January 7, 2018: Extra Yard 5K

The Mercedes-Benz stadium in downtown Atlanta replaces the Georgia Dome, which was destroyed by implosion only 25 years after opening in 1992.  Although I think that it's regrettable that the Georgia Dome has not lasted for a lifetime, the replacement stadium is quite remarkable, from its architectural exterior to fan-friendly sight lines inside the stadium.   
Mercedes-Benz stadium just before sunrise.
For an amusing video of the Georgia Dome implosion, click here.
In addition to serving as the home stadium for the Atlanta Falcons (NFL) and Atlanta United (MLS) teams, Super Bowl LIII will be played at Mercedes-Benz stadium in February 2019.  And tomorrow, the stadium will host the College Football National Championship.  By coincidence, the contestants will be two semi-local teams: the University of Georgia vs. the University of Alabama.  To commemorate the championship game, the Atlanta Track Club has organized a 5K race, starting and finishing near the stadium.  

After Monday's incredibly cold New Year's Resolution Run, I had "resolved" not to subject myself to another frigid race so quickly.  Moreover, I was scheduled for a 16 mile run yesterday in marathon training, and was concerned about running a race within 24 hours of completing a long run.  But after watching Georgia defeat Oklahoma in a thrilling overtime game on New Year's evening, and the possibility of winning a pair of tickets to the game in a lottery, we started talking about what we might have done to stay warmer - and we decided to register for the race. 

Yesterday's 16-mile long run went well, keeping up with the front part of the 10 min / mile pace group.  Despite thoroughly stretching after the run, and periodic therapy at home with the foam roller, my legs were pretty sore when I went to bed last night.  To my surprise, I felt pretty good when I woke this morning.  

Many of the runners today were wearing Georgia Bulldogs gear, with a smaller number wearing Alabama Crimson Tide.  Since I'm neither a Georgia nor an Alabama fan, I decided to proudly represent Emory University football in today's race.  (As I had hoped, this got quite a few laughs throughout the morning.)
As a Georgia resident, if not an alumnus, I will cheer for the
Georgia Bulldogs in tomorrow night's championship game.
A student perspective on "Emory football"
The history of athletics at Emory
After a thorough round of dynamic stretches inside the heated Georgia World Convention Center lobby, I headed outside for a couple of warmup miles, running the first mile and the last kilometer of the race route.   I was amazed that my legs felt really good, I didn't feel like I had run 16 miles yesterday.  Nonetheless I resolved to hold back a little in the first mile of the race, to avoid getting an overuse injury.  I made it back to the starting area as runners were gathering in waves, just in time for the National Anthem.  Once again I started with wave B, but this time took a position a few rows behind the starting mat.  That proved to be a good decision, as I got off to a comfortable pace, not too fast, but not held back by slower runners.  Making a couple of turns around the south side of the station, we started onto Northside Drive, running past the former site of the Georgia Dome.  

The first mile was mostly downhill, so I found myself speeding up a bit, while still running easily and smoothly.  I had originally aimed to cover the first mile around 7:45 min / mile pace and then evaluate whether I could speed up.  But it didn't make sense not to take advantage of the favorable elevation, knowing that we would run uphill on the return to the start - finish area.  I passed the 1-mile marker at 7:21.  As the route wasn't too crowded, I was careful to run the tangents along the gentle curves of Northside Drive, heading to a right turn onto North Avenue.  Passing through an underpass, I was concerned that there might be some ice on the roadway, but I never felt that I was slipping at all and decided that it was probably road salt or sand that I was noticing.  Emerging from the underpass, the campus of Georgia Tech was on the left, the Coca-Cola headquarters on the right.  At the two-mile marker just ahead of the 15 minute point, 7:33 minutes for mile 2.  Wow, I was a few seconds ahead of my personal record-setting pace from Monday!  

Upon making another right turn onto Luckie Street, heading south, I maintained pace for a moment, but as the road started to progress gently but unmistakably uphill, I began to feel the lactate buildup in my legs.  Fortunately I was on familiar ground, as this was mile 13 in the Hotlanta Half Marathon.  I reached the top of the hill at Ivan Allen Boulevard at 19 minutes flat, 2.5 miles elapsed.  Could I cover the last kilometer in 4-1/2 minutes?  I sped up for a moment on a level stretch of roadway, but turning onto Baker Street, I was slowed by another uphill.  And with a left turn onto Marietta Street, I knew from experience in the Georgia Marathon (and half-marathons) that it was another gentle uphill.  I was able to maintain a decent pace, and shortly after turning onto Andrew Young International Boulevard, I passed the mile 3 marker, 22:55 elapsed and 7:57 for mile 3.  I realized that I wouldn't set a new personal record today, but I was on track for another sub-24 minute finish.  That gave me the impetus to tap one last bit of additional speed, crossing the finish line at 23:51 elapsed. 
With the elevations, this seems like a consistent effort from start to finish. 
This was my second best 5K time, just 21 seconds off of my recent personal record!  For starting out with a "conservative" race plan, I did much better than I had expected.  I was a little winded after crossing the finish line but I felt that I was in decent shape, and by the time I had walked 100 yards to accept the race medal and a bottle of water, my heart rate was recovering nicely.  

Although neither Bonnie nor I nor anyone else we knew won the Championship Game ticket lottery, I had enough optimism to listen carefully when the announcer called out names of the male 55 - 59 awardees, hearing "Frank McDonald, third place" and I said to Bonnie and other friends "Wow, I won something!"  People in front of me graciously stepped aside as I headed through the crowd to accept the award: a commemorative miniature green football helmet!
My age group award! 
This is my first ever placement in an Atlanta Track Club race!  I would have been 7th in the male 50 - 54 age group, so I'm definitely enjoying one advantage of getting older! 
Age group result (above)
Overall result, 137th out of over 1500 finishers (below)

P.S.  Last night a friend forwarded a photo, taken by an ESPN film crew, as I passed them shortly after the start.

January 1, 2018: Resolution Run 5K

After my good friend Brian Minor rewarded me with a free breakfast upon setting a personal record in the Atlanta 10-miler in October, we have been looking for an event to compete in a head-to-head, mano-a-mano race, with a friendly wager that the loser buys brunch.  A few weeks ago, we set the Resolution Run 5K as our big race day.  As Brian's speed has improved much more than mine over the past two years, I didn't really expect to win the race unless Brian was having a bad day, but I was hoping that the competition would drive me to a new personal record.  My goal was to break my April 2016 5K PR of 23:52
This photo is from October 2017, before the Atlanta 10-miler.
It was so cold this morning that I don't have any photos from the race,
but will add later if the Atlanta Track Club photographer
has managed to capture some good photos. 
With the challenge thrown down, I've taken advantage of the winter break and the beginning of a marathon training cycle to step up my training.  I ran every other day in the week after the Galloway Half Marathon (20 miles total), and last week ran 5 out of 7 days, including a successful speed workout on the track on Wednesday, and a 15 mile long run on Saturday at sub-10 min/mile pace (35 miles total).  On Thursday evening, I ran the route for today's race, to get a sense of the hills on the race route.  There would be three challenges: in mile 1, an uphill section from Piedmont Park into the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, early in mile 2, an uphill section from the north end of Piedmont Park past the Orpheus Brewery, and later in mile 2, a particularly steep if short hill heading up to the Sage Parking Deck, which continued more gently uphill past the tennis courts, with slight downhill for mile 3.  These sections would be mitigated by equal downhill sections, but I found myself intimidated by those hills after the survey run.  

But with attention to my mental preparation in the intervening days, I turned trepidation into a positive mindset brimming with confidence.  Although the weather was predicted to be quite cold, any chance of rain or snow on the preceding day evaporated, so the course would be dry and without icy spots.  I decided to try four layers on top: I ran two warmup miles comfortably enough, and decided to try a third warmup mile without the hoodie, and felt fine especially once my body was literally warmed up by the gentle exertion.  There were a few snow flurries, subliming from minimal humidity in the 19 deg F air.  I aimed to run the race at a 7:30 min / mile pace, which would get me to my "stretch" goal of a 23:20 finish, 30 seconds faster than my personal record.  Brian and I might have reasonably started in the back of wave A, but by starting on the front line of wave B, we would be certain to cross the line together and likely have a clear field ahead of us at the beginning.  
Brian and I walked to the front of wave B, trying to stay in motion due to the cold.  My fingers were freezing despite the gloves and handwarmers, and I could hardly speak due to frozen lips, but blowing on my hands helped to stave off frostbite on both fingers and lips.  I bounced on my toes, doing butt kicks to keep my legs limber, but also burning nervous energy.  Brian was to my left, the MC counted down the seconds to the start.  Pre-race fistbumps, "Mano-a-mano!"  As the airhorn sounded, my brain sent the signal to


And run I did!  Five of us were leading the pack, including Brian and I, except for a little boy that ran past me, bumping his head on my right elbow (sorry!), but that didn't slow him down.  The first minute was a blur as we ran past the south side of Lake Clara Meer and made the sharp turn onto the paved road above the Active Oval.  We were running uphill but I was running fast.  Brian fell behind me but I kept pushing.  That was a surprise, I thought that I would be following Brian, and had hoped to keep him in sight.  I stole a look at my watch and saw 6:40 min / mile pace, which I couldn't maintain much longer.  The little boy was quickly out of sight.  I began to pass slower runners from wave A, as two or three faster runners in wave B passed me.  That spurred me to keep pushing forward.  As we left the Active Oval, Sheelagh O'Malley was cheering us as we started the steady climb to the Botanical Gardens.  I had run that hill several times in marathon training in fall 2016.  It didn't seem to slow me down too much, but by the top of the hill my pace was now in the low 7 min / mile range, closer to the pace in my race plan.  As soon as I crested the hill, I sped up again.  Now I began to pay attention to running the tangents.  There were other runners around but it wasn't too crowded so I could set my sights on the curve ahead and aim straight for it, trying to run the shortest possible route.  I needed every single edge to have a chance to win against Brian, and to set a personal record.  
Atlanta Track Club members photo.
Most of the participants didn't leave the heating lamps for the photo.
I'm near the back, middle left, hands in the air. 
We turned right onto Piedmont Road onto a nice downhill that I had flown down in the Galloway Half Marathon.  I didn't feel like I sped up that much today.  Brian told me after the race that he caught up to me on this downhill section, although he didn't try to pass me.  I passed the mile 1 marker at 7:20 elapsed, a little faster than optimal, but I didn't feel tired.  With the cold temperature, I knew that I had no chance of overheating, so I continued to push myself as hard as I could.  Returning to Piedmont Park for a few seconds (so it felt), we hit the second uphill section, up a steep rise into the Orpheus Brewery parking area.  I made it up the steepest section without slowing down too much, but then the elevation continued uphill through the parking area, and I definitely slowed down.  I wanted to look around to see if Brian was going to pass me, but I remembered an admonition from my mother when I was a little boy: "Don't look back when you run, because it will slow you down!"  Thanks Mom, I didn't look back!  For most of the second and third miles, I was surging back and forth with a runner who was wearing Vibram five-finger footwear, who had also started the race on the front line.  A water station was on the right shortly before we turned onto Monroe Drive.  Hardly anyone slowed down for water, I wasn't thirsty, so I didn't slow down either.  No walk break needed today!  As the road leveled out, I felt strong again, and was able to speed up.  I had slowed to a mid-8 min / mile pace, so I needed to hustle if I was going to set a PR. 
My pace (blue area) vs. elevation (green trace)
It was amazing how fast landmarks passed by when I was running quickly.  It was all a blur, hopefully not because my vision was impaired by any lack of blood to the brain!   Then the last steep hill heading up to the pedestrian entrance to the Sage Parking Deck loomed ahead.  This hill had concerned me the most in my survey run, but as I started uphill, I remembered some advice I had read from Jeff Galloway: take short steps with a rapid cadence heading uphill.  That worked!  At least no one passed me, and I didn't need to walk at all.  Running past the entrance to the parking deck, we turned right heading past the tennis courts, still heading uphill.  I saw the 2-mile marker ahead as the race clock clicked ahead past 17 minutes.  With the 2 minute delay for wave B, I was running behind pace, seeing about 17:20 on the clock, 15:20 elapsed for me.  8:00 min for mile 2.  At least the worst of the hills were now behind me.  We headed down into the bowl of the Active Oval, running the soft surface of the 100-year-old track.  I remembered running many miles on the Active Oval in marathon training speed work in fall 2016, and ran strongly as if I was in the first repetition of a workout.  We ran about halfway around the Active Oval.  Above to my right, I could see participants in the later waves.  I looked for Bonnie, who was wearing a bright yellow hoodie, but didn't see her.  As we stepped off of the Active Oval, I finally stole a glance over my left shoulder, looking for Brian.  I didn't see him!  Was he so far back that I was a minute or more ahead of him, or was he directly behind me?  I didn't dare take another look, just kept running as fast as I could.  Indeed I thought I could occasionally hear him breathing behind me and to my right.  After the race, Brian admitted that when he saw me look over my left shoulder, he moved to my right to stay out of view!  
About half of the Tucker Running Club members running today's races.
It was so cold that we couldn't wait for any late-comers,
many of whom were staying warm in their cars or under heating lamps.
I was down to two layers for this photo,
and decided to put the red Atlanta Track Club shirt  back on for the race. 
Now we were on the north side of Lake Clara Meer.  I was paying attention to the tangents again, with a series of gentle curves in the road.  I heard the MC announcing the fastest finishers.  From the survey run as well as this morning's warmup, I knew that I had about 1/2 mile to the finish, and that it would be fairly level for the rest of the race route.  I sped up hoping to gun into the finish.  Fortunately I didn't look at my watch: when I looked at the Garmin data this afternoon, I was at the 20 minute mark at that stage, and might have panicked thinking that I was on pace for a 24-something minute finish, not 23-something.  Finally I checked my watch as we turned the corner near the Park Avenue bridge: 0.3 miles to go, 21:30 on my watch.  A woman cheered for me by name, but I was running so fast that I didn't recognize her - sorry!  Could I get to the finish line in 2 minutes?  I sped up a little more.  As I approached the mile 3 marker, I could see the finish line banner in the distance.  I was almost blocked out by a couple of slower runners, and stepped into the mulch along the left side of the course for a dozen steps to get past them.   I didn't dare check my watch, I just ran as fast as I could.  And then, a runner in a green jacket passed me on my right.  Oh no, it's Brian!  Speed up, speed up, SPEED UP! but Brian's kick was more than I could match.  Nonetheless I was motivated to finish strongly, as I knew that I was on a personal record pace.  I passed the MC encouraging runners to finish, I didn't spare the energy to reach for a high-five.  Sunny Youn, Bonnie's sister, had run the 1-mile race earlier in the morning, and she was cheering me as I flew past.  No one else passed me, I was following Brian into the finish.  On the race clock, I saw 25 minutes, which meant that I was going to finish in 23 minutes and ... and ... 23:30 !!


4 second win for Brian! 
I congratulated Brian, and also thanked him because I set a new personal record today!  My fingers were frozen and hardly functional, with all the blood going to essential organs over the past 23 minutes.  Fortunately they warmed up over the next few hours, so I escaped frostbite for today.  

Reflecting on my progress since my first race in October 2013, I've trimmed more than 5 minutes from my 5K time.  This is a great way to start 2018! 
This may be my first Atlanta Track Club event in which I've finished in the top 10%!
Brian and I had a back-to-back finish, both gun time and chip time. 
P.S. We enjoyed lunch at Einstein's on Juniper - happy to treat, celebrating Brian's win and my new personal record! 

December 30, 2017: Wrapping up 2017, and running goals for 2018

Best running times in 2017:

1 mile: 6:59 (March 26; PR 6:52 from 2016)  I ran this race on tired legs, one week after finishing a marathon, but managed to push through to break the 7 min time.
5K: 24:06 (April 29; PR 23:52 from 2016)  The weather was getting warm, but I held on and won 1st place in my age group.
First-place award featured Pete the Cat
4 mile: 33:38 (July 15; PR 33:30 from 2016)  I was pleased with my time in this mid-summer race, setting a course PR and nearly breaking a distance PR set in a mid-winter event.
Tucker Running Club provides a great community and camaraderie in several weekly runs.
This was Janet Pickney's last race.  (She was front and center in the white singlet) 
10K: 49:28 (September 4; PR)  After setting two new PRs for this distance earlier in the year, I broke the 50 minute barrier for the first time, following a great pace group. 
Crossing the finish line, in the orange runningnerds race team shirt.
If you click on the photo to expand, you may be able to see 49:52 gun time on the finish line clock. 
10 mile: 1:27:25 (October 22; PR)   This PR was largely the result of excellent pacing and successfully executing my race strategy.  
Brian and I have become good friends.  Our friendship began
a few years ago with some great conversations during long runs,
and has grown beyond running, from double dates to high school football.
I will be a groomsman at his wedding in April 2018.
Half marathon: 1:56:42 (December 17; PR)  This was my highlight race of the year, smashing the 2 hour barrier in a certified race, and improving my course PR by more than 3 minutes. 
One second before one of my biggest celebrations! 
Marathon: 4:48:12 (November 11; PR)  This was not my best marathon experience, but I set a new PR by one second(!), and learned a valuable lesson on the importance of long runs. 
Channeling Shalane Flanagan at the finish, even though she can run twice as fast as me.
Best running experiences in 2017:

3rd best:  This was difficult to decide, but I'm listing the Run the ATL relay, due to the camaraderie of running on a team.  I covered the second leg and ran one of my fastest 3-mile distances, not wanting to let down the others! 
Good showing from the Tucker Running Club team
2nd best:  The Publix Georgia Marathon:  I almost achieved a negative split strategy, I still felt great at the 20 mile mark, and managed to finish fairly strongly on a tough course.  This was a great confidence builder for my future as a marathon runner! 
Another finish line victory photo, captured by my lovely wife Bonnie
1st place:  The Galloway Half Marathon:  Not only did I run a personal record for the 13.1 mile distance, but I perfectly executed my race strategy from start to finish.  This was a wonderful way to close out the year!
Calling my shot: at mile 9, I predicted a 1:57 finish.
Worst running experiences in 2017:

3rd worst:  The Peachtree Road Race:  Returning from California about 24 hours before the start of the race, and having come down with a cold a few days earlier, I didn't run well, and barely broke 60 minutes for the 10K distance. 
Not my best look, falling asleep on the train after the race. 
2nd worst:  Thrill in the Hills 21K trail race:  I fell three times in this race, and my ribs hurt badly afterwards.  I went to Urgent Care for X-rays the next day, and fortunately didn't break any ribs, just badly bruised. 
I may be too clumsy to run trail races. 
Worst:  Janet Pickney's death, hit by a speeding police car on her morning run.  This was a terrible tragedy.  A policeman was driving 76 mph in a 40 mph zone, responding to a non-injury / non-crime case.  He lost control of his vehicle and struck Janet as she was in a crosswalk parallel to the roadway, running against traffic.  The policeman has been charged with vehicular homicide.  
Janet finishing the Tucker 5K in October 2016.
Photo from the Runner's World article on Janet's death.  
Running goals for 2018:

1) Run the Publix Georgia Marathon faster than 4:30, with a negative split strategy.  With better attention to endurance training, I'm confident that I can run a marathon at an average 10 min / mile pace.  I've joined the Atlanta Track Club training program, and will probably not run any races prior to March 18 other than a few Atlanta Track Club events that are part of the training plan. 

2) Develop consistency to run close to my new PRs in the 10K and half-marathon distances.  Specifically, I will aim to finish other 10K races in less than 50 minutes, and other half-marathons in less than 2 hours.  This will be difficult, but last year I managed to run most of my 5K races in less than 25 minutes, even though I didn't set a new PR at the 5K distance. 

3) Set new PRs in the 1 mile and 5K distances.   Although I had good 1 mile and 5K races in 2017, I was a few seconds off of my personal records in both distances.  I hope that the strength and mental toughness from marathon training can be channeled into running faster times at these shorter distances.  
Marathon training is off to a good start:
this morning I ran 15 miles at a sub 10 min / mile pace.  

December 17, 2017: Jeff Galloway Half Marathon (JG 13.1), year 4

2014: 2:19:36, first half-marathon
2015: 1:59:48, personal record
2016: 2:00:56

The Jeff Galloway half marathon is special to me for several reasons: it was my first half-marathon, the following year it was the site of my current certified personal record, and each year it has been extraordinarily well-organized along a really nice course through several in-town Atlanta neighborhoods.  Having run each year since the inaugural race in 2014, I'm also a "streaker", and hope to continue my annual participation for the foreseeable future. 

At the expo, Jeff Galloway always has some special guests, generally former teammates and competitors from his era as a competitive runner from the mid-1960's into the early 1980's.  For this year's race, the marquee speaker was one of Galloway's role models, Billy Mills, who won the gold medal in the 1964 Olympic Games in the 10,000 meter race.  His victory was a thrilling come-from-behind finish in an incredible time of 28:24.4, setting a new Olympic record.  To date, Mills is the only USA athlete to ever win the gold medal in the Olympic 10,000 meter race.  Only Galen Rupp has come close, earning a silver medal in an exciting finish just behind training partner Mo Farah in the 2012 Olympics.  

At the expo, Billy Mills talked about his life, born into a loving family on the Oglala Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.  But he was "broken" by the death of his mother when he was age 8.  His father encouraged him to "find his broken wings," but unfortunately he was orphaned when his father passed away when Billy was age 12.  Nevertheless, the memory of his father has given him spiritual strength that he has continued to draw on at times of challenge.  Billy described several occasions in which he felt "broken" by the sting of racism against Native American people.  For instance, when he was a younger runner, some photographers would ask him, the "dark-skinned one", to step out of photos with other teammates or honorees.  One of the most demoralizing of these came after he was chosen as an All-American athlete for the third year in a row as a college senior, and the photographer asked him once again to step out of a photo with the white honorees.  He subsequently went to his hotel room, stood on a chair by a window contemplating suicide, but was stopped by the "voice" of his father saying "Don't.  Don't."  

After graduating from the University of Kansas, he joined the Marine Corps, and earned a trip to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo to represent the United States in the 10,000 meter and marathon races.  On the international scene, Billy Mills was virtually unknown, but in the Olympic race, he was able to stay with the leaders going into the final lap.  The lead group was passing slower runners near the end of the race.  In the confusion, Mills was pushed twice by the other leaders, and barely managed to stay in third place.  Finding himself alone in lane 4 as they entered the straight stretch of the last 100 meters, Mills drew on every bit of inner strength to sprint strongly past the other two leaders, winning by a couple of steps (YouTube video and Olympic video).  

Frank and Bonnie flanking Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills
Since retiring from competitive running, Billy Mills works with his foundation "Running Strong for American Indian Youth" and also travels the world, sharing a message of "Global Unity through Diversity".  He shares how people of different nationalities and faiths meeting with each other helps them to see the common humanity in each other.   After his talk, he stayed to autograph our race bibs and posed for a photo with Bonnie and me. 
Note Billy Mills signature at the top of my race bib! 
Going into the race, I felt that I was in good shape to run a 1:58 race.  Indeed I've run close to that pace in a couple of recent half-marathon races, but in the Craft Classic in September, I relied too much on my Garmin, and didn't account for possible weaving with walk breaks etc.  In the BuHi Half in October, the race distance was clearly 0.7 miles too long.  I had planned to run the Westside 10 miler on Saturday December 9, but a few inches of snow the day before made the roadway too slushy to safely run the race.  I was initially annoyed to lose the registration fee, but then realized that I could actually properly taper for the upcoming half marathon.  My friends Tara Adyanthaya and Rick Boyd in Boston suggested that I might have run faster in the B.A.A. half marathon in October, if I had not run another half marathon race on the previous weekend.  So I put their advice into action, completing a 10 mile run at an easier pace on Sunday when the roads were relatively clear, and running shorter-than-usual distances in the days leading up to the race.  

I've had two other inspirations in recent months: The Running Rogue podcast is released each Monday by a couple of coaches based on Austin, TX.  Steve Sisson and Chris McClung offer weekly news on current and upcoming events in running, and regularly share advice and insights on how we can improve the quality of our running.  Their colorful and somewhat profane dialogue is tempered by considerable humor.  In episode #46, released on October 23, "Race Strategy from 5K to Marathon," after giving advice on the challenges of running fast 5K and 10K races, they begin to transition into the half-marathon segment at 55:15 with the following:

Steve: "The 10K and the half marathon are the most forgiving races in track and field, because there's enough time to fix anything ... I think most people's experiences of the half marathon is that it's a pretty easy race, if you've done your volume ... 

- after Steve has gone on a little longer to wrap up the 10K strategy portion -

Chris: "Interesting.  (long pause)  Let's go to the half, which (pause) you said is easy, I don't think that listeners would necessarily agree"

Steve: "Hahahahaha"

Chris: "I think if you're running a fast half, I don't know how forgiving that is, in my experience ... how would you approach a half marathon?"

Steve: "... I almost always use a negative split plan for the half marathon because the race gives you so many gifts, Chris, if you're prepared for one and the weather is just even halfway decent ... An athlete who feels mentally positive two-thirds of the way to three-quarters of the way through the race, you know this Chris, monsters are made!  People get aggressive ... and they run in a really aggressive positive way if you let them run in a negative split plan ... Go out a little bit slower, get on your even split plan, and at seven or eight miles, know where you want to go and start dropping five to ten seconds per mile if you can, and then see if you can't rock that last 5K and do as best as you can."  

That dialogue cracks us up every time Bonnie and I listen to it, usually when we're in the car.  We love to make fun of "the half marathon is easy" and "the half marathon gives so many gifts" and "Monsters are made!"  But I've taken the negative split advice seriously.  Here is the plan that I wrote out Saturday night:

For the first 4 miles or so, I will stay near the 2-hour pace group, aiming for 9:09 min / mile pace.  Earlier this week, I practiced for a couple of miles with the 2:00 run / 0:30 walk intervals that the pace group will be using, but the run segments are a little faster than I might comfortably maintain.  So I will keep my watch programmed with what has worked well for me in the recent past, 3:30 run / 0:30 walk intervals.  Near the mile 4 marker, or perhaps getting onto the Eastside Beltline around 4-1/2 miles into the race, I will pull ahead of the pace group, taking advantage of running downhill for the next mile. 

From mile 4 through mile 10, I will aim to average a 9:00 min / mile pace.  However I know that there will be some uphill sections in mile 7 and in mile 10, so it's important not to tire myself out.  

My goal is to get to:
The mile 10 marker in 1:30.  Shortly afterwards, near the Piedmont Driving Club, I will crest a hill and will pick up speed on a long easy downhill section, so it's important to keep my legs in good shape to get to that stage.  I will continue to push through Piedmont Park for miles 11 and 12 at a sub 9:00 min / mile pace.  

Shortly after passing:
The mile 12 marker near the south end of Piedmont Park, I will run through the Phiddippides cheer group.  And from there, with one mile to the finish, it will be:


Jeff Galloway offering encouragement
before the start.  Bonnie Youn took all but
one of the photos in today's post! 

And for the last inspiration, since September I've been working out on Tuesday evenings on the Emory track with Coach Carl Leivers.  Although there are usually 25 - 30 runners in the group workouts, each person has an individualized workout tailored to their abilities and their upcoming races, although usually he can put two or three similar runners together for similar paces in similar workouts.  I think that I've built up some strength through these workouts.  Certainly I've become more comfortable with running various paces, and with running a faster pace even when a little bit tired.  Several regulars in our training group ran today's half-marathon, and one was a 1:45 pacer, the other (Simon Blakey, a colleague in my department) was a 2:00 pacer. 

Hope for a new personal record at sunrise!
Arriving at the starting area for the race, I saw Suzanne, one of the trainees in Coach Carl's program, and we warmed up together for about 2/3 of a mile.  The temperature was 34 degrees at the start, but it wasn't windy.  I wasn't too cold wearing two shirts, a cap, running gloves, and long tights.  Carl Line from Big Peach Decatur training runs, and Willie Bower from the Tucker Running Club, lined with me in the Red corral (the first wave).  We were in the middle of the corral, which seemed to number only a few hundred before we began.  After the national anthem, we moved up to the starting line, and at 8:00 am we began the race. 
At the start, with Willie Bower photobombing just behind me.
This was the only time that Willie was not in front of me during the race! 
Priscilla Bray Hammond at the start
I quickly settled into a 9 min / mile pace, with the 2-hour pace group in front of me.  I thought that they had gone out too fast, but then I caught up with them when they took their first walk break at 2:00 minutes into the race.  They passed me when I took my first walk break at 3:30.  We continued to leapfrog for most of the first two miles, but approaching the first water station near the mile 2 marker, I moved in front of them for good.  9:01, 8:47, and 8:55 for miles 1, 2, and 3.  Although I was slightly ahead of the race plan, my legs were feeling good and I didn't think that I was working too hard.  And I crossed the 5K timing mat at 28:11, corresponding to a 9:04 min / mile pace. 

Before reaching a U-turn from Freedom Parkway onto the pedestrian trail paralleling the roadway at Highland Avenue, I could see Daniel Yee (author of The Running Cat blog) ahead of me followed by Carl Line.  It looked like they were both having good races as we waved to each other.  Then I made the turn, taking a cup of water before it occurred to me to look for the 2-hour pace group.  I didn't see them (so they must have been right behind me!).  Anyway I maintained a decent pace until a gravity-assisted acceleration as we went downhill onto the Eastside Beltline around 4.4 miles.  I peeled off my gloves at that point, hoping to see Bonnie to hand them off.  And shortly before reaching the north end of the paved Beltline, I saw Bonnie and thrust the gloves into one hand, quite possibly spoiling a photo that she was hoping to take - sorry Bonnie, but thanks for taking the gloves off of my hands!  Just after the water station at the end of the Beltline was a table with emergency medical supplies.  They didn't have any takers but it was nice to see that the organizers planned for everything, including a big bottle of Vaseline to take care of any chafing that runners might be suffering close to 6 miles into the race.  9:12, 8:37, and 8:53 for miles 4, 5, and 6.  I was running pretty fast on the Beltline, taking advantage of the loss in elevation as we ran north, but I guess with the walk breaks every four minutes, that gave overall slower times.  Getting into the Virginia Highland neighborhood, running south on Ponce de Leon Place, I crossed the 10K timing mat at 55:50, averaging 8:53 min / mile for the second 5K split. 
Anna Calcaterra on the Eastside Beltline,
about 5-1/2 miles on the way to an age group win!
Willie Bower (top)
I'm handing my gloves to Bonnie (bottom)

Lindy Liu (above)
Sue Landa (below)
Beverly Ford on the Beltline
In previous years, I had struggled a bit going up a long hill in mile 7, but today it didn't bother me too much.  I continued taking the walk breaks as scheduled, and that seemed to work out perfectly.  I cleared mile 7 in 9:20, slowest mile of today's race, which I was very pleased with.  Taking advantage of two more net downhill miles in 8 and 9, in 8:51 and 8:32 respectively, I reached the Cheer Group representing Jeff Galloway's running store Phidippides, exchanging enthusiastic high-fives with several friends and others encouraging us forward.  I saw Bonnie standing next to the mile 9 sign, looked at my watch and made a quick calculation:  I "called my shot" as I reached Bonnie: "1:57!" I shouted.  Bonnie responded "So many gifts!"  She may have meant it as a joke, but that phrase from the Rogue Running podcast, at that moment, was 100% inspirational.  Yes, the race was going wonderfully well for me, so I was going to try for my dream goal of a 1:57 finish.  Gulp!  But I crossed the 15K timing mat at 1:23:36, having run the last 5K at an 8:56 min / mile pace.  
A few members of the Phidippides cheer team (incl. Linda Bode Phinney, left)
stopped cheering just long enough to pose for Bonnie!
On 10th Street, approaching the mile 9 marker:
Daniel Yee (top) and
Carl Line (bottom)
Calling my shot: at mile 9, I predicted a 1:57 finish! 
Here's the 2-hour pace group, a couple of minutes behind me by mile 9.
Simon (the pacer on the far left) told me after the race,
"I was so happy for you, NOT to see you after mile 2! Congratulations!"
Between the Phidippides Cheer Group and calling my shot to Bonnie, I was motivated to work strongly up the hill on 10th Street on the south side of Piedmont Park.  I remembered in last year's race, this is where I really began to struggle.  Today I felt much stronger.  I heard the announcer from half-a-mile to the north inside Piedmont Park say "Congratulations!" and checked my watch, it read 1:20 elapsed so the fastest runners were finishing.  Continuing with the walk breaks on the 3:30 / 0:30 plan, I made the turn onto Piedmont Road, heading north-northeast.  My Garmin signaled 9:14 for mile 10 (again, net uphill) and up ahead I saw the mile 10 marker, which I reached at around 1:29:40 on my watch.  Mission accomplished to this stage!  My legs and the rest of my body still felt good.  Incautiously I began to think, a sub-2 hour half marathon is virtually guaranteed, I can cruise into a personal record finish with a 30 minute 5K!  But as the Rogue Running coaches predicted, my inner monster was beginning to emerge!  I felt like I could run really aggressively just as soon as I crested the hill around 10.2 miles in.  And I channelled Billy Mills' wings as I flew down the hill, passing a few other runners as I delayed taking a walk break until the road flattened out as we crossed a small creek right before making the right turn onto Monroe Drive.  That last sprint set off my heart rate monitor, but after a 30 second walk break, I was ready to run again, as fast as I could.  We turned into Piedmont Park where several volunteers were cheering us - I smiled and gave a big thumbs up.  I was strong and confident.  I asked myself, what can I do in the last 2.1 miles?! 
Approaching mile 12 
The last water station was just beyond the 11 mile marker, which I completed in 8:28, my fastest mile.  I knew that the last two miles through Piedmont Park would be gently, subtly, but definitely uphill, but I was ready for the challenge.  Onward I pushed, continuing with the run / walk plan that had served me so well to this point, running past the familiar landmarks of Piedmont Park yet hardly seeing the landmarks, it was all a happy blur!  Passing the dog park about 11.5 miles into the race, Suzanne passed me during one of my walk breaks, giving me some encouragement "You're doing great, Frank!"  I resolved to catch up with her as I resumed running, but in fact she was also running extremely well and making even better progress with her own negative split plan.  I never caught up to her, but no problem, I was running strongly.  
"I'm a MONSTER!"
The woman behind me sees that
I've completely lost my mind!
At the mile 12, Bonnie was there to take my photo again.  I waved and raised my arms above my head, shouting "I'm a monster!"  The people around me must have thought I was nuts!  I didn't care, having completed mile 12 in 9:00 minutes even, and at 1:47 flat for the elapsed race time, I could reach the finish line in 1:58 with just a 10 min / mile pace - and I knew that I could run faster than that!  Taking a 30 second walk break before my watch ticked over to 1:48, I sped up as I passed the portion of the Phidippides cheer group posted in the park, exchanging a few hand slaps.  Estimating that I had exactly one mile to go, it was ...


And I took off with every bit of speed that I could muster.  A runner ahead of me was slowing down, I passed her carefully to the right.  I remembered to relax and let Billy Mills' wings carry me forward.  Near the top end of an out-and-back in the park, I saw Bonnie making her way to the finish area.  I waved, I tried to get her attention, but she didn't see me at first.  We practically met on the course at the same moment where I was making a left turn while she would continue to the right to get directly to the finish, and I finally got her attention: "I'm going to finish in 1:57!  Hurry hurry!"  She said "Oh ____!!" and started running toward the finish area.  I told her, "it's OK, you have a straight shot to the finish..." over the bridge crossing Lake Clara Meer, whereas I must run around the lake, my thought continued, not able to spare any more breath.  One last walk break at 1:52.  

In the past three years, even in my PR-setting race in 2015, the straight road paralleling Lake Clara Meer seemed to go on forever.  But today, I was a monster, passing several runners, gaining ground on a few others still ahead of me.  It didn't take long to reach the Boathouse, making the final turn to the finish area adjacent to the Active Oval.  I didn't look at my watch, I just kept pushing myself forward, surging again and again.  I caught up with a woman that I had been leapfrogging for much of the race, but she sensed my presence and accelerated.  I sprinted forward, she matched my move and pulled a step or two ahead, but it didn't matter, there was the finish line, with the incredible 1:56 showing on the clock!  I started to raise an arm in celebration, then quickly restrained myself, Run, RUN, RUN!!!  The announcer was calling out names as runners reached a timing mat about 50 - 100 feet before the finish line.  I crossed the initial mat, heard someone else's name, and right before I reached the finish line, heard the announcer call "Frank McDonald!"  I started to raise my arm in celebration again, restrained myself for another second until I had definitely cleared the finish line, then I broke out in a mad celebration, to which the announcer responded "He's happy with his finish!!" 

The thrill of victory! 
And no agony of defeat, not today! 

I practically ran past the line of people handing out medals!  I tried to reach back, finally stopped and turned around to pick up the medal.  I was so amazed with how well I had run.  When I stopped my watch, it read 1:56:51 for 13.16 miles.  My unofficial result:

1:56:42 overall time, 118th finisher, and 12th in my age group
8:44 min / mile for the last 6.1 km
8:55 min / mile average pace for the entire race!  

A new personal record by three full minutes!  Steve Sisson is right, the half marathon does give so many gifts!  All of the training that I've done this year, the stretching and foam rolling that I've done especially in recent months to keep my body healthy, the attention to my diet and sleep, it has all paid off today!  I also thank the organizers of the JG 13.1, for flawlessly putting together a spectacular race that gave me and many others the opportunity to run our very best!  
With speedsters Nick Olson, Daniel Yee, and Anna Calcaterra,
shortly after my finish. 
Tucker Running Club!  Left-to-right:
Priscilla Bray Hammond, Lindy Liu, me, Willie Bower,
Beverly Ford, Mary Beth Hemenway, Meyer Kao
The track training with Coach Carl had a lot to do with
my sprint to the finish at a 7:19 pace after completing 13 miles!