2015: Madison Half Marathon

Science … often defined as the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the structure and behavior of the natural/physical and social world via a systematic methodology based on documented observation, evidence and experiment. Such a scientific methodology almost always includes the following aspects and almost always is accompanied by an image of a mad scientist who, according to Wikipedia, is an aging male with crooked teeth and messy hair wearing a lab coat, spectacles/goggles, gloves and holding an effervescent test tube:

(1) Objective observation — the measurement and data possibly although not necessarily using mathematics as a tool (2) Evidence (3) Experiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypotheses (4) Induction — reasoning to establish general rules or conclusions drawn from facts or examples (5) Mindful repetition (6) Critical analysis (7) Verification and testing — critical exposure to scrutiny, peer review and assessment.

It’s not an exaggeration to claim that much of my life, thanks primarily to a pantheon of lovely teachers and friends from elementary school onwards and a handful of relatives, runs mostly in compliance with the above definition of science. I might not be seen working and/or running around in a lab coat holding an effervescent test tube, but I am just as mad and certifiably so. Just ask any of my friends and they’ll vouch for it … maybe even for my messy hair on occasion.

Apart from It’s for science (I should probably hashtag it to be cool, #ItsForScience) and the scientific opportunity that this would bring again to test the semi-empirical relationship, t_{\mathrm{marathon}} = 2 \times t_{\mathrm{half\;marathon}} + 10\;\; \mbox{mins}, there were a few more reasons to change the Madison registration from half marathon to its full companion a day after the Marquette Marathon:

(a) not wanting to be a one trick pony — kinda goes with the #ItsForScience scheme of things if one takes into account repeatability of an experiment and reproducibility of results as a requirement of science; (b) the need to improve my performance and this being the last feasible opportunity in 2015 to do so; (c) opportunity to run on a singular type of terrain; (d) add a wrinkle to the experiment since the weather conditions would be considerably different and hopefully, more conducive to running and remove a wrinkle from the experiment since no part of the 26.2 mile stretch was a part of uncharted territory; (e) have a reasonable answer to my mother’s question, Anybody can do one. Why couldn’t you do more?, if indeed she realized I had done one.

I would have done a second marathon much sooner but my inability to find one within reasonable driving distance coupled with the teaching/research/work responsibilities of a new school year made me wait a hair over two months. But the time between was sufficient to work on several aspects that needed some work, and training in the Yoop made it relatively easier to find a course with comparable terrain and texture.

10 in 10 experiment, Take I

A quick recap (genesis detailed in Mount Bohemia Trail Running Festival report): my dear friend Alice had introduced me to the book, Long Distance — Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously by Bill McKibben. One of the things discussed in it was the importance of long runs at a slower pace keeping more than an eye on the heart rate, and punctuating such runs with a speed burst every 20 minutes or so … so as to not forget how to pick up the pace after running at a lower pace for a considerably longer periods of time. The day of the first such run, dear friend Andi had brought up the concept/practice of and the potential for doing a 10 in 10 — a run of 10 miles (or longer) for 10 consecutive days. Below are the results/lessons learned from this experiment:

(1) ability to do something that I thought I couldn’t do or didn’t even know I could do, and the value in listening to my friends who believe in what I can become well before I know it; (2) adaptation of mind and body — it got easier by day #3 and I was actually looking forward to run over remaining days; (3) compressed 10 weeks into 10 days saving and buying me more time to do more with it — lesser chance of forgetting lessons from one week to the other, and paving way for better consistent meaningful repetition. For e.g., cadence technique led to lower heart rate, seemingly less energy spent and an observable increase in speed for much lesser effort; (4) a chance to explore some hitherto unexplored roads, trails and parts of the Yoop while the Fall was in splendid glory; (5) a possibility for the data gathered in the process to contain answers to many questions I don’t yet know how to ask.

The experiment also came with an unintended demoralizer as well: if I could run about 10% of the annual running goal in just 10 days, taking 265 days to cover the remaining 90% makes the year very very underachieving.

10 in 10 experiment, Take II

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.

– James Grover Thurber

A 10 day break after the 10 in 10 experiment took me to the suburbs of nation’s capital for a fun-filled work trip (no, it’s not an oxymoron). Lured by the promise of being taken to watch the theatrical version, I read the highly recommended The Martian by Andy Weir on my way down to Milwaukee and back to the Yoop. The lure has remained as such and the promise is yet to be fulfilled to this day but the book was worth the read, and reminded the value of a plethora of inter-related aspects and some old but really important lessons: do the things I said I would do irrespective of how easy/difficult it is, reward often lies in the journey and not in destination, work should be done for the pleasure of working and not for the fruits thereafter, and unreasonable expectations are the root cause of most disappointments.

My first ever run in the nation’s capital marked the completion of 1,000 miles of running in a given calendar year — something that I had never ever done before. The run, motivated by a neat little yet very profound note from a dear friend (please see above), took me around some of the well known landmarks — The Capitol, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, Reflection Pool, and The White House — in a way that I had never seen before, and marked the beginning of repeatability of 10 in 10 experiment — a run of 10k (or longer) for 10 consecutive days.

In spite of a rather unscientific approach to experimentation — scaling down the size of experiment rather than scaling up, and being somewhat mindless during these runs, it still brought in some very valuable lessons: (a) accumulating more mileage on the road rather than trails in preparation for Madison; (b) running more to learn more; (c) October 2015, by sheer volume, the became the best running month so far.

Summary of training activities since the last race
# Date and time Activity details
Device, Distance, Time, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate, kCal, and Weather Notes (when applicable)
01 2015-10-05 5:44 pm Houghton Short Run (10/10)
10.09 mi, 1:48:09, 10:43 min/mile, 5.60 mph, 149 bpm, 1041
55 F, 0 mph, felt like 55 F, 67% humidity; cloudy, chilly but very pleasant
02 2015-10-07 6:01 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #38
4.67 mi, 0:54:02, 11:34 min/mile, 5.19 mph, 156 bpm, 615
52 F, 6 mph NW, felt like 52 F, 43% humidity; partly sunny, pleasant and very colorful trails
03 2015-10-10 7:50 am Atlantic Mine Short Run
7.14 mi, 1:13:27, 10:17 min/mile, 5.83 mph, 152 bpm, 787
39 F, 5 mph SSW, felt like 36 F, 93% humidity; partly sunny, chilly, pleasant and very colorful trails
04 2015-10-11 9:24 am Atlantic Mine Short Run
7.96 mi, 1:29:07, 11:12 min/mile, 5.36 mph, 145 bpm, 817
57 F, 4 mph SW, felt like 57 F, 77% humidity; mostly sunny, warm, pleasant and very colorful trails
05 2015-10-14 6:28 am KRG Weekly Run 2015 #39/Arlington Quick Run
6.24 mi, 0:54:38, 8:45 min/mile, 6.86 mph, 165 bpm, 666
55 F, 4 mph SW, felt like 55 F, 77% humidity; mostly clear and pleasant
06 2015-10-15 7:07 am Arlington Quick Run
5.01 mi, 0:51:41, 10:19 min/mile, 5.82 mph, 151 bpm, 577
54 F, 8 mph NNW, felt like 54 F, 71% humidity; mostly clear, a bit chilly but pleasant
07 2015-10-16 7:01 am Arlington Short Run
6.78 mi, 1:00:50, 8:58 min/mile, 6.69 mph, 161 bpm, 726
54 F, 4 mph NW, felt like 54 F, 71% humidity; mostly clear, a bit chilly but pleasant
08 2015-10-16 6:53 pm Washington, DC, Quick Run (1/10)
6.37 mi, 0:55:57, 8:47 min/mile, 6.83 mph, 163 bpm, 673
61 F, 6 mph NW, felt like 61 F, 39% humidity; mostly clear and very pleasant
09 2015-10-17 7:29 pm Houghton Quick Run (2/10)
6.24 mi, 1:00:29, 9:42 min/mile, 6.19 mph, 153 bpm, 697
36 F, 8 mph W, felt like 29 F, 55% humidity; mostly cloudy, a bit chilly but comfortable
10 2015-10-18 5:09 pm Houghton Quick Run (3/10)
6.25 mi, 0:56:17, 9:00 min/mile, 6.67 mph, 157 bpm, 668
48 F, 10 mph E, felt like 48 F, 40% humidity; mostly sunny and comfortable
11 2015-10-19 6:08 pm Houghton Quick Run (4/10)
6.38 mi, 0:52:42, 8:16 min/mile, 7.26 mph, 170 bpm, 704
59 F, 13 mph W, felt like 59 F, 48% humidity; mostly sunny and comfortable
12 2015-10-20 6:08 pm CCTC Weekly Workout 2015 #13 (5/10)
6.37 mi, 1:03:55, 10:02 min/mile, 5.98 mph, 153 bpm, 667
43 F, 11 mph E, felt like 37 F, 56% humidity; partly cloudy and chilly with gusting winds
13 2015-10-21 4:33 pm Houghton Quick Run (6/10)
6.77 mi, 1:01:03, 9:01 min/mile, 6.65 mph, 161 bpm, 784
50 F, 22 mph W, felt like 43 F, 82% humidity; mostly cloudy, chilly, headwinds and rain
14 2015-10-21 6:01 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #40
3.02 mi, 0:29:29, 9:46 min/mile, 6.14 mph, 161 bpm, 383
48 F, 24 mph WNW, felt like 41 F, 87% humidity; mostly cloudy, chilly and windy
15 2015-10-22 6:11 pm Houghton Quick Run (7/10)
6.38 mi, 0:59:33, 9:20 min/mile, 6.43 mph, 157 bpm, 719
45 F, 5 mph N, felt like 42 F, 66% humidity; partly sunny, chilly but comfortable
16 2015-10-23 6:56 pm Houghton Quick Run (8/10)
6.36 mi, 0:57:48, 9:05 min/mile, 6.61 mph, 156 bpm, 716
45 F, 10 mph ESE, felt like 39 F, 87% humidity; mostly cloudy, a bit windy and some rain
17 2015-10-24 5:23 pm Houghton Quick Run (9/10)
6.38 mi, 0:58:32, 9:10 min/mile, 6.55 mph, 156 bpm, 689
48 F, 19 mph NW, felt like 41 F, 66% humidity; mostly cloudy and windy
18 2015-10-25 4:59 pm Houghton Quick Run (10/10)
6.58 mi, 1:13:10, 11:07 min/mile, 5.40 mph, 143 bpm, 755
45 F, 5 mph, felt like 42 F, 53% humidity; sunny and pleasant
19 2015-10-28 6:03 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #41
3.35 mi, 0:32:45, 9:47 min/mile, 6.13 mph, 160 bpm, 401
46 F, 9 mph W, felt like 42 F, 93% humidity; cloudy but pleasant
20 2015-10-31 10:00 am Muck Run
3.16 mi, 0:33:29, 10:36 min/mile, 5.66 mph, 388
43 F, 7 mph S, felt like 39 F, 87% humidity; cloudy, drizzle but pleasant
21 2015-11-03 5:01 pm Houghton Quick Run
6.32 mi, 0:58:26, 9:15 min/mile, 6.49 mph, 164 bpm, 738
55 F, 9 mph E, felt like 55 F, 67% humidity; sunny and pleasant
22 2015-11-04 6:00 am Strength Training
0:45:00, 264
23 2015-11-04 6:01 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #42
5.34 mi, 0:50:20, 9:26 min/mile, 6.36 mph, 174 bpm, 673
55 F, 3 mph NW, felt like 55 F, 77% humidity; cloudy and pleasant
24 2015-11-07 12:18 pm Madison Quick Run
3.23 mi, 0:29:38, 9:10 min/mile, 6.55 mph, 162 bpm, 352
45 F, 10 mph WNW, felt like 39 F, 57% humidity; blue skies, some clouds and pleasant

The drive to Madison two days before the race (to prevent car legs) was quite uneventful and included a pit stop that has been a little over two months in the works and many a years in my dreams: John Muir Memorial County Park. Once in the park, I got out of the car and asked the lady that seemed to be finishing her hike do you know where John Muir’s farm house is?. The lady, named Toby (a current resident of Connecticut I would soon learn), acknowledged she didn’t but thought her mother, Pat (from Green Lake, WI) did. Unfortunately, neither did her mother. Upon learning how much John Muir meant to me and that seeing his farm house was my bucket list item, Toby asked for my phone number and offered to do some search on my behalf — so that I would have an improved chance of seeing it on my way home on Monday.

However, it only took her a few minutes, and she called me with directions. I went and saw the entrance to the farm house, and was on my way out of town when Toby called again — to let me know that she had spoken with the current owner of the property and that he wanted to meet with me. So, I turned around and went back. The owner, Eric, turned out to be a kindhearted gentleman, and a former resident of the very Keweenaw Peninsula where I now live. A lovely little conversation ensued about what we do and how John Muir had impacted (and continues to do so) our lives. Not only did I get to see the area John Muir spent many a formative years of his childhood, I now have a new friend in Wisconsin — a place to stop and share a conversation and a meal with! A random person that I had never met before who had no business whatsoever helping another stranger let alone go out of her way to check off a bucket list item made it a very very beautiful and memorable experience.

Rest of the drive, from John Muir Memorial County Park to Madison, continued to be uneventful and so was checking into the hotel. Time between arrival and start of the race was spent mostly working on work things while attempting to do nothing stupid that could nullify the training invested so far: dinner on Friday night with dear friends Karen and Adam, a short and easy paced run on Saturday morning followed by lunch with Karen and Adam, renewing my semi-annual Wisconsin citizenship with help from Adam after lunch followed by dinner with dear friends Jamie and Sarah.

26.36 mi, 4:22:30 (official – 4:22:21), 9:57 min/mile, 6.03 mph, 161 bpm
Splits: (1) 8:07, (2) 9:01, (3) 8:27, (4) 8:28, (5) 8:07, (6) 7:54, (7) 8:14, (8) 7:56, (9) 8:01, (10) 8:45, (11) 8:37, (12) 8:35, (13) 8:36, (14) 8:47, (15) 9:19, (16) 9:12, (17) 9:45, (18) 10:08, (19) 10:23, (20) 11:16, (21) 11:44, (22) 11:53, (23) 12:21, (24) 16:54, (25) 14:00, (26) 13:55, (27) 4:05
Garmin Forerunner 620 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

To say that the race day morning and the conditions were sartorially resplendent is an understatement. And for one of the fewer times in recent memory, I even dressed in just the right number of layers. The drive to The Capitol was quick and easy, and so was finding a spot to park the car nearby as well as in Collectivo to stay warm before the start of the race. The Star Spangled Banner rendition was very well done, especially with the orange rays of rising sun lighting up the Capitol dome in the background.

The race started on time. Having found the right pace group to start ahead of time, it was relatively easier to navigate through the crowd and have plenty of wiggle room around me to minimize the chances of being in the way of a better runner. The course took me through some really calm and serene areas with frost-bitten sidewalks and grass and shrubs, steam raising from the waterbodies, and an occasional group of spectators that grew with every passing mile. Things seemed to be going fine for the first half of the race: given the ideal conditions for running and prevailing cooler temperatures, I thought I wouldn’t be needing as much hydration as usual and decided to use only every other aid station.

Personal goals for the event (in order of importance)
## Goal Result
01 No walking except through aid stations No, walked a lot after mile #13
02 Finish under 3:45:00 (8:35 min/mile, 6.99 mph) No, 4:22:21 (10:01 min/mile, 5.99 mph)
03 Improve upon the current PR for this distance (4:06:16, 9:24 min/mile, 6.38 mph) No (4:22:21, 10:01 min/mile, 5.99 mph)

First sign of crack in the plan of action showed up around mile #14 with a cramp in the left leg. I tried to walk/jog it off and it wouldn’t go away. Letting the 3:40 pace group go, and with it the dream of sub 3:45 finish, felt a lot like the gut wrenching Cliffhangerian experience. The cramp stayed on through the next many miles slowing me down considerably with every passing mile. Second sign of crack (and deliriousness too) showed up around mile #17 when I repeatedly estimated that I needed 63 minutes (instead of 81) to complete the remaining 9 miles at 9 min/mile pace. It wasn’t until mile #20 or thereafter that I felt somewhat relieved but the relief was quite short-lived: just as I attempted to pick up the pace and push for a sub 4:00 finish, the cramp showed up in the right leg and stayed with me through the end. I had lost much of the steam by mile #23 and got served with the aforementioned Cliffhangerian experience twice more (with 4:00 and 4:20 pace groups, and the dream of improving over the current PR of 4:06) before hobbling across the finish line around 4:22:xx mark.

Apart from performing as desired during the first half and seeing some familiar and friendly faces throughout the course (Adam and Kora at mile #11, Robyn and Gus around mile #20, Phat around mile 25, and the kind volunteer lady who checked on me several times during miles 15-20), there wasn’t a whole lot to write home about. I even needed help making a decision to not sit down immediately after the finish, and I am thankful for Adam‘s presence — to be there, quite literally, and make some decisions on my behalf.

Splits and Δ splits analysis
Mile mark Metrics (0 -- mile mark) Δ split Metrics (between successive mile marks)
05.01 00:42:17, 8:26 min/mile, 7.11 mph 00.00 -- 05.01 00:42:17, 8:26 min/mile, 7.11 mph
10.00 01:23:06, 8:19 min/mile, 7.21 mph 05.01 -- 10.00 00:40:49, 8:11 min/mile, 7.33 mph
13.11 01:49:43, 8:22 min/mile, 7.17 mph 10.00 -- 13.11 00:26:37, 8:34 min/mile, 7.00 mph
18.11 02:37:06, 8:40 min/mile, 6.92 mph 13.11 -- 18.11 00:47:23, 9:29 min/mile, 6.33 mph
23.11 03:35:46, 9:20 min/mile, 6.43 mph 18.11 -- 23.11 00:58:40, 11:44 min/mile, 5.11 mph
26.35 04:22:30, 9:58 min/mile, 6.02 mph 23.11 -- 26.35 00:46:44, 14:25 min/mile, 4.16 mph

Post-race activities included consuming some water and a sandwich, and an hour long attempt to restore coherence so that I could walk straight and drive back to the hotel. Rest of the afternoon/evening included more eating, a short nap, raking some leaves in a friend’s yard and getting some food (and a much awaited beverage) around the Capitol while discussing teaching/management strategies. A rather full night of sleep, and an uneventful drive back to the Yoop spent mostly contemplating on the good fortune of seeing John Muir’s farm house a few days ago as well as the value of a glorious opportunity that I didn’t make good use of a day ago.

Checking my workout log as well as discussing a few things with dear friends Andi and Stpehen, I think I found the potential list of reasons to explain the performance (or lack thereof):

  1. Shortage Lack of runs longer than approximately 13 miles. Though difficult to believe that my body forgot what it felt like to run longer than half marathon distance in about two months, it taught the value of repeating experiments to stay current with the task at hand
  2. Short of and/or not making time for cross-training activities over the last 45 days. Lack of biking and swimming and strength training all played a vital role in cadence, breathing, increased fatigue and declined strength (or a combination thereof). Attempting a full on strength training three days prior was also a terrible idea as the resulting soreness was rather painful
  3. Skipping alternate aid stations was a terrible idea. Dr. Suits had reminded before the first marathon attempt to use every one of them to keep the body hydrated and replenish the electrolytes. And that if skipped, he had added, it might be too late to by the time I realized I needed them
  4. Inability to maintain good and consistent sleeping and eating schedule over the last 30-45 days, and not making an effort to fix it
  5. The Lake Wobegon Effect

A comparison of performance between the two marathons so far as well as at major/similar mile markers in these two marathons is below:

The book I got done reading shortly after the Marquette marathon about a very pragmatic and wise personality (and few others I have read in the past year) and experiences from two major events so far this calendar year (Hancock Canal Run Half Marathon and this one — with one or a few simple missed steps costing months of preparation) re-drilled home the value in paying attention to minutiae of everyday activities and doing them consistently well every damned single time. It will hopefully serve as a frequent reminder in pursuit of a better performance when 2016 running season comes around.

Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding, but they should remember that human felicity is produced by little advantages that occur everyday.

This one will get flagged as a failed experiment for now, and I will need to learn to let things go. As a first step in that direction, in the (in)famous words of my favorite still living NFL coach, I am on to San Diego.

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as an athlete and a person. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable tips with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

6 Replies to “2015: Madison Half Marathon”

  1. Congratulations on your second marathon! Don’t beat yourself up.. lessons learned are every bit as valuable as milestones gained… perhaps even more so because they fuel a fire that we didn’t know we had. (aka.. the CellCom Green Bay “experience”) :~) It’s on to a winter of training with dreams of 2016 achievements. See you at the starting line…..

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