Goodbye September

It's been a busy month. I looked at my stats for the month of September and I've run 180 miles and burned through about 24,000 calories. It's the most I've ever run in one month and it's absolutely insane!

180 miles happens to be the distance from:
  • New York City to Worcester
  • Portland to Seattle
  • Kansas City to Omaha
  • Columbus to Pittsburgh
24,000 calories is equivalent to:
  • 480 tomatoes
  • 258 cubic inches of fudge
  • 125 glazed donuts
  • 81 McDonald's cheeseburgers
  • 10 Uno's Chicago Classic deep dish pizzas (wow, only 10?)
  • 1 gallon of mayonnaise
Not only did I run through the caloric intake of a high school football team's post-victory Denny's raid, but I also reached some other milestones in my running career. First, and most impressive, I ran eight miles in 60 minutes. Considering that this is faster than my 10K PR I think it's quite an achievement. I also completed my first 20 mile long run without running into any major problems. AND all (maybe most) of my runs were at or faster than goal pace. I consider that a very successful month!

What does October have in store? Well, there is Grete's Great Gallop: a Half-Marathon this weekend that I was talked into by a friend of mine; then continued peak training; and finally a brief taper (two weeks) leading right into race day on November 1. Woo hoo!


20 mile win!

I've always had trouble with 20-mile training runs. I can't quiet seem to get to the 20 mile mark without stitches or fatigue and having to walk the last quarter of the run or cut the run early. It has to be something about the number 20 in my head because I have had great runs at 18 and 19 miles, heck I've had a great 26.2 mile run--but for some reason my body freaks out when I know I have to run 20.

So with mixed feelings I woke up early yesterday for the first 20-mile run of this training cycle. I told myself that it was only another training run, only two more miles beyond the 18-miles I ran two weeks ago. I made sure I wore exactly the right clothing: the new shorts, the good shoes, and the warm-weather long-sleeve t-shirt (my most versatile running t-shirt).

I also saved a new running route just for this distance. For the first time I was going to run over the George Washington Bridge (the GWB, which links I-95 from New York to New Jersey) and try to run along the Palisades in Jersey. New routes always excite me, and this one was extra special because I was going to be running across two states, which sounds impressive.

I headed out from Astoria and caught the bus over to Columbia University and at 116th and Riverside Drive I started running north. This is one of my favorite stretches of Manhattan because of the views up the Hudson with the GWB in the foreground and the apartment buildings clinging to the hilly terrain.

After snaking along Riverside Drive and remote parts of Washington Heights I arrived at the ramp for the GWB. Dodging cyclist all along the way (apparently there was some big ride going on) I made it across the GWB. The views were stunning: downriver was the biggest city in the US, every landmark building glimmering in the sun; upriver was the Hudson Valley carved deep by glaciers in the last ice age, now lined with forests as far as you could see.

On the Jersey side I turned into the Palisades Park. I had researched this part of the run, but couldn't find more information beyond how to get there. Once in the park I was faced with two paths; for no particular reason I made a split decision to take the path on the left.

I instantly found myself on a trail run complete with fallen trees, rocks, roots, streams, and branches. I couldn't believe I was just across the river from Manhattan. Although when I turned off my headphones I was kindly reminded by the non-stop air traffic noises and the cars on the Palisades Parkway.

Eventually, I ran into a church or a catholic school (couldn't really tell, because on the same campus they had a Shalom Center, which most certainly betrays St. Peter's name on the main sign). I couldn't find a way around this campus so I went onto the road and started heading back to the GWB.

Once I was back in Manhattan I was at the 10-mile mark and felt fantastic. So I kept my head up, controlled my breathing and started heading toward Central Park, knowing that I could easily find 10-miles between 178th and 59th streets.

On the way south I stopped at my favorite sewage-plant-cum-public-park since I had never run through the park on top. This was a well-timed detoured because the second I saw the bathrooms my stomach decided it was time to go. Let me tell you, those were some of the cleanest public bathrooms I've ever been to--just as clean as the ones in Central Park next to the Boat House (you know, for all you people out there that need to know these things).

After the bathroom break I continued the march south along Riverside Drive. At Grant's Tomb I made a left and cut through Columbia to Morningside Park, and from there went for the last five miles in Central Park--starting at Harlem Hill.

When I got to Central Park I felt great. I had five miles left and I knew I had them all inside of me. I ran over Harlem Hill and cut across to East Drive. I was feeling so good and I had such a short distance to go that I started picking up the pace, like the show-offy 20 something year old I am. Yeah, that back fired.

At the end of Mile 18 I started to get a stitch. I was so close to the end that I couldn't believe it. I had gone 19-miles without any type of problem and then at the very end I get a nasty stitch. I was rocking the pace so I slowed that down. I started breathing hard and timing breathes with my left foot. I straighted up my back to correct my form. All of these things do work for me, but not when it's the last mile of a run. It suddenly puts me in a two-front battle: on one side I'm tired and have to push every step and on the other side is a stitch that I have to keep at bay. And what's worse is that they compound each other: the tiredness makes it harder to fight against the stitch and the stitch makes me more tired.

At mile 19.7 the stitch was so bad it was impacting my stride. I stopped at a bench to stretch out my side, correct my breathing and then pound out the last .3 miles--the stitch was not winning this one. I sucked it up, and in a half-hobbling gait cranked out .3 painful miles. As soon as Fenny ticked over from 19.99 to 20.0 I stopped.

And then it was done: my first ever 20-mile run successfully completed. Even though I got the stitch at the end, I'm still going to count it--but walk away with the lesson that I really need to always pay attention to my breathing and not let myself get lazy.


Changed my bridge and I don't like

I've done my last two hill workouts on the Queensboro Bridge, and that was working for me. It replicated part of the NYCM course, it was difficult incline, it was well-lit in the early morning hours, etc.

However, earlier this week I saw some people riding bikes on the bike/pedestrian lane of the Triboro Bridge (which is now called the RFK bridge, but I will continue to call the Triboro Bridge). I thought this bike lane was closed while they were doing construction, but apparently I was wrong. And since the Triboro is about two miles closer to my apartment than the Queensboro I gave it a shot this morning.

Wow. What a bad idea. What a horrible idea.

First--and I really should have seen this coming--there was the traffic. The Queensboro Bridge is a regular street we regular street traffic on it. The Triboro, though, happens to be I-278 as it leaves Queens and turns north to the Bronx. Therefore there is a lot of traffic on Triboro. And a disproportionately large part of that traffic consists of tractor-trailers, semis, buses, and construction trucks that cannot go on the Queensboro Bridge. And all this traffic moving fast, pumping a lot of emissions into the air, making the air-quality suck ass.

Second, it was very dark since there were no lights on the pathway. So dark that a cyclist scared the be-Jesus out of me when he kinda just appeared out of no where on the path.

Third, I felt jipped because the incline wasn't as sharp as the Queensboro Bridge.

Lesson learned. In three weeks I'll return to the Queensboro Bridge for my last set of hill repeats. Unless you want to count the Marathon as the real last repeat. But that's only one time over the bridge, so it would be properly called a hill single.


Sense of place

One of my favorite things about running is the sense of place it gives you. I love using a long run to explore a part of town that I've never been to before. Or when I'm away from home, running gives me a chance to discover the local character and off-the-path places. By running around my neighborhood I'm up-to-date on new apartment buildings, closed restaurants, and the brand new doggie day care that opened. (Sigh. If only I had a dog.)

When we visit family in Philadelphia I love running around the city. I get to see all the historic sites, pass by the Art Museum (and the accompanying 13-foot Rocky statue), traverse UPenn, pass by the boat houses. I always try to run a slightly different route so that I get to experience a new part of town.

Running in my parents' neighborhood is always nostalgic. When we were there last I intentionally ran around my elementary school. Turns out it has been transformed into an "ele-middle," which is a school with grades K-8. The field where I ran my first mile ever and watched the SWAT team do demonstrations on Career Days was gone, replaced by a set of three-storey buildings most likely housing grades 6-8.

Here in New York I've explored all sorts of neighborhoods and seen all kinds of things while running: a turkey, llama, donkey, and emu; a head-on runner collision; and a man running shorts in single-digit weather. During yesterday's 13-mile run I had another unique New York sighting.

I had run uptown through Harlem from 125th Street to 207th Street and crossed over to the Hudson River to run down to Central Park. About a mile after crossing under the George Washington Bridge I saw two guys fishing. This was not unusual. During good weather you can usually find someone fishing this part of the Hudson--I don't know why you would fish here, but people do.

What was unusual about this pair was that they had caught a fish. I didn't get to see if it had a third eye, ala Blinky from the Simpsons:

However, it was a sizable fish, about 12-15 inches long; sizable enough to eat...which is what they were getting ready to do. That's right folks. I saw someone fish out a fish (doh! stupid verb and noun being the same word) on roughly 140th and the Hudson river and gut it for lunch. Delish.

But to understand the full grossness of this let's examine the geography of this area of Manhattan. Essentially there are three landmarks on the Hudson from the northern tip of Manhattan south to 59th Street. Toward the northern end is the George Washington Bridge. Toward the southern end is the 79th Street Boat Basin. Right smack in the middle is the third: Riverbank State Park.

What's so special about Riverbank State Park? Well, it just so happens to be built on top of the North River Water Treatment Plant, which processes 125+ million gallons of waste water--a day. How far were these guys from this plant? About 2,000 feet.

That's right. Ew.


Runners' speak

Like most sports, running is loaded with jargon. Tempo, repeats, rabbit, splits, kick, bonk, chub rub, and the list goes on. It's part of the mystique of the sport: a lexicon full of sometimes funny words (fartlek) that usually don't clearly describe what they are meant to describe until you learn the meanings from the running community. Essentially, it's a bit of the initiation--kinda like runner's trots.

Conversely, you have to be well-versed in running to start adding to the lexicon. For example, Nitmos introduced limbo runs and Vanilla introduced chicked. Although I'm pretty sure the latter has existed for a while, Vanilla was just the one who brought it to running.

I've had my own modest addition to runners' speak. Playing off chicked, I coined the far more embarassing geriatricked, meaning to be passed by someone roughly the age of your grandparents while running. It hasn't caught on, which I'm assuming is because being geriatricked is a rare occurance rather than people shunning my creative word play skills.

Anywho, there is another running term that I've coined using my crazy good word play skills: unearned downhill. I came up with this term while I was running the Great Bay Half-Marathon last April--why it look me so long to share I really don't know. In the second mile of the race there was a steep 40-foot downhill drop in the course--however, the course hadn't gone over any hills yet. Technically, I was running a downhill section that was very easy without having to run a tough uphill section first. I hadn't "earned" the easy downhill because I hadn't put in the climb first.

At the moment I found it really annoying because it put a big acceleration ramp before the mile two marker--and you just shouldn't have that on a Half-Marathon course. It either forces you to start burning through your brakes early, or, if you're less experienced, creates a false speed impulse, which is not a good strategy so early in a race.

The other thing that bothered me about this unearned downhill was that I would have to earn it later in the course. I knew the race passed through that very same street on the way back to the finish--immediately after the mile 12 marker. Sure enough, it was killer passing through there so close to the end. And this would be the case with most unearned downhills: you have to earn it later and it's going to suck because you'll always be more fatiqued.

There you have it: unearned downhills. Use it. Love it. Credit my mad word skills for it. Just don't get caught running one.


Half way there (oh, oh, livin' on a prayer)

I've noticed a curious habit. When I was unemployed I fell way behind on reading Other People's Posts (O.P.P.?) but managed to post an entry every other day. Now that I'm working I've fallen behind on posting, but have started to catch up on OPP (Are you down with O.P.P.?)--i.e., I have 50 unread posts as opposed to 150. However, the good news is that this freelance gig is pretty cool. Great agency, great account, great people. So with some luck I can convert this into a full-time job and be happy.

On to running. Last week marked the halfway point in training for the NYCM and I'm really happy with where I am right now:

  • So far I've executed the training plan to the letter. By which I mean I've gone out for every single run with the full intention of completing the assigned run for that day (sometimes biology, climate, and the all-around difficulty of training for a Marathon get in the way of successfully finishing the run). Of course, last night I forgot to set the alarm and sleep right through my run. Now I have to figure out how to make that up.
  • Doing all my runs outside at first was an adjustment, mostly because I had a hard time finding a flat course for Tempo runs. But otherwise it has been great because I end up doing a proper(ish) warm-up and cool-down and I feel like I get a real workout on my legs for every single run.
  • I've continued to run without music. I pretty much save Liam for Long Runs and sometimes speed work. I realized that I've gotten to the point where I don't need the music as a distraction anymore--I can keep myself plenty entertained just by paying attention to the run and how my body is reacting to it.
  • Stitches and, um, bowel movement, (which had become an issue during Tempo runs) seems to have subsided for now. I feel the early weeks of each training cycle my body is like "whoa, this again?" and needs a couple weeks to get used to the running. This might factor in to where I do my early Tempo runs during the new cycle (i.e., near a bathroom!).
  • Usually by this point in training I would have seen weight loss--and I have, but it just hasn't been as big as in the past. I used to lose 10-15 while training for a Marathon. This time around it's been more like five pounds, which is nothing because my weight can change five pounds in the course of a day. What's stranger is that I think I'm eating healthier this time around. So either I'm creating muscle as I'm losing fat OR someone is injecting me with calories while I sleep.
  • All the sweat from running in the summer heat is causing a pubescent-style break out on my forehead. Using a hat probably doesn't help either. Last summer this happened too, but oddly enough I broke out on my eye brows, so it wasn't that noticeable. But this year it's all over my forehead like cake on a fat kid.
  • Adding the additional run each week has actually been a big help. I've had to focus more on my running and my pacing--which I think is paying off. And the good news is that I haven't noticed any additional fatigue.
  • In August I passed my monthly distance record. (Is that even a record to be worried about?) I beat my peak mileage month for The Flying Pig by 10 miles. But, August isn't my peak month for the NYCM, that will be September. It's scary when you see that monthly number approach 200.
  • I usually start getting crazy excited for a race two weeks out. But the NYCM is different. I've never run a race on the streets where I do my training. Even when I ran the Boston Half-Marathon I trained in completely different neighborhoods than where the race went through. But here I do my hill work on the Queensboro Bridge, I do my Long Runs in Central Park, I run along 4th Avenue when I go through Brooklyn--it's like I'm running a bit of this race every week. I'm already starting to obsessively check the race website for more details (although I got the race booklet already and there really isn't anything else to know except my race number, corral, and transportation).