Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My 2015 Running Lowlights

As with everything in life, there are ups and downs. The off-days in my running life - especially in the races where I struggle but don't accomplish what I set out to do - make me appreciate the days when I hit my goals even more. Even great athletes like Ronda Rousey had a lousy day or two this year. So, after covering my 2015 running highlights in my last post (and there were quite a few of them), here are my lowlights of 2015:

2015 Lowlights

3) Roselle Run for the Roses: All morning, the weather had been fantastic. That is until five minutes before start time when some close lightning strikes threatened to cancel the race. Just before the start horn sounded, the heavens opened up with a deluge of rain. Any hopes for a PR were dashed as my clothes and shoes were waterlogged the entire race. All the water added a few pounds of weight, which probably caused my finishing time to be at least 10 seconds slower than I needed to PR. Typically, I don't mind racing in the rain, especially if it cools me off on a hot day. However, it's not as fun when it's a downpour in a short race that costs me precious seconds. To add insult to injury - in the only picture of me from the race I'm mostly blocked by another dude.
I'm over that guy's shoulder (src)
2) Chicago Marathon: The 2015 version of the Chicago Marathon was my second fastest marathon ever - so this is one of those races that could have easily been placed on my highlights list. However, every single race conversion table says that based on my half marathon times, I should be able to run a sub-3:00 marathon. I ran this one in 3:08 and I did my typical fade over the last three miles. After eight attempts, I'm still trying to figure out how to conquer the marathon distance.
At least I got to run near an Olympian! (src)
1) F^3 Half Marathon: Soon after the race started, this one quickly veered into "struggle bus" territory. It was an unseasonably warm January day and I had over dressed. In addition, I started out too fast and my lungs were not used to the warm air and they started to hurt. Only after walking and letting quite a few people pass me, was I able to rebound, but it was a little too little, a little too late. I signed up for the 2016 F^3 which takes place next month and I'm looking forward to some redemption!
Still doing okay at mile 2 (src)
Enough of my whining about the worst this year in running gave me. Since my highlights far out-weigh my lowlights I can happily smile at this post. Anyway, here's to an even better 2016!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015: Highlights from my Year in Running

2015 was a very good year for me running-wise. I set four PRs and five second fastest PRs. I also finished in the top three of my age group six times. I accomplished all of this over a span of 12 races:
DistanceDateEventPaceAge Place
Time
All Time Dist.
1/2 Mara.11/28/15Schaumburg Half Marathon6:28 /Mi11:24:332nd Fastest
10k11/22/15Lincolnwood Turkey Trot6:17 /Mi339:062nd Fastest
15k11/8/15Hot Chocolate 15K6:24 /Mi359:45PR
Marathon10/11/15Chicago Marathon7:10 /Mi1113:08:062nd Fastest
4 Mile7/4/15Elmhurst 4 On The Fourth5:59 /Mi523:57PR
1 Mile6/12/15Grim Mile5:13 /Mi15:13PR
5k6/7/15Roselle Run for the Roses5:54 /Mi518:204th Fastest
1/2 Mara.5/2/15500 Festival Mini-Marathon6:33 /Mi81:25:523rd Fastest
5k4/26/15Ravenswood Run5:50 /Mi318:10PR
8k3/29/15Shamrock Shuffle6:16 /Mi1431:182nd Fastest
1/2 Mara.1/24/15F^3 Lake Half Marathon7:01 /Mi71:32:0814th Fastest
5 Mile1/10/15S-No-W Fun Run6:49 /Mi334:062nd Fastest

The secret(s) to my success
I had been plateauing with my race times over the last few years. I figured that since running is an athletic endeavor, I needed to think and act more like an athlete to get better at it. So I started strength training about two years ago, and with that I got curious with why chin-ups were so difficult for me. I realized that not only did I lack upper body strength to do lots of chin-ups, but I was also pulling up too much weight (i.e. I was too heavy). I knew that weight correlated to race times according to most articles on the topics I've read. So in order to get more do more chin-ups as well as get fitter for running, I picked up a copy of Racing Weight. Using the simple tips in that book, I shed around ten pounds which I was carrying around for no particular reason - but was definitely slowing me down. I've also been running injury-free for about 18 months in a row. I only do a couple of moderately hard workouts per week, preferring to save the base mileage streak rather than risking injury. Having a base mileage that extends back several months is a nice thing to be able to draw on when things get tough during a run. The funny thing is that I am confident if I can maintain my base mileage and perhaps shed three to five more pounds - I will be even faster next year.

So there you have it, I can run faster because I got fitter. I got fitter by eating better and keeping a nice training base. As Kim said in this post, "When I weigh less, I run faster." I could probably make a list of five other things that have also helped with my running, but these two items top the list.

Highlights
Without further ado, here are my top five running highlights of 2015: 

5) Shamrock Shuffle 8k:  Way back in March I had very little idea of how my winter training would translate into race speed for the Shamrock Shuffle. Therefore, I decided to start the race fairly conservatively and then see what I had near the end. After running three decent miles, I was able to turn on the afterburners, and to my surprise, my last two miles were at 5k PR pace. I calculated later that I had passed a total of 106 runners over the last 11 minutes and was passed by none. Although I did not PR the race, those last 11 minutes got me stoked that 2015 was perhaps going to be a special year.
Shufflin' near the finish 
4) Elmhurst 4 on the 4th: Since I had a few races under my belt before this 4th of July race, I was able to plug that information into some race conversion tables and determine that I should be able to run a sub-24 minute four miler. It was daunting to think of running four sub-6:00 miles in a row - especially since I'd never done that in my life. However, I trusted my fitness and came in just under 24 minutes thanks to a wicked fast last quarter mile straight uphill. Instant PR!
Going for four under six a piece
3) Hot Chocolate 15k: After three years in a row of 1:02:xx finishes at the HC 15k, I really wanted to see if a change in strategy (i.e. even-pacing) could help me achieve a sub 60 minute finish. Yup it did, and I went kinda nuts with the fist pump when I realized I had my 59:xx.
About to go sub-60!!
2) Schaumburg Half Marathon: The second best race I've had in the last four years. It was a picture perfect day running through sublimely quiet woods. I not only won my age group (out of 86), but I also finished ahead of the second place runner by 2.5 minutes. This race was the icing on the cake of a fun year.

The serenity of Busse Woods
1) Ravenswood Run 5k The best race I've had in at least four years. Just when I thought that perhaps my fastest days were behind me, I beat my five year old PR. As I kicked up Wilson Avenue, it was a fantastic feeling to see that the time on the finish line clock was well within my PR. It was a CARA race and I got to stand on the Fleet Feet podium for the first time. After this race I realized that perhaps my fastest days were still ahead of me.
Podium at a CARA race!
Well, there you have it, the best this year in running gave me. Here's hoping that 2016 is even better!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post: "My 2015 Running Low-lights"!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Schaumburg Half Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Yesterday, I ran the Schaumburg Half Marathon. The day before the race, I got an e-mail that the course had to be rerouted due to road construction. It would actually be the third different course layout in the three times I've run it.


Goal: Since I had just run a fast Lincolnwood Turkey Trot 10k less than six days before, I was hoping for a convergence of my new found speed and my residual marathon endurance. I ran low mileage all week in order to help my legs and lungs recover. I was actually feeling good the night before the race and even enjoyed a little brandy. I also spent some time analyzing my splits from previous half marathons and combining that knowledge with how I currently felt, I came up with a target race pace of 6:30/mile. I would start out slow for the first two miles then try and lock in the 6:30/mile pace for the rest of the race. My goal was to run a smart race with a slight negative split and see if I could flirt just under 1:26:00.


Getting To the Race:  I drove on an almost empty Kennedy expressway and made it from my house to the parking lot in Rolling Meadows in 30 minutes.

Pre-Race:  After getting out of my car, I headed over to the yellow school buses (aka "shuttle buses") which would take us to the starting line. This was a point-to-point course so our checked bags would have to be shuttled back to the finish line. Someone on the bus said "hi Pete" and it was Kim P.

The shuttle bus was caught in a huge traffic jam of cars blocking the entrance to turn into the drop off area. Apparently, each driver had to be told individually that the drop off area was full. Then each car would stop in the middle of the road to let runners out. Each car was blocking the entrance for a minute a piece. I saw a woman jump out of her car in the middle of the road to run to the start line, she dropped her watch without knowing it, and a minute later I saw it was run over by a car and shattered into pieces. Ouch. Anyway, the two mile shuttle bus ride from my car to the start line felt like it took about the same amount of time it took me to drive from Chicago to the parking lot in Rolling Meadows.

Race temps were forecasted for 32 degrees, so I decided to run in shorts and a long sleeve wicking shirt. I got my packet and made my way over to the bag check area. Wendy spotted me, we said hi, chatted and got a pre-race picture. After only knowing her through her blog and tweets over the past couple of years, it was nice to finally meet her IRL.

Pre-race with Wendy (src)
With about five minutes left, I went to check my bag, but the bag check line was super long. Luckily the line of people crossed in front of the starting line, so I knew the race could not start until all of the bags had been checked - which meant I would be okay. With about a minute to spare I checked my bag, then crawled between the corral barrier into the 7:00/mile area. The horn sounded and we were off!

Miles 1 through 3: The first mile of the race was a loop around a parking lot. I had started pretty far back, so I spent a little bit of energy passing people. I was still carrying my water bottle, so I decided to run the first six miles with my own water, then throw it out at an aid station. As we turned around and headed back the other direction I waved to Wendy. Eventually, I made my way up to the 1:30:00 group and ran with them for a little bit. Some kids in the 1:30:00 group were goofing around and shoving each other. One of the kids got shoved into me, and almost knocked me over. I was ticked off, so I surged a bit by running on the grass and got around them. 6:34/mile.

Miles 4 through 6: After getting past most of the crowds, I started running through the quiet woods. It was quite nice running in the great outdoors and hearing only the peaceful sounds of breathing and footfalls. Since there weren't many distractions, it was a good opportunity to evaluate how hard I was breathing and gauge how I was holding up. I determined I felt fantastic! After cresting then descending on a bridge over a road, a small but enthusiastic crowd cheered us on. 6:26/mile.

Miles 7 through 9: At about the halfway mark, the course made a u-turn and headed back towards the start. Erica cheered me on, and I ran across a grassy area back to the bridge. I passed a few more runners, but my pace slowed as we were running into the wind. I was passed by a guy who I think had been pacing someone behind me, but for some reason, he had left him and sped ahead of me. 6:28/mile.

Miles 10 through 12: I was pretty much running alone for this stretch. Once again in the stillness it was really nice to do a check of how my breathing and legs were holding up. I glanced at my Garmin and was pleased that my pace was still quick and I still did not feel overly strained. However, since I was by myself, I was afraid of making a wrong turn as there were various trails and parking lots in which to veer. Luckily through the trees ahead, I could occasionally see the (at that point) third place woman ahead as she was wearing a bright pink jacket so I could relax a little. 6:19/mile.

Miles 13 and 13.08: The woman in pink passed another woman who was losing speed. I passed her as well and we crested a small hill which led down to the finish line. The woman in pink was just ahead and I made attempt to pass her on the final uphill stretch to the finish line, but the finish line came up and we were done! 6:20/mile.

I crossed the finish line and got my medal about two feet later!

Analysis:


Age Group: 1st of 86
Overall: 16th of 1415

Official finishing time was 1:24:33 for a new "Schaumburg Turkey Trot PR" by over four minutes!  I won my age group and beat the second place male in my age group by almost two and a half minutes! It was also my second fastest half marathon ever. However, I think the course was short based on my Garmin results (that's why I put 13.08 above in my racap). My guess is that the course was probably hastily put together the day before, using someone riding a bike with a GPS watch to measure. The biker may have taken slightly wider tangents than a runner would (just a guess). Typically my GPS measures about 13.2 for a regular half marathon - since I don't run all of the tangents perfectly. In any case, it was still the second fastest GPS pace I've run for a half marathon (6:28/mile), so it can still legitimately said to be my second fastest ever. Adjusting for the short course, I probably really ran about a 1:25:10 which would still be my second best. I also ran just two seconds per mile below my target pace of 6:30/mile, so my pre-race analysis paid off.

Post Race:
I picked up my gear and headed back to the finish line. I spotted Kim finishing - then Wendy flew on by. I took a few pictures of her finishing strong. I walked over to the finisher chute where Wendy and I chatted as I waited for my AG medal. Before we left for our cars, we got this pic:



Conclusion:
Great racing weather, good friends and a fun time had by all.

Next Up: An easy week with lots of rest. After that I'll probably start training for the "It's S-NO-W Fun Run" and the "F3 Half" in January.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lincolnwood Turkey Trot 2015 10k Race Recap

A decent amount of snow fell the day before my seventh Lincolnwood Turkey Trot. Then an arctic chill set over Chicagoland on race morning making the roads slick with ice. Temps were 15ยบ - conditions which were quite different from last year's race. For the first race in awhile, I wore long running pants to cover my legs and three layers for my upper body. It would probably end up costing me a few seconds to be weighted down and less aerodynamic, but the trade-off would be worth it just in case I hit the wall during the race and had to walk two or three miles back to the finish line. This is the race that had always featured groovy turkey trophies for the AG winners, however this year they did away with the turkey trophies and replaced them with run-of-the-mill medals. Talk about a let down!  Anyway, instead of a PR, I was shooting for a 2nd best PR, which would be any time under 39:06.


Pre-Race
Luckily, I had picked up my bib on my way home from work on Friday, so I didn't need to get to the race early for packet pickup. I left the house at 8:15am for the 8:45am start. 15 minutes after leaving home, I scored a street spot, then waited in my heated car for a few minutes. Then with about five minutes left, I sprinted across the icy sidewalks over to the start line. Once in the start corral I talked with John B who was running the 5k. Over the PA system, the mayor of Lincolnwood announced that the roads were clear of ice and that the race would commence on the sound of the air-horn since the starting cowbell was frozen solid. However, someone rang the magically-thawed-out cowbell and suddenly we were off!
Pre-race in Lincolnwood
The Race
Mile 1: Unwisely, I started just a few rows from the front, and got caught up trying to hang with the 5kers. Big mistake - as some were really flying. About a half a mile into the race a few of them started to get gassed and slowed way down, creating a wall of rapidly slowing runners that I was stuck behind. This ticked me off, so I swerved way to the outside and then gunned it in order to pass them. I knew that was also a mistake as I had wasted a bunch of energy surging. My lungs were struggling to handle the speed combined with the dry arctic air that they were not yet acclimated to. It was the fastest mile of the day, but it should have been my slowest. 6:04/mile.

Mile 2: I knew I needed to slow down, so I did but was immediately passed by about six runners. This was demoralizing. Daniel K passed me like I was standing still. He probably got to the race late and was just running his normal race pace as he finished third overall. 6:15/mile.

Mile 3: Things started to settle down as everyone (including myself) settled into their race paces.  6:15/mile.

Mile 4: I made my way up to Pratt Avenue, where I was briefly joined by the 5k walkers. One walker looked at me and said "that guy must be running a seven minute mile!" He was only off by 45 seconds. 6:15/mile.

Mile 5: My breathing was labored and my lungs were burning in the dry air. I didn't know how I would fare over the last 2.2 miles so I started to pull back ever so slightly on my pace to make sure I had enough juice for the homestretch. 6:19/mile.

Mile 6: There was good news and bad news. The good news is that I was almost done. The bad news is that the last 1.2 miles is always wall-to-wall with 5k walkers and today was no exception. Many of them walked three abreast and there was no separate lane for the 10k runners who were barreling through. I gently brushed passed a few walkers, and had to weave around a few more. It was like an obstacle course with oblivious walkers taking up the road as our fast race was going on around them. 6:15/mile.
Turn at mile 5.5
Mile 6.29: Down the homestretch I was really gasping for air. I felt like I was slowing down as I had to swerve around regular walkers and those who were magically turning into runners near the end. Luckily the end was in sight and I barreled over the finish line and was done!  5:50/mile.

Race Summary: 
Post race with finisher turkey medal
  • Official time: 39:06. Official pace: 6:18/mile
  • Overall Place: 12th out of 464
  • Age Place: 3rd out of 65 (these are 10 year age groups).
  • Tied my 2nd fastest 10k ever. 
  • AG medal attained! Unfortunately, they are no longer giving out turkey trophies, but I still managed to get a turkey AG medal, which I can add to my turkey race momentos.

Post-Race:
I picked up my finisher medal (new this year) then had some hot soup in the heated tent. I went back outside and spotted Erin in the finisher's chute and we said hi. 

Race Takeaway:
I'm happy to have tied my 2nd fastest 10k ever, but I know I could have finished faster. If I had not been wearing all of the layers and running pants, maybe I could have broken 39:00. However, my major error was starting too fast - something I will definitely try to avoid at my next race.

Next up:
Schaumburg Half Turkey Trot on Saturday!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hot Chocolate 15k 2015 Race Recap

This was my fourth time running the annual Hot Chocolate 15k. It's an opportunity to use some of my residual marathon fitness for a potential 15k PR. This year's version would feature picture-perfect racing weather which perhaps would bode well for a PR and maybe something more...


The Expo:
This year, the expo was moved from McCormick Place to the Hyatt on Wacker which was a welcome change. No more 22 mile round-trip drive through city traffic to get my packet for a race distance that amounts to an extended 10k. I was able to ride the "L" and read a book on the way down and get my packet and bib and them jump back on the train before my two hour CTA transfer window expired. Over the last three years, the race organizers have proven they can hold a quick and organized packet pickup. The packet pickup disaster from a few years ago is now a distant memory.

Pre Race (Mistake and a Jerk)
I was all set to take the 45 minute "L" to the race, but was running slightly behind schedule, so instead, I hopped in my car, and with LSD completely empty, made it near my $16 parking garage just north of Grant Park in just over 15 minutes, however once on Lower Wacker, I took a wrong turn and found myself in a lane which forced me to head south on LSD. Since all the Grant Park exits off of LSD were closed I could not turn around until south of Soldier Field! This mistake took me an extra 15 minutes of driving by the time I got back to the garage. Since it was so close to race time, there was a line of cars waiting to go through security check. I got in line with about 25 minutes before my corral was due to close. All of a sudden a woman in her car cut in line and drove up near the front of the line of cars waving her work ID badge out the window. I knew right away that she thought that she could cut the line because she worked in the offices above the parking garage. However, I saw she was not going to work, but was actually going to run the race - she was wearing an official "Hot Chocolate" participant jacket. So, I rolled down my window and yelled at her saying we were all trying to get to the same race. She replied that she was just trying to get in "her building" and thought they would open up a special lane for her. Yeah right! Anyway, someone let her in ahead of them. Hope she is happy with herself. People can be such jerks sometimes.

I finally made it into the garage and parked with about 15 minutes to spare to get to the race, get my bag checked and then get into my corral before it closed. So, once I left my car I started running with my backpack on. I ran about a mile around Grant Park to the entrance on Michigan Ave. Then I ran another 1/2 mile through the crowds to gear check. I zipped up my backpack in a clear bag and checked it. I had about 5 minutes to run the length of Grant Park to my corral before it closed. Other people were jogging, but I went into a full sprint! It was about 35 degrees outside, but I was sweating quite a bit. I made it into the "A" corral with a couple of minutes to spare, but completely out of breath and overheating.

I searched the corral for any friendly faces, but since Lynton moved away this year, I did not see him or anyone else I recognized. The race time was nearing and I was still very warm despite the cold temps. I realized that my best bet was to throw away all of my extra layers and just run in a singlet and shorts. So, as the countdown to start began, I chucked my sweats and long sleeve shirt over the railing and the only "extra" articles of clothing I kept was my ski hat and gloves, which I would also dispose of during the race if I became too hot.

Race Strategy
In my previous three Hot Chocolate 15ks, I have been very conservative in the first 10k and then opened up the pace for the final 5k. Maybe I was sandbagging just a little and giving away precious seconds early on? I realized that since I had residual marathon endurance, but not speed, running a conservative first 5k then gradually speeding up over the last 10k would be a better strategy. I thought that maybe, just maybe if I could bring the first 5k in closer to 20:00 than 21:00, I might be able to speed up just enough to run a sub 60:00.

The Race:
First 5k:
The Chicago Marathon "blue line"  was still on Columbus drive and it was nice to see it again a handful of weeks after my course PR at that event. Once on Lower Wacker along the river, I ran a relatively slow first mile in 6:52 pace as I tried to determine how my legs and lungs felt and tried to predict how they would be able to handle the remaining 8.3 miles. Some of the 5k runners sped past me with labored breathing and headphones blaring. The wind was in our faces as we turned southbound on Clark St, and then again on Michigan Ave. It was already time to bid adieu to the 5kers as they made their way up "Mt. Roosevelt" to the finish line. 
20:30, 6:34/mile


Second 5k:
We continued running down Michigan Ave on the marathon course in reverse, until we veered off onto 31st street and then MLK Drive for the sharp turn north. During this stretch last year, some woman was running with her phone's speaker blaring music. This year, it was completely quiet except for the exquisite sound of hundreds of footfalls of people racing. The sun was just rising over the lake, it was clear and cool and I had grooved a beautiful pace. I could see the lead runners coming back towards me absolutely flying on the other side of the street. My body did not need to use any energy at all to cool my core since it was barely 40 degrees, so it could devote all of its resources to fueling my legs. My legs started to naturally turn over faster on their own with almost no effort. This is a rare occurrence - when my legs go on auto-pilot and I'm along for the comfortable ride. Endorphins started coursing through my veins, and a big smile appeared on my face - I knew for sure that I could at least sustain this pace for another 5k and that I would get a PR. 
19:56, 6:25/mile




Third 5k:
As we headed eastward at the 10k mark, the lake appeared. I kept doing calculations to figure out how fast I would need to run to get my sub-60 minute finish, but in my blissed-out state of mind I could not do any advanced math. With the wind now to our backs, I knew that at the very least I could run 7:00/mile the rest of the way in and PR, but beyond that I figured I would have to absolutely crush the final 5k to finish under 60 minutes. The McCormick Place tunnel appeared and I took off my sunglasses in order to see the potholes for the trek through the "Smelly Tunnel". Once we got back into the open air I put my sunglasses back on, but they were all smudged and I was looking through hazy lenses. I could not see very well, but did not want to waste time cleaning my sunglasses. I had no idea how close I was to a PR since I stopped looking at my watch and just put my head down and kept running. As we went up the final hill and made the turn onto Columbus drive, I could make out the finish line clock in the distance but could not make out what the numbers were. I got side-by-side with another guy and as he sensed me trying to pass him, he turned on the speed and I gave chase. I had no clue what my time was. It was only until we were about 20 yards from the finish line that I could finally see the numbers on the clock. The numbers were counting up - 59:49 then 59:50 then 59:51. At 59:52, I crossed the line and was ecstatic. I threw my fists in the air and flew past the finish line punching the air!
 19:25, 6:16/mile.



Almost there...
Finished!
Result:
PR by two minutes and 24 seconds! 
Basking in the sparkle of my new PR and new candy bar medal!

Time: 59:45
Overall: 45/12,176
Age Group: 3/358
Official Pace: 6:26/mile

 5k Splits:
1st 5k: 20:30
2nd 5k: 19:56
3rd 5k: 19:25

Analysis:
This was my fourth year running the Hot Chocolate 15k and my fourth 15k PR in each attempt! 59:45 means that I can tick off that magical sub-60 barrier off of my running bucket list. This was the best weather for a race I've experienced in over a year, so I'm glad I took advantage of the conditions when they were perfect. I also finished 3rd in my age group, so I am going to look out for my age group award in the mail.

Since I haven't had a post with some charts in awhile, I thought I'd regale you with a couple of looks at how I've fared in the race over the last four years.
My paces by year
My average paces by 5k splits 2012 through 2015
I've run this race four times and PR'd it every year. I'm getting smarter strategy-wise over time. However, this year I had an 18 month running base going into the race so my fitness was the best it's ever been at this time of the year.

Post-Race:
Near gear check, I spotted and then high-fived Lauren's husband Mike and then made my way over to get my fondue and hot chocolate:
Post-race "fondue mug"
The chocolate fondue was nice and messy and there was chocolate on my face and hands:
Giant fondue cup with hot chocolate in the middle!
Once again, I did not bring a flask of Peppermint Schnapps to help "flavor" the cup of hot chocolate. Maybe next year...

Conclusion:
This is one of my favorite races of the year and seems to be "hiding in plain site" of the Chicago running community due to some snafus three years ago that they have more than made up for. It has everything: Easy parking, thousands of porta-potties, beautiful finisher medal, and a chance to run down Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive. Keeping my 15k PR streak alive will be a huge task next year, but one I'm looking forward to.