Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reflections on 2013 - Moving Ahead to 2014 and Beyond

Upon reflection, this was what I would describe as my first down year as a competitive masters runner.  There were some positive moments and races this year, but by and large I feel that I under-performed and did not train as hard or as consistently as I have in the recent past.  Some of this was by design, some a result of circumstance.

A year ago in this blog, I laid out a number of time related goals for my 2013 racing, none of which I was able to meet this year.  Therefore, with all of these goals left unrealized, I will consider those to be my same goals for 2014.

From a performance point of view, there were three especially positive memorable experiences during 2013.  First off was dragging my butt around two laps of the track as fast as I could and somehow managing to finish in 2:10.73 at the Club Northwest Spring Break Open in March.  I had not really trained for that kind of fast racing for a few years and the race itself was an incredible shock to my system, but I hung on and even caught one other masters runner on the straightaway.  Hoping, but not really believing, I could run 2:10 at that time off of the training I had been doing, and then actually doing it was an enormous confidence booster for my next memorable race of the year just a week later in Eugene.

I don’t really have a bucket list for running, such as certain races I’d like to run or trails to train on or that sort of thing, but if I did, I think winning a mile race at Hayward Field at a college meet in front of a crowd would have been something that was bucket-list worthy.  Fortunately for me, I actually did it!  The 2013 Pepsi Invite at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field is one of those very special college meets that also has a couple of exhibition races for masters runners.  This year the mile was one of those races and I leapt at the chance to be in the race.  Entry was first come first served so we had a mixed group of men and women of different ages (all over 40) and different relative abilities.  I registered for the race expecting some pretty fast guys to be in the field and was looking to get dragged to a fast time, something in the mid 4:40s.  Unfortunately, none of the real masters speedsters from the area capable of 4:20s and 4:30s in the mile could race that day.  That meant a complete change in my perspective from chasing a fast time to the crazy idea that I could maybe win the race.

At the Bell in the Masters Mile at the 2103 University of Oregon Pepsi Invite.

To spare you all the gory race details, it came down to a two-person race between my friend and fellow miler Kevin Paulk, and myself, in which I pulled out the win in 4:51.46.  It was not a slow tactical race by any means, and I pushed the pace from the gun to the line, but I do feel like on that day if there had been faster runners ahead of me I could have been pulled to an even quicker time.

The other racing highlight of the year was running a new personal best for 5k on the roads.  I blogged about this race previously as one in which I set a new 5k PR but really did not because the runners were incorrectly mis-routed in the race and we actually race 3.5 miles rather than the correct 3.1 miles.  Based on a number of online conversion programs that calculate/estimate equivalent times that one should be able to run for other distances, I arguably ran in the neighborhood of 16:35 for 3.1 miles or 5k at this year’s Fourth of July Yankee Doodle Dash in Everett.  Whether or not I really would have, we’ll never know.  I do know I finished third overall and was happy with how I raced and how hard I ran.  Now I just need to go and do better for 5k next year to erase the asterisk by this PR in my personal record book.  However, I can say this, I won’t be returning to the Yankee Doodle Dash to chase that PR.

Another positive result in this year’s running log was racing in The Hood to Coast Relay with the Leapin’ Lizards.  One again we raced very well, finishing second in our mixed-submasters division to our rivals the Slug Hunters (yet again).  We ran as fast as we ever have as a team, within spitting distance of breaking 20 hours, and my performance in my three legs was decent.  In the first two legs I was slightly over my predicted time and in my last leg I was under.  That is in comparison to the previous year in which I was well under my predicted times on all three legs in spite of using the same 10k time each year as a basis for my predicted times.  In spite of the adrenaline rush and team support, I just never felt as strong and fast this year as I did the previous two years.  I still had a blast and enjoyed the craziness with my teammates immensely.  Sadly, this was the last year for the Leapin’ Lizards in this division, at least we went out fighting for the division victory.

Leapin' Lizards 2013 Hood to Coast Team at the Finish in Seaside, OR.

A couple of other fun memories for the year were getting featured in a Northwest Runner magazine article and two different guys-only weekend running get-aways.  The first one was to my friend Woody Harris’ Whidbey Island retreat and the other to my friend Matt Farley’s High Elevation Running Camp at the base of Mount Rainier. 

A low point of the year was my less than impressive performance at the Missoula Half Marathon where I clocked a 19th place finish in 1:22:26 after experiencing stomach cramps pretty early in the race.  Going in to the race I was sure I could run 1:18 or better and had just come off a pretty good 5k at the Yankee Doodle Dash a week and a half before.  

Nearing the Finish Line at the Missoula Half Marathon in July 2013.

Oh well, I should probably consider myself pretty lucky in that this was the first really disappointing race I have had since moving into the masters age category.  In spite of the underwhelming performance, I still kept alive my over 40 racing streak of placing in the top three in my age group in non-USTAF championship races.

This all leads me to my reflection on the year and years past and what I learned from it.  Taking a moment to really ask myself where I have best performed, on the road or on the track, I needed some tool to compare my past performances.  The age-grading calculator allows me to compare both different ages and different events on the roads and the track, so I listed all my best performances over the last four years.

Age graded PRs
Event                                        Time                     Year                    Age Grade %
800 (age 40)                             2:07.07                 2010                    83.71
800 (age 43)                             2:10.73                 2013                    83.60
1500 (age 40)                           4:28.26                 2010                    81.81
Mile (age 42)                            4:50.54                 2012                    82.29
Mile (age 43)                            4:51.46                 2013                    82.66
3000m (age 42)                        9:42.39                 2012                    81.15
5k (age 42)                               16:38                    2012                    83.30
5k (age 43)                               16:35                    2013                    84.19
10k (age 41)                             34:56                    2011                    81:94
10 miles (age 42)                       58:31                    2012                    80.73
Half Marathon (age 41)             1:16:33                  2011                    81.22
Marathon (age 41)                    2:46:38                  2011                    77.45

Here’s what this tells me.  I consistently age-graded in the 81 to 83% range, with my marathon PR as my only low outlier.  My best overall age graded performance regardless of event was my 5k "PR" in 2013 and three of the top five age-graded performances were in 2013.  Those were surprises, but are both factors of still being pretty fit and the benefit of getting older in the age-grading formula.  However, in spite of thinking I had an off year, I did not do too badly in the shorter distances.  Taking this thinking to the next logical conclusion, if middle distances are arguably where I am best running right now, what would be the biggest thing I could do in that arena?  Since the marathon is not my strength even though there are a lot of great destination marathons out there to run, what would be a bucket list kind of event for an old duffer in the middle distances on the track?  Well, it does not get much bigger or exotic than wearing the team USA uniform at the World Masters Athletics Championships. 

Like the elite track and field World Championship, the World Masters Athletics Championships are not held every year, so where and when are the next championships?  I was pleased to see that they will be in Lyon, France in August of 2015.  That would make a great trip for my wife and I to plan for and it give me a nice long window to train and work to be in the very best shape I can be for my first international competition.  Plus, in 2015 I will have turned 45 years old so I will be the youngster in a new 45-49 age group.  The cool thing about masters championship, be they national or world championships is that one does not have to qualify, everyone is welcome, one simply has to sign up and pay your own way to the event.

So, that is the plan, Lyon 2015.  In the meantime, in addition to staying healthy, I have some pounds to shed, some serious conditioning to undertake, and some hard training and harder racing to endure.  Look for me on the track and the roads for the next couple of years, just don’t expect to see me racing on the trails or in a marathon, that kind or racing will have to wait a little longer.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The 5k PR That Wasn’t

I recently raced to a new personal record for five kilometers in Everett’s fourth of July Yankee Doodle Dash, except I really didn’t.  How is that you ask, well, it sort of went like this.  The Yankee Doodle Dash 5k is a certified course race that is run every year on July fourth.   I ran this race last year finishing in 17:08. 

Not seeing anything to indicate otherwise, I and other runners expected the race to follow the same course as previous years, as stated in the course map on the race website. 

The start of the Yankee Doodle Dash 5k.  That's me in the middle under the "S".

Surveying the field at the start I could tell I would probably be one of the top ten finishers, and might even sneak into the top five like last year.  Accordingly, I lined up near the front of the start line and got off to a good position in the first one hundred meters.   In this race the start is all uphill for two blocks before turning right onto a relatively flat stretch.  At least, that’s how it is supposed to be run.  Unfortunately this year a volunteer on the course steered the lead motorcycle to the left after one block against the vocal protests of many of us runners near the front of the race who knew better.  The motorcycle kept going and the very front runners followed and the rest of us said “aw shit, I guess we’re committed”.    In hindsight it is understandable how the mistake was made, as the volunteer sent the lead cycle to the left just as he had correctly done for the 10k race that started fifteen minutes earlier and was supposed to go left at that corner. 

Lead runners after having just made the incorrect left turn early in the race.

With the new, unmapped addition, we were soon routed back onto the correct course and followed the known route as expected back to the finish line.  Unfortunately this resulted in a course that was surely longer than 3.1 mile or five kilometers.  Overall, I was pretty happy with how I ran, dropping a number of folks over the first two miles and reeling in a couple more in the last mile.  Effort-wise and fitness-wise I knew I was in the ballpark for a sub 17 minute effort and the weather was perfect for 5k racing.  Because of the early race snafu, I was not able to get an accurate mile or two mile split so I never really had a good idea of where I was in the race as far as pace goes, but I ran hard and finished strong, sporting my ever-so-patriotic USA flag split shorts.

 Bringing it home down the hill to the finish in all my patriotic glory!

At the finish line a few of the front runners were less than happy with the extra distance we had to run, not because it made it harder, but because it messed up our ability to compare this effort to a true 5k result, both our own and others.  Upon my noting out loud at the finish line that the race was long and they screwed up the directions, one race volunteer said to me “does it matter, were you racing for a specific time?”  To which I said, yeah, yeah it matters a lot when you are racing”.

Upon returning home I hopped online and mapped and remapped the actual route we ran using the USATF course mapping website.  Each time I arrived at a distance of 3.50 and 3.51 miles.  Facebook posts from people who also ran the 5k with gps watches reported distances of 3.5 miles as well.   So, we had a new distance to kinda tell us how we performed.  What about  the time?  Well, the race was chip timed so that was a little harder to mess up, marking me down with a 18:49 finishing time.   

Being the racer that I am, what I really wanted to know was what did I actually run for 5k that morning.  Here are a few ways to look at it.  Since this was 3.5 miles and longer than 3.1 miles, I could take my overall pace and use that to calculate what I likely ran as my 3.1 mile split.   That would look something like this:

18:49 for 3.50 miles = 5:22/mile pace = 16:42 for 3.1 miles.

OK, 16:42 is a good time for me right now and I would be more than happy with that result, but it led me to ask if there was a way to get an even more accurate estimate?  Considering we know that as a race gets longer we all run a little bit slower pace.  Does that .4 miles make a difference in this case?  I probably ran faster overall pace than 5:22, but how much? Well it is almost a half mile and I’m pretty sure it might have made a second or two difference per mile.  Based on my 18:49 effort for 3.50 miles, what should my equivalent performance have been that day for 3.1 miles?  Trusting the “experts” of the internet running world, there are a number of race time prediction calculators out there to which I could pose this question.

Here is what I found from the following sites –

Interesting… that makes me pretty happy since my previous certified course 5k PR on the road was a 16:38 that I ran last November at the Gobble Gallop in Duluth, Minnesota.  These predictions suggest that had we run the correct course at the Yankee Doodle Dash, I very well would have run a new PR at 16:35.  Dang it!  Oh well, I’ll have to chalk this one up as the 5k PR that wasn’t.

Strutting my stuff doing a little victory jug after the race.