Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Showing Pride and Racing Confidence

Thanks for all the supportive comments and positive feedback on my 5 mile race this past weekend. Although I've been consciously downplaying the significance of my performance to myself after the fact as "just another race", subconsciously I knew this result was a big confidence booster for me because it providing some objective evidence that I was finally over my illness that thwarted my spring marathon attempt, and finally over the persistent right knee/ankle pain that had been bothered me all through May. Even though I didn't push myself to the max and was never in real danger of overextending myself, I proved to me that I was almost back to running well and racing fast again. (BTW, did you know that my last semi-decent race prior to this weekend was over two months ago, in the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in Washington DC? Every race since then has involved an injury or an illness of some kind - and in one, not even my own! It has been a long time coming!) Prior to this race, I'd been forcing myself to hold back both physically and mentally. Even though I was running consistently, I was not ready to challenge myself for fear of pain and injury. The setbacks I experienced a month or so ago really took a huge toll on me mentally. At least now I can say, for the most part, I'm mostly recovered. Almost.

Come to think of it, it's so weird how the mind works. One week I'm thinking that I'm in no condition to race. The next week comes and I'm challenging myself to race a sub-5:50 mile in front of the local high school track team. This latest show of provoked arrogance was unintended but definitely fueled by disrespect. It occurred as I was "borrowing" part of the neighborhood high school track for 800m intervals. The track team, lead by their fearless captain who must have been a high school senior, was running mile drills around the track at the outer lanes while I was running my 800s on the inner lanes. Since I was the "outsider" using the track, I purposefully slowed my pace down whenever I could hear the pack of five or six boys coming from the back towards me. Since they weren't running faster than 5:45-6:00 miles, it was up to me to slow down to allow them to pass. As they passed, I could feel their eyes penetrating my skin, and hear their remarks directed at me. At one point, I remember a kid whispering to his teammate within earshot of me "Why is this old guy running on our track? He looks kinda slow." I was shocked by their attitude but waited until after they were done with their sets to make my statement. As the entire team laid on the grass next to the track for recovery, I asked one of the guys who had a handy stopwatch, the same one who gave me eyes and called me old and slow, to time me for a 1600m run. He looked puzzled but obliged. I then went to work. I laced up my shoes and proceeded to bust out a 1600 m run at 5:30 pace in front of the entire high school track team. After I was done, I asked for my time, thanked him for timing me, and walked away from the stunned crowd without saying a word. Needless to say, there were no whispers, no jokes, no sounds...just eyes staring at my back because I just ran a mile faster than most of them can and more importantly, faster than any of them ever imagined I can!

Not bad for an old guy who ain't yet too old to steal the show once in a while. Right?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Race Report from the FRNY Lesbian & Gay Pride 5M Run

Aside from the occasional circumstance where the weather cooperates, the stars align, training has gone well, and you've properly fueled and hydrated, success in road racing has more to do with running smart and running well than it is about attaining a PR and/or a goal time. This race that I ran on Saturday serves as an illustration of that point for me...

Although I went through the motions of preparing well for this race (drinking lots of water the two days before, holding myself to one (okay two) cups of beer at a birthday party the night prior, getting good pillow time, etc), I knew in my heart of hearts that this was not going to be awesome race for me. Considering that I had just come back from California where the weather was perfect into the burning hell-like sauna has been NYC the past week, and the lack of speedwork that I did while I was on the West Coast, I sincerely thought that just crossing the finish line in relatively decent shape would be a worthwhile primary goal for me. A secondary goal would be to run well and run smart and not blow up like I did in my previous NYRR race (where I syncopized and DNFed at the 5K mark of a 4 mile race). I didn't know and wasn't concerned about what pace that would translate into. I was just going to run my own race and let the chips fall what they may.

Before The Start
I arrived at the starting corral in plenty of time to watch the colorful festivities and the original jazzy rendition of the national anthem sung by the MC from the FrontRunners Lesbian & Gay community. Although I anticipated it to be a small race, I felt rather intimidated when I inadvertently found myself situated just a few rows behind the elites at the start. I had gotten there only because I saw Flyers JW and ES hanging out there a few minutes prior and wanted to walk over to say hi. We all commented to each other at the same time that this was the most "in front" we've ever been at a NYRR race where we clearly did not belong. Unfortunately, no one in the pack we were in was willing to move up so we were stuck there, right behind the elites right up to the start of the race

Mile 1
As the starting horn surrounded and the applause and cheering began, I remind myself one last time to avoid getting pulled ahead by the speedy crowd around me and focus on running my own race. It was already a balmy 80 degrees with 56% humidity when I started my counter-clockwise journey around a loop of the park from the lower west side. More than anything, I was determined to run my first mile as conservatively as I can so I allowed many folks including a couple of other teammates to fly past me for the first quarter mile. Once I found my grove and settled into a cadence that I thought I could keep for the duration of the run, I began my race in earnest. I nestled myself behind a pack of runners who seemed as out of place as I was in their black tech t-shirts and baggy shorts that were a big too long. It didn't take long for them to fade after the first little hill at around the halfway point of the first mile. Just as I passed them though, four to a pack, running side by side, another runner came from behind to slip though as well. I wanted to follow this new guy, who was sleak but ripped, as I felt I could keep up with him, but thought better of it as I reminded myself of my primary objective again. Besides, Cat Hill was coming up early in the next mile and I'd be damned if he chews me up and spits me out again like he has so many times before. I slowed my effort back to what I felt would be manageable as I passed through the first mile marker. (Mile 1 - 5:50)

Mile 2
I was beyond shocked when the mile 1 time sunk in. Did I really just run another sub-6 mile? How the heck did I manage to run the exact same time for the first mile as I did in my DNF 4-miler when I started off so conservatively? Honestly, instead of being inspired by my fast time, I was disappointed and a bit frustrated that I blew up another race at mile 1 again. But before I could contemplate holding sub-6 pace for another mile, I found myself staring at Cat Hill right in the face. I knew I had to keep the same manageable effort that I was running. I knew I had to slow down. My hope was that the strength I gained running long steep hills in San Diego would help me maintain a respectable time. It was here that I think I passed the most people. It was here that I blew the cat a kiss which startled those around me. It was also here that Flyer photographer extraordinaire BC spotted me for the first of many race photos. The top of the hill came quickly for me so I knew I had run it well. As I came upon Mile 2 marker, I kept my mind occupied by predicting that I'd come in 6:10, or at worse a 6:15 for that mile. (Mile 2 - 6:05)

Mile 3
Are you joking? That was only a 6:05?! But before I allowed any instantaneous projected goal time to be calculated, I reminded myself again that this race wasn't about time for me. Heck, even as I'm passing a few people who looked like they were struggling in the heat, I know this race wasn't about competition against others either. This race was all about me and running a smart race with a good effort and finishing. No premature celebrations will be tolerated. So I pressed on - by the Engineer's Gate, by the edge of the bridle path surrounding the reservoir, by the baseball fields in the North Meadow, and finally around the bend that is the 102nd street Transverse. During this stretch, I focused intently on my cadence, breathing, and footstrike. Suddenly, the distance between me and the next runner increases. There was no one within second yards of me. I began to feel a little tired, as if my body wanted to tell me that maybe I wasn't ready to race five miles yet. I didn't listen. Instead, I thought about how I was still running relatively well. I predict I was maintaining 6:15 or so pace. I also thought about how glorious it would feel to just finish and bury the hatchet from the DNF debacle that has haunted me for the past month. I must keep running even if I have to do so at a slower pace, I decided at that point. (Mile 3 - 6:12)

Mile 4
I made the turn onto the west side drive and prepare myself for the toughest mile of the whole race. The series of three hills, each lower and shorter than the first, always creates a havoc whenever it arises in an NYRR race. I was grumpy, I was tired, and I felt slow. I did not feel so well climbing them each in rapid succession. And despite seeing Flyer photographer BC again on the third small hill, I was so exhausted by that point that I did not even have the energy to fake a smile anymore. Luckily, everyone else around me felt the same thing at exactly the same time, which explains why no one passed me even as I was slowing down considerably. I was truly running on an island now. (Mile 4 - 6:23)

Mile 5
I was annoyed that I ran such a slow 4th mile, but I was happier that I was heading towards the home stretch and the final mile of this race. Although I had imagined pre-race that I'd fly down the big downhill that highlights this mile and coast to the finish, in reality, keeping my feet moving at a decent pace was all that my tired body was capable of. I saw my friend and fellow flyer JB running in the opposite direction and I wanted to stop and just run slow with him. He didn't hear me so I resolved to continue running. Even while my chest was burning though, I picked up the pace as best as I could. As I approached the finish, I could hear the cheers from the crowd growing louder and louder. There were both male and female cheerleaders out spectating and cheering for us at the finish. I absorbed all the vibes and carried it through the last 400m to the finish line. I gave the kick all I had as I fought my body through to the end. Judging from the last mile stats, I think I performed as brilliantly as I could, given the circumstances. I showed some pride in my run today! (Mile 5 - 6:07)

Final Statistics
Official Time: 30:38; Pace – 6:08 min/mi
Overall Place: 51 out of 3564
Age Group Place: 10 out of 360
Age Graded Percentile: 70.78%
Flyer Men Rank: 1st

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lessons from The Road (in San Diego)

Thanks to all those who complimented my last post and left supportive comments. While it may have served as motivation for some and inspiration for others, my intention in writing it was strictly to serve as a reminder to myself not to allow my passion for perpetual improvement in my athletic endeavors blind me from the practical limitations of my body and the appreciation of what I've already accomplished in this recreational sport of running. It is a trap that I fall into often, especially when the ordinary seems so mundane and the drive for excellence is ever present. However, it is important for me, as well as others who take their training and racing as seriously as I do, to recognize that the journey to becoming a better runner is every bit as important as the destination. In other words, no matter what, where, and when our goals may be, we're all traveling the same roads in the same general direction so it behooves us to understand and appreciate all the qualities that make us "common" instead of constantly focusing on individual attributes that make us not.

Speaking of destinations and traveling, I myself just returned from a six day expedition to San Diego less than 24 hours ago. (Thus explaining my brief absence from the interwebs, sorry!) Although on paper this trip was arranged specifically around a medical conference for which my attendance was requested, practically speaking, I saw this interlude from the daily grind more as an excuse to explore a new city on foot while replenishing my vitamin D stores (via direct sunlight of course) than as an opportunity for education and networking. Don't get me wrong. I did attend conference for several hours every day and got to meet many old friends and colleagues in my specialty that are often too busy, as I am, to gather and socialize after work. All I'm saying is that I managed to run in excess of 50 miles during my brief stay in town and came back with a bigger tan than all the other attendees at this conference. I plan to give a summary of my runs, (including maps and pictures) around town in a future post so you can see where exactly I ran and where you might run too if you happen to visit the city on a future date. Suffice it to say that San Diego, much to my suprise, is a conglomeration of massive hills and splendid coasts. As long as you can manage the former and enjoy the latter, you will absolutely love running everywhere while you're in town.

Aside from attending conference and running, I also got to meet friends and hear some incredible stories that helped me truly understand and appreciate what's really important in life. From a tale of a friend in her early 30s who found an incidental tumor in her hip requiring surgical excision and radiation resulting in loss of mobility in her left leg to a friend who was reuniting with her mother after 20+ years apart. From a peer who lost her mother to pancreatic cancer less than six months after her own baby was born to another who confessed to me to having a eating disorder since a very early age. I was so enchanted and enriched by all of the stories that I heard while on this trip that I couldn't help but feel extremely blessed to be healthy and thought about them on all of my runs this past week. Because of these lessons, I made sure to slow down my touristy runs and take pictures of all the interesting places that I ran around. (Yes, I will share them in a later post!) I also realized that life is short; the athletic life shorter still and so we must make every opportunity to make every second count, especially when we are young and had experienced success early. The messages to me were clear: Dare to run slow and take inventory of the scenery. When you run, do not look only forward but take the time to find the magic off to the side as well. Finally, do not forget to kiss your loved ones and tell them you love them everyday and then some.

In the end, I think these lessons from the road were way more important than any esoteric information that I could have picked up just sitting there at conference. Just don't tell anyone in charge of me or my patients, who perceives my dark tan as evidence that I played hookie all weekend long! If only they knew. If only they knew.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Plight Of The “Ordinary” Athlete

As a pediatrician who specializes in hormonal disorders, I spend a large amount of my time evaluating and treating kids who bodily proportions fall outside the normal range Whether they are too tall, too short, too fat or too small, these “extraordinary” children and their parents often come to me asking if they can be made “ordinary” again. In some cases, it is an easy fix, as when the abnormal body type is caused by an easily identifiable hormone deficiency or excess. In other cases, the treatment is much more difficult, as when a cause cannot be identified. Whatever the problem may be though, it often strikes me that to those who are affected, the desire to be normal and average is so powerful yet universal that it’s impossible for those who are normal and unaffected to fully understand and appreciate their plight. Can we really know what it’s like to live life as a 7 feet woman or a 4’ 5” man? Do we have the capacity to understand if 20 pounds underweight is as good, better, or worse health-wise than being 20 pounds over? Maybe it really doesn’t matter, or maybe it does, who’s to know? Who’s to judge? I certainly am not, which is why I often do my best to help patients achieve their personal definition of normalcy, as long as it does not have undue consequences for their present or future health.

In running as in all forms of recreational athletics though the problem is exactly the opposite. The desire here almost universally is to be the fastest, the strongest, and the best. In this context, “just average” would be seen as repulsive, unattractive, and demeaning. For many runners, especially those who are elite, professional, ultra- competitive or engage in a similar mindset, the desire to be “extraordinary” or “special” and to be admired by their peers as such, can be so intoxicating and overwhelming that it often leads to extremely destructive behavior patterns. These recreational athletes train constantly, ignore pain, and set goals that are both challenging and also potentially dangerous. Unfortunately, for those who are addicted to such behavior, they lack insight to understand the consequences of their actions. They believe (erroneously and sometimes subconsciously) that the rules don’t apply to them. They believe they are “special” and/or “invincible”, sent by a higher being to motivate and inspire other runners in their quest for perfection, whatever they may be. They adopt this “me against the world” mentality that drives them to run farther or faster and to test the limits of physical exertion almost on a daily basis. Eventually, they will train so hard and push the envelope so much that one of two things will happen. They will either sustain a major injury which will require extensive recovery time away or they will suffer the consequence of diminishing returns, lose passion in the sport and quit. Either way, at that point, and only at that point will they will understand and fully appreciate the limits and frailty of the human body and know that they are just as special as everyone else who they pass on the roads, no better, no worse.

I know this because I used to be one of them. I used to think that I can get faster every day. I can run long whenever I want and the sky is the limit for me. But through the wisdom of personal experience and knowledge gained through others who had to go through a similar process, I realized now that I was naive to believe that about myself. I am not special. I am not fast. I am not sent to break records and do things that others only thought possible. Yet I still do what I can, I still have goals, I still train hard, and through that inspire and motivate other friends and family who see a little part of me in them. At the same time, I do my best to teach newer runners not to buy into their own hype and come to terms with the limitations of their bodies even as they are striving hard to achieve their PRs and personal goals. I admit, it doesn’t work well all the time, or even most of the time. But for the sake of these runners, I try anyway. I must.

I’m coming to the realization that the term “ordinary” does not have to sound like a bad four letter word. Maybe that should be the new goal for all of us. Maybe that is the new path to success, in running, in medicine, and in life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tempo Tuesday: Return to the Scene of the Crime

After a good weekend of two double digit mileage runs and a rest day, I was ready to go back to fight the dragon that is Central Park. If you remember from last weekend, it was here that I failed in my attempt at a PR in a 4 mile race. It was here that I suffered my first DNF and it was here that I fainted at mile 3.1 when the finish line was just around the bend. To say I was humbled, humiliated, and a bit embarrassed wouldn't begin to describe my sentiments. I knew I needed to go back. I knew I needed to lick my wounds, pick up the pieces and run a hard tempo run around the park just to say I can still do it and to recover what's left of my dignity and confidence after it was so rudely taken away from me. So after work, I changed into a tank and shorts, laced up the Kinvaras and it was ON!

The assignment I gave myself today was to run the upper loop (5 miles) complete with Harlem Hill, the West Hills and Cat Hills, all at a tempo pace. I didn't know what tempo pace is for me is currently, since I haven't done one in about a month, so I pick my half-marathon pace (6:25-6:30 min/mi) as a rough guide. Unfortunately, the sun was out today and it was a little hot (77F), but the humidity was low (43F) so I thought I'd be okay.

I did a reservoir loop as a warmup and then did the 5 mile tempo run as described above. I made sure to run fast, but not so fast that I'd burn myself out before the finish. I'm not going to lie. Harlem Hill was tough and the Western Hills were tougher. But I cruised and ran strong and fought hard to strike a balance between recovery and maintaining good pace through all the hills. At about mile 2, once I realized I was running in the low 6:20s, I even switched off my pace so I can't fixate on it anymore. I just ran via perceived effort while keeping an eye on my HR. I started to tire around 72nd transverse at mile 3.5 but again just kept fighting to maintain deep breaths, a good form, and keeping posture as relaxed as possible. Finally, I got to Cat Hill and gave myself a good pep talk about what happened here last week as I ran. I was so full of adrenaline that I was completely wiped out by the time I got to the top of the hill! I recovered a little bit on the downhill by the Met and then just cruised to the finish. By the time I got to the finish at Engineer's Gate, I was completely spent. Yeah, I had done it! And 31:29 for the upper loop is the fastest I've ever run this particular stretch. How's that for a comeback?! (Don't haunt me no more Central Park!)

After recovering and drinking some water, I did a slow Bridle Path/Reservoir Loop combo to celebrate my success! I know it wasn't much, and maybe I could even get faster with better training, but for where I am right now, having gone through what I did the past month or so, I'm completely ectastic about this run today!

Warmup - 1.58 mi; Time - 11:48; Pace - 7:28
Tempo Run - 4.93 mi; Time - 31:29; Pace - 6:23
Mile Splits - 6:19; 6:24; 6:27; 6:24; 5:53*
Cooldown - 2.54 mi; Time - 19:43; Pace - 7:46

*5:53 for 0.93miles is roughly 6:20 min/mi pace

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend Whirlwind

Whew! I hope everyone had an awesome weekend! Mine was pretty hectic, chaotic, but so much fun. In retrospect, I guess it had to be because the whole weekend revolved around three things that are near and dear to my heart - running, spectating, and soccer (and that order!)

After taking a whopping THREE consecutive days off from running this week to rest, heal, and restore my faith and passion for this sport, I woke up bright and early Saturday excited to make my first attempt at something I've never done before. I was going to run from my apartment in Flushing Queens to Central Park in Manhattan! Although on the surface neither the distance nor the running seems extremely challenging, but negotiating the narrow streets of Queens saturated with cars and traffic lights at seemingly every corner can be quite intimidating. But after hearing a good route as suggested by a friend who bikes to the city frequently, I decided to use the bike lanes on an early weekend morning to make my trip into the city.

I packed everything I would need and was out of the door by 7:30AM. Although I was anxious and didn't know what I could find on this run, the whole journey from Flushing to Central Park was entirely stress-free and relaxing. There were minimal cars on the road. Bikes were few and far in between and there were street signs with arrows and directions on how to get to Manhattan. Sweet! I didn't see many other runners but I made sure to greet or say hi to all the ones I did. Once at the bridge though, I did run up behind two twentysomething lads who seemed to be running super fast. They seemed comfortable and were chattering away when I came up behind them. They must have felt my presence because they immediately sped up again. I kept them in my sights and pushed my pace hard. Eventually, I finally caught up to them on the outskirts of Central Park. I thanked them for guiding my travel and pushing my speed as I finished up this ten mile run with a 6:55 final stretch. Average pace came out to be 7:20 min/mi which I was pretty satisfied with.

All-in-all, it was such a fun experience exploring new sights and running into the city. I'm sure I'll be repeating this run multiple times in the upcoming months ahead as I prepare for Chicago on 10/10.

[The weather was so perfect that I went out for a chopsticks (11) mileage run Sunday morning as recovery and ended up running faster than I did yesterday (avg pace was 7:15). Go figure. I also did about 4 "extra" miles this afternoon on a run to my parents house because I was tired of waiting for the bus.]

After ten miles of running, racing and dodging weekend traffic, i was a little pooped by the time I got to Central Park. I barely had time to catch my breath when one of the park volunteers instructed the pedestrians to get off the course because the race was about to start. Was I late to my own race? Luckily no. You see, this past Saturday was the race day for the Mini 10K, a womens only race organized by the NYRR to commemorate the first organized race that catered to women. It's always a popular event and I try to be there every year to spectate and cheer on the ladies as they race through one full loop of the park. This year was especially exciting because Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher (both 6 months pregnant by the way) were planning to run the race too. [Unfortunately we would find out later that Kara hurt her back a short while ago and was forbidden to run this one by her coach Alberto Salazar. Bummer!]

I watched, cheered, and took pictures at mile 5 of the course with some Flyer friends. It was a cool but humid day so some women came through with huge smiles on their faces while others were sucking wind by that point and just wishing that the race would end! Paula came through in the middle of the pack with a barely perceivable baby bump and a huge grin on her face. It was obvious she was enjoying herself out there. I tried to cheer and take pictures at the same time but those specific multi-tasking skills were not up to par as I would often not get my camera ready in time until the racer was already passed me. (See Paula's picture...enough said!) I did see many Flyers and friends as they passed by which made me both happy that they were doing well and sad that I wasn't or couldn't run this one with them. It really was awesome though to see everyone out on the course that I ordinarily don't see when I'm running.

After the race, I headed over to the finish (having received a tip from a friend) and found Kara signing autographs and talking with her million and one admirers. Watching her up-close, I was impressed that she does not look one bit like she's pregnant (unless you knew and focused on her belly). Otherwise, she appeared just as cool, calm, collected and cute as she'd been when I first met her a couple of years ago. She was really patient with everyone and answered almost everyone's questions. It was all just so awesome to see.

After the race, (and some brunch) it was time to hit the bar for some World Cup soccer. Woohoo! Now I don't claim to be a fanatic. Some would even say I'm hardly a fan, since I don't play and I watch the sport with almost the same frequency as I do curling, but for four weeks every four years, I fall in love with the game for several personal reasons.

First of all, it is almost the only sport that my entire extended family can bond over. Since my family, including all my uncles and aunts, are all immigrants from China/Hong Kong where the game is a national past-time, it will be an inevitable topic of conversation at the next family function. Hence, it would serve me well to know a little something about the happenings in the World Cup.

Similarly, I love soccer and the World Cup because it reminds me of my late grandfather. Gramps was a no-nonsense all-work, no-play kind of guy who worked in a garment factory from dawn til dusk five, and sometimes six days a week. Although I lived with my grandparents for a long period of time in my early childhood, I hardly saw him except for an hour or two everyday and on the rare weekend day he had off. Yet, I do remember how crazy/fanatical Gramps was about soccer. Every night, he would fall asleep with an earbud listening to the radio broadcast of a local soccer match. On random nights, he would even miss dinner and not tell anyone that he snug off to watch a big soccer match. He even took me with him a couple of times and tried to explain the game to me. But because I was like 4 or 5 at the time, I had no idea what I was watching and no matter how happy and excited Gramps got explaining the game to me, I couldn't see and couldn't understand what all the fuss was all about. This was extremely frustrating to me. So I never went back with him even though those were about the happiest times I've ever seen my grandfather.

My gramps passed when I was only ten so I never got a chance to watch and talk soccer with him. I know he would have thoroughly enjoyed watching the World Cup. I know I do now when I see an amazing play on the field and think of him trying to explain the rules and action to me, smiling and laughing at my confusion and ignorance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why I Did What I did

After spending the past couple of days reconstructing and analyzing the events of the Japan Day debacle (there are still gaps in the story where my memory still fails me), I realize that the main reason why I raced so hard and ran so fast at the start wasn’t really about the P.R. After all, I’ve been in plenty of similar situations before, where I started a race planning for or anticipating a P.R., yet have never lost control of my speed to the point where I’m threatening to pass out. So why was my Sunday race any different? Well, the truth is that beyond the time, beyond the PR, what I wanted the most of out that race was a personal breakthrough performance.

Honestly, it has been way too long since I’ve run a “good” race. It didn’t happen in Brooklyn (because I had to help a friend). It didn’t happen in Jersey (because I was sick and it was too hot). It didn’t happen in Ragnar NY (since my pace was far below what I had anticipated) and it didn’t quite happen in the Flushing 13.1 either (because well, I got lost!). In fact, the last time I finished a race in a somewhat respectable time was way back in March, when I ran the Blues, Salsa & Shamrock 5K and got a PR! That’s a long time ago! In between these races, my training has been a never-ending revolving door of sickness and injuries, false starts and DNS-es. So yes, it is readily apparent to me that my overwhelming passion to PR this race as a sign of my official comeback may have clouded my judgment and made me throw caution to the wind. But then again, I’ve never passed out in a race before. How could I have known that I could get in so much trouble with just a 4 mile race?

Yes, I do consider myself fortunate to have survived the debacle with barely a scratch on my body. However, I am still disappointed that I wasn’t able to finish the race with not even a mile left to go. I’m also disappointed that I allowed my personal pride to dominate and take my running to a risky and dangerous place. With yet another failed run, my summer of fruitless racing continues. My confidence in running has not been the same since the spring ended. I wonder if and when my next opportunity for a comeback race will be. I wonder if I’ll be ready. I wonder when I’ll be able to find myself in running and racing again. These are the questions I have that still remain unanswered. I hope I can find answers to them soon!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Race That Wasn't For Me
A DNF Report from the Japan Day 4 Miler

Two consecutive races. Two times I've found myself in the grass mid-race lying on the side of the road. Last time, I was there as a pit stop to help out a friend. This time, I was alone, not feeling well and not even sure why or how I got there. I knew though even as I laid there, too dizzy to think, out of mind and out of sight of any of the other racers, this outcome was entirely my fault.

Of course I couldn't have predicted such a miserable performance in my worst nightmare when I got up this morning. I had been hitting good times on the track the last couple of weeks. I ate well the night before, hydrated like crazy the day prior, and had gotten decent sleep the last couple of days too. Although I was expecting no less than a PR as my goal in this 4M race, that seemed entirely reasonable given that my 4M PR pace is 6:09 from 2 years ago while my 5M PR pace is 6:02 and my 5K PR pace is 5:56. Just for kicks, I did a random 3M tempo workout around the lake earlier this week and my pace for that was 6:07. So even if I wasn't in tip-top speed running form, I should still be able to PR relatively easily if I could manage a half decent race.

The first sign of trouble came when I was lined up in my corral waiting for the race to start. My brow was already wet, beads of sweat were dripping down my bandana and Garmin reported a heart rate in the upper 90s even before the race begun. What was this craziness? I had only gotten in 2 warmup strides of about 100m that weren't very intense and I feel relaxed as can be. Yes, the weather was warm (79 degrees F) and humid (67%) as the thunderstorm that was promised overnight never materialized, but it wasn't stifling hot and I thought for sure I was acclimated to running in these conditions. So I didn't pay attention, even as the race announcer warned us to be careful running in this humidity. I was just so focused on starting out the first mile as fast as I can.

I was hot and bothered right out of the gate. I didn't like the fact that it was humid, I didn't like the fact that I was behind hundreds of runners even in the first (blue) corral and I especially didn't like the bumping and jostling that went on the first quarter mile. I just wanted to get out of the pack, run clear and establish my PR pace. I came out off the 103rd street drive and attacked the west side hills. I ran mile 1 as if I was running my usual mile intervals out on the track. I thought I was running easy, but in retrospect, the fact that I was moving up in the pack as I was climbing each of the series of three hills meant I was running way too fast. I didn't look at the Garmin until I passed the first mile marker. 5:49. This is faster than any previous first mile pace at any road race. This is faster than 5k pace. This is even faster than any 1M interval run I've ever done on flat ground!

But instead of slowing way down to accommodate a more appropriate pace, I continued to press. In my mind, I knew mile 2 was mostly downhill and there was no way I was going to let up going downhill after suffering through the three uphills. After 0.5 mile though, I did slow down, but just enough to maintain the same perceived effort as the first mile. I was starting to not feel well, but didn't attribute it to anything until I inadvertently looked down at Garmin and saw that my HR was now at 198. 198?! That is one or two beats above what had been my previous max! I've never seen anything above 190 prior to the last mile of a race before. No wonder I felt like crap. I must slow down. Must. Mile 2 came in at 6:00 even.

At the 72nd St transverse, Flyer PD recognizes me, tells me I'm doing a great job and motivates me to keep up the pace. I do, but only for a short stretch. The treachery of Cat Hill was about to begin and I was dealing with a HR that was unsustainable for running on flat ground, much less climbing what seemed like Mt. Everest to me at that time. I look my foot off the gas pedal and took the hill slow. I knew I had at least 30 seconds in the bank for a PR so the pace wasn't as concerning to me as was just getting over it with as little damage as possible. Runners were passing me now as I focused on just running toward the Cat, then toward the traffic light at the end of the hill. As I was climbing though, I began to feel dizzy and nauseous. Not the kind where I'm about to puke, but the kind where you feel as if you weren't getting enough oxygen upstairs. I had never felt like this in a race before and didn't know what to do. I was about to crest though and thought the feeling would go away after the hill, so I continued running.

I crested and glided down the hill at a slower pace still while waiting for the dizziness to subside. But it never did. It got a little more intense as I ran by the Met. I took some water at a rest stop. Up in the distance around the bend, I could make out the mile 3 marker. I looked down and saw that my HR was 185, still much too high for cardiovascular stability. My vision was getting blurry. As I ran the little minor hill leading out of the Met, it hurt too much to even open my eyes, so I closed them for just a second. I drifted in and out of consciousness and I started swerving. That scared me. I pass mile 3 at 6:21. I took a few more steps and realized my dilemma. One on hand, I had one more flat mile to go. Even if I ran something slow for this stretch (like a 6:30), I'd still get my PR. On the other hand, my body was failing terribly, my head was terribly dizzy and it was taking all of my focus and concentration just to coordinate my legs to move in a straight line. After another five or ten steps, when I almost collapsed onto a neighboring runner TWICE, I knew right then that there would be no PR that day. I found the nearest convenient exit behind some bushes and trees and ducked in. Once I saw that no one was around, I collapsed onto the grass and passed out.

The events that transpired afterwards were hazy at best. I know I stayed down for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. I know I limped over to baggage to grab my stuff. Then, after realizing that I was way too dizzy to walk home, hid in the Northern Woodlands of Central Park for a good couple of hours. In between, there was alot of cursing, emoting, contemplating, and trying to figure out how a race that was meant to go so right went so terribly wrong. Thank goodness I found an isolated and peaceful piece of land in the woods surrounded by trees by the side of a gently flowing brook where no one visited and where I could hide from my shame and escape my embarrassment for just a little while. It is incredibly ironic that it took a DNF (my first no less) for me to find such a majestic place in the middle of Central Park.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summertime - Sweating The Small Stuff

It's getting a little ridiculous. Can someone please turn down the outdoor furnace...please?

I've barely had time to get over the disappointment of missing a spring marathon before I'm blasted with the heat and humidity that is often associated with mid July in the city this past week. Seriously, what is up with that? It's barely the first week of June and my colleagues already feel as if I've had enough sun to pass as a Hispanic!

But aside from the ever climbing temperatures and the chariot of fire climbing ever higher into the sky, there is another way I can tell that summertime is indeed upon us. Interesting, this one does not involve the weather or even taking a look outside. Instead, I can tell that summer is squarely upon us by the e-mails, phone calls and twitter messages I receive asking for training plans, coaching advice, and general guidance for running a fall goal marathon. It is quite funny that even though I haven't yet begun to think about my own training for Chicago this fall, I've already been ironing out the details and putting the finishing touches on training plans for the same marathon for a few of my friends. Obviously, we have different goals (as my clientele, if I can them that, consist solely of those who have either never run a marathon or have just done one or two and looking to other words, I'm not dealing with any veterans or elite runners here!) But still, it is a challenge to schedule workouts and build a plan in preparation for a marathon that I know so little about. To circumvent this predicament, I've given out only 4 week assignments and asked them to return for the rest. This will give me some time to research the course, devise an appropriate training strategy and build my own plan before constructing one for others. I will also use this time to gauge their individual and personal commitment to marathon training. If they have problems sticking to a 4 week 4-5 runs/week basic regimen, How would they fare for 12 more weeks with more mileage and higher intensity?

My point in all of this is to relate how insanely crazy it is that so many runners are already planning for the fall when summertime, as much as it pains me to say, has barely begun. There is something to be said to living in and enjoying the moment, which I'm trying to do by taking a short interlude from marathon training and instead focusing on "Summer of Speed". There will be ample time afterwards to adequately plan, train and prepare for a marathon that is three to four months away. For if there's one thing that my traumatic misadventures this spring has taught me, it is that the training itself cannot merely serve as a means to an end. Rather, we as runners must enjoy and learn to appreciate the training as part of running, because in us, the process of transformation is just as important as the final result. We ought to never lose sight of that.
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