Friday, October 10, 2014


Last month I finished my longest race since 2008, the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon in DC.  It was an excellent race, in so many ways.  It was well presented and professionally put on, and I recommend it unstintingly to anyone.  It runs from the Washington Memorial out over the Memorial Bridge and back to the District, passing by or within sight of the Holocaust, John Paul Jones, WWII, MLK, WWI, Korean, Ericsson, National Cemetery and Lincoln Memorials in that span.  Then it goes up Rock Creek Park 3 miles, turns back upon itself and runs all the way down and around Haines Point before returning to the Washington Monument, passing more monuments along the way such as the Air Mail, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason tributes.  After the crowded first 2 miles the race loosens up and there's plenty of room to run.  (The course is outlined in red.)

The longest race I have done since the 2009 Army 10-Miler, where I acquired a chronic ankle injury which caused me to drop out of running for two years and has limited my running since then, was a hilly 5-Mile Trail Run in 50:04 (10:00) last year.  So this HM was a real test of where my running is at currently.  (As seen below running with a trainee, my current weekend running buddy, John, also ran in the 2009 ATM as a pace leader just as I did (I led the nine-minute mile pace group) after coaching in the training program I organized for that race when I was president of the DCRRC.)

My last HM, the National HM in DC in 2008 when I directed and coached my former running club's 16-week HM training program, was 1:45:35 (8:02), my 2d best HM.  But 8-minute miles are a distant memory for me now and I feared I wouldn't break 2 hours this time around (9:09 pace).  My last official race was a 5K in March in 28:30 (9:10 pace).  (My friend S, below, was a coach in the training program I created for my former running club for that HM.  In the race she caught up with me in the twelfth mile, said hello and went on to break 1:45.)

The bottom line this time around:  1:54:53 (8:47), 758/1857 M, 16/52 AG, 1112/3714 overall.  We started over 4 minutes late so some of those placements, which use gun time, might be better.  The official time uses net time.  My running is in a happy place right now.  (Happy with my race.)

I believe in training.  I believe in a certain amount of running discipline, which in my life translates to running 4 or 5 times a week every week, no matter what the distance (it has to be at least a mile to count).  (I did a mile, very carefully, on this day back in March.)

I believe in running buddies, to help motivate you and make the miles go by more easily.  I believe in running with friends.  Running buddies invariably turn into good friends and sometimes become training partners.  Depending, I would do just about anything for a good friend.  (My first running buddy, Bex, with whom I ran in the heyday of my running and who I helped achieve a sub-four hour marathon by running 20-milers with her on bitterly cold days, moved to California and is now an accomplished pianist.)

My running buddy, training and race partner and friend Lia ran a 1:50:50 (8:28), 245/2052 F, 65/406 AG, 854/3714 overall.  I ran step-for-step with her for the first half of the race and then she threw down a wicked negative split, besting 2-hours for the first time, while I managed the rest of my race as best I could, slowing down but never stopping.  She has been cross-training and is now a better runner than me although I am more experienced and the race went down just like we planned.  Actually, better than either of us dreamed it would.  (Two days before the race, ready!)

Lia's 10-mile mark was 1:24:41 (8:28) while mine was 1:26:44 (8:40).  Her last 5K was 26:19 (8:28) while mine was 28:09 (9:04).  When I tired and dropped back at MP 7, our time was 1:00:12 (8:36).  Our slow first mile, due to the crowded conditions at the start, was 10:04 so up to that point we made up a lot of time.  I couldn't have broken 1:55 without her pulling me along the first half of the race.  (Hardware.)

We had trained since the spring when we both signed up for the race, running 4-6 miles at noon from work 2-4 times a week.  In June each person started adding weekend distance runs.  In July I was running up the mileage scale on weekends, running 6 then 7 then 8 miles when I got injured and developed bursitis in my left knee, a real setback because I had to lay off running for awhile with the race coming up.  Starting three weeks out we ran ten miles, then eleven, then seven as a taper, and then bellied up to the start line.  (Another notable running buddy, Ashley, got me through the dreadful Chicago 26-mile Fun Run in 2007 in 90 degree high humidity heat (the officials suspended the marathon shortly after the elites crossed the finish line because the race ran out of water) and when I acquired my first digital camera late last year, she taught me how to take selfies.)

We purposefully held back the first mile, so as not to burn up all our excess energy in our early-race excitement, then gradually picked up the pace to where we were running 8:30s or high 8:20s.  At the turnaround in Rock Creek Park, Lia started attacking the race on the downhill and started cranking off low 8:20s or better.  I held on for two miles with her and then, feeling used up, dropped back after wishing her well.  My miles progressively dropped--8:43 eighth mile, 8:49 ninth then 8:57, 9:05, 9:08, 9:10 and then I made a concerted effort the last tenth of a mile and ran that little downhill stretch at a 7:50 pace with the finish line in sight.  That obviously made the difference for me in breaking 1:55, bringing it home at the end.  (I ran in May with my first running buddy at work, Markus, who now runs barefoot.  For many years I led a weekly running group from work and people jokingly called it the Peter and Markus Show because often we were the only partakers.)

The one variable that we couldn't control was the weather.  It was perfect for running and that enabled us to have excellent races.  The temperature was cool yet temperate, it was dry with no humidity, the sky was semi-cloudy affording some shade and there was little wind.  You either have good weather or you don't, and bad weather can affect your race time drastically.  Still, by dressing carefully for the weather conditions, you can largely overcome adverse weather conditions.  (Once Ashley taught me how to take selfies, I was relentless in practicing it until I mastered the technique.  In this early effort I didn't set the shot up right because the dome of the Capitol is hidden behind Lia's head.)

During our training runs Lia and I practiced running the last 500 feet hard and extending our sprint a few feet past the imaginary finish line.  I have seen Lia's official race finishing photos and she is running hard over and through the finish line without easing up at the tape and that is what gave her bragging rights to a 1:50 half (1:50:59) instead of an equally nice but not-quite-the-same 1:51 half (1:51:00).  (The nasty little hill the last half-mile, but its downhill beyond the crest allowed for a sprint to the finish line.)

I was also pleased to see that in her final sprint, she was still carrying her own half-litre bottle of water, as we do every run.  It seems a pain at first, to carry something that weighs a pound five or six miles, but you get used to it.  I believe hydration during runs is important, and Lia says I taught her to carry water always.  Although in a 13.1 mile race, you could discard the bottle in the last half-mile.  (In March I ran on the W&OD Trail with D, a former coach and running buddy of mine from our salad days of running.  I chased him in many a race, finishing in 1:51 to his 1:48 at a Riley's Rumble HM last decade, a difficult July race which was notable that year because a deer ran over a competitor and put the runner in the hospital.)

I carried a half-litre bottle of water, as I do every run or race.  I also carried one gu in my fanny pack, and it rejuvenated me somewhat at MP 9.  I consumed a gu pack late on my last few long runs to make sure that I could accommodate eating it without bad aftereffects.  Do not try anything new during a long race.  (The race passed by the George Mason statue in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial at the top of Haines Point.)

Afterwards we ate brunch nearby with Lia's family and some friends and showed off our gaudy finisher's medals.  I could see how proud Lia was at her breakthrough race, smashing her PR by twenty minutes or more, and for the first time ever throwing down sub-nine minute miles in a race(with 8:28s!  Seriously?).  She's already talking about running a sub-four hour marathon.  (At Teaism afterwards.)

As for me, since the race I've been savoring my return to near my old pre-injury abilities in running.  Did I already say my running was in a happy place right now?  (Post-race brunch.)

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