Race Review: Boston Allstate 13.1

Other than the first race of the season being snowed out, my horrible weather streak in 2012 has mostly flipped and produced some really great days in this year. I’m sure this dooms next month’s marathon, but for this half marathon, the weather was cool, dry, bright and sunny.

Disappointed they didn't use the corrals this year
Disappointed they didn’t use the corrals this year

Pre-race
Woke up on time (always a source of stress and wildly imaginative scenarios where I miss the race) and had my coffee (gotta get things moving) with my Chrissie Wellington breakfast: a bowl of rice cereal with a little salt, a dollop of honey and a spoonful of almond butter.

I mixed up some Vega pre-workout energizer to sip in the car then double-checked my (now clear for security) race bag: nutrition (2 dates, a gel and some lemon-lime Clif blocks), watch and some extra clothes and I was ready to go.

After a wrong turn (very unlike me, I was carpooling with a friend that was racing and just to chatting, also sort of unlike me), we made it to race site and were greeted by a long line of taillights. I have to say it was sort of unexpected. The race was being held outside a horce racing track, so there was ample, ample parking, but due to restrictions or poor traffic logistics things backed up pretty severely.

By the time we parked, there was less than a half hour until the race start time (and still many, many cars in line). One thing we did not have to stress about was rest rooms. Usually a good chunk of pre-race planning is timing your last port-a-potty trip. Thankfully, between the race track facilities and ample portable stalls, there were very short lines all around. Yay!

If the race directors stepped up with the toilets, they fell down with the bag check. With less than ten minutes until the race the line was still probably a hundred deep waiting for the two or three volunteers (I couldn’t even see that far) to rack everyone’s bag. This should be the last thing a runner needs to stress about. Boo! I ended up jogging back to my car and hurriedly running back to the start.

The Race
Despite all the lines and parking woes, the race started on time. I do appreciate a prompt race director. There is nothing worse than being all warmed up and stuck in the corrals.

The first three to four miles wind through the working class East Boston neighborhood that surrounds the race track and for the early hour there were quite a few people hanging out by their front doors cheering us on. My only complaint was the pavement in parts wasn’t great and you really had to watch your step.

I managed to avoid rabbiting out too fast, in my mile splits you can see where I start to throttle back to keep things in check. I settled in and let the pack mostly flow around me until I found a group going my speed.

The middle of the course is run right along the ocean by Revere Beach. New pavement, closed roads, the ocean on one side, interesting beach shops and restaurants on the other made this a really nice part of the run. There were a few live bands along the route, as well as some DJs in case the scenery wasn’t enough.

Once we reached the first turnaround and the halfway mark, I was still feeling good and I started to let my speed naturally creep up. There were aid stations about every two miles and I was taking liquids at each one, even just a mouthful, alternating between Gatorade and water.

At the second turnaround as we started to leave the beach and loop back through the neighborhoods toward the track, I let go of the watch and just ran as hard as I could. Unlike past races were I faded quite badly or had my IBTs tighten up to the point were I was almost limping home, I finished strong, really strong, passing a lot of people, beating my prediction and grabbing a new PR.

New PR by over 3 mins
New PR by over 3 mins!

 

In retrospect, maybe I was a little too conservative in the first part of the race. Next time, I think I might try to lower my overall average mile time a bit and smooth out the overall splits. Still, it’s hard to complain about setting a PR. I ran the race I planned: rehearse for the marathon, stay on pace early, finish strong. The second half of my run was 2:33 faster than the first half and each 5k reflected the plan to pace than build to a finish (23:33, 23:49 (checking my pace on purpose), 23:06, 21:38). Hard to really complain too much.

Stick to the plan = happy race! And negative splits.
Stick to the plan = happy race! And negative splits.

Post-race
They had the medals being handed out, finisher photos and water in the chute. The rest of the snacks and drinks were inside the track. The spread was a little thin for such a large event. Bananas, oranges, strawberries(?), more water, and Oreos.

There was also a large beer garden and live band (maybe this is where the money went), however the beer garden didn’t open until 10:30 while most of the 13.1 racers (the 5k was done) were finishing between 9 and 9:30. A long time to hang around. I saw a lot of people trying to give away beer tickets.

Pros/Cons
Pro
– nicely designed tech shirt (so many race shirts are ugly)
– an abundance of bathrooms
– well run race itself, plenty of aid stations
– nice middle section by the water

Cons
– a little expensive (though this seems to be the growing norm)
– pre/post race logistics could be improved

Pre-Race Report: Allstate Boston Half Marathon (13.1)

allstate_half_topThis weekend’s race is serving two purposes: first, it’s a dress rehearsal for next month’s Bay State Marathon, my ‘A’ race this season. Second, it’s breaking up the 20 week training plan I’ve been on for the marathon. (If I use this plan again, I’d cut it down to 16 weeks. ) Racing is fun and a good litmus test to see if all the miles, tempos and intervals are paying off.

The Course
The race is actually at Suffolk Downs a horse race track in East Boston, not the city proper. The half marathon course is an out and back course that hugs the coast up toward the north shore. Should be nice views, but could be cold and windy off the water if the weather is bad. Right now it looks good (after a surprise burst of heat this week).

Pre-race Plan
As a dress rehearsal for the marathon, I want to test out my pre-race routine (this race starts at 7:30, the marathon at 8),  and nutrition.

During the race, I want to focus on early pacing. I need to keep the pace under control. My two previous halves, I’ve been too aggressive early and really paid for it in the last third. I know I will pay double if I burn too many matches early in a marathon. I want to finish strong. After the halfway mark, if I feel good, I’ll let go and run by feel. If not, I’ll keep pacing and treat the day as a catered training day.

I also want to test out clothes and shoes. After running the past two years in more minimal shoes, I found my feet aching after long runs and recently switched to a, still neutral, but more padded shoes (New Balance 750v2). We are still getting used to each other. A little worried about a persistent hotspot on my right foot.

Finally, I want to practice my nutrition. I’ve been pretty consistent during my long runs with the gels, food, salt pills and blocks, and have not had any issues, but want to put them through a race environment. Along with the fuel and race belts.

Goals
1. Practice my race routines

2. Stay on pace early

3. Finish strong

4. Set a half PR

5. Smile/Have fun

Predictions
1:37:22 – I actually set a half marathon PR last week during a 16 mile long run, lowering it almost two minutes, from 1:40:52 to 1:38:46, so I know the training is paying off. If I can find that flow again, I think I can drop it even further.

Race Review: James Joyce Ramble 10k

Costumed readers
Costumed readers

The James Joyce Ramble is a 10k (about 6.25 miles for you non-metric fans) road race held in Dedham, Massachusetts, a town roughly fifteen miles south of Boston. It’s a race with some history (this year was the 30th running) that attracts a wide and diverse field that typically numbers around two thousand. This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve ran it. The unique aspect of this race is that the course is lined with costumed performers reading from Joyce. Really. It adds a little bit of a surreal atmosphere. It’s also the only race I know of that starts with a gong.

 

Pre-Race
The race itself starts at the Endicott estate, which is a large, mostly open area surrounding an estate house on a residential street. It’s actually a great space for post-race festivities, but can get a bit cramped and bottle-necked if you are one of the two thousand registering on race day pickup or trying to find a parking spot. There are options to pick up the Friday and Saturday before (the race is on Sunday), both on-site and off. If you can swing it, I’d recommend that approach rather than on race day. You don’t want to wait in line for your bib/chip then go right back into a line for the port-o-pots (there’s always lines).

I opted to register (avoiding the ‘convenience’ charge of registering online) in person and pick up on the Friday prior to the race at an off-site shopping mall. This had worked well for me in past years, but this time it sort of backfired. This year the race was also serving as the US 10K Masters Championship and it must have swelled the field and resources a bit. By the time I made it over to register after work, they had run out of timing chips. I was able to register, but had to swap my temporary bib for a chipped bib on race day sort of defeating the whole point of pre-race registering and avoiding any leg draining race day lines.

 

After the gong...
After the gong…

Race Day
The leisurely 11 a.m. start makes fueling on race day less of a challenge than the early morning races. I ate a typical breakfast. A bowl of cereal with coconut milk and an English muffin with almond butter at 7 along with a cup of coffee. Driving to the race I had a banana and sipped some water. Ten minutes before the start I ate 2 dates. That was it. You don’t need to stress too much on a 10k with nutrition just make sure the tanks are topped off. My typically strategy is not to get cute and just do what has worked in the past on regular weekend training days.

As mentioned above, the residential area start can make parking a challenge. This year, it appeared some of the surrounding business on the closest commercial strip were also patrolling their lots to keep runners from parking there. If you can get there early, there are limited on-site spots otherwise be prepared to hunt down one of the limited spots nearby and walk a bit, just the thing you want to do before a 10k!

Luckily, the bib swap ended up being a non-factor as they had plenty of volunteers to register and help runners.

Despite numerous port-of-potties, that were strategically laid out around the edge of the estate, lines were still long, but not unbearable. I’ve seen much, much worse.

Weather this year was warm for the end of April in the Northeast with temps around 70, bright sun and some humidity. Not awful, sounds nice actually, but not ideal for most folks coming off four months of snow and ice. Two weeks after the marathon bombing there was also a noticeably increased police and security presence.

 

ramble_elevation
Tougher than it looks!

Course
This is not an easy course. Just looking at the elevation map might not make it look like much, but don’t be fooled. While most of the first half is downhill, the second half is decidedly uphill with two steep rollers back-to-back right past the halfway mark that really take a bite out of your legs. If that wasn’t punishment enough the final half mile to the finish is a lung-crushing, gradual climb, as well.

The other thing worth mentioning is that the residential street start makes for a cramped and slow start. If you plan on trying to run fast it’s worth moving over to the start line early and staking out a spot near the front and left side of the street.

 

My Plan
Knowing that those twin hills were looming, my plan was to go out conservatively, let the tight pack at the start pace me a bit, attack those hills and hang on for that uphill finish. In terms of nutrition, I had one more date that I carried in case I needed a boost of sugar (didn’t need it) and with water stops almost every mile, I took it as needed (I think I hit three of the stops).

 

Results

Good splits
Good splits

My plan to go out easy and reverse split the last half of the race didn’t really materialize, but not in a totally bad way. My mile splits were remarkably even for a shorter, hilly race. I’ve seen some big swings in past splits. I think the weather also had an effect. One downside to the late morning start was the noon day sun. Most of the race offers little sustained shade and it takes a toll running on the hot asphalt especially early in the year. So overall, while I didn’t quite execute my plan (or hit a PR for this race), I was happy with my results given the course and the conditions.

159   84/394 M2039  44:25   43:56  7:05   Mike Donohue (2013)

163    80/444 M2039   43:38  43:33  7:01  Michael Donohue (2012)

217    97/362 M2039   46:51   46:17  7:27  Michael Donohue (2010)

(Ack! I think I’ve blocked the 2010 race from my memory. Can’t remember what happened.)

 

ramble_afterparty
After party

Post Race
One place this race really shines is the after party. The large green space finally pays dividends as runners and spectators are able to spread out, enjoy live music, free (good) beer (Harpoon), quality snacks (from Whole Foods) and a pasta buffet. It’s a nice family friend atmosphere that invites you to linger and hang out with fellow runners.

 

Recap
This is a race I plan to continue running for many years in the future. It’s a well-organized race with a challenging course, early in the season that really gut checks where you are in your training. To top it off, the post-race food, beer garden and family friendly atmosphere makes it a good race to bring the whole family. Definitely recommended to any Northeast runner.

 

Ready…Set….Go….2013

The start of my 2013 is here

I’m looking out my window and fresh snow is falling on the existing three feet high snowbanks along the driveway and I’m questioning the sanity of starting my season in February while living in the Northeast. In past years, I’ve eased into the season with 5Ks in March, typically around St. Patty’s Day, and typically with a race that featured a pint at the end. This year, perhaps to keep me motivated to up the annual mileage or just to avoid using my paternity leave as a crutch to slack off, I chose the Old Fashioned Ten Miler in Foxboro tomorrow as my first race of the 2013 season. One part of me (the type A part) is looking at it as a challenge. Snow, wind, black ice, sub-zero temps? Bring it on. The other part of me is itching to scrap it and log a few miles on the treadmill in the basement next to the percolating warmth of the boiler room.

A Quick Recap of 2012

First, a quick look back. The further I get away from 2012, the more mellow I become about the results. After the last 5k in December, I felt pretty down on the season despite setting two PRs and finishing another half marathon. My big goal for the first part of 2012 was strength and speed work with the benchmark being breaking 20:00 for a 5k. Believe it or not, of the 6 5k’s I ran in 2012, I ran each between 20:00 and 20:12. If you’re feeling generous, you might give me that one. I hit 20:00 on the nose, but never dipped under it. A new PR, but not a gold star for my goal.

The second PR was in the Finish at the 50 10k at Gillette stadium on a pretty hot July 3rd. I finished 16th in my age group and posted a 42:39. Not too shabby, but I put a mental asterisk next to this one as the first kilometer or so is on a serious downhill, so a steep hill-aided PR.

The big goal for the second half of ’12 was completing my second half marathon and improving on my first time at Rock N Roll Providence (1:40:52). I did finish the race (the flat Smuttynose Rockfest in Hampton), but failed to top my Providence time as both IT bands tightened painfully around mile 10 (up to that point, I was very pleased with my nutrition and pacing) and the last three miles were finished at a hobbling limp. Net result? Two minutes slower than Providence (1:42:50). Errr.

Goal Setting for 2013

2013 includes my first tri
2013 includes my first tri

Time to put the 2013 goals in writing to ensure a little accountability.

  1.  First Tri
    The big goal for ’13 is my first triathlon. I chose a sprint one, USAT certified, but with a capped field that I hope will provide both a gentle introduction to the sport and a fun experience. This is local and in mid-July. Ramping up cycling and re-learning to swim should be interesting learning experiences.
  2. Full marathon or Multiple half marathons
    Haven’t completely made up my mind about this one. Given that we have a new baby and being cognizant of how much time it would take to train the way I’d like for a full marathon, it makes me leery of stepping up to the full this year. If I chose a full, I’d aim for one in mid-October. Maybe the Bay State. If I go multiple halves, the Ocean State Triple Crown series looks fun.
  3. Continue focus on flexibility
    I am not flexible. Never have been, but as I work to take on more endurance races and get older, I’m increasingly aware of how better flexibility can aid training, recovering and prevent nagging injuries (see the IT band issues above). Last year, I did yoga fairly regularly, I’d like to continue that and be better about consistent foam rolling on a weekly basis.
  4. Stay on a plant-based diet
    I plan to write about this more soon, but since December I’ve been eating a largely plant-based diet and really feeling the benefits in all aspects of my life: sleep, work, energy for playing with the kids, training. The plan is to keep this up for the rest of 2013.

That seems like a solid, challenging, yet achievable list.

Potential 2013 Events

Here are the events I’m eying for early in 2013.

Here are the events I’m considering now for the latter part of the 2013

Conclusion

So after a so-so 2012, I’m ready to push harder into 2013. It all starts tomorrow in the snow, sleet and wind.

 

flickr cc photo attributions: shawn allen, ella baker center, through my eyes only

5 Rules for Managing a Book Club

Diversity is key

I’m not one for small talk. I’m not good at it and I rarely see the point. All the idle chatter is time better spent reading in my opinion. Unless the talk is about books, of course. Then pull up a chair. Let me buy you a drink. If you’re the type of person that views carrying a book as a necessary escape hatch for any excursion outside your front door, then you are my people, no questions asked. There is little I like more than reading, browsing, chatting or arguing about books. Book stores are my pilgrimage and book clubs are my catnip. At my day job, the one meeting I will not view askew is the monthly book club. It’s one hour where time doesn’t drag on and business buzz words don’t choke the air. It’s my oasis in the management wilderness.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to cultivate and maintain such a swath of erudite discussion among the cubes. After two years, I’ve come to some conclusions about the best ways to run a successful book club. Continue Reading