October 13, 2018: The Race, presented by the Unity Collective

The months of September and early October have been unusually warm, but my training has gone very well over the past month.  A few days ago, the outermost bands of Hurricane Michael brushed the metro Atlanta area with about 1-1/2 inches of rain - and also brought overdue fall temperatures.  This welcome change in the weather came just in time for my last long run in this training cycle, three weeks in advance of the New York City Marathon.  The plan for today was 22 - 23 miles, as a dress rehearsal for marathon day.  

I decided to combine my long run with a new half marathon and 5K race organized by Tes Sobomehin of runningnerds, and Da'Rei Patterson of Black Men Run, who joined forces as the Unity Collective, to put on "The Race", inviting runners of all backgrounds to explore the diverse neighborhoods of southwest Atlanta.  The Race began and ended at the Impact Center next to a church by the same name, located on the northeastern edge of East Point, a suburb nestled between the City of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  
For a link to the race site and their interview, click here.  
I should have gone to the Porta-Potty one more time before The Race began, but was chatting with Sheelagh O'Malley in the corral and then it was time to begin!  The temperature was 57 deg F as we began running, with the first glow of sunrise lighting up the clouds to the east.  Over 700 runners ran the half marathon, followed by nearly 500 registrants for the 5K.  We immediately ran up a massive hill on Sylvan Road, approaching Langford Parkway, one of the east-west arteries through the area.  When I saw the elevation map for The Race, I imagined this would simulate the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, although it probably wasn't as long of a distance.  Nonetheless I took my time heading up the hill, maintaining an easy pace.  Quite a few people cheered for us in the dim pre-dawn light as we ran north on Sylvan Road into Atlanta proper, through the Sylvan Hills residential neighborhood.  Around mile 1, I passed Jordan Eison for the one and only time that I will ever do so in a race: he served as a pacer for the 2:45 group, having run the Chicago Marathon last weekend.  

After about 3 miles, we entered a more industrial area and then into the West End neighborhood, just south of Interstate 20.  By this stage, I was running with Jennifer Butz who formerly joined the group runs at Big Peach Running Company in Decatur, before she moved across town.  She was on a slightly different run-walk pattern but we were leapfrogging each other for awhile.  Crossing under the highway, we reached the manicured campuses of Spelman College and Morehouse School of Medicine.  On a couple of out-and-back sections, I saw several friends and running associates, including Brian Minor just behind the 2-hour pacers, Tommy Daniels serving as a 2:15 pacer, and a bit later Beverly Ford Minor.  I had rarely visited these parts of Atlanta and never before on foot.  It was nice to see the parks in the area, and smile to the locals who had woken up early on Saturday morning to cheer us on our Race!  

From the Map My Run site for The Race (above),
which is a little neater than my own map (below), since I
tacked additional miles on the same or similar route. 

The miles ticked by surprisingly quickly.  I used my typical intervals of 4:30 running and 30 seconds walking, and maintained a consistent pace, between 10:15 and 10:30 minutes per mile for the middle part of The Race.  I crossed the 10K timing mat at about 1:07 gun time (1:05:40 chip time), a little faster than expected for an easy run, but with the cool temperatures, I ran smoothly and nearly effortlessly.  Around the 7 mile mark, I began to feel a little soreness in the left Achilles, but later in The Race I realized that the pain had almost disappeared.  That is one of the great benefits of the run-walk method!  The only problem was that with every passing mile, I felt more and more regret about skipping the Porta-Potty before The Race. 

About 8 miles into The Race, we entered the Westside Beltline.  The last time I had run on this path, the temperature was 90 degrees F and I was fighting off the beginnings of heat exhaustion - this morning with temperatures 30 degrees cooler, I was running smoothly and thoroughly enjoying every minute of the run.  I avoided overtly "racing" anyone, but nevertheless I gradually passed people with every run interval.  At the mile 10 marker, I thought, "just a 5K ahead" and then realized that today, it was more like 13 miles to go!  Then I consciously slowed down, a little.  In mile 11, we left the Beltline, where I caught up to and passed the 2:30 pacers, David Bloomquist and Angie O'Neal.  My original intention was to tuck in with them and not pass them, but they had obviously started out much too quickly.  I was on pace to finish in 2:20, and they were walking, so I just said "hi" as I passed and kept truckin' on.  Jessica Rudd and Kristi Swartz were running together about one or two minutes ahead of me, as we passed each other on another out-and-back section. 

Approaching the mile 11 marker, the Atlanta Track Club manned a water station, with executive director Rich Kenah handing out cups of water.  But I focused on the porta-potty next to the water station.  I slowed to a walk, but the door was locked.  At least, the red slide was showing.  I decided that I could hold on for 2.1 more miles.  We returned to Sylvan Road, running in the bicycle lane.  I waved to a man sitting on his front porch strumming a guitar, and gradually passed more runners as we went up and down the hills.  Then I saw Langford Parkway in the distance at the top of the big hill, just after taking walk break at 2:10.  I bounded on fresh legs up the hill, and through the busy intersection protected by the police.  Passing under the Langford Parkway, and a little more uphill, my watch signaled time for a walk break at 2:14:30.  And just as I reached the Reggae Runners cheer group at the top of the hill!  Well, it would really be poor form to take a walk break through the most enthusiastic cheer group of the morning, so I could wait a moment - but then more people cheered for us as we continued toward the finish, so I just kept running, trying not to press too hard.  Gliding into the long finish chute, there were hundreds of people cheering us (me!) into the finish, seemingly most of the 5K runners and many of the 263 half marathon runners who had already finished!  I crossed the finish line at 2:20 gun time, official chip time 2:18:26.  That was more than 11 minutes faster than my goal time for The Race, but I wasn't too tired and was ready for 9 more miles - once I had stopped at the Porta-Potty! 
Bib and bling sporting the colors of Africa
Relieved of my burdens, I stopped by the car, dropped off my bib and medal and picked up a cold bottle of Nuun (having drank a 23 oz bottle in the first 13 miles), and set out again before any leg stiffness set in.  Fortunately I didn't have much trouble getting back into the swing of running.  I ran a little slower, trying to stay out of the way of the other official runners or the cheer groups.  Upon entering City of Atlanta, I moved onto the sidewalks and just tried to encourage some of the other runners - there was Beverly Ford Minor less than a mile from the finish.  Instead of remaining on the official race path, I decided to simply continue north on Sylvan Road.  The sidewalk was nearly continuous, if cracked in a few places, and so I just focused on keeping my footing.  I didn't want to ruin an excellent training cycle with a fall or another broken collarbone.  I wanted to re-enter the Westside Beltline, but as Sylvan Road turned onto Murphy Avenue paralleling the MARTA tracks, I couldn't find an entrance to the Beltline.  I must have passed over it, as I remembered a long tunnel just past the mile 10 marker during the race.  

Before long, I had crossed interstate 20 and was near the Spelman College campus, well into the 18th mile.  I had planned to turn around after completing mile 18, but I decided to turn a little sooner, hoping that I might still find part of the Beltline for the return trip.   Just before my watch signaled the end of mile 19, I saw a long ramp heading down to the Beltline (I had noticed the ramp earlier in the race) and went back onto the protected and pristine surface of the Beltline.  I passed the point where we had turned during The Race, and just continued south along the Beltline, which was nearly deserted.  Reaching the southern terminus, I saw ahead a big housing project with the front door missing from the nearest building.  Hmm, should I go back?  I stopped for a moment and checked the map program on my phone.  I realized that I could get back to the Impact Center by running straight past the projects to turn right on Metropolitan Parkway, parallel to and one-half mile east of Sylvan Road.  

Heading south on Metropolitan, I reached the intersection with Dill Avenue.  I recalled an intersection of Dill Avenue with Sylvan Road, and saw sidewalks ahead on both sides of the street, so this was a good place to make a right turn.  This was the Capitol View neighborhood, with modest but well-maintained single family homes.  With 20 miles done by this point, I turned onto Sylvan Road to return to home base.  Momentarily, I thought that I might have turned too soon and would have to find some additional streets to run around, but the mile 21 alert sounded well before I saw Langford Parkway once again.  Heading back up the hill, all of the other runners were long gone.   There were no police directing me through the intersection, so I waited for the light to turn.  And upon entering the city of East Point, the sidewalk ended, just as the mile 22 alert sounded.  Oh well, I had officially run the minimum mileage for the day.  I slowed and cautiously ran on the grass shoulder, watching for any holes in the ground that could twist an ankle.  Disaster avoided, I stopped at the intersection to cross over to the Impact Center.  Music was coming from the venue, as volunteers were in the midst of packing up.  Running easily through the parking lot, I kept going until I reached my car at the far end of the lot.  22.45 miles for the morning in 4:00:42, not counting the short breaks when the watch paused in the Porta Potty, or waiting at a few intersections in the final 9 miles.  

Amazingly, my legs didn't feel too sore.  Had I really just run 22-1/2 miles?  I was still good for 4 more miles, if had I needed to cover more ground today.  As I stretched by running backwards through the partially empty parking lot, Brian and Beverly came from the expo, sporting The Race jackets.  We caught up for a few minutes, and I proudly showed them my elapsed distance on my watch!  Brian achieved his goal of breaking 2:00, with a 1:59:37 chip time, and 1:59:53 on the clock!  

With my mission accomplished for today, I'm definitely ready for New York - at least if the weather is cool and clear!  Coming next: three glorious weeks of taper, including the Atlanta 10-miler next weekend as part of a short little 16-mile workout. 

And as for The Race, this event was very well-organized, along a nice route that was new for me and perhaps for many of the other participants.  Congratulations to Tes and Da'Rei for your success in creating year 1 of The Race! 

September 22, 2018: The Wingfoot Cross-Country Classic 5K

Although the weather has remained warm, my running has improved over the past week.  The speed workout in Tuesday evening went better than any of the earlier speed runs in this cycle, as I ran the prescribed paces without too much trouble.  Thursday evening I ran on a nice new route through Decatur with the Big Peach Running Company, taking the route a little faster than expected, but knocking out 5 miles at a 10:01 min / mile overall pace, thanks to speeding up for a 9:20 minute final mile. 

I ran the Wingfoot Cross Country 5K a couple of years ago, when it was a morning race under pleasantly cool conditions.  Last year, the Atlanta Track Club turned the event into an all-day cross-country meet, concluding in the evening with a Community 5K.  I missed this race, as Bonnie and I were on a weekend trip to New York City for her high school class reunion.  After my difficulty in the Monday Nighter 10K in June, a hot evening race, I wasn't looking forward to another warm evening race.  But I've completed all of the Atlanta Track Club Grand Prix events to this point in the year, and with today's race and the 10-Miler in late October, I'll get a little award for completing all of the races in the series.  

Bonnie and I drove up to Cartersville, arriving about 2 hours before the start of the race, plenty of time for me to get in 7 easy miles before the 5K race.  Even though the temperature was 90 deg F, I felt fine throughout the run, thanks to hydrating throughout the day, and bringing plenty of water on the run.  I found a nicely shaded gravel trail around Dellinger Park for the middle part of the mileage.  At one point I came across a group of 8 - 9 deer.  I tried to run quietly and smoothly past but most of the deer bounded into the safety of the trees, except for a young buck that stared me down, as I ran past taking care to remain on the gravel path, and staying off his turf!  
Sizing up the competition? 
By the time that I checked in to pick up my bib, my clothes were soaked with sweat, and my legs were a little sore.  I spent most of the minutes before the race with dynamic stretches, trying to work out the soreness before the start of the race.  I lined up on the far right side of the starting line arc.  The sun was dropping toward the horizon as the time drew near for the 7:30 pm start.  I had told people that I was taking it easy, trying for a progression run, etc., but when the starter's gun sounded:

Coach Carl's recommendation
I began to run madly across the field.  However the field wasn't completely even, and so I decided to slow down a little, to ensure that I didn't take a bad step on the crushed corn stalks covering the ground.  Nonetheless near the bottom of the field, I took a quick look at my watch: 7:06 min / mile pace.  Oh well, I felt really good and strong, and decided to keep pushing forward.  Might I run a 23 minute 5K this evening?  Let's see.  I started passing people as we ran the lanes criss-crossing the field.  Shortly before the 1-mile mark, we bounded across three rows of hay bales - no problem.  Bonnie called out and I gave her a smile and a thumbs up, as I accelerated past a few more runners.  I reached a timing mat at mile 1 at 8:00 even.  

I was still racing across the field, feeling strong and fast, until about 11 minutes in, when the cumulative fatigue of 8 miles for the evening finally caught up to me.  I felt myself slow down, as a few people that I had passed a moment before caught up to me.  Oh well, this is a learning experience, no harm done, just don't do this in the marathon 6 weeks from now.  Nonetheless I didn't let myself take a walk break, I kept pushing as best as I could.  Crossing the timing mat for mile 2 at 17:00 even, I realized that I had really slowed down!  

As the hay bales came into sight, I heard Bonnie call out again.  "Gotta look good for Bonnie" I thought as I smoothly leaped over the hay bales, channelling the graceful running of the deer that I had seen earlier in the evening.  (On the video that Bonnie took, I don't look as graceful as I had felt.)  

About 21 minutes in, I started to push myself to speed up a bit, but I couldn't maintain speed for more than a minute, dropping back down.  Then the band began playing "What a Wonderful World" and I started to speed up again.  The finish line must be coming soon, I thought, then a volunteer called out "Only 400 meters to go!"  That was at least 300 meters more than I had expected, and I found myself slowing again.  As I passed the 3 mile marker at 26:40, the band switched to ZZ Top's 70's hit "La Grange".  Now I could see the finish line, and I forced myself to speed up, even though we were going uphill.  Finish time: 27:42, just under a 9 min / mile pace overall.  

I was parched and completely out of breath, but after a bottle of water, a bottle of Powerade, and most of a barbecue chicken sandwich, I had recovered.  Unfortunately my legs were really sore from the effort and tightened up on the hour-drive home.  Nonetheless, the event was a lot of fun and definitely worth the drive.  Although I didn't run the race very strategically, it felt good to push myself in a race, after a long summer of overly cautious running.  
Featuring Tucker Running Club members Becky Caldwell and Linda Bode Phinney,
and a barbecue chicken sandwich in my right hand! 
Another McDonald won this race!

September 8, 2018: Pacing the Craft Classic Half Marathon

At the ATL 20K a couple of weeks ago, I was encouraged to volunteer as a pacer for the Craft Classic Half Marathon.  I ran the race last year, and had considered repeating this year.  However, the marathon training schedule for this weekend was originally a "drop-back" week, 8 - 10 miles.  However, after I decided not to "race" the Big Peach Sizzler 10K on Labor Day, and discussed this with Coach Carl, he encouraged me to go ahead and pace as a medium long run.  I volunteered for the 2:30 pace group.  That was 30 minutes slower than my finishing time last year (nearly a new PR at that time), yet the pace would be fast enough to be a good training run and not so slow that I would get bored.  

I've been curious about pacing, and have seen it done well on several occasions.  I owe my 10K PR from the 2017 Big Peach Sizzler to a great 50 minute pace group.  And my half-marathon PR at the 2017 Jeff Galloway race was also aided by the 2:00 hour pace group: they helped me hold back for the first few miles, saving enough energy to run a negative split race and to a dramatic 3-minute improvement on my previous best.  The night before, I printed out a pace chart at an 11:25 min / mile pace, which would get me to the finish line 20 seconds ahead of time.  Last year the Craft Classic course felt a little long, but the start and end sections would be different this year.  Anyway I figured that gave me enough flexibility to speed up a little if needed near the end, and would work out fine if the course was an accurate 13.1 mile distance. 
7:30 am start, 2:30 finish, equals
80 deg F at the end of the race.

When we arrived at Grant Park around 6 am, it was already warm and humid.  As I didn't need any extra miles, I restricted my warmup to dynamic stretching.  Sonia Watson, the other 2:30 pacer, and I found our places evenly staggered from the start line, with 1:45, 2:00, and 2:15 pacers in front of us.  Sonia and I shared our plan with the runners around us, 2 minute run with 30 second walk intervals, and walking through the water stations.  I encouraged everyone around us to hydrate at every water stop.  After the National Anthem concluded at 7:30 am, the crowd began to move forward.  We crossed the starting mat about 30 seconds after the gun start.  Sonia and I settled into an easy jog, and when my watch sounded at 2 minutes in, I called "Walk break!" and raised my hand.  30 seconds later, "Let's go!" and we resumed running in a loop around the northern half of the park.  At first we were running about a 12:00 min / mile pace, but gradually sped up to finish the first mile in 11:12.  We were well into the second mile before we left the park, heading through the Summerhill neighborhood.  Some of the early water stops were crowded, and so I relied on the Nuun bottle that I was carrying for my own hydration, letting the other runners patronize the water stops. 
With pacer partner Sonia Watson.
Photos taken shortly before sunrise. 
A few Tucker Running Club members ran this morning,
including Lindy Liu (2:45 pacer) and Leigh Chestnutt (3:00 pacer)
The benefit of running through the park for the first mile-plus shortened the amount of time we spent in the middle lane of busy Decatur Street, after which we headed into the Inman Park neighborhood.  We were right on pace at mile 2, and about 10 seconds ahead of pace at mile 3 and 4.  Somehow we slowed down a bit on the Freedom Parkway pathway, even though mile 5 was level or slightly downhill, falling behind by 20 seconds.  I tried to push through mile 6 on the level part of Highland Avenue, but lost another 5 seconds.  Mile 7, on Virginia Avenue, was the last downhill mile before reaching the Eastside Beltline.  We shaved about 10 seconds off our time, being 15 seconds behind pace as we began running southbound on the Beltline.  At this point, Sonia and I became separated, as I kept pushing to avoid losing any more time, even though we were running a gradual but steady uphill.  I would turn around and call back with each walk break and run resumption, but it seemed that Sonia's group was falling a little further behind.  Was I going too fast?  At mile 8, crossing Ralph McGill Blvd, I was still 20 seconds behind.  I suppose that I was exactly on pace if we eliminated the 20 second cushion that I had planned with the pace band.  A few people were running with me, and I assured them that I was close to the pace, even with my run-walk intervals.  
Elevation profile for this race
Crossing Irwin Street at the 9 mile mark, I took a cup of Gatorade at the water station, and noted with satisfaction that I was now less than 5 seconds behind the desired pace.  Approaching the southern terminus of the Beltline, the route up the ramp was not marked, but I called out with authority "Up the ramp!"  I just hoped that I was right about that!  I looked back onto the Beltline as I headed up to Edgewood Avenue, and didn't see Sonia at all.  Fortunately I saw a sign at the top of the ramp directing us to turn right onto Edgewood.  Whew!! 

The route was well-marked the rest of the way.  I didn't intend to speed up, but having sped up a bit to get on track with the plan on the Beltline, I was now running ahead of pace, reaching mile 10 nearly 25 seconds ahead of schedule.  Hmm, how did that happen? I had been regularly informing the runners around me approximately how many seconds behind pace in the early miles, and now apologizing for being a little ahead of pace.  I tried to encourage everyone, "If you finish with me, you'll definitely break 2:30; if you're behind me but can see me, you'll probably finish right around 2:30."  The runners around me didn't complain, and a few were following my run-walk intervals.  I tried to take it easy, but at mile 11, I was 40 seconds ahead.  Even so, I was feeling the temperature, and just trying to stay strong and enthusiastic for the runners around me.  I continued to hold my pace stick above my head with the number clearly visible from behind.  
The beginning and the end of the race,
along with the elevation profile

Re-entering the park, I spotted the mile 12 marker, still 40 seconds ahead.  What to do?  Last year the route was long and it took me a full minute longer to finish based on my Garmin.  The thirteenth mile was a big struggle.  A substantial uphill section that forced me to take a walk break 30 seconds earlier than planned.  I hated to give in, but I just couldn't push up the hill without the break.  I was out of Nuun and was feeling parched.  To my shock, the mile 13 sign came up after just over 9 minutes of running, even though my watch indicated I had slowed to a 11:45 min / mile pace for that section.  At 2:25:50 at that point - how did I mess up this badly?  I slowed down a bit more, and all of the runners with me pulled ahead as I had hoped they would.  The music from the finish line drifted across the park, "Eye of the Tiger" by 80's group Survivor.  Yep, that was fitting, but the thought that came to me, I think I even vocalized it, was "Long runs put the tiger in the cat!" 

I decided that the 13-mile marker was definitely misplaced, when I had to run nearly a quarter of a mile to get to the finish line.  The clock was just past 2:29 when I crossed the timing mat, with my watch showing 2:28:25 for my finish, and 13.04 miles elapsed.  As a volunteer wearing a Big Peach Sizzler shirt gave me my medal, I wondered, was my Garmin off, or was the course too short?  I calculated that if I ran the same pace for 13.11 miles, I would have finished closer to 2:29:30, which would have been perfectly acceptable.  

I grabbed a cool bottle of water and guzzled most of it down within a couple of minutes, then took a second bottle, which I drank a little more slowly.  A few runners came up to thank me, but unfortunately I was so tired I was having trouble making conversation.  Sonia crossed a few minutes later, so I don't think that she finished in 2:30, but the heat and humidity was really tough.  Finally I decided I had better sit down on the curb, as I was a little dizzy.  I wasn't sure that I would be able to get up, but after Lindy Liu and her pacer partner crossed just a few seconds ahead of 2:45, I managed to get up without too much trouble.  A few cups of Gatorade helped me regain some equilibrium.  

I certainly didn't expect that pacing would be that difficult!  And I said to Lindy, who is also training for New York, "If it's hot like this in New York (in November), I won't be able to finish the marathon distance."  Yet I did everything according to my plan: hydrated well yesterday, ate a decent breakfast this morning, and ran over a minute / mile slower than my eventual marathon goal pace.  Whew, I have a long way to go with my training.  I just hope that it begins to cool down before much longer. 

September 3, 2018: The Big Peach Sizzler 10K

Last weekend I wrote about my contrition in failing to complete the 20-mile run on my training schedule.   By the time I saw Coach Carl at the Tuesday evening track workout, I was no longer too upset with myself, knowing that I still had plenty of time to properly prepare for the New York City Marathon on November 4.  

Back in late June when I asked Coach Carl to set up a marathon training plan, the one race that I hoped to "race" was the Big Peach Sizzler 10K on Labor Day.  In last year's race, I broke the 50 minute barrier for the first time, thanks to a relatively level course and unusually cool weather, and I wanted one race at a midpoint in the program to see how I might perform.  Carl accommodated my request as a "checkpoint" race, even making the Saturday before the race a recovery day.  But after several weeks of serious training, I realized that I was no longer interested in trying to improve on last year's PR performance, unless it helped my preparation for New York.  Frankly I was concerned about overdoing things and injuring myself again.  I talked with Carl about this a few weeks ago, and he recommended that I simply run the first 5K at an easy pace, and then run the second 5K at my 10K goal pace. 

To ensure that I would complete at least 12 miles today, I arrived and parked near the finish area by 6 am.  After a few minutes of dynamic stretches, I took a shortcut from Buckhead Station to Peachtree Road, and headed outbound, using a small flashlight mostly to make myself more visible.  The right lane of Peachtree Road was already coned off, even though it was an hour before the 7:00 am start of the 5K race.  I encountered a verbal argument between a couple just outside of the Buckhead MARTA station - which spurred me to run just a bit faster - but I don't think they noticed me.  As I worked my way up Peachtree Road, I reached an enthusiastic group of volunteers setting up the water station at the 4.7 mile mark, then another group at the 3 mile water station in Brookhaven, and as the sky grew light, came upon a few dozen volunteers ready to serve water at the 1.5 mile water stop.  After crossing Clairmont Road and turning right onto Miller Street, it was 7:10 am and I was just a quarter-mile from the start.  I ran past other runners warming up for the race, and finally stopped the watch at 5.75 miles, far enough to guarantee that I would reach 12 miles for the day.  I took the intervening 15 minutes to stretch a bit and catch up with a few friends preparing for the start.  
With a few friends in the tucker Running Club, 5 minutes before the start
After posing for a photo with a few Tucker Running Club members, I headed into the group of runners starting behind the 10:00 min / mile pace sign.  With the conclusion of the National Anthem, we moved forward toward the starting line.  We waited for a couple of minutes, and then heard the report of the starting gun.  After a moment, we began walking, and finally the starting mat came into view.  I started my watch and started jogging.  I could have raced around the runners in front of me, but was thinking "When I begin the New York Marathon, I need to start slowly!" and I held back for the first mile, at a 10:24 minute pace.  Someone asked in the first minute, "Are you running the Galloway method?"  As I heard the watch signal the first walk break at 4:30, it seemed too crowded to safety slow down.  So I did the next best thing: I found an opening in front of me and decided to surge forward for 30 seconds until the end of the "walk" break signaled at 5:00 minutes.  Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to change my plan on a whim, but ... my legs felt good, and these were essentially "stride" workouts.  I continued to do surge every 5 minutes, just for 30 seconds for the first six miles.  And as the miles ticked away, I was gradually speeding up, 9:28 for mile 2 (OK, that wasn't too gradual), 9:24 for mile 3, 9:10 for mile 4, and 9:06 for mile 5.  I was annoyed, no, let's say amused, as a couple passed me somewhere in mile 3, while they were complaining about their current injuries.  Even though I was growing tired as we approached and then turned right onto Piedmont Road, I covered mile 6 in 8:53 miles.  Passing the mile 6 marker, I used every last bit of energy to propel myself to a strong finish, running at a 7:48 min / mile pace.  Not too much further!  Turning right into the road entering Buckhead Station, I saw 59:45 on the clock, and really hustled to ensure that I would cross the finish line before the hour was up on the race.  Not that I was racing!  58:47 chip time, around 9:25 min / mile average pace. 
Happy finishers!  Flanked by ATC run lead Megan McGuigan, age group winner Susie Kim,
another age group winner Kilsun Hogue, and ATC run lead Michelle Vail
12 good miles gave me a great
anandamide buzz!
I was pleasantly surprised to see three graduate students from the organic chemistry cohort at Emory!  Between our department chair (who has climbed six of the seven tallest mountains on each continent, hoping to try Everest again soon) and at least three other faculty members who have run marathons in 2018, we're a pretty athletic group of scientists!  

And I finished the full 12 mile workout prescribed for the day, both in the distance and in the quality of the run.  


August 25, 2018: The ATL 20K

Last year I ran the ATL 20K race for the first time, as a relay with Myriam Fentanes, Beverly Ford (now Minor), and Brian Minor each running a 5K leg.  Someone recently asked "What was my most favorite race?" and definitely it was the 20K relay, due to the camaraderie of running with the team!  This was also one of my best runs ever, running 3 straight sub-8 minute miles.  But part of my motivation was fear of letting down my teammates!  
Our team in the 2017 ATL 20K relay
When registration for this year's race opened in early April, I wasn't able to run at all!  Even so, I sent a text to Myriam, Beverly and Brian asking if they were interested in the relay - and then immediately reconsidered.  That was when I soberly realized that I potentially faced a long period of physical therapy before beginning re-training to prepare for the  New York City Marathon.  The $20 early registration fee was too good to pass up, but I committed that the 20K (12.4 miles) would be a training run, in a fun and supportive environment, instead of slogging out the miles on my own.   

Fortunately my recovery has gone well.  My one remaining "ailment" is Achilles tendonosis, which I'm still treating with physical therapy both at the clinic and especially with the home exercises, and very careful attention to warming up and post-run stretching.  The Tuesday evening track workouts with Coach Carl have resumed.  I've run each of those workouts quite well, especially with pace discipline and conserving energy to complete each workout in a quality fashion.  I've largely regained my cardiovascular conditioning, although I haven't really tested it in a fast race, and I don't care to try for new personal records until after the marathon.  

The plan for today was 20 miles, at an easy pace.  I arrived at the race starting area an hour before the start, around 6 am.  After thoroughly warming up, I ran a little more than 3 miles at an easy pace, partially on the race course as the cones were set out, and then running a few blocks to get to a bathroom stop near Centennial Olympic Park.  I cut the time a little too close, leaving the bathroom at 6:52 am and then sprinting several blocks to get into the starting area at 6:58 am.  Turns out I had a little more time, as the race didn't begin precisely at 7:00 am.  While I was trying to ensure that I was situated with other 20K runners - and out of the way of the first wave of relay runners, Lindy Liu arrived after her own warmup, also wearing a 20K bib.  Lindy is also running the New York City Marathon.  When she said that she was aiming for a 10:45 min / mile pace, and running intervals, I asked to run with her, since I was planning for the same pace.  Our interval strategy was a little different - she was using a 2:30 run / 0:30 walk plan, whereas I had my watch set to signal 4:30 run / 0:30 walk, and I decided to try out her plan.  
Tes Sobomehin Marshall gave the starting signal, and the crowd moved forward.  It took a minute or so to reach the timing mat, which was about 0.2 mile north of the relay exchange area.  The start was a little slow, as we had to share a wide but single lane.  In fact that was great practice for imagining the start of the marathon in November.  I could have pushed my way forward through the crowd, but with many miles to do, not only today but over the remaining weeks of the training program, I was satisfied to jog through slowly and enjoy the encouragement of the crowd at the relay exchange area, awaiting their runs in the second, third, or fourth legs.  The temperature was wonderful, 66 deg F, without high humidity, no chance of rain, in short a rare weather gift for August in Atlanta! 

We settled into a comfortable pace, and after a mile or so, I checked my watch for the first time.  We were right on the goal pace of 10:45!  After the race, the Garmin data showed that most of our running legs were in the high 9 min / mile pace, which felt very comfortable especially with the regular walk breaks.  This was a pace at which Lindy and I could maintain conversation, and we enjoyed cheering on friends and other runners on the course in the out-and-back section of the race approaching and leaving the Spelman College campus.  After looping back to Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta, we ran uphill (over train tracks) past Phillips Arena, then past Mercedes-Benz stadium, and approaching the relay exchange area.  Lindy and I tried to stay to the right in case any relay runners came through, but I think that most and perhaps all of the runners finishing the first 5K leg had already come through - so the cheers were for those of us conserving energy for the longer distance!  Music blasting, MC's dancing and exchanging high-fives as we came through, friends cheering as we came through, so much fun!    

Shortly after crossing the timing mat i remembered to click the lap timer on my Garmin, 10:41 min / mile pace for the first lap!  The second lap went smoothly, with Lindy and I helping each other stay on pace, not too fast or too slow.  Midway through our second lap, we were passed by runners that I think were on the third leg of the relay, so we tried to stay to the right side of the lane.  10:48 min / mile pace for the second lap.  The number of runners diminished as we ran the third lap, as most of the 10K runners had finished.  The faster runners on the last leg of their relays passed us, as did the leaders of the 20K race.  As we approached the relay exchange area once more, the crowds cheered us again, friends calling out "One more lap!" and I gave a smile and two thumbs up.  10:53 min / mile pace.  Yes, we had slowed down a bit, but almost imperceptibly, and were still running faster than 11 min / mile pace.   Feeling good, we ran the final lap.  It was pretty quiet at this stage, since no one was passing us, nor were we passing anyone, but we were definitely enjoying a good workout.  Even though it was 9 am, the temperature was still pleasant.  As we entered the final mile of the race, Alice Pate joined us as part of her cool-down (Alice is also in the Tuesday evening track workout group). We took one last walk break approaching the overpass outside of Phillips Arena,  I started ever so subtly pushing the pace just a bit, focusing on form.  Lindy kept up and seemed to be running strongly herself.  We both sped up a little more as we could hear the cheers of the crowd ahead.  This time we were able to move to the right side of the road as the finish area loomed ahead.  We both sped up a little more (7:30 min / mile pace), practicing the finish that we hope to run in New York!  As we approached the final timing mat, I took a little leap intending to jump over the timing mat - but I can't jump very well, and ended up landing on the mat.  Oh well, it was funny and no harm done.  Time: 2:12 and change for the race, gun time 2:13.  

After picking up our medals, I calculated that I needed to run between 3.5 and 4 more miles to finish up the workout.  I started with another loop on the course, but this is where I let various minor logistical issues derail my resolve:  
  • The medal was heavy even though I stashed it away in a pocket on the running belt;
  • The awards ceremony was going on and I wanted to hear the names of the winners; 
  • The gear check truck had only one other bag, other than my own with a dry change of clothes, and I didn't want to make them wait for me; 
  • The course was closed up ahead and I would have to run on the sidewalk;
  • I heard that the Craft Classic Half Marathon organizers were looking for pacers in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to chat with them before they left for the day; and
  • I was a little tired and sore, not really in pain, but ... wouldn't it be nice to stop? 
After 1/2 mile, I had returned to the finish area, stretched and cooled down.  30 minutes later, I realized that I had let these minor, insignificant issues derail finishing my long run workout.  And by now (warning: two more excuses coming!) I had changed into dry clothes, and needed to get home in time to go to an afternoon birthday party. 

Running is a mental exercise as much as it's a physical exercise.  I ran 17 miles (16.82 to be exact) in perfect fashion for marathon training, but then failed to complete the last 5K leg to finish 20 good miles for the day.  Fortunately there is enough time to get back on track, and by no means have I ruined the marathon training program.  But now I need to check with (confess to) Coach Carl to get his recommendation on how (or whether) I should make modifications to make up for the short mileage today. 

August 18, 2018: Atlanta's Finest 5K

To keep up my goal to participate in all 11 of Atlanta Track Club's Grand Prix events, I registered for the Atlanta's Finest 5K.  I've run the race twice previously, in 2014 and in 2017, but haven't broken 25 minutes in the mid-August temperatures.  Today's race was also the USATF Masters Championship, with runners from ages 40 - 93.  

After struggling through an 18-mile long run last Saturday, I had good workouts during this "recovery week", including a track workout on Tuesday evening where I nailed all of the paces, and a good Thursday morning run that went a little faster than expected.  I arrived early enough to pick up my bib and get in 5 easy miles before the start of the race, running around a 10 min / mile pace.  The only downside was that my shirt was already soaked with sweat, even though I had been very careful to slow down whenever my heart rate reached 160 beats per minute. 

The Masters Championship runners started at 7:25 am, followed by wave A at 7:30 am.  I decided to line up at the back of wave C, for runners 9:30 min / mile pace or faster, aiming to run the 5K at a steady 9 min / mile pace, around my PR half-marathon pace.  That was faster than I had attempted in the last two races, but it was safe enough, I felt, as long as I maintained good form, and didn't let my heart rate get too high too early in the race.  One change was that I would try to run the race without walk breaks, just to see how that worked out over 3.1 miles. 

The first mile went smoothly and easily.  Unfortunately Marietta Street is under construction - it looks like the top inch or two of pavement has been removed.  This means that the manholes are sticking up an inch or two above the current surface, creating a potential hazard to runners, especially running in a crowded pack in the first mile.  So the Atlanta Track Club stationed a dozen or more volunteers and staff to stand on top of the manholes, directing runners to either side of the hazard!  Even the Executive Director, Rich Kenah, was standing on a manhole.  The volunteers were encouraging and even entertaining, especially the man dancing and singing on top of the manhole near the mile 1 marker.  And before I knew it, mile 1 was done in 9:02, right on pace.  

I was watching my heart rate fairly carefully, and it was hovering right around 155 beats per minute, supposedly a level that I should be able to maintain indefinitely, or at least for 26.2 miles.  Mile 1 was gently downhill, whereas mile 2 had a few gentle hills, with an overpass and an underpass as we approached the Georgia Tech campus.  I covered mile 2 in 9:14.  By this point, I was thinking it would be nice to take a walk break, but my heart rate wasn't too high.  As the mile 2 marker came into view, I passed the first of the masters championship runners, a man wearing a M90 bib on his back.  Although I was passing him, his form was good, and later on I learned that he finished in less than 45 minutes.  I hope that I'm still breathing at that point, maybe even competing in a masters championship race if I'm really fortunate! 

Midway through mile 3, the road turned uphill.  I'm glad that I ran through here earlier in the morning, so that it wasn't a surprise.  Now I had to work a bit harder to stay close to the 9 min / mile pace, but I was doing OK, passing people on occasion, and not being passed as far as I can remember.   Finally at Ivan Allen Blvd., the road leveled out and I picked up a little more speed.  Passing the mile 3 marker in 9:15 (27:31 elapsed), I turned up the speed just a bit.  Here I discovered that the masters championship runners had a different lane from the regular runners, and I'm not sure where they finished.  At that point I just focused on getting to the finish line, crossing in 28:22, finishing the final 0.11 mile at an 8:18 min / mile pace.  

After walking for a few minutes through the park, I started running again, determined to finish the remaining 1.9 miles of the 10-mile workout.  Surprisingly, I was pretty tired, and wasn't able to push myself faster than a 12 min / mile pace.  A group of men were doing their cool-down run behind me.  One of them talked about running mile 2 in 5:33, and then they passed me as I had slowed down going uphill - and they were wearing M60 bibs on their backs.  I'll never manage a 5:33 mile! 

What I learned is that I ran today's 5K a little too quickly.  Or perhaps I should have taken walk breaks, in order to save enough energy to cover the last two miles of the 10-mile workout.  Fortunately today was a good time to learn this, 2-1/2 months before the marathon.  

August 4, 2018: 680 the Fan Tailgate 5K

61 degrees at the start of a
16-mile run last weekend
The last week has been one of highs and lows in the marathon training cycle.  Bonnie and I went to Niagara Falls last weekend, and had a wonderful and relaxing time, visiting one of the great wonders of the world.  I was due for a 16 mile long run, and had found a potential route on the map.  Setting out with the sunrise at 6 am, I had the falls all to myself for a three-mile loop, and then discovered a wonderful bike-pedestrian pathway parallel to the Scenic Highway along the Niagara gorge, extending 6 miles north of Niagara Falls.  I may have been distracted by the spectacular views, but I felt strong and relatively fast on that day!  

Upon returning to Atlanta, I was compelled to run the Tuesday evening speed workout and Thursday evening easy run on the treadmill at the Blomeyer Fitness Center at Emory, due to thunderstorms on Tuesday and steady rain on both evenings.  While running on the treadmill was incredibly boring and much lonelier than running on my own outside on sidewalks or parks, I was proud of my discipline in completing both workouts, when it would have been easy to skip due to the weather.  And the gym membership paid off for more than just a locker room to shower and change clothes after outdoor runs.  
Today's race route

Fortunately this morning's weather was relatively good for August in Atlanta, 70 degrees and hardly a cloud in the sky.  Today's workout was 10 miles easy pace, as this is a "drop-back" week between last Saturday's 16 miler and next Saturday's 18 miles.  I picked up my bib and then headed out for 4 easy miles on the PATH trail paralleling the race route.  This provided a preview of the hilliness of the race course to come!  By the time that I had returned to the starting area for the 5K race, I was already quite sweaty.  I ran with wave D (11:00 min / mile or faster) and maintained a decent pace from start-to-finish, running intervals of 4-1/2 minutes and walking 30 seconds.  The hills were monstrous, with most people in my group walking near the top of both hills.  However it was nice to see a few friends along the way, and running at a pace at which I could maintain some conversation.  I also appreciated running on a protected and supported course, with a water station at the top of the first hill and another water station just past the finish line.  My official time was 33:43 (10:52 min / mile pace), exactly what I was aiming for in today's easy mileage. 
Two substantial and sustained uphill sections makes this one of the most challenging 5K race routes.
Team B&B (Brian & Beverly)
were featured on the postface
e-mail linking to race results! 
I didn't stop at all after crossing the finish line, determined to keep moving for 3 more miles.  After running around the Galloway School for the better part of a mile, I made my way onto the sidewalk paralleling much of the last mile of the race route, then turning around to complete 9.97 miles total, in 1:53:09.  At the end, I was following Bonnie until she entered the finish chute.  I didn't quite get to 10.00 miles on the watch: to avoid crossing the timing mat for a second time, I had to slow down to walking speed to pass spectators along a narrow path parallel to the finish chute, and decided that I had run enough for the day.   

I didn't feel that strong or fast this morning.  My legs were sore from the beginning.  I wonder if it was from the unfamiliarity of running on the treadmill.  I was deliberately running the 5K at an easy pace, but I'm not confident that I could have broken 30 minutes today if I had been trying to run faster on such a hilly course.  

After the race, we joined Beverly (Ford) Minor for a small birthday celebration - her birthday closely coincides with the date of this annual race.  And then I remembered that this race marks the third anniversary of the second time that she met her future husband Brian Minor! (That was a couple of weeks after their first meeting at a group run, which I had also attended.)    
We're all still smiling after our runs!  Happy Birthday, Beverly!