Thursday, September 30, 2010

10 Days to 10/10/10
The Countdown is ON

What better way to commemorate the start of the 10 Day countdown then with a list of my Top Ten Reasons I will Rock Chi-Town (even if I pulled a hammy two days ago, got very little sleep last night and lost my gym bag with my Garmin in it this morning! Like I said earlier...if tapering was a college course, I'd be FAILING right now.) But never mind all of that, the question isn't if I'm ready for Chicago, the question is - Is Chi-Town ready for ME?

Top Ten Reasons I will ROCK Chi-Town

10. Because I'm faster than I used to be.
...4 mile PR, mile repeats in sub-6 pace...need I say more?
9. Because I feel stronger than I've ever been.
...ran 22 miles over the palisades and no post-run nap.
9. Because I run farther than I used to go
...I've done 800+ miles over 16 weeks to prepare for one 26.2 run.
8. Because I've trained harder for #10 than 1-9 recovery week mileage would count as peaks last year.
7. Because 2 years is a long time to wait for a breakthrough marathon
...3:02 in NYCM 2008, 3:02 in Boston 2009...i think it's time.
6. Because I'm bringing along friends to cheer me on.
...some running, some not, but all so motivating and inspiring
5. Because my bandanna gives off speedy magical powers
...that's right now the best kept secret in town!
4. Because I will rest, taper and not get sick before race day.
...because everyone deserves a second chance
3. Because sleep is no longer an optional commodity
...I will get 8+ hours a day even if I theoretically can't
2. Because I will DEFINE MY OWN AWESOMENESS in Chi-Town
...that will be my rallying cry in the last 10K
1. Because this is my new power song:

The Countdown is On!
Are YOU ready?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tapering for Marathon #10

Yes folks, it's been a while. Sorry I've been way from the blogging scene for a bit, but aside from the obvious (which is that my work and running life hasn't left me time enough to collect my thoughts...much less write a semi-literate halfway-decent about them), I haven't been so inclined to review my training or think about my race goals for Chicago on 10/10. Up to this point, I've been having so much fun completing workouts and training in accordance with my daily schedule that I always imagined race day as an occasion that will happen in the future. In my mind, it was always something that will be dealt with in due time...just not right now.

But ever since I received the registration packet with my bib number (#527) and corral (A) information in the mail last week and my multitude of friends asking about my plans for race weekend, I realized that I can no longer escape that marathon #10 will soon be at hand. Yes, my friends, the day of reckoning is now less than two weeks away and training for all intents and purposes is over. My body which through months of high mileage and high intensity training was transformed to an aerobically efficient running machine, must now give way to a shadow of my running self in a nondescript process called tapering.

Just in case you missed my tweet earlier today, let me repeat my personal feelings about tapering - "Runners who say they enjoy tapering either didn't train very hard or are big fat LIARS!" Consciously, we all know that the taper is important because it allows damaged body parts to heal, the liver to replenish nutrients and the mind to rest and relax before the big race. But emotionally, the taper just doesn't make sense. It not only forces you to pull back the reins at a time when you're just rearing to go, it also throws off the running rhythm you've developed through the long hard weeks of training. As a result, you feel out of sorts, you eat constantly, and the sleep and rest you know you're supposed to get just doesn't come as easily. At times, I'm not sure if I'm more thrown off by the lack of running or the nerves and anxiety I'm feeling towards Chicago. I don't know about anyone else who's in the same boat, but it's definitely a conundrum for me. I much rather continue training right now than stopping and worrying if I've done enough to prepare for this race. Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. In the end, I doubt it will even matter. I will race and let the chips fall as they may.

I just have to find some way to get through this two week torture taper first! God help me. God help us all. Uggh!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Thank you all for humoring me with your comments on my previous post and your personal testimonials on how FAST applies to you. I really enjoyed the stories of those who strive to reach their own goals regardless of what the world outside may think of their personal achievements. This is NOT to say that there is anything wrong with competition or using the standards of others to motivate oneself (as I've been accused of saying multiple times before...), my point is merely that we should NOT use our own measures of success to judge the goals and achievements of others. Just as it is my goal to do my best and run a good time in every race I enter does not mean that the less ambitious goals (i.e. just finishing or just participating) are any less worthwhile for those who train and aim for such goals. In a similar vein, running my best and aiming for a good time would not jive for those who are elite/professional who set out to WIN every race or age group award. The way I see it, we are runners all SHARING the same race course but individually STRIVING for different goals. As long as we don't get in each other's way, I for one am perfectly fine with that. My wish is that all my fellow runners would feel the same way.

Usually though I find that is often not the case. Those who thrive on competition feel as if those who run or race for anything less than to be "the best" isn't worthy of compliments and adoration. After all, those who are at or near the top must literally spend the majority of their time, running, training, and perfecting their skill. They run faster and more in a day than what the majority of runners would run in a week! In their eyes, running fast and racing is the only way to run and the only way to have fun. They often harbor the perspective that the slower runners who run slow and "just for fun" don't deserve any more respect than those who aren't even running at all.

In contrast, those who are non-competitive or competitive only with themselves, do not feel as if racing for an award, a goal time or a personal record is the only way or even the preferable way to run a race. If you ask that crowd, they'd say that running for its own sake is its own reward. Merely completing a longer distance race or marathon is for them a worthwhile accomplishment. Some of the people who are in this category don't even enter races. they run just for fun. They run just for health. They run in memory of a loved one. They run merely because they can. They all have goals and work hard in their own personal way to achieve them. So what if their goal isn't as glamorous as some others, they deserve a fighting chance at success (as they chose to define it) just as much as the next speedy guy or gal.

it may come as a shock to some that I do not regard myself as a competitive runner. Yes, I might be relatively faster than average and find myself more often closer to the front of the pack than the middle or the back in races. Still, when it comes down to it, I compete more against the clock and with myself more than against other runners. As such, I never gauge my results on the successes or failures of others. In my own mind, what they do and what I do is completely different. If I ran a good race and get a PR, does it make it less worthwhile because somebody else ran a PR too and ran it in a faster time? Or if I ran a horrible race and yet beat all my teammates and friends, does that mean i should be proud of my time and accomplishment? I really do not feel this way. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I discovered running late and never ran competitively at any level of schooling or received any direct coaching. Maybe it's because I didn't know many runners when I started in this sport and trained for my first marathon pretty much on my own, but I've always enjoyed running as an individual pursuit. We each have our own paces, our own training, our own goals. I run hard and train hard, not because I want to be better than everyone else. I do so because I want to be the best runner I can be, regardless of how it relates to others. And nowadays, the more I run (I'm aiming for a 70+ mile week this week...which would be a new training PR for me) the more I am discovering how much I really enjoy the PROCESS of running longer and running faster for its own sake. I'm having fun just comparing myself to me and no one else. Maybe that runs counter-intuitive for many who will read this, but I for one am very content with this approach right now.

Just curious...for the runners out there, if you had to identify yourself as one or the other, do you consider a competitive or non-competitive runner...does your pace, distance, goal as it relates to others (person or peoples) affect your outlook on running? Is that notion inspiring, motivating or debilitating?

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Fast Trot Around The Park
Race Report from the NYRR Fitness 4M Race

Hello folks, it's been a while...Yes, I realize that I haven't updated this blog in over a week, and yes I realize too that I haven't been as active in the blogosphere of late but honestly, the working, running and training has gotten so intense lately that I feel like I hardly have a chance to catch my breath sometimes after doing what I have to do on a daily basis to call myself a professional M.D. and a serious recreational marathoner. I sincerely apologize and hope that I can return to a more consistent blogging schedule sometime soon.

Another thing that I haven't been doing much of lately since marathon training began in earnest is participating in shorter distance races. Over the years, I've always used short distance races (5K, 4mile, 5mile, 10K), usually one to two per month, to motivate myself through the monotony of marathon training. This summer however, because the weather has been so hot and unwelcoming, I've shied away from doing many of the local races in Central Park in favor of longer training runs in Queens and Long Island. However, at times, when I'm tired and fatigued from a tempo or interval session gone too long, I find myself yearning to race just to evaluate my fitness and to find out if all the speed training I'm doing is actually making a difference on my times. This is why when my brother told me he was entering a 4 mile race today just to see where his fitness is at, I did not hesitate in signing up for the same race myself. I figured if nothing else, I'd be able to practice race pacing, have a finish time with which I can extrapolate and better define what my current marathon time should be and readjust my training paces accordingly.

The race I ran today was called the NYRR Fitness Mind, Body and Spirit run. It is essentially a 4 mile race running in a counterclockwise direction around Central Park. Although you would think that such a mundane venue wouldn't draw a big or competitive crowd, but because it was another local club points race, divided into a separate men and women's starts, the field was large and full of speedsters looking to claim bragging rights for their respective clubs. I, by comparison, wasn't so much looking forward to the competition but just hoping to race well, run fast, not injure myself and score a PR if possible. Because the weather was sunny but relatively mild at the start, I was hopeful that running a race that I'd be proud of may actually be in the realm of possibility for me.

I went through the necessary pre-race warmups, bid my brother farewell and scooted into the blue corral a few minutes before the barricade was lifted. I situated myself in the middle of the crowd, waited intently as pre-race announcements were made, got emotional at the reminder of this date (9/11) nine years ago, and sang a bit of the national anthem while watching some birds in flight directly overhead. All around me, I could feel the anxiety and tension emanating from my fellow competitors as we collectively wait for the final race instructions which we all knew by heart. Finally, with a blaring of the starting horn, the race began and we were off!

Because the course initially dips down a bit before rising into the infamous Cat Hill in mile 1, most of the runners around me were running at top speed right out of the gate. I fought the urge to follow suit and allowed my body to accelerate slowly to what I perceived to be a reasonably fast speed. Early on, my main focus was less about running speed than about finding a comfort zone where my legs can operate. Once I was able to settle down to a manageable cadence, I carried that effort up and over Cat Hill. I resisted the urge to check my pace but judging from past experience, I imagined I was running slow at this point. Still, I was already passing a few people who had gunned it too hard right out of the gate, so I was encouraged by that. I crested the big hill feeling pretty good, not tired at all, and approached the first mile marker thinking I needed to pick up the pace to make up for lost time in mile 1. So imagine my surprise when I looked down at exactly the mile 1 marker and saw that I was at 5:48. Wow!

At the beginning of mile 2, I passed by the exact spot where I blacked out and DNF'd at about 5K in my previous attempt at a 4 mile race. I used my memory of that last race to remind myself to not press my luck but run steady and comfortably. As I passed by Engineers Gate and saw some disabled Achilles athletes doing their best out on the race course, I felt very inspired and motivated to run with passion, healthy and strong. I tell myself that I am out here not necessarily to beat the other competitors, but to do the best that I can, not falter and to prove to myself that I belong. Fueled by the energy of my thoughts yet calmed by the serenity of instantaneous grace, I passed mile 2 marker at 5:52.

Given that my previous PR pace is 6:09, I knew I was looking extremely good for a big PR. However, given that the treacherous rolling hills at mile 3 awaits, my exhilaration was tempered by the reality that my race can turn bad extremely quickly if I wasn't careful. So I focused all my mental energy on just maintaining good cadence and good flow through the succession of hills in mile 3. Because I was running in open space essentially by this point with no racers in my immediate vicinity, I had to rely on my own perceived effort to gauge my progress as I ran cautiously through this undulating mile. I was pleasantly surprised again when I crested the last hill and saw 6:05 flashing on the Garmin.

Upon recognizing that only one measely mile now separated me from the PR that has eluded my grasp for so long, I was originally content with just cruising the last mile and claiming my prize at the finish line. But since I was energized and still feeling relatively comfortable at this point, I picked it up a little and searched the field up ahead for someone to pass. Lo and behold, out of the corner of my eye, I spot fellow Flyer AP up ahead, about a quarter mile away. So I gradually increased my cadence and ran more purposefully in an effort to catch him. I wasn't sure whether I had enough real estate to track him down and it wasn't until the last 50-100 meters of that race that I finally caught up to him and found myself neck and neck with this great fellow Flyer runner. I pushed forward at the last instant and was able to beat him to the finish by a mere second. I was gassed by the time this race was over but very happy that I can claim victory over myself once again!

In the end, I PR'd in this race by a whopping 62 seconds. More importantly, I showed the world and myself that I haven't forgotten how to run fast without dying at the end. I practiced flawless pacing and remained comfortable through the whole entire race. Although I know these short distance races do not necessarily translate to marathon success, nevertheless they provide a good barometer of overall fitness. According to the various race calculator, my new 4 mile PR now predicts a 2:52-2:55 marathon. No matter if they are accurate or not, just knowing that I have the potential to run such fast times in Chicago is music to my ears and provides me with the much needed incentive to keep training hard. And right now, heading into the last week of high mileage training before the taper, I need all the motivation and incentive I can find!

Official Race Statistics
Time - 0:23:36 (P.R. by 1:02)
Average Pace - 5:54 min/mile
Mile Splits - 5:48, 5:52, 6:05, 5:50
Official Place - 113/2181 (5.2%)
Age Group Place - 23/396 (5.8%)
NY Flyer Men - 1st Place
Age Graded Percentage - 72.9%

Friday, September 3, 2010

You ARE Fast Enough For You

In my day job as a pediatric endocrinologist, one of my professional responsibilities is to evaluate and manage kids with short stature. In a given week, although there are many patients that come to my office with a growth problem as their chief complaint, surprising few have a clearly defined medical condition that causes short stature. No clear etiology exists for the majority of these children. Without a clear diagnosis, it is often hard to justify treatment unless the kid is severely short. But how short is considered "too short" to warrant treatment? For many reasons, the answer isn't always so clear. What is "short" for one child in one family wouldn't be "short" for the same child in another family. Moreover, some kids who have always been labeled as "short" aren't really all that short once they finish growing. Some of them who were once considered "short" as children are now taller than me! This is precisely the reason why I often hesitate to put labels such as short (or tall) in the medical record of children who are still growing. These terms create biases that may not be clinically warranted and in many cases are subject to personal interpretation.

In thinking about running these days, I perceive speed in much the same way. Although I know in relation to me what's fast and what's slow, I really have no clue how those terms would translate to somebody else. Because speed is so relative and everyone is by default faster or slower than somebody else, I learned early on not to alter my perception of my own speed based on the performance of others. In my mind this is a pointless exercise because in the end my main competition is really only against myself and what someone else does in their training or racing really has no bearing on me.

Over the past several weeks, I've told by several newer runners that my speed in training "intimidates" them. I've been told that because I run so fast and so far they in turn feel as if their running and training is insufficient or inadequate. They feel varying degrees of shame because they often "see" me lapping them in a theoretical race when they are running and training outside on a daily basis. As you can imagine, this news comes as a huge shock to me. To learn that I've caused others to negatively view their own training is extremely upsetting to me. I can't imagine why anyone would use me as their benchmark to assess their own speed or fitness. First of all, in a global sense, I am not really all that fast - never been, probably never will be. Second of all, why does it matter anyway? Although I initially tried hard to perceive myself through the prism of another set of eyes to gain perspective, I eventually came to the conclusion that this is ludicrous to me and not something that I can ever full appreciate. The thing is, we are all unique and come to this sport from entirely different backgrounds and talent. Also, our experience and training are not at the same level. Most of the people who make these comparisons are just starting out in this sport. I'd argue that they have not yet learned what fast or slow (for them) really means. It would be like a child telling me that I'm really tall when I'm just 5'6" (or 5'7" if I cheat a little bit). From my perspective, it is wrong and often detrimental to think "Wow that guy is fast so I must be slow" or "I'm never fast enough for anything so I must suck!" Instead, what you should be thinking is "Wow, I ran 4 miles, 4 city blocks, or 4 light poles...something I couldn't do 6 months, 6 years, or 6 decades ago.." or "Wow, I'm running 30 secs/mile faster than I did when I started running...that's really cool!" If you can look inwardly and concentrate on your own journey and successes along the way instead of comparing yourself against the barometer of others you will always be fast enough for YOU! Enjoy and revel in YOUR OWN speed because just as surely as you are impressed by what you see in me, there is another who is impressed by what YOU do as well (even if that may not be so apparent right now)!

So run YOUR OWN pace, enjoy YOUR OWN race, set YOUR OWN goals and don't let me or anyone else dictate YOUR OWN awesomeness!
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