Monday, March 31, 2008

Race Report from the Scotland 10K Run
Part I – Intro, Start, and "The Battle At Harlem Hill”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve pontificated about dissociative running, detailed my triumphs over commitophobia and shizophrenia, and even revealed the fickle love affair I share with running. Although it’s been fun generating some good food for thought for all my running friends, I’ve come to realize that it’s actually been quite a while since I’ve discussed my own adventures on the road. With that in mind, let me share with you a two-part race report from the 10K race I ran yesterday called The Scotland Run. Although I didn’t have high expectations entering this race being that it was my first race of 2008, and the first since recovering from my shoulder injury, it became quite memorable after the finish because the result left me completely exhiliarated and mystified at what I had just done…

By way of introduction, The Scotland Run 10K is an annual event put on by New York Road Runners in conjunction with the Scottish government to kickoff a week of local events that is geared toward celebrating Scottish culture in NYC. It is a popular event in the local running community not only because it is generally the first 10K race of spring, but also because the swag bag is already big, and you get a free raffle ticket at the end to win all kinds of stuff including two roundtrip tickets to Scotland (and especially in this city, who wouldn’t run for free stuff!) For me, this is actually the first time I’m running this race. Although I was excited to see the traditional bagpipers, runners dressed in kilts, and various Scottish paraphernalia spread out over Central Park for the very first time, I was running this race for a slightly more personal reason. As mentioned before, this was my first race since coming back from a freakish snowboarding accident that kept me off my feet for the better part of a month and a half. Because of this, I really had no intention of running the race for racing purposes. I merely wanted some objective data to assess my fitness and stamina in preparation for running the NJ Half Marathon on May 3rd. The depth of my speedwork training for this particular event consisted of a mind-boggling collection of ONE interval session and ONE tempo run (I can hear the oohs and aahs already!).

Because I knew I wasn’t planning to race, I allowed myself to wake up a bit later than usual on race morning. Normally I would need an extra 15 minutes to half hour to read past race reports and figure out an optimal race strategy for the day. Not necessary today, I told myself as I grabbed breakfast, got dressed and headed out the door. In fact, just to drive home the point that I was not going to run fast, I purposely didn’t even open my race log to figure out what my course PR was. (This turned out not to be such a great move as we shall see later!)

The first thing I noticed about race morning as I began the slow jog over to the park was how bitterly cold and windy it was. As I would find out later, the local temperature was 32° with a wind chill of 25°. Although I had aspirations of running in a single layer tech long sleeve T-shirt and shorts, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d be better served holding on to my fleece sweater and thin sweatpants during the race. Luckily, by the time I got over to the start, which was about a good mile and half from my apartment, the weather had gotten a few degrees warmer and I had worked up a sufficient sweat that I no longer needed the cold weather gear.

The scene at the start was crowded, but very festive. As I suspected, there were hordes of people dressed in all kinds of blue and white. Amidst face painters, little girls and grown men dressed in kilts and a few bagpipers entertaining the crowd with traditional Scottish songs, I scurried to remove my layers, pin my race bib to my racing shirt and drop my backpack in the baggage area before heading over to the starting area. I wasn’t quite sure how many thousands of runners were exactly running this race, but I was thoroughly surprised at how many people thought they could run sub 6 minute miles, including two older women running with fanny packs, holding up their Scottish flags, and chatting away through the starting gun. (Jeez, how I cannot wait until the new corral starting system takes effect at the next race…rant over.) Normally, I’d twist and slither my way until I was next to these ladies, but because I was more concerned about running a steady race and less about time, I was content to start exactly midway between the 6 and 7 minute/mile markers. Still, as I watched them being deeply immersed in their own personal conversation, seemingly oblivious what’s around them, I couldn’t help but wonder what personal agenda would possess two otherwise perfectly normal elderly folk to be so out of touch with their surroundings. (Okay, for real this time, rant OVER…) Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long before the sound of the starting horn and shuffling feet took me out of my irritation and anger

The crowd of runners during the first half mile resembled more of a mob procession than a roadrace. Thousands of bodies moving at different speeds lead to more than a few accidents on the road. Since I had it in my mind to run a controlled steady race, I decline the impulse to be overly aggressive at the start. Instead of focusing on taking every possible angle to move up, I focused instead on maintain even breaths and keeping an even stride. Using this strategy, I passed through the crowd slowly. Sheer numbers prevented me from hitting my natural stride until 3/4 of the first mile had passed. And although I had the best intentions not to run for speed, I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed to see a 6:52 on my Garmin passing through the first mile marker. Inituitively, I knew I shouldn’t care, but instinctively it dawned on me that this was perhaps my slowest first mile ever in a roadrace.

Because mile 2 consisted of a series of short uphills and longer downhills, I was able to regain some speed during this part of the course. Yet, despite netting a 6:23 for the second mile, I did not dare celebrate because the treacherous Harlem Hill was looming straight ahead.

Mile 3 and Mile 4 was all about the long descent into ‘Harlem’ and the longer ascend up the ‘Hill’. During previous races, this used to be section of the course where I’d always deploy the “Burn and Crash” racing strategy: Burn down the downhill, crash through the uphill, and hope to survive to last through the rest of the race. This time though, since I knew I’d already run a poor first mile, thereby ruining my chances for a good finish anyway, I decided to approach ‘The Battle At Harlem Hill’ slightly differently. The idea, as I had established during the second mile, was to run the downhill and uphill with the same even effort and intensity. Although I probably had similar thoughts in the past, the execution was always faulty, since I seem to always have trouble checking my speed on downhills. I’d like to think it’s a sign of my maturity as a runner, but you could argue it was divine intervention (from the Scottish running gods, maybe?), but for whatever reason, my plan, this time around, was carried out to perfection. I ended up easing down one side of Harlem Hill, passing mile 3 at 6:25, and easing up the other side to end up with a 6:40 for mile 4. That was such a blistering pace for me. I was so excited that I gave a self-congratulatory wave to the bagpiper doing his thing near the 102 St Transverse.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Relationship with Running

I guess it’s very apt that in their latest ad campaign, New Balance describes our connection to running as “a love/hate relationship…a complex and torrid affair…” (In case you haven't seen it yet, here's their new commercial.)

After all, where else in life do we spend so much time on an endeavor where the rewards are so variable. Not only so, but sometimes, as mentioned in my last post, your unrelenting passion and devotion to the sport can lead you to unintended pain and suffering. Although in general I agree with their assessment of our sport, personally, I see running as something a bit more dynamic. Running to me, is not just an action that demands our time and attention, but it possesses a unique personality as well. That’s because on any individual day or any individual run, you never exactly know where you are or what you’re getting out of running. Am I getting faster, or am I just breaking down my body? Should I go for speed today and burn up the road even though I know I’ll be nauseated and out-of-breath at the end, or should I take it slow, run long, and say Hi to every runner that passes me by? I’m running more and faster these days, so why didn’t I PR at my last race? All these questions that have nothing to do with my love or devotion I ask running, but running never answers me back.

That’s why in my mind, running is like a fickle lover who you must spend time with but never promises anything in return. You know in your heart that for the long term, you’re better off with running, but in the here and now, you’re not quite sure what direction you’re heading. Sometimes, running has a good day, and you feel fantastic after just a few minutes on the road. Other times, she’s PMS’ing and you can spend hours running and yet feel horrible afterwards. The worst part is that no matter how she makes you feel today, you know you’ll be back there tomorrow, asking for more of the same, because ultimately, running is always better than no running. (Check out this second ad from the New Balance campaign if you don’t know what I mean!) I just wish she wouldn’t be so damn fickle ALL the time…ugghh!

How about the rest of you runners? Do you have a different/special/unique relationship with running? Please share in the comments. Thanks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Cautionary Tale From A Running Schizophrenic

Consider this as my contribution to Take It and Run Thursdays

Most runners use the term “running injuries” as an all-inclusive phrase to refer to the variety of physical ailments that can result from the act of running. Conditions such as shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fascitis, chondromalacia patellae and the good old runners’ knee are so commonplace in our sport that almost all runners training for a long distance event have either personally sustained one of these injuries in the past or knew someone who did. I must be one of the lucky ones, because despite having trained for and completed three marathons, I have been fortunate not to have suffered any physical injury that threatened to keep me off the road for an extended period of time. But, lest you start getting jealous, I have been “injured” on multiple occasions in the past. And although the “injuries” I deal with are not ones that are popularly mentioned, I feel they can be debilitating to say the least, and if allowed to remain undiagnosed and untreated, will not only negatively affect a runner’s performance on race day but ultimately produce physical symptoms as well. The worst of these “injuries” happened last year, at the peak of my training for the NYC Marathon.

In actuality, the fact that I ran a suboptimal half-marathon in Fairfield at the beginning of last summer should have served as a warning sign that my head was not in the right place at the start of marathon training. Although I ran fast enough for a 1:31:16 finish and a distance PR that day, my race strategy was totally off. I ran too fast in the early miles, and had to take two short walking breaks towards the end in order to finish. Because I had spent the majority of spring participating in shorter race distances, it was completely understandable why my endurance and stamina were lacking in the latter half of my half-marathon. Yet, because I was banking on running a good race to propel me into a hard training program for NYCM where I was hoping to qualify for Boston for the very first time, I was more than a little disgusted with my inability to keep a strong pace throughout the whole race. As a result, I convinced myself to scrap my old marathon training program, which had me running 3 times a week with an average of 30-35 weekly miles, in favor of a new “advanced marathon” program, which had me running 5-6 days a week with an average of 45-50 weekly miles. At that time, I felt I needed to be more dedicated and run more miles more frequently in order not to falter at the late stages of the NYC marathon. So even though I’d never run more than 35 miles per week all year, I felt it was right to up my mileage to at least 50 miles per week. After all, if the elite runners all reportedly run 100+ weekly miles, I should be able to handle half that number if I was serious about qualifying for Boston and becoming a better runner.

The first two weeks went by without a hitch. I ran about 40-45 miles each week, and felt strong throughout each of my runs. I felt so strong in fact that I decided to spontaneously add more miles even on top of what my “advanced marathon” training program had suggested. If the schedule called for 4 easy miles, I’d run 5 at an aerobic pace. If it called for a 5 mile aerobic run, I’d do a 6 at tempo speed. I was usually exhausted by the end, but I was able to keep up with the speed and the miles at least in the beginning. By the third week of my new makeshift running schedule, the extra miles were starting to take a toll on me. I was slowing down, my legs were fatigued earlier on in the run, and I was struggling to keep the pace during interval training and tempo runs. But I didn’t really care. In my mind, I was getting stronger. By the fourth and fifth week, I had trouble keeping the pace both during the speed workouts and in my general runs. Although I tried to remind myself, “No pain, no gain…” secretly, I became more and more disappointed and more and more frustrated with my running. Even as I pressed on to run long and hard as per my schedule, I couldn’t figure out why my performance was suffering so badly. I became depressed and less interested in running with each passing day. Although I wouldn’t allow myself to actually miss a run, I dreaded the process and went through the motions as best I could. Eventually, running my miles became less about fun and more about completing a daily chore. During the peak of this extensive training, I even got physically sick twice in one month, which is unusual for me during the summer.

Luckily, it was around this time that I got back in touch with an old friend of mine who initially introduced me to the sport. Because he had just recently became a new father, he no longer had the time to run with me. Still, whenever we touched base, he always liked to hear about the status of my running. So when he heard about the extended miles, the fast pace, the lack of enthusiasm, and the repeated illnesses, he diagnosed me with a disease that was unfamiliar to me. Below is a recap of our conversation that day.

“Sounds like you have a case of the Running Schizophrenia.

“Running Shizophrenia?! What’s that?”

“It’s a form of the overtraining syndrome where you overtrain so much that you develop delusions and grandiose perceptions of your own abilities to handle the training.”

Did you just make that up? Seriously, overtraining? Me? But, I don’t even feel like I’m training all that hard. My ankles and feet are fine. I don’t have any pain in my knees or my shins. I’m not able to run all that fast anymore, but that hardly qualifies as an injury."

“Believe me. You’ve officially become a running schizo. Two choices, you can either start some psychotropics or STOP THE MADNESS! Go home! Drop the anger, drop the guilt, and allow yourself to recover fully before you come back out here!”

For the next several days after our little conversation, I didn’t run, which annoyed me to no end. Instead, I used the time to review my running log and highlight areas where I overextended myself on my training. The following weekend, I went out to Queens and ran my best half-marathon ever, finishing in 1:28:06 and PR’ing by more than 3 minutes. Miraculously, even though I hadn’t run for a whole week and had no expectations going into the race, I ended up running a fast time without even trying so hard and had a lot of fun doing it at the same time.

The point of my story is not that I was stubbornly training like a maniac (maybe that is the point!) and neglected to heed the warning signs of overtraining until a trusted friend knocked some sense into me, but rather that being injured psychologically is just as devastasting if not more so than sustaining a physical injury. So, my running friends, the next time you think of running injuries please don’t forget you old noggin’, because just as neuroscience researchers in Germany have recently found a way to show how endurance running can produce a “runner’s high” in the brain, the opposite can obviously occur as well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cured: In For SFM ‘08!

I thought I was alone; the only one on this blog-o-sphere afflicted with the runner’s disease known as commitophobia. And then, one by one, others like me came forth, telling tales and speaking truths about how they have been similarly affected, displaying symptoms of not being able to click the little blue CONFIRMATION button for as long and longer than I have. It’s a travesty really, so many talented runners and avid marathoners not being able to participate in a roadrace; not because of injury, lack of training or prior obligations, but because they simply cannot click a little button. The horror of it all, for me, is that the disease is growing more and more rampant and virulent by the day, and if it ever gets out of control and becomes an epidemic, I’d be looking at jail time or at least some notoriety as being the first to start the conversation.

In order to ‘cure’ myself from this disease and restore my credibility among the common running folk who don’t believe in such myths as commitophobia, I’ve made the necessary arrangements and completed the registration (and yes, even pushed the little blue confirmation button) for the 2008 San Francisco Marathon. So, despite the long travel, extremely hilly course, the insanely early start (5:30 AM? What? Whoever heard of starting a marathon at 5:30AM?!), the lack of any crowd support, and the usual early morning fog in the Bay area, I will be running this race on the weekend of my 33rd birthday.

Woohoo! I am super-psyched, but a little scared as well. I’ve never run a race so far away from home before. If there’s anyone out there who’s done this course and can give a few pointers on what to expect or how to prepare adequately for those hills, please, please, please drop me a line. It would be highly appreciated.

Now, if you all will excuse me, I’m going to find a wall that I can bang my head against for ever thinking I would get an objective opinion on whether I should run a marathon from my RBFs…

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Confessions of a Running Commitophobe

I’m really NOT that guy. I’m not the guy that wakes on line for 15 minutes and still has to take forever to decide what to put on his mochachino at the Starbucks counter, or the guy that always has to order last when he and his friends are out to dinner. I’m not even the guy who will visit a store more than once for something he wants to buy. Nope, that’s not me.

BUT…when it comes to anything running-related, I’m a total commitophobe. (Is that even a word?) For instance, I’ll never buy running shoes without at least trying 3 other pairs even if I end up buying the same pair that I came in the store with. I also had to try out every flavor of GU just to prove I love chocolate (it’s like, of course, doh, who wouldn’t like chocolate?) And if a friend ever decides to run with me, I’d always defer making the decision as to how long we’d run, because I honestly never know. It frustrates the hell out of them, but I really can’t help it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been running alone so much more this year as opposed to last year, hmmm…

Lately, it’s gotten much worse…especially when it comes to registering for a roadrace. I just can’t commit to anything without checking my 4 calendars to make sure I’m free, calling all my friends and family to make sure there are no plans in the works that involve me the day of and the night before, contacting work to make sure I can take off the next day if I should be too sore to work, checking to see if there’s a chance of precipitation, and agonizing over my training schedule to make sure I have the necessary speedwork, tempo runs, and endurance runs to prepare for the race. And after I do all that, I still have to mull it over my head and take it with me on a few runs before I’ll actually make the final decision to run. If I had my way, I would never register for a race, even a nothing 4-miler, until the actual morning of the race. (Is that even a legitimate excuse, or am I being taken over by my evil twin who secretly wants me to be a bandit!)

Perhaps, that’s why I STILL haven’t successfully registered for my summer marathon yet, The San Francisco Marathon on August 3rd, even though I’ve been thinking and talking about it for the last 2 months. Although I’ve filled out the online registration form three separate times, I have not yet had the courage to click the CONFIRMATION button at the bottom of the page. I can’t decide if it’s just cold feet or a sign from the running gods that I really shouldn’t be doing this. Such a tough, tough decision.

It’s obvious that I will need some help to resolve this psychological delimma and make sure my entry form gets processed sometime before the start of the race. So over the next several posts, I’m going to list my reasons to run, and reasons not to run the marathon. You all can decide what I should do. Please help. Otherwise, I might have to enlist some professional assistance, who will undoubtedly put me on a bright little blue pill.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dissociative Running

Alright, I’m not going to lie. Tonight’s short 5 mile training run pretty much sucked. I don’t know if it was the running in the dark, the sudden drop in temperature, the extra layers, the two pieces of fried chicken otherwise known as dinner I gulfed down at the hospital cafeteria just prior to coming home, or fatigue from last week’s extra miles that did me in, but my legs just didn’t feel like moving tonight. Even though the pace wasn’t all that slow, the breathing was labored and out-of-sync throughout. But the most disappointing thing about the run actually had very little to do with the run itself at all. Allow me to explain.

One of the things I like to do when I’m running, especially after a long day at the office, is to work out problems and resolve issues that I didn’t have time to attend to during the day. In fact, it’s become a habit of mine that as I’m lacing up my shoes in anticipation of a run, I’d pick out one or two problems to specifically work on while I run with the intention that I’d have the answer by the time I’m back in my apartment. It’s becoming clearer to me, more and more, that I am a dissociative runner (as opposed to an associative one). Now that I think about it, dissociation comes pretty naturally to me because I have a multi-tasking type A personality. As much as associative runners like to run because they like to take in the fresh air and enjoy the scenery, I love dissociative running because it allows me to work on other issues as the miles mindlessly pile up. The only caveat to my style of running is that the pace and the rate of breathing has to be synchronized and kept even. On a run like tonight, where nothing felt right, I was acutely aware of every breath, and there was never a chance for dissociation. So, in the end, none of my problems got resolved and I’m just as messed up and stressed out as I was before the run. Oh well, maybe some dissociative dreaming will help.

(What about you guys? I’m curious. Are you more of an associative or dissociative runner? Please leave a comment and let me know, unless you want to tell me that I have a mental condition for having such thoughts, in which case, you can keep the comments to yourself and talk to my shrink…)

All was not lost though running-wise. I think I’m finally almost about ready to commit to a summer marathon. I’ll spell out the details in the next post.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Running Fast, Running Stupid

What a difference a week makes. Last week I ran a total of 14.2 miles at an average pace of 7:41 min/mile. This week I ran 29.1 miles at a sizzling 7:13 min/mile average pace. I know what you all are thinking. Geez, Laminator, aren’t you piling on the miles a bit quick? After all, it’s barely been two weeks since you’ve started training again, and you’re already pounding the pavement harder and faster than you did before you got injured. Are you crazy? Haven’t you read all the great tips from your RBFs at the Runner’s Lounge on the proper way to “Build Miles and Go Long”? You think just because you have a BQ degree you’re somehow exempt from the 10% Rule? I know you all are thinking these things because I’ve been thinking these things all weekend, even as I’ve ran hard for 4 consecutive days without a break. But it is really not my intention to tempt fate or incite the wrath of the running gods. I start each of these runs with the intention of going easy and slow, but always find myself pushing it hard and fast at the end. I congratulate and curse myself as I scroll through my garmin data at the end of every run. The conversations I have with myself during these times are pretty funny. They go something like this:

“Wow, Laminator. You were blistering on the road today. Great job!”

“I suck. I was supposed to have a recovery day. Recovery pace is not 7:02.”

“But you had the right idea and started slow. It’s not your fault that it was a great weather day and you were able to run in shorts for the first time in a long time. You should congratulate yourself and announce to the rest of the world that the Laminator is back, baby!”

“But that’s what I said yesterday, and I promised myself that I was not going to go fast today. I know I’m supposed to take a rest day because I’ve already surpassed my mileage for the week two days ago. Yet I went out and subjected myself to further injury by running so far and so fast. That’s not good practice for the experienced runner I profess to be. I should’ve known better.”

“Dude, were you not the one who announced in your New Year's Running Resolutions post that you were going to run 300 more miles this year than last year? Have you not checked your log recently? Because of your stupid injury, you’re already more than 100 miles behind schedule. How are you ever going to make that up if you’re always so cautious, limiting yourself by these “unspoken” rules? Who are these so-called experts anyways? Have you ever met them, or spoken to them in person? For all you know, they might be all anecdoctal, made up by some fictional character and spread down through the generations by word-of-mouth like Santa Claus or the Loch Ness Monster.”

“I still should have played it safe and stuck to my recovery schedule of running around 20 miles, 3 days a week, at least until my first race at the end of the month. It’s so early right now, I have no idea what my training pace should be.”

“Well, you better figure it out soon. Did you see where Nancy and MarathonDudeBill is in their training? Wait…of course you didn’t. They’re already way past you and leaving you to breathe in their dust.”

My point is, dear readers, that none of this was actually my fault. It’s a classic case of “Do say I say, not as I do…” brought about by too much blog reading this weekend. Thanks everyone (and you know who you are!) for inspiring me to run so hard so soon after my injury. I never would have done it without your help. Now if you will excuse me, I must go and soak my feet in an ice bath to relieve the cramping.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Craving for a Run

I am a running freak. There, I said it. I never knew I’d ever think it, much less admit it, but after what happened tonight, this frightening fact can no longer be denied. Although most of my friends by now know that I’m a hardcore runner, (in fact, I believe I’m the only person in the world who ever hears “Hey, you look happy today, did you get new running shoes?” by the same group of friends more than once a week…) I doubt any of them can actually comprehend the full extent of my running freakiness. I am careful not to share my running-related thoughts with them while we’re hanging out because I think it’d actually frightened them. Never mind them, I’m scared by my own freakiness sometimes.

Take this afternoon. A few friends and I were exchanging emails and talking about hanging out after work today. For one reason or another we were all getting out a little early, so we made plans for happy hour. Unbeknownst to them, I made plans to get out of work a little early today so I could get in a nice long midweek training run. I was disappointed that my friends chose today out of all days to get together because I work late hours the other days of the week so daylight running was only an option on Thursdays. Still, I grudgingly agreed that I would meet up with them even while I was making secret desperation plans to fit my run in, no matter what. After the time and place for happy hour was set, the conversation shifted to food and drinks. It was getting late in the afternoon and all of my friends were craving for different kinds of snack foods and beer. As for me, all I was craving for was…you guessed it…a good run in the park. The weird part was the more people talked about how they much they were craving good buffalo wings, or chips and salsa, and whatever…the more I was craving my run. Eventually, it became all I could think about, even after the conversation was long over and I was seeing my last patients in the office. Even though it was cold and windy outside, every one of them got a lecture from me about exercise and running as it pertained to their hormonal problem, even if it had nothing to do with their individual issue at all. I’d love to be a fly on the wall and read some of the patient surveys that were filled out after their visit with me. It would’ve made for some interesting reading.

Eventually, after the last patient was seen, I was finally able to go home, change, and run my way over to the Upper West Side where my friends were meeting up for happy hour. Although I knew I was going to be a bit late, I look the scenic route around the long end of the park. Six miles and 43 minutes later, I ran in to the restaurant dressed like the delivery boy. And even though all the good food that everyone had ordered were practically gone by the time I arrived, I had already satisfied my craving and wasn’t at all hungry. I excused myself and headed to the restroom. As I looked in the mirror at the disheveled freak staring back at me, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was the best feeling in the world.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Racing Plans

Got my first long run in yesterday; 6 miles at 7:37 min/mile pace. It wasn’t great, but given the cold temps and gusting winds at the park, it wasn’t too shabby either. My thighs were still sore by the end…as if I was in the last mile of the marathon rather than a six mile training run. Even got chicked again, going downhill no less, but instead of angering me, it inspired me to at least hold on to my pace. All in all, it was a nice run to celebrate the beginning of daylight savings, otherwise known as the start of the spring racing season in my world.

After getting back from my run, I finally allowed myself to pick some target races. I’m starting my racing season somewhat earlier than last year because I’m hoping to get back to optimal training by middle of the spring. I’m going to start with a 10K race at the end of March, and then two half-marathons back-to-back on the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. To be honest, I originally planned to run the New Jersey Marathon that first weekend in May, but after I got injured on my vacation and had to hold back the training, I had to switch to the half-marathon instead. Bummer. I’m holding out hope that I can run the San Francisco Marathon in August if my half-marathon efforts turn out well. Decisions, decisions…

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Coping With Embarrassment and A Retirement

It took more courage than I knew had today to put on my running shoes again after remembering the shame and humiliation I felt the last time I had them on. Okay, so maybe being “chicked” by a couple members of the opposite sex, having an older and probably more experienced runner question your readiness to run, and having a school child hand you a cup of water after your run would not qualify as public embarrassment to anyone outside my tiny egocentric world, but still, I couldn’t help feeling a little damaged, like milk that’s been left out of the fridge too long.

So today, I took every precaution to make sure there would be no repeat performance. First, I wanted patiently for the dark of night to settle before heading out. I figured if I can’t see them, and they can’t see me, I’d be safe. Then, instead of wearing bright and reflective clothing like you’re supposed to when it’s dark, I wore the darkest sweatshirt with the darkest sweatpants I could find…again, for the camouflage. Finally, I ran against the flow of traffic (clockwise around the park) so I could see every car, bike, pediatrian and whatever two or four-legged creature that’s trying to run me over. Also, I figured if I’m running against people instead of with them, I’d have no basis of judging their speed as compared to mine. Brilliant. Oh, and as a last bit of insurance, I ran the first mile at 7:23 (instead of 8:22, like last time) so I wouldn’t have any time pressure for the subsequent miles.

As a result of my extensive preparatory work, I finished my 4 mile run in a respectable 30:43 (7:33 min/mile), a full 1:25 faster than my run the last time. I was satisfied with my faster-but-not-quite-tempo run today. More importantly, my tormentors were either not around or did not see me in my perfect camouflage. My awesome plan worked, and allowed me to escape the park with my honor intact. Score one for the slightly sick and injured guy.

In other news, today I lost the last remaining artifact I had left from my last great running season. It had been with me, in my Queens half marathon PR; with me through the streets of NYC on the way to a BQ last fall; with me, even afterwards, when I PR’d at the Race To Deliver 4-miler. But when I got home after my run today and took off my socks, it was no longer there. My left big toenail, which had gotten progressively black throughout the race season last year, has suddenly and completely fallen off. I’d never had a nail spontaneously remove itself from my body like that before, so I had always assumed that when the thing became completely black, it was going to be that way forever, like a permanent stamp that marks me as a runner. So imagine my surprise, when I removed my sock after my run, and the whole nail just lifted off the skin like a dried up sticker. In its place was a clear small baby nail nubbin’ that I don’t really recognize.

Like Brett Favre, who officially announced his retirement from the NFL today, my big black toenail was a personal treasure and a sports icon that will always hold a special place in my heart. Rest well my friend. To you and Brett both.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Next 4 Miles and A P.R. in Embarrassment

I scored another PR today. For my regular blog readers, I know what you’re thinking. Why, Mr. Laminator, isn’t this only your second run after your recent injury? Your second run in the past two months? Your second run this entire year? How’d you expect us to believe you ran fast enough to score a PR? Did you pick a run distance that is some unconventional fraction of a standard race distance just so you can claim that fact? No, no, no, my dear blog readers. My PR today was not of the positive nature that is implicit in its usage. My PR was actually an exercise in shame and humiliation. For today, for the first time in my running career, I suffered more embarrassing events from the beginning to the end of my run (6) than I actually ran in miles (4). Let me explain.

First of all, it’s taken me more than a week to get my second 4-miler in, because the day after my previous run, I developed high fevers, shakes, chills, chest pain, cough, headache…otherwise known as the flu. This particularly nasty variant wiped me out for rest of the week and this weekend, tying me to the bed for 20 hours of the day. I was feeling slightly better today and since it was fairly warm outside, I felt I owed it myself to get my next 4 miles in.

When I got to the park, I did some quick stretches and warm-ups and started running. That’s when the fun began. I hadn’t taken more than 10 steps when I realized that although the upper half of my lungs were clear, the bottom half were all congested, such that whenever I felt the need to take a deeper breath, I would have paroxysmal coughing fits that wouldn’t stop until I forced myself to take somewhat shallower breaths. I must have looked liked a wannabe running newbie out there because at one point, some old guy came up to me and said “Hey buddy, maybe you should give us a break and go see a doctor before you hurt yourself out here (Embarrassing Moment #1).” Although he might be right in a general sense, that was so so wrong on so many levels. I would’ve explained to him that I have both an M.D. and a B.Q. degree, but he was already long gone by the time I finished my coughing fit and had a sip of water. So, that’s how it went for the first half mile.

Luckily, my coughing subsided and my lungs became clearer by the end of that first mile. By then, I was trying to run at a comfortable pace, somewhere close to my pace from last week. For the next mile or so, I tried not to look at my Garmin, but just concentrated on maintaining a good form. Although mechanically, everything just felt a little off at the beginning of the run (even aside from the coughing fit), it was coming much better during the second mile. I thought I was moving well through all the rolling hills scattered along the west side of the Central Park Loop, until Embarrassing Moment #2 and #3 happened in rapid succession. Out of nowhere, this twenty-something girlie just ran right past me. Not only did she run past me, she was gone and out of sight within a minute. Wow, I thought, either that was Paula Radcliffe or I must be really out of it. No later than five minutes after that, so maybe a half-mile later, a lady pushing her baby in a jogging stroller also chicked me. That made me really really frustrated and upset. I know I’m sick, and I’m running slow, but c’mon this is ridiculous, even for me in this sorry state. So I couldn’t resist it any longer and checked my Garmin. I was shocked to see I had been running at 8:25 min/mile pace for the last 2+ miles. No wonder everyone and their grandmother is running past me. So I gritted my teeth, and sprinted the rest of the way back to the start. I manage to “savage” my terrible performance and finish my 4 miles (actually 4.06) in 32 minutes and 7 seconds for a 7:53 min/mile pace. Embarrassing Moment #4 was when I realized how I had to struggle just to run my worst time ever for a 4-Miler. Additionally, I was able to escape the dreaded 8 min pace only because of a 7:15 last mile. It probably wasn’t so smart to bust my tail so fast so early back, but the thought of me running more than a min/mile slower than I’ve ever had last year was just not acceptable for me.

My fast pace in the end did have a price though. After crossing the finish line, I passed out at the nearest park bench and couldn’t move for the next five minutes or so. I was feeling semi-nauseated, dizzy, and very out-of-sorts. It must have been disturbing for the little kids holding after-school running class in the Bridal Path next to me, because one of them brought over a cup of water from the fountain and handed it to me. It was a very sweet and nice gesture from him, no doubt, but definitely counts in my book at Embarrassing Moment #5.

Once I was able to make it upright again, stretched, and started the slow walk back to my apartment, I thought I was done with the shame and humiliation. Needless to say, I was wrong, because right in my mailbox, when I got home, was my personal copy of the “ING NYC Marathon 2007 Official Results Magazine”.

As I flipped through to page 92 and saw my name and BQ time in the 5th page of the results section, I questioned whether it was actually me or a body double who ran such a spectacular time that day. I can’t really say my body recognizes that person anymore (Embarrassing Moment #6).

So there you have it. Six (count’em) six, embarrassing moments all happening around a four mile run. That’s one of the most impressive PRs I’ve ever seen. Wouldn’t you agree?

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