2013 Chilly Half-Marathon Review

I ran, for the third time, the Chilly Half-Marathon. I’ve run this race the last three years.

You can check out my review from running the race in 2012 for a description of the race itself. It is a well run race. There aren’t too many frills — the start/finish line isn’t a carnival or anything. It starts early in the morning and it is nice that given the time of year, you can stay in the high school to stay warm.

I was generally pretty pleased with my time – 1 hr 40 minutes. It was 1 minute faster than my previous half-marathon (last year’s version of the same race). It was a personal record. It is not entirely surprising that my time only came down by 1 minute. My training hasn’t changed significantly over the last year. I prepared by doing the same program I did last year.

This was the first race I’ve ever run with my GPS watch so I can see bit more data about my performance. After a slow first mile warming up (8:11), the splits show that I ran pretty fast for miles 2 – 6. All but one of those miles were in the 7:30 – 7:35 per mile range. At this point, I was thinking to myself “Lets see if I can slice a big chunk more off my best time.”

Then the hills of miles 6 and 7 hit. This course has a tough stretch at this point with a steep, extended hill. I knew it was coming and I worked hard to power up the hill. My mile 7 pace drops down to 8:06 however.

Once the bad hills were behind me, I made a strong effort to return to my 7:35 pace. But by mile 11 I could feel myself fading and the hills had taken a lot out of me. I struggled to keep a 7:40ish pace the rest of the way. I passed a bunch of folks coming in the last mile or so, but was also passed by few as well. At the 12.5 mile mark I was really dragging and I did not feel strong at all — but powered hard for the last half mile.

I’d be interested to see what I could do on a “flat and fast” course. Maybe something in the spring. With some real hill training in my plan.


Paddy O’s Race Recap – 2013

Here’s a quick and belated recap of the Paddy O’s Shillelagh Shuffle. Mostly, I’m writing this to help me remember how the race went this year.

Since I started running in earnest, I’ve run the Paddy O’s 3 miler. At this point, I don’t particular care for short races and the pain associated to running a fast time. But I try to run this race annually because it acts as a nice benchmark. It helps me measure my short-distance pace general fitness and helps to trace a year over year arc since I started running. I also run it because it starts and finishes about 300 yards from my house. I can walk to the start line.

This was my third time running this particular race. The course is very flat and fast and it passes through residential areas. It is a 3 mile loop (not sure why they don’t make it a 5K).

This year, I was hoping to see improvement on my pace from 2 years ago when I ran the race wit a 7:28 mile pace. Given I ran a half-marathon with a 7:45 pace last year, I was confident I could do that.

This year, I forgot to bring my GPS watch but the race had timers calling out pace at the 1 and 2 mile marks. I was pissed when I hit the 1 mile mark and the timer called out 7:49. What the heck? That’s like a normal training run these days. What’s going on? I kicked myself into a higher gear. What I didn’t realize was that it had taken me 40 seconds to pass the start line at the gun. I was really running about a 7:10 for that first mile.

Anyway, I push myself harder for the 2nd mile and heard the timer call out 14:48 (gun time again, so close to a 7 minute pace for mile 2). And then kept the peddle down for the last mile. I didn’t have much of a kick left at the end, but finished up with a race time of 20:53, a 6:58 pace.

Overall, I was very pleased with the race. I was pleased to get my pace under 7 minutes. Two years ago, I ran at a 7:28 pace. Three years ago I was at a 7:36 pace. So I’m getting faster in my old age and have continued my streak of year over year improvement.

Twin Lights Half-Marathon Review – 2012

Today I ran my second half-marathon — the Twin Lights Half-Marathon in Gloucester, MA. Overall, it was a great experience. Really, no complaints.

I chose this race since it would provide nice excuse to go see my parents who have a house a few blocks away from the starting line. The course ran from Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, up the coast north into Rockport. It was a lollipop route, running a loop around scenic Rockport and then coming back to Gloucester on the same road. We caught sight of the ocean throughout the race, also running through some residential neighborhoods and quant downtown Rockport. There was a nice ocean flavor throughout as the homes seemed to either be vacation homes or filled lobster traps.

The course had some hills, but it wasn’t nearly as hilly as the first half-marathon I ran last fall nor the roads in Newton where I train. The hills at around mile 7 and mile 10 weren’t too big, but well timed as part of the course to really push you.

Because of the lollipop layout of the course, there was always lots of water stations — the stations could pull double duty for going out and coming back in. The course almost always had a nice smattering of spectators which always helps.

The setup at the start/finish line was just right — lots of bathrooms, water and gatorade and lots of food at the end, but not too much of a circus. Access to the Good Harbor parking is always slow so plan on it taking 15 minutes to drive the last 1/2 mile.

In terms of my own performance, I was pretty pleased. I finished in about 1:44 — my pace was a shade under 8 minutes/mile (7:58). This was faster than my previous half-marathon by about 4 minutes overall and 17 seconds/mile.

This time, I didn’t go out too slowly — covering the first two miles in about 16:20. I kept the pace pretty steady throughout. I also warmed up a bit for the first time before a race, doing a light jog for about 1/2 mile 30 minutes pre-start. I think that helped me at the outset kick into gear. At about mile 6, I fell in with a nice fellow from Pembroke named Troy (a minister). We ran together and chatted for a bit. We really cranked at this point, he estimated we were doing a 7 minute/mile pace but then he fell behind at the hill at mile 7 (the endorphins really kick in for me at mile 6).

Just after mile 11, I passed a woman named Macaleigh. She didn’t take that too lightly and pulled right back up next to me for the remainder of the race. We chatted through to the end which helped both of us, I think. Just at 13, I was starting to fade, she gave me a bit of encouragement and I powered home (even outkicking her in the last 300 meters).  The support of the other runners was great. Its one of the reasons I love running.

Now I’m on the prowl for another race. I had been planning to do the Chilly Half again in November . . . but that seems like a long time to wait. Any good half-marathons in the next 8-12 weeks?

Preparing for the Tough Mudder New England

On Saturday, I completed the Tough Mudder at Mt. Snow in Vermont. It was a lot of fun.  As someone who runs road races, it was a nice change of pace. The race day vibe was much more intense and rowdy. Running (at least for me) tends to be more meditative and introspective. This was much more social and about teamwork. I did it with 8 teammates. We had a lot of fun doing it together and have many new stories to share.

Anyway, I thought I would pass along some thoughts on training differently and the race in general.

1. As someone who runs a bit, I saw the “10 mile” portion of the description and thought “great, I can run 10 miles. That shouldn’t be a problem.” And certainly the running I do every week (about 25 miles/week right now) helped. But we really didn’t run very much through the day.

The course is on a mountain (at Mt. Snow). It was really a speedy, hard mountain hike. We went up and down the ski trails constantly, including a hard long ascent at the very beginning (but not before a dunk in an ice bath). My team all concluded that much better training for the race would be things like stadiums or weekend hikes.  My calves and quads were burning early in the day. No man made obstacle was as challenging physically as the mountain terrain.

2. Dress warm. I probably underdressed. I wore shorts and short-sleeved wicking t-shirt. I could have used one more layer (most of the guys on the team had something else, like a compression shirt) on my upper body given we were constantly wet.

3. Gloves. I wore some gloves designed for waterskiing. They worked great and helped a bunch. That said, there was a variety of gloves on my team and no one complained about their gloves.

4. I did a bunch of pushups and pull-ups to prepare my (skinny) upper body. It definitely helped me get up and over the wall obstacles. I fell right off the monkey bars (our team was 0-9 in getting across). The thing that hurt us all there was the fact that monkey bars came late in the course. We were all pretty fatigued at that point — most of us just didn’t have the grip to make it across. I would recommend not only doing pull-ups and the such, but also work on strengthening your grip. And try doing monkey bars at your local playground after a hard workout. That’s a much more accurate test of how its going to be.

The other thing we noticed was that folks who did make it across, really kept their momentum moving forward and found a way to get their lower body into the action with a bicycle motion.

5. Electric shock obstacles. No way to prepare for them and frankly they kind of sucked. I think they’re there to provide comedy for the spectators. I would recommend just going as fast as possible through them. The faster your body is moving, the better. It felt the worst when I was going the slowest through them. There’s a movie somewhere of me going through it. I can laugh now.

Hope this helps. Any other tips from other folks who’ve done it?

Update with a picture, after crawling through an underground, mud filled tunnel:

My team at the tough mudder. It was a bachelor party. Superman was the man of honor. He did the whole race dressed like that.


Running my first half-marathon

I try to run frequently for exercise because I enjoy it. It helps me numerous ways. But until this summer, I’d never really run a distance longer than 6 miles. This summer, my friend John challenged me to try to run a half marathon in my hometown. At first, I was reluctant, figuring the pounding on my wimpy, skinny legs would likely injure me. But I relented, registered for the Chilly Half-Marathon in my hometown and gave it a shot. I’m glad I did. Some thoughts on the process:

1) It really gave me an extra dose of motivation to run at least four times a week. That was worth it, in and of itself. The prospect of failing at the race (or bailing in advance) kept me running consistently.

2) The mileage didn’t really cause any injuries. I’ve been focusing on shortening my stride and moving my foot strike from my heel. I think that paid off.

3) I found I really really loved the longer distances. My standard runs are all about four miles. When I trained for the half-marathon, I did a weekly long run on Sunday mornings. Gradually these long runs built up from six miles up to 12. For some reason, breaking through the ten mile barrier seemed like an imposing task. Once I did it, I found I liked those 10+ mile runs the best. Time floated by from miles 6 – 10 and my brain seemed to slow down. It was my favorite part of the training, hands down. I found myself really looking forward to my long training runs, days in advance.

4) The drama for me came when I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia 6 days before the race. Race day was a Sunday. It threw off my last week of training badly (missed my last long run the Sunday prior to the race), I didn’t run Monday through Wednesday of that week either. I was on antibiotics. I felt well enough to run on Thursday and Friday and ran pretty well those days, felt fine.

I asked my doctor if I was stupid to run a half-marathon 6 days after being diagnosed. He dryly said “I wouldn’t say ‘stupid’ . . .” and proceeded to tell me that if I felt ok, it was all right by him to give it a shot. Basically, he told me to listen to my body and channeling Brian Halligan to “use good judgement”.

So I gave it a shot on race day.

I went out cautious from the start, in part because it was my first half-marathon but mostly because I was nervous about the pneumonia. But when I got to mile 3 and the timer called out my split as close to 28 minutes, I said “screw that, I want a better time than that” and turn things up a few notches.

I don’t regret it. I finished in 1 hour and 48 minutes. About an 8:15 pace and the pneumonia didn’t really impact me while running the race. I was really happy with the result — my training runs had been about 15 seconds per mile slower on terrain not quite as hilly as the race course.

I think the half marathon set back my recovery from pneumonia a few days (flying out to Denver to be at 5000 feet for 3 days didn’t help either), but I’m no worse for the wear now.

In short: the goal of running a race provided more motivation; the longer distances were very relaxing; don’t get pneumonia the week before the race.

What’s next? I’m thinking I’ll give another half-marathon a shot — maybe something in the spring like this half-marathon near my parents’ house in Gloucester. Anyone want to join?

Why I loved “Born to Run” . . . and Didn’t

I recently read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Its spent a good amount of time at the top of best seller lists so I had some high expectations for it. It was a decidedly mixed read though: I absolutely loved some parts of it and others left me disappointed.

The good

The book came across as 5 or so major main discussions, stitched together  I really enjoyed two of the sections: the profile of the Tarahumera people of Mexico and the discourse on human evolutionary biology as it relates to running. Both helped me understand more about myself, why I like to run, how I can find even more enjoyment from running and how to run better. I wished the whole book was focused on those topics. The National Geographic subscriber in me loved reading about things like the unique breathing mechanism humans have relative to other mammals and how it helps us run long distances.

Unfortunately for me, the other elements of the narrative weren’t as valuable.

The bad

The rest of the book was focused on ultramarathoning, profiling some specific figures in the ultamarathonong subculture, and telling the story of a race put together in the home region of the Tarahumera. Frankly, I found these threads of the story less interesting and not compelling. Maybe it was just me, but I just didn’t find myself empathizing with the chaacters or caught up on the excitement of the race at the end.

Net, I’m happy I read the book. It helped me understand myself a little better and that’s really valuable. 150 pages of extraneous uninteresting text is a small price.

Why I Run

I try to run at least 10 miles a week. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I actually do this, likely inspired by reading Born to Run.

When I run, I get time to think about the problems I’m trying to solve. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I have a chance to work off my frustration. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I’m getting healthier. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I sleep more soundly. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I get the satisfaction of not paying for a gym membership. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I have fun talking with my running mates. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I love getting the fresh air and sunshine. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I discover new places. But that’s not why I run.

When I run, I’m more patient and enthusiastic with my kids. And that’s the best effect. With my super-wife traveling more and more these days, I’m home alone with two pre-schoolers every morning and every night. The days I run, I’m drained physically, but mentally I find I have much more patience with the 23 requests to go to the bathroom after being tucked in, with the 501st episode of “he hit me, ow”, with the 2 millionth time I’ve been posed the question “How come?”

When I run, I’m a better dad. Corny, but its what gets me out there every day.