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.


Peak week...

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


Gym carnies: Boobie

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

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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.

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:


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!


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.


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.


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)