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 BeyoncĂ© 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.