Rocking out in Portland

Geez.  Over three weeks since the last time I posted, huh?  It hasn't been for lack of topics--more for lack of time.  Work has been busy leading up to the end of the year.  And then traveling for the holidays and a wedding.  Three weeks just kinda appeared eventually.

Anywho, so I'm clearing out my backlog of post topics with my very delayed music post for the Portland Marathon.  Below is my playlist from the race.  You can go here for a basic outline of the process.

It took me about four hours to compile this playlist--longer than it took me to run the race!  But I have to say, I really like this mix.  I listed to the majority of it, all the way down to Don't Stop Believein' with a minimal amount of skips.  Usually I end up listening to only half of the songs because I pause the music so much to establish my own cadence.  I've enjoyed this mix so much that I haven't switched it out for another in the months since the Marathon--granted I've done very light running until this week (official first week fo training for Austin!).
  • Proud Mary; Tina Turner
  • Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down; Alicia Keys
  • Crown of Love; Arcade Fire
  • Wouldn't It Be Nice; The Beach Boys
  • Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'; Michael Jackson
  • Every Little Thing; Valley Lodge
  • A Whole Lot Better; Brendan Benson
  • You Make My Dreams; Daryl Hall & John Oates
  • Time to Pretend; MGMT
  • American Slang; The Gaslight Anthem
  • Roxanne; The Police
  • Pick Up the Phone; Dragonette
  • This Bed; Alicia Keys
  • Garbage Day; Brendan Benson
  • 1901; Phoenix
  • Haiti; Arcade Fire
  • In The Hospital; Friendly Fires
  • Human; The Killers
  • Home; Edward Sharpe & The Magnificent Zeros
  • Renegade; Styx
  • Natural Disaster; Plain White T's
  • All of My Loving; Valley Lodge
  • Rebellion (Lies); Arcade Fire
  • For Reasons Unknown; The Killers
  • Feel Like Taking You Home; Brendan Benson
  • Always Where I Need to Be; The Kooks
  • Sins of My Youth; Neon Trees
  • Two Doors Down; Mystery Jets
  • That Girl; Plain White T's
  • Hanging On; Valley Lodge
  • That's Not My Name; The Ting Tings
  • Lasso; Phoenix
  • Take Me Out; Franz Ferdinand
  • Uprising; Muse
  • Neighborhood #3 (Power Out); Arcade Fire
  • Mr. Brightside; The Killers
  • I'm Actual; The Format
  • I Really Want You; Plain White T's
  • I Can't Win; The Strokes
  • Lisztomania; Phoenix
  • Long Road to Ruin; Foo Fighters
  • Percussion Gun; White Rabbits
  • Wake Up; Arcade Fire
  • Animal; Neon Trees
  • I Don't Wanna Dance; Hey Monday
  • Show Me What I'm Looking for; Carolina Liar
  • Come on Eileen; Dexy's Midnight Runners
  • Heartbreak Stroll; The Raveonettes
  • Love Today; Mika
  • Zero; Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Don't Stop Believin'; Journey
  • 1983; Neon Trees
  • Spotlight; Mute Math
  • I'm Not Over; Carolina Liar
  • Juicebox; The Strokes
  • I Gotta Feeling; Black Eyed Peas
  • Beat It; Fall Out Boy
  • The Pretender; Foo Fighters
  • Let's Dance to Joy Division; The Wombats
  • Move Along; The All-American Rejects


The happiest faces you'll ever see

Other potential, yet wordier title: The only time I've had a legit running related reason to include a link to a beauty pageant website

If you are a runner in New York you are doing one of three things on the first Sunday of November: running the NYCM, spectating at the NYCM, or volunteering at the NYCM.  Since I ran Portland less than a month ago and I feel more useful as a volunteer than a spectator, we did the third of these things this past weekend.

Since we live in a part of the city untouched by the Marathon course we didn't really experience the race until we showed up on Central Park West and 72 Street.  It was a brisk and beautiful autumn day--pretty nice for a race actually (although I'm sure the runners would have appreciated some kind of cloud coverage)--and Central Park West was shutdown.  In place of parked cars there were barricades and swarms of volunteers.

We checked in and I stuffed an apple and a sandwich in one of my jacket pockets.  At the sign for Medal Distribution we stripped off our layers to put on the volunteer t-shirt--it was below 40 out there and we didn't have a bag to put the t-shirts in, so we did this lightening fast.  Then we packed on the layers again, finishing off the uniform with the iconic orange and white volunteer ponchos.  A second later one of the group leaders picked up the little group that had formed and we descended into Central Park.

The only other time I've been through this finish chute I wanted to get out as fast as possible.  But now I could take in how well organized the area is--and exactly how massive it was. We had entered the park just before the area where the UPS trucks park and headed toward the finish line passing the food station (this year smartly putting the food into individual backpacks), water station, heat sheet station, and photo station.

When we got to the medal racks we were less than 100 meters from the finish line bleachers, so at first I thought the noise were people in the bleachers who had brought sleigh bells.  I quickly realized it was actually the clanking of medals and that we were some of the last people to show up because the racks were all loaded up already.

One of the other volunteers snapped a picture with my phone before the onslaught of runners:

We were briefed on our job, which boiled down to two things.  First, distribute medals to everyone with a bib number and be prepared for cheers, tears, hugs, kisses, vomit, sweat, Vaseline, etc..  Second, kindly turn down people who ask for a second medal and defend the medals from people trying to snatch an extra one.  The second aspect of the job blew my mind.  Who would want more than one medal?  It's not like you ran the race twice; or that the extra medal would make the accomplishment any more special.  In all my races it's something that has never ever crossed my mind.

The first runners to come in were the wheelchair runners.  Actually, they came in a little faster than expected because they were still briefing us when they started to roll in.  Negotiating the medal around their helmets was difficult, so I left the bulk of it to--I kid you not--the beauty queen.  Miss Galaxy International and Miss New York had both come out to volunteer at medal distribution and Miss Galaxy happened to be in our line.

After the elite men finished the masses started rolling in.  There were a few at first, but within a few minutes we had a steady stream of runners coming down the chute.  At one point I looked up to take in the guys coming in and it was a scene out of a zombie horror movie.  About two or three dozen guys staggering, mouths hanging open, staring blankly, and headed right for us in the medal racks.  

Within about half an hour the volunteer organizers instructed us to stop placing medals over the runners and to start handing them out.  While this might seem impersonal and a small slight to the runners, it was becoming apparent that if we placed a medal over each runner a backlog would form pretty soon.  And I think a back up at the finish line is far worse than having to put on your own medal.

And so the hours rolled on by.  We clapped and cheered and called out names and countries from shirts and singlets.  We rotated who was at the front of the line (taking the brunt of the runners) and who was in the back loading up on medals and catching people who skipped the front of the line.  If I was toward the back, I would place the medal on the runners and give them a shake.  There were people bubbling with energy, there were people hobbling on their last legs, there were people with tears, there were people who screamed, there were people who kneeled, there were people who hugged, there were people who were in a fog, there were people who could not find words, there were people who took pictures, there were people who kissed their medal, and there were people (way more than I thought) who kissed us.  Wifey was a particular favorite for the kissers, especially the European ones that kiss twice.

In all this there were three moments that stood out most.  First was spotting our friend S.  I heard Wifey shout out his name and I turned around.  He was in a bit of a fog and had trouble walking.  He didn't recognize Wifey because she had on her big sunglasses, but he recognized me and lurched in my direction.  We hugged each other and I helped him through the medal area, with the bulk of his weight resting on me.  I found out later that he finished with a pace of 7:10, blistering fast and 5 seconds faster than his previous best.

Second was spotting our friend J.  Wifey somehow spotted him in the middle of the masses and shouted out his name.  I got out of line and went to meet him.  J was all tears and sweat and could barely stand, but he was so happy to see us.  I noticed as he walked on that he finished way under 3:30.  Turns out he ran a 3:15 race and qualified for Boston (after trying to do so for many years).

Third had nothing to do with a friend, actually, it involved complete strangers from The Netherlands.  Sometime around 3pm Wifey had separated from me for a bit--as was often happening while we rotated places in line and restocked the racks.  When she reappeared at my side she total me that a couple from The Netherlands came up to her and the other medal volunteer standing next to her.  In some form of English they said: since you are giving us a present (the medals), we are giving you a present; then the Dutch couple each took out a key chain that had a pair of white Delft porcelain clogs dangling from it and gave them to Wifey and the other volunteer.  These runners had bought these key chains in The Netherlands, brought them to New York, and then stashed them on their bodies for 26.2 miles--all to give them away to perfect strangers.  

This third story is easily one of my favorite running stories of all time. It just speaks volumes about running and how it connects people.  And it's now something that I'd like to carry on with my future races (let's see if I remember!).  

At about 5pm we started to get the itch to leave, partly because it had already turned dark and partly because there were still about a dozen medal volunteers but just a tiny trickle of runners.  At 5:30pm we headed out as they closed down the full medal operation and moved medal distribution to a table closer to the finish line.  By 6:15pm we had found a restaurant to have dinner and recounted the great day we'd had--although in the excitement we had completely skipped lunch, so this was only our second meal of the day.


Twenty-Six Miles through a Lake, Part III

Race statistics are like porn to runners, and Portland had no shortage of runner’s porn.

Starting off with the basics here's how I did:

Looking at these stats, Portland is actually now the best race I've run (on paper).  While I didn't get a PR I did finish in the top 18% of overall finishers, the only time I've done better than that was the Warrior Dash a few weeks back--and that wasn't really a running contest.  For Gender place, it's a tie with the Delaware Marathon at top 30%, and for age group it's my best Marathon performance by 1%.  I'm interpreting these numbers to mean that even that I may have been having a crappy day, everyone else was having a crappier day--which makes me feel better about the whole race.  It lets me know I didn't completely squander this easy course. 

I should note there are discrepancies between some of the reporting (finish time, number of runners, etc.) depending on where you get them from.  I went with the numbers on the results website since those appear to be the most robust.

The race also recorded quite a few split times.  I find this funny because the race didn't have clocks at the mile markers, but they did have timing mats to record splits.  I would think that you would want to provide clocks before providing splits.  Anywho, here's how I was pacing during various parts of the race, looks like I was doing pretty well (but notice there is no split for the final 5 miles):

It's pretty cool that the race provided all these stats.  Especially since it didn't register when I marked the finish on Fenny--the Garmin download says I ran for 36.7 miles in 7:21:15.  Even though I got every split on the course, I didn't get the most important one--despite race pictures showing me hitting my watch while I crossed the finish line!

In addition to the splits above, there were some cool graphics that the results website provided.  This first screen shows my placing in the various groups in a graph form.  But the coolest thing on this page is the box on the bottom right where it reports how many I passed (223!!) in the last 10K and how many people passed me (just 26?).  That's a huge ego boost.

This second screen has interesting ways of presenting my averages during the race (average mile, average kilometer, average speed).  There is also a diagram of the finish area when I crossed the finish line.  I have no idea how they did this, but it shows everyone that was immediately before and after me in the race.  And when you hover over those dots on the site, the name and time difference pops up underneath the dot.  Pretty freakin' cool.

This last screen is also interesting.  The map shows you 1) where you were when the overall winner finished, 2) where you were when the female winner finished, and 3) where the average runner was when you finished the race.  There's also that bar chart off to the right with average speed for each quarter of the race.  On the site if you hover over those numbers it provides the exact timing and distance for those splits.  Pretty cool.

Now that I've looked at the numbers I realize that things weren't that bad.  This was actually a good race.  The bitching and griping has to be done in order to come to the conclusion that the bitching and griping aren't all that necessary: I still conquered the Marathon (again!!) and I still ran my best.


Twenty-Six Miles through a Lake, Part II

The Splits:
Mile 1: 8:51 (recorded as 1.17 miles)
Mile 2: 9:28
Mile 3: 9:09
Mile 4: 8:32
Mile 5: 8:38
Mile 6: 8:25
Mile 7: 8:51
Mile 8: 8:33
Mile 9: 8:20
Mile 10: 8:25
Mile 11: 8:20
Mile 12: 8:55
Mile 13: 8:24
Mile 14: 9:03
Mile 15: 8:00
Mile 16: 8:32
Mile 17: 8:55
Mile 18: 8:18
Mile 19: 7:46 (recorded as .9 miles)
Mile 20: 9:41 (recorded as 1.12 miles)
Mile 21: 8:29
Mile 22: 8:24
Mile 23: 8:42
Mile 24: 8:38
Mile 25: 9:21
Mile 26: ???
Mile 26.2: ???

The Story:
To say I was happy with this race would be a lie.  Fortunately, with time all races develop a particular patina where I appreciate the things I gained while training and while on the course and overall the memory becomes a series of positive takeaways instead of a chain of challenges that systematically bore me down.   Unfortunately, this race hasn’t completely developed that patina yet.  It still feels like a non-accomplishment that I need to trick myself into believing was a great achievement.

What is holding me back from enjoying this race as yet another triumph over the Marathon is that I am tired of complaining.  Every time I run a race I have a series of excuses and bitchings as to why it wasn’t my perfect race. 

As a seasoned Marathoner I feel I don’t have the right to complain anymore.  I lost that right somewhere along the way because at this point I know what to expect, I know what I’ve signed up for, I know how to prepare for it, and I know what will happen afterward.  If this all caught me by surprise I’d be correct to complain about it.  But I know what’s coming and I do prepare for it.  So it still catches me off guard when after a race all I can list is the things that went wrong and the things I can improve for next time.

In order to set this right I need to embrace complaint as part of the process; have a bit of catharsis before the euphoria.  It’s only through a thorough hashing of 100 things that I perceive to have gone wrong that I can truly inventory and appreciate the 1,000 things that went right.  With this in mind I will proceed with the complaints.

While running this race I knew about four miles in that it would be a long race.  The miles weren’t passing by as quickly as they normally do during a race.  This isn’t a comment on my speed, it a comment on my mental state.  Usually I can get about halfway through a race just on excitement and the real racing doesn’t come until after the halfway mark.  But with this race I remember specifically looking at my watch before Mile Five and thinking “OK, when is this going to be over?”  That was bad.

Of course I blame the rain for this, but I also blame my reliance on my Garmin too.  At the start I knew the GPS signal wasn’t registering, so my splits would be a bit off.  But then my first split came back at 8:51: about appropriate for the first cluttered mile of a race if I’m shooting for an 8:24 pace.  However, I didn’t see until after I loaded the race into my computer that the GPS signal registered within the first block of the race and that the first split registered as 1.17 miles instead of one so that I had a pace of 7:35 for that first mile.  Now that probably explains why it felt so difficult to get into a proper pace during those first few miles, which probably explains the erratic pacing later in the race too.

A brutal truth about this race is that large chunks of it are just not pretty.  I can count at least nine miles (five through 11 and 13 through 16) that went through warehouse districts, large rail yards, or remote strips of highway lined by industrial businesses with large parking lots.  And it’s not the race directors’ fault.  The geography of Portland is essentially a valley: stray too far away from downtown/the river and you run into hills.  It is actually quite an accomplishment that there is only one significant hill on the entire course.  But those lonely miles do take a toll on you, especially the strip from Mile 13 to 16.

Speaking of the hill, it was a mighty climb and I loved every single second of it.  With everything else on the course virtually flat, it was a relief to climb up the 205 foot rise of the St. Johns Bridge.  My quads came alive with power, their stores of energy finally being tapped.  I passed people left and right, as if it were the easiest thing to do.  This was the part of the race I loved the most—and I felt a little sad once I reached the peak knowing that there were essentially no more hills for the rest of the race.

On the other side of the bridge the crowds were great and essentially did not stop until the next bridge some seven miles later.  Actually, I was really impressed with the crowd turnout at this race.  Portlanders were great at coming out in the non-stop rain and cheering on runners.  The kids were also never afraid to take a hi-five from a soaked runner.  The volunteer turnout was also incredible: each water station easily had 25 people handing out liquids and for a race of 12,000 that is a luxurious ratio (I never had to worry about getting water).

The only bad thing about this the race after the St. Johns Bridge was that to the right you basically had an uninterrupted view of downtown (the finish line) behind a whitewash fog.  Something about that made the finish line seem so far away.  It was also in these miles that I started to feel the absence of my water bottle.  I noticed halfway between water stations that I wanted water and that I couldn’t turn to my hand and get it.  While I had appreciated having both hands free during the race, I saw that I really needed a steady flow of liquids during these last six or so miles.

Besides the rain, missing water bottle, and choppy pacing I really thought I was doing well.  And up until Mile 24 I was still looking at a PR—not 3:40, but something like 3:45 or 3:46.  Then it just all got really hairy after that.  Since the halfway point I could feel my stomach aching for more food (despite a steady schedule of GU every 45 minutes).  I could also feel cramps going through my abdomen (a sure sign that I should have stayed in that port-o-potty a little longer before the race).  Knowing that the finish line was close only made those sensations worse.

Despite only having two miles to go I couldn’t muster up enough good thoughts to keep me plowing through.  Or maybe I had forgotten to focus on the good thoughts once I got to this point. 

On the other side of the Broadway Bridge I started to feel the weight of the previous miles upon me.  My knees were starting to worry me because for the preceding weeks they had been aching more than usual and feeling weird and for some reason I couldn’t find my heating pad to make them feel better.  Trying to envision the finish line was useless because of all the tall buildings and street names were unfamiliar—I had no idea where it was and could only tell you it was not close enough.

All of these things compounded into a weird heart burn/stomach cramp/gas bubble/stitch flare up concentrated in the area at the bottom of my chest sternum.  I felt myself start to hobble and then uncontrollably started walking.

“Fuck,” is all I could say.  Less than a mile to the finish line and I had to stop to walk.  I felt like I let myself down, but it was something I could recover from.  About 30 seconds later I picked it up again set on making it to the finish from there.  But a minute or two later I stopped again from the same pain.  The second walking break felt like failure.  That was where I realized that the PR would not happen and that I felt I let the race get the best of me.  That hurt in a way that was trivial (I was still going to finish a Marathon!) and soul shattering (I couldn’t perform despite my hardest effort).  And that is the same thing that prevents me from coming to good terms with Portland today. 

When I felt better and finally recognized where I was (only four blocks from the finish line) I started running determined to not stop until the finish line.  And I did.  I unzipped my wind breaker (never ended up taking it off due to the rain) to show my bib number, which had my name printed in all caps on it.  Sure enough people started yelling my name.  Though it was vain it was great.  Despite the shortcomings of the previous mile, I crossed the finish line as I always do: running hard and strong, blasting any doubt that I once again defeated the juggernaut.

Final Numbers:
Net Time: 3:49:00
Overall place: 1388/7835 (top 18% of finishers)
Men: 1025/3407 (top 30%)
M25-29: 160/437 (top 37%)


Twenty-Six Miles through a Lake, Part I

Marathons are run come hell or high water.  Well, I got the latter.

The forecast I posted ten days prior of partly cloudly and 62 never happened.  The very next day the forecast changed to 50% chance of showers and only went up from there.  Even the night before the race, when the local weather man forecasted the rain to start an hour after the race start—even that delay didn’t happen.

This was my first race in the northwest and fate had decided it was going to be a quintessential experience, climate and all.  When we got to the lobby and looked out the front doors my heart sank.  Sheets of rain were dancing across the street.  A curtain of water was pouring over the awning.  We huddled under our one umbrella and went out into the downpour. 

As we walked the ten blocks to staging area, more and more runners joined the trek.  Some were carrying umbrellas, others wearing ponchos—several pragmatic ones were wearing garbage bags.  I thought the garbage bag was a good idea: the jacket I was wearing was no match for the elements, one minute out from under the umbrella and I’d be soaked.

A block away from the starting area we ducked out of the crowd and into a covered area in front of a building.  It was still very dark, the rain and clouds prevented any light.  I went through my stretches while I was still mostly dry and had the space.  I started eating an apple, but knew that I probably didn’t have quite enough food inside of me.  For the previous 72 hours I had been a nervous wreck between staying up late to pack, squeezing a ten hour work day into seven, taking a transcontinental flight, all mixed with the anxiety that comes with a Marathon.  And when I get stressed, I don’t eat—my stomach just locks up, to the point that the day before I had to force myself to eat lunch and dinner because I just didn’t have an appetite.

Even while eating the apple, I could feel my body saying “I don’t want this.”  Getting down two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches earlier that morning was already a major effort.  But I forced myself to eat as much as possible of the apple as you can see here in the moments before I entered the starting corrals:

Note: when I said “human baggage” I actually meant the people accompanying the runners (like Wifey was accompanying me) not their actual personal effects.

It doesn’t come out so well in the video but I was mentally stuck between “I don’t want to run in the rain,” “I don’t want to be on camera,” “where is the nearest port-o-potty,” and “how much more of this apple can I take?”  The surroundings were equally discordant: runners trying to stay dry under ledges, a giant crowd of runners trying to get through one gate in the fence, marshals calling out directions, humming generators from the flood lights, the faint smell of port-o-potties.

I kissed my videographer goodbye and wiggled into the mob.

Once past the security fence I went immediately to the port-o-potty lines.  Geez, there are never enough of these.  Right before my turn to go in I decided to go for quick 30 second jog around an empty area of the start.  When I hopped back in line I was ready to, um, go.

After the pitch black port-o-potty there was about 10 minutes left before the start of the race.  I went over to my starting corral.  Not sure how, but somehow I was placed in the second corral just behind the elites/really fast people.  I found a dry spot off to the side under a tree and waited. 

At this point the rain had gone from downpour to drizzle to almost gone back to drizzle.  I just accepted the fact that I was going to have to run in the rain for this race and that I would be very wet.  I thought of the previous times that I had run in the rain and nothing bad happened then—I was just running wet.  And then I realized: I left my water bottle with Wifey.  I had meant to grab it when I grabbed the apple, but didn’t.  I scanned the crowd near the fence to spot her umbrella, but no luck.  And with only minutes before the start I couldn’t step out and find her.

I hadn’t run a race without a water bottle in years.  And I had run all my other Marathons with a water bottle.  Funny, it was going to be my wettest race ever, but my first without a water bottle.

As they sounded the wheelchair start I went over my basic game plan: get down to an 8:24 pace as quickly as possible and then hold it for as long as possible.  That pace would get me a 3:40 finish.  I also remembered to turn on my Garmin.

After the horn sounded for the runner start I figured that all the corrals would be released at once.  But when my corral (B) shifted to where corral A was they held us back.  Not only had they corralled runners according to pace, but they were spacing apart the corral releases by about a minute.  Something I think was very smart.

In the seconds before they released my corral I looked at my Garmin, it still hadn’t registered a GPS signal.  Uh oh.  It was taking longer than it should to get the signal, probably because of the weather and tall buildings surrounding the start.  So I assumed I would have some choppy splits for the first couple miles: one more atypical thing to juggle during this race. 

And then they counted down for our start:


A rough transition back

So I can't hide that I've had a hard time blogging over the past few months.  It's been hard with work to find the time like I used to, and when I do find time I'm not inspired to write.  It sucks.  It really and truly does.

Then, when I was inspired to write in the days before the Portland Marathon we were rushing to pack and tie up loose ends before we left.

After the race, well, I was on vacation.  And despite the best intentions of writing up my race report cozied up in a hotel bed, we never had a day where we got to be lazy around the room for a morning.

And now, we've stepped back into the shit-storm that is our normal life.  Sigh.

Race report is coming.  And I promise: it will be a wet one.


Ten days to go

Marathon Fever. It has snuck up on me this time. When I turned on the TV this morning and realized it was Oct 1 and that the Portland Marathon was only 10 days way I realized that I had been showing symptoms all week. I’ve visited the Marathon’s website at least twice a day this whole week. I carefully analyzed the starting and finishing area maps, scoping out ideal entry and exit points. Despite the fact that the Portland Marathon is just a piece of a much longer Portland vacation, I only have eyes for this race for next ten days.

It’s such a great feeling to have, especially since I didn’t get these kinds of butterflies with the Delaware Marathon.

The only problem? It has essentially rained every morning this week. And we’re not talking wimpy rain here—the cover from our grill has blown off and dowels from our tomato plants have been pulled out of the ground. But I must take it for what it is: Mother Nature is forcing me to taper. And since I suck at tapering as much as the next guy, this coaching by weather might just do the trick.

PS--Did I mention that the race day is now in the 10-day forecast?  It looks like it's going to be a perfect day:



The Warrior dash was two weekends ago and it did not underpromise.  Half-way through this 5K I was already fantasizing about it being over.  But I'm already psyched about doing it next year, and next time in costume.

Here is my group about 15 minutes before the start of the race.  Yes, there was face paint and furry viking hats with tusks involved.  Oddly enough, we were downright conservative when you compared us to the clan of red Avatar characters, clans of Scotsmen, and squad of girls in 80's prom dresses.

The race started with an uphill dash--up a ski slope.  Most people made it only a few hundred meters before having to walk.  I held out for about a quarter mile before realizing that I shouldn't kill myself at the onset of the race.  There would be plenty of obstacles later to blow my energy on.

The first obstacle was a tire run on a plateau halfway up the ski slope.  Then a little further ahead was a series of chest high barricades I had to jump over.  After another third of ski slope uphill (I was mostly walking at this point) there was a crawl through (clean) sewer tubes about 25m long.

The first downhill was a relief--no more walking.  But the problem with going down a ski slope is that it is so steep you couldn't pick up your speed, because then you'd topple over.  At the end of this first taste of downhill was a nasty surprise: a shoulder high pond that was freezing cold.  It's probably 60 degrees, but it was frigid compared to the heat radiating from my body from the uphill runs.  I walked/swam through the length of the pond, about 50m, and emerged victorious on the other side:

The next segment of the race was series of sharp downhills combined with long muddy cuts across and wooded trails between the slopes.  In the middle of this craziness I took a tumble and rolled onto my knee.  I rolled right out of it into a run, but I could feel the scrape on my right knee stinging from the dirt and sweat.

After more downhill/mud/woods there was a short plank bridge to scramble across and then a cargo net.  Before the race I was most afraid of the cargo net obstacle, thinking that I'd lose ridiculous amounts of time on it because I have zero upper body strength.  But when I saw the net, it was all of 20 feet high, and I easily scaled over it to the home sprint.

The last bit of the race (all within a quarter mile) was a series of three obstacles.  After the only downhill where I could actually sprint came the first obstacle: the longest slip n slide you could ever imagine.  I slid belly down through sprays of water on a tarp tunnel for about 25m.  Not only was this tough on my abs and man parts (it felt like the tarp was over gravel!) but after knocking into a girl at the end of the slide I realized that my contacts were all sprayed out of place--and maybe had even fallen out.  

I did a bit of a Frankenstein walk, afraid that I wouldn't be able to see for the last two obstacles.  But after playing around with my eyes a bit my contacts fell back into place.  With my eyes set I got a running start to leap over the next obstacle: two rows of flaming coals.

I flew over both rows of without hesitation (or burnt hair) and dove right into the last and signature obstacle: a crawl through the mud under barbed wire.  It wasn't pretty.  It was totally designed to guarantee that you leave this mud run filthy dirty.  Oh, and how dirty I was:

After emerging from the mud I bolted for the finish line, which was a few short yards away.

Final Numbers (as if this was a serious race):
Net Time: 34:02 (10:32 pace)
Overall place: 409/5020 (top 8% of finishers)
M25-29: 110/751 (top 15%)

Afterward, I took my best victory pose.  Um, not my best work:

Perhaps it would have been better if I was also ripping into a giant roasted turkey leg at the same.

The rest of my group straggled in afterward--I came in second from our group of 10ish.

Victory tasted like...well it tasted like dirt.  Sweet, sweet dirt.



Over the past two weeks (yikes has it really been that long since I've posted?) I've done a couple things out of the ordinary, both of which have had their own detrimental effects on running and that I will now grossly exaggerate.

The Dark Art of Bicycling
I took the Monday before Labor Day off to use up the last of my summer bonus days from work and decided it would be fun to rent a bike for the day and ride around the city.  Knowing my hatred for riders and that I haven't ridden a bike in years, this could only be described a momentary bout of hysteria.

I picked up the bike from one of the bike shops around Central Park and got my bearings by doing a small loop around the park.  Then I rode down along the Hudson to meet Wifey for lunch near her office in Soho.  After a lunch of empanadas and rice and beans I headed back up the Hudson all the way to the George Washington Bridge.  Then crossed the Bridge over to the Jersey Palisades park--where I realized how hard steep uphills are on a bike.  After taking a nap in the park I crossed back over to New York and rode down to Central Park and returned the bike about an hour early (mostly because my ass area was hurting from the seat).

After riding about 25 miles around the New York City area I picked up a couple things.  First off, I was surprised at how easy it was to get around the city with a bike.  Even the parts where there weren't bike lanes and I was riding in traffic, car drivers seemed to be just fine with me riding in their lanes.  Second, I seemed to be the only one on a bike obeying traffic lights--riders were just whizzing about not really paying attention to traffic signals, staying in bike lanes, or going with traffic.  No wonder there is so much angst against them: they act like pedestrians when they're really more like cars.

The last thing I noticed is that I was actually enjoying myself riding around on a bike.  I don't know if I'd be ready to take it on in the exercise/fitness sense, but it is a fun way to get around.

Barefoot Beach Running Part Duex
Fast forward to about a week later, when we're with my family for Labor Day staying at a hotel on Ft. Lauderdale beach.  Looking to spice up my eight mile run I decide I'll do it barefoot in the sand, since I had a good experience back on South Padre Island.

My first footstep in the sand tells me instantly that this was a bad idea.  The sand on the gulf coast was fine and compact, this Ft. Lauderdale sand was the complete opposite: coarse and soft.  Every foot step suck deep into the sand.  Later on I would liken it to a car being stuck in first car: lots of stopping power but no speed.  I tried running on the waterline, but that only felt harder.  I tried running in the tracks of the tractors that come out early to smooth the sand, but it was only minimal improvement.

About a mile in I gave up on the sand and moved on to the sidewalk.  A huge improvement, but it was much more rough on my feet.  After the turnaround (around the 4.5 mile mark) I checked out my feet.  Sure enough there were huge blisters on my toes exactly where they had developed last time I went barefoot running.  But then there were also big round blisters (about the size of a quarter) directly below each of my ring toes.  With the blisters I had an awful time on the sidewalk, so I would weave back and forth from sand to sidewalk.

Eventually, I just gave up and walked the last mile to the hotel in the sand.  Not my proudest moment.  The good thing is that the blisters on my toes I was able to drain that night (oh how much goo was in them!).  The round ones under my ring toes seemed to be much deeper under the skin, so much so that I thought that they were calluses.  But last night I finally got in there with a needle and sure enough an pinkish/grayish goo came out.  Sorry, no pictures.  Definitely will be more picky about my barefoot running in the future.


The smells of running

I did a good chunk of yesterday's 18-miler in Central Park--about nine miles.  While I was running I noticed a smell all throughout the park.  It was vaguely of incense, and that could make sense if there was a street vendor selling incense nearby, but I was smelling this all over the park.   

The NYRR was having a Marathon training run, so maybe it had something to do with that?  Then I noticed some red powdery stuff on the cobblestones near Tavern on the Green where the smell was particularly strong--perhaps that was it?  It most definitely was not the horse poop smell that dominates the loop from the sixth avenue entrance to the grand army plaza exit.  I never figured it out, but I was relieved when I left the park and no longer had to smell it.

But this makes me think that smelling is a bigger part of running than you would initially imagine.  I mean the whole process of running really is an exercise in breathing right?  In through your nose, out through your mouth. So it makes sense that you end up smelling a lot while running.  And from all that, you start to identify certain smells with running.

There are two major smells that dominate my weekday runs in Astoria.  First, there is the stench from the power plant.  Or it might be a broken sewer pipe as someone posted on a photocopied flyer taped up throughout Astoria Park.  Either way, on a bad day the smell can invade the whole neighborhood and can be really upsetting to a run.  

The second smell, and forgive me for sounding creepy, is the smell of over-perfumed Astorians walking by in the morning.  I don't exactly know why, but my neighbors, both male and female, love perfume--or heavy scented soap.  Every time I pass someone I swear I can smell one of my dad's colognes or the smell of my first grade teacher.  It's eerie and comforting at the same time.

The are some random other smells I associate with running.  For about two weeks in June/July every year the Jasmine trees in Astoria park bloom and the smell pervades the track--this marks the beginning of fall Marathon training season.  There is the car exhaust smell from doing hill repeats on the Queensboro Bridge--absolutely choking if the wind is not in your favor.  There's also my own scent, the one that I swear sometimes smells like chardonnay and the reason I try to find a seat in the corner when I take the subway home after a long run.


Update on training for Portland

I seem to be at a lack of interesting things to say.  So under the guise of "this blog is record of my running history" I figured I should check in on how training is going for Portland.

Things are going well--not incredible, but well.  I'm hitting all my runs without having to do crazy rescheduling of runs or life.  Tempo runs continue to be an issue for me: it is the one type of run that disagrees with my stomach (and I wonder if it has become psychological trigger at this point).  I thought that I hadn't been able to get my repeats down to my fastest speeds, but after comparing against my training this time last year, I actually am on par with my better times and have actually cranked out a few new records for training splits.  I've also noticed that my long runs have gone exceptionally well: the most difficulty I've had was yesterday's 17 miler, and that was mostly because I had to do a series of loops at the end to make my mileage and meet up with Wifey.

Ever since I threw out a perfectly good pair of shoes, I've been running in the same Brooks Adrenalines for every run. This is the first time in years that I've only used one pair of shoes and I feel like I'm blasting through this pair.  And my feet have noticed it too: all of a sudden I'm getting all these new aches and pains in parts of my feet that never hurt.  All this means that I have to order a second pair ASAP.

This definitely has not been a repeat of training for NYCM.  I made leaps and bounds during that training cycle because it was the first time I had trained entirely outdoors (no scheduled treadmill runs).  But, even more importantly, it has been a huge improvement over my last training cycle in preparation for Delaware.  This has been a much more positive experience and I definitely feel better about my running this time around.  However, Delaware did lead to a PR come race day--which makes me wonder if I might need some of the bad training to have something to work against on race day.


More runner's speak

I'm adding a new term to my runner lexicon: suicide repeats

Yesterday, I was at an off-site meeting for the afternoon which ended at 4:30, meaning that I got to go home early and that I was comfy on the couch by 5:15.  Having all this free time on my hands and knowing that Wifey wouldn't be home for a while, I headed over to the park to do something that kinda resembled cross-training.  Really, I did push ups and a bunch of crunches--I would have done pull ups too, but there were some punky kids hanging around the pull up bars and I just wasn't down for that.

I had full intentions to make it a 100% non-running workout.  But when I saw the track full of people--some of which were much faster than my morning crowd--I couldn't resist turning onto the track after getting off the sit-up bench.

That morning I had done a so-so effort at a Tempo run and I knew the following morning (today) I would have 1600m repeats, so I didn't want to do anything too crazy or anything that I would normally do.  I did a warm up lap and followed that with 100m strides to help me get my form in shape.  After each 100m of strides I would recover with 300m and then repeat.  It was amazing to see my form get increasingly efficient as I went through four 100m strides--by the end I was going faster than I started but spent much less energy. 

After the fourth recovery lap I decided to finish with something fun: run all out, holding form as best possible, for 100m, take a 100m recovery around the curve and then go straight into the same all out effort.  In the middle of that craziness I thought that this was suicidal because these repeats were killing everything I had left on the table.  I quickly put that together into a compact, marketable, jargony phrase: suicide repeats.

Later that night I received confirmation that I had coined the phrase appropriately.  When I told Wifey what I did at the track, she responded with "oh, that's dangerous!"  Double point score!  One point for sounding badass, another for impressing the ladies......um...impressing the lady...um...the only lady...in my eyes (triple score for kissing up!).


Summer Streets gets badass

While hanging out with The Laminator for his birthday festivities, he brought up that we should get together for a Summer Streets run this year.  I had completely forgotten about Summer Streets until he mentioned it--much less did I realize that Summer Streets would start in only a few days.  I guessed since I hadn't heard anything about it this year that they had gone the way of most frivolous looking city programs during this economic situation.

Oh, but how I couldn't be more wrong.  A quick visit to the site lets me know that Summer Streets is very much alive.  I just pulled up the site and sure enough, the first three weekends in August NYC will continue to shut down Park Ave from 72nd Street to Brooklyn Bridge.  The schedule has the usual bunch of exercise classes, bike rentals, and karate demonstrations.  It's all truly wonderful stuff that makes me love being in this great city--and provides a rare reprieve from the usual long run routes.

But why is it now badass?  What did they do to this genius idea to make it badass?  They added a pool.  That's right: in the middle of Park Ave they are setting up a bunch of dumpster pools (thanks to the crazy kids at Macro|Sea) and the public can swim in them.  What are dumpster pools?  Macro|Sea has reclaimed some old dumpsters, given them a fine cleaning, and outfitted them as the hottest, hippest pools you can imagine.  It's music to this urbanophile's ears.

I can't wait for Saturday!


What did I sign up for?

There is one key feature missing from my training plan for the Portland Marathon: a Half-Marathon.  For my past four Marathons I've run a Half halfway through training as a gut check for the Marathon and as a convient way to get another state off the list.  As it turns out, it's never really a gut check.  I run the race knowing that it's not the "serious" race I'm training for.  Also, I'm running out of neighboring states to run in, so the half-way Half-Marathon doesn't help with the 50 state goal.

However, always being game when someone suggests a run/race, I did just sign up for a race a few weeks before Portland.  But this race is not a Half-Marathon or 10K or 5K or anything that resembles a standard running event.  It is a nuts crazy uphill, obstacle laden 3.23 mile race called the Warrior Dash.

This race takes place on Windham Mountain, which is a ski slope during the winter.  During the race not only do you zig zag up and down a ski slope, but you also:

  1. High step through a series of tires
  2. Jump over a wall
  3. Crawl through a pipe
  4. Navigate a forest
  5. Wade through a swamp
  6. Run across a gully on thin wooden planks
  7. Run over a rickety wooden bridge
  8. Run through a wide stream
  9. Climb cargo nets
  10. Scale a wall of slate bricks
  11. Go down a mud slide
  12. Leap over a line of flames
  13.  Scramble through a mud pit under barbed wire
And there is no further description than what is on the website.  There is no walk through or detailed orientation of what the obstacles entangle.  That's all part of the challenge.  Even though I've never done anything like this before and it's completely out of my typical races, I'm really friggin excited!


Medals of races past

Borrowing an idea from Jess and posting pictures of where I keep my medals and which are my favorites.

I won't hide that one of my silent reasons for running is that I get big medal as a reward.  Sure there is an army of other more honorable and immaterial reasons to run, but let's face it, sometimes you just want the pony.  There is something special in getting a medal placed around your neck: it links your small accomplishment to the long line of human athletic achievements throughout the ages and well into the future.  It's arguably my favorite moment of racing (regardless that it coincides with the end of the race).

The first time I ran a race and didn't get a medal I was upset.  Really upset.  Since then I've vainly made sure the races I sign up for have a medal waiting for me at the end--especially since I now tend to travel long distances to races, I need to come back with a souvenir.

With all this talk of medals you would think that I had a dark room set aside for them outfitted like the Museum of Natural History with custom spotlights on each medal and an adjacent engraved plague with a description of the race .  But I live in New York, there's no such thing as a spare room.  I actually--and slightly ironically--store them in a green cardboard box on top of a bookshelf:

Opening up the box you see a salad of ribbons.  Underneath the medals is every bib number I've ever worn.  Since not every race yields a medal I've made it a habit to hold onto every bib number I've worn over the past six years.  But I digress.  This post is about medals.

My favorite medals based on looks are (below, going clockwise from the pink ribbon): Flying Pig Marathon, National Half-Marathon, Maple Leaf Half-Marathon, NYCM, and Disney World Half-Marathon.  The Pig and National medals are high quality medals and cool custom ribbons.  The Pig has the added benefit of having a flying pig on it, which gives it +10 style points.  The Maple Leaf medal is my only non-metallic medal.  It's blown glass, hand made and stamped by an artisan in Manchester, VT, where the race was held.  I can't pinpoint what makes the NYCM so badass it, I think it's because it the only race I've run with built in prestige and wow factor (therefore prestige + wow = badass?  I agree with that algebra).  It might also be the simple refined look of the medal: it doesn't have a four-color logo or a custom ribbon.  It's just a good size, well-crafted, brassy medal that has a subdued ruggedness about it. Finally, the Disney medal is my "big boy" medal.  It probably weighs a pound, is a real quality medal, and just reeks of "yeah, I just did that."

In going through the medals I realized that I have another kind of favorite.  These are the sentimental favorites (too lazy to rotate the picture below, so you'll have to rotate your screen).  Going clockwise from the top right: Breakers Marathon, NYCM, Baltimore Marathon, Delaware Marathon, Great Bay Half-Marathon, and Boston Half-Marathon. 

The Breakers medal is cheesy, I will readily admit to that, but I still fantasize about that race: how perfect the day was, how well I ran that race, how stunning the scenery was, how over-the-top incredible it was to see 20 minutes disappear from my Marathon PR.  I know I will probably never get to run "that race" again. 

The NYCM was the hardest race I've run physically and mentally.  It was a rough couple of months leading up to the race and I clung onto my running in order to keep some sanity.  I had built that race as the end all be all and it did not fail.  On the physical side it wasn't the worst course imaginable, but crowd management played a much bigger role than I expected (or prepared for).

Baltimore wasn't my best showing: I stopped and walked good long portions of that race.  The race wasn't itself wasn't particularly memorable: if you've been to Baltimore you'll know what I mean.  But it was my first, and there are way too many attachments to/lessons from MY FIRST MARATHON EVER for me to deny it a special place.

Delaware represents my current Marathon PR.  Great Bay represents my current Half-Marathon PR.  My two fastest efforts to date.  While both were good races, they will one day be replaced by medals from new PRs.

The last one here is Boston.  This is my number one dime (it's a Duck Tales reference, look it up).  It's a humble medal, nothing particularly cool about it.  The race itself was your archetype New England race with rolling hills and autumn foliage.  But it was my first athletic event, ever.  Before this medal you did not see sRod run, after it, you did.  This medal is more than metal and fabric, it is a symbol of a change in my life.

Those are the highlights of my collection.  They are now safely tucked back inside their box, with the bib numbers, eagerly awaiting new members to the fold.


A pox upon my house

Wifey got a bike.  And I just get the heebie jeebies knowing that my household is in possession of--as a runner--my mortal enemy.  Here is a camera phone shot of Wifey walking home that abomination from the bike shop, conveniently located four blocks down the street.


The stupidest (running related) thing I've ever done

I threw away a perfected good pair of shoes.  I don't even have a good story for it:

I grabbed a bunch of clothes to donate to charity and my sneakers that had 500+ miles on them.  I dropped them off at the clothes bin in a shopping plaza nearby.  The following morning I woke up and while getting dressed to go running I realize that I donated the wrong shoes.  I had grabbed the pair that only had 280 miles on them--only half way through their life!  And I still had the 500+ mile pair.  I ran over to the bin to see if any any chance the shoes where still there (I dropped them off at 11p and it was only 8a), but everything I had dropped off was gone.

To make matters worse, I think I left Liam's charger in those shoes.  Double runner fail.


The Death of Speed

While in southern Texas over Fourth of July weekend, just missing a hurricane and eating more BBQ than I thought possible, I had an epiphany: speed is not my thing.

We were visiting a close friend in McAllen, TX July 1-6. I had full intentions of keeping up my Summer of Speed training while on vacation, but one night in central AC and I couldn't wake myself up before 9am.  It was great and horrible at the same time.  For all the luxuries that New York City has for some reason central AC still hasn't caught on--even in my current apartment building which is only three years old.  If you have been to southern Texas, you know that you need to get out there at dawn if you're going to do any kind of physical activity, so 9am was not an option.

For a couple nights we stayed on South Padre Island and being across the street from the beach was too much to ignore.  Our first morning there I fought off the siren song of central AC and forced myself out the door by 7:30...barefoot.  That's right.  Not only was I going to run on the beach--which I've never done--I was also going to do it barefoot.  I figured when else would I have a chance to do this?

I stashed my flip-flops under the boardwalk in hopes that no one would find them.  The sun was bright and pretty high already, but the strong breeze and reduced temps left over from the hurricane made it downright tolerable.  I set off going south for three miles and then returning, for a total of six miles.  I didn't set any speed requirement since I've never run barefoot or on sand before.

The sand was fine, compact, and mostly free of shells/debris; ideal for running.  I noticed immediately that my heels had to go further down during each stride and that my calves were stretching out.  But after the first half-mile I was totally down with the form and stride adjustments.

By the turnaround I could feel something on the bottom of my feet, but I figured that I hadn't stepped on anything.  At mile four I stopped and finally checked my feet.  Sure enough I hadn't stepped on anything, but I had managed to form three blisters on my feet.  I took a bit of a walking break and then managed to run for the last 1.25 miles.

After that run I felt great, better than any of my runs in the past month.  It was a long, sweaty, sustained effort.  While I didn't do any sexy speediness, I felt like I got a real workout.

That night I mentioned to Wifey that I wasn't really feeling the whole Summer of Speed thing.  I wasn't digging the workouts.  I couldn't find races.  I missed the long runs.  And I had a nagging fear that I wouldn't be ready for an October Marathon if I was running 5Ks all summer.  Now, don't get me wrong.  During Marathon training I love speed workouts.  Track repeats, tempo runs, hill repeats--I love doing them all when they offer a break from the long slow runs that are also baked into Marathon training.  Doing them exclusively turns out to not be so much fun.

In talking to Wifey I realized that I should just drop the Summer of Speed and focus instead on a Fall Marathon.  It would getting me doing the runs I want to do and get me back on the 50 State track.  It sounded like a plan (once again, I don't see the most obvious answer).

Now, you might remember/recall that I was planning on running the Virginia Beach RnR Half on Labor Day and then the Mount Desert Island Marathon in October.  Well, over the past couple of months both of those have fallen through.  We were going to go to Virginia Beach with the family for a weeklong vacation, but scheduling and costs prevented that from happening.  So I was going to save this race for another year.  But then I realized that Virginia and Maine were basically the only remaining states within driving distance.  All other states are pretty much fly only.  So I planted the bug in my mind (and Wifey's) to do a "destination" Marathon.

A couple cities came to mind--someone even suggested Denver--but once Wifey said Portland, Oregon, my ears perked up.  I looked up the race and started getting excited.  We've wanted to go to Portland for a while now and a Marathon near our Anniversary would be a perfect excuse to go.  On reading further it looked like a great race that wasn't too big plus there is a big wine region next door, the ocean an hour away, Mt. St. Helen across the state line, and a slew of quirky hotels--I was sold.

So my next race will be the Portland Marathon on Oct, 10 (that's 10/10/10) after which we're going to enjoy a week's worth of vacation involving lots of drinking and an active volcano.  Hurray!


An awkward relationship

I have to be honest: I'm in a running funk.  I thought it was a short term thing during the cold winter months.  But here we are in the throes of summer and I just don't feel like the runner I used to be.  I'm not excited about this Summer Of Speed because I can't find races.  I haven't read a blog post or running related article in about a month (never mind the last time I actually left a comment on someone's blog).  Even writing this entry is like pulling teeth.

I suspect the crappy winter/spring training has a lot to do with it.  It just messed me up psychologically--especially since I ran my best Marathon time at the end of probably my worst training cycle.  I'm still having nightmarish thoughts from the winter when I'd go out there in 15 degree weather before dawn and crank out six miles afraid that my eyes would freeze closed.

And then with the new job I find that I hardly ever have time to write an entry or keep up with other bloggers, which gets me out of touch with the running community.  I really have no idea what anyone on my blogroll is doing (sorry guys!!).  Heck, I barely have time to look up races to run.

I'm thinking I just have to get through this summer and start training for a Marathon to get me focused again on what I love to do.  And I'm hoping that as my main project at work winds down in September, I'll be able to get into a better groove with my life.


Legs of steel

Over the past month since the Delaware Marathon and in getting off on the SOS I've noticed two things going on with my legs.

First are the Marathon Cuts.  I noticed my first Marathon Cut just after the NYCM.  I was standing up from a squatting position (read: I was in the bathroom) and noticed that I had developed enough muscle definition in my quads to see a "cut" about two-three inches long.  As a recovering fat kid, having a cut of any kind is super cool--I must have spent a five minutes checking it out...in the bathroom stall.  Then after the Delaware Marathon I found that the Marathon Cut I got from the NYCM had elongated into a full-length cut from the outside of my hip to about five inches above my knee where the muscle ends.  This is totally awesome!  It's like discovering a new part of my legs!

Another side effect of training is the size of my calves.  It's not exactly a problem, until I put on pants--which is everyday.  In particular, navigating jeans over my calves has become pretty hard to do without tearing out some leg hairs along the way.  I guess I now have a high calf-to-waist ratio (bigger calves, smaller waist) meaning that I might have to start buying those carpenter jeans that were popular when I was 12.


SOS kicks off with a fizzle

Hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? I realize now that I probably shouldn't have picked the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge as the kick off to my Summer Of Speed. For starters the race is an irregular distance: 3.5 miles. A few less tenths of a mile and it would have been a 5K (one would wonder why it they didn't do that). Then, there were the 14,000 runners. For such a short race that is a friggin nightmare. But none the less, I counted it as the official kick-off to my SOS (borrowed generously from Nitmos).

The event is a corporate charity run (and walk as I found out) benefiting the Central Park Conservancy. My office organized a team and paid for the entry fees, so when I saw the email I was one of the first to sign up. The race was also exactly one month after the Delaware Marathon, so I figured I had plenty of time to switch out my Marathon legs for 5K legs.

Lesson #1 from the JPMCCC: I have never had 5K legs. By training and by racing I am a long distance runner. For six years I have only run Half-Marathons and Marathons (except for one 5K and one 10K). So training for this race was exceptionally awkward. The biggest problem was that I would wake up to go running and then I would think "it's only a three mile run, it won't hurt if I miss it" and then went back to sleep. And then when I did run my legs were super sore. I'm not used to being sore after every single run--at least that hasn't happened in a very long time. Hopefully this means this SOS will break out some long dormant muscles.

On race day (Wednesday) me and a couple of coworkers gathered up to head uptown together. We were all dressed up in running shorts and the team t-shirt when the head of our East Coast operations (my boss's boss's boss) passes by and starts chatting us up. Since I'm the "professional" runner he singles me out and says that if I don't finish in the top five I can consider myself fired. Actually, he grabs a sharpie from a desk and writes that ultimatum on my t-shirt. Great. No pressure.

Since we're running late when we get off the train at Columbus Circle me and my coworkers decided to "warm up" with a run from Columbus Circle to Tavern on the Green.

Lesson #2 from the JPMCC: running with a backpack is difficult. Worse than running at a sprint is running at a sprint with a back pack full of work clothes. It actually wore me out pretty bad--and that was before I got to the bag drop off for my company.

We put our bags down and stretched before walking over to the massive mess that was the starting line. I didn't realize how far back we were because the starting chute wrapped around a curve. But once the crowd started moving I saw that we were waaaay far back in the non-competitive section (excuse me: non-competitive? That's a joke, right?). After we passed the non-competitive banner then came the markers for 12 minute pace, 11 minute pace, 10 minute pace, and so on. We were essentially with the walkers and knew that we would be weaving through the crowd the entire way.

Lesson #3 from the JPMCC: weaving through a entire race is like cross training in the middle of a tempo run. Weaving through the crowd the entire race felt like I was alternating between a tempo run and calisthenics. There was no way to get to my goal race pace of 7:15 and I was constantly shuffling, hopping, skipping, passing, and dodging. It was an entirely different workout than I'm used when I run.

I immediately lost my coworkers in the crowd. I was so focused on making my way through the crowd that I didn't see the first mile marker. For someone used to running long distances where there are usually sections of the race when you're all alone, this literally was a nightmare.

Lesson #4 from the JPMCC: team t-shirts should be recognizable from a distance. I work in an ad agency, and while it's not the type of ad agency that produces advertisements we nonetheless have professional designers on staff to make presentations and such look good. Apparently, no one in my office thought of tapping one of those designers for a t-shirt. Our team t-shirts were plain white t-shirts with the company logo on the front and some uninspired words on the back. Finding one of my coworkers was impossible in that crowd.

Even though our t-shirts were hard to find, I did eventually find a coworker in the distance near mile 1.5. I tried to lock-in on him but I couldn't close in because of the crowd and the weaving that had tired me out prematurely. But at least I had that goal to pass him (remember, I had to finish in the top five if I wanted to keep my job) and that kept me going through the race.

On the final downhill (cat hill) I made up a significant amount of space between me and my other coworker and finally passed him just after the boathouse. Then was the unforgiving 90 degree turn just before the finish line and the even less forgiving uphill to the finish line.

Lesson #5 from the JPMCC: that was the worst finishing chute experience ever. One of my co-workers pointed out that between my finish and his finish about 800 people crossed the finish line.  Want to guess the amount of time that passed between our finishes?  Thirty seconds.  With that many people crushing at the finish line it was like running into a wall at the end.  Actually, I did run into two people who slowed do faster than me.

I finished the race in 28:11, a pace of 8:03.  However, according to Fenny I managed to run an extra .1 miles, bringing my adjusted pace to 7:53.  While this was about 45 seconds slower than I intended on finishing, it sets an incredibly low bar for the SOS.  I can only go up from here.  Hooray for optimism!


Running in circles, Part III

Mile 14: 7:36
Mile 15: 8:31
Mile 16: 8:13
Mile 17: 8:22
Mile 18: 8:16
Mile 19: 8:32
Mile 20: 8:34
Mile 21: 8:50
Mile 22: 8:40
Mile 23: 8:47
Mile 24: 8:39
Mile 25: 8:39
Mile 26: 8:38
Mile 26.2: 1:26


The first loop of the second lap was an out and back along the waterfront—a bit different from the first pass at this loop when the course snaked around office parks and shopping centers.  This route was narrower, but more scenic.  Taking a look at my time I knew I was doing well but didn’t want to let that go to my head and sudden burn out.  I always feel weakest at those high-teen miles (17-19), and if I’m burnt out by then I know it will be a bad race (see The Pig).

However, at the turn around on this loop I could see that the blonde girl, who I thought I had finally shaken, was just a couple meters behind me.  I knew I couldn’t take it easy on this loop if I was going to stay ahead.
As I got back to the nexus of the course I saw Wifey again with camera in hand.  I learned later that she had been standing in the same exact place during the first lap, but I totally missed her.  I maneuvered my way through the narrow course and sharp turn through the relay exchange, hoping to not bump into a barricade (this area was extremely tight!).

Entering the second (and final!) loop of the second lap I started to pay some serious attention to my stomach.  Essentially since Mile Three it was telling me it had to go to the bathroom.  At first I thought it was just a one off wave, but it kept coming back every 15-20 minutes.  For about 12 miles I was trying to decide between taking a preemptive bathroom visit now, take the time hit, and then proceed knowing it was over, or press chance and plow thorough the last 11 miles and run the risk of a major issue down the line.  My head was saying to press on, but knowing that there was another pass at that big hill coming up I knew I had to listen to my body more.

At the same time I could feel the eyes of the blonde girl burning into the back of my head.  I would hear her get close and then I would pull away.  And then she’d get close again, and I’d pull away again.  And while that was fine for the flat part of the race, the hills were going to start and I was already pressing my pace into the 8:13 area.  I didn’t need someone forcing me to go too fast when I was holding down stomach issues.

Finally, around Mile 16 I gave up and decided that I wasn’t going to pull away from the blonde girl this time.  If she takes me over on these hills, well, then she would just be the better runner.  My 20-something-year-old-who’s-out-to-prove-himself ego would just have to be shelved for now.  But then something weird happened.  She parked herself on my right and did not pass me.  Through downtown we ran step in step.  We never got further in front of each other than a foot or two.

After about 20 minutes of this, I turned to her and said “hi.”  She turned to me and in a too loud voice said hi back and said that I’m really good at pacing myself and that she had been behind me the whole race (Ha!  As if I didn’t know).   She asked if we were going to make it under four hours and I told her at the pace we’re going we’ll make it under 3:50.  I didn’t even get to tell her that I was trying to make 3:40 because she quickly said that she was listening to really loud music and “let’s just run.”  While I appreciate the purist approach to running, I wasn’t exactly looking for someone to share my life story with.  I was just opening up the dialogue between us new-found running partners.  So I left it at that.

By this point we were crossing the Swinging Bridge again, where I had noticed her the first time.  I knew that there was now less than a mile before the big climb and that I should really find a port-o-potty, especially since my stomach was flaring up again.  I knew there was a port-o-potty halfway up the hill, but I would have to cross oncoming runners to get to it and would have a blind approach (and therefore I wouldn't be able to tell if there was a line).

But magically an empty port-o-potty appeared half-way along the course to the climb.  There was no line and the color on the handle was green—it was empty!  Knowing that the blonde girl was listening to loud music and that my decision to stop was made in about .68 seconds I gave her no warning.  I saw her head flick back around when I peeled off and headed into the bathroom.

Ninety seconds later I was back the course—perhaps the quickest time that the Browns have ever made it to the Super Bowl.  On the approach to the switchback where the climb started I saw the blonde pass me and marked the time.  I saw that I was about 1.5 minutes behind her.  In my head the intention was to catch up to her, and 1.5 minutes shouldn’t be too hard to make up, but I knew that would be a big task with the mile of climbing in front of me. 

I slowed down ridiculously on that hill, but this late in the race if I didn't slow down I was never going to make it.  Even though it was the same exact hill I had passed just two hours earlier it felt like it had tripled in difficulty.  The last 200m I could feel the energy pouring out with every step, and the scary thing was that the energy was not being replaced by more energy, it was getting replaced by tiredness--it was the closest I came to stopping during the whole race.  I was never so happy to see a Mile Marker as when I saw 20 at the crest of that hill.

Then started the twisty-turny section of the loop with sixteen turns in three miles.  While I should have been happy that this part was flat I felt like I didn't have anything left.  I guess I'm used to running on bridges and rollers here in NYC, so every uphill is followed immediately by a downhill.  Climbing for 10 minutes and then just going flat is not something I'm used to doing.  This section was going to be hard and it didn't help that the sun had just come out at full strength, bringing the temperature up at least 10 degrees from the starting time.  I did everything I could to distract myself until the downhill stretch where I would have some relief.

After all sixteen turns I came on the long downhill through a shady park.  I hoped to regain my speediness on the downhill, but I simply couldn't.  I was zapped, the special sauce--the gravvy--was gone, the hill had sucked it all out.  I kept on trying to push myself faster but according to Fenny my body was not responding.  I saw the miles creep higher and higher--23, 24, 25--but nothing, I could get nothing additional out of my legs, confirmed by the approaching hill I had to now pass to get through downtown.

On that last hill I looked at Fenny.  My top goal of 3:40 was out of reach, but a PR was completely doable.  Barring any disaster in the last mile I could "easily" make a sub-3:50.  So I didn't give up looking for gravvy, even though I knew I had none left. 

That last mile there was a guy close to my age who was running the last mile in fits and spats (run for a minute or two and then walk, and so on).  I was keeping a steady pace so we passed each several times in the course of the mile.  At Mile Marker 26 I passed him while he was walking and I shouted "Come on buddy, you're not walking now!"  He picked up the speed and came up next to me and said that's what he needed to finish.  He told me his name, where he was from, that his PR was 4:00 (or around there?), and that he was trying to break it.  I little shocked that he was bounding with this much energy at the end of the Marathon and that he had no clue what his finish time was going to be.  I told him he was going to break that PR for sure and probably shave off more than ten minutes.  He sounded really happy about that and sped off around the corner to the finish line.

I tried to use my grappling hook on him, but that was busted too.  And thanks to the two left turns to get to the finish line he was out of my site in seconds.  So I poured it on as much as I could--and it was definitely all I had left because my calves cramped up during those strides to the end.  In a tip of my hat to my great run at the Breakers Marathon I hopped on the timing mat to make sure it read my chip.

Final Numbers:
Net Time: 3:47:01
Watch Time: 3:45:33 (no potty break)
Overall place: 133/555 (top 24% of finishers)
Men: 105/345 (top 30%)
M25-29: 13/28 (top 46%)

While I didn't feel like this was my best race while running it, numberwise it was one of my best runs, second only to the 5K I ran in 2008.  And now that I'm squarely in the top 25 percent of finishers I somewhat feel like I can say that I've moved on from the middle of the pack.  Hooray!