November 24, 2022: Bay Area Turkey Trot 10K

Thanksgiving 2022: the first time that the McDonald family has gathered for Thanksgiving since 2018, and the first time that I've been to Houston since the beginning of the pandemic that wasn't for one of my mother's surgeries or for a family funeral. To celebrate this happy time, I decided to run the Turkey Trot which starts a couple of miles from my mother's home, in Clear Lake City on the southeast side of Houston, near Galveston Bay, hence the "Bay Area" moniker. 

Did I follow Coach Carl's recommendation? 
Read on ....

The 24-hour advance weather forecast was for rain on Thanksgiving Day, however we awoke to heavy fog, but the rain had a chance of holding off until 9 or 10 am, after which I would have finished the race. I was under the impression that the race would begin at 8:00 am, so I left our hotel a few minutes before 7 am. It was only a short 10-minute drive to the shopping center where the store "On The Run" was hosting bib pickup. To my surprise, the parking lot was nearly full, but I found a parking spot and made my way to bib pickup. A series of children's races was already underway. I asked "Does the race begin at 8 am?" and was momentarily alarmed when one volunteer said "It's starting now!" then was corrected by another volunteer "The 10K begins at 7:30." Whew, it was 7:15, so I had just enough time to attach the bib, put the race shirt in the car, and jog around the parking lot a couple of times to get in 2/3 mile. I was sufficiently warmed up, circled around to the starting area, took a selfie, and - time to run! I put away the phone in my Spibelt and zipped up the pocket just as I reached the starting mat. 

Good thing I was keeping this light and fun

I started at a really easy pace, planning on no faster than 9:30 min / mile for the first mile. But as we ran behind the shopping center and then turned onto Space Center Boulevard, I found myself going a little faster. On flat terrain, I felt fine, was passed by a couple of women who were gossiping, and decided to use them as pacers. Admittedly I was fascinated to eavesdrop on their conversation. In the very unlikely event that their "friend" ever sees this blog post, and looks up race results and wonders if they were talking about them, I won't share the details here. But .... fellow runners, keep in mind that you never know who might be listening in on your private conversation. To give them credit, they were perfect pacers, running a steady 9:19 min / mile pace for the 2-1/2 miles that I followed them. We did cross a couple of drainage canals, where I recalled on previous runs seeing signs warning of alligators, but couldn't see the warning signs today. I took a short walk break as we turned into a residential neighborhood right before reaching the 2-mile marker. The two women kept going and were probably about 50 feet ahead of me, but then I closed the gap and caught back up with my eavesdropping. 

About 2-2/3 miles into the race, we crossed a little bridge over a canal, probably the only thing that qualified as the tiniest of hills. One of the women slowed down just a bit, and I decided that it would be really creepy if this old guy wearing Atlanta Track Club gear kept running directly on their hills, and so passed them and ended up staying in front of them for the rest of the race. Passing the mile 3 marker, I literally recorded 9:18.9. 9:19.1, and 9:18.7 minute miles. I don't actually think that my Garmin watch is that accurate, but I kept seeing 9:19 at every mile alert. I noticed that I was running slightly above my aerobic threshold at 150 bpm, so not sure if that still qualified as light, but I felt fine, so just kept going. I did go a little bit into race mode, catching up with another runner, matching his stride for a moment, but he was breathing really heavily so I moved ahead of him. Probably he wasn't accustomed to running more than the 5K distance. I was in that situation not that many months earlier this year. The alert sounded, 9:02 for mile 4, 37 minutes elapsed. So I wasn't really pushing it that hard, that was a decent half-marathon race pace for me. I saw a father and son running together ahead of me. They seemed to be doing well, but very very gradually I was closing in on them, then moved a few steps ahead as we neared the exit to the neighborhood. I slowed down to a walk as I accepted a cup of water from a volunteer, just as the boy tried to pass by on the run while also drinking water. I let them go past and called our a little encouragement "Go for it!" 

But upon turning left onto Space Center Boulevard, I ended up passing them again, not meaning to blow past them, but instead, they were slowing down. The father was asking his son "Are you doing OK?" and I just kept on with my steady pace. I felt good, was smiling at volunteers and police and thanking them and/or greeting with "Happy Thanksgiving!" That actually caused me to speed up ever so slightly each time I spoke. Something to remember when I'm really racing for time in the future! For a minute or two, there was a little drizzle on the race course, but that didn't last for long. The alert sounded, 9:13 for mile 5. Around this time, I heard footsteps from behind, and then a runner wearing a bright jersey passed to my left. I think it was probably a triathlon jersey although I wasn't certain. I wasn't feeling that competitive, but thought that I would try to keep up with him and see how that worked out for me. And it turns out, as I pulled even, he slowed way down and I never saw him again. I'll never know what he was thinking, had he been stalking me trying to catch up to me for awhile, or was it just coincidence? 

I had sent Coach Carl a long update on marathon training on Wednesday morning - in short, it's going great, I'm nailing the training now and feeling good. I had promised that I would take it easy today, except for maybe the last 2 kilometers if I felt good. I had run a mixed zone 10K total workout on a track the day before this race, and had assumed that my legs wouldn't feel like running fast. But I guess I'm building up some serious endurance now, and didn't have trouble picking up the pace a bit. Up ahead I saw the 5K group, mostly walkers, emerging from another neighborhood, and passed large clusters of people to their right. Fortunately I had enough room to stay within the cone-protected lane of the street. I was definitely moving faster and working harder, as I didn't want to get passed by anyone that I had passed in the last couple of miles. But I was tiring quickly, now I was definitely running above my lactate threshold, with heart rate in the mid-160 bpm the last time that I looked at my watch. 

Definitely not keeping it light in the last mile, but I was still having fun! 

Making a left turn onto Falcon Pass Lane, "Don't slow down, don't slow down!" I kept thinking to myself. I had expected a short jaunt behind the shopping area, but it certainly felt longer when I was running faster late in the race, whereas it didn't feel very long at all early in the race when I was running more slowly. I passed the mile 6 marker but the watch alert didn't sound. Nonetheless I just kept pushing "Don't slow down!!" Right turn onto Moonrock Drive, then the alert sounded, 8:36 for mile 6, 54:48 elapsed, racing past a slower runner, then turning into the parking lot, landing in a large puddle on accident, but kept moving forward. "Don't slow down! Just one --- more --- minute!!" I thought I saw a gate up ahead of me, but it was an optical illusion, just a crossing zone painted on the road. "Don't slow down!" fearing that someone was about to pass me. And then I was across the finish line, 56:28 on my watch, 56:22 chip time. 

The finish area was crowded with a mix of 5K and 10K finishers. The 5K runners had started only 5 minutes after the 10K start. I made my way through the crowd to get some Gatorade and accepted a couple of orange slices from a volunteer. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized that someone was trying to take my photo, and decided that I had better smile for the race photographer. Then I turned - and it was my Mom! She knew that I was planning to run, I had invited her to come watch, but hadn't really expected to see her! I really appreciated seeing her. She is proud that I'm exercising and enjoying running, but has expressed concern that I push too much, so I was so happy that she put aside her concern to watch me finish today's race. 

Candid shot of me, before I realized that it was my Mom behind the camera! 

November 20, 2022: Get Basted Turkey Trot Half Marathon

About one week ago, I heard that the Five Star FTP group was offering Thanksgiving-themed races in the Atlanta suburbs this weekend, in Kennesaw on Saturday, and Cumming on Sunday. In addition to offering 5K, 10K, 15K, and half-marathon distances for only $21, to thank the runners who had completed an FTP race since December 2021, the organizers waived the race registration fee! I ran the Memorial Day 5K in Marietta, so I qualified for the freebie. I didn't expect much from an inexpensive race, especially if it was free for me and probably many of the other participants. But my marathon training plan had a 16-mile long run scheduled for Sunday. As long as the race route was protected from auto traffic, then it was definitely an attractive venue for my long run, whether or not it was supported with water stations, etc.  

My plan was to arrive early enough to run about 3 miles before the race officially began at 8:00 am. Moreover, my warmup would be very easy, I would run the first half of the half-marathon at an easy pace, and then work down toward marathon goal pace (about 10 minute / mile) in the second half of the race. 

 

I arrived at the venue, North Forsyth County Middle School, a few miles north of Cumming, around 7:15 am. I was dressed with two layers, plus woolcap over the ears and a cap and gloves, but I still felt COLD!!! At least I had a large handwarmer for a tiny bit of heat. After picking up my bib and stretching a bit, I began jogging around the grounds of the school. There was cones in the parking lot and I tried to pick up where the race route might be, but didn't quite figure it out on my own. I started with a conservative 2 min jog / 30 sec walk interval, following cones wherever I could find them, in other places simply running big circles around the buildings, making a total of about 4 loops. By 7:57 am, I had covered 2.9 miles and it was time to get to the start. I took a package of UCAN, washed it down with a little water, and picked up a large water bottle with a Nuun solution on a running belt that I had already packed with two more UCAN packages. 


Race route

 

I took a spot about midway in the crowd of 150 - 200 runners, then moved back a little further. All four race distances began at the same time, at 8:00 am sharp. We made a loop around a large parking lot near the school, probably covering a quarter-mile or so. Other runners were streaming past me, but I held onto my pace discipline and just let them run by, staying to one side of the route. I was determined to run the first 5K loop at slower than 11 minute / mile pace. Fortunately experience won over ego, as I patiently followed the route onto Coal Mountain Drive; this must have been a coal mining area in the past. After a few blocks, we turned left onto Smith Lane, which cut through some farmland. The lead runners came back on their return before I had completed mile 1 of the race route, turning onto Fast Lane. I tried congratulating and encouraging the leaders - but that caused me to speed up much faster than I wanted to run this early in my day. I guess that's a good thing in general to be energized by giving encouragement to others, but for my goals today, I had to stop the cheering and just focus on running slowly, mentally "riding the brakes" as I thought about it. "Patience" was my mantra for the first half of the race. 


Crossing the timing mat for the first time

 

I wasn't certain that there would be a water station, after all it was a free race for me, but about 1.5 miles out, at a turnaround, there was indeed a water station manned by a few volunteers. I had deliberately run slowly but continuously since crossing the timing mat at the start, and had planned to walk through a water station, and the location was perfect for my purposes today. I decided to just drink from my own bottle of Nuun, but smiled and thanked the volunteers that were manning the water station. After counting to 30, back to slow running. Around mile 1, I had heard a woman behind me talking with someone else about running the 15K today, and when she caught up to me, she was running with a dog! We struck up a conversation which began with her experience running the Donna Marathon in Jacksonville Florida, when it was cold and rainy and windy. I had heard good things about the organization of the Donna Marathon, a fundraiser to support people with breast cancer, and the other runner confirmed it, then shared that she was "a survivor". She was six years into post-cancer recovery, and had started distance running on the challenge of a friend to train for a 50K race, shortly after completing her last radiation treatment. We exchanged names, she was LouAnne from Rabun County, far northeast Georgia, on the state borders with both Carolinas. She was 61 years old, I shared that I had turned 60 just a couple of months ago. It was an important time for my own re-evaluation, fortunately without ever having a health scare, for which I'm extremely thankful but also consider to be extraordinary luck. Our conversation carried me for the rest of the first lap. LouAnne was comfortable hanging back with my pace, although toward the end of the 5K, her dog was starting to hold back. Still I was impressed that a dog could run a 5K fairly comfortably. As we approached the timing mat concluding the first lap, I slowed to a walk as planned, taking another swig from my bottle of Nuun. Crossing the timing mat, a volunteer was directing 5K finishers to a right turn for the finish line, the rest of us to run straight ahead. Elapsed time in the race, 34 minutes. 

 

Elevation profile for the 16-mile long run. Carl recommended some hills. 
These weren't as large as some of the hills on the Publix Atlanta marathon course, 
but I think it was hilly enough to be legitimate for today's long run.

The second lap was much like the first, although the route was much less crowded. LouAnne caught up with me within a few minutes and we continued our conversation. On the farm road, I took in more of the view with cows and horses in the field, and some large homes along the roadside. At the turn, I had seen a horse and a smaller animal in a front yard on the first lap, which I now realized wasn't a sheep but was a miniature pony, based on its gait as it briefly scampered around the yard. The larger horse may have been a donkey, although I'm not certain. As we approached the water station for a second time, LouAnne pointed out her husband coming the other way, a minute or so in front of us. This time I accepted a cup of water from the volunteers, and LouAnne and I both slowed to a walk. Just as I reached for the water, a fast-moving man came from behind, grabbing some water as he passed on the inside, nearly colliding with me. Sorry, I wasn't expecting to be lapped at that very moment! After that, LouAnne and I were separated and I continued running on my own for the remainder of the second lap. After my watch had signalled 8 miles elapsed on the day, I took one of the two UCAN packages that I was carrying, to practice fueling while on the run. That went down pretty smoothly, but I washed it down with a little Nuun. As I finished the second lap, the timing mat recorded my elapsed time for the race at 68 minutes, so a nice, easy consistent pace, in the low 11 minute / mile range. 


This was in the first lap.
LouAnne is in the foreground, with her dog barely in the photo. 

 

In the parking lot at the beginning of the third lap, I caught up with a young woman, who I later learned from the results was 19 years old, although I had assumed that she was a little older while I was running the race. I thought that I might run with her for awhile, but by running the tangents in the parking lot, I pulled ahead of her, and stayed ahead of her for the rest of the race. With only about 6 miles to cover in the race, I could finally stop "riding the brakes". I didn't really try to speed up too much, the goal being now to run in the high 10 minute / mile range. And that was pretty easily accomplished. Out and back on Fast Lane, I used my own Nuun bottle as I walked through the water station. Everything felt pretty good. It was still cold outside, but I would pass the heatwarmer from hand to hand, and that helped a bit. The route was now fairly empty. I was occasionally lapped by a fast half-marathon runner on their fourth lap, but otherwise seemed to be doing well. Working my way around the school near the end of the third lap, I noticed a line of cones to the right that I had followed during my initial warmup miles. A faster woman turned right, and I figured that must be the extra kilometer that I would need to turn four 5K loops into the 21.1 kilometers required for a half marathon. A volunteer asked if I was on my fourth lap, and I said "Third lap" and held up three fingers, so I continued circling to the left toward the timing mat, taking another walk break. Now I was about 12 miles in for the day, so time to take the last UCAN fuel. Crossing the timing mat at 1:40, I had completed the third loop in 32 minutes, so indeed I was getting a little faster. 


Now it was time to do some work. Coach Carl had suggested running 16+ mile long runs with a negative split, not necessarily at marathon goal pace for the last half of the run, but I was trying for low 10-minute / mile pace. I filed away the "Patience" mantra for a future race. It had served me well so far, but didn't need it for the rest of today. Mile 13 was 10:12. There were a couple of cars moving slowly on Fast Lane, thank goodness for slowly driving. One car pulled out of a driveway in that neighborhood, and I can hardly complain about residents trying to get around. After the water station, where I accepted water for this final loop, I saw a young boy who had been running ahead of me for the entire race. It wasn't difficult to catch up to him. I didn't intend to make an aggressive pass, but then I sensed that a car was coming from behind me. To avoid taking up more space on the roadway, I decided to pass the boy. And I kept moving quickly. Afterwards I felt badly that the kid might have envisioned that he was passed by someone his Grandpop's age. Sorry about that! I'm really truly impressed that a 11-year-old can run a half-marathon. I was 52 years old before I tried my first half marathon, and it was really tough! Before long, I'm confident that you'll outrun me every single time. But just not today. Mile 14 was 10:19. My legs were feeling a little tired, like I was approaching the last two miles of a full marathon that I had run well. I couldn't push myself to go much faster. I was just determined that I didn't want to be passed by anyone that I had passed in the last two laps - or at least, if they passed me I wanted them to earn it. For the next few turns, I looked behind me but didn't see anyone. I started to think rather brashly that I had "put some hurt" on those kids. 


I'm really happy that I gradually turned up the pace in the race. After the first 2.9 mile run-walk warmup, I only walked for 30-second water breaks about every 1.5 miles.  

Before the mile 15 alert had sounded, I made the right turn for the additional 1.1 kilometers. The cones and signs were pretty clear where we should run, but there were several turns and two loops and I wasn't sure if I should turn after the cone (going long?) or before the cone (going short?). There was another runner about 1 minute ahead of me who I kept an eye on, but I couldn't exactly tell what he was doing with the cones and the turns. I did some of both, not wanting to cut the course, but at the same time I was trying to run tangents to whatever extent I could manage. I started to make up some ground on the runner ahead of me, now I estimated he was 45 seconds ahead of me. At one point on a loop, I could see that the young woman that I had passed a while back was only a minute or so behind me, and then I was happy to see the boy wasn't too far behind her, so he was still in the race. I definitely felt like the other runners would catch me if I slowed down too much, so that kept me motivated to push. Heading downhill on the last part of the loop, the runner in front of me flashed a smile and said "Great job!" I replied "We're almost done!" In the meantime I think that he was now only about 30 seconds ahead of me. I asked myself, "Can I catch up to him? Should I even try if he keeps running?" A moment later I realized that a woman was running with him, seemed to be holding a camera as they ran toward the finish line together. I decided to accelerate although I didn't really think that I would be able to catch up with him. Then I realized that he was running with a young child on his shoulder. That's really cool. I rather doubt that I could have caught up to him in the short distance remaining, and even if I could have done so, I didn't want to spoil a nice family moment by needlessly photobombing their finish line photo when I was out for a long run on a free course. I had achieved all of my goals. 


Happy to have executed my plan from start-to-finish 

Over the timing mat at the start line, then a right turn toward the finish, and I accelerated as strongly as I could. A little celebration at finishing the half marathon! Then I checked my watch, I had covered about 15.75 miles, so the route was probably a little short. Not that I'm complaining, it was a free race, they didn't promise anything other than a fun race, and I was delighted with the protected route, the water station, and afterwards, the free photos on Facebook! I kept running although I definitely slowed down for the last quarter-mile, running a couple of loops now on an empty course on the parking lots, until my water signalled 16 miles completed, in 2:54. I had realized when I began to speed up in the third lap that I was likely to complete the entire run in less than three hours, and was very pleased how this all worked out for me. Today's solid performance erased a bitter taste from my last half-marathon race in December 2021, when I had walked most of the last four miles. 


There were only 34 finishers in the half-marathon, with the majority of runners completing the 5K. When I checked my result online immediately after the race, 2:18:09 chip time and 20th overall, I was pleasantly shocked to see that I was first-place male grandmaster! Grandmaster Flash!! Afterwards I saw that a 62-year-old man had finished in 5th place, and was named first-place male master with a 1:49 finish. It was fun to gloat just a little bit even though I wasn't intending to compete, not really. I finished about 20 seconds behind the 29-year-old man who crossed the finish line with his young child. The 19-year-old woman finished about a minute behind me, and the 11-year-old boy was two minutes behind me. I watched his father take his photo (sharing the same surname, had finished in 1:54) and a few minutes later his mother finished. So that was a really nice family outing for them, three successful finishes, and I hope that they had a nice celebration together after the race. 


My result online, just a few minutes after I officially finished,
while a dozen other runners were still on the course. 

I was pretty sore after the race, despite some stretching before driving home. The next day, early on Monday morning, I dragged myself out of bed for an "optional 3-mile easy run". I bargained with myself, just walk-jog one mile and see how that goes. I felt better after that mile, so I decided to run a loop in the hilly park near the house, felt well enough after that first loop to run a second loop to get to three miles, then even finished off with two strides in a flat parking lot at our neighborhood school before jogging home, fully recovered from the long run the day before. Active easy recovery is definitely the trick for me! With 14 weeks to go until the marathon, I still have some work to do, but I also have plenty of time to get it done. So far I'm really happy with this marathon training cycle! 

November 12, 2022: Eastside Beltline 10K

I enjoyed running this race every year from 2013 - 2019, but the 2020 and 2021 races weren't held due to the pandemic. However, in planning the return of races to the Beltline this year, the Atlanta Beltline Partnership and Atlanta Track Club negotiated co-hosting the races. I had complained in this blog about the course often being less than 10K distance, so I was happy that the Atlanta Track Club would reliably take care of the race details. 

My plan for today's race was to practice some marathon racing skills, specifically a conservative start, and running continuously except for 30-second walks through water stations spaced around 2 miles apart. Coach Carl recommended this as a "checkpoint race" to set workout paces going forward. I didn't think to ask ahead of time exactly what that meant, but assumed that a quality consistent effort was what would be most helpful. That meant that I wasn't going to try to set a new personal record on this course. Instead I planned to take the first two downhill miles very easily, aiming for no faster than a 9 min / mile pace. I decided to set my watch to kilometer splits, for smaller units more easily tracked, so that translated to no faster than 5:35 / km. 


Coach Carl's instruction for today's race

It was foggy when I left home around 6:30 am, but the sky was clearing by the time I arrived in midtown Atlanta around 7 am, so I made sure to bring sunglasses. A cold wave is on the way but has not yet reached Atlanta, so at 60 deg F this morning, I decided to wear a singlet and no cap, to try to stay as cool as possible. 

Selfie before the start with Linda Bode Phinney,
Kimberly Harrell, and Stephanie Batson

The races began with a 3K out-and-back race at 8:00 am. Meanwhile the 10K runners lined up in our corrals on Krog Street. I began in corral B along with Linda, Stephanie and Kimberly from Tucker Running Club. Ronnel Blackmon was the master of ceremonies. Officially the honored guest was Andre Dickens, the new mayor of Atlanta, but Ronnel's energy was more of what I needed to wake up for this race. Wave A started at 8:25 am, then about 2-1/2 minutes later, Ronnel started off our race with an airhorn blast and his shouts of "Go!Go!Go!" As my plan was to start very conservatively, that was a good test to rein myself in for today "Patience!" I had helped myself a moment before the race officially began by circling around to the back of wave B. As we approached the starting mat, I continued walking until a few steps before crossing. 


Ronnel taking a selfie with wave B

In past years, the first half-mile of the race was heavily clogged. But because of the track club assigning runners to waves, this year the road was wide enough to handle the runners, even with me being back in the corral. A few of the 3K finishers were still coming in as I entered the Beltline from Irwin Street, but they only had about 3 feet of the width coned off for them, and we had the remaining 15 feet, which was enough space to find my comfortable pace. I hadn't intended to pass people in the first mile, but heard greetings from Carol Gsell as I passed her, and then caught up to Linda Phinney and ran with her for awhile. We caught up with Kimberly Harrell and Stephanie Batson and ran together with them for most of the first 2 miles. Near the Kroger on North Avenue, a woman cheered and her dog howled as we ran by. I said "I'm gonna feel like howlin' like that dog on the way back." Stephanie replied "I'm already feeling like that!" But with Stephanie and Kimberly pacing us, I ran consistently, all the way to the water station where we got separated and I moved in front. I was pleased that I had run the first three kilometers in 5:49, 5:34, and 5:33, about 17 minutes total, instead of trying to bank time on the downhill section. "Patience!" 

Crossing Monroe Avenue, we ran behind Park Tavern on a dirt and gravel bed, on a section of the Eastside Beltline that has not yet been paved. It had rained quite a bit yesterday, so I was concerned that this section might be muddy, but in fact the surface was fine. The dirt sections were damp but there was no standing water anywhere. I had been trailing just a few feet and to the left side of another runner, content to pace off of him, but he heard my footsteps and invited me into conversation, so we ran side by side for a few minutes. It turns out that he normally runs the Beltline with his wife, who runs on his left side, but she is several months pregnant so not racing today. I congratulated him on his child to come. Unfortunately I didn't think to ask his name. I tried to keep my effort easy, perhaps not quite easy conversational pace for me, and my heart rate was beginning to creep above 150 beats per minute, into my threshold range. "Patience!" In the past, we had run about 1 full mile on the gravel section. To my surprise, this year the route took a left turn onto the black asphalt path into Piedmont Park. For a moment I was wondering if the race route had been cut short, as this was normally the return route, but then we turned north on the path. This small change not only improved the surface but also (probably) would get the right distance for a true 10K race. The runners on our left were returning from the turnaround, mostly the faster wave B runners. 

Markings are kilometers, not miles

I ran pretty consistently for the rest of the northbound stretch, reaching the turnaround and the mile 3 marker at 27 minutes elapsed. 5:36 and 5:42 for kilometers 4 and 5, so 28:15 for the first 5K. Could I negative split? That would require running the same average pace for about 150 feet net uphill. So I took it easy through Piedmont Park, not wanting to burn myself out before the toughest final three kilometers of the race. "Patience!" Still I was getting warm, so I wiped my face with a small towel, that I had run back to the car to get this morning "just in case". That was a good decision, although I had trouble finding a good place to stash the towel away where I could easily grab it when needed. As we emerged from Piedmont Park on 10th Street, I really wanted to take a walk break. I knew that the water station was just a couple of minutes ahead, and pushed through the remaining distance to wait for the water station to walk for 30 seconds. 5:38 and 5:48 for kilometers 6 and 7, when I had actually wanted to run closer to 5:35. But the walk break at the water station was at the end of kilometer 7. 

Elapsed time was 39:40. If I could run the last three kilometers at 5 min / km pace, that would get me through the finish line in less than 55 minutes. But even though I was prepared for it, the uphill was challenging. Kilometer 8 in 5:49, as I passed the Kroger and the howling dog. Oh, that dog was a-howlin', my legs were startin' to howl as well, as I crossed over the North Avenue Bridge. Now I'm trying for less than 56 minutes. I'm continuing to press forward, but I hear the conversation of a couple of women in Spanish approaching from behind, and then passing me. I couldn't follow what they were saying, but one women then moved further ahead. Occasionally she would call back to encourage her companion, while I tried just to keep the two of them in my sights, trying to maintain their paces. Oh, the pain! I could feel that I was beginning to "redline", was wiping my head fairly often, holding the towel in my right hand, then my left. Kilometer 9 in 5:54, my slowest kilometer of the race. And at 51:30 elapsed, now I'm just trying to finish in less than 57 minutes. 


"Five minutes to go" I said to myself "you can do this for five more minutes!" My body wanted to take a walk break so badly, but I reminded myself "you can walk all you want in five minutes!" The image of Daniel Do Nascimento collapsing in last week's New York City Marathon flashed through my mind, but I fought off the negativity with "Just four minutes to go! Maybe less if the course is short!!" I just kept running, noticing familiar landmarks of the last section of the course. Then the mile 6 marker came into view. I wondered if I could run any faster, "for just two minutes"? Without consciously commanding my legs, I accelerated into a stride. Wow, it was a surprise to find some pep left in the legs! Within a few seconds I had caught up to and passed one of the women that I had been following since she had passed me after North Avenue. "Less than two minutes to go!" and I forced my cadence to stay steady and fast. Approaching Irwin Avenue, I put on another stride to pass the the second woman, at the same point where Rich Kenah (Atlanta Track Club Executive Director) was cheering us into the last 100 meters. 

I didn't do this as I passed people.
On the advice of counsel,
I will neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have thought about it ....

Ironically Coach Carl's workout for me last Tuesday night was three miles of "stride the straights, jog the curves," always a tough workout over 12 laps, but the muscle memory was fresh. Now my mission was not to get passed running into the finish. Just then, a young man flew by on my left - but he was not someone that I had just passed, so I ignored him. People were cheering, a woman called out my name "FRANK!!!" as I passed - I don't know who you were, but THANKS! My concern was that some people seemed to be cheering for someone immediately behind me. So I kicked in with one final stride, crossing the finish line at my top speed for the day. Just then I heard Ronnel announce "FRANK!" as he called out the names of finishers. I wobbled to a stop: 56:43 on the watch, 56:40 official. Fortunately the distance was 10.00 kilometers on my watch, so this year the route wasn't short! 

That was harder than I probably should have run today. But I was pleased that I didn't quit on the return, and that I was "Patient!" enough in the first part of the race, banking just enough physical and mental strength to finish strongly. 

Almost a negative split! 28:15 for the first 5K, 28:25 for the last 5K running mostly uphill. 
Official result

November 5, 2022: Dental Dash at Dawn 5K

After 8-1/2 years, I return to defend "my title" as the 2014 second-place age-group winner in the Dental Dash at Dawn 5K. Back then, the race was run in the spring and in the Old Fourth Ward near the center of Atlanta. After I began running spring half and full marathons, I didn't return to this race for several years, but early in 2020, when the course moved to the Vine City neighborhood, I had registered and was planning this race on March 21 as my first event after my March 1 2020 personal best marathon. In those three short weeks, the COVID pandemic had swept across the country, and the USA joined most of the rest of the world in lockdown. One of the least consequential changes for me was that in-person running races were cancelled. The Dental Dash at Dawn became the very first of my virtual races over the coming year. Although the pandemic is not yet over, I feel relatively impervious for the moment, having received a fifth dose of COVID vaccine in September, this one being the bivalent booster protecting against both the original strain and the recent Omicron variant.


The Dentistry for the Developmentally Disabled (DDD) Foundation and treatment office has moved to an office park in Chamblee, one of metro Atlanta's many northeastern suburbs. This year's race route would start and finish near the office, on a route that several people said would be quite hilly! I registered relatively late, but that was only to ensure that this race would fit into marathon training, now four weeks into a 20-week program. The Tucker Running Club had a relatively large contingent for today's race, with 11 of our most regular participants joining this race!

Left-to-right: Lourdes Martinez, Raeanne Watkins, Kimberly Harrell, Rebecca Ludwig, Donna Roberts, Judy Tennell, Frank McDonald, Lisa Calas, Carolyn Weber, David Watkins, and Wende Johnston. 

It was relatively warm for early November, 64 deg F and cloudy at the start, almost ideal conditions coming out of summer heat conditioning, so I opted for a singlet, planning to run a fairly fast race. I did a few 3 - 4 minute warmups, which probably totalled around a mile, although with starts and stops I didn't record any of it on the Garmin, but I mention it here only because my instructions for today were a 1-mile warmup. As we lined up to start, I took a position in the middle of the pack, wanting to ensure that I didn't begin this race too quickly, despite David Watkins trying to encourage me to move up in front of him. At 8:00 am, a DDD patient and her mother started the race in a wheelchair, and five minutes later the rest of us began with the "crack" of a starting pistol. 

Ready to start! 

I had no trouble running once I crossed the timing mat, and upon turning right onto Clairmont Road, we faced a long but gentle uphill start. As I caught up with Carolyn Weber, I commented "I like the uphill start, get it out of the way while we're fresh!" and at another point as I passed Donna Roberts, I joked "I was hoping to draft behind you!" but of course that had no chance of working since I'm taller and wider than Donna. My watch was set to kilometers to break the race into smaller chunks. For most of Clairmont Road, I ran about a 6 minute per kilometer pace (around 9:30 per mile), which seemed appropriately cautious. I picked up the pace a bit once we crested the hill, a half-mile into the race. The runner lane was well-protected by cones, although when I realized that auto traffic was passing fairly quickly, I decided to stick to the right side of the road just in case a driver couldn't stay in the lane. As we approached the business district along Buford Highway, I remembered some sad weeks that I spent at an extended stay hotel in the later years of my first marriage. That memory shook me up a bit. Kilometer 1 sounded just as we made a right turn into a residential neighborhood, 5:41, 80 feet uphill. 

Race route with kilometer markings

We immediately began running downhill into the neighborhood. It was nice to enjoy the benefit of what we had just earned running uphill on Clairmont Road. But it quickly became apparent that we were losing all of the elevation that we had just worked for, and as it turned out, even more. We passed the 1-mile marker around 9 minutes into the race, although by this stage I had definitely picked up my speed gliding along the route. At one point, the elevation drop was steep enough that I had to slow down to ensure that I kept my footing. Nonetheless I finished kilometer 2 in a speedy 5:01, 20 feet ascent and 122 feet descent. 

Around that stage I caught up to a runner who looked like he might be in my age group - who I met after the race and his name is Chris. We laughed about the hilliness of the route, and I commented that we had just given back all of the elevation and would have to run uphill again. And rounding a curve, there it was up ahead, a 40-foot climb. I shortened my stride and powered my way strongly up the hill. At the intersection, we were directed to turn left. And as I made the turn, I saw a rapidly moving young woman moving in the opposite direction. I quickly darted across the street, managing to avoid a collision. Not surprisingly, she turned out to be the woman's winner. Fortunately I didn't spoil her run. Although I spent the next several minutes wondering why the organizers made us cross the route. Probably we should have run on the left side of the road, but I guess we're all so accustomed to driving on the right, that is where the lead group must have been directed and everyone else followed like lemmings. 

How does metro Atlanta pack so many hills into a short distance?!

Powering up the hill wasn't my best idea. Around 15 minutes in, I saw a water station and decided to accept a cup of water and take a 30 second walk break, to the turnaround point. One of the volunteers at the water station encouraged us "Halfway done!" and I flashed her a smile and a word of "thanks!" After the turnaround, I resumed running strongly, and finished kilometer 3 in 5:29,  56 feet ascent and 20 feet descent. On the out-and-back section, Kimberly Harrell was just 30 seconds behind me, followed by Donna Roberts, Rebecca Ludwig and Wende Johnston, and we encouraged each other as we passed. Once again I had to cross paths, this time with the runners behind me, but at least none of us were trying to win the race, so there was more time to avoid collisions. We continued start for another minute, then turned left to return the way that we had run in the first mile. 

Remember the hill that was so steep that I had to watch my footing? Now we had to run back up that hill. And at 19 minutes into the race, it was too much to continue running. I began walking, but noted with some satisfaction that everyone that I could see in front of me was also walking. I took a full minute walk break to climb 30 feet, and in that time no one passed me. Shortly before reaching Clairmont Road, the alert for kilometer 4 sounded, 6:17 at a 10:06 min / mile pace, 89 feet ascent and 16 feet descent. But at least I knew that the rest of the race route was downhill. 

A short walk break for the water station, followed by a long walk break up a long hill.
 
It was an Orange Theory run today. 

Upon turning onto Clairmont Road, I took a quick look behind me, and Chris was about 10 - 15 seconds behind. I was hoping to pick up the pace to regain some of the time that I had lost in the neighborhood, but even with the downhill assist I couldn't run all that fast at first. After Chris passed me, I found a little more speed, and while I never caught up to him, I wasn't passed by anyone else for the rest of the race. I was closing on a young man - when he asked the policewoman how far, I realized from his high voice that he was younger - turns out that he was only 13 years old. The policewoman told us that we had a half-mile to go, which matched up with my thinking. As we ran downhill on Clairmont Road, I finally caught up with the boy with about 2 blocks to go and started to pass him. But then he saw me, jetted ahead, and I just waved ahead with my left hand and called out "Finish strong!" Then I could see the finish line. The boy sped past a 27-year-old woman, who I briefly thought about trying to catch, but she also sped up. Making a left turn toward the finish line, I ran as fast as I could, as I didn't want anyone to pass me at the end. Turns out that I had nothing to worry about: the next finisher was 24 seconds back according to the results. I saw from the finish line clock had not yet reached 28 minutes, but was disappointed that I had needed more than 27 minutes for this race. Shawn Roberts gave me the race medal. For the last 1.06 kilometers, in 5:15, 3 feet ascent and 83 feet descent! My chip time was 27:38, guntime 27:45, and 26th place overall, which was a nice surprise out of 227 finishers in this race. 


Kimberly Harrell finished just a few places behind me. I walked back to Clairmont Road and to the first intersection at the mile 3 marker to cheer in some of the other Tucker Runners. "Just one more minute of pain and you're finished!" was one of my first cheers, followed later by "You've done all of the hard work: it's all downhill from here!" which was probably more appropriate. Donna Roberts, Rebecca Ludwig, and Wende Johnston passed about 30 seconds apart, then Carolyn Weber followed a minute later by Lisa Calas, Judy Tennell, and Lourdes Martinez running together. Then I began my one-mile cool-down (also in the instructions for today's race). I was running on a road parallel to the finish road, and some volunteers who saw me began calling out "Go back, go back! You turned too early!!" I was still wearing my bib and probably moving at the pace of a 35-minute 5K runner. I held up my medal and shouted back "I already finished, on a cooldown run!" 


I didn't know how I had placed within my age group, but having seen a message that I was 26th overall, I was hopeful. I figured that Chris would be first, but that I might have a chance at second in our age group. Then I discovered that the age groups were 51 - 60 and 61 - 70, and that Chris and I weren't in the same age group! Nonetheless I still finished second, and was delighted to hear my name called during the award ceremony. 

It was pretty close, the 3rd place finisher almost caught up with me! 


As was the case in 2014, the award was a model of a tooth!
Donna Roberts won first in her age group.

Successfully defended my age group 2nd place title, 
although I had expected to have advanced into the next age group.
It would have worked out the same for me either way. 

October 19, 2022: Grand Prix Cross Country 5K

I guess I haven't been paying enough attention to the Atlanta Track Club website. I was surprised to learn on Monday night that there was a free race scheduled for Wednesday evening! When I discovered that it was in Decatur, just a few miles from the Emory campus, I decided to sign up, despite the early 6 pm start. However, Wednesdays are when we typically hold chemistry faculty and committee meetings. I had a couple of faculty meetings on that particular day, including some speedreading that I needed to complete in advance of the second faculty meeting. After two pre-registration meetings with advisees, I finally had an opportunity for a few scientific thoughts during a weekly afternoon meeting with a subgroup in my research lab. During a short break, I switched into my running gear before going to an open office hour with students in my CHEM 203 course from 4:30 - 5:15 pm. That was a good decision, because with rush hour traffic, I barely made it to the race in time. 

The car race to get to the foot race through rush-hour traffic. 
State Farm "Drive Safe and Save" didn't score me very well.

The official parking lot was full when I arrived around 5:50 pm, but I found a legal spot on a side street, warmed up with a 3/10 mile sprint to get to the tent where the volunteers handed out race bibs by 5:55 pm, and had just enough time to join a few photos with Tucker Running Club participants. It was a cool evening, around 55 deg F, so I wore tights and a red Atlanta Track Club cap, which Bonnie calls my "MAGA" hat, so I don't wear it very often.... 

With several Tucker Runners, including Kalpana Patel, Stephanie Batson, Donna Roberts, 
Rob McGregor, Kimberly Harrell, and Linda Bode Phinney

Remarkably, I have never previously visited Legacy Park, and before today I didn't even know that this park existed, just a mile or so southeast of downtown Decatur. I wasn't sure what to expect from the race, but I had noticed in the participant information e-mail that "The course is a non-paved surface but free of any obstacles such as roots or rocks." Today was supposed to be an easy day, 3 - 4 miles, after last night's speed workout on the track (which had gone very well!), and the entire week was supposed to be recovery after Sunday's 10-mile race. I figured that I would run the 5K easily, and that I wouldn't exceed 4 miles even with the warmup sprint and returning to the car after the race. 

The marathon training plan did not read "Trail Race" for October 19. 

The race director made a few important announcements that I couldn't hear over the buzz of the runners, then the airhorn sounded at 6:00 pm sharp, and we were running. I had thought that I was facing toward the start, but then the crowd moved to my right and I suddenly realized that I had mistakenly found a spot very close to the starting line! Fortunately no one was trampled due to my confusion. Anyway we took off running down a dirt road "non-paved surface" which soon narrowed to a 5-foot wide trail. I felt like I was running easily, and only after the race did I discover that I had been running gently downhill for the first few minutes. We crossed a gravel path, someone behind me said "I thought that there weren't going to be any rocks" and a moment later encountered some tree roots embedded on the trail, fortunately painted orange for visibility. "Watch out for the roots" I heard. Within the first minutes, I recognized Alice Pate running ahead of me. I said hi as I caught up to Alice, thinking that we would run together for awhile. But after just a few seconds, I found myself in front of Alice. Alice is an excellent runner, so for the rest of the race, I was expecting that she would pass me at any moment!  


Two loops of this course, with many twists and turns.
At several points, I could see runners going the opposite direction,
 both in front of and behind me. 

There were plenty of volunteers at each turn of the trail, so there was no chance of getting lost. But about four minutes in, I was surprised by the first uphill section. Ahead of me I saw 75-year-young Sam Benedict. After cresting the hill, I gradually caught up with Sam, and also thought that I would run with him for awhile, but on a sharp downhill section I got in front of Sam as well. Sam is also capable of passing me. So now I'm running faster than my "easy pace", which wasn't in the plan. Mile 1: 9:05 elapsed. Pretty fast for me in a trail race. I reminded myself to watch my footing carefully. A fall could potentially ruin what so far has been a great start to marathon training. 

Midway through the second mile, there was a water stop, and I decided to accept a cup from a volunteer. I wasn't really that thirsty, but thought it would be wise to take a 30 second walk break so that I would stay fresh and alert for the rest of the race. For the most part, the order of runners was not changing. A couple of people passed me while I was walking, and I remember passing another participant that was walking up a hill. To my right, I saw a familiar face, watching the race with his dog. I'm thinking "That's Linda Phinney's husband" but at the moment I couldn't recall his name, which was a warning of incoming brain fog. I waved but didn't want to call out "Hi Linda's husband!" For the next minute, I thought that wouldn't have been that bad: in some circles I'm known as "Bonnie's husband" and proud to be associated with my better half. 

My reverie was broken bu the realization that we were running up a rather long hill. We leveled out for a moment, and then an even longer uphill section. I passed another walker in this stage. Then we were approaching the finish area, except that we were to stay to the left to run another loop. That was about 14 minutes into the race, so at least the speediest finishers were not yet lapping me. But I was wishing that I had paid a little more attention to the details of the route on the first loop. Where exactly were the downhill and uphill sections? 

I guess I was doing alright, because I passed the mile 2 marker at 18:08 elapsed, 9:03 for mile 2. The only problem was that my pulse rate had started relatively high at the beginning of the race, 140 beats per minute within the first mile, and was now above 160 beats per minute, which is threshold level. That was after going uphill; I noticed that my pulse rate dropped a bit as we ran downhill for a moment, and then I wasn't looking at my watch any longer, because I didn't want to trip over any trail hazards. In any case I could tell that I was slowing down on the uphill sections. I didn't want to take another walk break until the water station, but on a sharp switchback, I gave into the temptation and just walked for about one full minute. A couple of people passed me in that section, including a fellow named Joe that I had met at a race a few months ago. I recognized him but didn't remember his name during the race! Finally I started running again as I heard someone else approaching from behind me. I tried to consistently stay to one side of the course, to avoid blocking anyone if they needed to pass me, but fortunately I was now moving fairly well once again. 


I took one more short walk break on the second pass through the water station, then resumed running. I was at 25 minutes elapsed, so I knew that I didn't have too far to run, but I remembered that there were two uphill sections before I could complete the race. The first uphill started fairly well, but then my left toe caught on a tree root that wasn't supposed to be on this race course. Fortunately I wasn't moving that quickly going uphill, so I didn't lose my balance - unlike what happened to me in a trail half-marathon several years ago. "Pick up your feet!" I reminded myself. Then after cresting, there was the second longer uphill ahead of me. Despite not preparing for this race, I managed to deploy a mantra that had proven invaluable in another recent race: "just 2 - 3 minutes and then you can take a nice long walk break after crossing the finish line." I could hear another runner not too far behind me. I really didn't want anyone else to pass me just because I was giving up, so that propelled me up the final hill. There were also a few runners just ahead of me: I wanted to catch up to one of them, but they kept running away from me. 9:56 for mile 3, so I had really slowed down. 

I didn't see the finish line until making a gentle right turn, and then I still had to work to accelerate for a strong finish. I never did catch up to those other guys. Robin Mitchell was cheering for me as I approached the finish line, and then I was through! I stopped my watch: 28:53 on my watch, 28:50 official time. As I tried to catch my breath, Robin was cheering again, and it was Linda Bode Phinney who finished just 6 seconds behind me - on her way to an age group award. Linda was the first new friend that I made when I began group runs with Tucker Running Club in winter 2015. 

Finishers 124 through 131

I needed several minutes before I felt like I wasn't breathing heavily. I think that not properly warming up meant that my heart rate started relatively high, which made this race tougher than it might otherwise have been. Fortunately I didn't see Art Phinney until after my brain fog had cleared, and his name came immediately to mind. I congratulated Linda on a strong race, as she has worked hard to come back to her previous form. 

I was quite pleased that I had finished in less than 30 minutes. In a relatively small race, I thought that I could have a chance for an age group award: 

Turns out that a bunch of the grandmaster speedsters showed up this evening! 

Normally I might be disappointed to place 6th out of 7 competitors in any group. But none of us in the male 60 - 64 age group ran slower than 30 minutes!