5/1 – UPDATE

So, I ran my  20th half marathon. I didn’t beat the two-hour mark, but I did something that I haven’t done during a half marathon in a very long time, and possibly the first time ever at the Flower City Challenge – I ran all 13+ miles without ever taking a walking break! 🙂 I focused a lot on hills while training for this race, and I did all of my tempo runs and speed work on a treadmill – doing that allowed me to lock in on certain speeds/paces for periods of time from 30 minutes to 55 minutes (depending on what my training plan called for on a given day). The hills on the FCC course are tough!! However, I scaled ALL of them and felt good, felt like I could continue running, after clearing them. That’s where the treadmill work paid off!

I would’ve liked to have finished before the clock hit the two-hour mark, but I’m very satisfied with my results: 2:07:37. I reflected on my past 19 half marathons while running #20. Hey, I had to do something for two+ hours. 😉

My viz about my half marathon journey has been updated. Check it out to see how the 2019 Flower City Challenge stacks up to the previous races. And it will be updated again later this month as I’ll be running the Buffalo Half Marathon over Memorial Day weekend. I have a serious score to settle with that course! 🙂


On April 28th, when I line up to run the Flower City Challenge Half Marathon, a few milestones will occur:

  • This year marks the 10th anniversary of this fantastic race
  • It will be the fifth time I’ve run it
  • It will be my 20th half marathon overall

A lot to think about while I’m traversing the hillier side of Rochester, NY for 13.1 miles!

On March 25th, I attended Spectrum 2019, which is the annual educational conference hosted by the Rochester chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). I was also fortunate enough to again be a presenter at this fine event. Speaking of milestones, here are two related to Spectrum:

  • This year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of this conference
  • I first presented at this conference 10 years ago at its 50th anniversary

In November, I gave a short presentation that was a retrospective of my thesis project and my experiences using Tableau, a data visualization tool, at TechComm Showcase 2018 (an event that STC Rochester holds at their local chapter meeting). The presentation went well, so I decided to pitch it as a presentation at Spectrum 2019 by focusing on skills/tools needed for the future (look at Glassdoor’s list for the top 50 jobs in America for 2019 – many of them focus on data analysis and interpretation). The TechComm Showcase marked the third time I had given a presentation about my thesis and Tableau, so it was time for me to design a new data visualization. Enter my upcoming half marathon milestone.

To create a data visualization, you need data (no surprise there!). I found all of my half marathon data – finish times, pace, splits, and weather – on one nice convenient site called Athlinks. Athlinks collects results from all sorts of competitive events (foot races, biking, swimming, etc.) and presents them on their site free-of-charge. All you need to do is create an account, search the database for your results, and claim them. I then created a visualization in Tableau that told the story of my half marathon history, and then shared that “viz” at Spectrum 2019 while also going behind-the-scenes to demonstrate how I built the viz (hence, the “tools and skills for the future” part).

If you would like to see the viz and experiment with it, click on the image below to visit my profile page on Tableau Public. The remainder of this post will examine some of the trends in the data.


Click on the image above to interact with this viz on Tableau Public

This viz consists of the following:

  • An introduction in which I briefly describe the purpose of the viz and provide my source data
  • The results of my half marathon depicted overall in a bar chart and two scatter plots that measure finish time vs. age and pace vs. age
  • The impact the weather may have played on my pace/finish time

I also included two filters that allow you to view results by race (for example, all of my Flower City Challenge races) or by season (the races are color-coded accordingly). You can also click anywhere on any of the views to see information about a specific race (for example, the 2011 Flower City Challenge), and the race will also be highlighted in the other views with pop-ups presenting related data.

A popular goal for many half-marathoners is to finish before the clock hits the two-hour mark. Running 13.1 miles under 120 minutes is quite an accomplishment! Looking at the bar chart unfiltered, you can see that I’m not very good at achieving this goal:


The bar chart is sorted in ascending order, so my fastest finishes are first, followed by my slower ones. As you can see, I’ve only beaten the two-hour mark five times in 19 attempts, and I came oh-so-close four other times.

Since we’ve been talking about the Flower City Challenge half marathon, let’s take a look specifically at that race:


I’ve only beaten the two-hour mark once: my first attempt at this race in 2011. The other three times were the majority of my oh-so-close finishes. The scatter plots are arranged in chronological order since they are measuring time (finish time on top; pace/mile on bottom) vs. age. It’s no surprise I’ve slowed down a bit as I’ve gotten older.

One factor that runners are very concerned about is the weather: how hot, humid, windy, cold, rainy, snowy, etc. will it be on race day (runners are probably the best amateur meteorologists as we focus on the hourly forecasts!). Weather plays a big role in performance, especially when it’s warm and muggy out. The Flower City Challenge typically falls in late April, but it has fallen in early May, too. It’s amazing the difference one week can make in the weather here in Rochester, NY!


Athlinks only provided me with the daily high temperature for my half marathons, not the temperature at race time (7:30 AM). That said, the 2011 race (the only one I finished in under two hours) was in early May and it was warm.

But there are a couple of races where the temperature wasn’t a factor, yet I finished over two hours. Why is that? Well, terrain is one reason, and injury/race preparation is another. The Flower City Challenge lives up to its name, especially between Miles 6 and 10. There are a lot of hills in that stretch, and they can crush your dreams of an awesome finish if you don’t train properly for them. Even though I beat the two-hour mark in 2011, I did not train for hills. Ever since, hills have become an important part of my training.

There were a couple of times I was either dealing with a minor injury (hamstring or calf strain) during the race, or was just coming off of an injury. Both situations forced me to alter my training, which resulted in slower finish times. One year, the Flower City Challenge fell one week after the Seneca 7 relay race (I had 12.5 miles of hills running around Seneca Lake) and one month before the Buffalo Half Marathon. Needless to say, I was a bit fatigued that year for the Flower City Challenge.

Now it’s time for audience participation! 🙂 Please visit my viz by clicking on the image above. Dig into the data an see if you can answer the following questions:

  1. Which race did I have my best performance? What was the time and pace?
  2. Which season do I typically run best in? Any idea why? (this is data interpretation!)
  3. Which seasons/races were my slowest? Why?
  4. Based on the history of data presented here, how do you think I’ll do in the 2019 edition of the Flower City Challenge Half Marathon?

Drop your answers and any comments you have on the viz in the Comments section here. I look forward to seeing your feedback!

As for how I actually do next month, come back and visit the viz. It will be easy for me to update it, but it may be a couple of days after the race as I’ll be in recovery mode. 🙂