July 14, 2018: The Decatur-DeKalb 4-miler (in the midst of a 14 mile workout)

In past years, I've always raced the Decatur-DeKalb 4-miler, improving a little each year to run last year's race in 33:38.  For this year's race, it was part of a 14 mile long slow distance run, so I ran the race purely for the social connection, the Grand Prix points, and the opportunity to run on a protected asphalt surface - so much easier on the feet than concrete sidewalks!  
Tucker Running Club had a great turnout today!  And this was 30 minutes before the start of the race. 

I covered a total of 3 miles before the race, with breaks for a photo op with Tucker Running Club, another photo op with Atlanta Track Club, and a pre-race bathroom stop.    Most of us with Tucker Running Club wore yellow ribbons on one arm in memory of Janet Pickney, who tragically died within a couple of weeks of last year's race.  I timed my pre-race 3 mile loop perfectly, arriving just in time to join wave D, running the race at 11:00 min / mile pace - which was my target for today's run.  In preparation for the marathon, I ran the entire workout with run intervals of 4:30, walk intervals of 30 seconds.  Fortunately there were plenty of people around me doing the same, so it was easy to manage.  At this pace, the hills just didn't seem as formidable as in past years!  Before reaching the 2 mile mark, I took my first ShotBlok of the day - as I was 45 minutes into my own run.  I also carried a bottle of Nuun in a hand-held bottle and another bottle on my water belt, to stay hydrated for the long miles.  Yes, I was outfitted for a half marathon! 

Atlanta Track Club has begun a new tradition of taking a group photo before every race.
I'm on the back row, on the right side of the photo, pretty much the same position
 that I happened to take in the Tucker Running Club photo. 

Approaching the finish line, my watch signaled a walk break!  I decided that it would be ridiculous to walk through the finish line - but I did avoid speeding up.  The race finish line was at the 7-mile mark for me for the day, halfway through my long run, so I visualized the finish line as a 13.1 mile timing mat.  No one hurries across the half-marathon timing mat when running the full marathon!   I had worn the yellow Tucker Running Club "uniform" and so the announcer cheered me in, along with several other Tucker runners who had already finished.  I smiled, gave a thumbs-up as I crossed the finish line (race time: 43:56, average pace of 10:59 min / mile!), accepted a bottle of water from a volunteer, and just kept moving as I refilled my hand-held bottle.  Although my time was 10 minutes slower than my PR for this course, I congratulated myself on my pace discipline.  

I had intended to run another loop of the 4-mile course, but needing to add 3 more miles to reach 14 total, decided to extend my run along Ponce de Leon for another 2 miles all the way to Springdale Road.  The return route took me past the chemistry building at Emory - where I used my building key for a quick bathroom break - and then a couple of more miles brought me back to the car, parked near the start of the race - and everyone else was gone! 

11 miles out of 14 total miles covered.
The start and finish of this run are bracketed by bathroom breaks. 
So this is less of a race report and more of a workout report.  I needed 2:50 to cover 14.39 miles, rather slowly overall, but I decided not to worry about it.  After all, "Miles Matter!" I've heard from many experienced runners that one should do the long runs much slower than marathon goal pace.  I expect that these long runs in the humidity and heat of Atlanta summers will their dividends when I get to New York City in early November! 

July 4, 2018: The Peachtree Road Race, my fifth year

2014 time: 55:36
2015 time: 54:38
2016 time: 55:07
2017 time: 59:23

Today I finished the Peachtree Road Race 10K for the fifth consecutive year.  It's the first race that I've tried to run fairly fast since getting injured in the marathon in March.  I've begun the 20-week training program to prepare for the New York City Marathon, in exactly four months from today, on November 4.  On Monday morning (two days ago), I did a hill workout, and had very little pain during the run.  That was the most comfortable run that I've had in months!  

Then I realized, this might be really dangerous for me, if I push too hard in the race.  I've resolved not to try for any new personal records prior to the NYC Marathon.  It's taken four months to get to this good stage of my recovery.  I can't afford to exacerbate an injury that has just healed (or nearly healed), because I'm 100% focused on preparing as best as I can for a good experience in New York.  For the race, I resolved to run with good form from start to finish, and to deliberately hold back in the first miles at a 9 min / mile pace, even though the first three miles of the route were mostly downhill.  My only time goal was to run the entire race at a fairly consistent pace, from start to finish.  I planned to experiment with running without walk breaks, consistent with the typical speed work on the training schedule for Wednesdays.  Nonetheless, I would slow down and run-walk if anything hurt too much, or if the Atlanta heat-hills-humidity began to bother me. 
Tucker Running Club, about 30 minutes before the start
For the second year, I started in wave B, qualifying with my first sub-50 minute 10K last September in the Big Peach Sizzler.  I tried to start near the back of the wave, but in the minutes prior to the start, quite a few people joined the corral at the last minute, so I was in the middle of the wave.  In addition to the patriotic music for the Independence Day celebration, and the National Anthem prior to the start of the elite men and wave A, the start line announcer proudly reminded us that Atlanta is "Running City USA!"  While I thoroughly embraced the sentiment, for today my mantra was "It's all about New York!"  
Inside the corral for wave B, walking to the starting line
Crossing the starting line at 7:05 am, I was fortunate to find myself in a large group that was also starting cautiously.  I didn't have to check my watch too often to stay on the desired pace.  In the middle of the first mile, I met up with Liz Mann, who was dealing with a cold.  For that reason she was also running just for fun, without any real time goal.  Although there were plenty of water stations, even in the first miles, I carried my own bottle of Nuun on my water belt.   We passed the mile 1 marker at 9 minutes even on my watch, and the mile 2 marker at 18 minutes even.  My Garmin recorded slightly faster times, 8:56 and 8:49, although I was mostly watching my heart rate, staying in the 150 bpm range.  Liz peeled off at the mile 2 water station and I kept running down the middle turn lane of Peachtree Road, taking sips from my own bottle after each mile marker.  I picked up a little speed as the road continued downhill, but maintained good form and avoided overstriding.  

There were more bands along the route than in the past few years, which was nice.  In the early miles, a band played "Call Me" by Blondie, a fond memory from the late 1970's.  But the soundtrack through my mind was Sinatra, "I want to be a part of it, New York, New York".  That kept my speed in reasonable check.  Crossing the bridge after Peachtree Battle Street, we headed up Cardiac Hill.  Now I began working a bit going uphill, but I focused on maintaining good form.  Mile 3 was completed in 8:19, and I crossed the 3.11 timing mat at 27:15 elapsed.  

Despite the large size of the field, totaling over 55,000 finishers, my cautious start in wave B meant that the road wasn't too crowded in the area in which I was running.  A few of the fastest wave C runners had caught up around the mile 2 marker, but most of them were still behind me.  I noticed that quite a few of the runners in front of me were running the tangents, perhaps not as tightly as the elite runners would have done, but there was enough room on the road for us to gradually tack from side to side with the gentle curves in the road.  It didn't take long to reach the Shepherd Center at the top of Cardiac Hill.  I shared a few hand slaps with some of the spectators, and accepted a green Shepherd Center wristband.  It was a little warm on my right wrist, but proudly wore it for the rest of the race as a souvenir.  Mile 4 was completed in 9:11, which was a pleasant surprise!  "King of the hill, top of the list, A-number one! New York, New York." 

I was sweating fairly heavily by this point, and accepted water at the mile 4 and mile 5 water stations without slowing down too much.  Each time I took a sip and then poured the rest on my neck and on my head.  I still had plenty of Nuun for hydration and electrolyte replacement.  I covered mile 5 in 9:04, just over 44 minutes elapsed.  I wouldn't set a PR today - but that wasn't the goal.  I was running better than last year when I was suffering a cold.  Unfortunately I saw a person lying down on the sidewalk, getting treatment by medical personnel including an IV and an oxygen mask.  (I was relieved to read later in the day that there were "very few medical issues due to the heat".)  Upon reaching 12th Street, I knew that I was at the top of the last significant hill.  With relief, I glided for two more blocks, making a wide turn onto 10th Street, aiming down the middle of the road.  

I sped up a bit knowing that there was just one kilometer to go.  Everyone running around me sped up as well!   I made a few surges here and there, pumping my arms to propel myself forward with good form.  Music was playing, I don't remember what song it was, because what went through my brain was "I'm gonna make a brand new start of it, in Old New York!"  Running through the rainbow intersection at Piedmont and 10th Street, not too much further, the green expanse of Piedmont Park to my right, and then a woman says as she passes me "There it is" and I look up to see the finish line, 55 minutes elapsed - my gosh, I'm going to finish in less than 56 minutes!  Running, running, RUNNING across the timing mats, raising my hands in celebration, 55:31 official time!  In the past, I might not have celebrated only my third fastest time out of five runs on a course.  But the injury and the long slow road to recovery has made me more appreciative of the gift of running, one that I hope that I won't take for granted in the future.  
A beautiful day at Piedmont Park, after the race
My soleus muscle was a little sore throughout the race - so it's a good thing that I have a physical therapy appointment tomorrow morning - but the pain was never severe.  After I cleared the long finish line chutes (water, Peachtree Road Race T-shirt, snack box) and made my way to the Atlanta Track Club post-race party at Park Tavern, I found a place to stretch.  With a few minutes of leg swings to lengthen the leg muscles, I felt fine.  

Now if I can just run like that for 20 more miles, I'll reach my long-term dream goal of completing a marathon in less than 4 hours!

June 18, 2018: The Monday Nighter at the Garage (10K)

After I had a good run in the Hotlanta Half, I decided to register for the next runningnerds / RunSocial race, the Monday Nighter at the Garage.  This race started and finished near a new brewery and pub in the historic West End neighborhood, just southwest of downtown Atlanta.  This is the newest event in the Run Social series, but the first one that I've been able to do this year.  And while the race route was not posted until the day before the race, I was hopeful that most of the race route would cover the Westside Beltline.  I've run on this part of the Beltline only once before, in a 5K race back in 2014.  Back then, only about one mile of that section was paved, and we actually began that race on grass.  But in the past year, substantial extensions of the Beltline have been completed.  The Westside Beltline is now 3 miles long, and connects with other walking/running paths in the West End.  

5K and 10K routes were offered.  I figured that I wouldn't get to see much of the Westside Beltline if I registered for the 5K, so without much more thought, I registered for the 10K race.  Then I realized that an early evening race in mid-June might have challenging conditions, with the only possible respite from heat being an evening thunderstorm.  Oh well, I regularly run evening workouts at 10K distances, so I resolved to just take it easy and enjoy seeing the Beltline, without trying to race.  

The weekend before this race, I also decided on my training plan for the New York Marathon in November (20 weeks from now!).  I've hired Coach Carl Leivers to arrange a training plan.  Several friends have had good experiences with Carl, and I've worked with him on a limited basis in the past year joining the Tuesday evening track workouts on the Emory track during the academic year. As I'm still recovering from serious muscle strains suffered earlier this year, Carl already knows my situation and concerns. I really want to have a great experience in the New York Marathon, so this is the time to invest in individualized training.  At the start of this race, I had not yet received the workout plan, but figured that a conservative start with a gradual progression in speed with each mile was a reasonable plan.  (When I received the workout schedule a few days later, that is exactly what was prescribed in one of the first workouts.) 
The Dinosaur is the Monday Night Garage mascot!
The children ran an entertaining 50 meter dash before the rest of us ran.

On the morning of race day, I dissolved a tablet of Nuun into a bottle of water, and put the Nuun bottle along with a bottle of pure drinking water in the freezer in the break room near my lab.  When I left Emory shortly after 5 pm, both bottles were nearly completely frozen, with just a little liquid evident.  I hoped that the ice would partially melt by the time that the race was scheduled to begin, at 6:45 pm. Upon arriving at the Monday Night Garage, between chatting with friends running and volunteering at the race, I worked through a pre-run routine to activate my leg muscles, and even did a little foam rolling on my calves in the parking lot (in the shade between my car and the next).  Otherwise I didn't do much of a warm-up, as I wasn't planning to "race."  After watching the children's 50 meter dash, the rest of us moved out of the Monday Night Garage parking lot, gathering behind the starting line at the southern end of Joseph Lowery Boulevard.  I deliberately held back, even stopping by my car on the way to the start, to take a few sips of cold water,.  The bottle of iced Nuun was in my water belt.  More people were in front of me than behind me, which ensured that I could manage a conservative start.  I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of runners, especially on a weekday evening.  When I saw the results after the race, over 700 people completed the 5K and 10K races.  
Foam rolling in the parking lot, before the race!

The temperature was 90 degrees at the start.  It was extremely humid, having rained earlier in the afternoon.  I set my watch to alert me every minute, with the idea that later in the race, I might need the alerts to remind me to surge a bit to maintain the progression in speed.  I crossed the starting mat, jogging at an easy pace through the neighborhood streets.  The road was only a two-lane street, but probably twice as wide as the Beltline, so it was a good way to spread out the runners over the first mile.  I checked my watch after making a left turn onto Oglethorpe Avenue, and was running a few seconds slower than 10 minute/mile pace.  Hmm, the intention had been an 11 minute first mile.  I tried to relax and slow down, but my comfortable pace had me passing a few people.  After a few blocks, we took another left turn onto Lawton Street.  Then we moved onto a fairly narrow access way to turn onto the Beltline.  My watch alerted the end of the first mile: 9:57.  Oops!  
Panorama of the runners just a few minutes before the race began
Nonetheless I continued running at an easy pace, not pressing at all.  Then there was some commotion about 50 feet ahead of me.  The lead runner in the 5K was crossing the mass of runners on his return to the finish line!  That was an awkward moment.  It probably would have been best if we had all been directed to keep to the left, but the natural tendency is to keep to the right of a path, at least in right-side driving countries.  We were running more-or-less six across on the 14-foot-wide walkway, so the organizers would have needed to cone a protected lane for the return, and that would have crowded the outward-bound runners.  Anyway, hopefully that can be addressed next year.  
I wasn't racing, so I enjoyed taking a few photos during the race.
This is in the first 1/2 mile through the West End neighborhood streets.
As we continued running, volunteers called out "Keep to the right," as the second and then more runners approached on their return leg.  It was good to see Atlanta Track Club Executive Director Rich Kenah running the race.  He was sixth in the 5K and was speeding along, seemingly effortlessly as he passed me.  Even though it's been nearly two decades since he represented the USA in the 800 meter race at the Sydney Summer Olympics, he doesn't seem to have lost much speed at the age of 47. 
I believe this is the tunnel under Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.
It was good to see fellow Tucker Running Club member Becky Caldwell at the first water station, around 1.5 miles in.  Even though I had a water belt, I took water at each station, to ensure that I didn't get dehydrated in the hot weather.  And remember, I wasn't racing: this was a progression run workout.  The crowd thinned out after the 5K runners turned around, about 1.6 miles into the race.  I was now watching my time fairly carefully, and while I wasn't taking walk breaks, I pulled out my phone on a few occasions to take photos along the Beltline.  I finished mile 2 in 9:41, a 16 second increase.  
One of the goals of the Atlanta Beltline project is to rejoin neighborhoods
that were separated when the Interstate Highway System was constructed
 in the mid-20th century.  Interstate 20 is ahead of us. 
My plan was to work down to no faster than a 9 minute mile for mile 5, and then see if I could run sub-9 into the finish.  I was enjoying the run, but was occasionally passing other runners, even as I momentarily slowed on a few occasions to snap photos.  We crossed under Interstate 20, then an overpass at Martin Luther King Drive.  As the second water station came into view, my watch alerted the end of mile 3, in 9:23.  I slowed to accept a cup of water.  The Nuun in my water bottle was not only completely melted, it was no longer cool.  To my surprise, we crossed the race route, making a left turn to make a clockwise loop in a park.  Coming back, I passed a runner with a bib who was running in the opposite direction.  It didn't matter, she would cover the same distance as me, and it seemed that it would have been better if we had all run counterclockwise.  On the return trip through the water station, I took another cup of water.  I checked my watch at one of the 1-minute alerts, about 3.6 miles in, and realized that I was slowing down, at a 10 min / mile pace.  I tried to speed up, aiming to continue the progression in speed.  The soleus muscle on the left leg (the injured leg) was developing some soreness, despite my relatively easy pace.

And then, the wheels on this bus came off, all at once. 
Top: pace vs. heart rate over time.  Bottom: pace vs. heart rate over distance.
The vertical black line marks the sudden transition from a nice run into the ordeal.
The heart rate monitor from the wristband is not completely accurate (see what happened around mile 3),
but it's much more comfortable than wearing a chest strap.

I checked my pulse, and saw 180 beats per minute, which was much too high!  I slowed down and walked for a full minute.  That helped a little.  I finished mile 4 in 10:11.  I was feeling overheated.  Why has my Nuun grown so warm, when it was mostly frozen just an hour ago?  What a struggle.  With my watch signaling 1 minute alerts, I ran slowly for one minute, then walked for a minute.  I ran for another minute, looking at the watch for the last 20 seconds waiting for the beeps "allowing" me to walk for a minute.  Then I walked for a second minute.  Run one more minute, walk a minute.  I wasn't taking any photos.   People were passing me, many of whom I had brazenly passed 10 - 20 minutes earlier.  

I had not realized that we had run downhill for much of the first three miles, until struggling uphill on the return leg.  I had to focus to avoid stumbling around too badly.  Once, I sensed someone coming behind me, and deliberately moved to the far left to make sure that she could get between me and another runner as she passed, without blocking her path.  Finally, my watch signaled mile 5 in 12:34.  I tottered through the water station, accepting a cup of water from a man on the right, then another cup of water from Becky standing on the left.  I said, "What on earth possessed me to run a 10K in 90 degree temperatures?!"  That got a laugh from water station volunteers.  Becky replied "You're not the only one!"  

After walk/jogging for a few more minutes, I realized why the ice in my Nuun bottle had melted so quickly: 

This is the phenomenon underlying the application of salt to icy roads in winter, turning slick ice into a slushy mess, which at least is easier and safer to drive through.  The salt disrupts the packing pattern of the water molecules in the solid state.  Think of Nuun tablets as a high-quality, edible form of road salt!

I didn't feel any better as we turned off of the Betlline onto Matthews Street, the same diagonal left turn that I saw the lead runner in the 5K cross much earlier in the evening.  I lurched through the street as if I had been drinking for hours at the pub, then tried to straighten up.   We made a right turn onto Lawton Street for a couple of blocks.  There must have been a little shade in this section, as I regained some sense and sensibility.  Jogging down a switchback, I saw a guy about 100 yards behind and above me heading into the switchback, holding his arms up for a camera.  Somehow he had enough energy to clown around.  OK, my only remaining goal was to run well enough so that that dude didn't not pass me.  We were back on a long straight spur of the Beltline.  In the distance, I saw the MARTA rail line soaring over Lee Street.  Not much further now, as I knew the brewery and therefore the finish line were between me and the MARTA tracks.  At the 6 mile marker, my watch alert revealed 11:52 for mile 6.   

I resolved, no more walk breaks.  Now I heard the DJ encouraging us, but he and the finish line were still quite some distance away.  The sun was blasting heat from behind, the sidewalk was hot, the last of my Nuun was hot.  The sweat running into my eyes obstructed the sharpness of my vision, but I saw the DJ, and the clock on the left side of the finish line.  I took a quick glance behind me, no one was close.  1:05:59, now 1:06:00 showing.  Run, run, RUN!  And I crossed the finish line, quickly shook hands with the DJ, stopped the watch, and lurched off in search for water.  Official time: 1:05:20.  I managed a 10:58 pace for the last fraction of a mile.  But I wasn't racing.  So much for the progression run or the sub-9 minute/mile pace finish.  
Photograph of the Beltline just beyond the finish line,
with the MARTA track between downtown Atlanta and the airport in the distance
It would have been better to circle back on the other side of the finish line to take the photo above, but my legs only had enough steps remaining to carry me to the volunteer handing out bottles of water.   It felt so good to pour a little water on the back of my neck.  I drank down the rest of the bottle within a couple of minutes, and stood in the shade for a long time, regaining my equilibrium.  Other runners (mostly 5K finishers, I think) were happily walking around, enjoying the party in the beer garden.  After a few minutes, I did some leg swings, followed by backwards running in a shaded area parallel to the parking lot.  This is a post-run drill recommended by Coach Carl, and it really does work, stretching out and lengthening the leg muscles that have shortened during the run.  I went to the car, laid out a protective warming sheet from a half marathon run years ago to protect the seat of the car, and changed into dry clothes.  That really helped, removing the heaviness of my sweaty clothes, even dry underwear, socks, and an old but dry pair of running shoes.  The water bottle in the car no longer contained any ice, but was still relatively cool. 
Race shirt, front (top) and back (below)

Slightly refreshed, I went back to the brewery, thinking that I might get a non-alcoholic beer if they had one.  A real beer would have knocked me out.  The race bib came with two free beer coupons, but the lines were so long that I decided to pass altogether on beer.  There was a cooler of water near the bar - no wait for water!!  I chatted with a few friends from Tucker Running Club, then decided to call Bonnie, and drove a few miles to join her for a post-race crab-cake burger at a restaurant near her workplace in West Midtown. 

In the end, I ran nearly four good miles.  Perhaps I should have run the 5K race.  From the results, only a couple of men in my age group ran the 5K, and I would have easily earned second place even with the heat.  But then I wouldn't have run the new part of the Westside Beltline.  This is really a nice place to run in a part of town that I rarely visit, and I look forward to coming back - but when it's not as warm!! 

June 10, 2018: The Hotlanta Half

My recovery has been slow, but is progressing well.  In addition to the excellent care that I've received in physical therapy, I've also discovered a wonderful massage therapist, Corey Dobyns of Core Balance + Wellness.  Prior to beginning her own practice, Corey worked with a physician for several years.  Most commercial massage therapists offer a standard package of treatment.  In contrast, Corey has listened carefully to my specific ailments and concerns, and then has focused primarily on the problem areas.  After the first session several weeks ago, the last of the pain of the quadriceps disappeared for good, and even the chronic Achilles pain was absent for several hours.  Corey thinks that the problem may be the soleus muscle, and/or a bump or cyst that can be felt on the side of the Achilles tendon, and not as much with the tendon itself.  I went for another session two days before the race, and the beneficial effect on the Achilles area persisted for even longer.  I will continue with physical therapy as well until the Achilles pain is completely gone, assuming that I don't run out of insurance-covered appointments before then. 

I first ran the Hotlanta Half in 2015, finishing in a torrential rainstorm.  Then in 2016, I started too quickly for the conditions, and was fortunate to avoid heat exhaustion by walking through a good part of the second half of the route.  Humbled and wiser from the experience, I achieved my first negative split performance in the 2017 race, jogging the first 6 miles at an easy pace and enjoying myself in a 7-mile race.   

I registered for this year's race several months ago, back when the registration fee was only $70.  Then I got injured in the Southside 12K in February.  It's been a difficult recovery, but the last month has been very encouraging.  In addition to physical therapy and massage therapy, I spend a few minutes most mornings and evenings massaging my calves and quads with a foam roller, on top of the physical therapy exercises almost every evening.  My goal for the race today was simply to treat it as a long, slow, distance run, a workout that happened to cost $70.  

Bonnie drove us this morning in her new car,
so it was my opportunity to take the "ass o-clock" photo.
Unfortunately my finger was on the edge of the lens - inexpert photographer -
but the great news is that this was the only thing to go wrong today! 
Before the race, I practiced a few warmup techniques recommended by Coach Carl, then jogged a couple of blocks before lining up just behind the 2:30 pacers.  I set my watch to a 2 minute run, 30 second walk interval.  My plan was to stick with the 2:30 pacers for a while, hoping that my run-walk interval would keep me close.  At the start, I gave Bonnie a smile and a wave as I passed, jogging at an easy pace.  I made sure that I was off to the right side of the road by the first walk break two minutes in, and noticed that a majority of the runners around me were also taking a run-walk strategy.  With each run leg, I was getting ahead of the 2:30 pace team, without meaning to, and then they would catch up on my walk breaks, at least for the first mile or so.  But as we worked our way through downtown Atlanta, I started to get well ahead of the 2:30 group.  I decided that would be OK, as I wasn't pushing myself, not paying much attention to the watch, and strictly taking every single walk break.  

Shortly after passing the mile 2 marker, we saw the lead runner coming back from the Georgia State Stadium loop (formerly Turner Field, at the 1996 Olympic Stadium), and we applauded him as he passed us.  In fact he had already opened up a large gap on second place, more than a minute by my estimate, and then we turned off to make our own loop.  In addition to staying with the run-walk strategy, I also walked through every single water station, to make sure that I stayed well hydrated as the temperatures began to gradually rise.  I averaged a little slower than an 11 minute / mile pace for the first four miles, but my caution was warranted considering that I had not run longer than 11 miles since the marathon in March.  The important thing was that I was enjoying the experience, looking around, occasionally talking with other runners along the way, as we leapfrogged each other with the run-walk strategies.  I was a little concerned to feel some soreness in the Achilles as early as 3 miles in, but then it didn't get any worse.  The pain even seemed to move around a little, up into the calf, then back down near the Achilles.  Maybe that was a good sign that the pain wasn't terribly localized, so that the damage if any would not be localized in any severe form.  Despite my relatively slow pace for the race, the first six miles seemed to pass fairly quickly, even though it took more than 70 miles to get to the start of the Eastside Beltline, about 6.3 miles into the race.  Turning onto the Beltline, I resisted the temptation to deliberately speed up, despite the gentle downhill grade.  I didn't remember how pleasant the shade was along the right side of the route, but I felt good in this section.  Remembering that I needed to save some energy for uphill miles 9, 11, and 13, my mantra for the day became, "This is the process of my recovery: the prize will be a good experience in the New York marathon in November."   Nevertheless, I noticed that I was passing quite a few people as I progressed with the run-walk strategy.  I was running fairly quickly each time I began running again, but just for two minutes or so, then getting another 30 second walk break.  The first cooling towels were offered around the mile 8 marker, at the north end of the Eastside Beltline, just as I was getting warm.  What a nice relief, one of the best parts of this race!  Many people seemed to discard the cooling towel right away, but from experience I knew the benefit of holding on to the cooling towel, occasionally wiping sweat from my eyes as needed over the next two miles.  
Thanks for the course support, and
especially the ice-cold cooling towels! 

Down and up the hill on 10th Street along the south side of Piedmont Park, a right turn onto Piedmont Road, and then another right turn into Piedmont Park at the twelfth street gate.  I remembered how difficult this section had been two years ago, when I had foolishly let my heart rate rise too high much earlier in the race.  Today it was a comfortable jog along the familiar paths of the beautiful park, although we were gradually heading uphill to the north end of the Active Oval.  Normally I might delay a walk break if I saw a water station coming up, but today I just stayed with the program, taking advantage of the additional walk break through a water station.  I was hardly aware of my overall time, other than having the sense that I was now running a little faster than the first miles of the race, consistently completing each mile just under an 11 minute / mile pace.  The prospect for another negative split performance was favorable, as long as I remained patient for the remaining miles.  

Passing the 10-mile marker near the exit to the park, I evaluated how I was doing: 1:50 elapsed, 5K to go.  If I had felt 100% healthy, I might have considered trying to speed up to 10K pace, but with the 12th street hill looming ahead, I stayed with the program that had carried me along this far, continuing to enjoy a well-supported easy run.  With another cold towel from the Hot Moms group, I decided to put the towel under the front of my cap, which felt good, keeping my brain cool.  Mile 11 was the slowest in the second-half of the race, but it was mostly uphill, and I didn't let it worry me at all.  I did notice that with 10.8 miles elapsed while crossing 6th Street on Juniper Street, I was now running longer than any of my practice runs since the marathon.  And then mile 12 was downhill into the Georgia Tech campus.  Without significantly increasing my effort, I ran a sub-10 minute pace for most of that mile, completing mile 12 at 2:11:20.  Although there was some soreness in the Achilles tendon area, it hadn't gotten any worse.  Run Family handed out more cooling towels.  I took one, then a hundred feet later reached for another but dropped it!  I laughed, stopped for a moment to pick it up, and tucked it under the back of my cap to keep my neck cool, imagining that it looked like a mini-khaffiyeh.  I thought about trying to speed up a bit, but I was getting tired, and deployed the mantra again, "This is the process of my recovery." I just focused on running with good form.  I was comfortable with my progress, knowing that I was on track to beat 2:25, better than my hope to keep up with the 2:30 pace group, and more importantly, running at a fairly consistent pace from start to finish.  Most of the other runners around me were struggling more than me, as I passed them.  Mile 13 was definitely uphill heading up Luckie Street, so I just took it easy.  Then I could see up ahead Ivan Allen Boulevard.  I took one last walk break, then sped up as I crested the hill at the north side of the Georgia Aquarium. 

Remembering how badly I had limped through this same area as I struggled through the last few hundred yards of the Georgia Marathon, today I felt really good as I conquered this long block.  And then with the last left turn onto the Baker Street, passing the mile 13 sign, I sped up some more, along with a handful of other runners as we could see the finish banner ahead in the distance.  With a smile on my face, I ran strongly, seeing 2:23 on the race clock.  An announcer gave high fives on the left side of the course, but I saw Bonnie standing on the right, so I just gave the man a friendly wave as I passed him and drove myself into the finish, smiling broadly and raising my arms in triumph as I crossed the finish line, then clapping a few times as I ran up to Bonnie.  I gave her two thumbs up, "That went well!" and then walked over to a volunteer to accept a couple of ice-cold cooling towels. 

2:22:57 official time.  This was actually my slowest time in the four times that I've run this race, but given my return from injury, I was very very happy with the outcome, not only physically but also with my psychological discipline to stay with the conservative plan from start-to-finish.  I still have some healing to do, but I didn't exacerbate anything today.  And even though it was a warm morning by the finish, I managed the hydration very well, drinking two bottles of water along the way with supplementation with the water stations at every mile.  What did I say at the beginning about a workout that cost $70?  I definitely got my money's work!  No other "workout" would have been as well supported with a dozen water stations, or police protecting the intersections, or cheer groups encouraging us at several points in the later miles.  Now I remember what draws me - and others - to this race year after year, despite knowing that the weather is likely to live up to the name, Hotlanta.

Post-run stretching

May 12, 2018: The Tucker Road Race (5K)

Although I've lived in suburban Tucker for 8 years and have run with the Tucker Running Club for at least 3 years, I've never run the Tucker Road Race.  This is held in May in conjunction with Tucker Day, celebrating the people and identity of our small town.  (I actually don't live in the city of Tucker but have a Tucker mailing address, for whatever that's worth.)   I was amazed to learn when I picked up the bib and shirt that the race is in its 61st edition, meaning that it's been run since the 1950's, possibly making it the oldest running race in metro Atlanta.  Anyway it will be interesting to learn more about the history of this race, if any readers wish to share that information in the comments.

Physical therapy continues to go well, however I've discovered that I can't just do a few stretches and go off on a run without suffering.  So to prepare for the race, in addition to doing the full range of physical therapy exercises before going to bed last night, I also woke early enough to repeat them this morning before leaving the house.  That worked well: when I arrived at Tucker High School around 7:30 am, an hour before the race, I jogged a bit in the parking lot.  Everything felt good, as if there had never been an injury!  
Tucker Running Club en masse!
We had three age group winners from this group!
(Spoiler alert: not me!)
After the traditional Tucker Running Club photo, I was approached by one of the organizers, looking for an adult to pace the 1-mile fun run, that was to begin at 8 am.  I felt like I could hardly decline on account of concern about an injury, but did emphasize that I might not be able to keep up with the fastest children.  The organizer wasn't worried about that, was simply relieved to have me agreeing to it!  So at 8 am, a group of children stepped up to the starting line, and with the announcer counting down, took off, following a police motorcycle to guide the route!  Five children were ahead of me, so it wasn't exactly like I was the pacer in a professional race.  I took a quick look at my watch after a moment and we were running a 7:45 min / mile pace.  But the children began to slow down before we had left the parking lot, and by the time we were in the neighborhood, I was running with two children, a boy about 30 feet in front while I ran alongside a girl, just encouraging both children as best I could.  Eventually they both slowed to walking and I nearly caught up to the boy in front, but when he saw me coming, he took off at a quick dash, then would walk again, then dash ahead of me.  Finally I think I convinced him that I wasn't racing him, just pacing and encouraging, but I had to get ahead of him and then turn around and say "You're in the lead! You're doing great!" and he resumed running.  The turnaround point was clearly marked and a police car was blocking the end of the street, so I dashed ahead to the pylon and then encouraged each child as they approached the pylon and made the turn, "You're halfway done!  Now head back to the school!"  I waited at the pylon until it appeared that the last child had passed.  It turns out that the last two children were brothers with their father accompanying them.  So I walked-ran with them the rest of the way back.  At the top of the hill, I told the next-to-last boy to start looking for the finish line and then try to sprint to the finish, and he did, followed by the last child with his father.  I peeled off before reaching the finish line, applauding the childrens' efforts. 

The Tucker High School band formed an "honor guard" as we began.
See the tall man in the yellow shirt?  He won the race.
What was I thinking starting this close to him?  
Then it was nearly time for the 5K to begin.  By the way, my legs still felt fine, so I hadn't lost anything in the unexpected warmup with the children.  Following a group round of dynamic stretches, a couple dozen members of the Tucker High School band lined up on other side of the start, first with drums, and then with the other instruments joining in.  I warned the runners around me to watch out for the trombones, as we were on the edge of the group - I didn't want to bend a student's slide if s/he was playing a low note as we started!  The announcer counted down from 10, and then we crossed the line (no chip timing).  I kept up with a large group through the parking lot, not trying to be competitive, just running with the group, onto Chamblee-Tucker Road.  When I checked my watch, about 1/2 mile in, I was surprised to see 7:35 min / mile pace.  I dialed back my effort a bit, and a stream of other runners began to pass me.  Around 8/10 of a mile into the race, we turned into the residential neighborhood on Smithsonia Drive. 

I rarely drive through this area unless forced to do so by road construction.  I've generally avoided running in here, because of the hills!  We headed downhill as the first mile alert sounded at 7:50, surprise! and without much pain in the quadriceps, YAY!!.  I resolved to stay under an 8 min / mile pace.  But then we headed uphill and that resolution was soundly crushed.  I did run all the way up the hill, and didn't fall behind the group of people in front of me.  Did I say that I wasn't going to be competitive?!  HAH, I just passed the guy that was walking.  But after climbing uphill, I was relieved to see a water station at the end of the street, where it turns left to become Goodfellows Road.  I pulled over to the far right, adding at least 50 feet to my route! But I was grateful to slake my thirst, as the morning was warm.  Getting back to some speed, the short run on Goodfellows Road and the right turn onto Spring Glen were fairly level.  Then we turned onto Old Norcross Road.  I drive on Old Norcross Road almost every day, but never ever run on it because it's narrow and there are absolutely no sidewalks.  (I hope that City of Tucker can do something about that!)   I also knew that we were running gently uphill, because I have coasted in my hybrid vehicle on 100% electric going in the other direction.  I once recorded 80 mpg for the short trip home from Kroger (intersection of Lawrenceville Highway and Lavista Road), proud to do my part to save the planet!  

I almost forgot, I'm writing about a race.  Several other runners passed me on Old Norcross Road.  Yes, it was uphill.  My watch showed a 9 min / mile pace, so I sped up as much as I could, reaching the 2 mile alert at 16:43 elapsed, knocking down my time for mile 2 below 9 min / mile, 8:53 according to the almighty Garmin.  This revealed some of the lost conditioning from the 5-week running hiatus after the marathon.  Or maybe it was the 10 extra pounds that I was hauling uphilll.  Note to self: time for Weight Watchers again.  We turned onto Pine Lake Road, a short-cut regularly recommended by Google Maps.  But instead of my usual drive toward Lavista Road, we headed to the right and downhill onto Park Drive.  Now I was limping just a bit, but tried to relax and let gravity carry me along without straining my quadriceps.  I was now officially tired, and was very happy to see another water station as I headed downhill.  It was on the left side of the road, which seemed like the wrong side.  Were those slower runners coming the other way?  No, turns out that they were just walking in the neighborhood, and we weren't on any of the earlier streets.

Passing Cofer Lake - or is it a large pond?  Now uphill, uphill, uphill.  The race director had mentioned only one big hill on Smithsonia.  I guess his memory was fuzzy from climbing that first hill, but I (and everyone else I spoke with afterwards) remembered several big hills in today's race.  There was now a big gap ahead of me, and I didn't hear any footsteps close behind me.  Uphill, uphill, uphill, toward a police car partially blocking the runners' lane.  I nearly ran straight past the police car, just happened to take a look down the street to the left, and saw other runners far away in the distance.  I asked the policewoman as I pointed "Left?"  That caught her attention "Oh - yes!"  Wow, I very nearly missed the turn and ran straight to Chamblee-Tucker Road.  That could have added a quarter-mile if I had run straight. 

Now I was on Ball Park Road, passing the marker where the 1-mile fun run had turned around.  1/2-mile to go.  I didn't remember walking uphill on the way back with the children, but it was definitely uphil on this trip.  Up Hill.  And to think that I was encouraging those children to run faster on that same street 45 minutes earlier.  I guess I deserved to suffer on that hill.  I needed 9:30 for mile 3.  Yet just 18 minutes earlier, I was considering the possibility of a 25 minute 5K.  Oh well, looking on the bright side, my current problem was from diminished conditioning, and not the more serious problem of severe discomfort in the legs.  Ball Park Road made a right turn, still going UPHILL!  As I turned left and UPHILL into the parking lot, I stole a quick look back across my left shoulder to see if anyone was close behind me.  Was that someone 100 feet back?  I didn't look carefully enough, but thinking of Mary Keitany passed in the last 0.2 mile of the London Marathon last month, I tried to speed up a little bit.  Yes, I know, I'm only half as fast as Mary Keitany when she is having a rough day.  I had challenged those poor kids to sprint to the finish from that point, so I was obligated to push myself, to be genuine.  This was the only stage of the race where I felt something more than minimal discomfort in the quadriceps, but the Garmin data confirms that I did speed up a little bit in the last 100 feet or so.  I passed a volunteer who called out my race number, "92!" and then the race announcer called my name "Frank McDonald!" and I gave small thumbs-up with both hands, seeing a few dozen of the faster runners watching the finish.  As I crossed the finish line, I accepted a bottle of water from a small boy, and promptly dropped it onto the pavement.  LOL, I didn't stop the watch until I had recovered the water bottle, but my time was 28:36.  

Although that was a slow run for me based on the past couple of years, today's run was similar to my first 5K time (28:22 official).  Back then, in 2013, I was about the same weight as now, but uninjured.  So as long as I can heal completely this summer, I should be able to regain conditioning.   Although I wished that I had run the first mile more slowly, say 9 minute mile, and then had been more consistent for the rest of the race, I was pleased that I didn't have to take a long walk break due to discomfort.  I'm certain that this morning's physical therapy exercises helped to prepare me for a relatively pain-free run.  I must adjust my pre-run routine to allow for plenty of warmup time until my injury is completely healed.  Or maybe this will just be the new normal as I continue running beyond age 55. 

May 8, 2018: The 1-mile race at the All-Comers' meet

Having returned to running, albeit slowly, I decided to register for the 1-mile race at the All-Comers' meet, sponsored by the Atlanta Track Club.  It was mostly to keep up my streak with the Grand Prix events - and I'll get a T-shirt in December if I complete all 11 events this year!  Also it was nice to catch up with other Atlanta Track Club members, including Carol Gsell from runningnerds and recent Boston Sleetstorm Marathon finisher, Tommy Daniels who I met last fall at the Boston Half Marathon, Colleen Curran from the Spring 2018 marathon training program, Dung and Kathy Nguyen, who are both on impressive multi-year streaks of completing all Grand Prix events, and speedster Kathy Wiegand, who is always in the mix among the fastest women masters runners. 

When I registered a few weeks ago, I entered a projected time of 9:00 minutes.  If I had been healthy, a 7:00 minute finish would have been realistic, but right now, the 9 minute projection was overly optimistic.  On Sunday, Bonnie and I took a walk on the Eastside Beltline, and I decided to try running one mile to see how I might do: the answer was 9:55.  When the schedule of heats was published on the morning of the meet, I was relieved to see that I was in the final men's heat, so there would be no pressure.  My goal was simply to finish 4 laps at an easy, consistent pace, without too much pain. 

Before the 1-mile competition, a small group of elite runners competed in an 800 meter race.  The men went first, with the winner finishing in 1:47, followed by the women, completing two laps in just over 2:00.  

Photo from the back stretch of the second lap:
The men's race was won by a fraction of a second.
Look at that gigantic check!  

The lead women were even as they entered the final straightaway.
But one had a bigger kick than the other in the final 50 meters.
Nonetheless they were both literally flying into the finish! 

While waiting for my assigned heat to begin, I had plenty of time to warm up, with dynamic stretching alternating with easy jogs across the field, including crossing the field to take the photos posted above.  My legs felt OK, so at least I could run this evening.  As we lined up for our heat, I reminded myself: just run easy, run at a comfortable pace, run with good form and without limping, don't look at my watch.  It will be a very good run if I can complete each lap between 2:15 and 2:30.  

Wearing #4, I was lined up near the inside of the field.  The starter called out "Take your mark!"  I started my watch, and with the report of the starter's gun, we began running.  Most of the other runners quickly moved ahead of me.  No problem, I felt comfortable heading around the first curve, taking an easy pace.  At 200 meters I restrained myself from looking at my watch, and just kept running steadily.  On the second straightaway, I caught sight of the clock, well under 2 minutes!  To my immense surprise, I finished the first lap in 1:53.  So much for running conservatively!  Colleen Curran was cheering as I passed, probably surprised, after I had insisted that I would be happy to break 10 minutes, 2:30 per lap. 

On the second lap, I began to pass a few people.  I started to notice my breathing, wondering how much my conditioning might have dropped during the running hiatus, but felt good as long as I maintained a six-step breathing cycle: three steps breathe in, three steps breathe out.  Still passing people, I crossed the lap marker at 3:46 elapsed!  So exciting to maintain a sub-8 minute pace - and there wasn't much pain, as I began the third lap!  

Maybe the two Advils that I popped a couple of hours ago were kicking in!  Or maybe running on the completely flat track didn't put much strain on my injured quadriceps.  Then I saw Dung Nguyen just in front of me.  He had been well ahead shortly after the start.  I was going to hide behind his shoulder, but on the back stretch found myself drawing even with him.  I think Dung was surprised to see me, given my insistence that I was recovering from injury.  I gasped "This is going better than expected!"  Dung said "Go ahead" and while I had just intended to run even with him for the rest of the lap, I think he may have slowed a bit, as I pulled ahead.  5:47 elapsed on the third lap: I heard Colleen cheering again as I passed. 

Now it was HAMMER TIME!  (What injury?)  I accelerated as I began the final lap, almost out of breath, yet confident that I wouldn't bonk in the final 400 meters.  I was lapping a few of the slower runners - remarkable, I had expected to be lapped before we began the heat.  I heard footsteps immediately behind me on the back straightaway and just kept pushing myself, thinking "Try not to let up, or they WILL pass."  As I came off the last curve, I saw 7:15 on the clock.  I could hardly believe it!  On the final straightaway, a young man wearing a black shirt rocketed past me.  No worries, I was so happy that I was running well.  Then Dung passed me, more gradually but definitively.  Dung is just a couple of years younger, so I tried to find a higher gear, but ran out of track.  I wasn't mentally prepared to make a hard push at the end, and I may have been physically incapable of it, but was still delighted to cross the finish line at 7:36.30 (official time).  Unfortunately I accidentally bumped an older fellow at that moment - oh no, that was Phil Limonciello that I bumped as I essentially lapped him at the finish line, so sorry Phil!  He's in the 75-79 age group, although he looks a decade younger, and is still running well.  Fortunately neither of us fell.  

I congratulated the young man and Dung for their strong finishes, then stepped into the infield.  I needed a moment to catch my breath, but I was so happy to have run so well.  When Phil finished a couple of minutes later, I apologized for bumping him.  He was really gracious about it, knowing that it was an accident.  I mentioned to Kathy Nguyen afterwards that I was concerned that my physical therapist might not be happy that I had run that fast, but she said "I think that he would call that a win!"  She was right, the goal of physical therapy is to get people back on track with their normal activities. 

I'm not yet all the way back, but a month ago, I couldn't run at all.  And I'm motivated to keep up with the exercises, as they have really helped!