Saturday, October 26, 2013

Race Recap: The Runway 5K

The Runway 5K is an amazing racing experience, and today I got to be a part of it. I ran on the runway and taxiways at the Charlotte Douglas Airport as jumbo jets taxied, took off, and landed, seemingly perilously close to the runners!

The Runway 5K was also going to be a PR effort for me. I was hoping to better the PR I set last year at the Big South 5K.

My previous PR was an 18:03, 5:48 per mile. I had decided to shoot for a 5:40 pace, to ensure I'd be below 18 minutes even if the course was a little long.

Several members of our running group would be joining me for the race, and we all drove down together: Jenn Senos, who is getting ready for a marathon and recovering from an ankle injury; Joe Rao, a 33-minute 10Ker who is looking to get back in shape after a busy travel month; Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti, a 2-time Olympian in the steeplechase who tends to win every local race he enters; and Stacy Hensley, who claimed she was there mostly just to have fun but ended up running a great race as well. Joe said he'd just be treating this as a "tempo run," so I asked if he'd be interested in pacing me and he said "sure!" (normally Joe would be way ahead of me in a 5K!)

We arrived at the airport on a frigid morning and I could see almost instantly that this would be no ordinary race. We were an hour early and already hundreds of cars filled the parking area. A stream of visitors headed towards the starting area, and we were all subjected to security bag-checks (albeit a little less exhaustive than the TSA variety). The staging area for the race was a vast area of tarmac featuring awesome vintage airplanes. Here I am with some friends getting ready for the start:

From left: C-130, Dexter, Joe, Me, DC-18

And here are some more friends:

Dexter, Joe, Jenn, and Stacy and a couple of their flying buddies

After a couple-mile warm-up where Joe and I verified that the race indeed finishes on a downhill, we stripped off our sweats and made our way up to the starting line. With over 1,500 runners it would be important to get close to the front. I felt a little rude pushing my way past hundreds of runners, but consoled myself with the thought that most folks would probably prefer it this way to me passing them at my planned 5:40 pace. Then I decided I was being arrogant. Then I decided I was just being realistic. By then, I was about two rows back from the starting line, which seemed like a good place to be, so I decided not to worry about it and concentrate on the race.

The Runway 5K is known for late starts, so we were all a little surprised when the officiant started us right on time on "go," with not even a "ready, set" to prepare us! It didn't take long to get up to stride, and within a half-mile, Joe and I were running side by side with perhaps only 7 runners ahead of us. Fam, naturally, had blazed into the lead, with Bert Rodriguez close on his heels. 

We turned onto the runway itself, where yet another jetliner was parked. Stacy managed to get a great photo of it as she passed:


I had a chance to glance at my watch, which read 5:37, pretty close to my planned pace of 5:40. "Keep it up, Dave!" shouted Joe. We cruised across the first mile marker at 5:40 flat, with just 5 runners ahead of us.

I had been concerned about Mile 2, because it was mostly a straight, flat stretch on the taxiway and I thought it would feel long and desolate, but we were very close to an active runway, and it was simply amazing to watch the giant jets taking off and landing as we ran next to them. Ahead I could see Fam, still in the lead, turning off the runway and heading back towards the start/finish. I'm pretty sure, other than on out-and-back courses, that this was the farthest along a race I could ever see Fam ahead of me.

We were keeping up the 5:40 pace as we passed the first water stop, on our way out of the runway/taxiway area and back onto the airport access road. This was the section Joe and I had been able to run in our warm-ups, so we knew that about a quarter-mile into Mile 3, we'd get a nice downhill stretch to the finish. We crossed the Mile 2 marker at a 5:41 pace, still doing great.

Then the race got tough. Suddenly I was laboring for every breath. Joe said "that's all I got, Dave, you go ahead." I pushed forward, now more aware of the unevenness of the road, which seemed almost to be a slight uphill. But perhaps this sensation was just due to the fact that I didn't have a pacer any more. "Go, Dave!" Joe shouted, still running behind me. I looked at my watch and saw my pace beginning to slip -- 5:45, 5:47...

...but I could see a turn ahead, where I knew I'd get solid downhill relief. I pushed harder, and somehow kept my pace from slowing further. I turned the corner, looking back to see how far behind Joe was. "Run, Munger! Run!" he shouted, about 30 yards back. I kept pushing, grateful to get the boost from the downhill. Unfortunately it only lasted about a third of a mile; soon we were heading back into the active airport.

As I passed through the gate back onto the tarmac, I heard footsteps behind me. Was that Joe? No, it was a woman passing me. It was all I could do to maintain my 5:44 pace; I couldn't stay with her. Joe was shouting "you can catch her, Dave!" Uh, no I couldn't.

Now I could see airplanes parked on the tarmac. Was that the starting area, or just other random planes? As I passed one of them, I could see the finish line. "Push it, Dave!" Now Joe had caught up with me and wanted me to follow him in as he sprinted to the finish. My Mile 3 split was 5:44, but it came a little before the actual marker. Could I pull this off, or was the course going to be long?

Then I saw the finish line clock: 17:33, 17:34, 17:35... I was going to make it! I summoned one last burst of speed as someone in the crowd yelled "Go Dave!" 

Joe crossed the line just ahead of me, then turned around and flashed a huge smile. "That was AWESOME!" he said. "You crushed it!" As I gasped for breath I turned to look at my watch, which I had somehow managed to stop as I crossed the line. It read 17:49.

Really? 17:49? It was a huge PR, by 14 seconds, on a totally-legit full 5K course. I was astonished. Soon Fam was there, congratulating me too, asking what I'd been doing in my training to pull this off.

Fam had won the race, Joe was 7th, and I was 8th in a huge field. Next Dexter came across the line with a new PR, and then Jenn was there, having won her age group, and Stacy finished second in her age group — a near-perfect day for DART!

Here I am getting my first-in-age group medal (unfortunately there were no masters awards in this event—I would have been the first masters finisher):

My favorite photo of the day is probably this one, which I took of Fam after the race:

Fam tweeted "Won the Runway 5k this morning in painfully cold weather. They gave me this plane as the award ;)"

All in all a great race; I'd highly recommend it!

Below is my Garmin record of the race:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Race Preview: The Runway 5K

I've signed up for a couple 5K races in the next few weeks in an attempt to set a new 5K PR. My current PR is 18:03, set last year at the Big South 5K. My GPS measured that course a little short, so this year I've signed up for races that should give me an "honest" record. First up is the Runway 5K, a very popular race in Charlotte because it actually happens at the Charlotte Douglas Airport. You run on a taxiway while jumbo jets take off and land only a short distance away.

The course is known to be flat and fast, but maybe just a little long. Here's the MapMyRun map of the race that a friend of mine made from last year's event:

As you can see, it's not perfectly flat. It's also about 3.17 miles, or just over the standard 5K distance of 3.1 miles. But the hills on the course play to my strengths, with a slight uphill near the start and a downhill finish.

To hit an 18:03 requires a 5:48 pace on a perfectly-accurate course. So just to be sure, I'm going to shoot for a 5:40 pace. If the course is true-to-length that would give me about a 17:30 overall time, and if it's 3.17 miles long, I should still finish just under 18 minutes at 17:58. That is, assuming I can maintain that pace for the whole race!

My biggest worry for tomorrow will be the weather. It is currently forecast to be around 35 degrees at race time, which is a touch cooler than I'd like it—but it's an improvement from earlier in the week when the overnight low was predicted to be as cool as 27! Right now the forecast calls for very low winds, just 2 mph, which also bodes well.

When the weather was slated to be cooler I was actually considering wearing tights for the race, something I've never done for a 5K, but now that the temps are above freezing I think I will be wearing a more standard racing outfit. I still think I will wear a short-sleeved compression shirt and gloves rather than a singlet.

The toughest part of the race will almost certainly be the middle mile, a long, straight, flat haul on a taxiway that will probably feel like it never ends. If I can sustain my pace for that section, I feel like I'll be able to hang on for that downhill finish.

I had a pretty good workout on Wednesday that also bodes well -- a 4-mile tempo run that I completed at an average 6:17 pace. Although I was extremely tired after an uphill third mile, I was able to recover quickly and finish strong. At the Runway 5K, with a flat-to-downhill finish, along with the adrenaline of race day, I think a faster pace is definitely within reach.

Details of Wednesday's workout are below.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Quick Recap: The Uptown Throwdown

So, this weekend I was supposed to be pacing my friend Val Wrenholt at the Grindstone 100 mile endurance race. But thanks to some grandstanding congresscritters, the Forest Service informed the race directors that the race would have to be suspended.

Initiate plan B: The Uptown Throwdown relay in Charlotte, NC. This is a 12-hour relay race in the heart of Charlotte. I signed up on Thursday and joined Team Circuit -- four of us would be alternating 4-mile legs, and I hoped to do about 20 miles.

On race day, it turned on that only one other member of the team could make it -- that meant there were just two of us. I told my teammate that I was only good for about 20 miles either way, and he was okay with that -- we just might be throwing in the towel early.

Weather was nice in the morning but it was looking to be an unseasonably warm day. I went out at what felt like a comfortable pace and found myself leading what looked to be about 10 or 15 teams.

First loop: 3.95 miles, 28:27, 7:12/mile pace

There was a lavish spread of food at the start / finish, and I decided to limit myself to just one donut per loop. I had a chocolate donut, and before I knew it, Chad was done with his loop and I had to go out again.

Second loop: 3.92 miles, 28:15, 7:12/mile pace

This time I decided to try the mini-brownie cupcakes. They were delicious, and since they were mini-size, it wouldn't hurt to have two, would it? And maybe some coffee to wash it down.

Once again, Chad returned quickly and I was back out on the path. It was a fairly narrow greenway along a creek and this time there was some sort of walking event going on and I found myself dodging people, their kids, and their dogs, the entire way. Nonetheless I managed to complete the third loop even faster:

Third loop: 4 miles, 28:15, 7:03/mile pace

When I returned, Chad had negotiated a merger with another team, "Chafing the Dream," and so I wouldn't have to run for another couple hours! I enjoyed hanging out with the group and chatting, and eating even more junk food. The temperature began to get quite warm. I had it at 88 degrees at one point during the day. Finally it was my turn to run again.

Fourth loop: 3.87 miles, 26:56, 6:57/mile pace

Now it was really getting hot, but with the longer breaks, it seemed like I'd be able to maintain my steadily improving pace. I'd run almost 16 miles, and I would put it all out there for one final loop. Unfortunately, for this loop, there was yet another walking event along about a mile and a half of the greenway. It was wall-to-wall people. I took to the grass and dirt alongside the greenway and tried to maintain a 6:40 pace. Somehow I managed quite well.

Fifth loop: 3.92 miles, 26:26, 6:44/mile pace

Overall I ended up running 19.65 miles at an average pace of 7:02 per mile. I'm not sure how our team placed, or even how to account for the fact that the teams had been running separately for almost three hours before merging. But much junk food was consumed, much socializing occurred, and a good time was had by all. Fun way to while away the day!

My Garmin record of the event is below.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

More thoughts about my pacing strategy for Lungstrong

Over at Science-Based Running, I've written an explanation of why I think my pacing strategy for the Lungstrong 15K didn't work. Here's a taste:

That’s what happened during my 15k. The slowest downhill sections were also the longest downhill sections (which makes some sense, since those hills weren’t as steep). Instead of averaging 6:11 on those hills, when I take the length of the hills into account, I actually averaged 6:21! Put that together with my 6:31 pace for my uphills, account for the fact that I ran a longer distance downhill than uphill, and you arrive at my 6:25 average pace, which wasn’t fast enough to overcome my GPS error.

Head on over there to read the whole thing.