Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Laurel Valley to Bad Creek in pictures

This past weekend I went for a backpacking trip with three friends on the Foothills Trail in North / South Carolina. Here's the story, in pictures:

Our Route. The plan was to hike 27 miles. We'll see how close we get to that

Sam, Chris, Tristan, and me at the start, full of gusto and excited for a nice, relaxing hike

First day of hiking over, easy-peasy 8 miles. Relaxing at the campsite. Just 19 to go!

Morning of Day 2; our campsite was at the top of a big waterfall!

And here we are at the viewpoint -- our first actual vista of the falls we slept above

Day two's trail was not quite as mellow as Day 1.

Chris and I take a brief break at one of the hike's many bridges.

I'm glad we didn't have to climb this staircase!

Doing our best Abercrombie modeling poses on the bridge at the bottom of the stairs

The view here was spectacular!

No campsites on the river, so Sam pumps water at Mile 13. The plan: Hike a mile to the next campsite and have a short Monday.

Chris enjoys the cool river water and looks forward to a very short hike to the campsite.

The campsite must be right at the top of that hill! These 10 liters of water Sam pumped are starting to feel heavy!

I'm sure it's at the top of this staircase that heads under this boulder!

Four miles later, we finally arrive at the campsite -- a total of 17 miles hiked on Day 2. We are absolutely exhausted! Also, there is a creek 30 feet away so we didn't need to haul all that water.

After dinner, we noticed these two slugs getting funky!

Morning of Day 3, just 3 miles to go!

Here's the last decent picture we got, at another nice waterfall. Somehow we ended up hiking 7 miles on the last day, for a total of 32 miles hiked -- not 27 -- and about 6,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The hamburgers we had in Asheville that night were some of the best we've ever tasted. Or maybe that was just the 32 miles talking.....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Four 5ks, four results

I've run a 5k race each of the past four weeks. Each week, I've had the same goal: Break 18:40. Each week the strategy was slightly tweaked, but the basic plan was pretty much the same -- run a slight positive split and give myself enough cushion to beat the time goal even if something went wrong. But I was only able to do it on the final race. Lets take a detailed look at the numbers and see if we can uncover any patterns.

Here's the basic data for the four races (in the order I ran them):

GAP = Grade-Adjusted Pace
As you can see, my pace improved for each race except the 5Kahne, which was the hilliest race and run on a warm day.

The dramatic difference in time for Balloonfest is primarily due to the fact that my Garmin distance matched the course distance almost exactly, where it was between .04 and .07 of a mile off for the other three races. That may not seem like much, but at a 5:54 pace, .04 miles takes 14 seconds to run!

That said, even if Balloonfest had come out to 3.17 miles, equal to the longest run of the group, I still would very likely have broken 18:40, assuming I could have maintained the 5:54 pace for the entire distances.

So did my overall fitness improve over those four weeks, or did I just have a better strategy? Let's take a look at my splits for each of the races:

Garmin splits for each race
I had the planned positive mile splits for the first three races, but at Balloonfest I negative split. I started Balloonfest slower than any of the races and finished faster. My Mile 2 split was nearly identical for each race, but Mile 3 was much faster at Balloonfest. But a slower start isn't necessarily best -- My second slowest start was at the 5Kahne, which was my third best race.

Grade-adjusted splits might be a better way to view this data. Strava gives a grade-adjusted pace for each mile, and we can graph those as well.

Strava's grade-adjusted splits for each race
Now the races are starting to look more similar. When adjusted for grade, I actually positive-split the first three miles of each race, then picked it up at the end of all except Balloonfest. Once again Mile 2 was similar for each race, but I started USA Masters quite a bit slower. Interestingly, my Mile 3 was fastest at Balloonfest, even adjusting for the fact that it was mostly downhill.

The reason Balloonfest has an off-the-chart-slow final 0.1 mile is because it was a fairly steep downhill, but the slope was rough, so I did not want to risk going all out. Even so, on an absolute scale, it was the fastest finish of any of the races. 

All this suggests to me that my fitness actually improved over the course of the races. My worst grade-adjusted Mile 3 was in the first race. Yes, I was slower in Mile 3 in week 3 than week 2, but that's probably due more to the relatively warm, humid weather that day and a conscious (if misguided) decision to slow down than a decline in fitness. The combination of an overly-ambitious start at Lungstrong and my poorest fitness of the bunch led to my poor showing there.

Here's hoping I will improve even more over the coming weeks. I won't be racing as much, but when I do, I'll be looking to build on the gains of the past month.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Race Recap: Balloonfest 5k

"You're a runner, Dave. You should come to Spokane and run in the Bloomsday Race," My mother-in-law said, innocently enough. "You know, it's one of the biggest races in the world! And you can stay with us for free."

So I checked out the race web site. Yep, it's a big deal -- 50,000 runners converge on Spokane, Washington in early May to run a quirky, hilly 12k race. The only bigger race in the US is the Atlanta Peachtree 10k. Okay, I gotta do this thing.

Then I looked a little closer. Racers line up in the following order: Seeded (elite), Second Seeding, Corporate, and THEN all the other runners. So basically if you don't qualify for Second Seeding or better, you're behind thousands of corporate entries. In other words, if they're not seeded or on a corporate team, faster runners will be doing a lot of bobbing and weaving and not so much race-pace running. To get a Second Seeding, you need to run a 5K in 18:40, or a 10K in 39:00, sometime in the year before the race. That didn't seem too tough to me -- after all, my 5K PR is nearly a minute faster than the qualifying time.

I picked a race that I thought I could run that fast and ran it. 18:59. I ran another one. 18:42. Maybe this wasn't going to be so easy. I ran another race. 18:48. This was getting ridiculous.

I told myself it was early in my training cycle (this is true, it was), that I just needed some time to build up my endurance. On the other hand, I wasn't getting any younger. Maybe that 17:49 would be the fastest I'd ever run. Maybe after four straight years of improving every year, this was the start of an inevitable decline. But then my friend Bobby Aswell mentioned that he had an extra entry for the Balloonfest 5k. "It's a fun, flat race," he said. "You run under all these hot air balloons!" He assured me that I could easily break 18:40 at this race. Okay, I signed up.

We arrived at the race to a county-fair atmosphere. There were funnel cakes, fried brownies, fried pickles, you name it. And lots of balloons!

Not your typical 5K!
The balloons were launching right behind the finish area, and other balloons were drifting in from some other location. Then the race announcer nonchalantly mentioned that the race start time was going to be moved up from 8:30 to 8:15.

"Did you hear that?" I asked Bobby.

"Yeah, I've never heard of such a thing!"

"Well, we better start our warm-up!" 

It was about 7:40, and I like to be at the starting area 15 minutes before the start so I can change into my racing flats, use the bathroom, and take care of any other last-minute issues. That meant that we wouldn't have time to run the whole course for a warm-up, because I certainly wasn't going to run it in 20 minutes. We settled for about a mile out-and-back, which gave me a decent lay of the land: A gradual uphill start, a medium-sized descent and climb around a half mile in, a flat second mile, and a downhill finish.

The reason for the early start was to maximize the number of balloons in the air during the run. The balloons had a competition of their own, dropping weights at a target in the "festival" area near the finish line of the race, and apparently balloon competitions always have flexible start times because of the weather.

So we all traipsed up to the starting line 15 minutes early, and I got in a few strides before settling in at the starting line. Just like last week, Fam was there with his Reckless Running crew, so I knew I'd be racing for a time and maybe an age group award, not for a top-3 finish. The starting gun sounded, and we were off.

This week, I didn't want to leave anything to chance. The last three courses had been long on my Garmin, so I wanted plenty of margin for error. An 18:40 can be had with 6-minute miles, assuming your watch and the course match up perfectly. In practice, they rarely do. So I decided to shoot for 5:50 miles for the first two miles, then allow myself to slow to 5:55 for Mile 3. That would give me a 25-second cushion, much more than I had given myself in the previous three races.

A half-mile in, I was right on pace. There were about 7 runners ahead of me, and Bobby had already settled in behind me. He had run a hard race the day before, so today's race was a bit of a struggle for him. I coasted down the small hill, and hit the climb fairly hard. I was a little behind now, maybe running a 5:53, but that wasn't bad considering the terrain. I kept it up all the way to the Mile 1 marker, where for once my watch was actually perfectly in sync with the course. My split for the mile was 5:57. So much for giving myself a cushion.

The course seemed to flatten out for Mile 2, and I just focused on a steady, solid stride. I passed another couple of runners and felt like I was doing well. Yes, breathing was a bit of a struggle, but nothing unexpected for this point in the race. Then I looked at my watch. My pace was 6:17. I wasn't even halfway through Mile 2 and I was running a 6:17. I couldn't believe it. If I can only run a 6:17 on flat terrain, how could I possibly run the rest of the race at a sub-6-minute pace? I was ready to give up.

Fortunately, at almost that exact moment, the course headed downhill toward the turnaround. I cruised down the hill, cheered Fam on as he strode confidently up the hill, then tried to maintain momentum on the 180-degree turnaround. Halfway up the hill, I looked at my watch again. Somehow, amazingly, my pace for Mile 2 was back around 6 flat. Maybe I could do this. I crested the hill and headed down. Yes, downhill. The reason I had been struggling so much at the start of Mile 2 is that I was actually climbing! Now I could cruise to the end of the mile on a gradual downslope. Once again, I reached the mile marker just as my Garmin beeped. My split for Mile 2 was 5:58.

1.1 miles left, mostly downhill. Maybe I could do this after all. I allowed myself to look at my watch at around 2.3 miles: 5:51 pace. Maybe I could actually negative-split this race! I headed through a parking lot, then briefly onto a taxiway before heading onto the long, final straightway, a wide taxiway between several large hangars. This was a nice, gradual downhill, all the way past the starting line, where we would then turn on to a steep grass slope and the finish line.

I just tried to let the hill help me along as I cruised forward. I was steady at 5:51 every time I looked at my watch. I was turning onto the grass and I couldn't look at my watch any more. Someone was telling the runners to "be careful." It was a fairly steep, bumpy downhill slope to the finish. I couldn't see the finish line clock until I was nearly there, and then it read....18:17, 18:18, 18:19, and I was finished!

Finally! I had done it, after four weeks of coming oh-so-close. I looked down at my Garmin, which I had somehow managed to stop as I crossed the line. It had measured the course at 3.11 miles, a nearly perfect 5k, or just a touch longer. This was a legitimate 18:19. I had done it. It wasn't a PR, or even very close to my PR, but I had finally hit the goal I had been striving for for weeks. Bloomsday, here I come!

Bobby crossed the line about 40 seconds later:
Looking good!

We cooled down with the Reckless Running crew, chatting about race strategy and how cool it was to run with all these balloons. As we arrived back at the finish area, a couple more balloons were taking off, so Bobby and I took the opportunity to get a photo:

Great setting for a race!
Bobby and I each won our age groups and got nifty balloon Christmas ornaments as prizes:

Not bad!
I managed to stay away from the deep-fried brownies, but did buy myself a couple chocolate-chip cookies to celebrate finally reaching my goal. No, it wasn't a PR or a win, but it was almost as satisfying to hit a goal I'd been trying to reach for several weeks. Hopefully as the season progresses, I'll be able to whittle some more time off my 5K, or even PR, but for now, I'm going to celebrate this little accomplishment. Mmmm, chocolate!

Details of my race are below:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Race recap: The 5Kahne

Yesterday I ran my third race in as many weeks. That's two to three more races than I run in a typical 3-week stretch! But since NASCAR Driver Kasey Kahne was racing in a car on Saturday, his "5Kahne" running race was another chance for me to run on a Sunday. Since I'm usually timing races on Saturdays, I figure I should take advantage of every opportunity to race on Sundays.

My primary goal for the race was to beat NASCAR Driver Jimmie Johnson, who has a 19:20ish PR and seems to be getting faster every year. That hope was dashed as I lined up at the start and I found out Johnson wasn't running this year. I guess he just couldn't take the pressure of racing against Munger!

I also knew Olympian Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti would be racing and bringing some of his super-fast Reckless Running buddies, so a top-3 finish also wasn't in the cards. So I decided on the same goal I've had for the previous two races: 18:30, to give myself enough cushion to potentially beat my 18:40 qualifying time for the Bloomsday Run in Spokane next May. At the registration table I ran into Fam's wife Karen, who was first female at this race last year. She gave me some tips about the course. Fast first mile, hilly Mile 2, downhill Mile 3, and uphill finish.

Fellow DARTer Bobby Aswell had warmed up with me, running the entire course. Foolishly, I hadn't started my Garmin right at the start line, so I didn't get an exact Garmin measurement of the course length. But I figured I had started it about a quarter-mile early, so when Bobby and I ran through the finish line at 3.41 miles, I decided the Garmin was measuring it a little bit short. Excellent! That means I'd have a bit of a cushion when checking my splits during the race. [In hindsight, my math skills were a little lacking that morning: If the course had measured exactly 3.1 miles, then adding a quarter-mile would only be 3.35 miles, not the 3.41 I had recorded. The course was not short!]

All I needed was to average a 6:00 on my Garmin, I figured, and I should be well under the 18:40 qualifying time, and probably under 16:30 as well. So why not shoot for 5:55, 6:00, and 6:05 as my mile splits? Made sense to me.

After Kahne gave a short speech, he lined up in the third row of runners (wearing a cotton sweatshirt!), and we were off. I didn't want to start off too quickly, so I let about 20 runners pull out in front of me. It was downhill right out of the gate, and downhill for nearly the first 3/4 of a mile. I could see Fam zipping ahead, right behind the lead car, with a group of three or four runners about 100 yards back. When the uphill started, I began to pass runners. I picked off about 10 before we reached Mile 1, halfway up the biggest single climb in the race. Bobby was still ahead of me, and surprisingly, a very small-looking boy with half of his hair dyed blue was just ahead of Bobby.

Soon I passed Bobby and Half-Blue Boy, with perhaps 10 runners ahead of me. As expected, I passed the Mile 1 marker before my watch beeped 5:50 for the mile. I'd banked at least 5 seconds. The road kept rising and I passed two more guys before starting a nice long downhill stretch. I still couldn't seem to match my Mile 1 pace, though. My pace was around 6:05, so I tried to pick it up. Now it looked like the only runners ahead of me were from the Reckless Running gang. Could I catch one of them, too? They rounded a corner at the bottom of the hill, and I followed, about 100 yards behind. But when I turned the corner, they were nowhere to be seen. Either they had hit the gas after the corner or I had misjudged how far ahead they were. Now the course flattened out, and it was definitely a struggle. Then we turned another corner and hit a short climb.

My GPS record shows the hill as just 20 feet of climbing, but it sure seemed higher than that. My watch beeped 2 miles, but Mile Marker 2 was nowhere to be seen. Finally I passed the marker. My Garmin had recorded 6:00 for the mile, but I didn't catch the time when I passed the marker. I convinced myself that the marker was in the wrong place, and the course was short. That would mean all I needed to do on Mile 3 was a 6:10 pace, and I'd still be under 18:40. I eased off a bit. [In hindsight, this was another mistake. I had some gas in the tank and I should have used it.]

I could hear footsteps behind me -- was it Bobby? No, it was another kid, blonde with a blue singlet, and soon he was passing me. No problem, I figured, there was no way he was in my age group, and I was comfortably under my 6:10 pace.

It was raining a light mist, and somewhere around here I removed my glasses, which had gotten so wet they were no help at all. I finished Mile 3 in 6:05, but I never saw the mile marker (undoubtedly because of my glasses). But as the mile clicked, the finish looked far away. Certainly farther than a tenth of a mile. Could the course actually be long on my Garmin? It could, and it was. I labored for every step, and finally crossed the line as my watch clicked 18:48, 3.14 miles on my Garmin. Argh!

I think if I hadn't assumed the course was short, I probably could have picked things up in Mile 3 and maybe still finished under 18:40. Bobby -- and Blue-Hair Boy (who turned out to be 13-year-old Riley Rittroff) -- finished shortly after I did, and Bobby and I did a few cooldown miles. We arrived back at the finish area just in time for the awards. I was 7th overall, and first in my age group (with Fam naturally winning the race). I got my award from Kasey Kahne, a famous race car driver (maybe I should actually watch him race some time!). Here's a photo Bobby snapped of me on the podium:

I think the announcer likes my socks!
I did manage to beat Kahne, who ran a 22:15 in a cotton sweatshirt.

I'm still pretty confident that a sub-18:40 is in the cards for me sometime this fall. I've only been really doing a 5K training routine for a few weeks. I've planned the training schedule so that I peak in November / December, so I don't expect to be at my best for another month or so at least.

That said, there's another Sunday race next week...can you guess what my goal will be?

Details of yesterday's race are below. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Race Recap: The USA Masters 5K

The USA Masters 5K is a race I have been targeting for some time. I've been doing well in local races but I wanted to test myself in a race with a national field. For master's runners, the fields don't get any more talented than this. This year, ten men finished with age grades above 90 percent: That means they finished within 10 percent of the world record for their age. The women were even more impressive, with three women getting age grades above 100 percent, meaning they broke world records for their age. Libby James, age 78, ran a staggering 24:00 5k for an age grade of 106.76!

The weather was almost perfect this morning as we lined up for the race: 45 degrees and sunny. The only possible negative was a wind of about 8 miles per hour -- enough to notice but probably not something that would slow us down by much. My goal for the race was 18:30, which should handily qualify me for a second seeding at the Bloomsday run next year; an 18:40 is the qualification standard. 

An 18:30 would require a 5:57 pace per mile. Since I generally expect to slow by a few seconds for each mile, my plan was to start at a 5:52 pace, then run 5:57 for Mile 2 and the final 1.1 miles in a 6:02 pace. This also gave me a decent margin for error: Even if my Garmin's measurement was a little off, as long as the course came out to 3.13 or less on the Garmin I'd still finish under the required 18:40 time.

USA Masters 5k
It's the start! (Actually the start of the women's race, but you get the idea...)
I wanted to avoid starting too fast, so I lined up about four rows back from the start line. I told myself not to look at my watch for the first quarter of a mile, and just keep pace with the runners around me. The race started right on time, and I stuck to the plan. I stayed with the runners around me, just passing a few folks who had obviously started too fast. A quarter-mile in I was just a touch over my planned pace, around a 5:45. Now everyone was settling in, and I tried to relax and ease my pace back just enough to hit the 5:52 target.

The course had been set up nearly perfectly, with signs at every kilometer mark and markers every mile. An orange dashed line indicated the perfect tangent path along the course, and all the roads were completely closed to traffic.

I passed the Mile 1 marker at 5:53, almost exactly on pace. I felt strong, so I decided to try to keep up this pace for Mile 2, just to bank a little time. I was starting to pass some runners who had overestimated their ability to maintain this pace. Near the halfway point, we did a sharp u-turn and headed back towards the start line. I passed the halfway clock at 9:09, well under the pace I would need to finish in 18:30.

At Mile 2, my Garmin showed me running a 5:55 pace, right where I wanted to be. But now we were heading into the wind, and there was a large gap between me and the next runner ahead of me. It was also a slight uphill at this point. I needed to hang on to for a 6:02 pace, but my watch showed me going closer to 6:08. I knew that once we rounded the final corner we'd have about 400 meters of downhill to the finish, so I just tried to focus on hanging on. I was gasping for breath, nearly grunting each time I exhaled. 

The runners ahead of me seemed impossibly far away. It was a painful struggle to stay on target. The slowest pace I noticed on my watch was a 6:09, but this was an average for the mile. Looking back at the Garmin record, it appears I slowed to around a 6:30 at a couple points. I tried to focus on the corner ahead, which I knew was just over a quarter-mile from the finish; it was all downhill from there. It seemed to take an eternity to get there. Finally I did round the corner. It wasn't quite downhill yet -- there was a level stretch that was probably only 100 meters long, but it seemed like a mile.

After what seemed like an eternity, I passed the "400 meters to go" sign. I knew this was where I was supposed to start my kick, but I just couldn't accelerate like I wanted to. Slowly, slowly I increased my pace. I passed the "200 meters to go" sign. There was supposed to be a 3-mile marker somewhere around here, but I didn't see it. Now the finish line, and the finish clock, were coming into view. Did it say 18:17? No, it was 18:27. I was probably 100 meters from the finish. No way I could go 100 meters in 13 seconds; hopefully I was actually closer than that. Finally I was delivering that kick, and the clock ticked forward: 18:30, 31, 32. Now I was in an all-out sprint. 18:39, 40, 41... I crossed the line and stopped my watch.

It said 18:41. Later I'd find my official time was 18:42. Two seconds too slow.

USA Masters 5k
Me after the race. A little disappointed but glad to have run it

My plan had been to run splits of 5:52, 5:57, and 6:02. In fact on my Garmin I had run paces of 5:50, 5:55, and 6:03. I had executed the plan nearly perfectly, despite my struggles in Mile 3. The only error I made was assuming the course would come out to 3.13 miles on my Garmin. In the end, the Garmin measured it as 3.15 miles. 0.02 miles doesn't seem like much, but at 6 minutes per mile, it takes 7.2 seconds to run 0.02 miles. Garmin splits aren't real splits -- the only splits that count are when you pass the actual mile markers.

So what were my real splits? I hit the "lap" button on my watch at the Mile 1 and 2 markers -- I never saw Mile 3. Mile 1 came at 1.01 on the Garmin, and I was there in 5:53. Mile 2 was at 1.02 miles on the Garmin, and my time was 6:02. From there to the finish measured 1.12 on Garmin, and I ran it in 6:45, so my pace for the final 1.1 miles was actually 6:05. Overall my average pace was 6:02 (or 6:01.14 without rounding). What I needed was a 6:00 (or more precisely, 6:00.49). It was that close!

I'm quite sure I can hit that 18:40 mark this season with a little more training. I'd like to be in good enough shape that I can run it with a much larger margin for error, so I don't have to worry about tenths of a second. I'd like to beat it by 20, 30 seconds. Then instead of hitting a qualifying time I can start thinking about another tough time to beat -- my PR of 17:49!

My Garmin record of the race is below.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Race Preview: USA Masters 5K Championships

One of my goals for the 2014/15 racing season was to run in shorter races with much higher-quality fields than can be usually found locally. Last week's 5k win was great, but no one in my race (including me) broke 18:50, let alone my 17:49 PR.

So this year I decided to enter the USA Masters 5k Championships at the Festival of Races in Syracuse, NY. Last year the winner ran a 15:21, and the top Master was just behind him at 15:25. The top master in my age group blazed in at 15:29, an amazing 4:59 pace at 47 years old! There were 8 finishers within plus or minus 3 seconds of my PR. By contrast, at the Runway 5k where I PRed, only one runner -- Joe Rao, who was pacing me -- was within 10 seconds on either side of me. 10 seconds is an eternity in a 5k -- and Runway is one of the more competitive races in the Charlotte area!

I'm not in shape to PR just yet. I weigh about 6 pounds more than I did during last year's PR, and I can tell from my recent speed work (and last week's race) that I'm not as strong as I was last year. Last week my goal was to break 18:40 and qualify for Second Seeding at the Bloomsday run next May. Since I didn't make it last week, I need to make that my primary goal again this week.

Because of the field and the course, I should have a much better shot this week. There will be plenty of other runners at my pace, and the course is flat and fast, unlike LungStrong's rolling hills.

One of the commenters on my blog at MyFitnessPal, litsy3, an exceptional woman runner with PRs that beat mine at every distance except 5k, felt that my error at LungStrong wasn't merely running faster than my planned pace a couple of times during the race, but planning to start as fast as I did at all. She may have a point -- my planned 5:45 start was just 5 seconds per mile slower than my PR, set on a flatter course. On the other hand, that course started with a 47-foot climb that I ran at a solid 5:40 pace, so my effort there was probably closer to 5:30, whereas on the downhill, a 5:45 is more like a 6:15 effort.

So how do I break 18:40, which requires a 6:00 pace assuming the course matches my Garmin? I looked up a couple of Garmin plots of the course from last year, and it looks like everyone is getting in the 3.13 to 3.14 range for the course length. That means the pace I see on my watch should be something like 5:57.

I still believe that I do best when I positive-split a race on a flat course: My last mile should be slightly slower than my first mile. For my PR, my splits were 5:40, 5:41, 5:44, and that was with a downhill finish. On a flat course, I think I should be planning to slow by around 5 seconds per mile. That would suggest starting at 5:52, then 5:57, and finally 6:02. If I've got something left for that last mile, I can gas it and maybe take 10 or 15 seconds off my time.

But how do I control my speed during that first mile and avoid hitting a 5:20 pace for the first quarter-mile, like I did last week? I've seen a couple of tips for avoiding fast starts, but one that intrigues me comes from this article:
A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to breathe out of your nose for the first half mile -- if you have to breathe through your mouth, you've started too fast for your fitness level. You should be able to talk when running at the start of your race, but it shouldn't be comfortable -- if you feel capable of rattling off several sentences, you might want to increase your pace.
I'm not sure I want to try that in a race, though. What if my nose is a little stuffed up that morning? I think a better strategy may be to cue off the other runners in the race. Based on last year's results, I can expect that about 80 runners will be going faster than my target pace. So I should make sure to line up at least that far back from the start -- if not a bit farther, since there will inevitably be some folks who go out too hard. For the first quarter-mile, I won't look at my watch, but just look to keep pace with the folks right around me. Then I can readjust. I expect that my pace will be much closer to my target than it was last week.

I'm also going to assume this course is well-marked and turn off the auto-lap function on my watch (I can verify this when I do my warm-up on race day). I will manually press the lap button at each mile marker, which will give me my actual race time for the mile. If I'm hitting 6-minute miles, I'm on target to hit my goal pace.

Whether or not I match my target, it will be exciting to be a part of such a talented field of masters runners. I'm looking forward to seeing how I compare!