12.27.2008

Best Christmas ever!

When a runner says that, you know it means one thing: I got a Garmin Forerunner! And not any Forerunner, wifey got me the fancy new Forerunner 405! It's so sleek, so stylish, so streamlined--I love it! I've named him Fenny, after fennel, the English translation of the word marathon. We left our camera at home so there are no pictures, but when we get back to NYC I'll take pictures of the newest member of the sRod running family. (BTW, I am never forgetting our camera again, we had to buy a disposable camera yesterday and apparently those suckers go for $20 nowadays. WTF? They should come with a photographer for that price.)

There are the usual list of reasons I love Fenny: cool techno gadget, stylish accessory, runner status symbol, GPS tracking, pacing, etc. But the main reason I'm totally stoked about this present (thanks again wifey!!!) is that it will save so much time. Mapping out routes always takes so long, and then memorizing them is a tricky business, especially when you get home from a long run and realize that you accidentally cut two miles out of your run. Then there are all the stats that I no longer have to tediously write down every morning.

My only apprehension with Fenny is becoming an addict (see Nitmos and any other runner with a Forerunner). I've read all the stories of not being able to leave the house because the Garmin wasn't charged or delaying runs because it was taking a long time to find the satellites. By comparison, I like the simplicity of running with just a watch. So I've made a little promise to myself to not freak out if Fenny isn't cooperating one day and I have to strap on the plain ol' Timex. (Let's see how long this lasts).

The frustrating bit is that a full-fledged Fenny test run will have to wait until next weekend. I (intentionally) didn't bring any running gear on this trip. I don't like running around my in-laws' 'hood because it's all mountainous and cold-like, and I didn't anticipate running while in West Virginia with my family because we'll be skiing the whole time (although the weather looks iffy right now).

Hopefully all your Christmases/holidays were just as fantastic!

12.25.2008

Merry Christmas to all



Get it? It's a Christmas runner! I'll stop the horrible humor now.

The snow storm on December 19 cancelled the Time Warner appointment we had scheduled. Now the appointment has been rescheduled for the 30--just in time for the next storm, I'm sure. I am never getting internet back home again. At least the internet is working here at the in-laws' place.

By the way, since I haven't run in over a week and my in-laws run a bakery out of their house expect a very fat sRod after this holiday season.

Merry Christmas everyone!

12.14.2008

I hate Time Warner

Sorry peoples. Of course the morning after I say that I'm going to catch up on posts and start posting more on my normal schedule is when my internet connection decides to die. After spending an hour unplugging and plugging and restarting every piece of technology in the house I got on an hour long phone call (90% of which was spent on hold) with Time Warner to figure out what was wrong.

Note to those of you with paperless bills (like myself): ALWAYS write down the phone number to your internet service provider on a paper somewhere, otherwise when your connection goes out you don't have a way to look up their number.

It turned out they couldn't do anything over the phone and we had to setup an appointment for a technician. When the guy came yesterday morning he said that the signal coming into the building was coming in at 30 which is way too high, it's a problem with the box on the outside of the building and he needs to set up an appointment for an engineer to take a look at it (huh?). This basically means it'll be mid-week before we're up again at home.

Now that we've been computer-less at home for over a week we bit the bullet and came into wifey's office to use the computers to get catch up on stuff.

I'll be catching up on blogs tonight, among a thousand other tasks that I didn't want to do at work (because my whole office can see my screen given the layout of the place).

Sweet Jesus do you people write a lot...243 posts? Really?

12.05.2008

The busyness continues

That's right, busy-ness. Between coming back from vacation, Christmas shoping, and clients that don't quit throwing last minute demands this week has had very few pauses. The good news is that--save for the week of vacation--I have been running about twice a week and doing oft-neglected weight training at least once a week. Also, the pains in my knees that have been off and on since the Marathon and have been starting to freak me out have appeared to subside after a week of consistent stretching.

I'm hoping to get a full post in this weekend and, now that I'm back at the gym regularly, see a few gym carnies posts in the near future. I'm also catching up on 150+ post in my blogroll...so look for some dated comments from me.

11.30.2008

Going home

Sitting in the Atlanta airport still on west coast time (so it feels like 4:30 am). Flight is still on time even though visibility is about 50 feet. Can't wait to get home and spend the rest of the day in PJs. OK, that's enough typing from the blackberry. Back to drinking life-giving coffee.

11.24.2008

I'm done with New York

You read right, I am done with New York. Friday night we packed our bags for a 6AM flight to San Francisco. After two nights there we've made our way to Sonoma where we just scored a sweet last minute deal at an Inn.

Although somewhere deep, deep, deep down inside I miss the subways, and the crowds, and the bitter cold, and the six hours of sunlight, I think I can make due until we wrap up our vacation on Sunday.

P.S. - I wish I had brought my running shoes--I'm so jealous of all the runners here!

11.15.2008

Looking ahead

I may have put in a 60 hour work week, but it's over. Woo hoo! And hopefully the worst is behind me. (Rather, I have to say that to myself because otherwise I won't go back on Monday!)

It has been almost a month since the Breakers Marathon and I am so out of it. Without a training schedule or a goal in mind I really just lose focus. When I go to the gym I wander around a bit before I decide on weights (which I ought to do since I avoid them during training) or the treadmill (which I should do to avoid losing any more conditioning).

In an effort to get myself back on track, I started researching my next race: The Little Rock Marathon.

Now you may be wondering why I'm heading to middle-of-nowhere Little Rock for a race. Well, first and foremost there's the whole 50 state goal, so at one point I will have to travel to Arkansas. Then, my good friend is in grad school in Little Rock, which means there's a futon with wifey and I's names on it (even though I doubt Little Rock hotels are expensive by NYC standards).

However, I am facing a bit of a dilemma: do I race the half or the full? I've been thinking about this for a while now and here are the pros and cons of each:

Full Marathon:
  • Pros:
  • The Marathon has the largest medal in road racing--hell yeah I want that!
  • Start off the 09 racing season with a fun, big crowd Marathon (about 12,000 runners)
  • Cons:
  • I have to train through the winter, which not only means cold-ass temps, but also no water fountains throughout the city, ice patches, and less daylight (who wants to run in those conditions?)
  • Then, when I get to Little Rock, it will be about 80 degree and humid--so all that Marathon training will be decimated by the weather
  • Not sure how easy it would be to keep on racing in April and May after a Marathon

Half-Marathon:

  • Pros:
  • Shorter training schedule
  • Shorter training runs (so I wouldn't have to worry about the weather as much)
  • With the shorter distance I could better deal with the change in climate
  • I could start of the 09 racing season with a Half-Marathon and ease into a second half-Marathon in April and then a Full Marathon
  • Cons:
  • No big medal for the Half-Marathon (only the Full Marathoners get the famous one pound medal)

Actually, now that I've written these all down I realize that the only reason I'd do the Full over the Half is completely for pride purposes. Since pride and showing off has gotten me no where in running so far, so I'll be going with the Half and settle for a picture of the biggest medal in racing.

Now to start building the training calendar.

11.14.2008

Timesheet

I just looked at my time sheet for this week. As of yesterday I had put in 46.5 hours so far this week (including yesterday's 16.5 hour workday).

...

I need a weekend.

11.08.2008

All I needed was a run

The past couple of weeks have been crappy at work. Things were already getting hectic because I was put on a new account at the beginning of October and then got a new hire on that account. (So imagine this: "Hi, I'm your new boss, but I have no idea what we're doing.") Then, about three weeks ago I was temporarily put on a team that was understaffed.

If you add up all the ways I'm currently being billed out, I am technically putting in 175% of my time: 50% each for my two main clients, 25% each for my two side projects, and 25% for the team that was understaffed. This translates into many 12+ hour days and lots of dinners at work. This also translates into a lot of stress that unfortunately made it's way home, dominated dinner conversations, and even snuck into my dreams. Yeah, not pleasant.

With this crazy schedule and no race to train for, I wasn't running or making it to the gym at all. It took until this Thursday for me to realize that my major stress reliever was missing from my routine and that I needed it now more than ever.

On Thursday once I realized I could wrap up my work at a reasonable hour (7:30p) I bolted out of the office. By 8:30 I had made it home, changed into running clothes, and headed to the gym. The plan was four miles and then some ab work afterward.

The run was exactly what I needed--better than any kind of massage or night of vegetating in front of the TV. I was able to physically beat the stress out of me. The repetitive motion and isolation allowed all the burdens of the week slip out of my brain. And then the sprint to the end of mile four--if you could call it a sprint, because I have lost all my speed since the race--gave me the sense of accomplishing something.

At the end of the run I was exhausted. I still don't understand how a run that I would have done in my sleep a month ago can suddenly become so difficult (I guess I lose conditioning pretty fast while I'm taking a post-race break). After some lower back work and some lifts on the captain's chair (I will have a strong core, damn it!) I went home a hungry and sweaty mess in the oddly warm and humid November night.

Wifey had gotten home right before me and I could smell the steak cooking as I was walking up the stairs to the apartment--food, food, delicious food! Wifey was making a fantastic dinner of steak and onions with couscous (my favorite side dish of late) and was almost done. I had just enough time to take off my shoes and jacket before dinner was ready. By the time I was done with dinner any thoughts from the previous weeks were blissfully out of my head, while I sat with a delightfully full stomach.

That night I slept about seven hours, which was about an hour or two more than I had been averaging for the three weeks leading up to it--and it was the best sleep I've had in months! I woke up on Friday all refreshed and happy, without a worry about anything. Who knew that all I needed was a run to get out of a rut?

11.04.2008

Unconnected thoughts

1. On Sunday wifey and I volunteered at the NYCM family reunion area and even though it wasn't a high-profile assignment like the finish line or a water stop it was an awesome experience. I've watched the race from home for two years, but this year, actually being there as the runners were meting their families, really brought the race to life. Despite all the hype about the NYCM ("it's the world's race" "the city opens its heart for the race" etc. etc.) it actually is one of the greatest events you can experience. Just seeing the city shut down and embrace 40,000 strangers running through the streets is jaw-dropping. And hearing every language except English is dizzying. I can't wait to run this race one day.

2. I was particularly proud to vote today because I live in Astoria, perhaps the most diverse neighborhood on Earth. Standing in the line to vote I looked around and noticed people of all types, all backgrounds, all ages, and all ethnicities. It was amazing to see this mass of people silently sucking up the difficulties of standing in a long line and having to sacrifice time from their day to come out and vote for our collective future. It was inspiring seeing this elegantly simple yet beautiful slice of America and warmed my heart.

3. Wifey and I have gotten the home-buying bug. So starting this weekend we are going to be scoping out places for March when our lease runs up. This could make the next couple of months interesting.

11.02.2008

Now the clock turns back

Sorry about the scare yesterday. I realized after posting yesterday that indeed the clocks hadn't rolled back.

You see, we're in a bit of a technological bubble here in the sRod house. The major clocks in the house--the computer, the cable box, and the alarm clock--are all set automatically and therefore they adjust for Daylight Saving Time without having to touch them. So when I woke up yesterday morning I just assumed all the clocks had adjusted themselves and I was just really sleepy even though I had gotten an extra hour of sleep.

But after posting yesterday, I noticed that the manual clock in the kitchen was on the same time as all the automatic clocks, meaning that there was no time adjust on Saturday morning.

All is well now and I am a confirmed goof.

Off to the Marathon!

11.01.2008

And we're back

I didn't end up running on Wednesday morning (still rewarding myself post-marathon). Instead I went on Thursday morning for three miles on the treadmill because 1) it is too damn cold at 6am to go running outside and B) I wanted to do ab work after the run since I think my stomach and lower back muscles are weak and lead to poor form while running.

Running on the treadmill, at first, was like taking a dusty old toy car of the shelf and being pleasantly surprised that the little thing whizzed around and bounced off walls as if it were brand new. It took some adjustment at the beginning (it had been 1.5 weeks since any kind of running) but everything was working fine and nothing hurt, not even my IT band. The only thing that amazed me was how, after training and running races for seven months, this short little run demanded so much concentration and energy. This happens after every racing season: the first run after the last race is always the hardest, it's like starting all over again.

Eventually, I did find a kink and the kink was in my stomach and it wanted to get out of there about 2.5 miles into the run. Aha! There is the poop that I avoided during the Marathon. I tried to get myself through the last .5 miles of the run, I know I could fight back this "cramp" (if cramp is code for GI onslaught) because I had fought back so many first wave cramps in training (it's the second and third waves that get me), but I just couldn't. I stopped the machine at 2.58 miles and bolted to the bathroom.

Sigh. And we're back to square one.

Post-bathroom (yes, Miguel was there) I did some leg lifts on the caption's chair and some lower back exercises, but since I haven't done those exercises in, oh, four months, so I've been like an old man since Friday morning because I can't get up quickly from hunching over and I can't do anything that involves my ab muscles. That should have been my Halloween costume: an nursing home patient--it would have required no acting at all.

In other news...Halloween was fun this year. After being stuck in the office until 8pm (hearing the Halloween parade right outside the building was just torture while I was trying to wrap up budgets) I hopped in a cab and met wifey and friends to go upstate to the Headless Horseman hayride and haunted houses. The place was fantastic: you start on a haunted hayride were people come out and scare you, and then you're lead through a series of haunted houses and a corn maze. The only downer was that we were some of the last people of the night and I guess the zombies and chainsaw killers started clocking out for the night before we went through, so there were some empty patches during the houses and maze. Bummer.

We finally came home at about 3:30 last night (thank God for the extra hour this morning!). Now to run some errands today because wifey and I will be volunteering at the finish line of the Marathon tomorrow. To everyone running the five boroughs: Good luck and have a blast out there!!!!

10.28.2008

First day back

After an awesome performance at the Breakers Marathon I treated myself to as much chocolate, sugar-laden baked goods as I could find last week. Oh and did I find them. Between leftover lunches at work to cupcakes from a pumpkin carving party, I downed enough baked goodness to last me for a good couple months.

I also treated myself to a full week without a single workout and let myself sleep in everyday. This one kind of backfired because I still woke up automatically at 5:30 anyway AND I didn't end up stretching for a whole week. Now my left knee feels funny--tight IT band type of funny--and I have a nagging burden on my conscience about not recovering well.

So now that all that is done I'm heading back to the gym. Today I did weights for the first time since June. It's only been 15 hours, but I feel the soreness setting in. Tomorrow is going to hurt. Good news is that tomorrow will also be my first run since the Marathon and I'm looking forward to it, even if I won't be training for a race. Too bad it will have to be on the treadmill (it's dipping below freezing at night around here!).

10.27.2008

Greetings from beautiful Newport!

As promised, here are the pictures from Newport and the Breakers Marathon. This is a view of Narragansett Bay from the Pell Bridge. The day was absolutely perfect: blue skies, steady breeze, brilliant sunshine. You can't make this up.






It was the end of the sailing season, but the harbor was full of sailboats. From the very back corner of the harbor, all you could see were masts going on forever.






As we drove the Marathon course we saw on this girl sitting on the seawall strumming a guitar watching the waves come in. The view from Ocean Ave is stunning normally, but that day, it was positively breath-taking.






Moving along Ocean Ave while scouting out the course we saw so many mansions. Each one was bigger and grander than the last. Since we were in the car and there was a line of traffic behind us we didn't want to stop for pictures, but wifey was able to snap this good one of a mansion on the coast.






The building on top of the green hill is St. George's Academy for Boys. Poor guys that got stuck there--I didn't see an all-girl school anyway on the island. You can't make out many of the academic buildings here, but they're all Medieval style like the cathedral tower in the center. To top it off, you could see a soccer game being play on the gran patch to the left of the tower. I think I like this picture so much because it reminds me of Hogwarts from Harry Potter.






Fast forward to race day. Can you see the starting line? No? Well neither could anyone else! No marking whatsoever even though this is shot is point straight at it (the road is immediately behind the wall of runners).






Here I am being cold:






And here I am pretending to ignore it and heading off to the starting line:






Four hours later this was me:






Only because 10 minutes earlier I had done this:





At breakfast--does 2pm count as breakfast?--I finished off the meal with an Awful Awful at the Newport Creamery. Sooooo deeeliiiiiiciiiiiooouuussss. Notice how I'm holding onto the cup for dear life.



Master the short game

After writing my War and Peace length Race report for Newport this past week, I've learned one thing about blogging: I need to master the short post.

Wifey's comment when I told her I wrote a seven page race report was, verbatim: "Oh my God, no one is goign to read that." And she's right. Even I don't want to the whole thing. I took 15 minutes just to spell and grammar check it!

It doesn't help that everything surrounding a Marathon tends to be unusually long as well: long playlists, long training schedule, long long runs, long recovery time, etc.. I guess since I'm used to doing everything else running related in a long format the blog entries follow suit. Problem is that it then takes me forever plus a day to get a race report out the door. A really, I was just tired of waiting for me to finish it.

So I'm keeping this one short and promising more shorter ones in the future. Except for Gym Carnies. Those entires can go on forever and still be read word for word.

PS - It's so weird to not flag this post with "Manchester/Newport Training" label

10.26.2008

The run of my life

One of my things is that I like to document as much as possible in a race report. Not only is this reading material for the ones (maybe tens) of people who read this blog, but it's also a log of experiences and lessons learned. So it usually takes a week to crank one of these bad boys out. It doesn't help that this week I've been working 12-hour days left and right.

There are pictures and even a video that I'll get to posting in the next couple of days, so keep an eye out!

Pre-Race
After getting all my pre-race jitters in a post I woke up wifey at 7am. By 7:20 we were out the door and in the cloudy, windy, chilly New England morning--it was torn straight out of a Stephen King novel. The starting line was just far enough away that we wouldn't want to walk there (and I definitely wouldn't want to walk back after the race), so we drove over.

The parking lot was dotted with a few other runners. I love that instant camaraderie you have with other runners on race day. You don't need to exchange a single word, but you bond over the fact that you both know what you're about to endure. Even though you've never seen that person before, you know the struggles they've had and sacrifices they've made to get to the starting line. And you both know that in your own ways you are going to do one of the most physically difficult things a human can do. You are already best friends because of the long parallel journeys you have taken and the long race you are about to embark upon.

As we walked over to the starting line I looked at the skies. It was New England gray: perfect for runners, horrible for tourists. There wasn't a chance of direct sunlight for the next couple of hours, but the clouds weren't heavy enough to produce rain. The temperature was crawling toward 55. There was a constant breeze that made my hands icy. I busted out my gray long-sleeve top for this race and God did I need it.

The steady throng of runners walking up and down America's Cup Boulevard made for a bit of a confusing start until we asked someone that told us the starting line had been moved north about four blocks away from the registration tents and baggage check to exactly where we were standing. The only way to know that it was the starting line was the crew laying down the timing mats on the streets--no signs or banners to announce where the starting line was.

I started stretching, did a quick jog up and down the block (about 400 meters). I've ever done a pre-race warm up jog, but it was so cold this time that I had to, I didn't want to have to warm up on the course. It actually helped a lot because it settled my stomach and got all the initial kinks out of my stride.

When I came back to the starting area they called us to the starting line. I wanted to be close to the back of the pack, even though it would mean more bob-and-weaving in the early miles, it would mean I'd be able to keep a slower pace. As I handed my jacket off to wifey I gave her a big kiss and thanked her for being my #1 cheerleader--as she has been for every one of my nine races.

I wove my way into the crowd, replaying my race strategies over and over in my head. I tried to stay warm, but the thin crowd toward the back wasn't holding in any heat. As I checked the volume on Liam and made sure I was in shape to start wifey suddenly came up behind me and handed me my water bottle. I almost left it at the start with her! That thing is my magic feather, I can't run with out it! So I gave wifey another big kiss and a hug--and then bang! The start gun went off with out any warning.

The Race
Everyone was just as surprised by the unannounced start gun. The crowd swelled forward and then paused, as usual when everyone gets too excited to run off at once. As I crossed the mats I hit start on my watch and then play on Liam. "Proud Mary" started to play.

The first mile went through the historic wharf area of Newport. Think bars, restaurants, shops, and very narrow streets. You could only fit about five abreast without spilling onto the cobblestone sidewalks, so there were a lot of frustrated runners that first mile.

Mile 1: 9:36

Looking at the split my first thought was "that was really slow, I have to pick it up." But then I instantly kicked into thinking how the first mile is always the slowest and that my mantra for the first ten miles was to go between 8:50 and 9:00 per mile. 30 seconds was a small sacrifice in the great scheme.

The next stretch of course rounded a peninsula with a historic fort on it. As soon as you entered the fort grounds there were amazing views of Newport harbor, the Pell Bridge, and a handful of the houses Newport is famous for (the mansions would come later). The course skirted the coast of the peninsula before exiting the way we came in.

Then the course snaked it's way through yet more big houses on the way to the of the highlights of the race: Ocean Ave. When you turn the corner onto Ocean Ave it takes your breathe away (as if the running hadn't already). At this point the rolling grassy hills of Aquidneck Island give way the rough stone underneath. The Atlantic Ocean rushes toward the jagged shoreline, with wave upon wave meeting it's spectacular death on the rocky coast. The view goes on for miles and the intricate dance of rock and water is mesmerizing.

Even the Christmas themed water station--replete with Santa, Christmas tree, and elves--wasn't enough to distract from the view.

By the time I finally saw the next mile marker, we had been weaving along the coast, ducking between stunning mansions, for a few miles.

Mile 7: 53:26

Amazingly, I was right on pace and only about a minute faster than a 9:00 pace. And the best thing was that I was feeling fine. I had been concentrating on my breathing the whole time and, true to plan, pausing the music when I thought I was losing control over my breathing or felt the beginnings of a stitch.

Mile 8: 8:56

Finally, a real split. And itwas right on target!

There were some easy short uphill throughout the first 17 miles of race. I was trying out a hill strategy of changing my gait and stride, focusing more on the pick-up instead of the push-off. It was working really well because I was able to power over the little hills--which built up my confidence for the bigger hills later in the race.

Mile 9: 8:45

A little faster than my goal, so I tried to slow it down for the last 8:50 mile. But now I could pick up the pace a bit and finally drop the "slow the hell down" mantra.

At this point I started thinking about MY FIRST MARATHON EVER and how at Mile 10 I had gotten a stitch that screwed me over for the rest of the race. But here I was at Mile 10 and feeling great, probably the best I've ever felt on a run. I got an inkling about finishing fast, but quickly pushed it out my head out of superstition (i.e., if you think you're going to finish fast you don't).

Mile 10: 8:50

Ok, so I was a tiny bit speedy on these last two miles.

For the second 10 miles of the race I wanted to pace myself between 8:40 and 8:50 miles. But when I looked at my watch I was constantly surprised that not only was I able to get down to this pace after 10 miles at a slower pace, I was dropping them below my Half-Marathon PR pace of 8:41. It only made me feel better out there.

Mile 11: 8:47

Here we passed by the famous Newport mansions: palatial summer homes built by the Vanderbilts and their set. These houses were just jaw dropping, huge estates with amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. And they were providing scenery for runners--I loved it.

Mile 12: 8:44

After the mansions there was a long downhill stretch to the halfway mark by the beach. I was feeling great, unbelievably great. I picked up the pace as I got to the timing mats at the halfway point (which was also the finish line). I looked at my time, realizing that I was only two minutes off my Half-Marathon PR. If this was a HM, I would have shattered my record. I was quickly accepting the fact that this would not be a repeat of MY FIRST MARATHON EVER.

Mile 13: 8:32

After the halfway mark we entered a residential section and I really started to pick off other runners (one of the benefits of starting way in the back of the pack). I wasn't even conscientiously doing it. I was just cruising along and the runners in front of me were getting closer.

Mile 14: 8:36

I missed the Mile 15 marker, but that was probably because I got a glimpse of the Mile 25 marker on the other side of the road and I had a minor panic attack. As described on the website, there were challenging hills at the end of race, with a sharp one right before the finish line. I was now coming down the hill and saw was "sharp climb" meant. Yikes! That was not going to be fun.

Mile 16: 17:07

Right about here was when I was really tested. After running on crested streets (is that what it's called when the roads are raised in the middle?) for 16 miles my right knee started to hurt. Not an achy, I'm tired from running kind of hurt. It was a faint pain that reminded me of when my IT band was tight and I couldn't run for more than three miles.

Immediately I thought of what I could do to ease/prevent/fix this while I was running. I moved to the middle of the street where it was most flat (also most dangerous because these streets weren't closed to cars). I also straighted out my back and picked up my heels, trying to fix any slack parts of my form. I turned off the music and just breathed for the next mile.

Mile 17: 8:34

By the Mile 18 marker my knee was feeling better, which was great because this is where the hills started.

Like I had done with the smaller hills earlier in the race, instead of slowing down, hunching over, and huffing through the hills, I was standing tall, picking up my knees, and staring at the crest of the hills. It worked beautifully--even if I was a bit tired after each climb, I would get a major confidence boost from powering through.

Mile 18: 8:45

My splits weren't getting better, but I was still managing to pass people. So I focused on that as an indicator of performance rather than the splits.

Mile 19: 8:45

I'm not sure how this course got so hilly, but I was really starting to feel every little bump and incline. Not to mention that this part of the course was completely rural, complete with vinyards, cows, sheep, and llamas. Sure it was nice and quaint, but it made for some boring miles. If the vinyard was handing out samples it would have gotten a lot more interesting.

Mile 20: 8:55

At the Mile 20 marker I stopped counting up the miles and starting counting down to the finish line. So now at Mile 21 I had only five miles to go. I reminded myself over and over that five miles was just a Wednesday morning recovery run and that I could do the rest of this race in my sleep. I was feeling good, but I just needed the hills to stop.

Mile 21: 8:57

I missed the Mile 22 marker, but I was trying to distract myself as much as possible. I was singing, I was dancing, I was trying to not thinking about the fact that I was 23 miles into a race and that everything in my body was starting to say: "hey, sRod, are we done yet? 'Cause we're kinda tired of doing this."

Also in this stretch of the race, some very nice people brought out their Halloween candy early and were giving out Snickers and Twix and Tootsie Rolls. I was so hungry at this point, but none of these candies did it for me. I was going to pass until the girl at the end of row shot out her hand with a bag of M&Ms. In a gut reflect (I don't think my brain was involved at all with the motion) I snatched the bag from her and shouted a "Thank You!"

Oh Jesus--chocolate coated in sugar? How did I ever run without this? Food of the running Gods.

Sadly, though, about a minute and three M&Ms later the bag just fell out of my hands. DAMN! I didn't stop to get what was left because I'm sure all the chocolately goodness had spilled all over the place. Sigh. But now I know to look for the M&Ms at race candy tables.

Mile 23: 17:51

I saw the Mile 23 marker, but was late in hitting the button for the split, which is why Mile 24 looks so fast. I didn't suddenly start hauling butt, even though the sign I passed that said "Just 5K Left To Go!" sent me off like a (low-power) rocket.

Most of Mile 24 I was coasting on the long downhill...until I dropped my Clif Bloks. I think this was a clear sign that the wheels were falling off the cart. First I dropped the M&Ms, now the Bloks. My hunger was just getting stronger and the GU packets I had won't cut it, I needed solid food to fool my stomach into believing I was having the Western Omellete and homefries I was fantasizing about. So I stopped, went back for the bag, and kept on running.

Mile 24: 8:15

Mile 25 was a bitch. No, Mile 25 was the crazy ex-girlfriend that took six-months to breakup with and who has now, five years later, suddenly shown up at your wedding and has an all-too-knowing smirk on her face. Yeah...that's what Mile 25 was like.

Here I am, finally recovered from the hills, dead set on the finish line. Everything is tired, but nothing is hurting. Then, BAM! A 125 foot hill that I swear is at a 75 degree angle. I don't know how I got over the hill, but I used my momentum, and I pushed, and I grimaced, and I got my butt over the hill.

The problem was I used all my energy to get over the hill and I still had 1.5 miles left to go. I was telling myself to move and my body would not respond, it would just keep trudging along.

Mile 25: 8:34

Still recovering from that last hill I took a bit of a hit in the final mile, which absolutely sucked. I relish the last miles of the race because I usually pick up the speed really nicely and make a mad dash for the end.

Not so this race. I knew I would be finishing waaaaay under my PR, so I didn't have an incentive to go faster than I was already going. Also, I had to recover from that last hill, so while I was trying to increase my turnover I had no gas in tank to do so. It was so frustrating to have such a great race, a fantastic performance, and then have it halted right before the finish.

Mile 26: 8:47

At the buildings cleared and I saw the final view of the race: the ocean, the blue sky (wait, when did the clouds go away?), the rolling hills in back, and the finish line. I locked onto the finish line and didn't move my eyes. I grimaced, I opened up my stride, I fast forwarded to the last song on my playlist--anything to get a sprint to the finish and end this race. For only a 630 person race the crowds were impressive and loud and full of cow bells.

In the final 100 feet I could see the clock: 3:50. Holy cow. I didn't know what that meant in terms of minutes off my PR at the time, but I knew it was way below four hours and that gave me the final surge over the finish. As I crossed under the banner I leapt and landed with both feet on the timing mat. Done.

.2: 1:31

Gun time: 3:51:01
Watch time: 3:50:25
Net time: 3:50:19
Net pace: 8:48

Post-Race

Since I didn't have any brakes left in me, I hopped after the landing and came to a finish in front of the guy with the medals. He put one over my head and I hobbled my way over to chip removal--discovering that my knees weren't too happy. Wifey immediately found me and was glowing and smiling and all forms of happy. I gave her a big, sweaty hug (fortunately she was wearing a wind breaker) and just stood there in her arms for what felt like an hour--half crying from the accomplishment, half afraid to sit down and experience the pain in my knees.

I grabbed a mylar blanket and some nice guy took the chip off my shoe and then retied my laces. I sat on the curb of the sidewalk. My knees were hurting. They felt inflamed, as if someone had injected them each with half a gallon of liquid. Everything else felt fine, but my knees, they were demanding some down time.

Five minutes later I was able to get up and get some water and Gatorade. Wifey busted out a jacket, a dry t-shirt, and a pair of crocs to change into--talk about an amazing wife!!! We got on the shuttle bus and headed back to the starting line, everyone on the bus exchanging stories along the way.

I was just beaming. I couldn't be happier knowing that I had just completed my most perfect run ever, and it wasn't an easy course, and I was able to premp stitches and IT band issues, and I did this all--ALL--in 20 less minutes than the previous time. I knew it was possible, but didn't think it was probable. But, it wasn't until later in the day, while I was eating the most delicious Mahi Mahi tacos known to man, I realized perhaps the greatest thing that happened (or didn't happen) during this race. I turned to wifey and said: "Oh my God! I didn't have to poop during the race!"

10.18.2008

The perfect run

Peoples: I'm too tired to write an entire post right now, but let me just say this--

I JUST SCHOOLED THE BREAKERS MARATHON in 3:50:25

Ahem, that's more than 19 minutes off my PR. Hills? Plenty. Headwind? Throughout the race. Rockstar? You're reading his blog.

I had that Awful Awful; as promised it was an awful lot and awful good. And now I'm going to eat to my stomach's content at Christie's. A great running and great food. Oh Jesus, this is heaven.

Abundantly detailed race report to come....

Counting down the seconds

The race will start in less than 90 minutes and I'm a ball of nerves right now.

Didn't sleep great last night, but got at least a solid 4 or 5 hours. I'm finishing off some food right now: peanut butter on a Portugese roll. Can I tell you this is one of the best combinations of bread and peanut butter I've ever had?

A million thoughts are swimming through my head:

I'm trying to nail down my game plan as such: 10 miles between 9:00 and 8:50, 10 miles between 8:50 and 8:40, 6.2 miles at whatever I have left. Although that is really just some arbitrary math---there is no science to it.

I have two mantras for this race. Number 1: "Slow the hell down--" this will not be a repeat of MY FIRST MARATHON EVER where I ended up running the race like a Half-Marathon and appropriately ran out of steam halfway through. Number 2: "Breathe in, breathe out." I've relearned that if I absolutely focus on my breathing, that I can overcome and prevent stitches.

The race course is spectacular. The sceneray is jaw-dropping with the rocky Rhode Island shore line and the opulent mansions dotting it.

There are only 10 water stops and that worries me. There should be at least one every other mile.

Wifey and I drove the course yesterday. The hills aren't that bad, but they come very late in the race. First big climb of the race (200 ft) is just after mile marker 17 (ala Heartbreak Hill). The only other hill that bothers me is the 100ft one at mile 25.5. The uphill will suck balls, the downhill will make for a nice sprint to the end.

I'm worried that music might be the cause of my stitiches because I end up listening tot he best of the song instead of my internal rhythm. I used to be able to overcome this, but I guess i lost it some time over the past year. I'll be taking Liam on the race course today, but I won't be afraid to pause him from time to time to make sure that I'm running within my abilities.

I am going to enjoy this race...I just hope I don't forget that while I'm out there.

If nothing else, I know that at the end of this race an Awfle Awfle awaits for me at the end.

10.14.2008

The music post

I feel like I just went through this process—mostly because I did just 45 days ago.

After about three hours of work, I've finished the playlist for the Breakers Marathon in Newport. I’m keeping with the methodology from last time: going from slow songs to fast songs, holding the gravvy songs for the end. I just have a few thoughts before getting onto the “short” list.

First, I haven't added much music to the library since Manchester, so overall it sounds very similar. Second, I'm trying to keep the music as slow as possible for the first half of the race in order to not have a repeat of MY FIRST MARATHON ever. Third, I'm starting to rethink the role of music in running and that I might actually not have the iPod playing the whole time during the race--I'm going to let my body call those shots.

And now the "short" list:
  • Proud Mary; Tina
  • Matches; The Format
  • Boston; Augustana (I see this as the mood setter for the race)
  • One Last Time; The Kooks
  • Stuttering; Ben's Brother
  • P.D.A.; John Legend
  • Pasos de Gigante; Bacilos (after getting grief from my sister that I didn't have Spanish music in my last playlist--even though I did!--I made a concerted effort to up the Spanish portion of my music collection)
  • The World At Large; Modest Mouse (I go through my phases with Modest Mouse, sometimes they're perfect, sometimes they're annoying)
  • I Feel It All; Feist
  • Paradise; Ana Serrano
  • You Only Live Once; The Strokes
  • Sway; The Kooks
  • Tiny Little Fractures; Snow Patrol
  • Shake Me Baby; Junior Senior
  • American Boy; Estelle
  • Wow; Snow Patrol
  • Detriot; Black Gold
  • The Hardest Button To Button; The White Stripes
  • Sister Jack; Spoon
  • Razor Blade; The Strokes
  • Mr. Maker; The Kooks
  • La Mexicana; Bacilos
  • Roxanne; The Police
  • Dog Problem; The Format
  • Float On; Modest Mouse
  • Santo Santo; Gloria Estefan
  • Down To The Market; The Kooks
  • Viva La Vida; Coldplay
  • If Work Permits; The Format
  • I Saw It On Your Keyboard; Hellogoodbye (not entirely sure about this one, it may change)
  • What Ever Happened?; The Strokes
  • Are You Gonna Go My Way; Lenny Kravitz
  • The Phrase That Pays; The Academy Is
  • Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough; Michael Jackson
  • I Can't Win; The Strokes (bad name, good song)
  • Out of Control; Kenna
  • Always Where I Need To Be; The Kooks
  • Classifieds; The Academy Is
  • Fergalicious; Fergie (I'll need a distraction by this point in the race, this song is such an oddball to the mix that it'll definitly take my mind elsewhere)
  • Tears Dry On Their Own; Amy Winehouse (oh, and there will be tears by this point)
  • Vision Of Division; The Strokes
  • Tres Deseos; Gloria Estefan
  • Blinded By The Light; Manfred Mann's Earth Band (I love this song, I don't know why I never bought it earlier)
  • All Time Lows; Hellogoodbye (another poor choice for a title)
  • Shake Your Coconuts; Junior Senior
  • For Reasons Unknown; The Killers
  • One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces; Ben Folds Five
  • H.A.P.P.Y. Radio; Edwin Starr (Why? A generous serving of cowbell 40 seconds into the song)
  • I Don't Have A Dancing Problem; Marathon (first words of this song: "F!ck this I'm going dancing." Awesome.)
  • Flagpole Sitta; Magnificent Tracers
  • This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race; Fall Out Boy
  • Steven's Last Night In Town; Ben Folds Five
  • Attention; The Academy Is
  • Jolly Roger; Marathon
  • Filthy Gorgeous; Scissor Sisters
  • Reptilia; The Strokes
  • Quimbara; Celia Cruz
  • I Kissed A Girl; Katy Perry
  • Time Like These; Foo Fighters
  • Why Do I Keep Counting?; The Killers
  • 25 Miles; Edwin Starr (awesome song for the last few miles of the race)
  • Juicebox, The Strokes (aka "the passing song" because the chorus has the lyric "why don't you come over here?")
  • Let's Dance To Joy Division; The Wombats (still love this song)
  • Shockwave; Black Tide
  • The Pretender; Foo Fighters
  • Move Along; The All-American Rejects
And now back to checking weather.com for hourly updates on the forecast for this weekend.

10.10.2008

I'm not dead!

...but my internet connection at home is. So while that's being fixed here's a brief update from work:
  • Seven days and 14 hours until the Breakers Marathon--woo hoo! Get you smell the excitement??
  • My last long run I had a bit of a breakthrough. In the first mile I got teases of a stitch--and in mile one of a 13 mile run I can't be getting no stitches. So I lowered it down to first gear and concentrated hard on my breathing. I got into a comfortable breathing pattern of three breathes in, three breathes out, all the while forcing my abdomen to push air out and suck air in. It worked after a while and successfully got rid of the stitch, but the forced breathing sounding like I was saying "hap-pen-stance, cir-cum-stance" over and over--weird.
  • I have two weeks work of runs saved on my watch that I can't log because of my internet being out at home (I log my stuff at MapMyRun.com). Grrrr.
  • I may be getting the Chicken Pox, again. Mysterious small itchy bumps are forming on random parts of my body. Mostly on my hands and arms. I have no idea what it is and I'm just hoping that if it is something serious it holds off until 10/19.
  • Since we're in the final days before the race all my running neuroses are starting to show. I've been checking the race web site daily. I've studied the course backwards and forwards. This weekend I'll put together the playlist (so look out for that post) and start packing bags for the trip. Oh boy! It's like Christmas!

10.01.2008

Taperitis

Peak week is over.

On Sunday I went out in the heavy overcast for 20 miles. This was my second run at this distance during this training season--the first attempt kinda fizzled and died at the 19 mile mark.

I was going really strong through mile 13 when I came across a stretch with a few bathrooms. I had the brilliant idea to take a "preemptive poop" since my stomach wasn't bothering me yet and I thought to take this opportunity to thwart it before it had a chance to go bonkers.

I do my business in the bathroom and then I hear it. The sound no one--particularly a runner--wants to hear: the sound of the last piece of toilet paper ripping off the cardboard tube. It was an "oh shit" most deserving of that phrase. I did what I could with the shred of single-ply toilet paper and crossed my fingers that I would make it to the next bathroom about .2 miles down the route.

Fortunately, I made it to the next bathroom without incident and it had ample amounts of TP, and I was all wiped up in no time. (God, can I write a post not about poop for once?) Unfortunately, the 10 minutes of down time killed my mojo and my time.

The last six miles were rough. I was doing surprisingly well as I rounded the tip of Manhattan and saw my finish line across the harbor in Brooklyn. The last big hurdle was the Brooklyn Bridge, which did me in. The stitches I managed to fight off for 18 miles finally achieved full force and stopped me as I reached City Hall and the base of the bridge. The last two-miles were painful, unglamourous, and wet (oh yeah, the rains from Saturday actually came on Sunday), but I finished in 3:11. Not pretty, but it's done.

Now comes the part of training that I loathe: the taper.

I hate tapering. Give me back-to-back 20-milers. Give me speed workouts that make me vomit. Give me hill repeats that cause quarter-sized blisters to form on my feet. Give me anything but a taper.

Why the hatred?

For starters, I don't agree with the rationale behind tapering. I understand it's something that all runners must do, that it's a way to give the body a break before the ultimate exertion during a race. But the way I see it you slowly ramp up the training, max out at a certain point, ease off, then do the hardest thing you've done, and then relax. That doesn't make sense to me. Why shouldn't I gradually build up to the race, have a climactic run, and then enjoy the post-race peace? My way is more balanced, more symmetrical, and, let's be honest, more elegant. But I taper anyway because I know I should.

Then, there are the psychological difficulties of tapering. From what I read everyone else becomes some caged up animal when they taper. They feel incomplete when they run the shorter runs. They feel like they need to go faster, harder, hillier than the reduced schedule calls for.

I, however, sit on the other end of spectrum. Once I run that magical last 20-miler, that's it, something inside of me checks out and I'm done with it. I lose all will-power and mojo and have the hardest time squeezing out even the easiest run. The stores of energy I used to have during runs suddenly go missing. Instead of a caged animal I become more like the tiger that has just feasted and needs to nap.

And this happens without fail during every training season. The taper begins and the running badass who's been waking up at 5:15 for 80-minute runs, the guy who flaunts his double-digit distance runs around the office, suddenly has trouble even getting a four mile easy run out the door.

And then, to make it all worse, the week of race day I feel so unprepared, so far removed from rigorous training, that I'm a nervous wreck at the starting line.

Such is the personal hell that I'm going through right now and that I will continue to spiral through over the next 17 days.

9.27.2008

Peak week continues!

Thanks for the encouragement folks!

I would normally be cursing my stomach at this hour on a Saturday morning, but we're getting hit with a massive storm this weekend, so I'm saving the long run for tomorrow. Homie does not run 20 miles in the pouring rain---I am too prone to chaffing for that crap. (However, it hasn't rained at all since I woke up, which makes me think the weather man lied to me. Damn you Mike Woods and your flawed 5-day forecast!)

Otherwise, peak week is going, um, ok. On Tuesday morning I set the wrong alarm and woke up 30 minutes late. So I had to cut down my 7 mile tempo run to 5. Wednesday's easy 5 miler went as planned. But Thursday I pushed the 85-minute hill workout to the evening, which just messed me up (my internal clock was all over the place).

And brings us to today, where I am awaiting a rain out to justify me skipping the run this morning. So there's not much to report on peak week other than a close-to-par performance. I'm hoping that tomorrow's run will help change that.

9.22.2008

Peak week...

...starts today. In 44 miles I will be done with the worst of training. Bring it on.

9.21.2008

Gym carnies: Boobie

Gym carnies is an irregular series about the curious characters and intriguing individuals that people my local gym.
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Male cleavage is unavoidable in a gym. There are far too many jacked up guys, pumping far too much iron, in far too clique wifebeaters to miss the occassional guy checking out this pecs. (And if you live in Michigan, you have Nitmos flaunting his herculean pecs on the street, so there is no where you are safe from gratitous man cleavage.) Just like the stinky old men and the people who sweat too much, it's something you accept as part of the gym environment.

However, there are boundaries of acceptability, and my gym just happens to have someone that crosses them: Man Boobs, but we'll call him Boobie--cause it's funnier.

The first tenet of man cleavage is the depth of cleavage. In all my years of being male, I've come to the conclusion that maximum acceptable depth of visible cleverage for a guy is the nipple line. The nipple line is the imaginary line that stretches from one nipple across your chest to the other nipple, as illustrated by the red line in the figure below:


Conversely, the acceptable maximum acceptable depth of visible cleavage for women, at least according to celebrities, is the ankle line, illustrated below:


The second tenet of man clevage relates to chest hair. Essentially, if you have the typical amount of chest hair,


and particularly if you have excessive chest hair,


then you cover it up. If you have no chest hair,


then it's acceptable to show it off, because you are prepubesent and don't have body-image complexes yet.

There is also the recent trend of the trimmed chest hair:


You don't like your chest hair, but you're not comfortable enough to take it all off. So you're left with a manicured lawn of half-grown hair. It's weird, but acceptable to show off.

These are all pretty basic male cleavage guidelines that I think all men would agree with. Except for Boobie.

I must admit that Boobie does indeed have an impressive chest. I see him at the fly machine or the bench press while I'm on the treadmill. He'll do an set of reps and then sit at the machine, stare at the floor, contemplate life, go over his grocery list...and then do another set. He is completely focused on building his chest and nothing else. He has therefore become disproportionately busty. Now enter the cleavage. Here you have a guy with big ol' man boobs wearing a tank top cut way south of the nipple line exposing copious amounts of hairy man cleavage.

It's a little perplexing. But what's really puzzling is that this is not an isolated incident. Every time Boobie goes to the gym he wears the exact same tank top, which is gross and makes me wonder why anyone would do that. But then again, I wonder the same thing about all the gym carnies and their odd little traits which they are obivious to.

9.18.2008

Feasting on speed

It's been a rough two weeks since the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon. Tempo runs have been punishing and long runs have been pathetic. I'm been exhausted at work and been so nervous about getting sleep that I can't fall asleep (how does that happen?!). Who's idea was it to run a Half-Marathon at the beginning of peak training for a Marathon? Oh right, mine.

When I woke up this morning I wasn't having any of it and seriously contemplated sleeping in--but this was my favorite workout (4 x 1 mile) and I only get to do it once every two weeks, so I wasn't going to pass it up.

I get to the track and really don't have high hopes: I just wanted to get an ego boost from coming in under the 7:43 prescribed time for each repeat and go home. I start out at a comfortable pace, since my goal for the first mile is just to hit 7:43, but at lap two I realize that even though I'm going comfortable I'm going way faster than a 7:43 mile. I slow it way down for the second half but clock in a 7:30 mile.

Hmmm?

Mile two, same situation, but in 7:14. It's not that I've never done this pace before, the shock is that I'm still not trying hard. At this point I start thinking that I can really do some damage to my one-mile PR of 6:55. But I don't want to get my hopes up so I tuck the idea in a back corner of my brain.

Mile three: 7:00. Now it's starting to get hard, but I haven't given it my all just yet. But wait, who do I see during my final lap but one of my co-workers. Oh crap. I've never seen her at the track before. After I finished the mile I do a lap with her, we exchange a few surprised hellos and a couple of I-didn't-know-you-ran-around-heres, then I went off on the final mile.

Now I had an audience. I had to crank out a really good final push.

I start and immediately concentrate on form and turnover. I'm counting off the laps and they go by so fast. At the half way mark I look at my watch; it's my fastest half-mile of the morning. At the start of lap four I know that I don't want to "leave anything on the shelf" so I start imagining that I'm going through a partially emptied pantry and throwing out anything that is left in it, literally making sure that there is nothing left on the shelves. (Don't laugh, you know you have your silly things too.) Surprisingly enough, I actually start to move faster. If I can just hold onto this for the next 300 meters I'm all set.

At the final turn I feel my left shoe getting looser (are the laces coming undone?) and my stomach acting up (now? really?) and try to ignore it all knowing that the end is just 150 meters away. 50 meters away I close my eyes because I can't stare at the finish any longer, I'm bringing my heels up to my butt cheeks, pushing my feet as far forward as they'll go, and burst as much as possible with each liftoff.

I hit the finish line. 6:41. Holy crap. That's 14 seconds off my best. Where did that speed come from? And more importantly, how can I get that on race day?

I waved goodbye to my co-worker (who I would see at work an hour later) and do a well deserved cooldown on the way home--too much in shock of what I've just done to relaized what I've just done.

Go me.

9.14.2008

Runner maturity, Part II

I've titled this race report "runner maturity" since it's a concept that I've been kicking around my head lately. I don't know if there is another term for this out there or if it is already an established idea that I'm only now coming onto, but what I'm calling runner maturity is basically the idea is that as you get further along into your running career your focus and outlook on the sport change (generally) from quantitative goals (time, pace, distance) to qualitative ones (enjoyment, course, race experience). It could all be hogwash, but this is what I've seen in myself.

I bring this up now because on paper I had an average race in Manchester: I ran the entire way, but I didn't set a new PR, I didn't place well in my age group (I was 11 of 15), and I didn't place well compared to previous races (top 41% vs. top 30% in Fairfield). But when I finished the race I was ecstatic. Why?

Well, for starters, I got through the stitch. I didn't let it stop me and I was able to run with it for the entire second half of the race. Then there were the hills. I've never experienced hills like that before--actually I can't even duplicate those hills around here. The fact that I got through the hills without stopping is pretty impressive. Third, there was the rain, which I've always constantly avoided, but found pretty helpful during the race. Fourth, I didn't have to poop during the race, which is always good.

So even though I didn't do well on paper, there were plenty of challenges other than speed that I overcame during this race.

Also, I was proud that I was able to allow myself to run this race without a time goal and to really let myself enjoy the race for once. It took a lot of stress off my shoulders--stress that was replaced by the stitch, the hills, etc. I took the first half at a comfortable pace and tried to keep it slow and take in the Vermontiness of the place (if the weather was clear I'm sure the vistas would have been amazing).

One other thing I'd like to note is that I think I've become a small race convert. At first I was a little put off by the size of the field: 230 runners. I thought that there wouldn't be appropriate race support, that there would be a lack of the amenities that I've gotten used to (food at the finish line, Gatorade along the course, medals, etc.), and that it just wouldn't be worth the hassle to sign up for the race. But the Maple Leaf people, they got it right.

There was no line to pick up my race number when I got to the tent and the people there were really nice and helpful. On race day there was plenty of parking within easy walking distance of the starting line. There was a blissfully low ratio of people to port-o-potties. Along the course there were volunteers at every single intersection. The water stations were well-manned and stocked with Gatorade (as opposed to all those bigger races that put out some funky knock-off because it paid for the race sponsorship). Even the cars that we were sharing the road with were respectful and would slow down or stop, waiting for us to pass.

At the finish line even though the crowd was incredibly small it was a loud bunch. They made it a point to call out your name over the PA system when you crossed the finish line (that's only happened to me once before, and they called out my race number, not my name). And at the finish line I was surprised to get the nicest medal (OK, second nicest, after Disney) that I've ever gotten: it was hand blown blue glass stamped with the race logo. Then, I found a post-race breakfast spread that was huge, delicious, included Ben & Jerry's, and absolutely barren of any line.

It was all wonderful. Actually, I think some of the other races I've run (ahem, Fairfield) could learn a lesson or two from the Maple Leaf people. If anyone from Manchester is reading, here's one grateful runner:



(OK, so the sun was in my eyes, but I really am happy in this picture.)

9.12.2008

Runner maturity, Part I

Sorry this took so long people. Wifey took our computer on a business trip and I've been stuck with our old dinosaur--which has a tendency to shut down unexpectedly.
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This is a story about hills. Well, no. At one point hills were defined as any peak less than 1,000 feet above sea level, so technically this is a story about mountains.

Let's compare. This is the elevation profile from the Fairfield Half-Marathon I did back in June, which was by all accounts (including my own) a hilly course:



Now here is the elevation profile from the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon this past Saturday:


It doesn't actually look so bad until you pay attention to the numbers to the left and realize that the first hill (mile marker four) is about a 200 foot climb and that the second hill (mile marker nine) is somewhere between 300 and 400. I didn't notice this at the time, but the total climb (815 ft) is about 80% of the Empire State Building's height.

So there were mountains to contend with, but remember when I said the rain should hold out until 1pm on race day? Turns out Tropical Storm Hanna was moving a little faster than anticipated:



When I woke up at 6am it was raining--not just a mountain misting, but full on rain. I checked the weather and it looked like this early band of showers was passing, but wouldn't be over until well into the race.

So that was the situation while I stood at the starting line. There were mountains all about and the rain was coming down hard. Oddly enough, instead of getting cold feet and shying away from the hard race in the rain, I embraced the challenge and couldn't wait to get started. The small race atmosphere helped tremendously. Just like the previous year, there were only 230ish runners in the Half-Marathon and from the looks of it there were about 100 for the 5K. Immediately I noticed the crucial benefit to the small crowd: the shortest port-o-potty line ever! There were seven stalls and a line of 20 people. It was as if I had died and gone to runner's heaven! Ok, maybe it isn't raining in runner's heaven but the fast moving line was definitely a Godsend.

I quickly found out that this race had all the signs of your small town race, all of which were personified with this one image: As they called the runners up to the starting line I saw the race director standing on a makeshift platform. He was in white khaki shorts, a polo, a baseball cap, and a poncho. He looked like he had run a race or two in the past, but now devoted his time to the Lion's Club and his breakfast & breakfast. He spoke without regard for the weather or the fact that everyone was still talking and couldn't hear him. To top it off he was talking into a microphone connected to a handheld speaker being held by someone who looked like the caddy from Happy Gilmore aged 30 years. To top it off the speaker kept on squeaking like a high school PA system. It was the quaint New England race I always fantastized about! (Right? Runners fantasize about quaintness and New England--you know, where running started?)

We took off as the rain reached its worst. As we exited the park there was a stunning view of the mountains. The storm clouds were so heavy that the entire layer of cloud had sunken below the mountain range. So there was a dense gray strip of clouds swirling below the dark, ominous mountain peaks set against the gray overcast skies.

The first few miles went pretty well. The pack thinned out by mile marker two and once I got into a nice pace at mile three-ish it was going really well (even though I could feel a tickle in my abdomen). I tried to get mile splits, but the mile markers were printed on regular 8x11.5 sheets of paper (i.e., tiny) and were close to the ground (i.e., easily blocked). I did spot the second mile marker and got a split of 17:33, about 8:46 per mile, but didn't see another marker until mile six.

In the long, hilly straight-away from mile three to six I was really happy with my performance on the inclines. They weren't nearly as bad as they appeared when I drove this stretch the day before. About this point I started talking with woman in a pink top who was running her first Half-Marathon. She was training for the Hartford Marathon and had already run five miles before the race AND drove over an hour to get to the race. She was used to running nine minute miles, but from both our watches we could tell that she was going much faster than that--which was really exciting, not just for her, but also for me who tried to take on the role of pacer.

We cleared mile five and were doing really well. After we passed through a major intersection we saw the sixth mile marker. 35:07--still near an 8:46 pace. Sweet! (Also, I have to note that the fact that the streets were still open to cars wasn't much of an issue. There were great race volunteers at each intersection, holding back the cars if necessary and directing us into the turns. There were also volunteers on bikes patrolling each segment of the race. This was actually turning out to be one of the best organized races I've run in a while.)

I was cruising until mile seven. I hit the marker with a split of 8:35. At the same time, I got a stitch. Yup, again. I was doing so well and just so generally happy and motivated to finish that I was not going to let a silly thing like a stitch slow me down. I told my buddy to go on ahead, figuring I would catch up with her eventually. I didn't know it, but I wouldn't see her again until right before the finish line.

The mile seven marker also marked the beginning of the massive two-mile climb on dirt roads. Stitch + climb + change of surface is not a recipe for success. But that is what training is for, right? To prepare you for when conditions are not ideal. So I pressed on, with my lackluster performance in Fairfield replaying in my head and determined not to repeat it.

Oh man. Did that stitch put up a fight. And oh boy, were those climbs hard--I swear parts of them were vertical. I passed mile marker eight: 9:16. My abdomen felt like it was in a vice, constricted and unable to move in any direction. Mike marker nine: 9:54. Ouch. I was hurting. I was grimacing. I was holding and applying pressure all over the place. The one thing I wasn't doing was giving up. I was going to run through this. I knew I could do this.

Oddly enough, the uphill parts made the stitch pain go away, but the downhills heightened it. So once I passed the crest of the mountain at mile marker nine, every one started flying by and I only grimaced more. That was hard. That was when I almost gave up, but knowing that a stitch messed up MY FIRST MARATHON EVER and that hills screwed me in Fairfield, I just couldn't.

The decline was aggravating the stitch, and everything after mile nine was decline. I was concentrating on regular breathing and trying to keep my posture straight. Slowly the stitch would fade. But then I'd start picking up the pace, which only aggravated the stitch more. I went through this cycle until I hit mile marker 10: 9:28. Well, that was an improvement.

At this point the course leveled off and the stitch was fading away and staying away. I started to tease at a quicker pace and the stitch stayed at bay. I went a little faster and the stitch didn't get worse. It felt like someone was taking the vice off my abdomen one piece at a time. What a relief! I passed by mile marker 11: 8:27. I was back!

I started picking off people one by one. There's the guy that passed me going uphill. Gone. There's the girl that sprinted between water stations. Bye-bye. Here's some guy I hadn't seen before. See ya. After three miles of dealing with this stitch this was a much deserved reward. There's mile marker 12: 8:21. Yes!

I knew the last mile since it was the downtown strip of town plus the street leading to the park (same street we started on). I was getting excited, but I could feel the endorphins wearing off. I could also feel my stomach being not too happy about those sub-8:30 miles. But just like with the stitch I was not going to let my stomach win. Not after I had scaled an 80 story building and overcome a stitch and only had a mile to go.

The final marker for me was the turn off the main street where the downhill ended and the uphill to the park started. I zoomed through the last water stop, saying no thanks--I had a full water bottle to keep me going the rest of the way. I blasted over a little 10 foot hill and passed another runner. I made the turn onto the street leading to the park and the finish line.

With less than a mile to go I really wanted to lay it on. I was itching to crank out one of my 6:55 miles from my speed intervals, but I was still recovering from the stitch and speed was not coming easily. I held steady and focused on picking off the runners in front of me.

Eventually I saw the final turn into the park--and my buddy in the pink top. I set my eyes on her determined to catch up. I switched to a new song and started singing along. I pried open my stride and passed another straggler. The trees cleared away and I could see the finish line! I tapped my buddy in the pink top on her shoulder and told her "I caught up!" Then proceeded to blast on by--if I have one talent in running it is great finishing speed, I've had it since race #1, and I fully intended on using it.

I bolted to the finish. Since the field was so small they were able to call out my number way ahead of time and have my name ready for when I crossed the finish line. I spotted wifey in the final 20 feet and had a big goofy smile on my face as I clocked in the last 1.1 miles at 9:06 (an 8:16 pace).

Watch time: 1:55:50 (there were no timing mats at the start)
Official time: 1:56:00
What awesome feels like:


9.05.2008

Oops forgot a title

This will most likely be my last post before running the Half-Marathon--and I am getting excited. Right now, it's about 6:30 am and I can't fall back asleep knowing that we have to pack and drive up there today.

My thoughts on the race? I don't have any specific goals for this race because 1) I'm trying to enjoy it and 2) my main focus has been on the Breakers Marathon next month. In the very back of my head is a nagging thought about beating my PR of 1:53:41, but I think I've successfully talked myself into being OK with not PRing at this race if it means doing spectacular at the Breakers. On the other hand, I have gotten stronger and faster: my long run last weekend was 16 miles, which I ran on a hilly Central Park course at a pace seven seconds faster than my Half-Marathon PR. So while I'm not concentrating on PRing, it might just happen anyway.

There is also the issue of weather. Tropical Storm Hanna is supposed to hit New England this weekend--Saturday to be exact. However, it looks like it might be to the benefit of the race. The rain is forecasted to not start until 1pm, well after the race finishes; but the heavy clouds will roll in overnight, meaning plenty of cloud coverage for the race. While the cloud coverage brings 90% humidity (wtf? That's crazy Florida type humidity) it'll also hold the temps in the low 60s (compared to the high of 80 forecasted for today).

Also....thank you guys for the thoughts on the tininess of the race field. I think it'll be interesting and fun because it will be a totally different kind of beast than what I'm used to. However, there are some drawbacks due to the size that I've already found: I don't think there are port-o-potties on the road (you can imagine my feelings toward this), no medals (boo), and they won't be closing the roads (yikes on-coming traffic, good thing I trained for this, sort of). But the only thing I see as a major issue for this race is the hills. Miles 1-3 are essentially all uphill, and then mile 7 and 8 are about a 300 ft climb to a peak at Mile marker 9. Nothing I can't handle, it's just stuff I don't want to handle.

So that's it. I'm looking forward to this race and visiting Vermont for the first time. The playlist is good to go, I've done my pre-race check of all the factors (did I really spend that much time writing about the weather?), and all that's left now is to pack and drive up there. See you on the other side of the finish line!

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P.S.--My drive up to Manchester will take me through Albany, i.e., Marcy-ville. If I see some crazy chica with a gigantic cup of Dunkin Donuts with two little girls in tow I will quickly snap a picture with my cell phone and run in the other direction.

9.02.2008

Size matters

My first several races were rather large: Boston was 5,000, Disney was 20,000+, Philly was 18,000+, even the Queens Half-Marathon was over 2,000 people. I naively thought that all distance races naturally attracted a lot of people. I never figured that there could be small races out there.

Throughout training for the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon I knew that the race would be small. I read somewhere on the small website that once in the 90s the race attracted 1,300 runners--which was about the size of the Fairfield Half-Marathon. So I assumed that it would be very similar to Fairfield.

Well, today I found the results from last year's Maple Leaf Half-Marathon. Anyone wanna take a guess at the masses that turned out for last year's run? Take a guess. A wild shot.

If you guessed 234 people, then you're right!

This race is not just small--it is tiiiiiiiiiiiny. I think there are more than 230 runners in Central Park on any given weekend. It's going to get lonely real fast out there. The only silver lining I can think of is that it'll be easier to stay focused on pacing since there'll be less runners out there.

9.01.2008

The compulsory playlist post

As I mentioned in last weekend's post, one of my running neuroses that comes out in the two weeks before a race is to carefully craft a new playlist specifically made for the race. Unlike the my other 20ish playlists where I pick a fun group of songs and hit shuffle on my iPod, I actually mix (I use that term loosely) my race playlists to make sure each song flows into the next and somewhat corresponds with my need for musical support at that point during the race.

After realizing that there may be a flaw in the way I mix (once again, loose usage) my race playlists, I've attempted a different musical progression. Originally, I would (using the iTunes rating stars) follow my mental pattern during a race and start out with a very ambitious high energy group of songs. After the initial burst of energy, I'd move to the second group of songs that were slightly slower. Right in the middle of the mix I'd have the slowest songs, corresponding to the slower, uninteresting miles. Then I'd pick it up a bit to a faster set of songs before going onto a powerhouse set of songs that would carry me through the home stretch.

This progression of music kinda backfired during Fairfield where I was getting lots of fast songs on slow uphills. Because of that I've switched up the methodology and instead of following the intuitive route I've stacked songs according to what my pacing should be: start with slow songs and move onto faster ones (i.e., negative splits). So now, instead of using the iTunes stars to define song categories, I used the stars to identify pace.

After about an hour of working on this playlist--which is actually pretty quick for me--I finished Half-Marathon 7.0 (VT). (Yes, I do name my playlists that way; when you have 20 bazillion playlists you stop being creative and resort to practicality.) I'm actually pretty excited about this playlist, probably because I've bought a lot of new music lately and I haven't played the hell out of it yet.

So here's the finished product, in all it's eclectic beauty. There may be one or two tweaks between today and race day, but I'll note any of them.
  • Proud Mary; Tina Turner (per usual, this is my first song, it starts off the race with something very familiar and really, at this point it's just tradition)
  • American Boy; Estelle (I actually saw the video for this song at the gym several times, the problem was that I was listening to my iPod and never actually heard the song. After seeing the video on mute for the umpteenth time I YouTubed it when I got home and bought it quickly thereafter.)
  • Stuttering; Ben's Brother (this was actually the song from a commercial that wifey and I kept on singing around the apartment; I had to buy the song because we only knew the five second chorus from the commercial, and that got annoying real fast)
  • Eleanor Put Your Boots On; Franz Ferdinand
  • See the Sun; The Kooks (The Kooks are one of my newest additions: I've been playing their album non-stop for about a month now)
  • No One; Alicia Keys (see what I mean about slow?)
  • Hang Me Up to Dry; Cold War Kids (Wifey hates this band because she insists that they don't sing, they just whine into the mic and call it music. I can't say I disagree with her.)
  • Dog Problems; The Format (The Format are another of my newest additions, I had to resist the urge to put the whole album on the playlist)
  • Santo Santo; Gloria Estefan
  • Mr. Maker; The Kooks
  • Teenage Love Affair; Alicia Keys
  • Read My Mind; The Killers
  • She Doesn't Get It; The Format
  • Tears Dry On Their Own; Amy Winehouse (I figure at this point I'll need to channel my inner crack whore or bar mop, I get both with one with song)
  • Can I Get Get Get; JUNIOR SENIOR
  • Dead End; The Format (See what I mean having to resist puttign the whole album int he playlist? Three The Format songs in the past nine songs.)
  • Down to the Market; The Kooks
  • Touchdown Turnaround (Don't Give Up on Me); Hellogoodbye (my jury is still out on this band, but I'm giving them a chance on this playlist anyway)
  • Sea Lion Woman; Feist (I did some research on this song, turns out it is actually from the 1930s and has a little bit of controversy about it)
  • I Kissed a Girl; Katy Perry (...this time no one can say they don't know at least one song on my playlist)
  • Barracuda; Heart (and for those of you who don't know I Kissed a Girl, this is one you probably know from 1) hearing the original on vinyl or 2) the current Honda Odyssey commercial)
  • Time Bomb, The Kooks (apparently I have the same problem with The Kooks that I have with The Format)
  • Here (In Your Arms); Hellogoodbye
  • Reptilia; The Strokes (my hipster finest)
  • Shake Your Coconuts; JUNIOR SENIOR (wifey is disturbed by this song, so I take every chance to sing it in front of her)
  • The Phrase That Pays; The Academy Is (proof that you will buy music that you hear on Pandora)
  • Out Here All Night; Damone (my second favorite free iTunes song)
  • 25 Miles; Edwin Starr (I know, you're thinking daaaaaamn, where'd he pull that one from? Well, I'm thinking the same thing.)
  • Juicebox; The Strokes (this is the start of the gravvy songs)
  • Stronger; Kanye West
  • Let's Dance to Joy Division; The Wombats (my most favorite free iTunes song)
  • Shockwave; Black Tide (my third favorite free iTunes song)
  • The Pretender; Foo Fighters
  • Move Along; The All-American Rejects (much like how Proud Mary is my traditional opening song, this song is quickly becoming my traditional finishing song)

8.24.2008

Rants and raves

RAVE: Yesterday was a beautiful day for a run. A little warm (high 70s) but I stayed in the shade most of the time so it felt cooler.

RANT: Where the hell is runner etiquette in New York? On the Brooklyn Bridge my running brethren forced into the biking lane several times. WTF? Protect your own NYC runners, protect your own.

RANT/RAVE: Yesterday was the last day of Summer Streets. I hope it comes back next summer.

RAVE: Finally found the water station set up for Summer Streets at 23rdish Street and Park Ave--I was really counting on it yesterday.

RAVE: I purposely made yesterday's run hilly to prepare for my next races--both of which will be very hilly, why do I always do the hilly races? I went over the Queensboro Bridge (130 foot climb), the Brooklyn Bridge (135 foot climb), and Harlem Hill (130ish foot climb). I ran through all of them and felt great except for my knees who weren't happy with all that climbing.

RANT: My knees, still in pain from the 400 feet of climing, coordinated with my stomach to stop the run. On the easiest part of the run--the pancake flat loop around the Central Park Resevior--I got a rumble in my stomach that went straight, um, south. It stopped me dead in my tracks, caused me to make a half-mile walk to the nearest bathroom, and generally f'd up my run. After the bathroom break I tried to get back on track to finish the run, but then I got hungry (huh? again?) and started to get stitches. Ended up doing 18.7 miles. Sheesh.

RAVE: Yesterday was the two week mark until the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon. What does that mean? At this point all my running neuroses heighten and I start my slow decent into obsession about the race. I check the race's website for updates everyday. I print out a small forest's worth of car reservations, race confirmations, and directions. I create my playlist (you know how long a process that is). Usually about a week before the race I separate out all my race day clothing to make sure I don't use them that week. As wifey can attest, by race morning I am a different person: I don't talk, I just eat and get out the door and expect anyone that's going to the starting line with me is following. It's the type of craziness that I thrive in.