ING NYC Marathon Tune-Up 18M

September 28, 2008

ING NYC Marathon Tune-Up 18M
Central Park, New York, NY
Sunday, September 28, 2008

Official time
2:13:30 (7:25 pace)

Mile marker: lap/split
Mile 1: 7:43/0:07:43
Mile 2: 7:30/0:15:13
Mile 3: 6:56/0:22:09
Mile 4: 7:03/0:29:11
Mile 5: 7:07/0:36:18
Mile 6: 7:03/0:43:21
Mile 7: 7:10/0:50:30
Mile 8: 7:22/0:57:53
Mile 9: 7:04/1:04:56
Mile 10: 7:09/1:12:05
Mile 11: 7:23/1:19:28
Mile 12: 7:08/1:26:36
Mile 13: 7:19/1:33:54
Mile 14: 7:49/1:41:43
Mile 15: 7:42/1:49:25
Mile 16: 7:53/1:57:18
Mile 17: 8:10/2:05:27
Mile 18: 7:51/2:13:18
Mile 18.02: 0:09/2:13:27

Not even until the race started did I know how to approach this race.  Was it a training/long run or was it a race?  I read the Runner’s World discussion boards and it seemed most had an excuse not to give it their best.  I wasn’t sure.  I decided to run it comfortably hard and not to look at my Garmin at all, not for any reason.

I had been dreading the Tune-Up because a single 6-mile loop of Central Park is difficult, and here we had three loops.  The start of the race was on the east side of the 102nd St. transverse heading north counter-clockwise around the park.  I like the position of the start because right away the course leads into the first of three runs up Harlem Hill.

Finally, in my 12th race, I learned how to drink out of a paper cup.  I had been walking through every water station, which cost me a lot of time, especially in the Brooklyn and NYC Half Marathons.  I had been hearing about “pinching the top” but it didn’t occur to me that meant pinch and seal the top half of the cup.  Such an elusive concept, and so lucky I figured it out before the marathon.

I received a blue bib designating my starting position in the first corral.  I arrived at the start area before the starting horn but too late to make my way up through the anxious crowds.  I located some standing space among the green corral runners and set off for 18 miles, my longest race and second-longest run ever.  Throughout the race I consistently passed runners, with the exception of a few speedy runners in the first mile wearing Central Park Track Club and Warren Street jerseys who, unlike me, really did come late.

True to never looking at my watch, I set the Garmin to auto-increment the miles so that I could do a post-analysis of my run.  Mile after mile I was passing runners, it was so many in fact that it seemed I had passed more runners than started ahead of me.  Then I realized that on the 6-mile Central Park loop I was actually lapping people.  This was a difficult idea to grasp, although I suppose it could only be expected that runners would separate significantly over an 18-mile distance.

There were two PowerBar Gel stations at miles 9 and 15 (it was the same spot, laps 2 and 3).  On my first pass there were surprisingly few people picking up a gel; I grabbed a few gels chose my favorite, Double Latte (double caffeine!), and tossed the other gels on a water table, all in stride.  On the second time around the park I found runners at the gel table content standing around and sorting through the flavors.

My mile times show that I mentally checked-out at mile 14.  I did not feel like I was slowing down, but I do remember being glad the end was near – the last time around the park.  Cat Hill was brutal on the third time around, but those final 2 miles are flat sections and there was no reason not to have maintained my speed.

I finished the Tune-Up in a satisfactory but not amazing 2 hours and 13 minutes.  I was off my goal pace, but it did help boost my confidence.  I still have several weeks and a few long-runs before the Marine Corps Marathon on October 26th.

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Nike Human Race 10K

August 31, 2008

Nike Human Race 10K
Randall’s Island, New York, NY
Sunday, August 31, 2008

Official time
Not Available*

Mile marker: lap/split
Mile 1: 8:26/8:25
Mile 2: 7:59/16:23
Mile 3: 7:56/24:23
Mile 4: 7:16/31:38
Mile 5: 7:49/39:28
Mile 6: 9:09/48:36
Mile 6.2: 1:29/50:06

The Nike Human Race was an adventure!  I’ve decided to all but abandon racing as I increase my mileage in preparation for the marathon, especially since I need just one more NYRR qualifying race this year to reach the 9 required for guaranteed NYC Marathon entry.  However, I liked the idea of the Nike Human Race and signed up four days prior to the event.  The Nike website FAQ said the registration would be limited at 10,000 participants, while a Nike employee at the race expo said they closed registration at 10,300.  It did sell out.

I had been having trouble with my hip for a good few weeks during the summer but the NYC Half Marathon on July 31 finished it off.  I can’t even assess the injury because it was a complete dismantling of my left hip: everything was strained or pulled on the inside, outside through and through.  I took three weeks to recover (zero running) and just started getting back into training a week or so ago.  The short runs have been fine but the longer runs reveal I’ve lost some fitness.

In taking advantage of the beautiful Labor Day weekend weather, Saturday morning I went to a 1-hour spinning class, in the evening I ran 8 miles, Sunday morning I ran 14 miles, and in the evening was the 6.2M Human Race.  I knowingly signed up for the Human Race for the experience, not as a serious time trial.  The idea was not to get re-injured.

On the M106 bus over to the east side I thought about what my target pace ought to be.  At first I thought 9 minutes but decided an 8 minute pace would be safe enough.  After crossing the footbridge to Wards Island and walking north to Randall’s Island, I browsed the sponsor tents next to Icahn Stadium, the track & field center where at the Olympic Trials this year Tyson Gay set a 100m world record time that was nullified for excessive wind at his back.  After sampling PowerBar gels, Poland Spring water, and Starbucks Vivanno, I stretched until it was time to line up for the race.

The running field was strikingly young — anyone not in their 20s stuck out.  It’s very likely that for many this was their first race.  The pace signs started at 12:00/mile and stretched toward the starting line.  The path was just a standard width bike path that was sometimes paved, sometimes gravel, and sometimes a strange mix of both (add stray pipes and divets).  I lined up at the 8:00/mile sign.  The race start was delayed 30 minutes to to allow for a ferry to bring over the last group of runners.

The start felt like the running of the bulls.  There was some leeway on the bike bath to pass others on the grass, but then the path narrowed to a small corridor between, and then it was split.   The course was two loops around the island; the organizers attempted to half an already narrow pathway to designate the first and second laps.  It was crowded, VERY crowded.  Several times I’d accidentally bump into someone on my right, apologize, take a half step to my left and bump someone else.  The tape and cones designating the boundaries of the course were no match for so many runners.  On the first lap the cones were there, on the second they’d be on the ground or missing.

Here’s another take on it from the official Human Race NYC blog:

As the crowd’s overwhelming applause rose to a deafening level, the horn sounded and the race began! The two-loop route around Randall’s Island made for a challenging, yet honest course that made sure that the runners did not go out too fast and forced them to sustain a steady pace…

An eight-minute mile for a 10K is not a difficult pace for me; I tried to show some self-control and stick with the pacers.  Now that was difficult!  I ran ahead of the gaggle of runners to find some breathing space but kept a look out over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t cheating too far ahead.  I inched to about a 50-yard lead and then backed off around mile 5 to rejoin the pacers and hopefully finish on target.

However, just before the stadium there was a pileup at the nature walk bridge.  At this point, the runners met the walkers.  Everyone stopped.  And waited.  Single file, we walked across.  Walkers on the left, “runners” on the right.

Icahn Stadium was my favorite part of the race.  Just like at the end of the marathon in the Beijing Olympics, we took a half lap around the track in front of huge stands of cheering spectators.  After the walk across the bridge I darted past everyone to make up time lost on the bridge only to nearly stop 10 yards short of the finish line and realize I had no idea what my time was nor the time I was trying to make.  I decided it was no use idling there and crossed the finish line.  Hopefully this won’t make the Nike highlight reel.

After the finish we were treated to PowerBars, water, Gatorade, and granola, and received a baton (just like the Americans drop) with a bracelet souvenir inside.  I didn’t want to wait for the All-American Rejects concert to begin, so I walked back across the footbridge to Manhattan and took the bus back home to the Upper West Side.

Despite the challenges, I enjoyed the race and hope Nike sponsors another Human Race in New York next year.  Randall’s Island is difficult to get to (as opposed to Central Park) but very scenically placed between Manhattan, Queens, and The Bronx.  If the race remains on the island, I hope they extend the course around the entire island.  Even with narrow pathways, a course without loops would help alleviate the most serious congestion.

* For whatever reason, my official results for this race are unavailable despite wearing the D-tag on my shoe.  When I search for myself on the Nike site I get “Sorry, we’re unable to find this name.”

Stuff White People Like

June 28, 2008

I thought this blog entry from Stuff White People Like was worth posting. This is one of very few blogs that I actively follow. I’m interested to see how many white cliches I fall under. So far, not all that many, which is surprising given the suburban Chicago community that I grew-up in, my education, and job.

#27 Marathons
http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/01/26/27-marathons/

I’ll have to remember to raise my hands over my head in triumph at the finish!

Prediction 2

June 28, 2008

My marathon goal: Boston Qualifying. For males in my 18-34 age group, the required time is an unfriendly 3:10:59 (7:17 pace). So far, solely based on talking to fellow runners, I feel pretty confident I can manage a time between 3:10 (7:15 pace) and 3:30 (8:01 pace), which is still no cakewalk and a time I doubt I can achieve right now 17 weeks before the Marine Corps Marathon, my first marathon.

Over Memorial Day weekend I ran a 20-mile long run just to see whether I could finish it standing. I did, and although it was probably most extreme running route possible in Manhattan (Upper West Side – George Washington Bridge – Palisades Interstate Park, NJ – and back), it was not impressive. My previous longest run had been just 14 miles!

I added a Prediction Table page based on my last few races at the popular distances 5K, 4mi, 5mi, and half marathon. Except for the predicted time based on my disappointing showing at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, the other times indicate I’ll squeak in at just under 3:10. Let’s hope!

50th Anniversary Run

June 4, 2008

NYRR 50th Anniversary Run 5M (Q)
Central Park, New York, NY
Tuesday, June 4, 2008

Official time
32:04 (6:24 pace)

Mile marker: lap/split*
Mile 1: 6:17/6:17
Mile 2: 6:33/12:51
Mile 3: 6:21/19:12
Mile 4: 6:36/25:48
Mile 5: 6:14/32:02

The Anniversary Run celebrates the 50th anniversary of New York Road Runners, 1958-2008. Most races cost between $15 and $25 — this one was free! Oh, and on a very early weekday morning.

RAIN. If I can hear the pattering from my room I know it’s the real deal. I woke up at 4:40am for the 5:30am race start. It was still dark outside and the rain was discouraging but I can’t refuse a race because the weather. I won’t be able to choose my marathon conditions — suit up, son!

I’ve gotten used to interested looks on the subway while wearing my bib, but the few runners in my train definitely got some confused looks today. Shorts? Race? Tuesday morning? The rain was pounding harder when I arrived at the W. 66th St. station — I held my breath and ran toward the start line hoping to find cover. Surprisingly to me (and probably to everyone reading this in New York City) there was no scaffolding to be found. Instead, I joined a dozen runners huddling under an awning of a fancy Central Park West address. Here runners shuffled under and out until the last group of us dashed toward the start line a hundred yards away. It was great timing; I entered the first blue corral (matching my bib color) in time for the final few pre-race announcements. It was entertaining to hear other runners’ grumbling about the number of times the course route had been explained to them in the soaking rain. Don’t you just follow the person in front of you afterall?

I do not have rain-specific running clothes. I wore running shorts, a Nike running shirt (white, unfortunately), and my older Asics running shoes. Very popular was the plastic parka or trash bag look. During the race runners were tearing them off their chests like the Incredible Hulk.

The start was fast with runners peeling out. I tried my best not to get caught up in the speed and soon enough found myself passing slowing runners one at a time. The rain had loosened my laces and I took a 20 second pause to retie my shoes, as did several others along the way. After mile 3 the runner order stabilized and the immediate group around me cruised to the finish.

The Anniversary Run was another PR for me. The rain didn’t seem to have any severe effect on my time. My pacing was decent and I handled the downhill running along the westside well. I mentioned in a previous post that I often slowed down on downhill sections. The key is to flow with gravity, keep stride length consistent, and body position strong — this took practice!

I am completely confused by my Garmin results. I kept Auto Lap turned on and noticed the watch was missing all the mile markers by a long shot. At the end the race it indicated I had run 4.66 miles, not the 5.00 miles expected. It would be shocking, although plausible, if the course was indeed short except that Garmin also shows my pace being uncharacteristically slow. With some Excel work I determined every mile distance must be short by an average factor of 0.932. GPS was knowingly designed to work through inclement weather, so it wasn’t the cloud cover or rain. Could it be the Garmin footpod I was wearing? (The footpod is calibrated to 891/1000.) More interestingly, when the Garmin data was exported to Google Earth, it tracked the course accurately. *My lap/split times listed at top have been adjusted to fit a 5-mile course.

The total number of runners was 1784, which was impressive given the conditions. As we waited under the awning before the race everyone had a story of why they showed up for a 5:30am race on a Tuesday morning in the rain. I was most intrigued by a girl who said she wasn’t running to qualify for next year’s NYC Marathon (this was just her second race of the year) nor was she meeting anyone at the start line — she came to test her determination.

Diana Run 5K

May 31, 2008

Diana Run 5K/3.1M
Community Middle School, Plainsboro, NJ
Saturday, May 31, 2008

Official time
19:04 (6:08 pace)

Mile marker: lap/split
Mile 1: 5:56/5:56
Mile 2: 6:22/12:18
Mile 3: 6:23/18:41
Mile 3.1: 0:20/19:01

Award
2nd Place, Male 25-29
(8th place overall)

This race is held in honor of Diana Rochford, who died in a car accident driving south on Route 206 in Princeton. I never met Diana but she was my sister’s friend and classmate in high school; my sister still has a picture of her with Diana hanging in her room. Diana was always described as the school darling — a star athlete and student leader. When she died in 2002, newspapers from the local West Windsor papers to The New York Times covered her death for several days; her memorial service overflowed the church. Diana would have been 23 years old this year.

I didn’t plan on racing while at home in NJ for the weekend but I did bring some running clothes with me for my weekly Sunday long run. Driving around the area on Friday I noticed signs for Diana Run and registered online. In more ways than one, this race was very close to home.

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived Saturday morning. I’ve gotten used to chip-timed races with several thousand runners lined up in corrals in Central Park and Kenyans taking home the prize money. Here the atmosphere was much more relaxed, albeit familiar. The clipboard check-in under the instant tent canopy reminded me of sign-in for beach volleyball tournaments at Point Pleasant Beach.

The bib numbers ran in order and the highest number I saw was 212, although the race results indicate that 199 ran. After check-in clusters of father-son, husband-wife, and school friends/teammates arranged themselves in the parking lot with many not too concerned with warming-up or stretching. Probably half of the runners were college or younger, a much greater percentage than at Central Park races.

A few minutes after 8:30, the runners assembled behind a set of white rumble strips that cleverly served as the starting and finish line. On the race director’s call, the race began at furious pace that lasted only until the school entrance. Just as we were out of earshot of the DJ playing “Eye of the Tiger” (oh my, so Jersey!), en masse, runners who sprinted ahead dropped back and everyone found their pace. The USATF-certified course went out 1.5 miles past another school and some farmland — then around a cone and back. In New Jersey, 1.5 miles doesn’t quite get you anywhere. Almost as soon as you left the school parking lot you could see the entire course, including the two lonely hydration stations at mile markers 1 and 2.

My mile times again show significant fade, which I’m okay with for now. If I slowed down my first mile pace, it’s quite possible that I’d have finished with a better overall time. However, too slow a pace might have put me too far back to catch-up even with negative splits. I’ll worry more about consistency in the weeks leading up to the marathon; for now, I’m just going to run.

I really didn’t mind the long wait for the awards ceremony to begin. I helped myself to some warm Einstein bagels and cream cheese, orange wedges (like at soccer league), and water out of a cooler with a spout permanently stained Gatorade red. I found it fascinating watching runners pound out the last leg of the course.

It turns out there were two groups of runners: those with shoes from Dick’s and Sports Authority, and those with with shoes from specialty running stores. At least for the men, the latter placed at the top. For the women, it wasn’t so clear; the top overall finisher was 13 years old. Awards were given out for top three male and female finishers in each age division, incrementing by four-year spans. Interestingly enough, the most competitive age category was male 45-49 years old where all three award winners finished ahead of me (I finished eighth).  The very last finishers of the race was older couple 60+ who walked the entire way — they both placed in their age division!

For this race I set the my Garmin watch to Auto Lap at each mile increment since I figured that I’d be running pretty hard so why think about pressing Lap. In the end, the distance was exactly 3.1 miles, but the Garmin disagreed with the course mile markers by about 20 yards per mile.

I set a new PR time today which I fully expected since my only previous 5K was the far more hilly Coogan’s Run in March. Diana Run was really the essence of a community race. There were inside jokes, “where’s your brother?” comments, a toddler sneaking up behind the table during the awards ceremony and walking off with a trophy, and cracks on the school principal for placing fourth in his age division. Could this be my life after New York?

Garmin Forerunner 405 HRM
REI; $349.95 + $22.99 2-day shipping

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Forerunner 405 since January.  Its release was delayed and delayed and again delayed.  It finally made its debut at the Boston Marathon and soon after at online retailers and local running shops.  As soon as REI confirmed they were shipping units, I cancelled my pre-orders and waitlists and ordered over the phone.  The price for the Forerunner 405 with HRM is the same everywhere, $349.

I’ve been testing out the features of the Garmin watch for the past week and am very satisfied with the purchase.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with the Forerunner 305 so I can’t make any direct comparisons with the 405’s predecessor.  Below are a few aspects of the 405 that were most important to me as a runner.

Design

The Forerunner 405 is demonstrated in the Garmin blog videos as a watch you can work out in and then “wear in the office.”  So that’s exactly what I did.  I’m an actuary on Wall Street and dress to work in a suit everyday.  I got a few curious looks on the subway as I was playing with the 405 but no one said anything — neither on the subway (no surprise, really) nor at work.  But not getting any comments doesn’t mean it looked appropriate, not with a suit anyway.  Nevertheless, the watch didn’t interfere with my furious tapping away at Excel during the workday.

I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying the 405 is stylish, but it’s certainly not ugly.  The Forerunner 305 looks like my old Palm Pilot strapped to a wristband, while the Suunto T9 looks like it’s designed to launch nuclear missiles.  The 405 looks like an unusually thick sports watch.

What’s not obvious from photos is that some of the 405’s electronics are built into the strap which extends about an inch above and below the gray bezel.  Below the bezel is where the GPS antenna is located.  This means about 3″ of the watch isn’t pliable and may not conform tightly to very small wrists.  However, the resulting crescent shape actually helps in putting on the watch.

The picture to the left shows the smallest band setting on the 405; there are 12 notches in the band but I found the first 2 notches unreachable without overstretching the band (set on notch 3 in picture).  If I wear the 405 as I would a normal watch (on my average-sized wrist) on notch 6, gaps appear between the watch and my skin as I push the watch side to side.  When the 405 is worn normally the gaps aren’t noticeable and don’t cause the watch to slide around.  Measuring circumference of the band is too difficult to do accurately and wouldn’t provide a good sense of fit.

Here the thickness of the Forerunner is shown next to the popular Timex Ironman watch, which may be the gold standard for basic sports watches.  There is good reason why this is the Ironman “sleek” version — I probably couldn’t find a slimmer watch for comparison.  The 405 is heavier than most watches but it hasn’t bothered me a bit while running.

There are lots of options available in customizing the watch interface, but I’d like to select options through Garmin Training Center which would then synchronize with the watch (this is done in a few cases already, such as user profile details, heart rate, and speed zones).  Maybe this would be messy to implement, but it’d be great if, for example, you could relive a saved race in Garming Training Center and have the data play through a watch emulator where you can test configurations of data fields and screens.  These settings you should then be able to send back to the Forerunner.

Bezel

The bezel locks/unlocks by holding down the two buttons simultaneously.  I found it very easy to toggle this unintentionally, as when putting on a backpack or pulling up the sleeves of a jacket.  There is some mechanism that tries to recognize errant bezel touches but I’ve noticed this does not always work perfectly and I need to sometimes tap several times to get a response — not very significant in my opinion.

The bezel is very similar to the iPod wheel.  However, every time your finger is at the top of the bezel when circling on the 405, it blocks the screen.  It’s rather annoying but can be avoided by not circling all the way around, just around the sides and bottom.

The backlight is turned on by tapping the bezel in two locations.  The light is very bright and fills the entire screen evenly.  There is also an option to change how many seconds the light remains on (or on until turned off).

Satellite Signal

Picking up a satellite signal was much easier than expected, even here in Manhattan.  As long as I stand near the street curb I get a signal within a minute, usually much less.  There is some play with losing satellite signal (power save) when in Training mode while not yet having started the timer.  It’s usually not a big deal and regaining signal is much faster than acquiring it from the GPS off position.  However, what happens when the watch falls into power save and the race horn sounds?  I don’t want to think about it.

Time Keeping

The clock on the 405 is set via satellite signal; no manual adjustments are possible except for time zone.  Exactly one week ago I synchronized the time on my Timex Ironman to match the 405.  Today, seven days later, the Ironman clock time is two seconds ahead of the 405.  Obviously assuming the satellite time is correct (GPS satellites carry sophisticated atomic clocks), this does not make my Ironman look so great.

Battery

I don’t see battery life as an issue.  My 405 was fully charged for the Brooklyn Half Marathon on Saturday, I conducted a few tests with GPS this afternoon, and the battery is now at 43%.  The battery recharges very quickly, which either indicates that it’s of good quality or that it’s small and there’s not much to recharge.

Charging is done via an alligator clip that loosely snaps onto the 405; the other end connects to a USB port or directly into a wall outlet.  The positioning of the clip on the watch is partially by feel, but once it’s connected to the recessed nodes the watch will beep and the screen will indicate it’s charging.

Features

I was primarily looking for a GPS watch to tell me in real time how fast I was running and then be able to display my route on a computer.  The 405 does both very well.

My complaint is that the documentation is very poor; except for the initial set-up, almost everything else needs to be figured out by experimentation.  The menus take time to decipher and you’re mostly on your own — again, experimentation.

Satellite Tracking

I walked a zig-zagging path through the streets of the Upper West Side that took me under tree cover, next to tall buildings, under scaffolding, and into a Tasti D-lite shop.  The resulting map when exported to Google Earth is decent.  It tracked exactly the streets I walked, but the path is sometimes crooked and occasionally shows me walking on rooftops.  When I walked into Tasti D-lite (wide open doors) my location becomes erratic, as if I was dancing in the middle of Broadway.  Nevertheless, I’m impressed; you need to recognize this test was hardly fair for a GPS watch.  The 405 is intended for outdoor running, not timing how long it takes to get a chocolate/vanilla frozen yogurt in a waffle cone.

My next test was walking around the JKO Reservoir in Central Park.  Here the mapping was very accurate.  I stayed to the right of the path to avoid runners, but I can even see where I moved to the left to pass a group of slow-moving tourists.

I also tried stopping the watch/timer, walking 150 yards, and then restarting it.  The watch connects the dots in a straight line when mapping, but it does not count the line as part of the total time or distance, which is exactly what you’d expect.  Without the connecting line, it’d be easy to lose track of scattered timed segments, although it’d be helpful if this assumed line was differently colored or dashed.

GPS Navigation

I read online a common complaint that the 405 does not have on-screen mapping like the 305.  It’s actually hard to imagine that this would be a popular function for everyday use, but the 405 has two related features: Go to Location and Back to Start.

The Go to Location function displays a compass rose and pointer arrow and indicates how far a previously saved point is located.  Technically, you don’t even need to have visited the saved location; it’s possible to edit latitude/longitude and rename locations on the watch.  The 405 comes preset with a few mysterious locations thousands of miles away that seem to have something to do with Garmin (deletable!).  The Go to Location function is probably useful as a desperate last measure to make your way home or, for the sentimental folks, to know how far you are from your faraway girlfriend.  The distances indicated are straight line point-to-point.

More useful for out-and-back runs in an unfamiliar city is the Back to Start function.  When selected, an arrow appears pointing you in the direction you came from and the distance to back-track your route to your original location.

The compass rose and pointer arrow spin wildly when using either of the functions and standing still, but if you keep the watch positioned directly in front of you and start moving, the result stabilizes.  (There is no magnetic compass on the 405 so the 405 needs movement to recognize your orientation via GPS.)  During my test at the JKO Reservoir, Back to Start requested I turn around and follow the path (distance 0.55 miles) while Go to Location pointed across the water to my starting point (distance 0.30 miles).  Both were accurate.

Data Fields

There are 3 customizable screens (labeled Training 1, 2, 3 in the 405 menu) with up to 3 data fields on each, plus one Heart Rate screen.  The available fields are: Sunrise, Sunset, Time, Time-Avg Lap, Time-Lap, Time-Last Lap, Time of Day, Cadence, Cadence-Avg, Cadence-Lap, Calories, Distance, Dist-Lap, Dist-Last Lap, Elevation, GPS Accuracy, Grade, HR, HR-%Max, HR-Avg, HR-Avg %Max, HR-Lap, HR Graph, HR Zone, Heading, Laps, Pace, Pace-Avg, Pace-Lap, Pace-Last Lap, Speed, Speed-Avg, Speed-Lap, and Speed-Last Lap.  (Clearly, fields like cadence require additional hardware.)  In my experience, Elevation and related Grade data is unreliable; while the elevation here on the Upper West Side is approximately correct on average (~125 ft.), the data shows too much variation to be useful.

The screens and fields are easy to customize.  It’s possible to set all screens with data fields but then turn off the screens individually (only Training 1 cannot be turned off) which is convenient if you only want certain data for specific workouts.  Reconfiguring the data fields (or navigating the menus for that matter) during a run is nearly impossible.

Virtual Partner

The Virtual Partner feature works as advertised.  When in Training mode, the Virtual Partner appears as another data screen.  Adjusting the VP pace requires circling the bezel which changes the pace in increments of 5 seconds.  Meaning, if you’re adjusting from a running pace to a walking pace, it’ll rub your finger raw!  Okay, it’s not that bad, but it’d be nice if it could somehow accelerate the increments the longer you scroll.  Also, it’s probably worth noting that when you adjust the Virtual Partner pace mid-run, it brings both you and the VP back to even.  I like this implementation.  A cute touch is that when you press the stop button, the running icons bend over and put their hands on their knees as if they were tired (just like me!).

Heart Rate Monitor

The heart rate monitor is definitely one of the 405’s strengths.  The strap is comfortable and the readings seem very accurate and sensitive to the level of activity.  It’s very easy to pair the HR strap with the watch.  As soon as I put on the HR strap (almost instantaenously) a message appears indicating the strap was detected.  In Training mode a small heart icon appears on the watch screen confirming it’s connected and transmitting.  (It’ll likewise indicate with a small flashing ‘x’ if it’s paired but not transmitting.)  You don’t turn the HR strap on and off — it’s in standby until it somehow knows it’s in use.

When the heart rate monitor is detected, the 405 adds the Heart Rate screen into the mix of screens.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed with data (up to 3 data screens, Heart Rate screen, Virtual Partner…) but it’s customizable to your liking.

Courses

I have not used the Course function, but I may in the future.  Garmin Training Center lets you create courses from previously saved information which then lets you race against it and navigate.  These courses you can also annotate to indicate valleys, left/right turns, water stops, etc.  What it cannot do is let you draw a route and send that information to your 405 (at least through GTC, I understand there are workarounds).  Nevertheless, this function has potential.  I’ll probably make a course out of the Central Park and Reservoir loops I run frequently.

Workouts

When I purchased the Forerunner 405 I didn’t even know designing workouts was possible, yet this function is especially sophisticated.  The Garmin Training Center software comes with several predefined workouts.  Let me grab a few lines to illustrate what these workouts look like:

  1. Go for 00:02:00.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 1.
  2. Go for 00:02:00.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.
  3. Go for 00:02:00.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 3.
  4. Repeat the steps below 2 times:
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 4.
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.
  5. Repeat the steps below 2 times:
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my speed in zone 4 (SLOW JOG).
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.

To schedule a workout, you simply drag-and-drop a workout onto the Garmin calendar which will then sychnronize with the 405 (to do a workout, it does not need to be scheduled).  In the watch Time/Date mode it’ll say:

Today’s Workout:
[workout]
Enter To Do Workout

Workouts are only as good as the instructions.  Garmin appears to have a tie-up with Training Peaks and New Leaf where you can subscribe to more workouts or you can always program your own.  There is surely no shortage of running books with suggested workouts at Barnes & Noble.

The Forerunner’s Advanced workouts give you a lot of flexbility, but if you don’t know what you’re doing it’ll show.  Just to see what would happen, I programmed unrealistic steps such as “Go for 00:03:00. Try to keep my heart rate in zone 5.” Followed by “Go for 00:00:15.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 1.”  Easy to program, impossible to do; the alerts will beep at you.  Likewise, if your speed and heart rate zone are not set correctly, it’ll be very difficult to maintain different zones.  My Slow Walk zone was set so slow that I could not walk slow enough.  And the 405 didn’t care:  SLOW DOWN!  Beep!

The 405 also lets you select Simple, Interval, and Heart Rate workouts that can be programmed on the watch itself.  Take Interval, the options are: Type (distance/time), Duration (distance/time), Rest Type (distance/time), Rest Duration (distance/time), Reps (number), Warmup (yes/no), Cooldown (yes/no).  Do Workout.

When a Workout is active, the workout is added as another data screen, keeping all your other screens available.  If the workout says to keep in Speed Zone 3, it’s still possible to click through to see what your heart rate is even though it’s not explicitly required for the workout.

When the workout data is uploaded to Garmin Training Center, each step of the workout is shown as a Lap, but there’s no way to tie it back to the specific workout and its instructions.  This is a pretty serious limitation.

I like keeping my workouts flexible; sometimes I’ll turn a 5 mile run into 7, sometimes I’ll start running fartleks.  The 405 workout feature is terrific, but it’s not something I see myself using regularly.

Software

The Garmin Forerunner 405 software is good but not perfect.

There are two pieces to install:

  1. Garmin ANT (wireless data transfer to computer, to online)
  2. Garmin Training Center (analysis/history software)

Garmin ANT

I have an issue with Garmin ANT quitting whenever my computer wakes from Standby mode,  which requires me to restart Garmin ANT.  I haven’t been able to Google the problem, so maybe this is specific to my set-up. I received an email from Garmin Product Support saying that there is no way around the error except to prevent my computer from going into Standby.  However, the representative suggested that if I log off from my computer, Garmin ANT will restart the next time I log in.

Other than the problem with Standby, the wireless connection works flawlessly.  My 405 is always recognized and in a minute or so, data is uploaded from the watch and displayed in Garmin Training Center.  There are options to select where the watch data should be sent, online and/or Garmin Training Center, and whether or not to delete data from the 405 after transfer.

Garmin Training Center

The Garmin Training Center is client-side software with well-organized interface and clear graphs.  There are no lags — every click responds instantaneously.  The graphs are integrated so that clicking a point on a graph measuring distance or heart rate will show a change on the map and vice-versa.

History is neatly stored by activity type (Running, Biking, Other, Multisport), then by week (4/27/2008-5/3/2008), and then by activity time (5/3/2008 9:02:17AM).  There is no way to rename the activities, which would come in handy if I ever wanted to find a former race in a few years.  I would remember “Brooklyn Half Marathon 2008” not “5/3/2008 9:02:17AM”.  It is WAY too easy to delete history — all it takes is a click of Delete.  There’s no confirmation box and it’s easy to miss the undo.

The software does neat things like setting up zones automatically for heart rate and pace depending on your history and then telling you how much time/distance you spent in each zone (it indicates I was slow jogging during my half marathon yesterday and that’s unfortunately tough to disagree with).  The zones can be adjusted manually as well.  Surprisingly, some useful data are not provided, such as splits — this calculation I have to do myself manually.  In other words, there is no easy way to tell how long it took to run the first 6 miles in a 13.1-mile race.

Garmin Training Center does not let you make manual adjustments, such as splitting a lap if a mile marker was missed.  It does let you delete laps though.  Perhaps still a shortcoming, not being able to alter data keeps it honest; this way you can’t peel 15 minutes off your time and post those results online (or inadvertently mess up the data entirely).  The way Garmin provides clock time at the start of each lap, each lap time, and distance (calculating pace) leaves no room for ambiguity.

Garmin Connect

It seems Garmin Connect, the Garmin web application, is redundant to Garmin Training Center, but slower and less detailed.  It is good, however, for sharing maps/results over the Internet.  I sent my family my half marathon results; my dad’s reaction: “This is definitively cool.  You were wearing a GPS system?  Nice race.”  I doubt I’ll use Garmin Connect regularly but it seems many other Forerunner enthusiasts do.

Raw Data

It is possible to export raw watch data from Garmin Training Center as XML with latitude, longitude, altitude, distance, sensor details, among much other data.  The XML schema is viewable here.

Trackpoints are recorded once every two seconds, an example:

<Trackpoint>
   <Time>2008-05-03T13:02:21Z</Time>
   <Position>
      <LatitudeDegrees>40.5741777</LatitudeDegrees>
      <LongitudeDegrees>-73.9713467</LongitudeDegrees>
   </Position>
   <AltitudeMeters>4.4632568</AltitudeMeters>
   <DistanceMeters>13.2894421</DistanceMeters>
   <SensorState>Absent</SensorState>
</Trackpoint>

I’d eventually like to try to resolve how Garmin translates latitude and longitude positioning into distance.  I’m curious how/whether altitude and the oblate shape of the Earth are considered in their calculations.

Race Day

In the Brooklyn Half Marathon this weekend I used two screens: 3 data fields on one screen (time, avg pace, distance) and 2 data fields on the other (lap pace, lap time).  Every data field has a label, though tiny, so it helps to memorize the data field locations.  The orientation and size of the data fields depend on the number of fields selected for the screen.  I set the screens to Auto Scroll at medium speed (options: slow/medium/fast/off), but it’s always possible to scroll through manually by touching the bezel.  I kept Virtual Partner turned off and I did not wear the heart rate monitor.

I was generally pleased with the mapping of the route and the data.  As I mentioned in my half marathon race report, the map in Garmin Training Center shows me running in the Atlantic Ocean and the map draws streets as straight lines while the roads were actually curved.  Mapping is much more accurate when the data is exported to Google Earth but Garmin Training Center is adequate for most purposes.

I had Auto Lap turned off and had no problem pressing Lap myself (it beeps loudly in confirmation).  My total running distance was calculated as 13.20 miles (0.10 miles over), which is reasonable since I likely did not run the tangents perfectly.  I’d be more concerned if the distance showed me running less than 13.1 miles.

After a race or run I recommend holding Lap to reset the watch and close the session.  Otherwise, it’s possible to inadvertantly restart the timer.  The only way to delete data from the 405 directly is to navigate into the History menu and this won’t happen by accident.

Conclusion

Get the Forerunner 405.  It’s reasonably priced at $299 ($349 with HRM) and a good value.  The watch is well-designed, full-featured, and comes with stable software.  No serious runner will regret this purchase.

Computer specifications:
Dell XPS 630, Quad-core, 2GB RAM
Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate

NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon 13.1M (Q)
Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, May 3, 2008

Official time
1:32:51 (7:05 pace)

Mile marker: lap/split
Mile 1: 6:12/6:12
Mile 2: 6:27/12:39
Mile 3: 6:38/19:17
Mile 4: 6:47/26:04
Mile 5: 6:52/32:56
Mile 6: 7:35/40:31
Mile 7: 7:03/47:34
Mile 8: 7:06/54:40
Mile 9: 6:57/1:01:37
Mile 10: 7:47/1:09:24
Mile 11: 7:48/1:17:12
Mile 12: 7:14/1:24:26
Mile 13: 7:50/1:32:16
Mile 13.1: 0:38/1:32:54

I have now officially completed my first half marathon!  This would have been hard to imagine just a few months ago.  The race itself, however, did not go very well.

According to HopStop it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to get to Brighton Beach, a subway stop on the Q train near the starting line; I got there in less than an hour.  I figured that if the organized buses left the Upper East Side at 6:00, I should probably leave my apartment on the Upper West Side at around the same time.  I managed to arrive at 7:00 before any of the buses arrived and shivered on a park bench in the breezy and overcast 49 degree weather for almost 2 hours.  Shivering is an understatement — call it convulsions — I drew stares.

My breakfast on the subway consisted of an apple danish, half-banana, and most of a 20 oz. bottle of Gatorade.  The night before I ate spaghetti with meatballs from a local pizza shop.  This was pretty much in line with my race prep in previous races.

As the race start time approached I got in the long line for the porta-potties.  Almost as soon as I finished I had to go again yet I figured maybe I could just hold it (1.5 hours?).  I took a few paces up and down the boardwalk to get acquainted with the atypical wooden running surface and made my way to my corral.

My short-lived goal from the Run for the Parks 4M two weeks ago was to make the time for the first blue corral; I succeeded with a 6:19/mi pace.  However, the wearing of a blue bib was decidedly an underwhelming experience.

The race horn sounded and, ready or not, I ran.  I finished mile 1 at a quick yet relaxed 6:12 pace, but at mile 2 I felt two pinches in my stomach.  Uh oh.  By mile 3 I was undoubtedly cramping and I started to fade, as reflected in my lap times above.  I held on the best I could.

Down the road a runner pointed at an object laying in the road and, not knowing what it was, I jumped over it.  Turns out it was a $20 bill.  I thought about the cost-benefit of turning around but kept running — not enough benefit.  Maybe for a $50!

At mile 6 — the first opportunity — I stopped for the porta-potty behind a hydration station and managed to walk in on someone (wasn’t even a runner).  I dashed into the next porta-potty, then grabbed some Gatorade, and rejoined the race at a cost of at least 40 seconds.  It felt like a Formula 1 pit stop.

During the race I observed other runners — their attire, shoes, stride — but couldn’t make any generalizations.  Each runner had his or her own uniqueness.

Until mile 9 the course remained flat but then began the hilly loop of Prospect Park.  Considering the cramping and my stride disintegrating into a waddle, I was surprised to be knocking back mile times of around 7 minutes.  In Prospect Park, however, the hills proved to be too much and I had to take breaks to stretch.  Maybe it was just coincidence, but my previous longest race was 9 miles and the remaining 4 mile distance also happened to be new racing territory for me.  My mile times soon fell deep into the 7s.  I finished the race in 1:32:54.

This was my first race with my brand new Garmin Forerunner 405.  I’m very pleased with the watch but have a few reservations regarding the software.  For example, the Garmin Training Center does not calculate splits (as listed above) — I needed to do this myself in Excel.  The mapping is also fairly primitive: running on the Coney Island boardwalk is mapped a few hundred yards into the Atlantic Ocean (this was fixed when exported to Google Earth).  My qualms are minor given how much information I gain in real time wearing the GPS watch.

In other highlights, Mary Wittenberg, CEO of New York Road Runners, grazed my back before the race and that was kind of awesome.

A lot went wrong today.  I had the bad luck of side cramps and a forced bathroom break, but I was under-trained for which I can only blame myself.  I had run only a few longer runs in preparation – none at race pace – and just one over 13.1 miles.  I don’t mean to come across ungrateful, but this was certainly one race I’d like to have over.  I see potential at this distance.

In related news, Filly Eight Belles broke down at the Kentucky Derby and was later euthanized on the track.  I’m glad the consequnces weren’t so severe in Brooklyn!  I’ll be back…with a PR.

adidas Run for the Parks 4M (Q)
Central Park, New York, NY
Sunday, April 20, 2008

Official time
25:16 (6:19 pace)

Mile marker: lap/split
Mile 1: 6:23/6:23
Mile 2: 6:10/12:34
Mile 3: 6:34/19:09
Mile 4: 6:07/25:16

Following a beautiful and warm Saturday, the morning was a chilly 51 degrees according to my Google Widget.  The morning prep was standard: half-croissant, half-banana, and half-Gatorade.

This race was the first implementation of seeded corrals which separated runners by their best proven race pace.  Previously, runners self-selected their starting positions under the appropriate pace marker, but so many slower runners were starting too far to the front and creating unnecessary traffic.  Corrals were enforced with runners separated by bib color.

All I knew was my red bib meant that I was in the red corral.  However, on the subway ride to the race start a couple pointed out that my 14XX bib number meant I was in the second corral and I must be oh so fast, as they unzipped their jackets to reveal bib numbers in the 8000s.

Runners in the first corral (blue) had bib numbers 1-999, the second corral had number 1000-1999, and so on (not all the numbers were filled; NYRR aimed for 500-700 runners per corral).  Ten corrals total.  Generally, bibs are used only to identify runners in professional pictures since race times are recorded by chips threaded through runners’ shoe laces.  But now it was different – bibs with low numbers were worn like medals.

I decided then that my goal was to get into that first blue corral.

I started in the middle of my red corral which seemed very close to starting line, I thought maybe too close.  Did I really belong here?  Not only could I see the starting banner, but I could also see the the podium from where they make those awkward pre-race sponsor announcements.

“Uhh, we’re behind you runners, as always.  You do great things for the park.  Have a nice race.”

Minutes to the start, I looked around: nothing but guys ahead, to the side, and immediately behind me.  Hardly a girl anywhere – and having worked in technology, this was an all too familiar sight.  Stretching far behind me down East Drive was a river of runners in evenly spaced colored corrals, 5863 runners in all.

The race was off!  Within a few hundred yards the runners quickly sorted.  Runners surrounding me were even until we hit Cat Hill which again reshuffled the order; many couldn’t maintain speed through the long uphill.  I didn’t know what my pace should be for this race, so when my first mile split was 6:23 I was a bit concerned that I came out too fast.  I can’t remember the last time I ran even a single sub-6:30 mile, yet here I still had 3 more miles to go.

I tried not to think too hard and kept running.  My next mile was an even faster 6:10 which brought us to the top of the 102nd St. transverse.  This third mile along the west side is what always seems to give me trouble – it’s a long stretch of quick up-and-down hills.  I would pass a series of runners on the uphill, they would pass me on the way down, I’d again pass them on the way up, and so on.  Clearly running downhill is an area where I need to improve.  Things were solid until my forth mile when my running form crumbled.  It was all leg power to the end.   I can only imagine the professional pictures will show my head weighted back, my elbows sticking out, and me looking like I’m booking from the police (I already have a few pics like this).

There were three water stations, but I drank nothing.  I’m still trying to determine the right amount of hydration for each race distance.  Last week I ran 15 miles without a sip of water (not that this was a good idea), so I was certainly not going to waste time drinking water during a 4-mile race on a cool day.

I clicked the lap button on my watch for my third mile and the final fouth mile, but I didn’t look at my finish time – not until I sat down to write this post this evening.  After the race I grabbed a glass of water and some food, took a few minutes rest, and finished the morning with a comfortable 6-mile loop of Central Park, bagel in hand.

I’m of course happy with my 6:19 pace, but it does make me wonder how much longer I can keep cutting my time.  Back to the gym tomorrow.

New York Colon Cancer Challenge 15K/9.3M (Q)
Central Park, New York, NY
Sunday, March 9, 2008

Official time
1:09:08 (7:26 pace)

Mile marker: lap/split
Mile 1: 7:30/7:30
Mile 2: 6:38/14:09
Mile 3: 8:02/22:11
Mile 4: 7:13/29:24
Mile 5: 7:31/36:55
Mile 6: 7:35/44:31
Mile 7: 7:19/51:51
Mile 8: 7:44/59:36
Mile 9: 7:21/1:06:57
Finish: 2:15/1:09:13

This morning I was dealing with a pulled shoulder muscle, continuing left foot ache, and poor sleep — things were not looking promising. For breakfast I had what’s evolving into my standard pre-race breakfast: croissant, apple, PowerBar, and Gatorade.

With plenty of time to start, I lined up in front of the 8:00 minute pace marker. I figured that in a smaller field at a 15K race, the pace would be truer. For the most part it was.

Today’s 15K sets my personal record for longest run. With no experience at this distance, my goal was consistent mile times with strong, steady effort. I think I did this very well; except for some irregularity in miles 2 and 3 that I think was due to an incorrectly placed mile marker (anyone else notice?), I didn’t fade through the race. I did expect some deviation since the Central Park loop is unevenly hilly and wind was a moderate factor.

As a volleyball player I used to sleep with a volleyball; now I sleep with the race course map. I purchased two Gu gels yesterday, one for testing and one for the race. At mile 3 I started sucking down the gel packet so that it’d be finished in time for the water station at Central Park South. I planned a second optional water stop at around mile 7 at the 102nd St. transverse and took it.

The running itself was uneventful. I didn’t suffer any cramps or stomach aches which would have been disastrous. I finished the race with tight hamstrings and chaffing on my neck from my jacket but nothing too serious. I occupied my time by trying to draft behind other runners and finding pace buddies. Yeah, someone really needs an iPod!

I’m satisfied with my performance today. I kept it together and made a good first 15K showing.