Monday, May 31, 2010

Thanks, Apologies, and Saying No to Buffalo

My, oh my, has it been a week already?!

Thanks to all of you for all your encouragement, comments and compliments on my performance in the Brooklyn Half. In many many ways, it wasn't the race that D and I expected and from now on, I will always remember that experience every time I run by those hills in Prospect Park. For me at least, Brooklyn will always serve as a poignant reminder that there's no guarantees in racing, no matter how much you plan and how prepared you think you might be prior to race day.

I'd also like to apologize for my absence from the blogosphere the past week. I've been dealing with a lot of personal and professional issues of late and it's been taking a toll on my running and my blogging. Sometimes, things in the real world just doesn't pan out as well as we'd like and we all need time to think things through, recharge our batteries and come up with an appropriate action plan.

Towards that end, I finally decided to skip out on running the Buffalo Marathon. If you know me, then you know that was a somewhat painful decision to make. It marks the first time I've not run a marathon that I registered for. (I'm not counting Jersey earlier this month because I was sick and at least suffered through the half in that one.) It will also be the first time that I went through a whole 16-week marathon training cycle and yet not run a goal marathon. I think I could have probably suffered through one if I wanted to. But after talking to Flyers and friends and objectively assessing my current level of fitness, I realized that to NOT run a marathon right now is the best decision for me. Why? Well, for starters, my stamina and endurance took a big dip after my week long illness at the beginning of the month and after a few weeks it still hasn't returned to the level I thought it would be. It was a bit of a physical struggle to run 1:30 in Brooklyn a week ago so practically speaking, a sub-3 wasn't likely to happen. This means that I'd just be running the marathon just for fun, and not for a time. This would be fine, except that my right knees/ankles/feet are not 100% right now and I wouldn't be enjoying running if my entire right lower extremity is screaming at me to stop.

Furthermore, Chicago Marathon training starts in two weeks (Yikes!), which means I would have no time for recovery if I were to run a marathon this weekend. So for everyone who wanted me to run, I'd have to say Thanks, but no thanks. I'm going to save my body for marathon #10 on 10/10/10. (Besides, it has a nice ring to it doesn't it?)

So for the next couple of weeks, I'm going to ease off the miles a bit and focus on the shorter stuff. I have a 4M race this coming weekend that I'm itching to PR in (my previous 4M PR is more than a year and half old!) and a 5M race at the end of the June to keep me motivated. I also got a brand new pair of the Saucony Kinvaras that are light, fast, and yet very comfortable to run in. They are my new loves this summer! I've been hitting the track pretty regularly with them in hopes that my 400s and 800s will translate to some better race times in the short distances. After focusing on long runs and long tempo work for so long, I've forgotten how much fun it is to run fast again! Here's to rediscovering some of that racing magic from yesteryear! Summer of Speed version 2010 commence!

Happy Memorial Day to all of you out there! It's a hot one today so be careful and hydrate extra if you're running, biking or doing any type of outdoor activity. Oh, and a little sunscreen on all of the exposed areas wouldn't hurt either!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Tale of Two People and Their Chase for 1:30
Race Report from the 2010 Brooklyn Half Marathon

Ever since I've been a marathoner, I've had a recurring nightmare that comes about once a year usually around the time I'm tapering for a big race. In it, I'm at the end or near the end of a big marathon, running well, feeling great, and heading towards a big PR when all of a sudden, a runner crashes to the ground right next to me and I find myself in an ethical bind. Do I stop and help my fellow runner, providing medical assistance where I can, knowing sometimes minutes or seconds can be the difference between life and death or do I keep running and trust that a volunteer and/or medical personnel will come to the rescue soon? What should I do? What is the right course of action to take as a runner and as a doctor? It's a split second decision, but in my dreams, it can last much longer. I always wake up before the decisive decision is ever made so I never quite figure out the right answer, but whether I'm asleep or awake, it is a scenario that haunts me constantly...

It's 3:45AM on a Saturday morning. Besides two overly excitable drunken couples staggering along on the opposite side of the street, the road I'm walking down is quiet and lonely. They must be having a laugh over why a funny looking Asian guy in a tech shirt and too short shorts would be up at this ungodly hour walking toward the train when the only people who are awake now are struggling to get home. To be honest, I'm kind of wondering the same thing. What was I thinking way back in March when I signed up for this half marathon in Prospect Park? Even worse, why am I following through with this even after figuring out that traveling to Brooklyn from Queens would require in excess of an hour and half for a race that starts at 7AM? Didn't we just make an official running rule the last time we made this trip and failed that I would never again travel to a NYC race that takes longer to get to by mass transit than time actually spent running the race? I struggled with the answers to these questions as I waited for the 4:06 LIRR train from Flushing into the city. All I could come up in my half-awaken state was a refrain from a poem I memorized as a kid which read - "...But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep."

It's now 6AM, and although the darkness has disappeared, the air is still cool, misty and damp on this early race morning. I'm sitting along the side of the road in Prospect Park gathering my things and eagerly awaiting the arrival of a teammate, a friend, and my Ragnar Relay captain. A couple nights ago, DC asked for a volunteer to be a 1:30 pacer for this race. Since I knew I didn't want to race all-out but did want to know whether I was fit enough to carry a 3:00 marathon pace comfortably and consistently for the half, I eagerly accepted her invitation. This is not a new course to me, since I ran, died, and sprinted to a 1:26 at this place a year ago. To carry someone through this treachery successfully and effectively, however, will be an entirely different task altogether. I go the mental checklist of things to do and to avoid that I had compiled the last time I paced a friend at a half marathon and did my best to calm my nerves as I waited for the Flyer bus from Manhattan to arrive.

It's an hour later, 7AM, and we're moments away from the start of the race. I'm lined up with DC and another good friend JB in the second corral. DC is telling me that this was a big PR attempt for her (I had not known this prior) and that she wanted to start slow, warm up over the hills in Prospect Park and speed up on the straight away down to Coney Island. JB isn't sure what he wants to do but figures he'd start with us and drop back to a slower pace at some point during the race. I am processing all of this new information while making my own mental calculations on what a realistic "slow-start fast-finish strategy" pace should be for a 1:30. Everyone starts moving. We do the same. The race is ON!

I fully expected the first mile to be slow since avoiding the crowds at the start of a sold-out race is darn near impossible, especially from the second corral. I intended to lead my group of two over the first hill at a consistent 7:00 clip without too much weaving and swerving but people around us were moving just too slowly. I keep an eye on DC and JB who aree trailing about 15-20 feet behind me while finding as clear a path to run through as possible. We pass the first mile marker at 7:05, which is a little slower than I had wanted but figure we'd have plenty of time to make this back up. We are now cruising downhill a bit, or so I thought, when all of a sudden DC moves off the road, onto the grass by the side, holding her left side. I follow her and stop. She tells me she can't continue and to go on without her. I panic. "What? What do I do now?" I ask myself. She limps for a few steps, and stops. She is clearly in a lot more pain than I've ever seen her. This is a woman who's conquered a 50 miler a couple months prior, a 25K two weeks ago, and ran an "extra leg" as team captain a week prior. So to see her limping and grimacing in severe agony wasn't something I had prepared for. I badger her for more information. "It's my hip. My hip. It hurts. I can't move my hip." I ask her to stop limping and lay down on the ground. She reluctantly complies. I proceed to spend the next five or ten minutes stretching and massaging her leg, hoping against hope that it was all just a bad nasty cramp. But it seemed like the more I worked on her, the more I was hurting her. So I stopped after a good while and just asked her to lay flat on her back and hold tight. By now, a couple of volunteers had stopped by and were placing a call for a medical cart. All around us, the race is continuing uninterrupted. Friends and Flyers were asking every few seconds if everything is alright. I wave them by knowing there's not much more that can be done. I'm amazed by all the runners in the crowd that recognize us. I'm also surprised by those that don't but pretend to care anyway. After a few more minutes, DC acknowledges that the searing pain has been replaced by a dull numbness now. I tell her not to get up. She tells me that she this will be her first DNF race. We wait some more. JB sees us on his second lap around the park and runs towards us onto the grass. DC and I both tell him not to stop but to run hard and grab his PR instead (which he eventually did!) We watch more runners pass. Some people call out to me by the wrong name. For the last time, my name does NOT start with a B! DC and I share a laugh. The medical volunteer tells us that he's already placed two calls through his walkie talkie already. We surmise that they are probably waiting for the roadway to be cleared of runners before bringing over the cart knowing that this wasn't a critical situation. We go on to think that I'd probably would have to take the train to get my stuff at the finish all the way out in Coney Island. It probably would be much faster for me to run the course to get there instead of taking the train. DC tells me to run. I ask if she'll be okay. She assures me with a nod and a grin and I take off.

It's been about 35 or 40 minutes since the race began and somehow, for some reason, I'm back on the road again. I blend myself in with the moving crowd and slowly feel my legs moving faster with every stride. Mile 2 in 6:55. Mile 3 in 6:37. Not too bad. I make my way haphazardly through the sparse and sporadic crowd like a kid who's lost his mother in a marching street parade. Mile 4 - 6:40. Whoa, that last hill was a little tough. Suddenly the road splits off into one lane for the second lap and another for exiting the park. For a split second, I thought about cutting my losses and joining the crowd who were all done with mile 7 and moving on to Ocean Parkway. Who cares? My race is shot anyway. Who's gonna know if I skip a few miles and run with the masses instead? But I don't. I bid the runners adieu and go on to run my second loop around Prospect Park. Mile 5 - 7:03. Mile 6 - 7:03. I'm running by myself, way far out in the back of the pack now. I slowed down purposefully during the second loop around not so much because I was tiring, but more because I lost focus and interest in running fast. What's the point now that I lost DC? I'm going to finish with a horrific time anyway. Why shouldn't I just jog this in? Then I remembered why I was here, why I wanted to do this in the first place. I wanted to learn to run consistently and be better at pacing. I decide right there and then, somewhere in the 7th mile, to dedicate the rest of this race to DC and run if we're still on pace for 1:30. I invigorate myself at the next water stop with several cups of Gatorade and begin my assault against the course, the Garmin and my own imaginary clock.

Mile 7 - 6:45. Mile 8 - 6:47. Escaping the humidity of the park was a gossend although running along Ocean Parkway with no shade was still a bit tough. I fight my way back to the crowds now although the need to weave and dodge all the slower runners made the experience a bit unpleasant. I tried to be especially courteous and cautious around the water tables but the constant bump and grind of walkers there made the hydration trips always an adventure.

Mile 9 - 6:51. Mile 10 - 6:56. I was starting to tire noticeably as the miles dragged on. My legs which had been fresh and eager to run in the first miles of the park have been replaced by wooden pegs that winced and creaked with every footfall. I got noticeably annoyed by the constant parade of slower runners who always seemed to get in my way the harder I tried to avoid them. I finally took a GU at mile 10 and told myself not to whimper in the last 5K.

Mile 11 - 6:47, Mile 12 - 6:51, Mile 13 - 6:44, Last 0.1M - 0:41. The ending to the running saga was a little bit of a blur to me. I succinctly remember trying to rally my neighbors to blast through the last 5K. I also remember feeling as if I wasn't going to make my time. I don't remember though what I saw or how I exactly felt running the last few miles. By the time I reached the boardwalk for the last 0.1M, everyone was already there having a ball and enjoying the nice weather day. I remember crossing the finish line, knowing that I had made my time (officially 2:04:23; unofficially 1:29:52), yet feeling kind of sad that I lost my partner in the heat of battle. Most of all, I just missed my friend.

The after party at Beer Island with Flyers and friends was bittersweet as I had to regale the story of DC and me to all those who saw us laying there on the side of the road. Since she didn't have her phone, I wasn't even able to contact her until way after the fact. Still, everyone who's heard the story think I went above and beyond in helping her deal with her injuries right there on the spot. I don't really see it that way. To be honest, the decision to stop and help was purely instinctual, especially for me as a member of the medical profession. It never really cross my mind to do anything different. Correct me if I'm wrong, but would anyone really leave their injured buddy on the side of a road and not help? I seriously hope not. For as my running mentor (who is himself a doctor) once told me, "To be a runner, you must be the person first."

Heal well, DC. It was a complete honor to run with you.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How A Bunch of "Kidz Who Whiz" Worked It Out
The Story of the 2010 Ragnar Relay NY (Part III)

Catching Some Z's

It was almost midnight by the time we handed off to Van 1 for their overnight adventure. We were tired, hungry (at least I was) and had only a few hours before we'd be back up again for our next leg. I suggested we stop off at a diner for food, but since the rest of my van felt sleeping was more important, we drove off to the next major relay in search of some z's. We eventually found ourselves in the back of a high school parking lots with lots of cars and people and teams moving to and fro. Although the atmosphere was very lively, we were a bit too tired to take pictures or enjoy the festivities. BS and CK offered to stay in the van while the rest of us pulled out our sleeping bags and found an open spot amidst the crowd to lay our heads. I pulled out a few of the fruits that I had brought from home and re-carbed a bit before I hit the sack.

Amidst the noise, lights, and random chaos, it was a bit hard to actually fall asleep. I don't think I got more than 30 minutes of total shut eye time when my phone rang. It was BS informing me that van 1 was running ahead of schedule and was only 45 or so minutes away. Dang It Van 1, why you gotta be so damn near efficient! I yelled under my breath as I reluctantly packed my bags and loaded them back into our van. We all got ready quickly to await the arrival of our fearless captain with the pace bracelet to begin our second leg. As we did, we chatted with the other Flyer teams who were also there for the exchange as well as other local runners and friends we recognized who were there, just hanging out. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, enjoying the commaderie and commiserating with one another on all the tough hills we've encountered thus far.

Legs 19-24

It was around 2:30-3am when DC appeared like a flash in the dark and handed off her bracelet to SE beginning our second round of duty. Unlike the previous set of legs for our van which was all long and hard, this set was going to be short, still hard but fast. We tried to still stop off in the middle of each runners legs to offer support and fluids if needed but because these legs consisted of 3, 4, or 5 miles each, there was not as much need of a need for hydration mid-run. Everyone ran well and had good results as our road kill totals crept up higher and higher. To be honest, we did have some difficulty in the middle portion of this set of legs, as BS was led off course for about 1.5 miles by a dysfunctional road sign and a set of runners who had no clue where they were going. (He was eventually picked up and driven back to the exact point where he was led astray by another team. What a show of sportsmanship!) CK also had a tough leg here as her injuries caught up with her and she had to walk/limp the rest of the way after cramping a half mile into a 3 mie run. We didn't lose too much ground though as JT brought us right back into the thick of things with a solid run of her own.

My description of my second leg, Leg 24 can be found on the previous post.

Breakfast and Sleep Some More

After I handed off once again to JPM in Van 1 again, we headed off in search of gas, coffee, and food. We had been resorting to the assorted mix of cookies, bagels, fruits and candies for the past 24 hours and we were all craving for some real food. Luckily, after finding a gas station near the next major exchange locale, we found a little deli across the street serving breakfast food. Score! I had a bacon/egg breakfast panini (I was hungry...don't judge) and Earl Grey tea while others had their assorted sandwiches and loaded up on their coffee. It was close to the best breakfast I've ever had.

We still had about an hour to kill when we arrived at the next exchange point. By now, the sun was out in bright force and what was once a brisk and chilly morning had completely given way to a beautiful day. Some of us used the excuse to lay out in the sun and nap. I stayed awake with CK helping to tape her knee and talk through her injuries with her (felt like I was the on call Ragnar doc for some reason). We came to the conclusion that it was probably not a good idea for her to run her third and final leg in the state that she was in and so we tele-conferenced with Van 1 and asked for a replacement volunteer. To no one's surprise really, our fearless captain, DC came through and offered her services for more miles.

Legs 31-36

These last set of legs were completely joy for us. The weather was perfect. The scenery was spectacular. Everyone ran strong. Everyone ran well. SE/MT randomly got to drive by the church where they were married. BC ran hard, looking for redemption for when he got lost. DC ran her extra 4.5 mile leg like a champ. JT got her wish of running on some real trails while I got to run the anchor leg and finish off the course for our team. The best moment was when we all gathered 100 feet before the finish in our team shirts and crossed the line together, hands held high, knowing that no matter how tough the course was, technically and logistically we all "worked it out" got it done effectively, efficiently, and with smiles on our faces the whole entire way.


It wasn't until we were all home later that night, passed out on our couches and beds, that we found out that we actually won 3rd place in the Mixed Open Division with our time of 24:28! Holla! It was all so unexpected but very well-deserving at the same time. To me, the award validates the fact that we all killed it out there and really worked well as a team. A special thanks and congrats goes to team captain DC who assembled and organized this bunch of speedy bandits and worked out all the logistics so we could all run our hearts out and have fun. Special mention to all my "Kidz Who Whiz" teammates who banded together and got the job done! You all are ROCK STARS in my book!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How A Bunch of "Kidz Who Whiz" Worked It Out
The Story of the 2010 Ragnar Relay NY (Part II)

The Day Before The Race

The crew met up at the supermarket to shop for food, drinks, and bare essentials that we'd need for the trip. That was the plan anyway. But in addition to Gatorade, water, peanut butter, and assorted trail mix, my van 2 mates (SE, MT, BS, JT, CK) and I individually and collectively searched the aisle for cookies, candies, and assorted treats that would serve as "rewards" during the ride. That's when I knew this was "my crew" and that's when I knew we'd have a fun, fun trip.

We were introduced to the rest of the crew over dinner later that night. SE and MT (the couple in our group) were gracious enough to open up their apartment and serve us homemade pasta and garlic bread after our shopping trip. Van 1 consisted of DC (captain), BH (Flyer VP and 2:52 Boston marathoner), JPM (speedy North Bklyn runner), EC (ultra-specialist from London), SN (good fast running friend of captain), JG (good fast running friend of BH). It became fairly obvious that while Van 2 is all about fun and games, Van 1 was all about business!

As we ate our "Last Supper" prior to race day, we went over leg assignments and our roles and responsibilities in our respective vans. DC also presented us with awesome team shirts that she'd designed and made for all of us. She also handed out colored sunglasses that were supercool and went with our outfits for the trip. As a group, we, "Kidz Who Whiz," projected we'd finish the relay in about 24 hours. We knew this because someone in Van 1 had taken the time to determine an approximate finishing time for each of the 36 legs based on the runner's average race pace, the length of the leg, and the difficulty of the leg. "Beat the Grid" became the rallying cry for all of us running our legs during the next 24 hours.

Race Morning

Because our team race start wasn't until 2pm, and the trip to Woodstock, NY was not going to take more than 2 hours, we had plenty of time to drive upstate from the city the next morning. Still, being the troopers that we are, we all met up early at SE/MT's apartment for breakfast, loaded up our two vans with our food and gear, and was on the road by 9am. The drive to Woodstock was uneventful, although a sporadic thunderstorm with heavy rain midway during the trip had us worried. For the most part, we listened to a mixed CD that MT prepared, collectively came up with nicknames and spirit animals to be used during the relay, and joked and laughed about what it'd be like running in the dark for the first time. Would we see stars? Would we get lost? What if you looked up with your headlamp and found a pair of animal eyes staring back at you? Would you keep running, stand still, or run back in the opposite direction? Haha! We were all already freaked out even before we got there.

Pre-Race Festivities

It had turned into a pretty sunny and warm day by the time we got to Woodstock at around 11:30am or so. We were all excited to see the starting area fully functioning and operational and other teams with their colorful costumes and vans setting up shop at various spots around the parking lot. Because Ragnar uses staggered starts beginning at 9am in 30 minute intervals, we got to witness the starting ceremonies for some of the other teams as we waited around for race registration to take place. Many of us also recognized friends on other teams around the city who had made the trip upstate as well, which is always fun.

After a brief tour of the staging area, it was back to business for us. While waiting for van 1 to register and attend their Ragnar safety class, van 2 took the opportunity to decorate our Rag mobile. Some of us drew our spirit animals while others of us just wrote down every inspirational phrase we knew with the words "Kidz" or "Whiz" in it. It's a shame I don't draw well myself but those in our group who did really turned our ride into a mobile work of art!

After van 1 came back, we took some pictures and helped them decorate their van. We also practiced the slap bracelet transfer and held an impromptu dance party right there on the parking lot! (Hey, we needed to show the rest of Ragnar we're here to kick their race AND have fun doing it!) Soon it was time for one last meal (Mexican - we made do), one last pee stop (at the one municipal restroom in town), one last round of pictures, before the race would officially begin for us.

The Race Begins...And We Wait

As a team, we all gathered right next to the starting gate and cheered for all the Leg 1 runners as they were individually introduced representing their respective teams. There were some funny teams and costumes out there! Some of the more memorable ones were the Flying Borgines (out in full fledged Viking headpiece and dresses) and Post-Fontaine (with headband and knee high socks). It was really a spectacle to behold. Soon after the introductions, the runners, including our very own JPM, took off to a smattering of woops and cheers, and the relay race was ON!

We watched the runners streak down the sidewalk and wished good luck to our Van 1 mates as they drove toward the next exchange point to meet JPM and prepare for their own runs. As we weren't due to run for another three to four hours, our van had plenty of time to kill. So we loitered around a bit, took our time to drive to Relay Station 6 (where we would receive the handoff from van 1), underwent our own safety training, and ate and relaxed for the next several hours. I also took this time to familiarize myself with the driving directions since I'd be taking over the wheel while SE (our main driver) ran the first leg for us.

Leg 7-12

At around 5:30pm, DC came through like a gazelle to our relay station looking as if she was just back from a light morning jog. She handed off the slap bracelet to SE, who took off down the dusty road and we were officially on duty! We went back to the van, and took off after him. He had a tough and hilly 8 mile run to start and we wanted to support him the best we can. We stopped at mile 3 and mile 6 to offer him water/Gatorade as it was getting pretty hot and humid out. He worked the course like a champ though and got a few road kills early for our van as he handed off to MT, his wife, for Leg 8. We repeated the same process for her as we did for SE, stopping about half-way or so to provide cheers, water/Gatorade and support. We also tried to cheer for other runners when we drove past them on the road, knowing we were all out there running the same course and suffering the same hot weather. MT ran well, ran strong, and ran happy as she came through our exchange all smiles from a good hard effort.

Leg 9 went well too, as BS blistered his 10K run at a 7:05 pace as he would tell me later. He looked strong, fast, and really had fun out there. He also scored a few road kills for us which was always very motivating. The only trouble we had in the early going was in Leg 10 when CK started to have calf/knee issues early in the first mile. We all knew prior to the race that CK had been dealing with injuries off and on for the past several weeks, but like her, we thought (or hoped) that her body would be kind to her during the race. As we drove past her, she already looked as if she was limping a little. We really got concerned when a stranger came up to us as we were waiting for her at mile 3 of her 6 mile leg and asked if we knew the runner limping badly a little further back. However, by the time we drove back and found her again, her muscles had loosened and she was running more comfortably than when we last saw her in mile one. Yes, to a man, we were all proud of her that she'd "worked it out". We gave her some water and she had no further issues on the rest of that leg.

Next up was Leg 11, which went to JK. It was almost completely dark by the time she suited up with her reflective vest and headlamp for her run. Although I didn't know her before this trip, I could tell she would handle herself well on this course. The woman had just run a 50K out in Long Island five days before, so her 4 mile leg was probably not even enough to be a warmup run for her, even if it was a bit hilly. She did not disappoint as she held a good form, a good pace and handed off to me a little before the expected time.

Refer to the previous post for the story of my leg 12.

By the time I was done and handed the bracelet back to van 1, we as a group were all a bit exhausted, though happy and satisfied that we didn't die, didn't get lost, and made it through Day 1 with our bodies intact, ready for the challenge of Day 2.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How A Bunch of "Kidz Who Whiz" Worked It Out
The Story of the 2010 Ragnar Relay NY (Part I)

Wow! What a race! What an experience! What a fantastic running adventure Ragnar proved to be. I think I just fell in love with running all over again! Not that we ever broke up or anything, but there were times in the past few weeks when we were drifting apart. So I was definitely in need of inspiration/motivation to come back again, and boy was this relay race EXACTLY what the doctor ordered.

I will try to recap this race from the team as well as the individual perspective because none of this would have been possible without the collective efforts of my 11 other teammates and a super volunteer (who worked a crazy overnight shift at one of the relay checkpoint stations). So I want to start by handing out a hearty fist bump to all the members of my Ragnar "Kidz Who Whiz" team who pulled together, rallied each other, and showed those who didn't know how to RUN and have FUN at the same time!

But more on that later in the race report. For now, I want to start off by sharing my experiences on each of the three legs that I ran in the Ragnar relay.

Run #1 (Fri 5/14 9:42pm)
Leg 12 - 8.1 Miles
Difficulty - Very Hard
Time - 57:14 (6:56 min/mi)
Road Kills - 4

Because I was the anchor runner on our team of 12, I actually didn't get to run until almost eight hours after the race start at 2pm. This only meant that I had more than enough time to freak out about this night run. I knew all along that this would be the most difficult leg of the three for me, not only because it was the longest by distance, and hardest in terms of difficulty, but also because it starts off at night with a 3/4 mile steep uphill climb through a series of turns at mile 0.5. I toyed with the idea of running with my Droid phone, but since I've never raced with it before and it was running low in battery regardless, I ditched the idea and just went with my memory of the race course and my general sense of direction. I was still contemplating what I'd do if I got lost when I grabbed the slap bracelet from JT and started off on my eight mile adventure.

I took off at a fast and controlled pace down a spiraling street with my headlamp, strobe light, and reflective vest ready for action. My teammates came up, cheered, and drove past me after a quarter mile. Because this was a non-support leg, which meant that the team was not allowed to stop at any point to cheer on or aide the runner, I was now left to my own devices and would not see my team for the rest of the leg.

Soon after the team van disappeared, the horror of the hills began. For about three quarters of a mile, they came hard, they came steep, and if it wasn't someone reminding me before the race that "There's no walking and there's no crying in Ragnar!", I would have likely done both! They reminded me of the hills at the heart of San Francisco where steps are needed along the sidewalks just to go from one street to another. Omigosh, they were brutal. And the worst part was that after I scaled the monstrosity, I still had 6.5 miles left to run. I was already so exhausted! I did pass by 2 runners who allowed themselves to walk up the hills. Easiest road kill ever.

After the climbs ended, I scaled back the intensity and had a fairly good run. Because the turns on the course were well marked with flashing lights and there were not many of them, I didn't get lost on this night leg like I had feared. Most of the route ran along a major highway which became a nuisance by the end because the high beam headlights from the constant oncoming traffic blinded my vision and prevented me from experiencing tranquility and nature like I had expected.

Lots of little things bothered me about this leg, which was why I was happy yet a bit frustrated when I finished this run and handed off to teammate JP at the next major exchange. Did I mention how hot and humid it was? Temps were in the 70s with humidity in the high 80s. I was sweating buckets of water by the time I was done. There might have been a huge outburst of language not suitable for PG audience upon my crossing the finish which probably shocked many of my teammates. Woops! I don't usually cuss and use bad words like that out in public but if you ran what I ran and saw what I saw, perhaps you'd understand.

Run #2 (Sat 5/15 6:19 AM)
Leg 24 - 4.2 Miles
Difficulty - Hard
Time - 27:49 (6:37 min/mi)
Road Kills - 4

This leg was the most fun for me. It was short. It was downhill. It was fast. Well, at least for the first 2.5 miles it was. I kept a sub 6:10 pace and felt like I was completely flying, almost at the edge of losing control. The humidity had broken over the course of the night and gave way to a pleasant and cool morning. I hadn't even much since the last run so all I could think about while running was getting it done quickly so my team and I could handoff and get some real food for breakfast.

The second half of my leg were once again over some massive hills that humbled me. I cursed my life at every turn as I saw my heart rate and pace climb higher and higher with every step. There were runners walking these two, which I picked off easily and claimed as my motivation to keep battling. I must have climbed over 200 feet just in the last half mile alone! Even the transition area was located on the top of a giant hill. By the end, I was again exhausted and just glad to be done.

Run #3 (Sat 5/15 1:57 PM)
Leg 36 - 4.5 Miles
Difficulty - Moderate
Time - 30:26 (6:46 min/mi)
Road Kills - 2

When I first saw the profile for this third and final leg, I thought I would kill it. For once the course was flat with not much change in elevation, so why wouldn't I take full advantage and run my fastest time as I take my team across the finish line? Indeed, at the last exchange, I told my team that my goal was to break 30 minutes, and take us across in less than 24 and half hours (we started the race at 2PM the previous day). What I didn't account for though was that I would develop a major side stitch which crippled me for about a mile and that the majority of this route would be on trails and not roads. Darting across rocks, branches and other obstacles was fun, but again was not conducive to the fastest time. Since this was the last leg of the race though, I tried to have fun with it and not worry about my pace so much. I still wanted to keep my promise though of making it through in less than 24:30, so I ran as fast as I could, trying hard not to fall and break a bone in the process.

At a half mile before the finish, the route went back over the roads for the home stretch. Lots of bars and restaurants lined the sides of the busy streets. It was a beautiful sunny day out so many folks were taking their food and eating outside. Some of them clapped and cheered for me as I ran by. As I geared up for the sprint towards the finish, I passed by a couple of twitter friends having ice cream on a park bench. They didn't see me, and I wanted to say hi, but I had no breath to spare and I had a team of 11 others waiting for me at the finish. So I bypassed the opportunity to say hi and ask for a bite and just ran hard instead. I breezed through a long and steep descent towards the parking lot overlooking the Hudson where the finish line would be. At about 100 feet from the finish, I see my teammates all dressed in our snazzy "Kidz Who Whiz" shirts. I slowed down, waited for them to all join me, and crossed the finish line with our arms raised in victory.

(Part II and Pictures to come...)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ragnar Relay Time

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post and gave me more food for thought than an all-you-can-eat buffet on a Carnival cruise. I gather that the public consensus is for me to give up my pipe dream of running a marathon in late May, and for all intents and purposes, I think this is what will end up happening. But there's still the kid in me who believes and who wants to believe in miracles and I'm going to hold on to that tiny possibility, no matter how small, for as long as I can because honestly, I don't think I am ready to deal with the alternative just yet. (C'mon, am I really the only one who thinks it's absolutely ridiculous to lose that much fitness, strength, speed AND endurance from one week of sickness? It's just so so hard for me to believe. Sigh!)

Luckily for me, a final decision on this dilemma isn't due for another week or two because right now I've got my hands full preparing for an awesome running adventure this weekend. For those who don't know, I'm participating in a 12-runner, 24 hour, 200+ mile relay race, affectionately known as Ragnar NY, this coming Friday and Saturday. I'm not sure about the rest of my teammates, but I for one am completely nervous yet excited. For one thing, I've never participated in an overnight relay before, so running multiple times in the span of a day, running in complete darkness, and running without the benefit of much sleep, are all completely new and foreign experiences for me. For another, I'm signed up to be one of the drivers on this trip so trying to find my way around the course while looking for teammates and avoiding other runners will also prove quite challenging. Finally, did I mention how much I suck at staying on course during races? I've gotten lost each of the two times I've participated in off-road relays, both in bright daylight. I've gotten lost in a practice trail race last fall in Westchester. Heck, I've even gotten lost in a half-marathon in my own park! So what do you think it's going to happen when my first leg calls for an 8 mile run up the side of mountain in the middle of the night? I might as well bring along camping supplies with me while I run!

Yet, even though I am completely freaked out right now, I know I will have great fun. I will be surrounded by many friends, some old, some new, and all of us will have a grand ol' time cracking jokes, telling stories, and sharing in the craziness of our runs. Our team name is "Kidz Who Whiz" and our team motto is "Work It Out!". We have all already chosen nicknames to be used exclusively on this trip and our t-shirts are all made and ready to go (or so I've been told). We have a very strong team as we're lead by a guy and gal who've each done 50 milers earlier this year and the Flyer VP who just ran a 2:54 marathon in Boston! Others have run 50ks and marathons in the past month and have all done well. So if you get the impression that I'm the weak link on this team, you're probably right! Haha! My job, as far as I'm concerned, is to bring up the back of the pack (I'm Runner #12), and try NOT to fall too far behind and NOT to get lost! If I can handle that, I'll be golden. (Oh yeah, and maybe I should make it a goal not to crash the van or hit other runners either...)

Okay, yes, so somewhere in the 23rd hour or the 199th mile, I'm going to yell out "Yes, I'm having fun now..." if I make it back alive, I hope to have a good recap and maybe some pictures and videos of our race for your viewing pleasure. In the meantime, I better recheck my clothes, my supplies, my shoes, my headlamp, and everything else that I will eventually not find in my bag. If any of you have experience with this, feel free to let me know what I shouldn't forget or leave any tips/suggestions on how to survive an overnight relay. (If I sound like a totally newb...that's because I am!) Otherwise, have a great rest of the week and I'll catch you all on the flip side!

Ragnar, I'm ready for you...are you ready for the Lam? Woohoo!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Backup Plan

Sometime last week when I was in the depths of sickness and losing all reasonable hope of running the New Jersey Marathon, I began contacting friends and making arrangements to run the Buffalo Marathon at the end of May. At the time this seemed like a reasonable thing to do given the fact that I had physically trained and was mentally prepared to run a marathon before I got really sick. Conventional wisdom suggested that if I gave myself a week of full recovery, two full weeks of training and a final week to taper, I should be ready to tackle a marathon.

Unfortunately though, I underestimated the full impact this superbug would have on my physical conditioning and endurance. I'm telling you, people, it's been about a week since I've recovered fully from my illness but my speed and endurance are no where to be found. Just this weekend, I went on a slow 15 mile jog around town, and by the time I got to mile 14 or 15, I was in such bad shape - miserable, exhausted, and tachycardic. I couldn't imagine having to push through another 10, 11, or 12 more miles. This worried me considerably because I didn't expect myself to struggle so mightily before the heavy duty long mileage miles. Not only so, but I just felt "out of it", almost if my physical body was inhabited by someone else, someone who I don't recognize and who's not used to running.

So now, I'm back to square one, not knowing if I should still drag this body to Buffalo on Memorial Weekend, or surrender to the inevitable and rest and recover for shorter summer races instead. On the one hand, I know I should run one, if not for time (which at this point is most likely the case) then to have practice running the distance and to have closure on my spring training cycle. On the other hand though, I know I still have some injury concerns in my knees and feet and know that rest/recovery may be the best use of my time now before I crank up the mileage again to prepare for Chicago on 10.10.10. Yet, I still feel as if I have unfinished business with the spring season and should run a marathon just to welcome summer into my life. What to do, what to do?

Truth be told that I've been thinking about this all weekend and still can't come up with an adequate solution or a list of reasons FOR/AGAINST running another marathon this spring. I think this will turn out to be another race week decision for me. My plan for the rest of this month is to run Ragnar Relay this coming weekend (More details to come), than do a 20+ miler a day or two later as a dress rehearsal. If the mileage seems comfortable to me, I will proceed with the marathon plan. If not, I will not chance injury and stay home instead. I suspect this week and the next will go a long way to determining whether the backup plan is feasible or not. I hope I am ready.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Race I Had No Business Running
Race Report for the New Jersey/Long Branch Half Marathon (Part II)

Race Day Morning
6:15AM comes way too early for me as my FC wakes me about 45 minutes after we had scheduled to be up. He had showered, gotten dressed and eaten half his breakfast by the time I was able to convince my weary body to get out of bed and get ready. Thanks to my coughing fiasco in the middle of the night, I was exhausted and had a migraine upon waking. I knew right then that this day would not end well for me and gave a fleeting thought about not even attempting the half. But a couple of Motrins later with half a banana, and I somehow convinced myself to defer the decision until I got to the start area and see all my Flyer friends who had made the trek down from the Big City to run this race. Of course by the time I got there and met up with everyone about an hour later, I forgot all about my fatigue, exhaustion and sickness and made plans with Flyer JB to at least start off the race running together. In the back of my mind, no matter how crappy I felt, I was still thinking that I can run 13.1 with no problems. After all, this was my 22nd such race and never once have I had trouble completing the distance.

At The Start
The weather was sunny and already quite warm by the time JB and I made our way over to the race start a few minutes before 9am. Although everyone was weary about how hot it would eventually get, it was actually quite pleasant at the start on the boardwalk thanks to the constant breeze of the New Jersey shore. JB thought we should try to keep a 7:15 min/mi pace for the first miles so we situated ourselves adjacent to the 3:10 marathon pace group. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a blog reader who recognized me and said he was a big fan, which was way cool! Then, as we waited, I tried to calm down my head which had been pulsating mixed annoying messages ever since I got off the bus. I still had my Gatorade bottle with me and was taking sips at a consistent clip which was good, but suddenly realized that I had forgotten to eat my orange and bagel which I left in my dropoff bag, which was bad. As I watched the final seconds tick off to the start of the race, I reiterated my plan to run this race to enjoy myself so I can cheer on the others running the marathon afterwards.

The "Good" Miles (1 - 4)
Although we were near the front, JB and I still had to do wiggle and tease our way through the heavy crowd through the first mile. Powered by the high emotion from the starting line I felt tired but okay in the early going. The spectators lining the course were loud and boisterous and it was wonderful to be cheered on by them as I made my way into Monmouth. Mile 2 felt smooth as I sped up incrementally to move slightly ahead of the 3:10 pace group. Although JB was still with me, matching my cadence stride for stride, I was already losing steam by the start of mile 3. It was getting warm and the cool ocean breeze could not be felt inland. My last good mile came in mile 4 as I battled the sun, my well-being and dehydrated state to run until after the overpass entrance to Oceanport. (M1 - 7:02; M2 - 6:57; M3 - 7:11; M4 - 7:24)

The "Bad" Miles (Miles 5-9)
Somewhere in the 5th mile, when my mind lost its battle with the sun, and I gave up all hope of running anymore, I excused myself from running with JB and surrendered myself to taking my first walk break. Now, I had never taken a walk break this early in a race before. My first instinct was to go back from where I come and just except a DNF. But doing so would mean walking against the crowd, potentially facing embarrassment and ridicule. So I walked until my heart rate was calm and stable and attempted to run again. I was able to make it half a mile before having to walk again. I also took time to refill my Gatorade bottle which I had been carrying since the start. The sun was much higher and brighter now, which was starting to have its effects on the runners all around me. Once I restarted running again by M6, I forced myself to run slow and slower than I had been having before and to make it as far as I could without stopping. M7 was faster. M8 faster still as I saw Jocelyn crossing the bridge and called out her name. I bargained, pleaded and sang songs aloud to pass the time. As I ran, I kept asking myself the same questions other had for me: Why was I/he running this race? (M5 - 9:30; M6 - 9:19; M7 - 7:56; M8 - 7:28, M9 - 7:37)

The "Ugly Miles" (M10-13.1)
By the time I crossed 10, I had no energy left to fight. I had seen others drop like a bag of rocks on other side of me. It was a bit scary to see paramedics running around like crazy trying to deal with it all. A big part of me wanted to stop and help out the first aide team but I knew without the specific training, I'd be as helpful as a commoner. Still, when i did try to help by holding others down as they scampered to their feet after falling badly a few minutes earlier, I got unintentionally wacked on my legs so hard, it added to the laundry list of injuries I was collecting on that same extremity. So I let them go and just went about finishing this race the best I could. I walked for the last time at 10.5 miles and raced myself in with the ocean breeze once again at my back. Needless to say, my 1:46:23 finishing time was a personal worst for me! (M10 - 9:42; M11 - 9:38; M12 - 8:53; M13.1 - 7:40)

After the race, I collected myself and did all I could to celebrate my friends who took the plunge to round up another lap around town and finish the marathon. I even went with JB to edge of the boardwalk at M25 and cheered on runners as they came in for the finish mile. I saw big people, little people, fast people, and slower folk each doing all they can to muster up even enough to make it one more mile (plus .2) to make it across that finish line. Just watching them made me realize why I bothered to race my half marathon that day, why I bothered even with my sick health, inadequate sleep and decrepit body to attempt to run 13.1. By reading this list, maybe I can make you understand too!

13 Reasons Why I Ran The New Jersey/Long Branch 13.1
1. Because every start line marks the beginning of a new adventure, a new story, just waiting to be told.
2. Because I was hoping to inspire Flyer and friends out on the course who might not have known I was coming.
3. Because running is an expression of health and I desperately wanted to feel healthy again.
4. Because I wanted to be recognized as living (finisher) rather than counted amongst the dead (DNS/DNF)
5. Because SLOW is the new FAST: You experience more, you see more, the crowds love you more AND You have more fun!
6. Because sometimes just winning against the mind and body is a victory enough all onto itself.
7. Because a race is not just about a time, but the thoughts, emotions, and experiences you had along the way.
8. Because I genuinely believe that someone somewhere will benefit by my starting, running, and finishing this race.
9. Because that's how I'm choosing to define my own awesomeness today.
10. Because sometimes you have to hurt a little to have a whole lot of fun.
11. Because I've met both the hero and the villain this week, and surprise, surprise, they are both just ME!
12. Because if I've messed up everything prior to this race, I can still do this one thing right!
13. Because I really wanted to like running again even if running didn't want to like me back.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Race I Had No Business Running:
Race Report for the New Jersey/Long Branch Half Marathon (Part I)

Prelude to A Race That Wasn't
This wasn't supposed to be a race weekend for me. After all, I've been blogging, texting, twittering, e-mailing and telling everyone and anyone who would listen all through the week that the New Jersey Marathon was completely dead to me. Sick, injured, and untrained, I was supposed to be spending the weekend safe at home, resting and recovering and planning my comeback strategy. So how did it came to be that I confused everybody (including most of my friends) by showing up at the start of a race on Sunday that I practically swore off two days ago? Obviously, there was a motive, a plan, a failed execution and one GIGANTIC miscalculation...

The Motive
By the middle of the week, when it became apparent that running the marathon would be an impossibility for me, I immediately worried that my absence would be a detriment to the morale of the many Flyer friends who had literally and virtually trained together with me for this marathon. I really wanted to be there for them since they've always been there for me. And since my hotel room near the start was non-transferable and I had already confirmed travel plans with a friend (FC) who was driving down anyways to run the marathon, I figured I would go down to Jersey and surprise some people by showing up unannounced on the sidelines during the race and cheering them on as they ran strong to the finish. In my mind, this was always how it was supposed to go down. Maybe I could run with a few of them for a half mile or so, but that was the extent of the running I was planning to do.

The Plan (to Run 13.1)
The decision to run the half only came when I thought I had turned the corner on this flu-like illness and was solidified after my 10K run on Friday. Never mind the run itself felt like death and each breath I took resembled breathing through molasses, I was fairly certain that despite my sickness, I would have no problems with the 13.1 on this course. Why was I so confident? Was it justified? As I laid in bed later that night preparing for the next day's travel, I asked myself the same question. But given that I had done 21 of these (half marathons) previously, the most by far of any other distance, a couple of my best times were done on this same course in the two prior years (1:27:28 in 2008 and 1:25:16 in 2009) - both PRs by the way - and I felt a need for a longish weekend run to signal my return to the living (and possibly training), I made up my mind that I would run 13.1 slowly and unannounced before cheering like heck for all my friends running 26.2.

Failed Execution (a.k.a. A Day of FAILs)
The ride on Saturday morning down to the Jersey shore was uneventful and everything was going according to plan until I grew a conscience and decided to text one of my Flyer friends JB right before hitting the expo to ask whether everyone (who were planning to arrive on race day) had arranged for someone to pick up bibs (since race day pickup cost $20 extra while pre-race day pickup at expo was free). He told me that as a group, no one was able to find anyone else coming early and so they had all forked over an extra $20 each to arrange for race day pickup. Of course since I never bothered to inform anyone that I was not only coming to the race but a day early to change my race and pick up my own bib, I wasted $100+ that could've gone toward a sweet post-marathon celebration party. Nice, Lam, very nice...NOT =( This was FAIL #1.

FAIL #2 was a bit more insidious. Because we were busy driving from place to place, finding places to eat, sleep, shop, as well as hitting the beach for a little pre-race fun, FC (who was running the marathon) and I neglected to hydrate as well as we should. It was hot, hazy, and humid, and all the local weather reports publicized much of the same for the next day's race. Although I had a bottle of water with me at all times and took sips whenever I remembered, at no point during the day did I feel adequately rehydrated. Similarly, at no point did my pee resemble the pristine color of natural spring water. This did not worry me as much as it should have. FAIL #2.

FAIL #3 was technically not my fault, although in retrospect it should have counted as the third strike. Could I really have done anything about waking up at midnight with a coughing fit that just would not stop? I hadn't coughed at night the entire week and in my mind was already recovering. Could I have helped, rooming with marathoners on race eve, besides bringing my pillow into the bathroom with me, shutting the door and attempt to sleep in the bathtub so as not to wake up the others? Yep, I slept in the bathtub for about an hour until i was sure my coughing fits were gone before venturing out and climbing back into my own bed. So is it surprising then that I got less than four hours of productive sleep on race eve? Probably not. What is surprising though is that I failed to recognize the tremendous toll that the lack of sleep would have on my already decrepit body. Why can't I see that BEFORE the race as opposed to IN RETROSPECT? FAIL #3.

Little did I know all of these factors would combine to sabatoge my run, torment my soul and complete the race I had no business running in the next day...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Back Among The Living (Well Sorta...)

First of all, thank you all for your support, encouragement, and condolences during this period of horrible sickness and great (relative) sadness in my running life. Admittedly, I didn't know so many people knew or even cared that I was running NJM. Now that I know, it makes me even sadder that I won't be able to at least try to fulfill the expectations that many of you had for me for this goal race. It's an absolute bummer that not only have I failed myself this week, I failed you all as well :( But before I allow this post degrade into a diatribe of self-pity and despair, just know that I'm absolutely positive that the decision to withdraw was absolutely the right one for me (you'll see why in a little bit) and I will be throwing my hat back into the ring a little sooner than some of you may think. All I need is a little bit of time both to recover and to plot my revenge. More on that in a future post.

As for my physical self, I'm happy to report that for the first time yesterday, I was back among the living. I was able to stay out of bed for the whole day, had no fever or chills for 24 hours, and went back to work to take care of the really sick in my normal capacity. Yay for me! This last task for me for key because I actually got to see two new, challenging and interesting patients in my hospital clinic session yesterday. One was a college student with an unusual thyroid mass (a particular interest of mine) that no previous doctor that had seen her knew what it was or what to do with, and the other was a previously "heavy-set" teenager who took up cross-country over the winter, became "sort-a" (her words) vegetarian, lost 25 pounds as well as her periods. I was so fascinated by the running story of the latter patient that I think I might have spent more time talking about that then about the family's primary concern, which is that she hasn't had a period in 9 months! That's okay though, she's coming back to see me again in a couple of weeks with lab results and a ultrasound report. Hopefully by then I'll figure out a good treatment plan for her because my initial instinct to recommend cutting out running and resuming old dietary habits won't sit well with her, her parents or me! There's gotta be a better solution! (Maybe I'll devote a future post to elicit suggestions and comments opinions so you all can be virtual doctors to help improve her care!)

Despite my triumphant return to the workforce, I knew that I couldn't officially consider myself "back among the living" until I was back to where I am personally most comfortable - exploring the park trails next to the lake and the soccer fields and the sunbathers with a sense of swiftness generated by the power of my own two feet. So despite a long day of work and the setting sun fading towards the horizon, I quickly changed after coming home and set off for my first run of the week. (If you didn't catch that last phrase, go ahead and re-read again.)

Yes, it had been five days since my last run. Yes, I expected my body and my legs to be rusty. What I didn't expect though was the body part that would have the most difficulty on this run was MY LUNGS. Seriously, guys and girls. For the first two or three miles, I felt like I couldn't take fast enough or deep enough breaths to sustain anything faster than 8 min/mi pace. I was breathing so hard and running so slowly that I was sweaty and exhausted just trying to calm down my breathing after two miles. I knew I probably suffered a combo of bronchitis/viral pneumonia as a component of my flu-like illness but still, having to take two breaths for every stride felt completely ridiculous to me. I felt sorry for the sunbathers and the soccer players who had the misfortune of watching me curse my body as I labor-breathed around the park. I seriously wanted to quit, go home, climb back into bed and chalk up running as an experiment for the younger kids. Luckily, I remembered my cross-country patient from earlier in the day, you guys and this unfinished business I have with a certain marathon time goal and forced myself to continue running. My breathing eventually got easier, my legs got looser and by the end of my six miler, my average pace for the run resembled a slow recovery pace from months prior instead of a disgrace to my running log. Thank goodness for that.

I am also thankful that my marathon death was declared two days ago because there is no imaginable way for me to ask this zombie of a former marathon body that couldn't even suck up for 6 at a recovery pace to walk much less run for 26.2. And I'm a guy with a pretty wild imagination! Yeah, not gonna happen. That is exactly why I know, even though I've never done it before, the decision to defer this time around was the right one for me. Sometimes you just gotta know when to hold and when to fold, ya know.

Anyway, to all those who are racing NJM (or elsewhere), have fun, be safe, and crush a PR while you're at it for me, won't ya? To everyone else, have an awesome weekend and thanks again for all of your kind words this past week!

This running and blogging community ROCKS! Just sayin'!
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