Thursday, August 30, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
Announcer Guy - We break from our regularly scheduled programming here at ESPN to bring you this special press conference from somewhere on the UpperEast Side of Manhattan in New York City, where our very own SS is standing by…S, what can you tell us?
SS – Hi everyone, I’m standing here on the Upper East Side right outside the apartment of marathon runner, The Running Laminator, who’s called this press conference to make a special announcement. We go live to the podium…
L – Thank you all for coming out. I see only ESPN has sent a crew to cover this momentus occasion, but that’s alright. You’re the only ones who matter anyway. I would like to take this opportunity to nominate myself for the ESPY in the category of “Comeback Player of the Year.” You will hear more from me in the upcoming months as I prepare to run the New York City Marathon. Thank you very much. (SS raises hand) Questions from the audience?
SS – Yes, Mr. Laminator, you do realize we already have some outstanding candidates vying for the award, like Rick Ankiel, who last we saw as a pitcher couldn’t hit the ocean with his fastball if he was standing next to it but is now somehow reinvented himself as a outfielder and hitting home runs to lead the Cardinals in a miraculous late season push for the playoffs and Alex Rodriguez, who’s leading the world in homers a year after he was almost booed off the team in the Bronx, just to name a couple. What makes you think you’re deserving of the award?
L – Well, after setting a personal best at the Fairfield Half Marathon two months ago with a time of 1:31:56, placing me in the top 6% of all runners in the event, I was considered by the running community to be heavily favored to break the 3:10 hurdle at the NYC Marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon. But because of some health concerns and personal issues, I was not able to finish any of the last two 16 mile training runs, and my goal to run in the marathon at all was being seriously jeopardized. Some of my running colleagues even suggested I skip it altogether because I was falling so far behind on my training schedule. But I’m here to announce to the world that I’m back. I just ran 16 miles around Central Park in good time with no pain. I could’ve even ran it a bit faster, but didn’t want to make all the other park runners jealous, so I took it easy and enjoyed the scenery. But at any rate, just wanted to tell all the viewers to hop back on the bandwagon, ‘cause NYC in November is looking mighty fine again. That’s why I think I deserve the award.
SS – I see. And to what do you attribute your new found success?
L – First, I want to thank my feet for being so great…and then I want to thank my running mates for helping me through the tough miles.
SS – And by running mates, you mean Renny and Marc?
L – Yeah, them too. But I’m really talking about my New Balance 857s. It’s the shoes, man. You know what I’m saying. It’s gotta be the shoes. A runner’s nothing without his shoes.
SS – Well there you have it. Live from the Upper East Side, where The Running Laminator’s just thrown his own name into the hat for “Comeback Player of the Year.” I don’t think that’s ever been done before in the entire history of the award. But if he does what he promises and runs the New York City Marathon in record time, we just might have to ask the selection committee to make an exception. Back to you in the studio.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I have to be honest. You weren’t the first on my list when I went shopping for shoes yesterday, or even the second. You weren’t the sexy choice. That would have to be the motion control Brooks sneakers with the gold labels and fluorescent blue trims. You weren’t the fastest either. (Boy, I could get ticketed with the speed those Saucony racers would have been able to generate on the track!) But when I picked you off the shelf, found my size and laced you up, I noticed an instant connection. Later, when the shoe salesman invited me to take you out for a test jog, we ran in comfort, in unison, quietly efficient, not as runner and shoes, but as partners in a journey to something great. And even though I tested a few more pairs after you, racing them around the block like walk-on recruits at the combine, none of the others spoke to me or exuded the same confidence as you. So I negotiated with the salesman, obtained the rights to your services a few minutes before the close of business, and took you home.
So now that you’re here, gazing down at me from your pedestal that is the shoebox, preparing to run, I need to come clean on a few things about my running. The truth is, I’ve been slipping a little since that last half-marathon PR set three months ago that you read about in the blogs. Since then, my determination in running the long miles just hasn’t been up to par with the high standards others have come to expect and I’ve come to demand of myself. I’m blaming it on the bad weather, the bad health, and most of all, on the previous set of running mates, who’ve grown tired and cranky on me after 400+ miles on the road. So after our last training run today, when I ended up with two painful blisters on my feet, I’m retiring them for good and replacing them with you.
Tomorrow, we will start anew. Together, we will run strong through the tough miles. When marathon day comes, we will tear up this town like its gift wrap at Christmas. Hopefully, we’ll make NYC our pit stop to Boston. So, please, new running mates, don’t think of yourselves as a meaningless late season acquisition at the trading deadline, but as the vehicle for renewed hope and perspective in the push for the big finish, because November 4th is still ten weeks away, but I’m already finding myself pushing hard against the wall. Please teach me to be physically strong, mentally tough, and not surrender against the pain because “runners don’t quit, and quitters don’t run!”. Most of all, guide me to the finish line wherever that is so I can inspire and teach others how to do the same, for that is the ultimate purpose for my running.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Three years ago, almost to the day, my mom told me while I was heading toward the showers that I was starting to grow a belly.
It was my first year of fellowship, work at the hospital was tough, and I was spending every moment I had out of the hospital studying for boards. Although I was never exactly an exercise freak per se, I was always active throughout medical school and residency, playing different types of sports through the warm days and going skiing and snowboarding during the winter. But with the challenges of new job responsibilities, old friends moving out of town, and preparing for an exam which served to legitimize the last three years of my medical livelihood, carving out time to be active was not on the agenda. So when my mom noted, half-jokingly or not, that I was “showing”, I vowed to myself that once boards were over, a dramatic lifestyle change was going to be in order such that I’d never have to subject myself to such speculation again. That winter, on the day after I took my boards, I enrolled in a two-year membership at New York Sports Club and started the campaign that my brother and I aptly coined “Buff By Summer”.
I’m not sure if I ever achieved “buffness” by the next summer as intended, because I discovered running during the spring (thanks to my friend Matt, my first running mentor, who convinced me that 4 miles in the park was just an excuse to be in shape for summer basketball), and began to use the gym exclusively for the treadmill. But, I’m certain that if mom never made me look and wonder at the mirror that night, I’d never even know I needed to exercise in the first place.
In actuality, there are a lot more reasons why my mom motivates me to run, but to list them all would require a whole separate blog altogether. Suffice it to say that she was the first family exercise freak, always out for a jog before heading out to work and was the most excited for me when she found out I was running the marathon (even though she thought a marathon was 10K long). I’m not sure if she’s going to read this, but if she does, “Thanks mom!” Because of you, I run.
Monday, August 20, 2007
All you need to know about my sixteen miler yesterday was that I woke up in the morning with a fever and shaking chills. I felt fine on Friday, fine on Saturday, and found myself not being able to get out of bed Sunday morning. Maybe it was the run in the rain on Friday that did me in, or hanging out in t-shirt and short sleeves all night Saturday night when it was unseasonably cool that was to blame…I’m not sure. It’s funny how I always end up with a debilitating sickness whenever I’m scheduled for a long run. I thought about calling my training buddies and canceling but felt guilty that I’d be not only ruining my schedule, but theirs as well. And they’ve both been running so well that I didn’t want them to have a setback on my account.
So I willed myself up after rolling around in bed for 2 hours, got some breakfast, took some Motrin, and made myself believe that I was feeling better. By the time the late afternoon rolled around, my head was not hurting as much, and I went to meet the guys at the park. The weather outside was cloudy and cool, and by the time I reached the park, it had begun to rain. As I went through my stretching exercises, I promised myself to take the run slow and pace myself accordingly. I was a bit apprehensive when I noticed the HR on my Garmin 305 was already reading in the 90s even before the start (normally it’s in the 50s) and I suddenly felt the urge to relieve myself. Fortunately at that exact moment, the guys showed up, and took my focus away from my nagging thoughts.
We decided to run two 6-miler loops and then a 4-mile loop for the requisite 16 miles. Although I usually took these long runs more as a social gathering than as marathon training, I was pretty quiet and reticent right from the start because I was intently focused on my breathing and pacing and didn’t want to spend extra energy that I didn’t have conversing. We’d have plenty of time after the run for that, I presumed.
We all ran the first six miles pretty comfortably. At the end of the loop, I excused myself to visit the restroom and told the other guys to continue on without me. After relieving myself as quickly as I could, I came back to the road, took a gel pack, and continued on. I felt slightly more comfortable after the bathroom run, so I increased my pace every so slightly to catch up to the guys. I was still mindful of the fact that I had 10 more miles to go, so I did not dare to go off too quickly. By mile 8-9, I caught back up to them, and even ran past them to take the lead. I felt fine until mile 11-12, when my calves started to bother me, and my head began to throb. I force myself up the steep east side cat hill, taking small deliberate steps, and fought my way to the 12 mile finish. I stopped at a fountain to refill my water bottle, walked for a bit to take in another gel pack, and wanted to start back up again, but couldn’t. By this time, both of the guys had caught up and had past me and I was struggling to keep up. In the middle of that 13th mile, I began to develop a side twitch that had me holding my right side with each step. I slowed my run to a walk to allow it to subside, but it came back when I started running again. Faced with a pounding headache, aching calves, a debilitating side twitch, and an almost empty water bottle, I was forced to call it quits again after 13 miles.
The walk of shame from the west side back to the east side was physically and emotionally draining. Not only was I faced with the failure of another long run DNF and the psychological havoc it now creates for the rest of my marathon training, the temperature had also dropped a few degrees since we started, and I was shivering badly from the cold and rain. After jog-walking an eternity in what seemed like my own personal punishment back to the east side to meet up with the guys after their victorious final lap around the park, I felt, cold, sick, and even more beaten down than at any point during my running areer.
I can’t help but think that if I don’t make it to Boston this year, I would remember this run as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Do you remember the AmEx commercial? The one where it’s raining outside, you see inside an empty house and you hear Tiger Woods in the background commenting “A rainy day is my chance to be home; be a fan; be a kid; be lazy…problem is, there are no rainy days.” Then the camera cuts to a shot of Tiger practicing golf shots in the rain.
That was all I could think about on my run in the thunder and rain this afternoon. A year ago, I probably would’ve skipped it. I was hungry from having an early lunch, exhausted from a long day of work, eager to just sit back in preparation for a relaxing weekend. But for whatever reason, I thought of that Tiger commercial as I was changing out of my work clothes and just had to go.
It actually wasn’t bad once I got started. For one thing, it was much cooler than it has been for days. Secondly, there was hardly a soul in Central Park, which during the evening rush, is usually jammed pack with runners, bikers and cars fighting for the same six inches of road. Finally, at the very least, it was good practice for races. After all, there’s no guarantee that it won’t rain on marathon day. (Just ask the poor souls who ran Boston this year during the Northeastern!) Once I got adjusted to running at a comfortable pace, the rain really didn’t bother me that much. I was able to maintain a good 7:05 min/mile pace throughout the six miles without even looking at the watch. By the end of the 43 minutes, the rain even stopped and gave way to a nice dusky breeze. Calculating my miles and splits on my way home, I actually felt better about my running than I had for weeks.
Tiger’s right. There really are no rainy days…there’re just running days with a bit of extra precipitation!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Running, or any form of athletics for that matter, was not exactly synonymous with everyday life for a migrant Chinese boy growing up in Queens back in the ‘80s. Because I never swung a bat or dribbled a basketball until I was eight, I was never particularly good or had sufficient time to develop skills at any sport that mattered to boys growing up. Although I was never downright horrible at anything that I tried, I always seemed to lack the instinctual hand-eye coordination that was necessary to excel. To everyone and everything that required any sort of physical talent or ability, I was dependably “average”. Even through high school and college, when my jump shot from the outside got a little better and I learned to hit singles to the outfield from both sides of the plate, I was resigned to the idea that I had already past my athletic prime and “just average” would be all that I’d ever be in the sporting world.
So when I was introduced to running two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to consistently finish races at the top 10% of my age group. All of a sudden, the “average” label no longer fit; I was actually a good runner. But it really wasn’t until I completed my first marathon later that fall, when I had to crawl to the nearest medical station for a quarter of a mile because of severe leg cramps, and somehow still managed to break 3:30 in NYC that I became an athlete. It took a little while, but I had arrived…and for that, I run.
But more important that just attaining the status of an athlete, I think by going through the training, the mental preparation, the anxiety, the adrenaline rush, and the drama inherent in the sport of running, especially marathon running, I gain insight into the world of the professional athlete, and it helps me develop a better understanding and appreciation for the ballplayers I love to watch on ESPN every night. Especially when the pressure is the highest, when there’s no room for error, when its two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven of the League Championship Series and my favorite guy on my favorite team is at bat with runners on first and second with my team trailing by one and I’m pacing up and down and around the living room because I know what this guy does on this one at bat will either deliver my team to the World Series or waste another season that looked so promising at the start, and all the training and all the extra BPs and all the video he watched throughout the entire year comes down to this one at bat, I can close my eyes and see myself again at the 20th mile of the marathon, staring down the sign on the pole signaling the last 10K, and realizing that my entire year of long runs, tempo runs, and interval training have brought me to this point, and how my perception of the entire year will change depending on how I finish this last 10K, and I’m asking myself, never mind the pain, the exhaustion, the hunger and fatigue, “what’s it gonna be?” and for a moment or two, the batter and I are the same, each chasing a dream, each afraid of failing…and that’s when I know, when I truly know, why I run.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Some people run races purely for health benefits. Other people run marathons to benefit those less fortunate. Still others run ultramarathons to discover or rediscover their physical limits to touch lives far greater than their own. Then there are those who use their running to understand the world in which they live, to achieve goals and dreams far beyond their machinations and expectations. These are the reasons why I run; I call them “Persuasions”...First installment to be posted tomorrow.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
I made it back to the city today after the 4-day excursion in Myrtle Beach. Although the destination was perfect for golf, cards, and relaxation, it was not very conducive to marathon training as the humidity was sky high and the heat index reached triple digits each day we were there. A short run on the treadmill was all I could muster the energy for during the trip.
So the first thing I did when I got back to the city this afternoon was lace up the shoes for a mid distance training run in the park. Since it had been a while since I ran, I decided to do a ten miler, starting with the lower 5-mile loop and ending with the upper 5-mile loop, all in a clockwise direction. I was hoping that finishing with Harlem Hill would give me some practice running tough hills on tired legs.
The first fives miles were easy and comfortable, the last five, much less so. I maintained a steady slow pace (7:43 min/mile) throughout the ten miles, yet the hills in the north end of the park still left me severely tachycardic and out of breath by the end. After running on fumes to the finish, I was totally exhausted, yet satisfied and relieved that I had completed the distance...only to realize that I’m scheduled to run this same distance plus six more miles next weekend!
Afterwards, as I gingerly limped home on my jello legs, I heard a street performer play “New York, New York” off key on his saxaphone across the street. I crossed over, dropped a single into his money can, and thanked him and the park for welcoming me back to the city.
Friday, August 10, 2007
I think my cold/flu is finally over. Just in time too. I'm taking a much needed vacation break from the running and the city in Myrtle Beach this weekend. Will try to fit a bunch of short runs whenever I can fit them in. The heat wave is preventing me from doing much outdoors, so I have access only to the treadmill. It's not my favorite place to do runs, but I'll do the best I can with the circumstances. Meanwhile, I'll try to eat and rest. Marathon training will resume again when I'm back in town in a few days.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Running is like hitting your head against the wall sometimes. Wait, or was that just my feet pounding the pavement? I can’t tell anymore; hurts about the same.
I thought I was feeling better today. No fever or headaches the whole day. Just some residual coughing and nasal congestion; nothing that should get in the way of a good run. So after my last debacle of a long run (see previous post), I was more eager than normal to lace up the shoes and hit the road, if only to prove to myself that I am a better runner than I showed on Sunday. I got home early from work this afternoon, but since it was a stifling hot and humid day, I waited patiently for sunset to start my run.
The schedule called for a 6 mile run around Central Park at a general aerobic pace, which for me, meant around 7:05-7:20 min/mile pace. I think I would have been happy even with a min/mile pace, just as long as I ran well, and felt comfortable throughout. And just to be sure I would run according to my own comfort level, I promised myself that I wouldn’t even look at my watch to see my speed or my time until after the run.
Everything started out okay. I ran along the first mile or so at a comfortable pace, not feeling particularly bad. At around the end of that mile, I found myself next to two other runners who were running at my speed. Over the next half mile or so, all three of us kept taking turns in the lead, but still running at the same exact pace. Even through the first part of Harlem Hill, we were still within twenty feet of each other. Now I don’t know about others, but I hate running next to strangers for long stretches of road. I guess it goes back to what my dad always told me about driving, “It’s dangerous when you’re in a car to go at the same speed as the car next to you, either speed up or drop back!” So being that I running at a comfortable pace, I felt that I could speed up and give myself some running room, and then slow back down afterwards. So I did. I ran hard past the two guys over the crest of the hill and sped down the other side. That did the trick because the two boys were never heard from again. The only trouble was, I was not able to slow down after that. I kept running that same past pace through the next couple hills. By mile 3, I was breathing hard and was struggling with dehydration and exhaustion. I told myself to slow down, to catch my breath…but everytime I lost focus and thought about something else, I was back to my usual fast speed. It was infuriating because by mile 4 and 5, my calves were starting to really bother me, and I was panting so hard that I wasn’t about to take sips from my Gatorade bottle. I wanted to stop altogether but then I knew I might not start again if I did, and coming off a poor long run already, I wasn’t about to let that happen. So I struggled up Cat Hill and labored to the finish. By the last half mile, I was so delirious and tired that I was swerving and tripping. I almost hit a little kid riding her tricycle. It was terrible. The last 400 feet felt like it would last forever. I think some old lady must have heard me swearing to myself because she gave me a dirty look when I ran past her. When I finally finished, I slumped over to the benches and felt completely nauseous. It would be another 15 minutes before I could gather up enough energy to walk home.
All in all, I ran 6 miles at min/mile pace, my second best time ever for a training run of that distance. On any other day, I think I would have been excited and proud to run that time. But tonight, when I neither had the energy or desire to do an impromptu tempo run, it’s taking a lot of energy right now not to doubt my training or get down on myself for making another rookie mistake.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Distance running is a very humbling sport. One minute, you’re there thinking your training is going well and you might not only run a good marathon, but establish a PR that would make your friends jealous; the next, you’re struggling through your long run (LR) and wondering if you should even bother lining up at the starting blocks if you’re just going to break down at the end and walk to the finish anyways.
I woke up this morning with a head cold. I’m not exactly sure how I can catch a cold in the dead of summer (and if anyone should know, I guess I should being an M.D. and all) but I felt sort of weak with a sore throat and mild fever all morning. I knew I had a 14 mile LR scheduled with my training partner in the late afternoon, so I tried to focus on taking it easy all day in preparation for the run. I hadn’t run since Thursday so I felt I was well rested from a physical standpoint to handle the challenge.
I felt slightly better by the time rolled around so I headed off to the park with my gel packs and Gatorade bottle anxious to begin my run. I met my friend Renny at the entrance to
We ran the first loop at a nice and easy min/mile pace. I was feeling comfortable as we started the second loop, but knew that I had to maintain the slow pace to make sure I had enough stamina to finish the run. The weather was perfect for a late Sunday run. Temps were around upper 70s, and there was a cool breeze that pretty much made the afternoon humidity a non-factor. Perhaps that was the reasons that one mile into that second loop, Renny (who usually complains that I’m running too fast!) decided to raise the ante and increase his speed to about min/mile pace. I was neither prepared or expected to run at that pace and struggled hard to catch him. I eventually did by the end of the 4 mile loop, but was so winded and fatigued that I had to take a short break. I told him to go on ahead without me and went over to the water fountain to regroup. I took a few gulps of water, ate my powergel and started running again. I was hurting bad at this point and tried to focus on just moving my feet for as long as I could. The miles during that last loop seemed to last forever, and it took everything I had to keep going. At the end of mile 2, I made the executive decision to turn the last loop from a 5 miler to a 4 miler. I knew that if I hadn’t, there’d be a good chance I would be taking the dreaded “walk of shame” back to the start or worse, risk an injury that would wipe out the rest of my training.
Eventually, I was able to finish my 13 mile run at a min/mile pace. My whole body was aching by the time I was done and had to rest on the bench for a good 5 minutes before I regained feeling again in my feet. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so tired and sore. Renny came in soon after I did, having completed the whole 14 miles at less than min/mile pace. I was proud of him because that was the longest distance he had ever run, but was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to run with him during that last loop.
I had wanted to reward myself with a bowl of Pinkberry frozen yogurt at the end of the run, but only had enough energy to eat some plums, wash up, and go to bed. Running can be very humbling indeed, especially when you don’t use your head. Never again will I attempt a long run with a flu or fever again!
Saturday, August 4, 2007
The next year, in 2006, when training began for
So this year, having 2 years of marathon experience, I decided to take the plunge and design my own training regimen. It is a combination of Smart Coach, Higdin and Pfizinger programs individually tailored to my specifications according to recent race times and my marathon goal. It has me running approximately 33-40 miles per week, with three 20-milers, two 18-milers and a couple of half-marathon races to practice pacing and strategy. I hope it will be enough to make up the seconds and take me to Boston.
Currently, I am in my third week of marathon training, 13 weeks before race day. I’ll give a weekly update each weekend after the long run session (usually Sundays) to let you all know how the training is going, so stay tuned.