July 15, 2017: The Decatur DeKalb 4-Miler (year 4)

My last good run was a 5-mile jaunt around the Stanford campus on June 30, about two weeks ago.  Since then, 
     July 4: I suffered from a cold during the Peachtree Road Race;
    July 9: I set out to do a 6-mile run, but was out of energy after 4 miles and walked much of the way back;
     July 11: I was relieved to finish a 4-mile run in evening heat, hills, and humidity;
    July 12: On a 6-mile run, I felt like I was developing blisters on my toes, and walked the last mile back to avoid making the soreness worse. 

But when I awoke for this morning's race, I felt rested, and was optimistic for a good run.  I stretched before we left the house, and again when we arrived at the Decatur YMCA well before the start of the race.  In a 2-mile warmup jog, my legs were sore for the first mile, but as the blood began to circulate, I was able to get loose and was pain-free in the second mile.  
Another good turnout by the Tucker Running Club! 
Last year, I started much too quickly in this race, and was exhausted by the 2-mile mark, struggling to get through the hills in the later part of this route.  Despite my difficulty, I was pleasantly surprised to cross the finish line having improved my time on the route by 35 seconds over the previous year.  So my goal for this year's race was to take it easy for the first 2 miles, running slower than an 8:00 min / mile pace, and then see what I could do for the second half of the race. 

I started near the front of wave B this morning, for runners between 7:30 to 8:30 min / mile paces.  In the first mile, I was passed by most of the people in my wave.  When I took a quick look behind me near mile 1 marker, there weren't many runners behind me.  But I finished the first mile in 8:05, right on plan.  The first half of the second mile was uphill, and I took it fairly easy heading up the hill to the Fernbank Elementary School, probably around a 9 min / mile pace.  Fortunately I knew from running this race several times before that I would enjoy a mile downhill once we passed the school.  Indeed I started to speed up on the level stretch and took advantage of the downhill legs, passing the mile 2 marker in 8:25, 16:30 elapsed.  

Does the race route resemble the contour of the continent of Africa?!
And if so, is there any symbolism to the location of the start/finish line in Eritrea?
Eritrean runner Zersenay Tadese is the current world record holder for the half-marathon. 

With the warm weather, I decided to carry a small towel soaked in ice water, wrapped around a few ice cubes, and it felt good to wipe my face with the cold towel in the first two miles.  Approaching the water station around 2.5 miles in, I opened the towel and tucked it around my neck, securing it under the back of my singlet, as I took a short walk break through the water station.  Between the cold towel and the gentle pacing of the first part of the race, running up hill in the last part of mile 3 didn't seem too bad, much better than last year's experience.  Turning onto North Decatur Road, I passed the mile 3 marker in 8:25, just under 25 minutes elapsed. 
At this point, I knew that I could better my personal record for the 4-mile distance (33:30) if I knocked out another 8:30 or faster final mile.  Unfortunately the North Decatur Road hills were a substantial challenge, and I decided that I had better take a couple of short walk breaks on each uphill section, to make sure that i could make my overall goal of a strong finish.  Indeed I was able to get back to a fast pace after each walk break.  It was hard to tell if I was passing as many people after the walk breaks as had passed me when I was walking, but I don't think that I would have covered the distance any faster if I had not taken the walk breaks.  
The overlay shows how my pace slowed going uphill after mile 1,
and how I began working hard (heart rate) after the water station around 2.5 miles in.
You can also see the three walk breaks (blue trace) as we ran uphill,
and a nice acceleration at the end of the race.  
Passing the second water station less than a half-mile to the finish, I was able to get into a higher gear, as we ran through the McDonald's parking lot at the corner of North Decatur and Clairmont Roads.  The volunteer announced "Two minutes to the finish from here!" which wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, especially when I stole a look at my watch and saw 32:00 elapsed on my watch.  I was thinking two numbers at this point: 33:30, my PR for the 4-mile distance (January 2016), and 34:16, my PR on this course (July 2016).  If the volunteer was right about 2 minutes, I would at least set a PR for this course.  Motivated by this thought, I was passing other runners at this stage, and knew that I had enough energy for a strong finish.  As I was familiar with the street, I knew exactly how far the YMCA would be even before it came into sight, and I was enjoying the sense of acceleration in the final stretch.  Shortly before reaching the YMCA, I saw 33:10 on my watch, and realized that I probably would not finish under 33:30, but ran as fast as I could through the final turn into the finish chute, crossing the finish line at 33:38!  38 seconds faster than last year, and a much better overall experience over last year's struggle! 

I'm really happy that I keep chipping away at my time with each successive year: 
2014, 35:49
2015, 34:51
2016, 34:16
2017, 33:38
I don't know if this is due to getting a little stronger each year, or if it's purely that I'm learning how to pace myself better, but it's very satisfying to see improvement since I began running 4 years ago.  
A more consistent pace has resulted in a better overall time! 

July 4, 2017: Peachtree Road Race 10K

For the first time, this year I was placed in wave B for the Peachtree Road Race, based on my 23:52 finish in the Atlanta Hawks Fast Break 5K back in April 2016.  I had also run a 50:20 10K in April 2017 that would have qualified me for wave B by 1 second, although that was after the registration deadline.  But I was hardly in wave B condition for today's Peachtree Road Race.  We spent the last week in California, enjoying cool breezes along the ocean, eating far too much good food, and seeing old friends and close relatives.  I did run twice while we were in California, 5 miles along the beach in Los Angeles on June 25, and another 5 miles around the Stanford campus on June 30, and we did a few hikes while we were in Big Sur, so we were physically active during our travels.  Then I came down with a cold during our last few days in California.  We returned to Atlanta on Monday morning (July 3) on the red-eye flight, so that we could get to the expo to pick up our race bibs on Monday afternoon, but that left me with a bad case of intercontinental jet lag, assuming that really exists.  We went to bed on Monday night at 9 pm, hoping to get a good night of sleep before a 4 am race day wakeup, but I awoke at 1 am and couldn't get back to sleep.  
In addition to my own lack of preparedness, the race was run under
code RED conditions, due to heat, hills, and humidity. 
On the morning of race day, I even considered not running the race, due to my cold.  But with this being "The Peachtree Road Race", the event around which the Atlanta running year revolves, it seemed unthinkable to miss the race.  Before leaving home, I fortified myself with enough cold medicine to disqualify the entire Olympic team in a drug test.   I also carried a 16 oz bottle of ice-cold Nuun, to ensure that I could stay hydrated throughout the race.  Although carrying a hand-held would probably slow me down, I wanted to ensure that I didn't get dehydrated during the race, especially battling a cold.  

Emory chemistry colleague Simon Blakey saw us as we were walking to the start.
He finished in 44 minutes, just outside of the top 1000 finishers! 
It was amazing how much more of the start I could see from the vantage point in wave B, vs. my starting position in previous years in wave C.  The organizers had placed a large video screen in the middle of our corral from which I watched the finish of the women's wheelchair race, and the start of the elite women's 10K.  The race officially began at 7:30 am with the elite runners, with wave A participants hot on their heels.  After the military race began at 7:33 am, it was already time for wave B.  I started in the middle of the corral - I probably should have started near the back due to my poor conditioning - but with the start at 7:35 am, I was able to get off to the desired pace.  My plan was to run fairly easily for the first three miles, no faster than 8 min / mile pace, and hopefully save some energy to run strongly up Cardiac Hill.  I covered both miles 1 and 2 at an 8:20 pace, a little slow for wave B but that was about right for me for today.  Shortly after the mile 2 marker, a woman passed me moving fairly quickly, wearing a wave C bib.  Considering that I had a 5 minute head start, she was probably running at a 6 minute / mile pace.  

I skipped the mile 1 water station but walked through all subsequent water stations, supplementing the Nuun I was sipping during the race.  The mile 3 marker appeared after we had begun to climb Cardiac Hill, 8:50 for mile 3, although my Garmin was registering miles about one minute before I actually reached the marker.  As I approached the timing mat for the 5K split, I deliberately took another walk break, to gather my strength for a strong push up the rest of Cardiac Hill, crossing the 5K mark at 26:57.  But as I tried to push myself up the hill, I realized that wasn't going to happen today.  I was carrying the residue of the giant ice cream "banquet" cone in Los Angeles, and the complementary breakfast donuts at Big Sur, along with too many delicious macadamia nut cookies at the symposium at Stanford.  I barely noticed when I crested the first hill at the Shepherd Center, wiping sweat from my eyes, as the road briefly leveled out leading up to the mile 4 marker, 10:19 for mile 4, 35:49 elapsed.  At this point I was taking 30 second walk breaks every few minutes, and was grateful for the well-stocked water tables, taking a couple of sips and then pouring the rest on the back of my neck, to stay cool.  I was running low on Nuun by this stage, and was glad that I had not elected to rely solely on the water stations.   Mile 5 was even slower, 10:57 and 46:46 elapsed on the Garmin, but actually around 48 minutes had elapsed when I passed the marker.  

At that point I realized that I still might be able to finish in less than 1 hour, but had to run the last 1.22 miles faster than a 10 minute / mile pace.  Normally that isn't a problem in a 10K race, but I wasn't sure if I had it in me today.  But fortunately I had taken it easily enough to this stage, so I found a little reserve of energy.  I began to speed up after passing the high point of the race at 12th Street, and turned the corner onto 10th Street at 54 minutes on my watch.  This is about 1 km to the finish, which I can normally easily cover in 6 minutes or less.  I was able to find a higher gear in the final stage of the race.  A few speedsters (probably from waves D or E) passed me in the last half-mile, but I also passed several people that were struggling at the end.  My heart rate monitor had not sounded at all until the last half-mile, which left me wondering if I could have worked harder today, but then I passed a runner who was getting assistance from a medic on the side of the road (fortunately he was sitting up and was conscious as I passed) and was thankful that I wasn't a victim of heat stroke.  As I crossed the finish line, I saw 59:30 on my watch (59:23 official time), gave a small fist pump of celebration, and staggered into Piedmont Park.  I had run mile 6 in 9:42 and the last 0.36 miles (as recorded) at an 8:28 pace.  It took me awhile to recover from the heat, but a couple of bottles of cold water and standing in the shade at the Atlanta Track Club post-race party helped.  

Bonnie found great amusement in snapping this candid photo
(above) as we were returning from the race on MARTA.
As did our friend Deb, who took another photo (below):

I had bib #5156, but finished in 9515th place.  If I were to submit today's time as a Peachtree qualifier, that would have put me in wave F.  I decided to spin today's disappointing performance as a personal record of sorts, my slowest 10K to date.  I had too many factors working against me today, a couple of which were under my control.  So I have resolved to work on getting my weight back down and my conditioning back up - once I have fully recovered from this cold.  

June 24, 2017: Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure

In the past year, three friends in our circle have been diagnosed with cancer.  This comes as a shock to us all: each person is a few years younger than me, has lived a healthy lifestyle, but just got unlucky in the lottery of cells that began multiplying without restraint.  One of our friends has pancreatic cancer, the other two diagnosed breast cancer.  While we're hopeful that they are all getting the best treatment, it is a sobering reminder of our mortality.  For this reason I decided about a week ago to register for this year's Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure.  

My mother-in-law Homoon is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed 12 years ago, several years before I had met Bonnie.  It was a major battle but fortunately she has now been in remission for more than 10 years, cancer-free.  She is active and thriving today!   

At a family dinner for Father's Day last weekend, my father-in-law Hwajin suggested that our family motto should be "Strong Together!"  We also all agreed to join the Komen Race together, sharing the 1-mile walk at 7:30 am, and then those who wanted to would join the 5K race ay 8:00 am.  I set up the "Strong Together" team and within 24 hours, all six of the Youn clan in Atlanta had registered!   

On the day of the race, we awoke to intermittent drizzle and occasional heavier rain.  Unfortunately this was the remnants of a tropical storm that had made landfall near my hometown on the Texas / Louisiana border a few days earlier.  Nonetheless we all made our way to Lenox Mall where the event was centered.  Fortunately the rain began to abate as we gathered about an hour ahead of time.  There was a survivor's breakfast ahead of time that Homoon and Hwajin joined.  Homoon received many hugs from other survivors, inspired to see a sister who was thriving many years after her own struggle with breast cancer.  
Team "Strong Together!"  Bonnie and me, Ploy and Brutus, Homoon and Hwajin.
The pink bib designates "Survivors and Thrivers."
The person who took the photo had gone through breast cancer treatment last year,
and was inspired to hear that Homoon was 12 years beyond her diagnosis. 
We joined the one-mile walk with several thousand other participants, walking down what is normally one of the busiest streets in Atlanta.  During the walk, we talked about Mom's journey through the cancer experience, and then about the walking that they will do during an upcoming journey to Provence that Bonnie and her parents are planning later this year to celebrate a round-numbered birthday (unfortunately I won't be able to take 2 weeks in the middle of the semester).  We ended up falling behind most of the others, and cut the walk about 1 block short to head back to Lenox Mall before the 5K race.  I jogged the last few blocks to get in a warmup run, to see a much larger group gathered for the start of the race.  I managed to get into a reasonable position that I thought would be reasonable for my pace. 
Our family "Strong Together", early in the 1-mile walk
After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, the MC asked us to call out the name(s) of those close to us that had battled breast cancer.  A chorus of names filled the air, quite a sobering moment.  One runner in front of me wore a bib memorializing her cousin, who had died from breast cancer in her 20's.  Then it was time for the run to begin!
Shortly before the start of the 5K race
This race began a block in front of the start of the Peachtree Road Race, which will be in just 10 days from now.  I had resolved to run the first mile at no faster than 8 minutes, and settled into what seemed like a reasonable pace.  What I did not realize until after I looked at the Garmin data is that I ran much of the first half-mile at a 7:30 pace, after getting a slow start at the beginning.  Seeing how I slowed down as we went uphill, I probably should have taken it even easier in the beginning.  One of the local radio stations had a booth at the corner of Peachtree and Piedmont Roads, about 1/2 mile into the race.  Shortly before reaching the busy intersection with East Paces Ferry Road, we reached the mile 1 marker, and my watch signaled exactly 8:00 for the first mile.  For a moment, I found myself drafting behind a taller runner, but his gait was a bit unpredictable (gangly?) and I didn't get too close.  My attention was quickly diverted by the sight of a large truck at the intersection with Pharr Road, trying to make a turn onto Peachtree Road in our direction!  I then realized that we did not have the far lane of the northbound direction.  Fortunately I was in the far left lane (right lane northbound), trying to run the shortest possible route.  
The Garmin data is off by one mile, so the number 2 actually marks mile 1,
#3 marks mile 2, and #4 marks mile 3.
The second mile on Pharr Road took us past the Atlanta Fish Market restaurant, one of my favorite restaurants in my early years in metro Atlanta.  Pharr Road has some rolling elevation, but net downhill, so I tried to pick up a little speed.  At the water station, the volunteers were passing out not only cups of water but full bottles.  My mouth had felt dry for the entire race, so I decided to take the full bottle.  Shortly after the water stop, we reached the mile 2 marker, 7:54.  That was pretty close to what I had hoped to run. 

Turning onto Piedmont Road, we were climbing uphill for most of that distance, about 1/2 mile.  I was beginning to tire at this point, but then put that thought aside: this isn't difficult, chemotherapy is difficult.  I'm grateful that I can run, that I can do this without any real cares or concerns.  But I could see the time ticking away on my watch, running just under a 9 min / mile pace.  Once I reached the 20 minute mark, I knew that I wasn't going to challenge a PR today, so I decided to take a 30 second walk break shortly before we reached the intersection of Piedmont and Peachtree.  That gave my heart rate a chance to drop a bit, as I wanted to have enough energy to finish strongly.  

I got back up to reasonable speed before we reached the radio station booth was encouraging us,  I knew now that it was just a bit more than 1/2 mile to the finish, and that the route would be slightly downhill the rest of the way.  I tried to increase my speed a bit, trying to get my average pace for the third mile closer to 8 minutes.  Oh, the vanity of the Garmin watch!  I had only managed to get the average pace down to 8:28 when the mile 3 alert sounded, 24:22 elapsed.  
There were some glitches in the data where we passed tall buildings near the beginning and end.
But I was amazed to see just how fast I managed to speed up at the end, after running for 3 miles. 
I did manage to kick into high gear after passing the mile 3 marker, some distance after the alert had sounded.  I was determined to make a strong finish, as there was a big cheering squad at the final corner and several dozen spectators encouraging the finishers.  I was amazed afterwards to see that much of the final 100 meters was run sub 5 min / mile pace, I didn't know my legs could move that quickly!  I crossed the finish line at about 25:30.  That was a better time by about 40 seconds over the 2015 race, yet it's my slowest 5K of the season.  It's possible that the course was a little long: I didn't feel that I weaved very much along the race route, but my watch measured 3.20 miles.  

June 17, 2017: The Possum Trot 10K

Over the past year, I've run fairly regularly on Thursday evenings with a group out of the Big Peach Running Company in downtown Decatur.  Most of the participants are MUCH faster than me, but it's a good workout for me to try to keep up, and I think that it's making me a better runner.  A couple of weeks ago, a few of us formed a team to get a discounted rate to the Possum Trot, a 10K race along the Chattahoochee in north metro Atlanta.  I was not completely sure if I would be in shape to run a race 6 days after completing the Hotlanta Half Marathon.  Although I was game to join the group, I suggested our team name might be Hotlanta Roadkill, or Decatur Roadkill.  After some discussion we agreed on the team name "Fried Roadkill."  After I realized that the race was a fundraiser for the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which cares for injured birds of prey (eagles, owls, hawks), I felt that the Roadkill name wasn't really appropriate, but it was already done. 
A lake at the Chattahoochee Nature Center
The organizers advised the runners to arrive by 6 am (an hour in advance of the 7 am start).  I had to leave the house before 5:30 am, and pulled into the parking lot at 6:00 am on the dot.  The lot was nearly full!  But the parking volunteers were very organized and guided me to one of the last parking places.  Carl, having the longest drive, had arrived shortly after 5 am.  Jennifer's friend dropped her off at the Nature Center, but Chester had to run in from the remote parking site and made it just a minute or two before we started the race. 
About 10 minutes before the start, on Willeo Road
After picking up the bib at the Nature Center, it was about 1/2 mile to the start, on Willeo Road.  I went back to the car to pick up sunglasses, apply some sunscreen, and thoroughly stretch.  Most people were walking, but I chose to warm up by running at an easy pace.  I was pretty sore with the first steps, but I made my way down the road and the blood circulated into my muscles, the soreness dissipated.  After walking past the starting line, I continued running a bit further to the end of the route, where a police car was blocking the road to protect the route from traffic.  That was where we would make the second U-turn to head back to the finish line.  There was a noticeable hill in that sector, approximately 30 feet high and then back downhill to the U-turn, and I actually triggered the heart rate warning (170 bpm) on the way back.  At least I knew in advance that one hill would be coming near the end of the race.  And my heart rate rapidly dropped as soon as I stopped running.  

I was at the start area around 15 minutes ahead of time, and met up with Steve Freedman, who had been in the marathon training program last fall, and we had run the Chickamauga Marathon last November.  Then Carl joined us, followed by Jennifer.  Finally, as pre-race announcements were concluding, Chester made it, just as we started to walk closer to the start.  I was hoping to use Carl as a pacer, although I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep up with him!  Shortly after 7:00 am, the starter gun sounded!  I got a bit ahead of our team and crossed the starting line about 20 seconds after the gun start.  
Carl, Jennifer, and me, about 5 minutes before the start
My goal for this race was to run another negative split.  I decided that meant that I would run the first mile in 8:30 or so, and then try to speed up a bit in the subsequent miles, trying to run the last couple of miles at sub 8:00 min/mile pace.  In my PR race in April, I ran the first mile in 7:20 and the second in 7:45, before slowing to run the remaining miles at about an 8:25 min / mile pace.  Today I managed a more disciplined start, running the first mile in 8:26, as we turned onto Azalea Drive.  I had actually crossed the starting line ahead of Carl and the other teammates, but before we finished the first mile, Carl had caught up and passed me, although I was able to keep him in sight.  The route was really beautiful, with the Chattahoochee River on our right and lush foliage on the left, with the occasional home along the drive.  On Azalea Drive, I sped up a bit to cover the second mile in 8:07, even walking through the first water stop shortly before the 2-mile marker.  Around that time, I caught up to a fairly tall man who was running about the same pace, and decided to experiment with drafting, having watched the 2 hour marathon attempt last month.  I tried to be subtle about it so that he wouldn't notice, but I was running just 6 feet behind him, careful not to get any closer so that I wouldn't trip him up.  It seemed to work, and I felt that I wasn't really having to work with someone else breaking the wind resistance.  

After a couple of minutes of drafting, I heard Carl cheer - he was about 15 - 20 feet ahead of me, running near the middle of the road, whereas I was in the middle of the lane - and saw a group of three runners sharing the lead, coming in the other direction.  I moved from behind the other runner - no longer drafting - and said "They must be about 3-1/2 miles in!"  Turns out they were only at the 3 mile mark, but still running at a 6 min / mile pace, I estimated.  Before long, we were approaching the first U-turn of the race, before the intersection with Roswell Road.  I was running even with a woman on the inside, and sped up a bit to get a few steps ahead so that we wouldn't make the turn at the same time, but decided that it would be better for me to take the turn a few steps wide to avoid any blocking or collision.  My heart rate monitor sounded for the first time in the race as I made the turn, but then went silent again as I settled back into an 8 min / mile pace.  Shortly after making the U-turn, I nearly stepped on a fried roadkill pancake, but fortunately managed to side step.  Anyway, it didn't take long to pass the 3-mile marker, 24:38 elapsed, 8:05 minutes for mile 3.  

I was delighted to have stayed with my plan to this stage, and decided to see if I could speed up a bit more.  In fact I ran most of the fourth mile just under 8 min / mile pace, but took another water break before the mile 4 marker, finishing in 8:11, just under 33 minutes elapsed.  As my PR for a four-mile race is 33:30, I was really happy with that.  Turning back onto Willeo Road, I tried to close the small gap on Carl, but he was also running strongly and I didn't manage to catch up.  Nonetheless I was maintaining the same pace as in mile 4.  There was a water station as we approached the finish line shortly before the mile 5 marker, and it was amazing to see quite a few speedsters in this race finishing in 40 minutes.  

Even with the walk break through the water station, I finished mile 5 in 8:08 and with 41 minutes elapsed.  I was on pace for a 51 minute finish, but now I was starting to tire.  My heart rate alert had been sounding for most of the last mile and I was "running hot", despite wearing the lightest possible singlet and no cap.  If the route had remained level, I probably would have been able to hold on with another low 8 minute pace, but there was the challenge of the hill.  Despite being ready for it, "it's just a 30 foot hill," I really slowed down.  I thought about taking a walk break - a woman up ahead was doing so - and one of the spectators standing near the top shouted "Walking isn't allowed!  Walking isn't allowed!" so I couldn't exactly take a walk break in front of that dude.  Over the hill, I regained some speed, heading down to the second U-turn.  Carl made the turn, and as we passed, I started counting seconds until I reached the turn, about 10 seconds, meaning that I was 20 seconds behind Carl.  That's a gap that I might have closed, except that Carl was not flagging, and I had to run back up that hill.  Jennifer was coming in the other direction, not too far behind, and she called out "You can't let Carl beat you!"  All I could do was shrug my shoulders, as I was struggling.  A few runners passed me on the hill, but I reminded myself that my goal was not to beat them up the hill, or to catch up to Carl, it was simply to have a strong finish and have an even or slightly negative split.  Once we made it over the hill, I was able to extend my legs a bit and speed up on the downhill section.  
The elevation line (green) looks like the course was small rolling hills, but in fact the only hill that I remember was the one noted with the arrows.  You can see by the blue line that I took a short walk break right before the 2-mile mark, a longer break before the 4-mile mark, another long break before the 5-mile mark, and then really slowed down uphill stretches near the end of the race. 
The road leveled out, and I slowed a bit without the gravity assist.  Now I was starting to hurt with the prolonged exertion, but my watch read 5.73 miles.  I could hold on for half a mile, couldn't I?  I stopped following my pace and simply tracked distance for the rest of the way, watch read 5.85 miles, then I missed the 6 mile alert (but it was 8:28, 49:25 elapsed), I passed the mile 6 sign, my watch read 6.1 miles, where was the finish?!  I could hear footsteps behind me and would then be passed, and it happened again, and once more at least.  I didn't pass anyone at all, and was nearly out of gas, but still gamely working hard.  Then the road made a curve to the right and I could see the finish chute far ahead.  I could hear the announcer encouraging us as we drew closer: "That's the way to finish!" I thought he was speaking to me but then a young woman jetted past me on the right.  As I entered the chute, the clock was still on 51 minutes, I crossed the timing mat, stopped my watch, 51:27, official chip time 51:23!  That was my third fastest time (26 10K races to date), and just 17 seconds behind Carl.  But sweat was pouring off of me, my clothes were completely soaked!  After a couple of cups of water, I started to recover.  I went back onto the road to walk a bit and to cheer in Jennifer and Chester, and we were able to get a team photo with the Possum mascot.  
Team Fried Roadkill: Chester, Carl, Possum, me, Jennifer
According to Garmin, I ran the final 0.29 miles in 2:02, a 7:06 min / mile pace, so I was happy to have sped up at the end, even though it didn't feel like I was running that fast.  With 24:38 for the first three miles and 24:47 for miles 4 - 6, I ran a pretty even pace throughout.  I don't know exactly where the 5K point was, but it appears that I ran to 3.14 miles in about 25:45, and given that I sped up in the final stretch, I ran about the same time for the last 3.15 miles, so I met the goal of running the race with an even split.
After the race I saw Daniel Yee, a k a Kurokitty of The Running Cat blog
This is definitely a race that I will run again.  It was well-organized (at least for those of us arriving earlier) with plenty of volunteers and a nicely protected route.  It is one of the flattest race routes in Atlanta, and despite the temperature I was able to run quite fast and consistently.   
Two owls at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.  All of their captive birds are rescue birds,
and have suffered permanent injuries that make it impossible for them to survive for long in the wild. 

June 11, 2017: The Hotlanta Half, year 3

In yesterday's blog post, I shared my race strategy for today's race: 

Start with the 2:15 pace group, run the first six miles at ca. 10 min / mile pace;
Interval strategy, 3:30 run / 0:30 walk;
Turning onto the Eastside Beltline (at mile 6.3), 
"that is when my race will begin, not one step earlier."

Goals:  "My only time goal is to run a negative split race.  I'm completely taking the possibility of sub-2 hour finish from my thinking."
Tucker Running Club in the house!
Paula, Stephanie, Linda, Liz, Lindy, me, Sharon, and Kelly
(photo credits, unless otherwise stated: Bonnie Youn)
with Carl Line, before the race
We had a good turnout from Tucker Running Club this morning.  It was nice to see Carl Line, with whom I typically run on Thursday evenings group runs at Big Peach Running Company in Decatur, and to catch up with Thea Pascal, from fall 2016 the marathon training group.  As we lined up for the start, I met Brandi Gilbert for the first time, of the FunnerRunner blog.  The sky was clear, and according to my Garmin, the temperature at the start was 64 deg F.  As in past years, we began precisely at 7:00:00 am, and I crossed the starting line about 40 seconds after the official start.  

Today's race went very well, almost perfectly according to the plan!  I ran the first six miles in 1:00:06, a 10:01 min / mile pace.  With the interval strategy, I was "leapfrogging" friends Linda Bode Phinney and Sheelagh O'Malley for the first five miles or so, and it was nice to talk with them from time to time as we were running.  The 2:15 pace group , from Big Peach Running Company in Marietta, started in corral B (I was assigned to corral C), but I caught up to them in the first mile.  They were running a little faster than the 10:18 min / mile average pace, but one of them told me that they were banking a little time to get through the hills later in the race.  
Starting the race, with the Georgia Aquarium in the background
In these early miles, I caught up with Carol Parr, also from the fall 2016 marathon training program, and we talked about the Savannah Rock & Roll marathon for a moment.  Her advice: make sure you work out parking in advance!  I'm trying to decide if I will run a fall marathon, and am considering Savannah.  Around mile 3 I had passed the 2:15 pace group for good, still running conservatively.  The uphill section in mile 4 slowed me down just a bit, but my self-talk kicked in "Don't worry, you're perfectly on plan, you're feeling much better today than you did last year at this point."  Linda, Sheelagh, and I passed Bonnie in front of the State Capitol building, and I was happy to announce to Bonnie "I'm perfectly on plan!"  In the middle of mile 6, we ran through an underpass under the I-75/I-85 connector.  Running up out of the underpass is always challenging - last year it was where my race began to fall apart - but this year I just took a walk break, stayed calm, stuck with the plan.  Beyond this point I pulled ahead of Linda and Sheelagh, but mile 6 was my slowest, at 10:21 minutes, so I was comfortable with my pace. 
Approaching the Capitol and Georgia State,
about 4.5 miles in, with
Sheelagh O'Malley and Linda Bode Phinney

For hydration, I carried 24 oz of Nuun in a hand-held recyclable bottle, and another 16 oz of cold water on a water belt.  I didn't see anyone else carrying two bottles of water, but I didn't care: one of the valuable things I learned in marathon training was the importance of staying hydrated on long runs.  I would drink a little Nuun during walk breaks when I needed some liquid, and skipped the water stops until mile 5, when the crowd had cleared up a bit and it was easier to take a cup from a volunteer without getting tangled up with the other runners.  I took my first shot block around 48 minutes in, and took a total of four blocks in the middle miles of the race.  I carried another packet that I never touched.  It still seemed that I was getting too much sugar and was comfortably not taking in any more carbohydrates beyond mile 9 or so.  I passed the mile 6 mark at 1:00:06, a 10:01 min / mile pace to that stage.  I was running as steadily as a metronome!  I wanted to speed up, but being a few blocks from the Eastside Beltline, I managed enough discipline to stick to the 10 min / mile pace.  I took one walk break as we approached the south end of the Beltline, and at 1:03, 6.33 miles in ....

I was on the Beltline!  I immediately accelerated, exhilarated by one of my favorite places to run in metro Atlanta.  Running north is the downhill direction, about 120 ft steady drop in elevation over 1.9 miles.  I passed a LOT of people on the Beltline.  Last year I was already fading by that point; this year I ran the Beltline at an 8:54 min / mile even while maintaining the discipline of the run/walk intervals.  I heard someone say as I passed "That guy's gonna burn out on the hills later in the race."  What he didn't know is that I was only running a 7-mile race, with the first 6.3 miles as my warmup.  The Atlanta Track Club had a cheering station at the underpass for Freedom Parkway, and I exchanged a quick handshake with Bob Wells as I passed.  On the Beltline I caught up to Tucker Running Club member Paula Klingman-Paik.  We chatted for a moment, she was having a good race (as was I) but then I pulled ahead.  A few minutes later, to my surprise, I caught up to Liz Mann, another Tucker Running Club member.  Liz ran this year's Boston Marathon.  I just kept going, hoping that I wasn't making a mistake passing Liz, as she typically runs a bit faster than me.  

In the last half-mile of the Beltline, I passed a runner wearing a shirt in support of Jon Ossoff, a candidate for the special election to fill the 6th Congressional District seat for the U.S. House of Representatives.  I slowed for a moment to tell him, "I'm cheering for Ossoff!"  Bonnie and I went to a campaign event a couple of months ago, and I was very impressed by Jon Ossoff's progressive but pragmatic message.  I've appreciated the positive campaign that he is running.  We live just a few blocks outside of the 6th district and can't vote for him, but here's hoping that he wins the election on June 20.  Near the end of the Beltline, just past the mile 8 marker, the first cold towel station awaited.  I hadn't expected a cold towel station this early in the race, but it was a wonderful surprise!  I was working pretty hard at this point, so it felt really good to wipe down my head and face.  Still, I felt like I was in control of my race, and was pleased to have found and maintained the higher gear.  
The blue trace probably looks like a heart rate (thump, thump, thump)
but it's my pace.  Note the increase around 6.3 miles.
The green trace is elevation, the black is heart rate. 
I knew that the 9th, 11th, and 13th miles would be tough.  Heading uphill on 10th Street along the southern edge of Piedmont Park, I began to struggle and took an extra walk break.  My self-talk remained positive, "You're running a negative split race, you're on plan, you can afford to slow down a bit until you crest the hill."  I ran mile 9 in 9:30 (54 feet net uphill), which felt slow after flying down the Beltline, but last year I was completely incapable of running a sub-10 minute mile by this stage, so that was a win!  I entered Piedmont Park at the 12th Street gate at 1:28 elapsed for about 9.1 miles.  Off to my left I could see the 10-mile marker, but I had to run a loop through the park before I would reach the 10-mile marker.  To run a sub-2 hour race, I needed to reach the 10 mile point by 1:30, but I was too far behind to manage that.  I reminded myself, my goal today was not the 2-hour finish, my goals were to run a negative split, and to have a better experience than last year, and I was well on my way to achieving both of those goals.  It was helpful to know that the 2-hour finish was impossible, made it easier to accept staying on plan.  

Before long, I had circled through the park and was passing the mile 10 marker, with 1:37 elapsed.  I finished the bottle of Nuun, which was the plan, and threw the plastic recyclable bottle into the appropriate bin before leaving the park.  I still had 16 oz of water to carry me to the finish, and spritzed a little on my head and the back of my neck.  I will admit, at that moment I asked myself "Can I run the last 5K in less than 23 minutes?"  Knowing that my PR for the 5K distance is 23:52, in cool weather, and without 10 miles preceding that race, I quickly put aside that ridiculous thought.  But what might I run today?  Was a 30-minute 5K in the cards, even with two more uphill sections ahead?  As I left the park, the most challenging part of the race loomed: "The 12th Street Hill," 60 feet uphill in just two blocks.  Checking my watch, I could see that I was on schedule for a walk break in the middle of the hill.  I had been carrying the cooling towel for the last two miles, and finally tossed it into a garbage can during the walk interval.  It took me 2 full minutes to cover those two blocks, but in the second block, I could hear the cowbells and cheers from the runningnerds, manning the second cold towel station.  Beverly Ford was taking photos at the corner, Carol Gsell was announcing my name as I turned onto Juniper Street, Tes Sobomehin Marshall was handing out towels, and they were all cheering as they saw my runningnerds race team shirt!  
runningnerds volunteers at mile 10, corner of 12th Street and Juniper Street
Thanks for raising our spirits with your enthusiastic cheers, and
lowering our temperatures with the cooling towels! 
Heading south on Juniper Street, the road continued to rise in elevation.  I knew from last year's race to hold on to the cooling towel until I was close to getting the next towel, although most runners had thrown their towels away (or on the road) within a block of receiving them.  My sunglasses were so streaked with salty sweat that I could hardly read the street signs, but I could see 8th Street (three blocks to the turn), then 6th Street, and then the turn onto 5th Street, heading up to Peachtree Street, at the top of a ridge.  Upon crossing Peachtree Street, I passed the Big Peach Running Company Midtown store, with a few employees cheering us on, and I slowed for a water station just past the mile 11 marker (10:09 minutes, 88 feet net uphill).  Heading into the Georgia Tech campus, I knew that much of the next mile would be downhill, and I managed to speed up again.  In the middle of campus, I was accelerating into a right turn onto 4th Street.  A policeman was telling a driver to "Stop, stop!" but the driver thought that s/he could make it through the intersection before the old dude arrived (that's me).  I had to slow down just a bit, but avoided running into the side of the car.  The policeman was yelling at the driver, I was none too happy, but fortunately there was no injury and I just kept going.  The last water station was just past the mile 12 marker, on the north side of Bobby Dodd stadium.  I covered mile 12 in 9:30, 82 feet net downhill, 1:57 elapsed.  
Big Peach Running Company - Midtown
water station at mile 11

Just 1.1 miles to go!  But now I was feeling tired.  I had run 12 great miles, but was questioning if I had left enough in the tank for a strong finish, especially 95 feet net uphill.  I took an extra walk break, which helped a bit.  Turning onto North Avenue, I began looking ahead for the third cooling towel station, manned by Run Family.  A few of their volunteers were encouraging us, and I responded by speeding up as much as I could manage.  The cooling towel station was quite far down the road (so it seemed), but the volunteers were enthusiastically cheering us on, and I gave them two thumbs up as I accepted a towel and wiped down my head and face.  

Turning onto Luckie Street at 2:01 elapsed, I had about 7/10 of a mile to the finish.  Last year I was staggering down the street, staring through the heat at the prospect of missing a 2:20 finish.  Today I was going to do much better.  Now my goal was to beat my Memorial Day race time of 2:09, but unfortunately we were still running uphill.  I took a couple of short walk breaks as needed.  Along Luckie Street, I nearly had a serious mishap: I had been running in the right lane for automobile traffic, which was coned off, but most runners were in a bicycle lane on the far right.  I decided to move over to the bicycle lane, and as I crossed a grey line, well, it wasn't a line, it was an inch-high separator.  I stumbled a bit, but fortunately I did not fall.  Ahh, the danger of running with salt-sweat covered sunglasses.  Resolving to be more careful the rest of the way, I stayed in the bicycle lane until we approached Ivan Allen Blvd, when the runners began to move across the road to the left lane, reserved for runners.  I carefully stepped over the grey divider - but here it was just a line painted on the road, no separator!  
Shortly after finishing the race! 
One of the most elaborate medals ever:
the three center pieces independently spin! 

Ivan Allen Blvd was the top of the hill, and it was downhill to the finish.  Passing the parking deck for the Georgia Aquarium, the street was shaded from the morning sun.  With just 1/4 mile to go, I was determined to accelerate to the strongest possible finish.  I saw Cristal Stoutzenberger, working the race as a bike marshal.  She recognized me, shouting "Go Frank!  You know where the finish line is!" and hit high gear, passing several other runners.  Turning the corner onto Baker Street, I expected to immediately see the finish line banner, but it was momentarily hidden until the road turned downhill again for the last couple of hundred feet.  I rocketed forward toward the finish line, trying to catch up to a few runners in front of me.  Pushing as hard as I could (I actually managed a 6:45 pace for that stretch) I caught up to one of the guys and we hit the timing mat in a photo finish!  The clock was just short of 2:09, I threw my arms up in the air in celebration, certain that I had executed the negative split strategy.  A volunteer handed me the medal, another volunteer gave me a cooling towel, and I turned into Pemberton Park to cool down.  I stopped my watch a few seconds after crossing the finish line, 2:08:04, and felt that I had probably finished just under 2:08, as I had also started my watch a few seconds before crossing the timing mat at the start.  My official time was released a few hours later: 2:07:56!  530th out of 1524 finishers, 28th out of 66 finishers in my age group. 

Post-race analysis: 
Miles 1 - 6, 10:01 min / mile pace.
Miles 7 and 8, mostly downhill on the Beltline, 8:59 min / mile pace.
Miles 9 - 13.1, 9:39 min / mile pace. 
64 degrees F at the start, 74 degrees F at the finish. 

I definitely ran a negative split race today, but it wasn't as huge of a difference as it had felt, only about 3 minutes faster for the second half: from the start to the estimated 6.6 mile midpoint in 1:05:30; 1:02:30 from the midpoint to the finish line.  It just goes to show how difficult it is to run the second half of a race faster than the first half.  Fortunately I planned and executed the perfect strategy for the first six miles.  Although I didn't set a new personal record, I was extremely pleased with my performance.   

Most importantly, I had a great experience in today's race.  I really needed that, after struggling through the Memorial Day Peach Jam on a flat route. 
Comparing my Garmin splits for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Hotlanta races.
2015 was going well until the rain became torrential in mile 10.
In 2016, I was struggling as early as mile 4.
Look at the differences from mile 6 to the finish! 

June 10, 2017: More on the Georgia Peach Jam; preparing for tomorrow's Hotlanta Half

I had a great experience in the Publix Georgia Marathon in March, and went on to run several sub-25 minute 5K races in April, and set a new PR for the 10K distance.  But I have had trouble mentally taking on longer runs.  I've had early morning commitments most weekdays, so morning runs haven't been possible, but then I have to battle the heat in late afternoon / early evening runs.  On several occasions I've set out to run 9 or 10 miles, but after 5 or 6 miles, have decided that I've had enough, just walking back to base, even if I had to walk a mile or two. 

After I decided to register for the Georgia Peach Jam half marathon on Memorial Day, I realized that I had better make sure that I could run the distance.  I managed to run the Hotlanta Half route nine days before the Memorial Day race, starting out at sunrise (around 6:30 am), and I had covered 10 miles before the temperature had risen above 75 degrees.  Getting through the 13.1 mileage in decent shape was the confidence boost that I needed for the Memorial Day half marathon. 

I was excited about the Peach Jam, for several reasons: it would be nice to run a race that I haven't run before; the Dirty Spokes team puts on well-organized races; and the race route was one of the flattest in the area, other than a few low bridges over small creeks and a couple of underpasses.  The race started and ended at Fowler Park near Cumming, at the north edge of metro Atlanta, and proceeded along the Big Creek Greenway.  The surface would be alternating boardwalk and concrete, on a path about the same width as the Eastside Beltline, one of my favorite running areas.  The only concern was that the Big Creek Greenway passes through / over a wetlands area, and with quite a bit of recent rain, the humidity would likely be close to 100%. 

The temperature at the start was 70 deg F.  I decided to run at a steady 9:10 min / mile pace for the first 6 or 7 miles, and then would try to speed up.  I was running 3-1/2 minute run / 30 second walk intervals, and felt really good for the first 3 miles.  But to my surprise, my heart rate hit 170 bpm in the fourth mile!  I slowed down a bit and tried to relax as much as possible during the walk breaks, but my heart rate would rise again above 170 bpm near the end of each run segment.  After six miles, my pace dropped off to 9:30 min / mile, despite making every attempt to speed up.  By the 10 mile marker, I conceded that I had no chance for a sub-2 hour finish, and my goal was to save enough energy to have a good final mile.  That meant slowing way down for miles 11 and 12, even taking a couple of 2-minute walk breaks, just under a 12 min / mile pace.  By mile 12, I was on pace for about a 2:10 finish, which at least wouldn't be "disastrous".  Fortunately I had recovered enough in the previous 2 miles, managed to finish mile 13 in 10:15, and had a strong finish running the final 300 meters on the track.  I even managed to joke to the volunteer as I reached the track to run the long way around to the finish line, pointing to the finish line just 100 meters to my right: "The finish line is that way!" while turning to the left.  I didn't get passed by anyone else in the last half-mile, and passed one person on the track.  

I gunned through the finish line, at 2:09:04.  The volunteer handing out medals was standing very close to the finish line so I had hardly slowed down when I grabbed the medal while gasping "thank you!"  As I stepped off the track, looking frantically for "Water!  water!  water ... water"   Finally I found a volunteer who pointed me to the water station, dozens of steps away.  I staggered to the water coolers, had to wait until I could fill up a cup, promptly gulped down the liquid, filled up two more cups, one to drink and one to pour over my head. 

I made several other mistakes during this race:
1) I wore compression sleeves for this race.  They had felt great running 26 miles in March at 40 degrees; at 75 deg F, I wanted to stop and pull them off after 6 - 7 miles.  I won't make that mistake again.  
2) I carried 16 ounces of slightly diluted Powerade in a water bottle on my belt, but decided not to bring a hand-held bottle, as it was "only" a 13.1 mile race.  Even with a few water stations on the course, that wasn't enough hydration, as the temperature began to rise.
3) After 45 minutes, I began taking a shot block every other walk break (every 8 minutes), washing it down with Powerade.  After taking six shot blocks, my stomach began to feel queasy, and I realized I was getting too much sugar. 

One new thing that worked well: I carried a towel that I sprinkled with lemon juice and water and then froze overnight.  The race began some two hours after I had removed the towel from the freezer at home, so it was not completely thawed out, but it was nice to have the ice-cold towel in the beginning.  The lemon juice kept the towel from acquiring a bad smell as I wiped sweat from my head as the race proceeded and the temperature rose.  Unfortunately the towel that I carried was cotton, and it felt scratchy to the skin later in the race.  But I will try that trick again, with a bandanna made from lighter material. 

Despite my rough experience in the Peach Jam, I managed to get in several good runs since.  Last Saturday I took my car in for 90,000 mile service, dressed to run for about an hour at a park near the dealership.  When the mechanic told me that they would need 3 - 4 hours, I filled up a water bottle and managed 12 miles on a warm morning.  

On Tuesday, I joined the Atlanta Track Club All Comers meet for the first time this season, at Marist College.  One of their Grand Prix events this year was the shot put!  Most of us had no experience; I watched a youtube video on the morning of the meet, and practiced the step and spin move at home and then a few times in my office before leaving for the meet.  I was hoping to practice a few times at the meet, but it turned out that under the rules, competitors were forbidden to freely practice on the court!  We were given only one practice try, and then two measured tries.  Fortunately I did OK in all three throws - I didn't pull anything, nor did I foul.  Both measured throws were around 16 feet.  

After the shot put, I joined the final (slowest) heat of the 1 mile run.  I managed to run a fairly steady pace, running each lap under 2:00 minutes, crossing the finish line at 7:06.  I didn't get lapped by the winner, although I could tell that he finished just a few seconds behind me - as I finished the third of four laps.  I also ran the last heat of the 5000 meter race about 25 - 30 minutes later.  I ran the first two miles at a sub 8-minute pace, but slowed down to 8:17 for the third mile, managing a little more speed in the final 110 meters to finish in 24:50.  Not too bad for me to run sub-25 minutes at 73 deg F. 

Tomorrow I'm running the Hotlanta Half, for the third year.  Last year's race was terribly challenging: the temperature was 75 degrees at the start, but I was overconfident and ran the first three miles at a 9 min / mile pace, only to struggle mightily for the remaining 10 miles, finishing in 2:20 as the temperature steadily climbed with every mile.  It was a humbling experience, but a very valuable one, shortly before beginning training for my first marathon.  I wanted redemption this year, but had hesitated to register for the race, even though the price increased as the year progressed.  Then in late February, I went to the runningnerds / Run Social kickoff party, and won the best prize at the raffle, a free entry to the Hotlanta Half!  ($70 value by that time).  

Tomorrow I will proudly wear the runningnerds race team shirt.  My only time goal is to run a negative split race.  I'm completely taking the possibility of sub-2 hour finish from my thinking.  

There, it's gone.  


Let it go, Frank.  LET IT GO!!  

I've joked that I will walk for the first 5 or 6 miles, to ensure that I manage a negative split.  Seriously, I will start with the 2:15 pace group and will run the first 6 miles at ca. 10 min / mile pace, with 3:30 / 0:30 run / walk intervals, basically a 10K warmup.  When we turn onto the Beltline, I will have just under 7 miles to the finish.  If I'm feeling strong at that stage, that is when my race will begin, not one step earlier.  I must not forget that a very conservative first half set up a very good experience in the second half of the Georgia Marathon, and so I will approach tomorrow's half marathon with the same mind set.  There will be some tough hills in the 9th, 11th, and 13th miles of the Hotlanta route, many of the same hills that I tackled in the last few miles of the Georgia Marathon.  The forecast temperature is 67 deg F at the 7 am start, rising only to 73 deg F at 9 am and 75 deg F at 10 am, so hopefully tomorrow's finish temperature won't be any higher than last year's start temperature.  

Wish me luck!  

Finally, I'm trying to decide which marathon I will run in the fall.  Or, will run a marathon this fall?  I wasn't selected in the New York Marathon lottery drawing: 17% chance this year, ironically similar to the odds of success in NIH and NSF grant applications, for what it's worth....  I've decided to hold off on registering for a fall marathon until I have a really good half-marathon experience.  If that means waiting until the Publix Georgia Marathon in March 2018, that will be OK.