Racing again – Newport 10k and Highland Park 5k

Since the NYC Half Marathon I have focused on shorter runs, limiting longer runs to 7 miles, so as not to aggravate my hamstring. Luckily this allowed me to run the Newport 10k this year (after missing it last year). Progress has been good, but not without its challenges. After the hamstring issue seemed to disappear, an issue with my right hip took its place, but with a week to go before the race, everything seemed to have been resolved.

My plan was to run cautiously. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, I don’t want the hamstring or hip issues to return, and, secondly, the following day was the Highland Park 5k – this race is an important one for me. It was the reason I took up running 8 years ago. Without this race I can’t imagine that I would be a runner (I’ve written about this before, here). As I am now also a race director this also means a very busy weekend.

I started the race with an RVRR teammate who I’ve run with fairly regularly this year. We’ve pushed each other hard on some of our runs so I assumed we would be running a similar pace. When you start a race plans don’t always come to fruition. We were both pushing slightly faster than we said we would in the first two miles (we were running around 7:15min/mile) but then I decided I felt good enough to pick up the pace a little (the weekly RVRR track workouts I’ve been attending are probably responsible for this) and so I started moving ahead. I had felt a very, very dull ache in my hamstring early on so this may not have been the best move. Later in the race it became a dull ache, but now I had locked in on a pace I didn’t want to slow down. My legs are not conditioned for the distance, but I managed to hang in to finish with a time of 44:21 which was over 90 seconds faster than I expected. After stretching it seemed like the aches eased but my legs were definitely feeling it.

After grabbing some food and drink at the finish line (love the bagels, but there was plenty there besides) I headed back to the car so I could help at packet pick up for the HP 5k and then submit bib numbers to the timing company and get everything loaded into the car for Sunday.

On Sunday morning my legs were still tired, but after ensuring registration finished up smoothly I headed to the 5k start line. I typically know who I would be running near in this race year after year, so I was hoping to be near them this year after dropping back last year. As we headed around the first corner I was side by side with someone I hoped to be able to pace with, but who I knew would likely get ahead at some point, and I watched as another runner I wanted to stay near eased ahead. Then I felt that my shoelace was undone. A little while later my other shoelace came undone. I did not want to stop and just hoped that I didn’t end up tripping or having a problem with a loose shoe.

As expected, the person I was alongside near the start did ease ahead and I was left feeling alone in a bit of a middle ground. My muscles were tight, my hamstring was threatening with the same dull ache I’d had the day before, but, yet again, I did not want to slow down.

It paid off. After mile 2 I could tell that I was possibly catching back up to one of the runners I wanted to finish near, and somewhere in the last half mile I managed to pass him. I had no kick left at the finish so I suspected he might be able to come back and take me, but I stayed ahead, and surprised myself with a time of 20:54.

The Highland Park 5k has grown over the last few years (2 years ago, despite high registration numbers, the number of finishers took a dip because of the weather), and this year had 581 finishers. The kids races also attracted a large number of kids.

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Less than 4 weeks to the Newport 10k

The Newport 10k has always been on my race calendar since joining RVRR because it has been a USATF Team Championship race every year, and because it’s a fun event. That first year for me was 2012 (it may have been a championship race before then).

Last year was the first time I didn’t run. 2016 wasn’t a great year in terms of speed, as it was the start of my issues.

This year I’ll be back out there, although I suspect my time from that year is still a bit out of reach. Things are improving, but after the NYC Half I’ve cut back my long runs because it proved too much for my legs to handle.

I’m working hard to be as fast as I can with weekly speed sessions but there’s a way to go, and with all my training runs below 7 miles I’m not getting a lot of mileage still. My goal will be to enjoy it, but also push as hard as my legs will allow.

If you’ve got some base miles in despite the weather, the distance is perfect, and it gives you a great preview of the Newport Liberty Half which takes place in September. So, if your goal is the half marathon you can’t go wrong with this race to get a feel for what it will be like.

My hope is that my half marathon time will be considerably faster in September than it was in NYC last month. I have my short-term plan to build the strength I need, with my eye on that goal for September.

It’s the perfect time to think about goals, so what are your goals this year?


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NYC Half Marathon

I deferred last year’s race entry to this year because of the problems I was having, so this was my last chance to do this race (at least with a guaranteed place). When the race opened for entries I still had no idea if I would be able to run that far.

In October I was barely running at all, and avoided it for much of November too. In December I was fairly comfortably running up to about 3 miles at a time. It was only when I started to increase my mileage that I began to get more optimistic about my chances. I took a fairly aggressive approach as things were going well, and with 4 weeks to go before the race I did my first 10 mile run, and maxed out at 12 miles 2 weeks before the race.

I always knew that my speed was not going to be near my pre-injury times, but during training I had managed to push the pace for the odd mile or so more than I expected. This left me wondering if I could actually record a halfway decent time.

In the week before the race I was off sick on Monday and Tuesday, and didn’t feel great the rest of the week. By Sunday though it wasn’t bad, but because I had neglected running, and therefore stretching (I need to separate those so I stretch when I don’t run too!), I noticed my hamstring was feeling tight again.

On race morning I walked from the hotel to the start area early – maybe a little too early as it was so cold. I was in wave 1, corral C which had a 1:35 pacer at the front. I knew there was no way for me to be that fast so started towards the back of the corral.

The wait for the start was terrible in that cold but I had a little help from a fellow club member giving me a heat sheet to protect me a little more.

Picture taken by Anne Siglam

I worried about going out too fast at the start but settled into a comfortable pace early on and stayed with it. I soon discovered that even in Brooklyn my GPS watch wasn’t going to be very reliable. The second mile came up way too early so from then on I didn’t use my watch other than to compare to the clocks on the course (I’d crossed the line about 5 and a half minutes after the official start).

I’d like to say that I enjoyed the run, but at the time I had so much going on in my head that I can’t say it with certainty. It took a couple of miles before my legs felt like they were no longer frozen. I did make sure I took in the sights when I could – looking out from the Manhattan Bridge, looking around at the buildings and so on.

By around halfway I was a bit concerned about my hamstring. I did some mental calculations around mile 8 and thought I could finish in around 1:41 or 1:42 if I maintained my pace. If I kept that going until the park and lost a little time later perhaps I could still manage 1:45.

Of course, by the time I got to the park I was desperate to hang in, and pushed through the pain and the hills. In the last mile or two I wanted to stop and walk, but my brain wouldn’t let me.

I crossed the line in 1:41:36 – definitely faster than I expected, but I felt frustrated with my hamstring. It wasn’t until I was walking back down towards Times Square that the emotions kicked in. I started crying. I think this was because of the realization that I had come back to run a relatively fast half marathon given my training, and that I felt I was officially “running again”.

As I had no meaningful data from my watch (which told me that I had managed my fastest 5k ever during the race because of the GPS problems) I turned to the splits on the tracker.

What amazed me most about my times was the consistent pace – looking at the 10k and 20k split I had covered the first 10k in 48:15 and the second 10k in 48:17.

I know I’m not entirely back to running – this race took a lot out of my legs and my recovery this week is slow. I have more aches and pains from it than I remember ever having before, even from the marathons I ran. I am pretty confident now though, that with the right training, I can get even more of my speed back and I can’t wait.


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Coaching – a client perspective

A client of my coaching business “Running It Softly LLC” wrote the following. I thought about  changing some wording as this client worked very hard which is all a coach could ask, and this gives me more credit than I think is due, but I decided to leave it as-is. I have written my perspective which I have posted here.

In June of 2017, I found myself in need of a running coach for career related reasons.  Admittedly, I have never enjoyed nor been any good at running, so I knew I was already at a disadvantage (or so I thought).  I began my search on and instantly found Coach Neil.  After a quick exchange of messages, we set up a meet so that Neil could assess my gait and posture while he also gauged my beginning run “speed” ( it was slightly above a speed-walk).

At that time, I could barely manage to jog for more than five minutes at a time.  It was uncomfortable, slow, and I felt like I was never going to get to where I needed to be.  Neil set up a shared Google spreadsheet and invited me to be his friend on MapMyRun so that he could monitor my progress and so that I could share my feedback with him.  Each month, Neil managed an online, monthly plan for me with entirely feasible goals and to my surprise, I met them.  There were good days and bad, and Neil reminded me not to focus on the small pitfalls.  Weeks went by and I slowly started getting better.  For the first time in my life, I was able to measure progress and feel good about myself in a running environment.  It was slow-going, but Neil never lost faith in my abilities and because of that, neither did I.

Fast forward to March of 2018, when it came down to me basically running for my job.  I was required to meet a specific standard, and with Neil’s help, I DID IT!   In a matter of months, I went from barely being able to run for five minutes to running 1.5 miles under 14 minutes.  For some people, that might not sound that impressive, but to me, it literally meant everything.

Throughout the entire process, Neil really was (and continues to be) an amazing coach.   He provided sound advice and judgement and remained incredibly cautious to prevent injury.  He was always honest and straightforward about the timing of my progress.  Neil definitely knows what he’s doing and because of that, I have trusted him implicitly.  He has always been in my corner, believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

I never really valued the benefit of having a coach, until I needed one.  I attribute my success almost completely to Neil, in that without him, I KNOW I would never be where I am today.  Neil and I always joke about my love of running (or lack thereof) but with his help, I have slowly started to become someone who actually enjoys running.

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The result of individualized coaching

I find coaching very rewarding, particularly when it results in great success.

Since I set up Running it Softly LLC 3 years ago, I have taken on as many clients as I feel I can help with the limited time I have available outside my full-time job and other commitments (which include being the president of the best running club in NJ – RVRR and a race director for the Highland Park 5k as well as the family commitments).

One of the most rewarding experiences has been the progress of someone who came to me because their job had introduced a fitness assessment. She was going to have to run 1.5 miles within a defined time. When we first met, we worked through a run/walk to see where things were and covered 1.5 miles in about 20 minutes, and she wanted to get the time comfortably below the requirement, to about 13:30. This was last summer, and not knowing when she would have to take the test it was difficult to know whether we’d be able to make it work. There was also some concern about shin splints that we needed to consider.

The approach we took focused on reducing walking time and increasing running, as well as some runs that included short bursts at the speed she would need to achieve.

We seemed to be making progress. Within a couple of months she ran it in 17 minutes during a practice test, but still we didn’t know how long we had to close the gap. By the time November rolled around things were definitely looking promising, but a bad day at the track knocked her confidence and it felt like we were still not close enough. However, a practice just a short while after showed that she could do it and she regained some confidence.

We focused the remaining weeks on speed, and when the test finally happened last week, her time was comfortably under the target time although not at the goal of 13:30. I’m proud of the hard work she put in, and proud to have played a part in her success.

For the client perspective on this, see the post here.

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Newport 10k – win a free entry

Last year I had to abandon several of my race plans due to injury issues. This year I’m on my way back, and with that I’m happy to once again be part of the Newport 10k as a blog partner (and a runner!).

This year the race organizers have provided a free entry to give away. Here’s how you can win and help the running community at the same time. I originally set up to help me remember where people had told me it was worth running in NJ and to hopefully provide it as a resource to the NJ running community. I haven’t expanded it as much as I would have liked. So read on to find out how you can be in the draw to win a free entry to the Newport 10k on May 5.

Provide details of somewhere to run that’s not already on the site at this link with details about the location and information to help runners navigate it, and I will enter you into a drawing.

Entries are welcome as comments on this blog post or on these facebook/twitter accounts.

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An overdue catch up

My resolution is to update here more often. I’ve found it difficult to keep up lately, so haven’t found the time to write a post. Here’s a quick summary (it actually surprised me that I wrote a short post in December – I thought it had been much longer but I didn’t tell the whole story in that post).

  1. I am now club president of RVRR – this is primarily responsible for my blog being somewhat abandoned in the last 2 months. The club is the reason I’m such an avid runner and I’m glad to have the opportunity to give back in this way.
  2. In my last post I described how my runs were around a max of 5k. That was 2 months ago, and I’ve been able to increase that to 10 miles as of this past weekend. My hamstring isn’t perfect, but I can finish these runs with only some discomfort that doesn’t linger after stretching and rolling. It looks like my goal of finishing the NYC Half is highly likely to be reached at this point, and perhaps I can put a bit of pace behind it too (I know I’ve got to be cautious there). For the first time in a long while I went to the track yesterday and managed a reasonably paced set of 4 800m runs. I probably shouldn’t have done that the day after my 10 mile, and I had only planned to run an easy 3 miles. However, I decided to take the kids to the track and decided to see if I could push myself (my advice is don’t do this the day after a long run – perhaps I shouldn’t try to be my own coach).
  3. Another thing I hadn’t mentioned last time – I’ve started swimming. My idea of swimming up until November was breast stroke with my head above water (I could do other strokes, but only for as long as it took to run out of breath, and then I would have to stop). I got a coach and I am learning how to breath while swimming. I definitely regret not having learned this as a kid, and I am very envious of those who make it look so easy. My biggest problem appears to be relaxing while swimming – I’m sure some sort of self-preservation impulse kicks in as I’m swimming and I tense up which inevitably results in some sort of problem with the breathing (not getting enough air, timing it wrong, swallowing water, you name it). It also surprises me how high my heart rate gets, and how tiring it is for me. When you’re used to being able to run at a decent pace without getting tired, having a hard time with just a few lengths of the pool is disconcerting. I’m determined to get there but need to make sure I get to the pool regularly to practice.
  4. I’m still coaching, and enjoy that immensely. I plan to incorporate more about that in my blog too.
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A couple of miles at a time

I’ve not posted for a while because progress was slow or non-existent. However, now that my hamstring issue seems to be almost resolved I thought it was time to return to this blog.

Runs over the past several weeks have maxed out at 5k, and those were slow runs interspersed with walking as I ran them with my kids. 2 miles are a relatively comfortable distance for now, and this week I ran on consecutive days. I can’t recall the last time that happened. It still feels like it’s going to take some time to get to the point where I am running comfortably but with the right approach I’m hoping it will work out for me.

My first goal is to get through the NYC Half Marathon on March 18. I deferred from 2017 and I can’t defer again. My only plan is to keep doing what my legs seem to allow. Hopefully that will allow for a gradual increase in mileage over the next few months.

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Grape Gallop – Alba Vineyards race review

Back in April I attended the Grape Gallop 5k at the same place. I wasn’t sure I should run the 3.5 mile Grape Gallop on October 21, 2017 as I have had some hamstring issues but the lure of wine and the fact I had fun last time led me to make the drive.

There wasn’t too much difference between the two events – there did seem to be more people, and this one included chip timing by Compuscore (not that I wanted a record of my time given my current speeds!).

The course is similar – just deviates from the 5k course on the second half of the hill. Be warned, the hill is tough. On the second time round I had to walk a little (and plenty of others were too), although it was still a part of the race where I made up some ground.

It was a beautiful day again, and the atmosphere and organization made it an enjoyable event.

Grape Gallop lists this run as 3.5 miles, but it seems like the course was definitely shorter. My Garmin recorded it as 3.34 miles, and one other runner recorded 3.31. Typically I’d expect a device to record a bit longer than the race distance. The course is not USATF certified (at least as far as I aware) so it could just be that it wasn’t accurately measured. I would imagine the true distance is around 3.3 miles.

This time I couldn’t stay around for the food truck festival, but it did look like it would be a bigger event than the April one.

This year, for many of my running friends the timing was bad because of a cross-country team race the next day, and several other key races that weekend (Perfect 10 was one of them), but hopefully next year the timing will work out better – this is the perfect race to attend with a group of friends.

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Don’t run the Half Marathon

It’s in the title, although to be fair, neither my Physical Therapist or my Sports Medicine doctor actually said those words. What they said was that they’re not going to tell me not to, but….

I was in England for work, and had signed up for the Blenheim Palace Half Marathon three months ago, assuming that I would be back to running by then. I decided I would go to the race to at least get my t-shirt, then perhaps I would start the run and drop out when things hurt (the course looped around a central point a couple of times in different directions). After all, it would be a scenic run.

Taken on an earlier trip to the grounds of Blenheim

I cycled there as I had rented a bike for the time I was in Oxford – it was just over 7.5 miles away from the hotel. The race information had indicated that only one bus from Oxford would get to the start in time for the half marathon.

It started to rain on my ride over, which wasn’t supposed to happen that day. The forecast had said it would be dry all day. It wasn’t terrible though, and more importantly it wasn’t that cold.

I had to pick up a number, and I’m guessing they had mailed them out as they had to assign a new number at the check in desk. I imagine there will be a number waiting for me when I get home. I grabbed my t-shirt and found some shelter under a tree. Runners are always friendly people and it’s never too long before someone talks to you, or you start talking to someone else. I’ve always liked that about running.

About half an hour before the start I dropped my bag and did some dynamic stretches in the hope that would help. The race started precisely on time – I had lined up a bit behind the 2 hour pacer thinking that I would likely go out at that pace until I had to drop out.

The start/finish area

So, when did I drop out? Of course, I didn’t. Early on I could feel the pull in my hamstring but it wasn’t too bad and didn’t get worse (in fact, that sensation seemed to fade). I thought I could feel my problem with my right ankle coming back around mile 5 or so, but again it wasn’t bad enough to make me stop.

I felt pretty good at the 8 mile mark. At this point I was passing people who had slowed as the race progressed. Mile 10 was were I ran into problems. My calf muscles were so tight by this point that at times I could barely run. This isn’t entirely surprising considering my longest run this year was about 8 miles, and my average pace by that point of the race was slightly faster than 8:30/mile. I stopped a couple of times, but pushed through. Some of those who I had passed earlier came back past me. In the end I had a time of 1:53:48 which is my slowest half marathon, but also the most satisfying. Despite my issues, I am still able to run 13 miles without my injuries stopping me. I would not recommend running a half marathon with minimal training and a long run of 8 miles several weeks before, and no running at all for 2 weeks in the lead up to the race.

I headed straight for the massage tent which helped a lot (for the price of a donation). I had to cycle back to Oxford, and that was tough. It was slow but I made it without too much problem.

Over the next couple of days my hamstring hurt a little (I’ll be resting until that fades away), and my calf muscles took 3 days to get back to almost normal. I think I need a proper massage.

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