Saturday, August 14, 2004

Like A Hot Knife Through Butter

With 75 degrees and a humidity of 79 percent, I was very grateful that this race was only a mile long.

It was your typical August 14th morning in the Baked Apple.

Ileana and I found a parking spot right near an apartment entrance near Park Avenue.
The doorman for the building made us feel at ease, telling us that we were parked fine and that we shouldn't be worried about getting any parking tickets.

The goal of today's race was simple. Once the gun sounded I needed to run as fast as I could, and hold on for as long as possible, without passing out.

The race starts at 80th Street and 5th Avenue. While there may be a few potholes and or indentations in the road, it is a clear, straight shot to 60th street.

I was feeling energetic this morning. Ileana was by my side and I had her laughing too. I kept telling her how I was going to "dust" everyone off, and "blow them away". Of course, this was pure bull, but hey, I figured the rhetoric couldn't hurt. In fact, it was a good way to boost my own confidence. I had been going through a tough divorce, tough times in my job, and I just learned that Lorraine took Amanda to live in Florida. I was hurting inside, and above all else, I wasn't too happy in the basement dwelling that I had been at since April either.

With all due consideration, there was a lot of anger in me this day. And, as a person that always feels that it is my duty to do so, I figured that I would turn all these negatives into a positive, and run possessed. And I did.

The start of the race was done by gender and age category. This was nice because it meant there would never be too many people in any one "heat". Even still, my group, Men 35-39, was easily the biggest field with 229 men.

As I was waiting for the gun to go off, Ileana was sitting on a cement block that had plants in it which belonged to the apartment building next to where my starting line was. I was trying to keep cool in an otherwise hot and muggy day. I was right next to her, in fact, when the gun went off. I was also all the way in the back of the line as well. Dead last to be precise.

The first quarter mile was brutal, I was running as hard as I could and zig-zagging around people in front of me that were clearly slower. My weight at that time was about 170 pounds, and I did not wear it very well on this date. I felt like I was either going to puke my heart out, or else have it explode through my eerily cold and sweaty chest. It's a good thing that Ileana was in my life at this time, or I might have shaved off a few seconds, and given myself a possible heart attack and died.

But I did not die. Instead, I wisely slowed up once I got to 75th street, and stayed that way until about 70th. It did bother me to see people that I had passed to be passing me by again, but I felt I had a great kick in me and wasn't too worried.

The air was so damn dense, while my forehead felt like 1000 degrees. I really did feel like a hot knife forging easily through a stick of butter. And then when I saw 70th street, I threw down and figured I was going not to sprint and hold back for one last dash a block from the finish, but sprint the whole way to the end.

For the last half-mile, I ran as hard as I could. I was gasping for air. Each breath more painfully in need of oxygen then the last. People around me were becoming a blur. I was zoning out, but hopefully not passing out. The only thing that kept me on my feet was my anger. Anger surging through my body as I thought of all that had happened in my life, that I wish had not.

When I sailed across the finish line, I almost could not stop, and nearly crashed into a guard rail.

After I caught my breath back, which was about 10 minutes later, I started walking back to the starting line to get Ileana and head for the car.

In the end, I didn't place all that well. I finished 997 out of 1972, and 166 out of 229 in my age group, and overall for men, 829 out of 1199. However, with finish time of 6 minutes and 45 seconds, I was extremely happy.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A race and a rock concert. And I feel free....

(Look at me! Look at how fat I was! And I was already down to 170. You can see it in my face!!)

In a God-awful steampit of 88 degrees and 71 percent humidity, I placed my abilities (or lack thereof) to the test, in my 4th race of the year.

The Nike Run Hit Wonder was in it's first year. The concept? Have a very highly commercialized run, that would consist of having first-rate bands from the 80's that had massive appeal, and actually had more than 1 hit too.

These bands which included A Flock Of Seagulls, Dramarama, Kajagoogoo, General Public, Tommy Tutone and Tone Loc all played along the course. The course was Central Park but interestingly enough it started on the upper west side . We entered in through Central Park West & 110th street, and would head south for one entire loop (on the 10K course) around the park. Afterwards, we'd exit the park and cross a few blocks with a finish line at Morningside Park. Inside was a very large bandshell where Devo wrapped up the evening's highlights.

"Big Pussy" from "The Sopranos" was on hand to start the race, and later on to introduce Tone-Loc and Devo onto the stage.

This race played more like a rock concert than it did a race. There was a lot of local hype around here, plus they limited the amount of entrants to about 5 or 6,000 runners. The environment was electric. It was definitely more than the fact that I had moved out and was a single man again too. This race was something special and different. I felt free. And it felt great.

I had found out about this race from my friend Paul Serraino. He along with some of the other co-workers at Avon, like Stu Berlowitz, and some lady (I forgot her name now), were also running. I actually met up with them by the starting line. I don't know how I found them either because another unique feature of this race was that everyone had to wear the running shirt that Nike gave them because the shirt had the running number right on it. The technical shirts they gave us were of great quality too. 3+ years later, and I still have mine.

The weather was incredibly brutal. The crowd of people on the course made it even more stifling. To our pleasant surprise there were a couple of water spritzers along the course, but it was still too hot. The best part of the race was finishing and heading inside Morningside Park, where they gave out endless supplies of food and water. All of us walking down the hill to the meadow was an awesome sea of blue. It felt as if I was part of some kind of massive cult congregating. Well, at least I wasn't wearing purple nikes.

Tone-Loc nearly brought the house down with Funky Cold Medina, but Devo really stole the show. I had called my friend, Doug Botero and let him hear a few notes. He mentioned that he was unable to hear any of it. But then again, he never was much into them anyway. too. The worst part might have been just before the end of the race. Someone must have forgotten to tell the race directors to have the cops coordinate the traffic passing between Morningside & Central Park. It was like playing chicken, and none of the cars in that area were too thrilled about stopping either!

I never was a hot-weathered runner, and the results proved as such. My net time of 1:00:23, meant that I lumbered in with a 9:44 per mile pace. Overall, I placed 3408th place out of 4865, gender-wise I placed 1857/2288, and in my 30-39 age category I lagged in at 877/1064.

Wow, that was really bad. Well at least it was a qualifier for the 2005 New York City Marathon. Another step in the right direction.

They also gave us nice medals too. After the concert had ended, I left with Paul, Stu and DAMN.......What was that woman's name again??? We drove in one car down close to near where the train station was. And from there it was off to my appalling, if temporary, surroundings of the McGrath basement again.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Run. Swim. Paint.

Despite all my jogging at the newly created gym at Avon, no one, even Suzanne my manager at Avon, knew much as to what was REALLY going on. I wasn't just running to relieve the stress that I was undergoing because of my divorce, or because of my current living conditions. No. It was more. I was training. Training to be in the best shape of my life for next year's Marathon. At that point, the Marathon was the only bright light in what was a very dark tunnel for me.

Almost every day, during lunch no less, I'd go into the Avon gym and start running on the treadmill. Sometimes Suzanne (my boss) would show up. Other times it was Franklin (although he was embarrased by his first name - so per his request, we'd call him Jay). The more I ran there, the more other people from my group would show up too. I thought I was starting a trend....Little did I know. Anyway, I would finish up with me coming back to my desk after taking a lukewarm shower at the one and only shower-stalled bathroom at the far end of the long Avon corridor.

A lot of things had changed in my life since my last race. For one, the separation from my second wife has taken hold. I had been living now in the basement of Dorothy's apartment for nearly 2 months now. The divorce process was becoming more and more painful, thanks especially to a really lousy attorney. I was also stuck with the Honda Odyssey, a much bigger van. And I am also seeing someone else. Her name is Ileana.

This van was used for more than just driving too. Dorothy, Treacy's mother, and my landlord, would not allow me to have my children stay with me. Even if it was only for a few hours. So, whenever I had the children with me, I would have to fold down the second row of chairs, and pull out and leave the third row in the basement. With the extra space, I could now have my children in the back of the van. We would play games like Chutes N Ladders, and Candy Land, or I would eat lunch with them there. Again, the pain of the divorce was bad, but I was obviously going through a lot of pain at Dorothy's basement too. For someone who supposedly did me a favor, or as Gerry had ridiculously put "saved my life", living in that basement was the most dehumanizing experience I ever was put through.

Every weekend I was forced to live up to the role of a Mexican Janitor and/or Slave Boy, by doing everything she asked me to do. But considering the amount of money that I was (and still am) shelling out for child support, it's no wonder why it was that I had put up with it. I suppose this was the thanks I got for not having to pay a rent. By the time I was kicked out into the street, along with the friendship, which they completely torched, I had grown an even thicker skin.

Saturday, July 17th would be no different either. I had plenty of things to do for Dorothy, such as painting the wrought iron bars for all 10 of her exterior windows in white. But by now, I guess I was growing more and more resistive to the idea of enduring being a slave for her anymore. And as such, I was not going to pass up on the opportunity to do my 3rd race of the year.

With the brightness of the day serving as an example of my possible future as a runner ahead of me, I drove my Honda Odyssey van on this sunny day to the upper east side of Central Park. The drive was not as quick as I had imagined though. There was plenty of traffic on the 59th Street bridge. Nevertheless, I found a parking spot right away (miracle) and actually had a few minutes to burn. Literally!

The race started up near 96th Street in the east side of Central Park. It was a quick down hill that spiralled to the right, followed by a full counter-clock wise loop around the shorter loop of the park, with a finish near the Lasker Park swimming pool, also found in the park.

I have to say that my race performance was a little worse than I had expected. Apparently, I did not do so well because of the heat outside.

Net Time: 45:01.....Pace: 9:00.....Overall:998/2371...Gender:721/1260....Age:304/520

But I had a great time in the pool outside. Another race, another notch in the belt, as they say, and again, this great feeling of freedom.

After my race, I would call a few of my friends, including Ileana, to let everyone know how I did.

But for now, it was back to the dungeon. This time it was to clean the gutters in and around the basement windows....

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Coogans, Salsa, Blues, Shamrocks, Parking and Subways

For my second race, I decided to do the Coogan's Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K run up in Washington Heights.

I had not been in Washington Heights, since perhaps 1987, when I was at Tony's brother's apartment (Tony was my first wide, errr wife's father). To this day, I am positively sure that I played with Manny Ramirez who was playing with us in a game of pick-up hardball. He was playing center-field. He made unbelievable throws to home-plate, and muscled home runs over the park during each and every at-bat.

The race itself starts between W. 168th & W. 169th Streets on Ft. Washington Ave. From there we had to run north on Ft. Washington Ave. to the halfway turnaround point in Ft. Tryon Park. (not too far south from Fort George). Then we would run back south along the same route to the finish.

The weather was pretty great actually. It was 48 degrees at race time and pretty dry too (Only 39% humidity). The line up went around the corner from the New Balance Track & Field Center. It was very crowded. There were a lot of police and fire department personnel that ran in this race (I'm surprised that Dunkin Donuts was not an official sponsor).

Not wanting to have a repeat in punctuality, I left very early to get parking. At the time, I still was living in New Rochelle and was still driving the champagne-colored Toyota Corolla. Thank heavens too because I never would have been able to park the Honda Odyssey in Washington Heights. No room to.

Well, the race started at 9am, but by 7:00 am, I was already looking for a parking spot. Like I said, parking is very tight in Washington Heights. This is due to the many brownstown buildings, and little indoor parking available. Almost 100% of all the parking was on the street, of which more than half was metered too. Unbelievable.

I drove and drove and drove. When I finally found a spot it was after 8am and it was north of the 168th street station. North by 20 blocks. Again, I found myself rushing to get to the start. Fortunately for me, I found an entrance to the "A" train on 184th street.

Wow. What a weird subway station.....

With an underground overpass, and large wide station, it seemed more like a train station than that of the subway.

I got to my race on time. Finally. And by the time I came out of the Track & Field center, I was towards the back of the line.

The race was fun. I liked the course. There were a lot of people cheering on the sidelines, and that was really cool. Kinda reminded me a little bit of the golden days when I used to run in the NYC Marathon.

I ran fast!

In fact, I broke an 8 minute per mile marker. In the end I settled for an 7:42 place. Unbelievable!

2 races down......7 to go!

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rebirth! The Beginning of A Comeback!!

On it's own, it was a rather insignificant race, and yet it meant everything to me in the world. After not having raced since 1991 when I had run 10 miles through Manhatan & the Bronx to assist my then-friend Gerry Murphy thru his first NYC Marathon, it was finally time.

I started running around September of 2003, when the "meltdown" finally took hold in my personal life. Here were are now at the end of February, and about to put my newly-acquired NYRR membership to the test.

The weather was not too cold. 38 deg. F, sunny, 32% hum., wind var. 3mph. The trouble with the race itself was really getting there. In fact, parking was so difficult, that by the time I parked, I was already 10 minutes late for the start. I already had to run as fast as I could into the park and was completely drained. I could have started to run, but I had heard that the race was broken into men & women's, and that the women's race was about to start. Damn! I drove all the way, searched endlessly for parking, and sprinted into the park for ...nothing???

"And now, I'd like to welcome the elite women runner's to the starting line", is what the NYRR race director had said.


I lined up with the women.

But nobody noticed. I had purchased these long leg tights which are unisex, and had my face covered up for the most part, with a hat. I was the lone man running with the women.... What a way to start my comeback!

I think the most memorable moment came at the end of my race, for when I sprinted the last 100 yards, one of the race organizers by the finish, yelled through his megaphone.

"Wow! Look at that woman kicking butt!!! Nice job, runner 4809!"

And here's my number:

What an embarrasing moment!! Thank God that no one noticed!

Anyway, considering my overall results, it didn't matter anyway:

NetTm...Pace..........Overall...........Gender.............Age........ AgeGr....AG%
39:03..... 9:46......3159/3923.....1828/2061......737/813.....29:32....57.4%

It was definitely slower than what I should have done.
Clearly, it was a disappointing finish, but considering the stress of sprinting
for nearly a mile in the cold prior to it, it came as no surprise either.