2:00:25

The greatest part, deep in the East-coast post-midnight night,  long after I should have been asleep, came at the end when the hero failed but in trying still accomplished something remarkable, and still smiled, still high-fived, still shook hands and signed autographs, was celebrated by the phalanx of superstars who had made sacrifices to help him make history. It was gracious. It was class. It made Eliud Kipchoge an even more likeable megawatt superstar, as admirable for his demeanor and workman-like simplicity as he is for his rocket-hot running.

(Race begins at about 29:40 of the video)

How do you define failure? How do you define success? When the goal you set is outlandish and audacious, when the goal you set represents a giant jump in human and technical performance, do you have to meet the goal in order to succeed?

The goal was to run a 1:59:59, and outrageous 3-minute reduction in the world-best marathon time. And Kipchoge with his stony expression and ultra-smooth gait stormed deeper and deeper into history, striding along behind the rotating pacers at an historical pace for an historical distance. Somewhere in the 25th mile, he began to yo-yo a bit, and then the pace car wasn’t quite as close as it used to be, and then it disappeared around the bend, and in the end, Kipchoge missed the goal by 26 seconds, or something in the range of 175 meters.

In doing so, he ran the fastest 26.2 miles of all time, not by a little, but by a huge margin–nearly two and a half minutes. The effort got him hoisted on the shoulders of the pacing crew, such was the accomplishment. He did make history. He made his own history, a mark set by his body and mind rather than by a clock or a corporation. And it was so damn pretty to watch.

I will likely never forget the moment when the last of the pacers stepped aside and slowed to a stop on the finishing straight. Throughout the last lap, they had been turning to Kipchoge and encouraging him, whipping him along with their effort and enthusiasm as Kipchoge’s seemingly bottomless capacity to suffer and push was finally plumbed to its limits. Bernard Lagat, himself a luminary among luminaries, hopped up and down, waving Kipchoge toward the finish line, pushing him with will and enthusiasm once pulling him along with his pace was finished.

So what was this? A marathon? A lab experiment? A multi-media marketing magnum opus? A Stupid Human Trick? A little bit of each. It was a beautifully orchestrated performance exercise. It was bit of beautiful and compelling video. It was science and technology blending with the best marathoner in history and two other guys who at the very least are accessories to history. It was an affirmation that Nike continues to be at the forefront of exploring what humans can do, in a way that no other athletic company is even flirting with (in both good and bad ways).

I can’t avoid congratulating Zirsenay Tadese on crushing his personal best. Nike took a risk bringing him into the project because of his spotty marathon history, but I really began to love watching him run as I scoured YouTube for his races. He didn’t shy away from the task, and showed the half-marathon superstar that he is.

And Lelisa Desisa, it wasn’t your day. I don’t think you ever looked comfortable, but you got to the finish line even if it wasn’t pretty, and we are going to see you breaking the tape again in a big city in the very near future, and hopefully again and again.

I’ll be eagerly watching the fall’s marathon majors to see how Eliud Kipchoge’s effort in Monza affects how real races are run and paced. Whether this has been a moment of revolution will be seen within the next six months. It’s a fascinating and challending time in running.

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It’s Breaking2 Time!

The buzz around the running world today is the impending events on the Formula 1 track in Monza, Italy, where three Nike-sponsored athletes, along with a Tesla and a phalanx of pacers, will take a legitimate shot at getting someone to run to sub-2-hour marathon. It might be a great accomplishment of athleticism, science, and technology, it might be a grand-scale Stupid Human Trick, it might be history. We’ll see, starting tonight around 11:45 Eastern Time. You’d better believe I’m staying up after the Penguins-Capitals game to watch it.

I have my predictions. I don’t think they’ll do it. It’s too big of a jump from where the world mark is right now. Only eight people in history have run under 2:04:00. Wilson Kipsang, who is the only person to run sub-2:04 four times, is sponsored by adidas and therefore will not be running. And only one person in history, Dennis Kimetto, has gone sub-2:03. Likewise, he is an adidas athlete, and will not be improving on his world record of 2:02:57.

Eliud Kipchoge is the best hope according to experts and common sense. He has the third fastest marathon of all time on a record-eligible course, and of all the races I have seen him in, I don’t think I have once seen him in real distress. I’m quite certain that he can go below the current record when it’s only the record at stake, and not winning a race. I expect him to finish in the 2:01:00 area.

The other two athletes, Lelisa Desisa and half-marathon world record-holder Zirsenay Tadese, will play roles in the attempt, specifically getting Kipchoge through maybe 17 or 18 miles in good company, but it doesn’t seem as if either one has a particularly good chance to approach the 2-hour barrier. Neither one has a decent history of ultra-elite times.

For those unfamiliar with the plan, the three runners will be joined by six pacesetters at a time, and they will complete about 17 laps of the “junior” circuit at Monza. At intervals throughout the race, fresh pacers will mix into the group to best maintain the extraordinary speed required–about a 4:34/mile pace. And they will all be following a Tesla (read: no fumes) set up with a display of time and pace, also driving at the right speed for the runners to keep up with. So to an extent, this is what cyclists would refer to as motor-pacing.

It’s a little bit of a shame that corporate sponsorship has fragmented the quest for the two-hour marathon. It really would be something to see Kipsang and Kipchoge going for it together, and it could be argued that Kipsang as much as anyone has a shot at the accomplishment. And I feel as if these two, the two premier marathoners of our time, have been avoiding each other a bit, perhaps in their bids to accumulate World Marathon Majors points. Going head-to-head, and pushing each other, who knows what time they could produce. This pairing would certainly produce better results deeper into the distance than Desisa and Tadese will be able to provide.

I am both doubtful and hopeful. I hope that it is not over early, and that Kipchoge stays on pace deep into the distance. I even hope that he manages to do it, even if it is not a real race, even if it is pretty much just a marketing stunt for a new way of building running shoes. It will still be beautiful. Kipchoge is a beautiful runner and a 1:59:59 effort would be beautiful in its own right.

The attempt will be live-streamed several places online. I’ll be watching at runnersworld.com. Assuming the weather is deemed to be acceptable, coverage will begin about 11:45 p.m. Friday night, or 6:45 a.m. Saturday in Monza.

Gentlemen, be fast!

Shoes: Salomon Speedcross Vario

speedcrossvario-1

Here are the new shoes: The Salomon Speedcross Vario. I’ve gotten to run about 20 miles in them so far, so they are still new, although a few encounters with mud mean they aren’t so shiny anymore. But I always say that clean shoes are ugly shoes, and these shoes sure are pretty.

The Speedcross Vario is designed to be a trail shoes best suited to running on firm surfaces with an eye toward improving traction. At 318g (according to Salomon’s website), they are not the lightest shoes in the world, but they are built quite substantially, and that substantive build gives them a very solid feel on the trails. One reason I like a firmer shoe on trails is that I prefer to really feel the ground contact, to have a sense of what is underfoot, and I find that I step much more confidently when I have that firm feeling. The fit of these shoes goes a long way to giving that sense of firmness and communication with the trail.

They are maybe a bit more snug than other trail shoes; this is not a shoe for someone who wants a big toe box or who is used to having lots of space for their feet. In that sense, it feels maybe a bit more like a boot than looser and lighter shoes. The heel fits snugly, which I like quite a bit, so there isn’t a sense of sliding around inside the shoe. They are also comfortable snug around the midfoot, even when laced a little loosely like I tend to do, and the forefoot is a fairly standard width.

The shoes are also a standard drop-height of 10mm, so they match well with my road shoes, and are a bit more of a drop than the other trail shoes I use.

speedcrossvario-2

The tread of the shoes is very robust, and designed for high traction. The original Speedcross was considered to be a mud shoe, and while the Vario is meant to be used on harder surfaces, the size and placement of the lugs gives this shoe great grip in all situations. Just earlier this week, we had a sudden and very short downpour, which resulted in trails that dried out very quickly, yet left puddles sporadically. These shoes are perfect for getting through conditions like that, even with the Wissahickon’s pervasive rock surfaces thrown in. The shoes respond well to all terrains I have put them through in their brief life so far, and the firmness helps to even out the texture of the trail so that I don’t have to be thinking about changing how I run on different surfaces.

If I have one slight concern about these shoes as I get used to them, it is that I can see a little side-to-side instability in them. I have rolled one of my ankle many times over the years, and I am constantly wary of how my shoes help or hinder my ankle stability. These shoes have a slightly taller stack height than what I have been using, especially in trail shoes, and that seems to require a bit more care on my part to maintain the most stable stride.

I’ll let you know how the shoes go. So far, I am pleased, and looking forward to logging the miles and the races. First up will be the Dirty German 25k next weekend.

Race Recap: Delaware Trail Triple Crown Half-Marathon, Newark, DE, April 29, 2017

My spring race schedule has been a bit of a mess since the cancellation of the Kent Island Metric Marathon. By default the Delaware Trail Triple Crown Half-Marathon became my big target race, and leading into it, I had a very good feeling. I was getting my miles in, getting my vertical gain in, and a week ago I had a really really strong 5k run, setting a new personal best by almost a full minute.

But I had been suffering from some chest congestion and some sinus stuffiness/runny nose, so I was not in the greatest health. But nothing too bad.

The night before, I went out for a light trot to loosen up. Felt good, went to bed early. Race morning, a crackin’-good thunderstorm woke me and everyone else up at 4:00 a.m., and hour before my alarm was set. I don’t think I quite got back to sleep, which wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t think much of it.

It’s a bit of a drive down to White Clay Creek State Park near Newark, but at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, there wasn’t any traffic and I got down in plenty of time to get my bib, get relaxed, and get ready.

The Course

elevation 4-29-17

The terrain for the half-marathon is gently rolling single-track through dense woods and a few small meadows. There are three sections that are somewhat significant uphill stretches, with one significantly steep downhill, and the opening few miles are predominantly downhill. There were two creek crossings.

The trails in White Clay Creek State Park are a series of linked loops, and the course this year followed the loops counter-clockwise before looping back.

race 4-29-17

The thunderstorms the night before left the trails a little bit muddy, but not terribly so. The footing was in general fine, and the trails were as technical as what I am used to running on…very few rooty/rocky sections. All in all, a lovely course with terrain that was just challenging enough to keep it interesting. This was, after all, a trail race, not simply a half-marathon through the woods.

The Race

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We started off running across a clearing in the Carpenter Recreation Area. I tried to get in the front 10 or 15 heading into the woods so that I wouldn’t get caught up in a queue on the single track. I did well, landing about 5th or 6th, and then we got into our first real series of short descents. I was going pretty well, I thought. My breathing was fine; my cough was not causing any problems, but my nose wasn’t behaving that well. Anyway, I carried on, the leaders ducking in and out of sight just up the trail. I thought I might be able to hang at this pace, around 8:30, for a bit until the uphills started.

Unfortunately, after maybe four miles, it was becoming clear that it was not my day. Even though the downhills had not been that severe, my legs were starting to go already. There just wasn’t any strength there anymore. I wasn’t gassed, I was just weak. I had a gel a bit earlier than planned, kept taking swigs from the bottle, and soldiered on.

It didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse and worse. I ran most of the first uphill, but the second two sections, running was out of the question, and even my hiking was getting slow. I got passed again and again, eventually sinking to maybe 35th or so in the field. It was tough, but I needed a good tough-it-out experience, and this was it. On the flats, I got back into my running gait and was able to keep up 8:45-9:15 pace.

It was hot, and I was downing a lot more water than I thought I would. I am certainly glad I decided to run with my bottle, despite there being ample aid stations throughout the course. I probably should have taken on some Gatorade during the race too, but I thought my gels and Cytomax would keep my nutrition in good order. Maybe not.

As the end of the course approached, I got a bit of steam back, and we hit a long, slow grinding uphill, which I usually do pretty well at. I was able to put the accelerator down a bit and pass a handful of guys who looked as if they felt about as bad as I felt, and then, coming across the clearing again in the recreation area, I was able to outkick one final guy into the finishing chute. Final time: 2:04:53, 29th place. For being a target race, that is pretty disappointing. Not so much the pace, which can be so variable in trail running, but rather the placing. I really wanted, and was well-prepared, for better.

What I Learned

I need to run uphill on trails more. I need to run fast downhill more. I don’t mind feeling gassed during a run; I know how to back off the pace and find my groove. I know how to suffer through a bad patch. But having the strength leave my legs? That was no fun. My mind and my lungs wanted to go, wanted to push. There was just nothing there. So I need to look at leg strength and how vertical training plays into that.

Next Up

I’m looking forward to a trail-running field trip with some new people this coming weekend. We’re heading into central PA to run Pinnacle Peak and Pulpit Rock. It’ll be refreshing to get out someplace new. And then, a week later, it’ll be the Dirty German 25k, on easy trails right here in Philadelphia. After that, some thinking about the fall.

See you out there.

Race Recap: Running With Team John at the Safe From The Sun 5k {Wayne, PA}

I’m not usually a 5k kind of guy, but this one was for a good cause and has a backstory to it that is very important to me.

Team John was formed in honor of a friend of mine who passed away at age 38 from melanoma. His wife has organized this team at this event the last four years, and this year, the team raised close to $5,000 for Melanoma International. The overall winner’s trophy is named after John, and Donna presents it. It was pretty special.

John was a great guy, and he was a running coach, too, establishing the cross-country team at the high school where we used to work together. So it was great to get out on a brilliant sunny day and put in three quick miles in John’s honor.

Based on a speed workout I did a couple weeks ago on the day when my first big race this spring was supposed to be held, I figured I could probably go in the 20:30 or so range for this race. The night before, I looked up the finishing times from last year, and lo and behold, the winning time was right around 20:30. So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance.

Photo Apr 23, 2 41 47 PM
The girls picked some flowers to give to me as I ran. Alas, they were on the walking course, and I was on the running course. I still got the flowers.

The course is at Wilson Farm Park in Wayne, and is a very gently rolling, easy, fast course on some road and some paved footpath. The forecast had, at some point, been for rain, but that was wrong. It was as close to a perfect spring 5k day as any reasonable person could ask for. I ran sleeveless and got the “Sun’s out, guns out” comment at the starting gate. And there at the start, it was easy to see that there were two guys who were going to run way faster than 20:30. You just don’t show up to a community 5k in an orange singlet and split-side shorts if you aren’t in general ambitious…as we started off down a gentle hill, I stuck with them, checking my watch at about 1/4 mile in. We were running a 5:30 pace and since I didn’t want to reduce myself to a quivering pile of dry heaves before the halfway point, I backed off and settled in to a far more reasonable pace.

run 4-23-17

Really, not much else to say. The course was generally downhill for the first mile, generally flat for the second, and therefore just a bit uphill in the last mile. My pace shows it…ghastly positive splits as I never quite overcame the consequences of that first 1/4 mile.

I crossed the line 5th, and was promptly given a slip saying I had finished 6th. Chipped by the guy just behind me. But whereas my training run a couple weeks ago featured a 21:09 5k split, I finished this race in 20:11, which I am of course pretty jazzed about. 6th overall, and 1st in the 40-49M group. I’ll take that at this point.

5kpr 4-23-17

Photo Apr 23, 12 43 24 PM
This is a huge travel mug. Age-group winners drink an awful lot of coffee on the go.

What I Learned

First, I need to speed train with a group of runners faster than myself. I suffer motivational deficiencies out there, and struggle to push myself much past 6:00 pace in my speedwork. But, as I was poking around the last couple days in various pacing apps and websites, it looks as if I should be trying to push my interval paces down into the 5:45-range. Which I might be able to do…I’m not sure, and I’m a couple months removed from short-interval track work. We’ll get back to that in late May.

Second, as I am looking into the future/next year or so, it is becoming more and more of a possibility that I will succumb to the inevitability of a road marathon. The actual plan is to jump to a trail 50k in the fall (I’m looking at you, Boulder Field) assuming the Dirty German 25k goes well in May. But I’ll also take a crack at another road half in the fall, and if the pace predictors know what they are talking about, then I might be in for a sub-1:32:00 time. I have said to others elsewhere that if I run 1:30:00, then I’ll enter a full marathon, and maybe 1:32:00 is close enough.

Third, the miles are helping. After Dirty German, I’ll write up a review of the training plan I have used the last two training cycles. But for now, suffice it to say that my schedule does not always allow me to run all the miles the plan wants me to run, but despite that, the legs are coming along nicely, and the occasional unplanned rest day, for example today when the to-do list was long and the rain was all-day, has kept me able to push things and stay a bit fresher. But yes. The miles are helping.

So.

I ran the race in memory of John. It was wonderful seeing his friends and family and knowing that I am part of that great group. It was wonderful running a good strong race with him on my mind. Thanks so much to all who ran, all who donated time or money, and all who work to beat melanoma.

The Race That Wasn’t

Back at the turn of the year, when I started planning out what I wanted to accomplish this spring, one small, odd race caught my imagination: The Kent Island Metric Marathon. It’s a 26.2 kilometer race, somewhere in the 17-18 mile range. It’s held on Kent Island, MD in the Chesapeake Bay, just by where my parents now live.

I was drawn to the odd distance. So many races are about a standard distance: 5k, 10k, 15k, 10-mile, 13.1 mile, 26.2 mile. I’ve always wondered why this is, why there aren’t more races that are simply races. Curses can get contorted and ungainly as they try to fit into a set distance that isn’t natural for the space they cover. Or you end up with yet another out-and-back on MLK Drive, just like every other race.

On the day when the KIMM was to have been held, there was also one of the world’s great cycling races, Paris-Roubaix (Van Avaermat! Yaaaaaah! You’re my new Cancellara). Point-to-point races are far more common in cycling. In fact, races of a set length are rare. It’s all about the course in cycling, and I like that. It gives each race something of its own, and perhaps because it’s about the course, there isn’t this impetus to race fast-and-flat, to notch up a PR on a fast course. Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders and E3 can luxuriate in the beautiful, poetic punishment of the cobblestones and not worry about what the record for the 10k is, not worry about attracting runners with the lure of a PR. Even though Van Avaermat’s race this year was in fact a course record, no one races Roubaix to set a fast time. They ride it to roll the dice on the cobbles. How many running races take this unexpected roll of the dice somehow?

Alas, the metric marathon was not held this year, and I find myself in this odd position of having designed my spring around this race and another road half-marathon which I also will not be able to run (it’s on Mothers Day…not gonna go there). Instead, I’m now falling back onto trail races, and I’m wondering what to do with all the speed I have been working on and all the rock-hopping I have been neglecting a bit.

Well, I found myself on Kent Island anyway this weekend, en route to a wedding, and I had the chance to get out for a run Saturday on the excellent Cross-Island Trail before I had to get to work. And how did the speed go? Well, it went. Once again, really a shame I did not race that day.

Run 4-8-2017

Garmin tells me that I set new 1k (I don’t think so…I’m sure this is a glitch and I have gone faster before), 5k, and 10k records, although that should be taken with a grain of salt because this was an interval workout, and not a straight tempo, so there was rest in there. Still, it was a great morning of going out and hammering. Which am I more excited about…:09 off from a 21:00 5k, or going sub-44:00 for 10k? And this during a solo training run. No one pushing me but who I brought along in my head.

Gives me confidence for the next race, a 5k coming up in a couple weeks. Goal? Let’s say 20:30. I haven’t raced a 5k in about a year and half, and I’m keen to see what running in a fast pack can do for me. After the 5k is a little endurance stunt I’m looking forward to experiencing and writing a bit about. More on that later.

Until then, see you out there!

On The Routine Of The New Best.

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I’ve already written about my long run two Sundays ago, the one in Valley Forge where I felt so good over the course of 13.5 miles. I need to add something about that run that has occurred to me in hindsight: it was a breakthrough moment. I have been, at heart, a half-marathon guy. I really love the distance: long enough for a challenge, but not so long that it is a suffer fest or becomes simply about survival. I have not yet been tempted by what sometimes seems to be the inevitability of the marathon. I am, after all, a guy who likes speed work and is always working to run a distance faster. I would rather work hard to shave two minutes off my 13.1 time than slow the pace to run the full 26.2. I like notching up new personal bests. There have been times when those don’t come too often. But these days, new bests in both speed and distance are part of the routine. I love hitting them, but I also know that they are stepping stones toward other goals down the road.

But out there on the roads of VF NHP, I had a breakthrough moment. As I floated through the closing miles of the workout, it dawned on me: running like this is exactly why people enjoy running marathons. I had gotten myself to a point where distance didn’t really matter, and I didn’t really have to think about making the relentless forward progress of long distance running. I was just going, and going, and it was lovely.

This past Sunday was also a great day. I had some passing FOMO as reports of the LOVE Run started pouring in, but I had planned to spend the afternoon logging a long run, and that’s just what I did. Not just a long run–a longest run. Those 15.00 miles were the farthest I have run at any one time. A new distance personal best. And I felt great the whole time and recovered well, too. It was a really great day.

Run 3-26-17

I’ve been having a lot of really great days recently. I am having a really great training cycle, and despite the fact that a race I was really looking forward to, the Kent Island Metric Marathon, got cancelled, I am working toward two more races this spring: a trail half marathon in April, and a road half in May. I’ll write more about the training program I have been using later, but man is it ever paying off this time around.

So much so that personal bests are becoming routine. I like staying excited about accomplishments, and I am still at a point in my running where I have not hit full fitness or full potential. I am still growing into being the kind of runner I can be, and this training cycle has been about not just nudging the line forward, but really busting a wall down and realizing that there is a whole new area of development beyond what I have done over the last two years or so. I’ve hit a new plateau that I am just starting to play around on.

In the last couple months, I have run my fastest mile of my second running life. I’ve run the furthest, then run the furthest again, and then again. I’ve had some truly magical interval workouts. I’m feeling better, stronger, more confident, and running is just more enjoyable because of all of that. I know that this trend cannot continue forever. I will hit my races this spring, max myself out, and then back off for a bit before beginning to build toward the fall season. I know that summer runs will be hard and hot and slow and thirsty. I know that at some further point, my basic running development will max out and the fact of my age will start to slow things down, but I have at least a few more years before that should begin in earnest.

In two weekends, I’ll be out there again on the long run, and I will be setting a new personal best again. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that it is a matter of course, and not a question or a surprise, to push myself on toward the next goal race and goal times.