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Archive for November, 2009

Half-marathoning

I’d say that went pretty well.

I managed to finish with an average pace just under eight minutes a mile. I was hoping to run a little faster, but I feel pretty satisfied all the same.

My pacing was pretty good, I think. At the very least, I managed not to run too fast at the start. I maintained a comfortable pace at the beginning, averaging about 7:40 a mile for the first five miles, and I felt pretty good. That part of the course was also generally level, so they were pretty easy miles. I was hoping to pick up the pace a little over the next five miles, but that was easier said than done. The worst uphill section of the race was right before mile 7. It was basically a one-block steep uphill section, then a level intersection before another long but somewhat less incline. It was a tough hill, but I think the big hill I’ve been running on all my training runs is worse. The hill I’ve been running is probably at least as long as the one on the race course, but it’s also a continuous ascent without any respite, whereas the race course was flat for the couple of hundred feet through an intersection, which was a nice break after the steepest portion.

Of course, a couple of people had told me that there was a “brutal” hill that they recalled being around mile 10, only it turned out to be the one just past the midpoint. So, I kept expecting the other shoe to drop and probably held off from going faster, since I thought I’d need to leave more in reserve.

Once I got past the ten-mile mark and only saw a gradual incline, I started pushing my pace a bit more. I figured I’d try to give it what I could over the last portion of the course, and I started to pass some of the people I had been using as informal pacers. I overtook a lot of runners on the downhill segments, since I usually find it easy to use gravity to my advantage. But what I was expecting was to have a couple of short but steep uphill sections near the finish. It was brutal to hit that so close to the end, especially because I wasn’t really expecting it.

And really, that’s the one thing I think would help me the most if I ran this race again next year. Just having the familiarity with the course and knowing where the toughest sections are would allow me to plan accordingly and run faster.

Still, I can’t really complain. This was my first half-marathon, and I managed to beat my time and finish in the top 15 percent or so of the field. I’m feeling pretty good, not just in terms of my mood (though the runner’s high is pretty sweet), but also physically. My calves are a little achy and my feet would probably appreciate me investing in some socks made of technical fabric. I might be sore or achy tomorrow, but it’s not awful.

And, it’s a lot better than when I started running in August. I still remember the first time I ran a long distance, deciding in the middle of a run I initially expected to last maybe six miles or so that I would instead go for a complete 13.5-mile loop. I managed to run the entire half-marathon distance, but it wasn’t pretty. I think it took me about 2:27:00 to run 13.5 miles, and my legs ached so much that it hurt to descend stairs for two or three days.

So, considering I began running regularly and seriously only in August, I think it’s a fair accomplishment to shave essentially forty minutes off my half-marathon time in about three months. It took a couple of hundred miles or so to get to that point, and I still have plenty of room for improvement. But it feels good.

Also, as a final note. I wore my iPod (sans headphones) to see how the Nike plus did in terms of recording my distance. I knew this was a well-measured distance, and that I’d probably actually run more than 13.1 miles (since that’s the minimum distance and runners often tack on a few tenths of a mile over the course of the race), especially since I started recording my data when the horn sounded and I was several yards behind the start line, and I stopped somewhere beyond the finish line. And the Nike plus estimated that I only ran 12.77 miles. At least I know I’m not crazy when I think it’s shorting my distance by a fair amount.

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 13.1 miles
  • Time: 1:44:04 (unofficial); 1:44:20 (official)
  • Average speed: 7.6 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:57/mi (unofficial)
  • Calories burned: 1975

Finishing stats:

  • Overall finish (men’s half-marathon): 491/3037
  • Division finish (age 25-29): 91/484
  • Split time 1 (first 6.2 miles): 51:19
  • Split time 2 (last 6.9 miles): 53:01

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Half-marathon eve

It’s now about eleven and a half hours until the race. I picked up my bib and timing chip this afternoon, got my free long-sleeved technical shirt (it’s a nice shade of green) and bought a nifty pair of gloves to wear (my hands have started to chap, I think from standing outside frying a turkey on Thursday).

At the moment the forecast says it shouldn’t rain and should be about 47 degrees throughout the race. And there isn’t supposed to be much wind. Those conditions should be pretty comfortable. I wouldn’t mind it being five to ten degrees warmer, especially for the half-hour or so when we’ll be standing at the start waiting for the race to begin. But considering the forecast just a couple of days ago was calling for rain during the race, I’ll settle for cool and dry.

Physically, I feel pretty good. I resisted the temptation to stray from my program and only walked two miles on the treadmill yesterday (part of me wanted to run). I also resisted the temptation to do any walking or running today. Instead, I did some strength training (no leg work) and very gently peddled an exercise bike for twenty minutes.

I’d still feel better and more confident if I hadn’t gotten the flu and missed a week of training, but I can’t really control that. I also wish this race wasn’t at the end of the holiday weekend, since it’s hard to avoid eating indulgently over the holidays. I’m really understanding the appeal of a turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning, even though it can be a bit of a pain having to sacrifice a couple of hours of time that could be better spent prepping for dinner.

In any event, I think I’ll be OK tomorrow. I took a couple of pills after dinner to help drowse me in the hope of falling asleep fairly early so I get plenty of rest before getting up before dawn tomorrow.

I still think I have a good chance of achieving my goal of beating eight minutes a mile, which would mean 1:44:48. If I finish somewhere in the 1:40-1:44 range, I’ll be satisfied. I thought I had a shot at breaking 1:40 right before I got ill, but I think that might be out of reach, no thanks to the flu. Regardless, it’ll be good to get out there and start running tomorrow morning.

Here goes something.

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Week 10, Run 2

I was a bit of a wimp today. Even though it was only raining lightly, I decided to stay indoors and run on the treadmill. I justified it by telling myself it’d be slightly faster, but also because I want to keep my shoes dry in advance of Sunday, and even if it hadn’t been raining during my run, there’s a good chance I’d step in a puddle or do something to get my shoes damp.

Of course, I also wimped out a little on my distance. I ran three miles, which was my scheduled distance. But I was feeling like I should perhaps do an extra mile or two, since I ate a large, rich dinner last night and knew I’d be overindulging today. I set the treadmill for thirty minutes, knowing I should be able to run four miles in that time. But once I started, my legs disagreed. I’ve been reversing my motion on the elliptical trainer the past couple of days, which seems to work my legs more intensely, especially the muscles I use on hills. And evidently my legs could feel that when I started running today.

So, I ran relatively hard, but decided to stop after three miles. It wasn’t bad, but a little boring. I’ll have to force myself not to run tomorrow, since I’m scheduled to walk two miles, instead of a usual Friday short run. I do need to let my legs rest and recover so I feel fresh bright and early Sunday morning.

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 3.00 miles
  • Time: 22:29
  • Average speed: 8.0 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:29/mi
  • Calories burned: 549

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Week 10, Run 1

That went much better. Granted, it was a short run, since I only did three miles. But I felt faster and ran quicker than I did on Sunday, even if my pace was still well short of where I had gotten right before getting sick.

My legs felt a bit sore, but at least the weather was drier and warmer than it was on Sunday, so I was able to shed all the extra gear (except the iPod and Nike plus) while still feeling quite comfortable. My splits were more on par with pre-illness runs. I was at 5:15 for about three-quarters of a mile, 12:03 at a mile and a half and 16:28 for roughly 2.1 miles.

I also picked a more apposite playlist, a little punk rock with plenty of uptempo songs, which definitely made me go faster without thinking about it. That came in hand on the hills.

Overall, I was pleased with my progress. There’s still a discrepancy in the mileage between what I’ve mapped online and what the Nike plus recorded. But I’m fairly confident I just need to calibrate the Nike plus. Maybe it’s shorting my mileage on the hills?

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 3.06 miles
  • Time: 23:25
  • Average speed: 7.8 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:42/mi
  • Calories burned: 442

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Perusing the headlines on Sme, I ran across a report about how McDonald’s is rebranding itself as “green” in its German restaurants.

No, they’re literally rebranding the chain as green. As in, the red in the classic red-and-white Mickey D’s color scheme is being changed to green. Those golden arches will now stand before a green background.

From the report, and the little bit of German I parsed in the story from Financial Times Deutschland, there isn’t much substance to the rebranding campaign. The McDonald’s vice president for Germany simply said it’s a matter of “respect for the environment.” But it’d probably be more respectful if the fast food chain took steps more concrete than simply adding a new coat of paint.

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A big part of the reason I stopped watching the History Channel eons ago was that I grew tired of the constant assault of programming fixated on the Second World War. It seemed like there was always some documentary or special touting some minor campaign in the Pacific, or cheering the heroes of D-Day, or (somewhat less frequently) pointing out the horrors of the Holocaust.

Of course, as I began training to become a professional historian and read more widely, I found the American perspective on the war tiresome and wanting. To watch the History Channel or, I’m guessing, to ask most Americans, the history of the Second World War went something as follows:

Hitler and the Nazis did some bad stuff, and there were evil deeds afoot in Japan, then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the war began, and it was a slog until D-Day, which turned the tide of the war and it was only a matter of time before the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and then Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima to end the war in Japan.

Certainly that version captures some of the general contours of the war. And it definitely covers the major American participation. But as tantalizing as it is to think that “our boys” single-handedly won the war, such a view just doesn’t do justice to what actually happened.

Then again, it’s convenient to forget that a bunch of Commies did a lot of the heavy lifting and bore the biggest human toll. Even if we occasionally remember that Stalin was an ally: remember “Uncle Joe”?

Anyway, I saw a headline for a story in the NYT op-ed section that piqued my interest: “How World War II Wasn’t Won.”

It seemed promising. I wasn’t offhand what occasioned such an audaciously headlined piece, but I thought it might be an attempted corrective on the narrative so entrenched in the American popular consciousness.

Naturally, I was wrong. Wrong to think this was going to challenge American perspectives. Wrong to think it would deflate the deification of D-Day, if only a little bit. And certainly wrong to think it might be something so simple as a think piece to say, “Actually, the turning point of the war in Europe came on the Eastern Front, where the Red Army did the real heavy lifting.”

Nope. None of that. In fact, there was no mention at all of “Soviet” (or “Russian,” which was and remains synonymous with “Soviet” in the American lexicon) or “Red Army” or “Eastern Front.” Nope. Nothing.

Instead, the piece focuses on a counter-factual about a possible “second D-Day” along the Western Front. Chance to end the war a few months earlier. Potential glory for the Americans. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Sigh.

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Week 9, Run 2

As scheduled, I managed to get in my last pre-race long run today, completing eight miles on my regular route. It was the first time I had run outside in about a week and a half, which also made it the first time I had gotten in any real hill work in the past week.

And, since it was raining and I’m still recovering from the flu, I was also bundled up in more gear than normal. Along with gloves, I wore ear muffs and a waterproof zip-up top and pants. If nothing else, I managed to stay warm and immune to the rain. Except for my feet, which got wet when I failed to duck a puddle early in my run.

Additionally, I was also sporting my new iPod nano with the Nike plus kit, all strapped into an armband. It’s the first time I’ve tried running with music, mostly because the battery in my six-year-old iPod finally died in the summer, before I started running outside. But it was one more piece of equipment to test out.

In terms of health, I’m feeling a lot better, and have been since about Wednesday or Thursday. But my legs seem to be feeling the effects of a sudden layoff in training. I definitely didn’t feel so fast as I did before I got the flu, and my times suffered. Some of that might be a product of being less than 100 percent overall, and some of it is certainly a product of getting my legs back after the layoff and getting the rust off. Plus, I’m not sure how the extra clothing and fussing with the iPod affected my performance, but I imagine it didn’t help my pace.

Of course, it probably didn’t help either that when choosing musical accompaniment, I selected a Moby album, thinking the electronica genre would be appropriately uptempo. Naturally, I picked first and thought about it later, not giving much consideration to the fact that the album, “I Like to Score,” had a lot of mellow tracks that wouldn’t be that conducive to pumping myself up and going faster.

But, in general, I was just a little slow as I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things. My body and legs felt pretty fresh physically, which is what I would expect having not managed much running for a week. But I was still a bit sluggish, and I could feel my hamstrings straining, and I was really slow on the hills.

At the same time, I kept fumbling with the Nike plus. Mostly I think it was the combination of trying to press the controls through a plastic sleeve with a finger in a thick glove. But I had a hard time getting the control to activate the spoken feedback for my usual splits.

Then there was the matter of using the Nike plus out of the box without trying to calibrate it. The documentation led me to think it’d probably work fine. But by about my second lap, it became clear that there’s a significant discrepancy between the mileage according to what I mapped online and the mileage the Nike plus was recording. By the time I finished my route, which was 8.09 miles according to the online map, the Nike plus said I had only run 7.61 miles. I figured there might be some variance between the two, but I didn’t think it’d be nearly half a mile. That’s a 6 percent discrepancy.

I wound up running laps around my building until the Nike plus said I had logged something close to my intended mileage, but obviously I need to solve the mystery of the missing mileage. I figure I’ll try recalibrating the Nike plus to see if it harmonizes more. I suppose it’s possible the Nike plus is fairly accurate, and that I’m just losing that much mileage to running on the sidewalk as opposed to the road itself. But I also know the time I ran in a 10K, which was in line with my times for other runs at distances estimated by mapping them online. So, I’ll just hope that the Nike plus is askew, because I prefer not to think I’ve been shorting myself significantly on my workouts these past two months.

Anyway, here are the stats. The first is logged using MapMyRun, the second via Nike plus (and includes the extra laps of my apartment tacked on to the end of my run).

Today’s stats (MapMyRun computation):

  • Distance run: 8.09 miles
  • Time: 1:05:47
  • Average speed: 7.4 mi/h
  • Average pace: 8:05/mi
  • Calories burned: 1145

Today’s stats (Nike plus computation):

  • Distance run: 8.08 miles
  • Time: 1:10:04
  • Average speed: 6.92 mi/h
  • Average pace: 8:40/mi
  • Calories burned: 1158

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Week 9, Run 1

Yeah, that’s right. It’s Friday and I’m only now managing my first run of the week. Of course, I was more or less bed ridden from last Saturday through Tuesday, and Wednesday was the first time I managed to leave the apartment all week. Even then, I wound up fainting in the middle of the night early Thursday. So exercise wasn’t really a good idea for most of the week.

I felt better today, though, and also fairly well rested. I’ve been pleased that my weight has held steady despite forgoing daily workouts for nearly a week. But, skipping my workouts, and especially my running, isn’t the best way to maintain my fitness for the half-marathon.

Since I was still a little concerned about exerting myself, and also about exerting myself in chilly weather, owing to my ongoing recovery, I decided once more to run on the treadmill. At this point I’ve pretty well screwed up my training program, since I’ve been off it for the past week, so I guess running the treadmill isn’t going to foul me up much more than I’ve already been messed up by falling ill.

Anyway, according to my training program I should’ve run three miles today … but this also should’ve been my third run of the week. Since I had to cut my long run well short on Sunday, and skipped my runs on Tuesday and Thursday, I decided I’d do four miles today to try to get back in the swing of things in the hope that it’d be a good distance to regain my bearings before I attempt my last long run on Sunday.

Of course, since it was the treadmill, I was able to make certain dispensations. For one I kept mostly to the regular “track” program, and had a minimal incline. I did set the speed fairly high — probably close to a 7:00/mi pace for much of it. And I did try to recreate the experience of running my usual route by ramping up the incline quite a bit for about four-tenths of a mile or so at roughly the same point in my run. However, I’m not sure if I managed to recreate the real hill and my usual ascent with much fidelity, mostly because it’s hard to make sense of the treadmill incline to get to correlate to the actual grade of the hill, and because it’s quite artificial to have the treadmill set to a much faster pace than I’d probably actually run if it were the real hill.

In any event, it was pretty grueling running the incline at that speed, and I leveled off the treadmill for most of the rest of the run, mainly because I didn’t want to overdo it.

There’s not much else to describe about running the treadmill. It’s kind of dull, since the scenery doesn’t change and I didn’t both flipping on the TV or bringing anything to occupy myself. I managed to endure the entire four miles. It was a bit laborious, but I think that was largely due to the week’s layoff. I didn’t feel like I was badly out of shape, but I didn’t feel like I was quite in top form either. Mostly I’m just hoping I can get in my long run in full on Sunday, preferably on my usual route, rather than inside on the treadmill. If I manage that, I only have a couple of three-mile runs scheduled for next week, but I think that should get me back on form in time for the race.

Generally it’s just a bit frustrating to feel like I’ve been working hard for two months, making tremendous strides in my training, getting into great shape, only to go and have the flu strike me down right before the race and undermine at least some of the hard work and the couple of hundred miles I’ve logged in training. Maybe I’ll be fine, and I’ll manage to get in all my remaining runs as scheduled, with no real problems. But it’s just unnerving, especially since I was starting to post dramatic improvement in my speed up to the day I first start to exhibit flu symptoms.

I suppose it could be worse. I could have some sort of foot or leg injury hobbling me, so that I couldn’t run at all, or only very slowly and painfully. But, still, if you added up all the days since the beginning of this year when I didn’t exercise (in every case due to traveling), I think I still missed fewer days in ten-plus months than I have in the past seven days. So, on some level it feels like almost a year’s worth of commitment has been temporarily derailed.

Though I suppose I should look on the bright side and consider what a fitness junkie I’ve clearly become that I can’t bear the thought of missing a day of exercise, much less several days when I got laid up with arguably the worst illness of my life. It’s either this week’s flu, or the chicken pox I had when I was five (coincidentally or not, the only other time in my life I’ve fainted was shortly after having the chicken pox).

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 4.00 miles
  • Time: 28:28
  • Average speed: 8.4 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:07
  • Calories burned: 718

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Week 8, Run 4

Bleech. I came down with some sort of illness on Friday night, and I’ve been pretty useless this weekend. I spent virtually all of yesterday in bed, opting not to exercise because I had a mild fever, cough and general aches.

After sleeping about ten hours last night, I felt a lot better this morning. My fever seemed to break by bedtime last night, and my cough felt like it was gone by the middle of the night. I wasn’t 100 percent, but I felt like I might be up to a workout.

Late last night, the thought occurred to me that I should forgo by planned nine-mile run outside, and instead get my running in on the treadmill downstairs. The weather was kind of cold and damp, so it didn’t seem like good conditions for physical exertion while recovering from whatever ailment I have. Plus, I figured that if I found myself physically unable to complete the workout in the middle of my run, it would be a lot easier to stop the treadmill and walk up two flights of stairs instead of running the risk of having to walk a mile or two home.

Of course, I haven’t run on a treadmill in at least two months, and I’ve found it’s a bit more challenging than running outside. I had gotten in the habit of doing fifteen minutes on the treadmill about four days a week prior to the summer. But after I started running outside during the summer, I found I preferred it. It’s a lot more grueling, in many ways, to run on a treadmill because I’m just not made to run machine-like at a constant speed. Non-treadmill running has the distinct advantage of being more instinctive, since I don’t have to fiddle with buttons if my body wants to go slower or faster; I just automatically adjust my speed. I think the natural fluctuations in speed also help me run faster overall, because I probably don’t overexert myself trying to maintain a fixed pace, and thus by easing off my speed, even subconsciously, when I feel tired or encounter more challenging terrain allows me to preserve more strength and energy for the easier portions of my run, where I can go faster.

In any event, I set the treadmill to a “random” program, which essentially meant it would vary the incline at one-minute intervals. Of course, it didn’t automatically adjust the speed to a pace appropriate for the incline, so I had to decrease the intensity manually pretty early. And I was still finding it more taxing than I usually find running, in part, I think, because I’m not fully healthy yet and my body just wasn’t up to the exertion, but also because I had a hard time maintaining a steady 7.6 mi/h pace, which equates to about 7:53 per mile.

After I hit twenty-five minutes and about 3.2 miles, I had to stop the treadmill to use the bathroom (another advantage of having not run outside). I had planned to switch to a regular “track” program, which would allow me to run with a fixed, minimal incline. But evidently I paused the treadmill too long, and I had to reprogram the machine when I returned. Of course, by that point I knew there was no way I was going to manage to run nine miles without dying, so I decided just to walk two miles at a comfortable pace. I steadily increased the incline in the second mile, just to make it a bit more challenging, but I decided not to push my luck by doing more running.

So, for the first time, I failed to complete one of my planned training runs. But this was obviously an unplanned contingency. And at least if I had to get sick during my training, this is probably about the best time it could’ve happened, since I’m already into my taper period, and I still have two weeks to recuperate before race day, so I expect to be fully recovered by the time the half-marathon rolls around.

Still, after getting myself in the habit of exercising daily this year, it’s hard for me to excuse myself from working out, even though I’m under the weather. I know missing a day or two, or even the better part of a week, won’t appreciably affect my fitness. But just as it’s a hard habit to develop, getting myself to get out of the apartment and get a good forty-five minutes of exercise or so each day, so, too, is it a hard habit to break. (I think I just paraphrased some hair metal ballad of the 1980s.)

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 3.2 miles
  • Time: 25:00
  • Average speed: 7.6 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:53/mi
  • Calories burned: 575

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Week 8, Run 3

Yesterday felt pretty sweet. Breaking my personal pace record by a healthy margin, powering to a fast finish, relishing the feeling of accomplishment at having run five miles by 8 a.m. — it was a great way to start my day, and I think it generally put me in a positive, upbeat frame of mind.

Today perhaps started a little differently. For one, since I didn’t have to go class this morning, I got to sleep in an extra hour and a half or so, which was good because I stayed up probably that much later last night kicking off the weekend. Of course, I also felt less than stellar in my stomach, I think mostly due to late-night snacking on greasy potato chips, which I was still trying to digest this morning.

Moreover, it was cold and wet by the time I got up this morning. All of that deterred me from following my usual routine of pounding the pavement a few minutes after rolling out of bed. Instead, I dillydallied: surfing the web more leisurely than usual, unloading the dishwasher, doing the kitchen clean-up I hadn’t gotten around to doing last night. At one point I went on the balcony to see what the rain and temperature were like, but it was coming down fairly hard, and it was also chilly, so I decided at that point to bite the bullet and have a bowl of cereal for breakfast. It was a significant departure from my usual routine, since I generally eat breakfast right after finishing my workout — I prefer to exercise, and especially run, on an empty stomach, rather than having a bunch of food in my gut that I’m trying to digest while exerting myself.

After about half an hour, I noticed the rain appeared to have stopped, and the temperature had also risen slightly, from 44 to 47 degrees. It might not seem like much, but 45 degrees seems to be the cutoff for how warm it has to be for me to feel comfortable running in just shorts and short sleeves, sans gloves or any other extra covering.

Thus, I finally hit the road probably three hours later than normal. And when I began my run, my stomach still felt heavy. I wasn’t sure if I was going to regret having eaten before my run, or at least I thought I might come to regret it for the first mile and a half or so.

However, aside from the logy feeling in my gut, I felt pretty good physically. I wasn’t sluggish otherwise, and my legs didn’t show any signs of soreness or fatigue after yesterday’s brisk run. And I seemed to get off to a good start. Out of the gate, I could tell I was going hard because I had a little bit of that oddly pleasant feeling of cool burning in my lungs that I get from running faster in chilly weather. And I guess I just felt like I was going at a pretty good clip, though it’s often hard to tell if my sense of how fast I’m going squares with my actual pace. Plus, sometimes it’s hard to determine my progress from a quick glance at my watch, since the analog hands occasionally obscure the digital minutes, which makes it tough to read my time on the run.

When I hit my first split three-quarters of a mile into the run, I looked down at my wrist and was initially taken aback. Normally I hope to be under 5:30 at this point, and I think my personal best time for this split is 5:15, achieved a couple of times. But I could only clearly make out the right side of my stopwatch at first glance, which said fifty-five seconds. I was horrified initially to think I could be going so much slower, until I looked more closely around the analog minute hand and realized the first number was actually a four. As in 4:55. As in a good twenty seconds faster than my previous best.

At that moment, I knew I was onto something. Even though my stomach was still angry at me for filling it with potato chips late last night, my legs were propelling me like never before. And when my mind wasn’t thinking about my stomach and wondering if I was going to have a “reversal” along my route, it was pretty focused on going fast. At that point I kept having the Smashing Pumpkins song “Siva” going through my head, which is pretty uptempo. Or rather, my mind kept replaying the lyrics “Tell me, tell me what you’re after/I just want to get there faster.” It sounds stupid, but thinking fast thoughts does seem to make me run faster.

So, at this point, even though my lungs were burning a little and my gut was displeased, I just kept surging forward. The big hill somehow seemed less intense than usual, perhaps because my mind wasn’t so fixated on the ascent but rather alternating between thoughts of stomach upset and Pumpkins tunes. And even before I finished the ascent and merely reached the part where the incline tapers off, I found myself already starting to pick up speed again, as if the hill hadn’t been that challenging and didn’t take much out of me. When I turned the corner and checked my second split at about the 1.5-mile mark, I was at 11:15. Once again, my time began with an unfamiliar number. I think the fastest I’ve ever been at that point was twelve minutes flat. At least until today. So, not only had I been considerably faster at my first split, but I was continuing to shave huge chunks of time off my pace, even on the most difficult segment of the run.

At this point, I seemed to feel better physically than I usually do after ascending the hill, and even my stomach started to quiet. But more importantly, I redoubled my concentration to ensure I maintained my brisk pace on the third segment of my run, which is where my mind usually tends to wander and I tend to go slower. When I turned the corner at about 2.6 miles, my time was around 18:25, which was probably a minute faster than my previous best split for that mark, and it also meant I had run the previous mile in around 7:10 — a good sign that I hadn’t lost any time on the segment that’s usually a bit of a trap for me.

I maintained my pace on the next .9-mile segment and hit my final split at around 25:10, which was another record. And at this point I still had plenty in the tank and lots of focus, so I kept trying to go hard over the final half-mile or so. I knew by this point it wasn’t a question of bettering my previous record for this course and achieving my goal of breaking thirty minutes. Rather, it had become clear probably by the last mile or mile and a half that the real question was going to be by how large a margin I would break my personal record.

The answer: nearly two full minutes. I clocked in at 28:20 at the finish and, needless to say, felt ecstatic. There are few feelings that can compare to nearing a finish line with plenty left to go all out and knowing that you’re about to obliterate your goal.

It’s also encouraging, since Fridays had been a day of letdowns for a while, at least until last week. Yet today I not only managed to post a good time after running a personal best pace yesterday, but I also proceeded to shatter that new mark by nearly twenty seconds per mile.

In some ways I’m mystified at how I’ve suddenly begun to run much faster. It’s a good kind of mystification, to be sure. The best hypothesis I can posit is simply that my body and legs have gotten much stronger, and since I’m now almost two months into my training program, I’ve put in enough work and accumulated enough mileage to get significantly faster. At least, it seems reasonable to me that after building up my mileage to last week’s peak, it’s logical to find myself capable of running considerably faster on some of these shorter runs. Still, I didn’t expect to see such dramatic improvement, especially day over day. But I’m not going to complain.

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 3.98 miles
  • Time: 28:20
  • Average speed: 8.4 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:04/mi
  • Calories burned: 556

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