Friday, August 29, 2008

Going Metro

Long before I was a blogger, before I was a runner even, I used to what they call a metrosexual. I used to buy GQ and Details on a regular basis, owned a bunch of chique and expensive clothes that I only wore once, worked out at the gym until they close every night, and even had aspirations of starting a fashion magazine with an Asian American theme. I remember one winter, my brother and I developed an exercise plan that we affectionately called “Buff by Summer” that would change our physical bodies forever. I don’t think we ever made our goal (even if we really didn’t really have one to begin with); I just remember that was the year I came closest to my dream weight of 150 lbs. Nowadays, just five years removed from that period of my life when looking vain for some reason meant something, I rotate the same seven sets of clothes I used for all social events, no longer go to the gym unless I absolutely have to, have difficulty pushing the scale past 135 and can’t find a clothing store that caters to my ever thinning waist. If running hasn’t reaped such rewarding benefits, I’d considered my fall from fashion and grace somewhat sad.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s because I received a FedEx package from these guys today. A couple of weeks ago, one of their representatives contacted me and wanted me to review their product. Apparently, they consider my blog to be quite influential in the running community…which is funny, because I always thought my family and my ten friends are the only ones who reads this mumbo jumbo. But now that the cat is out of the bag, if any other companies, especially running shoe companies…are you listening Nike, New Balance, Asics, Mizunos, Brooks…wants to send me their products to review, please have your people contact my people (or just me), and I’ll be more than willing to offer my services. Shameless plug over.

Anyway, in all seriousness, this MISSION Product company is pretty neat because it was founded when Charlie Engle, an ultra-endurance athlete ran 4,300 miles across the Sahara in 111 consecutive days and realized that there wasn’t a line of skincare for athletes. He partnered with MISSION Product to create high performance skincare that is tailored for endurance athletes and Voi-la, this new line of skincare products was born. Apparently, their product has been endorsed by many top-level athletes including five Beijing Olympians, so I’m pretty psyched that they chose me to review their product.

Although it’s a stretch to consider the 40-50 miles I put on the road each week “endurance training”, I’m up for the challenge of taking these products out for a spin and reporting my findings. There are five gels and creams in the bundle kit they sent me, including Lip Protector, Daily Offense, Anti-Friction Cream, Foot Synergy Gel, and Revive Gel, so I plan to test each product individually for two weeks and note any changes that take place during that time period. I figure even if I won’t look all buff and metrosexual after my ten week trial, at least my skin will feel really really good…just in time for the New York City Marathon too.

I’m excited. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Top Ten Lessons Learned From The Beijing Olympics

Now that the Olympics are over and I can stop mindlessly flipping channels at every hour of the day looking for inspiration from some obscure Olympic sport to rationalize not working for just a little while longer, it’s time to get up from the Lazy Chair, put down the remote, go out for a run (maybe?) and review what we all learned from the best two weeks of summer television.

Lession 1: Man versus Car. I thought my beating a cyclist up Harlem Hill a while back was impressive (to me at least). Then I saw Usain Bolt revving it up to 32 m.p.h. in the 100m final on his way to obliterating the field and winning the gold medal, which got me wondering…can he really outrace a car? Is that really possible? Then, I remembered, it’s Usain Bolt. He’s fast, he’s cocky, he’s young (just 21). With him, anything is possible!

Lesson 2: Older Means Faster. Like I mentioned in my last post, thirty is indeed the new twenty, or 35 is the new 25…at least if you’re female and an aspiring Olympian. Just ask Dara Torres, Constantina Tomescu, Deena Kastor, Paul Radcliffe, and a whole host of thirty- and forty-somethings who are running and swimming faster than girls half their age. Simply amazing!

Lesson 3: In Need Of A New Statistic. Maybe for the next Olympic Trials, the U.S.T.A.F. can use something other than the fastest finishing times when deciding who to invite to represent the US in the sprint relays in London 2012. Maybe for the next four years, they should keep a new stat on all the sprinters, called the baton passer rating, which similar to the quarterback passer rating in the NFL, incorporates velocity, accuracy, baton passing completion percentage, and the net result of each relay race into a single statistic that will allow each sprinter to be ranked individually in terms of their baton passing efficiency. I personally think that is the best way to prevent the baton dropping debacle that was the 4x100m relays for the U.S. Men and Women from ever happening again.

Lesson 4: Not A Woman Yet Not A Girl. Apparently, girls in China develop at a different rate than girls from any other country in the world, contrary to what we’ve always been taught in medical school. Here in the U.S., we consider girls who don’t show any secondary sexual characteristics by age 13 to have delayed puberty, a pathologic condition worthy of a full endocrine workup. In China however, apparently you can be sixteen, be so short you’d be the poster child for growth hormone deficiency, show no signs of puberty and still be considered absolutely normal, no questions asked. Unbelievable.

Lesson 5: Tall Guys Can Run. Yes, it is possible to be 6’5” and still run like a gazelle. Usain Bolt taught me that, contrary to what basketball centers in the NBA would have you believe…who knew?

Lesson 6: Humbled By Walker. Apparently, it is also possible for someone to walk faster than I run. Just ask Valerly Borchin of Russia, who won an Olympic gold medal in race walking this summer. He completed the 20K (12.4 mile) walk in 1:19:01, which equates to 6:22 per mile. By comparison, my 15K PR pace is 6:36 per mile. There was also a 50K (31 mile) race walk event, which was won by Alex Schwazer of Italy with a time of 3:37:09. This equates to a 7:00 min/mile pace. By comparison, I’ve never done a 31 mile run, and my PR pace for the marathon is only 7:11 min/mile. For someone who always associated walking with slowness of feet, I was embarrassed and truly humbled by these figures.

Lesson 7: Internationalism Trumps Nationalism. Although people all over the world from all walks of life gathered collectively to cheer on the representatives from their respective countries, so many athletes from these Olympics come from backgrounds that overlap nations and cultures that the games represented a celebration of internationalism more than a competition between the various nations. From Nastia Liukin, the gold medal winning all-around gymnast, whose parents were both former Soviet champion gymnasts, to Samuel Wanjiru, the winner of the Olympic marathon, who was born in Kenya, but learned to run and was coached in Japan, there were so many Olympians whose personal stories reached so widely across geographic barriers that to celebrate them as anything but international athletes would be wrong on so many levels.

Lesson 8: Olympics Fever. Yes, from now on, every four years, this term will be recognized as a true medical disease with universally recognized symptoms. Employers beware.

Lesson 9: World’s Greatest Athlete. It is amazing to me that despite proving that he can jump, throw, run, sprint and hurdle faster and better than anyone in the world so much so that he set an Olympic record by the widest margin of victory ever in the event, in a discipline where the winner was once celebrated as “The World’s Greatest Athlete, the name Bryan Clay, the gold medalist in the Olympic decathlon, got less mention from the media than human rights violations or the Tibetan controversy from the Chinese. This Hawaiian native led by so much after the ninth event that he jogged through the last race, the 1500m, finishing in dead last, and still set an Olympic record for the widest margin of victory. This guy is such a class act that he persuaded a fellow competitor not to drop out of the event before the 1500m race but rather that he’d jog with him to the finish if need be. So cool.

Lesson 10: Long Fingernails Wins Gold. After securing and studying the digitally enhanced replays from the men’s 100m butterfly race, I’m convinced that because Michael Phelps didn’t have time to cut and file his fingernails that day, the extra 2mm of armspan is what enabled him to outtouch Milorad Cavic by 0.01 seconds at the finish. NBC would have you believe that it was the extra half stroke Phelps took and Cavic didn’t that was the difference, but I knew it really had nothing to do with technique. He was just lucky his manicurist was late. I’m on to you, Phelps.

There you have it, my ten biggest lessons learned during these Olympics. Hope you all enjoyed the festivities as much as I did. Please feel free to comment and add your own favorite moments.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weekend Recap:
Hating Speed Snobs, Loving Diabetes Camp

Between running a PR at Club Champs, watching all the track-and-field events the Olympics had to offer, and researching and building a marathon training plan that would bring me my next PR at NYCM, I have been pretty much living in running la-la land the past two weeks, thinking only in relations of fast, faster, and fastest. I have become so infatuated with race times and race goals that I could swear I was starting to turn into the kind of person I absolutely abhorred when I first got introduced to the sport; the despicable speed snob.

Let me take a second to explain the term for those are unfamiliar with these runners and their tactics. The speed snob is the runner or runners, who judges the value of a person by the speed at which he/she run. They are obsessed with race times, their own as well as those of their friends and acquaintances, and uses them to openly disparage those who do not run as fast as them. If the speed snob does not think that you run at a comparable speed, he/she will ignore you completely and refuse to run with you, even in training. They often coalesce with those who run as they do and think as they do. As such, speed snobs often hang out in droves. For the record, I hate speed snobs because not only are they elitist in their thinking and conceded in their remarks, they act in a way that is absolutely contrary to what a running community is all about.

Still, even though I haven’t spoken or done anything to act the part, by the end of the week, I was beginning to think like a speed snob. Yikes! I needed a reality check in the worst way. As a result, in order to bring some perspective back to my life, I decided to volunteer to play camp doctor to a bunch of people who didn’t know what my 5 mile race PR was, or how fast I ran San Francisco or have an opinion on how I should train for New York (the marathon that is). Heck, none of them even knew I run at all…or did they care. All they knew was that they all share a medical condition, they were there to have fun, and I was their camp doctor, which was fine by me.

So that is how I came to volunteer for a day at the Children’s Diabetes Camp next to the hospital where I work. This camp is a two-week program held annually during the summer for kids with type 1 diabetes between ages of 7-13 to come together to make friends, participate in athletics, and all the while learning how to manage their diabetes in everyday life. Camp itself was held at an athletic center of a nearby college so there was plenty of space for the kids to run, swim, play ball, and jump around. The whole endeavor is a huge undertaking and is led predominantly by two clinical diabetic nurse educators and is sponsored by generous donations from patient’s families themselves and the community.

Since I was new to the institution, this was my first time going to diabetes camp. On the day that I went, there were about 45 children altogether. I recognized about a quarter of them because they were my patients from my own clinic. Usually the only interactions I have with these children are when they are sick and lying in a hospital bed or when they are in my office with their parents for a checkup. So it was quite shocking for me in camp to see them so healthy and vivacious, running and playing with friends in their natural habitat. When it came time for lunch and snack, it was so heart-breaking and inspiring to see them all prick their little fingers together and read off their blood sugar readings while helping each other with their insulin shots. I have tried so hard throughout the year to convince the children to not to be ashamed of their disease in front of their friends that it felt good for once to see them in an environment where they didn’t have to be afraid of pricking their fingers or injecting themselves with insulin in public.

In between helping the nurses deal with mini-emergencies with the children and teaching the kids how to deal with real life issues that come up as it pertains to diabetes, I got to watch the kids swim in the pool, run a relay race in the gym (I had to resist the urge to participate, even if I didn’t have the right shoes on), make pretty pencil holders to take home and test their knowledge in diabetes jeopardy. Overall, it was a great day; most definitely an eye-opening experience for me.

The most humbling part of my trip took place when I got a chance to speak to the nurse educators a bit while the kids were having free time in the gym. They told me that for most of these kids, the two weeks they spend at camp are the most fun they have all summer. Because most of them come from broken homes, live in apartments without access to parks or someone to bring them there during the day, this is the only time they get to act and play like normal kids, almost as if they didn’t have diabetes. The unfortunate thing is even though the admission for camp has increased by about ten per year through its three years of existence, they were still only able to accept about half the number of kids who apply for the camp. There is just not enough charitable money to cover the door-to-door transportation, the rental costs for the facilities, the athletic counselors, the lifeguards, the food and drinks, and the necessary staff to supervise 40+ kids. As yet, they have been unable to receive any national or local sponsorships for the program. They suspect that as the nation enters into a recession, the amount of charitable donations to support the program might even be less in the coming years.

I have never been one to use my running as an opportunity to solicit money for a charitable cause, but for these kids and others who clearly need this place not only as a reprieve from their everyday lives, but also as a place to meet others like them and to learn more about their disease, I believe I owe it to them to do what I can to help. Although it is too late for me to raise funds through my marathons this year, I can plan to collect donations and sponsors as I train and run the Boston Marathon next April. It’s the least I think I can do for a cause so good!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ageism vs Sexism in Distance Running

I’ve been thinking a lot about my age the past couple of days.

No, it’s not because I just had a birthday recently, or the fact that someone called me “mid-thirties” for the first time yesterday (since when did the third year of a decade began to be called the middle-years?) Actually, it was the more the discrepancy between the ages of the women’s and men’s marathoners that has caused me to think about my age as it relates to the peak of athletic performance.

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but isn’t it surprising that all three of our representatives in the Women’s Olympic marathon are in their mid to late thirties (33, 35, 36) while all of their male counterparts entering the same distance event are in their twenties (25, 25, 29). Not only so, but the eventual winner of the women’s marathon, Constantin Tomescu, is 38, while it’s very doubtful that the men’s winner on Sunday will crack a day older than 30. You want more numbers, okay. How about Paula Radcliffe, who despite turning in a disappointing finish last week by her standards (not mine), vowed to compete in the 2012 London Olympics when she will be…38!, and even Dara Torres (yes, I’m using a non-runner here to prove my point…sue me!) won 3 silver medals in this, her 5th Olympic games, at the tender age of 41. The list of women athletes who blossom athletically at or even after their “mid-thirties” is long while for us men, if you’re still competing at any of these events at 29, as Brian Sell nicely puts it, you’re considered over the hill.

I will not venture a guess as to why my “over-the-hill” 33 is considered a “coming-to-fruition” number for a woman, because in a sense, the phenomena exists contrary to what I can explain medically. It is safe to assume that an interplay of health, genetics, hormones and tenacious and hard training must be at work here to bring about these changes.

As for me, I am saddened by the realization that because I’m male, no matter how stoked I am about my marathon time or be jubilant over my last PRs, it is physiologically impossible for me to improve my speed and my time after a certain point. I’m not sure when I will get to that point, but there will come a time that running fast will no longer be an option. That sucks. After my last race, I can feel that I’m fast approaching that asymptotic limit. It is a humbling thought to say the least. As a result, although it’s never been my style, I’m teaching myself not to take PRs for granted, but savor and enjoy every one as if it were my last. I am sure I will find another challenge once I get to the point that I can no longer PR, but until then I must enjoy the speed, the journey and the scenery.

Welcome to life in the mid-thirties, for me!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some Perspectives on Olympic Track

After experiencing the swimming events, aka The Michael Phelps Show, all last week and putting forth my best Olympic-esque effort in the Team Championships Race earlier in the day, I was salivating with anticipation for all the weekend’s track events.

It all started okay with Shalane winning the bronze in the women’s 10K. But after watching Deena pull out of the women’s marathon after the first 5 miles on Saturday night, Tyson Gay not even qualifying for the 100m finals, Bernard Lagat missing out on the 1500m finals, and Rupp and Abdirahman finishing 13th and 15th respectively in the men’s 10K, I’m feeling as if I’m watching the Track version of the 2007 NY Mets (who had a momental collapse last season for those who don’t know…yeah, it pains me still to write about it) all over again. It has left me scratching my head, wondering what’s happened to the U.S.A. track team? Are these the same guys and gals who we watched in awe as they dominated the competition in the Olympic Trials a few months back? Where’s the fire, the fight, the ferocity now?

Never mind that the men’s and women’s hurdlers have dominated the medal stands in their respective sports and Walter Dix had a coming out party after capturing a medal in the 100m final that he probably wasn’t supposed to, I am disappointed that our A-list track stars have not performed anywhere near what we expected them to in Beijing.

There’s still some hope left, as Sanya Richards prepares for the women’s 400m final having qualified with the best time during the semi’s. The women still have the 200m race, the 800 race, women’s 1500m and the women’s 5000m yet to be completed. As for our male track athletes, the significant events that are yet to be decided are the 400m, 800m, and the marathon on Sunday. I am nervous but excited about marathon Sunday for the men prior to the closing of the games. I believe Ryan Hall will make a strong showing if the weather holds up and he runs his race.

C’mon U.S.A., let’s run hard and smart and bring home some medals, preferably the gold ones please. I want, no need, to be inspired by these track athletes to perform my best when I’m out running and it’s kind of hard to inspire people when you’ve got injuries and memories, but no medals around your neck

So Go Team U.S.A.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Quest For Olympic Gold:
Race Report From NYRR Team Championships 5M Run

Let me start off with a public service announcement (in so much as my blog is a public service…) I sincerely apologize (again!) from my absence during the past week from the blogosphere. My professional responsibilities had piled up on me while I was away in San Fran, and it’s taken me long than expected to take care of things or delegate them to someone less fortunate. Almost coincidentally, I’d been afflicted with a mild form of PMD, or post-marathon depression that has left with me with a runner’s block and blogger’s block. Physically, my body also felt somewhat beaten up by the marathon, and is complaining most strikingly with a deep right upper thigh pain that escalates in severity when I walk right after a run. As a result, I allowed myself to take the last week completely off from running in order to prevent any further injury during my recovery process. I guess the long and short of it is that my running, similar to my blogging, had been taking a much needed and well-deserved hiatus.

Well, now that my two-week post-marathon grace period is over, I decided to announce to the whole world my return to running at the NYRR Team Championships 5M Run. For those who are unfamiliar, Team Championships is a highly competitive specialized race held annually to allow all the running clubs in the tri-state area to come together to decide who the top dogs/cats are in both the men and women’s divisions. Clubs are awarded points based on the order of finish, and the top 10 men and women from each club score points for their team. It was important we run well in this race because the points earned from this race are counted DOUBLE in the cumulative standings at the end of the year.

In retrospect, I had every reason to lay an egg in the race this morning. As mention before, I hadn’t been running for a week, my right upper leg was sore, I hadn’t slept well in days (damn you, late night Olympic coverage!), and I was working so hard the previous day that I completely forgot to hydrate. Still, I had high hopes and expectations coming in to this race because I suspect that my intense marathon training may have had some carryover effects on my short game as well. Because I had no idea what my current speed and endurance is, I was planning to use my race results to calculate my training paces for the next marathon training cycle.

I arrived at the starting line extremely focused to run a good race. The air was cool, the sky was blue, and there was even a gentle breeze blowing over us as the runners took their positions at their respective corrals. Since the race was restricted to runners belonging to a team and the 8AM men’s race wasn’t as crowded as it ordinarily is for a NYRR race. I was assigned to the second (red) corral this time around. In my mind, I knew that in this competitive race field, I was hardly elite. I was surprised to see all of the Flyer men who are usually much faster than me lining up in my corral. I wondered aloud who the first corral start was reserved for if all the sub 6:00 pace people were lining up with me. I was rather intimidated by their presence, so I introduced myself, exchanged some pleasantries, and took my starting position a few steps behind them.

I was still in somewhat of a focused runner’s daze when the race started a few minutes later. Because the race started on the 102nd St transverse going in a counterclockwise direction, the first mile was all about the west side hills. Learning from my previous CP race experience where I blistered up the Cat Hill at 5:56 min/mi pace only to bonk at miles 3 and 4, I forced myself to run the first mile as slow as possible. In this particular race, this was harder said than done because everyone around me were pushing the pace right from the opening horn. All the people I recognize that run about the same pace as me in previous races were suddenly running about 10-20 sec/mi faster today. I resisted the urge to keep up with them. Rather, I followed the same strategy I employed during the San Francisco Marathon two weeks back. Conserve energy early, let the frontrunners go on ahead, and have confidence you’ll catch up with them later. I was proud that I was able to stick to my philosophy today, because even though I felt as if I had only jogged the first mile and hadn’t as yet hit my stride, I still managed to passed the first mile marker at 6:09, which was exactly where I wanted to me.

After starting out gingerly over the first mile of hills, I picked up the pace on the less treacherous Mile 2. Since this section was almost all downhill, I had little trouble generating some good speed that I was able to maintain for a good duration during the flatter areas. I caught back up to the crowd that had separated from me at mile 1, and cruised to the mile 2 marker at 6:05.

Mile 3, around the lower bend of the park, was all about maintenance for me. I tried hard during this stretch to maintain the speed and the company I had during the previous mile. I thought about pushing the pace some more passing the midpoint of the race, but because I had the ever treacherous Cat Hill lingering in the next mile and because my pace was already slowing a bit on this steady uphill mile, I decided to hold my position and pace as much as I could. The mile 3 marker passed without much fanfare at 6:17. I was starting to get disappointed at my less than stellar mile 3 time but then realized that it was still significant faster than my 5 mile PR pace of 6:25! It dawned on me a minute later as I was making my way up Cat Hill that I was actually more than 40 seconds ahead of PR pace. Wow! In my head, I imagined a green laser line trailing my footsteps as if I was Michael Phelps swimming towards another World Record. I was almost giddy as I ran a bit harder up the hill, passing more than a few runners in the process.

The end of the ascent came sooner than expected, I dare to say. To me, this infamous hill which had always seem so intimidating just a short while ago, pales in comparison to the mountains that I had to climb during the San Fran Marathon. Although I did slow down somewhat during this mile (6:27), it neither discouraged me or sapped my energy like it did in races past. The evidence for this comes from my pacing during the last mile. Traditionally, I have had a lot of difficulty holding my own during this stretch as my pace would slow down and I’d see runner after runner blow right past me to the line. Today, I was able to draw extra energy both from my excitement over a potentially massive PR, and from fellow teammates shouting my name to finish stronger than I’d ever done before in a 5-mile race. I finished the race with a 6:07 final mile and collapsed onto the side barricades soon after crossing the line.

Physically, I was way beyond spent. I had left everything out on the course today and in the process set a new personal record by more than a minute! In my mind, even if the final statistics would show otherwise, I had beaten the laser green line and won a personal Olympic gold!

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 31:07 (PR by 1:03!)
Pace – 6:13; Age Graded % - 69.3
Avg HR – 183; Max HR – 194
Overall Place – 260/766 (33.9%)
Age Group Place – 98/233 (42.1%)
Flyers Rank (Men) – 8/64

Monday, August 11, 2008

Virtual Race Report for My 8M for 8/8 Run

In celebration of 8/8/08, otherwise known as the inauguration of the Beijing Olympics, I ran a virtual 8 mile race today, compliments of Nancy, who is by far the best virtual race director ever. I didn’t have very high expectations going into this race for several reasons. First and foremost, I had just completed a full marathon 7 days ago, and according to so-called experts, running a race less than two weeks out is a definite no-no. Also, I was less than 24 hours removed from a long-ish run with the New York Road Runners and my Flyer teammates yesterday for Summer Streets. Furthermore, I haven’t even ran faster than 7:40 min/mile or longer than 6 miles since San Francisco. But being that this was a great occasion for a run, and the fact that my brother was home from college and was inspired to run 1 of those miles with me, I went ahead with it anyway.

I’ll skip the race details because realistically, it kinda sucked. We went out too late, it became too hot, I lacked motivation to run after 4 miles, and I labored to keep my pace after going out too fast in the first mile way too fast…yada, yada, yada. Still, I’m glad I went out there and got my miles in, so that afterwards I felt absolutely no guilt in just laying around the sofa all afternoon and watching our athletes compete for Olympic goal. Go U.S.A. (Oh, and go Nancy, for organizing this race!)

Oh, yeah, by the way, my unofficial official time for 8 miles was 0:54:26, which equates to 6:48 min/mile. Again, not my best effort, but it’ll have to do for this day! Hope everyone else had a good race and a good time. Can't wait to read all the race reports!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Race Report from the 2008 San Francisco Marathon

The Start

Although SFM08 was not my first marathon (actually my fourth overall), it was nevertheless a celebration of multiple ‘firsts’ for me. For starters, it was my first destination marathon. I decided on this marathon a year ago when I saw that it would give me an excuse to visit my second most favorite city in the continental United States (after my hometown of course!) Secondly, it was the first marathon I’ve ever run on my birthday. I thought it was the ultimate birthday present I could ever give myself. It was also my first summer marathon as well as my first marathon that started before daybreak.

Quite naturally then, I was full of nervous energy as I anxiously awaited the start of my 26.2 mile journey through the streets and bridges of San Francisco. Because I had given 3:05 as a predicted finishing time for the course, I was starting my race from Wave 2, or just behind the elites. I found the 3:00 and 3:15 pace groups and scooted into the crowd between them.

It was dreary and dark, with temps in the 50s when the marathon officially began for me at 5:32AM. Aside from the giant clock telling time on top of the Ferry Terminal Building, it was impossible to tell whether dawn was about to break over the horizon or whether we were slipping further into the night. Ahead and on both sides, the streets were as quiet and desolate as it is back home on a cold winter’s morning in December. Everyone around me seemed to be struck by the surrealism as we crossed the start line. In contrast to the pomp and circumstance that I was used to at the beginning of every one of my other marathons, the atmosphere surrounding SFM08 was rather quiet and subdued. There weren’t thousands of spectators packed liked sardines lining the sides of the road. There wasn’t a ten-piece orchestra serenading us runners as we unleashed ourselves onto the town. Heck, the Star-Spangled Banner wasn’t even included as part of the pre-race festivities. I would have been disappointed if I wasn’t already humming a birthday song to myself, so excited and ready to have fun.

The Early Miles (1-5)

The first few miles along the Embarcadero were straight and flat. I used the opportunity to establish an easy and comfortable pace for myself. Even before starting, I had planned to run this section as a warmup for the longer and tougher middle miles that would come up later in the race. Indeed, mile 1 for me clocked in at 7:18, which was slightly slower than what I had anticipated running. I shed off my throw-away cotton long sleeve (it was quite chilly at the start) and sped up a bit in the second mile to recover some of my speed (6:52). Making my way around Fisherman’s Wharf and onto Fort Mason, I was feeling happy, running strong, and keeping what I felt was a fast but comfortable pace, when suddenly I heard a loud synchrony of footsteps coming up from behind me. I turned around and saw the 3:10 pace group moving up closer and closer towards me. I checked my Garmin, confirmed that I was still maintaining a 6:56 pace, and sped up ever so slightly to keep ahead of the 3:10 runners. Why, oh why, is the 3:10 pace group running so fast and pushing my pace? Don’t they know a 3:10 marathon averages to 7:15 min/miles? What is this sub 7:00-min pace business? Someone should tell those guys that there are hills, massive hills coming up. Don’t burn your legs out so early on in the course. I thought to myself as I made the little hill climb onto Marina Park and down into the Marina District. Passing the mile 3 marker at 6:58, I again heard footsteps from the 3:10 getting louder behind me. WTF? I increased my leg turnover ever so slightly to keep my distance. Up ahead I begin to make out the Golden Gate Bridge in all its majestic splendor arising out of the dull misty fog and I get excited.

It is starting to get brighter now as I make my way out of the marina and on to Crosby Field. I am still moving fast to keep the 3:10 runners at bay. But as I see the bridge get closer and closer, I start to worry that I may not be able to hold this blistering pace for very much longer. Mile 4 clocked in at 6:50, my fastest mile pace so far, yet for some reason, I was not able to shake the large group of 3:10 runners nipping at my heels. At mile 5, I make the executive decision to slow down and allow myself to first blend in, then run behind this pace group. I figured that if they were meant to run 3:10 like they were supposed to, I will catch up to them later on in the race. It just wasn’t worth it for me to burn out so early in the race just to keep up with their intense pace. The mile 5 marker arrived (6:57) just as I approached the foot of the long steep incline that would carry me up and onto the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was careful not to get caught up in the anticipation of our arrival at the bridge and slowed down significantly to make the climb as effortless as possible. Muttering to myself, but almost at a decibel level loud enough to be heard, I repeated the mantra “I eat hills for breakfast!” over and over as I slowly make the trek uphill.

The Bridge Miles (6-10)

After cresting the hill and making a sharp right, I found myself at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. To be honest, I had been looking forward to this part of the race since the start. I’d figured that I’d get here at around 6:30am which meant that I should be just in time to experience a spectacular sunrise on the bridge. Unfortunately, my plan was foiled when daybreak brought nothing more than an overcast haze across the region, preventing any of us on the bridge from seeing more than 50 feet to either side. Left without the inspiration of a spectacular view, I turned the focus back to my running and quickened my pace somewhat. Because the course involved a quick out and back over the bridge, I was able to catch a glimpse of the frontrunners as they made their way back into the city. By the time I reached the far end of the bridge, I once again saw the 3:10 pace team running about a quarter mile ahead of me. In my mind, I thought they were much farther ahead than they actually were. I made a quick turn at the turnaround and resumed my pace, which had been slowly increasing by about a second or two per mile over the bridge. Two miles later, in the middle of mile 10, I finally caught back up to the 3:10 pace team and left them behind. Even though I knew I was still way behind my intended pace, it felt great to have lost and regained my position back ahead of the 3:10 runners. My pace throughout the entirety of the bridge ranged between 6:46-7:09.

The Middle Miles (11-13)

Although some would call the rolling bridge miles the toughest of the course, I knew from studying the elevation maps that it served only as an appetizer for the steady diet of steep and unforgiving hills up ahead. After a quick descent off the bridge, the course leads to a series of steady climbs, each about a quarter mile as we make our way over to Golden Gate Park. The 3:10 runners were slowing down and taking their time to gingerly run up the hill, so I took the opportunity to build a little separation between us. The crowd was sparse in this part of town. Aside from some bikers directing traffic and the impromptu water stations (with cups too small!) every couple of miles, it felt more like a long training run with friends than an actual marathon. Signages were few and far between as well, which made my usual exercise of reverse spectating during a race somewhat dull and uninteresting.

After the long and strenuous upward climb to the 10.5 mile point, we were treated to a long downhill stretch of road which was as steep as it was windy. I ran down the road as fast as I could, daring my legs to surrender completely to the forces of gravity. It felt cool to sprint down the side of the hill even if I had flashbacks of when I broken my collarbone on the side of a mountain with a similar grade during last winter. I paused to take in some water and Cytomax from a water station at the end of the downhill segment as I strategize my game plan for the next uphill portion of the race. Because of the multiple changes in elevation, my pace through these 3 miles fluctuated erratically from a low of 6:34 pace for mile 11 to a high of 7:14 for mile 12.

The Park Miles (14-19)

I had mixed feelings when I finally entered the park and crossed the half-marathon checkpoint at 1:33:19. On the one hand, I was happy that I was done with the tough miles (or so I thought at the time). On the other, I was extremely disappointed with my time for the half, which was the slowest I’d ever been at the halfway point of a marathon. Off to the side, but still visible to me, the half-marathoners who had been running with us since the beginning, were finishing their races and receiving their medals. Lucky them. Although I was still feeling relatively strong at this point of the race mostly because I had been running so conservatively up to this point, I felt very unmotivated to finish the rest of the race. All of a sudden, I asked myself, what am I doing here? The weather sucks (Overcast, cool, and damp for some reason didn’t seem so enjoyable to me at the time.) The scenery was so much less than spectacular. It’s way too early. There’s practically no crowd…because everyone’s celebrating with the half-marathoners and no one’s even out here cheering for us marathoners. Would anyone even know or care if I just casually slipped off the course and disappeared? Needless to say, my pity party of one made the remaining 13.1 miles seem like a hundred. Luckily, I remembered my list of 26.2 reasons why I was running the marathon, and made myself list and recite every single item while I battled through the rolling hills of Golden Gate Park. Once in a while, when I was within earshot of an unsuspecting runner, I’d catch myself thinking and talking aloud. I got more curious sideway glances than I care to remember during this exercise, but at least it served its purpose, as I was able to regain my confidence and focus by the time I exited the park. Although I had planned on running a negative split and a fast time through the park, my pace throughout these six miles only ranged between 7:12-7:28. Still, I considered it a victory just to have battled through the doldrums.

The Street Miles (20-23)

After battling through six miles in Golden Gate Park, which had more rolling hills than I remembered from the course elevation profile, I finally made it onto the Haight, one of the most famous neighborhoods in all of San Francisco. I had heard about this part of town from a cousin of mine who once led me on a tour of these parts. This area, which is subdivided into the upper and lower districts, was made famous during the hippie movement of the 1960s when large crowds of people would gather around these streets for scheduled and impromptu psychedelic rock performances and illicit drug parties. Today, remnants of these wild times can be seen in the stores and shops that line theses streets. I was really looking forward to running and visiting this part of town for its rich history and resemblance to Greenwich Village or so I’ve been told. Unfortunately, by the time I made it to this part of the marathon course, most of what I had come to see were not there. Shops were closed, people were home. Nothing I saw that morning resembled what I imagined I’d see. (Of course, what else would normal people be doing at 9AM on Sunday morning?) All that were left were some Harley Davidson biker guys looking really out of place, urging us runners to run faster and harder.

Around this time was also when the course took a dramatic and drastic turn, one that I hadn’t anticipated from the course elevation maps. The gradual and rolling hills that I had been running on for much of the way over suddenly gave way to the steep and mountainous streets that San Francisco was famous for. Not only were there a series of these backbreaking climbs mile after mile, but their topographical configuration was such that they seem to all have a long mild uphill segment followed by a short and steep downhill portion. The down slope in some of these streets was so dramatic that I felt as if I were running down the side of a mountain. I was so terrified that I’d trip, fall and tumble all the way down the street that it took all my strength and energy just to keep my balance. As a result, I wasn’t able to speed up on these parts like I had wanted. Besides, thirst and fatigue were beginning to set in, and it was all I could manage just to keep running at a steady pace. My time for these miles slowed from 7:16 for mile 20 to 7:31 for mile 23.

The Last Miles (24-26.2)

I felt extremely tired and fatigued during these last miles. The lack of nothing but old factories and warehouses to look at did not help matters either. I remember having imaginary conversations with friends and families as I forced myself to labor through these parts. But even as I got closer and closer to the end, I could feel myself moving slower and slower. At the final water stop at mile 25, I stopped to take an extra cup of water and Cytomax. As I did, I saw the 3:10 pacer and his team (remember them?) passed by in front of me. Oh, they are so annoying! Until that point, I hadn’t realized that I had been so off my pace. In that single visual, I saw my faint aspirations of setting a PR vanish before my very eyes. It was all I could do to drop my cup and take off for a dead sprint toward the finish line. As I counted down the tenths of miles I had left to go, I concentrated on the fact that although I didn’t get close to 3:00 or 3:05, and this race wasn’t going to be a PR for me, I did beat the 3:10 pace team and re-qualified for Boston.

As I took the final turn for the last 0.2 and the finish line, I suddenly remembered that it was my birthday, and I was happy. I also remembered the message that Bart Yasso, the larger-than-life race director for Runner’s World, had left for me a day ago at the marathon expo when he graciously spoke and autographed a book for me. He told me to always remember that running a marathon isn’t so much about how fast you finish, but the experiences you had while running it. How true! How true! Happy 33rd birthday to me!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Post Marathon Update

Hi All. No, I’m not dead. Just sore, real sore…and busy. I’m just poking my head in here to thank everyone for their congratulations and well wishes. I’m not sure I’m deserving of such high praises since I feel as if I could’ve done so much better...but then again, I’m a runner just like you all, so I always feel like there is room for improvement. Still, I just want to express my appreciation for all the support.

Anyway, I know everyone is waiting for the race report to end all race reports. It is forthcoming. My computer and internet decided to die on me on my first night back so it’s taken me a while to recapture my thoughts and experiences. It should be done within the next couple of days though, I'm hoping...

As far as running goes, I did try to get back on the road again this week…once on Monday and again yesterday (Wednesday). I was sore and tired, but wanted to get in some slow miles to help with the lactic acid clearance. Let me tell you, it was quite an experience sweating and sucking air just to keep a 10:00 pace for two miles on my first post marathon day. Yesterday was slightly better, as I was able to keep 8:00 pace for four miles. I received some high fives while running in the park even though I was embarrassed by my slow speed and kept hidden on the bridal path as much as I could.

I’m hoping to finish my SFM race report and regain some semblance of speed for Nancy’s Virtual 8 Miler this weekend. In the spirit of the Olympics, and because Nancy’s such an awesome virtual race director, everyone should sign up and run this race. No fees, you get to run wherever you want, and she promises some running goodies for lucky participants…seriously, what more could you want?

FYI, if you absolutely can’t wait and are on pins and needles waiting for my race report, here’s two awesome reviews of the San Francisco Marathon experience, compliments of Laura and aron, to hold you over. As an aside, if their versions of what when down this weekend end up better than mine, please DON’T tell me about it...

I already know.

See you all on race day (or before, if my rambling race report ever gets done…)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

SFM Results: In Case You Were Wondering...

2008 San Francisco Marathon Race Result

Bib - #2155
Name - The Laminator
Finishing Time – 3:09:08 (7:13 pace)
Place Overall – 100 out of 4354
Place Men – 98 out of 2873
Male (Age 30-34) – 21 out of 466

Full race report to follow in the next few days. Hill lovers beware!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Personal Motivations for SFM

26.2 Reasons Why I’m Running The San Francisco Marathon

  1. Because I love to run and want to share that passion with several thousand of my favorite fans, oops, I mean friends!
  2. Because I’ve never done a marathon so far away from home before.
  3. Because I’m not afraid of goofy speed bumps, even if they are bigger than normal
  4. Because I run best when my brain is not yet functioning at 5:30AM and I’m on automatic pilot.
  5. Because I love running in San Francisco.
  6. Because I dig the feeling of being alone…in a pack…of people who can relate to my every emotion.
  7. Because it’s my birthday and I want to throw the biggest birthday party I’ve ever had.
  8. Because it’s my birthday, but no one who’s running will know it but me.
  9. Because I love NYC too, but can’t stand the heat and humidity during the summer.
  10. Because I can’t wait to say “Oh yeah, while you were sleeping, I ran a marathon this morning.”
  11. Because I want to meet and greet some running friends.
  12. Because I’m too terrified to run across the Golden Gate Bridge by myself ever again (after my last misadventure there).
  13. Because to watch the sunrise while running a marathon is magical beyond belief
  14. Because three hours and change is a long time to reflect on the past and think about the future.
  15. Because I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be exhausted, but truly happy.
  16. Because my battle is not with a bandanna, but with myself.
  17. Because I want to emulate the spirit of the athletes who will be competing in the Beijing Olympics in 5 days.
  18. Because I’ve trained long and hard for this and it’s time to claim the prize.
  19. Because I want to get to the after-party as soon as possible. (Wait, there is an after-party, isn’t there?)
  20. For my bloggy friends who’ve supported and inspired me so much the past year.
  21. For my real life friends and relatives who are proud of me even though at times I wonder if they know exactly what they’re proud of.
  22. For my Flyer teammates who I’m grateful to have gotten to know even if there’s still heavy contention between us on the definition of ‘fast’
  23. For my parents who will run miles with me even as they complain about what it’ll do to my knees…someday.
  24. For my brother, who doesn’t consider himself a runner, but is trying ever so hard to run a sub 7:30 mile time.
  25. For my sister who I know is proud of me for all I’ve done with my running.
  26. For myself, because yeah, I’m a runner, and THIS is what I do best.
26.2 Because I can’t wait to be done!
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