Tag Archives: Racing

Testing Time & Test Prep

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April is the worst month to be a student or in a school in Minnesota. Not only is the weather turning and making it hard to be inside, April is MCA month. MCA’s are the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments aka the standardized testing. What could be worse than sitting quietly at your desk for 2+ hours staring at a booklet, filling in bubbles with hopefully the right answer. Even our best students struggle with test anxiety and the patience required to sit, read, and fill, not to mention how our English Language Learners from Somalia and other countries must feel (some have only been here for a few weeks).

Their is a point to this besides getting into the politics of testing and education. This is also a time of testing for many runners. With the Boston Marathon now over and London approaching we are in spring marathon/racing season. These races are often used as tests to determine our overall fitness and how are training is going.

Some of us “test” ourselves more than others, we like to race as much as possible, others prefer to wait for the “big test” and don’t race until their goal race. I prefer to have lots of tests throughout the year. The more tests you take, hopefully the better you’ll do overall. Or you’ll at least know where you are at in your training so you’ll know what to expect on race day.

Below are some test preparation strategies from the MN Department of Education (pdf)

  • Students should take courses that address Minnesota’s academic standards. Most schools also make appropriate educational opportunities available to students who are at risk for not succeeding on these tests. Make sure you train properly for test day and get proper equipment.
  • Familiarize students with the test directions and format. Check out the course before the race, including type of gatorade/powerade being used and any form of nutritional supplements offered on course.
  • Encourage students to answer all test questions. Plan to cross every mile and the finish line!
  • Encourage students to participate in practice sessions at school and home. Make sure you train properly for the event, getting in lots of practice.
  • Have students get a good night’s sleep and a nutritious breakfast before taking a test. Hydrate, eat properly, and get a good night’s sleep the week leading up to the race.  This also includes making sure you have all of your gear and supplies ready to go for race morning – you don’t want any surprises!
  • Provide students with a study area. Everyone needs a place to stretch, do core work, hang race numbers, etc.  Plan accordingly.
  • Encourage students to practice good study habits. Students should set aside time every day for homework. Make sure you practice good technique, proper stretching, core work, etc into your daily routine of life.  These types of homework will make test day that much more successful.

The key to success for any test is preparation.  As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

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Guest Post: Tune-up Races

Coach Mike Nawrocki with MDRA’s 2009 Fall Marathon Training Class had some good words to say about tune-up racing for the marathon.

You may be asking, what is a tune-up race?  It is a race you run between now and Labor Day weekend to simulate the race day environment of a marathon.  I recommend some of the bigger races with fast fields, because that will be closest to what you will experience when the marathon comes around.

Why do a tune-up race?
a. Fourteen weeks is a long time to train without racing.  A tune-up race helps break your training up into smaller pieces, so this training process won’t feel like such a grind.

b. Practice race day logistics.  Take it from a savvy veteran like me, who famously (infamously?) ran the first mile and a half of the 2006 TC10 with a safety pin in my sock: race day logistics matter.  I lost over a minute fishing that **&%$# safety pin out of my sock and am still bitter every time I see a safety pin (unfortunate, because they are used at every race, making me one bitter guy).  A tune-up race allows you to practice your eating, bathroom, drinking, and gear preparation routine.
c. Practice pacing and running your own race.  Savvy veterans and eager rookies alike need to practice race-day pacing.  Running a tune-up race is a low-stakes way to find out if you are prone to being unwittingly sucked out to a faster start than you intend.  Better to find this out now than at mile two of the Twin Cities Marathon.
d. Help determine your marathon pace vs. Practice your marathon pace.  Don’t know what your marathon pace should be?  Race a ten miler, 15k, or half-marathon.  Consult me or Marty afterwards and we can put the race in the context of your training to help you come up with a goal pace for October 4.  Already know your goal pace?  Go run a half-marathon at that pace.  See if you can hold it without getting sucked into the dynamic of racing harder.

Buyer Beware
a. Tune-up races may not be for everyone.  If you are recovering from, nursing, or managing an injury, a race could very well be too risky in terms of aggravating this injury.  Remember everyone’s second goal for this class: get to the starting line healthy.

b. Racing is essentially a hard workout.  You should contact me or Marty for guidance on how to train the week before and after any tune-up race.

c. No races after Labor Day.  It breaks my heart to not recommend the MDRA City of Lakes 25k to everyone, because I serve on the MDRA board and have MDRA pride.  But it’s just a tad too close to the marathon.  Talk to Marty or me if you are interested in the City of Lakes race and we can decide together if it is a good idea.  If your competitive streak is such that you are prone to racing hard no matter what, City of Lakes or any post-Labor Day race is just too close to the target marathon, as you may put wear and tear on your legs without enough time to fully recover.

Thanks Mike!

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Other’s Thoughts about Twin Cities Marathon

You’ve read my thoughts about my race during the Twin Cities Marathon, but I thought I would share what other people have said.

First, here is a list of other bloggers:

Have you heard about Marathon Guide? They are a great resource I’ll have to right more about sometime, but for now, they let people comment on a race.  Here are a couple highlights:

Outstanding race, year after year (about: 2008)
Course: 5 Organization: 4 Fans: 5
S. W. from St. Paul, Minnesota (10/14/08)
6-10 previous marathons | 4-5 Twin Cities Marathons

I love the Twin Cities Marathon and have now completed the marathon four times with this year (despite the rain and 48-degree weather), achieving a PR time. As is the case with Minnesota weather, you should be prepared for almost anything. In 2007, it was 80 degrees with 70% humidity, so if you do not train for varying conditions, the TCM can become a challenge very quickly. Overall, though, the fans were outstanding and seemed louder than ever, given that they must have been freezing while standing in the cold, rainy weather. The course was organized with plenty of volunteers at the water stops. Although, the event achieves a near-perfect mark in my opinion, I think the TCM fails miserably with post-race refreshments. Compared to Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, which is stockpiled with goodies, the TCM should look to get more food sponsors and thus give runners a real treat when finishing. It seems like this area of the organization continues to decline every year.

TC Marathon – Thumbs Up! (about: 2008)
Course: 5 Organization: 4 Fans: 5
Ryan Nied from Plainfield, IL (10/9/08)
11-50 previous marathons | 1 Twin Cities Marathon

Twin Cities 2008 was marathon #13 for me in 7 short years. I recommend you run this race.
I’ve read a number comments about the weather. I ran Chicago last year in 88-degree weather, so although I did fear hypothermia at one point, it was much better than last year.
The reason? The spectators were downright awesome. I couldn’t believe how many weathered the storm along with us runners.
The finisher’s shirt is great.
I set a 55-second PR despite the challenging conditions, and I am totally ecstatic about how the morning went. It was an extremely memorable, positive experience for me.
Couple of minor suggestions:
1. Aid stations need to be more frequent earlier on – not a fan of having to wait until almost mile 2.5 for a drink. Later on, they are in good frequency.
2. Check mile marker #3’s position for accuracy. Had an unusually fast mile – and it felt short.
Overall, great job by the organizers.

Holy Hannah! (about: 2008)
Course: 5 Organization: 5 Fans: 5
L. Y. from Southeast USA (10/7/08)
3 previous marathons | 1 Twin Cities MarathonWow, what can I say. The weather was AWFUL!!!!!!! But the race was fabulous!

As everyone stated previously, the fans were amazing. Hats off to the guy dressed up as the televangelist with the “BELIEVE” sign. You definitely were the best out there!

I keep reading these comments about the hard hills from 21 to 25, and I’m thinking, “Really?” Seriously, they were not that bad. Very slow and gradual. Totally doable.

I have to agree with the comments about the porta-potties. There were definitely not enough. Sadly, I had to stop twice, and each time I did, it cost me about five minutes off my time. And since I’m a woman, I don’t exactly have a choice but to wait in line.

The post-race support was great and the food was adequate. I appreciate the simple things, so I was psyched when I saw the rolls!

Overall, no complaints about this race. The weather was terrible but the city, support, and beautiful route more than made up for it! Kudos to Minneapolis!

Thank you, Twin Cities (about: 2008)
Course: 5 Organization: 5 Fans: 5
Gregory Ruthig from Iowa (10/7/08)
6-10 previous marathons | 1 Twin Cities MarathonPros:
1. The course is as nice as advertised. The lakes and neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul were pretty, even in the pouring rain. Running over the Mississippi was a cool experience.
2. Crowd support (considering the weather) was phenomenal. I never got tired of hearing: “Goooo!” being shouted with thick Minnesota accents.
3. Volunteers were equally as good. Not only were they friendly, but they were clearly well trained by the organizers. For a runner who only wants to think about running on race day, they really made everything run smoothly.
4. Despite never having visited the cities before, my wife was able to drive around town and see me five times along the course. I can’t imagine that this is possible at most urban marathons.
5. I was worried that with only two corrals that slower runners would clog up the front of the starting line. This was not the case at all. From what I could see, everybody in the first corral was very conscientious about starting with similarly paced runners.
6. Finisher’s shirt. I usually don’t care about this sort of thing, but putting on the dry finisher’s shirt after running in the cold rain was heavenly.

Cons (these are very minor and more like constructive criticism):
1. The layout of the receptacles for the warm-up bags made dropping them off pretty chaotic. If they were placed in a long line, or just more spread out, it would have been easier.
2. Getting up to the first corral involved waiting in a slow-moving line that made me get a little panicky about the race starting while I was in line. In the end I was able to make it up there with several minutes to spare.

Breaking my PR by three minutes may be affecting my comments, but after running six marathons in four states, this was among my favorites, despite the rainy weather. This race combines much of the excitement of the mega marathons, especially the fan support, but lacks many of the logistical headaches. This was my first trip to Minnesota and I found the people made the visit and the marathon a great experience.

Wonderful first marathon, despite the weather (about: 2008)
Course: 5 Organization: 5 Fans: 5
J. W. from Savage, Minnesota (10/7/08)
1 previous marathon | 1 Twin Cities MarathonThis was my first marathon and I had a wonderful experience. The logistics of signing up for the race, to picking up my racing bib and chip at the expo the day before the race, to getting situated at the starting line all went extremely smoothly. Despite the pouring rain and 47-degree temperature, there was fan support for the entire length of course. I had an overall wonderful experience and plan on doing it again next year.

That’s enough random thoughts.  Did I miss your post? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.

[tags] Twin Cities Marathon, Twin Cities, Marathon[/tags]

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Race Review: City of Lakes 25K

Yes, that is a 25K or 15.5 miles.  My longest race ever and before this training cylce my longest run ever was a 15 mile hike/run in Yellowstone, when I worked out there one summer.  We could not have asked for a much better day for this race.  The temperature was in the mid-50’s with overcast skies.  It was pretty humid and actually rained while we were eating breakfast shortly after the race. The sun was out during my warm-up but disappeared for pretty much the entire race. The race appropriately loops around 2 of the many lakes in Minneapolis and makes for a great spectator event.  My official time was 1:48:49 while my watch was at 1:48:40 (this was not a chip timed race).  That was good enough for 131st overall and 27th in my age group.

This is the 27th running of City of Lakes and is a pretty fast course.  Four men’s age group records and 2 women’s records were broken today. The race is billed as “a middle distance trial for those running the newly created Twin Cities Marathon and other fall marathons, or for those looking for a fall, middle distance running event.”  It lives up to its name with 984 total finishers.


I received my bib number in the mail a few days before the race.  I was a little surprised, but I didn’t really do a lot of research about the race.  With a mile seperating the start and finish lines and registration at the finish line this was pretty helpful.  I didn’t have to go to the registration table.  We parked on a street about half-way between the start and finish and my wife went towards the finish and I went to the start. I wore gloves for my warm-up but decided not to wear them. I waited in line to use the bathroom for 15 minutes and never got to use it so that I could start the race on time (see below). I wore my singlet with shorts.

Race Time

I thought long and hard about the race plan.  I have been pushing my body pretty hard for the past month or so – taking my “recovery” weekends and racing over them.  So I thought that my body could handle a nice marathon pace effort and it would give me a good chance to see how the pace felt for a longer distance.  That means that I would run at 7:15 pace or 1:52:38 overall.  I thought that if I ran that pace and felt strong in the last 5-10k then I’d pick up the pace and anything under 2:00 would be acceptable for this distance.

The race directors had setup two signs on trees next to the starting area one for 7 and the other 9 for people to self-select a starting place.  I started right behind the 7 marker and went out at what felt like a pretty easy pace. The start has a quick series of 2 hills and then flattens out.   The crowd was pretty thick so I was suprised when I came through the first mile in 7:05. Okay, not too fast “slow it down a little”.  I felt like I had slowed down and was suprised again to see mile 2 come at 6:58. Ok, so still a little too fast – let’s try slowing it down again…  A quick uphill, waterstop and down to Lake Calhoun – still feeling comfortable.  Mile 3 6:53 and through the 5K in 21:32.

Ok so I’m still running faster than planned, but the 2 guys next to me are talking about their pace being dead-on their race plan.  Hmm… I’ll run with them I guess and see what I can do.  I had taken water at the stop and was a little suprised to see another water stop so quickly – so I skipped it.  The 2 guys took water so I waited for them to catch back up and fell back into rhythm with them.  We came through mile 4 in 6:59. Still feeling good, but it felt really cold running in this stretch and I never really warmed back up.  It wasn’t cold enough to worry – just enough to make your hands cold. Mile 5 was in 6:58. At the 5 mile mark 3 runners from some of the “fast teams” were standing around talking – can’t remember if they were wearing numbers or not, but strange.  Back through the waterstop and up and over the hill back on Lake Harriet.  Still Mile 6 was 7:04 and 10k in 43:07 – this 5k was 21:34.

Around and around we go heading past the starting line. I continued to run with these 2 guys and we came through mile 7 in 6:59. Passing the starting area we hit the 2 quick hills and going up them I seperated from the guys I had been running with.  I was planning to catch their race numbers so I could look them up later, but was expecting to drop them here.  I don’t think the pace was comfortable anymore, but it wasn’t strenuous either so I decided to continue with the rhythm.  I came through mile 8 in 6:57.  Overall crowd support was pretty good.  There was a lot of people in the area between the two lakes and a smattering of people around the course.  Passed the finish line again and back into the area between the lakes.  The mile marker was right before the waterstop.  Mile 9 was 7:00 and through the 15k in 1:04:41.  This 5K was 21:33.

I decided to pick up the pace to put some distance between myself and a few women I just passed! I also thought, I feel good let’s see what I can do.  It felt like I picked it up a lot so I was a little disappointed(?) to come through mile 10 in 6:53, but I knew that the clock was still under 1:10 – so I was sub-7.  That small pick-up hurt more than I expected it to and I soon realized that 10K is a long way to pickup the pace! Examining my pace chart, I did it the hard way – hitting 6:28 for a few seconds and then slowing down and yo-yoing a little bit around 6:45 pace.  The next mile I continued to speed up and slow down – hitting 6:36 but never slowing below 7:15.  Another water-stop, around the top of Lake Calhoun and through mile 11 in 6:57. I don’t remember much from the next mile except thinking that I still had a long way to go! Mile 12 in 7:01 and through 20k in 1:26:19 and this 5k in 21:38.  Interesting that the 5K I tried to pick-up the pace in was actually my slowest 5k up to this point.

The last time through the waterstop and over the hill and less than 5K to go.  Just hold it together Cross and you’ll do great.  I saw a clock somewhere in here (may have been the 20k sign) and realized that a half-marathon PR was in reach.  Mile 13 was 7:04. I got a half-marathon PR!!!!! in 1:31:something. They had an official clock there and I don’t remember the exact time.  I can’t get my Garmin to given me the time either – but it was faster than my 1:33:22 from 2 weeks ago.  Credit to Chris Taylor for saying I’d hit the PR! Excited about the accomplishment I knew that I just needed to hang in here and not blow up.  Up to this point I had been taking a Clif Shot Blok after each 5k, however I decided not to after the 20k (rookie mistake!) and Mile 14 was 7:13. Stay calm, you are doing great. Relax and stay focused.  At this point one of the guys I had run with earlier caught back up to me and encouraged me to stay strong.  We came through mile 15 in 7:06. Ok, that’s good pick-up the pace and give it everything.  I don’t know, something magic happened – I guess knowing the finish was so close it was like a jolt and I picked up the pace – hitting 6:22 pace according to the Garmin.  That hurt – backed off a little and got passed by a guy wearing headphones.  Can’t let that happen surge to catch him and try to pass – hitting a 5:28 and he switched gears and took off.  Crap I can’t keep this pace to the finish anyway so I eased off and finished in 1:48:40 for a last half-mile in 3:25 (6:25) pace.  I was a little tired, excited about my time and overall performance, and disappointed for a second about getting out-kicked at the finish.  The last 5k was in 21:49.


I stumbled through the chute letting them take my number, getting a few dixie cups of water.  The big prize at the finish was a “beer stein” or a glass mug with the race logo and sponsors on it.  And picked up my cookie from Great Harvest Bread Co. of Linden Hills and it was delicious.  Other post race food included banannas and apples. Booths from Saturn Cars (got a cow bell) and Sister Kenny Sports & Physical Therapy Center (got a little band aid holder) rounded out the party! I picked up my bag and got some dry clothes on.  We waited around for the rest of our team to finish and went out for breakfast.

A Few Criticisms

This was a great race pretty much all around.  I was very surprised that a race of this size and caliber didn’t utilize timing chips.  I know it saves a few bucks and I only lost 9 seconds from my official time and watch time, but I’m sure the people at the back of the pack would appreciate knowing their actual time.  If you want to be a tune-up for the marathon, people should get to know their official time for 25k.  The other minor criticism is the amount of porta-potties.  There was still a line at the start of the race (another good reason to use chips).  I was waiting in line, but decided to skip the bathroom to make the start (I was in line for 15 minutes).  Ok, so another little nit-picky detail but the plastic cups weren’t the easiest to drink from while running (not easy to squeeze the top) and they were pretty small to be drinking fromat the finish.

[tags] City of Lakes, 25K, Race Review [/tags]

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Marathon Training: Week 14

Image from stock.xchn.

Only a few more weeks to go and I think the fall weather has finally arrived.  I ran what was hopefully my last “hot” run on Monday.  It is amazing how much the temps have dropped through the week.  Monday morning was 70 and the temps barely broke 70 for the rest of the week! This was also the first week back for students at school so that was a little added stress but overall a very good week.

Monday: 4-6 miles. On Labor Day I did a random 6 mile route that took me downtown and across the Stone Arch Bridge and down to the river on some random trails I hadn’t done before.  I took it pretty easy and ran in 50:23.  It was 70 with high humidity. My stomach was a little upset and my legs a little tired from the 20 miler still.

Tuesday: 8-10 mile progression run. We met at Lake Harriet for our group 10 mile progression run.  We ran around Lake Harriet for a warm-up, did Calhoun to Isles at Marathon Pace, did the entire Isles at half-marathon pace and then the short side of Calhoun at 10K pace.  We hit each pace a little fast, so the overall 9.82 miles in 1:11:14 was actually at 7:15 or marathon pace.  The Marathon Pace segment was 2.54 miles in 18:19 or 7:12 pace.  The Half-Marathon Pace segment was 2.63 miles in 17:36 or 6:42 pace.  The 10K Pace segment was 1.43 miles in 8:48 or 6:10 pace.  I was quite pleased with the workout and how I felt overall at the end.  The 10K segment hurt but I never felt my pace was out of control. It was in the mid-60’s for the run.

Wednesday: 5-7 mile recovery run.As always when I run on Weds in the morning I am pretty tired and sore from last night’s workout.  This 3.5 mile run at Powderhorn Park was no different.  My left achilles and right ankle were a little tight, so I enjoyed running a lot of the run on grass and was glad to get home and ice! I ran it in 30:16 and with the 52 temp I was wearing long sleeves!

Thursday: Rest Day! I nice day of rest.  I didn’t do anything today except work and lounge around at home!

Friday: 6 mile run. This was a nice easy run along the Greenway.  I felt comfortable the entire 6 miles.  I went east for the first time in awhile.  It was 53 and sunny, so I wore a long sleeve shirt again and by the end I was getting pretty warm. I finished in 46:59.

Saturday: 10-12 miles. Because of tomorrow’s race I didn’t want to run today, however the training group was getting a 30% discount at Marathon Sports after the morning run.  So, I rode my bike there and bought a few items and rode home.  It was a scenic ride down the Greenway and around Lake Calhoun and Harriet.

Sunday: Cross-Training. I raced a 25K this morning instead of cross-training.  This was the last race of the USATF series and a beautiful morning.  I set out to run marathon pace and instead ran a very nice 1:48:40 or 7 minute pace and PRing in the half-marathon.  Stay tuned for more about the race!

Weekly Mileage:

Running: 40.9 miles

Biking: 33 miles

Hal’s Tip of the Week: Too much racing can compromise your marathon training. In the marathon training class in Chicago, we used to recommend that students race no more than three out of the 18 weekends at distances between 10-K and 25-K. Now we don’t recommend any racing out of fear of injury. Races, nevertheless, can help you determine your fitness level and help select you predict marathon pace. Here’s a handy formula for predicting marathon time. Multiply your 10-K time by 4.66. (For instance, 40:00 for 10-K predicts 3:06:40 for the marathon.) First-timers, however, should take a more conservative approach and multiply 10-K time by a factor of 5. (For instance, 50:00 for 10-K predicts 4:10 for the marathon.) By choosing the more conservative formula, and starting more slowly, you’re less likely to hit the wall.

[tags] Marathon Training, Hal Higdon [/tags]

Week 14

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