A running start

I know many runners who started running when they were young, but I also know quite a few who started when they were older. Those who started later usually have a story about how and why they got started.

I was 36 when I started running, almost exactly 5 years ago (May 2010). The story of how I started isn’t particularly interesting, but when I look back and see how my relationship to running has changed things are very different.

At the time I started running I was relatively active, but I wouldn’t have said I was particularly fit – I would cycle most weekends with a small group of people, and I would spend about half an hour at the gym a few days a week. I would have liked to cycle more, but cycling requires quite a bit of time to have any real benefit (and with 2 young kids time was limited), and I wasn’t a fan of the gym at all.

That was when I decided, on a whim, to run the Highland Park 5k – I couldn’t tell you the last time I had done any running of any kind, and I had always thought that running was boring. I’m still not sure what made me sign up other than the fact it was right on my doorstep, but I put on my (incredibly old) gym sneakers and went out and ran it. It should be noted that I didn’t go out and prepare for it, I just did it.

The one race I will always do each year (at least I hope)

The one race I will always do each year (at least I hope)

The race had a good atmosphere – in part because I knew others who were there – it definitely brings out a good contingent of Highland Park residents, as well as people from further afield (the last couple of years there have been around 420 finishers). I can’t say that I was hooked after the run, but it was good enough for me to decide that maybe running wasn’t as bad as I had previously thought it was, so the next month I decided to buy some new running shoes and start running.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to do the Highland Park 5k every year mostly to check on progress, but also because of the people. Now I am lucky enough to be one of the race directors. This was something that happened last year when the previous race director was unable to do it and there was a scramble to find someone to take it on. Not wanting to lose this race, I managed to drag a friend in from the Raritan Valley Road Runners, who had experience organizing races, to help out.

Last year, given the relatively limited time to get it organized, it was a case of just making it happen, and trying to make sure the previous success was continued. This year, we looked at how to make it easier for the runners and for us, and have tried to make changes that we hope people will see as improvements. For example, the start and finish were previously separated by several blocks meaning runners would have to choose where to park and then walk between locations at the start or end, and we also had the added complication of two areas to organize. The previous start location was also on a major through route which made it a more difficult job for the police and less safe for the runners. The course change also takes the runners up a different hill from River Road than previously, which seems to be a little easier too. You can read a bit more about it in this Highland Park Planet article.

I still want to make it a point to race, so I will hopefully be at the start line, although the Newport 10k the day before may impact my time this year.

What’s your running story?


Beer Fest 5k

I was lucky enough to get a free entry into the Beer Fest 5k and Lawn Games Tournament this past weekend, through the Active Advantage Membership program (random free entries come up for grabs every now and then). The timing for this giveaway was perfect as I had just found out some friends from RVRR had signed up.

The event is billed as a 5k with beer stations, and lawn games, hot dogs and beer after the “race” – I put race in quotes because no times are posted, although there is a clock if you want to know your time.

With only 3 weeks until the Philadelphia Marathon I maybe should have been doing a final long run instead, so to compensate I decided to cycle the (almost) 13 miles to get there – the thought process also included the fact there would be lots of beer and therefore it was probably best not to drive. I knew I could get a train back too if necessary.

Beer was available in advance of the 5k (which was scheduled to start at 11am) so a quick one before heading to the start was in order. As usual I wasn’t planning on going fast, but of course, when other people are, you just can’t help yourself (or at least I can’t). However, by the time the first beer station came around at just under a mile, I did stop and have a beer before continuing the run.

The course was basically 3 laps of the park, so at about mile 2 you passed the beer station again. I decided not to bother again (partly because I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle it, but also because I thought it would be better to make it to the finish as quickly as possible to get to the craft beers at the finish).

Crossing the line in under 21 minutes including the stop for beer.

Crossing the line in under 21 minutes including the stop for beer.

Being one of the early ones back there was no line for beer so that was a bonus, but as people started coming in the lines got longer but moved reasonably fast.

It was still busy when the lawn games started. This part seemed a little disorganized at first (mainly because announcements were easy to miss), but it seemed to settle down, although at one point we think we must have missed a change over because we had done all the games when they announced it was over. It’s not like we were in contention for any prizes or anything, but we do go over to play the final game anyway.

Beer was still flowing (although with fewer options) and the crowd was thinning out, so I took advantage of that. When it came time I decided to cycle home and not take the train – it was a pleasant ride in, so I thought it would be nice to ride back.

Unfortunately what I hadn’t realized is how strong the wind was by now, and the ride home was into the wind. Also, I had failed to realize that my ride to the race was largely downhill. That, combined with the alcohol, made it a tough ride. I was exhausted by the time I got home.

Too many 5k races?

In New Jersey at least, there are a lot of 5k races… 921 in NJ over the year according to this. That’s quite a lot for somewhere only 170 miles long and 70 miles wide; not to mention that many places also have easy access to NYC or the Philadelphia area where there would be more races accessible to NJ residents. And that’s just the 5k races.

As someone I know likes to say “5k mania!”.

It seems that quite a few of these are charity fundraisers. It looks like charities see holding a 5k as a good choice of event to raise money (and awareness). Often though they don’t have any experience in helping run such an event and it can make it difficult to get it right first time.

Yesterday I took part in a first-time charity 5k – Run for Warmth which fit this profile. Before I get too far into a critique of what was wrong the race, I want to make it clear that I actually really, really enjoyed it, and I sincerely hope that the organizers learned a lot from the experience and can come back stronger next year. They really are a very nice group of people raising money for a worthwhile cause – helping people find the help they need for paying bills, particularly heating bills in the winter. With programs being cut recently they were looking to find ways to raise funds so they don’t have to turn so many people away: http://spreadthepurple.org/

I pretty much knew what to expect when I signed up for this race – although I haven’t taken part in one before, I have seen, or heard about, similar events. I initially signed up for this because I wanted to run a 5k in March and this one was local. I just wanted to get an idea of my speed at the time. Unfortunately they postponed it just a few days after I signed up. I wasn’t sure if I would end up running it simply because it was rearranged for Labor Day – the day after the Jimmy D 5k which is a large run for another good cause. I’ve taken part in that 5k every year since I started running, so knew I would be doing that one.

My initial thought was that this was postponed due to having very few people sign up and that was partially confirmed at the run talking to the organizer as she said there seemed to be too many other races at the same time which lead to the decision.  It was an unfortunate choice to rearrange for the day after Jimmy D because that’s such a big race only a couple of miles away from this one. With the sheer numbers of races in NJ, it’s going to be tough to find a time when you’re not up against some other race.

Thinking this was going to be a small event I decided to go along anyway – why not see how well I could do the day after running a fairly solid race, and besides, with all the fast people having run Jimmy D with only a small chance of them coming out again the next day, maybe I could place quite high.

As I noted above, I was expecting this to be small, and along with that comes concern over how well organized the run is going to be. When I arrived that morning, my concerns appeared to be well founded. Registration was from 8:30 to 9:30 so I got there around 9 to find very little activity. The catering guys were there, the timing company were there, a volunteer was there, but the word was that the organizer was going to be there in about 15 minutes. It turns out they had very little volunteer help and she had to load the van herself that morning and was running late. It didn’t seem to matter too much – there were only a handful of runners there at that point and the timing company was proactive in giving out numbers and chips, writing down our names, and trying to make sure we would still be able to start at 10am.

There was a slow trickle of runners turning up, some were pre-registered and some were not but everyone was checked off and ready in time for a pre-race warm up (if they chose to do one). I don’t think the organizers were ready though. I wonder if maybe they expected the timing company to do more because although they had printed out course maps, they had not set up anything on the course to indicate where the turns were, and I wasn’t sure they were going to even have volunteers out there. I had taken a look at the map and recognized the course as one I had seen used before (but not run myself). The turns were at the far ends of the park so should be easy to work out and the only slight complication was a detour along a road within the park that took you up to a parking lot. I had seen that you had to run around the parking lot before coming back out on the same road.

By 10am there were 20 runners – apparently more had signed up online but did not show up. The forecast was for rain so that may have been a deterrent for some, but other than a few small spots of rain closer to 9 it looked like it would hold off. Some may also have signed up in March for that date but maybe could not make the new date. The small field made it quite a pleasant atmosphere with an “everyone’s in this together” attitude. The faster looking people were working out how fast the others were (well, okay, I was trying to work it out) and the fast looking young guys seemed to think they would have to try to keep up with me after I told them about my previous day’s race. I still wasn’t sure how fast I would be so there was a chance they could beat me.

When we started they did stay right with me, although they left me to lead, but after the first turnaround they came past me. A spectator was kind enough to stand by the parking lot road to direct us in, but pointed out she had no idea what we had to do when we got up the road. At that point I pulled ahead of the two youngsters again and lead them around the parking lot and back out to the main road. They started to drop back slightly at that point but I was determined to stay ahead. I think the threat of them catching back up to me was enough to push me hard to the end and I actually won – I got to break through the tape at a finish line!

The distance was a bit short according to my Garmin and, if that was a full 5k, then my time was amazing so I knew something wasn’t right. I checked afterwards with the USATF course map and it confirmed that the finishing line was seemingly in the wrong place and the course was short. If it had carried on to the full length at the average pace I had done for the race I would have had a time of around 19:30, which was slightly faster than my pace the previous day (but this was a flat course). My recorded finish time was 19:04.9 http://www.coolrunning.com/results/13/nj/Sep2_Runfor_set1.shtml

As others came in, it became clear the chain had broken in terms of those behind being able to follow the full course. At some point people didn’t realized that the course officially went around the parking lot so they just ran up the road, round some garbage cans at the end, and back down again. Nobody seemed too bothered by it though (finish order was not affected in any way).

Food was provided after the race, and I have to say this was the best post-race food I have ever had. They had a few guys volunteer from a program that trains young people to be chefs and they grilled up some fantastic burgers and chicken (I’m thinking they may have done better holding a fundraiser with just the food rather than a 5k).

I spoke to the organizer after the race and she seemed pleased to get the feedback on what she would need to do next time. If they were to hold this again next year I would probably participate if it fit around my schedule, mainly because I liked the cause and what they were trying to do. Perhaps they can make it work. Maybe I could even try to help out.

I’m not sure whether they would have raised much money with this event with the associated costs but at least it hopefully raised some awareness and if you can help out in any way, you can donate here.

I was hoping to be able to include some pictures on this post, but I didn’t take my phone with me on the day and no pictures have been posted yet – they haven’t posted anything at all on their facebook page since before the race, but I should probably give them a break as it can’t be easy running something like that in addition to working full time… but I really want to see the finish line photo.

Do you think there are too many races? Perhaps you like the choice of small and large races so appreciate the choice? What makes you choose to run a particular race?


Unusual training with a 5k at the end

Following my last post I had an interesting week of training. I don’t usually use this blog to talk about my individual, daily runs, but as this was an unusual week, I thought it was worth talking about.

At the point of my last post I had already run a few fast miles on Monday of that week, despite heading out for what I thought would be an easy, slow run – it just felt right at the time. In the post I talked about the Tuesday night speed workout and following the discussions that I had that night, I knew on Saturday I wanted to try for a relatively fast 15 miles.

On Wednesday I ran relatively fast again, 3.25 miles at 7:45 pace, and then another 1.35 miles barefoot (therefore slower at about 9:30 pace). Then on Friday morning, again feeling good, I ran about 10k at 7:15 pace. This was turning into a fast week.

On Saturday I skipped the club run (although I did pass the group at one point) to try to do that fast 15 mile run. I managed 15 miles at 7:46 pace, resisting the urge to do more at the end as I still felt relatively good.

All of this running gave me a week of just under 38 miles with an overall average pace of about 7:51 per mile. Crazy, right? Particularly as it followed on from another high mileage week (by my standards) of just under 43 miles.

After that effort I decided to have a low mileage week to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it. I only had 2 runs from Monday to Saturday totaling 14 miles (both runs still faster than 8 minute miles).

On Friday I made a return to Bodypump classes after a couple of months off (various excuses for not going) but I now know that I need to keep going regularly. While the class didn’t seem too bad at the time, the next day my quads were hurting (and my arms too, but that was more expected). My quads were bad enough that it hurt to walk down stairs.

This lead up to a weekend of racing, with two 5k races over two days (the second of these was due to a postponed race earlier in the year – I will write more about that second race in my next post as there is a lot to say about it).

Sunday was the Jimmy D 5k which always attracts a large, competitive field. It’s a USATF NBGP 700 point race and a women’s championship race hence the fast field. I’ve done this race since the year I started running, and I’ve got faster every time.

This year was no exception, although I had no expectations for the race at the start. I decided to focus again on running form. I wanted to focus on how I lifted my legs as I ran. It’s tough to tell whether I really did anything different than I would normally do – perhaps I lift as much as that naturally – but focusing on it forced me to think about it (almost) constantly. It seemed to be working well as I went through the 2 mile mark at an average of 6:10/mile, and, although the third mile was slower due to it being mostly uphill, I did seem to be very gradually closing the gap on the next group ahead so felt as though I was doing well. I didn’t catch them though, but equally, nobody passed me, so I’m very happy with that. My final time was 9 seconds faster than last year at 19:40.

As this race is usually so competitive it’s tough to get age group awards. Last year I was 6th and I wasn’t expecting to get any closer this year. However, I did manage to get the 3rd place age group award which made me very happy.

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What surprised me most following the race was how much my biceps were hurting. As I mentioned before, Bodypump caused me all sorts of aches the day before but I wasn’t expecting a run to make things worse – I guess pumping your arms while running must really give your arm muscles more of a work out than I thought. This has demonstrated to me the importance of upper body strength in running so I will try to get to Bodypump more often.

On Monday I wasn’t sure what to expect – having run so well on Sunday I expected Monday to be harder and slower. You’ll have to wait to find out what happened in the next installment.



I’m not sure if it’s just the time of year, or having been on vacation, or perhaps I overdid things earlier in the year again, but it’s been tough to get out in order to get in the miles lately. Despite the motivational issues, I haven’t done too badly – the mileage just isn’t up to what I was doing earlier this year.

Since last Tuesday’s race (where I didn’t feel great) I have managed 3 runs, 1 race and 1 bike ride (only my 4th ride of the year – probably should do something about that). Don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but I do want to reflect on the race at least…

Sunday morning was the Miles for Minds 5k in Edison, NJ. I ran this race for the first time last year because I was in a multi-race battle to try and beat Rolf. This year Rolf was also the reason I ran it, but the circumstances were very different. If you click through to the link to his blog above then you will see that he is recovering from a major injury which he documented in his previous blog. This was his “comeback” race.


I need to get better at taking pictures at races – otherwise all I’m left with is impersonal images like this.

I also had another motivational factor – last year I won my age group, and I was hoping I could repeat that this year.

I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes before a race my body shuts down – sometimes this is the morning of the race, sometimes it’s the day before. It can take a variety of forms – stomach issues, extreme tiredness. It’s not that I feel nervous or anything (at least I’m not aware of it if I am) – with the tiredness it’s almost like my body is trying to make sure I conserve enough energy for the effort, but I have no idea what the stomach issues are about. Is it just something that affects me? It’s not something you really talk about I guess so I have no idea if anyone else goes through similar things.

On Sunday morning I had the stomach issues, but it wasn’t like anything that had happened before other races and I felt like I might actually throw up. I knew I had to go to the race, but I also knew I could run it with Rolf as he isn’t up to his old race speeds quite yet. I felt like I couldn’t eat anything but I forced myself to eat a protein bar and surprisingly things started to feel a bit better.

At the park when it came time for warming up I still wasn’t sure. A slow jog seemed to be making my stomach do little back flips so it wasn’t looking good for the age group win, but somehow it seemed to settle as we got further into the warm up – I decided to go out racing and ease off if I felt like I couldn’t make it round.

The course for Miles for Minds is not exactly what you would call flat, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a PR. Last year I had run this well though – better than I expected. Roosevelt Park in Edison is quite hilly and the course includes quite a few turns. It didn’t feel as “easy” as I seem to recall it being last year and even though I was maintaining a good pace it was a bit of a struggle. I passed a few people, but got passed by a couple towards the end and didn’t have enough kick to try and stay with them, but ultimately I was very happy as it was enough to get the age group win.

The next part was the most important though – after grabbing a bottle of water I ran back down the course to run in with Rolf – he’d been chatting away with Alberto for the whole race but they’d still been running at a decent pace so it wasn’t far before I came across them and ran with them back down towards the finish again. Next year Rolf, I hope to be battling it out with you again.


As the subject of this post is motivation, I have to mention the River to Sea Relay this Saturday. I’m in a team consisting entirely of people who have never run this before, and it’s tough to know what to expect. It feels like there have been hundreds of pages of documents relating to it, and then there’s the stresses around replacing team members who have dropped out. This, at times, has lead me to wonder why I’m doing it, but now as it’s so close I think I’m finally settling into the realization that this should be a really good fun day out.

Has anyone reading this run the River to Sea relay in NJ before? Any advice for first-timers?