Race Report: Dispea 2017

On June 11, 2017 I ran the 107th running of the legendary Dipsea race. I finished in a time of 1:02:04.


  1. Finish/Survive – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Qualify for 2018 – ~150 spots – ACCOMPLISHED – with 136 to spare
  3. Average heart rate 170+ – ACCOMPLISHED – averaged 177 BPM
    • 160+ on the Downhills – ACCOMPLISHED – 175+
    • 175+ on the Uphills – ACCOMPLISHED – 180+
  4. Sub 1:05 – ACCOMPLISHED – 1:02:04
  5. Top 25 Open Section – ACCOMPLISHED – 21st out of 796 runners
  6. Do not walk or speed hike – Not Accomplished – 3 sections of speed hiking, 2 forced
  7. Sub 1 hour – Not Accomplished
  8. Top 1% Course time – Not Accomplished
  9. 55:00 – Not Accomplished


What am I proud of from race day?

  • Completed my first trail race
  • Really strong effort, dug deep & kept pushing
  • Managed to stay upright the whole time
  • Maxed my heart rate at 192 – haven’t seen 185+ since college
  • Really let go on the paved downhills – max of 3:37/mile pace
  • Busted a heel grab over the photo-op hurdle near the end
  • Played it safe through the Swoop to avoid injury
  • Brought a frozen water bottle to drip on head & keep cool


What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Had too much left in the tank at the end
  • Did not push hard enough for the final stretch of the cardiac hill
  • Got lots of poison oak on my arms & legs


What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • My amazing wife for signing me up and letting me disappear for the weekend
  • The race director for accepting our bribe
  • Other runners I drafted behind during various sections
  • 107 years of history that make this a great race
  • Volunteers that cleared the trail, handed out water, blocked dangerous parts & cheered


What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Bottlenecks, especially through the Sun Trail & Dynamite sections

Race Recap

The following is a detailed account of my race day. It is long. This is my way of paying it forward to future athletes & documenting it so I can remember later on.

Pre Race Day

After a number of years of failed attempts to get into the Dipsea, I had given up. My wife, however, had a different idea. Towards the end of last year she got a hold of my friend Chris to figure out a race we’d want to run & they agreed this one would be a good race and nice chance for a weekend away. So for Christmas last year, this was her present to me. (We’re minimalists, so gifts that aren’t ‘stuff’ are our favorites).

I found out I was accepted about six weeks before the race and realized I had zero specificity for a short (7 mile as opposed to 26.2 mile) trail (as opposed to flat asphalt) run with 2k ft of climbing (as opposed to pancake flat).

I scrambled to turn a few of my interval days into hill-interval days, got one practice run on the course and fortuitously got lost during a long run which allowed me to log a few trail miles to prep my stability muscles.

That would have to do.

I wasn’t sure how I would do, not having raced in nearly a year, so I set a range of goals. I had checkpoints lined up for a ~1:00-1:05 finish but knew I could be anywhere from 0:55-1:10 based on comps to other runners.

The Starts

The Dipsea has one of the most unique race starts I’ve ever heard of. There are ~50 groups that start one minute apart and runners are seeded based on a handicap system that accounts for age and gender. The first group to start includes men 74+, women 66+, 7 year old boys and 6 year old girls. It then works it way back until the last group – men age 19-30. More info here.

Not only that, but there are two sections – the invitational, for runners that previously ran & qualified goes first and then the open ‘runner’ section for everyone else goes second.

I started in the very back group of the runner section. The last group to cross the starting line that day.

The benefit is I got to enjoy watching all of the other groups start. It is pretty cool to see the groups and get to hear the announcer praise the accomplishments of various runners – including winners from recent years and those running the race for the 50th+ time.

My Start

After a short warm up I lined up with the young guns. I debated starting in the very back, just so I could pass everyone, but remembered my lesson from last year’s NYC about getting fancy on race day and decided instead to toe the line – literally.

The pack took off fast, I noticed we were at 5:10 and backed off to my planned 6:00 pace for the relatively flat half mile until the dreaded stairs. There were probably 15 guys ahead of my from that group – only one would remain ahead of me until the end.

The Stairs

The Dipsea race has many reasons to be famous, but the stairs tend to be one of the more dreaded and well known. At 688 stairs in total, runners climb the equivalent of over one third the Empire State Building.

My goal was to use heart rate as my guide – take the first set at 160 BMP, the second at 165 & third at 170. The top of the third set was a checkpoint, I planned to cross is at 8 minutes.

I started up the first set, staying to the left to pass people and was logging 175. By the second set I had gotten bottlenecked, both lanes were moving slow, so I hopped off the steps and sprinted up the dirt to the side, I was now crossing 180 BPM. I got past the bottleneck, sprinkled in a few steps of speed walking up the steps but generally held to 180 through the third set. I crossed at 7:10 – 50 seconds faster than planned. I was worried I’d gone too hard.

Cresting The First Hill

After hitting the top of the stairs I had my first moment of digging deep. Most runners were backing off the effort a bit as they reached the road and continued to climb to the top of the first hill. I held my resolve, eager to make the most of the section of wide road which was perfect for passing people. I averaged 167 BPM and was holding to under 9:00 pace despite the 10%+ grade.

Down To the Bridge

We hit the peak, around the 1.2 mile mark, the course hopped onto the Sun Trail, a single track dirt trail with some ruts from the rain over the previous winter. I tucked in behind two runners that were trying to pass the crowd but we got really blocked up. Despite going downhill we were moving at 12:00 pace and my heart rate had dropped to 163.

I finally stepped into the brush and jumped over a bush to get around a slow pack and got onto the asphalt. We were looking at about a half mile of paved, wide open road at a 10% downhill. I decided to test my mettle and open the throttle. I clocked that section at at 4:50 mile pace, averaging 180.

My goal was to get to the bridge by 18:00 – I hit the next trail section at 15:45 and wasn’t quite sure how far it was. I knew I had lost some time on the Sun Trail bottleneck though.

I tucked in behind a runner that was hollering people out of the way and followed him down the ‘Suicide’ shortcut – which is basically a steep dirt embankment you try and fall gracefully down. I darn near nocked over a 13 year old boy who was stalled at the top.

I picked up some speed and ran through the Muir Woods parking lot at 5:15 pace, clearing the 5 steps in one stride as I tried to pass people before the trail got bottlenecked again. I hit the bridge in 18:05 – just a hair behind pace. I’d lost my edge but was still doing well.

Then came the pain.

Up To Cardiac

The next hill is the biggest. Remember those 40 stories of stairs at the beginning? That was half of the first hill’s climbing. This hill was twice as long and steep as the first hill. In total it was two miles that climbed 1,200 ft.

It starts off with Dynamite – a steep section of switchbacks on muddy trail through a lush green forest. The trail was completely bottlenecked, I tried tucking behind people but there was just no room to pass. I then tried getting around people by running off trail but was burning myself out. I hit 189 BMP – a rate I hadn’t seen on my watch since college. I couldn’t maintain that so I backed off, resigned to move with the pack and save myself for the fire road that was coming up.

We averaged 16-18:00 per mile through Dynamite and when I hit the road I picked it up to 10:00 pace. My goal was to do the two miles in 11 minute pace and get to the top by 40:00.

There are a number of path choices up the hill and I opted for the wider, though often slightly longer trails to avoid bottlenecks. I ended up averaging 10:00 pace and 180 BPM through the main part of the trail and passed a good number of runners.

When I hit 4 miles on my watch I wasn’t sure how much climbing I had left and was getting a bit discouraged. That final steep section really knocked me out – 0.2 miles at 19%. I speed hikes a few really steep sections where tree roots made the footing hard, averaging 13:45. In retrospect, this is one section I could have pushed harder through if I had confidence where the top was and what the other side looked like. I averaged 178 and should have pushed through the top bit around 183-185.

I crested the top at 42:00 which was 2:00 behind plan. That would put my finish in the 1:02-1:05 range depending on how fast I went downhill.

Starting Down

The downhill starts off a fairly mellow rolling trail at around 5%. The views of the Ocean are beautiful but between the wind making my eyes tear up and rocky footing, I was 100% focused on not tripping. I averaged 6:40 and 176 through that feeling pretty strong but getting noticeably less sharp mentally.

I had no idea where I was going at this point, but thankfully had people in front of me continually so I just ran towards the next runner as I overtook each one.

I eventually hit a split in the road and had to stop to figure out where I was going. It took me a second to figure out which way the short one was – my mind was going. I got going pretty quick down the steep stairs for a bit before catching a runner in a blue shirt – he waved me past but I made the wise decision to stay behind him. Drafting meant I wouldn’t get lost, would have someone helping clear the path and would likely be going at a slower (and safer pace).

I only averaged 170 through that section, but am ok with it. A wet, steep, winding path I’ve never been on before is not the place to push myself as I hit exhaustion.

Even with that safe approach I hit a rough patch and rolled my left ankle a bit. I took at easy for a few steps and decided I would keep going. I was pretty sure it would swell up later, but it seemed good enough to finish on.

The Final Bump

The last climb is a short but steep climb that taunts runners who are exhausted. It is aptly named ‘Insult Hill’. As we approached it a young kid I had just passed kicked it into gear and went flying up the hill. I was a impressed.

100 feet later he was walking. I passed him and made a quip to which he defeatedly admitted that was a horrible idea.

I hit 186 by the end of that minute and that kicked me into gear for the final 1.25 miles.

The Last Downhill

The final mile alternated between paved roads and trails that cut between curves in the road. The trails were not very worn, most sections looked freshly trimmed back and teeming with poison oak. I was letting loose on the roads, hitting around 5:15 and doing the best I could on the trails to keep moving without flying into the bushes.

As we popped into the bushes for the second time I overtook a runner and realized that for the first time that day I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. I was running around 7:00 pace on a deer trail with no idea where I was going. Thankfully I stayed on the right course and made it out.

The Finish

Before getting on the road for the last quarter mile, the trail drops you off at a wooden railing you have to jump over. I was having enough fun at this point that I busted a heel grab and got a laugh from the onlookers.

I ran the final quarter mile drops 120 feet. I ran it in 4:21 pace averaging 185 BPM. I hit the finish at 192 and nearly passed out – I don’t think I’ve hit that level of exertion in a decade. I even looked back at hard workouts over the last few years and the highest I see is 185. I found a gear I forgot about for the past decade and it feels really good to know I still have it.

Post Race

Into the ocean to try and get the poison oak oil off of me. A light cool down so I might be able to walk the next day. Then three hours of chilling on a picnic blanket in the sun recapping the race and watching the award ceremony.

Because of the crazy handicapping & starting system, depending on how you count it, I either got 2nd, 9th, 21st, 22nd, 71st or 614th. (2nd in my start wave, 9th fastest time in the runner section, 21st place in the runners section, 22nd in my age group, 71st fastest time of everyone and 614 was the number I crossed the finish line in)

Since I started in the very back, I went from 1,400th to 614th over the course of the race, passing around 750 runners over 7 miles, which works out to about 1 every 50ft.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

This is the distribution of race times for everyone in the runner section – those that didn’t qualify the previous year. I’m pretty close to the front, only a few people had faster course times, only one from the group I started with.

When I add in the runners that qualified last year I move towards the peak of the bell. The interesting thing about the way qualification works is that 600 people qualify one year but of those 600 only 450 will be able to qualify again and the other 150 come from the fastest among the other runners. You would think this would make the qualifying harder every year but it actually looks like it stays quite stable.

Looking just at my age group, I’m much closer to the middle. That speaks in part to the caliber of the race and in part to my newness to trail running. 

Looking at my Strava data – a few things pop out. First the pace varies widely – par for the course. Second, my heart rate is relatively steady except for the places I got bottlenecked and pushes at Insult Hill + the finish. Third, my cadence is a great way to show where I fought bottlenecks and wasn’t dictating my own stride – the tremors in the pink line highlight the difficult spots, the most obvious and long lasting being the start of the second uphill.

Looking at just heart rate I notice a slight downward trend from mile 2 through 5. Part of that is from exhaustion going uphill & the rest because once I started heading downhill my limiter was footing and not my heart, part of it was exhaustion. I clearly found a second wind though as I hit the final climb.

I love isolating the pace, look at that range – 3:20 per mile all the way to 22:20. I have never experienced so much variance in a single race. This was one of my favorite aspects of it and a big reason I’m looking more towards trail races in the future. Road races have become predictable – set your pace and hold it, then hope your energy systems don’t fail. There was a lot more to think about in this race including footing, passing strategy, optimal-though-not-even energy output, etc.

The zoom in on cadence reveals a few more things. The spike before mile 2 is the suicide shortcut. I hit 230 steps per minute through there because you’re basically just trying to control a fall down a dirt embankment. I later had a few other sections of quick foot movement on the downhills. I believe those helped get my legs into a gear that allowed me to finish well – look at that increase during the final quarter mile – I crossed the line at 212 steps per minute – very high turnover for me.

The Strava course record is held by the runner who has logged the fastest time each of the past few years. I compared my time to his to see if there were any sections I was weak at.

From the looks of it, he took the start slowly, relatively so, as his time really doesn’t separate from mine until the stairs. In this chart, the pink line indicates how far ahead of me he is at any point in the race – higher means farther ahead.

There is a spike where I got bottlenecked on Sun Trail & things stay flat on the downhill section I raced. Most of the big climb looks fairly steady until the final hill – I knew I hadn’t pushed hard enough there and the comparison shows it.

The only section I gained anything was at Insult Hill, and it was only briefly. Perhaps he stopped to help someone. The finish section is actually relatively flat – I was really moving through there so it isn’t a surprise.

The good news with the mostly steady progression is I don’t have a glaring flaw (or I share the same flaw he has). The bad news is I don’t see any low hanging fruit to improve – I’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way.

What is Next?

The top ~150 people from the open section get invited back next year to run in the invitational section – I got 21st. That means if I come next year I’ll get to start earlier, with faster runners. I might even train for this as my ‘A’ race for the year – I would love to attempt to break one hour.

I really enjoyed the trail aspect of this as well as the varying hills. On a track or road race I mostly check out and just hit my paces. Here I had to focus to switch gears between sections of sprinting on the road, quick turnover climbing stairs, long slogs on the dirt uphill and careful maneuvering through tight trails. That variance feels like a breath of fresh air to my running life and is something I’m interested in. In addition, running on trails lets you spend more of your time in beautiful places.

Plus, most of the really long races are on trails – so I’ve got to get good at them if I ever want to compete at the 50 or 100 mile distances.

Race Report: New York City Marathon 2016

On November 6, 2016 I ran the New York City Marathon. I finished in a time of 3:11:37, about a half hour slower than my best marathon. Here is the race report.

I debated writing this – I wasn’t sure it passed my litmus test of being a race – or of deserving a report. In my mind the goal of writing a race report is to document the ins and outs of an all out effort in order to learn from it and also to serve as way to remember a momentous event. I ultimately decided to write this because I think I have something to learn from it, and it was quite memorable.


What am I proud of from race day?

  • Finished
  • Was leading my heat for the first mile
  • Solid effort through the first 22 miles
  • Finished before 96% of runners
  • Was able to run well off of minimal training


What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Lost to Chris
  • Did not take it easy enough the days leading up to the race
  • Did not get to the starting area early enough and missed my wave
  • Did not have a good read on my fitness
  • Went out way too fast
  • Ultimately did not have a sound strategy or unified goals
  • Didn’t stick to my fueling strategy


What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • The random number generator that accepted me to the race
  • Amazing weather
  • The people of New York City
  • Volunteers with water every single mile
  • The New York City Mets
  • Getting to have a celebratory dinner with Chris, Gretchen & Rob
  • My wife for letting me leave her alone for two days to check an item off my bucket list


What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Morning logistics
  • No one to pace off of for the first 19 miles
  • Having to weave to pass a LOT of people
  • Having to walk almost a mile after the race

Race Report

The following is a detailed account of my race. It is long. This is my way of paying it forward to future athletes & documenting it so I can remember later on.

Pre Race Day

Before the race I changed my mind a few times about what my goal was.

My original intent was to run the NYC Marathon as a celebration after doing well at Jack & Jill over the summer.

I missed my 2:37 goal there by 5 minutes though and so I thought I could use NYC as a second chance. After studying the course I realized that was going to be improbable due to the travel stress & race course difficulty. So I signed up for CIM, the fastest course on the west coast, in order to give myself the best shot at hitting 2:37. I planned to skip NYC since I qualified for next year.

My friends Chris & Gretchen were signed up for NYC, and beating Chris is one of my favorite pass times, so around October I decided to go and run it as a workout, one month before CIM. My high hopes were to run about 3:00 easy at NYC, which I knew would beat Chris, and then turn around to run a 2:37 a month later at CIM.

My training hit a few kinks, mainly due to my third child being born, and so by late October I realized a 2:37 at CIM wasn’t going to happen. I ran one tempo run that suggested I could hold 6:30 pace at NYC and finish around 2:50-2:55 though, which seemed like a great plan. Plugging some data into the NYC Marathon pace calculator tool, my plan seemed to line up with what they thought. I made the call to taper for the race rather than train through it and decided my goal was to have as much fun as possible while still beating Chris.

My strategy at that point was to go out slow, around 7:00 pace, drop to 6:45s for the bulk, catch up with him around mile 18-20, and then finish strong, leveraging a solid base from earlier in the year. (You will soon see that this is the exact opposite of what occurred.) I had another goal in mind of finishing with my average heart rate above 166 BPM, which is what I averaged during my fastest marathon. I knew I wasn’t as fast as I was then, but I figured if I was able to work that hard again or harder, that would be an accomplishment.

The day before the race I made a few big decisions – never a good idea. I decided that my goal was to have as much fun as possible and make this a memorable event. After all, I knew it wasn’t going to be fast (by my standards), so I might as well make it fun. I decided to wear a New York Mets hat to get the crowd support. I made the call to abandon a few of my pre race rest tendencies and go do a few NYC things. I opted to run with my phone so I could take photos & videos to remember it by.

I also decided that, since my qualifier time had me seeded with group 1A, I would go out fast & run the first miles with the professionals. I had this vision in my head of running out in front on across the bridge, side by side with runners I could never compare myself to. I could only hold their marathon pace for a mile or two, but perhaps I would even make it on TV during that time so my family could see me. After that I would likely need to take a breather, then get back in a fight through a tough and slow race. I was going to blow my race but enjoy the first 10 minutes of it.

What I hope is obvious is that I didn’t have a clear and locked goal. My plans were changing quite frequently based on the circumstances. Sometimes rolling with the punches is a good thing, but often it results in confusion and failure on all accounts.


I woke up at 6:00AM, caught an Uber with another runner and got to the ferry terminal plenty early for the 6:45 ferry to Staten Island. The race was scheduled to start at 9:45, which meant I had over three hours of waiting.

I did by best to stay warm and sit as not to burn energy. I stayed hydrated. I tried to be patient with the large crowds. I have never been to a race this big. In fact, very few people have since this year the NYC Marathon set a record for largest marathon – only a few other shorter races have ever been bigger.

I somehow bumped into Chris & Gretchen on the ferry and we acted like tourists the whole way over to Staten Island.

Once at the ferry terminal on the other side, we decided to stay inside for a bit rather than getting on the bus. A large part of that was spent waiting in line for the last nice bathroom we would see. The janitor there had a sense of humor about the crowd that remains a highlight of the day.

We eventually got in line to get on a bus, and made a mistake of getting on a full bus rather than waiting for the next one. We were standing in the isle and the bus was in traffic & not moving. We eventually sat down in the isle as best we could and watched our clocks as we realized we would likely miss our wave. We did hit another highlight though, a 70-something year old man who has run the race ~30 times telling us why he loved it so much and where the best bathrooms on the course are.

The bus pulled up and we ran to try and find our starting area. Hearing over the loudspeaker that we had missed our wave, I had to abandon my plan to go out in front and decided to go with Chris’ wave so we could run together. We got separated though and so I ran back over to my start area. After a bunch of shoving through crowds I found out I nearly missed the next wave too, but ended up making it to the front of 2A.

The Start

I asked around to find out what sort of paces heat 2A was set for and heard mostly 8:00-range. A fine pace for a marathon, but I had run a marathon at 6:11 a few months earlier. I was going to need to go out fast to avoid getting bottlenecked.

By turn of fate I would end up being in the perfect place to fulfill my vision of being in front on the bridge, without having to run 5:00 pace.

The cannon went off at 10:15 and I took off. I was in front. A quarter mile in I started to feel winded, and realized I was going sub six, uphill. Not a good idea. I slowed down a bit, but around then I spotted Chris’s wave.

The Bridge

I need to provide a bit of context. The way the NYC marathon start works is kind of complex. There are three color starting lines: blue, green & orange – each of which takes a different course through the first 8 miles before combining.

I was in Blue and Chris was in Orange. Both of those crossed the bridge on the top level, but were separated by a concrete barrier. Our paths would later split in Brooklyn, only to recombine at mile 8.

When I saw Chris up ahead I figured I would go catch him so we could run together. We said hi and ran side by side, like we have for hundreds of miles. (Except there was a concrete barrier between us – which, honestly, is probably a safe measure to implement on future runs). I was leading my wave and he had only a few people ahead of him in his. We essentially got to run on the narrows bridge with nothing else around – another highlight of the day.

My watch beeped after one mile, 6:25. 50 seconds faster than the plan. The, 20 second later I heard Chris’ watch beep. That is when I realized that our courses were parallel but not even – I had gone out faster, though we were now running the same pace.

You can see in this image a blue and orange line showing the different courses – notice blue starts further back but orange has to run a few extra blocks in Brooklyn.

Around then the bridge crested and started heading downhill.

We cruised down the hill and hit 6:03 for the second mile. Again, much faster than planned. At that point our courses split into Brooklyn, they would reconnect around mile 8.


The miles through Brooklyn were my favorite of the race. The joke is that I loved the Brooklyn half-marathon – I did quite well too. The crowds had so much energy and that was the first time we got to experience them since there had been no spectators on the bridge.

Their energy kept me pumped up. ran a 6:21 & 6:36 for my next miles and took my first gel. Around that point I started to catch people from wave 1. I was relieved that I wouldn’t be running alone. I was foolish.

I took some video, a selfie and settled into a better pace. 6:47, 6:35, 6:41, 6:42.

During those miles I passed the stragglers of wave 1 and made my way towards the majority of the runners. I love passing people, which probably kept my pace a few seconds faster than it would have been if I had been running with people my own pace. I took my second gel around mile 8.

Around mile 8.5 I ran past my cousin Rob’s house. I’ve been out to see Rob in NYC a half dozen times over the past 15 years, so it was great to run through his neighborhood. He was out there cheering and we connected for a high five – another highlight of the day.

At this point in the race the three waves combined and the course got really crowded. I was catching runners from wave 1, which had started 24 minutes before mine. So the runners I was passing were running about 3 minutes per mile slower than I was (doing the algebra, I was at 6:45 pace and they were at 9:15). That meant I had to plot a course around them essentially like they were standing objects – it was much like running rapids. It was draining and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran an extra half mile weaving back and forth to either side of the road to pass people. This went from fun to frustrating.

Some rough math – I finished in 1,762 place and had started at the front of wave 2 of 4. So there were probably 12,500 people in wave 1. I passed most people between miles 5-15, of which 3 of those miles the course was still split in 3. I figure I passed around 10k people across 10 miles, roughly 1 person per 5 feet. I took a video that confirms those ballpark numbers.


I crossed the half at 1:27:31, right on schedule actually. I figured at that pace I could keep pace to hit a 2:55, go faster to get closer to 2:50 or slow down a tad and still break 3. This was a great place to be. I took my third gel somewhere around there – I can’t quite remember.

Around this point I was averaging a heart rate of 166, which was one of my goals, so I was feeling great about that.

Unfortunately I got bottlenecked on the Queensborough bridge and ran my first 7:00 split. There was just no way to pass people and I my early decisions were starting to catch up with me. I didn’t have the motivation to yell to pass them by a few seconds so I settled into pace.


Despite going slow, I couldn’t manage to pee, so I stopped right after the bridge hoping to put that all behind me.

As I turned down 1st avenue I decided to give it another go and put up a 6:48 & 6:52 and had my fourth gel. I had two more on my belt that I planned to take during the race but ultimately did not do that – it was a mistake that cost me.

Mile 20 I found a runner who was going a bit faster than me – likely someone who also had to start in the later wave – and I forced myself to stay with him until the mile marker. I figured if I grit it out and hold hold pace for a bit, I would get back in the groove. It was a 6:57 and that was my last sub 7 mile of the race. My hypothesis did not hold true.


As we turned through the Bronx, which they let you run in for all of one mile, my pace was 7:20. This was now easy run territory but it didn’t feel easy. I started checking my phone to see where Chris was. As it updated I realized he was closing in on me. At one point I had a 2 minute gap on him but he had nearly caught me.

Manhattan Again

We turned back into Manhattan and just then I saw Chris pass me – we were right around the 22 mile mark. He didn’t see me so I called out to get his attention and we exchanged a few words. I thought he would run with me but he seemed pretty focused – I think he was trying to break 3:00. We were both clearly hurting. I regret that we didn’t just run the race together – that probably would have been more fun given the situation we were trying to deny we were both in.

At this point I knew it was going to be a rough finish. I decided to make a cut then and jog slowly to make sure I could finish. My next miles were 8:20 and 8:40 – that seemed like a deep enough cut in pace to enjoy the finish but was not.

I should have likely gone closer to 9:00 pace and focused on refueling. Unfortunately at mile 24 I thought my race was nearly over and that I could just push through it. It would ultimately be another ~30 minutes until I finished. I wish I had respected that time and taken in some calories.

Central Park

As I hit the park my body bonked. Full on “you don’t have the calories to move that fast” bonk. My heart rate dropped from 170 to 130 – I just didn’t have the energy to push harder. Even at that I had to take a few breathers.

The way to understand bonking is to think about fuel for a car. My body was dripping fuel into the engine at that point and if I tried to move faster than about a 9:00 mile it would burn through it and I would be forced to walk so a bit more energy could accumulate.

I walk/jogged the last two miles. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before in a race. My mile pace was about 11:30. In the race report I wrote for my fast marathon this summer I described how towards the end everything was breaking down and I had a tough time finishing my last miles. Looking back, my slowest mile that day was a 6:37. This time around it was quite shocking to be moving at nearly half that speed.

I’ll include this picture only because I think it captures how much I was trying to grit through the pain. Not having available glycogen isn’t something you can just grit through though.

One of my big miscalculations was thinking I could hit 166 BPM for this race. What I failed to realize is that energy use is a factor of time, not of distance. This is less obvious with short races and on the track, what I am used to. I had previously proven that my body could work at a level of 166 BPM for 2 hours and 42 minutes – not 26.2 miles. When I checked my watch throughout the race and saw 166, I felt good. In reality, all that would get me was 2 hours and 42 minutes of running before a crash. In order to run for a longer time, I would need to be running at a lower effort. In fact, checking my splits, I crossed the 2 hour 42 minute mark at mile 23.5. That is almost exactly when I crashed.

I ended up finishing with a 162 average. If I had thought about this more before the race, I would have aimed for that earlier, gone out a bit slower and likely finished much faster.

This was a hard lesson but will be important if I ever run on trails where distance is often a bad predictor of time, due to elevation climbing. In those cases it is important to think about energy as a function of time. I won’t forget that.

The Finish

I timed my walking so that I had a bit of energy to jog across the finish line. It wasn’t really a celebration other than the fact that I could stop moving and get on with enjoying New York and my friends.

I regret that I didn’t do something more fun at the end. I should have just stopped at a deli around mile 24, had something to eat and gotten back on the course. Then I could have jogged it in and maybe done some pushups at the finish line for good measure. That would have been fun and my time would have been in indistinguishable 3:25 – still a great marathon time. A fun poor performance is much better than a miserable one. Misery is fine if you’re setting a record for yourself though. I wish I could have realized sooner what was happening and made that call. If ever I end up in that situation, I’ll know what to do.

Post Race

The post finish experience was one the worst I’ve ever experienced. We essentially had to walk one mile (I mapped it below) to where we could meet our family and get on the subway. Thankfully they gave us calories right after the finish – I sat down to eat and eventually met up with Chris. We got pretty cold before the .75 mile mark where they finally gave us our ponchos.

That mile probably took close to 40 minutes. I guess that was my slowest mile of the day.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

I mentioned earlier that I went at a good pace and caught up with a lot of runners that started in an earlier wave, only to have many of them pass me again. Here is a nice chart that shows how it played out with one particular runner I found on Strava who ran a 3:24. Their splits were really even so the change in time between us is all due to my pace dropping. I started ~20 minutes behind them, meaning they were about 4 minutes back into wave 1. You can see that I steadily gained on them until the 23 mile mark. At that point they started gaining on me and ended up putting a good bit of distance on me in the last few miles.

Here is my pace (blue), heart rate (red) and foot turnover (pink) during the run. This is one of the charts I look at for every run. Here I see a nice build up at the start (perhaps too fast for the first half mile), then a solid steady run at a good cadence. The pace bumps around mile 15-17 are mostly due to GPS noise. You can see my bathroom stop at mile 16 where my cadence drops for a bit. At mile 22-24 things start to look a bit rough, mile 24 sees a major slow down and then you can see my alternating walking for the last few miles.

Heart rate is one of the metrics I pay a lot of attention to, so here is a look at just that.

You’ll notice a few spikes, the first one at mile 1 when I sped up to catch Chris, the spike at mile 2 when I started passing people, mile 8.5 when I saw Rob, mile 16.5 after I got out of the bottleneck of the bridge, mile 19 when I decided to push and hold onto another runner, mile 24 I made a big push to get over the last bit of the hill.

I mentioned before that I had hoped to have my average heart rate over 166. I essentially hovered at an average of 166-167 from mile 3 to 21. At that point it slowly started to drop. Going into mile 25 I was still at 166 but those last two miles dropped the average to 162.


What is Next?

2017 is going to be a light year for me. I won’t be trying for any records. I am signed up for the Boston Marathon, might repeat Jack & Jill to pace a buddy and have my eyes on a few really cool races including the legendary Dipsea & Bloomsday races.

Race Report: Jack & Jill Marathon 2016

On July 31, 2016 I raced my first marathon. I finished in a time of 2:42:23, taking first place in the race. Here is the race report.


Compared to the Ironman I did in 2014, this race was relatively quick and not quite as grueling – but it was much more intense and there was far less margin for error. To put numbers to that – during my Ironman my average heart rate was 137 BMP or about 74% of my maximum. For this marathon it was 166 BPM or 90% of my maximum.

My goal, which I had set at the beginning of the year before I started my training regimen, was to break 2:37. I missed by about six minutes. If you don’t fail once in a while, you aren’t trying hard enough. This was an intentionally aggressive goal that was set without context months earlier. That said, I think I could have broken 2:40 if I had raced better – I had the fitness.

Nonetheless, my finish time of 2:42:23 was fast enough to lock up first place overall, putting me ahead of 568 other finishers. According to athlinks.com, that time puts me in the top 2.6% of marathon finishers – which itself represents only about 3-4% of people.

For a smaller marathon like this, a winning time in the 2:30s or 2:40s is pretty normal – but to give you something to compare that to:

  • Most big city marathons with >1,000 runners, like the San Diego Rock n’ Roll marathon, see a winner in the high 2:20s or 2:30s
  • Galen Rupp, the Olympian representing the USA in Rio this year raced a 2:11:12 in his first marathon (the recent Olympic Trials)
  • The world record for the marathon is 2:02:57


What am I proud of from race day?

  • Won – was in first place from gun to tape
  • Executed well on my planned nutrition & water strategy
  • Adjusted mentally to a bumpy start and got back into a rhythm
  • Solid pace & effort during miles 10-18


What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Did not dig deep enough during the last six miles
  • Did not put new batteries in my head lamp before the race
  • Did not rest enough the week before & morning of the race


What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • Good weather
  • No rocks got inside of my shoes
  • Volunteers with cold water at the aid stations


What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • No one to run with
  • Morning logistics & bus schedule
  • Really busy week at the office proceeding the race (working until midnight multiple nights)

Race Report

The following is a detailed account of my race. It is long. This is my way of paying it forward to future athletes & documenting it so I can remember later on.

Pre Race Day

The day before the race I picked up my packet, did my warm up run on the course to check out the tunnel.

Though I should have it much earlier, I also used that day to test two new pieces of gear. The first was my foot pod – a device that goes on my shoe to track turnover & record distance in the case GPS goes out – which it would during the tunnel. The second was my flashlight – to make sure it was bright enough to run with. I brought two just in case.

As always, I laid everything out the night before to make sure I didn’t forget anything. It worked, I didn’t forget anything.



I woke up at 1:30AM. I had planned to sleep until 4:30 – but I was nervous and after spending an hour trying to fall asleep again decided to just rest & read. I had breakfast at 4:30 and left the house at 5.

Race morning breakfast was, as always, peanut-butter & banana on a plain bagel. I have eaten that same meal for every race since high school and it has never failed me.

I drove 40 minutes to the parking lot, which was at the finish line and got on a school bus to go to the start line which was about 20 miles away (the course isn’t perfectly straight). Point to point races dictate this type bus drop off logistics but I feel it is generally stressful. In the future I’ll strongly consider loop courses where you can get yourself to the star/finish. That said, the bus ride was along I90 which is a beautiful mountain pass with trees, towering mountain peaks and flowing rivers every way you look.

We got to the start line a bit after 6:00am and had a while before the start time of 7:30.

I did a really light half mile warm up, a few stretches and a handful of leg exercises to wake everything up. Most marathon runners don’t warm up – it is a long enough race that there is plenty of time to get warm and saving energy is more important. Unfortunately I can’t go from cold to six minute pace without a bit of a warm up.

Sometimes a race is big enough that logistics necessitate bringing ‘throw-away’ clothes you can strip out of at the start & discard. This race was so low key that I ended up stripping down minutes before the start & tossing my bag into the back of a truck at the start line just in time to line up. With that in mind I was surprised to see a bunch of people shivering or wrapped up in garbage bags. Note to any future marathon runners, spend $15 on some cheap sweats or at least make use of your drop bag to keep you warm for 70 of the 90 minutes before the race. It isn’t worth it to burn that much energy being cold & shivering.

As I approached the start line I saw the pacers with their signs. The first corral was labelled ‘Sub 3:45’ and the fastest pacer was holding a ‘3:05’ sign. I asked if anyone was going sub 3 and a few people put their hands up. I said I was trying for 2:40 and they all said ‘good luck’. I had suspected I would be running solo but had hoped I would get lucky and have one or two other people around my time show up.

The Start

When the gun went off, I took off at something close to 5:45. I wanted to go slow, but race nerves kicked in. It took me a bit to settle in to my planned 6:15 pace.

I’ve run hundreds of races over the years and one thing that is consistent is that someone (or a few people) always goes out too hard. I love to watch the front runners and figure out who is going to drop. This didn’t happen in this race to the degree it normally does. There wasn’t anyone way out in front that couldn’t hold on. That was nice to see.

The Tunnel

Half a mile into the Jack and Jill marathon, the course enters a tunnel. It is a 2.3 mile long, pitch black, perfectly straight, damp & cold, former train tunnel that is about 25 ft high and 12 ft across with a crushed rock floor. I have never run in anything like it (minus the test the day before).

As I entered the tunnel I turned my headlamp on and then immediately, the light dimmed. My batteries were dead, but it took me a second to realize what was going on. Meanwhile I was moving at six minute pace in a pitch black tunnel. I stepped in a puddle and got one foot soaked.

The night before I had been talking to my wife about my practice run in the tunnel and which of my two head lamps I was going to bring. I commented that it was important my light worked, because unlike middle pack runners who would have light around them from other runners, there was a chance I would be in front. Just to be safe I decided to bring a second light.

I turned on the other light and put it on my head. This was my backup light because it wasn’t as bright, but it was enough to see the ground in front of me so I could avoid rocks. The trouble with a head lamp & running in a cold tunnel is that your breath fogs & rises, getting in the way of the light so that it reflects back at you. You essentially go blind every exhale. On account of that, the puddles and general creepiness, I remained pretty timid through the tunnel until I got closer to the other side.

Once we got to the other end the light from the other side started to make it possible to see again.

As I got closer to the exit I could see the outside and it seemed surreal. A low hanging fog was stark white and I could taste the pine drenched mountain air.

I was so relieved to be out of there.

You can see a few lights behind me from the first pack of runners

I tossed my lights into a box they had set up (for the record I am really good and tossing things into boxes and trash cans at full speed) and tried to get into my rhythm.

Settling In

That 3rd mile was rough. My heart rate above my target (171 vs 165) and my pace was ten seconds slower than goal (6:09 vs 6:00). I had my first gel at the 3.5 mile mark. When I got to the first aid station I surprised the volunteers who weren’t ready for me and we botched a cup handoff. I was really worried it just wasn’t my day and my morale was pretty low.

Over the next two miles I really focused on turning things around mentally and getting into my groove. Calming down and settling in for the long haul. It was working – my heart rate dropped to 166 and my pace dropped to 5:58. Everything was back on track.

At this point I could help but enjoy the scenery. The race was on a trail on the side of a mountain overlooking a big canyon with a highway and river running below. In the distance, tree covered mountains line as far as you can see and a few jagged, rocky peaks stick out periodically. There was a light cloud cover and some hovering low fog. Along the trail there were wildflowers in bloom and small creeks running down towards the river below, periodically stopping to fall over rocks. Truly a beautiful place to run.

Target pace at the 5 mile mark would put me at 30 minutes flat. Instead I was closer to 31. I was one minute in the hole from those rough first miles, but I had 21 miles to make up the difference. My plan was to have off a few seconds per mile while keeping my heart rate around 165-167 until mile 10 so that I didn’t burn too much energy. At mile 10 I would do the math to see how much more time I needed to cut per mile and shift to hitting splits, regardless of heart rate. My hope was to cross the 20 mile mark at exactly two hours – that way all I had to do was finish the final 6.2 miles on pace.

Steady pace, form still holding up, but showing the first signs of marathon wear

Mile six I lost 20 seconds to stop and pee. Despite having peed while running before, something about race day nerves and moving at sub six pace made it too hard to do. It was the right call though, I felt much better and my next five miles averaged 5:56 with a 167 heart rate. I was making up time. I had gels at mile 7 and 10.5 – right on schedule.

As I hit aid stations I would refill my water bottle. I holds about 8oz and I believe I went through 5 or 6 of them during the race. The first times I stopped to pour cups into them but eventually realized I could refill with the water jug. I would stop to do this, wasting about 8 seconds, but my thought is that was worth it to have continual access to cold water.

The Half Way Mark

As I got closer to the half way mark I started to notice that my GPS was no longer in sync with the mile marker cones. At first they had been lined up almost perfectly. In fact a few times the GPS was late, meaning I was running faster than my watch said. But by mile 12 a gap was forming.

I crossed the half way timing mat at 1:20:19. But a few minutes earlier my watch had told me I was at the half way mark – closer to 1:19. Not a huge difference, but I realized things were a off.

In retrospect I can see that my GPS recorded extra distance by periodically recording my place as of the trail to one side or the other. That meant little bits of extra distance were added. It turns out GPS tracking doesn’t do great in heavy tree cover.

To hit my goal pace would require a 1:17 second half – an average of 5:50 per mile. Not impossible, but it would require staying under six minute pace and then finishing we a few low 5s. The contingency plan was a sub 2:40 finish which would only require me to hit a 1:19:40 – just a tad faster than my first half.

I had another gel at mile 14 and over the next 5 miles I thought I was doing great. My GPS had me averaging 5:54 on 169 BPM. By this point the mile marker cones were about 0.3 miles off my watch though. I wasn’t sure which was wrong at the time but in retrospect I now know I was running closer to 6:02 miles. Instead of making up time on my 6:00 pace goal, but in reality I was continuing to lose it.

The longest I had ever run at this effort was 15 miles in a workout a few weeks prior. Once I crossed that, I was in new territory – all pain would be new pain. I still had 11 miles to go though.

Mile 18

Around the time I hit the 18 mile mark and had another gel, I started really hurting. My heart rate had crossed over 170, which I was trying to stay under, so I backed off a bit and turned in a 6:02.

It was around the same time I passed the first half marathon runner. From this point on I was overtaking runners on an ongoing basis – more every mile. While it was nice to have some encouragement, getting around them on the trail was one more thing to think about.

Mile 19 was even worse, it was a 6:12 and my heart rate was now only 166. My body wasn’t working as hard as it had been, but at this point of exhaustion, it felt much harder.

This is the point at the race I feel I could have benefited the most from another runner or a group moving at the same pace. After about two hours of working at >90% of your maximum effort, little things take so much more energy.

Watching your footing for rocks, staying on the right course, turning over your stride fast enough, remembering to sip water, setting the right pace, breathing, keeping your form in check. The benefit of having someone to run with or behind is that you can just focus on staying close to them which takes a few things off of your mind. It lets you focus inward on one thing – form or breathing, which in turn helps the others.

Running fast solo is really hard – that is why runners going for records often try to go to races with others trying to break that same record – they want someone to run with. In this race, the second place winner was about six minutes behind me. I literally ‘beat them by a mile’. That feels nice, but isn’t ideal when you’re racing the clock – in that case, company is welcomed.

Miles 20 to 24 were more of the same 6:15ish pace and only 166 BMP. By this point I had given up on 2:37, which would have required 5:30 miles and shifted to trying to stay under 2:40. I thought I could just grit it out for a few miles and then finish strong. Somewhere in there I had a gel – my 8th and final of the race.

Hurting. Breaking down. Ready to be done.

My last two miles really painful and really hard emotionally. I was gritting it out, forcing myself to keep moving, uncomfortable everywhere, blisters on my feet, salt hardening on my body as my sweat dried in the sun. I had long given up on hitting my goal, and was just trying to minimize the damage to my finishing time by moving at whatever pace I could muster. I was sure the next runner was coming to pass me – I couldn’t yet see them over my shoulder, but two miles is a long way.

The Finish

It is hard to describe the feeling of winning a race while failing your goal.

On one hand I was winning. As I approached the finish line everyone was cheering. In an absolute sense – no one that day ran faster than I did. I was also finishing my first marathon and had successfully trained enough to get myself in the shape where that pace was possible. That is a big accomplishment.

On the other hand, I knew my 2:42 wasn’t a real 2:42. This course was downhill – it was faster than a flat course. How much of an advantage was that? 3 minutes? 4? I don’t know exactly, but it didn’t feel quite the same. It felt like I would need to run another one of a more normal course to get a real time. A victory is a victory, but a finishing time has a lot of context in it and this course had a lot more context than others.

Not to mention, I was moving nearly a minute slower per mile than I had been earlier that day. I had failed to achieve the goal I thought I was capable of that morning. I had failed to achieve the goal I thought I could hit 13 miles in. During the 8 months since I set my ridiculous goal, I had gotten close enough to it that I thought it was within reach and now I was missing it. It didn’t have the feeling of a good race, of finishing strong, of doing my best.

I think this picture perfectly captures it. There is a half excitement there. I will be more excited on the day I finish in 100th place but put up an effort that I know is my best. I have work left to do.


Post Race

I hung around for about an hour after the race. I cheered on the other top runners while trying to replenish calories & fluids. I was exhausted.

I couldn’t walk properly for the few days after the race. It took until Friday before I could walk down stairs without holding on with both hands. If accomplishments were measured in imobility the week after, this was a big one.

Lessons Learned While Being in First Place

This was the most significant race I have ever won and along the way I realized a few things. I offer this to anyone leading a race like this in the future.

Bring the Brightest Light

If you are running in a dark tunnel, and in first place, you need to have the brightest light. I didn’t predict this one. Essentially your body will cast a shadow from all of the lights behind you. Your light will be the only thing lighting up the area in that shadow and that area is where your feet will hit. If the area outside of your shadow is brighter than the area your light illuminates (as it was with me) you won’t be able to see your footing due to your eyes adjusting to the brighter light around your shadow. My solution was to run faster, which put me farther away from the other lights and thus evened out the difference.

The Aid Stations Might Not Be Ready

As I approached each aid station during the first 13.1 of the course, I was the first runner they had seen that day. They often had their tables set up but had not yet started manning them. Many of them, volunteering for the first time, didn’t yet have the system down. They would get it down with a few tries, but I was the first pancake. I realized this at station one and from there on started yelling notice as I approached and gave specific instructions – ‘I need two cups of water’.

Be Prepared For Some Chatter

You represent something very specific to the half marathon runners. On courses where the marathon overtakes the half marathon, the first marathon runner becomes a symbol of sorts to the slower runners in the half marathon. Some of them hope to finish the race before they are caught, others use it as a marker for how they are doing, some are just excited and inspired. Either way, you will get a lot of questions, verbal realizations, cheers, etc. In total I passed 1/3 of the half marathon runners on the course and the breadth of reactions was a unique experience I am glad to have shared.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

One of my favorite charts is breaking down the finishing times to see where I stack up on the curve. Here I split things into 15 minute increments and you can see my bar in red on the left. Count of one.


Really interesting to see that spike around 6.5 hours – I believe that was the cutoff, but it appears a few people snuck in afterwards. There is also a noticeable dip around 4 hours – perhaps a number pushed to get under the 4 hour mark.

I mentioned earlier that no one went out way too fast at the start. That being said, very few people had a faster second half. This chart shows the first half split vs second half split. The gray line represents even splits. It turns out almost everyone was slower during the second half, with a few runners that were just slightly faster and a few outliers that really hit the wall hard.

I’m the red dot below, my splits were 1:20:19 and 1:22:04. Pretty even – only 2% different.


Here is my pace (blue), heart rate (red) and foot turnover (pink) during the run. You’ll notice it looks pretty steady. As we zoom in you’ll notice a few distinct sections – the ramp up & tunnel (1-3), steady work (4-18), crashing (19-25) and the finish (26).


Ignoring a few of the larger spikes that are likely caused by GPS errors, the general trend is a curve that increases until half way and then decreases. My perfect race would have slowly gotten faster until the end.


My goal in terms of heart rate was to stay under 165 until mile 10 to save energy. After that, stay on pace but allow up to 170. At some point I would make the call to go all out and do whatever it took to finish – likely putting me in the 170s until the last mile where it would have been 180s.

Early in the race I was working hard to keep my heart rate down, but you can see it popped up a few times – like mile 3 and 6. Around mile 17 the opposite problem starts to happen. I should have been pushing harder there to keep at pace, which would have been around 170, but I slowed down and it dropped. I did push it in to the finish though.

jack-jill-marathon-heart-rateThis is my foot turnover, or cadence, the steps per minute I was taking. A normal trained runner will be around 180. I usually run closer to 175 – longer legs, slower turnover. The goal is to keep it pretty steady, regardless of pace.

Because this race was downhill, I actually wanted to keep it around 190 because more steps means less impact on each step. The slower start is me not yet getting into my groove. The dips are me stopping to fill up my water bottle or pee. The slow decrease in cadence from mile 10 onwards is me becoming fatigued. I should have kept a better eye on that, focusing on keeping that higher might have shaved some time off my race.


This next chart is one of my favorite data points. For all of the words I’ve written, marathons are really simple. You run as fast as you can without running out of energy before the finish. The faster you go, the harder you work (reflected in heart rate) and thus the more energy you burn, so you have to time it just right so you crash at the finish line and no sooner.

Here I charted my pace and heart rate from mile 2 to 26 and what we can see is a nice linear chart. Regardless of while mile, my heart rate on any given mile correlates really closely with my pace.

You can see that in order to hit 6:00 pace for the race, I would have needed to be at 168-169BPM on average. I actually averaged 166, which put me at 6:11 pace. In order to do that I would have needed to have my heart rate be 6 BPM higher on each mile over the last eight miles. Easy to write – much harder to do.


So to go faster, there are basically two things to do.

The first is to be able to run at a faster pace on the same heart rate. This happens by training more. It happens in the months leading up to the race.

The second is to be able to sustain a higher heart rate for longer. This happens by storing more energy and digging deeper. Those happen the week before the race and during the race respectively.

That best fit line is a great predictor of race results. Based on my fitness any year, I can make this chart and use it to calculate my pace for any distance race with relative accuracy. The one thing I need to know is how long I can sustain a certain maximum. For 2.6 hours I figured I could hit 170 but was shy of that. For my 11 hour marathon I was aiming for 140.

What is Next?

Will I try to break 2:37 again this year? I’m really not sure at this point.

I still have five months until the end of the year and as of now I am signed up for the NYC Marathon in November. It would seem I could just train a bit more and then hope for a better race.

The trouble is my third child is due in a month and I’m not sure that I will be able to train (or even just sleep) for the months following that.

On top of that NYC is a slower course with more crowd and logistics issues. I would have to be a good bit faster to even hit the same time, let alone go six minutes faster.

For now I’m going to take a few weeks to rest and then take it week by week.

Thanks for reading.