The PR that almost got away

This was a weird race, a bit unlike any Half-Marathon I've run before. It's taken some time to write it just because I didn't understand what happened during the race. I needed some distance between me and race day to properly write it up.

I have wanted to run this race ever since I moved to New York just over three years ago. It seemed like the perfect little New England race: a quaint run on small streets that wound and twisted through a seaside town with beautiful mansions, the course lined adorable little children waiting for hi-fives and their equally adorable grandparents handing out orange wedges. A slice of runner Americana.

Because I've always missed this race for some reason or another I was determined to train hard for this race and make it spectacular. Every single one of my runs in preparation for this race was below my Half-Marathon PR pace of 8:45, I even squeaked out a 10-miler at an 8:15 pace. I introduced speedwork and increased the distance and frequency of the long runs. I adjusted pretty well to the intense training, so much so that I figured a significant PR would be in cards for race day. I had laid out three goals: (1) set a PR by at least one second (a minimum of 1:53:41), (2) finish in 1:50, (3) finish in 1:45. I figured goal 1 would happen by default of my training, goal 3 was really out there, and goal 2 would take a little work but was otherwise entirely doable.

The alarm went off at 5:30 on Sunday. And so race day begins. I turned it off and shot straight up--if you resist waking up even for a minute you will inevitably fall back asleep.

I was still a bit groggy from the NyQuil that I have to take before a race because otherwise I will not sleep at all. I make my way over to the bathroom, do my business and then go to the kitchen. I make a PB&J. Yum. I know it's not the absolute best pre-race food, but it does the trick for me: gets the calories and carbs in, tastes like kindergarten, and triggers me to go to the bathroom. Yes people I make sure there is nothing left in the trunk before a race--there have been accidents and I will leave it at that.

At 5:45 I wake up wifey and by 6:30 we are out the door and in the rental car.

The snazzy PT Cruiser we rented was still where we parked it the night before--sweet! I am always nervous about street parking in New York ever since the one time my rental car was towed because I didn't see the No Parking sign that was no larger than an index card.

We get on the expressway and it's basically a straight shot on I-95 until exit 22 in Connecticut. The driving is fun because I rarely do it anymore and since there is no one on the roads it is mercifully stress-free. I'm feeling good, wifey is feeling good, and there doesn't seem to be a rain cloud in sight (even though the weather man said to expect rain all day).

At exit 22 we got off, made a right turn and immediately got lost. Damn Google Maps! Good for nothing!

Eventually we gained our bearings and found a parking lot five minutes from the start/finish line. It was the usual pre-race crowds: the super-stars doing warm up laps around the parking lot, the TNT people who always seem to be too happy, the casual runners who rolled out of bed this morning and decided today would be a nice day to run a Half-Marathon, among others.

I picked up my race number from a tent on the beach and then stood in the slowest moving bathroom line. Ever. There were only 20 guys in front of me, but still took 30 minutes to get through the line. Afterward I downed a GU, did some final stretches and went over to the starting line. Meanwhile, wifey was in complete caddie mode. She was pulling out my GU, took my sunglasses out of their case, untangled my headphones. What would I do on race days without her?

The starting line was a disorganized mess of people. No corralling, no pace signs, just a mass of 3,300 people standing on the street. I took a pre-race picture with wifey, gave her big thank you/love you/I'll be back soon kiss, and disappeared into the crowd.

It was about this point I started to realize that something was off. I didn't pay it much attention because I was too distracted by the crowds and the announcer and the course map running through my head and stretching and everything. And then very quickly the announcer gave the mark.

The Race
Mile 1: 8:24
In true sRod form I forgot to set my watch as I crossed the finish line, so this mile was really more like 9:00--which is exactly what I planned. I wanted to go out slow because I knew there were many hills to come and even though it wasn't as hot as it had been the past few days, there was still enough of it to wipe me out by the halfway point.

I ended up dodging a lot of people in this first mile. Funny, because I think this is the smallest Half-Marathon I've ever done and I started near the front of the pack, but there still a bunch of people I had to get around in order to be in the open.

Mile 2: 7:53
As the crowd thinned out I was feeling strong and trying to settle into a nice pace. But at the end of this mile (which included the start of the first hill of the course) I looked at my split and thought: What the hell? Is that a seven? What's that doing there? I better slow down and get back into the pace I wanted.

Mile 3: 8:57
This was a better pace. Especially considering that this mile had a 50 foot climb, 50 foot drop, 50 foot climb combo that I certainly did not appreciate so early on in the race. Well, let's be honest, I wouldn't have appreciated it no matter where it landed in the race.

What I didn't realize about mile three at this point was that we would be repeating it as mile 11. Oh man how I wish I had remembered this later.

Mile 4 & 5: 17:14
Oops, I missed the Mile 4 marker and didn't hit the split button. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever saw a marker for Mile 4. Anywho, both miles average out to 8:37. Not too shabby considering that Mile 5 was all uphill.

I had a race day first at this point too. Per usual I read and reread all the race instructions before race day. I saw the notice that "roads will be open" but didn't pay much attention. I figured that it meant that we would be in one lane and all cars would be directed into the other lane. That assumption turned out to be wrong, the note meant exactly what it said: cars would be using the street while the race was on.

Halfway through Mile 5 an SUV merged into the pack of runners ahead of me. Two minutes later, a pick-up truck came down the road--through on-coming runners. This is an established race that has been run for 20+ years, why can't they close down the roads? Or at least prevent cars from entering the course while there is still a hearty flow of runners. Sigh. Perhaps I expect too much?

Mile 6: 8:19
Leading up to Mile 6 was rough with all the hills leading up to it. My body was feeling the pain and my heart rate must have been sky high. But the downhills, in addition to giving my legs a much needed break, gave me a psychological second wind that was pushing me (very quickly, apparently) through this mile.

But I knew I had to reign myself in because Mile 7 was another entirely uphill mile.

Mile 7 - 8:56
My entire game plan for this race was built around the Mile 7 marker. This mile marker was the crest of the second, and last, big hill of the race--from what I could gather from the elevation map. I knew that if I made the crest of this hill in good shape that the rest of the race I would be coasting. So I may have slowed down for this mile, but I knew that I would naturally pick up the pace in the last six miles.

Mile 8 - 7:58
And so my theory held true. Here I was cranking out a sub-8:00 mile (granted, gravity helped a lot) but I was doing great, pretty smooth sailing.

Mile 9 - 8:31
By Mile 9 the course had flattened out and the sun was out in full force. I was trying to stay in the shade as much as possible, but I could feel my shorts starting to stick to my legs from all the sweat. I was feeling good, but the little demons that live in my head started to pipe up. They started saying things like "it's too hot, you should take a walking break" and "sheesh, you still have four miles to go, you'll never make it."

I have to really practice at shutting up these demons. What kind of training can I do for that? I guess just a healthy dose of concentration and out-right ignoring them should work, right? But when you're 9 miles into a race that is the hardest thing to do. Especially when your left headphone decides it wants to die (as mine suddenly did) and leave your right headphone to do all the work.

Mile 10 - 8:47
At this point I would like to point out a severe miscalculation in my game plan for this race: according to the elevation map, the Mile 7 marker was the crest the second big hill of the race. Everything afterward appeared to be all downhill or gentle rollers. THIS WAS NOT THE CASE as I soon found out. However, I used a good chunk of energy getting up to Mile 7 expecting the rest of the course to be easy. Mile 10 was not easy.

Right at the start of this mile was a steep uphill over some train tracks, then a dip under I-95, and then a long series of uphills. But I was so close to the end that I thought I could take them. I remembered passing the Mile 10 marker on the way out (just after the Mile 3 marker) and remembering that it was at the crest of a hill. So I figured I just had to make it to this crest and I'd be done with this surprise hills section. And as you can tell from my pace, I was attacking these hills harder than the previous uphill sections of the race.

Mile 11 - 9:22
As expected, the course turned downhill after the Mile 10 marker. As I was going downhill relieved to be over with the hills. I saw a water station on the bridge at the base of the hill...and then I saw the hill behind it. I had come down this hill on the way out and had forgotten that I would have to go up it on the way back. Sweet Jesus. I tried to maintain my momentum from the downhill, grabbed some water at the water station, and charged up the hill.

I went up hard. Even though I had used all my mental strength to get over the series of quick hills in Mile 10, I attacked that hill with everything I had. I slowed down and tried to regulate my pace. I controlled my breathing--big breath in, big breath out. I put my weight on alternating legs for four music counts (an old running trick I had up my sleeve). I tried to shut up the demons screaming in my head.

I got to the top of the hill, but the demons won.

As I reached the crest of the hill all my tricks and strength tapped out and my feet fell. Thump, thump. I couldn't even control them, they changed into a walk before I knew what was happening.

In the back of my head I was panicking because once you start walking you never remain your momentum (Nitmos, sound familiar?). I gave myself a quick little pep talk and tried to run after 10 seconds. I lasted a minute before my feet decided to walk again. I tried everything I could think of to keep going: run slower, breathe right, listen to my music, use the momentum from the downhill at the end of the mile. Nothing worked. I was like a car that would rev but not start.

Mile 12 - 9:26
This mile went on forever, block after block after block. More starting and more stopping. Usually I can channel some deep strength that seems to come from no where during the last two miles of a Half-Marathon--but it wouldn't come. I tried, I looked for my "energy stash" that I had hidden from myself and saved for the home stretch, but I couldn't find it. I had put too much into the previous set of hills and sucked up everything I had left.

And while I didn't notice it at the time, right about now was when I started to feel what was different about this race: I had no attachment to it. Every single other race I've run I have had some attachment to. I lived in Boston when I ran the Boston Half. I lived in Queens when I ran the Queens Half-Marathon. I had visited Philly a dozen times before I ever ran that race. Even New Jersey and Baltimore I drove around the city to scope out the course.

Not so with Fairfield. This race was through some town that I strolled into that morning that I had never seen before. I didn't know this place, I didn't know these people. The whole race day experience felt like I was put in a small room with a stranger who could only talk about string theory while I could only talk about occult German fetishes. It felt awkward and I was not enjoying it.

Mile 13.1 - 9:37
Here I was, still sputtering. I knew it was the final mile. I knew I was going to finish. I knew that at least my first goal (finish better than 1:53:42) was going to happen. But I couldn't get that glorious surge to the finish line that I've gotten in every other race I've run.

I didn't know what was wrong with me and I was too busy trying to fix the problem to try to figure out what the problem was.

I took my final walking break at the turn before the Mile 13 marker and told myself that there was to be no more walking--the finish line was too close and I was too good of a runner to finish a race in this manner.

I had to force every single step. Every footfall was a conscientious command from brain, down my spinal cord, through every nerve and fiber of my legs. This was not euphoric running. This was labored and punishing.

I didn't look for wifey, I didn't look at my watch, I didn't pay attention to anything except for the mats at the finish line. I yelled as I crossed the finish line because it hurt and I was happy to be at the end.

Post Race
I didn't realize it until a few days later, but I didn't tear up as I reached the finish line. I usually get emotional because racing is a cathartic experience, but not this race. In the exit chute I found a chair and took my timing chip off--they didn't have a chip removal crew like most races do. I waved at wifey, gave her a big smile for the camera. As I sat there taking off my chip, I was just beating myself up. I was upset at how I ran the first ten miles so well and the last three miles so crappily. I was upset that I didn't make 1:50.

I looked at my watch--1:53:29. That didn't matter because I had started my watch late. If added the 30 second delay to that I would be several seconds over my PR. So I just ignored it and waited to get home for the official net time.

I misjudged the course, didn't gauge the hills properly, and--as I've realized in retrospect--did not enjoy the race. Now, if we quickly look back at my last post before the race you will see that I purposely omitted that goal from my goal list. I believe my words were: I do realize that for humility's sake and out of respect for the distance that my attainable goal should be "to enjoy the race," but damn it, I am a cocky 20-something that always has something to prove.

Is it possible to unlearn something you've known for four years? Yes is the apparent answer. I think some deep introspection is needed right now, but truth is that I don't have any. I don't think I've fallen out of love with running--I mean I'm looking forward to today's long run and the upcoming marathon training. But I feel like something needs to/will change.

When I got home I looked up the official time--1:53:41. Yes folks, that is one second off my PR. So I can claim this race as a PR, but it certainly did not feel like one.


The race report...

...is coming. But taking a look at the preliminary results it seems that I started my watch late and my PR margin was very, very, (almost didn't happen) very small.


Never, never, never quit

I'm channeling Winston Churchill for my final hours before the starting gun at Fairfield. I'm about to head out for an easy 30-minute run around the 'hood. But before that, I want to get all my thoughts down before they swirl out of my head as they tend to in the hours leading up to a race.

Goal Times
  • Goal 1 (attainable): Come in close--but under--my PR of 1:53:42. Completely doable because my Half-Mary PR pace is 8:41 and most of my training runs have been faster than that. (I do realize that for humility's sake and out of respect for the distance that my attainable goal should be "to enjoy the race," but damn it, I am a cocky 20-something that always has something to prove.)
  • Goal 2 (challenge): Come in at 1:50. That would shave about four minutes off my time. It's within the realm of reason, but it won't be easy to maintain that 8:24 pace.
  • Goal 3 (pie in the sky): Come in at 1:45 (essentially an 8:00 pace). This would be exceeding hard because it's hard enough to maintain this pace for a six mile run. Can't imagine how I'll do it tomorrow.
Oh New England--your weather patterns are horrible. This week was beautiful. Every morning I woke up to a chill in the air, puffs of clouds in the sky, and glorious sunshine. However, tomorrow's weather for Fairfield calls for light showers leading into scattered thunderstorms. While the rain sucks (I've never actually run in the rain), it does guarantee cool temps (high 60s) and plenty of cloud coverage. The rain also spoils the beach plans we had for the rest of the day. Boo.

The lovely seaside town of Fairfield is just one-hour North of New York City. I could actually take the commuter rail to the race, but that would mean getting on the 5:35am train out of NYC--I just can't bring myself to get to Grand Central at 5:30am. So we'll be renting a car tonight and driving up at 6am tomorrow.

I've never stayed this far away from the race starting line, so hopefully it turns out alright.

Race Day Strategy
I've been good about this race and studied the course quite a bit over the past few weeks. The hardest part of the race seems to be the hilly midsection. Although I've heard from people that have run this race in the past that there are some surprise hills at the end.

So my plan for the race will be to take the first two miles easy, which shouldn't be a problem because with 3,000 runners there will be a lot of people in my way those first couple of miles. Miles 2-4 I want to settle into a good pace, trying to get toward my goal pace. Miles 5-7 have the biggest climbs and downhills, so there'll be some speeding up and slowing down--which I anticipate will completely mess with my pacing. After mile 7 it looks to be pretty easy, with a few rolling hills--which I like because little hills help get the blood pumping without taxing me too much and can really boost my mood if I tackle them well. After the hill in mile 11 I'll be going through my gravvy songs and hopefully just feeding off the excitement, making a mad dash to finish line.

I'm really hoping to be smart about this race and not just attack it blindly like I normally attack a race. But I'm sure come tomorrow morning I will be suffering from level 5 runner's brain and all this good thinking would have gone to waste.

There have been a few changes to the playlist for Fairfield, I've updated Tuesday's post with the new mix. I had to switch out some songs that just didn't feel right.

Final Thoughts
  • It's been over a year since I've raced at this distance, it's going to be a good time to returning to my favorite distance
  • When it starts to hurt and suck and the world starts crumbling around me I will just think: Does it really hurt that much? The answer is always no.
  • It is quite possible that this race, as much as I've prepared for it, will go bad. I'm not going to lie: if all does go horribly wrong I will be upset. If my GI tract acts up, as it has lately, I'll have to stop to get that out of the way. If I break out into stitches, I will have to combat them and probably have to walk. If my IT Band flares up, I will have to stop and stretch and inject walking breaks. But, I know I will finish. It might not be the time I want or the beautiful race I had hoped and dreamed about, but I will get my shit together and get to that finish line. I will never, never, never quit.


The final countdown

As the Fairfield Half-Marathon approaches and I go through the pre-race rituals, I'd thought I'd share my playlist (also, this was a request from Laura). With that, I'd like to set the mood with arguably the best techno-rock song to come out of Scandinavia in the mid-80s:

Great, now that we're all totally stoked about bad music, let's get onto the playlist. Here is the process I've developed over the years:

1. I get excited! And why shouldn't I? It's a week before a race and the end of training is within sight.
2. I set aside an hour (although it sometimes becomes two) to go through all the music on my computer and pick out only the best of the best running songs. Those songs go onto the playlist. (I've also learned that I gravitate toward newer songs that I haven't worn out yet.)
3. Now that I have a short list of songs to play with I start the delicate process of ordering them and weeding out the songs that just don't work. To do this I assign a rating to each song on iTunes according to the following system:

  • One star - The starter songs. These songs help set the pace early in the race because they are fast and really fun. These songs make me happy--which hopefully carries over on race day.
  • Two star - The ease into the groove songs. These songs are a slower pace than the one star set, but equally as important in maintaining pace as the initial energy wears off. They also help transition to the next set of songs.
  • Three star - The workhorse songs. At this point in the race I'm well into the miles and need to just concentrate on keeping one foot going behind the other. These songs are slow and remind me that it's ok to slow down because by this point I've established a comfortable pace and just need to maintain it.
  • Four star - The "ok, let's start picking it up" songs. These songs are scheduled to start about 75% of the way into the race. When I hear these songs that means that the finish line is getting closer and that I should start pushing out of the comfort zone. No fireworks, but just a slight increase in pace.
  • Five star - The gravvy songs. If there is anything left in me, these songs can get it out of me because they're just that inspirational/bad ass. When I hear these I know that I have to whip out the gravvy and start pouring it on.

4. Once the songs are in these five groups, then I order them according to what songs lead well into the following song and what is appropriate for that approximate point in the race.
5. Once the playlist is done I try to take it for a test run. (Didn't happen this time around, oh well.)

Yesterday I went through this process and here is the finished product, ready for racing--and maybe even a PR--in Fairfield:

  • One Star songs
  • Proud Mary; Tina Turner (this is always my first song and I only listen to it on race days, it just gets me in the right mood--no idea why)
  • Rhythm Bandits; Junior Senior
  • Let's Dance to Joy Division; The Wombats (I am currently obsessed with this song)
  • Out Here All Night; Damone
  • Reptilia; The Strokes (Good choice for this section since it contains the line "don't slow me down if I'm going too fast")
  • Soulchaser; Caesars
  • Two Star songs
  • Coconuts; Junior Senior
  • Check Yes Juliet; We the Kings
  • This River Is Wild; The Killers
  • Your English Is Good; Tokyo Police Club
  • Take Me Out; Franz Ferdinand
  • Can I Get Get Get; Junior Senior (maybe this should be renamed the Junior Senior Half-Marathon playlist--they are the only band on here thrice [yes, I said thrice])
  • Three Star songs
  • Only You; Caesars
  • Freedom 90; George Michael
  • For Reasons Unknown; The Killers
  • Save Room; John Legend
  • My Moon My Man; Feist UPDATE: replaced with Barracuda by Heart
  • She Don't Use Jelly; Ben Folds Five (I always laugh at this song and by this point in the race I'll take anything that can make me happy)
  • Wreckless Love; Alicia Keys (Alicia seems like a really slow choice for running music, but some of her songs have a very fast beat if you listen for it) UPDATE: replaced with Roxanne by The Police
  • I Turn My Camera On; Spoon (I first heard this song on a Jaguar commercial and haven't been able to get it out of my head since, it has an easy beat to match my pace to)
  • Four Star songs
  • Black Cadillacs; Modest Mouse (Nothing says get your ass in gear like Modest Mouse screaming "Done done done with all the f*** f*** f***ing around")
  • Sea Lion Woman; Feist
  • Steven's Last Night In Town; Ben Folds Five UPDATE: replaced with Shockwave by Black Tide
  • Times Like These; Foo Fighters
  • Juicebox; The Strokes (This has become my "passing" song because there is a line in the chorus that screams "Why won't you come over here?" Well, if you won't come over here I'm just going to have to pass you, aren't I?)
  • Five Star songs
  • I Don't Feel Like Dancin'; Scissor Sister (Because I indeed don't feel like dancing by now) UPDATE: replaced with Stronger by Kanye West
  • The Devil Went Down to Georgia; The Charlie Daniels Band (It's cheesy, but it works)
  • The Pretender; Foo Fighters (awesome song, it immediately got Five Star designation the first time I heard it)
  • Move Along; The All-American Rejects


Updated: 6/21


Cross training...on a trapeze

On Sunday, wifey, a friend, and I went out for a bit of cross-training.

Here I am warming up:

Getting into starting position:

And then taking-off!!!

Yes indeed peeps, wifey took me to trapeze school as a birthday present and it was awesome!!!

As you can see from the pictures the facility is outdoors, but what you can't tell is that it on top of a three story building on a pier. So even though you climb 20 someodd feet to the platform, you're closer to 100-feet in the air with breezes from the ocean blasting from all sides. Needless to say, it reminds you that you're alive.

The first time I went up, I really had no idea what to expect. I stood on the platform and the instructor started rigging me up to the harness and that's when I realized there's only one way down. I grabbed the bar. I heard the call from the instructor. And then I hopped off.

In my head the only thing I could say was "ohshitohshitohshitohshit." I didn't even listen to the rest of the calls, I just got my feet up, got them down, and then let go of the bar.

The second time you go up, its worse because this time you know exactly what to expect.

But by the third time, you're a pro (see video above for proof).

The only problem is that even if you're careful you will probably leave with a scrape or a bump of some kind. I was careful and still managed to leave with: a cut on my left knee, chaffing behind both knees, sore calves, bruise marks on the palms of both hands, a mysterious bruise on my left tricep, and--perhaps most damaging of all--net burn across all ten toes of my beauty feet:

(Those purplely things are the burn marks. This was the good foot.)
It was great time--more fun than I thought it would be, and I had high expectations. If any of you come to NYC anytime soon I really recommend that you take a class. They're not horribly expensive ($47 for weekdays, $65 for weekends) and not challenging at all. The only sweat I worked up was from standing in the sun.

In running news.... The Fairfield Half-Marathon is only six days away!!! I am so excited that I wake up every morning thinking about it.

Preparations have already begun in the sRod household for the race. My race clothes (and back-up clothes) were washed in the load of laundry and are neatly folded awaiting race day. I've already drawn up the packing list for the drive up there. Tonight I'll put the final touches on the play list for the race and maybe start printing out documents (registration confirmation, rental car confirmation, directions, etc., etc.). So happy to finally be running this race!


Lessons I've learned but always manage to forget

Just a few running lessons I've learned over the past few years that I always manage to forget. These have all come into play at some point in the past week's training. I'm writing them down in hopes of remembering them in this final week (!!!) before Fairfield.

  1. When you have to go while you're running you can combat it, but it takes lots of effort and concentration. And you only end up buying time until you find a bathroom--it never truly goes away.
  2. Big breath in, big breath out. Repeat. That is my running mantra. Maybe I inherited crappy sinuses from my mom, but my breathing is not spectacular. No asthma, just inefficient breathing. So I always have to remind myself to do big breaths, drawing them in/out over two steps.
  3. Always, always start off easy and you will be able to finish hard. I've done a good job of tempering the first mile of my long runs while training for Fairfield, but I could stand to improve my pacing.
  4. No matter how good you are at this running thing, you always have to dig deep. Always.
  5. You don't need to be hungry to have a GU while running.


Witty title

First, thank you all for the birthday wishes! The big 2-5 went very well. Wifey surprised me in the morning with breakfast in bed and a book of 25 things I've never done. First thing on the list: breakfast in bed.

Then we proceeded to the Central Park Zoo, had a picnic while on a row boat in Central Park, and we had dinner at this great seafood restaurant called The Mermaid Inn. Sunday, after the hottest 10 miles ever, we went to the Madison Avenue BBQ Block Party (yum!) and then went on a boat cruise all the way around Manhattan.

I've never done anything of these things before, but if you're keeping count, that was only six, there are 19 more events planned for my birthday. Some of which I'm looking forward to (wifey signed me up for trapeze school--SWEETNESS!). Some of which I'm not looking forward to (wifey also signed me up for a pedicure because she says my abused feet will appreciate it--yeah, right).

Stay posted for the continued celebration!

Second, I was tagged by Nitmos to fill out a little running quiz/questionnaire/thingie. Here are the rules:

Each player answers the 5 questions on their own blog. At the end of your post you tag 5 other people and post their names. Go to their blogs and leave a comment on their blogs telling them they've been tagged and to look at your blog for details. When they've answered the questions on their own blog, they come back to yours to tell you.

And away we go:

1. How would you describe your running 10 years ago?

Oh, God. Running wasn't even an inkling in my head at that point. I was a freshman in high school and felt extremely uncomfortable in my body. That summer I reached my max weight of 230 pounds and I remember looking in the mirror when I got out of the shower and trying to find some sign of my body losing weight on its own. I was caught in one of those teenage cycles where you want to change yourself but you don't feel like you can.

Exercise wasn't even something I did back in '98. It was something I wanted to do, but I just felt like such a fool doing any kind of physical activity. I also had no coordination, athletic skills, or desire to participate in sports.

This is quickly turning into something I'll have to elaborate on in a different post, so let it suffice to say that running wasn't even a thing to me 10 years ago.

2. What is your best and worst run/race experience?

Best: The Long Branch Half-Marathon. I don't think I've ever run as well as I ran this race. I felt spectacular that morning and all the elements were in my favor (dense cloud coverage, no rain, perfect temps, no heavy wind, pancake-flat course). I blew away my PR expectations, which still amazes me to this day.

Worst: The Disney Half-Marathon. It's a tough enough race with the 2am wake-up call, all the waiting, the crowds, the humidity, and the hills that you don't expect. But then I was the hot shot coming off his first Half-Marathon who only trained the four-weeks prior to the race. Yeah, genius defined.

3. Why do you run?

I run (say it with me now) because it makes me feel superhuman. And that is superhuman not in the Superman sense, but more in the "only .0000000001% of people have run long-distance" sense.

Although I've discovered that in talking with other people that running has become my hobby. It's what I do on the weekend instead of tinkering with a car or building bird houses. It's what I do for fun.

4. What is the best or worst piece of advice you've been given about running? (I'm reinterpreting this as the best and worst ideas I've had on running.)

Best: focus on breathing, everything else will follow.

Worst: just run through the pain.

5. Tell us something surprising about yourself that not many people would know.

The acronym for my blog (SSR) is the same three-letter combination as my monogram (SSR). And that was not intentional.

For my tags, I'm going to follow Nitmos's lead and mercifully tag only one person. The Laminator: you're next.


Baby cows

I picked-up the June issue of Men's Journal from my work mailbox earlier this week. (Free magazines: one of the few reasons I stay in advertising.) I start flipping through the magazine on my way home today and start reading an article titled "Six-pack abs, made to order." The article is about this new high-definition liposculpture surgery--it's basically super precise lipo that can sculpt fat to look like muscle.

I roll my eyes.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind being all cut up like some Abercrombie & Fitch model, but I wouldn't do surgery. Come on, is anyone in such dire need of a six-pack that they would undergo an $8,000+ surgery? I don't think such a person exists. Not in my world.

But wait, it gets better.

I continue reading and get to a diagram where they list the top plastic surgery procedures men choose to undergo. Nose and eye jobs account for nearly 50% of all male plastic surgery--ok, you might snore or you might have developed those skin flaps that impair your vision. Next on the list are hair transplant (ok, understood), chin implant (odd, but understandable), male breast reduction/implants (sure, I could use those too), penis enlargement (hee hee, they said penis--and now I've said it too!), and calf implants.

Calf implants.

WTF? Calf implants? People want to make their calves bigger? This is a thing? This is something people lose sleep over (I assume you're losing sleep if you're willing to undergo surgery)? I mean, how often do you even see a guy's calves? They're usually covered by pants.

The article writes: "Calves are notoriously hard to develop." That's it--that is the justification provided for getting calf surgery, which starts at $5,500. Can't $5,500 get you a personal trainer that will not only make your calves bigger, but your entire body healthier?

I then take a look at my calves. I'll be honest: my calves are pretty sweet. I have received very few genetic blessings when it comes to my body, but well-defined calves I did get. There was even someone who told me in high school (when I was overweight and not exercising) that my calves should be used in an anatomy class. (I'm pretty that was intended to be a compliment.)

Since the proof is always in the pudding, here is the pudding:

Ok, this picture makes them look scary. I swear, I do look like a normal human when I walk around...just don't ask me to flex my calves. (Also, you can't imagine how silly I felt running back and forth across the living room to take this picture. Where is wifey when I need her?)


Nitmos, I'm honored to be the sole victim...um...no, wait, victim is the right word--the sole victim of your tagging. That will be this weekend's post.


Gym carnies: Yeti

Gym Carnies an irregular series about the curious characters and intriguing individuals that people my local gym.

There are certain telltale signs of a runner: a sweaty old race t-shirt, dirty-yet-loved sneakers, an air of humility earned from running races, an all too wide grin that comes from the high levels of endorphins. We all exhibit these outward signs as a result of running. However, what if you exhibit all the signs of a runner, but never in fact run? Such is the problem with the Yeti.

Similar to his namesake, there are many signs that Yeti is a runner, yet to this day no one has produced hard evidence that Yeti does run.

The first time I saw Yeti I took him for your average male gym type. He looks to be in his 40s and is probably the most fit middle-aged man I've ever seen: muscular, very lean, probably about 6'5", and could easily pass for a model. He executes every lift, pull, and push with exacting precision--the type of flawlessness you gain by performing the same movement over and over. He walks around the gym very upright and always has a way of appearing to look down on things.

I really took Yeti as just your regular iron-pumping gym type, except for one thing. Without fail he always comes to the gym in a coordinated spandexy running outfit and spiffy running shoes.

I'm all for spandex--as a runner I own several pieces of spandex clothing--but I don't wear them to the gym. Very few guys come to the gym outfitted to run a race, and even fewer dress like that every time they go to the gym. Also, very few people at the gym wear Brooks or Saucony--these brands are typically reserved for runners. This leads me to believe that Yeti is a runner, because no one else but a runner would invest so much in spandex or fancy shoes.

Additionally, I've overheard Yeti mention something about "races" and "an injury" to another Gym Carny. I've also noticed that Yeti does some pretty intense weight training on his legs. Just more fuel for the legend that Yeti is a runner.

But this all brings us back to the initial problem that in order to be a runner you must run. You can't have symptoms without first having a disease (right, Laminator?). And I haven't seen Yeti run.

I've seen him on the elliptical and the bike at the gym, but never the treadmill. I have run around this neighborhood at least once a week for the past year and have never spotted him. His shoes are always clean. And because of Yeti's endless supply of spandex, he doesn't wear race t-shirts.

Now, in the name of fairness, I have to say that I have had some reported Yeti sightings of my own, but nothing has conclusively proven to me that he is a runner.

Reported Yeti sighting #1: during the Healthy Kidney 10K, as I was cresting over Harlem Hill (Mile 2) I saw someone bent over stretching a leg muscle. As I approached the figure in the bright morning light I could tell the person's clothes would surely be in Yeti's closet--and the person's physique seemed very similar to Yeti's. However, in a second I was past him and didn't get to see his face. There were 8,000 runners out there that day, it really could have been anyone.

Reported Yeti sighting #2: as I was sitting on the subway on Sunday morning waiting to head out for my long run I saw what I could have sworn was Yeti. He passed the car I was in, but I think he was wearing running clothes and headphones. But of course, I wasn't sure it was him, and even if it was, I don't have anyway to prove that he was going running, even though typically the only reason anyone would be on the subway at 8:30am on a Sunday in running clothes is because they are going to go running.

Reported Yeti sighting #3: this morning I was doing 5 x 1000m at the track instead of the gym. I rarely go out to the track on Tuesdays, but I want to acclimate to the warmer weather as quickly as possible, given that Fairfield is just 2.5 weeks away. As I rounded the turn during a recovery lap, I saw a tall, muscular, very lean runner running away from the track. From a distance, it looked like it could have been Yeti, but I was too far to tell. And this runner had on some non-spandex shorts, obviously it couldn't be him.

One day I hope to have proof that Yeti exists--I mean runs. Although I have no real reason to want to see him run, because I guess techinically at that point he will stop being a Gym Carny and start being a normal person. And where's the fun in that?


Checking in

I'm in the midst of what is quickly becoming a super month. My birthday is this weekend--the festivities for which have been kept in the strictest of secrecy. Then there is my company's annual booze cruise. Then there is Fairfield. And then there is the cooking class coupled with Eddie Izzard on the same weekend.

So I have to keep it brief today: yesterday's run was hard. Twelve miles, 79 degrees, no cloud cover, three bridges, and one headache that started before I left the house. Then throw in periodic stitches (they're back!) and some walking breaks and you get a run clocked in at a 9:10 pace. I think the last time I went that slow was MY FIRST MARATHON EVER.

But it's all down hill from here. Whaaaaaaa hooooooooo! It's time to taper!

Stay posted for a new Gym Carny profile.