Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pronouncing The Death of NJM: Sidelined by the Flu

So maybe taunting the marathon gods with a pseudonym for an imaginary illness at the start of race week wasn't the smartest move. I suspect that some supernatural being noticed my sarcasm and decided to unleash vengeance on me. Within 24 hours after publishing my last post, I was humbled and humiliated by a real viral infection: A superbug that has left me with fever, chills, malaise and exhaustion for the past two days. I've lost my appetite, I've lost weight, and almost fainted on the subway coming home from work last night. And in case you are still wondering, running has been out of the question since just walking down the block to the grocery store and back feels like a marathon in and of itself. Sad, I know.

As I've been spending a lot of time in bed the past few days, holding on to a pipe dream that I'll recover in time to run the marathon this weekend, I've been thinking about how it came to be that I've been transformed overnight from a healthy and active marathon runner to a giant puddle of glob stuck in the fetal position underneath two layers of heavy blankets unable to move. It'd be easy to blame this latest travesty on a stroke of bad luck. After all, everyone gets sick (just like everyone poops) at one time or another, right? But what if I told you I voluntarily got up at 4am on Sunday to volunteer at the More Half Marathon which required me to stand in the cold and rain for 4 hours while handing out cups of water and Gatorade? What if I told you that after some lunch that same day, I was so inspired by all the women runners braving the terrible weather for 13.1 miles that I ran the same distance in a constant drizzle as a tribute to the ladies? (BTW, someone commented on FB that running 13.1 in 1:33 that day after handing out water for 4 hrs wasn't enough of a tribute. I needed to run for 2:20. Seriously?)

Yeah, I realize in retrospect what a dumb decision that was. I forgot that I have the innate immunity of a SCID baby and I get sick easy, early, and often (and not the kind of sick that can be used to describe Lebron James on the basketball court either!) The funniest thing was that I was just talking to my mom Sunday night and telling her how proud I was that I haven't been sick in 4 or 5 months. Boy, was I way off the mark.

So there you have it. Although I doubted I'd be ever seeing the light of day again after hunkering in bed for 3 days, I am actually feeling a little better today, at least enough to let you all know that I'm still alive. As for my prospects for the New Jersey Marathon...sigh...I think it's safe to say that it is beyond resuscitation at this point. Besides, is there any reason for me to hurt and struggle just to complete another 26.2? I'll just be risking further damage to my body to try for a goal that is no longer attainable. So as much as it saddens, disappoints and pains me to say...

Time of (NJ Marathon) Death - 12:18PM. (Actually, Ms.V did the honors for me last night on twitter, but I'm re-creating it here just in case no one else heard...)

The wake will take place on Sunday, May 2nd. Details of funeral arrangements will be distributed to interested party members at a later date.

R.I.P. my friend.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Counting down to Race Day:
Self Infliction with A Nonmedical Infection

After conquering my fear of impending dread all weekend and rocking out a 13.1 mile run in the late afternoon yesterday in a steady 7:05 min/mi pace, I think I'm finally ready to activate myself off the disabled list. So, that's the good news. The bad news is that I'm starting to show signs and symptoms of an acute infection. Now, before you start sending your get-well comments or flood my e-mail with coupons for Emergent-C, let me tell you that the etiology of this infection is strictly nonmedical. It is not caused by a bacterial agent, a parasite, a virus, or fungi or yeast. It is not even caused by anything that can be visible to the naked or magnified eye. Rather it is an infection that is well-known to most runners in the week leading up to their goal event. Perhaps you've heard of it, it's called taperitis.

Now, for those of not in the know, taperitis is the nonmedical condition where the prospective runner cannot stop thinking, obsessing and detailing every aspect of their goal event. It is totally unnecessarily but it is the right of passage for every aspiring marathoner. For example, I've already checked the course map 4 times, the weather forecast 6 times and visualizing every mile of the 26.2 mile course twice just today. This is rather excessive, even for a worried wart such as myself.

I know the prevailing opinion is to trust the training, trust the run, relax and just let the body do what it's meant to do on race day. But that strategy doesn't quite work for me because apparently I haven't quite learned how not to give up in the later miles of the marathon. Every time out in the recent past, I've lost the battle and given up precious minutes and seconds just trying to make it through to the finish line. That's why this time, I'm hoping to arrive at mile 20 a little more prepared, both physically (from a little higher mileage in training) and psychologically (from practicing a positive mental visualization). Emotionally too, I'm trying to remember a few key quotes, sayings, songs and names that will keep me fighting hard until the end. (Because they are still in formulation, there are no specific details yet but come back later in the week and maybe things will change!)

To be honest, I didn't expect this onslaught of taperitis given that New Jersey will be my 10th marathon and all. But given that I've never had such an aggressive time goal before and had never trained so hard for it, I think it may be justifiable. Because after all, the head and the legs will carry me through 20 miles, but I'll need some heart to make it through the final 10K.

Did I mention I'm getting new Saucony shoes to use for this marathon? My regular trainers has 250+ miles on it already and I don't think it'd be smart for me to run this marathon in racing flats either (since they place such a heavy strain on my knees and Achilles). So it's just another thing for me to freak out and be excited about as the week progresses. Oh man, if it's anything like it was today, it's gonna be a doozie.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Finally, An Injury Update

Yes, boys and girls, I know I've been MIA from blogging for a week, and yes, I know you all were wanting for an update about the knee. But honestly, while the rest of the running world were buzzing from the fantastic elite finishes and great individual performances at Boston, I was trying hard to go the other way, and not talk or think at all about running, racing, or marathons because there was a real possibility (earlier this week) that I would not be participating in such activities for a while. You see, my friends, after the last time we spoke, my R knee absolutely blew up the next day and caused me such excruciating pain both walking and running that I surrendered my professional ego and paid a visit to the orthopedist yesterday. Prior to my ortho visit, the curbside advice I got from others who took interest and looked at my knee was to set my sights on the half or not run at all. "Why risk further injuring your knee and be out for several months for a shot at a time that you likely will not get anyway? Wouldn't it be better to rest and recovery and get faster at the shorter races during the summer?" Since I was walking with pain as late as Wednesday, I was in no position to argue with their assessment.

However, after Wednesday, when I subconsciously accepted the prospect that DNS or DNF might be a real possibility and the safer option in a week, my knee suddenly began to feel incrementally better. I ran some slow miles with a friend on Thurday and by the time I went to the ortho doc on Friday, there was no limp, there was no pain and all I wanted to do more than anything was run away. But more for my own curiosity than anything, I stayed. He prodded my knee and told me that I was overtraining and overracing (Duh!). He also told me that my bicep tendons in my hamstrings were way sore. But most importantly, he gave me permission to run the marathon and told me I was in no danger of reaggravating or damaging the knee just by running. I was so happy coming out of that office that I was willing to kiss everybody and anybody who offered their well wishes and support. Woohoo!

So that's about how it stands now. My knee has remained relatively quiet and we're back on for the New Jersey Marathon. I will do my last long run of 12 miles tomorrow and hope that it will be enough to carry me to the finish line in a week. I'm not sure about my sub-3 goal anymore since I haven't had quality speedwork or tempo run in a week or two and I'm hesitant to try faster paced workout in this last week before race day (less I get more injured again!) So pacing for me will strictly be a game time decision. Let me get through this final week of taper first!

Thanks to all of you who took time to be concerned about my knee. I think the positive vibes you all sent likely contributed to its quick and speedy recovery. Now if you can get the weather gods to cooperate and give us racers a beautiful sunny day with no precipitation in a week, that would be super!

At any rate, congrats to the racers racing this weekend and those who went to Boston and came back with a blue commemorative medal with a unicorn on the front. You are all individually and collectively very inspiring! Congrats again!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

After Boston, one year later...

Okay, so this feels a bit wierd.

While the rest of the running world (at least to me) is making plans and getting excited for race day, Boston Marathon style, I'm trying to stay as far away from running and racing as possible as I prepare to enter my taper for the New Jersey Marathon coming up in 2 weeks. It's hard to believe that it was only one short year ago when I boarded that yellow school bus in the wee hours of the morning for the ride out to Hopkinton. It's even harder for me to believe that that was the last time I ran a "good" marathon with a 3:02:21 (you can re-read my race report here), 1 second off my PR from New York six months earlier.

When I compare how I'm training now (for NJ) as compared to how I trained for Boston, it's easy to see how much I've grown as a runner. For example, back then, in 16 weeks of training, I ran 4 days a week at an average of 42 miles-per-week, with one peak week of 60.4 miles and one other week with 55.7 miles. This spring, in 14 weeks of training so far, I ran 5 days a week at an average of 51.1 miles-per-week, with a peak week of 62 miles and multiple others in the high 50s. Most of my runs last spring were done pretty fast as my average training pace for all my runs was 7:04 min/mi. This spring, I've adhered to the specificity of training and slowed down my general and recovery runs significantly so that my overall average pace is only 7:25 min/mi. Although I know I still have more work to do over the summer/fall as I would like to train myself to run 6 days a week with an average of 60+ miles-per-week, I'm encouraged that I am making some progress in adjusting to higher mileage training. It is surprising to me though that despite the low mileage, I was able to run pretty well in Boston and if it hadn't for a big hamstring cramp at mile 19, I likely would have PR'd if not go sub-3 right there and then. Therefore. I'm thinking that with more training, more endurance, and a flatter course, sub-3 should be attainable for me at NJ in two weeks.

Unfortunately, with all the good that the extra mileage has given me, there is also some bad as well. Along with mental fatigue and general lack of interest to run, my right knee has also been acting up of late, making me somewhat concerned that it won't hold up for the full duration of the 26.2. I've never as yet DNF'ed a race, much less a marathon, but if it's blown up by the first half and I find myself limping or running in all kinds of pain, I might opt to drop out after the first lap. I'm hoping it won't come to be but I'm making contingency plans just in case it does. It's funny to me how injury just never came to mind while tapering and preparing for Boston last year and now it's all I can think about even though I know nothing will be settled until race day. Have I really become even more of a hypochondriac than I already was just in this one year alone?

Forget this. I really should not think about this. Instead, as I prepare to watch the race unfold online, in between patients, tomorrow, I will pretend I'm just that kid again, taking that crowded yellow school bus, embarking on a mysteriously wonderful journey, unaware yet full of hope for what the future may bring.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Top Ten Reasons Why I'm NOT Running the Boston Marathon

Contrary to popular belief, running isn't a common subject of conversation around the workplace. For one, very few of my colleagues run. Those that do are in it more for fitness and weight control than as a way to test physical limits. For another, since I deal mostly with obese kids and teens throughout the day, most of my patients and their families would probably define marathon as a long drawn-out movie or TV show. So imagine my surprise when this morning, in the middle of a highly stimulating and intellectual Grand Rounds presentation on the genetics of autism, a colleague that I didn't know well suddenly turns to me and whispers "Hey, aren't you running Boston next week?"
"!" I whispered back.
"Oh, why?" He continues, with a surprised wrinkle on his face.
Before I could think of a suitable explanation, someone in back shushes us, bringing about an abrupt end to the conversation.

I didn't think too much of the previous interaction until it repeated itself again a few hours later. This time it's one o'clock and I am in a jam-packed elevator with patients, nurses and doctors all waiting to go on a lunch break. In between floors, one of the doctors in another department who I didn't know but obviously knew me asked loud enough for all to hear "So you're going up to Boston this weekend for the big race?"
"Not really. I'm not running Boston this year." I said.
"Really? That's sad. Why not?"
"C'mon dude. You seriously want me to hit the emergency brake and give you my exhaustive list of reasons for why I'm not running Boston this year. You really want to know that badly?" That's what I should have said. Instead, my mind drew a blank and I gave a lame-ass excuse that I'm running a marathon next month instead. The doors opened, he left and I felt like an invisible jackass the rest of the day.

Seriously, I had no idea so many people around the hospital had such a vested interest on my not running the Boston Marathon next Monday. Maybe I missed a memo. If I did, I would have taken my time, drafted a suitable response and printed them out as flyers to hand out to all the department heads. In actuality, it would have looked a little something like this:

Top Ten Reasons Why I'm NOT Running the Boston Marathon
10. Because I haven't any practice chugging beer at mile 20 on any of my 22 mile long runs
9. Because some Red Sox fan might want Buckner's ball back and kidnap a Mets fan for ransom.
8. Because I'm waiting on my Queens homie, Kara Goucher, to make a triumphant return. (Both of us ran our best times in NYCM '08, and Boston '09. Just sayin')
7. Because you gotta fall in love before you experience Heartbreak again.
6. Because last year's celebration jacket is way cooler.
5. Because I'm boycotting this race on behalf of all my friends who qualified late and got shut out of registration. (So completely unfair!)
4. Because running a marathon PR in Boston (and not NY) would cause my brother (a Yankees fan) to completely disown me.
3. Because running two Bostons instead of just one might give me a swell head.
2. Because I haven't yet forgotten how much the Newton Hills suck!
1. Because it's not New York!

Best of Luck to everyone who IS running Boston next week. May you all have great weather, awesome races, and very speedy times! I'll be cheering you on virtually with a simulcast of the race in the background in between patients. Have fun out there! Rock on Boston Marathoners!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Springtime in D.C.
Race Report from the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

Let's start off by stating the obvious. This wasn't a goal race for me. No sirree. Not after a brutal 13.1 a week prior where I got lost at mile six and still ran a respectable 1:24, not three weeks before my spring marathon, and especially not after I tripped and fell hard on broken pavement at mile 15 of a 22 mile long run two days prior. I really just wanted to go out and experience the course, having heard about it from friends and teammates over the years.

Here then are my mile splits and some of my quickie thoughts as I ran this race.

Mile 1 - 6:25
- Wow, what a gorgeous day to race. Too bad my legs feel so achy and tired.
- I'm right behind the elites in the 1B corral start. Why does it still take a quarter mile for some open leg room?
- There's so much conversation about Boston, you'd think we were running in Red Sox nation.

Mile 2 - 6:25
- My first mile split is pathetic. I must be more wiped out than I thought.
- I'm starting on the bridge across the Potomac River. The elites are already on the way back. Wow!
- I'm surrounded by so many people that are supposedly "taking it easy". Are we sure we're NOT running a marathon today.

Mile 3 - 6:26
- Someone taps me on shoulder and says Hi! It's my crazy fast friend who I met last month volunteering at the expo for the National Marathon. (He went on to run a 1:17 half marathon a day later!)
- Having a catch up conversation with another runner is not easy in the middle of a race. He is tapering for Boston while I'm learning to catch my breath while talking and running at the same time.
- I said my goodbye and wish him well on his race before watching him disappear right before my eyes.

Mile 4 - 6:51
- Running along the Potomac river, i see nothing but one cruise ship on the shimmering waters. Everything is so peaceful. Tranquility is the order of the morning.
- A woman falls on the opposite side of the divide and I start hyperventilating and taking smaller steps. I don't want to fall like that again.
- of my shoelaces is untied. I stop and lose 30 seconds to tie them back up.

Mile 5 - 6:40
- My legs are starting to tire but we still got 6 more miles to go. Will I make it?
- Maybe running races on back to back weekends is not so advisable.
- I'm looking for cherry blossoms but they are few and far between.

Mile 6 - 6:42
- The sun is up and I'm holding my own... finally
- I see crowds of people both starting and coming back on the Potomac River Bridge
- We're almost a 5K to go. Almost.

Mile 7 - 6:35
- There is so much green here. My pace for whatever reason seems more comfortable now.
- I'm still scanning for cherry blossoms and wishing I could just stop and take pictures.
- Can I even manage a 6:30 average pace for this race? Gosh. Must pick it up.

Mile 8 - 6:25
- With 5k to go, I start feeling good, like really really good. It was as if the first seven miles were just warmup for a 5k race.
- I start picking off a few people that I've been trailing behind for the whole time.
- It's sunnier now and I'm sweating. But nothing like the guy who's running this in a suit?!

Mile 9 - 6:24
- Despite the fatigue, I'm still throwing down the hammer and passing a few.
- Some people from the sideline are chanting my name. I blow kisses their way as I pass by. I have no idea who those people were.
- I'm heading back downtown now. Sadly, the cherry blossoms have mostly came and gone. Only the lush green leaves and trees remain.

Mile 10 - 6:15
- Over a small bridge and then a one mile interval to the finish
- I see a joggler running on the opposite side. The Washingotn monument is getting larger.
- The sideline coach is telling us we're 800m to the line. I start to sprint hard.
- At 400m to go, another pack of spectators shouts my name unexpectedly. I give a thumbs up as I continue my sprint. Soon, the finish line cames and I can stop.

"It was a great day for a ten mile DC run!" A Flyer friend told me after the fact. I couldn't agree more!

Final Statistics
Official time - 1:05:12 (6:31 Avg Pace)
Men's Place - 316/6901 (4.6%)
Age Group Place - 75/1408 (5.3%)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Feedback on Speed

After a brief and much needed mini-vacation to our nation’s capital for the much anticipated Cherry Blossom Festival and 10 Mile Run, I’m finally back home, ready to attend to some blog business. Although we arrived a bit late for the cherry blossoms this year and my race performance left a bit to be desired (I’ll post a race recap in the next day or two), I had a truly wonderful time in D.C. enjoying the company of great friends, visiting many national landmarks, absorbing the running vibes from thousands of runners and basking in the glorious sunshine and the beautiful spring weather.

Thanks everyone for all the great feedback on my last post! I never imagined that an innocent question about developing race speed confidence would garner such a wide range of responses ranging from running a local 5K just for the experience of “winning” to just believing and trusting my speed to a sense that I’m just too damn slow to win anything so why bother. Interesting.

While I know most of you have followed me long enough to know that my victory isn’t really measured against others, but against me and my former self, some others still have a sense that I am all about winning awards, and accolades and recognition that I’m a great and fast runner. In actuality though, nothing could be further from the truth. I run because I have a passion to do so. I train because I enjoy the journey. I set goals because they give my running a sense of direction. I am keenly aware that I am NOT an elite, or a professional or even a fast runner. Every time I line up at a NYRR race, I am more than aware just how slow I really am. However, the point that I think some fail to realize though is that I’m perfectly okay with that. I am making progress and getting faster a little bit at a time and as long as I can still attain PRs every so often, I really could care less that I’m considered slow in the eyes of many. Along the same lines, if I fail to grab sub-3 in NJM in a few weeks because I wasn’t able to run a half-marathon time below a certain threshold or train above a certain number of miles per week, I’m okay with that too! Just because race day went bad, that doesn’t mean the training was crap or that I could’ve necessarily done anything differently. Sometimes, it’s just not your day for a breakthrough race.

My point in my previous post is that if my speed for a given day for a given race, for whatever reason, was good enough to be in contention for an age group award (like it was during my 13.1), I hope that I can rise to the occasion and be confident in my racing abilities (instead of copping out, losing speed, and expecting that someone from behind to catch up and outrun me). Now I am not saying that this will occur again with any sort of frequency whether I’m running 6:00 miles or 6:25 miles, I’m just saying that I want to be prepared if the situation should ever arise again. (Don’t worry though, I won’t be actively looking for small out-of-town 5ks to slaughter just to fulfill the requirement. That’s never been my style!)

I do take all of your hearty suggestions under advisement, but please understand that I must train according to what works for me. So excuse me if my body isn’t up for pounding out heavy fast miles around a cinder block track multiple times. I rather listen to my body and avoid injuries at all cost. And if I’m still getting faster and progressing every race (even if I’m slow to begin with) than there’s obviously some method to the madness and it really shouldn’t concern anyone else but me as to how I’m doing it. No?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

MIA: Race Speed Confidence

In the aftermath of Saturday's race, I've been thinking quite a lot about speed - speed as it relates to racing, speed as it relates to me, and speed as it relates to everybody else. One thing I took away from my performance that day is that I'm completely uncomfortable taking the lead in a race situation. What I mean by that is when I overtook the leader of our mini-pack at mile 5, I remember peeking back a few times within the first quarter mile to see whether he was going to take back his lead. (So maybe getting lost by mile 6 was bound to happen anyway!) Similarly, when I was running by myself, alone on an island, in the last 3-4 miles of the race, I couldn't help myself from peeking every so often to see if someone was coming to chase me down. The easy excuse is that I've never found myself in a similar situation before and so could not have been expected to know how I was supposed to act. But if I were to be honest with myself, I've watched enough telecasts of races to know that checking your backside as often as I did is not appropriate race strategy (if it was, they'd find some way to incorporate a rearview mirror to your running attire!) Yet, I couldn't help myself from doing that mid-race because I was so nervous and awkward to be where I was - alone and in the top ten, for at least a portion of the race. For once, I was more "the hunted" than "the hunter" which isn't quite as easy a role reversal to play as I'd imagine it'd be. I was unsure of my place (do I belong with the top dogs?), my pace (am I running too fast or too slow?), my time (can I get a PR? Can I come close?) and my threshold for pain. Most of all though, I lacked confidence in my own speed.

Looking back into my archived past, it's a bit ironic that I've blogged about my thoughts on speed during early April in each of the past two years. While I've always iterated that speed is extremely personal and interpretative and relative, I've never yet regarded myself as the speedy one. Maybe it's because I've never been considered an athlete growing up or maybe it's because I've yet to win an award of any significance, but my mind just lacks confidence whenever I'm asked to talk about or showcase my speed. It's almost like I don't take myself seriously enough when similarly fast people are around. It's a bit sad that I give myself every reason to FAIL before the race even begins. No wonder I grabbed 4th AG and missed out on an award...I never even truly believed I could win!

Based on what transpired Saturday, I've been having long serious discussions with myself to convince me that I'm a good runner. I seriously can't believe that I use to badger the cyclists and race the kids up hills just because I could. Now, just a couple years later, despite being slightly faster overall, I am for some reason afraid to close the deal on a race that I'm already leading in. I think it's ridiculous and a minor travesty. I have to get this aspect of my mental game in order before NJM.

Any advice, suggestions, and insights you might have, please throw them my way. If you can find me a cure, I'd be your indentured servant forever...if only they allow that sort of thing. Would you settle for my eternal gratitude instead?

Have a great rest of the week, everyone. Cherry Blossom 10 Miler for me in D.C. this weekend. It should be fun. Details to come.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My "Silva"-like Performance
Race Report for the NYC 13.1 (Part II)

Mile 7-8: (Mile 7 - 6:31; Mile 8 - 6:24)

Crossing the mile 6 marker at the top of the overpass leading over to Meadow Lake, I stared at the half dozen or so characters who used my mishap in the previous mile to sneak past me in the race. Back again was Mr. Tri-athlete who was now accompanied by a coach running directly next to him. In front of him was the Mr. Lacrosse Jersey and Mr. Heel Striker whose unorthodox running form made it not only annoying but painful to watch. Way in the distance, I could also see Mr. Baldie leading the pack, about 50 yards in front of everyone else. I wasn't sure how much time I had lost at this point since I didn't bother to check my mile split but judging roughly from the pace of the other racers, I thought 45 seconds was a conservative estimate. As I started on my journey around Meadow Lake with all the others, fueled with a passionate mixture of fury, indignation, annoyance and embarrassment, I couldn't help but think of German Silva and the brief wrong turn he made in the final mile of the New York City Marathon before ultimately claiming victory in 1994.

Although it was quite demoralizing to see the long string of runners who I passed a few miles back now suddenly running in front, I also knew that I had the capacity to pass them right back if I can just maintain my race pace for a little while longer. I used all of mile 7 and half of mile 8 to regain my rightful place in the moving carousel around the park until I found myself once gain behind the leader of my immediate pack. Although I hadn't seen him before then, I could tell he was a serious runner by the matching tank and shorts that adorned his slender body. I allowed him to lead me through Meadow Lake, which was made treacherous by residual water puddles left over from the rainstorm in the weekend prior. As I watched him jump from road to grass and back again to avoid the bigger puddles, I followed suit until towards the end of mile 8 when I was forced to the edge of the grass just as he was about to climb back over the overpass. Coincidentally. that would be the last I would see of him out in the course that day.

Mile 9-10: (Mile 9 - 6:31; Mile 10 - 6:19)

By Mile 9, as we were led back over the bridge for a second loop around the perimeter of the park, I began to fatigue and tire just a little bit. Since the last mile, when I had company to tackle the wet and narrow paths of Meadow Lake, I hadn't encountered anyone else attacking this course in front of me. Although I knew I wouldn't get lost on this second journey around the park, it was extremely difficult to maintain race pace when there are no visible runners in front of me. All I saw were more and more neighbors using the roads as their personal playground and obstructing my view of the race course and its participants. I passed by a water station and everyone clapped and cheered me as I ran across. Since no other racer was within earshot of them, I was sure the applause was a personal gesture for me. I picked up the pace slightly and took a GU at 10. We were now just a 5K away.

Mile 11-12: (Mile 11 - 6:32; Mile 12 - 6:26)

Passing back through the starting line and climbing the same semi-circular incline I did in mile 1, I was now holding onto my effort and pace for dear life. I was tired and with no to chase in front and no one to push me in back, I almost convinced myself not to push as hard. But then I remembered that there were many family and friends who were running and looking for me (albeit figuratively) to do well and represent. What if they saw that I was moseying it in and not giving the absolutely best that I've got? Would that really be the right message for me to send, as the ambassador of the sport I claim to be? Besides...we've now got less than a 5K to go anyway. I force myself to pick up the speed in an effort to give top 10 one more shot. A race official nearby signals that I'm in 11th place but could not tell me how far behind I was.

The park was getting crowded now and it was all I could do to separate the recreational joggers from the possible race participants and volunteers. By the time we completed the loop around the Queens Zoo and back over the overpass nearing the end of mile 12, I had given up trying to find the next racer. The end was now just 2 miles away and I just wanted to get there as soon as I can. Unfortunately, at this point, there wasn't much fuel left in the tank. I poured it on as best as I could.

Mile 13, the last 0.1, and the Finish: (Mile 13 - 6:20; Last 0.1M - 0:38)

Upon reaching the final stretch which started at the entrance to the Queens Museum of Art and ends at the central rotunda, I knew it was time to go. I convinced myself that this is just a one mile interval (or tried to anyway) and sprinted as I could. Spectators were lining up by the dozens to cheer me on. I could see the finish line a half mile away. I sprinted faster once I realize we were just 800m from being done. The cruelest joke was when the course forced us to run a short circular loop around the man made Center Lake when we got close to the finish. I had been sprinting for quite a while and was exhaustedly tired. I held it together the best I could for the final push over the finish line. It was only after I was done did I see my time and realize that my detour at 6M cost me more than 45 seconds. I lost 70 seconds, a PR chance and an age group award all at the same time!

After the Finish

Once I finished, collected my breath and got my things, I went back to the finish line to cheer on the other runners as they came in. While I was watching, I was approached by a local paper who wanted to interviewed me as it seemed that I was the first overall local to finish the rest. He asked me why and how I became a runner. As we talked, I realized that it wasn't so important that I came in 11th overall, or 4th in my age group, or the 1st in Flushing. The best part of the story was that I made a mistake mid-race and yet found some inner fortitude to keep running, to keep fighting, and to savage a good performance out of what easily could have been a DNF! No, the final result wasn't indicative of the effort I put forth today, but I got to run, I got to race, and inspire at least those who will read my story that sometimes awesomeness isn't defined by a time on a clock.

Final Statistics
Official Time - 1:24:59
Average Pace - 6:29 min/mile
Overall Place - 11/2103
Age Group Place - 4/177
Age Grade - 70%

Monday, April 5, 2010

My "Silva"-like Performance
Race Report for the NYC 13.1 (Part I)


After running 20 half marathons, I would have figured that I've encountered pretty much very scenario that could come up in a 13.1 mile race. Whether it's pacing issues, fueling problems, Garmin mishaps, or dealing with annoying guy who wouldn't get off your tail no matter whether you sped up or slowed down, you name it, I've dealt with it. So maybe it was destined that in a race where the element of surprise was supposed to be minimal for me, I would find myself in a completely foreign situation that would have a significant impact on the outcome of this race.

Before The Start

I arrived at the starting line of the inaugural NYC 13.1 (Half) Marathon with supreme confidence that I was going to have a good race. My training has been stellar in terms of endurance, stamina, and speed, I had minimal to no injury concerns and the weather was absolutely perfect for race morning. But even aside from all of those factors, I predicted I was going to turn in a stellar performance today because the race was being held, for the first time, in Flushing Meadows Park, which just happens to be my home park! Since I train here almost on a daily basis, I knew the exact location of all the puddles, all the cracks, all the curves, and all the troublesome areas to avoid on this inaugural course. As I waited for the Star Spangled Banner and final announcements to be made, I was determined to let my "home field advantage" guide me to a new half marathon PR.

Miles 1-2: (Mile 1 - 6:12; Mile 2 - 6:15)

The starting horn sounded at exactly 9:15AM and I see the first pack of runners take off after the pace car and cyclists leading the charge. Because the start and the first quarter mile of the course were situated in the back roads of Arthur Ashe Stadium, hidden from view of anyone not directly associated with the race, the whole spectacle looked more like a scene from an illegal drag race in a back alley in Long Island City than the start of a 13.1 mile run through a park in Flushing Queens! Soon it was my turn and I take off at a fast and steady pace while trying to avoid the packs of newbie runners wearing the green 13.1 race t-shirt on either side. The temperature was in the upper fifties and there was a cool breeze greeting all the runners as we exited the shadows and unleashed ourselves onto the course. After about a quarter mile of weaving and dodging runners who had no business running in front, I found myself running comfortably in the clear, albeit single file with the other speedsters around the perimeter of the park. Once I was out of danger, I concentrated on running with good form and established a steady rhythm with my breathing and footstriking. While I was doing that, a guy in a lacrosse jersey and backwards hat was falling behind and leapfrogging me a few times within the first mile. I gave him room to practice his praying mantis antics, knowing full well that no one with a backwards hat can keep up with me for very long. Sure enough, after we crossed the first mile marker, he faded behind and was never heard from again.

I checked my split for the first mile and was surprised that I had taken it out so fast, considering all the congestion I faced at the start. I was still feeling strong though so I didn't panic when several frontrunners began slowing down, allowing me to surge ahead. We pass by the first water station and cheer zone as we made our way through the perimeter of the park on the second mile. The sun had risen a bit higher now and was starting to exert its influence on this race. I took a cup of water from a cheerful volunteer, drank, and sped up a little to maintain contact with the runner in front. Although I was making sure to run my own race at my own pace, I was excited that I was already picking people off this early in the race. As I scaled the bridge that went over a scenic stream and pass by the mile 2 marker, I saw a race director point toward me and yell "11th overall."

Miles 3-4: (Mile 3 - 6:19; Mile 4 - 6:27)

We're returning back to the starting line in mile 3 although the scene looks completely different now that all the runners are gone. All we got are more spectators clapping and cheering and water stops serving more water and Gatorade. I tried to thank and acknowledge their applause but soon thought better of it when I realized that expending excess energy at Mile 3 of a half marathon would not be such a good idea. So I continued running and breathing at a metronomic rhythm, my attention transfixed on the two runner in front of me, flanking either side of the road. Although I was now beyond 5k, my mind was still deciphering what it heard a quarter mile back. Did I hear right? Am I really in 11th place? Maybe he meant in my age group? But he couldn't have known my age...hmmm. I had joked with my friend before the race that the professional and elites were all probably racing the 10K in Central Park today, leaving us wannabes to duke it out here, but to be 11th place overall in a race of a couple thousand sounded insane to me. So I blocked the thoughts from my head and focused on the task at hand.

Towards the end of Mile 3, we run up a big semicircle incline onto an overpass that led us toward the back section of the park. Although I was a bit apprehensive that running 10K PR pace in the first three miles of a half marathon could ultimately prove foolish, I couldn't resist the rush to use the windy hill to surge ahead. So as I use my hill training expertise to steadily climb up and over the overpass, I first pass the guy on my left who is obviously a heel striker and then the guy on my right who annoyed me with his triathlete uniform and knee high socks. Seriously, guys? That's why you had to be passed. Once I was clear, I checked my mile 3 time and was pleasantly surprised that it was still in the six-teens. Some quick math told me that I was a full thirty seconds below PR pace by this point. If I could somehow maintain the effort, victory (in terms of a PR) would be mine!

Mile 4 brings runners on the outskirts of the Queens Zoo then around a large oval that surrounds a couple of baseball fields before returning back to the northern section of the park via an overpass. Although I usually take time when I'm around here to sneak a peek inside the cages to say hi to animals, I couldn't afford to do so knowing that more than a couple of runners were hot on my tail. Because of the surge and the incline leading back to the overpass, I faded a bit on this mile back to my half marathon PR pace. I was suspecting that I was quickly losing ground tot he other competitors, the sight of the runner in front far off in the distance becoming closer at each quarter mile told me otherwise.

Miles 5-6: (Mile 5 - 6:20; Mile 6 - 7:39)

Exiting the overpass, the course makes a sharp left as it passes by the entrance to the Queens Museum of Art and the front gate of the USTA National Tennis Center before making its return to the northeastern sections of the park. I was familiar with this portion of the course because I run a significant portion of this road for 800 intervals. Mr. bald guy in blue shorts was fading fast toward me now and I invoked my speedwork legs to surge slightly faster to catch up to him. Before I did, a tall skinny high school athlete who I haven't yet seen, suddenly appears from behind me and overtakes the both of us. A few minutes later, I pass the fading baldie. In my mind though, this was only a draw since I exited mile 5 in the same overall place that I entered. One of the race director confirmed my suspicions when he yelled "9th Place - Good Job!" as I passed by.

Mile 6 was an unorthodox circular route that took us around the inside of the park toward an overpass that would eventually lead toward Meadow Lake. I started mile 6 for sure that 8th was pretty much out of reach. Tall skinny high school athlete was looking strong as he passed earlier in the previous mile and I wasn't sure I would be able to keep up. Because there were no visible runners in front of him, I was counting on this 8th place runner to lead the way. The course was marked with cones that were haphazardly placed on the grass with few volunteers around to direct us around all the twists and turns. Although he was doing great leading me through the unorthodox windy path, he was suddenly losing steam at around 5.5 miles. I debated about moving past him at this point. Part of me wanted to pass him and move on to my next target. A big part of me wanted to hang back, knowing I'd be up to my own resources to figure out where we were meant to go. Because I'd never before been asked to take the lead on a course with twists and turns that I wasn't familiar with, I didn't know what to do. Eventually though, after following his lead for another quarter mile, I took the lead from him and dared myself to find and catch the next runner out on the course.

Having taken the lead, it was up to me now to lead the way. Because I couldn't see anyone else in front and the course was not well marked except for a few volunteers who tried to deal with pedestrians while yelling directions to the runners at the same time, I was caught in no man's land as I tried to run fast while at the same time figure out what I could remember from the description of the course I had heard earlier at the start. At about 6.8 miles, we circle the Unisphere and come upon a road that gave the option of turning left onto a bigger park road or going straight onto the overpass toward Meadow Lake. I thought about going straight but remembered vaguely that mile 7 was not supposed to start until the overpass and felt it was a bit too soon. There was a biker standing off to the side who I thought was one of the earlier race pacers. I threw my hands up to ask if the course turned or went straight. He didn't respond, which for some reason I took to mean the first option was correct. So I turned and went about 0.1 mile before I saw two metal barricades blocking my way. I immediately stopped, cursed at the top of my lungs and turned to see four or five runners moving onward to the bridge from the road that I had just vacated. For a second, I panicked and just stood. I looked around for a race official, hoping against hope that maybe they saw what just transpired and could do something, anything. Finally, when I surrendered to the fact that no one saw except an 8 year old kid kicking a soccer bar with his dad, I squealed in frustration, turned around and ran back from where I came.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Addicted to Runners' Crack

As a runner who has always believed in quality over quantity, I used to ascribe very little significance to the number of miles I run in a given month. Like I do with my utility bill and bank statements every month, I would take no more than five seconds to find the number at the back of the last page, register its existence in my subconscious for a brief second before tossing it aside, never to be heard from again. I've always figured this to be the best way to handle this little predicament since my monthly miles often pale in comparison to those of more experienced and seasoned marathoners. Why would I subject myself to such embarrassment? Ignorance is bliss as far as I was concerned.

Yesterday however, after I logged my final miles for March and calculated my total for March, the number that inhabited the last cell kept me perplexed and dumbfounded. 230.6, the spreadsheet said. I stopped and took notice. It isn't simply that 230.6 is a rather big number. It's actually the 3rd largest in my personal history, surpassed only by a 245.3 in August'09 and a 241.0 in September '09. It isn't only that it was in March which is traditionally not a high mileage month for me. After all, I logged "only" 194 in March '09 at the height of my training for the Boston Marathon. The real reason why 230.6 for March is so astounding is that
we had two Nor'Easters separated by a rainstorm to end all rainstorms!

Hmmm...yeah, so how did I manage 230.6 despite all that horrific weather? I'm not quite sure. All I know is that I'm not entirely as happy with this extravagant mileage as you might think. On the one hand, I know I should be thrilled that I'm stepping up the mileage, building a strong aerobic base and more importantly, not getting hurt. But on the other, I hate the fact that 200+ monthly miles with 50-65 mile weeks is now the new norm for me. There's no going back to 30 or even 40 mile weeks without feelings of failure, self-doubt and unfulfillment. This is absolutely absurd to me! Where's the guy that PR'd and/or BQ'd the marathon for 4 years straight running less than 40 miles per week? Where's the guy that thought he could get by just running 3-4x per week? Honestly, I don't even recognize him anymore. Not only so, but this insidious transformation to higher volume training was more a matter of preference rather than choice. It's not that I feel like I have to train and/or run more. I just feel more comfortable with myself when I do, as strange as it may sound.

So where will this lead? Is there an end in sight? Or will I just be running more days and logging more mile until I literally break down or sustain a life-altering injury? I don't know and I'm not sure. For right now, my body is feeling healthy and I'm taking care to run purposefully, train intelligently and avoid running miles that serve no identifiable objective. That is all I can do and all I can hope for.

In the back of my mind, I am all too aware that one day I will no longer be able to do this, so today I must do all I can with what I have so I can live life with no regrets. That is the mantra of the modern athlete. That is how I define awesomeness!

On a lighter note, I am starting to see MILEAGE as runners' CRACK. After all, once you score or get a high, you really can't go back. Not to mention the tolerance, the addiction, the depression, the's all right there, written in the shoes! Haha! Quick, is there a Runner's Anonymous agency or website set up yet? Maybe one of my blog readers should get on that and accept me as its first member...Just a thought.

Finally, it's race weekend for me. It's so exciting! But whether you're racing, running, or none of the above, go enjoy the sunshine and have yourselves a fantastic weekend!
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