September 9, 2017: The Craft Classic Half Marathon

The Craft Classic Half Marathon came to Atlanta for the first time in September 2016, but I was committed to marathon training, so I passed on the race.  I had seen part of the race on one of our long runs (see Kurokitty's blog post), and had it in mind for this year.  Any indecision on this race was resolved a couple of months ago when the runningnerds Facebook site posted an opportunity to get a $50 entry and then a 20% discount, paying only $43 after the service charge - a great price for a half marathon.  Thanks runningnerds, and I was proud to wear the runningnerds race team (rrt) shirt this morning!
Carbo-loading last night at Luciano's in Duluth with my in-laws.
The linguine carbonara was delicious!  This also doubled as pre-birthday celebration, thanks! 
It happens that today is my last day in the male 50-54 age group.  The male 55-59 age group has a bunch of fast-running men, so I don't expect my placements to improve, but I'm delighted that my running has continued to improve.  I didn't have a particularly aggressive goal for this race, still focusing on mastering the negative split strategy.  But the temperature was unseasonably cool once again, so I decided that I might start a little faster than I did in the Hotlanta Half in June.  

Race route: note the perfect temperature at the start!
I had lined up between the 2:15 and 2:00 pacers, but then we all had to move to the other side of the start-finish line!  The problem is that the middle of the pack runners had to move pass the fast group with this last-minute change, and I found the 2:00 pacers slightly behind me at the start!  Apparently there was a countdown for the start, but with the buzz of the crowd, I didn't realize that the race had started until the runners in front of me began moving.  Fortunately my watch was already synced up and so I started a few steps before crossing the timing mats.  
I'm the only person in this entire photo that is smiling!
Maybe it's because I know the photographer (thanks Bonnie!).
Everyone else has an intense expression: they must be thinking
"I'm going to win this race!"
I had thought that the start would be slow due to the narrow path, but in fact I had no difficulty getting up to a 9 min / mile pace, as the path wound through beautiful Grant Park.  My goal was to run between 9:00 and 10:00 min / mile paces for the first 6 miles, and then hopefully turn up the speed.  I was on a 4 minute run / 30 second walk cycle, and had no difficulty getting to the side when I took the first walk break, shortly before leaving the park.  Even after leaving the park and tackling the first hill, entering the Summerhill neighborhood, I was running easily at close to a 9:00 min/mile pace.  Compared to the 8:00 min/mile pace that I had run in the 10K on Labor Day, this morning's run felt easy.  

The first two miles approached the State Capitol, but upon turning onto DeKalb avenue, and leaving behind the buildings of Georgia State University and Grady Memorial Hospital,  we were running straight into the rising sun.  Even with sunglasses and a cap, I had to look down to the road to avoid being blinded, and couldn't look around at the scenery.  After crossing the interstate 75-85 connector, we were in the middle lane, the so-called "suicide lane" which changes direction between the morning and evening rush hours.  When we could see again due to a slight change in direction, there was nothing much to look at for the next couple of miles, as the road passed through an industrial wasteland paralleling a commercial train line and the MARTA tracks.  It was a relief to turn into the Inman Park neighborhood, with nice homes lining the streets and plenty of shade from the trees.  Fortunately I was running easily for the first 6 miles, averaging a 9:10 pace, just a few seconds slower than needed for a 2-hour finish, finishing the first 6 miles in 55 minutes even.  
Bonnie captured me in a good mood in the fourth mile, on DeKalb Avenue.
The man behind me, David Bloomquist, is in the age group that I will join tomorrow.
He passed me for good shortly after this photo was taken.
David is running the Berlin Marathon in 2 weeks! 
After passing the mile 6 marker, I decided to try to speed up a bit on the run sections, and ran my first sub-9 minute mile of the race, in 8:56.  I caught up to the 2:00 pacers around the mile 7 marker - I hadn't seen them pass me earlier - and stayed slightly ahead of them for the next few miles.  Turning onto Highland Avenue, I knew that the next two miles would be net downhill, and ticked off miles 8 and 9 in 8:35 and 8:43 on Highland and Virginia Avenues respectively.  I was impressed with how many police were available to protect the intersections - and this was greatly appreciated, as there was more traffic than I had expected at 8:30 am on Saturday morning.  Most runners including me were greeting or thanking the police as we passed, and most responded with more than just thanks, offering words of encouragement and congratulations as we ran.  

Shortly after turning onto the Eastside Beltline, near its northern terminus at Piedmont Park, we passed the mile 9 marker.  I knew that the next two miles would be a gentle but continuous uphill.  Nonetheless I continued to run fairly strongly, finishing mile 10 in 9:08 (1:30:20 elapsed).  I didn't see a marker and so I wasn't sure how close my Garmin was measuring to the actual distance covered, but with just a 5K to go, I started seriously thinking about making a 2-hour finish.  After all, I can easily run a 29 minute 5K, and felt that I had enough energy and strength left in my legs to continue running 9 minute miles.  But as we approached the south end of the Beltline, the one volunteer manning the water station was furiously trying to put out cups of water - but the cup that I picked up was full of - pretzels!  Salty, dry, pretzels!  "Anti-water"! 

I was carrying some ShotBloks that I had begun taking at 45 minutes, and about every 10 - 15 minutes from that point, and also had a water bottle on my belt with a solution of Nuun, so I didn't really need the water.  But I made the mistake of eating a couple of the pretzels.  The pretzels were a really bad idea, and I crumpled the cup in my hand until I could dump it in a garbage can.  "These pretzels are making me thirsty!"  I needed most of the Nuun remaining in my water bottle to wash the down the salt.  I hoped that there would be one more water station, actually serving liquid refreshment.  Miles 11 and 12 were covered in 9:29 and 9:15, respectively.  The 2-hour pacers caught up to me near the end of mile 12.  Fortunately there was a water station serving blue Gatorade and cool water, just after the turn at the King Memorial MARTA station.  That helped get me back on track.  Although I didn't see any of the later mile markers, I noticed that I finished mile 12 at 1:49.  Surely I could cover the last 1.1 miles in 11 minutes - or less!  

Successfully executed the run-walk strategy!
Now that we were back in gently rolling hills, and my mouth was properly hydrated, I was able to speed up a bit.  We ran past historic Oakland Cemetery, but at this point I was hardly looking around, just looking for landmarks to gauge how close we were to the finish line.  When we crossed interstate 20, my watch was reading 12.5 miles - even though I had felt that the park was a mile away, having driven on a parallel road earlier this morning to get to the race.  And for the next couple of blocks, we were running east, parallel to the highway, not seeming to get any closer to the park!  So I started trying to run a bit faster.  My glutes were starting to ache at this stage, but here is where the experience of marathon running really helped with the mental game - I knew that I could still finish strong, and that the ache wouldn't last much longer. 

We turned south just as my watch read 12.7 miles.  We had one last little uphill section, and as we crested the top of the hill, I began to speed up a bit more.  When my watch signaled 13.0 miles, just before reaching 1:58, I smiled to myself - I'm definitely going to break 2 hours!  In fact, if I ran a little faster, I could finish in 1:59!  That goaded me to pick up the pace.  I passed a couple of runners, and made the turn into the park with my watch reading 13.1 miles.  I could hear some noise from the finish line, but where was it?!   I kept running, seeing 1:59 on the watch, realizing that I should have accounted for a little meandering along the way.  The road made a few turns through the park: with each turn, I expected to see the finish line, but no!  Run, run, run, oh my I'm not going to beat 2:00:00 if the finish line doesn't show up really soon!  Run, run, run, I was running at a furious pace - close to 8 miles per hour speed near the end - and finally there was the finish line - up ahead about 100 feet.  Run, run, run, there's Bonnie just beyond the finish line to take my photo - and done!  The clock was reading 77 minutes - must have been based on the 5K race that had started around 8:15 am.  Natalie of runningnerds handed me my medal and congratulated me, I finally slowed down and stopped my watch: 2:00:10!  
Finish line celebration!  With the run-walk strategy,
I was "leapfrogging" the two runners behind me for most of the race.
I'm happy to see that I had reserved enough energy to move ahead of them near the end.
I'm delighted with the Garmin data, showing that I managed a negative split, by about a minute
(compare mile 6 elapsed with mile 12, and then the faster finish in miles 13 and 13.3)
I was momentarily disappointed to see that I had passed the 2-hour mark by a few seconds, and annoyed that I had to run 13.30 miles to reach the finish.  But then I remembered that I had not really had the 2-hour goal for today's race, and realized that I had achieved my primary goal of a negative split, and that the race from start-to-finish had gone much better for me than I had expected!  

September 11: official time posted, 2:00:01 chip time, 2:00:12 gun time. 
Celebrating our finishes: Kilsun Hogue and Sheelagh O'Malley
After stretching my sore muscles, I took my food coupon to the Naanstop table, where they were serving small but delicious portions of chicken tikka masala.  There was a much longer line for beer - being the Craft Classic sponsored by Monday Night Brewing - but at 9:45 in the morning, my preference is coffee.  The line deterred any thought of trying to get a beer, although I stayed around long enough to thank Tes Sobomehin Marshall for the discounted registration, and shared that I had a great race today! 
Thanks for the discount code, Tes! 

September 4, 2017: The Big Peach Sizzler 10K

On Labor Day, the Big Peach Running Company and Miles for Cystic Fibrosis team up to sponsor the Big Peach Sizzler, a 10K road race from the northeastern suburb of Chamblee to the TowerPlace mall in Buckhead.  I recall as a child learning about cystic fibrosis (CF) as a genetic disease, and those afflicted rarely lived to be adults.  When I began running this race in 2014, I learned that so much has changed: with modern treatments and medications, many people now live with CF into adulthood.  Unfortunately their lives are still difficult, complicated by many surgeries and constant vigilance against lung infections.  

In my first post on this race three years ago (September 1, 2014), I briefly mentioned that my research laboratory has a project directed to the chemical synthesis of brevenal (structure below), a naturally occurring compound produced by the Florida red tide algae.  Brevenal improves lung function in an animal model for CF.  Unfortunately most of the brevenal used in this work must be carefully separated from the highly neurotoxic compounds produced by the red tide algae.  At least three other laboratories have completed chemical syntheses of brevenal, but their work - as well as our own - has convinced me that the scientific community needs new chemical transformations for cyclic ether formation, if we are to develop a truly practical synthesis of brevenal and related compounds.  In the past three years, my two most recent Ph.D. graduates have made substantial progress on chemical approaches to the synthesis of brevenal and tamulamide B, and in August we submitted two manuscripts on this work which are currently undergoing peer review.  Despite this progress, we have also uncovered some limitations with currently available methods, so we have a very long way to go before we might claim a practical contribution to a treatment for CF, but nonetheless there is a distant connection to my research interests. 
Structures of two naturally occurring, potentially beneficial compounds
separated from neurotoxic compounds produced by red tide algae
I've run this race for four straight years, and have improved my time each year.  It may not be an accident that the temperature on race day has also been a few degrees lower in each year:

This summer has been long and hot, but in the past few days, the overnight temperatures have been dropping into the low 60 deg F.  And at the start of today's race, the temperature was an amazing 58 deg F!  I was excited to see how I might run in relatively cool conditions, after struggling through July and August evening runs in the 80s and low 90s.  
September 4 in Atlanta, can you believe it?!
In addition to the unusually cool temperature, the race was offering pace groups aiming for 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65 minute finish times.  I was curious if I could keep up with the 50 minute pace group (my personal best for the 10K distance is 50:20) and decided that I would line up between the 50 minute and 55 minute pacers, and try to keep the 50 minute pacers in sight for as long as possible.   
7:26 am: The 50 minute pace flag is in front of me
(facing east toward sunrise), the 55 minute pacers are behind me. 
And then, I also had one more advantage over virtually all of the other competitors in today's race: on Friday evening, my mother-in-law had generously given us a pot of homemade chicken ginseng soup, sam-gye-tang.  This traditional Korean soup is touted for its medicinal benefits and its ability to boost physical stamina.  I've written about eating this soup the evening before my first 10-mile race and my second half-marathon.  As I enjoyed a bowl of this delicious soup on Saturday evening and a second bowl on Sunday evening, I was hoping that I might at least improve on last year's time. 

Arriving at the race start about an hour ahead of time, I had plenty of time to thoroughly stretch.  I began to warm up but after about 1/2 mile, my legs felt good and I thought that I would be better off using the porta-potty before beginning the race.  I found my starting position, about 20 feet behind the 50 minute pacer.  I knew that the time was approaching for the 7:30 am start, and my Garmin watch was synced and ready to begin.  With the buzz of conversation, I didn't hear any preliminary announcement of the start, but heard the report of the starter's pistol, and began moving toward the timing mat with the rest of the crowd.  The timing mat did not cross the full width of the roadway, so we had to crowd in a bit to make sure that our chip start was recorded.  By the time that I had crossed the timing mat, the 50 minute pace flag was at least 100 feet ahead of me.  And in the video that Bonnie made of the start (I'm in orange shirt, visible at 42 seconds) you can see that the 55 minute pacers aren't far behind me.  
Same course as in previous years, with the sun behind us
It didn't take too long for me to get up to a decent pace, about 8:30 min / mile.  On my left shoulder I heard someone say "Hi Frank!" and then "I'm going to try to keep up with you today."  It was Kilsun Hogue, a CDC scientist that we've met in previous running events.  Actually I was thinking that perhaps it should be the other way around, especially as we began talking in the first mile, and she mentioned taking three months off from running after her Boston qualifier (! that means that she has run a sub-4 hour marathon !)  But fortunately I was running well, finishing the first mile in 8:14 - and with the 50 minute pacers still in sight.  

After the 1-mile marker, the race route narrowed to one lane.  For a moment I found myself behind a couple of other runners that slowed me down just a bit.  I had to wait until enough of a gap opened between them to pass through without bumping anyone.  Kilsun was about 50 feet ahead of me, and the pacers considerably further ahead.  And I took a very short walk break at the water stop about 1.5 miles in, even though I was also carrying a bottle of Nuun on my hydration belt.  However, I was gradually able to catch up with Kilsun over the next half-mile.  We were also closing the gap on the 50 minute pace group!  I was amazed to finish mile 2 in 7:33, less than 16 minutes elapsed.  

Starting a little slower in the first mile and then speeding up in the second mile was definitely more sustainable than if I had begun too quickly.  I felt strong as I caught up with the 50 minute pacers in the third mile, in 7:45, and 23:30 elapsed.  Wow, this would have been an excellent 5K time for me.  And even though I had another 5K to the finish line, I felt like I just might be able to stick with the pacers for awhile.  The camaraderie of being carried along by the group was helpful.  In addition to three or four uniformed pacers, there were at least a dozen other runners in the pack at any time.  For a while I was drafting off of a taller fellow, until he sensed that I was right behind him, and he moved aside to let me pass.  That was not my intention - but probably I was making him nervous, with all my heavy breathing.  My watch sounded mile 4 in 7:54, and I passed the mile 4 marker on the road at 31:45 elapsed, setting a personal best for any 4-mile distance!  
Long walk break at 4.6 miles, and slowed crossing GA-400 overpass at 5.2 miles.
But this shows a very strong finish! 
I was beginning to struggle a bit at this stage, and the pace group opened up a small gap.    Sweat was streaming off my head into my eyes, which I would try to wipe away with my hands.  I regretted that I had not carried a cool towel for this race.  But I was still OK.  The heart rate monitor was sounding on occasion, but not consistently, and not at all when running downhill, which was a very good sign.  And the pacers had not opened up any more of a gap.  They were running consistently at the 8 min / mile pace needed for a 50 minute finish.  I reminded myself that they had a 100-foot head start on me, so I didn't have to catch up to them, just keep close to them.  Then I was encouraged by the sight of Nordstrom's in the distance, indicating that we were approaching Phipps Plaza, after which we would have finished 5 miles.  I took a walk break at the water stop around 4-1/2 miles, accepting a cup of water and also taking a couple of swigs from my Nuun bottle.  That was probably a full 30 second break, and the gap between me and the pace group increased a bit more, but the walk break really helped.  And bringing along my own hydration / electrolyte mixture was definitely a good idea.  I was able to get back up to a decent speed, finishing mile 5 in 8:09, and passing the mile 5 marker around 39:45.  

Wow, 5 miles in less than 40 minutes!  If I could maintain an 8:00 min / mile pace, I would finish in 50 minutes, setting a new personal best for the 10K distance.  I was seriously tired by now, but I still managed to keep the gap from growing with the pace group.  My psychology began to play tricks with me: "Don't let up, you're about to set a new PR!"  followed by "You don't want to set a PR that you will never ever break!" and then "Don't be silly, you've been wanting to run a sub-50 minute 10K for more than three years!"  

Passing the overpass over GA-400 was a challenge, but here was an advantage to having run the race several times before: I knew that the hardest part was now over.  I managed to regain some speed, and then the big street sign for Piedmont Road came into view.  Last night I had reviewed last year's blog post, reminding me that I had made the turn onto Piedmont Road at 50 minutes.   I took a quick look at my watch after making the turn: 46 minutes!  Could it be that I was 4 minutes ahead of last year's pace?  Incredible!  

Knowing that I only had a few more blocks to the finish, I forced my legs to move as fast as they could.  Reaching the mile 6 marker in 7:58, and then making the next-to-last turn onto Lenox Road, I saw just over 48 minutes on my watch.  Was it one block or two to the finish?  If it was two blocks, I wasn't going to break 50 minutes.  But in a very short block, the cones ahead of me were directing us into the right-turn lane.  Was this the final turn?  

Yes, YES, YES!!  With 49 minutes on my watch, I gave every last bit of energy in the final dash to the finish line.  The clock was reading 49:40, I've never seen that before!  The announcer was standing in front of the finish line encouraging us, "You're going to finish in less than 50 minutes!"  "Yes, YES, YES!!" as I crossed the timing mat at 49:52 on the clock, celebrating with both arms in the air as I crossed the second timing mat, stopping my watch at 49:35 elapsed.  Unbelievable!  
Stills from Bonnie's video of the finish:
Pace team crossed the timing mat at 49:45 (above);
I finished 7 seconds later (in orange shirt, below).

I was moving so quickly at the end that I wasn't able to slow down immediately, having to dart around a couple of others who had already stopped.  I was exhilarated by my fast finish - and remarkably, I didn't feel badly, no dizziness or acute exhaustion.  I grabbed a bottle of water from a table, poured a bit of it over my head, and then turned around to head back to the finish line to look for Bonnie and watch the other finishers.  
Finishing a celebratory brunch at the Flying Biscuit Restaurant,
thanks to a $5 discount for each runner:
Bonnie, me, Judy Tennell, Lindy Liu, and Kilsun Hogue.
Lindy also ran a PR race this morning! 
Ahh, the benefits of cool temperatures, an excellent pace team, and my real secret: chicken ginseng soup!  Chip time: 49:28, 17th out of 80 in my age group. 

August 26, 2017: Run the ATL 20K Relay

Earlier this year, several members of the Tucker Running Club ran the Mercedes Marathon Relay in Birmingham, Alabama.  They had such a great time, and when the opportunity to run the 20K relay here in Atlanta arose, we agreed that I would join three of the Mercedes veterans this August.  Brian Minor and Beverly Ford had run their first relay last year, each taking a 10K leg, and their finish line photo has featured in the promotions for this year's race.  
Brian and Beverly's finish in August 2016.  "There's no 'I' in TEAM"
The race is organized by Run Social Atlanta director Tes Sobomehin Marshall.  Run Social has arisen this year from the earlier runningnerds group.  Run the ATL has been one of Tes' signature events, possibly even her first, and 2017 is the sixth year of the race.  The route has been in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, between downtown Atlanta and the Spelman College campus.  It has varied slightly from year to year due to road construction downtown, especially with the construction of the new Mercedes-Benz stadium.  In fact today's race happens to coincide with the opening event at Mercedes-Benz stadium, a preseason home game for the Atlanta Falcons NFL team, last season's National Football Conference champion.  We have tickets for the first Atlanta United game at Mercedes-Benz in a couple of weeks.  

A few of us discussed the relay during a group run earlier this year, and agreed to form a four-person team for the 20K relay, each person running a 5K lap.  After spending less than two minutes consulting Coach Google about the recommended order of runners in relay races, I set up our team with Myriam Fentanes going first, me second, Beverly third, and Brian running the anchor leg.  The order seemed to make sense based on our recent finishing times, especially in the Decatur-DeKalb 4 miler last month.  

We arrived in plenty of time to warm up and check out the relay transfer zone.  I didn't know exactly what to expect, being the only one in the group who had not run a relay, but the timing chip had a clip which we could pin to our clothes, and hand off to the next person.  As we warmed up for the race, I was a little nervous about my performance.   I do get anxious about many things, but normally I'm not anxious about my recreation.  

There is no "I" in TEAM.  
But, there is an "I" in TIME!  
And "I" certainly didn't want to let down the TEAM,
 with a slower-than-usual TIME!  

Fortunately I was feeling good this morning.  I arrived hoping to run my leg in less than 25 minutes.  In the past few days, the temperatures have dropped just a few degrees, but it was pleasant and partly cloudy as we gathered for the start.  
A few seconds before the start...
And they're off! 
The race began with the Mercedes-Benz stadium in the background.  There were 130 relay teams in this morning's race, as well as quite a few individuals running the entire 20K (four loops) and 10K (two loops, USATF certified).  The race began precisely at sunrise, 7:07 am.  Teammate Myriam had lined up about 25 feet behind the starting line (chip start), and as she passed me standing on the sidewalk, about 50 feet beyond the starting line, I could see her already working her way past a few other runners.  So she was off to a great start! 
Myriam is on the far left of the photo, wearing the yellow singlet. 
I had planned to move back-and-forth between the southwest and northeast parts of the route, but the first two streets that I tried were closed.  I decided just to focus on warming up near the relay transfer zone, as I certainly didn't want to miss my turn!   The first relay runner reached the transfer zone about 18 minutes into the race - and with the starting line located about 200 meters before the transfer zone, the first leg measured at about 3.22 miles.  I was hoping to see Teammate Myriam between 24 and 25 minutes, and she didn't disappoint, appearing at the top of the hill at 24 minutes elapsed.  
This man led the first leg of the relay. 
I stepped into the crowded area next to the relay transfer zone.  Volunteers were trying to keep spectators and other runners from crowding the transfer zone.  I lost sight of Myriam for a few seconds, then peered forward to see her flying down the road toward the transfer zone entrance.  I started my watch, knowing that it probably wouldn't record much elapsed time until I began moving.  Then I stepped into the zone with perfect timing, if I may say so myself.  Teammate Myriam handed me the timing chip as I began running, and I barked out "Great job" as I took off at an adrenaline-fueled pace.  Teammates Brian and Beverly were standing at the first street corner cheering me on, as I found a secure place to clip on the timing chip.  In the first half-mile, I was running at top speed, passing a few of the 20K runners.  I began to realize that was probably a mistake, as most of them were undoubtably pacing themselves to an "easy" 24 minute lap, whereas that would be my "personal record" pace. I took a quick look at my watch and saw that I was running just under a 7 minute / mile pace.  I knew that I couldn't sustain that for three miles, and decided that I had better dial my speed back a bit.  
Hmm, it looks like my body had dialed back my speed well before
1/2 mile into the race, when my brain kicked in.
Water station at 2.2 miles allowed a short but badly needed walk break. 
As I made the turn toward the Spelman College campus, I heard the familiar voice of #1 cheerleader Cristal Stoutzenberger, who was serving as a bike marshall on an ElliptiGo bike.  I gave her a thumbs-up but kept running vigorously.  As I heard the 1-mile alert (7:13 elapsed) I also heard encouragement from Jennifer Butz, which whom I have occasionally run on Thursday evenings at Big Peach Decatur.  Closing the loop, we ran for about a quarter-mile in the opposite direction, facing quite a few runners on their second lap - and behind me!  After the split, my mouth began to feel a little parched.  I had begun the race well-hydrated, but heavy breathing for the past 10 minutes was taking its toll.  I was just hoping that there would be a water station somewhere ahead, as had been advertised.  Then I saw Teammates Brian and Beverly; they had found the route across to the other side of the race route.  I tried to speed up just a bit - I didn't want to let down the TEAM as I passed them - and Brian yelled "Go Frank!  THERE'S NO ONE BEHIND YOU!"  I'm sure that Brian meant to be 110% encouraging, but what I understood was "EVERYONE IS AHEAD OF YOU!  DON'T LET DOWN THE TEAM!"  With that, I began focusing on the runner ahead of me, a woman with a knotted ponytail.  I visualized an image shared by Olympian Jeff Galloway (not my idea!): I threw a giant rubber band ahead of me, pulling myself closer to the nearest runner in front of me.  Unfortunately, my imaginary rubber band had too much slack to pull me any closer.  I badly wanted to glance behind me to see if I could spot anyone at all, but I knew that would unnecessarily slow me down, so I just kept facing ahead, thinking "Don't let down the TEAM, don't let down the TEAM!"  

I reached the 2-mile mark shortly before reaching the Russell Federal Building (7:52, 15:05 elapsed).  Wow, the only other time that I had run two miles that quickly, I had set my 5K personal record (April 2016), in a race run largely in the same part of town.  Finally there was the water stop, just past Martin Luther King Drive.  I took a cup of water and a short walk break, perhaps 15 seconds.  It was a welcome break for my heart - and I knew that the last mile would be slightly uphill, as we crossed a couple of overpasses.  At the water stop, another runner caught up to me, and I resumed running, just a few feet behind him.  The intersections were well protected by Atlanta police, but a driver turned in front of us into a parking lot, making both of us slow down slightly.  I shouted "Hey!" but with no extra breath available, I got back up to speed, my newest competitor running a little faster than me for the next few blocks.  

Up ahead I could see Marietta Street, where we would make a left turn.  I stayed to the right of the lane, so that I could make the turn without slowing down, and in fact managed to close a little distance on the man in front of me.  One short block later, another identical left turn maneuver onto Centennial Olympic Park Drive put me not only closer to the man but also not far behind the woman with the knotted pony tail.  But now we were heading to an overpass crossing the MARTA tracks, as we passed the CNN Center and Philips Arena.  At this point, my pace had slowed to about 8:15 min / mile since the 2-mile alert, and I was losing some ground on the other two runners.  But as I reached the top of the overpass, the Mercedes-Benz stadium ahead of me, I knew that I didn't have much further to go, and was determined to finish strongly, hoping to record another sub-8 minute mile, for the TEAM!  I could see the man ahead passing the woman with the knotted ponytail.  Although I didn't regain the ground that I had lost a moment earlier, I didn't fall any further behind the woman.  

Passing the Mercedes-Benz stadium, I saw lots of color in front of me, with hundreds of runners wearing brightly colored team uniforms, and could hear lots of cheering.  That inspired me to push a little harder.  The relay transfer zone was coming up soon, so I unclipped the timing chip and held it in my left hand, as I ran as fast as I could manage.  A volunteer reminded us that the transfer zone was on the left side of the lane.  The woman with the knotted ponytail was ahead and on the right side of the lane - so she was running the 20K individual race.  Anyway, the cheering was deafening as I neared the transfer point, and then there was Teammate Beverly ready to go!  I firmly pushed the timing chip into her hand as she took off.  Finally, I could slow down, only to realize that I was in the way of a runner just behind me who was also accelerating to begin his third leg!  Thankfully he managed to avoid crashing into me, as I staggered into the crowd and turned off my watch.  3.06 miles in 23:36!  And probably I was a few seconds faster than that, with the early watch start and then not stopping the watch until several seconds after the handoff!  With an average pace of 7:43 min / mile, having run the third mile in 7:58, I didn't let down the TEAM!  
Fortunately it didn't take too long to regain my breath.  By the time I joined Bonnie and Myriam on the other side of the road, where Bonnie was photographing the relay transfers, I was recovering fairly well.  Teammate Myriam and I compared paces: she had run her leg at a 7:40 min / mile pace, so I was very happy that I had almost kept up with the fast pace that she had established.  Once my heart rate had slowed down, I could say, "Wow, that was fun!"   After downing a couple of bottles of water and a banana, I headed back toward the Mercedes-Benz stadium to wait for Beverly to finish.  But first, the woman with the knotted ponytail passed, finishing 15K in about 72 minutes.  Then Teammate Beverly approached, running well in the final mile into the relay transfer zone, handing the timing chip to her fiancĂ© Teammate Brian, for the anchor leg.  
Beverly near the end of her loop.  As she passed, I cheered "Go Beverly!"
The man in red shouted "What about me?"  I replied "She's on my TEAM!!"
While waiting for Teammate Brian to finish, I was able to cheer on Tucker Running Club member (and recent Boston Marathon finisher) Liz Mann past the 15K mark, as she headed into her final loop of the 20K individual race.  
Here's Liz completing the third of four loops
The woman with the knotted ponytail then passed, and reached the finish line at about 97 minutes overall.  Impressive, she ran a sub 8 minute / mile pace for that long.  

Around 100 minutes into the race, I spotted Teammate Brian coming over the top of the overpass.  I tried to take a couple of photos, then decided that I would rather try to run in with him to the finish, and put my phone away.  Brian saw me, saw the finish line, and he rapidly accelerated.  Mind you, he had just run 3 miles, whereas I had at least 50 minutes to recover.  I found high gear, but still couldn't quite keep up with him.  But all four of us on the TEAM crossed the finish line in quick succession behind Brian.  
Team Tucker Running Club  finish!  Frank, Brian, Beverly, Myriam,
and a volunteer's left hand directing us to the table to pick up our medals!
Teammate Brian had pushed himself so hard that it took him a few minutes to cool down, in fact I was a little worried for a moment, until his breathing began to get back to normal.  A few minutes later, Liz crossed the finish line! 

Liz doesn't look tired even though she just finished
20 kilometers, crossing the finish line about one minute ago! 
This is a race that I will definitely run again, although probably only as part of a relay team.  I think that I could get bored running four laps of the same route if I tried the 20K individual race.  And it will probably be difficult for me to force myself to go much slower in the first lap of a 20K, if I dwell on how much faster I had run the same street in a 5K race. 
"We are the Champions!"  maybe not really, but we felt like it at that moment!
With race organizer Tes Sobomehin Marshall
Official result: 1:41:43 TIME, 7th out of 27 mixed open TEAMS

Added on August 29: photos from race photographer
Myriam in the first 5K
This must be near the end of the second 5K.  Why are my eyes closed? 
Beverly running the third 5K
Brian finishing the fourth 5K leg

August 19, 2017: Atlanta's Finest 5K

The Atlanta's Finest 5K race involves the Atlanta Police Foundation and members of the police academy, in a race that starts and ends near the Georgia Aquarium, just north of Centennial Olympic Park.  It is advertised as one of the flattest 5K races in the area - although there is no such thing as a completely flat race route in Atlanta.  I had run this race in August 2014, near the end of my first year of running, but in 2015 I had volunteered, as I was running a half-marathon the next day, and in 2016 I skipped the race to focus on the early weeks of the marathon training program.  

Bonnie and I, shortly before sunrise at Pemberton Place
I felt that I would easily improve on my 2014 time of 26:14, and was aiming to run another sub-25 minute 5K.  Around 6:45 am, I joined a few friends including runningnerds Brian Minor, Beverly Ford, and Kristi Swartz for a warm-up run.  As my two best 5K times were set after running the race course at an easy pace in the hour before the race, I proposed the same for today's warmup, and as we all needed some extra miles for our respective half-marathon / marathon training programs, we all agreed.  One of the things I noticed along the route (and had also seen during the Peachtree Road Race) were the giant garbage trucks blocking major intersections.  I guess this is going to be the new normal, especially with two bad incidents just in the past week, with terrorists deliberately driving vehicles through crowds of pedestrians resulting in fatalities and many injuries: one last Saturday in Charlottesville, VA; the other a couple of days ago in Barcelona, Spain.  Runners are advised in pre-race materials to watch for hazards or potential trouble "see something, say something", but in the heat of competition, none of us will be thinking about outside dangers, we're just trying to avoid bumping into other runners or twisting an ankle on a pothole, so I was relieved to know ahead of time that the police were taking extra precautions for our safety

It was quite pleasant during our warmup run, 66 deg F, and other than a tiny short cut to stay on the safety of the sidewalk, we covered 3.03 miles of the race route, arriving to the start/finish area 13 minutes before the first wave was to begin.  I stretched a bit, talked with a few friends who were in wave B, listened to the National Anthem and pre-race announcements, and then wave A began their race.  I had hoped to get closer to the starting line before today's race, but at about 10 rows from the starting line, I would have had to push my way to get any closer, and it didn't seem appropriate to do so.  
Before we began our 3-mile warmup jog, around 6:45 am, with Brian Minor,
Beverly Ford, Kristi Swartz, Bonnie and me.  Brian and Beverly have a big day ahead:
this evening we're attending their engagement party! 
As we began our wave of the race with the loud toot of an air horn, the announcer shouted "Go! Go! Go!" and we were racing a few steps before we had crossed the starting line!  The Atlanta Track Club hires a fantastic announcer for its races.  He maintains a high level of enthusiasm throughout the event, beginning well before the start of the race, and continuing to the very last finisher.  I always enjoy listening to his patter!  Most impressively, he doesn't seem to repeat himself as he finds new ways to encourage runners to their best performance, especially as we approach the finish line.  

Within 50 yards of the start, the entire pack made a left turn onto Marietta.  I spotted an opening in front of me and began to rocket forward, then suddenly there was a young woman trying to cross the street, perpendicular to the fast-moving current of runners.  I managed to pull up and twist a bit to the right to avoid running her down; whew, that was a close call!  I guess she didn't know that there would be a short break between the back of our wave and the next wave of runners.  Anyway, I managed to get back up to speed, and quickly established my target pace, just under an 8:00 min / mile pace.  The warmup had been perfect.  Nothing was sore, and I was feeling strong and moving well.  At 7:57 elapsed, I passed the 1 mile marker just past Means Street, which marks mile 25 of the Georgia Marathon heading toward Centennial Olympic Park in the other direction.

It's not a picturesque route, but as a central location it's easily reached,
with plenty of parking, and permanent and clean restrooms in the park
We took a slight right turn onto Northside Drive, and then headed for a sharp right hairpin turn onto Tech Parkway, marking the southern border of the Georgia Tech campus.  I had watched the elite runners make this turn when I was volunteering a couple of years ago, and tried to hang to the left while speeding up a bit to make sure that I would have room to make the turn without cutting off anyone to my right.  Despite the "advantage" of moving a few miles per hour slower than the elite runners, I didn't manage to make a nice smooth curve going around the turn, and really had to dig to straighten out onto Tech Parkway.  At first we were going downhill under a railroad underpass, but as we started to go uphill, I began to feel the first bit of tiredness.  Funny, I had hardly noticed this when we were jogging at an easier pace 45 minutes earlier.  

In the 2014 race, I had remembered feeling extremely thirsty shortly after missing the water stop, so I made sure to get to the right side of the road as I approached the water station.  Unfortunately the cup that the volunteer handed me was only 1/4 full, if that!  Fortunately I had hydrated well before this race and wasn't really thirsty, but it was nice to take a 20 second walk break.  But with the two mile marker ahead, I discovered that my overall pace had dropped to 8:09 for the second mile (16:06 elapsed).  And that was including a short burst at a 7 min/mile pace before making the hairpin turn. 

From previous experience, and this morning's warmup run, I knew that the third mile would have a gradual but relatively long uphill section.  I kept pushing myself hard, but in this section I realized that I was now being passed by as many people as I was passing myself.  For a short time I tried to keep up with a guy wearing a black shirt "El Oso Blanco" (nickname for a former Atlanta Braves baseball player), but The White Bear opened up a good lead and I eventually lost sight of him.  The long stretch up Luckie Street was familiar from the final mile of the Hotlanta Half.  This time I stayed near the cones down the middle of the street, staying far away the divider separating the bicycle lane from the roadway, over which I had nearly tripped in the half marathon earlier this summer.  In this part of the race, a runner probably around my age wearing a blue shirt passed me three times - I didn't recall passing him twice in between, but I'm sure it was the same guy.  
You can see where I took the walk break (1.8 miles),
and how I struggled near the end of the third mile.
But (spoiler alert) I fired up the jets for the last quarter-mile! 
As we crossed Ivan Allen Boulevard, on the back side of the Georgia Aquarium, I began to accelerate, and was pleased to find the higher gear.  I managed to pass a few more people as we reached the mile 3 marker (8:13, 24:19 elapsed).  I wasn't checking my time at that moment, but figured that I was close to a 25 minute finish if I had run each mile around 8 minutes.  Making the final left turn to the finish, I could hear the announcer saying "Look for the Finish Line, Look for the Finish Line!"  Someone rocketed past me on my left - amazing, I will never be able to move my legs that fast - but I was gaining ground on a couple of other runners ahead of me.  Running directly east into the sun, I couldn't see the finish line at all, but could see the silhouettes of a cluster of people not too far ahead who seemed to be standing still, and then I saw the timing mats just a few steps before I finished.  

As I stopped my watch, I was surprised and then momentarily disappointed to see 25:08 as the time (25:04 was my official time), but quickly put the disappointment aside: I ran a good race for me, I ran my best, and I was happy that I was able to finish strongly.  Looking over the stats, my fastest mile (mile 1) was 20 feet net downhill, my slowest mile (mile 3) was 25 feet net uphill, and in between (mile 2) was 4 feet net uphill, so my effort was probably fairly even throughout.  I did make the best use of the 15-foot downhill finish, covering the last 0.11 miles in only 45 seconds. 

Next weekend I will run my first relay, a 20K race with four 5K loops, as the captain of a Tucker Running Club team.  I'm looking forward to the relay, but am hoping that I can run my 5K stage in less than 25 minutes.  
Celebrating our finishes under the giant Coke bottle cap at
Pemberton Park, just outside of the World of Coca-Cola.

August 12, 2017: The Vinings Downhill 5K "Run for the Kids"

I've heard of the Vinings Downhill 5K for a few years, but have never run it until now, preferring to run a free Atlanta Track Club race typically held on the same day.  However, this year the races were on successive weekend, so a couple of weeks ago I decided to sign up. 

The race is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Vinings, which is a small suburban town with the large Cumberland Mall, just across the Chattahoochee River from one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city of Atlanta.  We don't visit Vinings very often, although the town has some nice restaurants.  Notably, we bought the cupcakes for our 2010 wedding in a cupcake shop in downtown Vinings.  More recently, Bonnie worked for a short time at an office in Vinings, just downhill from the start of today's race, until the firm moved to a renovated space just west of midtown Atlanta.  

The Rotary Club of Vinings supports an amazing number of organizations and projects, with the Vinings Downhill 5K as their main annual fund-raising event.  While it's nice to support such an organization, I'll be frankly honest that it was the downhill course and the prospect of a gravity-assisted personal record that drew me, and perhaps many of the other participants.  In the words of the organizers: 

"This fast 5K course begins at the top of Mt. Wilkinson in Vinings, winds around the Cumberland Mall area, and ends at the Lovett School (280-foot net drop).  The first mile is downhill, but in the second mile before Cumberland Mall there is an uphill.  It is a fast course, but not all downhill."

Duly warned, I paid my registration fee, and carefully studied the race route and elevation map the night before the race, to pick out various points to gauge my time.  I found a number of "checkpoints" at turns where I could compare my progress based on a 24 minute projected finishing time.  That was an ambitious goal (my 5K PR is 23:52 from April 2016) but I felt that this was the course to try for a new PR.  

We arrived around 6:45 am, in plenty of time to park, and just a few minutes before traffic began to build in the area.  There were a few members of the Tucker Running Club, as well as Daniel a.k.a. Kurokitty, who writes a fantastic blog "The Running Cat" documenting a daily running streak more than 10 years at this point.  I had plenty of time to run through dynamic stretches and a short warm up, probably no more than a mile, but my legs felt good and so I was ready at the start.  

As usual for most 5K races, the start was crowded, but fortunately I seemed to have started in the "right" place, based on the speed of the majority of the other runners around me.  The first half-mile was a relatively steep downhill, 150 foot drop, although I never felt that it was so steep that I couldn't run well or safely.  At one point a runner bumped into me from behind before going around - I wasn't going that slowly myself - but no harm, no foul.  Fortunately it was crowded only for the first 1/4 mile or so, then I was running at my own pace.  

We had been warned of a steep uphill before the end of the first mile, and while it was a challenge, I was prepared and made my way fairly strongly, taking care to run a rapid cadence with shorter steps, so I passed a fairly large number of people in this zone.  I had hoped to make the right turn onto Cumberland Boulevard by 5:45, but it was 6:15 elapsed when I made the turn.  Oh well, I was running my best and was hoping that I had not measured carefully enough from the race map that had been posted on  7:43 recorded for mile 1.   

Making a left turn onto Akers Mill Road at 9:15 elapsed, I was closer to the projected time of 9:00, and was encouraged to push hard as this road was fairly short.  But in one block, at the right turn onto Cobb Parkway at 11:00 elapsed (projection 10:30), and I was pretty sure that my projections were just not going to be that helpful.  Fortunately I knew that a long, gentle downhill was coming up ahead, beginning around 1.75 miles.  There was a water station at the top of that hill, where I took a short walk break, and then got back up to speed, enjoying the downhill section of the race.  My heart rate monitor had sounded a couple of times on uphill sections, but was now blissfully silent, staying just under 170 bpm.  I had not checked my time as I passed the mile 2 marker, but when I thought to check a moment later at 16 minutes elapsed, I realized that was doing OK (actually 7:53 for mile 2).  

The road began to flatten out as we reached the flat bridge across the Chattahoochee River, crossing from Cobb County into Fulton County and from Vinings to City of Atlanta.  My goal was the Chattahoochee River bridge at 20 minutes, and I had made it at 20:02 when I checked!  But, was my projection at the start of the bridge, or at the middle?  It took nearly a full minute to cross the bridge, so I estimated that I was probably still off the 24 minute pace by about 30 seconds.  And the downhill part of the race was now over.  I was going to have to gut it out to the finish line. 
A new contender for worst race photo ever.
The expression on my face looks like
I must have passed an open sewer, although
I don't recall any bad odors approaching the finish line.   
Here I told myself, "I've run two marathons, this is only a 5K!  I can dig deep and finish strongly."  I pushed myself to the last turn onto Northgate Drive.  Checking my watch, seeing 22:20, I had estimated last night that I would be two minutes from the finish line.  I kept running as fast as my legs would move, occasionally passing another runner, but mostly keeping up with the others.  As we approached the grounds of the Lovett School, I was looking for the mile 3 marker, surely it must be ahead, no? did I miss it?   Then a curve in the road led to where I thought that finish line would be, and there was the mile 3 marker!  0.11 miles to go?  I had not looked at my watch (7:53 for mile 3, 23:29 elapsed) but knew that there wouldn't be a PR today.  Nonetheless I kept running as fast as I could, even over a few little uphills - oh, those were big speed bumps - and finally the finish line came into sight.  It seemed a long way away!  Then I thought I heard footsteps behind me and to my right, and heard someone cheering for a runner just behind me.  I accelerated a bit, and thought I heard a groan from the runner behind me.  Ha!  Then I started hearing the footsteps again, but determined that I wasn't going to be passed.  I found one last burst of speed - and was rewarded with another groan from behind!  Don't slow down, I told myself, drive through the finish line with every last bit of energy, the race clock had not yet changed from 24 to 25 minutes - and FINISHED!  

I've cleared the last hill and have seen the Promised Land, a k a the Finish Line.
I checked my watch and was pleased to see 24:31 (official time 24:26) and 3.14 miles elapsed, so the course length was accurate, considering that I had done a decent job running the tangents, i.e. covering the shortest possible race route.  But, that run was hard.  Really hard.  I walked for a full block to cool down, then realized that I hadn't actually stopped my watch until over 26 minutes had elapsed.  No problem, I would be able to figure out my time from when I slowed down.  In fact the race organizers had posted all of the official results by the time that I checked in the evening.  

No PR for me today, but when I checked results on Athlinks, it was my 4th fastest 5K time (disregarding a couple of races that were clearly less than 3.11 miles), and possibly my best time in a race run at a temperature above 70 deg F.  I'm not sure how much the downhill sections really helped, as I didn't feel that I was able to move my legs any faster, but they probably helped keep my heart rate down for much of the race, so that I had enough energy to push in the last quarter mile.  

After a breakfast / early lunch at the Oy! Cafe on Cumberland Parkway, we headed home to clean up and get dressed for the memorial service for Janet Pickney.  It was an emotional experience, given the tragic circumstances of her death, but I appreciated that the minister acknowledged the difficulty of mourning such an unexpected tragedy, and provided some practical advice for grieving and supporting each other.  I was glad that the church was filled, probably 200 people present, including a good showing from the Tucker Running Club.  Hopefully the large number of attendees was of some comfort for her husband and the large number of family members and close friends that were also there.  It was wonderful to hear anecdotes of Janet's life from several members of her family and friends, some of whom had known her for 60 years, and I learned many more dimensions of Janet that I had missed by just seeing her on Sunday morning runs.  In addition to showing a photo of Janet with her dog at the table where we signed the condolences book, and sharing a couple of photo albums with family and her foster and adoptive children, her husband / family also displayed a pair of her running shoes, along with a 1st place age group medal that she had won a few months ago.