Sunday, April 18, 2021

Rockaway 5K - April 11, 2021

For my usual post-marathon short race, I picked the Rockaway 5K course - not too far from home, but an area that, while I am somewhat familiar with it, I rarely do any running.  Actually, I'm more familiar with Rockaway Township (I have friends that live there and there is a mall there) but this course is in Rockaway Borough, which is right next to it.  That is so Jersey.

The figure-eight course started westbound on East Main Street (at Keller Avenue) with a short downhill before turning left onto Franklin Avenue, which was mostly flat.  My 6:19 first mile did not delight me, but it did not surprise me either.  I had thought for sure that with the re-introduction of speed training I could get closer to the 6:00 mark, at least in the first mile.  

I knew that was the best it was going to get because what goes down must come up and, sure enough there was a bit of an uphill after the turn onto Rockaway Avenue, back toward East Main.  Then it was back down that same hill from the start, past Franklin and a right turn on Jackson Avenue and another push up a small but significant enough hill that my pace was already falling apart with a 6:29 second mile and I continued onto Union Street.  

Already running out of gas but determined to push as hard as I could for the third mile (the last mile is no time to give up, after all), I was faced with another uphill battle after turning onto Stickle Avenue, which turned into Beach Street.  The approach from Beach back to Main was maybe a 50-foot ascent in about a third of a mile.  A few years ago, that would have been a small challenge, but I would have bounded up that hill, probably passing a few runners along the way.  On this day, it felt like a mountain.  

But I chugged up that mountain with all my might and, sure, when I hit the three-mile mark on East Main with a 6:27, it was nothing about which to write home, but I was proud that it was faster than the second mile.  

So with my last gasps, I hit the finish line in the Rockaway Assembly of God church parking lot 43 seconds later, finishing with a 19:58.  OK, well, 26 seconds faster than my previous 5K, but still slower than every other 5K I have run in the past 15 years.  

Now, I can accept that as the way it is and the way it is going to be...

...but I am going to start focusing on short-race training for the next couple of months, just to be sure.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Marathon XXV - New Jersey Marathon - March 7, 2021

Thirteen years ago, I ran the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch, my second marathon.  At the time, it was a double half-marathon loop.  In the years since, they restructured the course to make it more marathon-friendly.  Now, it's a point-to-point-ish kind of race, starting near Monmouth Park race track and winding through residential neighborhoods, before landing on Ocean Avenue and generally heading south to Asbury Park and back, to end on the boardwalk in Long Branch.  I had been doing long slow training through the winter, so it felt like a good time to give the new course a try for my 25th marathon on March 7.

I spent the day prior studying the course, tracing the route on my good old Hagstrom map, writing turn-by-turn details on note paper to bring with me, and using Google Earth to find landmarks as well as signs of anything that might trip me up.

Because it was within an hour's drive, Gloria and I got on the road relatively early (but not the insane type of early that organized marathons usually require) and I was able to hit the ground running at 9:30 a.m.

The first two miles consisted of a mini-loop in Oceanport and I was determined to keep a measured pace (7:48, 8:02).  After the debacle in Hartford in October, keeping it conservative was of utmost importance. There was no shame in playing it safe.  My two marathons in one weekend last year showed me that running as slow as nine-minute miles and still coming in under four hours is incredibly rewarding.

Winding my way through some more Oceanport neighborhoods, the next three miles were mostly in the range for which I was shooting - 7:48, 7:42, 8:09.  Keeping it to those high sevens and low eights would give me plenty of wiggle room at the end, but still (hopefully) ensure that I did not burn out.  Sure, I felt that way in Hartford, but I was much more comfortable today.  The weather was better (30s and sunny, if a little breezy) and I felt a lot more relaxed.  The latter may be because I was listening to a Trey Anastasio Band show from March 1, 2011, which started with an acoustic set and gradually built to a full-band raucous frenzy.  The more informal acoustic section provided a great backdrop for this portion of the run.

Over two small bridges - first into North Long Branch and then into Monmouth Beach - the course still had me running through pleasant residential areas in miles six and seven (8:03, 8:06), and then into Long Branch proper for miles eight through 11 (7:57, 8:00, 8:11, 8:06).  

The course was incredibly flat, which helped me keep the pace consistent, though mile 12 was my slowest yet (8:23). The little detours off of Ocean, like Lake Drive around Takanassee Lake and a brief round-the-block in Deal provided a little bit of variety in miles 13 through 16 (8:12, 8:10, 8:16, 8:27), and the electric portion of the TAB show in my ears gave me a little boost.  Plus, seeing Gloria on her way back north was a pick-me-up, too.

After the tiny towns of Allenhurst and Loch Arbour, there were a few somewhat confusing turns in mile 17 (8:20) but then I was finally in some familiar territory - Asbury Park - and that provided me with another jolt of confidence and energy.

That energy was sapped quickly, though, as I got onto the boardwalk to continue through Asbury and into Ocean Grove.  It was a chilly winter day, but from the crowd on the boardwalk, you would have thought it was mid-spring.  So, I put on my mask and powered through what I was hoping would be the fun part, but turned out to be the stressful part.  Still, for miles 18 and 19 (8:22, 8:25) into the turnaround at the border of Bradley Beach, I felt pretty good.  

By this point in Hartford, I was already dead in the water.  Not so on this day - and knowing that it was now a mostly straight shot back north on the boardwalk and Ocean Avenue, the final 10K felt throughly do-able, even if I could feel the fatigue starting to set in.  Rather than fight it, I let myself slow down, knowing I could do those last six miles at an 11-minute pace and still come in well under four hours.  

For the most part, each mile got slower from 20 through 25 (8:39, 8:55, 8:56, 8:45, 8:56, 9:03), but I still never felt like I was going to fall apart.  The TAB show ended and I put on Prince's 'Lovesexy' album for the home stretch.  Life is pretty good when you are grooving to "Alphabet St." in the last few miles of a marathon.

Though there would be no big sprint to the finish, I did feel excited about the ending - Gloria found me and ran with me for the last tenth of a mile or so, I still had Prince playing in my ears, the day was turning out to be gorgeous, and most importantly, I had shaken off the stink of the mess from Hartford.  With a finish time of 3:39:00, I felt downright good.

How about that?  I felt good.  Not exuberant or euphoric, but also not wrecked or beaten.  I felt good.  At this point, I will take that as a win.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Trinity Academy Reindeer Run 5K - Dec. 6, 2020

Feeling like I had one more shot at a decent 5K in 2020, I went back to one of my familiar early December courses - the Trinity Academy Reindeer Run in Caldwell. 

I ran this race in 2013, 2014 and 2018, with a finish time of 18:35, 18:40 and 18:20, respectively.  Now, two years after my fastest course time, things are dramatically different.

After bounding down that first short hill on Hatfield Street, the work began after the turn onto Smull Avenue.  For the next mile and a half, I pushed uphill with all my might, disappointed at how much slower I was running compared to a mere two years ago.  My heart sank when the first mile clocked in at 6:51.  

What the hell happened to me this year?  Is it possible that I had COVID and did not even know it, and now I am feeling the after effects of shortness of breath while my heart feels like it is struggling to pump hard enough to meet the level of activity I am trying to perform?  Or am I just getting old?

Whatever it was, I needed to crest this damn hill, now on Mountain Avenue, and finally did so, turning onto Forest Avenue with a 6:49 second mile.  

All that was left to do was make up as much time as possible on the downhill to the finish line.  A 6:05 third mile was the best I could muster, finishing the race at 20:24, more than two minutes slower than 2018.  

So that is it.  No more 5Ks for a while.  No speed work.  No tempo runs.  For the next few months, I will do some marathon training - going for long, slow miles.  And maybe, just maybe, I can enjoy the run for sake of it.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Passaic Valley Rotary Run 5K - Nov. 28, 2020

Hi!  Remember me?  I used to run sub-18 5Ks.  Almost every time.  For nine straight years.  

And who am I now?  Not that guy.  I am the guy that used to be that guy.  But if I have to settle for that, then for the usual 5K that comes a month after a marathon, I would run a course that I had mastered when I was that guy.

Ah, Little Falls, my old stomping grounds.  I had run the Passaic Valley Rotary Run six times between 2008 and 2015, with times that varied from 19:21 in 2009 to 18:08 in 2015.  I lived in that township during those years and had run most of the roads.  I knew that course so well, I could do it with my eyes closed. So at least I would not have to worry about that aspect of it.  

What did worry me was that even though I was relentlessly doing speed work, I was getting slower with every passing week.  Just a couple of years ago, I could cover more than six miles in a 40-minute tempo run, getting down to a six-minute pace or better in the middle; now I can barely muster much more than 5.5 and the fast miles are not that fast.  Speaking of fast miles, when doing mile repeats, none of them are even getting near the 6-minute mark, whereas in 2018, I could blast out sub-6s.

Still, at the get-go on McBride Avenue from the Little Falls Recreation Center into Woodland Park, I managed a 6:10 first mile, turning onto Lackawanna Road and then Riverview Drive in Totowa, along the Passaic River, and that gave me a glimmer of hope.

I knew there was a hill coming and I geared myself up for it - push hard enough to get up quickly, but not so hard that it would deplete all my energy. Unfortunately, I failed on both counts - that mile ended up being 6:47 as I turned onto Union Boulevard and then Walnut Street, and it took the wind right out of my sails.  

The third mile, on Prospect Street, First Avenue, Wilmore Road and, finally, Maple to Paterson Avenue and straight downhill to the Rec Center was labored, and I only managed a 6:28.  My final time was 19:56.  Slower than even the first time I ran that course 12 years ago.  Slower than every 5K I have raced since 2007.

I went home, showered, ate pancakes and tried to not be depressed.  

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Hartford Marathon - Hartford, CT - Oct. 10, 2020

When I hit the halfway point in South Windsor, CT, at around one hour and 47 minutes, I had already known that finishing in less than four hours would be more difficult than ever on this warm October day.  But I still was not expecting to fail as spectacularly as I did.

We got on the road at around 9 a.m. and made it to the start point at the Capitol Building in Hartford at around 11:15.  I did some warmups and was ready to go by 11:30.  I felt a bit bogged down by all the stuff I was carrying, but I had to soldier on.  I had my phone (for music and to call Gloria if anything went wrong), my license and insurance card (in case anything went really wrong), my GoPro (to take video of this very different marathon experience), my 20-ounce bottle of diluted Gatorade, and detailed turn-by-turn notes on dozens of pieces of three-by-four note paper.  

The latter was the most cumbersome, but the most important.  I had spent hours combing over the course map (from and using Google Earth to get an on-the-ground look at all the twists and turns, as well as landmarks for which to look.  And yet, I still somehow missed a turn in the first mile. It killed my momentum and started me on the road to stressing out (I also thought I had lost my license, but it was buried in my pocket).  I had only been running for five minutes, so I walked back to the Capitol Building and started over. 

This time, on the right track, I proceeded to run the five turns in the first two miles - 7:29 and 7:59. That was probably too fast, but with the multitude of cars and confusing street signs - and enough pedestrians to make it necessary for me to wear a face mask - I was uncomfortable, I was stressed, I had to pee, and I could not get out of downtown fast enough. 

Things went a little more smoothly heading north and into Riverside Park, with my third mile at 7:45.  Thankfully, there was a portable restroom in the park, so I made use of it and set out onto the trail along the Connecticut River where I was a bit more comfortable (though I still wore the mask because of the other people walking the narrow path) and was able to get rid of the first bunch of pages of my course notes.

Deliberately slowing down through the rest of the park trail (8:10 for mile four), then back into downtown Hartford (8:05 for mile five), I navigated the next four turns to get me to the Founders Bridge over the river and into East Hartford, with a sixth mile at 8:06.  Five more turns in the seventh mile (7:55) on thankfully less-busy streets got me back onto a trail, this time in Great River Park, on the other end of which, at the eighth mile (8:39), Gloria met me with cold water and moral support, both of which I already needed.

In mile nine (8:32), the course started getting a little easier along East River Drive, with a turn onto Route 5 (Main Street), though the busy road did not make for much fun.  A turn into a residential neighborhood made things better in mile 10 (8:18), but the straightaway on Prospect Street had me confused and frustrated because I knew I had to turn back onto Main Street, but *none* of the intersections had street signs.  Frustration saps energy, so when I finally found Main, my 11th mile time was 8:45 - my slowest yet.  

That was fine.  I wanted to slow down.  The temperature was now in the 70s and it was relentlessly sunny.  The next turn was onto King Street, and once again there was a lack of street signs, getting me all tense again.  Seriously, East Hartford - you really suck with your signage.

Finally on King Street (8:35 for mile 12), I could relax because there was only one more turn (8:35 for mile 13) and then there would be nine blessed miles on the relatively peaceful Main Street (but not Route 5 - as I said, it was confusing) in South Windsor.

Unfortunately, by this point, I was already losing steam.  This was the part of the race to which I was looking forward, but I could not even enjoy it.  It was far too early to be running out of gas, yet it was happening rapidly - 8:59 for mile 14, 9:14 for mile 15, 9:27 for mile 16 and, at the turnaround, 10:09 for mile 17.

Nine more miles to go and I knew there was no chance of anything getting any better.  My legs were getting leaden and my stomach was twisting in knots.  I walked for a while and Gloria pulled up alongside me in the car at around mile 18 (11:35).  She gave me some more cold water - I downed two bottles.  I was clearly dehydrated.  I had gotten accustomed to doing long runs in the heat during the summer, but recent weeks had been cooler and this unexpected spike in temperature caught my body off guard.  It was obvious by now that this would be the first time it would take me more than four hours to finish a marathon.

My condition worsened as running turned to jogging in mile 19 (12:17), then a jog/walk in miles 20 and 21 (13:04 and 12:24), and then walking in mile 22 (14:04). 

Back on Route 5, after Gloria went ahead to meet me at a later point, I called her and told her I would be walking the rest of the way (and that I was sorry that she would have to wait around for the next hour or so).  Along Prospect Street again (15:58 for mile 23), even walking was difficult, as I slowed to a trudge (17:32 for mile 24). 

Stopping for a moment to dry heave as my stomach continued its revolt against the rest of my body, I finally made my way to Pitkin Street (20:13 for mile 25) and onto the Founders Bridge, where I finally vomited whatever my stomach could produce.  Gloria met me on foot during the last mile (21:14 for mile 26) and helped me slowly meander to the finish line, which I hit at a final time of 4:50:45, almost a full hour slower than my previous slowest marathon.  

While walking those last few miles, I spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong.  My best guess is that a lot of small factors compounded into a what turned out to be a difficult and exhausting day.  Sometimes, everything - the weather, the mood, the course, the conditions - seems to fall into place (ah, Mississippi, less than two short years ago); but sometimes, nothing does.

At 46 years old, with 24 marathons under my belt, that has to be expected (especially in the weirdest year ever) and I have to be OK with it.  It means I am human, it means life throws curveballs, and it means that things can not always go as planned, no matter how much one plans.

Of course, it also means that I will probably be back in Hartford next year, trying again.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Marathon XXIV

The COVID era marches on with races canceled everywhere.  Frankly, even if they were not, I am not comfortable enough being around large groups of people anyway, so I would probably steer clear.

And yet...

The marathon into which I have entered has become a virtual marathon this year.  Participants can run it anywhere in the world and send the proof of their 26.2 miles from their Garmin or similar devices.  But that seems weird to me.  If I planned to run a marathon in a certain place on a certain date, well, I am going to do so. 

Thus, my 24th marathon will be of the virtual sort, but I am going to run the actual course (thank you,!) on the day.  I set out to run *this* marathon, so I am going to run *this* marathon.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Baker's Dozen Half Marathon - Montclair, NJ - Aug. 8, 2020

The pandemic has not, and will not deter me from my usual training cycles, and if that means all of my races are going to be my myself, then so be it.  It was never supposed to be about competing against other people or winning age group medals anyway.  Admittedly, it had been getting like that in recent years, with my ego running away with itself sometimes.  But in the end, it has always about me and the clock - setting personal records and training to perform at my best on race day.

Now, with my days of PRs behind me and speedwork becoming more difficult as I navigate the back half of my 40s, racing for the hell of it has never been more important.  I cannot say I get much joy out of short races anymore, but the challenge of marathons is as alluring as ever. 

So I continue with my marathon training schedule, and doing so (using Hal Higdon's Intermediate Marathon training program this time) requires running a half-marathon halfway through the 18-week program. 

Rather than try to find another new course, I decided to take another stab at the Baker's Dozen in Montclair, NJ.  I had specifically trained for that race a couple of months earlier and had a tough time with it - partially because it was a warm day, but mostly because I have been burning out in the speed department as I get older. 

This time, I would have more fun with it.  It was, after all, just a stepping stone in my marathon training program rather than the endgame of weeks of training.  Plus, I knew the course a lot better, so that helped me gauge when to push and when to conserve.

My first two miles, along Forest, Claremont, and North and South Mountain avenues, were almost exactly the same as six weeks before, with a 7:11 and a 6:50 (as compared to 7:10 and 6:49).  I strategically took the loop around Eagle Rock Way and Stonebridge Road a little more slowly (7:09, as opposed to 6:49 in June), and thought I was doing the same for the fourth mile up South Mountain Avenue (7:10, though I did a 7:09 last time).

The strategy was to conserve for the steep uphill on Claremont Avenue in the fifth mile.  I did that mile also on par with last time (7:53 vs. 7:54), but this time I did not expend as much energy and that made a big difference in the rest of the race.  So instead of already feeling fatigued in the sixth and seventh miles on the rolling hills of Highland Avenue, I felt strong as I hit a 7:12 and 7:05 (where I did 7:23 and 7:08 last time).  In the next few miles along Upper and North Mountain avenues, I tried to keep status quo (7:17, 7:35, 7:26 and 7:23) averaging one second faster in these miles as I did in June; but once again, I did not feel like I needed to push nearly as hard to get there.

Even on the seven-turn twister of mile 12, I kept it relatively steady with a 7:32 (7:34 last time) but did not have (or feel the need for) quite the closing kick as I did six weeks prior, tackling the last mile at 7:24 (7:14 in June).  Still, with a finish time of 1:35:52, I somehow managed to best my previous Baker's Dozen time by 17 seconds, making it my third slowest half-marathon ever, but somehow a little more satisfying now that I have accepted that my speed game is a thing of the past.  

This attitude took me through my triumphant double sub-four-hour marathon weekend earlier this year, which now seems like a lifetime ago on a different planet.  As long as this weird new world continues to change everything we do and the way we do it, my races will continue to be less formal and more personal; and I am heading into my first marathon of the COVID era with that approach.