Posts Tagged 'half marathon'

Kaiser Half Marathon 2012

This was the first road half I have run since the same race last year, when I did not run particularly quickly, finishing in 1:36 or something like that. It was warm and there was some wind, but mostly I was having a period of slowness and scatter-shot training. This time I was coming off a satisfactory full marathon PR, and weekly track sessions that have really revved up my speed. Could I really run a half at better than 7 minutes per mile? (1:31:46 finish) I seemed to have a mental block about that which needed fixing.

The course is a net downhill but has enough uphill to make it not particularly fast. The main element of chance is provided by the last six miles, most of which consists of an out-and-back along San Francisco’s Great Highway. This road runs along the beach front facing the Pacific, and is very prone to wind.

I rode to Golden Gate Park with Debra and her friend John. We parked near the finish area and got on the bus to the start. Yes, this is a point-to-point race with shuttle buses. we were quite early so I had the unusual pleasure of be the first to use a porta-potty. It smelled nice, but I had to unwrap the toilet roll. Nothing is perfect.

Various familiar people showed up and we shmoozed for a while, then went to the bag drop and peeled off our sweats. It was brisk in a singlet and shorts, but OK. I went for a rather brief warmup and ran some strides. Nature was calling again, but one glance at the potty lines and I took a short jog into the trees.

There were pace signs to help everyone line up correctly, but they were worse than useless because the announcer kept their existence a secret until it was too late to move. This was a problem with nearly 9,000 people in the start area. At least they got the 5K runners and half marathoners properly segregated, with the 5K runners on the right. Their course would peel off after about half a mile, not to be seen again. I lined up level with the 7 minute sign and was dismayed to see the droves of slow-looking runners in front of me. Oh well.

The start bell rang, and 27 seconds later I crossed the line at a brisk walking pace and broke into a jog. This was not exactly the way to a PR!. I started to thread though the crowd and was soon at a comfortable pace. This first mile was slightly uphill, so I was pleasantly surprised at the split: 7:08. Oh, must be running a little hard to have done that. Mile 2, slightly downhill: 6:56. Better.

I found myself running next to three young guys who were discussing the splits. Their goal was 7:00 as well, so I ran with them for a while. Mile 3, slightly uphill: 7:02, Hm. My plan was to go slightly slower than 7:00 and make up the time by going faster on the downhills. Their pace was a touch aggressive for me so I let them go in the next mile. Half marathons are easier to pace by feel than fulls, since the pace is just far enough into the threshold zone that you have to push a bit, even in the early miles.

7:04 for mile 4, winding through Golden Gate park, rolling slightly.
5:13 – Wait, What? I know this is downhill but that’s ridiculous.That mile marker was way off!
8:22 – long because of the out-of-position marker, so average 6:48 for miles 5 and 6, which is just right because this is the downhill section. I hooked up with another runner here who also wanted to run a sub-7 average.
6:26 – More downhill in mile 6 before popping out onto the Great Highway by the beach. The spray from the breakers was blowing away from us, revealing that the wind, unusually, was blowing from the land. This was good news. The not-so-good news was that there would be no more downhill. It would be a flat slog from here until the uphill in the final mile. The nice thing about the 7:00 goal average was that there was no need for a wrist band. The multiplication tables were still lodged in my brain from primary school, and I could see I was nicely ahead of goal.

For the next three miles we ran south next to the Ocean, with a few wind gusts but nothing substantial until it blew from ahead as we approached the turn. 7:01, 7:04, 7:05 to mile 10. Pretty consistent there. Just before the 10 mile marker we turned around a pole and started to head back towards the finish. “I don’t know about you but I’m a lot more comfortable to be past the turnaround” said my companion. I know, It’s strange to be running away from the finish line. A shout came across the median “Go Jim!”. It was Debra coming the other way. I waved. “You’re Jim? I’m Eugene.” He said.

Time to apply myself. The road surface was a little rough, with cracks and an occasional pothole, so I ran on a concrete strip to the side which was smooth and level. I was overhauling other runners, and I could hear Eugene just behind. 7:01, 7:09 for miles 11 and 12. I think the wind was responsible for that 7:09, it was getting somewhat gusty, and perhaps I faded a bit. At some point Eugene dropped back.

The last third of a mile was uphill, quite steep, and for some reason they don’t put out a 13 mile marker for this race. I redlined it, and the 1.1 miles took 7:50, which was 7:03 pace. That was hard!

Somewhat recoveredChip time was 1:31:28, which works out to 6:58 per mile. I was chatting with some buddies at the awards ceremony and they called my name out. Second in my age group.


Race: Kaiser Half 2011

The portents for this race were not too good. There has been a nasty cold going around and I have it in a mild form. I don’t have the racking cough, but generally have not been feeling 100%. I had a fairly encouraging track workout on Tuesday, so that was in the plus column, but the weather forecast looked pretty warm – in February!

The wind buffeted the car a little as I drove across the Bay Bridge at 6 a.m. Oh dear, it’s going to be challenging down by the beach. And I have a headache. Oh well, no PR for me today I think. I’ll just have to squeeze some fun out of it somehow.

This race is a point-to-point with buses to take us from the Ocean Beach parking lots to the start area at the other end of Golden Gate Park. A party of LMJS ladies was just two cars over, so we rode together  As we jogged from the bus to the bib pickup, somebody quipped “Now I can tell my friends that I went running with Jim the other day!” We all laughed. That cheered me up quite a bit. It’s hard to beat yourself up over your times when people say things like that.

I kept bumping into people I knew in the start area, including Dave, an online buddy and fellow Brit I have not seen in months.  The sun came up, the sky was clear, and even the wind seemed to have moderated. There appeared to be pace leaders this year, but nothing faster than 1:40. Perhaps they were unofficial. The half and 5k start together with a course split after about half a mile. I lined up a little behind the 7:00 minutes/mile pace marker, promising myself to just go with the flow for the first mile, then see how things develop. The cable car bell rang for the start and off we went. The pack was not fully up to speed by the line so it looked like the first mile would be sightly slow. Of course there was a walker ahead of me to get around. She seemed blissfully unaware of the runners bumping into one another as they darted around her. At least there was not a line of them.

We went along North side of the Panhandle with good space to run after the initial crowding. most people seemed to have lined up correctly. There were one or two young guys coming past from behind. I wondered how many of them I would be seeing later. Quite a few, it turned put We turned and reached the first mile marker. 7:17. Slow but not surprising.  I dropped the pace a tiny bit. Let’s see what we can do while sheltered from most of the wind. Here comes the second mile near Kezar stadium. 7:02. That’s more what I had in mind. One of these days it might be nice to run one of these things at sub-7 pace but that would not be today.

Another slow one – 7:23. Well that was up hill. Was that Joann in front of me? Hard to tell from the back. Nah, probably not. I passed, and was concentrating on who to pass next when a voice behind said: “Hi Jim!”. Joann is one of the fastest members of our current marathon  training group. She trained for the Oakland Marathon last year but had an achilles problem. Now she’s taking a second crack at it.

We ran the tangents on the curvy road passing back and forth through the other runners, most of whom seemed happy just to follow the road, adding extra yards to their run. Joann seemed reasonably comfortable, despite having had to speed up a little to stay with me. After comparing goals – neither of us really had a fixed time goal – we hardly spoke.  I listened to her breathing to get an idea of her stress level. OK, this would work. If I was  going to pace conservatively, It might as well be Joann’s pace.

Although we were gradually passing most of the others around us, the splits show us holding our own on the variable terrain. 7:15, 7:00, 7:20, 7:09. That last was mile 7 where we turned onto the Great Highway that runs parallel to the beach. I was pleasantly surprised that the wind was bowing much less that it had been earlier. “How are you doing?”. “Uh, OK. It seems to have got hotter all of a sudden”. “We’re running downwind. It will get cooler after the turnaround.” The prospect of running into a headwind seemed pleasant. We were cooking here.  I wiped sweat from my eyes. The turnaround was still more than two miles away. The heat gradually slowed us: 7:19, 7:30, 7:36.

Heading north again, it was much more comfortable, even though we now had to push against the wind coming diagonally off the ocean. 7:25, 7:37, (more wind here) 7:27. Joann was sensibly running behind me now, t i could see her shadow. After one of the aid stations, it was not there. I looked around. She was 10 yards back. I eased a tiny it and she caught up surprisingly quickly. I started to push a little, knowing we had only a mile to go. We were passing quite a few people now. Christine of the LMJS racing team was up ahead, and getting slowly nearer. as I drew level she retorted. “I knew you would catch me Jim”. I suppose she had spotted me at the turnaround. My yellow Brooks ID  singlet is pretty conspicuous. Oh, no shadow again, quick glance around. Still close,  good.  We turned back into the park for the final uphill to the finish. A couple of young guys came by as their buddy behind cried  “Arrgh, my nemesis!” I chased them up the hill going as fast as I could. Joann could manage this last part on her own. In the finish chute I turned around. She was  just a few seconds back,  having not had the reserves to charge the hill like I had. We high-fived.

1:36:07. 8th in my age group. Nowhere near a PR but not too shabby in that field, and not all out.. Christine won her age group, which probably compensated for my passing her!

As an indicator of fitness this did not work out. I felt somewhat under the weather because of a lingering cold, and did not race it all out. The course would have not yielded up a PR anyway. Now to set my sights on Napa on four weeks. (less than that now)

Race: Lake Chabot Trail Challenge 2010

Here we go, a real trail race. A half marathon on dirt with industrial strength hills, with just short bits of pavement at the beginning and end. I had not run this course before, although the first and last segments of it were familiar from previous runs in the area. The elevation profile below leaves out some detail!

We assembled at the appointed spot at 8:00 am on Sunday, the race director climbed her stepladder, and instructed us: “Hands up all 5K runners. OK, go over there, that’s your start line and you will be starting in that direction” She pointed, and movement took pace. “Now, half marathoners, I’m going to say Ready, Set, Go!” Instant consternation amongst the newbies including me. Where was our line, and which of these trails were we to head down? She paused and the volunteers shepherded us behind the low carbon footprint (invisible) start line and pointed along the trail. I shifted back a little, since I did not want to be pulled out too fast, and away we went. We followed the lakeshore on a rolling paved trail at (for me) slower than marathon pace. This was my fourth race weekend in a row. I had run a 10K PR in warm conditions just 6 days previously and was not feeling too comfortable even at this modest velocity. Ugh, feeling slow today. This could get ugly if I’m not careful. So I was careful. I ran that first mile in 8:05, conserving energy as best I could.
Before we had gone two miles we turned sharp right and headed uphill to a general muttering of “OK, here we go!” and similar incantations. I said to the guy alongside “You have run this before? I hear this first hill is just a warmup”. He laughed. “The others are no steeper than this, but they do last longer”. He thought for a moment. “Much longer.” This was quite steep enough thank you. Most of us were alternating between running and walking, and those who kept running were no faster than us. As we approached the top my companion enquired “Are you warmed up now?” “Hah, yes thank you!” I was dripping already. There was cloud cover still but it was quite humid. I was glad I was carrying a handheld full of Gatorade. This was a disposable plastic bottle with a duct-tape handle. It would not be refillable with its narrow neck, but I planned to dump it at an aid station when it ran out and drink from cups thereafter. The ground underfoot was hard dry clay with corrugations where it had been eroded by the winter rains. we were weaving a little, picking a smooth line through the bumps. After a short level stretch we started downhill. On the roads I do pretty well on downhills but was plainly out of my league here. Some of these trail racers were going startlingly fast down this ridiculous gradient. Lesson one: Any (fit) fool can run uphill, but it takes experience to go down really quickly. I was far from the slowest though, and passed a few while getting passed myself.

Once over the suspension bridge, we started up the big hill, getting back into the run/walk alternation. At a certain angle I can start walking without slowing down, and I got into a little routine. I would measure my pace against the person in front. If they were running, I would continue to walk until the slope eased and they started to pull away. At that point I would start running and pass them on temporarily fresh legs. Lesson two: There’s nothing wrong with walking. This hill was indeed persistent, with more than one false summit. we would reach a nearly-level section, then go round a corner and start going up again. Run/walk was not the only way, it seemed. A young woman eased past while I was walking, going just a little faster but with a very economical uphill jog. By the top of big hill she was 30 seconds in front and pulling away. She placed in her age group. Lesson 3: Experience helps on the uphills too, darn it. This does of course conflict with lesson 1, but well, learning curve.

After being under tree cover for the earlier section things were more open now, but there were no grand vistas. We had climbed into the cloud layer. This was refreshingly cool but 100% humid, an odd sensation. We crested the hill and commenced down for a while. These downhills were if anything more stressful than the ups. my while body was getting a hammering, but the loudest complaints were from my heels and upper back. Try to relax more… A guy with silver hair came past, going at a good clip. The terrain started to roll for a while and we got into a pattern, I would catch him on the uphills, gap him at the top, and he would come by me again on the descents. He even commented “These uphills just kill me”. We reached the second peak and the downs became longer than the ups. He got further ahead until I lost sight of him. Oh well. For a while I was on my own, and paid close attention to the marker ribbons in order not to miss a turn. There were plenty of forks in the trail and I nearly did miss one. The cloud broke up and some fine views could be glimpsed through the trees. Footsteps behind. A young guy in grey came by, saying by way of explanation “I love these downhills!”. I was not too pleased to get passed again, but he was the last. Here was a party of mountain bikers working hard up a slope. “On your left” I warned. “Your’re doing good” one of them gasped. And I was. All ache, pains and stiffness were gone, I was running harder and enjoying it. I started to pass people. Yup, the elusive runner’s high had arrived. A photographer was waiting in a folding chair at the top of a short slope and snapped me as I approached. “You look like you’re having too much fun”. My only response was a laugh, which may have sounded a little unhinged.

The long downhill back to the lakeside was not super-steep and I was able to take it at good speed. My legs were complaining but I felt detached from them, as though I was directing some avatar in a video game. The trail started to look familiar. From here (about mile 10) to the finish was ground I had run before. Running across the dam I could see some familiar backs in front of me. Grey outfit, Silver hair and some others I had not seen for over an hour. We started the paved section and came to the last aid station on a short uphill. My bottle had been dry for a couple of miles, so into the can it went and I grabbed a cup of water. Following road practice, I did all this on the run. A couple of guys were walking while drinking and looked a little startled when I zipped by. I got a surprise of my own when I swallowed that water. It was ice cold.
Rolling asphalt, small hills, going fast, one mile to go, four runners visible. I think this is the last hill, and there’s less than a mile to go. Hit it! I passed all four on that hill, including silver hair and grey outfit. On the descent I heard footfalls catching up. I could guess who that would be. Silver hair came by and I stuck to him as we approached the marina. I drew level. He was working hard. I was not at all sure I wanted to beat him, but I sure didn’t want to wave him over the line either. There were some spectators applauding us as we ran neck-and-neck. he stuck like glue to the left of the track, putting himself on the inside of a sharp corner followed by a short decent. He was suddenly three yards ahead. That solved my dilemma. I covered the final 200 yards as fast as I could go and got to within yard of him, then we were in the finish chute holding our knees while gasping mutual congratulations. 2:01:49. A cheery voice cried “Hi Jim!” It was Veronica, who I had not seen since we co-paced the Oakland Marathon together. She had been first woman in 1:46. Impressive.

So conservative early pacing paid off again, athough I might have over-done it on this occasion. But on this monster of a course that’s just fine. I’ll be back.

Billat 30-30

Veronique Billat.
Now there’s a nice French name. A movie star perhaps? Government minister? Nope, she’s an exercise physiologist at the university of Lille. She’s been applying her treadmill and exhaled-gas analyser to the study of vVO2max. There’s a more detailed explanation of her work here, but basically vVO2max is how fast you need to run to maximize your oxygen consumption for conditioning purposes. Every coach knows that the way to spend maximum time at VO2max before exhaustion sets in is to do intervals.But what intervals, and how fast? Mme. Billat has come to the conclusion that equal intervals are best, 3 minutes on, 3 off repeated 5 times. The “off” periods are done at a recovery jog.
Recently Mme. Billat has been working on shorter intervals, which are are nearly as good for most runners, and better for some. 60 seconds on, 60 off or even 30-30 seconds. There is no fixed count for these. You simply continue to failure, in the manner of pushups.

The answer to “How fast?” is simply the fastest speed you can hold for 6 minutes. I found this test difficult to do solo, but McMillan’s predictor says I should be able to run a mile in 5:51. I’m sure I can’t do that yet so I picked a time that seemed do-able to start: 6:20.

The 30-30 workout suits me pretty well. The bouts are short enough that I can say “just one more” 4 or 5 times before I really have to stop and commence serious air sucking. I’m now up to 22 of them, and averaged 6:13 pace on the latest set this morning. When I can do 20 of these sub-6:00 I should graduate to the 60-60s. This is only my third week of doing these, and the improvement is noticeable. That means I’m a little soft in the speed department of course, but these workouts are working better for me than anything else I’ve tried.

This Sunday’s Kaiser Half will test that assertion. I ran this course in 1:37:49 last year, which was a PR at that time. No predictions this time since this race is notorious for nasty weather, but if conditions are good I’ll set out at around 7:00 pace and see what develops.

Race: San Jose Rock ‘n Roll Half, 2009

What a difference a week makes. This time last week I was moping about my less-than-dazzling 15K, and today? well…

I had boldly put 1:33 as my predicted finish time on the entry, and was rewarded with a place in start corral 1. I had done my mini taper (3 days, we marathoners can be parsimonious when tapering for other races), hydrated, rested, all that jazz.  The weather was cool and we were sheltered from any wind. Now I was standing in the corral, feeling a little old amongst all these (mostly) young speedys. Those accustomed to standing further back at these affairs can take heart from the fact that the announcer is still inaudible from the front. “Blah blah blah blah…   Blah blah blah…   Crack!“. No problem hearing the gun.

For the first mile I was guided by the 3:30 pace leader who was 50 yards ahead. He would be doing around 6:50 pace as opposed to my target 7:05-ish. I needed to let him gradually slide further away. This mostly worked, producing a first 5K split at 21:36 (6:56 pace) – slightly fast, but not ridiculous.

After the pacer was too far away to gauge distance I was using the Garmin for pace guidance, which was probably a bad idea. It was indicating about 6:58 when I was in fact closer to 7:10, which slowed me slightly. I Should have been checking my mile splits the old fashioned way. There were trees lining much of the route, which probably didn’t help, but It’s good to remember that Garmins are not super accurate at the best of times. All paces and time in this report are from the chip-timing mats.

The second 5K took 21:56 (7:03 pace). I was getting into a groove now, and relying on feel more. The cast of characters in front of me stabilized. One was distinctive. A tall muscular guy with diamond studs, a pink running skirt, and sheer tights. He was quite a long way ahead of me at one point, but I was gradually reeling him in along with some others. As sometimes happens, I slowed a bit, even though I was passing more people than were passing me. When others slow down, you have to spot it early and disengage from them. The stretch from 10K to 10 miles took 27:10 (7:11 pace).

I was getting a little too comfortable and needed to start pushing more. At this point a powerful looking guy with  a buzz cut passed me, and yelled a greeting to some spectators. The runner next to me asked him if he’d gone to the local college, and he delivered  a lengthy reply while running backwards in front of us at 7:05 pace. It was a stunt, of course, but quite an impressive one. Also possibly an expensive one. He dropped back shortly after, and I didn’t see him again. Skirt guy was also gone, and I was overhauling quite a number of people now, gradually accelerating to the finish. The final 5K took 21:34 (6:56 pace).

Final time: 1:32:18 (7:03 pace)
310th place overall (of 9892)
8th in age group (of 341).
Age Grade: 75.1%

Not too shabby. My pacing is coming along, but could still use work. I was a little slow in the middle section.

But more importantly. This was 27 seconds per mile faster than that 15K last week. That’s more like it!

Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)


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