Running as group sport

A few weeks back I went to the Super Runner's Shop on 86th Street to buy some much needed winter gear. While at checkout I picked up a flyer for the shop's weekend group runs. There was the usual group run incentives listed on the flyer: free food, bag storage, bathrooms. But at the end of the list was one additional incentive: after ten runs with the group you get a free pair of shoes.

Say whaaaaaa?

I'll take a free pair of shoes. Especially since no one is throwing me a free pair to review any time soon. And all I have to do is run? So I get a free pair of shoes for doing what I'm already doing on the weekends. Perfect!

Now, I've never done a group run. The closest I've ever come to a group run before was a few times I went out with my super-fast friend who charged ahead of me within the first few miles of our run. So this whole running as social interaction thing is new to me.

They told me over the phone to get there a little before 9am, but in my excitement to get out the door and in a twist of speediness by the NYC subway system, I show up at the shop at 8:30am. And it is 30 degrees outside. And Starbucks is closed, despite their hours sign saying that they open at 6am on Saturdays. I entertain myself by buying and devouring a granola bar at CVS and then walking around the block a few times. It is still 30 degrees.

At 8:50 I pass by again and find the gate up and people inside the shop. I head inside and tell them I'm there for the run. I sign in (run #1 toward free shoes!) and start stretching. Slowly, a group starts amassing. Most appear to be regulars and are on a first name basis. Once we reach a critical mass the shop manager tells us that there will be two groups: a 5-mile group and a 10-mile group. Well, 5-miles is a little short, but 10-miles is a little long. But since I'm new to the whole social running bit I figure I'll go with the shorter distance.

We head out with a light jog toward Central Park. Ah. I was expecting a little more creativity in choices of routes from a weekly running group, but then again, it is the safest location in the city since there is no car traffic. We separate into the two distances and head out in opposite directions. Our group is doing 5-miles at about a 9-9:30 min/mile pace. Ah. I thought these people would be a little faster.

Per usual I start out fast. (I really need to fix that.) I stay close to the pacers and never lose them through out the whole run. I start off next to one girl that I had started talking to, but quickly found out that I was much faster than her. The next two miles were quiet and slightly more grueling than I remember Central Park. Maybe we are going my regular pace of 8:45ish?

At one point we pass an officer galloping by on a horse--which is one of the most majestic things you'll ever see in NYC. It starts up a conversation about horses and horseback riding. I start talking to one of the girls in the group who used to ride horses competitively. We carry on talking for the rest of the run. I find out that she ran the Tybee Marathon--which I want to run only for the reason that I would be justified in eating at Paula Dean's restaurant in nearby Savannah--and actually placed there. That makes me feel good because I'm keeping step with her...until she tells me that this is her first run in months due to a pinched nerve, among other health problems. (And there goes the ego boost.)

We wrap up the run where we started and walk back over to the running store where bananas, OJ, water, and bagels await. We also get 20% off coupons (sweet!) for going on today's run. One of the runners also gives out sweet tamarind, which is an odd, if not exotic, choice to bring as recovery food.

All in all, it was a good run. At first I didn't realize it, but it pooped me out. I was exhausted for the rest of the day. It was a little odd having to run with a group of people, but I'm sure it will only help build good habits (i.e., pacing) and even if I don't I'll still get a free pair of shoes out of it.

And now a note on housekeeping...

I've changed my 2008 race line up a little bit. This fall, instead of doing the Marine Corps Marathon, I'm planning on the Breakers Marathon in Newport, RI. Why the change? It was more a strategic move than any particular appeal of Newport. I have the general assumption that I won't be living in New York City forever. So I'm trying to cover off on all the nearby states while I'm here. I realized that my original fall marathon choice, DC, is pretty easy to get to no matter where you are in the country, whereas most New England states are not. So I'm gonna knock out a few of the smaller states this year and get my New England groove* on. In 2009 I'll kick off with Texas to make up for the small state focus this year.

* Not entirely sure what constitutes "New England groove," but I think it involves birkenstocks and a quaint bed and breakfast.


Et tu, alarm?

My alarm clock has a vendetta against me. Twice this week I set it for an early morning run, and twice it has not gone off.

On Monday and Wednesday nights I set the alarm for the once-ridiculous, but now-acceptable running hour of 5:30am. I went to sleep both nights. Then I woke-up by myself at 6am to find that the alarm never went off. WTF?

Turns out that in addition to my alarm's awesome ability to set itself (it tunes into the atomic clock every morning at 2am, no lie) it also has the ability to switch alarm settings from "weekday" to "weekend" at will. So my 5:30 alarm would only go off on the weekend. Love it.

Despite that, I did get to go running once this week. Tuesday morning I bolted out the door at 6:10am to get four miles in. I only got to 3.6 before my body realized that it was awake and needed to go to the bathroom to clear out the system. Yes, I mean poop. So before there was a disaster on the treadmill, I high-tailed it to the bathroom.

In other news, work is going crazy. The toy account that I had been working on since January fired my agency. The client loved my team and wanted to keep us, but the call was make from her higher ups. Now I'm working on my first non-profit client, which actually makes me feel really good about what I do. Unfortunately, they want to start advertising right away, so we have to pull plans together incredibly fast. The good part is that instead of selling a product or a service, this advertising actually tries to help the greater good.

However, this non-profit client only pays for 50% of my time; I have to work on a second account in order for my paycheck to be covered. In a very poetic turn of chance, the second account I will be working on is a casino. So half my time I work for a non-profit that is trying to right the faults of society, and the other half of my time I work for a casino, which is classically known to exploit those faults. Wow. Oddly enough, this doesn't constitute a conflict of interest.

Continuing along the work lines. Thursday night was our big annual Karaoke night. While your office may have it's annual picnic or cold-cut laden holiday party, my agency has an all-out Karaoke slam fest. It was fantastic. The exact reason I enjoy doing what I do.

To give you an idea, I was told about this Karaoke party during my interview, and it has been hyped up continuously since I started. Anyone who started working at my agency since the last Karaoke party has to perform, which included me and about 15 other people. We were judged by a panel of our clients (none of which were mine, fortunately) and the prizes were pretty spectacular for first, second, and third places.

This was competitive Karaoke at it's finest. Since we all lack musical talent we had to make up for in it audience participation, costumes, and balls-out bad-assness. There was some cross-dressing. One duet brought props. My direct report busted out a hot pink cowgirl hat and showed that she has a knack for singing hardcore country music. The open bar definitely aided in the hilarity.

And me? I decided to go the mid-90s cheese route and sing "I'll Make Love To You" by Boyz II Men. It was awesomely bad singing paired with awesomely good performing. Two lucky ladies in the audience got a little love from sRod in perhaps the best performance of that song by a white man, ever. After the performance a few girls threatened to call HR, all in jest...I hope.

The party went on late into the night. I didn't see the end of it because I had to get home and pack. My wife and I had a 6:55am flight to see her parents in NC the following morning. I met my wife for a much needed fried food dinner and got home at around midnight. Five hours later the alarm sounded and we washed up, headed out to the airport, and made it out here to the wonderful NC mountains. And yes, my alarm was correctly set to "weekday" on Friday morning.


Back in business!

My five-mile run on Thursday was a success. And this morning's six-mile loop around Central Park was also a success. Albeit, I have to learn how to run hills again--Good they're hard on the knees and quads.

I am officially back into running. And thanks to the generous amounts of stretching, I am pain free!


No pain, all gain

Had my third and last PT appointment today. I went for a run on Tuesday morning for four miles and at the end of it there was no pain, no tickling, no anoying sensation in my right knee. The Physical Therapist says that just through stretching I've been able to really loosen up my IT Band. He was actually shocked at how much I improved with just five days of stretching and mentioned that he wished he had recorded the first time he stretched me and the second time--it was that big a difference.

It seems that my three months of non-running could have all been solved by stretching. Lots and lots of stretching. But it took three doctors, a set of x-rays, an MRI session, and tons of advice to get to a resolution.

I have to consider this another major running lesson learned: there is no such thing as too much stretching. I thought I had this stretching thing down by now--I had even increased the amount of the I spent stretching. But apparently it wasn't enough. When something is tight you need to treat with lots of stretching. I was spending about five minutes every morning and five minutes every evening stretching my IT Bands (since I found out that both sides were tight) in order to loosen them up. And that is a lot more stretching that I thought would be necessary.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be able to run five miles tomorrow and six on Saturday. If all that goes well, I'll be getting back on the distance wagon, scouting out races and filling up more states on my map.


The light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter

Had a great day in Brooklyn on Saturday. For brunch we wound up at a little local Tex-Mex place in the Park Slope neighborhood. We made the mile long trek up hill to the Brooklyn Museum afterward through some really cool brownstones blocks. Although, when we got to the museum I wasn't too impressed. Given the caliber of other museums in the city, the collections at the Brooklyn Museum weren't fantastic. But of course, the only other museums I've been to in the past few years are the Met, the MoMa, and the Whitney, which truthfully are in a whole different strata of cultural institutions.

Went to PT finally today. The doctor's diagnosis? IT Band Syndrome. No shock there, but nice to see a consistency across all the doctors I've seen and my own research. He stretched a few things and said my IT Bands (both sides) were very tight. He stretched a few more things to get kinks out. It was great until the last stretch where he contorted my leg in some level 5 yoga move that stretched things that have never been stretched before. He immediately iced the leg after that.

I'll be going back in on Monday and Wednesday of next week for some stretches to help work out the tightness in my right leg. The doctor says that recovery should only take a few weeks and that by the end of four weeks I should be fine to run again. That would leave me 2.5 months to get ready for Fairfield in June. Woo hoo!

Ok, now I'm getting back to watching the Project Runway finale--which my wife has made me a fan of.


Brooklyn Day

Ah, New York City. God I hate living here sometimes. During the winter it gets cold but it doesn't snow. During the summer it is way too hot for way too long. You can't own a car because a parking space costs as much as an apartment, and if you did own a car you couldn't get anywhere with all the traffic. People are rude and often stupid. House/apartment prices continue to soar through the ceiling even though you can't sell a home anywhere else in the country. The rats are the size of small cats and have no qualms with human interaction. And if it smells like urine in a subway station it's not a coincidence--someone did pee and it's probably that wet spot over there in the corner.

But even with all that, there are days where this city is quite lovely. Like today for example.

If my knee were at 100% I would have gone for a nice little run outside this morning because it's a decent 40 degrees outside. Then, later this morning, my wife has a quick doctor's appointment in the city. After that, we're having a Brooklyn Day.

I love Brooklyn. If things had worked out differently, we would be living there now. Brooklyn would be it's own world class city if it wasn't absorbed by NYC in 1899. It has everything you need in a city, but it has more charm than Manhattan--which is perpetually being rebuilt with glitzer and more glamourous buildings. Brooklyn is very neighborhoody and quiet, but is chock full of bars, restaurants, lounges, theatres, etc. (I should note that Brooklyn is also home to some of the most dangerous and deadly neighborhoods in the country; the parts I speak of are the nicer 'hoods.)

So we are meeting our friend, who lives in Brooklyn, for brunch. Then after that we're headed over to the Brooklyn Museum. I am a huge fan of museums. If my wife let me live to my nerdiest, I would go to a different museum every weekend. And the great thing about the Brooklyn Museum is that the first Saturday of every month (ahem, today) they are open until 11pm with special events. So that will be very fun.

After we are museum'd out, we're meeting another friend for dinner at some Thai restaurant--also in Brooklyn. And then we may be off to a concert...also in Brooklyn.

Looking forward to a great day.