Chasing the Unicorn … but not very fast

Somehow still running at the finish

I ran a race on Sunday called Chasing the Unicorn. It’s supposed to be a fast, flat course to help runners achieve a PR or qualify for Boston. The Unicorn is a reference to the Boston logo.

It was a fun race, but I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I finished in 3:53, which was pretty far off from my BQ time of 3:35. Here are a couple of reasons I think it didn’t go so well:

  • My first half was really strong – maybe too strong. I needed to run 8:12 minutes/mile to get to my goal time, and I did 8:02s for the first 6.5 miles. I was still on pace at the half marathon – just around 8:15s, which is close, but going so fast early on may have cost me later.
  • It was really, absurdly hot. You might remember this excellent analysis on what it would take to run a 2-hour marathon (if you haven’t read this, do now). Optimal race temperature for elite athletes is 35*F, and for amateur/middle pack athletes is 45*F. When we started, it was 71*F. When finished, it was 84*F. The humidity in this race, especially in the second half, was really challenging.
  • I probably wasn’t recovered from my ultra two weeks ago. Apparently you need longer than two weeks after a 36-mile race to get back to peak running form. I wasn’t feeling super strong the week leading up to this race – nothing like I’d felt the week leading up to Moosalamoo – so I’d had an idea that Unicorn wasn’t going to be as fast as I’d liked. That said, it’s always important to push hard – no excuses.

The results: 3:53 finish, as mentioned. Pretty miserable splits. I came in 85th out of 179 finishers, and 21st out of 58 women, which is surprisingly non-terrible for how terrible my performance was. 23 runners (more than 10% of the field) did not finish, so it was a tough day. I feel good about my overall effort level during this race, even if the results weren’t what I would have liked.

I’m using this race as motivation for the next one. I’ve got New York coming up in Novemeber, then Northface 50-miler in SF in December, and possibly one more before the end of the year. I’ve never used a training schedule before – a legitimate one that I didn’t just make up on the fly – so I may try that for the next 10 weeks. Let’s see how it goes …


How to Run Your First Ultra

Someone recently asked me about my first race. The story’s a little strange: I ran an ultramarathon before running an organized marathon. Here’s the story about how that decision – to run an ultra, poorly trained – came about.

When I moved to Sacramento, I signed up for Lake of the Sky Trail Run, a 36.4 mile race. I signed up for it just so I would have something to train for. I wanted to make sure my new 9-5 lifestyle would include running. All I knew about Lake Tahoe was that a lot of people went there for vacation.

An ultramarathon is defined, technically, as any distance longer than 26.2 miles.  So, if you finish your marathon and run another 1/10th of a mile, you’re there.  However, most races aren’t 26.3 miles. The shortest generally-accepted ultramarathon distance is a 50k, or 31 miles, which is just less than five miles longer than a marathon.

For the first few miles of Lake of the Sky, I fell into step with a couple of women.  I think they were doing about a 9-minute pace. They were talking very intelligently about the need to train for races like this. Their opinion, which I now share, was that, with a little training, anyone can run a distance like this within a reasonable amount of time.

The farthest I had run prior to this ultramarathon was a 26.2 miles; I had run a single unsupported marathon about a year prior. Since then, my longest distance was around 20 miles. Not only that, but I didn’t realize that Lake Tahoe is at 7,000 feet of elevation. Bad decisions all around. Continue reading

Boston Marathon Race Report: It Does Not Matter How Slow You Go …

This is a picture of Smoot Bridge in Boston, the bridge measured in Smoots (the height of a guy named George Smoot. Read about it: )

Boston Marathon: I don’t even know where to start. In the style of Dickens, It was the hardest race I’ve run, and the easiest race I’ve ever run. It was the fastest, and the slowest. It was the most isolating race and the most friendly race.

To be sure, it was certainly the hottest race I’ve ever run. Temperatures were 90F towards the end of the race. The Boston Athletic Association offered an unprecedented option to defer racing due to the heat; about 4,300 people (15% of racers) deferred to run next year. 2,000 participants (10% of the field), received medical attention.

My finish time was 4:28 ish, which is about 2 minutes/mile slower than my qualifying time [3:35:05]. I’m just happy I didn’t end up on a stretcher. You can see my splits here (my bib number was 15030).

In terms of the actual race, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. I qualified at the Santa Rosa Marathon last year, with a time of 3:35:05. As mentioned, I had no plans to run Boston at a pace even close to that. Continue reading

So Long as You Do Not Stop

MIT, Cambridge, MA

Currently: relaxing before the Boston Marathon tomorrow. It’s supposed to be very hot. Check out this strongly-worded announcement from the Boston Athletic Association.

I took this picture earlier while wandering around Cambridge. This is on MIT’s campus. I liked how alien the construction looked – like something beings from another planet would have built. When I think about the warm race tomorrow, my mental picture is tinted this hot orange color.

From the announcement:

The weather situation continues to be a significant concern for Boston Marathoners. We have determined that the race will occur in a “red zone” which is considered an increased risk but acceptable for high-level elite runners. However, it is not considered safe for unfit and novice runners.

Those who are running the race should run much slower, adding several minutes to your per mile pace.

Continue reading

Boston Marathon – Pre-Race Ponderings

Took this last night at dusk, near MIT in Cambridge.

Last year, I qualified for Boston with a 3:35:05 marathon. I’ll be running the Boston Marathon on Monday.  Here are a few things I’m thinking about as the race approaches.

It’s no big deal.

I’ve run almost four times as far before. A marathon isn’t a super long race. It’s comparable to most solo long-runs I do on the weekends.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Qualifying for Boston is actually really hard. Sometimes I wonder how it was possible that I ran that fast, and I wonder if I’ll ever run that fast again. 8:12 miles for 26.2 miles is pretty impressive, even though it doesn’t feel like it.

Also, my parents think this is pretty cool; they flew out from California to cheer me on.

I’m not planning to run a PR.

  • I’m injured. The knee is feeling a lot better, but it’s still not at 100%.
  • It’s going to be hot. The weather forecast predicts a high of 87 degrees. The Boston Athletic Association just sent out an email recommending that inexperienced runners don’t run this race. In fact, because the weather is so bad, BAA is offering deferred entry to the 2013 race. That pretty much never happens. It doesn’t look like they’ve updated the website yet, but here’s verbatim what they said in the email:

We are now making the recommendation that if you are not highly fit or if you have any underlying medical conditions (for example-cardiac disease, pulmonary disease or any of a number of medical problems), you should NOT run this race.

Due to the unusually warm weather forecast for the Boston area on Monday, the B.A.A. will defer the entry of those official entrants to the 2013 Boston Marathon for participants who decide not to race.

This will be the only time I run this marathon.

I like races where you show up, get out of your car, then start running. When you finish, you get back in your car and drive away. Easy, fast, low-stress, and no room for error.

This particular marathon, logistically, is very complex. Packet pickup is several days before the race. Runners have to ride a bus to the start line – a full three hours before the race actually begins – then wait around in corrals until their gun. The registration process was equally complex.

I like simple races.

Track me if you want to, but don’t expect blazing speeds.

My bib number is 15030. You can track me online, of via text messaging. Tracking information here.

Summary: this will be a fun, slow race.

The entire city of Boston is pretty excited about this race, and I hear that most of the course has people cheering on the sidelines. Clearly I’m not going to be running this very quickly, so I plan to take my time and fully enjoy the experience of running the world’s oldest annual marathon.