Race Report: Just a Short Run

I know this race was a handful of weeks ago, but The Lady and I had a pretty important event (and subsequent weeklong vacation) to attend to.

But more on that later. So, Just A Short Run!

This event has been a favorite of both The Lady’s and myself for the last four years. The event has four distinct distances, providing everyone with something they can run: a 5K, an 8.1-miler, a half marathon, and a 30K. Back in 2011, we both ran the 8.1-miler; every year since then we’ve done the half marathon (with the exception of 2013, which I missed due to the event overlapping with Easter weekend). In fact, longtime readers of my internet blathering can read my post on the 2012 JaSR, in which I set a 1:43:51 half-marathon PR that subsequently stood for two years.

Needless to say, I’ve been hankering to bust that PR. And given how promising this past March was, I was very optimistic I could do it this year.

Since this event was a mere week out from our impending nuptials, The Lady and I dressed for the occasion.

It was extra motivation to hit our goals for the race: The Lady was gunning for a 7:49 min/mi, which would make her eligible to apply for a seeded position at the Pittsburgh half-marathon in early May. I was aiming for a 7:30 pace (1:38ish) as my A-goal, sub-1:40 as my B-goal. Before anyone asks: to be eligible to apply for a seeded position at the Pittsburgh half, I would have to run one with a 6:49 min/mi average. Yeahhh. That’s still a ways off. 10K, absolutely! 😛

We arrived the morning of the race with a friend of ours, Devin (who some may recognize from our Ragnar DC team), who is also training for the Pittsburgh half.

Racers ready to go.
Racers ready to go.

Devin was “only” running the 8.1-miler, so at the starting line he stayed near the back (after we wished him good luck) while we moved to the front.

And lo and behold: a 1:40 pace group! I got pretty excited. The Lady, unfortunately, had to run her race by herself, as she was aiming for a 1:42 and none of our usual running buddies were at the race. We wished each other good luck, and soon enough, the race began.

The pace group was small; not surprising, given the race itself is only a couple thousand people, plus 1:40 is pretty quick (honestly I wasn’t expecting any pace groups under 1:50; I kind of assumed you were on your own at that point!). The group, however, was very fluid: runners would pull up, drop off, and speed away as the miles ticked off. I focused on sticking with the pacer the whole time.

7:36, 7:20, 7:34

We finished the first 5K in 23:23, which is actually a 1:38 half marathon. We were going way too fast. The pacer apologized and reined things in a bit more. This I appreciated: apparently the pacers got a stern talking-to after the Spring Thaw, which saw quite a few of them finishing way ahead of their scheduled times. We even passed Kevin Smith (race director) along the way, and he emphasized “plus or minus 10 seconds!” as we went by.

The group also asked about my shirt, and both laughed and congratulated me on the impending wedding. As the race went on, folks who had started behind and caught up to the group (re: aforementioned fluidity of the pace group) informed me they’d seen my “runaway bride” behind me. In some cases, I simply heard some people laugh out loud as I passed them and they read the bib on the back of my shirt (they were running the 30K and had been passed by both of us).

7:41, 7:38, 7:34, 7:42

I was still feeling pretty good, but there was an ache in my legs that I didn’t like. I’d had an amazing week of training, but this wasn’t a good sign. I was starting to feel some fatigue creep in at the same mileage marker as the Spring Thaw, and yet I was worried: 1) I wasn’t running quite as fast, and 2) I had an additional 3.1 miles to go on top of what I did at Spring Thaw. I focused on staying in a rhythm and shutting up my brain.

The main course of this race (or at least, the last 10 miles of the total 13.1) is the same 5-mile loop as the Spring Thaw, just in the reverse direction. The course is rolling, so if you don’t like hills at all you won’t enjoy this course. The hills aren’t impossible, but you can’t ignore them entirely.

7:36, 7:45, 7:40

Yeah, I was definitely hurting. At this point the pacer and I were pretty much the only ones left in the group, the others having taken off or dropped back. He and I chatted a little bit, and I mentioned I was aiming for my first half marathon PR in two years (and in four attempts, including this one). He told me that at this point in the race, I could do 8:30s and still beat my previous time.

In retrospect, I kinda wish he hadn’t said that. Check out my next two miles:

7:49, 8:19

I was hurting, but mentally I was hurting even more. At Spring Thaw I had people around me constantly urging me on (I channeled Mark’s presence and made sure I stuck with the tangents of the course); here, I was given a mental “out.” The hills beat me up and I let them. I tried to give my all in the last couple of miles, but my kick was pretty weak:

7:49, 7:25 (last 0.1)

Nevertheless, the pacer was absolutely right: I PR’d the shit out of this race.

Definitely still fist-pump worthy.
Definitely still fist-pump worthy.

My official chip time was 1:41:36, a PR by over two full minutes. I finally set a new half marathon PR!

The Lady came in a mere 40 seconds behind me, nailing her goal time on its head and making her eligible to apply for a seeded position.

Runaway bride and groom!
Runaway bride and groom!

One other small tidbit. This race is Elite Runners’ flagship event each year, and therefore its biggest. To say the field is deep is an understatement: we’ve only just started winning age group awards in the last couple years, and it’s always by the skin of our teeth. The running scene here in Pittsburgh is competitive, but frankly we love it because it really sets the bar high and pushes us to work harder.

And yet, The Lady won 2nd in her age group, and I won 1st! We couldn’t believe it. We didn’t even realize it until we’d left and checked the results from home. We still haven’t picked up our awards yet, but rest assured, we certainly will!

This race was awesome. Yes, I was disappointed that I missed both my A-goal and my B-goal, but I still PR’ed by over two minutes and set a PR for the first time in two years. This distance has been particularly frustrating over the last two years due to numerous setbacks: I imploded at the Pittsburgh half in 2012, was accidentally diverted onto the marathon course at Air Force later that same year, missed both the JaSR and the Pittsburgh half in 2013, and wasn’t in prime running condition for Air Force 2013. Needless to say, I was pretty excited with this; I’ll get to my sub-1:40 soon enough!

Pretty badass medal!
Pretty badass medal!

All good things…

As of this morning’s tempo run, I’m officially halting my run streak. The tally stands at 118 consecutive days.

November 28, 2013 through March 25, 2014.
November 28, 2013 through March 25, 2014.

Why, you may ask? After a kickass 7-mile tempo this morning, I noticed my left IT band. It didn’t hurt, didn’t even feel uncomfortable, but the point is I noticed it. I could feel something on the side of my knee, the same spot as my previous IT band injury that sidelined me for the 2013 Pittsburgh half. As much as I would love to continue run streaking–in all honesty I probably could as long as I was viciously foam rolling–I’m on such a hot streak at the moment that I’d much rather be safe than sorry.

March always seems to be my month for blasting out the gates, and this particular rendition is no exception. I’ve already logged 134.47 miles, behind only October 2012 (136.84) and October 2013 (142.84), both of which were months of marathon training. I’ve made enormous speed gains almost overnight as well, with my “easy” runs coming in with average paces south of 8:30 for 8 and 13 miles, respectively (the latter was a 1:51 half-marathon!). Just this morning I posted my fastest 7-mile tempo run to date at 51:45, cruising at a 6:44 pace for 5 miles and beating my previous 7-mile record by over a minute. And last week, while traveling for an interview and getting next to no sleep as a result, I still managed a respectable 3×1600 track workout:

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.50.54 AM

On top of all these speed gains, I’ve been adhering to MyFitnessPal to try and knock off a few pounds (also in the interest of helping my speed). I came out of the holiday season around 230 pounds, and as of today I am down to 210, which I haven’t weighed since high school. That was my goal; any less than 210, particularly at this level of training, would be detrimental (or so I feel).

With all this momentum and good March vibes, it’s definitely a tough decision to end the streak. But it’s also eerily similar to my situation last year: I had an explosive March (after a particularly lethargic February) and set a bunch of personal speed records, only to try to naively push through an injury as I was peaking. I’m not going to make the same mistake this time around.

The Lady is also wisely backing off the streak for similar reasons. She’s the biggest reason I was able to stick with the streak for as long as I did–we excel at keeping each other honest. Now we’ll be partners in foam rolling 🙂 One benefit of ending the streak: it implicitly sets a goal for the next one!

We’ll both be running the Just A Short Run half marathon this coming Saturday (assuming everything goes well with our respective nagging injuries, of course). My A-goal is a 7:30 pace, bringing me in somewhere in the 1:38-1:39 range. As of this race, I’ll be aiming to break a PR that has stood for two years, so I’m pretty pumped. The Lady has her own A-goal, which I’ll let her post about if she wants. Let’s just say she could potentially net a pretty sweet starting spot at the Pittsburgh half in May, so wish us both luck this weekend!

Collecting race bibs

For my recent birthday, one of the gifts The Lady gave me was a “bib-folio“.

Keep ALL the bibs!
Keep ALL the bibs!

This thing is awesome. While I’ve only been running regularly since the latter half of 2010, I’ve participated in quite a few races in that time, in addition to all the racing I did in the years prior (5ks and 10ks). Upshot being: I have a lot of bibs, and no real way of organizing them. In fact, I’ve been pinning them on a bulletin board, one stuck on top of another. That’s it.

Armed with my bib-folio, I no longer feared the possibility of all my bibs exploding everywhere when I released them from my bulletin board. There were dozens which were fairly generic; Elite Runners hosts a LOT of races over the course of a single year, and most of them are fairly small and don’t warrant the name being put on the bib. I threw most of these out. But I also found some really awesome bibs. I’ll highlight a few here!

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Just a Short Run, March 2012 edition. As of writing this post, this race (nearly a year later!) is where I set my standing half-marathon PR of 1:43. This race was memorable because I had just returned home from a trip to Morocco a week earlier, and was still getting over a really bad cold. Furthermore, we were barely 2/3 done with our Pittsburgh half-marathon training, my goal for which was sub-1:45. Turns out, I didn’t need to wait until May: I shattered my goal over a month early! The weather was perfect, I was relaxed, and I even had a pacer for most of it before I sprinted the last 1.1 miles.

IMG_0941

Oh man. Are you ready for this? We did this race in Vancouver, BC. That’s right: we raced in Canadia. The Lady and I were in town November 2011 for me to give a talk at ApacheCon, and we just happened to be strolling by the local running store and noticed a huge line sprawling out from the entrance. Curious, we inquired within and discovered it was packet pick-up for a race that evening! Not wanting to miss a chance, we eagerly signed up for the 5k (the 10k was full by then). Despite some really crummy weather (cold + rainy + dark + too many people walking abreast on a narrow sidewalk), this was an awesome experience. Neither of us PR’d, but we can still say we did a 5k in Vancouver. BAM.

IMG_0940

The Great Race is practically a Pittsburgh icon at this point; I’ve run the 10k since 2010. It’s a really fast race: there are some brutal hills, but they’re quick and the course is a net downhill. The September 2012 edition pictured here was particularly special because it was the first time since 2006 I’d run a race as a seeded runner! I was definitely one of the slower runners in the seeded group, but hey: we had our own porta-potties. Yeah. We’re that awesome. Furthermore, this race is my current 10k PR at 43:15, despite the facts that The Lady and I had just completed Ragnar a week before, and the day before had run 16 miles as part of our marathon training. All-around, an awesome race!

IMG_0939

This race is special. Very, very special. It holds the honor of being my very first half-marathon over Thanksgiving weekend 2010. It arguably defines when I started thinking of myself as a “runner”, in addition to a general athlete. I didn’t do very well at this race; training in Pittsburgh in the late fall is actually quite beautiful. Unfortunately, Atlanta has a tendency to be very humid all year long, and come race morning in downtown Atlanta the air was so thick you could’ve kicked it and felt the concussion. Nevertheless, The Lady coaxed me into the finish line for a time of 2:09. I love to look back on this race and think how far I’ve come since then. It’s humbling.

IMG_0938

Speaking of Ragnar! This was our team’s bib (all 12 of us wore it) from September 2012. I could go on and on about this event (and both Megan and I have), but the upshot is that this event was spectacular. Cramming 11 (or in our case, 11 plus a dedicated driver!) of your closest friends into two vans for 36 hours with little or no sleep and no showers reaaaally defines a friendship! It was an epic event that took a ton of planning, but our team had a boatload of heart and no shortage in folks willing to get their hands dirty in executing. It went off without a hitch, and we all had a blast running nearly 200 miles from Cumberland MD, to Washington, DC. I hope to do it again someday!

IMG_0937

Now we’re really digging deep: this bib is from the September 2006 edition of the US 10k Classic, which to my great dismay has since officially retired the event. This is the first time I was ever a seeded runner, so I’m particularly proud of this bib. I didn’t do as well in this race as I would have liked–51 minutes and change–but at the time I still considered myself somewhat of an impostor in the running community. Still, I did pretty well overall, and this race was always exceedingly well-organized. And yes, those are in fact the same pins I used to pin it to my shirt all those years ago.

IMG_0936

This is quite possibly my favorite bib ever. I ran this race (also the 10k Classic) in September 2005 and is the reason I received a seeded bib the following year: I ran this race in 49:17 (I still remember the exact time!). It also has the dubious distinction of not only being the third 10k I ever raced, but also the first 10k I ever ran under 50 minutes. It had been my goal to run it under 50 minutes, but I had no knowledge of formal training. I trained for this race by (I kid you not) running hill repeats on the infamous freshman hill at Georgia Tech. At least once a week I would do 8x repeats up and down the hill, charging up as fast as I could, and jogging back down. No breaks, just an easy loop around and then starting again. Apparently it worked well enough for a kickass 10k time!

There were plenty of other bibs that I smiled at when I saw (the Air Force half marathons in particular!), but these highlight just a few. I’m excited to finally be able to organize them in a way that makes sense, and to ensure I don’t accidentally misplace one over the many races to come!

In search of the perfect shoe

If my experience is any indication of the general population (it isn’t, but we’ll roll with it), finding the perfect shoe is akin to finding the lost city of Atlantis.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk!
Nyuk nyuk nyuk!

At least in my case, I’ve never been able to find the perfect shoe, but I’ve found a lot that seem almost perfect. And whenever someone asks for general running advice–folks who want to get into running–the first thing is always to find a good running shoe. You can’t really get off the launch pad without a really solid running shoe under your feet.

As a bit of background: I played football in high school. Whether directly from playing the sport or indirectly because of my frame, I developed some knee problems shortly after my senior year. Shoes, I noticed, had a big impact on how good (or bad) my knees would feel.

Fast forward to 2010, when The Lady and I started training for our first-ever half-marathon. Since moving to Pittsburgh and slowly falling into the city’s awesome running culture, I quickly found my cheap-o shoes were not going to cut it. My previous strategy for shoes was to simply find something that was size 15 and buy them. With regular running, I found, they fell apart faster and hurt my knees a lot more. I needed something better.

I started with The Lady’s subscription to Runner’s World. They have some awesome online shoe suggestions, and the first shoe I tried was the Asics Evolution 5.

Hello gorgeous.
Hello gorgeous.

Maybe it’s because they were my first “real” pair of running shoes and I had nothing else to compare them to, or because they really were all that amazing, but wearing these truly felt like walking on air. They were incredible. For the first couple of weeks my knees quite literally felt like they had instantly healed. Each step was like compressing a coiled spring that blasted me upwards.

Unfortunately, I entered the foray of running shoes late, and the Evolution 5 was already in the process of being supplanted by its successor, the Evolution 6. Consequently, once my 5’s bit the dust, I made the change to the 6.

51vRtLt+MJL

Like their predecessors, the 6s were heavy and possessed all the support my frame required. However, they seemed to wear out a lot faster: the first 100 miles was great, the second 100 was ok, but after crossing the 200 threshold they would start breaking down. Occasionally I could stretch them out to 300, but that was their upper limit. And with each pair carrying a price tag just over $100, it was difficult to justify a cost of $0.50 per mile and a replacement pair every 2-4 months.

I branched out a bit. In Asics’ “Motion Control” category, there resided a second shoe in addition to the Evolution: the Foundation 10.

51In0DoGJQL

If I had to choose, I’d probably say these are my favorite shoes. They’re a tiny bit lighter than the Evolutions, but have about 3x the range. I’ve only owned two pairs of them over two years; they last forever. The sensation of running in these is so smooth I barely notice they’re on my feet. They’re excellent for racing and for tempo or speed work, but they are just as effective at long runs as well.

The only downside is that, once again, Asics has moved on from this shoe, and it has now morphed into the Oracle. And, once again, I’m disappointed with the new incarnation. The Oracles make their presences very known, as they feel as though they’re flopping into the ground every time my foot lands. They’re clunkier and not nearly as streamlined as the Foundations. It makes tempo runs and speed work less enjoyable. On longer runs my feet rub uncomfortably inside; the padding is so smooth my feet start shifting. I really don’t have a good use case for the Oracles, other than short and easy runs.

I did journey outside the Asics brand once, to try Brooks’ motion control flagshoe, the Beast.

BBMF12-1

 

These seemed to work reasonably well (the inside felt a little like the Oracle, however), at least until I began developing shin splints. I tried the 2011 model in February of that year, and developed shin splints so severe that I had to drop running for several months. I switched shoes and began running again, and the problems never returned. This past year, I tried the new 2012 Beast model, and within a month I felt shin splints returning after a full year of being healthy. I dropped them immediately, switched back to Asics, and haven’t had any problems since.

I can’t really explain it, but the padding feels different to me. It must be transferring the force of each impact differently than the Asics padding does, because for whatever reason these shoes splint my shins, as it were.

In my quest to find reliable running shoes, I’ll probably journey outside the Asics bubble again. New Balance appears to have excellent motion control shoes, as does Mizuno and other manufacturers. It helps to be surrounded by an active running culture, and to have a fiance who encourages my behavior 🙂

Speaking of behavior and running culture: Elite Runners and Walkers is hosting their flagship winter race, Just a Short Run, the weekend after this one! If you’re in the area, head down to Alison Park to watch The Lady and lots of friends of ours race their hearts out!