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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A run along the Schuylkill

While visiting my sister in Philly over the weekend, I got a run in on a beautiful Saturday morning.  As the title would imply, it was (mostly) along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River, the western border of the city center.  It was a few miles from her South Philly place to the river, so I got plenty of diverse scenery along the way!

Morning view, downtown
Amtrak building on the other side of the river
River scene

Another river view

Construction workers sandblasting steps at a new park

There was a 5K later that morning so plenty of runners were out on the riverside trail

Boathouse row in the distance

Rowing boats at boathouse row

There was a large collection of runners gathering in this spot, but being about a mile away, I don't think it had any relation to the 5K down by the art museum

Gorgeous pathway leading up to the art museum

Full disclosure: I totally tried to race this train (I estimate it was going 10mph)
I came across this sweet dog park just after leaving the river trail.  Artificial turf and everything!

There were quite a few neat murals around the city

Back in south philly!

One lesson learned about running in the city is the inability to get an accurate GPS signal. I would estimate my run to have only been about 6.5 miles, but due to all the extra "squiggly lines" along Walnut St.  it really added unrealistic mileage.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Double Race Weekend

As I've posted before, I'm sort of going through a period of transition in my training and running.  During this period, there are plenty of phases of trial and error, and just trying new things in general.

At the tail end of a 4-week reverse taper from the Shamrock Marathon a month ago, I decided to try something new and have a weekend consisting of two short races.  There was no particular logic or insight involved with the decision, I just wanted to see how I'd feel running at a moderate-to-hard pace two days in a row.

The first race was the Kessler's 5 mile trail run at Gifford Pinchot State Park.

On a beautifully sunny and mild morning, around 150 runners set off on the trails on the southeast shore of the lake.  I'd never been in this section of the park, and was pleasantly surprised at the runability of the first few miles.  They were trails, but definitely not singletrack.  6-8' wide and mostly flat...just like what you might imagine surrounding a popular area in a state park.  I was also pleasantly surprised with my pace: maintaining just under 8:00/mi, and very relaxed.

The course was extremely well staffed and ridiculously well marked, as in bright yellow signs with black direction arrows that jump out at you in the brown and (slightly) green early spring woods in Central PA.  Even with the numerous intersections, there was definitely no excuse for getting lost out there.

Between miles 2 and 3 was about a half mile on pavement through a camping area, then at mile 3 we got to the "muddy mile".  I'm talking as much as 8-10 inches deep in some stretches!  It was so much fun slugging through that section, happy to report that I didn't see a single spill or lost shoe, though with SpeedLaces on my Brooks Cascadias I did get close to slipping out once or twice.

Caked on mud, post race

At almost exactly mile 4, we crested the final hill and the trail transformed to speedy, fine gravel, barreling downhill for the final mile.  I crossed the finish line in about 38 minutes, good enough for 17th.

The finishing chute

It was a well organized race that I really enjoyed.  I didn't stick around long enough for the hot dogs afterwards, I just headed home to shower and rest up for the race coming the following morning.  As long as my schedule is free next year, I'm definitely doing this race again.  Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for putting on this event!

There was even another fellow runner/geocacher racing on Saturday!

After a nice pre-race dinner at Fenicci's, race #2 was the Hershey 10K, starting bright and early at 7:30am Sunday morning.  I was fortunate to join several of my friends in this race, including my buddy Ben (who I joined last summer at Savageman).  The race was sold out with approximately 2500 runners joining us.

Just like the day before, I was out there simply to give it a go with no intentions on pushing too hard.  The course was relatively flat, and almost exactly the same course for the first 3 miles as last fall's Hershey Half Marathon.

After weaving through the crowd for the first half mile, I settled into a comfortable pace with 2 or 3 others at just under a 7:00/mi.  Being completely content at this pace, me and my Saucony Kinvara's glided along until around mile 4 when we entered the hilly and winding part of the course through Hersheypark.  Out of all of the races that I've done in Hershey, this is the most distance through the park that I can remember.  After about a mile and a half going under and around roller coasters, there was a final short hill up to the stadium finish, where I just missed the 42 minute mark by the clock.

Later looking into my time at the kiosks inside the stadium, I found out that my chip time was under 42, making this an unlikely PR!   As with the other Hershey races I've attended, there was plenty of fellowship afterward, hanging out with friends on the artificial turf field inside the stadium.

Some of us went out for an amazing breakfast in nearby Palmyra after cleaning up a bit.  The Top That Cafe is a gem in the middle of town, and a "must stop" for breakfast or lunch with plate-sized pancakes and complex french toast creations at a reasonable price.  And with that, the race weekend was complete and I couldn't have been happier with the way it turned out.  The outlook in regards to shifting my training program is bright, even though I have no big races planned for the rest of the year.

To finalize this post, I'd like mention some critique on the Hershey 10K Race.  There are a few things that are just expected in a 10K event of this size:

  • At least one aid station
  • A tech shirt
  • Possibly a finisher's medal
  • Electronic timing
  • A well marked course with plenty of volunteers
  • Post race food/water
In some aspects of the event, my expectations were greatly exceeded, but of course there are others where the event fell short.

Falling Short:

  1. Race shirts.  They were long sleeve, cotton shirts.  I would have expected a tech shirt, even if cheap.
  2. While not a huge deal, after coming through the finish each runner received a bag full of some Hershey goodies.  The only issue was that the chocolates were being handed out within paper bags.  They really could have used a handle since the runners had their hands full with water bottles, heat sheets, cameras, etc.  It would have been easy to provide some sort of plastic bag with handles.
Above and Beyond:

  1. Timing.  Literally within 5 minutes of finishing the race, I had an email waiting in my gmail inbox with my time.  As I also mentioned, they had something like 6 touchscreen kiosks to check your time, and various other placement stats immediately following your finish.  In addition to this, the results were online the afternoon of the race!  Bravo on this aspect, organizers, with your decision to choose Mid Atlantic Timing once again.
  2. Medals.  As you can see from the photo above, these are very nicely crafted medals, especially for a 10K race.  This may be why they skimped on the's one of the nicest medals I've earned.
  3. Photos.  Holy crap I could not believe how quickly they got photos online.  I got an email notification that photos were up at 8:26pm ON THE SAME DAY AS THE RACE.  That's right, roughly 12 hours after the completion of the event.  Absolutely unreal.  Again, kudos to the race organizers for picking a great vendor.  In this case, it was Get The Picture Corp.

As always, here's the Strava activity:

Thanks to everyone who made this weekend possible.  In light of recent events in Boston, I'm grateful I had the chance to enjoy these races, and hopes of many more in the future.  Now it's time to strengthen up, continue to run faster, and look for some more races to run.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Lure of Strava

So I had a 30 minute tempo run on the schedule yesterday, and my local running group had a 5+ mile run posted.  Naturally, I signed up for the afternoon run and notified the other runners that I might be taking off after a warmup.  Also knowing that there was a 2 mile loop on Strava around the Army War College Golf Course didn't hurt my motivation to give it a little go...and so I went, for around a 7min/mile tempo run for about two loops around the course.  I felt great, pulse was up, and the cinders beneath my feet had a great shuffling rhythm.  My lungs were working hard, just like a tempo run should warrant.

Glancing down at my watch every few minutes gave me the indication that I was actually running a solid 10-20 second under per-mile pace, but running by feel felt great so I wasn't worried.  Passing several men and women in grey and black cotton "army" t-shirts, I made my way to the second loop, and while the temp was way hotter than I'd been recently used to, the feeling was fantastic.

As you can imagine, I felt great after the run and as usual, uploaded the activity captured on my Garmin Fenix to   And....major buzzkill.  Even with a sub 7 minute mile pace, my rank on the loop is towards the bottom of the leaderboard....must be some serious athletes 'round here...

So...something I learned this week is: even with a fantastic tool like Strava to compare runs against others in your area, don't compare your runs against anyone but yourself.  Have fun out there and improve, but get better for your own sake.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Switching it up

After completely bonking at mile 22 of the Shamrock Marathon a few weeks ago, I decided it was a necessity to educate myself and become a smarter runner.

I believe the issues faced at the marathon didn't have anything to do with my race strategy, pacing, or was quite simply training.  You see, for the 4 weeks leading up to the race, I barely ran at all as a result of what I believe were shin splints on my left leg.

The motivation of not having another crappy race was enough to get me to hit the books (or more appropriately, the web) and I got my fill of advice on topics such as injury prevention and nutrition.  Being more of a math and computer type guy, I'm not a huge fan of diving into a bunch of detailed biology and chemistry, so articles written in layman's terms were easiest to digest.  Among a few others, I found a great resource in Jason Fitzgerald's Strength Running site, which provides a considerable amount of free information, mostly in the form of blog posts, but there are also a couple of PDF "articles" that dive in a little deeper.

I'm happy to say that so far, after applying a few simple principles to my training over the past week, I haven't had any major problems and things seem to be getting better for the summer season.

So what did I do?

Mainly two things:
1) Incorporated core strengthening exercises into my workouts, twice a week.
 - I found some WODs (Workouts of the Day) online that only use body weight exercises. (e.g. Burpees, Pushups, Flutterkicks, Situps, etc)  I'll do these on Mondays and Wednesdays, in addition to running.

2) Rotate different shoes and surfaces.
 - I think the last 4 runs I did were in 4 different pairs of shoes, including yesterday in my Vibram Five Fingers, which I haven't run in in at least a year.  I also got a trail run in at Gifford Pinchot State Park on Sunday, which was a gorgeous day and my feet felt great.

While I have no goals in mind this weekend, I'm signed up to two races (1 Sat, 1 Sun).  I doubt I'll PR, and I have no intentions of pushing it hard, it'll just be nice to finish a race not feeling like total crap.  That feeling is tough to get over and I'm ready to move on...smarter and more healthy!