Race Report: Mayor’s Marathon 5 Miler

Number 4617, you are disqualified for your outfit. And that ridiculous moustache.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, the latest in a string of incredible Alaska summer days. Jen beat me to the breakfast punch, and cooked us some sustenance to get us through our individual races, which was a good thing, as we knew that it wouldn’t be until around 11:00 that we’d actually have a chance to eat. Normally, I eat something fairly light the morning of a race, like toast and peanut butter. But in this case, we had some eggs, smoked turkey, fruit, toast, and coffee. Granted, we didn’t eat that much, but it was “heavier” than the norm.

I started warming up about 45 mins before the race start. The cool thing about the Mayor’s Half and 5 Miler was that they both started about a mile from where we live, so there was none of the typical morning hassle of trying to park a car, find a place to stash gear, wait in line for portapotties, etc. So, I was able to get a nice long warmup in without worrying about anything but making it to the line on time. Warming up, I felt good. Better than Friday’s afternoon run home, anyway. I could tell it was going to be a fairly warm day, which wouldn’t affect me so much as half and full runners. Being a bundle of nerves, it was hard to appreciate the insane beauty of the day. Calm winds, blue skies, Cook Inlet, and the Chugach; none of these were able to distract me from the internal chatter that bounced around my noggin with each stride.

That last hill is going to be hard, but can’t worry about it. Will there be mile markers? I haven’t trained at all for these paces, trained faster, trained slower – but nothing at pace is probably going to be a problem. I wonder if there will be any fast guys in the race with me? I hope I can keep it together. I hope I can race strong. I hope I don’t fall apart and have the worst race of my entire life.

I rejoined with Jen at the house, then we both jogged to the start. I talked Jen through her plan for the half – 9:30 pace for the first 6-7 miles, then step it up as much as she can through the finish. She hasn’t been training a ton, so this would be more of a hard training run. But for her first time at the distance, and the longest she’s run in two years, she knew it was going to be a hard one. I told her I would jog back out after my race was over so I could run the last three miles of her race with her, kissed her, and wished her luck, then we went our separate ways at the start. I headed for the front of the pack, a bit worried that I might have a hard time finding a spot at the start since starting area was already packed. But, I found I was able to jump in at the front of the pack with no problem, and with a few minutes to spare, did a couple of drills and strides.

Finally, it was time. I was completely still amidst the noise, if only for a few seconds. Then the gun released us and we were off.

As usual, the first quarter mile I found myself behind the kids and idiots who get a lark out of starting off way too fast and clogging up the starting area. All I wanted to do was settle in and find some cover behind other runners. Surprisingly, within the the first half mile, a lead pack consolidated, and I was in it. All things considered, I’d expected to see at least a couple of faster guys far ahead of me at that point. Instead, I found myself in a comfy pack, everyone else doing the work for me. Granted, the lead pack included, for the first bit anyway, some dude running in full sweats (whom I would later find walking the half course), but I also noticed some of the ladies from the UAA team, and some other guys who looked like contenders. With it being a combined 5.6/13.1 start, it was hard to know who was running the half vs. the five, which I think was why no one was willing to really take a risk that first mile; you could end up chasing someone down, only to find he wasn’t even in your race.

After the first mile, a guy broke away from the pack by a good bit and started gapping us. After a while, I checked my Garmin and made my first mistake of the day – racing by watch instead of by feel. My average pace was looking like mid-5:40s, and I wanted to be low or under, so I decided to make a break. To be honest, the pace to that point felt too easy, like I was getting sucked into a half-marathoner’s race as opposed to my own. So I don’t think the break was a bad idea. Basing it off what my watch said was the poor decision. I pulled clear of the pack and was closing on the leader when we reached the point at which the half and the fiver split courses. I made a hard right at Earthquake Park, while the half-marathoners kept on keeping on. There was an aid station, so I grabbed some water and evidently ran over a chip sensor somewhere in there. At this point, I was in the lead, with some kid on my tail.

We hit the Coastal Trail, and things started getting rough for me. First off, my stomach was unsettled but the water I managed to throw down. The kid passed me, and I just couldn’t seem to pull even, although it was clear to me I was slowing down and his move wasn’t that strong. I guess the only way I can put it, is that I struggled for the next couple of miles. My head can be a pretty dark place, and there wasn’t a lot of positivity happening. To top it off, sometimes I get some weird sinus drainage in races, which ends up triggering dry heaves while I’m running. Super fun, and it kicked in with like a mile and a half to go. The kid gapped me pretty good, and I couldn’t muster enough man to get going.

Then, somewhere after Mile 4, I pulled it together. I’m not sure if it was the familiar terrain, these particular stretches being practically in my back yard; common sense; or divine intervention. But something clicked, and I started getting after it again. I hit the hill at around Mile 5, and I can’t candy-coat it – it was pretty brutal. But after cresting it, I didn’t feel like it took me long to recover. I pushed it pretty hard to cross the finish in 31:55, but I know in my gut I had the additional 30s in me that I needed to grab 1st. They had video at the finish and results:


I was disappointed in my time until I realized that my Garmin lopped .15M off the distance and gave me a bad average pace. 31:55 works out to a 5:41.9 avg mile pace, and put me through 5M just under 28:30. Not bad considering that last
that last hill slowed me down a bit. Also telling was my split at 2+M, which had me averaging 5:29 up until that point.

All this tells me what I expected: my short fitness is better than my long. It also tells me I’m on the cusp of breaking 17 for 5k, which is the summer goal. So all in all, some good news and some areas to work on…

Finishing with Jen was the highlight of my day. After my race, I jogged back out 3M, and waited for Jen. Once she came by I ran the last three with her, and I couldn’t be more proud of how hard she worked the last few miles. To the point of dry heaving I the bushes, which was awesome. She finished in 2:02, a PR and it was just a great run on her part.

Tuesdays with the Peak Performers Track Club

Yesterday, Jen and I hit up the Peak Performers Track Club here in Anchorage. They meet every Tuesday at 6pm at the West High track, which is super convenient for us, living only a short distance away. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the stumps were going to respond. Having taken two days off over the weekend, I expected some fresh legs for my Monday morning run. Instead, I found they were heavy, stale, and in a foul mood. I did some pickups at the end of my morning run in an effort to invigorate my legs, but I didn’t see a big improvement after running home, making Monday a 13M day in total. Yesterday morning, I ran the long way into work (~10.25M).  Again, I felt sluggish.

Jen and I got to West just in time for the Coach’s Brief . Peak Performers starts every workout the same way – the coaches brief (yesterday it was Jason Hofacker) the workout, then everyone does 800m of drills, plyometrics, and sprints. Following this, folks split into similar pacing groups and begin the workout. Being new, and not sure of what to expect, I enjoyed the warmup section. I’m a big believer in warmups that combine easy cardio as well as some faster, more powerful stuff; I’ve always felt like simply running a couple of miles easy before a track workout makes the first couple of intervals feel pretty rough. The warmup led to the workout: 12 x 400m with 45s rest, but the workout was scaled based on current fitness. Folks training less at this time did 7 x 400 (Jen did this), more training meant more quarters.

To be honest, the short recovery period came as a bit of a shock. When I trained in Tucson with Michele Hill and The Grinders, short recoveries were par for the course. But training with Matthew Whitis, I got more used to 200m jog recoveries and the like. 45s was the shortest recovery I have done in some time. So, with that in mind, I told Jen to start slow and work into it, and hoped she would end up in a group that helped her along. As for me, I figured if I started around 85s (5:40 pace) and eased into it; that would be the most prudent course of action. Workouts like this have a way of goading you into writing checks your body can’t cash. Before you know it, you’re going way too hard, barely recovering, and you’re not even a third of the way through the entire workout. That makes for a long session…

I laced up my track spikes, and got ready to start the workout. Mike, the guy I ran hills with last week, joined me but let me know he was going to keep it tame due to some lower leg issues. It was a little blustery out, but the temps were low-50s, the perfect running temp. The first interval was nice and relaxed – 86s. I was able to talk during the interval and it felt good to be out in my spikes, stretching my legs. The next one was a tad bit faster: 83s (5:32 pace). Then 82s (5:28 pace), then 81 (5:24 pace).  When I run intervals, I learned a technique years ago to make the workout more mentally palatable. I break the intervals into mental sets. So, for 12 x 400, I think of running sets of 4. I start with #1, end at #4, then start over at #1. Repeat until finished. Even thought the workout might not delineate between sets, it helps me mentally stay on track and breaks the workout down into bite-sized pieces. After the first four yesterday, I could tell I was still approaching the sweet spot.

The rest of the workout went like this: 81s, 79s, 79s, 80s, 78s, 79s, 79s, 79s, 76s.  If you counted those up and arrived at 13 as opposed to 12, you’d be correct. I ran one extra by accident. Lucky 13!

So, you can see my equilibrium point was right around 79s (5:16 pace), which actually surprised me given how little speed work I’ve done since Oct, and how heavy I am right now (184lbs). I’m hoping this means I’m closer to my goals for the season (sub 17 5k, sub 35 10k) than I give myself credit for, but only racing can determine where my fitness truly resides.

In case you were wondering, Jen killed her workout. She ran with some ladies who were throwing down just under 2:00 quarters (sub-8:00 pace). Not bad for not having run much over the winter, I’d say!

Overall, it was a great workout, and I never really noticed my legs much. Even though I ended up running solo (Mike dropped back to a slower group after the third interval), it was great just having some other folks out there on the track. It also didn’t hurt that Jen was out there as well, and I love running with my wife.

Alright, that’s it for now. I need to get my butt out the door and off to work. Miles!



Pumped Up Kicks: Brooks Pure Flow

So this isn’t really a gear review, since I don’t consider the 10 or so miles I’ve logged in my new kicks the requisite amount of mileage to properly review the shoes. However, I thought I’d let you know my initial impressions. Most of you know I’m a big fan of minimalism. I’ve discussed the shoes I wear a couple of times, but you can check out my most “in-depth” post here. My current quiver until Wed of last week consisted of the New Balance MR 10 for the road, the Mizuno Peregrine for the trails and soft surfaces (like nasty mushy spring snow), the Asics Piranha for racing flats, and the Asics Japan spikes for track work. I can remember just five or six years ago, when the choices for minimal running shoes were pretty much limited to racing flats. Everything else was over-engineered, bulky, and just plain ridiculous if you ask me (do you really need a full-sole airbag underfoot when you run?) Fast forward a couple of years, and my, how the tables have turned. If you haven’t picked up the latest Running Times, I highly recommend you do so if you are at all in to minimalism. They also have a new section on the web site dedicated to minimalism. There is a lot of BS and rhetoric out there about minimalism, from ignorant family practitioners who know nothing about exercise phys, to minimalism fascists who push 200+lb individuals into Vibram FiveFingers like it’s a modern panacea. The reality is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, and all completely dependent on the individual and his history, mechanics, and genetics. Everyone has different experiences with minimal shoes, so beware of buying shoes just because Suzy or Johnny Crossfit Level 1 sez they’re the only way to go. Running Times has done a great job of covering minimalism from all viewpoints, and the Spring 2012 Shoe Review is chock full of different options.

One of the shoes reviewed in this issue is the Brooks Pure Flow, which I picked up last week and put through some initial paces. Brooks just put out an entire Pure line of shoes, and of course they put out their advertising spin. I never put much stock in a company’s own reviews or media push, because as always, they are a business first. And a biz needs to make money. But you can check their page out if you at least want to understand their Hyrda-esque development mindset resides.

Anyway, I picked up the Pure Flow last week because the MR10s are going to be ready for recycling in a a few weeks, having logged several hundred miles since last fall. To be precise, the purchase was actually an exchange for a pair of previously purchased studded Salomon Speedcross 3CS. As a general rule, I have a 10 Mile Out Of The Box test, which is to say that I need to be able to put in a 10 miler on new shoes with no issues. If I can’t, the shoe is either over-engineered for me, or just poorly engineered. The Salomons failed me miserably. For me, they were far too rigid, and narrow for my feet and stride. As a result, after only 13 miles, I developed blisters on the knuckles of my little toes, and my feet were killing me. I’m sure they work well for someone else (they better, at around $135 a pop), but they certainly didn’t work for me. So, back to Skinny Raven I went. I emerged an hour later with these bad boys.

Foot swagger.

They are marketed as being mid-range minimal: a low (4mm-ish) heel-toe drop, but more cush than than the Pure Connect lineup. The latter were far too narrow for my feet, much like the old Nike Free 3.0s, which left areas of my sole supported only by a bulging upper (think of a burger patty swelling outside the bun). So, I ended up with the Pure Flow based primarily on fit. The midsole material is the same for all the Pure shoes, Brooks simply chooses to tweak the patterns and outsole areas. Anyway, enough the technical mumbo jumbo. How did they ride?

In a word: Okay. I didn’t have time for a dime on the roads, so I hit the treadmill for some light cruise interval work: 4 x 1M @ 6:00 pace/.5% grade, with 1:00 rest between the miles. The shoes were very comfortable, but my initial impression is that the midsole is too soft for speed work, at least for a 5’11”, 184lb, neutral gait runner (that’s me, in case you were wondering). I hit my splits just fine, but I felt like I was fighting the shoe for speed. It wasn’t nearly as responsive as I like when I’m looking for speed, and I think that’s largely a function of the amount of cushion they put into the shoe. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my old Saucony Kinvara, which were a joke on the track as a result of the mushy ride. Running Times opines it’s an ideal “recovery” shoe, whatever that means, in the latest review and I have to agree at this point. I see this being a good shoe for those day-after or day-of recovery jogs (5-6 miles easy). I’m going to put in some longer runs on the Pure Connect this week and the next, and after about 100 miles on the shoe, I’ll give you my verdict. They feel like they will be fine for longer runs, but the proof is in the pudding. Right now, this shoe is no quiver killer compared to the MR10s, which I have always felt work well for both long runs and faster-paced road work. I’m also planning on picking up the New Balance MR00 today, so expect to hear more on them in the coming week or so.

Until then, compadres, keep logging those miles! Or kilometers, if you happen to be reading this in Euro-land.