Saturday, August 28, 2010

RACE REPORT: NYRR Long Training Run #2

RACE REPORT:  NYRR Long Training Run
DATE:  Saturday, August 28, 2010
TIME: 7:00am
DISTANCE: 20.5 Miles
WEATHER: 71F, Medium Humidity, Sunny
LOCATION: Central Park, NY

Today was the New York Road Runner’s 2nd Long Training Run. Not a race, but rather a challenge to see how many miles one can endure before one says “Uncle” (or Aunt, depending on your preference). I had a tough time sleeping last night, partially because my new MP3 player took forever to sync all of the songs it had (and I’ll get to that later on), but as always any running event of significance to me, keeps me up.

This was significant because time is running out. 43 days to go until the Chicago Marathon presents itself before my very feet, legs, lungs and heart (oh, and brain…I think!) The class Karen forced me to sign up for has proven to be very worthwhile. My times are improving. I can feel it. Fatigue is taking longer to usher itself into my soul. This is a good thing.

But have I improved enough, and do I have enough time to improve to where I need to be in Chicago to get to Boston?

Rather than bore you with the split times, let me start by saying that we were late to the starting line. I had no choice but to start jogging from the house to the park, and ditch Karen behind. I hated to do this, but if I’ve learned anything from my running class, it is that running with your “pack” is very, very important. They help keep your pace and your rhythm going, and helps delay the onset of fatigue. Going forward, I may have to start leaving the house even before Karen does. Again, leaving her behind makes me feel awful, but I have to do what I must not to be stressed so much before a run. Although, I will tell you that I was running late myself today. This time I was just as much to blame for getting there late, as she was (poor thing).

Well, I did run pretty fast to the baggage area, and literally sprinted to the start (not wise when facing a 20 mile run!!!). I got there in time to leave with the 8:30 pace group which was not good because I was shooting for an 8:00 flat per mile. Turns out, that it was okay because the group leaders were going faster than 8:30.

The course consist of 4 loops going counter-clockwise around the park, with the first loop, at 6 miles, being the longest one. Essentially, the 6 mile loop is the full loop that incorporates the never-ending, always-winding Harlem Hill. It’s good that they get this out of the way in the beginning…I’d hate to see doing this at mile 17 or so!

The goal was to break 8 minutes flat, but I flat out blew the goal. Blew it in a bad way that is. I started off around an 8:20 pace and was never able to sustain enough of a comeback to make up enough time.

The one thing I did though, for which I KNOW that very few people did, was that I never stopped running. Like I said, this “training” run consisted of 4 loops. The first is 6 miles, followed by 2 more 5 milers that make use of the 102nd Street Transverse (eliminating the Harlem Hill Loop altogether), and the last loop is 4 miles, which makes use of the 72nd Street transverse, that eliminates the Central Park South loop.

And in this “run”, you basically are supposed to stop at the end of each loop (which is at the 102nd street transverse) to get some Gatorade, go to the bathroom, eat pretzels, etal, and take a 3 minute break until they re-congregate and announce your re-launch (by pace group) for your next loop.

I never did anything of the sort.

I just ran.

And ran.

And kept on running.

If you consider that I started running from Lexington and 102nd street, I basically never stopped after that …. Until I finished the entire run. Between the 1.25 mile to the starting line, and the extra .5 mile I did throughout the course, today’s run was closer to 22 miles than it was to 20 or even 21.

And here is the most encouraging point of all….I never was in pain….I never cramped up, and I even have an extra power gel, and several Endurolyte capsules leftover that I didn’t even need to use.

When all was said and done, it took me 2 hours 48 minutes and 38 seconds to do 20 ½ miles exactly. Not good enough for Boston (yet), but but good enough for an 8 minute 16 second pace, and easily the best speed I’ve ever maintained for any distance over 13.1 miles. And even though it was a 20 mile run, and I didn’t handle the tangents too well (which is why I went over by a full ½ mile) that gave me a real pace of 8:29, I had a lot of other obstacles, that I will not be facing in Chicago. For one, Chicago is flat, Central Park is nothing but non-stop rolling hills. Try doing Cat Hill. Four times. For another thing, remember the MP3 player? Well it took 2 hours to sync last night, and as a result, the player died on me after mile 12! I, Mr. Music, wound up running the last 8 miles with no sounds other than the tramplings of our feet and the heavy breathing, which by the last loop, seemed like an endless obscene phone call. However, with this class that I’ve been taking, where music players are not allowed, I actually did better than expected.
Lastly, this was after all a “training run”, lacking all of the hoopla one can come to expect from a major marathon.

All I can say is this folks. Before today, I thought I had no chance in doing an 8:02 pace for Chicago. But now, I’m not so sure. My legs are feeling good right now and I’m only about an hour-and-a-half removed from having crossed the finish line. Time is tight and I’m not sure about my abilities to improve over the next month but I will tell you this…If I want this as bad as a person wants to breathe when their head is under water, then I will succeed (credit to that goes to my friend Ivanhoe, who sent me a link to a very inspirational video on Facebook the other night).

Before leaving, I saw Karen finishing her third loop and going for her fourth (way to go, girl!) I actually passed her when I hit mile 17 and she, mile 12. She cheered me on. It’s stuff like that that makes all of this worthwhile to be sure. Right now I am enjoying my life immensely, and am grateful to God that I still have special abilities. Well, I won’t be wasting them.

Chicago and New York City Marathons….Here I Come!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I know it’s just a race but….

Many times in one’s own life we wonder if we’re ever good enough to aspire to the level for which we seek. One of the great side effects of running is that if you put the effort in you usually get rewarded. Usually, but not always. And that’s what makes running an often-suspenseful relationship. “Do I get rewarded for all that I’ve sacrificed?”

Long Distance Running, particularly, is not a hobby that is conquerable right away. Instant gratification could take years. It is not a slice of bread that can be toasted in a matter of minutes thus achieving the desired result. No, it is more like a pot roast you put in a crock pot in the morning before you go to work, and you pray by some miracle that when you get home ten or so hours later, that you have a worthy feast awaiting you.

I have been slow-cooking since 2004.

The art of running is like any art. You are the artist; your output is your work. And if you know anything about artistry, is that the artist producing that work is seldom satisfied if only for a moment. And yet those moments can be so sweet.

For me those moments include doing my first race after a fourteen-year hiatus (1990-2004), my first full marathon in 19 years in 2005, breaking my Marathon PR in 2009, and breaking 4 hours (3:51:45) last year. And still, with that handful of moments, it’s been all worth it, and I would do it all over again.

I’ve been running now since the beginning of 2004, and have logged over 7,500 miles since. And I am grateful to say, that I’m grateful to have the ability to be able to do what I do when there are so, so many people that could not, even if they wanted to.

But there will still be those moments of doubt where I will ask myself, if this is the best that I can do?

In the furthest reaches of my brain lays a claim chip of hope. Hope in the form of me running a marathon in Boston on Patriots Day in 2011. It is hard to see it clearly because in front of it stands a leviathan of a challenge. I look deep into the shadowy horizon that stands between this enormous monster and me and I see markings on this beast. They read, “Chicago 10.10.10”, and “3:30:59”.

Physically, I am not ready yet. The best marathon I’ve ever done is 3:51:45. The year before I did a 4:08:19, and the year before that I had a 4:20. Despite the expected increase in age (now 45), I have many fears regarding ability, regarding resolve, regarding safety. In my mind, I am a fearless Kenyan runner, a machine with no equal. However, my hairy middle-aged legs, and my lungs, which had to have been affected by my ex-wife’s refusal to stop smoking (1993-2004), may dictate otherwise.

On the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year, this middle-aged man with Kenyan-like aspirations will leave his homeland of New York City and travel west to Chicago. However, which runner will show up at the race?

I’ve been working hard at getting my cardio up. Doing 20 mile runs, doing speed work, and even signing up to train New York Road Runners’ Marathon Build-Up Class even though I’ve done the NYC Marathon 8 times already. I will do ANYTHING to see if I can overcome this seemingly impossible challenge of cutting yet another nearly 21 minutes in a 26.2-mile race.

I’ve been told the course is flat and fast. Nothing like New York City’s exceptionally challenging Marathon. Should be a breeze, right? A 3 hour 30 minute marathon (let’s drop the 59 seconds off because they annoy me) is like running TWO half-marathons back-to-back at 1:45. When your best ½ (marathon) is 1:42:32, then you know you have a Herculean challenge. But I don’t like to lose!

All of this doubt has me obviously worried. Last night I had a dream that I didn’t have since my sedentary years where a long run for me consisted of running 1 block to the deli in search of an Italian hero. The dream would always start the same way. I would be socializing with somebody having a nice time, and then I would suddenly realize that today was the Marathon, and, oh…my….God…., why wasn’t I at the starting line??

So, I’d run to area where the numbers would be given out, and along the way I see a clock telling me the race had started an hour earlier. Nowadays, I guess that doesn’t matter since they mark you based on net time (lol), but that’s not the way it is in my dream. By the time I scramble around chaotically to put my number on and run, most of the entrants have finished. It starts to get cold and gray outside, which is the way I start to feel as well. Obviously, I did not put enough training into this race. Rejection and humiliation of a goal not realized, the dream would end and I would wake up pretty dejected.

Look folks, I could follow this up by telling all of you that I’m going to hold my head up whether or not this New Yorker breaks 3:30:59 in Chicago. But I won’t. I won’t because that would be almost conciliatory, and there is no room for words like “can’t”, “won’t” or “better luck next year”. True, this is only a race, and I shouldn’t take this so seriously. There are far many things more important. But then again try telling that to Lance Armstrong in his heyday when his Tour De France may have been on the line. Or what about Paul Tergat in that photo finish at our beloved marathon? I bet he took it VERY seriously. Just because I am an average Joe, just because I don’t get paid to run, or get free sneakers, endorsements, etal., doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be as committed as they are.

I can already see myself, bringing photos of when I would trophy at races when I was a teenager, like the JFK Lions Race back in 1985. ...Or me crossing the finish line of my first New York City Marathon back in 1984. I was only 19 then, but I was so excited to have crossed the finish line that I jumped as high as I could with my arms stretched out all the way. I jumped so high I nearly hit the Marathon banner overhead.
This dream is not over. Not by a long shot. I may feel down, and I might not have the “weapons” I need to win this self-imposed “war”, but I will not quit. This New York boy is going to do everything he can to make it to Boston, and run in their beloved race.

I am reaching for the stars.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Through The Streets Of The Concrete Jungle

It all starts out this morning at 6:16am.  Karen and I were waking up to the sounds of NPR radio.  Before long we realized that there was no way we were going to get to Brooklyn in time.  In time for what?
In time to run over the Brooklyn Bridge and to meet up with NYCRUNS over at the corner of Chambers and Warren. 

So we took a cab.  Mad cabman he was too.  In only 15 minutes I was already following Karen into a diner on the corner of Adams & Tillary.  It had been awhile since the last time I was in Brooklyn.  And for Karen, this would be the first time she would ever cross the historic bridge on foot.

Still, we weren't sure if we were going to be able to link up in time, and Karen told me to go ahead, but I wasn't going to leave my partner behind at the starting gate either.   The Brooklyn Bridge walk path was particularly empty (well it should be at 7:48 am!) with the exceptional runner or cyclist.  We started at the beginning of the promenade (which I like to call "the chutes") which is nearly as long as the bridge itself.  I was having all kinds of issues with my garmin measuring any kind of distance at all.  In fact, it was nearly 1/3 of a mile before it finally synced with the satellites.  As we crossed, the views looking towards Manhattan were breathtaking/  The temps were the best they've been in a long time too.  And even the humidity was down.  All for the makings of an exceptional long and memorable run.

The group that was on the other side of the bridge was not as large as we had initially expected, but it was fun all the same.  Karen urged me to run ahead with the other guys, so reluctantly I did, but only after she assured me all was well.

Mayor Bloomberg (I think) is responsible for closing Park, 4th and Lafayette Streets each Saturday during the summer months.  Great idea and I applaud him for that.  It gave me a great view of the city we all happily galloped northward.

I met a nice fella by the name of Chris as I headed up Park.  He was keeping a pretty fast pace, but him and I were talking the whole way.  Someone, forgot who, once mentioned that if you can't talk while running, then you are running too fast.  However, Chris appeared to be motoring and unfazed by it, as we had a nice time talking about some of men's best pastime subjects; women (particularly wife stuff, lol), beer (Negro Modelo - mmmmm), and what else? Running, of course!

This was interesting for me, because I was really itching to put my SanDisk Clip player with it's over 2000 songs to use right away.  I hadn't used it the previous two times when running with NYRR, and thought I would die without the music.  But it was okay.  I think I'm getting more accustomed to running without it.
Unlike my running partner today, who is proud of being a "purist", I still have trouble being accustomed to just hearing the sound of my body and the wind around me.

If there's one thing about running with someone faster than you, it's this.  Never ask them what their best time in a half-marathon is until you think you are about to part ways.  Reason?  Psychologically for me, if your running partner discloses that he/she is indeed much faster, then the first thing that might come to your mind is, "Oh Crap!  I can't keep this pace up anymore!"  This is exactly what I did with Chris, and I was very glad since he mentioned he was a 6:50 pace runner for a half.  Amazing.

But I was pretty proud that I was able to keep up with him.  All the way into Central Park and north to 90th Street for that matter.  We parted ways, but hope to meet him soon for another run...or beers someday.

I stopped for a moment to get some water, because I was thirstier than a dog in a desert.

I then realized that I was still feeling very fresh, and began to do my typical counter-clock loop around the park.  Before long, I was exiting the park at 102nd street (after having done a full 6+1 mile counterclock loop) and heading for my home.  

Now any mere mortal could have seen his home and just call it a nice day.  But I had it in me to do at least 18 miles.  Maybe more.  And at the time I passed my front door, my Garmie had read 15.5, so I had to do more.

I continued going east till I got to the FDR.  I ran up the ramp that is the overpass heading to Ward Island Bridge, but instead of going there, I just took the down ramp on the other side of the walkpath, to run on the East River Esplanade.  I then focused on heading south for as far as I could.   81st Street is as far as one could go down the ERE before having to negotiate a long series of steps to continue onward towards the 59th St. Bridge. 

I had plenty of fight in me left, but I hate steps, and was really looking to keep an under 8:50 pace if possible.
As I started back, I was already doing the math and realized that getting back to my place was going to have me short of 20 miles by over a mile.  So I decided to run around my block (bet. 1st & 2nd & 102nd & 103rd), as many times as necessary to make 20.  Turned out it would be about 5 laps.

As soon as I got upstairs, my two legs felt like wooden sticks of pain.  I immediately headed for a bathtub.  No Epsom Salts, but plenty of hot water.  Karen got in about 10 minutes after me, but by then, I was already
undergoing primal scream therapy to get my mind off my painful and hairy chicken legs.  1 30-minute bath, 3 Advil Geltabs, and 2 protein bars later, I was feeling a lot better.  Still, I was cramping quite a bit on my foot but eventually that went away as well.

I was very proud of my no-quit attitude today.  It's important for me to get used to doing long runs like this.  The more, the merrier.   Next up, the NYRR Long Training Run # 2.  It won't be as exciting as this one, since it's just loop after loop in Central Park.  But who knows now?  I've got a goal in mind to improve over today's best performance of 20+ miles (8:34 pace is the best yet).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Competitive even when training

This will be my first "simul-blog" since I just signed up for NYCRUNS.COM.  Highly recommend it to my fellow NYC runners out there!
What is it with people that have to win...even when it's just a training run?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am such a nut job.

I signed up for the NYC Marathon NYRR training camp. What did I hope to learn? After all, I've done the NYC Marathon 8 times already.

So far I can say is that I am finally running with an MP3 player for at least 2 nights a week.

And I'm running like crazy. These training runs are broken into groups based on individual pace for a 5k. Though I've cracked the 7 minute barrier a few times, I decided to play it safe and stick to the Advanced Competitor with the 7-8 minute folks.

Tonight was a fartlek run, and while I spare you all the gassy references, I will tell you that I really hate running on the sidewalk up and down 5th Avenue on the Central Park side. However as bad as the road is, at least it forces you to focus on where one's landing. Also, it was pretty cool to run right alongside none other than the author of the Competitive Runner's Book, Mr. Bob Glover

We started "fartleking" once we entered into Central Park at Engineer's Gate at 90th. The first speed burst, I beat everyone. Great. Uhhhh, except this ISN'T A RACE, MORON!!!

The next speed burst we did, I fell back, and the third fell back even more. I reacted well as we started to approach the exit ramp to Central Park South, and won again. Central Park South was also hectic to navigate around everyone, so coach Dan made us take it easy.

I was getting pumped as the last big surge was an all-out assault pace for the last 3/10ths of a mile to where the finish line of the NYC Marathon is. I started out behind 2 people, and eventually overtook them. I was all alone....until coach Dan ( a 2hr 38min marathoner) ran past me as if I were walking. Ahem, my pace over that entire distance was 5:37 and even faster when he obliterated me.

So for anyone who thinks something is deeply wrong with themselves for feeling competitive during a training run, hear this: "Something is deeply wrong with you." Also hear this; "It's so much more fun this way, ain't it?"