Friday, August 31, 2012

Rock n Roll Providence

(1:22:01 for 5th, 19 August 2012) When I started running, our coaches taught us that when you get faster, improvement is incremental: as a fifth-grader, you might improve your two-mile time from 19:00 to 17:00 in one week, but as an eighth-grader you should be equally happy with a seemingly smaller improvement from 13:10 to 12:50.

Sometimes I think that I am fast enough now that improvement will be incremental, as in my 5k: 17:17 --> 17:12 --> 17:04. That is why I was very surprised to run a three-minute PR in the half marathon on Sunday.

For some reason, I have decided to do a slow, intentional buildup to a goal half marathon in the fall. So I decided (after I saw who was signed up, and saw that it was unlikely I would be able to win money) to run 6:00 pace for as long as possible, with a goal of 7-8 miles, and then jog it in the rest of the way. That is what I did.

At the beginning, I paced off someone (Hilary) who was running faster than 6:00 pace, so the first few miles were a little quick before I backed off to right around 6:00. I went through 5k in 18:20 and 10k in 37:12. Obviously, the second 5k was 30 seconds slower, but in fact neither of those times is too shabby -- the 10k time is faster than I have ever run at Tufts!

It felt like a long, hard way, but I made it all the way to 8 miles in under 6:00 pace, dipping under with 47:54. At that point, I had played lots of mind games to get me to that point, and I happily slowed to a jog. Katie was nipping at my heels and passed me within yards of the 8-mile mark.

"All right," I thought, "I'll just jog in the last five miles, and I won't be tempted to pick it up. When women pass me, I will just let them pass me and not worry about it." I expected lots of women to pass me. But as it turned out, my jogging pace was about 6:45. Fast, but it felt easy! A good sign.

When I got to 10 miles and no women had passed me, I did a quick calculation: 48 minutes for 8 miles plus 35 minutes for the last 5 miles (assuming 7-minute pace) plus 1 minute for the last 0.1 miles would put me at 1:24:00 -- that would actually be a really legit time. I guess that's why women weren't streaming past. Oh, and it would be a PR. I could still PR in this race!

Well, that was exciting. I got to 10 miles in 61:24, which was indeed a new PR already. (And the 11-mile mark was definitely in the wrong spot, so the 10-mile mark may well have been in the wrong spot, so perhaps my new PR is even faster.) I realized that if I did the last 5k in 20:00, I would run 1:21:24! That would be really fast! Wait -- calm down. We are jogging it in.

You may wonder why I was jogging it in. This race was on Sunday, August 19. I had signed up for two 1500m races in Europe -- in Belgium on August 25 and in England on August 28. I did not want to embarrass myself in those races by destroying myself in a half marathon six days earlier.

In the twelfth mile, a guy passed me and said hello, and it was my high school teammate Ross! I hadn't seen him since 2001, and yet he had recognized me from the back, and I instantly recognized him. He was much faster than me in high school -- something of a celebrity, in fact -- but he hasn't been running for a long time, so he's just getting back into it now.

Anyway, I accelerated in the last mile in an attempt to break 1:22. Ah, well. I am not too sad about 1:22:01, because I plan to run much faster in my next half marathon, the one where I run hard the entire time. Stay tuned for that one.

I placed fifth among females, separated by about three minutes from both the 4th and 6th place finishers. Last year I ran 1:25 and was fourth overall and second in New England; this year I ran three minutes faster and was fifth overall and fourth in New England (just out of the money). Ah well; I feel like I was a winner.

After the race, Christian and I partook heavily of the awesome breakfast spread in the VIP tent (one of the reasons why I felt like a winner). Oh yes, another awesome thing about this race was that I had an elite number! (Hence the VIP status.) My bib number was F6. I have a goal to someday get #1, or at least F1, and this is a step in that direction.

I am once again glad that I participated in the RNR Providence. See you all next year!

When in the UK, talk like the Bri-ish

Sometimes, when people spend time in the UK, they come back to the US with a British accent. That is not going to happen to me. I couldn't understand why anyone would let it happen to themselves. But now, I kind of get it.

Consider this: Someone says to you, "where are you headed?" and you say, "Oxford."

Do you say it with an American accent: "ox-furd"? Or do you say it with a British accent: "ox-fid"?

Reflexively, I have started answering with (what I think is) a British accent. And why not? Why answer, "Oxford, and I pronounce it funny"? Better to just answer, "Oxford."

If I'm stringing together an entire sentence, I am unequivocally American. However, for one word, I can see some value to speaking British.

In truth, my interactions with British people have been very limited. I spend most of my time sitting in my room reading and writing, or running outside by myself. Clearly, then, I won't come back with a British accent -- but I may pick up some colloquialisms. What is the alternative? "G'day, mate." "Yup, bye."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On representing the greatest country on earth

For my four-day trip through northern Europe, all the shirts I brought said USA, or USA Track and Field. Each time I took off my jacket and displayed the USA on my chest, I was very aware that I was representing my country, and tried extra hard not to bump into people, jaywalk, spill things on myself, or otherwise be a poor representative of the USA.

With a statue representing Anne Frank in Amsterdam

I needn't have worried. Every time someone addressed me, they addressed me in Dutch. And when I said "English," they switched to English, but some looked surprised. I found this rather amazing. It said USA on my shirt, and I was invariably holding a map, so I was obviously a tourist, right?

Apparently not. Twice, in the Hague, after switching to English, people even asked me for directions, and one time I was actually able to help them! That was awesome.

I guess a lot of Europeans wear shirts that say California or New York City or whatever, so it is not that unusual to see someone wearing a USA shirt. It doesn't make the person an American.

Why, you might ask, did I only bring USA shirts? I wanted to trade them with people from foreign countries at the track meet in Belgium, and I was only bringing a small backpack (pictured above), which I had to run with one day (pictured below), so I wanted to bring the absolute minimum amount of clothing.

At the end of an 8-mile run in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jet-lagged day in London

My time in England started less than auspiciously. I handed over my passport to the officer and expected our conversation to take less than a minute, like every other time I have entered a country. The fact that I was planning to stay for 3.5 months and yet had brought no proof that I am a student was, in her view, grounds for suspicion. If I do not obtain said proof, I will be deported the next time I try to enter England. Oops! Not to worry; I got a letter within a few hours, thanks to the quick work of the Brown math department.

I spent the bulk of the day chatting with the family whose apartment I am staying at, and trying not to fall asleep. I only took a few short naps, so I should be okay.

In the morning I went for a short run in Kensington Gardens / Hyde Park, and was definitely dragging. I had to take walk breaks. In the afternoon I went on a six-mile run through all the connected parks, and even did some fast 200s, and a biker raced me on one of them.

Finally I decided that I better see some part of London other than parks. In particular, I wanted to see some Olympics stuff.

Here is the neighborhood around the apartment.

The London Eye is very big, and has an amusement park beneath it now.

Big Ben is still big and very impressive.

My new buddy Mandeville. I totally messed up the pose, but you get the idea.
Olympic stuff, yay!

Actually, there were lots of signs with Olympic information, in the pink or purple color scheme with the stylized 2012, all over the tourist part of the city.

A nice pedestrian bridge between the Eye and Trafalgar Square

I figured I should see Trafalgar Square, since I had seen it on many postcards but not in real life. The square is surrounded by embassies, South Africa, Canada and Uganda in particular.

Trafalgar Square

As I was just walking down a street, I saw these gentlemen ahead.

If you could get just one pair of Vibrams, these are the ones to get

Olympic advertising in the subway

Tomorrow the real adventure begins, as I embark for three cities, two countries, two flights, two places to stay, several trains and buses, and a track meet, all in four days. I am starting to realize why people go on organized tours.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Have fun and turn left (St. Mary's Feast)

(Results) Usually, when someone says "tank top" in a running context, they are wrong, and should be saying "singlet." In this race I had the unusual experience of the opposite: They advertised that you could choose between a race T-shirt and singlet, but in reality, it was unequivocally a tank top. Alan and I both chose the tank top option, and now we both look like matching hicks.

The race information was unclear on where to go to register for this race, so we followed the time-honored strategy of getting near the start and then looking for people in singlets. Without the nice man in the singlet, we never would have found it, because it was in the basement of a small building hidden behind lots of food vendors in the festival!

Funny things heard while sitting inside in the air conditioning before warming up:

"Do we have to put money down on this race?" It would be awesome if you could just ask them to deduct the entry fee from your future winnings. But no, you have to cover your bets in road racing.

"Do I have to put down my real age? I'm just going to subtract 10 years and be 43." And she did, too.

Anyway, the race. We lined up and the only runner I recognized was JoAnn. "Have fun and turn left," I joked to the woman next to me. "Oh, do we turn left?" she asked. I explained that in fact, the course did turn left, but it is usually a track racing joke.

The gun went off and she and I ran together. It soon became clear that this was a two-woman race for the win. We hit the mile in 6:05. I was breathing easily, but so was this other woman! Who was she? I became concerned that she might be this Irish Olympian from CT that I've seen in race results but never met. I asked the woman if she was from CT. Nope, from RI. Really, there is a woman in RI who can jog along at 6-minute pace and I don't know her? I was shocked.

(I asked because if she were the Irish Olympian, I might have slowed down and just raced for second place, because she would probably beat me anyway, and I wanted to conserve energy for the next morning's 5k, where more money was on the line.)

After about 1.5 miles, I detected a slight increase in her breathing: it was getting harder for her, but not for me (yet). So I took the opportunity to surge. I put a few meters between us, and also passed this guy who had been running right ahead of us. He and I went back and forth a few times, but in the race for first female, that was it. I didn't have a very big gap, but I did keep it for the rest of the race.

Lots of people were out on their steps, or lining the roads, cheering for us! That was nice. Some were even spraying the runners with their garden hoses. This race is called the Summer Sizzler, and for good reason; it is almost always over 90° (it is in the evening). We lucked out this year, as it was only in the mid-70s.

The spectators helped me, because I didn't want to look back to see where the closest female was (because that shows weakness), but I did want to know. So when a spectator cheered for me, I counted breaths until they cheered for the next runner. In the second half of the race, it was consistently 12-15 seconds. Of course, there was no way of knowing if the next runner was female or male. (It turns out it was a male, though the females were not far behind.)

After the race, I caught up with the second-place woman, Renae, and we exchanged contact info so we could run together sometime. New running buddy!

Alan also won his race, so at the awards we were both happy to win $150. I also got a gift certificate for a large pizza; he got one for a wash, cut and style at a hair salon. And they gave me a big bouquet of flowers:

My first time winning flowers in a race!

And then we went home to eat, sleep and recover for the next race, just 16 hours after the first.