Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Running Review

Hi everyone, remember me? Yes, it's been a while since I've posted. Rest assured though that it's NOT because I've retired from running or blogging. Although I haven't raced since the Joe Kleinerman 10K, I've actually been running pretty consistently, 25-35 miles per week, for the past month. As for the blogging front, I'm actually hard at work designing a new webspace for these essays, posts, and race reports. It's going to be hosted in my own personal website...which is kind of exciting for me! It's still being constructed so I don't want to spill the beans, but once everything is finalized (hopefully in the new week or two), I'll be sure to pass the information along.

As we descend upon the New Year and say goodbye to 2010, I'd be remiss both as a runner and as a blogger if I didn't take a few minutes to survey the training log, reread my race reports and review all the adventures I had in this, my 6th year of running.

The Year in Running Review

2010 was a crazy and magical yet instructive and humbling running year for me. I experienced so much and learned so many things about myself and others that I could write a whole book on the subject and it still probably wouldn't be enough. Alas, because I have neither the time or the resources to invest in this project, I'll condense the verbosity and just give you the monthly highlights.

January - I began 2010 as a Saucony Hurricane. I also joined DailyMile and Twitter. Both of these events were instrumental in my development as a runner this year. I began my racing year by pacing my friend and podcaster IronBrandon to 1:35 finish in the Manhattan Half. Training also officially began for the New Jersey Marathon.

February - This was a pretty blah month for me. It was cold. It was gloomy. There were no races (well there was one scheduled, but I had to bail because of MTA FAIL. Still, I managed to consistently put down three 50+ mile training weeks, which gave me confidence that I could sustain marathon training without injury.

March - Thawing from the deep freeze, my month started with a surprising 5K PR at Coogans. I experimented with barefoot running on the treadmill and indoor jogging track but had to scrap these workouts after sustaining troublesome tendinitis in Achilles and peroneal tendons. I also went down to our nation's capital where I got to meet my Saucony captain, Dorothy and volunteer for the National Marathon.

April - I raced in the inaugural NYC 13.1, found myself in top 10 overall midway through, but got lost and wound up 4th in my AG with 1:24:59. I got interviewed by the local paper but am/was still bitterly disappointed by the finish. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in DC the following weekend but hadn't recovered sufficiently well to race well that day. I entered the taper the next week and dreamt of a sub-3 finish in NJM.

May - As a prelude to race week, I volunteered for an NYRR 10K in the rain. I wanted good karma for race day. Instead what I got was a supervirus that sidelined me for 3 days and 3 nights and killed my chances for NJM. It was a DNS (the first) for me. Instead, I switched to the half and ran a PW along the shore...on the surface of the sun, 'cause that's what it felt like that day. Two weeks later, I ran Ragnar NY (my first 24-hr relay) and helped my team to a 3rd place CoEd finish. Three weeks later, I ran the Brooklyn Half planning to pace my friend DC to a 1:30 half, but she sustained a hip injury in the first mile, and I had to run the rest from the back of the pack without her.

June - This month started similar to the last. I planned to race, but DNF'd (another first) a 4-Miler in Central Park. I felt a bit lost both literally and figuratively after a back-to-back DNS and DNF. I was wilting under the sun! Luckly, I escaped to milder climes and had some cooler and restorative runs in San Diego. I came back to CP at the end of the month and finished a five mile race in a more respectable pace for me.

July - After recovering from the debacle of failed races the previous two months, I finally forgave myself for not running a spring marathon and rededicated my efforts to training for Chicago in this month. I logged a couple of 60 mile weeks. I ran more consistent tempo work and I also became more focused on diet and nutrition. I also gave up on racing the shorter distances until the winter. The only "race" I entered this month was the Queens Half which, if anyone who ran it would know, was more like a slog through Death Valley than anything resembling a race.

August - I entered a new age group this month. I raced Club Champs and scored for the team. Other than that, it was all about tempo workouts and extended long runs for me. I trained through my first 70+ mileage week and generally felt pretty healthy and strong.

September - The hot weather finally broke and paved the way to impressive gains in fitness for me. I ran a 4-mile points race in Central Park early this month and got a PR and my fastest recorded pace ever. I topped off my marathon training with a peak week of 72 miles and a 22-mile run over the George Washington Bridge and the steep and hilly Palisades Park. Thank goodness there was no taper troubles this time around.

October - Crossing the finish line of the Chicago Marathon (on 10/10/10 in my 10th marathon) and seeing 2:59:55 on the Garmin was the highlight of the year, my running career so far in fact. The fact I had so many fans, friends, Saucony and Flyer teammates witnessing the event and cheering me on just made it all the more special. I was on such a running high after this race that I led a 20 mile training run over three bridges and boroughs for the Flyers the following week!

November - The NYCM was my homecoming marathon. I stationed my friends all along the route and gave them hi-fives as I ran past. It was truly the happiest I've ever felt in the five times I've done this race. Right before Thanksgiving, I went down to Philly Half with IronBrandon hoping to score a half marathon PR. It was not to be though as some shoelace issues forced me to finish about 2.5 minutes off the mark. I also paced my brother to a PR in the Turkey Trot 5 miler and cheered my parents as they participated in their first roadr ace ever.

December - After a mediocre JK 10K, it was finally time to rest and recover. For a couple weeks, I took weekdays off and ran only during the weekends with family and friends. I enjoyed my time reconnecting with old friends and discovering new runs this month. So many times during the year I find myself so involved with my own running and training that I feel isolated and alone in my athletic pursuits. That is why I treasure this off-season phase of "social running". I also found time to participate in the Christmas Marathon (10K version) in Van Cortlandt Park this month and discovered a love of trail running that I never knew I had!

So there you have it folks, my year in running. All-in-all, I ran 2300 miles and participated in 15 racing events. I am proud of myself for all the successes I've achieved this year especially those that were more than a year or two in the making. Although I definitely encountered my share of potholes and hurdles on the roads this year, the treasures and medals I found along the way were well worth the effort.

I am grateful for all of you who took the time to read and comment on my blog this year. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and adventures with you. Congrats on your own 2010 successes and best wishes for even more amazing 2011! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How NOT To Have A Bad Race When You're Racing Badly

Just to show that I was indeed a little brain dead and racing in short sleeves and shorts with a bleeding right knee in Sunday's Joe Kleinerman 10K, I present to you this race photo compliments of brightroom. As you can see, despite the pained expression on my face and the blood trickling down the side of my leg, I looked pretty cool and color coordinated despite it being 30 degrees. Score one for me. (Yes, that's the only highlight from my race so I'm milking it for all I've got!)

Over the past few days, while remembering and analyzing the range of emotions I felt during this race, I came across this great Running Times article on Racing Your Best When Feeling Your Worst. In it, the author Matt Pulle discusses how NOT to throw in the towel at the midpoint of a race when things just aren't going your way. The article was apropos to my racing experience in my past two road races (Philly Half, JK 10K) because there were moments during each when it became painfully obvious that a PR would not be in the cards for me that day. My first instinct in each of these circumstances was to just bail and quit. After all, what's the point in racing if the end result would be disappointing or embarrassing anyway? But then, somehow, for some reason, in Philly and then again in Central Park, I continued running and racing hard until the end. How did I managed to salvage what would've otherwise be a poor performance or a DNF?

Although I tried hard to erase those forgettable races from my memory bank as quickly as possible, I still remembered a few tricks and tactics I used to keep my brain occupied and my legs turning over as quickly as possible instead of just giving up. First and foremost, I told myself NOT TO QUIT. In both circumstances, I felt I had to press on because that's what runners do. I also knew that if I gave in to the DNF temptation in these races, it will be that much easier to repeat the same patterned behavior in the future.

Once I convinced myself that quitting was not an option, I began to develop strategies that would motivate me to race the remainder of the course. For starters, I forced myself to devise an alternative goal or plan that seemed somewhat worthwhile to pursue despite having lost the overall battle against the clock. In Philly, it was let's see if I can just run the last 5K faster than I did last year. In the JK 10K, it became a rallying cry to break 40 minutes. When that didn't work, I'd tell myself to forget the race and get back to basics. After all, no matter the result, races are still an extreme form of speedwork, meaning that I can still work on my breathing, my form, and my mechanics even if the rate of forward progress was a little slower than I would have liked. Finally, during the last mile of the respective races, when the physical pain seemed to have caught up to the mental anguish of a disappointing performance, I would force myself to remember (and say) that despite everything, I was still having fun and that racing/running is always better than the alternative. I remember succinctly thanking and appreciating running as I was sprinting toward the finish in the 10K which seemed so awkward to acknowledge in retrospect because I was hurting so much at the time but I needed to remind myself why I was out there in the first place and motivate myself to do the best I can given the circumstance.

Looking bad, I can say that although I'm a little disappointed that I didn't prepare adequately and missed a great opportunity to PR in the 10K and the Half, I'm proud that I didn't fall apart despite the troubles during the race and kept it together to finish each race in a decent time. Personally, I learned it is just as important to know how to race badly as it is to race well since as you gain experience and chase PRs, that's probably more likely to happen than not.

Just curious - What do you guys/gals do to motivate yourselves to race well when the race is going badly? Any tips/strategies for success you'd like to share?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Race Report from the Joe Kleinerman 10K

It's often been stated by those in professional running circles, that in a road race or longer endurance event, a good start does not often equate to ultimate success. Get off to a bad one however, and you can kiss your PR chances goodbye! I must say that prior to today, I'd never given much credence to these esoteric observations. After all, it is the redeeming quality of long distance running, the ability to find "a second wind" and "a second chance at life" despite a poor start that endears me to the sport. But, knowing now the sequence of events that transpired as a result of my bad start to race day, if I had to do today over again, I might have been better off just choosing to stay in bed.

It's a bit sad for me to acknowledge how truly excited I was to run this race just 24 hours ago. As I mentioned at the start of my previous post, this was the last race of the year for me. I desperately wanted to cap off a successful racing season with a newly minted 10K PR. Although I haven't done a full loop of Central Park in several months, I figured that I was familiar enough with the terrain and had enough fitness remaining from marathon training that I still should be able to run a good race.

My aspirations were tempered a bit when I woke up early on race day and found myself shivering from the deep freeze that had developed overnight. A check of the weather forecast quickly confirmed my suspicions. It was going to be 31F at the start in Central Park with winds of 10+ MPH. I debated going back to bed but knew my absence would be felt by both teammates and friends. So I begrudgingly put on my racing attire (shorts and short sleeves with gloves, bandana and compression socks), threw on a couple of additional layers for the long travel into the city and got out the door.

For a subway ride that ordinarily takes about an hour on weekends, I gave myself an additional half hour for the journey just in case. Sitting on an empty 7 train with no other passengers except for two homeless guys sleeping on the seats on the opposite end of the train felt surreptitiously eerie this early on a cold Sunday morning in December. I couldn't remember the last time I voluntarily woke up before dawn to travel so far to run a 10K race. I must want this PR bad, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, my sentiments were not share by the MTA who, despite my best intentions, still managed to delay the 6 train for 20 minutes at the 86th Street Station, leaving us with less than 10 minutes to get to the start when the train pulled into 103rd Street. Knowing that I was in serious jeopardy of missing my corral and the start, I took off in a pull sprint once I got out of the station. I was weaving and dodging the pilgrimage of runners strolling about, counting the minutes and seconds I had left before the start of the race. I ran about a full block before my feet got caught on an uneven section of the pavement and sent me flying toward the ground. I got up as soon as I felt impact, and although I did not feel much pain, I could see that my right knee was badly scraped and bleeding. I continued running, not daring to stop for fear that I'll miss the race.

By the time I got to Central Park, ran to baggage, dropped off my bag, and arrived at the starting line, they were already starting to sing the national anthem. The corrals had already collapsed and I found myself on the wrong side of the barricades at the front of the race with less than 2 minutes to go before the start. I ran toward the back until I could find an opening to squeeze through. I was now squarely in the back of the red corral with the race about to start. Less than a minute later, with my heart rate not yet settled from my race to the start, the command was given and we were off.

As expected, there was a lot of bumping and weaving in the first mile. I ran decisively but conservatively as the start. I squeezed through openings when I could and made my way forward in the crowd until I found some space to operate. Mile 1, 2, and 3 was pretty steady for me as I carried a good effort through Harlem and the West Side Hills. I was careful not to run too fast on downhills or drag too much on uphills knowing there was much more running left to be done. I was on PR pace through 5K but silently wondered whether I had enough to bring it home. Starting at mile 4 though, when I slowed a bit for the first time, my right leg and knee became achy and incongruous with the rest of my body. Although I couldn't identify the exact source of the pain, I could tell that it was beginning to affect my stride. I was obviously injured and thought about DNF'ing right before Cat Hill to save myself the embarrassment of finishing with a bad time and getting further injured. But then I remembered that this was a points race and felt that taking one for the team was more important than my personal welfare. Besides, I was still running albeit at a slower pace than before. I kept my stride short and increased my cadence to compensate as I lumbered over Cat Hill. Once over the hill, I knew there was less than 2 miles to go. Normally, this would be my signal to start sprinting. Today however, despite the ability of my cardiovascular fitness to accommodate this change, my legs just felt uncoordinated and unwilling to sprint. My form was suffering as a result and it was debilitating to see everyone who I passed in mile 1 come back to pass me again. I struggled through to the finish and wasn't able to generate much of a kick in the end. My finish time was 39:50...almost a full minute behind where I expected to be. Although I was able to score for the Flyers (4th on the team), legitimizing my decision to not DNF, I was not at all pleased with my effort, as I ended my 10K with an average pace that equals current half marathon pace.

Despite my troubles, I'm glad I suffered and ran this race even if the final time wasn't up to par with my expectations. I know my performance was not indicative of my current level of fitness but tempered by a freak injury that resulted from my own clumsiness and the unreliable MTA. I'm going to take the rest of this year to run easy, recover, and heal in order to recharge my batteries for an even more spectacular 2011! I already have some preliminary plans that I'm dying to share.

Congratulations to all of you who ran this race! Despite the sub-freezing temperatures and howling winds, there were over 4600 10K finishers today. If there's one thing I take away from this race, it is that runners are hard core. In running with just short sleeves, shorts, bandana and gloves in the race and with blood trickling out of my knee for the entire duration of the race, I became a little more of that myself today.

Final Statistics:
Official Time - 39:50; Pace - 6:25 min/mi
Overall Place - 211/4647
Gender Place - 201/2262
Age Group Place - 37/399
Age Group Percentile - 68.8%
Flyers Men - 4th Place

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter Running: My Ever-Evolving Dilemma

As we approach the conclusion of yet another spectacular fall racing season (the Kleinerman 10K on Sunday will be the last race for me in 2010), I am once again faced with a clean slate on my running calendar with no defined scheduled workouts for a month and asking myself the same question that I've heard from numerous running friends for the past week and a half "What are you planning for this offseason? What's your general approach to winter running? Will you be resting and recovering or training hard and racing?"

To be honest, I'm fairly new at this cold weather running game. As recently as a few years ago, I had always equated the finish line of the NYC Marathon as a metaphorical ending to the running and racing year. I'd do a few miles here or there, but once the temperatures began consistently dipping into the 30s, I'd retire the running shoes, lace up the snowboarding boots and hit the slopes instead. For the first 2 years of running, I don't think I've ever managed more than 50 miles a month during the winter. Then in fall of 2007, I did something stupid and qualified for Boston, which meant that my "No winter running" policy would soon have to be modified. To compound my mistake, I fractured my collarbone on a non-contact freak snowboarding accident in early 2008, scarring my tenacity and audacity on the slopes for life. So running during winter for me only started in earnest in early 2009. That year, in preparing for Boston, I was still training mostly indoors on a treadmill, and hitting the roads only when absolutely necessary for long runs in the cold. My accumulated mileage that winter was minimally adequate for marathon training. It resulted in a painful hammy cramp at mile 20, mere steps before Heartbreak Hill. Last winter, I corrected my mistake and got out more than I did before to do long and short runs in the park. Unfortunately, I got sick on race week and never got to run my target spring marathon. So it was impossible to tell whether my training and hard work during the winter actually benefited me. What it did though, was forced me to become more aware of and learn to treat my own overuse injuries, since I was essentially running nonstop for the better part of two years.

So this brings me to this winter. It is a little daunting to think about, because it's already cold and windy and it isn't even the official start of the season for another 3 weeks! Nevertheless, I think this winter will be a productive one in terms of running. For the first time since I don't know when, maybe forever, I will spend the next month or longer in logging miles with no intervals, no speed, and no pressure of racing. It will strictly be a period of rest, recovery, yet maintaining a stronger aerobic base on which more race specific workouts can be built upon at a later date. I will not be racing (except for possibly the Manhattan Half at the end of January as a benchmark). Rather, I'll be running with friends, family and others who I don't get to run with ordinarily because they don't run my pace. For this base building phase however, I will openly and gladly make exceptions. Most importantly, I plan to have fun when I'm out in the cold and snow. I want to enjoy my time on the roads, even if it's slow. I know the speed, like the birds, will return in the spring. I'm not worried. Let's together get through this bitter winter first.

Now that you've heard mine, what's your winter running story? Will you be or not be seen running when it's cold? Let me know so I can look out for you. We can commiserate together...
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