Monday, July 28, 2008

Pre-Marathon Anxieties

Ah, it’s Monday. The weekend, which had its share of running and resting, is now over.

For most people, Monday signals nothing but the start of another mundane week of paper pushing, number crunching, studying, or procrastinating. I, on the other hand, at least for this week, am not most people. For me, today is the start of marathon race week. Wahoo! Underneath the fa├žade of calmness and attentiveness around the office, I am a nervous wreck trying to keep my marbles afloat and aligned in some sort of meaningful configuration until I can find some private space to dump them all in a drawer somewhere and return to my unrelenting anxiety.

To those who may come upon my presence in this feeble state, I sincerely apologize. I am not exactly sure why I feel this way. After all, this is not my first time running 26.2. I’m not sick, fatigued, injured, or overtrained. I’m not even expecting to run so crazy fast or to beat a certain time (after all, this is a sort of celebratory birthday run for me, remember?) So there really is no reason why I can’t run well and have fun…Ah, but there lies the rub. If there’s no reason why I can’t run well and have fun, then I really owe it to myself to run well and have fun. Catch my drift. Anything less would be considered a failure for me. There, in a nutshell, is my quest for this week. How do I relax my body and mind enough to enjoy the miles, the travel, and the scenery while at the same time maintaining a level of focus on my race strategy, my pacing, and my race goals? It’s a very intriguing question really, one that will probably take me the bulk of a transcontinental flight to figure out...

In other news, I’ve picked out a marathon mantra that will carry me through the tough miles. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” – Steve Prefontaine. The words came to me in a dream I had over the weekend as I felt asleep stressing out about the race. I heard the same quote again this morning on a running podcast on my way to work so I knew it was meant for me!

For the few of you that actually still want to hear my anxiety driven ramblings on a race that has no particular relevance to anyone other than me (or the few thousand who will be running with me), my life is going to be pretty hectic the next few days so I’m not sure if I’ll get to post again. If you all don’t hear from me until after the race, please know that I sincerely appreciate all the support and will run the race knowing that a bunch of you are with me virtually cheering me on…And of course, I’ll have a rambunctious race report to recap all the festivities.

In the meantime, please feel free to preview the scenic course (and all the damn hills!) with me. San Francisco, brace yourself…here we come!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Funny Lance Commercials

In honor of the Tour de France, which according to cycling enthusiasts is the best sporting competition that no one is paying attention to, Marathon Sunday, which for me is now only 8 days away, and my new Flyer running buddy, JT, who is a big fan of both, I present to all my favorite Lance Armstrong commercial of all time…

Yes, Mr. Armstrong, I will be feeding my warrior 20lbs of carbs and protein every day before race day. So you think that will help me run a sub-3:00 marathon too?

And for those (aka, the smart ones) who are just starting out on their marathon training, this Lance commercial is kind of funny too.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Toughness Defined

Let me state right off the bat that while the theme for this week’s Take and Run Thursday is on Overcoming the Tough Stuff, I’m going to take an innovative spin on the the topic in order to discuss something that’s been on my mind lately…

For starters, let me pose a simple question: In sports and athletics, what does “toughness” mean to you? More specifically, what essential qualities or characteristics defines some players as “tough” while others as talented, gifted, or just plain athletic? As I spent part of my Sunday night watching the annual celebration of amazing sports feats and personalities known as the 2008 ESPYs while in the midst of nervous anticipatory angst concerning my own athletic performance in the upcoming San Francisco marathon now less than a week and a half away (yikes!), I couldn’t help but wonder what makes these professional athletes and the feats they perform so admirable to us. What attributes do they all have that those who didn’t make the play or couldn’t win the title didn’t have? What makes them all so collectively “tough”? Hmmm…I was secretly hoping I’d listen and learn something from this exercise that I could use next weekend when I’m battling my own demons at mile 20.

After watching the show and conducting my own sophisticated investigation, [similar to what was done in the Mitchell Report], I can’t say I’ve come any closer to unraveling the mystery. Still, I’d like to throw out some of my own theories on what makes them tough( if only so I can take credit for them when it inevitably becomes part of the national consciousness…)

What’s So Tough About Tough Athletes? [with Case Studies]

1. Tough athletes must give a top notched performance at the grandest stage. It isn’t essential that they always win their respective matches (although we detract points if they don’t win a majority), but that they raise their level of play as the stakes get higher and higher. Obviously, the size of the audience matters too; just ask anyone who’s ever hit a holes-in-one on the back nine when no one’s watching. [See Tiger Woods at 2008 U.S. Open Championship.]

2. Tough athletes perform well in pressure situations because they’ve been there before – in training. It’s not a secret that professional athletes train, but what separates the tough athletes from their not-so-tough counterparts is their attention to detail. They have an intense work ethic and make every sacrifice to be at the top of their game. So much so that if and when they encounter situations and circumstances they might not have run into before, they rise to the occasion because they’ve been through the training and have done the work to be physically and mentally prepared for whatever scenario may present itself. [See Any Biegler at 2008 U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials.]

3. Tough athletes find a way, some way, any way to overcome an incomprehensible level of adversity on their way to achieving success. Let’s face it, if the course wasn’t so tough, if the odds weren’t so stacked against them, or if the competition wasn’t so fierce, would we really be interested? Yet, the tough ones almost always stand triumphant in the end. That’s what makes them special. That’s what makes us rejoice and remember. It is the journey that makes the goal so sweet. [See Eli Manning/David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII.]

4. Tough athletes find success when the majority of people put in a similar circumstance would not have. There’s a will to win that drives the tough athletes to never accept failure as the default option. They believe in themselves and their abilities, even when all common sense tells them not too. In other words, for the tough athletes, their passion and desire to find success becomes their common sense. [See the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of 2008 NBA Finals.]

5. Tough athletes maintain a pristine mental focus and self confidence even after their physical talents have long been exhausted. Every professional athlete is talented no doubt, but what separates the tough athletes from the wannabes is the ability of the former to use his mind to overcome the deficiencies of the physical body so that they are able to perform at a level that even they never thought they could achieve. They exemplify the true purpose and essence of sports in its purest form. [See Rafael Nadal/Roger Federer at 2008 Wimbledon Final.]

What makes up a tough athlete in your mind?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Adding Insult to Injury

As if missing my PR by a second wasn’t bad enough, a friendly Flyer teammate took this photo of me close to the finish at the Run for Central Park race on Saturday….

Hmmm…me thinks it would have been a perfect picture too, if it weren’t for the two animate objects flying by next to me. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I ended up staring at both of their backsides crossing the finish line. Thanks for the subtle hint, Mr. Photographer!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

So Frustratingly Close
Race Report from The Run For Central Park

In running, as in life, what goes around usually comes around. For example, if you ever make a comment to a running buddy that a certain newbie roadster runs with gel packs on a 5 mile jog, you’re bound to find yourself needing one and not having one on your next long run. Likewise, if you ever make a passing remark that you’re on your third consecutive 50 mile week just as your friend is telling you how he’s lacking motivation to run 30 miles per weeks training for his second marathon, you’ll inevitably sustain an overtraining injury the following week that will force you to take time off the road at the peak of your training. And for the ultimate faux pas, if you ever leave a comment poking fun at a fellow RBF for being First Loser at his age group by a mere 17 seconds as I did here, well then you deserve what came to me today…

For the record, and just in case you thought you knew what this post was going to be about, I didn’t come close to winning my age group. Not. Even. Close. The winner of the 30-39 age group was also the overall winner. He finished the 4 mile race in 19:27. I, on the other hand, finished 157 overall, 51st in my age group. Like I said, not so close.

Now for my bad karma race report.

Today’s race was called Run for Central Park, which was a quick 4-miler for the general audience and a short fun kids race to follow. (Personally, I see holding a mid-morning kids race in the dead of summer as somewhat dangerous, but what do I know, I’m just a pediatrician!) According to the NYRR website, both events were held in partnership with the Central Park Conservatory to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the selection of the Greensward Plan as the winning entry in the design competition for Central Park. Although I had never heard of the Greensward Plan prior to the race, I’m grateful that his design won because overall I think the park is a pretty neat place to run.

Having said that, I really wasn’t sure I was even going to participate until this morning. I had mixed emotions the whole week about whether it was a good idea to race a 4-miler so close (2 weeks) to a target marathon. I also openly worried whether the oven hot temperature and suffocating humidity would turn this race into another death march like my last race. Still, I knew this was a local club points race and as one of the faster Flyer members, it’d be important that I show up and represent. So despite the fact that I hadn’t slept well for the past few days due to my hospital work, and it was already 80° by the time I rolled out of bed at 6:30, I found myself at the blue starting corral a couple of hours later anxiously to get started.

My race strategy going into this race was simply not to get injured and run the best race that I can given the circumstances. Given that the race course was identical to Race for the Parks, where I ran a 24:44 (6:11 pace) for a PR back in April, I used that race as a basis for comparison. What I wanted to do today was to run fast and easy based on effort up to the mile 2 marker, and decide from there whether I should take it easy or pour it on. I purposely situated myself a few steps behind the fast pack of Flyers at the starting corrals because I was running my own race today and didn’t want my instinctual drive to keep up with their ultra fast speed to overwhelm my common sense. While I was standing there, packed like sardines next to a myriad of fluorescently colored team jerseys, I bent my head down and tried hard to concentrate on positive thoughts of “Running fast, running smart” I briefly reviewed my interval training in recent weeks and felt confident that I was ready to have a good run. The temperature was a sultry 84° with 60% humidity, but cloudy, when the race got underway at 8:30AM.

Because I didn’t line up in the front but toward the middle of the first corral, there was some congestion for the first 10-15 seconds at the start of the race. I ran cautiously through the crowded field through this early section, taking care not to get trampled or get carried off by my neighbors. Everyone slowed and crowds thinned as we made our way up Cat Hill. I opened my legs up a bit, settling into a comfortably fast pace as I climbed. Just as I reached the stoplight at the end of this tough stretch, I suddenly felt a cool breeze sweep across me, and felt very happy to be racing. I must have speeded up for a while after that because the Garmin read 5:56 as I passed the second mile marker, signifying that I had just ran my fastest mile in a road race EVER!

I gave a first-two, whoop-whoop of slight jubilation at the sight of those digits, although I doubt my brief incantation was discernible above all the heavy breathing. Although I was slowing down just a tad after the brief surge, and people were passing me on the course ever so slowly one-by-one, I was feeling good that I was running fast, far ahead of my PR pace of 6:11. Even at this early point, I had already lost all my faster teammates, which helped me to concentrate just on my own efforts on the course. I ran through the upper east side course along the reservoir and next to the grassy baseball fields as comfortably fast as I could. I knew full well that after this flat pleasant stretch the always treacherous West Side hills loom ahead. I tried hard to run fast while conserving as much energy as I could during this stretch. The Garmin read 6:05 as I passed the mile 2 marker.

Seeing that number was truly a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I knew that I had slowed by 9 seconds over the first mile with a series of tough hills to come. On the other hand, I was a full 21 seconds below my PR time with only 2 miles to go! As I made the turn over onto the west side, I wanted to pour it on over these hills. But as I tried ever so slightly to increase my turnover, my chest started to complain and my calves began to tighten. I was starting to feel fatigued from the quick race pace so I decided to hold back my speed somewhat through the first hill. I had calculated that I could run a 6:30 through this brutal third mile and still be in time for my PR, so I didn't feel the need to push so hard. A slight tiredness turned into a steady fatigue by the middle of the second hill. By the third hill, I felt my pace seriously dragging behind as I passively watched packs of runners passing me by. I was horrified when I saw Garmin scowling at me with a 6:34 as I scaled the last hill while passing through the third mile marker. I was physically and mentally exhausted at this point. A combination of sun, heat, humidity, dehydration, and hard hill effort left me wanting anything for this race to end. I wasn’t in any condition to do math at this point so I didn’t know whether I was still on pace for my PR or not. Although my breathing was labored and my heart felt as it was ready to explode out of my chest with every step, I forced myself not to slow down and ran the last mile as hard as I could. I tried to imagine as if I was running intervals on a typical morning. I tried questioning how I’d run if I was in the last 0.2 miles of the marathon. I even tried imagining as if I was at the Olympic Trials needing a quick 400 to qualify for Beijing. (I admit I had to close my eyes at times to help with the imagery.) Luckily, I spotted nyflygirl as she was running up the opposite direction. Just to hear her calling out my name gave me a much needed boost as I made my way down to the finish. As I made the final turn for the last 200m to the finish line, I wanted to conjure up whatever I had for a final kick. But truly, there was nothing left in the tank. So, in untypical Laminator fashion, I rolled myself as best as I could into the finish! Pace for mile 4: 6:09.

I knew it as soon as I caught my breath and clicked the button on the side of my Garmin. In big gigantic digits, 26:44 glared back at me liked a scarlet number of shame. I had just missed eclipsing my PR by one mere second! (BTW, because I know NYRR likes to gyp me out of a second from my Garmin time in every race I've ever done, I knew even before the official results were posted that my time would be listed as one second slower!) Oh my gosh! What I would have given if I had known during that last mile that I’d be one second off! Never mind my heart rate averaged 184 bpm with a max of 193 (a record high for me) during that last mile, I’m sure I could’ve found another gear to give me an extra second of boost. Either that or I could’ve dove, projectile vomited, or threw my chip over the finish line to shave off an extra second for my PR! I blame it all on the frontpackers at the start who caused me to shuffle my feet instead of run, losing valuable PR seconds for me. If only I wasn’t so gentle and blatantly allow people who obviously can’t run as fast as me to line up in front of me at the corrals. If only I were a true New Yorker or felt as easy as one throwing elbows and jabs to clear my way toward a running start. If only I were confident enough in my own abilities as a runner to line up with the truly elite in the very front of the first corral as not to be stuck in the middle of the pack. If only…

After the race, I met up with a bunch of my Flyer teammates for a race review. Everyone did very well for themselves…all except me it seems. There were reports of PRs and negative splits floating amidst the conversations. I’m sincerely proud of everyone on my team for their race efforts, as today was a hot and humid day, and as such, took extraordinary effort to come out preparing to race. Great job by all out there today!

As for me, I’m already plotting my revenge on the course this fall. After San Francisco. After New York. After 4 more months of interval training and speedwork, on a day in late November when it isn’t so hot or humid, when everyone else with be training or recovering from their fall marathons, I will run hard, and I will run fast, and I will run to reclaim my personal prize that was stolen from me today.

I will be back. Mark my words.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 0:24:45;
Pace – 6:11; Age Graded % - 68.6;
Overall Place – 157/4607 (3.4%);
Gender Place – 138/2326 (5.9%);
Ave Place – 51/1661 (3.1%)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Midsummer Review

When you’re a sports enthusiast like me, everything resolves around baseball during the summer months. So just as all 30 teams let out a collective sigh of relief from the Midsummer Classic that almost became a Midsummer Debacle and about to kick off the second half of the season, I thought it was an apt time to review the progress I’ve made on the running goals I set for 2008 way back in January.

Okay, I must admit that the motivation to engage in this mental exercise was not my own, but rather was inspired by a new blogging friend, Mizfit, who posted an excellent video post earlier in the week on why we should all take time to revisit and track the status of our goals. (If you still haven’t seen it yet, what are you still doing here? Please go NOW!)

As you’re searching the deepest corners of the attic for that piece of paper where you jotted down your resolutions (you DID write them down, didn’t you?) or consciously misremembering what you planned to do this year, let me dig up my own New Year’s Running Resolutions post from way back when and review for you all how I’m doing on those. For each goal, I’m grading myself on a 1-10 scale on the likelihood it’ll get done by the end of the year. This should be interesting!

Midsummer Review on Running Resolutions for 2008
Goal 1: Run 3 Marathons in 2008.
Progress: None yet; Running SFM in August and NYCM in November.
Grade: 1 (in other words…not gonna happen!)
Comment: Was gonna happen until I broke a bone on the slopes two days after the post! Sucks!

Goal 2: Log at least 1333 miles for 2008.
Progress: 694.5 miles (after tonight’s run)
Grade: 7 (in other words…pretty likely!)
Comment: Considering I had 2 months off, and is more than halfway there, I’m pretty much on target for this one. Thank God I didn’t follow somebody’s advice and pick 1933…

Goal 3: Establish PRs in at least 3 distances.
Progress: 4 (4 Mile, 5 Mile, 10K (twice!) , half-marathon)
Grade: 10 (Completed, yeah!)
Comment: Was going to give myself a 12 grade (+2 for extra credit) but really, that would be bragging =)

Goal 4: Run in 3 road races outside of New York.
Progress: 1 (NJ Half); will be 2 after SFM.
Grade: 6 (in other words…get planning!)
Comment: Should really be doing so much better in this category because I really like running outside of NYC. I need to find a good fall race in Connecticut. Get cracking!

Goal 5: Participate in 3 road races that I’ve never ran before.
Progress: 1.5 (Need For Speed relay, NJ Half)
Grade: 4 (in other words…iffy!)
Comment: I’m scoring a half progress point for the NJ Half, and same for the SFM because I think it’s half-cheating if I’m including the same race for 2 separate categories. So if I want to be real about this, need to get cracking on this too!

Goal 6: Run a road race with 3 new people.
Progress: 3 (NY Flyers!)
Grade: 10 (Completed, yeah!)
Comment: I know I’m being a little cheap, but joining a running club is a big deal for someone who has always run solo. So yeah, I’m going to take some kudos for this one.

Goal 7: Coach 3 new runners to run well in their distance events.
Progress: 1.5
Grade: 6 (in other words…somewhat likely to happen)
Comment: I’m the official coach for one, while a couple other newbies have asked me to devise a marathon training schedule for them. I think at least one of them will come around to asking me to coach. May need to actively recruit one more though for my third…

Goal 8: Run a marathon in under 3:05.
Progress: TBD
Grade: 6 (in other words…somewhat likely to happen)
Comment: I have two cracks at this one, and both McMillian and Runner’s World calculators have me running sub 3:03 based on my half-marathon and my 10K finishes, so it’s a reach, but not a far reach, I think.

Total Score: 50 Points Out of 80 Possible
Assessment: Wow, a passing grade. Not so bad. I have a few things to work out in the second half, but all except one goal is still within reach. Cool. I’m inspired again!

(BTW, my team, the NY Mets won again tonight; their 10th win in a row! Woohoo! I'm hoping this win to start off the second half will be good karma for me and my running!)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Recap

My long endurance training took a little bit of a twist this weekend.

Instead of a 20 mile long run on Saturday, I broke it up into an 11-miler on Saturday and a 9-miler on Sunday. While some would see this as a failure of sorts, I’m counting it as an experiment called the double long weekend run. For those who’s never heard of it, the idea is to do two consecutive medium runs within 24 hours at slightly faster than the usual slow long run pace to build consistency and break up the hyped up emphasis on the single slow long run. Sounds perfectly logical and rational, right? It doesn’t at all sound like I was just trying to skimp out on doing the 20-miler, does it? Of course not, what a rhetorical question!

My Saturday morning run was dreadful because I slept too late the night before, woke up too early that morning, and got annoyed by the maze of barricades restricting the roadways at Central Park at 8:00AM in preparation for the Bon Jovi concert at 8:00PM later that night. (Seriously, folks, was that really necessary to set up roadblocks 12 hours before the concert!)

Sunday’s run was a bit more pleasant. I got to run with my parents (first time ever!) in a beautiful park next to a bay. I even extended my run to do the full 9 by running through an Army Reserve Training Facility. I ran through that section of town pretty quickly because there were signs everywhere reminding me that I was under the jurisdiction of the Army Reserve, which I interpreted to mean that I was fair game for target practice while I was on their property. This part of the course notwithstanding, the entire 9 mile trek was quite scenic and enjoyable, and I was able to maintain a relatively good pace throughout the run.

After we showered and cleaned up, my parents and I went for a nice barbecue at my aunt’s place which was just a block away from where my parent’s lived. My mom and aunt had invited all their neighborhood friends over for a summer party. There were about 20 people at the party that night. Oh, did I mention that my parents only moved into their new place just a few short months ago. Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. My parents actually have more of an extensive social network living in an obscure section of Queens than I do in the middle of Manhattan. Go figure! At least there was good food, good conversation (I met a newbie marathon runner at the party) and good times to be had all around. If only I could carbo-load like that before my marathons!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Almost Famous

Out in the running community, I used to be anonymous. I used to run my miles as if no one’s watching. I likewise blog as if nobody reads what I write. Now I guess I can’t claim that anymore. Okay, I admit. I’ve been discovered. Thanks to Tom and Amy over at the Runners’ Lounge, who interviewed me for their Open Mic series, I am now almost famous in the blogosphere.

Now I say I’m only almost famous because I think there’s still a substantial portion of the blogging community that don’t know who I am or what I do – namely, those that don’t run or have an interest in running. I’d like to think that I can be famous someday because that would mean that there would be more runners than non-runners, which would translate to a healthier, friendlier and more peaceful world for everyone to enjoy. Yeah, that would be nice.

Although I’m flattered by all the attention my blog is getting as a result of my interview, and I truly appreciate all the support and kind words from fellow runners and blog readers, let the truth be told that this is not the first time that I’ve had a brushup with fame and became almost famous. The last time this happened was five years ago, in a totally different venue at a different stage in my life (before I was a runner), but interesting enough, also involved my talents with expressive speech.

The background to the story is that during my college years, despite a heavy coursework concentrated in the pre-med sciences, I always found time to read and write creatively. I was especially enchanted with the ways syllables and words blend together so beautifully in different forms of poetry and made every effort to learn about the subject matter as much as I could. I ended up graduating with a minor degree in writing seminars as well as several published submissions in different local and national poetry and creative writing journals.

While in medical school, because of the extra work and demands on my time, I found it difficult to keep up with my poetry writing. Luckily, I made a pact with myself early on in that first postgraduate year that no matter what, I’d do a poetry reading every six months to a year at various venues around the city to make sure I wouldn’t totally slack off on thinking and writing creatively. For the most part, for the next six or seven years, I was pretty good at keeping my promise to myself. Although I found it pretty daunting at first to read your own work at the microphone in front of a room filled with poetry critics and enthusiasts, I knew deep down that my work was personal to me and didn’t really much care what everyone thinks about it. The feedback I received were generally positive and after the first two or three, reading my poems became less of an issue than the time I had to write and revise my work.

One of the interesting caveats though is that I would never tell or allow any friends or family to attend my readings. The reason is because I did not want the fear of having any potential conflicts or connections between the audience to my poems to influence the way I write. Although many people have complained about this policy, I hold adamant to my belief that poetry at its best is personal not commercial. If I were interested in writing about something that appealed to the masses or to influence their thoughts in a particular way, I’d be a commercial jingle writer for an ad agency. At least if I were to do that I’d get paid for my services! So, no, I’m not much interested in sharing my poems with anyone that may know me, no matter how much they may holler and scream about it.

One of the greatest moments of my life as a poet happened five years ago when after one of my poetry reading sessions at “Amateur Night” at the upper west side coffeehouse I used to frequent, the poetry editor of a very prominent national literary magazine (think Times, Newsweek, New York, etc) came up to congratulate me on my performance. He told me that out of the six poets and twelve poems he heard that night, my two selections completely stole the show. Then he totally surprised me by offering me a full-time position on his editorial staff. I was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say. Was there a chance I could quit residency and go poetry? Wow, wouldn’t that be so much fun? Fortunately, I came to my senses a few seconds later and graciously declined the offer, explaining that my participation in the show wasn’t to be discovered or seek employment, but just to seek some general feedback on some of my latest work. Besides, I was under contract at the hospital to finish my residency training in general pediatrics. His eyes lit up some more when I told him that I was a full-time physician in training. “Wow, how’d we let talents like you slip into the grips of medicine…such a shame, a total shame!” To this day, I still remember his exact words.

After that, we talked a bit more on the subject of poetry. He shared his views on where he’s trying to lead his magazine. I filled him in on how my medical career has influenced my writing. Before leaving for the evening, he gave me his contact information and told me that someone might be calling me in the upcoming weeks. I assumed he was just trying to be friendly and forgot all about the encounter a couple of weeks later when I received a call from someone on his staff who wanted to meet me for an interview! Apparently, my double life as a doctor/poet so interested him that he wanted someone on his staff to write a full feature article on me and my writing. Over the next several months, this staffer and I met several times and went over every aspect of my life, including my childhood growing up in Hong Kong, my high school experience learning to write under the tutelage of Frank McCourt, and my college years, when I submitted and published some fiction for the first time. The piece that he was preparing for the magazine was simply amazing, with pictures, stories and poems that had never been seen by anyone but me before.

Unfortunately, like the biographies of all the great poets of the 20th century, this story does not have a happy ending. A month prior to the submission of my feature article for review by the magazine’s literary board, the editor and all his staff were abruptly let go from their jobs. Apparently, the whole magazine was downsizing. Although my staff member was supposed to hand off my article and all his other work to the new staff taking over, everything got lost in the transition, so that all I have left now are some memories of how once I was almost famous.

Honestly, I’m not bitter about the whole experience, because I don’t think I’d be a professional poet no matter how much fame or exposure I got. Besides, I’d never have become a runner and blogger if my poetry career had really taken off, so in that way, I’m glad everything turned out the way it did. Who knows, maybe one day, long after I’m gone, someone will dig up stuff that I had written during the prime of my life, decide I’m pure genius, publish all my great works in an anthology of some sort, make lots of money and bring me fame and popularity that way.

So until then, I’ve got some time. I think I’ll go for a run.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Running As Art

One of the things I got to do during the long holiday weekend was visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met, as we locals call it. This was quite a momentous occasion for me because despite the fact that I live just five blocks east of this prestigious institution of fine art and pass it almost everyday on my way to Central Park, it was the first time I’d actually set foot within the building in more than two years. And to think I wholeheartedly thought I’d spend all my free weekends at the museum discovering all the works of my favorite Impressionists when I first moved into the neighborhood six years ago…yeah right!

Actually, to be truthful, the only reason I went over there this past weekend was because a friend of mine (an out-of-town tourist no less) informed me that the museum was holding a special exhibit called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy over the summer, and I really wanted to check it out. Go figure that in spite of all the magnificent and internationally renowned artwork decorating the galleries, it is a display of costumes from fictional comic book characters that finally gets me to pay The Met a visit. Yes, the whole situation would have been comical had it not been so sad!

No, I’m not going to give a review of the exhibit, because honestly, I don’t think I fully appreciated what I saw. But one interesting thought I had while I was perusing the product of the costume designer’s passion for his work, was whether or not the work of my own passion, namely running, could ever be regarded as a piece of art. It is obvious that writing or blogging about running would count as a form of art, but what about the act of running itself? Could I be considered an artist just because I run?

It is an intriguing question, really, one that I had never thought about previously. But after mulling it over during my 20 mile long run yesterday and my 8 mile recovery run today, I think I can come up with five reasons why as a runner, I’m every bit as artistic as the guy who designed Batman’s costume or the guy who painted the Mona Lisa; okay, maybe just not as famous...yet! So hear me out.

Five Reasons Why Running Is Art

1. Running, like art, is a creative process. In so much as making art is the construction of an intangible idea or emotion into something material or tangible, so too is running concerned about the transformation of a passion or a sentiment into an act that is perceptible and practical.

2. Running, like art, is a form of self-expression. Art, in some ways, can be perceived as an attempt by the artist to convey a certain message or emotion to the audience at large. When we run, especially in a race setting, we are likewise moving our bodies to deliver a sense of well-being and health to anyone witnessing the event.

3. Running, like art, is inspirational. Because we can both be inspired to run and at the same time, allow our running to inspire others, the act of putting one foot in front of the other in a certain manner and at a certain speed achieves the same end purpose as any other form of art.

4. Running, like art, is interpretative. Since no two runs are ever the same and similarly no two runners are ever the same, each run, no matter the speed, the distance, or the course, is always subject to individual interpretation. What I perceive to be an easy pace fun run around the park may serve as a hard tempo long distance death march for another…or so I’ve been told.

5. Running, like art, begets itself. Because great artwork inspires other great pieces of art, so too does great running feats lead to other great running feats. I believe this natural propagation of art and running is what ultimately keeps both of these disciplines alive and well.

So the next time you happen to find yourself at a wine-and-cheese reception, schmoozing amidst a food critic, a wine connoisseur, a playwright, and an architect, do not be afraid to jump into the conversation and explain why your hardcore marathon training makes you every bit just as artsy-fartsy as any of them. At the very least, you can impress upon them why you’ll be more likely to stick around to enjoy the fruits of your labor! ‘Nuff said.

As always, feel free to agree or disagree with my assessment.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Of Tired Legs and Clogged Lungs:
Training or Overtraining?

Hey All! Hope everyone had a nice long holiday weekend. Sorry for the long lay-off between posts but yours truly was busy fighting off the nasty boogers that have been clogging up my breathing tubes for the past couple of weeks. Remember the endless bouts of coughing and chest pain I complained about a week and a half ago? It turns out I was indeed infected with atypical pneumonia (a colleague of mine made the clinical diagnosis). To be honest, the best part of being diagnosed was finding out that being so out of breath after a 5 mile warmup run that you couldn’t keep up with the last person in your running group really wasn’t a reflection of my overall endurance or laziness. There’s really a bug in me. Thank goodness. At least now, I can climb back out of the hole I crawled into after that fiasco!

Well, A Z-pack and five days later, I’m glad to report that it seems like the nasty boogers are finally gone. Yay! And just in time too, as I’m nearing the end of my marathon training buildup. The coming week will be my last high mileage week before the taper officially begins. I’m so psyched that this whole training madness is coming to a close because physically I believe I’m close to my breaking point. I think I might have been a bit too enthusiastic when I designed my SFM08 marathon training schedule way back when. Comparing this year’s 16 week training cycle to last year’s, I’ve been running at a faster average pace, logging about 90 more miles, and running more shorter distance road races. Moreover, whereas I only did one 18-miler and two 20-milers in preparation for NYCM last year (where I BQ’d no less), this year I’ve already done one 18-miler and three 20-milers with one more scheduled for next weekend. All this training is beginning to take a psychological toll, as all these extra miles are beginning to make running more of a chore than a source of fun or relaxation. Every muscle fiber in my legs is flashing red angry “Overtraining! Overtraining” lights at me right now, but I don’t think I can stop. All I can see is one more week…I can hold out for one more week, can’t I?

Just curious, but how do you all deal with the training vs overtraining mentality? Is it okay to overtrain when you know you’ve got only one or two week to go before the taper? I’m trying not to freak out too much about this, but it seems like I always end up in this situation when I’m about a month out from my target marathon, irrespective of how the training is actually going. Let me hear your thoughts. Ciao, for now!

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