Gym carnies: Squeaker

Wifey and I pay quite a bit for watching the parade of oddities at our gym. It's more than I would like to pay and more than if we joined either of the gyms our offices partner with. For comparison, when Wifey and I were members of her office's fancy gym in Manhattan with it's uber rare swimming pool, free access to multiple locations, and access to a private beach club in Connecticut, we paid $10 less per month than what we're paying now for our hussied up version of Gold's Gym.

However, our gym comes with two deal-making conveniences that individually are compelling, but together make it the clear choice. First, the gym is open 24 hours, meaning that we can never use the "oh the gym is going to close in 30 minutes, I guess I'll have to go tomorrow" excuse. Second, the gym is a five minute walk from our apartment (yup, I've timed it). The sheer convenience overrides the exorbitant price.

Even though we pay too much for membership the gym does try to make it feel like they aren't ripping us off every month. They recently expanded the woman's locker room (what for, I don't know, but they did it). They always reupholster the seats when the pleather starts to crack. They are constantly replacing older machines with newer versions...except for one.

Despite the recent flood of next generation ellipticals there remains just one--isolated in the back row of the cardio section--that is teetering on the edge of becoming an antique. It boggles my mind as to how this one machine, a contemporary of the Nordic Track, was overlooked for replacement with it's clunky display screen and clumsy design. Generally, I wouldn't have even noticed this machine except for one characteristic: it squeaks.

It is a loud, noticeable, high-pitched squeak that can be heard throughout the gym: I've heard it over my headphones and I can hear it from the bathroom. It is repetitive, persistent, stabbing squeak--the type of squeak Hitchcock used for the shower scene in Psycho.

It is also a selective squeak. Although several people use this squeaking elliptical only one person can elicit the squeak, and she is called Squeaker.

I have limited elliptical experience, but I feel pretty confident in saying that there is only one way to use an elliptical, so Squeaker can't really be using the machine wrong. Also, I've seen people of varying weight use this machine, so I don't think it is a noise triggered by weight. She just does something right to make that noise come out of that machine. Maybe she secretes a particular kind of hormone that gets all wrapped up in the innards of the machine and causes things to rub together that otherwise wouldn't.

What is really odd about Squeaker, though, is that she is always on this same machine. At least once a week when I get to the gym she's there squeaking away. And like I said, the sound travels through headphones, so she knows she's making this noise and that everyone can hear her. But she goes about oblivious to the fact. I couldn't image being on a machine that squeaks with every other step. As it is I get self-conscious and switch machines if the treadmill I'm on squeaks or bounces.

I am also convinced that Squeaker is paying off someone on the gym staff. Like I said before the gym is pretty good about fixing equipment and has a pile of "We are in the process of fixing this equipment" signs ready to be affixed at the first sign of wear and tear. However, the repair fairy manages to look over this one particular machine.

I smell a conspiracy.


I am G.U.

Apparently Jess isn't the only one that's still got it.

During yesterday's long run with the Super Runner's Shop (come on free shoes!) I paired off with one of the regulars for the first five of my long run. I've talked to her a few times during runs, but since it was just the two of us we got into the more gritty details of life: where do you work, what do you do, where do you live, etc.

Half way through the run, she asks me my age and then starts talking about how she recently went down to Baltimore to see her family. While there she saw her nieces, who are close to my age. She telling me how she had found this good guy for one of them, he's really athletic and good looking, seems to have a good job and is really nice--but that the guy is GU (geographically undesirable). Then she starts telling me how this niece is really smart, a beach blond, got a full ride to college, teaches in the Baltimore area, and she's planning on coming up to the city in May.

It's about this point that I realize what's going on: she's trying to hook me up with her niece! See, I don't run with my wedding ring because 1) sometimes I run through sketchy parts of the city and 2) it's really lose on me and I'm afraid it might fall off somehow. And I guess I never mentioned that I had a wife while on runs with this woman.

I let her know I'm married, but that I'm absolutely flattered she would want me to go out with her niece. She apologies and laughs it off. I then start talking about Wifey, how we met in middle school, started dating in college, that she was an Anthropology major but now works in advertising, and how she generally kicks ass.

After another mile I separated from my running partner because she was cranking out 8:30 miles and I couldn't sustain that for 17 miles. However, the fast start (and the go boost) helped me out in the end. I finished the run with an 8:43 pace--all in hilly Central Park. To give context my Marathon PR is 8:47 and Half-Marathon PR is 8:41. I don't like to count chickens before they're hatched, but this bodes really well for the Great Bay Half-Marathon next weekend!!


A funny joke

Flipping through this week’s issue of New York magazine, I caught this joke by comedienne Claudia Cogan:

“Until the financial crisis, I thought a 401(k) was an unusually long marathon. I couldn’t understand why my co-workers kept signing up. To me, it was just a way to mess up a Sunday.”

I started laughing to myself and realized I had just become that crazy guy on subway who laughs to himself a little too loudly.


Running makes you manly

This winter I've been doing all weekday runs on the treadmill because it is too freaking cold outside (WTF, it was snowing yesterday--the first day of spring) and I really only enough cold weather gear to do the weekend long run.

One of the side effects of all this treadmill running is that I spend hours a week staring at myself in the TV on the treadmill. I don't like to watch the TV attached to the treadmill because I feel it will mess up my form, so I turn it off and watch the overhead TVs, forcing myself to lift my head while I run. Also, I don't like listening to the TV while running because it throws off my cadence--or rather doesn't help with my cadence, unlike music.

And what I have learned from this? That running makes you more manly.

Not manly in the sense that I have more chest hair or that I have an increasing urge to fell timber. More in the sense that running makes you real comfortable with your body and you learn to not really care where you are or who is around you when you do something gross.

For example, when I first started running I hated spitting--I thought it was absolutely gross to do in public. I would actually wait until there was no one around--no cars, no people--and hock a loogie politely into the bushes where no one would see it or be able to attribute it to me.

Now, five years later, I don't give a rat's ass about it. I've learned from hundreds of runs that if you don't spit it out it only accumulates and gets worse. It's really not worth holding in. I still avoid spitting directly onto the street or sidewalk--I usually aim for a grassy patch or a storm drain--but really I have no hesitation, to the point that a jogger passed me and yelled "disgusting" when I spat on the storm drain she was about to run over.

Running also makes you real intimate with your bowels--just like the man stereotype in my head. Think about it. When did it become acceptable to use the port-o-potty? As a child I had a immense feeling of dread and despair if I had to use a port-o-potty and avoided it like the plague.

Now? Ha! Port-o-potties are a luxury compared to some of the bathrooms in NYC Parks. You build up some kind of biological mechanism to dilute the smell and you craft some nonsensical scientificesque explanation that it's actually not that dirty.

And never mind the people who do their business in the bushes. That is manly--and brave. I haven't done that yet, but if I was ever in that situation I'd do it--no doubt.

Perhaps the maniest aspect if it all is the boasting. For me it's been subtle. I don't walk around the office telling everyone: "Hey! I ran eight miles before you even woke up this morning! BOo YAHHHHH! Beat that sucka!" (Although it would be hilarious to do so.) But I do find myself sneaking in the "geez I'm tried because I did seven hard miles this morning" into conversations with people who could care less about my running hobby and much less about my current physical state.

Then this week I've found myself pushing onto my coworkers the excitement of my upcoming races: "I just booked the car to go to New Hampshire for my race," "Did you know there is a way to frequent flyer miles so that you can get a discounted ticket (like I did for Cincinnati)?" "I just got a huge deal on my hotel for The Flying Pig Marathon." Part of it is excitement, but there is that little voice that says "these people don't care." Which, in truth, they don't: I'm an oddity in my office--there's only one other runner and she only runs about one race a year.

Let's hope that the further I get into my running career the manliness doesn't progress into d-bagery, because then we would have a problem on our hands.


As if the PR wasn't enough

Out of curiousity I logged onto marathonguide.com last night to read runners' review of The Flying Pig Marathon. I found this site is a really good source not only to find races but also to get first hand accounts of the course from runners, so you find out if a course has enough water stations or serious hills or a crappy staging area.

All of the reviews of The Pig said the same thing: hard hills in the beginning, great spectators, lots of water stations, and that the only boring part is when the course has to pass by (under?) the Interstate.

After reading the reviews of The Pig, I wandered over to see what other runners said about the Breakers Marathon. In stark contrast, all these posts complained about the hills and few water stations. The words "challenging" and "killer" are all over the place.

Of course, I read all of this and it made me exastatic. As if the PR by 20 minutes wasn't enough, it was on a challenging course with killer hills. And I only thought it was an average course.



Long Slow Distance: that weekend battle ax ritual where you kiss your wife goodbye at an ungodly hour and run for hours on end at a pace akin to a turtle sprinting. This is the cornerstone upon which many, if not all, distance running training plans are built on. And yesterday, I realized I had never ever done one.

I went out with the Super Runner's Shop group yesterday (still trying to get the free shoes). After last weekend's crappy 20-miler I wanted to be really smart about this run and not outpace myself five miles into a 14 mile run. I was going to head out with the faster pack (8:30 pace) that was only doing six miles, but ended up starting the run with the slower pack (9:30 pace) who were all doing 10+ miles.

I told myself I'd stick with this pack for the first Central Park loop and then I'd push the pace of the group. Then I realized that this wasn't a pack that would respond to someone pushing the pace, so after the first loop I just said to myself "get over Harlem Hill and then you can break off." Well, that didn't happen either because I got so wrapped up in the conversation (I miss running in a group!).

Midway through the second loop of the park I mentioned to everyone that I usually don't run my long runs this slow. Then I realized, I have always run my long run--my supposed long slow distance runs--at or near race pace. I always start off the run planning to go slow and easy, I always tell myself during the run to slow down, but I either end up finishing near race pace or bonking like I did last weekend.

So I stuck with the group for the next couple of miles and then broke off at mile 13 to finish my 14. Sure enough, the second I left the group my pace plunged from 9:40 to 8:30--but I let myself have that fun because I only had one mile left to go.

The end result was that I finally got to see how a long run is supposed to be run. My knees didn't hurt much afterward (CP is so hilly!) and I wasn't all that tired afterward (I stayed out until 2:00 am last night with no nap!). This is definitely a lesson I needed to learn.

slow and easy. It felt great afterward to just


A runner scorned

This whole situation started about a month ago when out of the blue I got an email with the subject line "Interested in Advertising with your Blog." Being in advertising myself and knowing that advertising comes with some form of compensation I immediately opened the email. It was from the director of marketing at the New Balance outlet store in Harrisburg, PA. She found my blog through the wonders of the interweb and wanted to know if I would post a link to her store on my blog in exchange for a free pair of shoes.

Well, times being what they are and me trying to be the spendthrift I pretend I am, I figured "why not?" Even though I haven't worn a pair of New Balances in years; even though I would have limited choices (it was an outlet store); even though I wouldn't be fitted at all for the shoe; even with all those points, I still decided to go through with it.

So I posted the link (not sure if any of you noticed it for the week or two it was up). The director of marketing takes a look at the link on the site and says it looks just fine and gives me the promo code. I get to work trying to find the best NB version of my Brooks Adrenalines.

First problem: there was a really limited shoe selection. I understand if you're sold out of one or two styles, but I could only find ONE style out of the 13 stability shoes that was in my size. If I had freak-o tiny or jumbo feet, I would expect that, but I have size 12D feet, which is no an uncommon size.

Fortunately, the one stability shoe style they had in 12D was the one I wanted. Super lucky! So I thought.

Second problem: when I order the shoes with my promo code I get a confirmation that the order went through and that I'll get another confirmation when the order is shipped. However, the next day I get an email saying that "due to inventory issues" my order cannot be fulfilled and has been cancelled. So I guess this is one of the hiccups of ordering from an outlet store--although I've never had this issue when I've ordered from other online outlet stores.

Third problem (this is where it starts to get sketch): the same day I get the order cancellation I try reordering the shoes, you know, just in case they came back in stock. So I order the shoes again and get the same confirmation email. However, the second I get the confirmation email I realize that I forgot to enter the promo code. Yikes! I quickly write back to the customer service email address (as directed in the confirmation instructions) and ask if I can have the promo code applied to my order before the shoes come and if they can't apply the promo to please cancel my order. I don't hear anything back from customer service.

About a day or two later I get the shoes at work. They look similar to my Adrenalines and I take them for a test walk around the office. I tell my co-workers about my fancy free shoes and take random walks around the office. However, I don't take the shoes home because I still haven't heard back from customer service. I check my credit card bill and sure enough, the charge from NB Harrisburg went through for $100.

Fourth problem: I email customer service again, but to cover my bases I try calling them too. No one picks up the phone so I leave a voicemail.

Meanwhile the new shoes are at my desk, taunting me because I refuse to take them home. I email the director of marketing and ask if she can get involved and she replies: "I just got your email and will start looking into this to see what I can do. It just might be better me emailing around first to get things done faster."

Some more time passes and I decide to give customer service another call and email. No luck. So I turn back to the director of marketing.

Fifth problem: her response to me: "Yeah, sorry I haven't got back to you. I'm still waiting to hear back from someone on this. Someone else I work with suggested something that sounds like too much work to me (returning them for a refund and then using the code to get the free shoes, which is all a bit silly in my mind since you have the shoes you want). I'm not sure what's up with customer service at the moment, but I'll send them another email and see where we get on things. She normally responds to me on the same day."

Ok, well, I was already thinking that way, which is why I hadn't taken the shoes home yet. But I found it pretty sketchy that the customer service person wasn't getting back to internal emails. Also, I didn't want to go through the whole return/purchase cycle because that was making the shoes increasingly not free. Whatever. I go with it even though I'm getting frustrated.

I hear nothing for another couple of days and decide to check in with the director of marketing one last time before I throw in the towel and return the shoes for a refund.

Sixth problem: her response to me: "Unfortunately I'm going to have to recommend you return them. From there is it up to you if you want to remove our link from your site and not re-order, or stick with the problems and try to get the shoes. I'm having similar problems to you with not being answered and I'm not sure why.I'm really sorry I don't know what to say about all of this and there isn't more I can do to help."

Um. Excuse me?

If I sent an email like this to any of my clients I would have been fired, no questions. WHAT KIND OF RESPONSE IS THIS? I know it might not be her formal job to handle returns and promo codes, but she is still an employee of that store and therefore represents it. If I, as a customer, am reaching out to her with a problem then she is obliged as an employee to help reach a resolution. That's not considered special treatment--that's called properly completing a business transaction.

And she doesn't just not resolve the problem, she legitimately gives up (i.e., "I don't know what to say about all of this and there isn't more I can do to help"). What kind of work ethic is that? What else does she give up on? If I were her employer my eyebrow would be raised.

Then there's the whole issue of customer service not returning her emails. WTF?? If my counterpart in my office wasn't returning my emails I WOULD GO TO HER DESK AND TALK TO HER. This isn't rocket science, it's basic problem solving skills!

So seeing that I am not going to get a positive response from anyone at NB Harrisburg I packed up the shoes today and put the return label on the box. I am going to just return the shoes and get my money back because if I am going to pay for shoes they are at least going to my friggin brand.

The kicker: while at work today I get this email from NB Harrisburg customer service. I can't believe it. It must be a cruel joke. This comes from the SAME email address that I sent several email to asking to applying my promo code to my order. I have to post an actual screen shot because I wouldn't believe it myself otherwise:

Really, someone in Harrisburg has to be laughing about this.

People, if you don't know me that well then take my word when I say I don't get angry. It takes something really bad to get fired up. Well, this is really bad. I can't believe that this store couldn't follow through with a routine customer service request. I mean they STILL have not responded to a single call or email. What is that? Sure I had a promo code for a free pair of shoes, but that should still merit at least an "oh hi, we got your email" from the people in charge of managing customer relationships.

Screw you NB Harrisburg.


Beyond the Epic Run

About two or three weeks ago I got a curious email inviting me to a private movie screening for a movie called Beyond the Epic Run. Personally, I thought this was totally cool. Here I am, writing up the random things that come into my head while running, and somehow that qualifies me to be one of the first people to see this movie. Freakin' sweet.

The screening was this past Monday and it wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be. As a runner, I was expecting a highly technical film about how Serge (the runner) and Nicole (his wife-turned-motorcycling Sherpa) ran 25,000 miles around the world over a five-year period. I thought this film would be about bio-mechanics, training, diet, how to get clean water in a country that has none, etc.--something straight off the Discovery Channel.
Instead, the documentary is an intimate portrait about the challenges that this incredible couple faced together while journeying around the world. About half of the film is footage shot by either Serge or Nicole while on the run, showing the grueling conditions and life threatening obstacles: like forging a river on motorcycle and contracting malaria.
At the core of the film you have the very human story of two people who subjected themselves to the harshest conditions in the world and lived to tell the tale. They sacrificed everything to do something no one has done before. They encountered not only physical challenges associated with health and running, but also emotional hardships, warring peoples, and a failed sponsorship.

Beyond the Epic Run isn't scheduled to open in theaters until May of this year--the version at this screening was still a rough cut, lacking some sound and video editing. However, for those of you planning to run Boston this year, they will be showing the movie there and you should definitely try to grab a seat. It is a film that will inspire you run, no matter what challenges lie ahead of you.


Got what I wanted

Gross alert: discussion of bowel movements ahead.

Remember a couple weeks ago when all I wanted was a nice spring day to run? Well, I got it--but I should really be careful what I ask for.

First, the my subway line wasn't going into Manhattan so I had to switch trains and take a longer way to the Super Runner's Shop (I will get my free shoes this year!). By the time I got to the store I was 25 minutes late for the group run. I asked them to hold on to my phone and head out for 20 miles.

When I get to Central Park every single person in the city has come out for the sunny, clear, and 54 degree weather. It makes all those long runs in January, when it was just me and a handful of others out there, seem like the park was abandoned. The are TNT training groups running by, swarms of cyclers zooming away, there doesn't appear to be an inch of space on the running track around the reservoir.

The first 10 miles went pretty well, but I realized that I had probably put on too much clothing: an under armor t-shirt and a long-sleeve technical tee over that with shorts on. I just wasn't used to this caliber of heat on long runs. I was quickly running out of water and at Mile 12 I took a walking break. And that was it.

For the next 8 miles I mentally could not muster up energy to keep on going. I started eating the pack of CLIF Bloks I had brought along. They were "margarita" flavor and tasted awesome, however, margarita flavor means lots of salt and I was running low on water already. (Side note: NYC has tons of public drinking fountains, but they aren't turned on until May.) So I had to wait until I found a bathroom to fill up with water so that I could down more Bloks.

I was walk-running for the last five miles in Central Park. When I reached the straight-a-way at the Runner's Gate I started going all out as this was the last quarter-mile of the run. And sure enough, I have a mighty sprint to the end. Exhausted, I went over to the side walk out of the way of runners and cyclists. Then, out of no where, my stomach, which was rock solid the whole run decided to surprise me with a surprise post-run rumble.

I did the whole "oh! I have a sudden cramp let me move over to this bench to stretch it" move and tried to pinch. But this was coming on strong and I was too exhausted to fully stop it. Yes folks, I crapped my pants (no details spared here at See sRod Run). I mean it wasn't like this guy, but it was enough to make me feel really uncomfortable. I guess a crappy run couldn't have ended any other way.

I made my way back to the Super Runner's Shop, but given my, um, situation, down there I couldn't bring myself to properly sit and stretch. I got all the way to the store (about four blocks) before I realized that if I didn't sit down I would faint or collapse right there on the street. So I ended up sitting on the steps of a Church for a minute before picking up Gatorade and chocolate milk from CVS.

By the time I got home I was ragged. I felt like poop, I had pooped, and when I got home I had to clean up poop. After I cleaned up, I drew up a nice luke warm bath and dozed in the tub for an hour before getting out to go eat.

The high-point of the run: breakfast was a Dunkin' Donuts waffle sandwich-inspired masterpiece. Two sandwiches, with waffles as the buns, filled with blueberry maple chicken sausage, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg (left just soft enough in the yolk so that it gets messy). Delicious.


This is not easy

During every training cycle there comes a certain point where I realize (or re-realize) that this running stuff is not easy. Even though I've spent days plotting out a challenging, yet flexible training schedule; even though I've done this nine times before; even though I fully know what to expect, there still comes that point where I forget all of that and realize that distance running is hard and that maybe I can't do it.

Sure enough, I came to this realization again in the middle of this training cycle. It actually happened on Sunday while I was doing an 18-miler in Philly.

Wifey and I were in town visiting family. Unfortunately, five hours after getting to Philly I realized that I left my trusty water bottle and all my CLIF Shots at home. The water bottle was easy to replace, but how was I supposed to replace CLIF Shots when I was in a foreign city, didn't have a car, and was stuck in a part of town where the local bodega is THE grocery store?

So I improvised. I found a CVS and hoped that they had CLIF Bars, or Luna Bars, or at least a Snickers Marathon bar. No dice. I ended up grabbing the only thing in that store that I had ever eaten on a run: M&Ms. Yeah, I know, but I didn't have any other choices, we're talking about a 2:40 minute run here, I needed food!

I went to bed a little uneasy, but figured I would be able to muscle through it. Then, as I woke up in the morning and changed into my running clothes I looked outside. I guess I had misread the weather forecast because the snow that was supposed to start on Sunday night, actually started on Saturday night. There was about one-inch on the cars and houses and puddles of water and ice on the sidewalks. Faaaaaantastic.

From the get-go this was not going to be a good run. When I went outside it was far colder than I thought it would be thanks to the overcast and wind. Then, I couldn't gather up any speed because of the snow and ice on the ground. The M&M's, while delicious, were cold and hard to bite and didn't go down that well.

By the time I got to the Art Museum (about mile 11) I just couldn't convince myself that "7 miles isn't that bad." Three miles later, as I crossed the Falls Bridge the "this is hard" thought hit me. Granted, this was the steepest part of the run and placed 15 miles into the run , but usually with just four miles left in a run I can start cranking out some decent miles. No dice, I was just thinking how hard this was and how everything hurt.

It didn't help that when I crossed the bridge I found myself in the middle of a 10K race. Yeah, all those people running 6.2 miles blazing past me did nothing for my game on Sunday. Actually I think for the whole second half of the run my pace didn't change at all--8:55 for the last nine miles.

I guess to get those runner's highs you need to have these runner's lows. The good thing I've noticed over the years is that crappy long runs are usually followed by great long runs the following week--and next week is my first 20-miler. I haven't had much luck with 20-milers in the past (accidentally cut them short or wind up walking the last three miles), so I'm curious to see what happens.