Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The REAL Top 10 Boston Qualifiers (FWIW)

Cool Running, part of the network, tweeted several days ago to a list billed as the “10 Best Boston Qualifiers.” Many retweets followed.

Now, neither the tweet nor the page itself claimed that this was fresh data, but people have been reseasonably interpreting it as covering the recently completed 2009 marathoning year. This caught my attention because I remembered seeing a tweet to this same list several months ago. Hmm. does say their info came from Running USA, but after clicking around that site for a good long while, I couldn’t find the Boston qualifying statistics.

Then I visited Marathon Guide, a low-key site that I’ve always found to be a great resource. And it came through again. They present Boston qualifying data by year. And their data for the most recently completed year, 2009, differs from what has on their site. In fact, what’s on — and what people have been tweeting about the last few days — appears to be based on 2008 data. So courtesy Marathon Guide, below is the latest data on the 10 U.S. races with the highest percentage of Boston qualifying times. The list is similar to's, but four races fell out of the top 10 in 2009 — Grand Rapids, Snickers, Tucson and Newport. They were replaced on the list by Pocono Mountain Run for the Red, Jacksonville, Green Mountain and St. George.

Marathon Guide
Boston Marathon Qualifying Races — Most Likely To Qualify — 2009

  1. Boston — 43.2%
  2. Mohawk Hudson River (Albany, NY) — 34.9%
  3. Bay State (Lowell, MA) — 33.5%
  4. Pocono Mountain Run for the Red (PA) — 30%
  5. Steamtown (Scranton, PA) — 28.1%
  6. Wineglass (Corning, NY) — 27%
  7. California International (Sacramento, CA) — 26.7%
  8. Jacksonville (FL) — 24.9%
  9. Green Mountain (South Hero, VT)— 24.4%
  10. St. George (St. George, UT) — 23.3%
Of course, as Marathon Guide points out, it could be a mistake to interpret a higher percentage of qualifiers as evidence that a marathon is easier than one with a lower percentage of qualifiers. For one thing, the huge marathons — with the exception of Boston, for which one must qualify, natch — draw fields with a lot of newer and slower runners. This weighs down their qualifying percentage. Other than Boston, no marathon with more than 10,000 finishers was on the Top 10 list. Chicago is widely considered to be a pretty fast course, yet just 12.7% of the people who finished it in 2009 met their Boston qualifying standard.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gettin' Me Some

Oh, yeah, I’m talking today about that thing we all need, we all gotta have, we humans, we animals, we living creatures. That thing that whether we acknowledge it or not, motivates our every action. That thing that, when we do get it, completely overtakes us, makes everything else in the world fall away. It’s a desperate and primal act, that thing, full of panting and gasping and for the more vocal among us cries that blur the line between agony and ecstasy.

I’m talking of course about track work.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that the target paces for my Eugene-program track work are challenging. Farfetched, more like it. I’m using the FIRST program regimen, which is more aggressive than McMillan generally, and the paces are based on my marathon goal of breaking three hours. That said, because I’m doing many more weekly miles than FIRST recommends, I'm hitting the track every other week instead of every week. (Seriously, deadly VO2 sessions every week for 16 weeks leading up to a marathon? I guess if you’re actually doing the program and only running three times a week that could make sense.)

On the agenda today:
1200 @ 4:10
1000 @ 3:25
800 @ 2:43

600 @ 2:01
400 @ 1:19
All separated by a 200 meter rest interval.

Before leaving the house I figured out that the 400-meter pace for the reps descended from 1:23 to 1:22 to 1:21 to 1:20 and then finally that last 400 itself in 1:19. So while the distances got progressively shorter, the pace break was not very substantial. Bastards!

I warmed up by jogging the two and a quarter miles from home to the Grant Park track. Nice day to be out: mostly cloudy but dry, temp in the mid 40s.

1200: I started and noted how nice it felt to run fast on the smooth, slightly soft track surface in my Asics Speedstars. I’d run for seven straight days before today, totaling 70 miles, pretty heavy mileage for me, but felt surprisingly fresh. For a lap. You know how that goes? First lap in 1:24 and all was well. Then the lactic acid began to build and lap two became harder work, another 1:24. Lap three I don’t even remember. I was swirling in pain, vowing to keep going as hard as I could despite having nothing left to give. Amazingly, the last lap wasn't dramatically slower, a 1:26, giving me 4:14 for the rep, four seconds off the goal.

1000: This was the worst of the five reps. Just a minute after the 1200, it took a mere half-lap to get to the bad place. I didn’t split each lap. The final toll was 3:32, seven whopping seconds off the goal. Brutal.

800: While jogging—very, very slowly—the 200 meter rest interval, I tried to buoy my spirits. Hey, just two laps! So much shorter than that first 1200! This is going to be easy! Well, no. It wasn’t. That said, mindful by now that I wasn’t likely to hit the goal time I took this one out a little slower, hoping for a more even pace. And, indeed, I didn’t begin to feel like barfing until I’d run about 500 meters. Only 300 meters of head-to-toe misery, that’s not so bad. 2:51, eight seconds off the goal time.

600: Right, you’ve got the picture by now. Pain, agony, slower than goal time—but only by three seconds, at 2:04.

400: Something I’ve noticed about track work is that I don’t care how much the last rep hurts. In fact, getting to The Last One is not very different from being done entirely. The way this works, I think, is that the real dread isn’t a tough rep—it’s a tough rep with the knowledge that there is more to come. Once that “more to come” feature is dispensed with, once I’m on The Last One, what the hell, bring it on. For kicks I took a 200-meter split on this one and found I was at 38. I felt like I was barely moving during the final 200. My legs were cooked well done. And yet that second 200 was actually run in 39 seconds, for a 1:17, two seconds faster than the goal time. That’s right, I ran the rep too fast.

After a walk once around the track I jogged the two and a quarter miles back home, feeling spent, satisfied and relaxed. Curiously, however, I was not interested in smoking a cigaret.

Testing the Converters

What sort of time might you expect to run a marathon based on your performance at shorter distances? It's a common question, for first-timers especially. There are plenty of conversion calculators on the Web; my favorite is this one. But recently I've heard about some simple equations, one that you can crunch in your head and two that you can do easily with a pencil and paper. Let's try 'em out.

There's the one that says your marathon time will be twice your half-marathon time plus 10 minutes. For me, that's 1:28:51 x 2 = 2:57:42. Then add 10 and you get 3:07:42. That's less than 90 seconds more than my actual marathon PR. Not bad.

Hal Higdon's formula is your 10K time multiplied by 4.66. So we've got 39:13 x 4.66 = 3:02:45. A little quick there, about three and a half minutes too fast, but still not bad.

Last one says simply add 20 seconds per mile for each doubling of your distance. My best half-marathon pace is 6:47 (actually, 6:46.7). Add 20 to that to get 7:06.7 x 26.2 = 3:06:35. Wow—that's almost spot-on, a mere 19 seconds slower than my PR.

Of course, the old caveat that goes with any conversion to a marathon time still applies: If you haven't been doing the kind of long runs that are key to adapting your body to run 26.2 — as opposed to run 18, shuffle four, walk four more and then crawl the final 0.2 — these are all meaningless.