Archive for February, 2011


Race Report: 2011 NYRR Al Gordon 4M

Somewhere in my subconscious an alarm was ringing. Loudly. I bolted up worried that I had missed the race. My alarm clock read 2:57am, I still had another 1 hour 33 minutes until I needed to get out of bed for the race this morning. That’s right, I got up at 4:30am for a race in Brooklyn. It was one of those moments when you say to yourself “Wow, I didn’t know they made a 4:30am too!”. I think I only had to get up at 4am for Big Sur and that race started at 7am and required a 27 mile drive in the dark. Anyway, living out in Westchester has lots of advantages, 10 minute commute to the office, much cheaper rent, peace and quiet. One of them most certainly is not how early I need to get up to make it to a race in Brooklyn. Hello 5:10am Metro North trains!

The Al Gordon 4M is a pretty simple loop race in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The course is the exact same as the Jingle Bell Jog. Start out on the transverse drive, go for a short downhill, then an uphill for mile 1, roughly level for mile 2, quick downhill, level for 3 and most of 4, and a short uphill to the finish. The maximum elevation change between the high point in mile 2 and low point in mile 3 is about 100 feet.

This is also the first New York Road Runners race that I’ve done more than once, having done it in February 2010 and finished in 30:19 (7:35min/mi pace). I distinctly remember having to wander around and freeze before the race because of the non-ideal timing of trains. Today was no different. Especially because I got there earlier than predicted, almost an hour and a half early. Bag check wasn’t even open for another 45 minutes. I took a brief walk around the park for about 2.5 miles to look at the condition of the course. Dropped my bag off at bag check, and proceeded to do a nice quick 1.6 mile warmup at a little over 9 minute miles. Apparently stretching doesn’t make you run faster, but warmup runs do. Anecdotally, my fastest runs usually have had short warmup runs before them.

Just a nice and easy warmup before the 2011 Al Gordon 4M in Prospect Park

The warmup also had the benefit of finishing right at the time I needed to be in the corrals. Rather than standing around and freezing in the corral, I was able to dart right in. Mary Wittenberg took some time to herald all the things that Al Gordon did, both in life and for the Road Runners (more info here from Forbes and The New York Times). I’m in awe of his accomplishments and am truly thankful for the ways that he helped clear the way for the Road Runners and also promoted physical fitness in his life. After the final instructions, including a warning about ice on the path, we were off.

As usual, I started RunKeeper way too early. I would love to have an overhead camera to study the physics and packing of runners at the start of a race as they run for brief bits toward the start, then have to walk, then run, then walk. It’s a little like waves on a slinky. At 42 seconds post-gun and 30 seconds after my start on RunKeeper I crossed the starting line. As has become routine, a bunch of yellow bibs were passing me at the start. I said that I wanted to do the run in about 8:00/mi, which would put me 14 seconds faster than the Jingle Jog, but still about 30 seconds slower than last year. When RunKeeper chirped up at five minutes I was annoyed, it said I was doing about 8:30 minute miles. That couldn’t be right — then I remembered that I had covered those 0.59 miles in 4:30, not 5:00. To keep myself occupied I did the translation to mile distance in my head, 7:38/mi. My legs seemed to be working.

I crossed the 1 milie marker at exactly 8:30 gun time for a 7:48 mile. I had slowed down some, but it was an uphill. After the relatively flat mile 2 I was averaging about 7:37 a mile. Mile 3 is where the downhill is. Even if you wanted to slow down here, it’s tough. It’s a great downhill. I had brought my mile average down to 7:32. My mind started to occupy itself with math…7:22 for the third mile? Wow. Yay for negative splits? I starting to get tired and over heated at this point. The b-tag meant that I couldn’t shed layers, suck it up and deal. The uphill was going to be hard, and it was. Coming around the corner to the finish I could see the clock ticking. “Damnit, this has been a good race, can I finish in under 30 minutes chip time?” My legs ached and I pushed. 30:42 would be the magic time I needed to beat to get a 30 minute chip time. The clock kept pushing and so did my legs. In the end, I wasn’t quite fast enough. the clock was 30:48 when I crossed. I managed to push it home at almost my exact average pace despite it being an uphill and me being exhausted.

Look at that beautiful and constant pace!

NYRR Results from the 2011 Al Gordon 4M - Net Time 30:06, Pace/mile 7:32

A 7:32mi pace? I'll take that. One of my best runs in the past year.

I really enjoy running in Prospect Park. As opposed to Central Park where you’re dodging other runners, cyclists, and clueless tourists, the only obstacle in Prospect Park is dog owners who don’t realize that a 30ft extendable lead is actually a bad idea for a dog. It’s a beautiful and serene course. If you’re only in Central Park, I highly recommend getting off Manhattan for a race once in a while. Or heck, even a simple little training run.

So, despite the 4:30am wakeup time, the day was a success. I managed to fall asleep on the train back home but magically wake up right before my stop. Maybe my internal alarm clock still works.

Keep Running.


Race Report: 2011 Twin Cities in Motion Valentine’s Day 5K

Three years ago, while living in Pittsburgh, I distinctly recall reading about local runners who organized a Valentine’s Day race. The thought that went through my mind was “Who would be stupid enough to sign up for a race in February? Don’t they know it’s cold outside?!” Now that I’ve been running a lot more, I have a very different reaction to winter races. A 5k in February in Minneapolis? Sign me up! Sure, it could be -10°F at race time, but you can still run that weather. And, just like that, I was signed up for the 2011 Twin Cities in Motion Valentine’s Day 5k. As an added bonus, it was only a couple of bucks more to have my wife sign up as part of a couple, so she also was now one of those crazy people running outside in the Minnesota winter.

First, a little background, at least from what I can figure out. For a long time the Twin Cities Marathon was just the marathon and an associated 10M. For the last couple of years they’ve made a concerted effort to expand and become a bigger organization that does more events around the Twin Cities. I’m not 100% certain if this had anything to do with pressure from increasing interest in Team Ortho’s fine series of events, but I can’t imagine that they played no role in the change. In the past couple of years we’ve seen the organization change name from Twin Cities Marathon to Twin Cities in Motion and add or take over existing events, such as the Valentine’s Day 5k, 100% Irish for a Day 5k & 10M, Twin Cities 1M, Red, White, and Boom Half Marathon, and Twins Territory 4k. While it’s no where near as many races as the New York Road Runners, the combination of Twin Cities In Motion events and Team Ortho events provides numerous opportunities for runners in the Twin Cities to get their race on.

The weather for the day was about as good as you can get for early on a Saturday morning in Minneapolis. Turnout was excellent, somewhere around 1500 people. I’m sure that the forecast of the warmer weather led many people to sign up at the last minute. Race time was about 27 degrees. The paths around Lake Harriet appeared to be largely clear of snow and pack ice. It certainly was far worse than what one experiences when running in Central or Prospect Parks, but the again, Minnesotans aren’t weak in the face of snow and ice. More than a few people had stabilicers, yak-trax, or screw shoes. Although, for this race I eschewed the screw shoes for standard running shoes. I almost went in my Vibrams, but I knew we’d be standing around for a while before the race started and I didn’t want my feet to freeze.

A runner gets her kick on right before the finish line. Also, she's stylin' the fancy long sleeve tech shirts from the race.

About 9:50am they made the announcement for people to start migrating toward the starting line, which wasn’t clearly marked. Unfortunately, the exit from the parking lot where most people were waiting led to the front of the pack. My wife and I wandered over and were about midway back in the pack. We stood around and talked to people, there was no real seeding system for people on the race. Suddenly we heard a horn! There was no countdown, no announcement, a complete surprise. Furthermore, hundreds of people were still trying to into the line to start the race. This led to a complete disaster at the starting line as walkers, runners, and people who can’t read the rules and decided to jog with double wide strollers clogged together. In a 1500 person race with me in the middle it took me 2 minutes to cross the starting line. On the other side of the starting line I was still walking. The first half mile was stop and go that reminded me or driving down Washington Ave in Minneapolis than a road race.

My wife and I had agreed that we wouldn’t run together and I’d just meet her at the finish. I went ahead only to be frustrated again and again by the narrow path and the large number of walkers and other obstacles on the course. I was going to go forward with the race, but I had to mentally change it into a fun run. Cool the jets, take it easy and steadily pass people until the end. My RunKeeper race result shows this pretty clearly. My pace during the race is continually decreasing.

Pace and Elevation for the 2011 Twin Cities in Motion Valentine's Day 5K.

By about the 1 mile marker I was no longer passing walkers and now was saddled with cutesy couples running two abreast at little more than a jog. That’s fine, I can’t really fault them for that. The organizers made the day a little more fun by allowing you put a Green, Yellow, or Red sign that read “Available”, “It’s Complicated”, or “Taken” on your back. The thought was that this would help you meet that special someone. If you were shy there were one or two cupids along the course who you could hand a little valentine to and they’d do the work of delivering it.

Aside from the massive amount of people on the narrow course it’s a beautiful course that covers some of the same roads as the Twin Cities Marathon (overcrowding on the same sections of the course causes problems in there too). It’s a gentle course with a hill about 1 mile into the race and another smaller hill at about 3 miles. This gives runners a nice fast downhill sprint to the finish.

For the most part there was no support on the race course. There was a stop that looked like a water stop at mile 2.5, but instead you could get cup of those candy hearts and make a little valentine for that special someone. I grabbed the cup of hearts and tried to give them to my wife when she finished, but she wanted no part of it. Preferring to get some water down her pipe before attempting to eat a heart.

My finish time for the race was about 24 minutes. I say “about” because the race didn’t have any sort of timing. Reminded me of my ninth grade microeconomics class quiz grading policy “Correct your own, you get a better score.” My was not too bad given the people dodging I had to do. I was surprised by how few people were finished before me. The winning male time was 17:05 — hauling and much faster than me to be sure, but relatively slow for the winner of such a large race.

Runners finishing in the main pack. These people finished the 5k in about 35 minutes. That's the difference between a fun run and a race.

I don’t want this race report to come across as me whining about TCiM or the race. I had a great time and it had nice swag (long sleeve technical t-shirt, socks, and a hat). However, I think I was expecting something that was organized to be a bit more competitive. I was surprised by the lack of timing — Team Ortho does timing, why can’t you? I also have been utterly spoiled by the New York Road Runner’s skills at race management. People complain about the corral system in their races, but the fact is that it works. Even just breaking people up into Runners and Walkers at the race this morning would have made a huge difference. Also, for next time, an announcement or countdown to the start would be helpful. I’m certainly going to stop complaining at Road Runner’s events when we the anti-climatic last minute instructions for runners right before a race.

I’m incredibly happy that TCiM and Team Ortho are upping the game for running in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They’re both younger organizations and have great potential to create a vibrant running scene in one of the most livable cities in the United States. I’m probably going to run the 100% Irish for a Day 10m in four weeks, we’ll see how things are for that race.

Keep Running.


A Beautiful Sight: Guaranteed Entry in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

There are five marathons that make up the World Marathon Majors: Boston, New York, Chicago, London, and Berlin. Among these five marathons, one stands out as a king. New York. Boston may be the oldest and arguably the hardest to get into (run for charity or run fast), but for sheer scope, scenery, and crowd nothing beats the New York City Marathon. Therefore, you can understand why I was happy when I saw this:

Guaranteed Entry for the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

For those not familiar with the race, there are multiple ways you can run the race. Most people can enter a lottery. This is a huge long shot — only 8-12% of lottery applications will gain entrance to the marathon. I think that’s a little optimistic, but it is how I managed to run the NYC Marathon in 2009, shortly after I moved here.

Other routes are to book an international tour through an approved travel agency. These are usually pretty expensive, but hey, it’s the race of a lifetime. If you’re really fast, as in 2:55 marathon fast (15 minutes FASTER than Boston), you get guaranteed entry, as do people who have run 15 or more NYC marathons and those rejected the last three years. You can also run for a charity.

However, my method was much easier and better for me. The New York Road Runners offer a program called 9+1. Run nine races and volunteer for one and you get guaranteed entry into the next year’s marathon. Many runners have no problems hitting nine races — you can do it by May with no problem (as idiotrunner demonstrates). Volunteering is a bit more interesting. At the end of the year there is always a real push to volunteer. I talked to one runner who was going to volunteer at the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run this past winter only to have her flight cancelled because of the storm and miss her chance for the marathon because of not volunteering. Contrast this with the races early in the year where there are numerous spots that go unfilled. I volunteered for the 2011 Fred Lebow challenge and there were four people to cover the entire west side of the park. Two of us at the 102nd St transverse and two more at 72nd st. We certainly could have used more people. Get your volunteering in early and make the NYRR a better organization!

In any case, I’m really stoked about doing two marathons this fall. Chicago in October and New York in November. Please don’t tell my legs yet, okay? In 2009 I did similar spacing for Twin Cities and New York and neither was spectacular. I’m sure it will be much better this time.


2011 NYRR Gridiron 4M

It still is taking a little bit of getting used to running again. Last year at this time I put in a 60 mile week. Right now I’m lucky to hit 20, but it’s a start, right?

Today is the first time I did an actual race since I started running again. Yes, I realize that I ran the Jingle Jog back in December, but I was more doing that for the swag and the fun of running Prospect Park. Today was a chance to run and show my Stillers pride. I couldn’t pass it up.

However, even getting to the race was treacherous. The rain yesterday combined with temperatures hovering around freezing and New York’s penchant for not clearing walking paths meant that every step on the way to the train and the starting line was potential disaster. Prior to the race I did some scouting on the first mile and a half of the course. Ice abounded. There would be no records broken in Central Park this morning.

The race started as expected. The first mile of these races is always slow because it’s nearly impossible to get going in a heavy crowd. I didn’t have a goal, but mentally I told myself I’d be fine with 8min/mile pace for the race. About 3/4 of a mile into the race I hit black ice. The Road Runners tried really hard to keep the path clean, but to take care of everything they’d need to salt the entire course. My right leg went to kick off and slipped out from under me. I didn’t fall but the shock certainly made me lose focus.

I can say that I gave this race nearly all that I had to give. By the start of the fourth mile I was severely hurting. I was out of breath and it was sheer will that took me through the end of the race. I was also absolutely parched. However the ice on the path caused me to shy as far away from the water stations as possible, that just wasn’t a risk I wanted to take.

I held a pretty constant pace for the entire race. This despite the fact that I felt like I was lagging near the end.

My final time was 31:30, for a pace of 7:52. That still is 30 seconds slower than I was running 4M races last year. But the important thing is that I didn’t hurt as a result of running. In that context, this race was a wonderful success.

Official Results from the 2011 NYRR Gridiron 4M

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log