Thursday, December 18, 2008

Returning Soon

Just taking some time off from writing about being sore from workouts. And the weather. Monday it was 65 degrees and Tuesday it snowed. Wonderful.

Not ready for Disney, and just signed up for Boston. And my quads and glutes are not happy.

Well, here's a nice picture (above) of Beethoven (the dog) lifting a leg on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A New Yorker at heart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

(Sort of) Race Report: Philadelphia Marathon

Nope, didn’t run it this year, three times was enough. Nothing against the marathon in Philly, it’s just I know the course too well having lived there long enough to memorize every hill and turn.

So last Sunday it was held again, one of the last fall marathons in the area. And sometimes it turns cold on that last weekend before Thanksgiving.

This year was positively freezing, and from what I read on the Runner’s World forum, it was cold, cold, cold. I don’t like running long in that, and I’m glad I had no last-minute plans to jump in the car and head down there for another trip up and down the Schuylkill River. So God bless anybody who had freezing toes during the race. One of my friends ran a 3:03, so at least a PR wasn’t impossible.

And I also heard the race organization was not so hot, such as running out of mylar blankets at the finish line, and walkers in the half marathon clogging the course right before the full marathon started (and thus making marathoners weave around them in the first mile), etc. Makes me appreciate the take-no-prisoners, operation desert storm quality of the NYC Marathon management.

But every year I hear about Students Run Philly Style, a fine organization that an old friend of mine started up a few years ago. Heather and her team of runners help city kids train for races, and ultimately the marathon, and this year had 65 of them out there. I’m not one for sentimentality and ‘triumph of the human spirit’ cheerleading, but I have to say that Students Run Philly Style kind of puts a lump in my throat when I read about them. I mean, I take for granted just showing up for races and finishing, and then there are these kids who get out there and train for something they probably once thought they could never achieve. Here’s a link from the Philadelphia Inquirer about one of these marathoners:

Philadelphia Inquirer: A Very Special Philadelphia Marathon Competitor

So running hats off again this year to Heather. And she’s the one that turned to me one spring day about ten years ago at the Roxborough HS track and said: ‘Anybody interested in training for a marathon this fall?’ And I said, ‘Well, OK, I guess so.’

And that was that. I then trained for my first marathon, so I guess Heather can get anybody out there if she helped to get me going in this crazy sport.

Anyway, nice job last Sunday, Heather…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Race Report: Knickerbocker 60K

Oh yes, I ran this last Saturday. It went well under the circumstances, generic as that sounds.

If you really want to know how it went, just imagine running 37.2 miles, semi-continuously, on the same asphalt loop, nine times. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I know five runners (pictured above) who must've thought so.

This was my fourth year in a row running this race. After running the NYC Marathon no less, which always turns into something of a training run for this. So I knew what I was in for. Plus, I knew of several friends who had expressed interest in running this particular race. Especially after the old ‘come on out and join me’-isms I threw out over the last year. Which completely explains how I got the nickname Satan.

So the weather forecast leading up to Saturday had been ‘warm with showers’, and I’d decided that if buckets were going to come down all day I wasn’t going to stay out there and run for hour after hour. I’ve never DNF’d, but there’s no honor in slogging through ponds for anything longer than a half marathon in Central Park. I can be tough, but I’d rather not be stupid.

Saturday morning arrived, with no rain, so it was going to happen. I picked up my number and t-shirt and headed back home to drop stuff off (I live two blocks from the NYRR, and the start of the race, which makes it too easy to do this crap). I returned fifteen minutes ahead of the start and immediately found running friends from the NY Front Runners and Asphalt Green. Before we knew it, we were off and running. That’s how a race should start, fast and quick with no time for second thoughts, kind of like a prostate exam. Sorry ladies, I’m sure you have a more interesting metaphor of your own, so just talk amongst yourselves.

I ran two of the first 4-mile loops with fellow runner I.J., who can normally kick my ass in just about any distance. One of those 3-hour marathon types, he held back a bit and ran a strong pace as I yakked the miles away. After that second loop, another runner friend, Carmine, showed up to run another loop and continue the welcome companionship. Like everybody else I knew out there, he’d run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. Once again, I yakked and got through the loop quickly, and then Carmine was gone because real life called and his running was done for the day. Good call, Carmine.

After that point, I was pretty much alone, i.J. had long ago gone ahead of me. At the end of every 4-mile loop was the aid-station/start/finish line, and I began to take 30 seconds each time I went by to drink something and take an electrolyte tablet the size of a bowling ball. So off I went on Lap #4. And as I took off, the rain started. And then the drops got bigger. And then the hills of asphalt have little rivers of black rainwater heading toward me. And then buckets of water coming down. You know how it is, first you kind of avoid it, then you realize there’s not much you can do, then you just say ‘screw it’ and start diving into puddles and lakes of water. By the time I got to the west side of the park my shoes were touching down in lakes, filled with water and 5 pounds heavier. At least it was 60 degrees out there, one degree for every damned kilometer.

And every time I headed back up the west side there was the one water station that made the difference. Every year it’s been manned by two older guys who would come out with their two folding card tables and cups of water, but this year there were at least two dozen overly-cheerful volunteers clapping and cheering us on. Because this year the NYRR has made volunteering at a race one of the requirements for automatic entry in the next NYC Marathon in ’09. And the upshot of this is that this race, which usually only gets a handful of volunteers, got tons of volunteers this year. So I was rather happy to see more folks out there, it gets kind of lonely if you want to know the truth.

Mercifully the rain stopped and I began to get slightly, well, less wet. After the end of that loop, I stopped at my bag and changed into a dry shirt. Smart, if I do say so myself. I went on my getting-less-merry-by-the-minute way, and started my 5th loop. I’ll be halfway done soon, I said to myself. A couple of minutes later I found myself running toward some guy looking past me as he approached, it was everybody’s favorite Disgraced John of the Year Elliot Spitzer. I started thinking about if he’d only gone on a 5K run instead of a $5K booty call earlier this year he might still have a political career. That thought ended though, I soon started the ‘this hurts’ part of our program.

‘This Hurts’ is an old show. You can see the reruns any time you’ve been watching the pavement underneath you go by for longer than an hour or two. I keep hoping it ends better or until I change the channel. But neither seems to happen. So this time I really sucked it up. I mean really, really sucked it up. And pain starting at mile 15 of a 37.2-mile ‘race’ is not a good sign. I knew that, but what are you going to do? Did the torrential rain stop me? No. Did I stop during the last three years I ran this race? No. So suck it up. Because This Hurts.

And so I proceeded to suck it up. And the walking stops got more frequent, 20 seconds every couple of miles. And at the end of every loop was another walk/stop that felt like a real vacation relative to the preceding loop. Still no sign of any of my teammates or friends, are they behind me or in front? Well, they can’t be in front, I didn’t see them pass me. Then again, I’d been obsessing about Elliot Spitzer’s goofball running form. Hey, I know, let’s change into another crisp, dry singlet! Because This Hurts.

So I finished yet another eternal loop, #7. My glutes and quads are getting rock-like. I’m getting less ‘funny’ talking to folks at the water stations. Only two more to go, I’d been out there about four and a half hours. The winner of the race arrives and finishes just as I’m throwing down Gatorade at Loop 7’s finish. Asshole.

One of my comrades, Eric, arrived about that time and we commiserated about the hell our legs were going through. Thank you, Eric. I needed independent confirmation how much this sucks. And It Hurts. And none of that is sarcasm. Something about seeing someone I know always makes me feel a little better, so I took off. Oh, not the ‘took off’ you might be thinking. It was some form of forward motion, I’m not sure yet if I’d call it running.

And I got rid of $%&*@ Lap 8. One more to go, and I let everyone know it. I got lots of positive ‘you-can-do-it’ feedback. It all seemed so obvious in the first third, annoying in the second, and now that I was finally going to run this course one last fucking time it was rather appropriate. I finished the 8th lap at clock time 5:15 and right then (and perhaps a bit before) I knew I wasn’t beating my 5:35 time from last year. I felt bad and just wanted to finish, and my legs were starting to go into that pre-charley horse feeling. You know, lock and load, and not the NRA type.

Yes, I had slowed down, what a surprise. I must’ve dropped from 8-minute miles to 8:30s to 9’s in the last bit. And then 9:30’s because my legs were starting to go on strike. Add the 30-45 second stops at every water station, and I was starting to think I couldn’t finish in under six hours. I thought to myself: that would really suck if I was going to finish slower than ever in this race. So I started clock-watching, and then… I gunned it. Well, not like in a 5K race, but about as close as you can get to gunning it in an ultramarathon. I headed into the last mile with ten minutes left to finish under six hours, and I was determined to meet my (admittedly spur-of-the-moment) goal. I was all alone, and so damned glad to be finishing I couldn’t stand myself. The last 400 meters was a straightaway, and the finish line was about three minutes away and I really poured it on. ‘This Hurts’ came back for one final encore.

And then I finished, with much-appreciated applause from the crowd. I didn’t know it, but about 20 to 25 people had finished the 60K already, including I.J. in his ultra debut. Soon after, other friends, Zander, Richard, Eric, and Barbara, not to mention Tim G., who offered up his own 21 miles of coaching-on-the-run. I.J. had been had crossed the finish about a half hour before I showed up, but most of us finished within 15 minutes of each other. ALL of us had run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. I was probably the loopiest of them all, but everybody seemed relatively fine. By then the sun had come out, appropriately enough.

So this year I didn’t finish as soon as I’d liked, but I did have lots of friends out there, at least in spirit, out on the course. Last year, running pal Tim, (aka ‘The German’) got me through all of it, that was a big plus. And I’d done a longer-than-usual run the Saturday before, a 21-miler. Obviously, I need some sort of 12-step program for runners. So next year: get Tim out there again, and run less the week before.

LATER I checked the results, and I’d come in 16th among the men, and first in my age group. That age group being the ‘Too Old to Pretend to Know This Won’t Hurt’ age group. It helps your statistics when there are only 78 people finishing in your race, but I’m still happy that I stuck it out through the rain and the mind-numbing laps like I do every year. And it was pretty terrific to see so many friends not only survive a 60K, but thrive during the experience.

So that’s it for my annual 3-marathons-in-the-fall trifecta, I survived them again. And did pretty well under the circumstances. Now that two of them were Boston qualifiers, the pressure is (sort of) on to show up for that fresh hell. But first I have to kick me 26.2 bitches through Cinderella’s Castle. Damn!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pre-Race Report: Knickerbocker 60K

Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

I ran this race yet again, today, and my legs are really very, very pissed off right now. Took me about ten minutes just to lower myself into the bathtub once I got home.

I'll write a proper wrap-up once my shoulders stop hurting from typing at the keyboard. Yeah, it's that bad.

But the race went relatively well, five hours and fifty-seven minutes of slap-slap-slap on the pavement of Central Park. A downpour during Lap Three was peachy, too.

So I'm NOT running tomorrow, I thought about a 4-mile race, and that's just a sign of mental illness. Like running a 60K isn't?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Deleted Post from Last Friday

I have no pretensions that this is a music blog. But Blogger and the record labels are under the impression that my posting of a Kool Moe Dee track from 1988 is going to send the music industry into a tailspin. Well, guess what guys, you started that tailspin around 1995, and done nothing to make it better ever since. Y’know, it’s always someone else’s fault in the U.S. of A.

And for once, I actually know what I’m talking about; I spent many years in the music business and watched the whole house of cards cave in, in slow motion. Just like Circuit City.

So Blogger deleted my post and sent me the same form letter that other blogs have been getting for several weeks now. It’s not as if I just posted the new Beyoncé album, in it’s entirety, for free, but you wouldn’t know that from the tone of the threatening e-mail I got. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs about offering up any kind of music, but believe me, Kool Moe Dee isn’t getting a penny of royalties from anybody’s download, whether it’s from me or iTunes. Instead, Sony/BMG pockets all that money to buy Leona Lewis a mixed deli platter the next time she’s in the New York office.

Then again, I don’t think anybody was downloading music from my blog, I usually got about 6 listens or downloads per track, anyway. So it’s no great loss, my readership could probably fit comfortably into a Ford Escalade, and not even care about what’s missing. But honestly. Next somebody will be chasing me for posting a picture I took with my own fucking camera.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This Just In

And you thought your last run sucked…

New York Times: Jogger Runs Mile…

I LIVE for headlines like that.

You're welcome.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Race Report: ING New York City Marathon

Really, it was like all the other NYC Marathons before it. No rain (it hasn’t rained during the race since ’97), no major glitches, an overwhelming number of runners from abroad (over half of them), two million spectators. And Paula Radcliffe making it look way too easy.

I was assigned to a 5AM bus to the start on Staten Island. As usual, several thousand runners meet at the New York Public Library in midtown to catch one of the dozens and dozens of buses making the trip. This year, they decided to assign a specific bus time to each runner to avoid the problems of the past, such as late runners showing up at 7AM when the cut-off is 6:30, causing delays. Like Boston, they make you get out there hours in advance and wait and wait and wait for a 10AM start. I’m used to it, but it gets earlier and earlier each year, and you end up waiting outside for at least three or four hours.

And this year it was worse. Saturday night, it was almost 70 degrees outside; the weather forecasters predicted it would turn colder overnight, and they were right. The temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees in six hours, so when I was making it out the door at 4:45, the temperature in midtown was 40 degrees. Which is OK running weather, but what I didn’t realize was that there were bone-chilling gusts of wind out there, and Staten Island was right then at about 37 degrees with even worse wind chills.

So of course, the bus ride is fast, and it just about set a record getting there. I arrived by 6AM, and with 3 hours and 40 minutes to go before the start of the race I had nothing to do but hit port-a-johns and stop myself from nervously drinking too much water, or worse, coffee. It was FREEZING, and I had two singlets, two long sleeve cotton shirts, a running jacket, and two pairs of long running pants on. Around 7AM, I lost the feeling in my toes and heard my teeth chatter, that’s how bad it was. When the sun came out, it got a little better, but we were all (and I can speak for 40,000 runners) ready to get on the road.

I bumped into friends, chatted and threw out pre-race good wishes without being some cheery asshole. Met up with running pal Susie, and we spent about an hour and a half commenting on this year’s marathon model. Soon, we were off to the foot of the Verrazano Bridge where we stood for about a half hour before the starting gun went off, longer than usual.

I was on the bottom level of the bridge (they always just show the top level on TV coverage, try to imagine thousands of runners one floor below that, too). And once we got there, the icy wind gusts were brutal. I was wearing a hat, and had to take it off for fear of losing it off the side, because the wind was just that bad. You just wanted to get the hell over the bridge and get out of there, especially after spending hours shivering in the cold. I think a lot of people started out too fast just because of this, but I think everybody starts out too fast here because they just want to get the damn thing done.

So we make it across the bridge into Brooklyn, and guess what, nature calls. So I jumped over a three-foot concrete barrier and joined the official-looking firing squad of gentlemen who had the same idea. I lost exactly one minute in time, but at least the good news was that nature would not be placing any more calls or leaving voice mails again during the race.

Speaking of, you’d be right to ask how I was planning to approach this race. Racing for a PR? Running for a reasonable, easy time? Sightseeing? Well, it was a little of all that, but I had gotten it in my head that I wouldn’t mind trying to run this particular course a little faster than normal, and close to my faster finish times, around 3:20. So my plan was to run the first 10 miles at about a 7:50 minute/mile pace, the second ten at 7:30, and the final 6.2 at a little slower than that, perhaps 7:40 if possible. Since they had chip mats and markers at all the 5K splits, I had figured out my goal times at each 5K split, in advance.

And I have to say, I hit the first 5K split about ten seconds behind schedule, and that included the unplanned, outdoor bathroom break. And then at the 10K mark, I hit that 20 seconds too soon, and so I knew to slow it down. And the 15K and 20K times were good, too, and by then I was picking up the pace and passing some of the other runners. I’d never paid much attention to kilometer markers in a marathon before, but it takes some of the pressure off when you don’t obsess about each and every mile marker. Plus the math skills that are needed to compute all the mile-based arithmetic… well, you know what I mean. If you’re running an 8 minute/mile, that’s a 5 minute/kilometer, and knowing that a 5K chunk at that pace equals 25 minutes makes it a little easier to wrap your head around, in my opinion.

So the crowds were wild, the course was jammed, the weather chilly, and the sticky Gatorade flowing. I felt reasonably good, and was still OK at mile 15 before arriving in Manhattan. Things were uneventful, despite ‘Runner Mark’, who wore his name, and thus generated seventy increasingly annoying ‘Go Mark!’ spectator yells-per-minute (I actually counted and timed them while running one stretch in Brooklyn, I stopped at a water station to let him get ahead, and away from me). I didn’t even get pushed or run over by the French or Italian running tour groups in matching outfits, as is usually the case. I kid the French and Italians! Gotta love them knocking people over at water stations, they’re just kooky kids from across the pond.

Once I got onto Third Avenue and the rumblings of the death march, I knew I only had about nine miles to go. And that’s when the fatigue begins to set in and then the self-doubt and then the desire to find and push that little red button on a nuclear warhead. But the 5K splits call, and I’m only a minute off of the schedule. I thought to myself, OK, this isn’t so bad, last year my quads were turning to granite right about now, like they’d seen Medusa screaming ‘Go Mark!’ at Mile 19.

And you know what happened then, it got harder. By the time I got to the one-mile hill on FFA (Fucking Fifth Avenue), I was getting pretty much over it. And my pace suffered, I knew I was running about 30 seconds per mile slower. I did the completely thinkable, and stopped to walk for 20 seconds. ‘This is stupid, and it hurts’, a quote from somebody, I can’t imagine who, came to mind. But I restarted and got myself into goddamn Central Park, where the course always enters around mile 23.5.

People I actually know started to pass me. Why can’t these people pass me earlier in the race when I’m not so pissed off? Yeah, I know, I’ve probably done it too, but really, you’d think out of 40,000 runners I’d get a break and just be surrounded by the Run Latvia Team.

SO. I kept going, and then felt much better after a little 20 second walk AT MILE 25.5. That’s right, I always point and laugh at people who can’t suck it up and finish the last half mile, but believe me, if you’ve been there, you know. Off I went again, slightly refreshed, and I realize I’d blown the 5K split schedule by several minutes, no special finish time for me today, it’s more P than PR.

But if I can make it to the finish line by 3:30, well, that will be just fine. So I practically sprinted the last 400 meters and… made it. The clock said 3:30:10, but the watch said 3:29:18. Stupid clock.

Amazingly, I felt OK after crossing the finish line and the 25-minute walk to my baggage truck. I bumped into an acquaintance who had finished right before me and had missed his PR too, and then more friends later, who finished with the same time as I did. And I realized (here comes the annoying half-glass full part of our story) that it was my fastest NYC Marathon time, and that I had qualified for Boston again. Now I feel like I almost have to run Boston next time; after many years of not qualifying, it’s starting to feel like an obligation out of respect for all the younger guys who can’t get in because of some insanely fast qualifying time. I’ve been there, and good luck shaving twenty or thirty minutes off of your fastest marathon time just to be allowed to run east into Boston in mid-April. Whatever, I’ll decide soon if Cranky Will Represent.

So today, Monday, I ran a nice five-miles and felt progressively better as I went along, and then hit the gym. On the way back, a runner wearing her marathon finisher’s medal saw me on the street, and I stopped to congratulate her. And she knew by the way I was dressed that I had finished, too, and told me in a nice way that it pissed her off that I wasn’t even limping.

My work was done.

Next up: another dumb race in two weeks.
May I have another, SIR!

NYC Marathon Pre-Race Report

Before I get into what went right and what didn't, let's just say that for me, yesterday's marathon was good overall. I finished my 10th ING NYC in 3:29, not far off the last marathon I did recently. Today I'm feeling (and you can hate on me for this) just fine. A strong 5-miler this morning got the kinks out. My legs are feeling a bit stiff, but I'm not pissed off when I have to bend over to tie my shoes. I may feel differently tomorrow, but at least I know I had a better experience than last year's 'my legs just turned to rocks' hostage situation.

More later, and it won't be a three-hour tour this time.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30th, 7:30PM

At Tavern on the Green in Central Park, the New York City Marathon finish line at night, three days before the race.

The Asphalt Green Thursday night running crew stops to take it all in after training for this damn thing for week after week.

Monday, October 27, 2008


OK, here’s what happened. I started writing about the Hartford Marathon (now over two weeks ago) and it started to turn into a James Michener novel. Those of you not familiar with James Michener will be amused to hear that most of his output consisted of 1000-page-plus doorstops that began with fictional discussions on how pre-Cambrian cellular life started where all his 19th-century melodramas took place. So my discussion was going on WAY to long, it was taking me longer to write than a high school term paper with index cards, and for no good reason. Then it dawned on me that half my readership was probably at the damn race and ran it, too. This realization sunk in as I realized that sometimes alarming blog silence=injury, when that’s not the case. Despite some quad pain on my left side, I’m OK, I’m just obsessing about the next marathon, now less than a week away.

So it looks like I’m not going to post that saga-in-process, because it’s already old news. Too bad, the part about my stop in the port-a-john at mile 8 recalled the 5-minute post-thaw bathroom scene in the first Austin Powers.

But I will say this. The race went well for me, for two reasons. One is that I was generally prepared to run 26.2 miles, I did the right thing and trained a bit. The other reason is those other folks who joined me. Ms. Speedy did quite nicely despite the usual ‘I must be insane to keep doing this crap’ and other more strongly-worded observations. Angry went with the flow, listening to three people ramble on and run and be fairly annoying, all while chaperoning and driving and then pulling out a nice 5K time on the side. And Iron Bob helped me focus in the last few miles as I tried to keep up every time I stopped at a water vacation, uh, station. He did really, really well, as did sub-4 Claire and Mr. A for just racing and putting up with us. So thank you all.

So I showed up and ran my fastest marathon in seven years. I beat the 3:30 finish time plateau I’ve been hitting for several marathons. And I qualified for Boston, which is nice, though I’m not sure if I’ll be there again next April.

And another thing, it was rather nice to run a small-scale race instead of the behemoth New York/Chicago/Marine Corps/Boston-type races with thirty or forty thousand runners all required to arrive hours before the start. This weekend, I’ve been assigned to take the 5AM bus at the New York Public Library to get to the start line of the NYC Marathon that has a gun time of… 9:40. I love the race, but it’s just getting gigantic, and pretentious, and overproduced (sort of like all those Pirates of the Caribbean movies). The starting line area in Hartford was terribly unorganized, but beyond that, it was a fine race once it got going. Of course, if I’d hit the wall, my opinion may have been different. But I didn’t, and it was a fine day, thanks to my training, and friends who made a difference.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Last Saturday

I’ll post my take on last Saturday morning soon, but before then I’d like to thank Team Hotford, you know who you are. As every hour goes by I think more and more about how ‘well’ it went for everybody. Of course, this means the pain and soreness is wearing off and the haze of fond memories is taking over, but that’s perfectly OK. If I can count on one hand all the things that went wrong on marathon race day, that’s very, very good.

We didn’t have the heat of yesterday’s Chicago (yet again this year) and got the damn thing over early in the weekend. Next marathon, we’ll spend more time lounging before and after. And make sure that Tina Fey is waiting at the finish line for Speedy.

I've spent about a half hour trying to upload an image of Team Hotford, but no such luck with Blogger. Since it's a holiday, thousands of part-time Walmart cashiers named 'Mary Lou' and 'Betty Jo' are busy uploading pictures of fuzzy kittens sitting in bowls of spaghetti onto their 'down home cookin' blogs, and slowing the system down. Maybe later...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Race Report: Grete’s Great Gallop/Norway Run

Make that Grete Weitz’ Great Gallop, the half marathon held last Saturday in Central Park. I’ve done this one before, it’s every October during the marathon season when you want to run a half but shouldn’t. What’s always most memorable here is the finish line catering: smoked salmon and cream cheese on bagels, bottled water imported from Norway, and waffles. I’m not kidding, the food makes it.

And it’s another duo of 6-mile loops of the park plus another 1.1 in case you needed reminding. Every year the weather turns fall-ish right before the race, and it did just that this time around. The humidity was lower than last week (thank God) while the temperature was right about 60 degrees. Perfectly fine.

Starting at 9AM, about 3900 runners queued up into the corrals based on their previous, fastest race pace. I positioned myself near the back of the first corral so I wouldn’t get run over and wouldn’t end up standing on the chip mat at the start. One time this summer I lined up too close to the front and the second chip mat recognized me immediately and I had to wait an extra 5 seconds for the skinny kids in front to take off. Hey, five seconds can make you miss your PR, I’d rather have a ‘running’ start… and yes, I don’t want to add dumb, extra time to my finish time if I can help it.

Off we went, and the first mile was zippy, at least for me. And crowded, but it’s better with the corrals than it was without them. I heard the usual sound effects, the runner who lands flat on his feet, which makes it sound like cinderblocks hitting the pavement, and the guy who carries jangling keys and $17 in change in his fanny pack. And of course, the runner who has to weave in and out of everybody because he only has an hour and a half to make up the time.

I passed the first mile marker around 6:50 and realized with the traffic jam at the beginning it was more like 6:40. Slow down, Tarzan, said the inner narrator.

Which I did, a little. And the first loop was about 42 minutes. Much faster than a marathon, somewhat slower than a 10K. OK, let’s see if we can do this second loop in the same time, I said to myself. At this point, I realize I’m having strange play-by-play commentary on my race performance. And I do this a lot lately, like I’m having some out-of-body experience, watching the action (or inaction, sometimes) as it unfolds. And then I’m retooling as I go along, rethinking my race ‘strategy’, whatever the hell that is. I should probably just admit it all involves me wanting to slow down and avoid pain while my brain says ‘suck it up’. Anyway, next time you’re on a tiring run, schedule a meeting with the legs and feet committee every couple of miles and have a discussion about hitting corporate goals. That sounds a lot more amusing and entertaining than just whining ‘I want to stop’.

‘Cause I’m a Meeaverrrick, doggone it!

Yeah, well, enough of that. So I start feeling the fatigue, and it’s totally predictable. And people I actually know start to pass me, and though I wish them well, my goals start to turn to dust, so thanks a lot, folks. But I keep up the fight. And math is not so hard for once, I figure I’m keeping a 7 minute/mile. Especially when I hit the 10-mile mark. Because, wait a minute, wait a minute, I’d have to run that in, I got it, um…. 70 minutes in order to keep that pace. I think.

And at the 10-mile marker my watch says 1:10:05. Don’t tell me! That means a… wait, I’m slowing down. The Race Narrator began to piss me off.

Then at mile 12 I know I’m not going to average under a 7-minute mile. How do these things get into your head? Who said I had to run a set pace? Who said I had to race at all? Can’t I just run a nice, leisurely half marathon for a change?

The answers: I Don't Know, Nobody, Nobody, and No. My old friends.

And yes, I just sucked it up instead of just… sucking. And raced the final mile. I thought I wasn’t going to make it without flying off the road, but I crossed the finish line in 1:31:36. Since at the time my brain couldn’t handle the math of that extra .1 mile, I didn’t know until after the results were posted that I’d run a 6:59 pace. I’d finished that last mile with only six seconds to spare. But I did it. With the help of corporate.

Y’know, I need to find some slower races out there for a change, because last Saturday I was still getting passed big time. These NYC events in Central Park are hyper-competitive. Not that they shouldn’t be, but people, it’s not safe out there. I felt so slow I was amazed anybody I knew finished behind me, including the guy from my running club that’s a contestant on Survivor this season (he finished right behind me). I’d still rather run a half marathon than eat bugs for lunch and dinner, but Jeez…

And I understand another fun race is coming up, so my ‘race every weekend’ schedule continues...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Race Report: ING NYC Marathon Tune-Up (18 Miles)

Since I’ve run two races over the last couple of weekends it was time to say something about them before I completely forgot all about them. I’ve run enough races that my mind has a way of turning recent events into vague and fuzzy stream-of-unconsciousness memories that crop up again only when I’m feeling some ankle or leg pain two days afterwards.

So on this last Sunday in September the New York Road Runners held their annual 18-mile marathon ‘tune-up’ race. You’ll probably never do an 18-mile race, either, unless you’re in New York City and you decide to wear a bib number and a chip on some long run. I’ve done this race about six times before over the last ten years, and it’s OK if you like catered food and drinks and a white t-shirt for the trouble of a training run. At least it takes some of the mindbending boredom out of the typical weekend long run schedule. Problem is, some of us end up racing this distance when we’re not used to racing for 18 miles.

AND it’s three hilly loops of Central Park, one after the other, obviously. It gets a bit old after a while.

So about 4000 runners took off at 7AM on a blisteringly humid morning, it was 93% humidity and about 60 degrees. Nice and cool, but the foggy air just hit in waves, and I am not so good in Jurassic humidity. This summer I was reminded that high humidity adds 10-15 seconds per mile to my pace. And as for this race, well, summer was not over.

So I planned on running the 6-mile loops at around 45 minutes each. I’ve finished this race between 2:11 and 2:25 in the past, some years I take it easier than others. This time I figured I’d finish somewhere in between… since all of my race times over the last few months have hit right in the middle anyway. Solid ‘B’ grades. No ‘A’s, no ‘C’s, just ‘B’s.

Which is fine.

I tell myself.

Anyway, after the end of the first loop I looked at my watch and saw 44 minutes and change. OK, that’s nice, but there’s twelve miles of the exact same course to go. And then the hills started getting tougher. And at the end of the second loop my watch starts closing in on 1:31 or so, and I realized I was slowing down a little. And then on the third &%*(#)@ loop the hills are pissing me off, and other runners began to pass me. I knew I was slowing, but it sure felt like I was running the same pace. I admitted to myself a 45-minute 6-miler was not going to happen, I just wanted to get across the damn finish line. And I did, at 2:18:54. As predicted, right in the middle of my previous race finish times. And I had had plenty of time to talk to myself and over-analyze pace strategy, so I guess that meant there weren’t as many runners ticking me off like there normally are.

However, I did try something new during the race. When I had a downhill, I would kick my feet back a bit higher than normal, similar to the ‘butt-kicks’ during strength training. And I would run faster. And you guessed it, my quads were sore later. My quads never get sore, so I get what I deserve, probably.

In the end, it was a good ‘long run’ so to speak, but I don’t recommend racing long runs. I knew I could not keep that pace and run another 8 miles, if you know what I mean. Speaking of, marathon racing strategy is a whole different scene. More on that later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Back Home

Got back last night, I hope to write some semi-amusing posts about what went down while I was away. The highlight was a fairly long training run that included a good old falling flat on the face after stubbing my toe on a rock on the course. You know, the type of wonderful midair ‘oh shit’ feeling you get right before you land on sharp gravel, followed by ‘I hope no one saw that’, even though there’s already more blood than at a Vlad the Impaler Tupperware party. Such a blast.

Than some stomach virus hit Sunday night, and all those historical statistics make sense, especially in the bathroom, such as: more people died in the flu epidemic of 1918 than did in all of World War I. I’m not that bad off, but it makes running (as in, with running shoes, outside) impossible. I’ve got a sweet little 18-mile race this Sunday, better be ready for that silliness, pronto.

So I survived another long stint away from the blogga-whirl. Now that fall has begun, how about we all throw a Ducathalon and raise money for our hapless investment banks? You know, the Fed’s Run On the Banks… Um, not a good name, maybe Run For The Banks is slightly better…

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ten Days Away from NYC

Love the city, but it gets tiresome, so I’ll be away it all for a week or so. I’ll have stories when I get back, though. Leaning toward the ING Hotford on 10/11, by the way.

Y’all have a good week…


P.S. Airplane/artwork at The Pompidou Center, Paris, above. Made out of scissors confiscated by airport security guards. Very funny.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Race Report: fitness® Mind, Body, Spirit Games (4M)

Held last Saturday morning, this little race was a real delight. Yes, sarcasm already.

Well, there’s not much to say, but I’ll say it anyway. Your typical Central Park 4-miler, the men’s race was at 8:30AM, the women’s an hour later. I believe Fitness magazine is geared to women, so they decided to segregate the ladies so they didn’t have to deal with all the skinny white boys throwing rock star attitude at the start line. That’s my own opinion, of course, but even I get tired of getting elbowed by all those SWBs as they push their way to the front. Apparently, ‘Excuse me’ is too complex a sentence structure for these guys. At least they’re all easy to find in the race results, you just need to search in the names under ‘Dude’. I heard ‘Dude!’ about three dozen times while standing in the corral before the start.

And here’s the best part: the humidity felt about the same as it does in the shower right after you turn the water off. Tropical storm Hanna was making its way to the northeast, and right before its arrival we were treated to some really, really Jurassic weather. The temperature was OK, about 70 degrees, but the humidity felt like 150%. It was just unbelievable. The race director warned us to watch our pace, and I thought to myself, ‘yeah, yeah, we got it’, and then I realized sweat was already dripping down my back while I'm standing there.

The gun went off and out we went, and up the first hill, and I’m holding back my pace. My first mile was a bit fast, but not insanely so, and by the time I got to mile three I knew that no PR was ‘a-happenin’ today. Life goes on. Meanwhile, I notice runners passing me and it starts to piss me off a little, but I know that hurling breakfast would really piss me off, so I re-check my pace. Not bad, but slowing. And pretty soon everybody is slowing down a little, including two friends who stuck with my pace right behind me. They finished behind me too, but thanks to the chip system, finished a few seconds ahead.

I finished the race very happy to be done, with an uncharacteristic mini-sprint. Not a bad effort, but I realized long ago that a humid day adds 10-15 seconds per mile to my pace, so that’s life, and anyway, I figured that I’d actually done better than my last 4-miler in July. Once I got home I looked up my finish time for both races and discovered I’d done both races in the exact same time, 26:18. Weird. A lot of good all that speedwork training has done, I thought. Then again, at least I didn’t run slower, and the weather was a bit worse during this last race.

I will say that everybody thought the weather was just abominable, and wanted to crawl off and die once it was over. I was not alone. I hate it when there’s lousy race weather and other runners make cheery comments on how ‘great the weather was’ just to prove how tough they are. Yeah, you’re tough alright, especially for a goddamned idiot. Folks, if you finish a race and feel fine, don’t approach other runners and tell them how great you feel. Just shut up and go get them some water or something.

And I kind of did that, I went back out to the course and cheered on the unlucky guys still left out on the course. After a while, I saw coming through my Tuesday morning/Thursday evening running coach, formerly known as swimming coach. He had hit a wall at mile 2 and struggled all the way to the end. After he crossed the finish line, I got him some water and we traded comments about the stupid weather and crap non-runners look bored listening to. And I headed back out on the course to watch and clap for the ladies struggling through their own 4-miles of ungodly sweating and chafing. Fun.

So it looks like that’s it for short races for the time being. Got an 18-mile race in a few weeks, and then marathon mania begins. Oh, and despite the sweaty race on Saturday, I managed to get a nice long run in on Sunday, running around Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Over three hours of clomp, clomp, clomping asphalt. By then the humidity had left, thank you Jesus.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shakespeare For Runners, Part 1

If you weren’t an English major, you probably just groaned at the title above. But stick with me, if only because it’s another of my hair-brained ideas out for all to see.

Every year I get a running log either from Runner’s World magazine or at the bookstore. And every time I open it up I read those inspirational quotes and sayings thrown into the calendar that are supposed to motivate you to achieve your goals and dreams and other crap. Funny thing is, those quotations never make it any easier for me to get out the door for a tough training run nor do they help me cross the finish line. I’m thinking other thoughts then, like ‘this hurts’ and ‘who came up with this stupid course’ and my favorite of all, ‘thank God that’s over’. But never something so dumb and puerile as ‘the first step is the most important on the road of life’ and other Hallmark card sentiments they throw at you, quoting some track coach who never ran a day in his life.

I decided I had to find my own quotations. And from less-obvious personalities than marathoners of the 1970s. So off I went in search of quotes from poets and writers and real people who weren’t afraid to say or write things along the lines of ‘this hurts’. I quickly realized I could spend years cataloguing identical missives in modern Russian literature, just for starters.

And back to the basics I went, only to settle on the greatest playwright in the English language, and possibly in any language. Shakespeare had it all, even if he’s not your cup of tea, so to speak. His dialogue may not always be easy for modern ears to follow, and it takes some getting used to, but he sure knew how to create a character or two. And scene, and situation, and everything else.

Well, I don’t have the time nor the expertise to go into why we should all at least know something about Shakespeare and his work, so I’ll get into the quotation that I found that I, and hopefully you, may relate to.

Richard II was one of his early historical dramas, and like many of them, does not have what we’d call a happy ending. Richard II (1367-1400) was not well-liked, he suffered continual bouts of assholism, and really, really enjoyed being in charge of everyone else. Historically, his enemies tried to overthrow him twice and finally succeeded; they hated him so much that when they threw him into prison they just let him rot there, as if he wasn’t worth the trouble of execution. Shakespeare makes him out to be a bit indecisive, and kind of, well, a downer. And a bit of a prissy miss thang, letting a ‘snap’ fly when making a point now and then. Oh, yes, she did!

So today’s quote is from Richard II, Act 3, Scene II. The Que-, uh, King, realizes that everything is over, he’s lost the battle against Bolingbroke over his crown, and it’s a bad day all around. It’s no pep talk; he tells his friends that it’s too late to even save themselves and they might as well just give up and go to Denny’s. ‘Cause that bitch Tyra ain’t never gonna let them walk the runway.

(Here’s the excerpt, you may skim like many a freshman lit class student has done before you:)


No matter where; of comfort no man speak: 

Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; 

Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes 

Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, 

Let's choose executors and talk of wills: 

And yet not so, for what can we bequeath 

Save our deposed bodies to the ground? 

Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke's, 

And nothing can we call our own but death 

And that small model of the barren earth 

Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. 

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground 

And tell sad stories of the death of kings; 

How some have been deposed; some slain in war, 

Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; 

Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd; 

All murder'd: for within the hollow crown 

That rounds the mortal temples of a king 

Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, 

Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, 

Allowing him a breath, a little scene, 

To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks, 

Infusing him with self and vain conceit, 

As if this flesh which walls about our life, 

Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus 

Comes at the last and with a little pin 

Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king! 

Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood 

With solemn reverence: throw away respect, 

Tradition, form and ceremonious duty, 

For you have but mistook me all this while: 

I live with bread like you, feel want, 

Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, 

How can you say to me, I am a king?

Now wasn’t that delightful? Who wouldn’t invite this guy to happy hour? OK, OK, you got it, he’s not being particularly uplifting (for good reason, he wasn’t around for much longer), but sometimes life is not so uplifting, either.

And here’s what I think we can take away from this little, albeit beautifully written tirade. Obviously, at some point in our lives we feel like this and can relate on some level. Of course, we may not relate to this situation, but to the emotion in the text (which is one reason why Shakespeare is a genius). Here, all is lost, but Richard, after all, is a human being, and he at least understands that and admits it (finally) at the very end, right when it’s too late to find out. And besides, being king is so ten minutes ago.

When do I feel (sort of) like this? For starters, when I’m hating the world and everyone who ever lived, at mile marker 20 and beyond. No, I don’t get this dramatic, but in my own mind it’s not a happy place. I definitely ‘kill with looks’ and ‘write sorrow on the bosom of the earth’. See? I’m quoting Shakespeare already, and you can, too.

And my favorite line of all, the one you can quote all you want because after all it’s Shakespeare, give it up:

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground 

And tell sad stories of the death of kings;

That is the famous quote here anyway, but my favorite part:

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground

So if you made it this far today, that’s the famous line you can at least throw down during your final marathon death march. Amaze and amuse your friends (that is, if you have any left) with this little gem and others and be sure to mention Richard II Act 3, Scene II. Now, isn’t that better than:

A wish is a dream your heart makes.’ – A. Funicello

P.S. For the sake of full disclosure, I am not entirely impartial about Richard II. You see, last year I researched my own genealogy and discovered that I’m a descendant of King Edward III (1312-1377), he’s a great-(add seventeen more ‘great-’s) grandfather. And Richard II is a grandson of his. Which means this Richard has a cousin Richard, too. Funny enough, I’m also descended from an Ann Shakespeare; not sure if she’s related to you-know-who, but I’ll have to find out more on that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Training to Get Faster

Some might call me a fast runner, I don’t. I’m moderately fast. To me, fast is running under a 6:30 minute/mile, moderately fast is between that and an 8 minute/mile. A moderate pace is between 8 and 9:30, and any pace that takes longer than a 9:30 minute/mile is slow. Those are just my benchmarks, yours may be different, that’s perfectly fine. Speed is relative. And not everyone wants to get faster.

The key to much of my training is based on these different paces. Speedwork can be anywhere from 6-7 minute miles, tempo runs between 7 and 8, and long, easy runs clock in at an 8-8:30 pace. My recovery runs can be even slower, and that’s fine with me.

So my training, usually for marathons, involves two speed or tempo workouts per week, one long run on the weekend, and easy runs or cross-training during the week. I am not reinventing the wheel, as you probably can tell, almost all marathon training plans are similar to this.

This summer I’ve been meeting with two different coaches/running-triathlon teams for workouts and on Sunday mornings running long, 15-20 miles. I haven’t had a schedule per se, but since the workouts kick my ass I figure something must be going right.

Anyway, one point I’d like to make is that knowing what your fast, moderate and slow paces are is useful when training. I run with too many folks who take off like bats out of hell on easy runs, only to poop out on the first hill. You need to know your paces and know how they feel so you can keep them on any given run. You need to know the difference between 85% effort and 70% effort if you want to get faster. If it makes it easier, find out how fast 90-95% effort (ready to throw up) is for you and work down. Go to a track or measured course and time yourself on it at various speeds and efforts. On the other end of the scale, use your training log or past times to find out what ‘easy’ is for you.

Over the last few years I’ve used coach Jack Daniels’ (as apposed to Jack Daniel’s, that’s helpful a bit later) running charts to help me know which paces I should be using in training to get faster. Using previous race times and a VDOT (a coefficient that correlates to maximum training intensity) chart that gives you training paces depending on distance, you can come up with a general idea of what each particular pace should be, and use that information when setting up a training plan.

For instance, say you’ve run a recent 10K at a 7:30 minute/mile, or 46:30. At that intensity, Daniels says you are running at a training intensity (VDOT) of 43 (this value gets higher at faster speeds).  And using Daniels’ table on ‘Training Intensities Based on Current VDOT’:

Easy pace: 9:37 minute/mile
Marathon pace: 8:15 minute/mile
Tempo pace: 7:42 minute/mile
Speedwork: 4:26 minute/1000 meters (because you can’t and shouldn’t be doing ‘miles’ of real speedwork)
Sprints: 49 seconds/200 meters

Here’s an easy Daniels training calculator, by the way.

I’ve used these tables to determine training intensity before, and I got faster. Over the winter I used the treadmill at my gym to keep correct pace, and I thought I’d kill myself on occasion, but it’s not a bad idea to at least try out a pace on a treadmill to get the feel of it. However, I do not run a speedwork pace on treadmills, it’s too fast for me, running all out on a treadmill is not something I recommend. Go to a track or measured course for real speedwork, or all-out run-til-you-puke pace.

However, I don’t enslave myself to any particular training intensity. In this example, if I wanted to do a long easy run I might end up running 9:30 minute/miles instead of 9:37. However, the point is to slow down on those long runs, and keep that general pace. And if I finish a 200 meter speedwork course in 47 seconds (instead of 49), then I’m not losing sleep over that, either. Sometimes it’s like weight training, if you’ve got one more rep in you on a heavy day then go for it.

One caveat, though, the longer the course, the more your pace can change. I’ve trained for marathons that I should’ve finished in 3:15 but finished in 3:30, and it’s the luck of the draw on race day. You know anything can happen, you can start walking and just add extra time to your total even though you kept your pace when running. Or just feel lousy and slow down starting at mile 20, which happens to everybody in some races. So I take these predicted marathon times with some reservation, the point I’m making is I train at a certain intensity to train myself to keep that marathon pace, and whatever else that happens that day is going to happen.

Also, those of you who swim two miles followed by a 100+ mile bike ride, and then run, well, you’ve got to adjust your expectations. My training does not assume hours of other exercise before a run, so, for example, if you want to go from a 7:30 minute/mile to a 6:30 minute/mile marathon (which is a tall order for any race event), then good luck. The faster you get, the harder you’re going to be able to whittle away at that race pace ceiling, we all plateau at some point. Face it: we’re not going to be passing Kenyans in the last mile. And the longer you’re out there running, the more that can go wrong (or right, I’ll try to be positive for once).

All that said, I still recommend determining a set of challenging paces that are comparable or a little faster than your paces now, and then devising a plan of action. And one other thing, in that sample pace list above is a marathon training pace, that’s good to know. At the very least, you should know that so you can try it out on a moderately long run once a week or every couple of weeks. It’s faster than a long, easy run pace, but slow enough that you can run that for a few hours (somewhat) comfortably.

Sorry if I didn’t go into the science of all this, and didn’t get too detailed, but after reading several books and articles on the subject, I’ve discovered that most training programs give the same general advice: two training-specific runs a week, a long run on the weekend, recovery/easy runs in-between. You’re weekly mileage is yours alone, it should be a function of when that marathon is and how much you plan to run long in the months leading up to it.

Anyway, here’s the book I use: Daniels’ Running Formula (Second Edition), it gives you concrete workouts based on these paces... I’m not going to say you have to use this method because other methods are similar. I’ve used it in the past simply because I like using tables and numbers that tell me exactly what I should be doing and it helps to not think about it when you’re stuck on a treadmill during the dead of winter.

And my training paces, in case you’re wondering: Easy: 8:32; Marathon: 7:17; Tempo: 6:51; Speedwork: 3:55/1000 meters; Sprints: 43 seconds/200 meters. All based on my recent 41-minute 10K time and 1:31 half marathon time. And yes, some of these paces are too fast for me on particular days, but I do the best I can. I cut myself some slack on some days, and other days I’m faster. But I stay in the neighborhood, it all works out, and my experience has been that I got faster. And that slow pace? Learn it, you need to know how to take it easy, I see so many runners who just have to ‘run-fast-all-the-time’ who wouldn’t know a recovery run pace if it bit them on the glutes. Save the competitive spirit for race day and your own goals. Be smart.  Teach yourself how to run really, really fast on certain days and learn how to recover from it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Upcoming Races

While I mentally write a script treatment for my latest long run/crazy idea, the first living dead/marathon running movie, 26 Miles Later, I decided to mention my race schedule. More on training soon. In the meantime, mirth and mayhem, dead ahead.

9/6 fitness® Mind, Body, Spirit Games (4M) – Central Park
10/4 Norwegian Festival Half Marathon – Central Park
10/12 Staten Island Half Marathon (tentative)
10/? Marathon TBD (suggestions?)
11/2 New York City Marathon
11/15 Knickerbocker 60K – Central Park
12/7 Joe Kleinerman 10K – Central Park
1/11 Walt Disney World Marathon (which will be frickin’ magical, of course)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Race Report: Club Championships (5-Miler)

Sure haven’t written a race report in a while. Not because of the reason you’d guess (hadn’t run any races), but because my experience was much the same throughout each one. Had I PR’d in one of them, I probably would’ve said something at least, but believe me, I didn’t PR. But no real regrets here other than that I probably should’ve come back from Boston in April and started speedwork immediately and kept at it through June and beyond. But I didn’t, I didn’t even show up for tempo runs until the end of June, and so my race times were slower than they were in spring. Guess what? I got over it.

So my race experiences became very predictable. I would show up, start out with a slower first mile than normal, by about 10-20 seconds, then I’d try to make it up with a faster pace. Then the heat and/or humidity would strike and with 1-2 miles to go in each race I knew I wasn’t going to break any records. Crossing the finish line was never particularly easy, but I knew if I gave it 90% or more I’d end up with a professional photo of my breakfast crossing the finish line before I did. So I kept my effort just a little on the down low, and thus never really got very close to my best finish times.

Last Saturday was the Team Championships race in NYC, and a faster bunch of skinny mofos you could not find anywhere, except maybe right now in Beijing. The men had their own race at 8AM, and as it was, fewer than 800 finished the race. We were put in rather tightly-controlled pace corrals, and I was in the third one, when I’m usually in the first. I wasn’t complaining, I did not want shoe tread marks on my back from speedsters running 5:30 minute/miles, so I was happy right where I was. Surrounded by several friends from my running club, we all looked like we would’ve been just as happy bagging the race and hitting the International House of Pancakes. In other words, my kind of people.

Before taking off I noticed a guy not far in front of me with way too much swag and flair going on. Expensive sunglasses, headphones, iPod, etc. People, you don’t need to pack for a five mile race. A marathon in Death Valley, yes, but not a 5-miler in New York City. So I commented on this sad state of affairs to someone behind me, who half-agreed with me. Oh well. Swag Boy is so cool, though he would just have to listen that much harder for all the rest of us out on the course.

So we took off and I realize at the 1-mile marker that even with the 10-second delay to get to the chip mats at the start I would have to make up about 20 seconds on the next mile just to be at PR pace. And then during the second mile I realized that with the 90% humidity it wasn’t too likely; the temperature was great, right about 70, but the humidity was way too high for me. Damn, it’s happening, I’m breathing too heavily in this soggy atmosphere. Again.

So I pass some runners, some I know, and some runners pass me. You know how it is. Same old story. And the hills of Central Park, which I know every inch of, are still not easy to do at a faster-than-normal pace.

Before we arrive at Cat Hill, one of two steep hills on the course, I see Swag Boy and his headphones and assorted paraphernalia pass me. I keep his pace, running about ten feet behind him, and then on the hill he hits the wall. Did I mention I’m rather good at keeping my pace on hills? Well, Swag Boy found out, and I passed him with not much problem, and never saw him again. Folks, if you’re going to be running a hilly race course sometime soon, train on one.

After all that hubris, I was soon repaid with the nasty urge to reexamine recent food choices. Since it wasn’t the longest race, I sucked up the nausea and finished up. Not before two idiots decided to cut me off with about 15 feet of room on the course. It wasn’t crowded at all, really, but they just had to pass me (which is fine, go right ahead), and then had to take an immediate left into my lane so they could run about a foot and a half right in front of me. What is this, the New Jersey Turnpike? Ever been driving on an empty 3-lane highway and then out of nowhere, somebody drives past and then gets in front of you in your lane, only to slow down? So of course, both times I let out a sarcasm-laced ‘Thanks’. The first guy who cut me off either didn’t hear me or just ignored me. The second heard me and mumbled something like ‘sorry’ that didn’t sound overly convincing. I know, I should probably take a Zoloft or something and move on, but living in a world of Me First and The Gimme Gimmes (an actual rock band name I didn’t make up) just pisses me off.

So I finished up, just in time to see my race time was about 30 seconds slower than my PR. A loud sigh followed, but I’m relieved I didn’t end up puking and crawling all over the chip mats. Five miles in 32:31 is perfectly OK for me, blazingly fast for many and embarrassingly slow for others as well. I see some friends and everybody talks about how nice the weather was and I smile weakly and quietly disagree.

To be fair, there were some fast finish times out there. The top twelve finishers ran a pace of less than 5 minute/miles, and there were so many speedy guys ahead of me that my race stats sucked out loud. I came in about the middle of the pack, and I never do that, but I knew going in what I was up against. So what, I wasn’t that far off my best time.

Well, as I’ve said, all my race experiences this summer have been just like last Saturday’s, with comparable finish times.

6/28 Pride Run (5 miles) - 34:03
7/13 Park to Park (10K) – 41:20
7/19 Run for Central Park (4 miles) – 26:18
and then this race, where at least I ran my fastest pace this summer.

Sure, it’s been hot, but not too brutal, like ‘close the course’ brutal. I know I’ll soldier on, and we’ll all survive to race another day. But in case you wanted to know, at least for me, it’s been an imperfect race season in an imperfect world. If you have had the same season, you are not alone.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In The Pool with Cranky

So in my effort to one day rock the triathlon world (like Speedy Speed Racer did very recently), I have been learning to swim. This began in January with lessons which quickly established I had issues with the water. I like to think that the issues are fewer now since I have no problem hitting the pool three times a week, all the while looking like I know what the hell I’m doing while I’m there. I’m no way near ready for completing any measured distance, but I can sure do my time at a good pool facility (good enough for you-know-who to train there when he visits NYC) on the upper east side of Manhattan. And I’m not as good a swimmer as I’d like to be, but like the grownups say, it’s important to have goals.

I have a day membership (only) at the pool, which for me means no early morning or evening swimming with the Olympians and other wannabes. Instead, the folks I encounter are either senior citizens or kids, so I’m often the sole representative of the demographic in between. This makes for some odd looks from the other swimmers and an occasional lifeguard, usually bored out of his mind and silently contemplating murder/suicide by paddle board.

To get to the reality of all this, it’s like a senior citizen party, à la Cocoon, every single day. The old men amble down the pool lanes, and a handful of elderly women crawl on top of the water with full scuba-diving outfits. On most occasions, I’m passing these folks, and I’m no speed demon, either. And I really don’t think I’m ready for the cover of GQ anytime soon, but when I’m in the locker room the wrinkles and back hair and rolls of skin that everybody else seems to have makes me look like Crank E. Adonis just in from Marathon. Believe me, I don’t try to look, but, either way, it just ain’t pretty in there. I’m just glad the kids have their own locker room, we don’t have enough money in the health care system to cover that kind of therapy.

Anyway, on this particular day I get in the pool and am surrounded by members of the AARP since 1942. And then there’s the kids; if you’re under ten years old, you must, must, scream at the top of your lungs like Mariah Carey finishing an encore, or calling her dog, or both. Kids are LOUD. And they get in the water and do the splashy-splashy and scream like they’re recreating scenes from The Old Testament. Pharoah probably had a public pool outside his bedroom window, and one day, just snapped. Like the whole Moses thing was an afterthought.

The kids over age 10 are more serious about swimming, so they get in the marked lanes. My pool facility has a ‘Summer Day Camp’ program with what seems like 7000 schools in New York City, so every day for the last month or so orange school buses line up in front of the facility and push out scores of kids ready to work off all that bodyfat the news media keeps going on about. And so crowds of chubby pre-teens ring the pool waiting for their time to get in while I and several 70- and 80-year-olds slap at the water. By 10AM you’re out, because Charles Manson Middle School is ready to get in and work off last night’s KFC. I’d like to write a letter to somebody to complain, but I know I’d get some ‘kids are our future’ and a ‘precious resource’-type answer, and I’d be fighting a long, losing battle in child-centric New York.

So one day I show up at the pool right after 9AM, giving myself about an hour to swim before eviction. I notice two gray-haired guys in the widest lane on the left, and it looks like they’re wearing scuba gear. I get in the lane next to them, between them and the younger kids’ pool, a veritable toddler soup of high-pitched ultrasonic screams probably driving some german shepherd in the neighborhood completely insane.

As I make my way down the lane, with reasonably good form I’ll have you know, I see that one of the divers is CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He’s learning to use a tank, and dive, and all that, while wearing black, rubber flippers that would even look too big on Bozo the Clown. I overlook my flipper envy and return back down the lane like the rat in water I am. This routine goes on for a while, and every time my head is down in the water (most of the time) I can hear the hissing of oxygen tanks alternating with what sounds like the slaughter of the innocents. So the soundtrack of my day goes something like this:

(dive, swim, blow out)
(come up for air, right ear hears children screaming)
(head back down, four strokes)
(come back up for air, hear more screaming, etc…..)

And on and on it goes. And I look down at the bottom of the pool, and AC of CNN looks up and sees Monsieur Le Crank with his locker room beauty pageant Burger King paper crown passing overhead.

And now it’s nearing 10AM, and it’s attack of the pre-teens. They arrive like the Mongol hordes, and sit at the ends of the pool with their stubby legs in the water, six to a lane. And they watch. The elderly swimmers start to get skeeved, they’ve seen Village of the Damned already, and they’re out of there. And it’s just me on the surface, and Anderson and his trainer lounging on the pool floor. And I’m NO good at being watched by strangers, especially feral ones, so I have to pull out all the stops on correct swimming form for the kids. ‘Do it for The Children!’… And they watch, though I get the feeling they’d much rather see a Rihanna or Jonas Brothers video on YouTube than my speedo-busting butt bobbing down the lane, back and forth. At this point, you probably can figure out that there’s not going to be much of a punch line to this story, all I can say is that it was a rather new experience. Me in a chlorine thunderdome, complete with news media representative in case things got really scary. But it already had gotten scary, in the men’s locker room.

Mr. Cooper (or Vanderbilt, I should say, I imagine he doesn’t need the money) made his way nonchalantly out of the water. After finishing my last loop in seemingly perfect form, I exited the pool as distractedly as the kids went in. Back I went to the locker room for the awards ceremony, where I would win in my age group. Because I was the only person IN my frickin’ age group.

And so this is how I practice swimming. Not with wetsuits and colored swim caps and lake bacteria, but with chlorine and Old Spice consumers and celebrities and hovering city kids. How funky/New York City of me. At this rate I’ll be ready for my first tri by spring, 2010.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Word from NBC & The Olympics

Dear America,

We are happy to report to you some late-breaking news from Beijing, not just the capital of The People’s Republic of China, but the place where America shows how humbly victorious it is during our coverage of the greatest sporting event of your or anybody else’s lifetime.

Michael Phelps loves Chinese food!

Can you believe it? What? YOU like Chinese food, TOO? Get out of here! Wait, don’t, Michael Phelps just said something!

Michael Phelps, you are SO funny! You’re mining comedy gold now, Dude! Wait, wait, what’s on your iPod? Whatcha listening to? Huh?

Damn, you rock.

We saw you win another gold medal with some other guys. I hope they’re American! Not like those mean jerks from… France. You showed them! We could teach them a thing or two about freedom, right? You tell them to come to New York City, U.S.A. and kiss Lady Liberty’s ass! What, they sent that to us? Uh, but we paid them for it, right? Uh, well, uh…. Shut up!

So Michael Phelps, whatcha doin’? You are just awe-… wait, somebody else just got into the pool. Hey, get out, Michael Phelps might want to swim, did you think about THAT?

And then there’s 41-year-old Dara Torres. She’s ANCIENT. Not like you, Michael Phelps. But she’s inspirational, that 41-year-old Dara Torres. So maybe we’ll talk to her in a minute…

But wait! Michael Phelps, did you just say something? Six more to go! You can do math, too?

Damn, Michael Phelps!

Hey Michael, did we mention you better not screw it up?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Specifications for Domination

This summer I’ve been shopping around and reading way too many product descriptions of bikes. They’re pretty much all the same: a mixture of bike geek jargon, ridiculous marketing prose, and the lure of unbelievable coolness. It’s hucksterism, BS, cliché, and science fiction, all in one.

Since I became more confused the more I read (sort of like reading Proust, without the madeleines and espresso), I decided I could probably write something equally obtuse and grand. So now I give you my very own bike description, it’s Institionalized’s BitchSlappa F-Yawl-2…

Institionalized’s BitchSlappa F-Yawl-2

From the folks who brought you the iconic BitchSlappa F-Yawl comes the F-Yawl-2! New and improved, Institutionalized has done it again! Biking will never be the same. In fact we’re not going to call it biking anymore, we’re just going to call it ‘slappin’!

Your friends will have no choice but to worship and build postmodern edifices to your omniscient greatness as you crush their dreams on our space-age construction of hardon, titanic, carpathium, and inanium. The fork itself is a wonder of science, bringing together NASA-developed technology and Cold War-era erector sets into the 21st century. The front derailleur is manufactured in Estonia using Tupper Laboratories ‘Burp-Less’ vacuum-packing, while the rear derailleur is, well, we can’t even tell you because it’s top-secret and we just won’t let the terrorists win. Let’s just say: “Fission Accomplished”!

The seat rests atop a post created from state-of-the-art anti-matter, making for a smooth-ass ride and providing sub-molecular derriere travel. And 71 cogs (a prime number!) will have you smoking the competition on those hills. Hey, what hills? What you talkin’ ‘bout? And the rims on the wheels? Damn, you’ll be on board faster than you can say ‘Vitamin Water stock split’!

Drive your enemies from their homes!

Watch them die slow, painful deaths from envy!

Hear the lamentation of their women!

Handelbar tassles optional.

The audio portion of today’s program is provided by Macy Gray. I’ve never been a big fan of husky-voiced Amazon messes (well, RuPaul may be an exception), but Macy lets it all hang out on this one. I laughed at first, then I realized she’s probably being serious. Then I laughed some more.

Macy Gray – Slap a Bitch

And now the video portion of today’s post. I don’t advocate the taking of drugs, but if you have any, you might think about doing it during this rapturous, Slavic presentation.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sunday, the 20th; New York City Triathlon

Quite a day. Yes, I’ll start putting verbs in sentences.

Backstory: Last November 1st, registration for the NYC Triathon opened up at midnight. Since I like to have a goal race on the schedule before finishing the current one, I thought it would be interesting (to put it one way) to register for a triathlon before doing the NYC marathon, then several days off. I’d watched the ’07 triathlon that year and run with running pal Tim during the final 10K. It looked like ‘fun’. So the morning of the 1st, I went on-line to register and got through. Just as I was about to get my confirmation I received notification that my credit card number had not been approved, which is weird since I didn’t have credit card debt. I shrugged it off and decided to call Mastercard after a while. And that was my mistake, for by the time I cleared up the problem, whatever it was, triathlon registration had closed. Never mind I had registered for over two dozen marathons on-line with a credit card, Mastercard thought someone had stolen my card and registered in a triathlon. At that point, I decided that anybody who actually stole a credit card number to register for a triathlon deserved to be in one. And fate had decided I wasn’t doing this one in July, so that’s how it goes.

Moving forward to July of ’08… I had decided to join the spectators along the course, which in this case, meant crowds of spouses with children and a parent or two, all wondering out loud why their beloved so-and-so is crazy enough to swim, bike and run all in one day. But still holding up homemade signs that tell Megan or Matthew that ‘you’re the best’ and to ‘go’ as if that was some late-breaking race strategy.

I set my clock for 5AM and run two miles to the start on Manhattan’s west side and the Hudson River. I bring a dozen tiny water bottles in a back pack for anyone along the course who might need it, only to find out that water bottles are really heavy. By the time I get to the start, the elites have already gone into the water, as well as the over-60 men and the first few groups of women. Fortunately, I run into running pals Tim and Bryce, fresh from the Patriot Half two weeks before. They’re ready to go, and feeling good.

So they get into their assigned groups and wait to head onto the pontoon jutting out in the river. The weather is warm, but not as bad as it’s been. I head back near T1 along the water and watch swimmers complete the 1500-meter course. After spending most of the year working on my swimming technique (as in ‘not sinking’ and ‘learning to love it’) I discover that as for swimming style, anything goes. Really? All that work on swimming and all I see are triathletes doing backstrokes and doggie paddling and flailing? ‘What’s up with that?’ is the only creative question floating around in my brain. What I didn’t know, and would find out later, was that the hapless swimmers were getting a full Japanese horror movie-style attack from stinging jellyfish. The jellyfish moved in as the swimmers waited to enter the river, and when it was time to dive into the water it was already alive with prehistoric creatures racing humans to T1.

Now, I’m fairly intrepid and well, can tough out a few things, but stinging things in the water? I would not have been happy. Especially since I’m allergic to bee stings. And as a child, watched many, many stinging jellyfish pass by while staring over the side of a boat in the Chesapeake Bay. And once in a while you’d see one with a red blob in the middle, fondly referred to as ‘bloodsuckers’. I could go to a Herschell Gordon Lewis film festival and not bat an eye, but show me a bloodsucking jellyfish and I’d lose my recent breakfast, lunch and dinner, in that order.

So I imagine some swimmers were creating new freestyle strokes to escape the nasty little things waiting for them in the water. I know of one swimmer who had a jellyfish go down the back of her wetsuit, and stay there. Nice.

Well, in the end, everybody I spoke to said they got stung repeatedly, but ‘the stings went away after a while’. Well, that’s peachy, but I still wouldn’t have been particularly thrilled to be greeted by Jurassic organisms at the start of my first triathlon.

I went to T1 and managed to see Bryce go by on his bike, and realized I’d probably missed Tim. So I headed closer to where the swimmers were coming out of the water, on another pontoon. They would crawl out on a ramp, and head back up another ramp to the shore and an asphalt bike path and a somewhat longer trip to their bikes.

By this time it’s 8AM or so, and I realize I’ve probably missed seeing Tim, since his swim had started about 7:35. And then there is a commotion. A volunteer on the pontoon is screaming at people to get out of the way. More volunteers arrive on the pontoon, and I can see they’re working hard to get someone out of the water. A few minutes to by, and I see a gurney hurtling down the ramp to the pontoon, and swimmers going up are almost knocked back into the water. Things start to get really quiet.

And after another minute or two, the gurney moves back up the ramp to the shore, and again, departing swimmers are almost tossed back into the river. Volunteers start screaming at people, mostly spectators, to move back.

All of us standing there didn’t say a word, but we were all thinking the same thing: whatever this is, this is serious. And we want to look, but then again we don’t want to, and we shouldn’t be in the way, whatever is going on. But you still feel helpless. So we keep looking for friends and loved ones, and it’s difficult. Because you know there’s a swirl of activity next to you with at least a dozen volunteers and aid workers trying to revive someone, someone that somebody else could be looking for along the course. And all I can see is a tall man, towering over this prone body, giving the most intense CPR and chest massage I‘ve ever seen. And one other volunteer holding the swimmer’s right arm at the wrist, desperately searching for a pulse. And this goes on. And on. For fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, swimmers come out of the water, and if they can see what’s happening, they don’t let on. Finally, with no actual road for cars to get to the location, two ambulances roll into the area along the footpaths. Whoever has been getting CPR is taken up to one of the vehicles and taken away.

I slowly head back to Central Park and begin to wait on the running course for my friends to get there. And they do, about an hour or so later. I get to cheer on anyone who is willing to hear me. And that’s quite a few, since the temperature and humidity rise enough to make the run really, really unpleasant. At this point the only pleasant thought I have concerns writing a congratulatory letter to Mastercard for it’s diligence against credit card theft. Today, after all, I am happy to not be competing in this event.

In the end, my friends finished and finished well. Some people complained that the officials made no mention of the jellyfish situation (officials explained that they did not want to ‘alarm the swimmers’). Later that day, when I checked the triathlon website there was no mention of any casualties on the course. I figured, or at least hoped, things had turned out OK for the swimmer I saw getting CPR.

And as some of you may know, that was not the case. The swimmer was a 32-year old guy from Argentina, and he had gone into cardiac arrest while in the water. And he was probably gone by the time they got him on dry land. But I’ll never forget two things about watching this: first, how long it took for the ambulances to arrive. And secondly, this guy’s right arm hanging limply off the side of the gurney. It was so white, it looked like chalk. I’ll never get that out of my head. I must’ve known then it was probably too late.

I’d like to write more, but I don’t think I’m able to properly discuss what all this means. Of course, I wouldn’t offer cautionary observations on why human beings should, or shouldn’t push their bodies to physical limits. I do that myself on occasion, and I have no real regrets. Then again, I’m uncomfortable with the ‘he died doing what he loved’ argument, true as it may be. So I guess I know what I wouldn’t say or write, which is indicative of something.

I do know that human tragedy can occur at the office, in a hospital room, on the street, or anywhere. And ‘anywhere’ just might include ‘at a race’. Unfortunately, that’s been all too true this summer.

Above is a picture I took as the swimmers left the water. Notice the crowd of people on the right. Even the silhouettes of the trees look dark and ominous.

P.S. In lighter news, thanks for checking on me, those of you who do. The summer has not been so great, and I didn’t want to whine or complain about it because it’s pointless to do so, so I clam up. But I’m OK. I do wish the year would stop flying by so fast, though. I’ll promise to write more about the drama and comedy of the last couple of months… not that it’s all that interesting, but you know, you know what it's all about...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hot in Herre for Cranky/Sexy

Brilliant observation about the weather, I know. But really people, it’s been hot. I went out for a nice, easy 5-miler at 3PM yesterday and began to get hallucinations around the three-mile mark. It was 90 degrees and 80% humidity, and I kept wondering why I didn’t see any other runners in Central Park. It’s because it’s damned hot outside, you idiot.

So the day before I was running along FDR Drive, the four-lane highway on the east side waterfront of Manhattan. It was hot then, too, and I was out there wearing only my new, bright yellow Mizunos and a moisture-wicking pair of running shorts, that’s it. I do not pretend to be anyone’s idea of a fine physical specimen, but at least I’m not too overly embarrassed when the heat forces me to run around like some topless, drunk 19-year-old in a ‘Girl’s Gone Wild’ video. Anyway, I’m running along the FDR, and the traffic is backed up for miles as it is sometimes, and soon I discover I’m eye candy for several drivers and scrubs stuck in gridlock. And then I get a major shout-out of whoops and hollers from one vehicle. And then another. So without missing a beat, I throw over my right shoulder a look that can only say: ‘You want some? Well, baby, sweetie, honey, you better be moving at 7:45 minute/miles on land or sea if you want some of THIS’. And then I fly off like a half- or fully-naked Will Ferrell, which he always seems to do in just about every movie he’s in.

I told you the heat is affecting my brain.

I’ve got more crap like that to post, so watch out. Next up is a post about yesterday’s trip to the pool, where I cranked (or is that crunked?) my customary laps while CNN’s Anderson Cooper, learning to scuba dive, sits at the bottom of the pool looking up as I exhibit PERFECT FORM for the children and old folks and at least one TV journalist. I was Cranky/Sexy (pronounced ‘Thek-thy'), alright.

Back to the heat. Sing it, James.

James Brown – Too Funky in Here (remix).