Capitol 10k 2011 Race Report

Today Katie and I set new 10k PRs at the Capitol 10k in Austin, the largest 10k in Texas. Katie and I drove up yesterday and had our pre-race dinner at Mother's Cafe and Garden. Mother's offers great vegetarian fare and most of their produce is grown there onsite. We ate there last year before the Cap 10k and we both PR'ed so we figured that we shouldn't mess with what seemed to work! Katie had the vegetables ranchero and I had the BBQ tofu sandwich. We had dinner with an Italian IMD friend of mine and we all shared some chocolate cake at the end. Stuffed, we repaired back to our hotel (With 23,000+ runners we decided to avoid logistical uncertainties this year and booked a hotel near the race start/finish.) for an early night.

My morning began at 6 AM with a breakfast of 900 calories worth of granola, almond milk, avocado, and fresh fruit. I stretched a bit, listened to Texas rock n' roll, and went over my race strategy: Start strong, ease up a bit on the uphills, fly down the downhills, and finish strong. Last year I made great time on the downhill stretches by really striding it out. The only problem was that the long strides meant a heel-toe foot strike, which is not how one is supposed to run when barefoot (or in Vibram FiveFingers, as I run). This year I intended to bend my knees and take short, high-RPM strides with ball-of-the-foot strikes--the consensus "best practice"--on the downslopes. My "base" pace would be 4:38/km with 4:46 for the uphill kms and 4:24 on the long downhill kms. If I could stick to this plan, I would finish with a new PR of 45:37.

At 8 I went down to warm up a bit, which was a good idea. The weather was overcast and ~62 degrees F (16 C) and was expected to remain so throughout the race. A healthy dose of wind made it pretty chilly before the race for a shirtless runner like me. I knew that, once I was surrounded by 23,000+ runners and once I was running hard, I would warm up significantly.

The Cap 10k does an excellent job of lining up runners based on pace. At the very front are the elite runners, who must show proof of having finished races under pre-defined threshold times (38:00 for men, 41:00 for women). The next section is for timed runners under some other threshold, the section after that for timed runners under another threshold, etc. etc. until, at the very back, are untimed walkers. The end result is a much smoother start, even with 23,000+ participants. I was assigned to the first section after the elite runners; Katie was two sections back.

At 9:00 AM the starting gun went off. 5 seconds later I was across the starting line and hurtling across the Congress Ave bridge toward the capitol. Last year I finished the first km in 4:38 with an average heart rate of 160 BPM. This year I was aiming for a more aggressive start, though, so, despite the gentle upslope (~5%), my goal was 4:29. I finished the first km in 4:16 with an average heart rate of 162 BPM - 13s ahead of pace.

My goal for the 2nd km, which featured a much steeper slope up and around the capitol building, was 4:46 (Last year I did it in 4:37 at 172 BPM). However, the course had changed slightly since last year such that now there was a steep downslope section as well. I tried out my new short, rapid stride technique on the downhill section and it worked like a champ. I finished in 4:20 with an average heart rate of 175 - 39 seconds ahead of pace. If I could just run the rest of my race plan, I would accomplish my 2011 goal of running a 10k under 45 minutes.

The 3rd km started with a steep uphill segment but was followed by a good downhill stretch. Last year I completed it in 4:32 at 173 BPM but this year I wanted to stay on my base pace of 4:38. The downhills were really working for me, though, and I finished in 4:27 with an average heart rate of 177 - 50 seconds ahead of pace. My heart rate was high but I felt good.

The 4th km also seemed to have a downhill and then uphill segment so, again, I was shooting for base pace (Last year I completed it in 4:40 at 176 BPM.). However, due to the change in race course, this km had much more uphill than downhill and I finished it very slowly: 4:49 with an average heart rate of 180 - now only 39 seconds ahead of pace but still on track to beat the 45 minute barrier.

Last year I finished the 5th km in 4:46 (175 BPM) but this year was shooting for base pace. However, the gentle downward slope made this km easier than anticipated and I finished it in 4:22 with an average heart rate of 178. The first half of the race had taken me 22:14, a personal best. I was  59s ahead of last year's run and 55s ahead of this year's pace. My heart rate was high but the hardest part of the race was behind me and my form was holding up well.

Kms 6 and 7 were race makers for me last year, featuring long downhill slopes. Last year I finished them in 4:25 (177 BPM) and 4:24 (178 BPM) respectively and I was shooting for 4:24 for each of them this year. I finished the 6th in 4:22 with an average heart rate of 178 BPM and the 7th (despite a course change) in 4:24 with an average heart rate of 179 BPM - 57s ahead of pace.

The 8th km was quite flat and last year I finished it in 4:41 (176 BPM). This year, shooting for base pace, I came in at 4:37 with an average heart rate of 177 BPM. Last year the uphill of the 9th km killed me, slowing me to 4:51 (176 BPM). This year I resolved to stay below 4:46 and succeeded, finishing in 4:42 with an average heart rate of 177 BPM - 62s ahead of pace. Heading into the final km I felt pretty good and actually noted that this was the most lucid and clear-headed I recalled feeling at this point in any 10k race to date.

My goal for the final km was 650m in 3:00, kick it up for 260m in 60s, and then the final 90m in 14s. I hit the 650m mark at 2:58 (178 BPM) then the next 260m in 1:01 (182 BPM). I then kicked it all the way up but it took me 23s (186 BPM) to cross the finish line. According to my GPS that was 160m, not 90m, so who knows exactly where the discrepancy arose. Final time: 44:41, a new PR by more than a minute! I finished #563 of 10,165 timed runners (94th percentile), #494 of 5,147 male runners (90th percentile), and #87 of 734 male 30-34 runners (88th percentile).

I was pleased with this result. My heart rate spiked up quickly but it stayed in the appropriate range for the rest of the race so I think my body is figuring out how to maintain higher levels of performance longer. In previous races I have consistently shown an inability to keep up my pace in the second half of the race but not so today. Good progress!

Just as with my last 10k, there were no dry heaves at the end, so I think there is something to this big pre-race breakfast idea. After I finished, I ate, drank, stretched, and cheered on Katie as she came in, breaking her PR as well. We cleaned up, checked out of our hotel, and then met several Rice friends at Shady Grove for brunch. Katie had a garden burger while I opted for the tortilla-fried catfish - great recovery food! A local beer would have been perfect but we needed to head back on the road to Houston immediately so it wasn't meant to be.

It was a very brief trip to Austin but we saw several friends and beat both of our 10k records - not a bad trip, all-in-all!


The Most Pressing Question: How To Price Food, Energy, and Health?

I was recently invited to throw my hat in for participation in the conference on "Ecosystem Services" hosted by the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative. It is a "think tank" style event at which people from all disciplines, sectors, and backgrounds come together to address weighty topics. One question on the application was, "Which one question or topic related to 'Ecosystem Services' is most pressing and most deserving to be addressed by [conference attendees]?" Following is my response, which was required to be fewer than 250 words. What do YOU think?

How to price food, energy, and health

Capitalism is an extremely efficient system for organizing resources to produce a desired outcome. However, as with all systems, garbage in results in garbage out. Subsidies, protectionist economic policies, and the externalization of costs result in prices for food, energy, and health that do not reflect reality and that are completely misaligned with desired outcomes.

For example, fast “food” is an incredibly cheap source of calories in the US but its costs do not reflect market reality. Its ingredients have low costs due to agriculture subsidies. The economies of scale used by the industry require massive infrastructure and energy use. The cost of infrastructure is externalized as overhead. The cost of energy is undervalued because the energy industry receives high tax breaks and externalizes the costs of environmental damage and health risks. Overconsumption of fast food drives up nation-wide health costs to cope with rising diabetes and obesity. The health costs themselves are inflated under the burden of overhead for an incredibly complex multi-payer system and prices are based on services rendered rather than on outcomes achieved.

This brief, US-focused example illustrates not only what dire situations food, energy, and health are in but also how complex and interrelated they all are. These issues must be addressed at the system level and the primary parameter for the capitalist system is pricing. Addressing pricing will require an interdisciplinary and inter-professional approach, which is why the NAKFI conference is a perfect venue for its discussion.


Bayou City Classic 2011 Race Report

This morning I PR'ed in my second ever Bayou City Classic 10k race. There was some uncertainty around this race as A. I had been sick for most of the preceding week and B. once I beat the cold I was eager to run but I pulled my hamstring on Thursday. I took Friday off to rest but I was still hacking up phlegm and I had no idea whether or not my hamstring would be runnable. The race would have to be a game-time decision.

My day began at 5AM with breakfast with Max. I had an egg and some avocado on sprouted grain toast (Max gets an egg and some avocado mixed in with his morning dog food too.), sprouted grain cereal, almond milk, and fresh fruit. Taking in 1,000 calories only 2-3 hours prior to running a race runs contrary to the conventional "eat light before a race" wisdom. However, I went this route for two reasons: 1. My dry heaves at the end of previous races have shown that there was nothing left in my system to process (after ~600-calorie breakfasts). I therefore hypothesized that I had room to process a little more before the race. 2. This is essentially what I have for breakfast every day so it didn't present much of a risk of indigestion.

As I digested, hydrated, and waited for the time to depart, I ran over my race strategy. Last year this course surprised me with elevation changes and a finish that came sooner than expected but this year I knew exactly what was coming. My race plan was as follows:

1. Start close to the starting line and begin with an anaerobic 3/4 speed launch, settling into pace after ~200m. Shoot for a 4:30 first km.
2. Consistent pace of 4:39 for kms 2-9. Ease up a bit on the uphill grades and stride it out on the downhills. Because the course is of the go-out-and-come-back variety, the uphills should be equaled out by downhills and a consistent pace should be possible.
3. At 300m from the finish line, pick up the pace, covering 240m (the last uphill stretch before the final push to the finish line) in 60s.
4. Turn the corner and sprint the final 60m in 10s.

This race plan would have me finishing in 46:07, close to my Rodeo Run time of two weeks ago but on a more consistent, intentional pace.

At 7:30 Katie and Max dropped me off near the starting area downtown (They went for a run of their own while waiting for me to finish.). I ran some blocks to warm up and test out the hamstring. I could definitely feel that it wasn't 100% but it seemed to be holding up OK. Would it stand up to strong start and [hopefully] strong finish? We would see very soon!

As runners took starting positions I lined up very near the starting line. At 8:30 the air horn blared and we were off. It only took me two seconds to cross the starting line and then wide open Louisiana St offered plenty of room to spread out. As seems to be the pattern, I started off faster than intended. I couldn't tell, though, how much faster. Once again the tall buildings downtown confused my GPS and it told me I was running a 5:00+ pace. I didn't believe that but I didn't know exactly how fast I was going.

After half a km I realized that I was breathing really heavily and my chest was feeling quite congested. As I settled down my pace my hamstring was noticeable, but manageable. If I couldn't breathe due to cold remnants, though, it would be a long, tough race! My heart rate was pretty high, nearing 180, so I concluded that indeed I had been running quite quickly. No problem there; even if it had been faster than intended, it was coherent with my strategy and now my aerobic activity would process the lactic acid to provide me with more anaerobic energy at the end. We emerged from downtown, my GPS stabilized, and I finished the first km in 4:03 with an average heart rate of 164 BPM.

The next few kms were unremarkable. The music along the course was good and I kept a relatively even pace. Now that I was running a much slower than 4:03 pace, I was passed frequently by runners who had had slower starts but were running faster paces.

km 2: 4:35, 174 BPM
km 3: 4:37, 174
km 4: 4:39, 176
km 5: 4:43, 175

I finished my first 5k in 22:37, my fastest first 5k in any of my 10k races or training runs. There was a marker for each km so I knew I was actually running the times/distances, not having to trust my GPS blindly. My heart rate had stabilized but my pace was clearly slowing. Still, I was 29s ahead of my target so, if I could just run the second 5k within 19 seconds of my target, I would beat my PR.

At this point we turned around on Shepherd and began the trek back toward downtown. By now the runners around me had thinned out. There was an old guy who was a real trooper. Every time I pressed him, he fought me off and pushed ahead faster. There was also another guy wearing Vibram FiveFingers, which was great to see. There was also another stocky guy running along with us. For the next several km we basically all ran together.

km 6: 4:43, 177 BPM
km 7: 4:40, 177
km 8: 4:43, 177
km 9: 4:43, 178

Entering the final km I was only 19s ahead of my target, 9s ahead of my PR. This km began with an uphill segment, which went really slowly for me--at a 5:00+ pace! It began occurring to me that I could "lose it all" in this last km if I kept that up! I made up time on the corresponding down slope. "Flow like water," I told myself. While people around me were wasting energy leaning back and resisting gravity, I tried to let it guide me forward. I passed the old guy here but the stocky guy and the other Vibrams wearer were still ahead of me.

At 9.5 km, my left calf cramped up. I reasoned that I was overloading it by compensating for my tender right hamstring. With only half a km left, though, there was nothing to do but soldier on. We turned the corner for the final uphill segment and I decided to pick it up a little bit early, with 350m left. The previous 650m had taken me 3:02 (181 BPM), which was right on pace. Now I wanted to take the hill in 60s. I pumped my arms and passed several people, including the Vibrams guy. At 61s (185 BPM) I passed the stocky guy and turned the final corner.

It turns out that the finish line was actually 90m from this corner. I began to sprint and saw on the clock that I would easily beat my PR. There was one runner between me and the finish line. He was much closer to it than I, but he was definitely "pacing" his way in instead of sprinting. I set a new goal to beat him and I gave it all I had. My body wouldn't go nearly as fast as I knew it could but I was closing the gap quickly. Finally, with a last burst of effort and a grunt, I lurched forward, crossing the finish line just ahead of him. I had crossed the last 90m in 14s (181 BPM) resulting in a final time of 45:43, beating my previous PR by 13s! Also, despite my intense effort at the end, there was no dry heave, which could be an indicator of success of my big breakfast experiment.

I finished #178 of 1,420 runners (87th percentile), #155 of 755 males (79th percentile), and #15 of 124 men aged 30-34 (88th percentile). The after party was great, with lots of good food and Saint Arnold beer. This was a very successful race for me (both in terms of the PR and pacing - each middle km was +/- 4s of my target pace) but I'm disappointed in my second half fade again. Hopefully this is something I can address in the Capitol 10k in Austin in two weeks!


Computer Science and IMD

A prospective applicant to the IMD MBA program recently contacted me to ask about how my computer science (CS) background affected my IMD experience and whether or not IMD was a good fit for him. It got me thinking, especially since I had just received an invitation to talk to the current crop of Rice undergrad CS majors. Following is an abbreviated version of my response:

No one else can answer whether or not IMD is a good fit for you - only you can. And in fact, you probably can't truly answer that question until after you've completed the program! For example, I thought IMD might be a good fit for me before I applied. After my second round, onsite interview day, I thought IMD would be a great fit for me. After completing the program, I knew it had been a great fit for me--but for very different reasons than I originally thought! 

Still, I'm glad to provide some contextual information about my experience in the hope that it helps you better anticipate what the program is like.

To answer your practical question first, yes, the international organizations you have mentioned recruit very heavily at IMD. The World Economic Forum is probably the most prodigious; 4 of my 89 classmates took a job there after graduation. Something I didn't realize until I was already in business school is that your location has a significant impact on the job opportunities that just come your way. If you're looking to work in San Francisco after business school, Stanford is your best choice hands-down. If you're looking to work in Geneva, there is no better pedigree than IMD. Can you go to Stanford and then take a job in Geneva or go to IMD and then take a job in San Fran? Of course, but it's more of an uphill battle.

As for my CS degree, I didn't find that I used it much at all during the program. Certainly my engineering-driven problem-solving approach came into play every day. Certainly my experience pulling all nighters to study/do problem sets/build software helped prepare me for the intense IMD work load. Certainly my skill with software programs like Excel was very useful, but I would guess that your career in the Finance world has imbued you with more of those skills than did your CS studies.

Honestly some of my greatest take-aways from the IMD program were really the result of unlearning my CS education. In studying CS I was taught that everything is rational/logical and that everything can be modeled with deterministic formulae. However, at IMD I learned that actually most people--myself included--behave quite irrationally. Recognizing that and learning to identify "what's really going on" in intra- and interpersonal dynamics has been one of the most useful skills I have ever developed.

Is this helpful background information for you? Again, only you can decide whether or not it's a good fit (although the Admissions team is pretty good at gauging that too!) but I applaud you for seeking out some more data. In the end you'll just have to do something that you probably didn't learn in CS class (but that you might learn at IMD): trust your feelings.


Houston Rodeo Run 10k 2011 Race Report

Last weekend I ran the Houston Rodeo Run 10k for the first time. It was my least favorite of the three 10k races I have run to date, but it was still a fun experience.

My day began at 6 with cereal, almond milk, bananas, toast, avocado, and a banana. Normally I would have had an egg too, but we were out. This was only 500 calories or so, but it left me very full (in concert with all the water I was drinking!) and, besides, my energy for the race should have been coming from my meals of the previous 48 hours.

At 7 I drove downtown and parked at the office. The race wouldn't start until 9:35 but hundreds of thousands of spectators were expected to take up all the parking pretty early and many of the major roads would be closed for the race route. I made it in before the road closures and was sitting comfortably in my office (conveniently located one block from the starting line) with easy access to water and clean bathrooms by 7:15.

I continued to hydrate, got some work done, and ran over my race strategy one final time: a 4:40/km "base pace," slightly faster (4:35) for kms with net downhill slopes and slightly slower (4:45) for kms with net uphill slopes. I also intended to start with a strong anaerobic start (4:35), then use the middle 8 km for aerobic recuperation, and finally exhaust my anaerobic capacity at the end for a fast (4:26) final km. This strategy would have me finishing in 46:21 (25s behind my PR) with a 23:20 first 5k and a 23:16 second 5k.

At 9 I went down to the starting area, dropped off my warmup clothes and mobile phone (which would be waiting for me at the finish) and lined up near the sign that said 7:00/mile pace. As we moved closer to start time, many people who clearly weren't going to run sub-7 miles lined up in front of me so I scooched forward a bit, close to the 6:00 sign. The temperature was in the low 60s F - a bit warmer than ideal but not too bad, all things considered.

When the starting gun (air horn) finally went off at 9:35, I was appalled at how slowly things got moving. People in the very front were very slowly running forward and many were even walking - WTF? It took me 26s just to reach the starting line! And then, once I did, I had to juke and jive to pass dawdlers. So much for my plan for a strong start! I was anaerobic all right, but I was wasting too much energy dodging rather than hitting my pace.

Finally, after the first turn, I found an outside "lane" and was able to get down to business. The sudden feeling of freedom that came with emergence from the pack made my feet feel light and springy and I bounded forward. The race organizers did an excellent job organizing "hoopla" teams to line the early parts of the race and this also motivated a faster pace. By the end of the first km, I had more than caught up with my target (4:35) by running a 4:32 with an average heart rate of 161 BPM.

The second km had a modest incline so my target for it was 4:45. Apparently my springy pace kept me going forward quickly, though, because, before I knew it, I had finished this km in 4:15 with an average HR of 171. Whoa, easy there, tiger! I was now 33s ahead of my target so, if I could just run my race plan for the rest of the race, I would beat my PR.

The third km had a modest decline so I prepared to stride it out for a 4:35. The hoopla teams were gone now and there were just 20 or so runners in my vicinity so now it was time to focus and execute. I finished this km in 4:31 with an average HR of 172. I was now 37s ahead of my target and 12s ahead of my PR pace but my HR was good so there was no need to adjust / scale back.

The fourth km featured our first real incline up the Elysian viaduct on the way out of downtown. My goal time was 4:45 and I passed many runners who were struggling up the hill, ultimately finishing in 4:41 with an average HR of 174. I was now 41s ahead of my target and 16s ahead of my PR.

The fifth km was pretty flat so my goal time was 4:40. It turned out there was still some incline, though, and I slowed way down to finish in 4:48 with an average HR of 171. Having lost some ground, I was still 33s ahead of my target and 8s ahead of my PR. My HR had declined a little so hopefully that boded well for kms to come. According to my Garmin I finished the first 5k in 22:47. However, the official D Tag pad didn't come until a little ways later (22:57) so possibly I hadn't been running quite as fast as I thought.

The 6th km had some downhill again so I shot for 4:35 and exceeded it with 4:27 and an average HR of 174. The race course included a shower mist station, which I avoided like the plague. As I understand it, sweat can't conduct heat away from your body very efficiently when your skin is already saturated with water. I was now back to 41s ahead of target and 16s ahead of my PR - but I was starting to feel it.

The 7th km was largely flat so the target was 4:40 again. Unfortunately I finished in 4:45, again with an average HR of 174. The 8th km featured another steep uphill as we hopped back on the viaduct. My target was 4:45 and I finished in an abysmal 4:53 with an average HR of 175. I felt like I was running my pace and, in fact, I was passing runners who had been with me the whole way. It turns out, though, that they were just slowing down even more than I was. So, at this point I was 28s ahead of my target and only 3s ahead of my PR.

The 9th km was another slow one, finishing 4:49 at an average heart rate of 174. I was now only 14s ahead of my target and a full 9s short of my PR. Fortunately it was to be smooth sailing until the end so, with a final push, I might still break 46:00 for only the second time ever.

My goal for the final km was to finish the first 700m on pace (in 3:16), then kick up a bit for 60s to bring me within sight of the finish line, and finally sprint the final 50m in 10s. Thus my goal time for the full km was 4:26. Long strides on the final downhill portion helped me hit 700m by 2:58 (HR 179) but it took me 65s to cover the next 250m (HR 184). When my Garmin told me I had 50m left it turned out I really had 100m left, which took me 19s to sprint (HR 187). Thus I finished my final km (although my Garmin thought it was 1.05km) in 4:22.

I dry heaved once then recovered with water, bananas, and Honey Milk - but there was no beer there--LAME! My final time was 46:03 - just missed breaking the 46-minute barrier! While I beat my target time by 18s, I felt let down after my strong start had me on PR-breaking pace for much of the race. I'm especially disappointed in my much slower second 5k. It appears, though, that I wasn't the only one to slow down in the second half (where most of the topography was experienced):

According to my Garmin I ran the first 5k in 22:47 and the second 5k in 23:16. According to the official race chip measurement, though, my splits were much closer: 22:57 and 23:06 respectively. I finished the first 5k #293 but the second 5k, which I ran more slowly, I finished #243 - so it appears that others were experiencing an even greater slowdown. I was passed by 13 people during the second 5k but I passed 143 runners - not bad.

I finished the race #262 out of 5,689 runners (95th percentile), #221 of 2,800 men (92nd percentile), and #33 of 445 men aged 30-34 (93rd percentile).

Lessons learned:
1. I just don't really like the Rodeo Run very much. It's set up more for recreational runners, the course isn't great, and the afterparty was kind of underwhelming.
2. I need to crowd the starting line since apparently people will disregard the line-up guidelines. I don't want to be caught behind so many slower runners again.

I'm battling a cold right now so resting up and not training. I should be over it with plenty of time to get back into form for next weekend's Bayou City Classic 10k.