Friday, October 31, 2008

Dedications for The 2008 New York City Marathon

It’s been my tradition that each year in preparation for running the New York City Marathon, I try to come up with something to occupy my mind for each mile of the marathon course. Just in case the music and crowds don’t do it for me at that particular moment in the race. For my first one, I thought about 26 places and name that inspire me to run. The following year, I thought about 26 reasons that I was running the marathon, each beginning with that mile’s letter of the alphabet. This year, I think I’ve decided to make “People” the focus of my mental exercise during the marathon.

Although the choice may sound rather arbitrary, there’s actually a perfectly reasonable explanation for this selection. At the beginning of the running year, as I was still euphoric over my recently acquired BQ marathoner status, I was asked by a friend of mine, “Why do you have this almost religious fervor to run long distances at such blazing speeds? Is there something in your past that’s driving you to run so fast? If there’s some traumatizing event or cause that fuels your desire to run away as quick as possible, maybe it’ll be more therapeutic for you to find the root cause and deal with it rather than run miles and miles as a form of denial?”

For a while, I was shocked by his suggestion and was downright angry that he was using my passion for running against me. And for a long time, I really didn’t know how to respond. There was a part, albeit a small part, that wondered if he was right in his assessment. Was I running fast only because there was people and places and bad memories that I’m trying to get away from? It weighed heavily on my mind for a long time this year.

But during my birthday this year, somewhere in the late miles of the San Francisco Marathon at a time when I felt most vulnerable because of the hilly terrain, lack of crowd support and crampy legs, I found my answer. I realized that over the past year, because of running, I made so many friends and became acquainted with so many great people that I would never have known otherwise. Moreover, even among my family and old friends I’d known all my life, I’d grown closer to them because of this newfound passion. In essence, running has made me closer to people, rather than draw me away as my friend had suggested. This new revelation, discovered at the most unlikeliest of places, gave me the impetus to have a tremendously successful summer season of running and racing.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m dedicating this race to 26 people and groups of people that have helped make me the runner that I am today, and will think of them especially during this race.

People For Whom I’m Running and Dedicating This Race

  1. For my cousin JK, who thinks it’s pretty cool that I run
  2. For my friend RB, who was crazy enough to follow me on a second five borough tour after I coached him and gave him PFS the first time around
  3. For my cousin JY, who just had a baby boy
  4. For my friend EW, who’ve been head cheerleader since my very first NYCM
  5. For uncle Ben because he had 80% blockage in one of his coronary arteries and went through a double angioplasty in flying colors last week
  6. For my friend KC, who invited me half way around the world to show me the time of my life
  7. For my Flyer friend BS, who I secretly admire for being my real-life example of what a cancer survivor is capable of.
  8. For my mom who loves reading my blog even if she doesn’t understand half of what I’m talking about
  9. For my long distance Hawaiian friend, Frayed Laces, who inspires me everyday with her courage, speed and gutsiness
  10. For grandma who doesn’t understand why I have to run in order to be healthy and sane
  11. For my new friend JS, who admires my speed, even when I don’t think I’m worthy of such high praise
  12. For my diabetic patients, who can be so universally frustrating yet intermittently rewarding to deal with (not so unlike a marathon)
  13. For my brother, who thinks sub 3 hours will be like Kenyan speed
  14. For my Flyer friend BH, who is sitting this one out, but constantly challenges me without saying a word because he has more in common with me than even he knows.
  15. For my friend SS, who’s one of my oldest friends and will be making a kick-ass sign for me at mile 18
  16. For my cousin JS, who showed me great hospitality and even ran with me while I was out in San Fran
  17. For the Flyer bloggers nyflygirl and runner26 who share with me a kindred spirit where running and blogging go hand-in-hand
  18. For my dad who isn’t so supportive of my running…but then again he’s not so unsupportive either
  19. For all the patients to whom I’ve had the privilege of being called their doctor.
  20. For my friend MA, who started me on this journey way back when and is finally running together with me in this marathon
  21. For my blogger friends across the river, across state lines, and across the big pond, who keep me entertained, motivated, and excited to run each and every day
  22. For the rest of the Flyers who celebrate my victories even when I’ve only won against my former self
  23. For friends and family far away who can’t be with me this day but are always in my thoughts.
  24. For my sister with whom I share a special conversation at mile 24 of every single marathon
  25. For race directors, volunteers, and all those who’ll come out to support and cheer like mad for us runners
  26. For myself because once upon a time I was picked last in a relay race and was referred to as a non-athlete
As always, thank you all for your encouragement and well wishes. Look forward to a long and detailed, likely multi-part, race report which will incorporate quotes from the book I'm reading (listed on right sidebar).

For those who'd like to track me during the race, you can do so here. My bib number is #7618. (I only ask that you restrain from flaming me if I happen to fall off my pace!) Thanks again everyone and I'll see you on the opposite side of the finish line.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Times and Grades for NYCM

Alright folks, admit it. You’ve been waiting a long time for this. Why else would you be lurking here stalking my every step, my every sentiment, my every word? I seriously doubt my frivolous thoughts and childlike whines about a certain Sunday race are what’s keeping all of you entertained. But although I know exactly what you’re all about, I’m going to give in and talk about it anyways because I haven’t stopped thinking about it today and I need to jot it down somewhere before I forget.

So here they are…the moment of truth…ladies and gentleman, my time goals for the 2008 New York City Marathon (yes, I picked 5 instead of 3 because NYC has 5 boroughs, not 3…)

Goal 1: Anything less than 3:00
Average Pace: Faster than 6:52
Expectation: Totally stupendous but probably ridiculous
Probability of Success: 10%
Grade: A+++

Goal 2:
3:00:00 – 3:02:59
Average Pace: 6:52 – 6:59 min/mi
Expectation: A bit of a reach
Probability of Success: 35%
Grade: A+

Goal 3:
3:03:00 – 3:04:59
Average Pace: 6:59 – 7:03 min/mi
Expectation: More realistic
Probability of Success: 50%
Grade: A

Goal 4:
3:05:00 – 3:08:16
Average Pace: 7:03 - 7:11 min/mi
Expectation: Will be satisfied with PR
Probability of Success: 70%
Grade: A-

Goal 5:
3:08:16 – 3:10:59
Average Pace: 7:11 – 7:15 min/mi
Expectation: Settling for the BQ
Probability of Success: 85%
Grade: B+

Scenario 6:
Average Pace: Slower than 7:15 min/mi
Expectation: What expectation…this would be a disaster
Grade: B…but seriously this is an F for me

What do you all think? What grade will I achieve on Sunday? Let me hear your projections in the comments. (And please be realistic; don’t cast your ballot for sub-3’s unless you expect me to start out pacing that way!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why I’m Nervous for NYCM

Since making my personal declaration last Sunday that I will indeed be running the New York City Marathon this weekend, I’ve been asked a lot of questions by runners and nonrunners, family and friends, and everyone else in between about the upcoming race. When are you starting? What’s the weather going to be like? What are you wearing? Are you running a sub-3:05 or sub-3:00? Should I wait for you on the east side of 1st Avenue or the west side? Do you want me to carry a sign or bring along some food? Is food enough or would you like a change of clothes…or socks…if it rains? Just questions upon questions, most of which I cannot answer and don’t want to think about, at least not now. Usually, when faced with such questions, I smile, thank the person for being so concerned (or at least feigning interest), and slip off in the opposite direction. However, there is one question I’ve been asked multiple times in the last couple of days by several people whose answer eludes me but yet I cannot stop thinking about. “Laminator, you’ve run marathons before and this particular one a couple of times. This race shouldn’t be so hard for you. Why are you so nervous?”

Maybe it’s because of the pressure and expectation to perform close to what my 1:25 half-marathon would have predicted. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of running with an injury, no matter how minor it might seem. Or maybe it’s the complicated weather pattern forecasted for this race which has me worried about the start. (I am a notoriously slow starter in the cold.) The truth is, I’m not exactly sure why. It just is. I’m just nervous because this race is important to me. For this one day once a year, I get to show my friends, my family, and my hometown fans what exactly I do best. By seeing me run, they may perhaps understand my motivation for skipping out on open bar happy hours, late night movies, and weekend family gatherings. For me, I want to show that that was all “worth it” in the end. For them, I do not want to “mess up”. Even if inherently I know that my exact time of finish is not so important to these spectators, it is important to me as a sign that I didn’t just run the marathon, but ran it well. I believe that is what Steve PreFontaine was talking about when he said “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Is it so wrong to want to share your gift in front of all my family, friends and colleagues in the world’s greatest stage? I would think not.

An early best wishes for all those who will be showing off their “gifts” to the city with me on marathon Sunday. I, for one, can hardly wait.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend Potpourri
The Last Long Run, Volunteering, and Other Fun Stuff

The running gods must have read my letter and taken pity on me as they gave me more than enough reasons to think I can and should run this marathon. Allow me to recount just some of the highlights from my fun, exhausting, but thrilling last Sunday before race day.

  • I volunteered today. Yep, as part of the NYRR requirement for entry into the 2009 New York City Marathon, I volunteered to be a Festival Area Marshall for the Poland Springs Marathon Kickoff 5M Race in Central Park this morning. Although the time requirement forced me to be out of bed at an insanely early hour (5AM), and my job assignment (to stand on the East Side Drive and direct runners who are lost/stranded over to the West Side Drive where the race start and registration tables were) wasn’t all that exciting on paper, I actually had a lot of fun performing my duties. First, I purposely positioned myself near one of the park entrances. Then I proceeded to greet all the runners with a smile and a “howdy good morning” as they entered the park. Weather-wise, it was a perfect race morning so I figured each of them deserved a nice strong greeting to take their minds out of their slumber and prepare mentally for a good race. I got a kick from seeing how uncomfortable some New Yorkers get when faced with a “good morning” from a total stranger. They would look at me as if I was out of my mind before smiling sheepishly or muttering something incoherently as they saunter out of sight. No matter. I was having so much fun saying my “good mornings” and shouting words of encouragement to runners, walkers, and pet and baby owners before the race that I really didn’t much care if my sentiments were reciprocated. What was interesting to me though was that for the two hours I was on duty, I got more questions about the upcoming marathon next week than about the logistics for the race happening that morning. What does that say about the focus of running community during this time of year?

  • I ran today. After I finished greeting, congratulating and directing all my patrons to the correct area of the park, I quickly went home, changed my attire, and took my brand new Asics GT 2140 out for a spin. Although I had scheduled 8-10 miles for today, I ended up running 10.6 easy miles at a somewhat fast pace. I picked a route that was familiar to me but boasted some challenging hills to discover how my foot would feel at different paces and in different terrain. The verdict? The pain was definitely noticeable but did not intensify during the later portions of the run. All-in-all, I was quite happy to just be out there with other last long run participants enjoying some fun in the sun.

  • I met some runners today. During my volunteering gig, many out-of-towners came over to talk to me about the race that day and the marathon next week. In the two hours that I was standing and greeting runners entering the park, I met runners from more than ten different countries. Some only wanted to know where it starts and where it ends. Others wanted actual training advice that would help them in the last seven days. It was awesome to speak to so many international runners who came specifically to run in the marathon because it made an impression on me as to the kind of prestige and reverence foreigners have for this 26.2 mile race happening in my own backyard. Later on, during my own 10 mile run, I also ran into a special Flyer blogger friend who, just like me, is dealing with her own injuries as she prepares to run NYCM next week. Coincidence? I think not.

  • I bought a book today. It’s called A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins. For those who don’t know, this is a book that chronicles the 2007 New York City Marathon through each of the miles and through the eyes of amateurs and elites alike. It came highly recommended by several of my running friends and I was in need of genuine inspiration for the race next week, so I picked it up. I’m about a third of the way through the book and am enjoying every line. I am definitely going to be on the look out for all the famous landmarks and famous people out on the course as I run on Sunday. I’m hoping I’ll remember enough of their back stories as I run to make this a truly memorable experience.

  • I was inspired today. Between the volunteering, my running, the runners I met, the great weather, and my new reading material, I’m more inspired than ever to run this race. So what if I’m dealing with a little pain? So what if I might not break 3:00, 3:05, or even P.R.? There’s a lot of people, runners and non-runners alike, who’ve come very long and very far to be there with me on Sunday so I should feel grateful that I even have the opportunity to participate in this very special race. I’m hoping that I can remember how fortunate I am to be able to run this marathon as I go through the final week of preparation.
  • I declared my intentions today. Not in a college application sort of way, but in a “I’m gonna run this marathon!” sort of way. In my case, the rite of passage was RSVP-ing for two pre-marathon pasta party and making arrangements for visiting the expo with friends on Friday. I finally think I can be convinced that I am truly ready to run this thing come Sunday. After today, they’ll be no turning back for me. All those who think there’ll be an extra open spot in my blue corral of Wave 1 will be disappointed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Letter to the Running Gods

Dear Sirs (or Madaams),

Are you trying to get my attention? Are you trying to convince me that running the New York City Marathon next week may not be such a great idea for me? Or are you sending me through the gauntlet to test my will and fortitude before you give me your blessings for a good race on Sunday? Hmmm…how will I know?

To say I’ve had a tough taper week would be an understatement. First there was the hospital workload, which has been more intense and exhausting than I’ve ever remembered. Then there was the sudden cold temperatures which has thwarted my efforts from even getting a run in during the mornings (I am deathly afraid of running in cold temperatures!). Oh yeah, there is the issue of pain at the bottom of my right foot, which although isn’t excruciating anymore, is still quite mysterious in its onset and disappearance during my runs this week. And as if that weren’t enough to worry me, I banged my left kneecap hard against some metal theaters seats when I went to the movies last night. Now it’s bruised, a bit swollen, and somewhat noticeable to those around me. Yikes! I thought about going outside for a short purgatory run to flush out the negativity and retest the engine, but of course, it’s raining and wet outside, so it’s a no go for that. All I’m left with is writing you this letter to help me decide whether this marathon gig really was meant to be for me.

Can you please help me figure it all out? Can you send me an ephemeral sign of some sort or maybe one of your running angel messengers because I’m totally confused. Was it all not just yesterday when you woke me up and got me out the door before the sun did and convinced me to run my 5 mile tempo run at a blistering 6:19 min/mi even as I was doubting my abilities to run in the cold? I felt so reinvigorated by that run when I found out afterwards that it was the fastest Central Park loop I’d ever run in training. And did you not guide my hand in picking the perfect marathon shoes (blazer blue Asics GT-2140) at the running store afterwards? Both the salesman and my friend who I met on the street afterwards said it looked so perfect for me. I had thought it was a sign from you that everything was starting to come together. Now, after injure myself further and watching the raindrops pitter patter against the same pavement that I'm supposed to be running on, I'm not so sure anymore.

So if you really do want me not to run, I only ask that you deliver your sentence as swiftly as possible. There’s plenty of pre-marathon festivities planned for this week and I’d hate to waste my time on those if I’m not lining up at the start in Staten Island on Sunday. Thanks so much in advance. And even if it doesn’t work out for me, I hope you continue to bless those who will be running and give them quick feet and good running weather all the way through the five boroughs.



P.S. If I don’t hear from anyone who claims to be a running god, or in lieu of one, is it safe to assume that it’s okay for me to run? Cool. Just checking.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tapering? Hardly.

On the subway ride home after another busy work day at the hospital, I finally got a chance to think about my upcoming marathon. To be honest, although it may sound as if I’m crazy, I am really glad that I’ve gotten a chance to rest and relax without having to worry about getting my runs in this week. (Case in point…I can’t believe it’s already Thursday and I’ve gotten exactly just one run in this week!)

It’s weird because on the one hand, I’m worried that I’m messing up my tapering and may have lost all the speed and stamina I’ve worked so hard for all summer. Yet on the other hand, I feel like I’m doing a good job allowing my body to rest and my injuries to heal as much as possible. I keep asking myself, am I being lazy or just being smart. What’d you all think?

Tomorrow morning though, I’m due for a speedy tempo run which I’m excited about. It’ll be a test to see if my plantar fasciitis has healed as much as I think it has. I’ve tried simulating running motions in my apartment all week and there hasn’t been any pain, so I’m optimistic. If it all goes well, I’m planning just an 8-10 mile long run this weekend as the final test. I still haven’t gotten the new shoes that I’ve promised myself since last weekend so I’ve got to go by the running store to pick those up tomorrow before my long run.

Gosh, I feel so unprepared for this marathon. But then again, maybe I'm the smart one.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Marathon Training Update - Week 7

Not a whole lot of training this week. There’s just a bunch of recovery and slow runs interspersed around one longer speed session. Marathon training has officially given way to marathon tapering. The big day for me is now les than two weeks away. Yikes. And please, please, please. No more 3 hour marathon talk. As if running in a crowd of 37,000+ in my hometown in front of family and friends, co-workers and neighbors, in a course that incorporates five boroughs, five bridges and 26.2 miles of tough and unrelenting ascents and descents wasn’t enough pressure for me to deal with.

Week #7 (10/13-10/19)

What I Planned:
Recovery Run: 5 miles at recovery pace
Tempo Run: 9 total miles with 7 miles at 6:35 min/mi pace
General Aerobic Run: 5 miles at 7:10 min/mi pace
Weekend Long Run: 16 miles at long run pace
Recovery Run: 5 miles at recovery pace
Total week 7 distance: 40 miles

What I Ran:
Recovery Run: 5.2 miles at 7:52 min/mi pace
Tempo Run: 9.2 total miles with 7.1 miles at 6:30 min/mi pace
General Aerobic Run: 5.0 miles at 7:01 min/mi pace
Weekend Long Run: 16.3 miles at 7:30 min/mi pace
Recovery Run: skipped due to injury
Total week 7 distance: 35.7 miles; avg pace – 7:17 min/mi

How I Ran:
After racing the Staten Island Half, I ran a slow easy run at the beginning of the week for recovery. I then gave myself the Herculean task of running a super fast tempo run, which I was able to complete with a strong finishing kick. I did the general aerobic run scheduled the next day somewhat faster than I wanted to but still finished hitting my heart rate target range. As I mentioned in the last post, the long run was a tough battle from the get-go and both sapped a bit of energy from me as well as gave me a new injury to worry about. Since my foot was still bothering me somewhat the next day, I decided to ditch my Sunday recovery run in favor of resting. After all, by this point, all the training that needed to get done have already been done and we’re all just resting our sore bodies as best we can, waiting anxiously for the big day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend Potpourri (NYCM Edition)

On this next-to-last weekend before the big dance, here’s a bunch of NYCM-related tidbits to keep you all informed and entertained.

  • If you’re one of the lucky ones that got a green start at this year’s race, rumor has it that you can get peed on if you run too close to the edge when you’re under the bridge. Of course, as far as I know, no marathon runner has ever come forth in the history of the race claiming to be a victim of this excretory humiliation so as far as I’m concerned, it’s all just an urban legend, just like the one where a man is supposedly walking down 5th Avenue and is struck and killed by a penny thrown down from the observation deck of the Empire State Building [link] or the one about gator colonies running rampant in the NYC sewer system [link]. Yeah, us New Yorkers are dense like that.

  • I’ve been asked by no less than five people this week if I’m going to break 3 hours at this year’s marathon. What? If I hadn’t known better I would’ve suggested that they all get an EEG because obviously something in their prefrontal cortex isn’t connecting right with their Broca’s area. Yes, I know that based on my 1:25:44 at last week’s Staten Island Half, most of the well-known race calculators (Runners World – 2:58:45; Marathonguide – 2:59:33; McMillian – 3:00:49; Running Times – 3:02:12) predict that I will be crossing the finish line right around the 3 hour mark, but all of them fail to factor in the fact that a) I’m notoriously bad at pacing myself in a marathon, b) I don’t run negative splits or even even splits and c) I don’t train nearly as hard as a 3-hour marathon runner ought to. Most runners I know who has broken that magical time barrier puts in an excess of 50 miles a week (and over 70 miles during their peak). I, on the other hand, average no more than 38 miles during my training cycle and max out at no more than 48 miles. Not to mention that NYC is a notoriously challenging course, full of bridges and hills at the most inopportune places. Yeah, so sorry to disappoint my fans, and I know there are many out there, but three hours isn’t really in the works for me…at least not this year. In my opinion, race calculators should incorporate both training intensity, course difficulty and maybe even weather conditions to increase the accuracy of their predictions. I’m sure some running guru with an advanced degree in mathematics can come up with a formula to help us out with that. Get on it!

  • I had a lousy last long run yesterday. Don’t know why. I hydrated well, slept well, ran my usual 2-bridges west side course that I was familiar with, but for some reason, had to really struggle just to finish 16 miles at 7:30 min/mi pace. For comparison, I raced 13 miles the previous week at 6:32 min/mi pace. I think the cold weather and strong winds really threw me out of sorts as I was never able to get my breathing in sync with my running. Towards the last couple of miles in Central Park, I even started to develop some pain in the bottom of my right feet. Plantar fasciitis. How irritating! I rested, iced, and elevated afterwards, but still ended up walking the rest of the day with a noticeable limp.

  • My first reaction after I ate, showered, and rested from my humbling run was that I should get a new pair of shoes just in case they were the culprit of my latest injury. So, I did something which I had never done before…I asked my guy friend to go shoe shopping with me. It didn’t occur to me until after the phone conversation ended how funny and ridiculous that would've sounded if it weren’t for the fact that a) we were going running shoe shopping, b) he was what I’d call a shoe nut (C’mon the guy bought a pair of the Limited Edition Asics NYCM Gel Kayano 15s the day it came out!), and c) I was desperate. Still, I can’t believe I called up another guy for company on a shopping trip. The ironic thing was that after trying out the new GT-2140 and Gel Kayano 15, I decided not to buy anything yet because I was still too sore after my long run to make an accurate assessment, while my friend ended up making yet another shoe purchase. Go figure.

  • My last tidbit is something I’ve been secretly planning for a while now but just haven’t told anyone yet. But since I decided to let the cat out of the bag last night at a friend’s birthday dinner, I guess this is as good a time as any to make an announcement. This December, I’m returning to the scene of an earlier crime, where I got sideswiped by a bus and lived to tell about it [story], and joining some Flyer buddies and a special blogger friend going for her first BQ, to run the Las Vegas Marathon. Eat your hearts out, people. And no, contrary to what you might think, I’m not picking this course because it offers the quickest escape to debauchery after finishing a marathon.

Have a happy, fun, and safe rest of the weekend, everyone.

P.S. Please head on over and congratulate sRod on his amazing finish at the Breakers Marathon yesterday. He finished in 3:50:25 and knocked 19 minutes off his PR. He’s such the Rockstar of the Day! Now if I were so inspired to even knock just 9 minutes off my marathon PR, I’d come in under 3:00 and can join him on the stage. That’d be so cool. Just sayin’.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Long Race Reports and Fast PRs

Kudos to all of you who started and finished my race report on the Staten Island Half Marathon. The verbosity probably look longer to read than actually running the race. (But if you think it was long to read, just imagine how long it took to write…) Yes, for those who are new, I do have a tendency to write extensive race reports. So a word to the wise, the next time you come across another race report of mine, make sure you have some time to kill and a cup of coffee, because you’ll probably be here for a while…

But still, my race report on the S.I. Half was very lengthy even by my own meager standards. Question is, how did I let it get so long? On the one hand, it was completely unintentional, as I spent more than 8 hours over two days writing it even though I originally thought I’d be done by the conclusion of the last football game that afternoon. On the other hand, I think it was subconsciously completely intentional. One of my close RBF’s, Irish Cream, in her comment to me the previous day completely read my mind when she said “I keep wondering if you’re ever going to reach a point where you are so fast it is simply not possible to PR anymore!” The truth is, after about 5 minutes of personal celebration that day, I couldn’t stop obsessing about that exact question the whole way home. On the one hand I was completely delirious from running my best half ever. On the other hand, I couldn’t stop wondering if 1:25:44 really will be my best half ever, forever. I wasn’t sure how that question should be answered at the present time, but just in case this will be the last time I run a half-marathon PR, I wanted to record ever sentiment, every image, every inspiration I drew from my friends and the crowd that day, for posterity’s sake. That’s the real reason why I kept writing and revising that race report long after I didn’t really care to share so much anymore.

In my experience, the length of the race report is generally directly proportional to the importance of the race experience for me, even when sometimes I don’t realize it before it’s written. In that case, I hope I get more opportunity to write long race reports.

Does anyone else dread big PR’s because you’re afraid you’ll never able to run that fast again, or am I just being weird because I’m fearful of my own age and speed?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Faster, Stronger, Better - M.J. Personified:
Race Report from the Staten Island Half Marathon

On the superficial and conscious level, I wanted to approach this race as just another trial run in preparation for the New York City Marathon coming up in a few short weeks. Since these 13.1 miles would serve as the final chapter to the highest mileage week I’ve ever completed in marathon training, I wanted to fool myself into thinking that I would be content with simply putting in the miles at a comfortable pace rather than risk injury by racing the half-marathon, gunning for a PR. Subconsciously however, I knew that I had more reasons to run a stellar race than there were miles on the course. For starters, I had run this course three years ago and at the time had set a distance PR that would last for more than 20 months. Secondly, I was running this race with a whole host of friends, both old and new, including one who was running his first half-marathon ever – which I found to be very inspiring. Thirdly, there were at least two RBFs who would be out running as well and in the off chance they would spot me mid-race, I didn’t want to leave them with a bad first impression. And finally, I badly needed a redemption race after crashing hard at mile 10 in my last PR attempt at this distance two short weeks ago. So, in the end, even as I nonchalantly went about my business preparing for this race as if it’s just another half-marathon on the training schedule, I was secretly very psyched to see how I’d do in this 13.1 mile adventure three weeks out from my goal marathon.

But aside from all these factors contributing to my anticipatory angst about the race, there was one motivating force above all else that would lead me to believe that I would run a stellar race: I was running with number 230 on my race bib. Yes folks, plastered to my chest, as if I were the one chosen among all the runners to honor his legacy, was the ephemeral jersey number of the greatest basketball player that has ever graced the hardwood floor, one Michael Jordan. And although I have already declared my unabashed man-love for my childhood idol (link), and have previously called on his competitive powers to help me vanquish a worthy adversary in a 15k race last winter (link), I couldn’t help but feel as if I was meant to run a special race just because I was wearing his number. After all, isn’t this what we’ve always dreamed of since we were little kids dribbling a basketball in the schoolyard after school? Just for a chance to “Be Like Mike…” After picking up my number a day before my race, I knew the rest of the weekend proceedings would irrevocably be transformed into a pickup basketball game with me as Jordan at the helm.

The Pregame

We arrived at the start of the race with a good half-hour to spare even though my fellow Flyer travel companions (CR, BS, JT) and I decided to take the last possible ferry from Manhattan over to Staten Island on race morning. Despite a strong ocean breeze blowing in from the Hudson as we walked from the ferry terminal to the starting area, everyone was starting to get nervous about the basking sun blazing overhead. I, for one, wasn’t so concerned. Although the forecast called for a high of 74 degrees at noon with a relative humidity of 60% or so, it was going to be barely above 60 degrees at race start and since I figured to finish in roughly an hour-and-half, I would be long done with the race before the sun and heat would become a huge factor.

I ate well, drank well, and had gotten plenty of sleep the night before, so as I surveyed the crowds scurrying like chipmunks to and fro at the starting area, I was full of confidence that I had done the preparatory work to put myself in the best possible position to have a good race. Besides, I was racing with my favorite running shirt with my nickname “Laminator” stenciled in at the back uniform-style and the racing bib baring the uniform number of my favorite sports hero in full display in the front, so how could I go wrong?

The only concern I had that morning was checking on the status of my friend EW, who was not only running his first half-marathon, but in fact his first road race ever. I had done my best to advise him throughout the week to eat, rest, and sleep as much as possible, but must have forgotten something much more obvious as he inexplicably became sick a couple of days before the race! I was somewhat worried that he would have wasted all his training if he wasn’t able to run, so I was very relieved when I finally saw him looking peachy as ever, ready to tackle 13.1. What a trooper! I gave him some last minute pointers to watch his pace, monitor his fluid intake, and have fun before leaving him at his starting corral to stash my sport bag away at the baggage area.

After posing for some photos with long lost friends and exchanging congrats and good lucks with the rest of my Flyer buddies, there was less than ten minutes for me to head over to the start. I moved over to a less crowded area, did some quick leg stretches and striders, and sprinted over to take my place in the starting corral.

The First Quarter (Miles 1-3)

MJ once said, “You can’t win simply by dominating your opponents in the first ten minutes. Instead what you want to do is to establish a tempo, a flow that will carry you through to the finish.” I found myself focusing on his sage advice as the horn sounded signaling the start of the race. Although I was surrounded by bloodthirsting hounds who sought to take advantage of every inch of space I left between me and my competitors, I really didn’t allow myself to be sucked into their aggressive tactics. In my mind, I was only willing to run my race at my own pace. So it really didn’t bother me even as we made the tight left uphill turn when instead of waiting to pass in back of me, a fellow runner used a quick side hop onto the curb to jump right in front of me. My own thought at that instant was “Why are you in such a hurry buddy, we’ve got 13 miles to go!”

The first mile was spent predominantly going uphill over residential streets. Although the spectating crowds were sparsely populated even at the start, their enthusiasm was quite infectious as many of them held up signs that drew some comments even from the frontrunners. Generally, I was too focused on finding oxygen in this early stretch to express my appreciation, I couldn’t help myself from saying thanks to a little girl sitting on her daddy’s shoulders holding up a sign which read “You’re Awesome! We Love You!” For some reason I always get a bit emotional when I come across little reminders during a race that someone who’s watching may actually care that I’m running fast and setting a good example.

A little while after recovering from that emotional catharsis, I crested a tiny hill and found myself arriving at the first mile marker. Although I felt as if I was not running so fast, but just running smoothly and evenly to the rhythm of my own breathing, I was shocked to look down at the Garmin to find that I had clocked a 6:09 for the first mile. Wow, that’s 2 seconds faster than my PR pace for a 4 miler and 31 seconds faster than my half-marathon PR pace! Because I was still breathing comfortably, I fought the urge to slow down considerably but just tried hard to keep pace with those around me.

Mile 2 and mile 3 took us out of the residential section of town and onto a long stretch of gravel road beside some abandoned warehouses and railroad tracks. Although most of the runners would most likely find this stretch somewhat boring, I didn’t mind it as much because it offered me a chance to settle into a steady race pace. The crowd of runners had somewhat separated themselves into different clusters by this point which made it a bit easier to be relaxed even as we’re running fast. When I was able to disassociate my mind from thinking consciously about the racing, I was able to appreciate the specter of the Verranzo-Narrows Bridge off to the left and the ocean breeze whipping the surrounding weeds and trees into a wild synchronous frenzy. Impressively, even as I felt as if I was predominantly entrenched in my surroundings and not paying much attention to the effort at hand, I managed to notch a 6:20 for Mile 2 and 6:19 for Mile 3. I couldn’t believe that through the first quarter I was still running at a sub-10K PR (6:23) pace and feeling great.

The Second Quarter (Miles 4-6)

As we made a quick turn out of the deserted roads, up another hill and onto another small residential neighborhood, I made some quick calculations in my head and realized that I was more than 100 seconds ahead of my PR pace. I wanted to calculate what minimum pace I’d need to run the rest of the way to guarantee my PR, but quickly threw that thought out of my mind. “What would MJ do if Chicago was up big after the first quarter?” I remember asking myself. “Do you think he’d try to pace himself to just beat the other team by a point, or 5 points or 10 points?” “No, he’d continue to execute and play the best basketball he can.” Taking my own mental cues, I refocused my energies to running a fast but steady pace. Because of the positive elevation change, I passed the mile 4 marker at 6:35.

Mile 5 was a bit treacherous for me. Not only was there two big turns and two slight uphill climbs during this stretch, but this is the mile when I remembered thinking seriously that the half-marathon PR might actually fall that day (if I didn’t massively screw up the rest of the way). I also thought about how much I had changed as a runner since the last time I ran this course and PR’d three years ago. At that time, I hadn’t yet run my first marathon yet; now I’ve run four. At that time, I was happy to be struggling to keep a 7 minute mile; now I’m running steady sub-6:40s. At that time, I was running only to keep my mom from commenting on my pot belly. Now, I’m not only running for my own health, but helping many of my friends to do the same for themselves. This has really been an emotional roller-coaster for me. I see the next mile marker in the distance and promised myself that I’d do all I can to commemorate this race with a new PR. After a quick pit stop at a water station, I stride over the mile 5 marker at 6:37, which surprisingly is still ahead of my PR pace of 6:40. Sweet!

Mile 6 took us away from the streets and onto a massive turnpike which would eventually end in a turnaround. Although this mile was straight and devoid of crowds and scenery, it was a thrill knowing that at some point during this stretch, we would see the leaders of the pack as they returned after the turnaround on the opposite side of the rode. Indeed, after about a half mile, I saw the pace motorcycle and then the leader pass me by. About 5 seconds later, the second place guy came streaking by. Then a funny thing happened. No one came down the road for another full 20 seconds! The first two runners were torching the rest of the pack by such a wide margin that it felt as if I was watching the Beijing Olympic Marathon all over again. Somewhere as I was admiring the crowd, and trying to see if there was anyone I’d recognize, I passed the mile 6 marker at 6:21.

The Third Quarter (Miles 7-9)

Although there were sections where the scenery was magnificent and others where the crowds were boisterous and entertaining, mile 7 was definitely the segment I had the most fun running on. After making the turnaround in the beginning portion of this mile, I was on the constant lookout for friends who were coming up on the turnaround on the opposite side as I made my way back onto the main road. I brought quite a few friends along on this race so there were more than a few waves and loud shout-outs as I ran this mile. Things had evened out significantly around me at this portion of the race so it was quite easy for my friends to spot me coming up from a distance. (After the race, a few of them mentioned to me that they could tell I was running a blistering pace by the scarcity of runners around me, a fact which escaped my attention as I was running.) Mile 7 was passed briskly at 6:41.

As fun as mile 7 was to run, mile 8 would be just as torturous for as predicted in the middle of this mile lies was the longest and steepest hill I’d ever encounter since San Francisco. Luckily, as I gingerly made my way up this monstrous speed bump, two things were working with me to keep me calm and motivated. First was the knowledge that I still had over 100 seconds in my PR “bank”, so this hill could not break me no matter how many seconds it’d take me to climb. Second was the fact that just as I was about to make my way uphill, my long lost friend DS gave me the loudest shout-out in the whole borough as she was making her way down the opposite side. The cheer was so loud, I saw two runners next to me turn to look at her. It was more than a little embarrassing, but fit the bill just right for me. In the end, dare I say, the hill ended a bit quicker than I had anticipated. Even the smaller second hill I encountered after turning the corner at the end of the first didn’t seem to bother me as much. I suppose my familiarity with the course and the knowledge that the rest of the course is all relatively downhill after these two uphills kept me relaxed and focused on the task at hand. Mile 8 was completed at a slow but acceptable 6:48.

After cresting the final hill at the end of mile 8, we were greeted with a series of long, smooth downhills in mile 9. Although I had expected my legs to naturally regain the pace that was set out in the earlier miles, in actuality, my body was slowly starting to show signs of fatigue. My turnover was getting slower and my stride was getting shorter. By this point in the race, we were simply retracing our steps, running back on the same roads we had set out on a short while before. As such, there was no new scenery to admire, no new sights to behold. It was starting to become an old-fashioned slugfest all the way to the finish. Without much fanfare surrounding me, I passed through mile 9 marker at 6:35.

The Fourth Quarter (Miles 10-12)

The last few miles were a blur to me, as I couldn’t succinctly remember what I saw or what I passed. For a significantly portion of these tough later miles, I closed my eyes and focused my energies on fighting through the adversity, the boredom, and the soreness, as I’d imagine MJ would do in the fourth quarter of a tough NBA Finals game. I remembered singing the “Be Like Mike” song to the rhythm of my breathing and my shoes hitting pavement. I remembered some kid in a crowd yell out “Go Lam” (I had my name on my shirt) and I waved back. I remembered being annoyed that a few people were passing me but invigorated when I’d pass some people back. At times it was difficult to think next to the ferocity of the heavy breathing all around me. During the hardest parts of the “fourth quarter” miles, I would remind myself how blessed I feel to be having so much fun running so fast on my way to set a spanking new PR. Mile 10 – 6:45; Mile 11 – 6:46; Mile 12 – 6:51.

The Finish (Mile 13-13.1)

Once I passed the last mile marker signaling just 1.1 more to the finish, I became invigorated and took off in a dead sprint toward the finish. There was a part of my subconscious that wanted to remind me that I wasn’t supposed to do this. It wanted to remind me that I wasn’t a finisher, a kicker. I guess I’m more known for coasting my way to the finish rather than picking up the pace. But for whatever reason, as I blasted my way down the ramp and onto the finish, picking off a total of 5 runners in the process, these inspired legs didn’t want to hear about my past that day. It wanted to run in focused. It wanted to run in strong. It wanted to run in proud. Like MJ clutching his trophy after the 4th of his 6 championship runs. I was almost in tears as I poured it on in the final 0.1 miles, claiming vindication from all the doubts and negativity that’s been haunting my running all summer. Final 1.1 mile in 6:51, a 6:13 min/mi pace, my second fastest of the race. Let the celebration begin.

Final Statistics

Finishing Time – 1:25:44 (PR by 1:44!)
Pace – 6:32; Age Graded % - 69.1;
Avg HR – 170; Max HR – 183;
Overall Place – 85/3624 (2.3%);
Age Group Place – 19/765 (2.5%)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Marathon Training Update - Week 6

Woohoo! I made it through back-to-back high mileage weeks without a single injury. ITB problems, have you missed your flight? Achilles tendonitis, thanks for picking up your belongings and leaving the trays in the upright and locked positions. This Laminator plane has just taken off and is scheduled for a comfortable and relaxing three week taper before landing safely on marathon Sunday on November 2nd. Thank you very much for staying with us and yes I will enjoy the rest of my flight.

Week #6 (10/6-10/12)

What I Planned:
Recovery Run: 7 miles at recovery pace
Interval Run: 8 total miles with 4 interval miles at 5:59 min/mi pace
Marathon Pace Run: 12 miles at 7:03 min/mi pace
Easy/Recovery Run: 8 miles at easy pace
Staten Island Half Marathon Race: 13.1 miles at race pace
Total week 6 distance: 48 miles

What I Ran:
Recovery Run: 7.2 miles at 8:12 min/mi pace
Interval Run: Skipped due to severe side stitches after 1st interval
(Became a general aerobic run of 7.28 miles at 7:22 min/mi pace)
Marathon Pace Run: 12.3 miles at 7:00 min/mi pace
Easy/Recovery Run: 8.2 miles at 7:30 min/mi pace
Staten Island Half Marathon Race: 13.1 miles at 6:32 min/mi pace
Total week 6 distance: 48.1 miles; avg pace – 7:12 min/mi

How I Ran:
The week started off with a recovery run at an easy pace. I took the opportunity to run this one with the Flyers running group. Unfortunately, even my recovery pace was apparently too fast for those who turned up to run that day. As a result, after about halfway, I had to ditch the group and run by my lonesome, which made me look somewhat speed-snobbish which I really wasn’t trying to be.
I was looking forward to the interval run the next day for a few reasons. First, I had never attempted to run sub 6-minute intervals before so I felt it was a good speed test for me. Second, I had never done 4 (count’em 4) one-mile intervals in a single session. The most I’ve ever done is 3, but because I felt as if my stamina has improved quite a bit since the start of marathon training, I wanted to see if I could handle one extra interval. Third and finally, this was to be my last interval run before the marathon, which meant that if my fast-twitch muscles didn’t show up for work, they would have to pack it in until after the big day. The first interval started off well, as I ran a strong 5:51 for the first mile. And then somewhere in the middle of the second one, I developed a severe side stitch on my left side that forced me to stop and regroup. I walked to the end of the track to give my muscles a chance to relax, but when I tried to run fast again, the stitch came back, stronger than ever. I repeated this cycle a few more times until I convinced myself that this twitch just wasn’t going to allow a speed session workout. So as much as it pained me psychologically to do so, I aborted the speedwork and just covered the planned distance at a steady pace. Looking back, I think the main culprit for my stitches had to be the big late lunch I had that day. It was too big of a meal at too late of a day to fuel my run. Lesson learned.
In contrast, the midweek long run at marathon pace turned out surprisingly well as I completed two loops of the park at 7:00 min/mi pace. I was even able to hammer out the second loop somewhat faster than the first. I attribute some of this success to my frustration at not completing my intervals the day before. In the end, I think this run will probably prove more useful to me in gearing up for the marathon because it provided my body with some familiarity of running long distances at marathon pace.
After another recovery run, which was rather uneventful, we arrived at today, Sunday, Oct 14th. While a significant portion of the running community is probably drawn to the grand spectacle that is the Chicago Marathon, yours truly ran a half-marathon in the borough of Staten Island. Although I had planned for this race to just be a last test run prior to the marathon, it became anything but as I somehow ended up running my best time ever in a not-so-flat course on a warmer-than-expected day on my way to a PR by 1:44! I’ll post a full race report tomorrow when I can devote to it the time it deserves but suffice it to say that I think I must have borrowed some elite runners’ legs out there today.
Hope everyone had a great racing and training weekend!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Marathon Signages

This is my very late contribution to this week’s Take It and Run Thursdays, which asks the question “What signs would you love to see while running your race, which in my case, would be the marathon, the New York City Marathon to be exact?”

Yesterday night, over dinner with an old friend who I haven’t caught up with in over a year, the subject of spectating and cheerleading for the upcoming New York City Marathon somehow became the main topic of conversation. It turns out that my friend, unbeknownst to me, metamorphosizes into a big sideline cheerleader during the marathon. Not only does she make it a point every year to attend the festivities from a certain favorite spot on the Upper East Side, but she does her best to holler and scream and make funny signs to inspire all the runners slogging their way up First Avenue. She’s so adept at her role that even though she’s not a runner herself, she has learned all the tricks of the trade, and understands too well what NOT to holler out during the race. “For example”, she told me, “never say ‘Almost there’ or ‘You’ve got only 8 miles to go!’ Runners hate that. Avoid negative comments all cost. Always say something positive. And you’ll get more of a response if you shout out their names.” Needless to say, I was very intrigued by the depth of her spectating expertise. She then asked me what some of my favorite marathon signs were from previous years, but because I was so taken back by the sudden discovery of my friend’s newfound talent, I wasn’t able to come up with anything for her on the spot. How pathetic, yeah I know. The conversation ended with her promising to make a unique and spectacular sign just for me at this year’s marathon. This should be interesting.

Twenty something more hours later, after spending half of my workday and the entirety of my twelve mile run this afternoon thinking about it, I can finally provide some answers to her question. I think if I had my way, I’d want to see these particular signages during my race. (There you go, SM, make it happen!)

1. In our minds, you’re all Kenyans. Go Kenyan! (Actually saw this one before…)

2. They’re almost running out of free beer at the finish. Better get a move on. (Would get me every time…)

3. Your feet are hurting only 'cause you're kicking SO MUCH ASS! (Don’t know where I saw this first, but it's still my favorite)

4. For this day, you are my hero. (Saw this one year at mile 21, and it almost made me cry!)

5. Anything with my name in it (even if it's not specifically for me!)

6. Keep the pace to win the race (can never get enough reminders)

7. Run like the rockstar that you are (positive affirmations are so inspirational!)

8. At mile 21…What wall? I don’t see a wall, do you? (mental deception…always a crowd pleaser!)

9. Only .1 of 1% can do what you’re doing right now. (In other words, keep telling me I'm special!)

10. Remember to breathe and to have fun. (Sounds so simple but so easy to forget mid-race)

Speaking of signs…here’s a funny flashback post from last year, titled “Top Ten Signs You Won’t Win The New York City Marathon”. I dare anyone not to smirk, snicker or chuckle at #10! Enjoy.

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