On Sunday, April 21, 2012, the thirteenth annual Zippy 5K will take place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I have a special place in my heart for this race because as a member of the then Hoy’s Excelsior Running Club in 2000, I was the co-race director for the inaugural Zippy 5K. I remember a lot of passion and planning went into creating this race. This is also the race where just last year I achieved a milestone goal of mine by breaking 17 minutes in the 5K as a masters runner.
Here are my race tips for my Pamakid teammates and anyone else from the Pacific Association who happens upon this blog.
The start will be fast. Try to settling into your race pace as soon as possible. If you do so successfully you will be surrounded by like-paced runners for the first half mile. It will be crowded but don’t worry. Fall into step with the runners around you and just ride the wave.
After about half a mile it will start to spread out, which is good because that way you can see the road ahead of you. Make sure you run the tangents, which means running the shortest route. There are some minor ups, downs, and turns but your goal should be to maintain your pace for the entire first mile.
The second mile is basically a counterclockwise lap around Stow Lake. I recommend that you study the turns and elevation changes. My mantra for this section is, “if you aren’t moving up, you’re probably slowing down.” Focus on catching and passing people. If you don’t, you can easily run mile two twenty seconds slower than mile one. The more familiar you are with the lap around Stow Lake, the easier it is to stay locked in on your pace.
I love the 0.1 miles between the two mile mark and the mile to go mark. There’s a sweeping right turn on a gradual downhill. I like to accelerate slightly after the two mile mark and say to myself, “run like a bat out of hell.” As I pass the mile to go mark and the road merges on to John F. Kennedy Drive (JFK), I gather myself mentally for what will be a painful but potentially rewarding last mile.
The last mile of the course is almost a straight shot down JFK. It can be mentally challenging because there are really no turns to speak of, just one long long straightaway. My Pamakid teammate Denis Glenn’s mantra for this mile is, “stop means go,” referring to the several stop signs you will see along JFK. Every time you see one of those stop signs surge a little and go!
I find that during this final straightaway, I am constantly talking to myself. My legs and lungs are burning and begging me to slow down. But my brain pushes me to keep going, reminding me of my goal and the miles of training I have put in for this very moment. I’ll make bargains with myself, “float until the museums but then I have to surge” or “a small surge now will be less painful than an all-out sprint later.” Is this the dialogue that goes through all runners’ minds in the final three minutes of a race? Last year some of the positive mantras I was saying to myself during this stretch were, “This is my mile,” or “It’ll be over soon and then I’ll own the time forever.”
Good luck everyone. Study the course map. Hydrate. Know your start of the race pace. And Go Green!
Race strategies and split calculating.
First of all, be sure you’ve looked at a course map, preferably one with the miles marked. You don’t have to memorize every mile mark but try to have a general idea where some of them are. You will race better when you know where you’re going.
I suggest you break the race into three sections:
1. Start to Mile 4 (Panhandle back to JFK Drive) – Conservative; about five seconds per mile slower than your goal pace.
2. Miles 4 to 7 (downhill through the park) – Use the downhill in the park from the museums to the beach to run a little faster. Gravity should help you to run five to ten seconds per mile faster than you ran for the first four miles.
3. The last HALF of the race, Miles 7 to the End (Great Highway) –See if you can hold the pace you were running downhill through the park or go faster (if so, hello big PR!). If not, lock on to your goal pace and you should still be right around your goal time.
Half Marathon split calculations
1. Establish best case and medium time goals.
2. Think about the range of per mile paces you are likely to be able to run in the last 6.1 miles. Have a best case and medium scenario. The time range between best case and medium should be :05-:15 per mile (e.g. 6:00-6:15). Perhaps a good mile pace to consider is your 8th mile at Waterfront 10 or the 8th mile of the Lake Merced workout on MLK Day.
3. Calculate how long it will likely take you to run the last 6.1 miles.
4. Based on your overall time goals and your two last 6.1 times, calculate a range of times for when you should arrive at the 7 mile mark to still be on target.
5. Pick the middle of that range as your target 7 mile time, knowing that you have some play on either side of it.
6. Calculate the per mile pace to hit this time for 7 miles.
7. Add :02-:07 per mile and that’s your target pace for the first 4 miles.
8. Based on that target pace, calculate what your 4 mile cumulative time split should be.
9. Try to be :05-:10 faster per mile for miles 5-6-7 than you were for miles 1-4 (it is downhill).
My goal times as an example:
2. 5:54-6:04 (per mile for the last 6.1 miles)
3. 36:00-37:00 (to run the last 6.1 miles) [5:54 X 6.1 = 36:00; 6:04 X 6.1 = 37:00]
4. 42:00-44:00 (range of time at the 7 mile mark) [1:19:00 - 37:00 = 42:00; 1:20:00 - 36:00 = 44:00]
5. 43:00 (goal 7 mile mark cumulative time)
6. 6:08 (average mile for the first 7 miles) [43:00 ÷ 7 = 6:08]
7. 6:10-6:15 (per mile for the first 4 miles) [6:08 + :02 = 6:10; 6:08 + :07 = 6:15]
8. 24:40-25:00 (goal 4 mile mark cumulative time) [6:10 X 4 = 24:40; 6:15 X 4 = 25:00]
9. 6:05 (per mile for miles 5-6-7) [6:10 - :05 = 6:05 or 6:15 - :10 = 6:05]
Final points to remember about the half marathon:
- Be very patient for the first 4 miles.
- Use the downhill to go faster for miles 5-6-7 but don’t attack this section as much as it’s been recommended in the past.
- The goal is to get to 7 miles around this time with as little effort as possible.
- Almost half the race is on the Great Highway. You can still catch a lot of people and make up a lot of time (if you didn’t go out too hard).
- Negative splits are the key to success in distance races.
- The race starts when you hit the Great Hwy. Do your fastest running then. Start aggressively passing people. Catching and passing people is an exhilarating feeling. Passing the first person is the hardest. Once you pass one person, you’ll then try to pass more. With each person you pass, you’ll feel better and better and the fast pace will become easier and easier.
The 5K is a fun run and the course isn’t certified. That being said, I have run the course and because of the downhill it is a fast course. The 5K course is marked on the above pdf course map with dashed lines.
The start for the 5K and half marathon are at the same time and same place. The 5K course makes a sharp right turn after about 400 meters. Line up on the right side of the start line so you won’t have to cut across traffic to make the turn. Be on the lookout throughout the race to make sure you are on the 5K course! The first mile is pretty flat. The only uphill of any significance is right before the first mile mark as you go from MLK Drive up to Stow Lake. On this course you can really hammer out a fast last mile…which means, don’t be afraid to press the second mile (which also has lots of downhill)….you will have more left at the end than you think….gravity will be your friend and help get you to the finish line.
Running the race you want to run, when you want to. That’s the challenge all of us runners face. It’s what keeps us motivated to train and to sign-up for big races – all in the hope that things will come together perfectly on race day. The 2011 USA Club Cross Country National Championships (aka “Club Nationals”) was my big goal race. I first thought about the Pamakids attending this meet over three years ago. We started talking specifically about the 2011 Club Nationals last year. Trip planning to go to Seattle has been going on for the last nine months. To say I’ve been targeting this race would be an understatement.
Since turning forty last year I have had a great year of training and racing. However, in the fall my focus was on coaching more than my own training. As a result I had some up races and some just okay races. At the Pacific Association Cross Country Championships (PA Champs) on November 20, I went out too hard and lost a lot of places as I fought through the muddy conditions. Coming off that disappointing race I really wanted to run a better race in Seattle. My main goal was to be competitive for the entire 10K, ideally moving up as the race went on rather than being passed.
I bought cross country spikes problems in case the grass was wet and muddy so that I would not have traction problems as at the PA Champs. I studied the course map and on Flotrack video of the course. The course was more or less a 2K loop that would be run five times. I decided I would use the kilometer marks to monitor my pace rather than the usual mile markers. Based on my recent previous times, I figured I could run sub-37 minutes on this 10K course. My goal was to run 3:40 per kilometer and 7:20 per 2K loop in order to run under 37 minutes. With those splits, I calculated I would place around 130th, but my more ambitious goal was to try to break into the top 100, which would likely require a low 36 minute time.
The energy at the starting line was intense. Over 350 of the fastest masters runners were toeing the line and there was an electricity in the air. I was excited to be with my Pamakid teammates at this meet, but I also had my game face on. I noticed Margaret Gallagher taking my picture as I did my drills and stride outs. Five minutes before the race began the officials fired a gun to indicate sweats off and no more run outs. Our Pamakid masters men’s team stripped down, took a team photo, and did our “Go Green!” cheer. As we stood at the starting line anticipating the gun it grew eerily quiet. I looked down the row of runners, all crouched in the set position, toes behind the white line. Then bang, the gun fired and we were off.
For the first 400 meters the challenge was to get a good start but not get sucked out at too fast a pace. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a field this large and competitive. Over 350 runners from all over the country were jockeying for position along the grass straightaway. I had to use my elbows to protect my space and avoid falling. There were many times that I was surrounded by other runners and had no choice but to go with the crowd. It was so crowded that speeding up and passing was not an option, nor was slowing down unless you wanted to be trampled. When I hit the 1K mark, I clicked my watch and carefully took my eyes off the course to check my watch. It read 3:36. Beautiful! Only four seconds faster than goal pace. I settled into a rhythm and ran with the crowd of runners around me. I had no idea what place I was in but I saw Dan Mancini of the River City Rebels next to me so I figured there was a good chance I was in the right group.
I hit the 2K mark at 7:15 and smiled to myself. I was right on pace and the danger of going out too fast was pretty much over. Now I could concentrate on maintaining the pace and passing people. I was in a real groove and that’s exactly what I did. I passed twelve runners on the second 2K loop, running 7:11 and pulling away from Dan Mancini. I hit 5K in 18:02 so I knew I was not only well on my way to a sub-37, I was flirting with a low 36 minute 10K. The third loop was another 7:11. I was in the zone.
Sometime mid-race I noticed that Nick and Francesca Cannata-Bowman, two kids that I used to coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) who now live in Seattle, were cheering for me. Their sister, Sophia, is a current SHC runner. I’ve been to a lot of meets coaching members of the Cannata-Bowman family and it made me feel great to know that this time they had come to see me race.
Slightly after 6K, I noticed an Asics Aggie uniform ahead of me. I surged and passed the runner. Seconds later I heard someone cheer for this person. “Go Hongo,” they said. “Hongo? Jeff Hongo? I just passed Jeff Hongo!? I must be having a great day,” I thought to myself. Now I had to work to make sure Hongo didn’t re-pass me, so I tried to speed up just a bit. I next lapped my Pamakid teammate Mark Huffman. Mark encouraged me saying, “Go Andy, you’re having a great race!” I was getting pretty tired and started wishing the race was 8K instead of 10K. I knew I had enough gas in the tank for the fourth loop. It was the fifth loop I wasn’t so sure about.
By this point in the race, although I felt like I was surging, all I was doing was working harder in order to keep from slowing down. The good thing was that I was still passing runners fairly frequently. I tried to never settle into my position but instead constantly target the next person I wanted to pass. It was working, though, as my fourth 2K was 7:18. One lap to go. Pamakid teammates were all over the course cheering. There was no chance to let up or someone would see you and give you an earful. Malinda had told me that my form was tight the last couple races so I made a conscious effort to relax. As I rounded the final turn I knew I had about 400 meters to go. It was a long straightaway but I had plenty of company around me and I knew I needed to kick better than I had at the PA Champs if I wanted to be proud of my race. I got up on my toes and pumped my arms hard. As I approached the finish line I could see the clock, 35:55, 35:56, I was still 50 meters from the finish line so breaking 36 minutes wasn’t going to happen. But it was going to be a great time (and later I would learn that I was 92nd, achieving my top 100 goal!).
I looked up and saw the National Championship banner that indicated the finish line. At the team meeting the night before the race, I had reminded all my Pamakid teammates to take a mental snapshot of the scene as they raced towards the finish at the USA National Championships. I took my own personal snapshot so that I will always remember coming down the final straightaway at my first Club Nationals….having run the race I wanted to, on the day I wanted to.