Monday, May 21, 2012

Pocono Run for the Red (Hot) marathon Pace Report

Yesterday I paced the Pocono Run for the Red Marathon in Stroudsburg, PA.  This was an extra special weekend for me, and the reason it was special had nothing to do with me.  I had three members of my family toeing the same line with a goal of finishing their first marathon!  Not only that, but I had a ton of family (and Lauren and my kids) there cheering for everyone.  And I must say, I'm incredibly impressed with how well each of them did. 

Lauren's sister, Carolyn, had joined the Runners World Challenge when she signed up for Pocono to "celebrate" her 40th birthday which was two days before the race.  She had run two half marathons and "easily" crossed the line at 3:45:36, her fastest mile being her last one!

My brother, Jeremy, and his wife Michelle planned to run the first half or so of the race together which they did.  Jer went on to finish 3:43:34 while Michelle got nabbed by the nasty heat we were dealt and willed herself to a 4:54. 

I added three marathon finishers to my immediate family yesterday, that is freaking inspiring....and awesome!

So how'd my weekend go.  A short recap with some photos...

I headed up Saturday to set up the / MotoACTV booth at the expo.  Now this isn't a huge race, but it did double in size this year from 700 runners to 1300 runners, so not too small.  The expo wasn't large, but it was busy all day.  We got set up and the first three hours just flew by.  It is so neat to meet all of the runners who stop by the pace tables, hear the story, talk strategy, etc.  What's also cool is to catch up with runners who have run in other groups that I've paced.

So after the expo was over, a few of us pacers grabbed our MotoACTV and took them for a little 4 mile spin.  I had spotted an ice cream joint earlier that I HAD to check out so I could plan my dinner accordingly.  The race had a free pasta party for the runners, so we got to mingle with some of the runners and see some old friends.  Then we had our pre-race pacer meeting and walked up to the ice cream shack which TOTALLY hit the spot.

I got all my stuff ready and hit the sack.  Plan was to meet in the lobby at 0545 to head to the bus pick up for the start.  It was a warm AM, temps near 60 so I packed some extra Powerbar PowerGel to keep me topped off with sodium since I'd be out on the course for longer than normal.  Goal time: 3:15, 7:27 pace.  I was supposed to pace 3:05 but one of our pacers got injured and I took over 3:15 which was a good thing considering the heat....and the sinus infection I was diagnosed with on Friday.

We made it up to the start, headed into the high school for rest rooms, stretching, etc.  By 7:40 we were lined up on the start, firing up our MotoACTV's and briefing our groups.  I had one of the larger groups that I've ever paced.  A full range of people..young, older, male, female, local and far off.  The temps were in the mid 60's already so I reminded my group to hydrate early and often and not to skip any water stops as they were located two miles apart.

The first half of the race was beautiful.  Shaded, tree covered roads, downhills and great volunteers.  I had a pretty large group and some extra motivation.  Lauren and the rest of the family would be at mile 9 cheering us on waiting for Carolyn, Jer and Michelle.  I don't often get to see their smiling faces cheering for me, so I was excited and I made sure my group welcomed them as we ran by.  

The kids getting ready for our arrival....
My group coming down the hill, notice the snazzy PINK Race Ready shirt!
We had a great group, here we are 9 miles in and still 25+ strong!
Feeling pretty good here, most of my splits were in the 7:25-7:35 up to this point.
A beautiful day, but HOT.  You can see how hard my group is working here.
Headed up the first "climb" on the course.  There would be many like it from 20-26.
Ready for Mommy/Aunt Carolyn!
Ring those cowbells!
Carolyn was all smiles.  And they even gave her bib #40 for her 40th birthday!
 So I rolled through the half right on pace at 1:37:28.  With all the downhill in the first half I really concentrated on making sure my group didn't go out too fast.  First 13 miles or so my splits were 7:25-7:35.  It felt like each water stop we hit (on two mile marks) my group would shrink.  As we hit mile 18 and rolled through the water stop my group splintered.  A few of them regrouped with me on the ensuing downhill and we stuck together through 21.  I could tell the heat was getting to them and I encouraged them to keep their HR's low by easing up the inclines and recovering on the downhills.  By mile 21 I was running solo.  Me, the road, the sun and the sign.  By this point I had been consistently hitting 7:20-7:27 so I was about15 seconds ahead of goal time.

I was getting HOT and bummed that I was by myself.  I did my best to pick up stragglers as I went which was successful, but each of them had to drop off eventually.  I caught up to Keith Strawn, the "Pink Tu Tu guy" about a half mile before the finish.  He and I chatted for a while as people were commenting on our matching pink!  As I hit the track I picked up three guys who were determined not to let my pacer sign finish in front of them!  So I crossed the line, solo, at 3:14:36.  I was glad to be done. 

Now it was the waiting game.  I caught up with some friends and many of the runners who were in my group and gutted out some incredible finishes...and qualified for Boston!!  The plan was for Lauren to run the last 10 miles with Carolyn so my eyes were glued to the entry to the track.  And they arrived...ahead of the 3:45 pacer!!  Carolyn looked so strong, I was so impressed, screaming at the top of my lungs for her.  She did awesome.  So I found the rest of the family and we grabbed a bite to eat.  By this point the temps were in the 80's and the medics were busy.
The kids had fun "racing" on the track waiting for Aunt Michelle.
And she did it!  The kids crossed the line with her which was so cute.
So it turned out to be a great day and a great weekend.  Logistically this is a great race and I'm glad I volunteered to pace and be a part of it.  Now I need to get in the pool, REV3 Quassy is COMING SOON!

Few cool "gadgety" things that helped me: First and foremost, the PowerGels with the sodium in them, I took three of them; Second was sunscreen and a visor!; Third was my MotoACTV and pace bracelet; Fourth were the cool Race Ready shorts which gave me easy access to my cache of gels as well as a great place for my room key; Lastly my trusty trainers, my Brooks Adrenaline combined with Swiftwick compression socks. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pocono Raceway Half Marathon Race Report

Last Saturday I traveled to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA for an inaugural half marathon and 5k race which started and finished on the finish line of the "Tricky Triangle".  I purchased my entry into the race from a coupon which got me registered for $37.  Not bad for a half marathon, and they had morning of packet pickup....and Pocono is only an hour or so from home.  I had been to Pocono to watch Nascar MANY years ago when I was just a little tyke and I was excited to enter the infield and bring back some old memories.

At the time I signed up for this race I hadn't planned to race the St. Lukes half the weekend before, I was just going to pace it.  I needed to get a long run in to prepare for pacing the Run for the Red Pocono Marathon on 5/20 and I didn't know anyone coming up to race so I contemplated skipping out on the race.  I decided to take the opportunity and see if I could maybe get a long run out of the day...a 3 mi warm up, race the half, 2-4 mi cool down.  Sounded like a good idea at the time, but man the "cool down" is always tough after a half marathon!

I woke up bright and early at 04:45, in the car by 05:00.  It was a foggy morning, humid with temps in the low 50's.  By 06:00 I was pulling into the speedway. I had expected to see some cars, some signage, etc but there wasn't a bunch of activity that early.  I had eaten a Powerbar on the way up so I was fueled up and ready to race.  Packet pickup was easy (only a couple of cars in the lot), headed back to the car, hit the bathroom and headed out onto the raceway for a a warmup.  Now this was cool, I warmed up on the freshly pave speedway, yes ON THE SPEEDWAY!  An easy 3 miles at 7:30 or so and I was ready.

The entrance, headed toward the "tunnel".  This was mile 12 of the race.
It was fairly warm and the sun was peeing out.  The race director called us over to the start line and as I sized up the field I realized that the field was nowhere near the +/-1,000 runners that the RD was expecting.  My guess: Broad Street Run (40,000 ppl) and Pittsburgh Marathon being the next day took some of the runners away. 

We lined up and we were off.  It became evident rather quickly that I would be running this race alone.  How far alone I had no idea, I wasn't about to look back!  It was nice the I had the police officer on the bicycle to keep me company (although he didn't say a word until 12.5 miles in!).  The race directors did a great job with traffic control and marking the course.  Everything was easy to follow.  There were also a few bands along the course.  The course wasn't "hilly" per se, but it seemed as though you were either running downhill or uphill, there was no "flatland.

I took it out at about 5:45 - 5:50 pace which felt comfortable.  The sun was now starting to hide behind the clouds and the humidity was building.  "Here's your shot at a potentially solo 13.1 time trial" I thought to myself, and true to form it was.

Just hitting the 4 mile mark, going strong.
The course was basically a big square with the  one leg about 3.5 miles long, then you make the turn and you're nearly 1/2 way.  I was rolling along well until we hit mile 8 and the wind started to kick up.  As we entered a stretch of cornfields the whipping wind caused the bike rider to drop down to his easy ring.  At this point I slowed the pace from 5:45-5:50 to 6:00 to 6:05.  The wind was holding me back and I didn't want to blow myself up for no reason.  Once we hit mile 11 I could see the massive seating area at the race course in the distance, and what I'm assuming was "Long Pond" in the foreground.  Only two more miles, I was more than ready to finish.  We hit the tunnel at mile 12 and then out onto the course I went.  The bike police officer said "congratulations, you were very steady, I was averaging 10.5 - 11 mph the whole time".  I thanked him and thought to myself "boy would it have been nice to have you slow down so I could draft off of you in the wind"!
The last 08. miles took a LLLOOONNGGG time....
 As we rounded the non existent 4th turn I watched the finish line which I could see just about since I entered the raceway.  I had to drop down onto the apron of the course because the camber was bothering me.  I surely wasn't speeding along at the 200+ mph like the Nascar's do, but I was tempted to make some "bbbbrrrrrrmmmm" sounds as I "raced" down the finish stretch at 10.5mph (5:50 pace)!
 And I FINALLY crossed the line.  1:17:40, certainly not a PR and not as fast as last week, but given the conditions and the fact that I ran the whole race solo, I'll take it.  I grabbed some Gatorade and headed back to the car for a cool down.  I STRUGGLED to get 2 miles in and called it a day at 18 miles. 

I got changed and headed back to grab some food.  There was a great spread, some people hanging out and a live band playing.  They had the awards out for you to claim, so I grabbed mine.  I watched some more running finishing and saw Keith, the guy that had parked next to me and I chatted with before the race.  It was his first half marathon and he was nervous as anything, but he finished and did very well.  I congratulated him and took a look at the results.  I was amazed to see that the second place finisher finished in 1:38, TWENTY ONE minutes behind me.  As it turned out only 150 runners finished, so it was a small race.  I hope it comes back next year though, with better timing it could become a big success!  Plus, I have to defend my course record.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

St. Lukes Half Marathon Race Report

The St. Lukes Half Marathon (and 5K) is the largest and longest standing race in the Lehigh Valley.  Every year close to 6000 runners take part in this event.  The coolest part of it, it's a completely volunteer run event, directed by the Lehigh Valley Road Runners (which I am a proud member of the Board of Directors).  Proceeds from this event go directly back to the community in the form of support for youth, uniforms for teams, kids runs, etc.  If you are a runner in the Lehigh Valley, more likely than not you're involved in some aspect of this event.

I've paced this race at various goal times for the past 5 or 6 years and the past three years I've organized and lead the Garmin Pace Groups.  This year my brother wanted to step in and give pacing a shot, so I took the opportunity to race.  So after a 5 mile shakeout run on Saturday AM, I headed to the expo to set up and work the Garmin Pace Team Booth (along side my friends from Runners World who were handing out information about their fall 1/2 marathon festival which may take over as THE largest race in the Lehigh Valley, you should consider doing it...).  Working expos at the pace table is just a great experience.  It is so rewarding to help runners calm their pre-race nerves, come up with a game plan and get them on their way to meeting their goals.  This year the pacers also did a seminar about pacing and included a course talk.  It was well attended and overall seemed like a valuable experience for those in attendance.  

Lauren and the kids were not home when I finished up at the expo so I sensed the opportunity to get my first 50+ mile ride in the log books.  Not the smartest thing to do 12 hours before racing a half marathon, but I had not ridden anywhere near 50 miles since last fall and I only have about three weeks of training left before my REV3 Quassy double, so I've gotta take advantage of any opportunity I get.  I met up with a few of my Lamprey Cycling teammates and hit the road.  51 miles @ 18mph w/ 2500' of climbing later I rolled back into the driveway.

Now I've run a half marathon off of a 56 mile bike ride many times, so I knew it wasn't going to kill me, but factor in having no clue where my legs were after Boston 13 days ago, I REALLY had no idea what to expect.  My plan was to do as I usually do....stay as comfortable as possible early on, pic some solid runners to pace off of, throw it out there and give it my all.....

We were treated to an INCREDIBLE morning.  Cool temps to start off the day (high 30's) and temps in the low 40's to start.  A slight breeze and abundant sunshine capped off the morning.  I was trying to support the pace team, holding signs, passing out pace bracelets, etc in the gym so I didn't get much time to "think" about my plan.  I did manage to get some stretching in before we headed out to the start line.
Lauren paced the 1:45 group and had a blast, here we are pre-race. (No, that's not my hand over top of her head) (Photo credit to John Hoffman

I got a short warmup jog in, then seeded myself in the second row.  This race has a fast first 6 miles or so, then you hit a good climb and by mile 8 your into the Parkway which is a cinder path with some short, stinging climbs.  The gun went off and I just tucked in.  My legs felt surprisingly good considering what I had put them through just 12 hours ago.  By the 3rd mile we were strung out pretty well and I had settled into the top 15.
Mile 3 on MLK Blvd.
So far my average pace was in the 5:40-5:45 range which didn't feel too bad, but I had no idea how longs my legs would hold on.  I hit the turn around at about 4 miles in and got a good check on where I was in relation to the runners around me.  There was a lead group of four runners with a good sized lead then it was broken up from there.  The coolest part about this stretch (and the race for that matter) is the next +/- 2 miles where you can see all the runners coming at you.  Being a local race it was great to see so many familiar faces, hear the cheers and see all of the pace groups come by.  It ALMOST made me forget that my legs were starting to revolt!
About six miles into the race on MLK Blvd.  Starting to work a little harder here.
Since I had no time goals, I wasn't really worried about my splits or what pace I was running, I was running totally by feel.  I knew the "new" hill that was added was coming up after I made the turn off of MLK.  I tried to maintain a steady effort, but man did that thing HURT.  I've run it enough times that I knew how to break it down into smaller pieces and get my way to the top....and the nice downhill that ensued!  Through the half I was averaging 5:45 or so, not bad, but the hill ALMOST made me pack it in and drive it home, the legs had no "zip" to them anymore and there was no crowd to keep me preoccupied. 

As we came down the downhill and headed through the last mile of the Superbowl 10K course I saw that I was gaining on the two runners ahead of me and suddenly the pain wasn't quite so bad.  We entered the gravel path at the Clubhouse at mile 8 and I felt like I stepped in tar, it wasn't quite as easy to run and maintain effort...and  the couple of little hills didn't help!  By the time we reached the covered bridge at 8.5 and started heading home I had caught and started to run with the group of two in front of me.  We were running 8, 9 and 10 overall.  It felt like we were keeping pace from an effort standpoint, but the watch read differently....6:04, 6:05, etc.  One guy fell off and the guy I was running with started to "chat" (if that's what you want to call it at 6:00 pace).  He was a nice guy and we really helped keep each other honest and work together for the last 4 miles.  He was familiar with the course as well, which was a great bonus.
Exiting the Parkway, about 2.5 miles to go. (Photo credit Rob Gallagher)
 Just before we exited the Parkway someone came from behind and passed us.  He was running a great race and sparked some speed in my now running partner...who went with him.  I exited the Parkway solo in 10th, but only a few steps behind the other guy.  Our miles were still in the 6-6:05 range which was all I could muster.  I didn't look back the whole race, but I could hear that there was at least one runner not too far back (+/- 30 seconds) from the cheers in the crowd.  We hit mile 12 and my partner and I tried to pick it up.  As we entered the track for the final 0.2 miles I said "go ahead man, go get'm, you look good".  So off he ran as I cruised in (we averaged 5:55 for the last 1.1mi).

I was glad to be done and so were my legs.  We were blessed with an incredible AM.  I had dressed perfectly, although I probably would have survived without the arm warmers.  I grabbed a medal, congratulated everyone around me (first female was +/-45 sec behind me) and headed over to cheer people in.  I watched our pacers come in and I admired how well they did and how large of a group they had at the point in the race.

So I ended up 10th overall in 1:17:13, 2nd in the 35-39 AG.  It turns out that "my partner" that I let go at the end had won my AG, beating me by 4 seconds, Kudos to him!  It seemed to be a day of PR's for many people which was awesome.  It's the fastest time that I've run at this race, but I haven't raced it in MANY years, I typically just pace it.  Considering my early run and late ride the day before, I'm happy with my finish.  I think I could have easily run 90seconds or more faster on fresher legs, but hey, I really needed that bike ride if I'm going to survive the Quassy Double in four short weeks!

Lauren had a blast, finished under goal and met some really good people.  My first time pacers really kicked some butt as well.  My sister in law nailed a big PR.  Overall it was a successful weekend .

Thanks for reading and Run Happy!