Posts Tagged 'Pacing'

Pace: San Francisco Marathon 2010

This is a story about how to make a ton of mistakes and still get it mostly right. I got the job of co-pacing the 3:50 group for this race. Since I ran it in 3:22 last year this promised to be an easy cruise from the running point of view. We had dinner in North Beach the night before with some of my online friends – James (Forno Bravo), Amy (Agile) and Angie (Pace Runner). James was going to attempt a PR on the SF course, and none of us doubled he would manage it. Angie has long experience with Plantar Fasciitis and gave me the benefit of her experience. Apparently backing off the miles does not really work, so I might as well stick at it. This firmed up my resolve to train full-out for CIM, even though the 18-week program would start just a week after this 26.2 mile run.
My co-pacer Dan is an ultra runner who has done some 100-milers. He an his buddy Paul (also running with us) had followed Dean Karnaze’s example and run The Relay, a 200 mile race from Napa to Santa Cruz as a single leg. Extreme stuff.
Dan put his Garmin on the roof of the car to acquire satellites, and there it stayed until he retrieved it after the race. Oops. Never mind, I had my Garmin with and a regular stopwatch as backup, and my terrain-compensated pace band. We were all set. I stood in the wave 4 enclosure with my 3:50 sign in the air and soon attracted a cluster of runners. Amy had run the Leadville Marathon just three weeks prior and so was going to run with us to enjoy the view and add another marathon to her list. She is on track to run 10 in 2010, including ultras.
From our mid-corral position we were passing other runners fairly steadily as we ran up the Embarcadero in the gathering light. Holding a pace sign has its advantages since I was able to call “Excuse me!” and “Coming through” without attracting any surly looks. I realized that our stock of useful timepieces was now down to one, having neglected to put my Timex into chrono mode before hitting “start”. Argh!

The Garmin, while dutifully keeping time, was being a little strange on pace as we ran along the Embarcadero. I had planned to refer to it during the first mile then rely on the pace band thereafter, but the nearby tall buildings were bothering it. I was quite sure we were NOT running at 10:30 pace. Fortunately I have a reasonable feel for the required 8:4x pace as it falls in the middle of my easy range, so I winged it. At mile 1 we were a few seconds behind schedule, but that was fine. We settled in. I had not warned Amy that the first hill on the course is the steepest, and it seemed to startle her. She took pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, with its towers hidden by the overcast. At the mile 3 marker (back on schedule) I noticed that the Garmin distance was somewhat out of sync after it’s early problems, so stabbed the lap button to start a new mile. Except that I didn’t. I had mistakenly hit “Stop” and failed to realize it until we were running across the bridge. I never do that on training runs! I confessed to Dan and Amy that we were now running blind, pace wise, and Amy loaned me her Garmin. Dan took my other watch to make room for it. Buckling on a watch while running is a little tricky, but I managed it without mishap. “Don’t push any buttons!” exhorted Amy, and I did not, simply checking the elapsed time against my pace band for the rest of the course. And so I have no recorded splits, other than my recollection of how far ahead or behind we were at some mile markers.
What with the timing adventures and going faster than I had expected through the Presidio we arrived at the halfway mark about a minute early. Amy could not believe her eyes when she saw the bison enclosure in Golden Gate Park and took some pictures to show her hubbie. Bison are something of a running joke with them apparently. We took things easy on the long uphill in the park to burn off time. This portion is where I went too fast last year and ran short of steam for the second half. By the time we emerged onto Haight Street we were exactly on schedule once again. Dan and his friend Paul were chatting about their ultra-running experiences which was quite diverting. The group was still strong, but seemed to have lost a few members. We commenced the downhills. Dan had a remarkable mental map of the course, and knew where all the course switches and uphills were. The one remaining significant uphill stripped away most of our group, but we picked up a couple of runners from the group ahead. When we got to the ballpark, I casually remarked “Oh by the way, its best to run on the right here, because there’s a wave in the path on the left” Everyone immediately went single file on the smooth bit next to the railing, with no room for me. I ran on the wavy part while Dan laughed.

As mile 26 approached I gave the 3:50 sign to Amy and she carried it to the line, which made for a nice finish photo. We had all sped up a but as we smelled the finish, so arrived about 30 seconds early. Although the running was not stressful for me, I still had that “just run a marathon” feeling on stopping. I recovered quite quickly though.


Pace: Oakland Marathon 2010

So what was the logic of pacing a marathon just three weeks before the Big One? Let’s just say that consecutive marathon training cycles get a little stale after more than two years, and a little risk-taking has livened things up. I also didn’t want to get all tensed up about hitting some arbitrary target at Boston. This bit of foolishness suited nicely. I volunteered to co-lead the 3:40 pace group. This was a cushion of 22 minutes off the 3:17 time I ran at CIM in December, but I was a little apprehensive. Oakland is not a fast course with that 600ft hill in the first half, and many corners in the last quarter (more about those later). Also my ‘taper’ consisted of about 4 days of lighter running instead of the customary 2 to 3 weeks. This was going to be interesting.
My co-leader for this adventure was Vanessa, who has a 3:07 PR and seemingly inexhaustible vocal chords. She is also running in Boston, and knew several runners in the group.
We wore Garmins which were useful as a general guide to pace, but we mostly relied on checking elapsed time against the mile markers, which gave better accuracy.
The pace signs were ridiculous, about 18″ square and without poles. Vanessa and I had attached 3:40 signs to our backs and reolved to dump the sign at the first decent opportunity.

With only 1,000 runners in the full marathon, we were across the line 11 seconds after the gun. I had decided at the last minute to carry a bottle of water, so it didn’t have a handle. Picture me at the start line, with a sign in one hand, bottle in the other, pressing buttons on two watches somehow.
“Hmm, we seem to be catching up with 3:30”
“Yes, we’re a little fast, but he’s also slow”
This was a typical exchange in the first mile. Vanessa held the sign for a while until the crowd thinned out a bit, then I darted to the side and leant it up against a parking meter. Bye bye Big Thing.

These early miles felt like one of the downtown training runs, only easier because we never had to take to the sidewalk or stop at lights. There was an out-and back on College Avenue (mile 4) where we could check out the other runners. We noted with surprise that the 3:30 guy was still carrying his sign in front of his chest. He was leading his group solo, and somehow managed to carry his sign for the whole race. He later said that his arms were more sore than his legs!

The hill commenced at mile 4. We were slightly aggressive with it, but were hitting our splits almost exactly. Our group was a good size, there was some chat about about the scenery and racing, etc. By the time we were approaching Montclair Village at mile 8, however, there were some anxious questions about the hill we were on. How much more? “There are three peaks. This one up ahead is the first” I announced. “Oh good, like the Newton Hills at Boston” my enquirer responded. Well kinda, only this was four times as high. There was a big crowd there, ringing cowbells and holding up signs. We whooped back at them and emerged with big smiles ready to take on the rest of the climb. By the time we got to the third and final peak we were looking around anxiously to see if we were losing people. Apparently not yet, but we’re only at mile 10!
Tour guide mode: “Don’t forget to look at the view, People!” Sweeping gestures at Oakland laid out below. It was a bit hazy. We could see as far as the dockyard cranes and the Bay Bridge, but no San Francisco skyline today. Veronica took the downhill at a gentle pace, which was fine with me, gathering my energy for the long flat stretches to come.
Plenty of people were watching in Fruitvale, saying things like “Thank you for running in Oakland”. We cheered them back, especially the crossing guards who were directing traffic. Whistles seemed to be the preferred noisemakers here. The 13.1 marker was the occasion for a little song I had not heard before: “We’re halfway there…”
At least one member of the group got to try out his Spanish while calling back to the spectators along International Boulevard whilst I was watching a red shirt up ahead. Clubmate Jack Z. had been visible since about mile 4 and now was gradually coming back to us. I was looking forward to a chat, but at the next aid station he walked through and there was only time for an exchange of “Hi”s before he was gone. Darn. After mile 16 we merged with the half marathon runners who were in their fourth mile at that point. They had started 90 minutes after us, so we were passing the 15 minutes per mile runners. By the finish we would have caught up with the folks running a little faster than 10:00. We were averaging 8:20, working up a little cushion over the pace band, so the speed difference was considerable. We were going around them and sometimes threading gaps in single file. There was plenty of room except at the corners, but unfortunately there were a lot of corners. Veronica was reading shirts and calling encouragement” “Go YMCA, Looking Good”. “Go Full!” Was the usual reply. The day was warming up. I heard one woman say: “Wow. I’m dripping wet and they are not even breaking a sweat!” Not quite true, but we must have looked like an express train to them. The train seemed to be losing wagons. “Where did Nick go? he was looking so strong, too.” We seemed to be down to just four, although I later learned that at least one marathoner further back was working hard to keep our blue pacer shirts in sight. A young half marathoner joined us. “Do you mind if I run with you guys?”. We were glad to have her. This was her first half marathon and she stayed with us to the end, thanks to coaching from Veronica.

After about mile 18 (Jack London Square) I was feeling a little stressed. It served me right for not really tapering, but this was starting to feel more like a race. Not the white-knuckle effort of an all-out marathon, but it was work. “This is in my head” I told myself, since I was easily able to produce the little surges needed to go around groups of runners.

At Mile 22 we came to the familiar territory of Lake Merritt and luxuriated in two lanes of roadway where LMJS usually races on the sidewalk. “We’re getting towards the end of this thing!”
A little rise on 20th street ate a few seconds out of our cushion, and we came in sight of the finish. We crossed in 3:39:31, which, while a few seconds ahead of schedule, was good enough to get me 10th in my age group (out of 64), and was also within my Boston Qualification time for next year (3:45).

Running a marathon 15-20 minutes slower than your potential really makes a difference when it comes to recovery. I only ran once in the five days after CIM, but this week was able to resume after just one rest day. I suppose the Marathon Maniacs are familiar with this effect. I see that running two marathons just three weeks apart does not quite qualify me for Maniac status. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Update: The results got adjusted. Now I’m 9th in my age group!

Pace: December LMJS 10K.

That was the goofiest 10K I ran yet.
Some background – I have volunteered as a pacer for the Oakland marathon, but there’s a requirement to have paced before. This sounds a little Catch-22, but is understandable. It’s acceptable to have paced a non-marathon, like for instance an LMJS 10K. So I thought I would do that in the new year, and showed up for Sundays race all ready to deep-six my pathetic old 10K PR.
While we were standing around yakking before the start, I had a sudden realization. I can’t do it next month, because I’m co-directing that race, and there is no 10K in February because of the Couples Relay. Gotta do it today!
I found Melissa, the marathon pace coordinator. “OK” she said. “What mile pace do you want? We’re about to announce the pacers”.
“Um er, Eight minutes?”
And off I went to the start line. Argh! Why didn’t I pick 7:30? My legs know that one.
“Um anyone know what finish time 8:00 would give me?”
“50 minutes” said a voice, and we were off.
Hm. going to have to check that 50:00 thing. I was not wearing the Garmin, which has been a bit flaky lately. This is two laps around a 5K course, with mile markers at mile 1 and 2. These are of course wrong for the second lap, so I’d have to figure out something for that too. Is this too fast? Shouldn’t there be more people in front of me? It looks a little sparse up there. Worry worry.
First mile marker: 7:43. Ouch. Slow down, relax, watch the ducks and boats on the lake. Someones was passing me, good. It takes an effort of will not to speed up when there’s a sweaty hard-breathing guy on your shoulder.
Mile 2 split: 7:51. I really thought I’d slowed more than that. Gotta put on the brakes some more. I had a plan for the mile markers now. I’d simply hit the split button as I crossed the start line, so I’d have two meaningful per-mile splits during lap two. The field was quite spread out now, but I was catching someone who had slowed. “Are you the 50-minute guy?” he asked. “Yes. Actually I’m a little ahead of that, but I’m making adjustments”. He looked crestfallen. I thought about cajoling him to run with me, but it seemed hopeless. He had plainly gone out way too fast and was fading badly.
The first mile of lap two was 8:03, Good, giving some of that time back. Now, about that finish time... One benefit of running slowly is that I was still able to do math. 5K is 6.2 miles, so 8 times 6 and 1/5 is …. 49:36 exactly. Glad I figured that out.
Next split: 8:09. Good. Still need to slow a bit.
Dawdle dawdle.. Here comes the finish, with the clock. Maybe four seconds early. I slowed down and bunny-hopped across the line to the amusement of the timekeepers. Only two seconds early. So now that’s done.
I was amused to discover I’d placed third in my age group. It was a useful exercise though. I’ll need to go slower than that in the marathon – 3:40 is 8:23 average pace – but the hill will help. The time that it adds will probably mean running about 8:10 on the flat, and there will be 26 markers for me to keep track. I might even measure how far apart the streetlamps are on the first part of the course so I can get my pace accurately dialed in within the first few hundred yards – something Garmins are are not too good at. Speaking of Garmins, mine is having problems. It turns itself off mid run-even though it’s well charged. I’ll try the big reset, and see if there’s a software upgrade, but maybe its time has come. I’m in no big rush to replace it. It would make a change to time myself over measured distances for a while, and train my builtin pace-keeper.

2009 – Three marathons, two half marathons, a 10 mile trail race, 15K, a 10K, and a 5K, That’s all the racing I did. Not much, really.
Of these, just two were not PRs, The 10K was held in San Francisco’s Chinatown in wind and torrential rain in February. Fun in a splashy way, but not fast. The other one was the Big Sur Marathon, which rather famously is not a PR course!
So the newbie improvement curve is continuing with the help of some serious mileage. Last week I passed the 3,000 mile mark for the year. I must admit that these back-to-back marathon training cycles are becoming stale. So here’s the loose plan for 2010.

Boston is the next goal race, but just to make things a bit more interesting I’ll be leading a pace group in the Oakland Marathon three weeks beforehand. As my final long run of training it will be over-length and slightly fast, but I don’t care. My pace will be 3:40 over a course with a 600 ft hill in the first half.
The other marathon I run next year will likely be New York, which gets Cathi’s vote. I’ll skip San Francisco, maybe run the half. In the summer I’ll attack the shorter distances which I have so neglected in my training.
I’ll likely dip my toes into the barefoot/minimal shoe thing soon. My gait still needs a little work, and that should help it.


On Saturday I headed to Lake Merritt for my short easy run. Some of the LMJS members were entering a 5K/10K organized by the East Bay Front Runners, and it would be nice to shmooze for a bit before going for a run around the neighborhood. There are some nice hills there that are worthy of inspection. But I wasn’t going to race, oh no. This was an easy day, in between intervals on Friday and a 22-miler on Sunday.
Loraine’s suggestion that I pace her in her 5K was hard to resist, though. “What pace do you want to go? 7:45? OK” Oh well, it’s only 5K. That wont do much harm.
I didn’t join the crush at the start, but waited down the road a little way, running up and down to warm up. Loraine came by and I joined her. We ran around the end of the lake and started along the straight section of Lakeshore. Were we going a little fast? This felt like 7:30. I turned my attention to the Garmin. As I’ve mentioned before, Garmins don’t work reliably at Lake Merritt, and mine had been showing some weird paces. It had a period of lucidity and confirmed 7:30 or close to it. Hmm. Her breathing seems OK. There was another woman in front of us with a pacer of her own, so we tucked in behind them and picked off some runners who had gone out too fast. At mile 2, Loraine looked at her watch and said “I can’t think. What twice 7:45?” “15” I lied. Jeepers, she doesn’t know how fast we’re going. This had better work. I think it will. It’s a good sign that she can still talk. Just then the pair in front faltered and we passed them.
“OK, we’re into the final third. You’re doing good!” Loraine’s repartee was down to an occasional monosyllable, but she gave me to understand that this was not fun. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the third mile of a 5K race is not fun. She held pace, though. I slowed just a little for the uphill along Grand Avenue, and was gratified when she started to accelerate again when it flattened out. I waited until we were 100 yards from the finish and instructed “If you have anything left in the tank, start burning it now!”, but there wasn’t much left for a kick. I think the time was 23:33. Second woman and a PR. Plus I learned a few things about pacing. Things not to say include “This is about my marathon pace”. She later remarked “I thought about 26 miles and felt a wave of nausea”. Also not well received: “My Garmin says we just ran a 13-minute mile!”. I think she’s forgiven me though.

I had promised myself six miles so set off around the lake again, more slowly this time. I caught up with Jack C, my teammate at the Tahoe Relay. He had got injured at that event (achilles and calf), but six weeks of physio and cycling had put him to rights, and now here he was on his last long run before the NYC Marathon. He was on his seventh and final circuit of the lake, and was glad to have someone to run with to keep his pace up. Good luck on November 1st, Jack.

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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