Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Quick Sick Weekend Review

A quickie weekend review from me bullet-style, since I’m still a bit sick and not able to form coherent thoughts…

  • Woke up with fever and headache
  • Took some meds (didn’t help)
  • Watched some good track and field on TV (how about that Ritz?!)
  • Thought about running, but decided against it
  • Felt guilty about falling behind on marathon training
  • Had hot and cold spells throughout the day
  • Didn’t have much of an appetite so ate minimally
  • Drank a few liters of water, enough to pee water
  • Answered RBF e-mails about with injuries and marathon plans
  • Made minor adjustments to my own marathon training “grid”
  • Slept off and on, getting up mostly to pee.

  • Got up late (9-ish)
  • Saw the sun but felt cold
  • Ate small breakfast (wasn’t hungry)
  • Tricked myself into believing I’m significantly better
  • Got dressed in running shorts, sleeveless tank, and bandana
  • Poured Gatorade into handheld and stuffed a GU into pants pocket
  • Reattempt missed 16 miler from yesterday
  • Ran slow and easy and comfortable for first half
  • Died a slow death in the second half (especially last 2.5 miles)
  • Finished 16 a few blocks away and had to sit to prevent passing out
  • Saw some white powder on upper arms and took a lick, tasted salty
  • Was puzzled by why I felt so exhausted until I got home and changed
  • GU was still there in my left pants pocket.
  • Laughed with some friends online at my own stupidity. Haha!

The Aftermath? Here’s the updated grid.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Me, Kara, and Some Verbal Diarrhea

So you know how when you have a cold or a flu, the kind where it hurts just to move your head and you have a thousand thoughts swirling around that probably wouldn’t make sense on any other day but it makes perfect sense to you right now because you’re sick and tired and all you want to do is slip under the covers and not emerge again until this viral episode is over but you can’t because you have work to do and errands to run and deadlines to meet so you try to compromise by urging your malaise body to get up and jot these thoughts down hoping they’d serve some therapeutic purpose? Yeah, that’s where I am today, so if this post gets a bit long or superfluous or in general reads more like a bout of verbal diarrhea than what came out of my you-know-what this morning, then please excuse the intrusion and come back next week when we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Okay, you’ve been forewarned…Now welcome to my world!

I knew I was headed for trouble when I went to bed last night with a slight tickle in the back of my throat. Truth be told, I had been putting my body under a tremendous amount of physical stress ever since I got back from California two days ago. Between jetting directly from the airport to the hospital after an overnight red-eye flight to a dinner engagement that left me up ‘til the wee hours that night followed by the next morning, playing doctor to 50 kids at diabetes camp and zipping off to do an intense interval workout (12 miles with 4 x 1mile @ 5:54) where I pushed my physical limits way beyond what I had scheduled (11 miles with 3 x 1mile @ 6:03) for myself before heading home at way past my bedtime after dinner with a friend and feeling so physically exhausted that I almost passed out in the sofa before even taking off my clothes, I really have no right to complain that my body is rebelling against me right now. The funny thing about this whole episode is that over dinner last night, I had boastfully confided to my friend (when he reminded me that NYCM is 9.5 weeks away) that my marathon training is going so well and so smoothly even though I’m running faster and longer than I ever have before that I think I’ve already maxed out my miles and my long runs and am dumbfounded as to how to strategize my training for the rest of the time. Indeed, after downloading my runs from California into my training log and reviewing my progress during my flight home, I realized I’ve already done more 55+ mile weeks (3) than I did in my preparation for Boston! Now only so, but I’ve done 3 20+mile runs in the past 4 weekends, and have accumulated more miles this month (200+) than I’ve ever run! And through it all, I dare say I’m running a bit faster (as evidenced by my interval workout) and smoother (each interval clocked in at 5:53-5:54) than I ever have before. And the biggest triumph I can claim – no injuries! Yay! Truthfully though, if you don’t mind me saying so, I am a little frightened by these developments. I’ve never gone through a whole training cycle without injury before! So I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to handle myself. Should I continue at my current pace and mileage and hope to maintain this level of fitness all the way through? Should I step back a bit and take a couple of lower mileage recovery weeks so I can build up to a peak again before the taper? If I want to add mileage, I’m not quite sure I can run more miles than I do now, given that I am putting in 55 or so miles in 5 days/week of running. I guess I can raise the ante and add a sixth day but I’m afraid I might overtrain this body and have disastrous results. (Remember, I’ve always been a proponent of 4 days/wk of running for marathon training so to be consistently running 5 days/wk now is already a big deal to me!) Besides, I don’t want to run more than 3 consecutive days since my muscles tend to get quite sore by the third day even when I run slow. So what to do, what to do? I’m leaning more on just being patient and consistent and stick with what has gotten me here. There’s a bunch of races and marathon-paced run coming up in the next several months so if I can maintain a 55-60 mile/week base and just add some dedicated speed training, I think that should be good enough for me.

Speaking of running, I forgot to mention something that I posted about in my recap of my California adventure. While I was there, every cousin, aunt, uncle came up to me in private and congratulated me on being an awesome runner! I guess they’ve all heard at one time or another that I run marathons and such but most have never really witnessed it in person, and fewer still has ever talked to me about it. So when they saw me waking early everyday to run 5-7 miles and then found out that I took the early bird train to San Fran and ran 21 miles over the Golden Gate Bridge before they had even finished brunch, they were all beyond impressed. I became a mini-celebrity for the rest of the weekend! All the uncles and aunts came up to me afterwards and told me their individual running stories, which was so very cool to hear. Then my cousins came and asked about my marathon training and how long it takes someone to train to run long distances. I told them all my reasons for running and how it sustains me and challenges me and how it makes me a good doctor and better person when I run. I don’t know if won over any of them by my story, but it was definitely cool when I “accidentally” overheard one of my younger cousins whisper to her brother later on – “I think it’s so cool to be able to run ten or fifteen miles just because you feel like it!” Yeah, right on! I think if I had a bucket list, one of the items would definitely be to run a marathon with a member of my family.

Switching gears a bit, did you all see the marathon coverage from the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin over the weekend? Did you all see Kara Goucher (spoiler alert) and her 10th place finish? How about her courageous post-race interview afterwards – here, and here? What did you all think? I only got to see it last night on DVR since I was away this weekend so if this is old hat to you all, I apologize. I thought she did an admirable job, doing the best that she can despite having major GI issues during the race and battling her stomach for much of the race. I know she must be disappointed given as how she put her life on hold (at least for several months) just to dedicate herself to training for this race. Like she mentioned in her interview, she was training better than she ever has and was as well prepared as she could be, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I guess that is the thing about marathons - you can train like hell, be at the peak of your physical conditioning on race day and something crazy and fluky can happen at any point during the 26.2 mile course to ruin your chances at a race goal. The thing that impressed me about Kara was that despite her obvious disappointment (and some vomiting) she can still say with a straight face that she loves the marathon distance and this race. How many of us can say that minutes after crossing the finish line after a less-than-stellar time?

Watching the marathon coverage, I immediately felt humbled by Kara’s performance and her words. Because I too have felt utter disappointment at missing a PR in a marathon not too long ago and feel as if I’m currently running and training better than I ever have for any prior marathon, the words she spoke shot through the computer monitor and into my heart with a reverberation so strong it was the last sound I heard before drifting off to sleep last night – I wonder if I’ll end up with a similar performance in NYC? What if I run a 3:05 or a 3:15 or even worse a 3:00:02? Will I be happy? Will I be devastasted? Will I be gracious? Will I remaining a proponent of marathons, or will I swear off the race and take a break for as long as Kara is going to be out of the running scene? I sincerely hope not, but like every aspect of racing a marathon – you just never know.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brief Recap From A Californian Adventure

It’s been less than a day since I’ve returned from my weekend escapade in northern California and already I’m missing the beautiful scenery, the cooler climes, and yes even the unforgiving mountainous roads that decorate the Bay coast area. Although I had every intention of running little and blogging lots while I was over there, due to some unforeseen difficulties with the cable service at the summer home we were renting for the weekend, I was left without internet access for the duration of the trip. Luckily, my lack of virtual contact did not interfere with either of my main agendas for the trip (seeing my cousin walk down the aisle and running my epic long run across the Golden Gate Bridge), which means that generally, the trip was a giant success!

The salient non-running highlights from my trip were being reacquainted with extended family I haven’t seen in quite a while, adapting to constant fog and cooler temperatures than I’m used to back home, and relaxing in style servicing as a witness to my younger cousin’s tying the knot of matrimony. In between these highlights, I also visited Sausalito with its picturesque view of San Francisco, ate amazingly fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf and danced the night away at Half Moon Bay. It’s my sixth time to this area within the last four years and everytime I’m here, I’m taken back by the flavorable culture, the magnificent views and the overall grandeur of the area. I can imagine if I was a bit younger, a bit more cavalier or less attached to my family and friends in NY, I could definitely see myself settling down here!

As for running, even though I was anticipating way less than 30 miles, I managed to log 34.7 miles in 3 runs during my trip. Here’s a quick description of my adventures on the road:

8/20 – 7.36 miles (8:15 avg pace): I hadn’t planned on running on the first day of the trip, but since my younger brother offered to accompany me on this short jaunt and I was super excited to check out the new sights, I found myself out on the road within an hour after my arrival at Half Moon Bay. Since I was not familiar with the surrounding landscape, we started by picking a general direction and just running. Unfortunately for my brother, who’s idea of running is two miles max on a college track, he was ill equipped to deal with the steep turbulent hills that awaited us seemingly at every turn. He moaned and groaned with each passing street and slowed the pace tremendously until he couldn’t take the beating anymore. I circled back the same way we came and dropped him off at 4 miles then ran another 3.36 at a much more comfortable pace on my own. Toward the end of my run, I spotted a trail that lead to unexplored wilderness and wondered aloud whether I should check that out the next time I run.

8/22 – 21.06 miles (7:37 avg pace): This was the run I had been anxiously awaiting for so long! After a short rest day, I took the earliest train into San Francisco on Saturday morning and began the same journey I had taken a year ago in th 2008 SF Marathon. Although the day started with wind and fog, I felt comfortable and rejuvenated by the cooler temps as I began my run near AT&T Park. From there, I ran to the Ferry Building, along the Embarcadero, over a steep hill to the Marina, then up through the steep ramp climb to the Golden Gate Bridge, where I crossed, returned and then retraced my steps to the Ferry Building and AT&T Park. Compared to the epic version of this run done a year ago, this year’s episode was a bit more subdued as the temperature never rose above 70 degrees and the sun never made an appearance hiding behind the dusty clouds. Still, the run itself was absolutely breath-taking, especially running on the Golden Gate Bridge under a significant fog. At times, I imagined I was an airplane, fighting through the thick fog. As I ran, I was glad the fog covered up so much of my view that I couldn’t see the water down below and be intimidated. I was constantly reminded of the last time I did this run, in the marathon a year ago. Although most of the details from that race have faded into distant memory, I remember distinctly running along the Golden Gate when night hasn’t yet sold out to day and watching the bay city skyline slowly unfolding in front of me.

8/23 – 6.32 Miles (7:37 pace): I got up the next morning before anyone else and snug out for a nice recovery run at the crack of dawn. Instead of running on asphalt, I decided to tackle the trail I found at the end of my last run here at Half Moon Bay. Although the trail itself was clearly marked, it was situated on a series of hills, which made running quite an adventure and a bit treacherous. Because of the ever changing elevation, I had to slow down my pace quite often. It was quite an effort to scale to the top, but once I paused and look back, the views from the bay was actually quite stunning. I trampled on for about a couple of miles before doubling back to where I had started from. I ended the run with a couple of easier miles on some soft trails before heading home.

Aside from the steady diet of hills and mountains, I really enjoyed running in California! Even though some of the natives tell me that due to the roughness of the terrain, running isn’t as popular in the Bay Area as cyling, I saw many locals out running the same routes I was during my stay. Although I have no immediate plans of going back, I look forward to my return there as soon as I can find another suitable excuse!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Speed Training Tips For Marathoners
(Part I – For The Beginners: Introducing Speedwork)

As we slog through the heat and humidity of long summer days coming onto the scene a little late, most runners I know have already begun, in earnest, the process of preparing for their fall marathons. Whether they’re newbie long distance runners training to cross the finish line for the first time or well established road junkie veterans who need more than a few seconds to recount the number of finisher’s medals they’ve worn, collectively they’ve all asked me the same question, “What’s the secret to running well in a marathon?” Although there are a myriad of answers to the question, they are all variations on a common theme, speedwork. In this series of posts on speed training, I hope to provide some practical tips to help runners of all levels train better, run faster and finish stronger in their fall marathons.

Part I – For The Beginners: Introducing Speedwork
For the beginner and first time marathon runners among us, let me start by welcoming you to our sport! Congrats. You’ve already taken the first steps to a fun, exciting, fulfilling, healthy and inspiring road adventure that will change your life and that you’ll remember for as long as you live. Now take a deep breath, a really really deep breath and relax. Believe it or not, that is your first (and probably the most important) lesson. Do not be intimidated by the distance. Although 26.2 miles seems like a really really far way to run right now, it is possible and even probable that you will get there if you focus on the three pillars of marathon training: practice, patience, persistence. Many others have gone before you and have finished. You will too!
Now on to the topic at hand.
Throughout my short career advising and coaching first-time marathoners, I’ve always been amazed by how many beginning long-distance runners fail to understand the importance of speed training to marathon success. Maybe it’s a conditioned response to seeing more trained athletes whizzing by them the first time they are out on the road for a few miles. Maybe it’s an excuse to be modest even when there’s no reason to be. Whatever the cause, there’s always a tremendous amount of resistance and angst whenever the subject of speedwork is discussed with a newer runner. There’s a general perception that just because you think you’re slow (even if the term is relative and there’s every evidence to point to the contrary), you’re automatically exempt from speedwork. Speedwork is uncomfortable…it hurts…and should be reserved for the speedy people. I am clumsy, slow and have no aspirations of being fast. So what’s in it for me? They would argue universally. Leave me alone to waddle and plod along the road at whatever pace feels comfortable to me. I’m just looking to cross the finish line in one piece, not race against Usain Bolt!
My response to these speedwork skeptics is almost as universal: You are totally missing the point! Speedwork is much less about running fast as it is about running well. Just as you didn’t start training for a marathon because you thought you were going to take first place, we don’t do speedwork because we’re looking to chase down Ryan Hall! Yes, a consequence of doing speedwork consistently is a better race time, but that is not really the true goal. The main objective of speed training is to encourage and teach the body to run more efficiently. This happens both on a mechanical as well as at a physiologic level. Mechanically, by encouraging your body to run faster, you automatically force the body to “work out the kinks” and adapt a better running posture. With practice, you will adapt a more efficient and smoother form while eliminating the inefficient herky jerky movements of arms and legs. Similarly, on a physiologic level, by forcing the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons to collectively operate a bit faster and a bit harder, you create a performance demand and a natural stress on the cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal system that prompts a physiologic response. Through tissue breakdown and recovery, with practice, the body adapts and becomes better and better at meeting the body’s metabolic requirements. As a result, less oxygen and fuel is consumed and you will naturally become a more efficient and, by consequence, a faster runner.
So, as you can see, speedwork is for everybody looking to become better runners, fast or slow. Since most people start and continue running to better themselves, incorporating faster workouts for the purpose of becoming better runners is just an extension on the same theme of self-improvement.

Now that I’ve convinced you (hopefully) that speedwork leads to more efficient running which leads to marathon success, how should you incorporate some speed into your training if you’ve never done them before? Should you bust out one mile repeats on the track like there’s no tomorrow? Should you run each run as fast and as hard as you can? No, not if you want to make the starting line of your race! Speedwork, like all aspects of running, requires persistence and training. Start by throwing in faster 30 secs-1 min stretches (called fartleks) in the middle of your regular runs once to twice a week. Work up to a faster quarter mile, a half mile, and then to a mile in the middle of your general maintenance run. In the beginning, don’t worry about the exact pace, but concentrate on your breathing and your form during the fartleks. You should feel slightly out of breath but not so much that you are sucking air and dry heaving. Always warmup and cooldown with some slower miles at the start and end of each fartlek segment.
If you incorporate this simple speed workout into your training, you will notice a significant difference in your speed and efficiency in your target marathon. Who knows, you might even surprise yourself with a better race time than you anticipated. Then you can look back and snicker at how you aren’t as slow as you once thought you were and convince others that a little speedwork can really go a long way!
Happy Running and Training!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Travel Plans

So today I have some good news and some bad news to report.
The bad news is that it looks like the 54 miles I had planned for this week is not likely to happen. The reason? Well, that’s the good news. I’m taking an impromptu vacay to northern Cali this weekend to watch a cousin of mine walk down the aisle! This is so exciting for me on so many fronts. First, I get to hang out with extended family and cousins who I haven’t seen in quite a while. Second, I get to escape the brutal heat/humidity of NYC, where it’s expected to be in the 90s for the rest of this week. Third, I get to continue my annual pilgrimage to San Francisco, where I’ve been at least once a year for the last five years. And last but not least, I’ll have an opportunity to repeat my epic run from the Ferry Terminal over the Golden Gate Bridge again (I’m hoping anyway!) Yeah, I’m really excited. I haven’t gone traveling in so long that my frequent flyer miles would have expired had I not use them for this trip.
There is no true itinerary for this vacay except for Sunday when the wedding ceremony is taking place. Otherwise, the rest of the time is free for us to do whatever we want. Since most of my family members aren’t as familiar with the city as I, there will most likely be a lot of tourisy things on the agenda. This works for me because then I can sneak off while everyone else is preoccupied and get my miles in. Since I have approximately 33 miles on the schedule for the time I’ll be away, there will be plenty of running adventures to be had, time and weather permitting. I also purposely scheduled a return red-eye flight back on Monday night (instead of Sunday night like the rest of the people) just so I have a backup day for my 20-mile epic run if I can’t find time to get it in over the weekend. Yeah, I'm overprotective of glorious long runs like that.
While we're on the subject of summertime vacays, as I was arranging last minute travel details yesterday, I got a little overzealous and scheduled my next running vacay after San Fran as well. Although it’s been in the works for a while, I finally overcame my own commitophobia and registered for the Honolulu Marathon yesterday as well as a bunch of local (Queens, Staten Island) and not-so-local (Philly) halves. You heard right folks. I’ll be traveling to Hawaii in mid-December and running in yet another marathon with my female counterpart, FL. This year, just like it was at Vegas last year, she’ll be racing her marathon while I’ll be taking mine easy after NYC (although a challenge from a club member has already been issued…sigh!). Either way, we hope to be hitting the beach and consuming lots of fruity alcoholic beverages in celebration right after the finish. Heck, I might even start the celebratory drinking before the never know. Omigosh, it’s going to be such a blast! I can hardly wait. (For all the Philly people who I was intending to meet at your ‘thon, don’t fret. I’ll still be there, running the half, and cheering all of you on. Party at Broad Street anyone?)
But first things first…so how many sets of running clothes will I need for my trip to SF if I’m going to be there for five days? I’m going to bring four hoping to use three. With each set, I guess I’ll have to bring matching bandanas. And shoes? Probably just one pair of runners although two would be ideal. Should I go with the older pair of NB that can double as trail shoes or my newer Brooks pair that I haven’t quite broken into yet? Gosh. I’m having such a tough time deciding what to bring that I don’t know how the frequent business travelers among you all do it. Seriously, I think I’ll need to hold a marathon packing session just to get going!
Hope you all have a great rest of the week and weekend. I’m going to work on a series of posts on speed training for marathoners (tailored individually for newbie, intermediate and veteran ‘thoners) while I’m on the plane so look out for that. I’ll talk to you all when I’m online again on the other side of the country! Happy Running!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Never Been Coached

Thanks for all the insightful comments on my last post. I’m sure I shocked some people with that one. Yes it’s quite uncharacteristic of me to speak of running as if race PRs is all I’m after and to speak of early retirement as if it’s happening tomorrow. But not to fear blogosphere, for there are many more marathons to complete and race finishes to cross and runners to meet and running-related experiences to explore before I hang up these running shoes forever. Besides I think all the people I’m coaching to run their first/second marathon (not to mention some of my bloggy friends!) would probably kill me if I suddenly decide to drop out of the running scene right now. All I was trying to accomplish in that last post was to be refreshingly honest and record my momentary musings on the conditions of my eventual retirement from running, even if it’s a little uncomfortable to think about right now. It was also my way of hinting that in the distant future, if I should ever decide to drop off the face of the earth and not run and not blog, and just…disappear, I want you all to know that I’m okay, and probably in a good place both physically and emotionally and not to worry about me. (In my mind, I’m imagining it to be like it is portrayed here at the end of this clip from Good Willing Hunting – no goodbye, no see ya later, no nothing…) Just FYI.

Speaking of running and coaching, I’ve just been recruited by a couple more blogger friends this week to be their marathon advisor/coach for their upcoming fall marathons. Apparently, word is getting out that I’m some sort of marathon guru that really likes helping people achieve their long distance goals. Silly people. Whatever gave them that idea I’ll never know. Haven’t they read my race report from Boston? Don’t they know I’m already considering retirement? But since I’ve got a reputation to uphold and am pretty good at what I do, I decided to throw them a bone and help them out. Besides, I’m still holding out hope that my “Pay It Forward” campaign will soon sweep the country into a running frenzy so complete that my doorman will have a bottle of Gatorade ready for me to run and grab every morning at 5AM as I pass through the lobby and there’ll be a different person every day for me to run with in Queens (seeing as how there were NO runners out the day before on a perfect Friday afternoon!). Well, that is my dream anyways.

But I do think that I’m pretty unique as a runner and a coach because unlike the majority of people who run my kind of pace at races, I’ve never actually been coached myself. I never ran during high school or college and didn’t join a running club until April of last year. And since I can count with 1 finger how many runners I knew when I started running 5 years ago (and he wasn’t back then as yet a marathoner) everything I knew about running I had to learn on my own – some via books, magazines, and online sources, but mostly through trial and error. So most of the principles I teach and preach are really the aftermath of experiments I’ve conducted on me. Some lessons came to me early. Others are taking forever to sink in. Either way, they are all a part of a bigger process of learning, experimenting, and self-discovery. In the end, I think that concept epitomizes the true essence of running for me and explains why I love coaching even though I’ve never been coached myself.

Marathon Training Update:

Because of my 5 mile race, I got a little distracted by the speed last week. I’m back to my “running longer, running slower” plan this week. 53 miles planned; 55.7 miles ran. Highlights included a 11.5 mile run with 5 miles at tempo pace of 6:22 min/mi on Thursday, and 20.5 mile long run yesterday with friends that incorporated Summer Streets, the Brooklyn Bridge and an outer loop of Central Park. I kept the pace slow for the first 14 miles (~8:30 min/mi pace) and pushed a little for the last 6 miles (7:19 min/mi pace). All in all, I’m pretty comfortable with where I am in my training so far. Five weeks in, two 50-miler weeks and 20-milers complete with no injuries to report. I’m anxious but excited to see how I’ll handle the rest of this crazy schedule. Here’s my updated grid for those interested.

Friday, August 14, 2009

After the PR Dust Settles:
Where I’m Going

On my refrigerator door, next to postcards and holiday cards I hardly remember putting there, hangs a magnetized picture from last year’s NYC marathon with the race caption “What Does It Take?” written in boldface font decorating the left upper hand corner. Unlike other memorabilia I collected from that race, this is the only one that survived the move to my new apartment. Ironically, it is also the only running picture that I have allowed myself to put up so far in my kitchen/living room area. And even though I am usually not a sentimental person especially when it pertains to running clich├ęs and commercialized messages, I found myself thinking about this question more than usual in the aftermath of my 5 mile PR race this past weekend.

To be honest, I’ve been pondering the possibilities and imagining unrealistic race goals ever since I crossed the finish line and realized my time. After all, to average 6:02 min/mi for 5 miles when even my 4 mile PR pace is 6:09 min/mi is pretty wild. Add to that a 5:52 last mile after somehow surviving the monstrosity that is Cat Hill in the previous mile (when my best last mile time for any race of any distance to date is an even 6:00), and I’m having difficulty believing that it was even me out there that day. Needless to say, it was a pretty special race for me and one that I won’t forget for at least a little while.

But then quietly and insidiously, after all the hoopla and excitement wore off, my mind began asking my body questions that it cannot answer. So what’s next? Shouldn’t you do it again to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke? Should you run a 4 miler or a 5K to make your PRs a little more consistent? What about a half-marathon or your marathon? Can’t you adjust your race goals for those distances now that you’re running a wee bit faster? And the questions kept going on and on. What if that was your theoretical best? What if you never beat yourself again? What if that is your last PR for this year, for next year, forever? What if that is the beginning of the end? How will you know when you get there? If you knew, would you walk away like John Elway (after winning consecutive Super Bowls) or just trample on and on as a shadow of your former self like Brett Favre, refusing to leave the game until you’re way past your prime and no one really wants you around anymore, not even yourself?!

I don’t know why I get so introspective after big races and big PRs. Maybe it’s because I’m so frightened by my own success, frightened to know that with each success brings bigger goals, and bigger goals brings more work and more training, and more training brings me closer to the line between performance and injury, until eventually the line is crossed, my body breaks down, and I’m left to either recover to repeat the cycle again or accept the fact that I’ll never be the same. Isn’t this the natural life cycle of the athlete? You make goals, train hard, have success, build new goals, and repeat the process until you get injured, get too old to train or care, and give way to the younger folks so the cycle can repeat itself again.

I was talking to a friend in my running club yesterday who I respect greatly because we run, share similar professions that deal with helping children and never fails to speak her mind with me when I’m in the wrong (which is pretty frequent). She told me that although training is going well for her fall marathon, this will likely be her last hurrah at this distance for a long while and maybe forever. She has run a fall marathon for the last four or five years and has, every year, suffered a bad injury during training. Although she loves running, she explained that the arduous preparation for the distance is long and painful for her and despite her best efforts, she is never healthy enough to run her best on race day. She just wants to give it one last try this year before switching to swimming, biking, and running shorter distances.

I listened intently and was mesmerized by how much her story reflected my own. Although I’ve been fortunate enough not to have suffered any catastrophic injuries during marathon training for the most part, I developed a major cramp at mile 19 of the Boston Marathon which kept me from achieving my goal of a sub-3 marathon. I was most frustrated not in the fact that I didn’t run my time, but in the fact that the injury happened so suddenly and without warning. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, while reviewing my preparation leading up to that point, I came to the conclusion that I had worked hard, trained really well, and had given myself the best chance I could of having a great race. And because of some inexplicable derangement in the muscular contraction of my hamstring in the late stages of the race, everything I trained for, all the miles I ran, every speedwork session I suffered through in the blistering cold, would now be for naught. It hardly seemed fair! I didn’t do anything wrong! I had a hard time coming to terms with that experience and convincing myself to saddle up for another crack at it again this fall.

So I understand where my friend is coming from, even though I don’t agree with her decision. I think she should just concentrate on getting through marathon training uninjured instead of worrying about what’s to come after. I told her that if she can make it through her 16 week program without injury, anything is possible and she may come not to hate the training as much.

I, on the other hand, am already preparing for early retirement. Despite this study which provides scientific evidence why running is not bad for the knees, I am ready to hang up the running shoes at some point in the not-so-distant future. I will not be the old runner guy who feels a need to preach to all the newbie runners because he used to be able to run a 2:50-something in some marathon once in the distant past. I also will not be the guy who is carrying his middle-aged beer gut around with him out on the road for a few miles just to keep in shape. I, unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the rest of the world, have a little too much pride for that. Instead, once I decide I’ve accomplished all I’ve wanted to accomplish in this sport without having to sacrifice my body to the extreme, I’ll exit stage right at the pinnacle of my running career (a la Barry Sanders) and move on to other leisurely pursuits. I might dabble in tri-s or maybe give golf a try (even though I’ve never played!) I just hope I’ll know somehow, some way, when the time comes, that I’m running the best I have ever and will ever run without injury. Although I don’t plan for this to happen for at least a few years, if I develop a hammy cramp in the middle of a certain marathon in the fall, I might have to seriously reconsider expediting the process.

Sorry for this long drawn out explanation of where I thinking I am going in this sport! If you have to blame someone, blame Nitmos for his brilliant retrospective review on the first mile as the gateway drug of the runner. I’m merely completing his thoughts and figuring out how my last mile is going to go down.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Running: Physiologically Speaking
Effects of Blood Donation on Athletic Performance

Earlier today, Ari over at Run Ansky Run asked me a question about donating blood and running that I found rather intriguing. So instead of writing a long drawn out e-mail or comment that might seem rather inappropriate for such a simple question, I’ve decided to answer it here in an attempt to educate the masses who might be similarly interested in the topic.

He asks – Laminator, I gave blood today and I am scheduled for speedwork tomorrow. Is is OK for me to do an intense workout, such as speedwork, 24 hours after giving blood?

First off, on behalf of those that may need your blood for whatever reason, thank you for donating. As every health professional knows, there’s a shortage of blood in the NYS Blood Bank right now so every little bit helps.

Now to tackle your question on more than a cursory level, let us review the physiologic effects of giving blood. Typically, 450cc of fresh blood is removed during a standard round of blood donation. This blood that is taken away is composed of multiple different fractions – packed red cells, white cells, and plasma. Of particular interest to the athlete are the red blood cells (RBCs) which are responsible for oxygen transport and delivery (via hemoglobin) and plasma which makes up the bulk of a given volume of blood. According to different studies, plasma volume drops 7-15% after standard blood donation, but returns to normal levels within 12-24 hours (depending on the rate of oral rehydration after the donation). RBCs on the other hand can take up to 3-4 weeks to return to normal levels (the production of RBC production in the bone marrow is a slow and tedious process). So although the initial recovery is relatively quick (within 24 hours), there will a noticeable drop in maximal performance for at least two weeks after. Because of this, some coaches of competitive runners will discourage their athletes from giving blood in season or during peak training.

So, my advice to you, my dear friend, is to hydrate liberally immediately after the blood donation to replenish your plasma volume as quickly as possible. Stack up on your vitamins (Iron & B12) if you are into supplements. Try to decrease the level of your physical exertion for at least 24 hours to allow for adequate physical recovery. If you are going to run or engage in exercise, limit the effort to a moderate intensity level and keep an eye out for signs of physical decompensation (such as dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, extreme fatigue, etc). Listen to your body and stop immediately if you should experience any of these symptoms. As is, you will find that your heart rate is a bit higher and the effort a bit harder to maintain than you are used to even just running at a slow pace so be careful out there (especially in this hot and humid weather).

Thanks for the question. For those who want to read more information from a more authoratative source than I (including how some elite athletes use this technique in reverse to booster their performance on race day), check out this article.

Happy running all!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Get On, Get Over, Get In:
Race Report from the Club Championships 5M Race

Apologies to the blogosphere for the lack of entries here this week, oh how I have missed you all. As my retribution, I offer you all this all-encompasing race report, which I hope will be as fun to read as it is for me to write.

By way of introduction, for those who are not familiar with the NYC running scene, the NYRR Club Championships is an annual race held on the lower 5-mile loop of Central Park that is limited to standing members of NYRR local running clubs. It is separated into two races – one for men and one for women – where the top fiver finishers from each club earn double points as well as bragging rights for their clubs depending on their order of finish. Because these points are heavily contested, especially among the upper echelon running clubs, the field is always much deeper than any other local race year round. As a result, not only is there a disproportionate number of faster runners in this race, the race also tends to run extremely fast right out of the gate.

Last year, I entered this same race on a relative high, having conquered the San Francisco Marathon a couple of weeks earlier and ran my best time ever. My time last year was a blistering 31:07, which equates to 6:13 min/mi pace. This PR remained until Thanksgiving Day when I ran a Turkey Trot of the same distance (but much flatter course) and finished in 30:46 or 6:09 min/mi pace.

Personally, I had been feeling a bit pensive about my running in the recent past. Maybe it was the fact that I turned another year older a week ago. Or maybe it was all the long slow miles I had been running (some by choice, others by design) as part of marathon training. Whatever it was, I was beginning to feel as if the racing world was leaving me behind and my window for PRs and fast times is slowly dwindling. Truth be told, I’ve been contemplating an early retirement from the sport ever since the debacle in Boston. Add to that the fact that my performances in the short distance races this summer have been mediocre by my standards (with only one 10K PR out of the five races I ran) and that I haven’t raced in well over a month, I began to have serious doubts on my chances of turning a good time to help my running club, the New York Flyers, in this race.

But despite my lackluster prospects for a good time, I wanted to give myself every opportunity for optimal performance by eating, hydrating, and sleeping well the night before. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of turning on the Yankee-Red Sox game late Friday night and got sucked into a 0-0 grudge match that stretched through the 12th, 13th, and 14th innings with nobody scoring. It was so infuriating because I’m not a fan of either club, couldn’t care less who wins and yet couldn’t get myself to turn off the game for fear of missing something “historic”. Eventually, when the clock struck half past midnight with NOBODY scoring, I surrendered to the absurdity and hit the sack. (BTW, the Yanks won 2-0 in the fifteenth with a homer from A Rod, in case you were wondering. But then again, if you were wondering, you’d probably already know that by now, so this sidenote is pointless…)

The festivities on race morning started bright and early five hours later as I tried hard to convince myself that I had gotten adequate sleep the night before. As I hurriedly prepared breakfast and my race attire, I noticed a crisp chill in the morning air. I checked the weather forecast online and confirmed that it was indeed going to be cool, dry and unseasonably mild at race start. This could make for a very fast race, I thought to myself as I gathered my things and headed out the door. For them and for me.

The commute over to the race start took slightly more than hour from my place in Flushing. During the ride, I sat anxiously in the subway car, intermittently peaking at my neighbors’ attire to check if any of them were traveling to the same place I was. (Nope.) I also had time to think about an appropriate strategy for this race. As I did, words from the commentators at last night’s baseball game kept reverberating in my head like a cheesy late-night infomercial you’ve seen too many times…Your entire approach to the game must change when you’re stuck in a low-scoring game in the late innings. Forget the long bomb. Just stick to the fundamentals. Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, and get ‘em in. Simple as that…I decided to adopt this philosophy for my race because 1) I couldn’t think of anything better and 2) it reflected my sentiments of the race course quite nicely.

I got to the race start with plenty of time to spare as the weekend MTA came through for a change. Many of the local running clubs with their colorful banners and matching uniforms were already out in full force, claiming their cheering zones in the grassy areas near the finish as if merely by their boisterous presence they can energize their own runners to surge toward the finish while intimidating their competitors to breakdown in defeat. I picked up my race number, store away my bag and greeted a few of my teammates before heading over to the start. There was a palpable calm nervous energy among the runners today. As I lined up in the red (second) corral, I watched intently on members of the blue (first) corral, and wondered aloud what min/mile pace one needs in order to be placed there.

Since the participants were limited to running club members and the first race was men’s only (the women would start an hour later), there was little fanfare prior to the start of the race. The national anthem was sung, Mary Wittenberg said a few words, the horn sounded, and we were off.

Mile 1 and 2 – Just Get On
My objective in the first mile of the race was to get off to a fast but comfortable start. Starting on the 102nd St transverse heading west, the course quickly turns into a series of treacherous hills on the west side of the park. Because I didn’t want to expend too much energy in this first section of the course, I stuck to a manageable pace and relaxed my shoulders and arms as I began the first climb in a series of many. As I looked around, I was noticing that already, within the first quarter mile, the field has spread out in front further than my eyes can see. I felt a bit discouraged that I was already trailing so many by so much but reminded myself to stay relaxed and run my own race. Luckily, almost simultaneously as I was having some negative thoughts, I turned left and saw runner26 cheering from the side. I was happy and glad to see a familiar face so early in the race. I quickly smiled, gave a quick wave, and continued on my way.

I finished the climb and made my descent toward the second hill feeling very relaxed and comfortable. After the initial surge of runners passing me by, I settled into a steady pace at a tempo-like effort and started to pass some runners back, especially on the uphills. Because I wanted to run this race strictly on effort with as little regard for time as possible, I promised myself not to check the Garmin in between mile markers. It was a little disconcerting not knowing what pace I was carrying but since I had no idea what my pace my current fitness would allow for anyway, I thought this was the best course of action. I was caught a bit off-guard when I passed the first mile marker after my battle with the hills and saw a time of 5:59 staring back at me. I seriously had no intention of “getting on” so fast, but since I felt I was still holding back a bit in reserve, I was curious to know if I can carry this effort with similar results for the next several miles.

Mile 2 starts with a gradual descend toward the lower western portion of the park and ends with a steep little climb near Tavern on the Green. This is my favorite part of the course as I’ve grown accustomed to using this mostly downhill section to “recharge the batteries” on many tough long tempo runs around the park. Today, the role of energy recharger was played out not only by the road but by the constant cheers from spectators speckled along the course. Although I knew most of them were not out to cheer specifically for me, I channeled their enthusiasm and fervor anyway and used them to fuel my focus and my drive. Since I was somewhat married to my pace and feeling fairly comfortable, I bypassed the water stop towards the end of the second mile and focus my energy on cresting the little hill leading to the mile marker. I clicked the Garmin and looked down for confirmation. Mile 2 in 5:58. Wow, I’m significantly below course and PR pace. Could this possibly go on?

Get Over – Miles 3 and 4
I was smiling and confident, but kept myself restrained and humbled in preparation for the harder miles ahead. The task before me was simple. Get over to the east side of the park (Mile 3) and then get over the wretched speed bump known as Cat Hill (Mile 4). Keeping in mind that my objective for the race was not time-based but effort-controlled, I slowed down just a tad to begin the gentle ascension over to the east side. Although I could feel my mind starting to turn anxious and my breaths becoming ever shallower in anticipation of the great big climb, I consciously took bigger and deeper breaths and relaxed my body in an effort to calm the nerves. In my mind, I keep reminding myself that I’ve made this climb hundreds of times and in many circumstances, was in much worse shape than I am now. I straightened my posture, corrected my form, and forced myself to smile even as my body was starting to fatigue and my mind starting to wander. After passing through mile 3 in 6:05 and breezing by a few runners on the downhill, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with the treacherous Cat Hill.

Maybe it was the smile decorating my face, or the conscious “happy to be running” thoughts I had, or the relaxed posture, or the focus on forefoot propulsion and landing. Whatever it was, scaling the hill did not seem such a bother this time around. It did not destroy me or make me invoke images of death like it had in races past. And although I slowed down significantly during this section (Mile 4 in 6:17), I ended the climb much happier, more relaxed, and feeling more exuberant than I’ve ever been entering the last mile of a 5 mile race.

Get In – Mile 5
After a short downhill reprieve, it was time for the push to the finish line! I feel the pace quicken all around me, and I reciprocated in kind. The spectators lined on both sides of the course did not fail to tell all of us that the end was just a turn and a jog away. Reminding myself to keep the relaxed form I had maintained the entire race, I increased my turnover ever so slightly as we approached the finish. As I passed by the cheering section of the NY Flyers, I saw many familiar faces urging me on to race hard to the end. I smiled and waved even as I was bracing myself for the final sprint. In the last quarter mile, I emptied the tank, ran faster than even I thought I was capable of, picked off at least five runners in the last 100m and trampled over the line feeling every bit as victorious as if I had single-handledly won the race.

After a few quick blows to recover and regain my senses, I clicked on the Garmin to claim my prize. Mile 5 in 5:52. Final Time – 30:13. Average Pace – 6:02. Course PR by 54 sec! Overall PR by 33 sec! I had won! I can claim victory over my younger self once again!

After the race, I received many compliments and congratulations at the post-race picnics. There were many PRs and great results out on the course today as the cool dry weather made for a great race day all around. Perhaps the best compliments I received (and the ones I will remember most from this race) were the spectators who commented afterwards that I was smiling and running very relaxed with seemingly minimal effort even as I was racing so fast towards the finish. They helped confirm everything I was thinking and hoping to accomplish as I was running this race.

Hmmm…now that I’m left to analyze and reflect upon this successful performance, only one simple question remains: Does 5 mile success translate at all to marathon success? I’ve got 12 weeks of training left to figure it out.

Final Statistics
Final Time - 30:13; Average Pace – 6:02; PR by 0:54!!
Final Splits – Mile 1 [5:59]; Mile 2[5:58]; Mile 3 [6:05]; Mile 4[6:17]; Mile 5[5:52]
Overall Place – 198/810 (24.4%)
Age Place – 31/106 (29.2%)
AG Time – 29:43; AG % - 71.7
NY Flyers – 3rd Male

Monday, August 3, 2009

Recap of My (Running) Birthday Celebration

First off, thanks to all my bloggy friends for the warm bday wishes. It was all very much appreciated and made my special day just a little bit more awesomer. Although I didn’t get to run a marathon to celebrate in style like I did last year, I still managed to devise an appropriate running tribute to commemorate the date and jump start the festivities…

More by habit than by personal choice, I had gotten up early yesterday morning looking for a quick and early start to a day of merriment and fun. Since I had already given my all to pacing a brisk 20 miles for the NYRR Long Training Run #2 a day earlier, I was planning for an easy and slow 5 miles in the adjacent park as my recovery run for the day. But as I took my gaze outside my window for the first time that morning and saw the pitter patter of raindrops on my balcony floor and the dark ominous clouds circling like vultures overhead, even a single mile recorded for the day was looking extremely unlikely. I was frustrated, but took some time to prepare breakfast and check e-mail. Every few minutes, I would pull away the window blinds and reassess the weather. The forecast called for rain and thunderstorms all through the morning but I was hoping against hope that I’d find a break in the rain to go for a run. After about an hour and a half, the heavy rain seemed to have tapered to a manageable drizzle and I took advantage of the situation to lace up the shoes and hit the road.

The rain was cumbersome and the humidity a bit stifling as I began my run, but I was happy and excited to be celebrating my birthday with a jubilant jaunt. Although I was a bit worried that my body would mount a mild protest given that I was running so fast so soon after the harsh 20 miler, I was shocked to find no signs of pain, soreness, or fatigue whatsoever even as I pushed the mileage and the pace. As the miles piled on, I became more and more euphoric with each step. At the end of four miles, where I would usually turn around and head for home, my mind suddenly became preoccupied with a single thought…Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to hit 14 miles so we can say we ran 34 miles in 2 days for our 34th birthday? Yeah, it was a nice thought, but given that I have never approached that kind of distance in consecutive days, and oh yeah, it was still raining, I wasn’t sure if my body was in a position to handle that much mileage and adversity. I almost convinced myself to make the turn toward home if it wasn’t for a familiar voice from a familiar friend who once told me...Someday, you will no longer be able to do this, today shouldn’t be that day! So, instead of heading home, I continued on the trail I was on and ran into the heavy wooded trails that I’d never been before. For six miles (three going forward and three coming back), I explored uncharted territory both literally and figuratively and defied both the weather and my age to challenge myself to do something I never expected I’d be able to do. As I was running each individual mile, 25, 26, 27, etc, I thought about where I was physically and emotionally at that particular age and reflected upon the important events of that particular age. I’d have to admit. I got quite emotional on the way back as I counted down the final 4 miles and remembered everything in the recent past few years that has brought me to where I currently am in my running. Luckily, because it was raining so hard by the time I was done, no one in my building noticed that my eyes were a bit puffy and red walking back from my wet run. Final Stats: 14.4 miles in 1:48:25 (7:33 avg pace) for two day total of 34.81 miles! Wahoo!

Afterwards, I went out to brunch with friends, got back for an indoor picnic and then out again to have a big huge barbecue with my extended family. Needless to say, I think I regained all the calories I lost all weekend within the matter of a few hours.

Thanks for celebrating this day with me…even if it was only virtually. Here’s my updated “grid” as promised. On tap this week, a step-back in mileage and my first race in well over a month! Have a good week, all!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Welcome Back:
Pacing the LTR

I wasn’t quite sure how the day would turn out when I found myself at the head of the 7:30 pace group at the NYRR Long Training Run (LTR) early this morning in Central Park. Although I, along with a couple of my Flyer teammates, were responsible for leading a group of runners through four loops of the park for a total of 20 miles, I was not at all confident of my abilities to accomplish this mission. Given that my longest distance run to date since the Boston marathon has been one 16-miler 2 months ago and my running overall over the past week and a half has been slow and uninspired, I wondered aloud if I had enough stamina to handle the distance, much less carry a brisk 7:30 min/mi pace for the duration of the run. Still, since I signed up for this way in advance and didn’t want to rescind from my responsibilities, I managed to show up at the starting line ready to run and lead the pace. Just in case however, I warned my partners that I might drop off at the end of sixteen miles if I find myself struggling to keep up.

Well, as it turns out, the running gods must have heard my silent prayers because I passed my first long run test of this training season in flying colors. Not only did I finished my first 20 miler of the summer and maintained between a 7:08 and 7:33 pace for the duration of my travels, but I also kept my heart rate down and ran so comfortably that by the end I felt strong enough to have tackled another 6.2 miles if asked to. To be honest, it was largely because we had a picture perfect running weather in the city this morning. But running with a group and having others to pull you along also definitely contributed to my positive experience. I am not completely sure I could’ve handled the distance if I was just hammering out the miles on my lonesome. The conversations were minimal in our small running group, but the feeling of comadarie was evident as we reminded each other every so often to slow down the pace whenever we felt we were pushing too hard.

At the end of run, quite a few runners came up to me and thanked my personally for guiding them around the park at a steady pace. I sheepishly grinned and accepted their appreciation, although I felt as if they were every bit as motivational for me as I was for them. I doubt I would even have been out there running 20 miles today if I hadn’t signed up and hadn’t challenged myself to step up to the plate. The funniest compliment I heard while running today was from a slower and older woman runner who, as we were running past, exclaimed, “In my mind, you are what I see when I close my eyes. Go, fast people!” It was such a nice thing to say and made us all run a little straighter and a little faster.

After this experience, I think I’m finally back to running strong and running well again…as least I hope I am. I’ll post my grid tomorrow so you all can keep tabs on my progress, or lack thereof. I have high hopes that I’ll be able to get in a strong longish run tomorrow run to celebrate the third anniversary of my running blog and my 34th birthday. We’ll see in the morning if my legs (and the weather) will get with the program. Hope everyone is having a fantastic running weekend!
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