Monday, July 03, 2006

Run to the G, June 18th

Saturday June 17th
So it’s been five weeks of almost no running. True, I did run 40 miles in a span of nine days somewhere in the middle of those five weeks, I also feel out-of-shape.

While walking in Federation square I notice a tent with asics on it and that prompts me to think that there will be a race, possibly tomorrow morning. I need to find this out pronto. My hope is that the race is early enough so that I can make my flight, scheduled for noon.

There are three races planned for tomorrow with the start conveniently located about 400 meters from where I am staying. I have to show up early to sign up for the half which starts at 7:30. The cost is 60 AU. The cost is steep considering the fact that a T-shirt is not included, but it’s not like I need one.

Sunday, June 18th

I turn in my reg. form and decide to walk back to my hotel for another half-hour.

The horn sounds and we’re off. I have lined up within the first five rows. I do not expect too many people to be fast. Boy, will I be proven wrong. Since my lungs were definitely out of shape the first klip was taxing at 4:16. Up to this point I was still hanging on to the 1:30 pacer. But not for long. The pace seemed closer to 5K pace and I consciously slow down. Next klip is timed in 4:30. Now, I will be more than happy if I can keep up this pace. This would guarantee me a sub-1:35 finish. Up ‘till now we have ran in the park, with very little need for traffic control. I cover the following klip in 4:16 and it comes as a surprise. Hmmm, I really need to bring the pace down if I want to finish this darn half mary.

I finally feel I am running half-mary pace. But the eighth klip is actually uphill and I cover it in 4:52. No problem, I say to myself. I can still make the sub 1:35, or can I? The race is actually two loops so whatever I am covering, I will see once more. I pass the halfway point in 47:45 or 15 seconds behind schedule. I feel fatigued; I now know I will not achieve the sub 1:35, so I set my goal for sub 1:37; all I need is 4:40 klips and I’ll be there. The 4:40s seem comfortable. BUT just as I round the 16K the half-maries and some of the 5-keyers merge. I have no option but to slow down even more. I struggle to pass the slower 5-keyers. Luckily the races diverge and I find myself running alone. I should mention that in most races I have done, I seldom get passed by women; this is not to say that I am a better runner than women but to highlight that maybe female American recreational runners do not run to their full potential. In this race I was passed by FIVE women; either I faded badly or they were the better runners.

After about one plus klip of solo running, the races merge AGAIN, for crying out-loud. The problem now is that the bike-trail we’re running is too freaking narrow and some 5-keyers are running with strollers. I have to go to the side and run on the grass. I am fully expended and can barely run five-minute kilometers. It must have been a terrible sight. I, the one who always musters energy to finish strong am struggling to finish. My mind wants to push it but my legs say no way Jose. I finish in 1:38:10, and a 2:40 positive split. Oh well; tomorrow will be another day. There will be another chance to redeem myself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Flying Bacon - May 2006

This 'thon was to be the third one in six weeks with Boston being the meat of the sandwich.

Having ran Boston HARD three weeks prior dictated I take the Pig as a ‘fun’ run, especially when one considers all the warnings about the hilly course. I should note that I have problems with hydration but if I am well hydrated and the day is cool, I tend to have a good race. In Boston, while the weather was cool, I did not feel properly hydrated and felt fatigued throughout the race. In fact, my calves were about to cramp several times from 10-to-21 miles, which forced me to take the hills conservatively and I often found myself tweaking with my gait to see if the impending cramps would not materialize. I tried to maintain pace as hard as my body could and still ended up with a 3:40 + split and a 3:18.

The week of the marathon was difficult in that I felt burned out from running. I found myself NOT wanting to run. I ended up running two ten-mile runs. I sandwiched three and four-mile runs at MP in those 10-milers and found myself feeling miserable. The effort felt closer to 5K and I had a real hard time breathing; this only made me less confident in my somewhat conservative goal of sub-3:30.

During my flight to Indy, I seriously considered switching to the half, but I wanted the bigger medal :-). So my plan was to stay with the 3:30 pace group for as long as possible.

Race Day: I really dislike getting to races early; I just want to show up and get going, so I left the hotel at 5:35 making it to the start with 10 minutes to spare. The 8-minute sign was just behind me.

The cannon booms and we’re off. It takes just over 30 seconds to cross the start. The first mile goes by fairly quickly and the effort seems just about right, 8:09. The first aid station is to my left and cannot make my way over so I skip it thinking the organizers have tables set up on the right. Wrong! So I make my way to the left expecting the tables to be there on the following aid station. Fortunately it was there but when I reach to grab a cup, another runner beats me to it. Not a good sign. I do manage to grab another cup. Mile 2, 7:41, misplaced marker??? I am running with the 3:30 pace group and feeling strong in spite of the fact that I only managed to sleep for maybe two hours the night before. We’re going across a bridge and I look over to the right and see a spectacular sky, with a gorgeous pink splattered all over.

As I make my way towards the next aid station, a female running just in front of me slows down more than I expect and clips me with her heel right on my left shin. It is painful and I have to hobble for several strides. Another bad sign? I would miss the next two mile-markers.

A set of technical hills begins around the five-mile mark. I slow down to grab a cup of gatorade, which tastes awful ;-[, and I fall behind the 330s. The tap water is just not palatable, it has too much chlorine. My stomach is gurgling and I think I have to go potty :-(. I try to ignore my stomach hoping it will go away. I plod on. These three miles are run in 24:08. I keep on climbing. Mile 7, 8:18 and toughest of the hills. Since I am still running ‘easy’ the hills do not seem as difficult as I thought they were going to be, which IMO is good. Mile 8, 8:06, and the downhills are about to begin.

For most of this time I feel a slight head wind. I hope that this same wind will be on my back on the long stretch home. My stomach keeps gurgling and I know I HAVE to make a pit stop; I just hope I can find an empty porta-potty. I make my way to one and I beat this other runner to it. It must not have taken me more than one minute but when I come out, obviously, the 330s where nowhere in sight. I knew I could reel them in, the question was how fast. I decided to run what felt like 7:30s. The major hills being behind me made it that much easier. Mile 9, 8:51. Mile 10, 7:27. Mile 11, 7:26. Mile 12, 7:32. I was feeling pretty good, especially because I was passing several runners, including those in the relay. Mile 13, 7:45, and I am still being gapped by the 330s. Now, I was thinking that if I felt good at the half, I’d try to hit 7:50s for the second half. So at 14, I decide to make my move and pass the 330s, 7:48.

Mile 15, 7:44, I begin to ponder if I can hold 7:45s. Mile 16, 7:31, great, I bank some time in case I need to slow down the pace. Mile 17, 7:38. Mile 18, 7:30, previously I had lost a gel in the process of taking off my gloves and I end up grabbing two packs; I think they were crucial to my never hitting the wall. Mile 19, 7:25, wow, can I average 7:40s on the second half? I re-revise my plan. Mile 20, 7:39, cool, I am still feeling strong, the tail wind helps a great deal. Only 10K to go. Mile 21, 7:25. Mile 22, 7:30, at this point I wonder if I can hold this pace and finish under 3:25. Mile 22, 7:39, I can now see the church steeple and I hope that I reach it quickly. The problem with some landmarks, and when one is having a rotten day, is that they seem to be farther than they are. Lucky me, I am having a great day and reach Mile 23 in 7:31. I know feel sub 3:25 is in the bag, but can I finish sub 3:24? Mile 24, 7:39, I am beginning to feel tired but know that there are only 16 minutes or so left. Mile 25, 7:50, WTF? No way could I have slowed down that much, especially when I know how to gauge my pace fairly well. No matter, I will push the last 1.2 miles. I am getting closer to the Reds Stadium and can savor the finish line. I pray I do not crash into some spectators who cross the course. I round the underpass and I really gun for the finish. Mile 26, 6:47, hmm, yeah, another miss-placed marker. Last .2 in 1:22, woo hoo, and a 3:22:45 chip time. Life cannot get any better. ;-)

According to the timing company I ran the last mile in 6:33. I am pretty sure the 25 mile-marker was off at least .05, maybe .06 of a mile. I think I was maybe running slightly sub 7 minute pace that last mile but not 6:33. Makes me wonder if the course was short... hmmm.

Could I have run a better time? Certainly, but I do not regret the way I ran it. I ran an almost 6-minute negative split and it shows on the fast recovery. The day after the race found me with no soreness whatsoever.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Patriots' Day 2006

Boston 2006 was to be my ‘coming of age.’ I really wanted to qualify for Boston at Boston; this meant I had to run a sub 3:16. In spite of my minimalistic training, 40 mpw average, I felt I was ready for I had done three quality runs each week with several long runs of 18 miles or longer.

The weather on Patriot’s day turned out to be ideal, and thus, I could not blame a possible bad performance on it. Yes, the asphalt was the stage and I was the main actor. Corny, I know; the 'benefits' of a substandard education.

I made it to my assigned corral with barely 2+ minutes to spare. My legs felt okay, and more importantly I was confident. We take off and the first mile comes at a not too fast 7:41, which is more than acceptable to me since I want to avoid starting too fast. In the next few miles several faster runners would pass me which did not bother me at all; I knew this would happen, after all this is not your typical marathon.

I go through the next three miles in the mid 7:10s and I ma pleased for I am running easy, just the way the first few miles of a marathon should feel like. The next four miles would be just under 7:30 with the same perceived effort and I suddenly became concerned. I tried to pick it up and the following mile comes in at the expected pace, although the effort was greater. At this point my calves began to feel as though they were about to cramp. I was obviously dehydrated. The four beers the evening before did not help. The feeling of the onset of cramps would come and go for the next several miles. Mile 12 comes and I am looking forward to the Wellesley girls section. The three previous times I have ran this race I have never dared to stop and kiss any of the coeds. This time was different. I saw one holding a “kiss me” sign and I stopped and went over to kiss her on the cheek. It did not downed on me that the salty taste of her cheek meant that one, or more, runner(s) had made kissed her before me. Oh well. I must say that this stop gave me a huge adrenaline boost and I ran this mile in 7:23. Great, I am slightly ahead of my goal.

Now, I must say I had planned on banking one to two minutes in the first 16 miles, give them back the next five miles and finish strong with 7:25s the rest of the way. But we all now how planning turns out in running. I will venture to guess only a small minority meet or exceed their expectations in a goal marathon.

So I hit the half-way point just 45 secs ahead of my sub 3:16. Not too bad. The real problem is that I am beginning to feel tired. Again, I suspect I was not well hydrated prior to the race. As I hit the beginning of mile 17, the Newton hills begin and my calves, once again, began to cramp. I had told a close friend that anything over 3:20 would be a failure so I decided to ‘run’ the next five miles easy. I figure if I kept a tad under 8 mpm pace I would make it close enough. Mile 17 is 7:51 and I am pleased and continue with the shuffling gait. I am actually surprised it was ‘that fast.’ I surely felt like a slug. The other times I ran this race, I always found myself walking at different spots in the hills. Not this time. I was determined to not walk a single step. I run Mile 18 in 7:58. I am still ‘running’ conservatively, yet I feel tired. The next mile passes in 7:37. Wow, where did this one come from? It must be a net loss in elevation. I get to 20 miles in just under 2:30; if I had felt stronger I would have made a run for a sub 45 for the remainder of the race. But I didn’t and besides, I did not want to jeopardize my ‘back-up’ goal of sub-3:20. Mile 21, the one with heartbreak hill, comes as the slowest mile in 8:09.

The next five miles are downhill and should not be a problem for me to run them in sub 8 mpm. In spite of the downhills, they are difficult and my heartrate is a bit higher than I’d hoped. The one good sign was that I was ‘banking’ a few seconds here and there. My mind was so foggy that I didn’t realize I could actually break 3:18. In fact, I had given up on breaking 3:19 altogether; I was just hoping to run in the low 3:19s.

I now see the Citgo sign and it could not seem farther away than it does. I get to the 25-mile marker and notice this woman in black shorts is running a strong race and try to stay with her. We turn, and there is this mild incline and I try to drop her, but she stays with me. We make another turn, this time onto Boylton Street and we both can see the finish banner. Mile 26 is a rewarding 7:32 and she is pulling ahead of me. Darn it! I did not want to push it this late in the race. But the testosterone kicks in and I push it one last bit and manage to barely stay ahead of her. I begin to lift my arms sideways, mimicking an airplane and they feel so tired. I cross the finish line in a chip time of just under 3:18, thanks to the black-shorts woman; had it not been for her I would have taken it easy and finish a tad over 3:18.

I worked hard for this race and not having met my goal sure makes me feel disappointed. But I am pleased with my run because I left everything on the black top; I gave it my very best effort that Monday afternoon; I gave it my all… and that race was respectfully dedicated to the memory of my Mom.

Next up: Flying Pig in two weeks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rome Marathon - Vini, Vidi, Vinci

I had hopes of staying in the city center but lo and behold, when I tried to book a hotel recommended by a friend, it was full. So I ended up staying in a B&B about 5K south of the EUR FERMI station and whose owners are really wonderful people.

I signed up for this race back in October but had trouble with my credit card. Back then the fee was only 25 euro, a bargain. The fee went up to 40 in January 1st, and to 50 later on. When I went to retrieve my bib number I wondered which fee they would make me pay. They honored the 25 Euro! I was then given a coupon to pick up my book-bag (rather nice) which contained some goodies and a t-shirt.

Lets fast forward to race day. Maurizio (owner of the B&B) gave me a ride to the Eur Palasport station and I took the metro (Line B) to the circo massimo station. The station happens to be about a K from the start. There were lines for the portas and I ended up taking care of business and using the last of the toilet paper.

The way the organizers seeded runners was in four corrals. Corral A was for elites, B for bibs under 3000, C for bibs 3001-6000 and D for the remainder of the runners. While waiting for the start I realized I had not placed band-aids on my nipples. Ouch. However, some lady had left a case of vaseline and I used it sparingly.

The Plan: Originally, I had devised a first half at 8 mpm and a second half at 7:30 mpm. But then I second-guessed my plan thinking that it would be too tough. So I came up with a second plan, to run sub 3:20. BUT when I saw the rather large group of runners in front of me I discarded it and decided to run for fun.


The 3:45 pacers are to my right. The race starts and it takes me about 1:03 to cross the start. We are right next to the Colosseum on Via Dei Fori Imperiali. The amazing sight makes me feel special. We run around the Campidigio on cobblestones. The pace seems pedestrian. It’s rather warm and I am already sweating. I ‘run’ the first klip in 5:45, way off the sub 3:20 pace but it’s rather enjoyable for I am taking in the sights and sound... and odors... and I am gald I threw away the sub 3:20 goal. I bisect the circo massimo and the foro romano. Then I run along the river. I hit the 5K marker and my watch reads 25:20. I have managed to make some time. I then make my way towards St. Peter’s Basilica and around the Vatican Museum while passing the St. Angelo Castle. 10K in 49:24. The aid station were enough for us middle of the packers but I was afraid not enough for those at the back of the pack. The tables were labeled: aqua, salts and solids. I did not figure the salts out until 15K where I took my first gatorad... that’s right salts=gatorade. But I am getting ahead of myself. From the 10K marker to the 25K marker the course was rather boring and I struggled to keep focused. Right after the 10K I spotted the 3:30 pacers and gave chase. I did not catch them until the 13K marker where I had to run on the sidewalk to pass their wall made of runners. Two Ks later I had to make a dehydration stop and they caught me. But I promptly left them behind. 15K in 1:13:08. I reach the halfway point feeling rather fresh in 1:42:58.

I wonder if picking it up will not hurt my time three weeks later in Boston, especially since my hamstrings feel a bit tight. I decide for a mild pick-up. The 25K mark comes in at 2:01:36. Not bad but it is getting harder to focus. Then around the 27th K the course gets more interesting as I go through the piazza novona and then the torre argentina. But I am struggling, mentally not physically, after all I have had my best training yet out of all my 32 marathons; but the mental strain is quite palpable. The next sight is the piazza del popolo right before 30K (2:25:50). Now, my only objective is to finish. I figure 5 minute Ks will bring me home at a decent time, hopefully sub 3:26 for even simple calculations are not so simple.

During this stretch one italian runner literally zooms by me at sub 6 mpm screaming ‘il presidente’ to which another italian responds by what I imagine is the english equivalent of a four-letter word. It was entertaining nonetheless. I keep on what is now shuffling. Amazingly I am still maintaining sub 5 min Ks as I pass the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the piazza venezia.

Then I reach the colosseum as I run right next to the circo massimo once again. Before this stretch my feet had been hurting but I think the cobblestones massaged my feet making them feel better, or was it psychosomatic? (35K in 2:50:20). Seven Ks remaining and I know I am close to ‘home.’ This part was rough in that it’s and out-and-back section and seeing faster runners on the other side weakens the spirit and the left knee is aching. The mild head wind is not helping either, but I know I will have it on my back when I reach the home stretch. I get to the s. paolo church and it is only four-point-two Ks left and I manage somewhat of a decent gait. I am now running 4:30 Ks. I see the 40K marker (3:14:24). I am feeling stronger by the minute. The colosseo is just in front of me. There is this short but technical incline; I power past it almost without effort. I really pick it up now. An inflated arch is right around the colosseo and I think it is the finish line. The joke is on me. I look at my watch and see that only 7+ minutes have gone by since the 40K mark, I realize I still have over 400 meters to go, ouch. In spite of this I manage to keep a good form. I extend my arms in the form of an airplane. A big smile on my face springs to life. This time the inflated arch I am looking at marks the finish line. I cross it in 3:24:10 by my watch and the chip (which was in my bib number). The official clock reads 3:25:13.

I am happy to have finished a marathon ran on historical grounds of roman proportions :-). I will cherish this medal more than any other medal because it is a work of art. A renowned Italian artist actually designed the medal.

Next in line is the 110th Boston Marathon where I will chase a sub 3:16 goal.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Breaking 20 minutes in the 2006 Superbowl 5K (Redondo Beach)

My quest to break 20 minutes in the 5K came to a halt Feb 5th.

Even though I had been in better shape some 18 months ago, and had a personal best race, in 10 miles, that suggested a sub-19:30 5K, I did not get to race one until three months later, in early February 2005. The problem then was that I came with a stubborn upper respiratory infection that lasted four weeks and my legs did not see any training. Attempts to get back into shape one week before the race proved futile. My only wish was to average 7 mpm pace last year. I managed to cross the finish line in 21:39, a far cry from my worst 5K (20:08 and my first one, circa June 2000). I should note that in 2005 3rd place in my AG was 20:07.

I had raced this event three straight years. The clock said 20:06 in 2003, 20:05 in 2004 and 21:39 in 2005. This year I was in really good shape, or so my training log seemed to imply. After all I had been averaging over 40 miles per week with at least three quality runs: tempo, speed dork, and the long run.

My last speed dork took place on a bike trail marked every half-mile. Here, it was tough to gage pace and I ended up running 2:52 for the first repeat; my lungs were burning and with good reason for I had been doing them in 3:00 flat with a 90 second interval rest on a 400-meter track. So I knew that if my lungs ‘burned’ during my upcoming 5K it was time to slow down. I ended up averaging 2:55 for the six repeats I did that day.

One thing that came handy in this race was a tip my namesake munoz-del-rio gave me a few years ago, and that was to check my pace at 400 m and to adjust accordingly. The problem was there was no marking for 400 and having no measuring wheel I ‘guesstimated’ by walking 5 minutes, figuring I walk about 20 mpm. I made a mental note of where this location was and decided that 95 seconds would be a reasonable time.

Now, having ran this race three times before is an advantage, for I felt I knew the course. I lined up just behind the first row. The horn blew and we were off. The landmark I had ‘marked’ came in at 87 seconds and I knew I was running too fast so I slowed down. We made a 90 degree turn about the half-mile point (mostly flat until now) which was a descent for the next 100 yards or so. Then another turn, still descending and then an ascent (about 3%) for the next 200 yards. My watch showed 6:15 for the first mile. Great, I am following what I was hoping to average. However, the second mile is either long or it’s rather difficult as shown from my previous 5Ks here. We continue on a moderate climb and I pass a few runners. We make another right-angled turn, which is downhill and make another turn, this time left, and start climbing once again. I pass a couple of more runners. The pace seems a bit too easy, closer to tempo pace. We pass the two-mile marker, 6:33. Oops, TOO SLOW. I need to really pick up the pace, but I know only an injury will prevent me from breaking 20. We continue on a mild uphill and make a 180-degree turn; I hate these turns. I pass another runner, a master. The downhill begins. I zero in on a teenager. I close in on her. I pass her and tell her that she’s doing great. No response. I plod on. Make an sharp turn. Slight downhill and hit my split in 6:08. 0.1 mile left and I know I have achieved a 5-year plus goal. BUT, in running, anything can happen. I make another turn and the finish line is within 50 or so yards. I see that I cannot catch a group of four runners, one of whom was in my AG. I cross the finish in 19:34 by my watch and 19:35 as shown by
the official results. So I lost one second to the officials; I can livewith that; after all, I am one happy dude.

I cooled down with two easy miles and headed to the beer garden. I checked the results and finished fourth out of 157; third was in that group just ahead of me with a 19:29... so no hardware for me :-( Oh well, the fast guns showed up as opposed to last year.