Jan 25, 2011

Report: Manhattan Half Marathon - 2:33

I love half-marathons for much of the same reason as Ronda Sundermeier (Who has an awesome blog that you should follow)
"I went all out on a flat 1/2 marathon when I haven't run anything over 6 miles on road since at least mid-summer. The absence of any speed work was just icing on the cake or more like pain in the ass. . Ultra running does have its perks. You can get away with a few stupid stunts. The weather was perfect, the company was superb and the punishment was earned. There's no way to get around running a 1/2 all out without suffering. It's the perfect distance to create pain and test grit"

That is how I approached the Hook Mountain Half Marathon last April, and how I intended to approach the Manhattan Half Marathon last Sunday. In April, my body complied - but on Sunday, not so much.

Manhattan Half Marathon - Central Park, NY - January 22, 2011

The story for this race was the cold. The temperature at the start was 14ºF, making this the coldest race I've ever run.


The Manhattan Half Marathon (not the same as the NYC Half Marathon, which also takes place in Manhattan) is the first of the New York Road Runner's Half Marathon Grand Prix series, which consists of 5 Halves, every year, each held in a different borough. My first half marathon, in fact, was the Brooklyn part of this series, way back in 2001. In 2006, before I ran my first full marathon, I ran the Staten Island Half. Now, in 2011, I ran the Manhattan Half Marathon. This coincidental 5-year interval is a coincidence, I will most likely not wait until 2016 to run the Bronx or Queens half-marathons.

Manhattan's half marathon course is very simple: two laps around Central Park, plus a mile. My bib number indicated that there were nearly 8000 registrants, although a large number didn't show up, presumably due to the weather; the corrals were not even close to full. As it happens, 4358 people finished the race, enough that it took a full 7 minutes to cross the starting line. (I was wrong with my guess of 7000.)

Since all my training lately has been below 10:00 per mile, I was hoping to average a 10:30 per mile pace during this race. I thought 10:30 would be sufficiently fast to give me that "pain and test grit" without destroying me for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, my fatbody didn't agree - it was immediately apparent that this was an overly optimistic pace, and I found myself unable to keep it below even 11 minutes per mile for most of the race.

I did manage to run the entire first 9.5 miles or so, finally taking a walking (and bathroom) break at the beginning of the "Great Hill", a decent-sized climb in the northwest corner of Central Park. See the pace chart:

MileTimeInterval lengthInterval Time

As you can see, my pace time took a visible bump in the mile that ends with the great hill. Part of that is waiting for the porta-potty, but I wasn't exactly power-walking up that hill either; I was done. Crashed early, it seems. I resumed a run at the summit and managed to go another mile or so without walking. I was still walking when I went by the starting line, and invited Joey to do the last mile with me. I guess he wasn't feeling too well, because he didn't want to run fast at all and took a bunch of walking breaks, which explains mile 13.

Finishing with Joey!
My overall pace per mile was 12:14, nearly two minutes off the pace I hoped for, and my finish was 17 minutes off my PR.

Oh well, not every race can be a life-changing experience. But I did pick up some ice on my head!

Jan 19, 2011


I suppose I should write a quick belated obligatory post about my plans for 2011. Honesty, I'm reluctant to do so for reasons I'm reluctant to talk about. However, a quick post that basically reiterates what's on the right sidebar + some things I'm thinking about is easy enough. The dates for each of the races is on the sidebar, unless they're not.

Races I'm committed to

My key races for the spring are Umstead 100M and Miwok 100K, Miwok being more important to me. If I
tried to run it at my current fitness level, I would certainly time out. The same is true for Umstead, but with Miwok's lottery, travel costs, and stunning course, I'd really like to complete it on the first attempt. Needless to say, I'll have to focus heavily on preparation.

My "fun" races are the Hook Mountain Half Marathon and the Three-Days at the Fair 48-hour. I'm running the Hook because it's a fun race and a lot of my coworkers do it with me. It also happens to be the half-marathon where I have my PR - even with its tough course. Right now I don't plan on running it hard, but who knows. 3Days is an opportunity for me to just have a relaxing stress-free run at an excellent course. I may upgrade to the 72-hour option on that race; haven't decided yet.

NJ Ultra Festival is also a "fun" race for me, but because of a major work project that is occurring that weekend, my participation in it has become uncertain. I will certainly do my best to be there, but may have to show up late and just do the 50K instead of the 50M, especially since Umstead will be two weeks later. One thing about NJUF is that a lot of my friends will be there, and I'd hate to miss out on the party.

My "means-to-an-end" races are the Manhattan Half Marathon and the Gridiron 4M. These races will be the first two of nine that I'll use for guaranteed entry into the NYC marathon in 2012. More will be added, but most are not all that interesting due to their short lengths.

Races I'm thinking about

The are other races I may do, of course. Caumsett 50K on March 6th is on my mind since I've run it the last two years. Like last year, I am not planning on doing it. However, in 2010, the day before, the race, I thought, "I need a long run and this is a good way to do it." So I registered on race day. I suspect that if I do it 2011, the circumstances will be similar - but right now I'm leaning against it.

One thing I'm all but certain is Pineland Farms 50M in Maine on Memorial Day weekend. Here's a race that I've been sorely tempted to do in the last two years but haven't been able due to church obligations. Those obligations won't apply in 2011, so I'm pretty sure I'll do that race. It's going to be an amazingly fun race.

After May, I don't know. I would love to throw my hat over the fence and register for Cascade Crest 100M in Washington State, which is on August 27-28. However, it's way too early to know if I'll be ready for it because it's one of the more difficult 100-milers in the USA. Plus, it's an expensive proposition. I wish I had more time to think about it, but registration is in Mid-February and expected to close quickly.

I'm in the lottery for NYC marathon 2011 again; we'll see.

I've already said I'll enter the lottery for Across the Years again, but only for the 72.

There's a bug in me that wants to register for the Honolulu Marathon on December 11, but that's probably a pipe dream. More likely but still not even close to certain is a return to my first marathon in Las Vegas, which is now part of the Rock'n'roll series marathons.

Hell, when it comes down to it, there are a bunch of Marathons I'd like to do. Flying Pig, Grandmas, Chicago, Marine Corps, & Rt. 66 come to mind. But it's hard for me to justify so much travel and expense just for a 26.2 mile marathon. I'd have to attach it to some sort of vacation to make it worthwhile..

There are a bunch of local races I'll probably do just because they're so close. I've done Self-Transcendence Marathon three times and will probably be back for a fourth time (although Cascade Crest, starting two days later, would negate that idea.) And there's always Rick and his family who do the NJ Trail Series with a ton of races right in my backyard all the time. I love his races and will probably sign up for a few as they come. In fact, two of the races I'm doing this spring are his.

But at the end of the day, my decisions about what happen in the second half of the year depend entirely on what the first half of the year looks like. This is why I'm so apprehensive about Cascade Crest.. Basically, I ought to get proficient in trig (IE Umstead, Miwok) before trying out calculus (CC100). Unfortunately, by the time I do either of those races, CC100 registration will be closed out.

Jan 17, 2011

Across The Years / Nardini Manor Course Pictures

On one of my several hundred laps around Nardini Manor, I brought a small point and shoot cameras to document the course. When you have a 500-meter course, it is possible to literally document every meter of it, so I figured that's what I'd do.

The course goes around the perimeter of a mansion's property. 3.22 laps makes one mile. At Across The Years, we changed directions every two hours (clockwise, then counter-clockwise.)

This post is just a tour of the course, my race report is here.

This picture, from the Across the Years Web Site, maps the course, indicated by the yellow line. The following photos are presented in order, taken in a clockwise direction, starting at the race HQ on the left side.

The timing clock above the Start/Finish had the time of day. Aid station is on the right. Shipping container is on the left.

It was very large and extremely well-run, and always had at least three volunteers and hot/cold food . During specified meal-times, volunteers stood out on the course outside the aid station holding trays of hot food like cocktaill party waiters. It was awesome!

All the typical ultra food was there, and then some.

After each lap, you could look on a big-screen TV and see real-time information about total distance and your last-lap time.

Coming out of the aid station, you immediately cross the driveway into the parking lot. Traffic was never a problem, cars were always courteous and waited patiently for runners to pass.

After the driveway, you come to the first right turn. There are also porto-johns here. At ATY this year, we optionally could use a heated and lit bathroom in the center of the property, which was nice, especially at night.

Past the Port-O-Johns, in the middle of the turn. We were presented with cotton fields. Several miles away were some mountains.
This straight-away is the longest of the course. 

There are hedges to the right, and a chain-link fence to the left. As you can see, there are lights on this part of the course, but they didn't work this year. Race Directors responded by stringing Christmas lights along this section, which was sufficient.

Looking to the right from the previous photo, you'll see the parking lot. A few people set up their bases of operations in their cars. Beyond the lot you can see the course going through the driveway. The orange tent housed the TV with lap information.

Looking to the left, nothing but dormant winter-time cotton fields. As you can see, the area is quite rural, but it is only about a half-hour's drive from downtown Phoenix.

Halfway up the straightaway we get some shade.

This shade provided nice but brief relief from exposure when the weather was at its worst.

Coming out of the trees. The hedge maze (which I regrettably didn't explore) is on the right.

These pictures were taken on Thursday after Noah's Ark style rain on Wednesday and overnight. This section of the course got very muddy, shoe-sucking at one point. Race volunteers were out with pick-axes cutting drainages so the course would get back in shape. By Friday, the course looked good again.

Look at the mountains in the distance. The sunrises here every morning were amazing.

Coming to the end of the straightaway, we make a 90 degree right turn. For most of the race, a timing mat was set up here, but not while I took this picture.

More cotton fields after the turn. This turn for me marked the halfway point of each lap.

This was the most-exposed section of the course, where we were always presented with either a formidable headwind or a gracious tailwind.

Looking to the right, there is a little plaza with some tables set up. The property is rented out for weddings, and this seems like the place where people would probably have their ceremonies.

Round tables were set up here.

People left their bottles and things on these tables for easy access.

The chain-link fence section ends with a bench, seen straight ahead in front of the trees.

The back of the mansion is to the right as we go by the plaza.

There were citrus trees in what looked like the mansion's private backyard. 

The zig-zag turn that you see on the map is effectively straight.

Past the zig-zag turn there's a mason wall to your right with the mansion behind it. Overhanging hedges and trees gave relief to the sun and wind, and, to a smaller extent, the rain.
At this point we went around the front yard of the mansion. The flags, by the way, went around most of the course and were of various nations and states. I never counted how many there were but I'd guess about 30, total.

A couple of people set up tents in the mansion's front yard.

A large RV won't fit in the parking lot, but one runner dry-camped on the main road outside the property. You can see it  straight ahead behind the hedge.

The unusually cold and wet weather may have been a factor, but there was plenty of space to set up an 48-person Walmart McMansion tent in the front yard if anyone was so moved!

The only elevation gain on the course (which was never noticeable in the clockwise direction, even after 100 miles), started here and gained about nine inches over the next fifty feet. It reached its apex at a driveway for the mansion.

This driveway must be the main entrance to the property, but there's no access to the parking lot from it. The gate to it was closed and locked for the duration of the race.

Immediately after the driveway, we run into an area completely enclosed by hedges and trees...

... and because of this enclosure, everything looks completely different here.

Music (good music) was playing out of this gazebo the entire time, but you could only hear it from here to the start/finish.

The start/finish comes into view here. Many people set up their personal aid stations and crew HQs here.

Outdoor space immediately on the course was limited here.

And here we enter the race headquarters. To the right, under the green shelter, were the mailboxes from which I was always happy to see runner mail sent to me by my friends. The tent to the far left housed another TV...

...which displayed real time standings of everyone in all the races. So there were two TVs - one info for the last ten people to complete a lap (total mileage and time of last lap), and one with overall standings with everyone. These TVs were on either side of the start/finish, and alternated functions depending on the direction of the course such that the TV before the lap counter always had standings and the TV after the lap counter always had last-lap information.

And that's it. You can probably tell from the photos and captions that this is an incredibly well-organized race. The course is short but never boring (for me, anyway.) There was always easy access to everything. From a logistics standpoint, this race is dead-easy. The surface was all dirt and easy on the legs. And everyone, of course, was extremely friendly and fun to be around.

There is some question as to whether they would be able to hold the race at this venue again. At this point nobody knows the answer. My opinion is that it would be a shame if they couldn't do it here, but that the race is so well run and in such good hands that even if they did have to move, it would still be worth doing. I am certainly planning on entering the lottery again for 2011-12!

Jan 14, 2011

Across The Years 72-hour 2010-2011 - 106.25 miles

In thinking about writing this report, I have come to the conclusion that I have neither mental nor emotional energy to write a coherent or comprehensive report. So a FAQ and some photos will have to do in lieu of that.

First things first - I finally have run 100 miles - and let me tell you, 100 miles is as intimidating now as it ever was. I always knew 100 miles was a long way to run. But damn.. it's a long way to run.

Frequently asked questions about my race:
Did you sleep?
Yes, actually, I probably slept too much. 5-7 hours each night. Even though I planned on trying to do it without any sleep at all, I knew I had plenty of time to get to 100 miles. I slept the first night because the weather was so bad. I slept the second night because I needed to. And I slept the third night because I had finally gotten to 100 miles and didn't care to do too much more.
What was your mileage each day?
Wednesday: 34.49 miles, Thursday: 37.59 miles, Friday: 27.96 miles, Saturday: 6.2 miles. Oddly, Thursday was the day I felt the worst, but it was also the day I got the most miles.
What kind of issues did you deal with?
Back pain, mostly. Also, blisters. Thanks to Andy Lovy's mid-race chiropractic adjustmetns and a little bit of advil, the back pain was kept under control, mostly. Blisters were handled with duct tape.
What about training?
Heh. You don't want to know. However, I will say this: I completed two long runs of over 35 miles each in the two months prior to the race, and I feel like this made a tremendous difference.
How much of it did you run (as opposed to walk)?
I ran more than I thought I would. I went through prolonged periods of doing things like running all the headwinds, walking all the tailwinds. Run a lap/Walk a lap. Run this 400 meters of the loop/Walk this 100 meters. I made sure to run a continuous mile each day. All in all, 40-45% would be my guess.
did the 500-meter course ever become boring?
Never. Not even a little. In fact, it even surprised me how I never became even a little bored with the 500-meter course
What did Alex and Joe do?
Well, the plan was for them to sleep in my parent's RV, which was parked in a campground four miles from the race. This enabled them to visit me in the morning on their way out, check things out, then have the whole day to explore Phoenix. That was the plan. In practice, weather and other factors forced them to spend a lot of time in the RV, and they ended up spending a few hours at the race on the day I hit 100 miles. As a result, they didn't get to spend as much Phoenix time as I hoped.. But nobody seemed to mind.
What about the weather?
Well, it was nice on Friday and Saturday during the day. On Wednesday, it rained pretty much all day. On Thursday it was very very windy. On Wednesday night/Thursday morning, the rain and the wind overlapped and made for the some of the nastiest weather in the locals' memories. Oh, and it was cold. The rainy night was in the upper 30s. By Thursday night, skies were clear and winds were calm for the rest of the race, but it was in the upper 20s at night, and lower 50s during the day. These kinds of temperatures are unreal for Phoenix. I heard people say that the weather was the worst ever for ATY, but honestly, it was still milder than New York would have been.
Ok, how about some photos?

Cracker Barrel Pre-race breakfast

Race Morning in the RV

Arizona Sunrise

Joey hanging in the RV during the race

My base of operations. It was difficult to stay warm here because the zipper on my sleeping bag broke.

Other peoples' bases of operations

Very nice lap-counter with up-to-moment results at every lap

Cruising with Don, a friend of mine kind enough to come run a few laps with me

This is what I look like when I complete my 322nd lap and officially get to 100 miles.

The scoreboard after my 322nd lap showed a lap time of  3:28, which I think might have been my fastest of the whole race.

Post 100-mile photo with Andy Lovy the race doctor / chiropractor who got me through some tough miles

Post-100 mile photo with Patrick, who assisted Andy and helped me tremendously

A quadrupal-bypass burger from heart attack grill is what I rewarded myself with after  100 miles. It wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. Honestly, it was kind of bad. Awful, actually.

Joey helped out at the awards ceremony

My First 100-mile buckle

This is where I bought the belt to go with my buckle

Bib, Buckle, Runner Mail

Beer and a buckle at the post-race awards ceremony

I took a bunch of pictures of the course itself, but that is more general interest and not so much part of a report, so I'll make it a separate post.

UPDATE: The course pictures post is up! Click here to view it.