The race that almost wasn't, Part III

On race morning Wifey and I call a cab to take us to the starting line.  Given the troubles we've been having we figure a cab is best way to ensure we get to the starting line in one piece and on time.  Of course, there was one thing we didn't count on.  When we get in the cab we tell the driver we're going to RFK Stadium.  His response?  "Where is that?  Is that in DC?"

I thought it was a joke at first.  But no, we apparently got the only cab driver in northern Virginia who doesn't know where RFK Stadium is.  At least the guy had a Garmin.  Wifey quickly looked up the address and we were on our way.

At the staging area we headed straight for the Armory where it was nice and toasty inside.  The temps outside had fallen sharply overnight into the 40s, which I wasn't expecting.  After a trip to the bathroom and stretching we headed out to the starting line in front of the stadium.

Given everything that had happened the past few days I was a bit surprised to actually be at this starting line.  I was finally starting to get excited about running this race.  I gave Wifey a big hug and kiss and told her I love her roughly 200 times--as rough as the past two days were for me they were just as hard for her, but she didn't let it get to her at all.  She was my rock when I really needed it.  (Love you Wifey!!!)

I wormed my way into the corrals, did some last minute IT band stretches--can never stretch those enough--and waited for the gun to start.  I just happened to be standing next to a guy that I swear it was his first time running a race.  He was bouncing and hooting.  He let out a mighty howl when they announced there was just  one minute to go (I kid you not).  I just smiled to myself.  This is old hat to me by now.  The mix of tranquility and roaring excitement is no longer a new emotion.  It has evolved into a unique feeling of comfort that assures me that for those fleeting minutes everything in my world is right and good.

I stood there and waited for the gun to go off, not knowing what the next 13.1 miles held or if how I would get them done.

The Splits, reported as time per mile/pace per mile:

Mile 1: 
9:19 / 9:16

Mile 2: 8:48 / 8:41
Mile 3: 
8:20 / 8:17
Mile 4, 5, & 6: 
25:05 / 8:19
Mile 7: 
9:01 / 8:57
Mile 8: 
8:18 / 8:16
Mile 9: 
8:14 / 8:08
Mile 10: 
7:56 / 7:55
Mile 11 & 12: 
16:39 / 7:57
Mile 13.1: 
8:46 / 7:46

Distance: 13.11 (Fenny: 13.29)

Time: 1:50:30
Pace: 8:19
Overall Place: 1587/6250
Age Place: 284/600

There were lots of goods things about this race.  The course was the most scenic of all the urban races I've run.  The starting area was spacious, well organized, and had lots of bathrooms.  The finishing area was well stocked (free McDonald's frappecinos!) and spacious.  I would give this race a five-star rating, except that the first couple of water stations were very understaffed--so I'll give it a four and a half star rating.

But that's all the good I have to say about this race.

From the outside I probably looked fine, but inside I was a hot mess.  I couldn't settle into a groove because I had no idea what my pace was supposed to be: I knew I wasn't going to PR, but I didn't want to crawl through the race, but I didn't want to bonk late in course either.  And then my stomach was just horrible: it was a tangled mess that felt it could sour at any moment.  This is the first race where I honestly day that I wanted to throw up at one point.

Up through Mile 4.5 I forced myself to run the race and it worked.  Also, I found that I wasn't the only one having a bad day: there was a guy who fell in front of me not once, but twice--within the same half-mile.  Knowing that I was falling all over the place made me feel better about being out there.

At Mile 4.5 the hills and tunnels started.  The crest near the Mile 6 marker was killer.  That was the first time I seriously considered walking--and I wasn't even half way through the race.  I started to get a stitch around this point (ah, my old friend, how could I race without you?).  But this was different.  I felt it coming on early--so early that I felt I could really cut it off before it got full blown.  So I tried a different tactic: I forgot about it.  Instead of thinking about breathing and my pace and putting one foot in front of the other, I thought of how to drive to my parents' house (in Miami) from Orlando.  And then I started recounting the house numbers of the addresses I've lived at and if they were multiples of each other.  And guess what?  It worked!  The stitch faded away and was never heard from again.  Another weapon for the battle against stitches.

The zig-zag back to RFK stadium was absolutely killer.  Those last few miles always are unless you're on a kick.  With less than a mile to go I was really hoping for the adrenaline to kick in, but it wasn't happening.  Seeing the Marathoners pass by as they were going back into the city made me both excited and exhausted.

Finally, I turned the corner and RFK stadium appeared.  The Marathoners broke off from the course and I was left with Half-Marathoners giving their final push to the finish.  The adrenaline I had been looking for finally kicked in and for basically the first time all day I felt like I wanted to run.  I punched the air and I rounded the final bend and coasted across the finish line.

1:50:30 wasn't too bad.  I actually felt a sense of accomplishment for running the whole way and pulling a time in line with my average HM.  But the best part came as I was getting my medal.  There was a woman I passed for the first time (that I noticed) around Mile 10 and we stayed neck and neck for the rest of the race.  As I was getting the medal placed over my head that woman tapped me on the shoulder and let me know that she was behind me at the end of the race and that I ran really well.  At that moment I couldn't get the words out to explain to her how much those words meant to me, but they made the whole debacle of getting to DC and running this race worth it.  Knowing that I ran well made it all worth it.


The race that almost wasn't, Part II

Fate wasn't entirely against me on this trip.  Right after the crash I realized that getting to DC in time would likely become impossible seeing the traffic and assuming it would be quite a while before a tow truck could get to us.  I looked for a phone number or email to reach the race directors, but there was nothing on the materials I printed or the website.  Another person could pick up my race number for me, but they would need a copy of my ID--not exactly something I had handy to give someone in DC.  However, it just so happened that one of my friends had let me know they were going to be a volunteer at the expo--a gigantic coincidence given that this was an out of town race and that I have so few running friends.

I texted my friend and let them know that I had been in an accident and that I was in jeopardy of missing the expo cut off of 8pm.  Then I let my friend know that Wifey and I were fine and unharmed--I had my priorities in order.  In an strange bit of good luck my friend let me know that not only were they manning the registration tables, but they were handling the box with my number in it.  My friend pulled out the number and would hold onto it until I got to DC that night.

While I was a ball of stress and nerves by this time, knowing I'd be able to get my race number helped calm me tremendously.  I knew that I would be able to run the race I was striving to get to and run it legitimately.

The tow truck with the replacement rental showed up on schedule at 6:57pm.  We hightailed it out of there since we still had a long drive ahead.  I had switched to glasses, because there was no way I going to drive with contacts again--at least not until I got better adjusted to them.  But the problems kept coming.

First, since we didn't get to charge Wifey's phone the night before it was dead.  It would have been fine to be just with my phone, but because we spent about an hour on the phone with Budget my battery was dying fast. And we needed the charge to last all the way to DC to meet up with my friend and then get to update our friends who we were staying with in Virginia.  Second, both outlets in the replacement car were dead, so our Garmin had to operate on battery only--a battery life which I knew would not last the three hours to DC.  Normally this wouldn't be a problem because we have our phones as back up, but then I refer you back to the phone situation.  Third, the replacement car only had half a tank of gas, which might last all the way to DC--I didn't want to do a time-sucking gas stop unless it was absolutely necessary.

Well, we were on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway when the "low fuel" light came on.  If you know about about this Parkway (and Parkways in general) you know that there are gigantic gaps between exits.  I was afraid that we'd hit a traffic jam and I'd be stranded on the shoulder of this highway.  Seeing the bad luck I was having behind the wheel it could only be expected.  Fortunately, we missed the traffic jam by 500 feet (it was a mess of red lights) and pulled off on the next exit to gas up.

At 10:15pm we made it to my friend's hotel and picked up the race bib.  I gave them a run down of the previous 12 hours and the mess of a day I was having.  Then we quickly parted ways because Wifey and I still had to go crosstown to Arlington where we were staying with other friends.

We finally made it to our friends' apartment at 10:45pm with the last bit of charge left in the Garmin. (We had turned off the Garmin on the long stretches of expressway between Philly and Baltimore.)  I hadn't had dinner but didn't really feel like I could hold down any food: my stomach was a cement brick, even water went down bad.  As we turned in for the night I tried to get my head around the idea that I was running a race in the morning.  I took out my clothes and gear, I slapped some music together and called it a playlist (it's not even worth posting the music here), and made a game plan for the morning with Wifey.  By 11:30 we were out--only five and a half hours before we'd have to be awake again.

This was a very strange place for me mentally speaking.  The last thing I wanted to do was run a race--I've been nervous, I've had sleepless nights, but I've never not wanted to run a race.  And actually, if this race was closer to home I might have thrown in the towel.  However, for this race I used one of my precious few vacation days, I drove four hours out of town, I had two near accidents and one full accident, I had asked a friend to pull a major favor that might have gotten them in trouble, among so many other hurdles.  In other words, I had made it through so many setbacks to get to the starting line that I couldn't not do the race.  My only option was to run.


The race that almost wasn't, Part I

If I knew how bad things were going to get I probably never would have left the house on Friday morning.

I wrote up the whole incident about the two taxis on my way to pick up the rental car on Friday. I completely thought that would be the end of the bad streak. I left Wifey at home packing and I proceeded to the airport to get the car. I was operating on five hours of sleep and was additionally tired from the short run I had that morning (this is important and will factor in later). We packed up the car and heading into midtown, all on schedule.

Disaster #1 wasn’t much of a disaster but had the potential to royally mess things up. As I pulled over on a midtown side street to get Wifey’s cell phone I accidentally bumped into the car in front of me. I was going super slow (less than 5 mph), but with me still getting sued to contacts and the car I wasn’t used to driving it just kinda just happened. Of course, the driver was in the car: she was a fancy-looking lady who sounded European. She was understandably shocked (as were Wifey and I) and came out of her car saying “Why did you hit me?” “ How did you hit me?”

I explained to her that it was a rental car I had just picked up and wasn’t used to the hood. Looking at her bumper she started saying “do you see the damage?” I looked at the bumper, indeed there were some scratches, but most of them could not have been caused by the car I was driving—they looked to be mostly wear and tear from driving in the city. After trying to explain to her there was no way my compact car could have made those scratches in her SUV she gave up and sat back in her car.

This shook me up a bit, but after getting the phone I was feeling fine. By the time we got the phone it was 11a, and by the time we got to Jersey it already noon. Not a huge set back, but timing was starting to get tight and I was starting to get a little stressed—I could feel the knot starting to form in my stomach.

Disaster #2 wasn’t a disaster at all, but it was a very close call. We made a pit stop in Jersey to pick up a piece for our espresso maker and drop off some bags of clothes at Goodwill. While I was pulling into the back of the Goodwill to drop off bags a box truck was driving out of the parking lot, taking up the entire width of the lane. I had to stop and get back into the lane I was turning from, but unfortunately there were several cars behind me that decided to try to get around me quickly while I was making the turn. Horns ensued, but metal did not meet metal.

After a pit stop for lunch we hit the road for the long segment of the drive. It was around 2:15 when we got on the NJ Turnpike at New Brunswick. I figured we would make it to DC between 5p and 6p. Which was comfortably before the 8p closing time for packet pick-up. However, I still couldn’t shake the ball of nerves in my stomach.

Disaster #3 was a full-fledged nightmare. A couple miles on the Turnpike (aka, the roadway to hell) we hit a traffic jam, a massive one, enough to get me worried about making it to DC on time. We were stop and go for 45 minutes. At this point the food coma had fully set in so I was in a bit of a haze—the constant stop and go didn’t help. On top of that it was bright and sunny and since I’m new to contacts I didn’t have sunglasses, so my eyes were bothering me left and right. I got distracted for just long enough that I didn’t hit the brakes in time and crashed right into the guy in front of me.

Wifey jumped up and screamed, the hood bent up in the middle, and a weird noise started sounding from the engine. We pulled over to the left and I just wanted to cry. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t have bad luck like this. I don’t screw up like this.

We were fine so I got out of the car to check on the other driver. He was fine and his car didn’t even get a ding, but he could see the worry on my face. He called the cops and they showed up after about 20 minutes. I got a citation, but fortunately no one was hurt. But then things started to get bad.

The NJ Turnpike is a restricted zone, so only towing companies contracted by the police are allowed to pick you up. This means that the rental company (Budget) couldn’t tow the car from where it was. This also meant I got stuck paying for the tow from the Turnpike to the tow yard because we were forced to use someone other than Budget’s person. When the tow truck showed up (around 4:15) he took his time winching the car and getting it on the flat bed. Once at the tow yard we could finally tell Budget when to get us and the car from. They dispatched a tow truck to pick up a car from the Philly airport and bring it up to us outside of Trenton—the ETA was 7p. Remember that packet pickup? Yeah, that was ending at 8p.


Two terrible taxis

Normally, the week and particularly the night before leaving for a race is very intense in the sRod household. There's packing, last minute "oh crap I forgot thats," playlist making, and various other things that create a controlled chaos. Not so last night.

Last night I left work at 10:30. Mostly I was there for work, but at 10:05 I get a frantic email from Wifey that she left her cell phone in a cab. I called her phone--no luck. I called 311, but Wifey didn't have the taxi I'd number, so that was fruitless.

When I left the office I hopped in a cab myself. But once we crossed over to Brooklyn the cab got a flat. WTF. Double cab troubles. And since this was a fairly remote part of Brooklyn there was no chance I could pick up another one, so I had to wait for the guy to change tires.

Fortunately, the guy was super quick with changing the tire. Then, right before getting home I trtied calling Wifey's phone one last time--and some one picked up! The person was super nice and agreed to meet us this morning before we head down to DC.

But by the time I got home, our thai food arrived, and I set up time to get the phone it was past midnight. We just passed out knowing this morning we'd be making a mad dash to pack, pick up the rental car, and get to midtown by 10:30.


Death to the tempo run

I've had my own private little running hell for the past nine-ish months.  Every Tuesday morning I wake up to do a tempo run.  And every time I have a tempo run longer than five miles on the plan I can basically guarantee you that halfway through I will have to stop to go to the bathroom.

This morning was no different.  I had eight miles on the plan and immediately knocked it down to seven because eight miles is kinda crazy before work.  I was feeling good leaving the house and hoped that it was a good sign for the rest of the run.  After a warm-up run to Astoria Park I hit the road by the river for the meat and potatoes of the run.  Sure enough, 3.6 miles in I had to stop and go back home.

(Note: there is a bathroom at Astoria Park, but it has three problems.  First, it doesn't open during the winter.  Second, duirng the time of year it does open, it doesn't open until 7am--at which time I'm done with any running.  Third, even though I have developed low standards for bathrooms, these bathrooms are pretty damn awful.)

So while I was standing there on Shore Boulevard trying to make sure I didn't ruin my pants I decided to swear off tempo runs--or at least how I have been doing tempo runs.

In the little pockets of free time at my desk I've been researching tempo runs and come away with a few key pointers.  First and foremost it seems that I do tempo runs for far too long.  Apparently tempo runs are supposed to last from 20 to 35 minutes (for the meat and potatoes of the workout).  The back half of my training plan has me running no less than 40 minutes of tempo on Tuesdays.  I've always been suspicious of the length of my tempo runs, but I've always shrugged it off as me being scared of a difficult workout.  Turns out there was some merit to my weariness.

I do seem to have the pace down right.  I run in the range of 8:00-7:40 per mile and I would describe that as "comfortably hard."  That pace is significantly faster and harder than other runs, but I'm comfortable enough to run for 60 minutes if I needed to.  However, it does seem that I have the paces matched up backwards: I do longer runs at the fast pace while I do shorter runs at the slower pace.

Also, I learned that it's acceptable to break a tempo run into two by taking a short recovery interval of 60 seconds (some articles went all the way up to seven minutes).  I always avoided breaking up my tempo runs.  If I stopped, I stopped for good.  If I kept running while I was losing steam I would just run myself into the ground.

There was a lot of talk about heart rates in the articles--and of course I can't find any of them now.  However, I remember reading that more seasoned runners (moi?) usually do tempos runs at 85-90% of max heart rate.  It would help if I knew my max heart rate.  I really have to put my heart rate monitor to better use than providing an additional line on my Garmin output chart.

So tonight I'm going to look at my juggarnaut training plan for DC/Wilmington and play around with the tempo runs.  I'll be trimming back the distance and rearranging the speed.  During workouts I'll take a longer warm-up and include sprints.  For the longer runs (5+ miles) I'll take a recovery interval in the middle.  I'll also try to figure out my max rate during repeats this Thursday morning (really should have done this back when I first got my heart rate monitor).


Got a new face

As you can see, I tinkered around with some of the new template capabilities in Blogger in Draft.  It's been almost three years since I've done anything to the aesthetics of this site, so I figured I should give the thing a facelift especially with my blogoversary coming up next month.  I'm also hoping that this helps get me back in the writing mood since I've been sucking at that for past three months. 

It's kinda like I'm saying: "here you go honey: daddy bought you a new face to buy your love."

Well.  Maybe not exactly like that, but close.


It's that goddam Loch Ness monster

One of the best South Park skits/jokes I can remember is the one about the Loch Ness monster and him always asking for $3.50--pronounced tree fitty.  For reference:


JsE | MySpace Video


Last night--and I swear this would only happen in New York--I got a visit from the Loch Ness monster himself.  Let me explain.

Last night around 9pm I was on the couch watching TV in my PJs waiting for Wifey to come home from a long night at the office.  Suddenly, someone buzzed the intercom.  Wifey has her own keys, but sometimes when one of us is home we get lazy and buzz the bell instead of whipping out the keys.  Since I hadn't heard from Wifey in a while I assumed it might be her--although it would have been weird for her to leave the office and not tell me.

I answered the intercom and it is most definitely not Wifey.  It's some guy saying that he's Pete (or John or somebody) and that he lives next door.  There does happen to be one guy that lives on my floor that I don't remember his name and I figured it was him and he had locked himself out.  So I buzzed him in and thought that was the end of it.

Well, this dude comes into the building, comes up to my apartment and knocks on the door.  Figuring it's the dude from down the hall.  Turns out it most definitely is not the dude from down the hall.  And from this guy's appearance he doesn't even look like he lives in the building.

He introduces himself and says that he lives in the building next door.  He proceeds to tell me that his daughter has suffered an accident and has a collapsed lung and that he needs to buy her a nebulizer and some sort of prescription drug.  Even though he tried running his credit card to buy it the card was declined or didn't go through.  So he has to buy these things in cash and needs $38 to buy them.  He said he would repay me as soon as possible, but that he needed cash right now.

At this point, there already seem to be gaping holes in his story.  A collapsed lung sounds extremely serious--why wouldn't this girl be in a hospital?  And for $38 wouldn't you turn to a familiar neighbor or a friend or a relative or a co-worker?  I was obviously not convinced.  It didn't help that I had never seen the guy before.  I was expecting to see this guy to shake off his man costume and reveal himself as that goddam Loch Ness monster.  And this Nessie was marked up to match the market!

My next door neighbor pops his head after hearing the conversation through the walls.  Apparently this guy had buzzed every bell in the building in order to get in.  He puts on his suspicious face when he hears this guy's spiel--which only convinced me more to get out of this situation fast.

To prove who he is this guy shows me his driver's license.  It's for an address in the Bronx.  How are you proving that you're my neighbor--in Queens--if the license you show me is registered in the Bronx?  He says he drives for the city and that it's a commercial license (that is true, it's written across the top) and that for commercial licenses they are registered under where you work and that he works out of the Bronx.

I told him politely that I had no way of knowing that he was really my neighbor, really in need of the money, or really going to pay me back.  He "ok, that's fine, God Bless" with a tinge of guilt laced through his words.  Let me tell you, I'm Catholic enough to know when you mean "God Bless" and when you mean "fuck you."  This guy meant the latter.

As he turned around to the elevator I swear I saw his prehistoric tail poking out from the leg of his pants.


A taste of spring

For the first time in four months mother nature cooperated and produced a perfect set of running conditions. I had 17 miles on the plans and a new route to try out: I took my standard home-to-city hall route, streamlined the turns, and then turned it backwards (i.e., I ended running from city hall back to home).

The Brooklyn Bridge was a great starting point. I like starting runs on the massive east side bridges because it keeps me from starting out too hard. Then I crisscrossed across Park Slope--and for the first time found a way around the nasty warehouse district that broke down many a midsummer's run. At Prospect Park I made a loop around the park and honestly did not want to leave. I really like Prospect Park--it's like Central Park lite--but alas, I had 10 more miles to go and there was no way I was doing them on Prospect Park's hills.

Then I got to the iffy section of the run. I took a new route from Prospect Park to Williamsburg and ran through some sketchy parts of town. I would definitely not run through these streets at night. But I did get to McCarren Park pretty easily, with only one major turn. At McCarren Park I was feeling good but started to get waves of "I need to find a bathroom." The funny thing about those waves is that they never occur when you're near a bathroom. McCarren Park has a decent bathroom, but did I "have to go" when I passed by it? Nope.

Onward to Queens, essentially tracing the NYCM for a couple of miles. Right before crossing the Pulaski Bridge I couldn't hold it anymore and wound up making a pit stop at KFC to take care of some bio business.

I thought I was fine after that pit stop, but once I started going through the warehouses in Long Island City and the sun reached its full height and I was getting every red light imaginable I just had to stop and start walking. Only three miles to go and Wifey's made from scratch blueberry-white chocolate pancakes waiting for me at the finish line and I was fizzling out every quarter mile.

The final nail in the coffin was that somewhere right after 16.5 miles Fenny ran out of charge and died. That's it, I was done.

Turned out Fenny died at 16.79 miles. I'll call that 17 miles, especially because there where some walking sections where I back tracked to make sure I'd get enough mileage before home. I learned from this run that running back home might not be the best tactic for a long run: there are no major streets (i.e., no synced up traffic lights) meaning that the last stretch of the run will be in one- or two-block bursts, and great way to kill your momentum. However, I also saw myself get really excited about running for the first time in a long while. The weather definitely helped turn around my spirits once I got out there.

As fantasized about during the run, Wifey made a small mountain of blueberry-white chocolate pancakes for breakfast. (I know it's wrong to reward your workouts with food, but when I've burned through over 2200 calories it's hard for me to think otherwise.) After breakfast we stopped by the eye doctor to pick up my new glasses and a trial set of contact lenses.

Yes sir, I'm finally giving contacts another chance. I tried using contacts when I was 10, than again throughout my teen years, but failed every time. It has actually been running that has prompted me to try yet again because it is impossible for me to find running friendly sunglasses that can have prescription lenses put in them and still look good.

The biggest hurdle, when I was a teen, was that I couldn't get the damn things in my eyes. Yesterday, by the end of the tutorial, I was getting them in on the first or second try. However, I now have a new problem: the astigmatism in my left eye that has worsened over the years means that I'm at the ceiling of what's available to the mass market, any higher and you start talking about custom made lenses (which are much more expensive). So while I see perfectly out of my right eye with the lenses, my left eye is the slightest bit blurry and hard to focus. And if my astigmatism gets worse then I might have to drop contacts altogether. Boo on my bad eyes.

But in the meanwhile, I'm going to give these lenses a chance. And hopefully in the following weeks you'll see around town sporting these flashy bad boys (they're so bad ass that they float!):