Run in the sun

On vacation this week! Well, sort of. We're in Miami for my brother-in-law's graduation on May 31. Since the 31st is in the middle of an already shortened week, we decided to just take the whole week off and call it vacation. So we're trying to vacation as much as possible even though certain family members are trying to talk us into babysitting or going with them to run errands. At least the weather should be on side this week.

I'm about to head out running in some very warm and humid conditions, and that has me a bit freaked out because I haven't been able to run for more than 4 miles under normal conditions. Add in the higher temps, humidity up the wazoo, and the extra intense sunshine, and the title to this blog could quickly change to "See sRod Not Really Run As Much As He Walks Kinda Fast." I love it.

Not sure what has made it so difficult for me to train lately. Not sure if its psychological or physical. Could I be talking myself out of running long distances because I just had a great race? Or am I pushing myself back into training too quickly and my body isn't ready for it? Or maybe its the warmer tempuratures?


Blue period

I'm in a slump. I can't seem to run more than 4 miles at a time. I'm heading out now for what is supposed to be an 8 mile run. Let's see what happens.


Bad run

I went for a run yesterday and it sucked.

I had planned on doing 8 miles around Central Park, but from the get go it was going wrong: I left the house 3 hours later than I normally would have, my stomach hurt (perhaps too much food before leaving the house?), and it was raining. Of course I'm hell bent on running an 8 minute mile at the Fairfield Half Marathon so I went out anyway instead of playing it safe and going on the treadmill.

The second I started running I could tell it was going to be a difficult run because my legs were tightening up and I couldn't get my pace under control (i.e., I was going faster than I should have and couldn't sustain a slower pace). The rain only made the situation worse. By mile 3 it was seriously raining and all I wanted was for the run to be over. So I figured I would walk for a minute and try to "reset" myself, give myself a fresh start. While I was walking I passed by a subway station and that was it. I started thinking about the rain, and how my phone and iPod would get damaged. I started thinking about how horrible my stomach felt and how my legs weren't cooperating (even though I was doing about 8:15 a mile). And despite knowing much better, despite having faced this situation 1,000 other times, despite knowing that this would be a high-order sell out, I stopped my run, got on the subway, and went home.

I don't think I've ever felt so defeated by a run before. I've stopped to walk, I've taken shortcuts, but I've never cut a run off so soon--I wasn't even half way through! For the past 24 hours I've been beating myself up over this. I've been thinking about what a wimp move that was, how I've had much, much bigger challenges and yesterday I just gave up without a fight. And then I started thinking about how I wouldn't be ready for this next race...and that's a whole other stream of thoughts. And then I started thinking how this could signal a downturn in my running, how I might never reach an 8 minute mile, how I'll never make it to a full marathon, how I'll have to just give up running all together. My demons have been in full swing since yesterday.

And then I realize--as I'm thinking all this--that perhaps I am taking all this running a bit too seriously. Maybe I should reevaluate my priorities when it comes to running. Or more specifically, maybe I'm pushing a bit too hard for this next race. I should really just concentrate on being prepared for it rather than having an amazing time. I did set a new half marathon personal record this year AND I plan to do my first full marathon this year--that is a lot to squish into 12 months. So maybe I should take the Fairfield race as my fun run for the year. If I improve my time, great, but if I don't, I'll still be in great shape for my fall marathon (whatever that turns out to be).


Running clockwise

To cap off my first week of training for the Fairfield Half-Marathon I did what I intended to be a nice 5-mile run around Central Park: get some nice hill work, enjoy the beautiful spring day, etc. To spice it up a bit I plotted my run around the park clockwise, instead of counterclockwise like everyone else does. Here's what I learned:

1. Running against traffic is like swimming up stream. Suddenly, everyone is coming at you instead of running with you. Not that people were getting in my way, but psychologically it feels like you are running the wrong way--and that makes it very difficult to keep going forward.

2. As I was running I saw street signs that show that runners/walkers are supposed to go clockwise around the park and bicyclists are supposed to go counterclockwise. I don't think I had ever seen these signs before, probably because I had only seen them from behind. And this made me wonder: what crazy runner gets to the park at 5 in the morning and decides the direction of traffic for the rest of the day? Then this lead me to another question: is there ever not someone running in Central Park? I have seen people there at 10pm running as if it were the middle of the day. Or maybe it's one of those impossible questions, like: if a tree falls and no one is there does it make a sound?

3. One thing I noticed off the bat was that other runners looked at me. Now, if any New-York-ism is true it is that people do not make eye contact; actually, New Yorkers tend to not acknowledge anything around them, period. It's not so much a matter of being proud, it's really just a mechanism you develop in this city where everyone and everything is trying to get your attention. However, as I ran people just kept on looking at me--and I could tell because many of them weren't wearing sunglasses. It got to the point that in the first mile of my run I looked down at my shirt to see if there was something on it. I have to assume that it was because I was running face-to-face with 90% of the runners in the park, but it's still an awkward experience in a city where no one pays attention any stranger.

4. An amazing thing I realized was that the park looked entirely different running the wrong way around. I've run through the park dozens of times, but I really felt like I was in a different place. I'm used to seeing turns and hills and trees from one side, and now I was looking at everything "from behind" (so to speak). I even discovered a lake! As I was running north, up the west side of the park, I saw a lake on my left that I had never seen before--every other time I had past this point I was heading south, and with how this lake was laid out it was hidden if you where heading south.

5. The one running-related lesson I learned during this run was that I am starting from scratch again. It happens every time, but, as always, I thought this time would be different. I was in peak condition for Long Branch two weeks ago and now I feel I'm back to square one: I couldn't regulate my speed, I couldn't control my stride, my stomach was going haywire, I couldn't get into my music. I hate runs like this because they completely break me down and make me feel like I can't run at all. I guess this is what training is for: to get rid of the demons.


The new job

So in my infinite brillance I thought it would be just fine if I started a new job the day after I ran a Half-Marathon. I know, you were just thinking the same smart thing.

It actually sucks because since you're new, no one is there to share the excitement with you, which is a total runner's high killer. The one or two people who did ask how my weekend went didn't actually know how to respond to "oh, I ran a Half-Marathon yesterday." They kinda just smiled and said that's cool. And then the overshadowing tiredness didn't help at all.

But that was the first day. Things have been great ever since at the new place. Wonderful people. Unfortunately, I came just in time to start and finish a massive project in two weeks (at my old job I had two months to do it). So that has put a cramp in my running: gave myself a week off for a job well done at Long Branch and have since tried to get back to the gym, but no luck. May have to resort to mornings run, which my body will not like.



Holy sweet Jesus! I did it! No, I didn't just do it, I smashed it. Crushed it. Rolled over it with a steam roller and ate it for breakfast.

My PR going into this race was 1:59:55. So my goal was to maintain a 9 minute pace for an end time of 1:57. I would have been happy with 1:57. I would have been exstatic with 1:55. But taking a whole six minutes off my PR--I just honestly did not think that was going to happen.

Here's a recap of the race/lessons learned on the run:

So I have issues sleeping before a race. I'm usually so excited and nervous before a race that I just can't sleep the night before. I learned the hard way at Disney where I did not sleep at all the night before and managed to FALL ASLEEP in the starting corral. Since then a swig of NyQuil has become part of my ritual the night before.
After on and off shallow sleeping for 7 hours I woke up at 5am. I ate two slices of bread with generous amounts of peanut butter, along with about half a gallon of water.

By 6:30 we were on the road to the starting line. This was the first time I had to drive myself to a race. And there were warnings that there would be major traffic delays and limited parking. So you can imagine the heart attack I had when, with only 30 minutes until the starting gun, we were stuck in a traffic jam 2 miles from the starting line. Turns out Long Branch just has a problem with some poorly timed traffic lights. We got through it pretty quick and I was able to park within a block of the starting line.

It was perfect weather: 55 degrees when I left the car and light overcast (i.e., there were patches where you could see the sky but we never got direct sunlight). I stood in line for the port-o-johns (one last chance before I hit the road) and stretched before heading over to the starting area.

At 7:27am I headed into the corral for the 4-hour marathoners /2-hour half-marathoners...but by the time I could find a place to stand I was with the 5-hour group (which I paid for later in the race).

7:29..I'm jumping in place, eager for the pre-race announcements to start.

7:30...no gun.

7:35...no gun.

7:40...still no gun.

7:42 the race director finally finds his way to the stage. At this point, I'm already starting to get hungry, so you can imagine I wasn't too happy about the delay. But after a few garbled words from the director, the special guests (who included Kathrine Switzer), and the Star-Spangled Banner, the gun finally went off at close to 7:50.

My memory from the course is spotty...as anyone's tends to be because all you're thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other. I thought it was hilarious that in the first mile I ran by a hot dog vendor setting up her cart ON THE COURSE, as if today were a regular day and there weren't 7,000 people running down the street in front of her.

The first 1/3 of the race took a lot of turns. When I saw this on the course map a few weeks ago I got to wondering how courses are measured. So I took a little trip over to
USATF.com to see if they had their methodology posted. They did, and it turns out that courses are measured assuming that you hug the corners and take straight angles between S-turns...basically they assume runners take the shortest distance and calibrate the course so that everyone runs the advertised distance no matter what. So I didn't feel bad at all getting on the sidewalk and taking the straightest course.

I realized that this race was not for speed runners. So I got the slow people, which is fine. But combine them with the narrows roads of Long Branch and Monmouth, and you get lots of congestion through the first 4 miles of the race. It was a bit frustrating since I was trying to set a PR. But once we got to the straight-aways it was clear sailing.

Most of the race was uneventful, very few surprises. I loved the group of townhouses that decided to go all out for the race and cover all their porches with signs like: "Beer Hydration Stop Here" and "We're All Kenyans Today." However, I did learn how important food is during the race. Normally I go through one pack of GU during a race, just because that's all I thought I needed. But this race I took a different approach and ate my first GU pack at the 50 minute mark, grabbed some gummies at the 8 mile mark, and downed my second GU before hitting mile 11. So smart. Each time I ate it gave me a big boost of energy. So much energy that by mile 11 I was blasting by all the other runners. (And I started singing outloud to my iPod...which I didn't realize until I heard people laughing at me....)

At mile 12.1 (I presume) there was a huge banner with "One Mile to Go." At that point I looked at my watch and realized what time I was going to make. And then the tears came. It was sudden, a cathartic. I cried because I was about to destroy my old record. I cried for all the training runs that felt useless. I cried for all the years I was the fat kid. I cried for my tired body. I cried for all the people behind me that still had miles to go. I cried for every single thing in the damn universe.

And then I realized that I still had a mile to go.

So the tears had to be put on the shelf for now--I could cry when I was done. The last mile went by in a blur. I felt I was going a 1,000 miles per hour and getting no where. I could see the hotel next to the finish and it just would not get any closer no matter how much more I poured on the heat.

I started yelling and waving my arms to get the crowd excited. Thank you to the two girls that saw me barreling down the boardwalk and started cheering my name. I couldn't hear what you were saying (the downside to wearing phones headphones) but it helped a lot.

My only memory of the final few hundred yards was the finish line floating in the distance, never getting closer even though I could swear no human had ever run faster.

I stopped the second I touched the timing mats. It took me ten seconds to remember to turn off my watch. 1:53:52. Then someone took my timing chip off, someone handed me a medal and a bottle of water, and somehow I got a finisher's hat.

In a blur I looked for my wife. I say blur because when sweat mixes with tears it is impossible to see straight (or even keep your eyes open). When I found her in the mob I gave her the biggest hug I've ever given her (which is hard to say once you've known someone for 12 years). I wanted to pick her up and swing her around in one of those classic romantic comedy moves, but my legs were buckling under my own weight--I would have fallen on my ass if I had even tried to pick her up. I showed her my time and she lit up, and when she noticed I was still crying behind my sunglasses...well, I think it made her tear up a little bit too.

This is why I run. The feeling of elation after a race is enough to make you want to run a 1,000 more miles. It is a high that cannot be surpassed. Yes, the sensation is fleeting. Yes, there is lots of pain. And yes, there are plenty of times when it all seems like a bad idea. But crossing thet finish line propelled by nothing but your own two feet is one of the greatest accomplishments a human can achieve.