Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Out With Old, In With The New

This post was overdue.  Back on July 9th, I turned 45.  A new age classification in running, as far as I'm concerned.   Looking back, the first half of my 40's was the most eventful time for me running ever in my life.
What had re-started when I was still 38 in 2004, after a 14-year hiatus, becoming a way to deal with the stress of my second divorce, soon developed into an obsession of the sport.

During my age classification of 40-44,  I ran 6,674.6 miles.  That's New York to Los Angeles, back to New York, and perhaps up to Boston.  I ran 1,158 times over those 5 years.  Including in 2008 for leap year, there were 1,825 days and I ran 1,158 times.  I spent almost 1,000 hours running (999 hours 29.3 minutes to be exact).  That's nearly 42 straight days running, 24 hours-a-day. 

In those 6,674.6 miles were 85 professional running races that totalled 2,052.3 miles.  And included in those races were (6) Marathons, (2) 20-Mile, (25) Half-Marathons, (2) 14.2 Mile, (3) Ten-Mile, (3) 15K, (5) 10k, (12) 5-Mile, (7) 4-Mile, (3) 3.5-Mile, (10) 5k, (1) 3-Mile, and (1) 1 mile races.  During those races, I averaged in the top 25% overall, and top 33.3% for men overall.  I've also done 4 Bike Tours, and 1 Triathlon as well. 

Not bad for someone in their early 40's.  With God's help and a little bit of luck and health, I hope to be able to do the same or even a little better the next 5 years.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

RACE REPORT: Queens Half-Marathon

Date: Saturday, July 24, 2010
Time: 7am
Location: Fresh Meadows-Corona Park
Race: Queens Half Marathon
Distance: 13.1 Miles (Half-Marathon)
Temperature:  86 - 92 degrees
Humidity:  85% - 63%

The Queens Half-Monster.

Anyone ever watch Hulk Hogan in his prime? Okay, I know. I’m being silly. A grown man of 45 talking about a wrestler, where most of their antics are actually staged. But seriously though, have you ever seen him in action?

Hulk Hogan, a giant amongst his peers. He was the WWF wrestling champ for many years. Originally a “bad” guy, he crossed over into the light to become a “good” guy in the wrestling world. He was loved by many, and feared only by his evil opponents.

Where am I going with all of this?

As of Tuesday, July 20, I had run 11 straight days of nearly 10 miles per day. 110 miles in 11 days, to show the math. I had a reunion with my elementary school on Wednesday, and I was grateful for this. It meant that the streak of running would come to an end. It also meant that the pain on my left knee, in the area of my IT band would hopefully have a chance to subside.

It didn’t. And neither did the heat in New York.

In fact, with the exception of last night’s apocalyptic storm I saw firsthand from my living room window, it has been blazingly hot and oppressively humid. And despite the every other day of training outdoors in this syrupy condition, I was hoping against fate that today’s race would be at least dry outside. I was even joking on facebook about strapping pancakes to my chest to describe how sticky the air outside was, and how I would put a frying pan on my head to cook eggs while I ran. But the jokes did nothing to help me fend off mother nature, and it looked like I was in for a deja-vu, a repeat of rejection at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It was April 3rd, when I did my “inaugural” run of the Inaugural 13.1 race at that park. It too had rained hard the night before, causing all kinds of horrible flooding on the course, specifically around Flushing Meadow Swamp, errr, Lake.

Karen and I had prepared the night before. I even affixed my serialized running tag to my shoe, and number to my shirt. Karen even prepared her ice coffee last night as well.

We both went to bed at around 11, knowing we were only going to get 6 hours of sleep.

That’s what happens when you run in the summer. The organizers set early times for the race, to prevent running in 100 degree heat.

But it did not help.

The dew point (humidity) is at it’s all-time high early in the morning. And when the race began it was 86 degrees already (and probably about 85% humidity).

I was again in the red (sub-elite) corral, and it was mobbed. And despite how badly I wanted to avenge my last race in this park, I felt so hot that my skin was burning and it was only 7am.

Not sure whether it was the congestion of runners, or the heat, but whatever the case, I wasn’t feeling right. In fact, I felt tired at the onset of the race (a feeling that Karen would later express she felt too when I met her at the finish).

The horn blared (a full 4 minutes late) and we were on our way…

There was a little bit of wind which was hot and clammy. I remembered feeling very sluggish, and thought to myself, ‘I better slow down, and listen to Mary Wittenberg and the rest of the race folks when they said not to even try to attempt a PR today.’ And they would be right. There would be no way that I would even think of challenging my personal best of 1 hour 42 minutes and 32 seconds. I had only 3 goals in mind. Goal #1. Finish the Race. Goal #2 – Finish the Race healthy. and Goal #3 – Finish the race in under 2 hours. I figured I would do 9 minute miles from the start, which should give me plenty of time to complete the race, under 2 hours, and in good shape.

Ahh, the tales of mice and men. Such promise and hope, and all for naught.

The first mile was a sea of people doing nothing more than exchanging places with one another. So many people in fact, that a few times I didn’t even see the orange cones in the roadway until the person in front of me passed it by, nearly wiping out in the process.

We headed south to and around the Unisphere and back up north past the Fountain of the Planets.

As we navigated around the Unisphere however, I smelled something very strong in the air. It smelled highly chemical, like some kind of paint thinner. Whatever it was, didn’t help my stomach much, to the point that once I exited the park into College Point Blvd., I was very nauseas.

Mile 1 – 9 minutes 25.3 seconds

College Point Blvd. Ahh the broken road. Ahhh the smells of fried chicken (at 7:12 am), and of rancid garbage. Yes folks. Welcome to Flushing Queens. I was not feeling very well, and decided to slow down some more. People were passing me by left and right. I didn’t want to kill myself to get to the finish line, but there were many people who obviously had no respect for mother nature today. They blazed right by me. I kept thinking to myself that either they have a gameplan that I don’t know about, or perhaps there were a lot of amateurs on the road today. Whatever the case, they are my brethren, and I love everyone out there running hard. We are all nuts. Especially to be running in these conditions, but yet here we are.

I heard on the radio yesterday that Mister Softee reported a loss in revenue in the last month. It was so hot, that people didn’t even bother to leave their air-conditioned home. But still here we are sweating like skewered basted chickens in the first minutes of a full-fledged rotisserie prep.

Mile 2 – 10 minutes 39.69 seconds

I was running so slow at this point, that I couldn’t even believe when I saw 20+ minutes on my watch after Mile 2. Was I hallucinating? I worked my ass off for this race! Could the heat really have this much of an impact on me? I actually looked at my watch for several seconds to validate that it was even working right. It was. The owner on the other hand, was not. Like my poor Jetta, I was also overheating as well.

I made it a point to get Gatorade wherever possible and 2 cups of water. One to drink and one to dump (over myself, that is). I didn’t want to get my sneakers soaked early, but I also couldn’t resist the water sprinklers they had for us either.

After having perhaps the worst mile recorded since the time I pulled a big time leg cramp at the New York City marathon back in ’08, I realized that I was taking a beating. Part of the reason was that I was full-stopping at the water stations, which is something that I NEVER do. The heat successfully did it’s dastardly job of making me feel lifeless despite my legs being in such great shape (well except the IT band thingy).

Mile 3 – 10 minutes 29.49 seconds.

Having already seen the leading runners coming back from the turnaround (College Pt. Blvd. & 31st Avenue) was incredibly deflating. Normally, I never see this so early because my typical pace prevents it. College Pt. Blvd has a slight up and down hill, and the turnaround meant I had to go back uphill again. Ugh.

I did everything I could to get myself ignited. Even the music on my iPod wasn’t helping, and I had Joe Satriani blasting away in my ears too, if you can imagine. I started thinking about Chicago, and got a little emotional, which was bad, but yet I was able to propel myself over the hill hump and break 10 minutes this time.

Mile 4 – 9 minutes 48.75 seconds.

Anyone see the dead rat on the side of the road? I did. Welcome to Chinatown, I guess.

Seeing wasn’t believing though. Smelling was. If I didn’t feel lousy already, a rotting carcass was not exactly what I would have ordered off the olfactory menu.

The one thing I loved about Hulk Hogan (and yes, here I go again), was that Hulk always gave you a rollercoaster performance, didn’t he? At one point, it looked like he was going to run away with the match by sneaking in a quick 3-count pindown, the next complete self-implosion.

Mile 5 – 10 minutes 6.83 seconds.

I was back in the park, and with 8 miles to go, I was on pace to finish the race in 2 hours and 40 minutes, nearly a full hour over my personal best. ‘Why even finish at this point?’ I thought to myself, “I suck shit.” Wonderful. More self-affirmations like that and I might as well just hide under the Van Wyck Expressway overpass.

I was getting really annoyed because I just couldn’t kick it in high-gear. I had 3 days of rest. If something was going to give, it better happen soon, or this would eclipse the previous horrible performance in Corona.

However, what I didn’t realize as I was sparring with myself mentally, is that in all of my angst, some things were beginning to click and I didn’t even know it.

I didn’t even realize that I was actually coming up on some people that had already bailed and were walking, until I nearly ran into them.

‘I guess I’m not the only one with issues today’, I thought sarcastically.

Mile 6 – 9 minutes 32.75 seconds.

To be honest, I wasn’t even looking at my watch at this point, because why bother right? I was beaten down to a pulp. Defeated. Gladiator goes bust. Mother Nature 6, Alex 0.

That’s what all of Hulk Hogan’s fans thought of Hulk too as he was getting beaten to within breaths of passing out unconsciously on the ring floor. There was no way the Hulkster would win this match as his opponent was all to eager to apply the merciful 3 count on him and dash his dreams.

But if you ever watched (or wasted your time on) wrestling, and have seen Hulk, then you know where this is going, right?

It was always between the count of 2 and 3 (the final count) where Hulk would manage to slip out, and survive for what seemed like only a few seconds more. Then his aggressor would get even more pissed off, and beat him down even harder. Almost to the point that he was more interested in tearing his head off than he was in getting another chance to count him out.

Mother Nature was my aggressor.

The harder Hulk was getting hit, the more he would start to shake violently. Not as if he were about to die, but more like as if he were being……awakened.

The anger within me began to stir.

It started off with questioning why I bothered coming here in the first place, and it continued to the point of questioning the situation before me. When a runner can’t excel purely on physical merit alone, they sometimes rely on tricking themselves. That might even include conjuring fictitious challenges to be able to rise up and overcome whatever obstacle they may be suffering from.

In my case, Mother Nature was now an entity, laughing at me. Cursing and spitting me with heat and humidity. Either that, or I was completely fucking insane by this point.

Mile 7 – 8 minutes 37.81 seconds.

On my right was Citifield. So disgusted I was at the Mets from their lack of fight of late, that I didn’t even give it a look. Like a jilter lover, I just turned my head away, and ran, ran, ran.

‘This is how you fight, Metropolitans. You run hard! You don’t give up on your fans! You work your ass off, and maybe, just maybe you hit payday, but you never ever never QUIT!!!’

I was certifiable at this point, wasn’t I?

I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I thought word-for-word, but it was pretty damn close.

And now….I was running pretty damn fast too. Fuck the weather.

Mile 8 - 8 minutes 8.21 seconds.

I was heading north again somewhat parallel to the Long Island Expressway, I think, and getting ready for that piece of shit swamp that ate me alive back in April. I was running easily now, and paradoxically it was much faster than ever before. As I approached the water station, I didn’t even stop this time, and did a perfect 1-cup-2-cup drink, drink, dump maneuver. C’mon bitch, I am ready for you!!

Mile 9 – 7 minutes 45.93 seconds.

The puddles alongside the shitty-ass pavement on the northside of Meadow Lake were large and detrimental, but I didn’t give a rat’s ass (even that of the rat I saw on College Pt. Blvd.). I was motoring now. People who were blasting by, almost knocking into me earlier on, were dying a slow death now. As we bended around the east side of the Lake, I saw a guy with a shirt that had a logo bearing the name of the country of Mexico on his back. I didn’t mention anything before until now to you, but this guy nearly made me run into a cone, as he cut me off way back at the beginning of the race. Now? Now, Mr. Mexico was falling fast. I passed him as easily as it is to pluck cooked chicken off a bone.

Sure enough. Mud. Red and Brown. Just like the last time. I saw it coming in the distance. Bring it on, Mother Nature!

Mile 10 – 7 minutes 26.49 seconds

The 11th mile could have become my worst mile. As I look back, it was nothing less than a complete swampfest. Filled with red and brown mud and puddles oozing everywhere on the ground, 6 foot or higher reeds on either side of us, a narrowing of the road itself, insects, the sun hitting me hard now, etal, it’s a wonder I didn’t cave.

But I didn’t. I felt hardcore at this point. It’s a term I use to describe when I am in a highly energized mental and physical state where nothing bothers me during a race. In fact, I just remembered that I actually snickered when I saw the large puddles on the road. I didn’t give a damn. I just ran around them, and when I couldn’t run around them, I just ran right through them like a good soldier. Yes. I wasn’t even thinking of myself as a runner anymore. This was war, and the war was beginning to turn in my favor (finally!)

Mile 11 – 7 minutes 26.99 seconds

As we left Jurassic Park (because in retrospect that is what that dump reminded me of) we headed up the overpass of the Long Island Expressway. I knew this was going to be tough. In fact, I knew I had 3 major crucibles to overcome; Jurassic Park, the LIE overpass, and the malaise of chemical smells near the Unisphere, near the finish.

I relied on my wits (what little I had left) and managed to keep my head directly down. If I didn’t see the horizon ahead, I wouldn’t see the climb of the overpass. Compared to many other races, it’s nothing, but the sun was out, and we were all baking.

We would shortly afterwards go over the Grand Central Parkway ( I think). All of this climbing had a little bit of a negative effect on me, and it would be the first mile since mile 5, where my previous mile would be faster. Still, it wasn’t by much.

Mile 12 – 7 minutes 46.57 seconds

….and lo and behold! I look at my Garmin 405 and I’m being told that I can finish this race in UNDER 2 hours now. Not bad for someone that was going to drop out rather than doing 2 hours and 40 minutes, right?

Instead of getting tired from doing sub-8s from miles 9 thru 12, I actually IMPROVED!

In fact (and as I look at the splits again) this is pretty amazing, but I did the last 10k in something like 48 minutes (only 2 minutes or so over my PR for that distance!!)

I still had more left in the tank however, and even as I came up on the unisphere and saw a bunch of people inside with paint rollers to make the floor a nice aqua blue, I tried to not on the horrible paint smell that pervaded the area.

The other ‘hazard’ of the area was that I didn’t want to get too close to the Unisphere because there was a temporary chain link fence around it that was bent outward in some areas. If I had gotten to close to it, I could have tripped on it, falling very badly. I thought of it like orbiting the Earth. You want to get as close to it as possible to get a fast orbit, but not so close as to burn up in its atmosphere.

Did I tell you that I was crazy, by the way?

I kicked ass in Mile 13. 7 minutes 22.17 seconds. I knew the end was in sight. This shark smelled blood.

I could see the finish signs up ahead and could even hear the friendly sounds of Peter Ciacia greeting the runners as they crossed the finish line.

I burned rubber! I booked! (like they say in my Queens homeland) And when I crossed the finish line I held up my hands in victory. I did the last tenth of a mile in what would have been a 6 minute flat run for an entire mile. And yes, while my final time was 1 hours 55 minutes and 12 seconds, and it was even slower than the debacle of April the 3rd, I was extremely happy with my willingness to go on which blossomed into a relentlessness of doing everything I could to make this a respectable race for myself. And all this despite the disgusting weather outdoors. In my mind, I won today.

Footnote: Just heard a voicemail from Tom (Brogan) who congratulated me on finally beating him. I actually had seen the results earlier and couldn’t believe it myself. I came in 2nd in our group (after our professional phenom, Marilyn). Tom is an amazing runner, and ran perhaps 30-40 minutes slower than normal. So did everyone else it seemed. Even Marilyn was off by 20 minutes. When I looked a bit more, I realized that I still came in the top 20% or so in the race.

I waited a little bit longer and took pics of Karen crossing the finish line. And when she told me that she ran the worst race of her life, I said, “No you didn’t. You finished. It’s 94 degrees outside right now, and everybody did worse than they normally do.”

Until the next war.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

RACE REPORT: Dash & Splash

No longer a 5miler, I hadn't done the Dash N Splash in several years.  In fact, the last time I did this race, was in 2006.  I called it the Dash and No Splash because the pool was not even open.
I did it once before in '05.  I had just entered the 40-44 age group.  Today was my first race in the 45-49 age group.

The NYRR website said it was only 74 which was wrong. At race time, it was already 80 (got cooler after the race), and the humidity was very high at 72%. Mother Nature and the peaks and valleys of Central Park did me in starting at Mile 4. In the first 3 miles, I was better than record pace, averaging a 7:33 per mile (3 seconds ahead). The last 3 miles were a different story however. About the only thing that made me smile, was that some woman in front of me was wearing a pair of skimpy black shorts and in white lettering, it had read "You want to stick what in my butt?"

At Mile 4, my mind began to wander (despite the hydration) over things that had been bothering me. Part of an athlete's training is to not allow negative thoughts to permeate while in the throes of competition, but it got the better of me today. 
Between that, and everything else, I don't even know how I even broke 8 minutes per mile, or even how I was amazingly to still come in the top 15%, when all I could see were people passing me left and right as I made my way north on Central Park Drive East. Perhaps the training the last week on the flat no-incline treadmill in a 68 degree humid-less gym foiled me. Alas, I would have done better. But there was no way to keep my mileage going in 90+ temps for the last 2 weeks either. All I know is this....I have to do a 1:45:00 half marathon, two times in a row, in Chicago to be able to qualify for Boston. Fortunately, I am not injured and my mileage is going up gradually, but do I have what it takes to do this?

Mile 1 - 7:52.64
Mile 2 - 7:31.49
Mile 3 - 7:15.87
Mile 4 - 7:59.77
Mile 5 - 8:13.1
Mile 6 - 8:11.38
Mile 6.2 - 2:10.64 *
* Keeping in mind that I ran 6.29 miles, I probably ran the last .2 a bit faster and the rest of the intervals a bit slower.
Here was the map for those miles:

After the race, I relaxed a little and made my way over to Lasker Pool where I didn't relax but rather swam for twenty minutes.  The cool water felt great.