Monday, December 31, 2007

Saying Goodbye to 2007

Remember when you were a kid, it was summertime, and you went to your favorite amusement park for the very first time? You ran from one ride to another, going from the dizzy spinning teacups to the death-defying roller coasters to the tilty wooden ship, pausing only for lunch or the bathroom. Before you knew it, it got dark, and you ran even harder, trying to fit in one last ride, daring whoever brought you there to catch up, and wishing that the day would never end.

That’s how I’ve been feeling these past few days, looking over my stats for 2007. In so many ways, this was a banner year for me in terms of running. Not only did I log in more miles than I did the previous two years combined, I also PR’d in half of the races I ran and achieved every single of the four goals I’d set for myself at the beginning of the year. Although my crowning achievement was, of course, qualifying for Boston at the New York City Marathon back in November, the accomplishment that I’m actually the most proud of, is introducing two of my friends to the wonders of the sport and coaching them from their first mile to their first marathon. Although they are both still licking their wounds from their first attempt at 26.2, and probably still haven’t forgiven me for the many painful injuries they had to endure during the training, here’s to hoping that once the weather turns nice, they’ll remember the adrenaline rush and come back out of hibernation to join me back on the roads again.

As for me, I’m still trying to hammer done some realistic goals for 2008. In the meantime, here are the rest of my running stats for your entertainment.

2007 Running Totals
Distance = 1018.9 Miles
Time = 124 Hours 50 Minutes 10 Seconds
Average Pace = 7:21 min/mile
Average Heart Rate = 155.7 BPM

PRs in 2007
4M – 24:53 [Race to Deliver: 11/18]
15K – 1:01:30 [NYRR Hot Chocolate: 12/1]
½ Mar – 1:31:16 [Fairfield: 6/24]
½ Mar – 1:28:06 [Queens: 9/23]
Marathon – 3:08:18 [NYC: 11/4]

For all my blog readers, thanks for the love in 2007. Have a very healthy and prosperous new year! Finally, don’t forget to buckle up when you come around these parts next year because if the past year was any indication, ’08 is going to be one crazy, adventurous, wonderful, hellacious, roll-your-windows-down-and-hold-on-to-the-kids kind of a joyride!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Back On The Road Again…

After taking a long hiatus to celebrate my thousand miles, Christmas, and the fact that they didn’t drag me off to jail for questioning the legitimacy of the Michell Report, I somehow got up the courage today to lace up the shoes and hit the park for a six mile run. It was a humbling experience to say the least. Nothing seemed to work as well as it did a week ago. My side stitches were flaring; there were little pebbles in my shoes, and my legs were so out of rhythm I almost tripped running up Harlem Hill. Although I was running slow, I was huffing and puffing like I was running tempo. It was not a pretty sight.

The only saving grace of my otherwise forgettable run was that I got a few “hellos” and “how are ya” s from some of the runners running in the opposite direction. I couldn’t tell if they anonymously had missed my presence in the park during the past week or whether they were strangers from out of town who didn’t know proper running etiquette in New York City. Either way, it felt sort of nice to be welcomed back.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Personal Christmas Celebration

I made it out to the park today, in the wind, and sub-freezing temps
And ran 9.25 miles, among the forests and the trees.
The effort was hard; the pace uneven and slow.
But somewhere in the back stretches of muddy reservoir road,
I completed the year long journey of running 1000 miles, and I am happy.
My own Christmas present to myself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Running or Running Holiday?

I did an impromptu survey today. Six people who call themselves runners, one simple question. “In your estimation, which holiday do you find is the hardest to run on?” The answer, by unanimous decision, 5 out of 5, was Christmas. Why 5 out of 5? Well, the sixth guy said Thanksgiving, but since we all know about the Turkey Trot Runs that take place in practically every major city, we decided to reject his answer on the basis of his ignorance of what actually happens in the running community on Thanksgiving.

So why is it so damn hard to run during the Christmas season? Is it the weather? It does tend to get windy and cold this time of year. Is it the presents? If you’re too busy buying them, delivering them, or opening them up, you probably won’t have time to go for a run. Or maybe it’s the family obligations, it’s kind of hard to excuse yourself for a couple of hours for a long run when you’ve either visiting or entertaining them at your own place. Although all of these are legitimate excuses to neglect your running shoes over the holidays, I tend to think that the biggest contributor to our slothfulness is guiltless gluttony. Not only are we eating uninhibited at all social and family functions in the name of “refueling” after the fall marathons, but we’re also running less because most of us have nothing to train for. Training season (even for Boston) will not commence until after all the Christmas lights are down.

That’s really sad for me because I’m only 12 miles away from 1000 for the year but haven’t run since Sunday. In case I have any Secret Santa’s out there, all I want for Christmas is a good weather day so I can go run! If you can all just box that up and stick it under the tree for me to find on Christmas morning, that’d be so great.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why I Should Have Been Named in the Mitchell Report

Before going forward, understand that this is NOT a running-related post, although it’s sports-related, unless you consider things I think about while running which has nothing to do with running running-related…if that’s the case, then you need to head out the door and go running yourself so you can come up with your own things to think about, like what all the random numbers on top of the Circuit City at Union Square actually mean or how our much maligned NBA basketball team, the New York Knickerbockers got its name. (I hope you weren’t expecting me to answer any of that…but drop me a line if you really want to know and I’ll see what I can do.) Anyway, you’ve been forewarned.

On December 13th 2007, in the midst of a Northeastern storm in the local area, the Mitchell Report was released. For those of you who were living under a rock for the past few days, are living in a foreign country or a foreign planet, or just don’t follow sports in general or baseball specifically (have I missed anyone?), the Mitchell Report was the result of an investigation untaken by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell into the use of performance-enhancing substances (namely anabolic steroids and hGH, or human growth hormone) in Major League Baseball. All together, 88 players were named in this report as having used one of these substances at one time or another during their career. Among them were some major perennial All-Stars like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejeda, Jason Giambi, and Eric Gagne, just to name a few. And as I have spent the majority of my weekend reading the 409 page report, listening to lawyers and baseball writers discuss the legal ramifications of this document, and watching the named players one-by-one either admit or deny these allegations, I am left with only one sentiment.

I am saddened, no, angered, no, downright insulted by this report. I am that way not because the Mitchell Report threatens the integrity of the game; no, I’m not much worried about that because come Opening Day, I, along with 50,000 of my neighbors will still be at Shea to cheer for our Mets. After all, we’re baseball fans, and it takes much more than some congressional report on some allegations of steroid use made by an ex-trainer on the team to keep us away from the game we love. It’s not even that I am forced by this report to reevaluate my love and admiration for players old and new that I have grown up with. I am hopping mad today because the Mitchell Report is grossly incomplete. It is missing the accounts of the one person who knew the most about hGH, androstenedione, and testosterone; the one who’ve spent countless days and nights in the laboratory perfecting the purification technique for all these hormones, and the one who had the connections and the means for the distribution and administration of these substances. That person might even have been subject 0, the one who lit the spark that started the fire. I don’t like to brag, folks, but that person they’re missing is me.

“Why you Laminator?” you may ask. “What have you done to deserve a mention?” Well, under the pretenses of a crock medical degree and fellowship training at an institution you might have never heard off, I have used, abused, modified, designed, purified, isolated, sniffed, and otherwise played with all of these “performance enhancing substances” during the past four years. Okay, granted, most of this work was done only for bench research and was injected only into mice and rats in carefully designed and control experiments, but that’s beside the point. In addition, I’ve written more than a hundred prescriptions for hGH for short stature, testosterone and “The Clear” to increase willie size (yes that willie) and DHEA to help grow out bush hair, and I’m sure more than a few of those might have fallen into the wrong hands and ended up in the bodies of some of those people who were actually named in the report. Okay, it’s not likely because the prescriptions for controlled substances, which all of those are, require certificates of authenticity and are carefully monitored and tracked which means I’d be in deep do-do if any ever gets lost, but it is at least possible, and so should be thoroughly investigated.

Yet, there’s a third reason why my name should have been included in that report. Consider these numbers:
2005 – Miles Ran: 419; Half Marathon – 1:40:26; Marathon – 3:26:42
2006 – Miles Ran: 545; Half Marathon – 1:35:59; Marathon – 3:11:33
2007 – Miles Ran: 963; Half Marathon – 1:28:06; Marathon – 3:08:18

In case you haven’t figured it out, those are my running stats for the past three years, and clearly you can see a dramatic improvement in both times and distances over the past two years. Conventional wisdom says I’ve just been running more and training harder, but isn’t it just a little suspicious how the miles have doubled since 2005 and all my race times have increased by more than 10 minutes in the interim at a time when my body is supposed to be breaking down and not functioning as well as it used to. In my estimation, my rate of performance enhancement makes the pre- and post- BALCO Barry Bonds numbers look rather putrid in comparison. (It’s not his fault though, he just didn’t know how to use ‘em right.) How come I didn’t get investigated and invited to speak with Senator Mitchell? Instead he asks some ex-clubhouse employee (Kirk Radomski) and a former Yankees personal trainer (Brian McNamee) for information in exchange for immunity. I think I could have been enveloped in a shroud of controversy and yet still make a more credible witness than either of those bums.

“But he’s not interesting in running, only baseball.” You might argue. Well, if he’d ask me, and offered me a chance to speak, without the risk of future litigation or prosecution, I’d tell him how running might have been just a front I use to distribute my goodies amongst the constituents, or how when I go to the ballpark, I might actually enter via a separate gate for MDs that gives me exclusive access to the trainers and bat boys who sees to it that the candies goes to those who have a sweet tooth. It was all a carefully designed, well-orchestrated process that the rest of the world now won’t get to see because Senator Mitchell didn’t bother to ask me to participate in his investigation. His lack of judgment is a shame honestly because I would’ve done just about anything and told him everything to clean up the game I loved as a kid growing up. All I’m saying is, he should’ve asked.

I’m so angry right now that I ought to write a letter to Congress to complain. No, better yet, maybe I should just do what O.J. did and write a book, “If I Were To Be A hGH Distributor…”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How To Finish A Race: A Grimace or A Smile? (An Expert Opinion)

It’s not often that you find answers to one of life’s great mysteries just flipping through a magazine, but that’s exactly what happened on the subway this morning on my way to work.

As you may or may not know, for the past several days since my Sunday race, I’ve been stuck in a running-related philosophical dilemma. I’ve been wondering whether slower runners are actually having more fun and therefore smiling more at the end of races than faster runners. And if so, whether I’d have a more satisfying roadrace experience if I took it slow and coasted to the finish rather than gutting it out in the end to save a few seconds. I’ve gotten quite a slew of comments and responses arguing both sides and it has been difficult for me to determine which is actually the “correct” race strategy.

I was perusing my latest issue of Running Times on the train this morning, when I found an enlightening editorial written by Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Beverly that dealt with the issue at hand. He described in very elegant terms, why crying is more preferable than smiling at the end of races. (Please go there and read it for yourself – I highly recommended if you’re even remotely interested in the discussion. He seemed a little miffed at the suggestion that “slower runners enjoy themselves more than fasters runners.”) Not only was the article satisfying to read, restoring my belief in the duel-to-the-death, take-no-prisoners mentality that gives purpose to the racing experience, but I found it downright inspiring, daring me personally not to be satisfied with anything less than my best performance on race day. I especially found the following passage especially poignant:

(…And in, all cases, even the negative ones, I’d have to say that tears trump smiles. Tears mean you cared about something. Tears mean you felt something. Even tears of loss mean that you know what it is to win. As Graham Greene wrote in Journey Without Maps, “You don’t weep unless you’ve been happy first; tears always mean something enviable.”)

I guess I’d never felt the urge to cry at the end of a race before. (Well, I may have almost cried when I ran across the finish line at the NYC marathon, but that’s a different set of circumstances than what we’re talking about here…) Yet, I can still relate to the frustration and disappointment that comes at the end of a poor race performance. I think it’s apt that he mentions that “you can’t draw a line at either a place or time to divide the front from the back…” because in the end, there are always going to be runners in front and behind us, and the way we perceive our race results is subjective and personal. That’s why I think we can all use this approach to run and train for our races. The message is clear: Race to be the best, but prepared to be humbled.

Okay, maybe there can be a more inspiring interpretation. I’m just glad he legitimized my feelings of misery and disappointment at not running a kick-ass time at the last race.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How To Finish A Race: A Grimace or A Smile?

One of the things that fascinate me about the racing experience is that no matter how many times you may have run the exact same course at the exact same date every year with the exact same people, there is always something unique about each race that makes it unlike any of the others you may have run before. Sometimes it is a new sight you’ve never seen, or maybe just a new perspective on something you’ve always known. Other times, it’s a feeling you’ve never felt or a thought you’ve never had while running a course at a speed that you’ve not been accustomed to. And then there are times, few and far between, when you see, feel, or hear something in a race that is so truly scintillating or inspiring, you can’t help but be changed by it. And then you wonder for a while long after the race has past why you’ve never noticed it before. I call these my “A-hah” moments, and I believed I had one while running arguably my worst race of the year Sunday (Please see my race report in my last post if you need a recap).

As I mentioned previously, during the latter part of the 10K race while I was running fast past many of the slower runners to reclaim some of the time I had lost in the port-a-potty, I saw more than a few disparities in the shoes, attire and form between the middle-of-the-pack runners and the frontrunners that I generally run with. One of the more interesting differences I noticed was the fashion by which both parties approach the finish line. Usually, when I come across the final mile or half mile marker of a race, I am gearing up for the final sprint toward the finish line. As a result, if anyone has ever seen me in the last 0.2 or 0.1 mile in a road race, I am biting my lip and have a strained and menacing grimace on my face. (Maybe that’s why Brightroom has never offered to capture me crossing the finish line…Their camera would probably break from the sheer hideousness of the photo!) And judging by the extreme competition, painful grunts and heavy breathing I see and hear all around me at the end of every road race, my competitors and fellow runners all share in my philosophy as well. So imagine my surprise when, at the end of the 10K race on Sunday, I see people jogging slowly across the finish line, with perfect smiles on their faces and their hands raised high in the air like they have just completed a marathon. Even the announcer guy at the end commented how the smiles coming across the finish line were so pretty they could be used for a toothpaste commercial! I was flabbergasted. Smiles? Hands in air? What? I just never see that in the crowd that I usually finish with. We’re usually too busy sucking air or trying not to fall over to care how we look crossing the finish line. Maybe that’s why no one sped up with me towards the end of this race. Instead, people were moving to one side and letting me through like I was a tailgater on the left lane of a major highway. I felt bad, but maybe shouldn’t have. They were all busy preparing for their photo op!

After I recovered from the exhaustion of running the last 0.2 mile at a 5:45 pace and grabbed two cups of hot chocolate from the Gatorade dispenser (weird…) I walked back toward the finish line partly to reflect on my poor performance and partly to survey whether runners were actually finishing the race with more smiles than grimaces. And sure enough, healthy teeth and victory signs dominated the end of the contest. Wasn’t even close.

As I walked slowly in the cold back to my humble abode after the race, I thought about why I was so miserable about one bad performance in one race that I’ve run maybe ten times before, and why these people who are so much slower than me, are perfectly content to just finish. (I hope I don’t sound too facetious, because I am not good enough to pull that off..) But maybe I’m running with the wrong crowd. Maybe I need to just not care about running fast anymore and just jog my races so I can too smile and be victorious at the finish. How come no one has ever mentioned this to me before; the fact that the back-of-the-pack have so much more fun than the front-of-the-pack? I like to have fun while I’m racing too. Maybe a shift in perspective is in order here…A-hah!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Race Report for 8/8 and Joe Kleinerman 10K

I believe in karma. I believe that no good deed every goes unpunished, which translated to running terms, means that after several better-than-expected race performances, you’re bound to have one that is less than desirable. Perhaps that’s the best way I can explain why I ran an anti-PR today.

Of course, there’s a more logical explanation, which is that I have been suffering from a nasty diarrheal illness for the past three days, making other activities besides laying in bed and sitting on the can utterly impossible; but that would be just a convenient excuse, and as a runner, I can’t allow myself to subscribe to such apparent reason. So I’m ditching common sense and invoking karma to explain my ails on the road. I should have seen it coming after setting PRs in my last three races. I was doomed from the beginning.

It was such a shame too because I was feeling better than I had in days this morning when I got up. I was relieved that the persistent dizziness and the stomach cramps had gone away and excited that I would get to run two races today. Well, it’s not exactly two different races, but two races none-the-less. I planned to run 1.8 miles on the reservoir, which is a little more than one lap around, then after a short break, I’d run the 10K race with NYRR around the park. By the time I finished, I would have run another 10K for NYRR, and 8 miles for Nancy and the 8/8 virtual race she had set up. I fixed myself some good old chicken noodle soup for breakfast, gathered up my running gear and was out the door within a half hour of getting out of bed. Because I had to do the 1.8 miles before the start of the race, I wanted to start early and make sure I had enough time to complete this first portion of my race without having to rush through the preparatory stretching and warmup.

The morning was damp and cold, but not as cold as it was last weekend. I decided to wear a tech long-sleeve shirt, thin sweatpants, a do-rag under a wool hat, and running gloves for my race. By the time I got to the reservoir at 8:15 there were already a few running clubs sprinting and prepping for the race. Were they there to do 1.8 miles for the 8/8 too? That’d be cool, but I doubt that’s why they were occupying the track 1.5 hours before the start of the 10K race. They were quite menacing with their matching uniforms and racing shorts. Little did I know until after my 1.8 that the Joe Kleinerman 10K was the final race that would count toward running club standings. So there was a logical explanation for why they were busting their freezing butts in the cold when the volunteers for the race hadn’t even shown up yet. Here I was thinking they were either participating in the virtual 8 with me, or I’d finally found myself some cold weather runners who were freakier (or more dedicated) than I.

I ran my 1.8 in 13:28 and felt good to be running again after my sickness. As I jogged over to the start of the 10K a short distance away, I had a fleeting thought that I should visit the port-a-potty again before the race. But because the field was crowded and I only had ~10 minutes to spare before the start, I felt I wouldn’t have enough time to go there, come back and still expect to line up toward the front of the pack. So I winged it and decided to hold it in, even though my stomach was making weird gurgling noises even as the race directors were giving us last minute instructions for the race. I was regretting not having relieved my bowels prior to leaving the apartment in the morning, but felt assured that since I have never had to use a port-a-potty mid-race, I’d be fine once the race start.

I managed to squeeze into the pack close to the front so I’d have a good start. However, because the field was so packed, after the horn sounded and we were off, there was still a tremendous amount of twisting and weaving for the first half mile. Because the race starts in the north end of the park, the first mile of the race is actually the toughest. The fast drop in elevation at the start followed right after with the biggest hill of the course all in the first mile makes it very enticing to lose focus, run too fast either downhill or uphill, and be fatigued for the rest of the race. As the road started to dip into the descent, I reminded myself to run my own race at my own pace instead of jostling with other people for position. I ran well that first mile, passing the mile marker at 6:24. The second mile was only slightly slower, at 6:31. However, towards the end of the second mile, I started to develop sudden intestinal cramps. They were similar to the ones I had had during the marathon, so I thought I’d be able to run with them. However, by the middle of the second mile, it was apparent that the cramping wasn’t going away and was growing more intense with each step. So finally, after climbing a small hill on the West side, I did something I had never done before during a race. I used a port-a-potty. Although I felt instantly better after I relieved myself, the two minutes I spent inside were the most psychologically confusing time I had ever spent in a race. On the one hand, I could hearing the crowds yelling and cheering for the runners and wanted very much to join them, on the other hand, I was confined to sit and not move until I was certain the cramps were completely gone.

By the time I was done and got back to the road, I had lost more than two minutes on my time was destined to run my slowest 10K ever in my life. Most importantly, since this was going to my last race of the year. I’d have to spend the holidays and the next month thinking about my poor performance in the context of a year of otherwise great running. I almost wanted to walk home and take a DNF for this race just to save my pride, but knew that I’d feel even worse if I didn’t finish what I started. So despite the time lost and the inevitable bad outcome, I ran the rest of the race as hard as I could, running mile 4 at 6:33, mile 5 at 6:42, and mile 6 at 6:20. During this stretch of the run, I felt guilty that I was feeling good and passing a lot of runners along the way. For the little while that I was able to remove myself from my pity party, I actually enjoyed running with the slower runners because it gave me some perspective on how it feels to be a middle-of-the-pack runner in a crowded race. It was interesting to note the differences in running attire, equipment, shoes, and even noises (or grunting and moaning) between the slower and faster runners. I even met Mary Wittenberg, the president of New York Road Runners, as I was making my way up Cat Hill on the East Side. I didn’t really introduce myself, but ran beside her for a short while. I was amazed that she looked just as preppy during the race as she does pre-race. It was a great sight to see, and I was glad I personally saw her in action.

I eventually crossed the finish line at 43:43 for the 10K, which meant a 55:53 for the 8 miler. Like I predicted, it was my worse finishing time in my running career for that distance, in other words, an anti-PR. But instead of blaming it all on myself or my physically ailments, I’m chalking it up to karma, and we’ll leave it at that.

Thanks Nancy for coming up with the 8/8 idea. I’m inclined to think I’d still be in bed if I hadn’t signed up for that race.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Winter Running

December 21st is considered by most people to be the first day of winter. According to astronomers and meteorologists however, December 21st is actually the winter solstice or midwinter, because the shortest day and the longest night of the year always falls on or around this date every year. Therefore, the arrival of the winter season occurs much earlier.

As a runner in New York City, I always know when winter is officially here. As far as I’m concerned, winter starts when I see, for the first time all year, more pedestrians on the roadways of Central Park than runners. More than the sight of barren trees stripped naked of their autumn foliage, or the absence of water from the fountains that line the park, it’s the sudden disappearance of the running masses training for fall marathons that signal the arrival of the winter season.

I’ve had some quiet and eerie runs in the park this week. Instead of dodging the slower runners and aggressive bikers all competing for the same two inch rec lane, I have had the whole park all to myself these few days. Even bikers have been far and few between. I was disappointed that I didn’t see a single soul running on my six-miler today. Maybe it’s a sign of the bad weather we’ve been having (we had some strong winds and rain at the beginning of the week, and now snow towards the end of the week). Maybe everyone already had their run earlier in the day before I got there, or maybe it’s just the way the world elects to convey the message that I’m a total freak. I’m not sure. I just want the stormy weather to ease up a bit so I can have some company on my long runs, even if everyone I see running will be anonymous to me. That way I can point to them and say, “See, those people are just as crazy as I am!” Freakiness loves company too…Who knew?!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

My Race Report: Hot Chocolate 15K

After returning from my brief excursions to funny funny land and nostalgia, I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve talked about my running. And since this IS a running blog, and as you can see from my training log, I am still running, I am going to share a race report of the fun run that took place in Central Park today…

The name of today’s race was the Hot Chocolate 15K. Although this an annual event takes place in the park at the same time every year, this was the first time for me. To be honest, I had signed up for this about three weeks ago and had forgotten all about it until three days ago when I got a reminder e-mail from NYRR. I spent the past couple of days trying to remember why I originally signed up for this race. Maybe I wanted extra incentive to make sure I would keep running after Thanksgiving. Maybe I thought it’d be cool to do 15K and set an instant PR since I’d never raced that distance before. Or maybe I was suffering from post-marathon running withdrawal when I haphazardly signed up for 3 races in 4 weeks. Whatever the reason, I was regretting my decision when I dragged myself out of bed early this morning only to find that the air temperature outside was 31° with a wind chill of 19°. Are you serious?! I know it’s called the Hot Chocolate 15K but racing in below freezing temps is utterly ridiculous. I wanted to close up shop and climb back into bed, but I knew if I was even remotely serious about training for Boston, I’d have to learn to run in cold weather. Once I made the decision to run, I got dressed as quickly as I could and headed out the door.

Actually, I don’t think I’d made it out the door if NYRR hadn’t given me extra incentive to get out there today. Yesterday, when I took out my race packet, I was tickled silly when I found out that they had assigned me the number 2131 for today’s race. What’s so special about 2131, you ask? Well, if you take out the 1s, which don’t really need to be there anyways if you ask me, you get 23, and we all know who number 23 is right? That’s right…MJ. And if you read my last post, you know how much man-love I have for MJ. So I spent all last night decorating my race bib, blackening in the 23 and writing Jordan on top of it like a uniform. So yeah, in actuality, there was no way I’d miss my first “real” opportunity to “Be Like Mike” even if it was in colder temperatures than they have in Chicago.

As I jogged over to the start, I formulated a game plan for today’s race. On the surface, it was a simple two-loop run in the park, nothing I hadn’t done before, but for me, it was a challenge, both physically and mentally, to run a long distance race with sweatshirt, sweatpants, gloves, and a whole hat. To all the elites heading over in their singlet and shorts, I must have looked like I was dressed more appropriately for snowshoeing than racing. I didn’t care though. I was warm and was fully prepared to just run my own race. At the finish line, waiting for me at whatever time I get there, will be two brand new PRs…one for the new distance of 15K, and one for the sub-freezing temps. Since I had no expectations for a finishing time, I was just hoping to average something better than 7:00 min/mile for the duration of the 15K.

By the time I made over to the park, I barely had enough time to remove my sweatshirt, put my bag away, and head over to the start before the gun sounded and we were off. Despite the lack of time for adequate stretching, I was feeling good as the race got underway. Because I didn’t really know what to expect, I told myself to not worry about the clock as much and just run as comfortably fast as possible. That was the game plan anyway…but then something happened during the first mile that brought out my MJ and made the race personal. As I was running up the west side at about the first mile marker, some guy in a bandana clipped my leg from behind as he ran past me, causing me to stumble. I regained my balance just as I was about to do a face plant on the gravel. I was annoyed that he hit me, yes, but whatever, accidental bumps is nothing unusual in a road race with 4000+ runners, but the fact that he didn’t even have the courtesy to glance back to see what he had clipped or to apologize was inexcusable.

At the speed we were going, the crowd had gotten sparse by the time we hit the first mile, so it wasn’t difficult for me to spot the perpetrator. And because guy with a bandana probably did his speedwork only on the treadmill with a 0 setting, he slowed down significantly after the first set of hills, and I was able to catch up to him before mile 2. I purposely ran right next him and shot him an evil glance just to let him know I acknowledged but didn’t appreciate his running me off the road a little while ago. He returned my stare, glanced down at my number 23, sneered, and took off as the course dipped downhill. That was the last straw, ladies and gentleman. Roughing me up and insulting my running, I can handle (hey, I do it to myself here all the time!) but when you openly denigrate this jersey that has been blessed with the number and spirit of #23, Mr. Bandana Man, that is an open declaration of war! All of a sudden, the music, the song, and the man appears before me, and it is on…poor running man, he has no idea who he’s just offended.
Although he was sprinting down the down side of the hill at a pretty good pace, judging by how he struggled uphill, I knew I would catch up to him again. Besides, its only mile 2 of a 9 mile race, why was he running so fast now that he’s offended me…doesn’t he know that the bigger hills haven’t even yet arrived and he’ll have to do them twice before it’s said and done? I allow him to sprint off momentarily as I assessed my own situation. Mile 1 was ran in 6:33; mile 2 in 6:23. I was once again setting a blistering pace despite my intentions to run this race easy. Oh well, I was still feeling well, not hot or cold, but knew that I’d be slowing down once we moved back over to the East side. I made sure to hit all the water stops to maintain adequate hydration.

I ran the next four miles at the same level of exertion I had for the first two miles. Although the mile times became progressively slower (6:30 for Mile 3, 6:44 for Mile 4, 6:37 for Mile 5, and 6:45 for Mile 6) the further along in the race I was, I was still running much faster than anticipated and in the meantime was passing many runners who had similar difficulties maintaining a fast pace. One of these was Mr. Bandana Man who I caught up to and past at Mile 7 during the second tough uphill portion of the course. As I passed him by, I sang aloud the refrain “I dream I move like Mike, if I could be like Mike!” He had a look of bewilderment as I slowly ran beside and eventually past him. He was devastated, as if he never figured me to be able to catch up. After I past him, I was estatic, and cruised the rest of the way to the finish...even pushing the last 1.3 miles at 6:31 min/mile pace, which was faster than the pace I had started with at mile 1.

I finished the 15K race with an official time of 1:01:30, which is an average pace of 6:36 min/mile. By the time I picked up my bag and headed for home, my fingers were so numb I couldn’t even turn the key to open the door to my apartment! I proceeded to spend the next half hour at the corner Starbucks with a grande Vanilla Latte in hand, listening to Christmas music. My heart was warm though, knowing I had run an excellent race, established two PRs, and play the role of my childhood hero, if only for one day. Thanks, Mr. Bandana Man for spurning me on to “Be Like Mike!”

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Be Like Mike"

So after laughing myself silly over Dave’s Top Ten for the 59th time, I was saddened to hear the news that Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade, past away yesterday at the age of 80 from kidney failure. I should have been down because we lost a great man, a creative researcher who dared to answer the question posed to him by the then Florida Gator football coach who asked, “Doctor, why don’t football players wee-wee after a game?”, and in so doing, unlocked the key to a multi-million dollar sports drink industry. Yeah, I should have been depressed about that. But in hearing the news, I was a bit saddened only because it brought me back, way back, to junior high school, after school actually, on the basketball court with friends where I had my very first Gatorade, singing and emulating the commercial as shown here.

Wasn’t that a great song? To me, that was and still is the greatest Gatorade commercial ever. I still catch myself singing it from time to time, especially when I’m running outside, dribbling a basketball (Okay, I haven’t done that in like 2 years, but work with me people!) Although I remain very conflicted about my feelings for Mike—I believe I will need counseling until the day I die to come to terms with how he single-handedly destroyed my hometown team, the New York Knicks, back in the day when they used to be good, time and time again in the playoffs—the truth is, I can’t deny that he was the best player ever to grace the court with a basketball, and was the sports hero I hated to love most growing up. The thing that was the most inspiring, and the thing that absolutely drove me up the wall at the same time, was the competitive fire and the quiet confidence he had everytime he stepped on the basketball court. It was as if he knew and wanted everyone else to know that in the end, he was going to win the game, and we were all just sticking around to find out the details.
You know what, that is exactly how I hope to be when I finally step up to the starting line for the Boston Marathon. Just like Mike.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Top Ten Signs You Won’t Win The New York City Marathon

I thought I was done pontificating on NYCM, but have people seen this video yet? If not, you have to watch it. It is too damn funny. Go ahead, I’ll wait…I know it takes a little while to buffer and there’s a 30 second commercial beforehand that’s kind of annoying, but it’s so worth it, trust me.
Anyway, my friend sent me a link to it this morning and I mistakenly watched it during lunch while drinking a can of Diet Coke. Right off the bat, #10 was so funny, I snarfed and had soda come right out of my nose. Suddenly all eyes were on me as I couldn’t stop myself from laughing hysterically. It was all sort of embarrassing, but I didn’t care. I hadn’t laughed so hard since grade school. Afterward, everyone was gathered around my office curious to know what had me giggling like a school girl. I declined to comment though, knowing that all of these non-runners would just never find it as funny as I did.
After the exhilaration, it was hard to concentrate on work for the rest of the day. Instead, I kept thinking of sights and sounds from my own running of NYCM that I could add to make Dave’s list more complete. Here’re my contributions:

10a. You trip on your own laces running to the start line. (Yeah, that’s me!)
9a. You “warm up” for the race by smoking a cigarette. (Saw this one up close!)
8a. After a blistering first mile, you find yourself right next to Katie Holmes.(For my aunts!)
7a. Instead of a bunch of guys speaking in languages you don’t understand, you’re being paced by this guy. (Thanks tkujimmylee for the photo!)
6a. You’ve been tapering since last year. (One friend’s excuse for not running!)
5a. You hit the top of the Verranzo and ask “Where’s the free food?” (Heard this one too!)
4a. Instead of this, your running mantra is “Please God, oh please, don’t let me walk at mile 21…” (Thanks again to tkujimmylee).
3a. You’ve hit the Wall before the race even starts.
2a. You carbo load by getting a Big Mac and fries…Supersized!
1a. You have pristine toenails. (Kind of lame…just like all of Dave’s No.1s)

Anyone else like to add to this list, please help yourself to the comments. As for me, I still can’t help smirking at Dave’s #10.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Turkey Day Leftovers

Welcome back readers from a long holiday weekend. Hope everyone got to enjoy their time off and replenish their energy stores. I cannot speak for everyone, but after persevering through three holiday feasts in four days, I feel more bloated than an oversized stuffed turkey right now. As I try to remember what it felt like to be hungry again, let me give a brief recap of the festivities.

Thanksgiving Day started with a nice 6 mile run back in the Queens ‘hood where I grew up. The day was warm, the sun was shining, and the fall foliage was out in full splendor for all to see. It always feels great to run past the streets, stores, and playgrounds where I once roamed as a kid. Now, when I pass by these same locales and see different kids playing the same games I did when I was their age, I always have to contain the impulse to stop a few of them and educate them about the “old school” days and neighborhood traditions and superstitions. I’m not sure if they’d be impressed or just not care, either way, I’d like to think it’d be my way of giving something back to the old ‘hood.

After my run, I met up with my little brother who came home from college, and after catching up a bit and showing him who’s still king of the family on the handball courts, we headed off to Thanksgiving dinner at my aunts. Unfortunately, my parents and another aunt couldn’t join us this year because they were invited to a wedding banquet (who holds a wedding banquet on Thanksgiving anyway!). So Thanksgiving this year consisted of two sets of parents and about 15 teenagers and twenty-somethings (I’m counting myself in this mix even though I’m barely older than the twenty-somethings!) which is a little out of the ordinary. It was fun though because I got to see the latest videogames the kids these days are surrendering their minds and their parents’ money on. What was more fun for me was the way my aunts and cousin try every year to congratulate me on running a marathon even though they really have no idea what a marathon is, or what it takes to train for one. This year I got questions like “So, was the marathon this year longer than the one last year?” or “Oh, I heard Tom Cruise’s wife ran in a marathon in New York. Did you run in the same one? Did you see her? She’s so talented.” I try very hard to keep a straight face and answer the questions as best as I could because in the end I know they mean well. But in my mind, my head hurts from all the kicking and screaming that’s going on in there. Maybe by my tenth marathon, I can get to explaining what a BQ is. A man can dream, can’t he?

I can’t complain though, because dinner was fantastic. The turkey was tremendous, the mash potatoes and chicken were well worth the wait, and to top it all off, my cousin made like five different kinds of dessert including a white chocolate cheesecake that made my knees shake...apparently, someone gave her the memo that I have a secret weakness for white chocolate cheesecake but didn’t tell me. It was so delicious that I was angry at myself for having too much dinner beforehand.

All in all, it was a memorable Thanksgiving. The rest of the weekend progressed in much the same fashion. I managed to struggle through an eleven miler on Saturday in between feasts but otherwise it was all about eating, friends, family, and not running.

Until now, I never understood why gluttony is considered one of the seven deadly sins. Now I do, oh so well. Payback on the road this week is going to be a bitch!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back from Philly and a Wild Weekend

Thanks everybody for cheering me on while I went to Philly to complete my second “marathon”. Let me tell you, this “race” was just as grueling as the first. The weather was lousy; it was raining when I got to town. I didn’t get good sleep the night before, and had crazy butterflies in the tummy as I was heading over to the testing center. Just watching all the other people flipping through books and note cards outside the conference room made me queasy. But then, I remembered back to a few short weeks ago when I had those same last minute jitters before a big race and reminded myself how they were just the preamble to an amazing day. As I walked into the testing room, I muttered under my breath, “Run your own race” as if it were marathon day all over again, sat down and focused my energy on taking a good test.

Four-and-a-half hours later, I come out, triumphant yet again. (Well, not exactly…I don’t find out results until February 28, but at least I’m done for now!) All the mental preparation over the past year led up to this one test, and now it’s all over. I’m exhausted all over but very excited at the same time.

Actually, taking the board exam was only the second amazing thing I did this weekend…because on Sunday morning, before I started my trip down to Philadelphia, I participated in a 4 mile road race in Central Park called Race to Deliver. To be honest, it originally wasn’t even a planned event for me. For most of the year, I had scheduled NYCM to be my last race of the year. But in the week before the marathon, I was sad to see an empty space underneath the Upcoming Races section of my blog, and in reviewing my training log also realized that I only needed ~120 more miles to reach 1000 for the year. So I signed up for a couple of last minute races only to give myself some incentive to continue running, even in frigid weather.

As I got up Sunday morning for my first post-marathon race, I almost regretted my decision because it was cold and wet outside. Besides, I really wanted to rest up for Philly and my exam the next day. But alas, my curiosity got a hold of me, as I really wanted to know how I’d do in a short race after running so well in the marathon. So I reluctantly got dressed and made it to the starting line. Even as I started to stretch and prepare for the short race, I really wasn’t expecting to run a fast time. Last year, I ran the exact same race and finished in 26:30 for a 6:38 min/mi pace. This summer, I ran a similar distance race in 26:54. My goal was simply to run comfortably fast and see how I do. At the start, I snug myself into the second corral behind the elite runners. And after enduring some corny jokes from Joan Rivers and some weather advice from Mr. G, our local weatherman, we were off.

Well, I’ll spare you the play-by-play because it’s really not that important. What is important is that I finished the race with a time of 24:53 (6:13 min/mi)! That translates to not only 83rd place out of 5204 runners, but a distance PR for me by more than 1:30. I was totally flabbergasted by the time and the speed. That blistering pace was faster than my previous 5K PR. Heck, I had never even run 2 miles at that pace before. The crazy thing was because I hadn’t planned to race this run, I didn’t run all-out at all and felt comfortable throughout. It’s crazy that despite my best intentions, I managed to best my pace for any race of any distance by more than 15 sec/mile. I was so overwhelmed by my own performance that I just had to say “Wow!” to myself every ten seconds all the way home that morning. It was such a great feeling to run so fast without really trying that I’ve signed up to do a weekly race all the way until the end of the year. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to duplicate that kind of performance, but I owe it to myself to at least try, right?

Anyway, yeah, it was quite a magnical weekend for the Laminator.Thanks for listening. Hopefully, you all got a chance to do some good trotting (like the turkey?!) this weekend as well.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I’m Off To Philadelphia!

Alright, folks, I’m done with all the preparation. My heart is beating out of my chest, my hands are sweaty, and I’m so nervous I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I’ve been training hard for days, weeks, and months for this big race, so I think I’m ready. Wish me luck!

What…what is it, you say? You think I’m crazy to go to Philly to run their marathon three weeks after the NYCM? Yeah, if that were the case, I really would need to get my head examined. No. Actually, I’m doing a little 4 mile race in Central Park and then heading to Philadelphia so I can take my specialty licensing examination there on Monday. For those who are not in my trade, it’s equivalent to the bar exam for lawyers. It’s somewhat important that I do well, and that’s why I’ve been kind of MIA on the running blog these past couple of weeks, concentrating on mental training of another kind. But never fear, I’ll be back with a vengeance after my exam for some more interesting content as I start the preparation for Boston (which I still haven’t decided whether I’m running yet, but that’s another post for another day…) In the meantime, best of luck for those who are running the real Philadelphia Marathon tomorrow. (It’s a bit too late for that too, I know.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Race Report From My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part 4 – From My Perspective

Now that it’s been ten days since the five borough fun run and all my body parts have almost forgiven me for pretending to be Kenyan for a day, I realized that I’ve actually learned quite a bit during this big race. I was surprised because I thought I learned everything there was to learn about running the NYC marathon in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the event, but just like that pesky neighbor who never fails to have loud company over the same night you actually want to sleep early, the city never hesitates to wake up and slap you across the head a few times whenever you think you’ve got everything figured out…

But before I get to my perspectives on race day, I just want to congratulate my running partners MA and RB for sticking with the Laminator training program and finishing their first ever marathon in NYC with very respectable times of 3:36:52 and 3:46:57. I’m not sure if I’m more impressed with your times or by the fact that you both practiced perfect pacing and didn’t hit the wall at all during the race. Now that you’re both finished, I can finally admit that I am horrible at following my own advice… especially when it comes to race pacing. I’m glad you both ran together, without me, so that nobody had visual evidence of my crash and burn tactics during the last 10K.

Major props also for EW, who organized our pre-race pasta meal, a big support crowd at Mile 17 and our very own post-race mini-celebration as well. You’ve really raised the whole NYCM Cheering and Spectating Exercise into an art form. Here’s to hoping that we’ll switch places really soon and I can clap and yell “Woohoo!” ‘til my voice gets sore and I can call in sick the next day. I know you ran two miles already last week…c’mon, so what’s another 24.2 more?!

As for me, here’s a list of the Things I Learned During and After the 2007 New York City Marathon (that I didn’t know before…):

1. Multi-colored name tags don’t run in the first two corrals.

2. Actually, the more tags you have, the further back you should start. (Unless you speak a foreign language, then you run in a pack up front.)

3. If you see someone running in full costume, move far far away. You don’t want to be known as the guy that finished just behind “The Running Banana”

4. When a beautiful woman you don’t know speaking in a language you don’t understand waves at you to come over…don’t…unless you’re prepared to get trampled by the Italian guy behind you.

5. While you’re at it, don’t grab gel packs and other treats not meant for you from unsuspecting spectators…they WILL run you down and maul you with whatever they’ve got (True story as witnessed by RB during the race!)

6. In fact, don’t even run along the near side if you don’t want to be tempted by all the goodies they’re giving away. Come to think of it, if you actually stopped and helped yourself to a little of everything served during the race, you might finish the marathon with more glycogen stores than when you began.

7. If you ask someone to bring some essential food item for you during the marathon, the likelihood that you’ll actually find this person at the designated spot will be inversely proportional to the craving you have for that food item at that particular point in the race.

8. Resist the urge to respond in kind if you overhear foul language muttered in your general direction at Mile 21. I ran up to confront the perpetrator during my race, only to see he had his eyes closed, wincing in pain. I felt embarrassed and ran over to the opposite side as fast as I could.

9. Once you’ve crossed the finish line and gotten your medal, don’t sit on the side of the curb planning to get up in ten minutes and meet your friends at the Reunion Area.

10. If you happen to run a good race and finish with a fast time, don’t try to explain the concept of a BQ to a non-runner. Without fail, someone will overhear and comment that so-and-so’s second cousin twice removed ran Boston with a charity group, and he wasn’t so fast.

11. …or your mom will ask…if you’re so fast, how come you didn’t beat Lance.

12. And on the day after, [some thing the ladies have already figured out, but someone forgot to tell me] evidently, you cannot just walk in and ask for a pediacure at the male version of a nail salon known as my podiatrist. It wasn’t “urgent” enough to warrant a same day appointment, according to the receptionist. What?! Has she seen the raw blisters, thick calluses, and black toenails that adorn my feet?

13. Does she not know how I suffered and limped, up and down exactly 13 flights of stairs, just to get there? I’m sure the old lady in a walker who beat me in a footrace to catch the 6 train that I eventually missed on my way home could send her a memo.

In the meantime, check out this photo of the NBC broadcast of the marathon start. That’s my impersonation of Fred Labow checking out the watch in the middle of the screen. (Thanks, MA for the heads up!) NBC’s so smart. How’d they know I’d make Boston and be famous?!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Race Report from My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part 3 – The Final 10K

Most runners have very fond memories of their first marathon. For many, it was the satisfaction of achieving a lifelong goal. For others, it was the celebration afterwards with family and friends that they remembered best. I, on the other hand, remember my first marathon, NYCM in 2005, not by the 26 miles that I ran, but by the 0.2 miles that I crawled on my hands and feet, about 4 city blocks worth, between miles 22 and 23 on Fifth Avenue, until two medical volunteers noticed my discomfort, helped me to the side, and proceeded to massage my cramping quads and calves until they loosened up enough to allow me to finish the race. [Just an aside…To this day, I remain extremely grateful for their help and understanding. They could’ve just as easily pulled me off the course and sent me to the hospital. But in my hour of need, they gave me just what I needed and sent me on my way. If I could ever identify or find them, I’d send them both replicas of my finisher’s medal because without their healing hands or caring heart, I’d never have gotten mine…] So, I do not have wonderful memories of running gracefully during my first marathon; only painful ones of crawling on all fours and dragging my exhausted body on crampy and spasmic legs across the finish line. The only other important thing I remember succinctly about that race was that the cramps and spasms all started when I decided to take a walking break after the 20th mile marker on the Willis Avenue Bridge at the entrance to the Bronx…

So now, it’s been two years, and I find myself under almost exactly the same circumstances, at exactly the same location, as I was before. My leg was starting to tire, my stomach didn’t know what to do with itself, and my mind was trying to suppress the painful signals emanating from the rest of my body while struggling to find a happier place to be. I was in the Bronx again, the place I had dreaded and had the most nightmares about for the past couple of years. And even though the marathon course runs through here for less than a mile before making its return back to Manhattan, I knew, for me, how I run these streets would determine how my entire marathon would end. So, as I made my way through the 135th St, across Alexander Ave and over onto 138th St, I kept my legs churning, my eyes focused, and my mind occupied with reasons why I am not the same runner that broke down on these streets the last time I was there. I ran slowly but purposefully. And despite spotting an empty port-a-potty off to the side a few strides before the Madison Ave bridge, I declined the invitation, fearing that I’d lose valuable time, but more importantly, that my legs would cramp up if I stopped and I’d be forced to walk or crawl my way back to Manhattan again. When I finally took my first steps onto the bridge to the powerful drumming of Survivor’s “Eye of The Tiger” playing in the background, I knew I had somehow made it back alive out of my personal hell and vanquished the psychological demons that had been holding me back in the process. And although my pace had slowed to a crawl, 7:40 at Mile 21, I was still running and within reach of 3:10, and for now, that was enough.

Back in Manhattan, in the western section of East Harlem, I ran relaxed and determined; thrilled to have left my emotional baggage in the Bronx. Preparing for the home stretch, I make a quick inventory of my physical complaints. My quads are sore, and my calves are tight, that much I know. My heart and lungs were still pumping and functioning in perfect harmony, so that’s good. My bowels have quieted down some (maybe it finally got the message that port-a-potties are really supposed to be just part of the decoration at a marathon course!), and my stomach’s no longer cramping haphazardly. The new problem was my bladder feeling like it wants to file a grievance. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, my mind was still in a trance-like state, fixating on inspirational thoughts, ideas, people and songs as I made my way back down to Fifth Avenue. At one point in the race, I remember thinking how absurd it was that the entire lower half of my body was complaining vehemently while the entire upper half was functioning effortlessly and efficiently like pieces of a symphony orchestra. If I had a saw, I’d chop off the annoying half and leave it to wither away on the street while I carried the good half over the finish line and all the way to Boston. It was, with these delirious thoughts in my head, that I managed to cross the Mile 22 marker at 7:44.

Suddenly, after a couple of innocuous turns, I found myself at the corner of Fifth Ave and 120th street, a mere 30 blocks away from the entrance to Central Park. Knowing that I was about to run over the same streets that I had crawled on two years ago made me petrified. The sight of runners shuffling, staggering, and walking all around me wasn’t helping either. I start to slow, and became acutely aware of the formation of a blister on the ball of my right big toe. As if on cue, the individual muscles on my leg also start to tighten. I can feel that if I slow down anymore, I would be done for. “No!” I shouted, almost loud enough to be audible. “I cannot go out like that…Not now!” I will myself back to a running pace, with tears of agony and defiance clouding my vision. I close my eyes intermittently to fight off the sting as I start to backward count the street signs before the park: 25 more blocks…20 more blocks…15 more blocks…c’mon c’mon…I cross 102nd St and the Mile 23 marker at 7:33.

I continued to run with my eyes closed all the way to the park, opening them up only every so often to avoid collision. In the darkness of my mind, I’m rediscovering my passion for running and reminding myself with each step why I run. In that make-believe world, there is no pain, no cramps, no bladder or bowel threatening to break free. There’s just miles and miles of open road and no other runner but me.

After what seemed like an eternity, I make the turn onto Central Park, and finally feel like I can relax. I see the giant crowds of people stacked up on both sides of the road and know that I am home. I take one last sip of Gatorade from the last water station, cross the 24th mile marker at 7:58, and prepare for my finishing drive. But as I was about to turn my speed back on, I notice something is wrong. My legs are numb, they’re gone. I can no longer feel them. They’re moving, but are no controlled by me. I want to, but didn’t dare slow down to see if they’re still mine. So I gritted my teeth, kept my speed and coasted all the way down Cat Hill, across the 72nd Transverse St and across the 25th mile marker at 7:33. Even as I can almost see my own space at the starting line of the Boston Marathon for the very first time, I was flailing. My body was starting to shut down, the first drops of excrement, both solid and liquid, were slowly oozing out of their respective orifices, and my legs and calves were starting to tightening like a mechanical vise, forcing me to alter my form for the last half mile. At the last 400 feet, I suddenly remembered that a couple of my friends might be at the finish, but I had no energy to look back. At 200 feet, I thought I should smile for the camera, but no, I wouldn’t have time to prepare. As I crossed the finish line and saw my marathon time for the first time (3:08:18), I cried (out of excruciating pain), gave a victory shout, and fell on top of two volunteers as I asked to be carried over to the nearest port-a-potty.

It would be a good 20 minutes before I was able to make my way back to claim my medal. So, that, my friends, is how I ended up celebrating my first BQ marathon in a port-a-potty!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Race Report from My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part 2 – The First 20 Miles

Even before I got to the starting line, I was already suffering from stomach issues. My exploits in the bathroom and port-a-potties earlier in the day bore more of a resemblance to gunfire on a battlefield than an exercise in digestive excretion. In addition, I had compounded the problem by guzzling more Gatorade and water prior to the start than I'd care to remember, and was feeling quite bloated even while waiting to race. I thought about making a dash for the bushes at the far end of the starting chute, but by the time I realized what I should have done ten minutes ago, I knew I no longer had enough time. So, suffice it to say, I started NYCM thinking I'd have to incorporate the Clark Kent to Superman port-a-potty dash routine at some point during the course.

My bathroom anxieties coupled with the lack of time for an adequate warmup (thanks to the debacle at baggage check) led me to start the race at a conservative pace. I ran the first mile up to the crest of the Verrazono-Narrows Bridge in 7:30, which was the slowest first mile I'd ever run in any race up to this point. Given my health concerns and the unavoidable congestion at the start, I was actually quite satisfied with that time. So far so good.

Mile 2 was a fast and straight downward descent into Brooklyn. I felt it was right to extend my stride and increase my speed to reclaim some of the time I had lost at the start. I knew going in that this was the biggest downhill and my fastest mile, but checking in at 6:26 at the end of that stretch surprised even me. After making a sharp left turn at the end of Mile 2 and finding myself in the heart of Brooklyn, I began to get dialed in for the long run. For those who have never run New York, Brooklyn is the longest portion of the race, covering 11+ miles. Basically, by the time you're out of Brooklyn, you would've completed half the marathon. It is also the most enjoyable part of the course in my opinion because you run through so many diverse neighborhoods, each with their own unique ways to cheer on the runners. From the Hispanic kids handing out homemade lemonade, to the Jewish observants distributing kosher foods; From the Slovakians playing folk music on their banjo (or something that resembles a banjo) to the hometown Brooklynites pumping hip hop for all to hear, they were all out there to celebrate not just a marathon but the multicentricity that makes the city so great.

Last time I ran here two years ago, I ran along the side of 4th ave, interacting with the crowd, grabbing whatever free food or drink they were offering. This time, I purposely ran in the middle of the road and concentrated on 3:10. Through all of Brooklyn, I ran cautiously fast, averaging between 6:49-6:57 min/mile for the entire stretch of road. Although my stomach and bladder began to spasm intermittently by the time we turned off 4th Avenue, the rest of my body were functioning quite nicely without complaints. I was even able to carry on a small conversation with an Italian runner next to me at Mile 12 who asked if the guy in the yellow jersey a few paces ahead of us was Lance Armstrong (No it was not!), and if he should run ahead to find out (I wouldn't but be my guest). All in all, I was pretty excited to finish Brooklyn unscathed, crossing the half-marathon marker at a cool 1:30:37.

From there, it was a quick hop over the Pulaski bridge, and a short 2 mile run through Queens to the 59th Street bridge for the trip back to Manhattan. The crowd was thinner in this part of town, and that enabled me to think over my strategy for the next part of the race. My bladder had quiet down a bit, but my stomach was still revolting against me from time to time, but since I did not think I was in imminent danger of soiling myself, I decided to run through these stomach spasms until after the bridge and reassess at that point. As for my pace, I knew I was ahead of 3:10 pace by quite a bit. I also knew that the toughest part of the course was in the home stretch. Instead of fighting against the inevitable to maintain my first half pace over the Queensboro bridge and through the streets of Manhattan, only to burn down at Mile 20 from fatigue and exhaustion like I had in the previous 2 marathons, I'd be smart and use all that extra time to slow down and conserve my energies for the battle in the Bronx. After I made that mental switch in my head as I made my way up the bridge, I felt much calmer and more relaxed than I remember ever being during the marathon. Mile 14 and Mile 15 checked in at 7:04 and 7:08 respectively, while Mile 16 went down at 7:22, my slowest mile yet.

I wasn't too bothered by this latest development, because by the time I saw the Mile 16 marker, I was on the downhill portion of the bridge, on my way to Manhattan, and my fans, woohoo! If only to curb my enthusiasm, there were a series of signs at Mile 16 which read "Some say that the last 10 miles of a marathon is like running through hell…" "…if that's the case…" "…then welcome to hell!" I'm not exactly sure why NYRR place though signs right before the turn off the bridge, but in any case, it served its purpose, as I made sure to check my speed entering Manhattan, even through the thunderous roars of the 59th Street crowd. The trip up First Avenue was really fun. My friends had arranged a big crowd to gather at the Mile 17 marker and they gave me a big cheer as I made my way across. There was another impromptu ovation waiting for me at Mile 19 that was not expected but was very nice and much needed at that point. In general, people were lined up 4 to 5 rows deep in all the streets, screaming, clapping, and cheering for runners they knew, and more for runners they didn't know. It was so much fun to see friends and neighbors coming out and joining the city in celebration. At one point, I even got to cross my own street corner, which was quite exhiliarating, and blew kisses to neighbors who I recognized but didn't even know by name.

Emotionally, I was on cloud 9. Physically, though, by miles 18 and 19, I was started to wear down. My legs were starting to grow heavy, my back was sore, and my bowels, which had stayed relatively quiet over the bridge and first part of First Avenue, was in active revolt against my body now. It was giving me signals that I'd better find a port-a-potty ASAP or risk the consequences of losing the battle. I slowed myself down even more than I had been before, and made a compromise that I'd pull the Superman maneuver as soon I find an appropriate place in the Bronx. Mile 18 and Mile 19 tolled through at 7:07 and 7:15.

Mile 20 begins where the crowd ends, on the streets of East Harlem. Aside from a few dedicated spectators and volunteers peppered here and there, you're pretty much left to your own devices as you contemplate your fatigue and anticipate the Wall and the inevitable exhaustion that awaits on the other side. No one talks during this miserable mile. All you hear amongst the runners are the heavy breathing and the rhythmic pounding of feet against pavement. You can see it on the faces too. Smiles and puckered lips have given way to gritting teeth and groans of defiance. These expressions would become commonplace as we move closer to the finish, but let it be known that the origins of this transformation actually takes place during this miserable mile. Like the rest of the runners, I was tired, nauseous, and not quite sure why I'd trained so hard to willingly endure this pain again right at this point. Yet, I knew I had to press on, but slowly and calmly. It's too soon for a burnout, I told myself as I began the ascent up the Willis Avenue bridge. End of mile 20 mercifully came in the middle of the bridge at a time of 7:30. Officially, I had run 2:20 for the first 20 miles; 10K left, in less than 50 minutes to qualify for Boston.

There's a sign at the foot of the Willis Ave bridge that reads "Welcome to the Bronx. Enjoy Your Run." What it should have said was "Welcome, Laminator, To Your Personal Run Through Hell!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Race Report from My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part I – The Start

Marathon morning began at 5:10AM when I somehow managed to wake up five minutes before my alarm clock was scheduled to go off. As I got up to initiate preparations for the big day, I felt unusually well-rested for the marathon. Maybe it was the extra hour of sleep I had gotten because of the time switch. Or maybe it was the culmination of getting good rest for the few days prior. Whatever it was, I felt energized and ready for a historic race.

Breakfast for me consisted of a hot bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, two bananas and a bottle of 50% Gatorade, 50% water mixture I had prepared the night before. It’s kind of a strange combination for a pre-race meal I realize, but this particular concoction has worked well for me in the past, and I was not about to change what didn’t need changing, especially on marathon day.

After eating my food, checking the weather to make sure it was still going to be in the 40s-50s with no threat of precipitation (which luckily it was!), getting dressed in my Laminator running gear which I had laid out in order of assembly the night before, and releasing whatever bodily solids and liquids leftover from the previous day, I was ready to depart the comforts of my Upper East side abode and begin the journey to the starting line.

My first impression when I hit the street was that the air was dry and a bit warmer than what I had expected. I had buried my running gear underneath heavy sweatshirt and sweatpants anticipating bitter temperatures and biting winds which I had grown accustomed to from my previous fall marathons. I was a little relieved once I felt the mild morning air because although I’d never race in more than a single layer of clothing, I’m also a wimp when it comes to running in cold climes. Fortunately for me, the idea of running in more than a short sleeve and shorts never re-entered my mind again after that initial contemplation.

After hailing a cab, and picking up one of my training buddies, MA, at his Murray Hill brownstone, I was on my way to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The plan called for my other training buddy, RB, and a friend to meet each other at the terminal for the 7AM ferry. Only problem was that no one carried their cell phone with them and there was practically half of the city population waiting to take the ferry as well. RB was nowhere to be found when MA and I made our first sweep of the premises at 6:45AM. Scores of people were entering the waiting area, making the job more difficult the second time around. I started to panic and my stomach started to growl. “What if I missed them”, I thought as I ran back toward the entrance to see if RB had slipped by in between our searches. “Should we wait and take the next ferry, or just bite the bullet and hope that he would catch up with us at the start.” To spare any more anxiety on my part, RB and our running friend popped in and recognized me just in time for the ferry. As we made our way to seats, he was beaming with confidence which was a sight for these sour eyes because the last time we spoke, he hadn’t run in 2 weeks and was continuing to complain of intermittent knee pain whenever he attempted to run. I sat down, breathed a sigh of relief that everyone made it in time and reviewed some basic marathoning tips for my newbie friends who were all running in their first marathon.

The trip to Staten Island and the ensuring bus ride to the starting area operated very smoothly and were all well-organized. Upon our landing, we were escorted directly to the 6 to 8 buses that were conveniently stationed right outside the terminal. After the bus filled and left the premises, it took us to the Fort Wadsworth starting region within 15-20 minutes. For future reference, if any of you should partake in the New York Marathon experience, I highly recommend this transportation option.

From 8AM, which was about the time we arrived at the start, to 9AM when we were told to begin moving to our respective corrals, I sat on a curb, waited, and thoroughly enjoyed the sun, the colors, and the overall frenzy that surrounds this place very year. RB and MA were similarly in their own little world, eating, drinking, and making repeated trips to the porta-potties more often than I’d seen them at the beginning of other races. I could tell that they both were enjoying the experience of their first marathon: showing each other the shirts they had designed the night before, and commenting on the idiosyncracies of the many international runners who came from all over to run this race. At I watched and listened off to the side, I felt really proud that I decided to motivate and coerce, I mean, coach these two to run this race with me.

At 9AM, I said my final instructions to my marathon newbies (“Aim to run your last mile faster than your first”), wished them well on their journey and left them to claim my starting corral in blue. Before I was able to head to my corral, I had to leave my drop-off bag at the baggage area. That’s when I ran into my first and only frustration with the race organization. Somehow, someone forgot to label the entrance and exit to the baggage area where the UPS trucks were all stationed, so a massive mob of people congregated at both ends of the line, obstructing anyone from getting in or out. It was very frustrating because it took nearly 30 minutes for me to claw my way in, hand in my bag to the UPS volunteers, and claw my way back out. I made it to the starting corrals in time, but didn’t have any extra to stretch or run any warm-ups. I managed to do some mini-stretches against a metal fence before the line started moving and I ran to catch up.

The procession to the foot of the bridge was pretty exciting for all involved. People were hollering and screaming and runners were throwing their cold weather gear to the groups of people standing on top of the double-decker buses lined up along the side of the road. Along the way, I made conversation with a runner from Indonesia who flew in yesterday to run the marathon and flying home tonight right. When I asked him what made him come all this way to run this race, he smiled and said, “This, to me, is the best marathon in the world, and to me, is worth it!” I couldn’t agree with him more.

After we reached the foot of the Verrazano, we paused for silence in mourning of the death of Ryan Shay in the Olympic Trials the previous day, listened to a beautiful rendition of the national anthem by a Broadway singer and was introduced to the elite men who were running in the event. As I passively listened to all these introductory gestures, I was constantly reminding myself to stay focused on running my own race. My pacing strategy, which I had developed the previous day, was simple enough: Run the first few miles cautiously to establish a fast but comfortable pace. Carry that pace for as long as it was comfortable. When facing hills, maintain the effort but lower the pace. Eventually, if all goes well, I should reach mile 20 with some time to spare. After that, it becomes a matter of will and determination to push hard against The Wall until the finish. In my mind, I had memorized the quote on my blog a couple of weeks back from T. Alan Armstrong which read that I had already become a champion through the diligence of my training and that this performance was about displaying my championship character for the rest of the world to see. After adjusting my bandana knot and shoe laces for a final time, I was ready for a race.

A few seconds later, with the firing of a cannon that was loud enough to scare the living daylights out of anyone who wasn’t paying attention, we unleashed ourselves onto the streets of New York City…
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