 1600m in 5:28, the product of four perfect 82s, and only two seconds behind.

Over the next 200m I caught up, and just tucked in behind and jogged. We ran that lap in 85. She slowly moved out, so she was running next to me, and then moved behind me, so I was in the lead without having to pass her. That was surprising. We ran another 85.

With 600 meters to go, my only goal was to be New England Champion. I suddenly realized that I had perfectly executed my strategy up to this point, but now I had no plan. Kick 600 meters out? Or wait? So I went with the old standby: Kick at the bell and then sprint all-out from 200 meters. And it worked. Whew. I was second-to-last, but it was enough.

Gold medal!

Someday, this meet will be well-attended, and then it will be more difficult to win. But as I like to say -- "the key to winning races is choosing your races wisely."

Running at 8,000 feet

Last week I attended an awesome conference, actually a "math research community," at the Snowbird ski resort and conference center in Utah. It's way up in the mountains, at 8,000 feet. Before the conference, I wondered how the altitude would affect my running. Now I know.

For one thing, it was extremely hilly. Anywhere you walked outside, you were walking at least slightly uphill or downhill, and often steeply. So I became extremely acquainted with a half-mile universal access paved path to an observation deck, which had only 50 feet of elevation gain/drop (2%). Here is the view from the observation deck:


As you can see, the scenery was stunning.

I eased into the altitude acclimation process with 5 miles on the first afternoon. I wore a heart rate monitor and kept it in the 140s. This put me at about 8:15 pace. Usually, I would run about 7:30 pace with that heart rate.

The second day I was there, I did a workout. I was supposed to do 3-4 x 800m at 10k pace, so I just did repeats back and forth on my favorite half-mile paved path. I was supposed to run about 2:53 for each one. The first one was uphill and I ran 3:11. Then I had a really long rest interval because of some logistical difficulties, and I actually ran 2:53 on the next downhill one.

I was bound and determined to run a fast time for the next uphill one, so I just decided to hammer it at the fastest pace I thought I could sustain for half a mile. Bad idea. I actually put myself into so much oxygen debt so quickly that I had to stop in the middle -- stop and walk a few steps, to let my heart rate slow down. In the middle of an interval.

Suffice it to say that this has never happened at sea level.

I was hoping that my week at altitude would help me run super fast at the USATF New England outdoor track championships the day after I returned, but alas, the extra red blood cells did not outweigh the travel and lack of sleep. I ran okay, but certainly not super-duper altitude training awesome. Now we know!

Perhaps you are wondering how the week at Snowbird affected my mathematics. It was very productive! We proved a few things, and now we are writing a paper. (I went for the mathematics; the interesting altitude experiment was just a bonus.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tier 1 or bust! (5k at NBB Twilight Meet #4)

A year and a half ago, I broke 18:00 in the 5k for the first time with a 17:40 at the JCCRI 5k, which qualified me to join New Balance Boston. It was a turning point in my running career, the moment when I first felt that I was really, seriously "legit."

In Fall 2009, I ran under 19 minutes for the first time. In Fall 2010, I ran under 18 minutes for the first time. I really wanted to run under 17 minutes in the fall of 2011, but I did not, and it has been a serious goal of mine ever since. To have my finishing time start with a 16 -- that would be unreal.

It would also mean that I would qualify as a Tier 1 athlete for New Balance Boston. (Follow the link if you care what the difference between Tiers 1, 2 and 3 is -- basically, more shoes.) The tier standards are nice because they give me goals in every race distance, from the mile to 10k. When I ran the 10k a few weeks ago, I thought the Tier 1 10k standard was 35:45, so I was thrilled to break it by 10 seconds when I ran 35:35. However, it turns out that the standard is 35:30. Oops.

As of this time yesterday, I was 18 seconds away in the 3k, 8 seconds away in the 5k and 6 seconds away in the 10k. Clearly, I get better as the race distance increases. I wanted to break 17:00 in the 5k because that would be awesome, but if I didn't quite do it, I could still achieve the Tier 1 standard of 17:05.

Saturday was warm and sunny. The 5k was the featured event and so was last, but the men's field was more elite than the women's, so the women's 5k was before sunset. Running well in the heat is not my strong point, but I was determined not to let it matter. This was my chance, and I was going to make it happen.

The race started and I tucked in behind Joanna, whose goal was to run 80-second laps and then pick it up in the last mile. My goal was a more modest 81-82 seconds per lap, but I knew that sticking with Joanna would be the right choice. We ran the first two laps in 81 seconds each, perfect. Then we caught up to Kristin B of the Dirigo R.C. and ran as a pack of four, including Ivette M. of CPTC just behind me. Kristin led on the rail, with Joanna on her outside shoulder, and then me on the rail on Joanna's inside shoulder, and then Ivette on my shoulder. It was very efficient.

Kristin took us through 1600 in 5:25, perfect. On the fifth lap I was telling myself, "this feels fine, one mile down and it's feeling easy, I can do this," but in the back of my mind I thought the pace was probably too slow since it felt so easy. Indeed, we came through 2k in 6:48, which was an unacceptable 83. Joanna passed Kristin and I followed suit, staying glued to Joanna's back.

Joanna led the next few laps (for our pack -- a few runners were well ahead of us and irrelevant to my race) and it was all I could do to stay focused on her back and make sure I stayed right behind her. When I tried to figure out our pace, I fell behind and then had to catch back up, so I stopped calculating splits. (Yes, I am a mathematician, so basic subtraction should be trivial -- and if I weren't racing at the time, it would be.)

I had calculated in advance the times I wanted for each 1600 -- 5:28, 10:56 and 16:24. We were three seconds ahead at the 1600, so when we passed 3200 in 10:58, two seconds slower than my goal, I knew we had been running significantly too slow. I passed Joanna and led the next lap in 80. After just one lap, Joanna passed me and took over the lead.

I was not paying attention whatsoever to what was going on in the rest of the race, but at some point Kristin and Ivette fell behind. We also passed Emily, in pink, who had gone out with the leaders but then slowed down enough for us to catch her.

We passed three laps to go in 13:01, which means I would have to run 3:59 for the last 1200 to get 17-flat or 4:04 for 17:05. We passed two laps to go in 14:22 and I knew I had to kick from there, rather than waiting until the bell. I passed Joanna and ran hard, holding her off all the way around the track. At the line, Joanna passed me again and built a sizable lead around the turn. With 300 meters to go she was well ahead of me, but all I cared about was running as fast as I could.

My time was 16:25 with 200 to go, and knew I could run under 40 seconds for the last 200, but probably not under 35. I kicked absolutely as hard as I could, and at the last second glanced at the clock just before I crossed the line -- 17:03. Well, that was that!

Joanna was not happy with her race because she had wanted to run 16:30, but I consoled her with the fact that she had helped me run a PR. She told me that if I hadn't pushed the pace on the ninth lap, she would have run 17:30. Considering that Kristin and Ivette ran 17:37 and 17:24, respectively, that assessment is probably correct. I just wasn't going to accept 83 seconds per lap; I was dead set on running 17-flat, and I was fortunate to have Joanna there to push the pace right along with me. (She ran just over 17:00.)

The aftermath of this race wasn't nearly as exuberant as after the 10k, probably because most of the people I was with had actually run the 5k and had their own performances to mull over, whereas in the 10k most of the people I was with had stood by the track and watched me run a huge PR and look good doing it (it always looks impressive when you run an even pace and pass people as they slow down).

Also, it's hard to get really excited about your finishing time (17:03.79)  being less than an arbitrary number listed on an obscure web page (17:05). On the bright side, every time I run with my Irish or Kiwi friends they ask if my race was a PB, and I was once again able to answer in the affirmative. No one runs PRs like I do! I am perpetually in the best shape of my life!

I also with two new people during the cooldown, bringing my 2012 running buddy count to 86. Pretty good for June 9.

Beginning of the race:

Watch more video of 2012 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #4 on

The rest of this race (I am not in this video at all):

Watch more video of 2012 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #4 on

25-second PR! (10k at Twilight Meet #2)

(Results) This race was a great success for me. I think that the 10k is my best distance, and there is only one track 10k per year, so this is my most important race of the year. I rose to the challenge and ran an essentially perfect race.

The 10k was the featured event for NBB TM #2, so it was the last event. The women's 10k field was incredibly stacked, with all these people I had heard of flying in for it, in comparison to the men's 10k field which was mostly local athletes, so the women's 10k was last, well after sunset, at the coolest possible time. I obsessively checked the weather, and it was supposed to be 68° with 3 mph winds during the race at 8:15 pm. Pretty much perfect!

See? These people were in the race. It was totally stacked.
(Rebecca D, Meghan P, me, Serena B, and [?])

Additionally, when I arrived at the meet, I discovered that two of my teammates were going to act as pacers for me, after completing their 1500s! Of course the race had a rabbit (Katie), but that would not help me at all, as their pace was going to be much faster even than my 5k pace. And now I had my own personal rabbits, not one, but two! I had been visualizing the race and practicing my mental toughness, and now I wasn't going to have to use it until partway through the race. This was clearly going to be a great opportunity for me to run fast.

The race started and I tucked in right behind Joanna, who was tucked in right behind Jordan. The goal was 86 seconds per lap, and after an initial 87 and 83, Jordan ran a consistent 85-86 on every lap. It felt so easy, like jogging, because I didn't have to think at all, just stare at Joanna's back and run. Jordan led 8 laps and then Joanna took over. At this point, I was thrilled, because the race was already 1/3 over and it was still feeling really easy. I hoped Joanna could keep running with me for the whole race! She took us through 5k in 17:48, finished the 13th lap and then stepped off the track.

Okay, 12 laps to go and I was on my own. I increased the effort and ran an 83 for my first solo lap -- pretty good. Joanna and I had already been lapped by Lindsay S. and Cayla H., who were going much faster than we were, and now the chase pack was catching up to me. This was perfect, because they actually weren't running that much slower than I was. Serena B. was slowly catching up to me, and I spent a lap or so hearing her coming up behind me, and then a few laps hanging on to her before she finally pulled away.

("Stay with her, Diana" shouted my coach. Well, I did for a while, but let's recall that Serena led the Olympic Trials marathon at one point, and has multiple top-3 finishes at national championship races, so the fact that she eventually pulled away was not too surprising.)

Getting lapped is actually really helpful, if you can hang on to the person who is lapping you. I'm not too proud to use getting lapped to my advantage.

As Serena ran off into the distance, a runner in a red singlet appeared about 100 meters ahead. That is too far away for me to identify the person, much less to know if it's someone I'm lapping or passing or what, but luckily Alan was there, and he told me that it was my friend Kyle and I should try to catch her. Unfortunately, Kyle was having a bad race, but fortunately for me she gave me something to focus on and a goal for the next few laps. I passed her with a few words of encouragement and kept going.

Before the race, I had memorized what my 1600-meter splits should be, if I was running my goal pace of 86 (which comes out to 35:50 for 10k). That way, I would know every four laps if I was ahead of or behind my pace. My times are as follows, with the goal pace in parentheses and then how many seconds ahead I was:

1600: 5:42 (5:44) -2
3200: 11:23 (11:28) -5
4800: 17:05 (17:12) -7
6400: 22:??
8000: 28:30 (28:40) -10
9600: 34:14 (34:24) -10

One of my goals was to break 29 minutes for 5 miles. I nearly did it in a tempo run at the Red Rooster Ramble earlier this year, with a 29:23, but that isn't actually very close to 28:59. Well, I did it convincingly in the 10k, as 28:30 for 8k means about 28:40 for 5 miles. Check that off your list.

Cayla H., a high schooler from Phillips Andover, had lapped me early in the race, but then she faded hard, and with about a mile to go Alan told me that she was ahead of me and I could catch her. With my diminished brain function due to hard racing, I was under the impression that if I passed her, then I would be ahead of her. I kept doing what I was doing, clicking off the 86-second laps, and reeled her in with about three laps to go. I ran hard to hold her off, and managed to do so even though she was kicking in the end of her race. Actually, all I did was un-lap myself; she was still about 380 meters ahead of me. So it goes.

Then it was my last lap! I knew that I was in a great position to break my goal time of 35:45, and I kicked the last lap in 81 seconds to run 35:35. That was a PR by 25 seconds, or 1 second per lap faster than my 36:00.50 from the same race last year. It was well executed, with a reasonably even pace throughout and the two 5ks in 17:48 and 17:47, with the last lap only 4 seconds faster than my overall average pace.)

The top finishers in this race are close to the top in American distance running, and they didn't lap me twice, only once. (Small victories!)

I was absolutely thrilled. I was extremely happy for the whole evening, and I couldn't fall asleep until 3 am. I thanked my wonderful pacers, Joanna and Jordan, for their invaluable assistance. I asked the wicked fast people in the race to take a picture with me, which they did (it's the first picture at the top of this post.) I'm very happy with this race, and it gives me a lot of confidence for races in the future.

Race video:

Watch more video of 2012 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #2 on

Monday, June 04, 2012

Hot and slow (5k at NBB Twilight #1)

(Results) May 12, 2012
There isn't much good to say about this race. Let's summarize the negatives:

Bad performance: I ran 17:35, about three seconds per lap slower than I'd wanted to run. I didn't break 17:00, and I wasn't even close!

Bad tactics: I dropped back from the leaders' pace in the third lap and wasn't able to catch back up, and then fell increasingly far behind.

Bad weather: Sunny and humid.

However, my most important race of the year (the 10k at Twilight Meet #2) was just one week after the 5k, so I had to find something positive to take away from it.

Not so bad performance: In the rarefied world of elite women's distance running, 17:35 is slow, but in the wider world, it's actually kind of fast. I can imagine a time not so far in the future where I will be thrilled to run 17:35. In fact, in view of the upcoming 10k, if I could just run 17:35 twice in a row without stopping, it wouldn't be bad at all!

No mental energy wasted: The leaders ended up basically running my 5k PR, which I ran on a cool night at a big meet with lots of company. For me to run the same time at this race in the sun and heat would have taken a supreme amount of mental toughness. Last year, I ran a 10k road race that required a supreme mental effort, and I didn't run well for the rest of the season. This year, I saved my mental energy for next week's 10k, which will hopefully have better conditions than the 5k.

Easy recovery: Another benefit of not running very fast is that it wasn't a very big strain on my body. Running a hard 5k and a hard 10k just one week apart is not advisable. Unfortunately, I didn't run well in the 5k, but fortunately, I won't have to recover from the 5k before taking on the 10k!

Spectators: My parents and Alan were all on hand to witness this race. My parents said that 12.5 times around sure was a lot. Well, I made it look pretty long.

Here is the race video.

Watch more video of 2012 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #1 on