Monday, April 28, 2008

Bothered By Boston Bandits

I’d like to start off my story today with a question. Are we done with the celebration yet? Are we done with the glorification of all those who finished the Boston Marathon a week ago? Because if you aren’t, then I suggest you logoff and go elsewhere quietly because The Laminator cannot stand a subset of those who ran Boston and what is to follow is anything but congratulatory…

Over the past week, I, like many fellow runners, were busy reading race reports and sending virtual congratulations to all those who ran Boston a week ago. I have to admit that I was pretty inspired by most of the accounts that I read. It seemed that the majority of those who qualified to run the race really had to run hard, fight through injuries, and train diligently to get to the starting line. As a result, the mere fact that they were running The Boston Marathon was a celebration of their tremendous accomplishment. For these people, I sincerely applaud their efforts and achievement.

However, there were a couple (count’em 2) of reports that left me scratching my head. These two runners (who shall rename nameless, even if I don’t think they deserve in any way the sanctity of anonymity) ran from the start in Hopkinton to the finish in downtown Boston, without having qualified or registered for the race. Yes, fellow runners, there are bandits among us. What was worse, these two Boston Marathon impersonators, had the audacity not just to complain about the organization of the race, but suggested some “improvements” to the course so that they can have a better time next year when they bandit the race again. Are you kidding me? Am I the only one who believes the Boston Marathon course to be hallowed ground reserved only for the running elite (minus runners who enter via charity)? There are people who train their whole lives just to be able to run this race once. How do we justify the actions of bandit runners to those people?

Runner’s World had a funny story highlighting the controversial topic of bandit runners in road races today. If you read the comments, you’ll appreciate the arguments for both sides of the issues. For the sake of brevity, I will not repeat them here. Suffice it to say that I consider the practice to be disrespectful to the race directors, the race officials, the city/park where the race is taking place, and to the other runners who registered and paid for the privilege to run in the event. In a historic and symbolic race with qualifications for entry as is the case with the Boston Marathon, bandit runners are a downright travesty.

Bandit runners, please do not let me run into you at next year’s race. But if I do, I am apologizing right now. I really do not know what I will say or do.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wouldn’t It Be Nice...
Random Weekend Thoughts

Wouldn’t it be nice if spring could last forever? The warm weather is finally here, the cherry blossoms are out, and everyone is full of optimism about their running plans for the year. I love this time of year because everything is fresh, and everyone is excited about something. There are more runners on the road, more participants in races. People, in general, are nicer too. Even the bikers in the park make more of an attempt to avoid you rather than run you over this time of year. Yeah, I can’t get enough of spring.

On the subject of racing, wouldn’t it be nice if we could, for one race, for one time, run well enough to stand on the podium or get an award. It just dawned on me that even though I’ve PR’d in 6 of the last 8 races that I’ve run, and no matter how much I improve in the coming years, it is still physically impossible for me to place in a race or even in my age group. Case in point. I thought I ran a real good race last week, getting a PR, and obtaining an AG of 68.6%, which is just a notch below regional class, whatever that means. Still, I ended up 30th in my age group, and 106th overall. That is a little bit incredible to me. I know that I’m not supposed to be running for any accolades, but more for myself, and yada yada yada, but I can’t help thinking about it sometimes, you know. I wish that maybe just for one day, for each of us, that they could develop special categories or criteria in a race where we could all be competitive and be the best at something. For example, if they could have a race, or a sub-race, for “Doctors who deal with hormone problems and live on the Upper East Side between 85th and 86th street”, I think I’d have a fighting chance. I think everyone could up with some “niche” that they could totally rock. I know that’s never going to happen, but it’s fun to think about sometimes.

And while I’m talking about winning races, wouldn’t it be nice if the elite and professional runners in our sport were a little bit more recognized and a little more part of the national consciousness like they are in other professional sports. For example, at a dinner party the other day, in the midst of everyone raving about the latest exploits of Kobe and Lebron, I brought up how amazing Deena Kastor was at the Olympic Trials and the spectacular women’s finish at the Boston Marathon the next day, and suddenly all conversation stopped and everyone looked at me like I was a space alien visiting from another galaxy. No one in the entire room (and there were like 10 of us) knew what I was talking about. I had to chuckle in disbelief. This is the Super Bowl weekend of our sport, happening only once every four years, where we’re sending our athletes overseas to represent our country and no one knew that it even happened? I thought it was sad on so many levels.

Oh, and while on the subject of marathoning, wouldn’t it be nice if the race was 26 miles instead of 26.2? I know it’s a tradition leftover from the Summer Olympics in 1908 when the extra 0.2 was added because Queen Alexandra wanted the finish to be situated below the Royal Box so she could have the best view. But honestly, now that we’ve seceded from the mother land and have done away with the traditions of kings and queens, can we get rid of the extra 0.2? ‘Cause that extra 365 yards is such a b*tch after you’ve run 26 and have caused so much pain and suffering for so many that we should just eliminate it altogether. (Just my way of giving respect to the Boston Marathoners who finished the race and are probably hurting bad right now.)

Lastly, speaking of 26, wouldn’t it be nice if the day was extended to 26 hours? I need that extra time to finish reading all the running blogs I have to get to before the end of the day.


In other news…

A quick shoutout to sRod, who declared his intentions to run for president or run America, or something like that. Actually, I think he decided that he’s going to run 50 half-marathons in the 50 states (before he’s 50, that’s my contribution, but I think that’s right). I love it! FYI, sRod and I met last week for the first time on a group run and he became the inaugural member of the exclusive RBFs-that-I’ve-met-in-person club (that’s a clumsy nickname – we’ll just use the Running Laminator Fan Club from now on, haha). I’m psyched because that means he’ll have more cool and exciting running tales to regale me with on our group runs, although I’m not sure how he’ll top getting stung by a bee in his first marathon. Run well, my friend.

And if you’re coming over because Frayed Laces sent you – yeah, I know. I thought I had already fulfilled my good running deed quota for the year on my last post too. Apparently, F.L. had other ideas. But whatcha gonna do when a running friend, who ran her previous marathon with a broken pelvis for crying out loud, asks you to look over her training plan? Hmmm...yeah, I could have sent her to a real expert. But I thought none were around on a Saturday [must still be stuck in traffic coming back from Boston]. So I had to volunteer and help out.

Just don’t blame me for the crazy nickname. She came up with that all on her own.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Running Secret

I’m naturally a competitive person. As such, I don’t really like to share personal training secrets that might help the competition and level the playing field. But, in honor of Take It and Run Thursdays, I’m going to share with all my running fans the key to my running success. I came up with it last summer with the help of my running mentor. It took me some time to fully grasp the concept, but once I did and was able to apply it wholeheartedly, my performance on the road, especially in races, has grown in leaps and bounds. So you want in on my little secret? Okay, here it is, in exactly thirteen words:

The Secret to Running Success: Run Your Own Race and Know Your Limits.

Sounds simple enough, right? But what does it really mean? Like all great works of literature (okay, it’s a stretch…a BIG stretch, but I’m claiming poetic license here…), it is subject to personal interpretation. To me, it means trusting your running instincts, and letting them guide you in terms of how much to run, how long to run, and when to run. It also means not allowing some external force to lead you to run against yourself, and at the same time, setting personal boundaries and trusting them to keep a balanced life. I know I’m being somewhat abstract in my explanation, so I’ll give you a concrete example from my own running history so maybe you’ll all understand better what I mean.

Like most newbie marathoners, I used to live and die by my training plan. Before my first marathon and even a few half-marathons afterwards, I would spent an insane amount of time reading and researching every kind of training program and plan I could find. And after picking one (usually for some insignificant arbitrary reason), I’d stick to it like glue and would never allow myself deviate from it. If it called for a six mile run on Friday…I’d run exactly six miles. If it called for a long run on a day I was working late, well then I’d run outside at midnight. If it called for a seven miler followed by a five miler the following day, and I happened to be sick the first day, I’d invariably run 12 miles the next day just to make up the miles. I made it through the first marathon okay, but I really didn't enjoy the process of training. Every session felt like a chore that needed to be done. Boring! The next summer, when I decided to choose a tougher plan with a steep increment in mileage, life became even more miserable. I’d dread doing all those long miles and would be relieved when it was over. Eventually, I got so worn down by the grueling schedule, that I almost decided to quit the sport. That’s when my running mentor stepped in, took a listen to my crazy training plan and told me to stop the madness (yes, this was the beginning of running schizophrenia as you remembered it.)

Since then, I’ve learned to see a training plan not as some magic formula to instant running success, but as a general guide to good training. I’ve learned to use my own knowledge, my own experience, and cues from my body to tell me how long and how hard I should be running. If I feel sick or injured either physically or psychologically, I allow myself to miss one or two days without feeling guilty about it. Also, I have learned that I must set practical real-life limits on my running. Whether that is not drinking more than one beer the night before a race, or not running on mornings when I’m expected to round early on patients in the hospital, I know that I must abide by these rules to protect my passion and keep my sanity. I believe these self-imposed boundaries are what separates us from lower animals who do not have the capacity to control their urges or limit their aggression.

At the end of the day, we are all intelligent and creative individuals. How we choose to lead our personal lives and by extension, our running lives ought to be reflective of that fact. Isn’t that what running the good race is all about?

(Disclaimer: Disclosing my personal training secret fulfills my good deed quota for the year. Be appreciative, runners, but don’t tell me if by adopting this running mantra, you start training better than I do and ultimately beat me in a future race…)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Celebration of Earth Day:
A Runner's View of Central Park

(Disclaimer: I know this post is two days late, but I had to work overtime on day one and lost my apartment keys on day two, so I apologize for the tardiness of this appreciation project. I hope my readers will forgive and read on…)

There are many things that change as we move from running season to running season. We may have new shoes or new clothes. We may have new friends or family members to run with. We probably don’t even run at the same pace or with the same form as we used to. But one thing that always stays constant, as least for me, is the places we run. For all the years I’ve been running (which is only three, but who’s counting), Central Park has been the place I call home. It is where I do my speedwork, my long runs, my tempo runs, and almost every other run in between. All except one of my roadracing PRs have come inside the park. It is there when I’m happy and need a place to play. It is there when I’m sad, and I need some alone time with the road. It is even there when I’m angry and need pavement to vent. It is such an integral part of my running life, that I’ve always known that if I didn’t live within walking distance to this sliver of nature in the middle of Manhattan, I probably would not have ended up a runner.

Yet, as important as Central Park is to me as a place to run, it is even more beautiful for the breathtaking scenery it encompasses. There are so many species of flowers and trees hidden within these 843 acres that we are always surrounded by awesome foliage and amazing vistas whenever we run. I know for a fact that for the hundreds of miles I’ve run in the park, I’m severely lacking in my appreciation for this beautiful scenery. So, to make some amends to the nature gods that have blessed my neighborhood with this gorgeous piece of land, and in celebration of Earth Day, I present to you a series of park photographs I took today, titled “A Runner’s View of Central Park”. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Race Report from the Adidas Run For The Parks 4M Race

Big occasions and races which have been eagerly anticipated almost to the point of dread, are where great deeds can be accomplished. – Jack Lovelock
I originally signed up for this race intending only to use it as a speedwork session in my training for the New Jersey Half Marathon in two weeks. But, as the event drew closer, it began to take on added significance. For one thing, as I’ve mentioned in the previous post, I’m running this race in lieu of another New England race which I qualified for but couldn’t run this year. For another, a second great race, the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, is starting in Boston about the same time as my race. Leading up to today, I’ve had a great week of speed training, so I was looking forward to proving my progress out on the race course. Finally, the seeded corral start will be implemented for the first time at this race. For those who are unfamiliar with this development, seeded corrals is an attempt by NYRR to ease congestion at the start of road races by assigning each participant to one of ten different starting corrals based on their best pace in a previous race. The fastest runners will start in the front. The slower runners start in the back. Presumably, gone are the days where the faster runners will have to push aside, elbow out or trample over slower runners who refuse to line up according to their appropriate race pace at the start of every race. Knowing I will no longer have to account for wasted seconds at the start because of this nonsense made me excited to find out exactly what I could do.

For all these factors, I woke up this morning with a certain degree of anticipatory angst about the race. My enthusiasm was tempered somewhat when I realized that I somehow contracted the sniffles overnight. I must have caught something running around town the entire day yesterday in shorts and a T-shirt. But given the extremely perfect weather we had the past couple of days (60° and gorgeously sunny), can I really be blamed for being a bit overzealous?

I ate a banana, got dressed in my racing shorts and shirt, and headed out the door. Because I hadn’t had time to pick up my race packet the past few days, I gave myself extra time to get to the start. The weather this morning was a bit cold, in stark contrast to the warmth and sun I had grown accustomed to the past week. In my hurry to leave my apartment, I was not quite prepared for a return to spring-like temps. All I had to protect me was a windbreaker which would have to be discarded prior to the start of the race. As I walked over to the park and saw everyone else running in long sleeves and tights, I contemplated taking my windbreaker on the race with me.

I knew I was destined to start near the front based on the 6:13 min/mile pace I ran at last year’s PR 4-miler. Still, when they handed me my race packet, and I saw that not only was I starting in the very first corral, but my race number was a double-digit 74, I was more than a little intimidated. I felt as if NYRR was not only asking me to rub elbows and run the race with the city’s most elite runners, they were expecting me to finish somewhere in the top 100. In a field of a few thousand easy, that’s a lot of pressure. I’m not trying to be facetious when I say that I’ve always considered myself a middle-of-the-pack runner, blending in with the running mass, and in competition only with myself. But when you stick me at the very head of the race with professionals and the like who probably run 100+ mile weeks and can probably lap me running backwards, I am going to feel like a deer in headlights and stick out like a sore thumb. As I stretched, run my usual warmup and striders, and walked over to take my place in the starting corrals, I was dreading the image of me starting among the dark blues and ending with the reds and yellows. All of a sudden, my goal became to not only run a good race, but well enough to make NYRR proud that they had given me a double-digit race number and prove that I belong to run among the very best.

I was so full of excitement and energy that I busted out of the gate really fast once the starting horn sounded. Because everyone else was running just as fast as I was, there was minimal jostling for position. It was amazing to me how we all ran so fast so close to each other. I couldn’t help but think that if some guy in the front took a wrong step, we’d all fall down like dominoes. Because the start was close to the 72nd Street Transverse, the first big hill, Cat Hill, comes at you really fast and real early in the beginning. To avoid burnout, I did all I could to maintain a good leg turnover while keeping my breathing as controlled as possible. The runners started to thin out a bit after we made it up the hill. I was thrilled that I could see the race leader way up in the distance. Although I have no grandiose idea of winning anything, it was still pretty cool that even after the half-mile mark, the leaders were still within sight.

After conquering Cat Hill, I was excited to be visiting my neck of the woods, and allowed myself to run a little faster. Seeing the cherry blossoms and the spring foliage in full display on all sides made me realize how happy I was to be running in Central Park. I crossed the first mile marker at 5:59, which was my fastest one-mile time in any road race to date. Knowing that there was no way I can keep this blistering pace the rest of the way and needing to conserve some energy for the series of hills waiting for me on the West Side, I slowed my pace a bit, and allowed some of the other runners to run past. Somewhere along this mile, I saw a pack of women jogging leisurely on the opposite side of the road. Images of the elite women running the race of their lives in Boston today flashed before me, and I became somewhat emotional. In my mind, this was my “trials”. Although I am not in Boston (even though I was supposed to), and am not running for any medals or entry berths, I am running this race with some elite runners to prove to myself that I am a good runner, which, for me, is all I’ve ever wanted to be. With this extra inspiration fueling my legs, I passed the second mile marker at 6:09.

The third mile was all about the hills for me. Having been inspired to run faster than I’ve ever run up to this point, I was more than a little fatigued by the time I made the turn over to the West Side. Through the series of 3 small hills, I tried to keep my legs moving as fast as I could. In my head, I knew that I had past the half-way point, and yet was still running faster than my previous PR pace (6:13). As such, I knew that as long as I kept a semi-decent pace, I’d have what I came for. Still, it was a struggle for me battling the hills and seeing some runners slip past me one by one as I slowed my pace. Mercifully, after deciding that I could not make it up another hill, the end of this stretch of hell ended and I passed the mile 3 marker at 6:23.

I was a bit disappointed with my hill run, but by this point the end was in sight. I ran the last mile basically in fumes. I sped up as much as I could not wanting any more runners to slip past me. In my mind though, I was somewhere else. I was thinking of Boston, imagining the last mile as if I was running down Bolyston street, seeing the Citgo sign, hearing the cheer of crowds and bands all around me. By the end of the race, I no longer cared that I was not in Boston, because throughout this course, on what turned out to be a perfect race morning, I had visited it in mind and spirit. As I crossed the finish line with a fast last mile of 6:12 for a final time of 24:44, and claiming yet another PR, my second in two races this year, I was emotional and happy, knowing that I had run with the best this morning, and had proven to myself that I am not half-bad at this silly little thing I call running.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time - 24:44; Pace – 6:11; Age Graded % - 68.6%
Overall Place – 106/5863 (1.8%)
Gender Place – 101/3054 (3.3%)
Age Place – 30/2221 (1.4%)

Actually, the most awesome thing about the morning happened when I got home and caught the end of the Marathon Trials coverage, when I saw Joan Benoit Samuelson crossed the finish line at a time of 2:49:08 at the ripe young age of 50! After everything I went through, the sight of this amazing female athlete running like hell so strong to finish a marathon so fast was the final kicker that brought a tear to my eye.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jealously Missing Boston

I am not by nature a jealous person. I never ask myself what if I had that beautiful car, or lived in that gorgeous mansion or had the talent to be a professional athlete. Maybe that’s because I’ve always lived with the premise that you always want what you can’t have and if you can have it, you wouldn’t want it anymore. Moreover, I feel that a happy person always treasures what he has more than what he wants. So, yeah, I have always assumed that jealousy was someone else’s problem.

This week, however, has been a bit different. I found myself reading every blog post, listening to every podcast, watching the course video, and getting genuinely anxious and excited about a certain Boston race that I’m not even running in. When was the last time I knew so much about a particular race that I wasn’t a part of? I know it’s a historic race, and the Boston Marathon is the Super Bowl of marathons, and it’s happening the day after the women’s marathon trials, and the weather’s going to be perfect, and Lance Armstrong is running it, and I might be able to keep up with him if they’d let me run, but all of that still doesn’t explain why I’ve spent so much time and energy this week researching the topic (I listened to Phedip #137 on the State of the Course five times!) that I’ve memorized every turn, every street name, and every speed bump from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.

I think what it comes down to, if I am completely honest with myself, is that I’m jealous. I’m jealous of all my blogger friends, jealous of Steve Runner, jealous of Lance Armstrong, jealous of Huckabee and everyone else who’s preparing to run Boston on Patriot’s Day. Although I am feeling guilty about my jealousy, after all, I have my own race, albeit a much shorter one, to run tomorrow, I feel on some level that I should be there, right alongside them, enjoying the marathon trials tomorrow, and experiencing the butterflies for Monday’s race. I ran my BQ in NY last year, so there should have been a spot at the starting line with my name on it. If only I didn’t break a bone on a freaky accident this winter…uugghh…

No, I am not going to be that guy. If there’s one thing this sport has taught me, it is to be patient and have discipline (hey that’s two things…but no one’s counting…) So I will run my best in my short 4-mile race tomorrow, enjoy the perfect weather and the perfect foliage (it’s cherry blossom time in Central Park this week), congratulate all the runners who made it to Boston, cheer them all on virtually from my office on Monday, and lay aside my personal emotions and agendas until I get to run my own Boston on my own terms next year.

But so someone can benefit from the fruits of my labor, here’s a little motivational video for those of you who are looking to join me in Boston next year. Who’s coming with me?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why I Run
Reason #8 - To Dissociate and Appreciate

Disclaimer: The contents of this post might be considered gruesome and disturbing for new runners and those not familiar with the practice of our sport. Reading discretion is advised.

I have always believed that I have a high tolerance for disdain.. Maybe as the result of years spent running and training in a busy and congested metropolis, I’ve pretty much grown accustomed to the runner hate I see being expressed all around the city on my daily runs. I’ve been sideswiped by bikes, ran over by baby carriages, and hit on the back of the head by misdirected flying objects on more than a few occasions while running through Central Park. Although I’ve received quite a number of bumps and bruises from these unfortunate encounters over the years, I’ve always brushed these injuries off as part of doing business in the city. Through it all, I had never considered running as a dangerous, high-contact sport. That all changed last week, in the outskirts of a small city in Nevada no less.

I had woken up early after a fitful sleep in a foreign bed, sharing a room with three other guys who were too tired to care what I was doing. We had stayed up ‘til 3AM the previous night drinking, laughing, and playing cards, so even waking up at 9AM was not easy.

Yet, because it was my first day in a new town that I’d never been in before, I sucked it up, got dressed, and got out for my run. There were already quite a few pedestrians on the main road that traverses the town so I decided to pick a quieter side street to begin my trek. I had picked out a nice circumferential route for my run the night before, so I was ready and excited to start running.

I was barely a quarter mile into my run when I ran by a bus picking up some passengers from a bus stop. Because there was no sidewalk and the road abruptly narrows right after the bus stop, I skirted a bit to the left to continue my running. Suddenly, right at the moment that I passed by the bus, the bus pulls out of the stop, accelerates, and bumps me on my left side as I’m running. As soon as I made contact with the bus, I freaked, and dove headfirst to the side of the road. I landed on some dirt and gravel on my right side and slid a few inches. After regaining my senses, and realizing that I had somehow survived a collision with a bus, I stood up to assess my injuries. I had scratched up my right arm pretty bad and it was bleeding bright red blood. My right shoulder was also a bit achy, but otherwise, I was not that badly hurt. As I removed the ground debris off my arm and used my bandana to apply pressure to the fresh wounds, I realized that the bus had already driven away. What a jerk! It had not even bothered to stop to check on me. I was bitter and angry and sent a few four-letter words in the general direction of the bus.

After cleaning my wounds and dusting off, I had a decision to make. I could scratch the run and walk back to the hotel, or I could continue to run despite the bleeding and the pain. I don’t know what possessed me at that moment, but I decided to pressed on with my 8 miler like I had planned. I think this was a turning point for me because despite the aches, the pains, the bleeding and the emotions, I ran strong and finished the scheduled run without any problems.

The most amazing thing was that although I started the run after the accident full of anger and spite for the bus that ran me over and didn’t bother to stop, I finished it with a sense of happiness and fulfillment, as if I succeeded despite the obstacle. Something beautiful happened in the eight miles I spent on the road that day. I witnessed the transformation from an irrational, vengeful, and mad me to an accomplished, successful, and happy me. Somehow, in some spiritual way, I was able to dissociate my being from my negative thoughts and replace the feelings of victimization and anger with sentiments of appreciation and euphoria. The change in attitude was so drastic and apparent to me, that even as I walked back to the hotel after my run with my blood-tinged bandana wrapped around my right, I was more thinking of a good story to tell the guys than feeling sorry for myself.

Yeah, running does strange things to people and makes them think strange thoughts...but that's exactly why I run.

Running Inspirations

This is my contribution to Take It and Run Thursday on the topic of running inspirations, or the “why(s) I run” as I like to call them. It is an intriguing topic because there are always so many reasons, each one unique, each one personal. For those who haven’t known me for so long, I actually used to have a weekly post where I tried to answer the question as it pertains to me. Here’s a quick recap for those who are interested:

Why I Run:
Reason #1 – To Be Athletic
Reason #3 – For The Emotional Experience
Reason #4 – To Live Passionately
Reason #5 – For The “Runners’ High”
Reason #6 – To Find The Courage To Read And Write
Reason #7 - To Be A Better M.D.

I thought at the time that I had a pretty comprehensive list; that I’ve listed all the important reasons for why I hit the roads everyday. But now as I’ve grown a little as a runner, I see that the list is not nearly complete. So I’m removing the cobwebs, dusting off the cover, and making further amendments to this list that gives substance to my random acts of running.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trust Your “Breaks”

It’s good to be back; back to the hustle and bustle; back to street musicians playing jazz on subway platforms and of course, back to Central Park, where I was sideswiped by a bike on my 13-miler today. Yes, as if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been away for the past week, taking a short break away from work. No internet access meant no blogging during the trip. But, I did have a few relevant thoughts that I jotted down while I was away that I wanted to share.

Hockey and basketball players usually take one or two days off to do this. Football players can take almost a whole week. Even baseball players, who arguably seem to be doing more of it when they’re on the diamond than when they’re not, perform much better after they’ve done it than when they don’t. Yet, it is surprising to me that there are some runners who either don’t believe in it or just don’t do it, and many others who don’t pay enough attention to it. In my opinion, it is the single biggest mistake that prevents us middle-of-the-pack runners from reaching our fullest potential at our distance events.

What, this “it” is, my dear RBFs, is the idea of rest and recovery, or taking sufficient time away from the road in some kind of proportion to the time you spend on it. Although the concept is basic and simple to implement during the off-season or at the beginning of the running season, it inevitability becomes less important and easily forgotten as we increase the miles and approach the peak of training for our long distance events. As a result of this seemingly innocent mistake, we develop dead legs, tired egos, not to mention a host of overuse injuries that may sideline us for the rest of the season. I believe I’ve detailed my own battles with this condition (in the old post titled A Cautionary Tale From a Running Schizophrenic), so I will not repeat my story here. Suffice it to say that my adventures last summer has made me realize the importance of rest days and its effects on my performance on the road. Not only so, but it has completely changed my perspective on the term. Whereas I used to regard rest days as an annoyance and an excuse to be lazy, I now perceive it as a time during which I’m allowing my body to heal itself and become stronger in preparation for my next run. As a consequence, I no longer blame myself or feel guilty for taking a break, whether scheduled or unscheduled. Instead, I focus on the positive benefits of resting, both physical and psychological, and anticipate the fresh legs I will have for tomorrow’s run.

All I'm saying, runners, is that in order to run well, you must rest and recover well. Don't neglect to remember to step off the pedal every once in a while, especially during high mileage weeks, to allow your body to heal. Trust your "breaks". After all, didn’t God Himself take a breather on the seventh day after working hard to create the heavens and the earth on the first six?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Need For Speed

How fast do you run?

I’ve been asked that quite a bit lately. Whether it’s nonrunning friends or acquaintances asking for curiosity sake, a race entry form requesting this information so they can place you at an appropriate starting corral, or a member of your running club wanting to know before he decides whether you can be training buddies, everybody wants to know your speed. But the funny thing is, speed is relative. As such, the answer to this seemingly simple question will inevitably be varied as well.

By ‘how fast’, do you mean my 5K time, my 10K time, my half-marathon time, my marathon time, or for shorter distances like 400 meters or a mile?
If you want to know my mile time, do you want to know my mile time during interval training, in a group run or in a race?
And if in a race, do you want to know my mile time this year, last year, in a past life, or if I were to spontaneous drop this bottle of beer and start running?

Although this internal monologue always seem to play itself out whenever the question is posed, my curiosity is never satisfied because it would be the equivalent of committing social suicide. As such, I often have to guess the sort of response my interrogator wants to hear. Some of the answers I’ve given are: “Well, I’m not fast, but I finished the New York City Marathon in a little over 3 hours last year.” “If we were to all start running right now, I’d probably end up somewhere between Lance Armstrong and Katie Holmes.” “Oh, I’m slow. I can’t even run for one mile what the Kenyans average for the whole marathon.” After offering a quick answer, I always wait in eager anticipation for a followup question. But none ever comes, as if they know if they were to ask, they’d open the floodgates to a full blown running discussion.

Those of us who have been in this business for a little while know that running for speed is but just one small aspect of the racing experience. As such, it would be inaccurate for me to assume that just because I ran a few seconds or minutes faster than some guy in a race we both entered some time ago, I’m a “faster” or a “better” runner than he is. There are so many variables inherent in running and racing that trying to judge the competency or skill of a runner based solely on speed would be a little like trying to determine if Tiger Woods or Alex Rodriguez is the “better” all-around athlete based on their statistics in their respective sports . It makes good fodder for debate, sure, but in the end, there really is no objective basis of comparison.

I believe it is enough that we all intuitively know our own speeds in our own terms. No matter whether we run 5, 7, 10, or 13 minute miles on a sunny day or a winter’s night, we are in competition only with ourselves, in so far as we strive with every race in every year to run a little better and finish a little faster than the year before. As long as there are people in front of me and people in back of me, and I’m finishing my race at a respectable time for me, I’ll be happy because ultimately isn’t this what life is all about: To live and run the good race. No one asks, Yeah, but what time did you finish?!

Having said all that, it still feels pretty awesome in the rare instance that I receive recognition (admiration?) for my speed. Case in point. I was struggling to finish up my long run yesterday, at mile 9 of an 11 mile trek, when I found myself at the foot of Harlem Hill with a biker about 40-50 yards in front. The weather was unseasonably warm, and both of us were having a difficult time running up the steep incline. As I started running and gaining on him, his breathing became audible and louder with each step. Initially, I had quickened my pace not so much to beat him to the top, but because I was nearing the end of my run and just wanted to get this over with as fast as possible. He continued to pant louder, as I continued to run behind and then next to him. He looks over at me and I could see he’s off his bike seat, trying to peddle as hard as he could, with beads of sweat trickling from behind his sunglasses onto his spandex shirt. Something about that visual bothered me, and I decided right then that I’d turn up the afterburners and take him to the crest of the hill, which was maybe a quarter mile away. Once I took off, I could hear that he knew it was on. But despite his loud grunting, his bike was still not moving very fast, at least as compared to me and my kicks. A short while later, I beat him to the top of the hill by a safe margin. Now, ordinarily, that would be the end of the story. But lo and behold, as we approached the top of the hill, there was a little girl in a ponytail crossing the street with an older woman, I assume her mother, holding her hand. And even though my heart was pumping hard, my chest burning, and globs of sweat stinging both my eyes, I had no trouble making out the words to the conversation happening right before me.

“Mommy, mommy, look, he’s running faster than the bike.”
“Yeah, he’s fast, isn’t he?”
“I wanna run fast too…”

I couldn’t resist, but waved to the little girl as I ran by. Looks like the Running Laminator Fan Club just increased its membership by one. Woohoo!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Boy Name Wally

Note: Although this is my contribution to Take It and Run Thursday on the topic of Hydration, you might not learn anything that would teach you how or what to drink on your runs. If that is what you’re looking for, I suggest you check out all of the other posts that are not only educational, but well worth reading. Instead, what you will find here is some complicated human physiology, a story about me, and a boy name Wally.

Everything I know about hydration and water balance I learned because of Wally. I first met Wally (not his real name, of course) when I was a first year house officer, or intern as we’re known in the medical community, rotating through the pediatric emergency room. Even on our first encounter, Wally made it quite clear that he would not soon be forgotten. “Hi, Wally, what brings you here today?” “I’m fine. I’m here to teach you everything about MY condition.” “Really? And what condition is that?” “I have DI.” And with those infamous words, spoken with the same tone was if he was introducing me to his best friend, I was introduced into Wally’s world.

DI, or diabetes insipidus, is a disorder of water balance, whereby the body loses the ability to regulate the loss of free water from the body. In the majority of cases, it is caused by a deficiency of the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) that is normally produced from the posterior pituitary gland in response to dehydration. Rarely, it can also can be caused by electrolyte imbalances, medications, or kidney disease. The role of ADH is to bind to receptors in the kidney and reclaim some of the water that would otherwise be lost in the urine. So in a normal person who is dehydrated, ADH levels are high, allowing more water to be reabsorbed by the kidney to be returned back to the blood, and causing the urine to be very concentrated. (Anyone still here?) People who have DI, like Wally, lack this hormone. As a result, they cannot reclaim any water from their kidneys and become severely polyuric (meaning they produce massive amounts of urine) polydipsic (meaning they have to drink massive quantities of water to keep up with their frequent urination) and is at high risk for severe dehydration. Fortunately, the ADH hormone can be replaced pharmacologically. However, the medication, called DDAVP or vasopressin, must be given at the right dose and at the right time to maintain the water level in the body at a safe and stable level.

By the time I met him, Wally was 12 years old and has had DI for 3 years. For the first 1.5 of those years, no one knew why Wally had DI. But then, someone found a small speckle of something on his brain MRI. Two lumbar punctures and a few lab tests later, it was confirmed that Wally had a brain tumor called a germinoma. Because germinomas are exquisitely sensitive to chemotherapy, Wally was started immediately on a regimen with three different chemotherapeutic agents. Although most cancer patients nowadays often receive chemo as outpatients, because of his DI, Wally always received his chemo in the hospital.

Over the next six years, Wally and I got to know each other very well because of his frequent admissions for chemo, and he taught me many things about fluid management that I would not have learned otherwise. For example, he taught me early on, that unregulated water input leads to hyponatremia, which can be just as dangerous as unregulated water loss leading to dehydration. He taught me that the most sensitive indicator of the body’s water status is the sensation of thirst. He also taught me that carbonated drinks, especially the caffeinated ones, actually cause you to be more dehydrated an hour later than you were before you drank it. For a kid so young, he actually knew quite a lot about himself and his condition. But just like any kid, Wally had a wild side too. At times, when he was frustrated with how a particular doctor was not nice to him, he would purposely not drink or drink too much just before his daily blood draw so that his labs would be all out of wack, and cause his doctor to freak. My favorite was when he would correct medical students during rounds when they were forced to give a synopsis of his condition. “I only drank 100cc yesterday, not 120. I gave the other 20 to the kid next to me when he wanted a sip of my orange juice…” Ah, he was something.

Sometime last year, during my second to last month of fellowship training, Wally passed away. The tumor in his brain, which had initially responded to his first course of chemotherapy, had recurred and eventually became resistant to all other treatments. I remember one of the last conversations I had with Wally was when I asked him who’d teach me what to do the next time someone came in with DI and I couldn’t figure out what fluids to give him. “Don’t worry about it, Doc.” He said, with his usual candor and honesty. “Just ask yourself. What would Wally do? You’ll figure it out.”

I have figured it out, thanks to you, Wally.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Race Report from the Scotland 10K Run
Part II – The Finish and The After-Math

After winning the Battle At Harlem Hill, I relaxed a bit, knowing that the worse part of the race was behind me. I pushed the pace back up to a fast but comfortable level. There were definitely people who did not survive Harlem Hill as well as I, because the general pace of the runners around me slowed down by quite I bit. As I passed them by one-by-one, I imagined how I used to be so much like them last year.

Mile 5 was essentially one fast flat track, followed by a long descent down Cat Hill. I love running this mile because it allows you to gain tremendous speed heading towards the finish. As I ran down this time, I succinctly remember not even caring what my pace was or who was around me, but rather being thankful that I was running and racing again. Still, I was pretty psyched that the mile 5 marker passed by at 6:26. I felt so great at that point that I felt I could’ve kept that pace for another loop around the park.

The finishing drive wasn’t as eventful as it could’ve been. Partly, it was because I was still enjoying the pure exhiliaration of running fast, partly it was because I was somewhat tired by this point and didn’t really feel like spending the extra energy required to shave a few seconds. After all, I did run a 6:52 back in the first mile, so what’s it matter if I ran a 6:20 or 6:30 now? But while I was having this internal monologue, I saw a few runners who I had passed at miles 4 and 5 quietly slip by in front of me. I was slightly annoyed at their intrusion of my rightful place in the standings, and was eventually forced to pick up the pace for the final finish. I eventually crossed the finish time at a cool 40:27.

After walking off the initial exhaustion, I grabbed my stuff from baggage claim and headed over to a park bench to put on some clothes. (For some reason, I felt so much colder after the race than I did before, even though the sun was out and it was obviously a few degrees warmer…weird!) In between this impromptu dressing change, I took my glance at my Garmin and saw that I had registered 6:27 min/mile pace. I was initially happy because although I didn’t remember my exact 10K PR, I knew it was somewhere in the 6:31-6:35 min/mile range. Really?? I PR’d. But then I realized that Garmin had me running 6.33 miles instead of the 6.2 and so I was not so happy. I then proceeded to spend the next ten minutes trying to figure out what 6:30 min/mile pace for a 10K would be. That turned out not to be such a smart move (well, I guess if I was smart I would’ve figured out the answer already…) because it gave me the biggest headache like you wouldn’t believe. I finally had to ditch the effort when I realized that even though I took Advanced Multivariate Calculus in college, my brain was not in the mood to do simple arithmetic while hypoxic and hypoglycemic.

After a quick stretch, I grabbed an apple and a bagel from the refreshment table and walked back over to the finish line to watch and cheer some of the other runners cross the finish line. It was fun to see all the different facial expressions people make while gunning for the finish. (I believe I’ve already touched on this topic previously, so I’ll spare you the commentary here.) Still, I felt especially sorry for a middle-aged runner who stopped and vomited twice in the last 100 meters or so before the finish. It took me back to my first race ever back in 2005 in this same park where I did the exact same thing. Definitely not pretty. I waited around the finish area, enjoying the sounds of the Red Hot Chilly Pipers and all the people dressed in Scottish colors until they were ready to announce the award winners and hold the raffle. Unfortunately, I didn’t win either and had to endure the 20 minute walk back to my humble abode in the cold without the warmth of a ribbon around my neck.

By the time I reached my apartment on the Upper East Side, I still hadn’t figured out what my pace was, and more importantly, whether I had PR’d or not. A few simple clicks on the PC later, I had my answer.

3/30/08 Scotland Run 10K Time - 40:27; Pace - 6:31
5/20/06 Healthy Kidney 10K Time - 40:34; Pace – 6:32 (Previous PR)

I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon, being completely exhilarated that I PR’d, yet also being completely dumbfounded as to how I had done it. Did this really happen? Did I really PR in my first race back…at a distance that I run 10 times before? How did I PR after running the worst first mile I’ve ever run in a road race? To be honest, I’ve had two days to think about it, and I still have no clue how to explain it to myself. This is scary!

Final Race Statistics

Overall Place: 204/6928 (2.9%)
Gender Place: 191/3644 (5.2%)
Age Place: 76/2639 (2.9%)

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