Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sayin' Goodbye to 2009:
A Review of My Running Year

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am thinking of holding a mini-protest against the calendar! It's bad enough that Christmas came and went faster than my motivation to run after the Honolulu Marathon but in less than 24 hours, I have to say goodbye to a year and a decade? Who approved this craziness? Don't we have the right to catch our collective breaths first after the long glutinous holiday weekend before we are forced to think nostalgic on what we did or failed to do this past year? Shouldn't we have more than a few days to make plans and design realistic goals and resolutions before we're forced to welcome the new year? C'mon, Robert Frost isn't the only one who has "promises to keep"! I too have "miles to go before I sleep"!

Okay, maybe the last little bit is a slight exaggeration. The truth is that I've only got 4 miles to go before I can bid adieu to 2009. Right now, as I'm totally up my mileage for the year, it stands at 2005 and some change. This means, with an additional 4 miles, I will reach my goal of 2009 miles logged for 2009! How awesome is that? And you know what luck would have it, there's a 4 mile "fun run" happening in Central Park on New Year's Eve with fireworks at the start and champagne for water stops out on the course! So guess where I'll be at the stroke of midnight as we welcome in the new decade? Let's just say I'm planning to set an anti-PR at this 4 miler and I won't care one bit if I am the last one in. Just save me some bubbly if you happen to pass me on the way into the finish!

As if you can't tell, despite my sarcasm, I'm truly excited to be participating in a race on New Year's Eve even if said race is only a fun run with a bib and no chip. I can't really think of a better or more fun way to end the year than to do so in a race with other like-minded people. And on top of that, I'll be running this one with my friend MT who ran her first marathon this year and who gave me this as a Christmas present/souvenir this past week:

Needless to say, this picture is going into my coaching resume.

I'm hoping to run into and celebrate with friends and Flyers before and after the race as well, so it promises to be a great night of fun! I am getting giddy with anticipation just thinking about the race. Rumor has it that there'll be many people running in costume for this one. Would I dare to discard the rules of social convention and join in the fun? Hmmm...decisions, decisions...

While you and I have the rest of the day to pontificate on this absurdity, let me take a moment here to review for you my running year. This year was definite fun, awesome, interesting and yet somewhat humbling for me running-wise. I ran my first ever 5K and my first Boston this year. For the first time, I also failed to PR in the NYCM. I ran a total of 20 road races and set 6 PRs in 4 different distances, although none in the marathon. I completed 8 half-marathons (having never ran more than 3 in any previous year) and set PRs 3 separate times. I also accumulated more miles than I ever did before although the average pace for each mile was noticeably slower than the previous year. I succeeded in traveling a bit for my races although I still have not yet gotten close to an age group award. I did not get injured although I flirted with danger multiple times and had severe muscle cramps in two of my three marathons. I celebrated my running by encourage several of my friends and my brother to enter their first race. I also coached a couple of buddies and several bloggers through their first marathon. I've learned that my body isn't a machine and I can't be as good a runner as I think I ought to be each and every day. I learned that the glory of winning doesn't necessitate despising others just starting out and that sometimes the best way to inspire is through no words at all. Finally, I've learned to appreciate my running for all its strength and weaknesses and to have faith, patience and persistence with the journey.

To all my blogger buddies and running friends, whether 2009 was your best year, your worse year, or somewhere in between, I hope you take some time to celebrate the highlights, learn from the mistakes and love and appreciate all you've got around you. Here's to a safe, happy and prosperous new year to all!

Final Report Card for My 2009 Running Goals (as declared here)
1. Run 1499 Miles
- CHECK (2009 for 2009!)
2. Set 4 New PRs
- CHECK (6 PRs)
3. Complete 2 legs of the Laminator Pentathlon - 4M in 24:00; 5M in 30:15; 10K in 39:00; 13.1M in 1:25:00; 26.2M in 3:00
- CHECK (5M in 30:13; 10K in 38:59; 13.1M in 1:24:14)
4. Run 4 races outside New York State
- CHECK (Boston Marathon, Long Branch Half, Lawyers Have Heart 10K , Philadelphia Half , Honolulu Marathon)
5. Run a race in the Bronx and in Brooklyn
- CHECK (Bronx Half, Cherry Tree 10M, Brooklyn Half)
6. Find a new place outside the city for a long (13 miles+) training run.
- CHECK (Palisades Run for 22 miles)
7. Coach, and/or encourage 4 new runners to reach their individual running goals.
- CHECK (2 friends - first marathon, 2 bloggers - first marathon, BQ marathon, my brother - first race ever!)
8. Participate in at least 4 Flyer running club events
- CHECK (LTR Pacer, 3 Bridges Run Leader, More Marathon Volunteer, Marathon Route Ten Mile Run Leader)
9. Run a sub 3 hour marathon
- FAIL (Boo! Closest was Boston in 3:02:21. Double Boo!)

Final Grade: A- [8/9]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Weekend Recap and A Lesson Learned

Is it just me, or does everyone else also feel like the long holiday weekend just flew by this year? I think it took a long time for me to get into the Christmas spirit this year and when I finally did, it's already over! How absurd! There are still presents I haven't unwrapped yet and songs on my Christmas CD that I haven't yet heard. What a shame that I now feel obliged to re-package everything and recycle what I don't want for the next hapless friend who holds a special occasion for gift giving. I'm sure whoever that is will absolutely adore the stain glass picture frame I got from my co-worker more than me.

On the flip side though, I had an absolute blast this past weekend hanging with the extended fam. About twenty of us drove up to New Hampshire to spend the holidays at my cousin's place. There were lots of toys, fun, and games to be had as we traded jokes, laughs and shared stories with each other. About eight of us even found time to hit the slopes for some snowboarding and skiing on Saturday. I had originally intended to videotape my next segment of my Running Video Diary while careening down one of the slopes, but since the visibility was close to zero due to some spontaneous snowfall and I could barely see six inches in front of me much less the surrounding landscape, I had to scrap that little project. Still, I managed to conquer my fears (from a broken clavicle suffered on the slopes 2 years ago), hold my own against the snow, had fun with my cousins and somehow made it through to the end of the day with barely a scratch. Imagine that. I might have just found my sport of choice for cross-training during the off-season!

Although there was not much running to be had this weekend (since all the roads in New Hampshire was covered in ice and snow), I did come to a very important realization about running while rambling about my Honolulu Marathon to my cousins and family members who were interested enough to ask about it. It seemed that although they wanted to everything about the course, the scenery, the weather, the people, and how I felt as I was running that day, no one seemed to care how fast I ran, what my finishing time was, or how my pace compared to other races or marathons that I've run. Although I have to admit that most of the people doing the asking were not hardcore runners or even recreational athletes, I still think that their questions still reflect what generally intrigues others about our running - which is what we see, hear, smell, feel and taste while we're actively engaged in our sport. I sense that what we experience as we're running is far more interesting and noteworthy to others than some fluorescent digits on a clock as we cross the finish line. It is really true, no matter how hard it is for us to believe sometimes, that no one really cares as much about your finish time, how fast you ran your first or last mile or how far or close you came to your PR, except you. I realize that in order to run well and inspire others, you not only have to strive to do your best, but in the process, live in the present and take pride and love what you are doing - no matter what your perceptions of your abilities may be.

I'm thankful my family was able to teach me that even without saying a word. My holiday wish is for everyone out there to gain a fresh perspective, a better perspective on their sport of choice, whether running, cycling, swimming, or whatever. Train hard, yes, but enjoy the ride and share your experiences with others, because whether you realize it or not, what you're doing is making a difference in someone else's life!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Holidays and Happy Christmas

First of all, I want to apologize for my absenteeism from blogland the past week. In the week since I've been back from Hawaii, I've been somewhat overwhelmed by a combination of a winter snowstorm, clinical work, holiday shopping, and a nasty cold that I haven't been able to shake. It's gotten so bad that I couldn't even run for a whole week! During that time, the best I could do was make up a new word to express my frustration - "rungry". I'm sure my fellow runners know exactly what I'm talking about.

But run, I finally did. 10 miles yesterday, and a 10k today, for Christmas. It was so nice to see all the holiday decorations on all the neighbor's houses and see so many smiles in everyone I passed by! It was definitely what I needed to get back into the holiday spirit.

So from me to all my family, friends, (yes, even the lurkers) near and far...I want to wish you all a very safe and happy holiday season! So many of you helped make this a very happy, fun, and successful year for me, and I'm so very grateful. Believe me, you all have meant so much to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'll be back this weekend for my second running video diary post (even if it probably will have little to do with running!) and next week for a recap of my running year. In the meantime, enjoy your holidays with good family and friends, and try and run a few miles outside (even if it's cold!) and encourage others to do the same! Who knows, you might come across Santa or some reindeers along the way (like I did this morning...haha). Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Running, Dying, but Still Smiling
Race Report from the 2009 Honolulu Marathon

The Motivation to Run
Some people believe in racing every marathon they enter. Some people will never attempt the distance if they know they are not prepared to run their best time. I used to believe these people - the ones who tell me not to waste my time if I’m not prepared to run a marathon with max effort. After all, I thought that if you identify yourself as a distance runner and are in active training, then you should be aiming to run your best time each and every time you run a race, no matter what. But as I’ve matured in this sport and met many veterans marathoners who’ve done far more of these races than I have years on this planet, I’ve learned that shooting for PRs and time goals are just a couple of the many ways to run a marathon. Just as there are many different and distinct types of runners who run at varying paces for a myriad of personal reasons, so too are there numerous motivations that drive runners to strive for the finish line of a 26.2 mile race. For me, I was running this race partly as a reason to visit a friend, but mainly to rediscover the joy of running long.

Yes, you see, as a result of my chronic addiction for perpetual training and speedy race times, I had for sometime now lost my love for the sport. I knew this because I’ve been habitually and secretly evaluating my daily runs only in terms of pacing. Even as I’ve tried very hard to ignore the Garmin while I’m running, my sentiment for each run remained governed by the arbitrary digits it displayed on my computer screen at the end of it. It is senseless, it is dumb, but as any runner who owns one knows, Mr. Garmin speaks the truth even when it hurts.

The only solution, it seemed to me, was to run a long distance race so completely out of my natural environment that I couldn’t possibly prepare for it no matter how hard I tried. My stipulation for this race was that it had to be a marathon (since halves seemed too short to me, and I have no interest in tackling anything longer), it had to be in some place warm (since cold weathered racing is what I’m used to in NY) and there had to be lots to do and see before and after the race (so as to decrease the significance of the event itself). In all those fronts, the Honolulu Marathon fit the bill quite nicely, which is how I ultimately decided on this destination race.

Getting To The Start
I arrived at the start somewhat ill-prepared to run a good marathon, which I guess was the point of the exercise. Even as I found myself among the huddled masses close to the front of the pack, I was fighting jet-lag, fatigue, unfamiliarly warm temps and a bummed left knee which hadn’t yet recovered since I tripped and fell on a manhole cover a week ago back home. I looked around at the palm tree silohuettes and ocean waves crashing along the beach and remind myself again to do the best I can and enjoy this run. A short while later, amidst salutations and greetings by a Japanese announcer with a foreign accent too heavy to understand and congratulatory fireworks lighting up the clear night sky, the crowd in front starting moving and my race officially began.

Miles 1-6 (M1-7:02; M2-6:41; M3-6:50; M4-6:50; M5-6:51; M6-6:36)
Right off the bat, it felt awkward running a marathon at 5am when the whole city is still dead asleep and knowing that most of my race would be occurring in total darkness. Besides a small sprinkling of Japanese tourists holding signs and clapping their hands on the sidelines, it was really quiet out on the roads once the echoes from the firework at the start faded off into the distance. Because I was situated close to the start, it wasn’t long before the field thinned out and I found myself settling into a comfortable pace. The first six miles of the course is a tour through Waikiki and downtown Honolulu brightly lit with Christmas lights and decorations. As I ran, I turned my head from side to side to appreciate the festive surroundings. Even though there were few spectators and hardly any noise, all the lively store windows and pretty holiday lights made the first 10K a pleasure to run through. Since most of this early section is wide open and flat, I really didn’t have too much trouble establishing and maintaining a reasonable pace. In some ways, I think I may have been too comfortable here as I inadvertently ran mile 6 with a 6:36, which I knew was way too fast in this race for me.

Miles 7-11(M7-6:52; M8-7:02; M9-7:00; M10-7:03; M11-7:21)
Because F.L. drove me through the course beforehand, I knew the nasty climb up Diamond Hill Road was up next, right after the stroll through Waikiki. Although I tried hard to decrease my stride and power through this long uphill stretch with a steady and conservative approach, it was evident to me as soon as I reached the top that I had fought too hard climbing that hill. As a result, I began to slow down significantly through the next section of downhill rollers leading out to the Kalanianaole Highway and the halfway point of the race.

Up to this point, I had been carrying my Gatorade bottle as an emergency handheld just in case the water and sports drink passed out at roughly 2 mile intervals weren’t quite enough for me. Despite never having raced with a handheld before, I felt it advantageous in this race to have my own fluids at my disposal since I wasn’t sure whether I’d be acclimated to be running in this heat. Although the weather remained relatively mild and the actual temperature never wavered above 75 F while I was running, I appreciated the comfort and piece of mind of having accessible fluids at all times.

Miles 12-15(M12-7:20; M13-7:09; M14-7:11; M15-7:21)
It was pitch black by the time I found myself running along the Kalanianaole Highway. The sun hasn’t yet risen, there were no streetlights, and the nearest runner to me was at least 100 yards away. I was content to be keeping a 7:15-7:30 pace now as I became aware that a sub-3, a PR and even a BQ were all probably not happening today. I passed the halfway mark at , which reaffirmed my suspicions that the second half would be a torture for me. Although I had taken my usual GU at mile 10 with another one planned for mile 16, I continued to feel sore, fatigued, and slightly hungry as I ran alone for the most part along this out and back portion of the course. At some point in mile 14 or so, I saw the pace vehicle and the elites come rolling through the other side.

Miles 16-21 (M16-7:15; M17-7:15; M18-7:21; M19-7:23; M20-7:30; M21-7:30)
The first hint of the morning sun became visible through the mountain range off to the side as I made the turn off the highway to start my 5K loop through a suburban residential part of town. I was slowing down and battling the peak and valleys of the uneven course even as I said thanks to all the local neighbors who came out to cheer and slapped the hands of all the little kids that I passed by. Those simple gestures kept me going even as people all around were passing me by and I was moving off to the side to allow them a lane to pass. I took my gel as I planned at mile 17 with some water and Gatorade at an aid station nearby. The water sponges they offered provided a slight relief against the blazing sun which was slowly gaining force as the morning wore on. I kept an even steady effort even as I tried hard not to think about when I’d have to inevitably start to walk. As the course turned back onto the highway and I started my journey back to town, I told myself to hold on and keep running strong at least until I saw F.L. running behind me on the opposite side. I focused on smiling, taking deep breaths and passing different landmarks slightly ahead of me. I counted each quarter mile after 17 and looked out for a face I’d recognize. Finally, F.L. pass by me at mile 18 and I was really happy to see her. I gave her a high five as home girl was looking strong! She told me she’s shooting to finish in 4 hours and I told her I’d have a beer waiting for her at the finish! A little further along, I saw a fellow Flyer from NY who I’d knew had also flown out for this race. As he came up from behind me, I told him I was dying a slow death in this race. He snapped a photo of me with his digital camera and quickly passed me by. I was struggling to maintain 7:25 miles now as I pass by mile 19. Each step seemed harder and tougher than the one before. I had blisters on my feet,my knees, especially the right, hurt and i was sweating profusely by this point. Twenty, just make it to twenty, I told myself. I pressed on. Mile 20 took what seemed like a decade, and guess what I was still running. Could I make it last just one more mile? I studied faces across the way to keep myself mildly entertained. There was a guy running in a Santa suit. Another one had antlers with a red nose and a woman was running with a straw hat and a coconut bikini. Nice! I took two gatorades, two waters, and three wet sponges in an effort to cool myself down at the aid station. But because my shoes and socks were now sogged with a mixture of sweat, gatorade, and water, they were becoming increasingly harder to move.

Mile 22-26.2(M22-8:41; M23-12:31; M24-9:28; M25-8:34; M26+.2-9:56)
Mile 21 came mercifully as we turned off the highway on our way back home. The spectators were getting more numerous and louder now as the miles and the morning wore on. I couldn't stand the heat, the pain, the nausea, and the fatigue anymore and took my walk break after passing the mile marker. At that point, my race was officially over. I walked, ran, and shuffled the rest of the way through the race. I couldn't remember much past the breaking point. All I remember was that everything hurt, different muscles started to cramp, and yet I still had a smile the whole rest of the way. Different volunteers tried to lead me off the course (yes, I was cramping that badly) but I thanked them and vehemently passed on their offer. I struggled to climb back up Diamond Head at M24 just like everyone else did, but for what its worth, I was still faster than most of them until a nasty cramp forced me to hobble and stop three quarters of the way up the mountain. I tried to run it in when I saw the finish line a half mile away, but even that proved too painful for me. I eventually limped it in and collapsed onto two helpful volunteers immediately upon crossing the finish. They laid me on the ground and gave my cramping quads and hammies a nice stretch and massage a couple of times over before I was able to stand again and limper off to claim my medal, finisher's shirt and beer.

After the Finish
Afterwards, with my legs still twitching uncontrollably from time to time, I crossed the street and laid my body on the wet sand and stuck my feet in the cool ocean water. Aaaahhh! That was the reason I came. That was the reason I ran. That was the reason I smiled even when it hurt. That was paradise defined! It was the best feeling ever!

Official Statistics
Finishing Time - 3:18:46
Average Pace - 7:35 min/mi
Overall Place - 236/20546 (1.1%)
Gender Place - 215/10503 (2.0%)
Age Group Place - 24/1202 (2.0%)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Running Video Diary #1:
Sayin' Goodbye to Honolulu

Hey bloggy friends, I’m leaving Hawaii today and heading back home, where it’s currently 27F with a wind chill of 10F. Yeah, not fun! But before I do, I thought I’d take one final video of paradise and share it with you all. I took this during my early morning run along the boardwalk of Waikiki beach on my last day in Honolulu.

I hope you all enjoyed my first little “Running Video Diary”. Like I said in the video, I’m thinking of making this a regular feature here even when I’m back home, so please let me know yea or nay to more of this. Any suggestions, comments, and constructive criticism will be welcomed too! (Just cut me a little slack while I getting use to capturing videos with my phone…it’s still a work in progress.)

Enjoy the rest of your work week everyone. My next post will be my race report of the Honolulu Marathon, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Observations from A Running Non-Hawaiian

So I’ve been in Hawaii for less than a week and already I know I don’t belong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a truly wonderful time here and am already regretting having to say goodbye. The weather’s been fantastic, the views spectacular and I’ve already gotten addicted to 7-11 spicy ahi poke and deluxe spam masubi that I know I won’t find anywhere at home. (I've already had these for lunch for three days straight!) But the one thing I’ve noticed though is that I have a hard time identifying with the sports people around here are most passionate about. For one, I am not a swimmer (although I am signed up for beginner lessons once I’m home) so it’s hard for me to appreciate endurance swimming, surfing, jet-skiing or other athletic pursuits that involve submerging one’s body into a bottomless body of water. Second, because of the widespread access of bike routes, running paths and picturesque scenery at every turn, training here occurs year round and endrance race events seem out of proportion to what I’m used to back home. Instead of 20 mile bike rides across a state, people here routinely do 100 mile bike rides along the north shore of Oahu or up on the side of a mountainous range and back down. Similarly, instead of training for marathons, people here speak of 40-60 mile runs on trails, overnight, to train for 100Ks and an annual event known as the H.U.R.T. 100 miler! Umm, no wonder I wore my Honolulu Marathon finishers shirt around town yesterday but haven't felt like much of an athlete.

Now, I know I probably have a warped sense of reality because I’m hanging out with F.L. who ran the marathon as a training run for her 100K race this weekend (Go ahead, you can go over there, shower her with words of encouragement, then come back…I'll be here...) but still, I can’t help feel as if I’m such a wimp for never having completed a single run longer than 26.2 miles, when her and her local running group friends are chattering about so and so doing 50 miles on the H.U.R.T. last week and another person is tacking 45 miles after the marathon to train for Western States (100 mile) race and so-and-so’s going to pace someone for 40 miles in the H.U.R.T. 100 mile race next year. It is an intimidating bunch to say the least. I’m just glad I’m not here on a daily basis and am going back soon to my own neck of the woods where running 20 miles in the wind, cold, and snow one or twice a month is considered hardcore and somewhat of an accomplishment. Maybe one day I’ll be up to tackling 32 hour runs on an steep and arduous trail run here fighting hallucinations, nausea, vomiting just for fun, but for now, I’m content to just revel in my own marathon accomplishment, eat all the crummy food I want, hang out at the beach all day, rest and recover in paradise and NOT think about running, racing or marathoning for the foreseeable future!

Towards that end, here are a few sun, fun, and sandy beachy pictures for you all to enjoy! Don't judge, it's the best I can do short of a personal invite to come over and experience paradise for yourselves! Aloha!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Race Update: Honolulu Marathon Complete

Just wanted to let you guys know that I finished the Honolulu Marathon this morning in 3:18:49. It wasn’t my best effort (it was my second worst in terms of time actually) but I had a lot of fun in this one and ran with a silly smile plastered across my face the entire time. (How can I not? I’m running in Hawaii for godsakes.) I will have more to say to say about this race once I’m home but suffice it to say that it was hilly, it was hard, and this cold-weather New Yorker practically melted in the bright Hawaiian sun. It’s okay though because I had no goals and no pretenses that I would do well on this course. As such, the race turned out to be pretty much what I expected it to be. To tell you the truth, I was more excited about jumping into the ocean after the finish than about the actual race! The water felt so good on my feet that it made slogging the last 5 miles with cramps and blisters so worth it. No matter, marathon #9 is in the books, and I’m so so happy!
If you want to see some pre- and post-race video interviews with me and Frayed Laces, check us out here and here. Now if you will excuse me, I have some beer, ketchups and garlic fries waiting for me by the beach. Aloha!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Closure Talk" with NYCM 2009:

Last weekend, before the chaos of upcoming trips and holidays, I met up with a Flyer friend for brunch in a quaint but lively section of Forest Hills in Queens. The food was good, but the conversation better as we caught up on each other’s lives and reminisced about old times as we both grew up not far from where we were eating. The highlight of our meeting though was when my friend analyzed some past relationship failures of mine and helped me realize some fundamental mistakes I’d made in assuming things that weren’t necessarily true. Case in point: I’d previously thought that when two people who may have been in a committed relationship once upon a time no long have direct communication with each other for several months, the relationship is, for all intents and purposes, over. Apparently, this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone else. Relationships are not over, even if all the evidence is painfully obvious, until both parties have had the “closure talk”. The “closure talk” can be short, sweet and succinct or long, drawn-out, and sad, but it is a necessary evil for both parties to move onward both psychologically and emotionally with their lives even if the physical bodies have long past left the building.
Huh…that’s interesting. Because I’m a pacificist at heart and naturally shy away from all matters of conflict unless absolutely necessary, I don’t think I’ve ever had the “closure talk” with anyone I’ve ever dated because from my perspective, what’s the point of just stating the obvious? But lately, since I haven’t been as successful in my relationships as I’d like, I vow to be a better person and re-examine my past prejudices with the hope that this exercise will foster more open, satisfying and fulfilling relationships in the future.
Towards this end, as I’m on a flight to Hawaii about to run my next marathon, I am drafting this letter in lieu of “closure talk” I want to have with the NYCM 2009:

Dear NYCM 2009,

It’s been said that marathon success is as fickle as a teenager in love, but I’ve always assumed that our bond was a bit deeper, stronger and more powerful than mere strangers who just happened to meet coincidentally at an annual running lovers’ tryst. After all, you were my first (marathon, that is) and every year since we’ve met, we’ve being getting better, getting faster, getting stronger, PR’s building upon past PR’s, until I thought for certain that this year, in this race, you and I would finally be joined together in holy sub-3 matrimony. But something went wrong in the program that day, as I arrived late and was left at the alter without my marathon bride.
Not a word has been spoken between us since, as I’m left to my own devices to figure out what went wrong. Others have certainly chimed in with their critique, sympathy and condolences, but I haven’t as yet heard your explanation or from your perspective of how I came to miss sub-3. Maybe you feel the silent treatment is an appropriate response given everyone else’s voices, or perhaps the point is that I’ve long since forgotten how to listen effectively to your messages, but for reasons that are unbeknownst to me right now, I need your permission to move on with my running life. I need your okay because there isn’t a passing day that I don’t stop to think about you – where I failed and what I’d done wrong. It’s been a month and my body still can’t separate fantasy from reality. No matter how many half-marathon PRs and road race PBs I’ve collected since, my mind still wants to paint my marathon failure as the sole epitome of my running life.
Maybe no one else knows, but I know where I’ve failed you. I know where I’ve done wrong. In the countless sleepless nights I’ve since had analyzing and evaluating my race, I could imagine five areas where my reckless negligence in training and racing doomed my rendezvous with you long before the final 10K:

1. Slow, Very Very Slow LSDs – In my exuberance to run long with others over the summer month, I inadvertently completed every single long run at 1:30 to 2:30 min/mi average slower than goal pace. So although I’ve doubled the number of long runs I was able to complete during this training cycle, I also did them all excruciatingly slow, which naturally left me unprepared to sustain marathon pace for longer than 20 miles. I was wrong.
2. Matters of the Heart – Although I wore a heart rate monitor for this race, I completely forgot to recognize my perfuse tachycardic state until it was far too late. By mile 18, I was averaging 170s and by mile 20, I was averaging 180s! This is crazy and incompatible with a sustainable effort for me. The fact that it escaped detection is completely inexcusable. I was wrong.
3. Training Others Before Thyself – In the week prior to race day, I spent so much time and energy preparing others for their own first dates that I did not even bother preparing myself at all for our annual encounter. If I had the opportunity to reverse time and start over again, I would run this race to have fun with the newbies and save my legs for a later fall goal race. That would have been a better strategy. I was wrong.
4. Out of Town Mentally – Work stress, newbie training, lack of sleep all contributed to my lack of mental preparation to run this race. I did not honor my commitment to run with mantras, quotes, questions, or any of my usual bag of motivational ammunitions. So although my physical body may have been ready to tackle the distance, my mental state was frail and ill-equipped for battle. I should have known better. I was wrong.
5. Racing Too Much Too Soon – In running my goal half-marathon for a PR in Staten Island three weeks before this race, I may have peaked in training a bit too early and a bit too soon. Afterwards, I gave myself the excuse that intervals and speedwork would no longer be important as I have clearly demonstrated my able to sustain a comfortable tempo-ish effort over the course of 13.1 miles. I fooled myself into thinking that my familiarity and success at the half-marathon distance would naturally translate to the full marathon as well. Obviously, I was wrong.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but these items are at the top of the list of reasons why I might have failed you that day. And although I fully acknowledge my part in this fiasco, you must also realize that you are one f*@king bitch of a race. We have a whole year to reconcile our difference and I hope for our sake that we remain socially amicable as we work on our own flaws gradually and individually. In the meantime, we must move on and have closure in this relationship, at least for the rest of this year. This is the healthy thing to do. Just so you know, I’m taking this opportunity to fly off to an exotic locale where I will try to find success in a marathon sibling of yours this weekend. Please do not try to find me or haunt my thoughts with your presence. If it’s meant to be, I will be back soon in town enough.

Thanks for all the good times and the life lessons we’ve shared along the way. The marathon memories we’ve had (Remember that first BQ in ’07?) will be cherished forever.


The Laminator

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Marathons, Motivation, and The Next Big Race

"It's hard to run when it's no longer fun!" Those are the infamous words I was left with this past week when I asked a long time buddy of mine when I haven't seen him running since the NYC marathon a month ago. I wanted so much to yell, to scream, to badger, and harass him about his blasphemous statement, but inwardly I kind of understood what he meant. After the big race is done and the only people left on the park roads and trails are those who haven't yet run their target fall race or out walking their dogs, it is hard to find the motivation to keep putting on the miles everyday. After all, I know that he know that the only reason I'm even inquiring about the status of his running is because I still have a 26.2 mile race coming up before I can call it quits and join the masses for some winter hibernation.
In case you haven't heard, I'm running a marathon next weekend in Hawaii. But unlike the previous two marathons I've done this year, I'm running this one strictly for fun. I'm considering this race more as a scenic running tour through the streets of Honolulu than as a race for time. In a few days, I'll be on vacation and the last thing I want to do while on vacation is stress about running and racing. (Besides, don't I do that enough when I'm at home?) Still, this doesn't mean I won't try to run my best given the circumstances. It just means I've already forgiven myself for not keeping up the endurance training post-NYCM (using only short and long races as speed and tempo work substitutes). It also means that I won't be looking at my splits at the end of every mile and trying to solve complex algebraic equations with three variables in my head in order to figure out where I should be and what pace I should be running for every single mile. It's been a long time since I've been able to run a marathon without that kind of pressure. For this one, I want to run just for the sake of running and have fun and not care about hitting a wall because I'm running too fast or recording a personal worst because I'm running too slow. Time won't mean that much to me in this race. All I want at the end of this race is to be able to wear a medal around my neck, run to the beach and jump right in the water. I've been wrapped in plenty of mylar blankets after marathons but never by seeweed and ocean water. This should make for a very interesting experience.
Congrats to all my bloggy friends who kicked major booty in C.I.M. today! It looks like more than a few will be coming with me to Boston in 2011! Wahoo! Hope all of you are enjoying the last month of 2009 and making grand plans for 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Running: Physiologically Speaking
The Trouble with P.T.

As a runner and as an M.D., I get asked a lot of questions about the body as it relates to running. Why can’t I lose as much weight running marathons now as I did when I used to run track? (Your appetite and corresponding metabolism isn’t the same.) Why can I run faster with less effort during the winter as supposed to summer? (Your evaporative powers are maximized in the cold dry air.) What is the best way to take GU during a race? (A little at a time over a long distance to prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.) In general, I welcome questions because they allow me the opportunity to apply what I know about human physiology to the sport of running. Most of the time, the answers are pretty obvious to me. Sometimes, I have no clue what people are asking and have to defer to my sports medicine or orthopedic colleagues/friends for their clinical advice and acumen. Rarely, one of my running buddies will tell me about what their P.T. told them about some injury they have and I have to do a double-take. Say that again. My P.T. told me that my hip/knee/groin/ankle/foot pain is caused by x,y, and z and recommended that I do these specific exercises. Really? Hmmm, okay, I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, buddy, but that makes as much sense as me going to the local drugstore and asking the sales clerk behind the counter which of these 1000 vitamins and supplements is going to cure my sinus infection!

The truth of the matter is that a lot of people, runners included, do not understand the qualifications or job description of a physical therapist and get in trouble when they seek out their trusty PT to diagnose and treat any and all injuries. This edition of “Running: Physiologically Speaking” is meant to educate my running friends so they are a bit more informed about how the evaluation, diagnosis, and management of sports injuries are supposed to work and who is qualified and licensed to do what job. I understand that many do not understand how different components of the healthcare system are supposed to work, so hopefully this will help shed a little light into the situation for you.

Suppose my friend, Joe Blow, is a newbie runner, who all of a sudden, while out running a long run one day, experiences a sharp shooting pain in the back of his ankle. He stops his run and limps home. Maybe he does the right thing and ices, compresses, and elevates. Maybe he doesn’t. Either way, he feels better the next day. There is no pain. He is happy. He trots out and tries his long run again (after all, he knows he can’t ever miss a long run if he’s “in marathon training”…no way!) Same thing happens again. This time he can barely make it past first mile before the pain cripples him. Crap! He goes home, all dejected. He repeats the same pattern for the rest of the week, but it doesn’t get better. He finally reluctantly calls his runner doctor friend, me, and I advice him to find a sports medicine doctor (or orthopedist) near his home. He goes, gets an X-ray and gets his diagnosis: tiabilis-posterior tendonitis. Treatment: Pain meds, no running, and 4-8 weeks of PT. Not the worst news in the world, but he isn’t so thrilled with the no running part. Still, he wants to get back to the road as soon as possible (after all, he has a marathon to train for!) so he does as he’s told. He finds a good PT, goes to all the sessions, but at the end of the two months, something’s still not quite right. His pain, which started at the back of his ankle has migrated somewhat to the bottom of his feet. His PT tells him he just needs more time, his muscles feel tight and he’s willing to continue the therapy for another 4-8 weeks without a prescription. I advise him to go back to the sports medicine doc and be re-examined. He wants to believe PT guy because he’s been seeing him for 8 weeks and figures he knows him pretty well by now and doesn’t want to go through the hassle of booking another appointment and getting more tests. On the other hand, he isn’t sure if he really needs the PT or if it’s really working. What should he do? What would you do? Are you one of those who’s perpetually in PT, or one of those who seems to have more of a relationship with PT and trust him/her more than practically anyone else you know? If you are, or think you are, or know someone who you think might be, please read on.

First of all, let me start by saying that I think physical therapy, in all its many forms, is necessary and important in injury healing and prevention. When properly done for the appropriate injury by the right qualified person, it is indispensable in helping patients recover fully from any muscle, tendon, or ligament damage they may have sustained as a result of trauma, accident or injury. I myself had to utilize their services when I suffered a clavicular fracture last winter and lost some mobility in my rotator cuff. The caveat though is that the right physical therapy must be tailored for the right injury for the right patient. It must be prescribed by a licensed medical professional (usually someone with an M.D. degree) after a thorough physical examination of the injury and evaluation with lab tests or imaging studies. A physical therapist is not qualified to perform these diagnostic tasks. They, the ones who are licensed anyway, have gone through physical therapy school, not medical school. Their main responsibility is to develop a treatment protocol (for a finite period of time, usually in the order of a few weeks to a few months) once a definitive diagnosis has been established. Coming up with the right diagnosis for the injury is not part of their job description, nor should it be. In fact, after the prescribed amount of PT is over, the patient should return to the physician who ordered the PT for a re-examination to determine if PT was successful and produced the desired effect. If not, the patient should be re-evaluated to determine whether there is some other underlying problem or to pursue whether other therapeutic options would be more appropriate. The answer is never to repeat the same set of PT exercises if they didn’t work or work well enough the first time. Is this distinction clear? I always hear of runners and other athletes who go to the same PT year after year, rehabbing the same injury the same way over and over, without the supervision of an M.D. and it frustrates me to no end. In my mind, the situation is similar to the people who goes to the local pharmacy to seek recommendations there on how to treat every disease and symptom they come across. Nothing very good ever comes out of those stories.

I hope this was a helpful discussion for some of you. Again, I’m not trying to knock the field of physical therapy or the people that perform them. Heck, I have friends who are in that line of work! However, I think it is important for everyone to know what the limits and responsibilities of their line of work. As someone who’s been on both sides of the provider/patient equation, I think it is to everyone’s benefit that we don’t overstep our boundaries and do or say things that although well-intentioned may end up hurting others in the process.

As always, comments, stories, and questions, welcome. Hope you all are having a fine day. Get out there and run, if you can. Class dismissed!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend Wrap-Up

First of all, thanks everyone for all the Philly race report compliments! I apologize for long delay in getting it done. It’s funny how I always end up having too much to say about my races and not enough time to write it all down. I sometimes wonder whether my photographic race memory and novel-ish writing style are blessings or really curses in disguise! Haha! I am only kidding of course because I doubt I’d have it any other way.
Speaking of blessings, I hope everyone had a wonderful time giving thanks and spending quality time with family and friends during the holiday weekend. I myself had a great time hanging out with the family, getting my butt handed to me in ping pong and Guitar Hero, and eating way too much food for way too many days. I also managed to run a tougher-than-expected 20 miler over the weekend on a hilly trail that left me hanging on for dear life at the end of it. My pace was relatively slow (7:30-ish), it was windy and cold, and I was cramping in places that hadn’t been heard from since before NYCM. Ugh! I wonder if it’s a sign of lost fitness or the extra serving or two (or three) of turkey, chocolate cheesecake and sweet potato pie I helped myself to over the preceding three days. Hmmm…
But the highlight of my long weekend was definitely the Garden City Turkey Trot 5 miler I did on Thanksgiving morning. It was a great race not only because I ran well, finishing in 30:17 with a 6:03 avg pace, which is a course PR for me and a 29 second improvement from last year, but it was also the first race ever for my little bro! Before the race, I was so nervous for him (the only 5-miler he’s ever done before was on a treadmill a week before this race!) that I offered to run him in for the last 1.5 miles after I finished if he needed it. It turned out he didn’t need my help at all as he ran pretty conservatively for the first four miles and surged ahead of a lot of people in the last mile! I credit myself for prepping him well. Haha! He finished in the vicinity of 46 minutes and had so much fun that he’s now asking me to enter him in a few more races in the next several months. Will do, little bro, will do!
I’m not going to write a whole long report on my race because it wasn’t a big deal race for me (and I don’t want to overwhelm you all!) but I will share five bullet points from my race experience that I found somewhat interesting:
  1. Mile-by-mile splits: M1-5:57, M2-5:55, M3-6:12, M4-6:18, M5-5:51. Wow, look how I died in miles 3 & 4 and yet recovered to run my fastest in M5!
  2. If you took the time to add up the splits, you’ll get 30:14, not the 30:17 I was credited with. That’s because this turned out to be a gun-time and not a chip-time race. According to my Garmin time, I came in just one second over my overall 5-mile PR time. So I’ve been wondering, if I happened to have run 2 seconds faster and squeaked in a PR by a second according to my Garmin time (but not gun time), does that still count as a PR for me?
  3. Last year, I finished in 30:46 and was 9th out of 268 males in the 30-39 age group. This year, I finished in 30:17 and was 5th out of 334 males in the 30-39 age group. It’s too bad that age group awards go to the top 3, and the 3rd place guy ran 27:47. In other words, I have no shot!
  4. I ran this race 4 days after a fast Philly half marathon and did considerably better than I expected. If it was a week later and I had a chance to rest, could I have run an even better time or would I have slowed because of some lost fitness and/or speed? I never felt terribly tired or fatigued during the race so I wonder if it would have even made a difference.
  5. Turkey trots should be mandatory as an appetizer to the Thanksgiving feast! 'Nuff said.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What “Running Means”
Race Report from the Philly Half Marathon
Part II – Race Day

It was a cool crisp 40 degrees when BS and I escaped the comfy confines of our hotel room and began the walk over to the race start. Although it was still completely dark at 6AM and I was still shivering a little when we began our walk, I could already tell we were going to have perfect running weather for this race. I had slept well, ate well, and hydrated a ton the night before. Dressed in my race-ready NY Flyers shirt and shorts underneath my running jacket and tights, I felt more ready than ever to have a strong race.
The spirited raspy voice of Bart Yasso over the loud speaker welcomed me to the pre-race staging area. Despite the chaos of runners, volunteers, and race officials scurrying in every direction around me, I was calm and relaxed walking around the starting area and finding my way around. At around 6:30 or so, I said goodbye to BS as we went to look for our respective UPS trucks to drop off our bags. It wasn’t until I had stripped off my layers down to my racing shirt and shorts that I realized that my baggage tag was missing from my bag! Since it was only attached via an adhesive (and not pinned – their idea, not mine), it must have fallen off during the transit from my hotel room to hear. I didn’t think it was such a big deal until the baggage volunteers insisted that they could not take my bag until it was tagged! I complained vehemently to a nearby race official who told me that my bag cannot be checked and that my only option was to go to the registration area all the way on the opposite side of the staging area to get a blank sticker. It was now 6:45. I started to panic. I made a feeble attempt to get over to the registration area, but gave up when I couldn’t find my way around the port-a-john lines that were blocking my way. I went back to my UPS truck and begged the volunteers to take my bag so I could run my race. They said no. Right there and then, I wanted to scream because I was pretty certain my race was over. It was now 6:50. Right at that moment, out of the corner of my ear, I hear my name being called. “L, can I help hold your bag?” It was BH, one of my Flyer friends from back home who had traveled down to watch the race and take pictures after running a 60K in Central Park the day before! It was surreal. I thanked him profusely, gave him my bag, and sprinted like hell to find the maroon corral and get into place. I reached the designated area just as the national anthem was finishing and they were about to send the lone wheelchair racer off onto the course. A slight delay gave me a couple of minutes to catch my breath and reflect on what had just happened. It the mad dash to get over to the starting line, I had forgotten to take my bandanna out of my bad. So it looks like I’d have to run this one with a naked head! I chuckled at my own joke as I heard the final race instructions being given one last time. I was just glad I made it over so I wouldn’t have to be stuck in the back of the crowd. A few minutes later, somewhat unannounced, the starting horn sounded, and we were off!

Running means fresh and new beginnings –
For every race, every day, and every life.
Mile 1 – 6:19; Mile 2 – 6:15
It was a crowded start right out of the gate. Although I was in the second corral right behind the elites and everyone around me was running strong and fast, it felt as if it still took me a good chunk of the first mile to settle into my pace. I didn’t mind though. Running through the streets of downtown Philadelphia with all its historical tall buildings next to enthusiastic crowds cheering us on was a true runner’s delight. I took my time and space and fought hard not to weave or squeeze by the congestion in the early going. There were a lot of speedy runners out on these narrow streets today and the last thing I wanted to do was cause an accident.
The sun was starting to rise off the horizon as we turned off Ben Franklin Pkwy onto Arch Street near the end of the first mile. Along the way, we passed by the Reading Terminal where I had lunch the day before and the Convention Center where the race expo was held. It was eerie to think that I was running here in Philadelphia when 24 hours ago I was still in bed in NYC! I had a mental flashback of the emotional rollercoaster I endured the previous day (and this morning) just to get to this point that I felt extremely lucky and privileged just to be able to run this race. Because of all that I went through, I really wanted to run well here, more as a confirmation to myself that I was meant to run this race than as an exhibition or testament for others.
Although the mile pace for the opening miles was a little more brisk than I’d imagined, I didn’t react and hold back, but allowed my body and legs to dictate the pace. After all, I had run the Staten Island Half a month ago for a big PR by adopting that same philosophy and since this course is supposedly faster than any of the ones back home, I figured my best chance of success is to stick to what works for me.

Running means finding the inner peace and confidence
To be your own animal and travel at your own pace
Mile 3 – 6:16; Mile 4 – 6:28
Mile 2 ends with a Gumby-like cartoon character standing on the corner slapping high-fives to all the runners as we made the turn onto Delaware Avenue which overlooks onto the Delaware River. I can’t remember what he was advertising but I remember feeling so pumped after verifying my fast pace in the early going with my Garmin that I gave him a harder slap than I intended to as I passed by, causing him to fall back a step or two. Woops! I’m sure I got quite a few quizzical looks from my neighbors after that exchange.
Mile 3 was a little windy and quiet and there wasn’t as much crowd support here as in the previous miles. I was dialed into my pace now and was slowly settling in with a pack of veteran runners who looked like they’ve done this before. It irked me that from the back, I couldn’t tell who were halfers and who were fullers. I wanted this information to gauge whether I should consider sticking with them for the long haul or whether I would be better off setting my own pace and running my own race. I struggled with this decision for almost the full mile.
As it turns out, it was a completely speculative debate because by the time I left Delaware Avenue on a mild accent up to South Street, it became evident that I would not be holding on to this ridiculously brisk pace. I tempered my own expectations and drifted back as I allowed the pack to surge on ahead. I perused the window decorations on the surrounding small town shops to recalibrate my system and return to a state of relaxed running where I had been before I got myself tangled up with the elite pack from mile 3. I was slightly disappointed at my significantly slower mile time for mile 4, but figured that this was about the pace I expected myself to keep right from the outset, so in essence, I was back on track!

Running means love, community and support –
Even when you don’t think you are so deserving.
Mile 5 – 6:29; Mile 6 – 6:29
I settled into a groove at miles 5 and 6. Running through South Street and then Chestnut with crowds bursting out of shops, coffee houses and stores was simply exhilarating! I heard my name called out several times as I ran through here and it made me completely smile every time. I had to fight back the urge to turn back and acknowledge the crowd even as I knew I would have no way of identifying who was shouting what.
We also passed by Independence Hall and a group of guys dressed up as Patriots standing on the side. Some were handing out water, some were singing songs. All were cheering and clapping for each runner as we passed by. From my vantage point, it made me feel somewhat patriotic just to be running this race.

Running means challenging yourself
To be better than you think you can be.
Mile 7 – 6:30; Mile 8 – 6:43; Mile 9 – 6:32
These middle miles were the toughest miles for me today for several reasons. For starters, there were hills and steep climbs in each of these miles that I was not expecting. For the most part, I tackled each one the best that I could, by keeping my strides short, increasing my turnover and powering through with a consistent effort. This was a good strategy for me as I would pass by many runners on all my uphill climbs. The problem was that once I crested the hills, it took quite a while for my heart rate to recover and settle down. As a result, my pace and heart rate drifted erratically during this stretch and I really had to fight some demons here to prevent a midway meltdown.
Incidentally, this was also the part of the course with the least number of spectators. Emerging from the boisterous crowds in downtown Philly, I was surprised to find so many dead areas in these miles. I remember seeing lots of lawns and trees on my way through and wishing that I could just lie down there with a bottle of sunscreen!
Finally, the middle miles was demoralizing on me because I was fighting my pace the whole way. For some reason, I had it in my mind that I should be running faster than 6:30 miles so to see my pace hovering at 6:29-6:30 was a frustrating and disconcerting. At times, I experimented by throwing a few speed surges but still found that I was married to a 6:30 paces at the end of them. It was a bit depressing. I can’t even explain why I felt so bad about it, since prior to a month ago, 6:30 was my half marathon PR pace, but to be doing it here, in this race, so consistently mile-after-mile after starting out at a blistering fast pace just felt like a copout to me.

Running means living a passionate life
And inspiring others to do the same.
Mile 10 – 6:36; Mile 11 – 6:31
The final and the toughest hill climb came at the end of mile 10 next to Memorial Hall in Fairmont Park. This was a nasty ascent not only because it was long and steep, but also because you could see the entire length of the uphill trail all the way from the bottom as it winds itself up through the grassy field onto the overpass ahead. Although I had advanced notice of this section of the course from friends who’ve run here before, I still felt very intimidated by this hill when I happened upon it toward the latter stages of mile 10. I saw a couple of demoralized runners walking off to the side as I approached the ascent gingerly and relaxed my pace. I ran methodically with short quick strides and followed the procession up the hill. At the crest, I had to stop for a few seconds to settle my breathing and drink my water at the fluid station before continuing on.
After vanquishing the hill and crossing the 10 mile mark, I knew all that stood between me and the finish was a short 5K. Although I wanted to begin gradually increasing my speed, I didn’t know how much I had left at the tank after the brutal climb a half mile before. So I bid my time and waited until my breathing was less labored before considering a push towards the finish. We were at a short out-and-back now and I could see a few friends and Flyers coming up from behind me about a half-mile to a mile away. I gave each a wave and a cheer of encouragement. Just about everyone I saw looked like they were running really fast and heading for big PRs in their race. This was very inspiring to see. At the end of this mile, we left the out and back and I knew it was time for me to get down to business.

Running means breaking down limits and barriers
And discovering a better me
Mile 12 – 6:21; Mile 13 – 5:58; Last 0.1 – 0:42
My mile 11 time was both comforting and frustrating to me at the same time. On the one hand, I was glad to see that I recovered from the monstrous climb at mile 10 to reclaim my previous running pace. However, this pace was again 6:31. At this point, I had an internal debate with myself regarding how I should handle the last two miles of this half marathon. The safe, conservative approach would be to maintain 6:30-6:32 pace and come in at a respectable 1:25 or so. This result wouldn’t stand out but be commendable and respectable to everyone. Or, I could push the envelope, go for broke, and maybe secure a new PR. In the few seconds it took me to deliberate these possibilities, I thought about the events of yesterday and this morning. I thought about how close I was to not even running this race. I thought about all my half marathons of this past year and how I wanted this last one to be something special, to stand out. Once I realized what I must do, I started picking up my pace slowly and steadily. One by one, I began passing runners. This gave me fuel and energy to run even faster. At the one mile mark, I checked my pace and realized that I was now running 6:20 and right on par for a PR. I close my eyes and continue to push the pace. I’m now passing people in droves. They are all looking at me wondering how it could be that I’m running so fast. I don’t ask, I don’t try. In my mind, I’m running mile intervals around the Central Park reservoir by myself. When I’m a half-mile away from the finish, I crank it up another notch and begin my push to the finish line. I’m counting steps and watching the clock at the same time. At last, I see the sign for the finish and start my final kick. Upon seeing 1:24:XX as I crossed the finish line, I knew I had done it. Another half-marathon complete, another PR!

Final Time – 1:24:14 (PR by 0:11)

Final Thoughts
I know it wasn’t a big PR, but I’m really proud of how I ran this race. I allowed my legs to set the pace in the early miles, kept and maintained an even effort on the middle miles and fought complacency, inattentiveness and fatigue to run my fastest mile in the last mile of the race en-route to a half-marathon PR in the final race of the 13.1 mile distance this calendar year. It is shocking to realize that in just one short year, I have set 3 PRs and improved by more than a minute in the half-marathon. I’m excited to experience all of this again as I begin the chase to 1:23 next year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What “Running Means”
Race Report from the Philly Half Marathon
Part I – The Day Before The Race

The theme from this year’s Philadelphia Marathon/Half Marathon running series was “Running Means…” which was a peculiar question to ask, I thought, because if anyone really wanted to know, they could’ve just consulted Webster’s, Oxford, Google, Wikipedia, or any of an assortment of on-line and off-line resources to find the answer. (BTW, if you had to look it up, all it really means is to put one foot in front of the other in some sort of coordinated fashion that is faster than walking!) Haha!
All kidding aside, one of the main reasons I wanted to run this race was to define running for myself. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to others? Is this something I do, or is this something I am? I not only wanted to know the answer to this riddle, I wanted to experience it firsthand. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, feel it with my own feet, and hear it with my own ears, so that if a non-runner asks, I can accurately describe what running personally means to me.

Arrival in Philly, The Expo, Pasta Dinner, and The Night Before
The Saturday bus trip to Philly from NYC was pleasant and uneventful as we entertained ourselves with stories, gossips, and of course, facebook updates and race day forecasts every 5 minutes. I was traveling down with Flyers JT, JB, and BS and each of us had our own expectations and reservations about the race. JT and JB were running their goal marathon while JS and I were just running the half as an excuse to bask in the race atmosphere and cheer on friends. We made a pact that we’d keep ourselves to half the food and half the drinks this weekend because unlike everyone else, “we weren’t the real runners; we’re just running the half!” That would become our rallying cry for the rest of the trip.
We arrived at Philly in the early afternoon after a faster-than-average two hour ride. Although the bus trip was short, it was still over our lunch hour, so we were starving for some food by the time we got into town. Since none of us were too familiar with Philly, there was a lot of humming and hawing about where exactly we should eat. During this little confusion over which location seemed most appropriate for a pre-marathon lunchtime meal, I excused myself to use the restroom in the visitor’s center across the street. When I got back, they were still at the same point in the discussion as when I had left! This prompted the funniest comment of the weekend from BS who said “Yeah, in case you all didn’t know, he pees at a 6 minute pace too!” Absolutely hilarious! After some iPhone consulting and JT suddenly remembering that she went to UPenn and things don’t change that much in six or seven years, we headed over to the Reading Terminal which was situated right next to the convention center where the race expo was. This was the perfect choice because we all wanted to save our legs as much as possible for race day.
Although the servicing was a bit more delayed than we were used to back home, we got a table quickly, ordered, relaxed, and chowed down our meals (when it finally came) at race pace. I had my first Philly Cheese Steak in well over a year and savored every bite. The others were a little suspicious of my meal choice until I reminded them again that “I was just running a half!” the next day, so no double-decker club sandwiches for me!
After we ate, we went to the race expo to pick up numbers and bibs. Upon reaching the race area, I felt so excited just to be in the vicinity of marathoners and running gear that I literally jumped and knocked my head on top of one of the fixtures. Ouch! Now, it was time for me to remind myself not to get overly excited myself because again, “I’m just running the half!” We all splitted up at this point to get our own numbers and race gear. I felt all sorts of weird looking around for the “kid’s table” to grab my bib. I half-heartedly expected some race official to jump out in the middle of my search and say “Excuse me, Sir, we couldn’t help but noticed your application for the half and given your times and veteran marathoner’s status, thought you were probably better suited to run the full, so we made the switch on your behalf. There’s a marathon race bib with your name on it waiting for you on the opposite side.” But no that didn’t happen. Instead, I walked over, picked up my half-marathon bib, asked the overly enthusiastically lady working the gear area whether it was too late to ask about the full marathon option (she said there wasn’t such a thing) and I left it at that. The only solace I got was that the gear bag and race shirt both looked pretty sweet and definitely useable for future races. What was even nicer was the pair of technical running gloves I found later hidden within the gear bag. Sweet! I’d never gotten running gloves as a souvenir from a race before so finding those instantly lifted my spirits about the race.
After checking out the rest of the race expo, saying hi to Bart Yasso for about the fifth time this year and successfully pulling myself away from signing up for five spring marathons that all seemed so enticing from the race ads, I left the convention center with BS to find our hotel where we’d be staying that night. We were staying within walking distance of both the expo and the start so it didn’t take too long for us to find the place. Once we did, we quickly checked in, unpacked, changed, showered, and laid out all our race gear for the next day. We chilled a little bit in the room and before we knew it, it was already time to head out to meet the rest of the Flyer crew for the obligatory pre-marathon pasta dinner.
There were roughly about 15 Flyers who showed up for dinner that night at a homely family-style Italian restaurant that rivaled Sambuca or Tony’s DiNapoli in NYC. DK, our master dinner planner extraordinaire, had picked the setting and called ahead for reservations so we got seated almost as soon as we got in. By the time BS and I arrived at the festivities, JT was already seated at a table with a bunch of her relatives, so was runner26 with her husband and parents seeming as nervous as I’d ever seen her. BS show to sit with a bunch of other Flyer contingent at the far end of a long table while I chose to sit at a new one with DK and JB who had shown up just as we were able to order and eat. Because we were all split up into different tables, we ordered individually according to table size. Being I was in the smallest table and running the shortest distance (both DK and JB were running the full despite having done NYCM 3 weeks ago just like me), I really didn’t eat all that much since I was sticking to my guns that halfers should only carb up half as much as fullers! (I had to look over to my half partner BS to make sure we weren’t cheating!) But what I did eat was pretty delicious and actually quite filling so I had no complaints.
After dinner, we all gathered for some quick pictures before scattering off to our individual hotels to prepare for an early wakeup call the next day. Before I left, I was able to catch up a bit with runner26 who told me about her pre-race anxiety and nervousness and phantom ankle pains she was having all week. I responded by telling her to use her past marathon experiences to channel her nervous energies to running a good race. I also told her that I never believe in phantom pains that crop up only on race week. From what I know about the way the body works, phantom pains is just a misrepresentation of recovery mechanisms that the body isn’t used to and don’t know how to interpret. They will invariably disappear once the race starts. I don’t know if she quite believed me but I was pretty confident that my diagnosis was accurate and my impromptu treatment plan would work wonders for her race. As we parted, I wished her good luck, even as I knew she only had to trust herself to run a great race. (As an aside, she took my advice and ran an amazing PR sub-4 race the next day! Big ups to runner26!)
As for me, I trampled back to my hotel room, checked and double checked all that I would need for the next day and went to sleep. As I laid quietly in bed, I thought a lot about all my Flyer friends who rocked their 60Ks in Central Park earlier in the day and those that were about to run the full marathon in the morning. I wrestled with my own feelings of inadequacy even as I know I am in no way prepared to race a full marathon even if permitted to so soon after NYCM. Yet, I also knew I had to ultimately forgive myself and focus on my own race if I was going to have any chance of success the next day. This proved to be a harder task than I imagined as I fell asleep subconsciously still scheming of possible ways to escape my fate of “only” running the half-marathon on race morning. Little did I know something unexpected would happen just prior to the race start that would make me ever so thankful just to be able to compete in the half marathon distance.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Running Philly Means Half Marathon PR

Wow, what a weekend! I just got back from Philly and had so much fun running and following everyone else who ran that I had a hard time coming home. The long and short of it was that I didn’t get my AG award, but got great weather, a good race, and an 11 second PR to boot! “Ain’t Catchin’ Me” goal achieved! Woohoo!
I’m quite pooped now, but here are the stats from today’s race.

Official Statistics from the Philadelphia Half Marathon
Finishing Time – 1:24:14 (11 second PR!)
Average Pace – 6:25 min/mi
Overall Place – 70/7188 (1.0%)
Gender Place – 63/2533 (2.5%)
Age Group Place – 8/421 (1.9%)
Age Graded % – 70.6%

As usual, full report to follow. Hope everyone also enjoyed their weekend!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Little Table, Big Table

If you’ve ever been to dinner party at the Lams, you’d know that we like to separate our guests into two tables – a big table where the adults sit with their beer and wine, and a smaller table for the youngsters with their cokes and iPods. As one of the ‘tweeners in our extended family, I often have to make a tough decision as to which table I should grace with my presence. Although I ultimately almost always side with the younger crowd (because honestly, there’s only so much news, politics, and economics I can stand in one sitting), I often wonder whether I would ever feel welcomed at the big table and if I’d ever fit in.
In much the same way, I’m feeling a bit lame right now, getting my clothes, my shoes and my gear ready for the trip to Philly. This weekend, so many of my friends are either running the 60K race in Central Park or the marathon in Philly that traveling so far and getting so excited to run a measely half marathon feels a lot like sitting in the kiddie table for dinner to me. Never mind that I have no desire whatsoever to be an ultra distance runner or to kill myself in another marathon so soon after NYCM, I still feel somewhat inadequate racing that distance while so many I know are running for so much longer. Am I being crazy or is everyone else somewhat nuts (especially the ones who are doing NYC and Philly back-to-back)? I just can’t decide.
On the one hand, I salute everything they are doing and admire them for their persistence and passion for running, but on the other hand, I feel as if I’m doing just as good and will be running just as hard in my half marathon too. So why do I feel as if I don’t deserve the same level of respect for my PR attempt at the half as others do in their full marathons? Is this an example of the runner brain going haywire on me or is there some truth to this accusation?
To be completely honest, I actually think the half marathon may be the ideal race distance for me. On the one hand, it is still an endurance test, which I love, but on the other hand, you still get to run tempo pace or faster for much of the race without having to worry about bonking or hitting the wall at some point later on. Half marathons are also so much simpler to run and train for than their older brother counterparts that may require 4 or 5 months of rigorous preparation. I often feel fine enough to run the day after racing a half-marathon, while just walking to the subway the day after running a full qualifies as a Herculean feat. There is also no tapering required leading up to a half marathon while the tapering crazies in the last week before marathon day can sometimes be the toughest part of the race to deal with.
Looking back at all my races in 2009, I can’t believe this will be my 8th 13.1 mile adventure of the year. In all the previous years combined, I’ve ran a total of 9 (and never more than 3 in one year), so I'm thinking this running year will be remembered more for the half marathons that I crushed (PR’d in 2) then for the marathons I didn’t (O PR’s this year).
What a perfect way to celebrate my best half-marathon year of all time than by running the last one for a PR! Yes, Philly I am ready for you! You and your marathon cronies who will inevitably look down on me with disdain better watch out, ‘cause me and my little table of half-marathoners are coming down to represent. Game on folks! Let’s get ready to rock this town!
(As an aside, please don’t get offended if you’re a marathoner or a 60Ker this weekend. You guys all still rock in my book…Congrats to everyone out there who are racing! Let the games begin!)
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