Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December hates me

One year ago today, I was wallowing in self-pity, sporting a boot and wondering when I'd be able to run again. Today, I find myself in a similar situation. A little less self-pity and no boot. Oddly enough, this latest injury didn't manifest itself while I was running. I felt the first twinges of it when I was standing at a bar in the Flatiron district, drinking a Guinness with my buddies Brian and Camissa. Out of nowhere, there was a dull pain in my left heel. I walked home that night thinking maybe it was simply time for a new pair of loafers.

The next day, I woke up with the same pain. Since I am not training for any races and just running leisurely, I was not yet to the point of freaking out when I set out for an easy 8-9 miles in the park before work. The pain went away after about one mile. "Ok, this is nothing," I said to myself. The following day, the heel pain was again present in the morning. Again, it went away during my run, but this time was replaced by pain in my right hip and glute. I finished the run, then using the powers of deduction and Google, diagnosed myself with plantar fascitis. The hip and glute pain was obviously a result of compensation.

I traded the run for the stationary bike on Sunday, hoping to nip this in the bud. It was no big deal since as I said, this is supposed to be my down time, and I had some episodes of "This American Life" to catch up on anyways. When I met with my coach Jerry the following day, he told me to go see a sports chiropractor immediately. Within two hours, the folks at Duke Sports Clinic were doing Graston, active release, stim and ultrasound on my foot. They did an hour-and-a-half of work and assured me I could run through this with the proper treatment.

My excitement over that news turned into skepticism when Tuesday's run brought on the same pains. Tonight's run was a repeat. In fact, just more than five miles in, I feared my gait was changing and I stopped and walked the mile back from the park to the gym. I don't think I should run through this. On that walk, I decided I am not going to run for the next three to four days. Bike and water-running will have to do. Hopefully this injury is fresh enough to be fixed with a few days of rest and careful treatment.

I am being aggressive and diligent. I spent the entire day at work today with either a frozen water bottle or a golf ball (for massaging) under my foot. It should be noted that this is by far, the most use I have ever gotten out of a golf ball. However, while I think my foot is where the pain is reaching the surface, I am under the belief that the real problem is in my calf. There is a trigger point in the soleus muscle that has a direct connection to the plantar. For the past three nights, I have massaged it with the Tiger Tail, the foam roller and a lacrosse ball to the point of tears. I am sleeping with a Strassburg sock (actually, I go to bed with it and then in an annoyed state of semi-consciousness, I tear it off about halfway through the night).

I have to wonder if there is a bigger problem here. Three injuries in two years and all on my left side. I know it's my weaker side, but is it the imbalance that is leading to problems this drastic?

Fortunately, there are 18 weeks until Boston. This injury forces me to do what doesn't come naturally, and rest for the remainder of December. This year, the holidays are once again, about healing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Finish Line of 2011

When 2011 began, I was in a boot. I was no where close to running. A stress fracture in my ankle followed by a badly strained muscle in my back lead me to believe that athletically, 2011 was already a bust. Now, hours after my final race of the year, I am so glad I tried anyways.

When things are going well, it's hard to pull the plug. In fact, up until I started typing the opening sentences of this blog entry, I was looking for one last 5K to do next weekend so I can capture the one PR I couldn't grab this year. But, despite living in the largest metropolitan area in the United States, the only 5K I found had a statement on its website that said "runners welcome, but this event is more for the walking crowd." I can take a hint. The past month has been one of the most fulfilling, personally successful and most importantly, fun periods of my life as a runner. But, as someone who wants to have experiences like that over and over again for years to come, I know now is the time to give my body a rest. In the past week or so, there's been just a slight nagging pain here and there, and just a slight decrease in motivation. Those are subtle messages to slow down before you go too far.

In 2011, I set new PRs in the 15K, the 10K and the 5 mile. I won my hometown Turkey Trot, placed 3rd overall in the NYRR Cross Country Championships and ran one of the most rewarding 5K races I'll probably ever run. Since my first run back, a two mile hobble, on March 1st, I've logged 2,612.7 miles on my feet. It's about 900 fewer miles than I ran in all of 201o, but I also ran two marathons in 2010, trained consistently at 80-100 miles a week and oh yeah, started running in January. By choice, I did not run a marathon in 2011. Four between 2009 and 2010 satisfied the craving for a year and allowed me to focus on some shorter stuff. After not logging one run over 19 miles this year, rest assured, the craving has returned.

Of course, it wasn't all successful. My one stab at the half-marathon this year was a disaster. There's no use revisiting that. And despite knowing I have the ability to dip below 16 minutes in the 5K, I never backed it up with an actual race, so that dream goes on being just that.

But, many of the key reasons I consider this year such an overwhelming success don't have anything to do with statistics. From the second I started running when I was in high school it has been about proving something to myself. I ran to the drug store and back just to see if I could do it. I got terrible shin splints, but kept of going. I wasn't on a sports team of any kind, but I had something to prove and I proved it.

Stress fractures and back problems ended up being the least of my challenges in 2011. The real challenge would be to my ability to manage running, a hobby and real, serious, consequence-filled life. Who knew when the year started as a bachelor at a mid-market TV station in Charlotte, North Carolina with a running community 400 strong that it would end as a married man at the number one television station in the United States in Manhattan with a running community of one? With my priorities firmly in order -- family, work, running -- I pledged that not only would I continue running competitively, I would do it better and I would do it alone while giving nothing less than perfection to the two priorities that stood in front of it. I had something to prove and I proved it.

But that doesn't mean I'm done. I'm going to take the holidays to spend some quality time with my wife, who never once complained that I was skipping church for a long run, or dragging her out of bed early to go to a race. Quite the opposite actually. In a sea of strangers at the start and finish lines, she has been the beaming familiar face screaming words of encouragement. I'll run, probably close to every day, but no workouts, no doubles and no forcing myself out of bed if I am tired. And in as soon as you know it, it will be time to start back up again. I plan to work hard to be a contributing member of the Urban Athletics race team. I want to break 16 in the 5K. I want to be involved in the New York City running scene. I want to shatter my marathon PR in Boston. I have something to prove...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Two races, two tactics

Sometimes racing isn’t about the time on the clock, but the strategy employed to get to the finish line. A good race doesn’t always mean it was a fast race. My last two races have been more of an exercise in tactics, and while one of them did result in a PR, that was not the original intent.

As I boarded the train, and then the bus to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx last weekend, flashbacks of high school and college cross country road trips played in my head. What I remembered about racing at the park 10 years ago was that it was pretty hilly and the Burger King across the street could boast the most disgusting bathroom I have ever been in to this day. I’ll spare you the vivid description.

The New York Road Runners Cross Country series is a pretty chill group of races. Even at this race, the series championship named for NYRR legend Fred Lebow, the entry fee was a bargain basement $10. Runners milled about their respective teams until it was time to make our way to the makeshift starting line in the middle of a field. All of this looked vaguely familiar. As the starter described how to navigate the first 400 yards of the course, I was zoned out, thinking about the cup of coffee I’d be having when the race was over. In what would be a tactical race, this was a mistake. When the gun went off, I found myself in the lead with no idea where I was going. I slowed up, hoping someone would pass me, but no one did. When we got to the cones, I headed off course taking several hundred runners with me (after the race, one NYAC runner would jokingly say, “oh, YOU were the asshole!”). The screaming commands of NYRR volunteers got us back on track and we were off.

From the beginning, it was a runner from the Central Park Track Club (who I later learned was going to the trials in the 800) and me alone up front. We were, for the most part, side-by-side, as we headed onto the narrow trails that make up Van Cortlandt’s back hills. After a 5:02 first mile, we slowed dramatically. He was in front of me, and even though I wanted to pick up the pace, he cut me off at every attempted pass. It was smart racing on his part and frustrating racing on mine. I knew I was the better hill runner, but I kept having to slam on the brakes as the door was slammed in my face. Further complicating my stride was a series of embedded logs in the trail that you can either jump over or trip over. I chose to jump at the expense of any sort of rhythm.

By the time we completed a painfully slow second mile (6:00?), a third runner had caught us and had enough momentum to sling-shot past me. It was one of my teammates, which softened the blow, but it was still disappointing to go from being in contention to win to being a spectator of the battle up front. Heading into the finish, I realized just how much energy I wasted being impatient. I couldn’t dig myself out of third and finished about 15 seconds behind the winner. It’s tough to complain about a podium finish at the XC Championships, but I walked away with a lesson learned. I wasn’t upset with what was my slowest 5K time in three years, but vowed to save myself in a situation where someone else is dictating the pace.

The 35th Annual Newark Turkey Day Run is a different story all-together. In the weeks leading up to the five mile race in my hometown, I knew exactly who would be in contention for the coveted frozen Butterball Turkey, but I could only guess their fitness level. I was certain it would be a contentious race and was confident I was in shape to hang with last year’s winner, a 26:30 guy (Marv) who runs for the University of Buffalo. I wasn’t sure how well my buddy and high school teammate Jesse was running, but I knew he was putting in the work and is a naturally talented runner.

Sure, the Turkey Day Race is not one you’ll see featured in Runner’s World, but it’s the only road race held in my hometown of Newark, New York and I am usually not able to make the trip home to be on the starting line. Plus, it's organized by my former High School Cross Country Coach who I credit/blame for this whole running obsession. So, it was important to me to make the most of a rare opportunity. When the command was given, a group of four of us immediately formed the lead pack. It was Marv, Jesse, another college XC runner and me behind the police car headed straight up the hill on Route 88. By the top of the hill, Marv and I had split off and were duking it out. He’d lead for a couple hundred yards, then I would pass him back. By mile 2, I knew one of us was going to win the race. Of course, I wanted it to be me. I had a hunch that if the race came down to a kick, I would lose so my best bet would be to open up a gap early that would be too big to overcome at the end of the race. As we crested the next hill on Silver Hill Road, I took the lead and threw in a surge. At mile 3, I had clocked a 5:07 and had creasted a gap of 50 meters. This was the easiest part of the course and I decided to take advantage, widening the lead to 100 meters by the time we started climbing the last and steepest hill at the start of mile four.

As difficult as it was, I didn't back down going up the hill, knowing that anything was possible with a strong runner behind me. With a half-mile to go, I was still feeling strong. I knew the race was in the bag barring breaking my leg, but I kept the pace steady wanting a strong finish. I crossed the line in 26:19, a new five mile PR on what I consider to be a very challenging course. I won by 23 seconds to a runner who might have beat me if I hadn't gambled on the second mile, betting on my ability to keep a challenging pace instead of allowing the wheels to fall off.

(True story, the last time I finished the Newark Turkey Run, it was in a much slower time and there was a police officer waiting for me at the finish line to hand me a subpoena concerning a certain gnome-theft ring. That's another story for another day).

My last four races have been enough for me to reclassify 2011 as a successful season, but I want to give it two more gos before shutting it down. I'm learning with each race, and maybe the last two races won't be PRs, but they could be new knowledge I'll have in my arsenal going into next spring.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Watching the Marathon from Another Perspective

Wow. What a weekend. I don’t even know where to begin. Since moving to New York in June, marathon weekend has been circled on my calendar in red ink (proverbially speaking. I use a Google Calendar). I anticipated its awesomeness, but even I could not prepare for how incredibly cool it was.

THE EXPO: I was fortunate that Thursday and Friday were my days off this week. They were also the first two days of the expo which was a quick walk from my apartment. Trekkies have Star Trek conventions. Runner nerds have race expos. Along with Boston, this is Nerd Nirvana. Even though I was not running in the marathon, I went both days. The first day, I went to pick up my packet for the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K. There is nothing more humbling for a runner than going to a marathon expo and picking up a 5k packet. Volunteers say well-intentioned, but infuriating things like, “maybe next year you’ll want to try the marathon.” I made this a quick transaction. After picking up my packet from the small corner of the convention center designated for the 5K runners, I went sight-seeing. Expos have the coolest running gear. Of course, I couldn't purchase many of the items for sale since they said “ING New York Marathon” on them (Running rule: don’t wear gear for a race you didn't run), but there was plenty of other neat things to look at. Kelly, a Charlotte friend, who was working the Timex booth, talked me into buying a brand new watch. I didn't need one, but I couldn’t resist an orange model they had for sale. Kelly’s a pretty stellar triathlete, so she was asked to pace Olympic softball pitcher Jennie Finch, who was running for charity. I got to meet Jennie and tell her about how steep the Queensboro Bridge is. I also got to meet my favorite running blogger Lauren Fleshman, who was preparing for her marathon debut.

The Race (Mine, not the real one): For a number of reasons, I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to run the New York Marathon. But, the 5k the NYRR was putting on the day before seemed like it would be fun and pretty low-key. I expected some sort of “fun run” where people brought their pets and most walked at a brisk pace. My prediction was a little off. NYRR assembled a massive elite field for the race and 10,000 people signed up. Feeling pretty good about my fitness, I thought this might be a good chance to finally have a respectable go at this distance in 2011. When the gun went off, I was just in front of the elite women. I have to admit, looking around and seeing runners like Deena Kastor, Sara Hall and Sally Kipyego running inches from me was pretty cool. I briefly tried to set off on my own, but following a slow first mile (5:24), the pack of fast women quickly reeled me back in. Seeing an opportunity to mooch off their speed, I settled into their groove. It must have been a hilarious sight as we entered Central Park. Spectators got to see a group of some of America’s best female distance runners, NCAA champions, at least one Olympic medalist and me, an idiot with a red sweatband. The pack remained tight through mile 2, a blistering 4:47 through the park. Heading into mile three, Sara Hall and NYAC runner Julie Culley made a move and opened up a gap. I was running stride-for-stride with Lisa Koll, the NCAA record holder in the 10,000 and Shalane Flannagan’s training partner and Kipyego, the Olympic Silver Medalist in the 10,000. With 400 to go, I was able to pull away from Koll and Kipyego away from me. 5:01 for mile 3. I threw I down and just headed for the finish line as fast as I could. My Garmin clicked 15:37 and 3.1, but the official time was 16:07. We must have run terrible tangents. No sub-16 for me this year, but I still had a big smile on my face. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to run in a race of that caliber, with runners of that stature. Following the finish, I spotted Paula Radcliffe and gave an “I’m a huge fan” wave, and chatted with Olympian Lopez Lamong about our shared Syracuse connection. I doubt any of those runners will remember that race as fondly as I will, and I am sure this recap makes me sound like a huge dork, but oh well. When I got home, I was dejected to learn that once again, I had been left out of the race results. I can only assume I have some sort of magnetism that erases chip timers. I’m upset about it, but I am trying not to dwell on it. I have contacted the Road Runners. Maybe they will fix it. In the meantime, Asics posted this video that confirms my story.

The Race (The real one): I have run in four marathons, three of them major, but I have never been a spectator. Working out the logistics of cheering on the runners of the New York Marathon is no easy task. My goal was to kill two birds with one stone. I wanted to get in a long run and see the leaders, then make it back to the grandstand in Central Park for the finish. I measured distances, calculated paces and plotted a route. At 7:45 Sunday morning, I met Meagan and Jordan (in town for official running-related business) and Heidi and we headed toward Brooklyn. We got in a solid 15 miles, running over the Manhattan Bridge to Prospect park and back to mile eight of the course in downtown Brooklyn. There, we saw the lead men and women go by, some of our friends from Charlotte and some of my Urban Athletics teammates. Then, we all hopped the train for Manhattan where we would go our separate ways. I met Lauren outside the park and we made our way to the grandstand where I had managed to land media passes. From there, we watched the top woman, Firehiwat Dado motor across the line in 2:23:15. We saw Geoffrey Mutai smash the course record. We watched wheelchair athletes give it their all as they crested the final hill before the finish line. We saw runners set new PRs, conquer life-long goals, and pour their hearts and souls into those last two-tenths of a mile. It was beautiful and inspiring and after a year away from the event, I couldn’t be more excited to tackle it again.

The Friends: The highlight of this weekend was getting to see so many good friends who were in town to race or cheer. From catching up with Kelly at the expo, to welcoming Theoden to stay at our apartment, to running with Meagan and Jordan, brunching with Katie and Ben, dining with Scott, Meredith, Bob and Allejandro and screaming until my throat hurt for Stephen, Meghan, Mo and Kevin, it’s good to see familiar faces. Everyone raves about Christmastime in New York, but it’s going to have be pretty spectacular to top marathon time in New York.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Redemption Run

I signed up for the Rock and Roll 10k in Prospect Park, Brooklyn because it looked like it would be a fun race in a pretty park. With the half-marathon behind me, I figured it would be a low-pressure event put together by the Competitor group which is known for its highly organized, high-energy races. In fact, this being an inaugural event, I would likely have never entered it unless I knew the people putting it together had a sterling reputation. Inaugural races have a history of being too long, too short, not starting on time, messing up the timing, running out of bananas, or any combination of the just-listed problems.

When the half-marathon didn’t produce the results I was expecting, this “fun run” turned into a redemption run. I looked toward it as a chance to prove to myself that the run in Jersey City was circumstantial, caused by a more-hectic-than-usual work schedule, a string of sleepless nights and oppressive humidity. I knew this was the case, but I needed something concrete to prove it. Otherwise, in my admittedly crazy mind, I had failed in this ambitious endeavor that I had set out on; improving my running on my own while balancing a new intense and time-consuming job, learning a new city (which just happens to be New York) and being a good husband. Failure would mean really re-thinking how I approach my hobby.

The road to Brooklyn (GQ’s “coolest city on the planet”) started out a little rocky. When my work schedule for race week came out, it had me listed as producing the late night news for the three nights leading up to the race, including the night before the race. Visions of Jersey City appeared in my head. But, instead of panicking, I formulated a plan. Each night, I went to bed shortly after I got home and took naps after enjoying breakfast with Lauren the next morning. The night before the race, I pre-packed my bag and decided that even though it would cost a little more money, we’d take a cab to Brooklyn to save 20 minutes of travel time we’d have to tack on if we took the subway.

We got to Prospect park at 6:35, just under an hour before the start of the race. It was still dark and cold. Lauren and I were both shivering as we walked to packet pick-up. As soon as we got there, we found Marcie, a colleague of mine who worked at the competition when I was in Syracuse and now works in Orlando. She pointed me in the right direction of the bib numbers and we briefly caught up. Then, it was time for business. I took off on an easy warm-up along the course, and succeeded in finding a porto-john that was off-the-beaten-path and thus devoid of a long line and the mess that comes with portos in more high-traffic areas.

I was cutting it close on time when I got back from my 2.2 mile jog. I quickly pinned my bib on to my red Urban Athletics singlet, changed into my Adidas Adios, put on a CRC sweatband, posed for a picture and jogged to the first coral. I made my way to the front of the group just behind the elite field made up mostly of Kenyans and Ethiopians from the Westchester Track Club. I was pleasantly surprised to find UA teammates Josh and David were both racing as well. Familiar faces at races aren’t as common as they used to be.

The 7:30 start time came and went. There was a speech from Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, a recorded National Anthem and then finally the command to go. A bit off-put that the starter wouldn’t allow me to edge my way up to the elite group (I know I am not elite, but there was some 12-year-old kid in there, so the standards obviously weren’t very high), I had an extra shot of adrenaline that gave me a nice boost from the start. I quickly caught the pre-teen runner and passed him with ease, then made the decision to select a gear. I settled into my goal pace which was in the neighborhood of 5:20, and was able to hit the first mile in 5:18 without feeling much stress. By this point, the field had spread out and those of you who have read my previous race reports will not be surprised to hear I was now working solo.

Mile two climbed the first hill in Prospect Park. Sidebar for history lesson. Prospect Park was designed Frederick Olmstead after he completed Central Park. Upon completion he is quoted as calling Prospect Park the “one he got right.” It truly is a beautiful place. I digress. Mile two climbs a fairly noticeable hill and I backed off to a 5:29 figuring I could make up the lost time on the downhill. By mile three I was cruising and still feeling very good. I hit the 5K in 16:22 stride for stride with a Westchester guy who eventually pulled away from me. But, I knew I was on pace as I headed into the second half of the race.

The biggest hill comes midway through the third mile. My pace dropped about as much as I would expect, but I did have a momentary fear that I might be too tired at the top of the hill to get back on track. Fortunately, those fears were unfounded and I went through the five mile mark at 26:42. For me, the five mile was the end of the work portion of the race and beginning of the hanging on portion of the race. I knew that I was on track for a PR and that helped me push aside any tiredness or aches and pains. Shortly after the mile marker, the lead pack hit heavy traffic. Runners were supposed to stay to the right of the dividers separating them from those nearing the finish, but many strayed, oblivious to people like me quickly approaching. There were no near-collisions, but I did have to shout “on your left” a couple of times out of fear that someone would make a sudden move that my cat-like reflexes wouldn’t be able to react to.

Finally, I rounded the corner at the six mile marker. A clear path to the finish line was in sight and I could already hear Lauren cheering for me. You can always hear her above any crowd, screaming as loud as she can. It’s good extra motivation to finish strong. With just two-tenths of a mile to go, I dropped the hammer, finishing with a 4:50 pace kick in 33:34, a new PR for me and a top ten finish. I was so thrilled to have run a good race that even the announcer commented on my finish-line fist pump. While personally 2011 has been one of the most-rewarding years of my life, running-wise it has been largely disappointing. A string of injuries ruined the first half of the year, and I hadn’t set a personal best in a single distance despite what seemed like a lot of hard work and feeling very fit. That’s why the half-marathon was such a letdown. Now, I know it wasn’t an indicator of time spent, workouts run or dedication.

There was a brief scare when we got back to the apartment. Lauren looked up the results and I was not listed. “Oh no, it’s Richmond all over again,” I thought. Without missing a beat, I fired off an email and called Competitor. Then, I laid down for a nap to try and sleep off this unexpected interruption in the celebration. By the time I went back to the computer, the results were updated and I was in my rightful place. It’s pretty hard to walk away upset after running a PR.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How I'm capping 2011

I was pretty down on running last time I posted. So, I took a little more than a week to not care about it too much and reset the system physically and mentally. That week allowed me to give a lot of other much more important things the attention they needed and deserved. I was given a tough assignment at work and I really wanted to shine. I wanted to attend Lauren's matriculation ceremony and spend time with her mother who was in town to visit. Not to mention the continuing challenge of assimilating and learning life in Manhattan. In no particular order, we took in a Broadway show, found some delicious new restaurants, enjoyed a night out with Mr and Mrs. Contario who were in from Geneva, and another night out with Mr. and Mrs. Mainwaring who were in from Charlotte. We discovered a CSA that will provide us with local produce each week (See Lauren's blog for some of the culinary creations). And we did something that is quintessentially New York; that is, get the hell out of New York. We took a weekend in Chappaqua (not far away, but not the city) to breathe fresh air, drink good wine and drive a car for a change.

Of course, during that time, I got over my fight with running and started to develop a plan for the rest of 2011. I'm pretty excited about it, so I am going to share it here. Next weekend, I'm running the inaugural Rock and Roll 10K in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I have never run a Rock and Roll race, but the reviews are always glowing. I did a 5K in Prospect Park back in July, and enjoy the terrain even though it is a little hilly. My friend Marcie is flying into the city to run it, and her being there was really the kick in the pants I needed to sign up.

The next weekend, I have a complimentary entry to the Poland Spring Marathon Kick Off Five Miler in Central Park. This race was a recent addition to the calendar. I had no plans to race this weekend, but a free entry into a sold out race is tough to turn down. At this point, I am not sure whether I will race all out, or run a solid tempo because the following weekend is the race I'm really excited about.

I signed up for the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K thinking it would be more of a fun run than a competitive race. A lot of people from office are running it, and I figured it would be a good time, no pressure kind of situation. Then, I got to thinking that I never really achieved what I wanted to achieve in the 5K distance this year. Usually, the 5K is reserved for spring and summer, but since I am not doing a marathon this fall, I figured why not go for broke. NYRR is bringing in a solid elite field for this race including Dathan Ritzenheim, Molly Huddle, Deena Kastor and Lopez Lamong to name a few. I'm hoping the atmosphere is enough to bring a PR.

On November 20th, it's a return to Van Cortlandt Park where I ran in high school and college for the Fred Lebow Cross Country Championships. The Urban Athletics team is primed to put up a good showing, and with our deep field, it would be an honor to be in the top five.

The stretch of races will wrap up with the Newark Turkey Trot 5 Miler in Newark, NY on Thanksgiving. I ran the race a few times in High School and college, but haven't run it since 2002. I believe 2001 was the year I was handed a subpoena at the finish line. It's the 35th anniversary of this small town and event and perhaps the final time it's going to be run. I'm excited to get to run on my home turf and perhaps, if I am lucky, hang with Jesse for at least a couple of miles.

Then, December is going to be a rest month. I'm going to try really hard to not do any workouts or run more than 50 miles a week for the entire month. I'm not good at self restraint, so this will likely be the biggest challenge. But, I know it's smart to give the body some ample rest, especially with a grueling Boston cycle beginning in 2012.

For now, the training is going well. I'm working out on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the Urban Athletics team. I did a mile repeat workout where the times ranged from 5:11 all the way down to 4:57. I did a two mile repeat progression workout that started at marathon pace (11:29) and ended with a 10:34. The fitness is there. I'm hoping to salvage the season.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Just not my day

No food screams, "I'm dejected and disappointed" like an Entemann's Chocolate Donut, straight from the cardboard box. So after crossing the finish line at this morning's Newport Liberty Half Marathon in Jersey City, New Jersey, I skipped the customary bagel and went right for the processed pastries. Simply put, I was pissed off. After eating the donut, I changed shoes and attempted to cool down, but I had nothing. I just walked along the Hudson wondering how I missed my goal by more than two minutes.

I've spent the hours since the race analyzing and over-analyzing what went wrong. My workouts have been remarkable. Track intervals and tempos have been as fast as they have ever been. My mileage has been consistent. I've been 100% injury free. There are some inarguable factors. It was incredibly humid. I ran the entire race by myself, and according to my Garmin, the course was 13.3 miles (which of course is not always accurate and probably has more to do with my inability to run tangents) But, as I groggily emerged from my early afternoon nap wishing I could sleep the rest of the day away, the answer was very clear. I was too tired to be out there.

I toed the line this morning having slept 9 hours since Thursday and having worked 40 hours in the same three day period. Call it bad luck. I could not have predicted that I would have such a monstrous stretch in those all-important days leading up to the race. Friday, I arrived at work at 6:45am and found out about a half-hour later that my services would be needed until 12am. The following day, Saturday, we launched the new studio. The date for launch was set after I put this race on my calendar. Since I am the weekend producer, the honor (and it truly was an incredible honor) of putting together the first shows in this state-of-the-art facility was given to me. With all eyes on my shows, I went in early to polish the programs as best I could. As luck would have it, coverage of college football didn't end until midnight, delaying our 11pm newscast and my date with my bed by more than an hour. I was in bed at 1:30am with a 5:45am wake up call to catch the train to Jersey.

Physically and mentally, that kind of schedule is exhausting. I actually think the latter is more damaging to a runner than the former. One day of lost sleep probably wouldn't have destroyed the race, but after three days of stressful and draining work, I should have had the maturity to scratch my entry, acknowledging that for the hobby runner, sometimes real life -- the kind of life that pays the bills -- gets in the way.

I got handed a bad omen before the race even started. When I went to get my bib number, they handed me bib #911. Is there any worse number to be wearing in a race in the shadow of Lower Manhattan?

The race didn't actually start that bad. At the horn, I got right into my groove. My plan was to run 5:35s which translates to a 1:13:10 finishing time. The lead pack, a couple of Saucony sponsored guys, two of the top guys from the Central Park Track Club, and one Kenyan took off on their own, leaving me in no man's land. And that is where I would remain. 13 miles with me and my thoughts. It was going to be a like a long tempo run from a mental standpoint. Through mile 4, I was high 5:20s, low 5:30s. At one point, I heard someone cheering for me. It was Ryan Korby, who lives in the area and joined me for one mile. He was also cheering at various spots along the course which was very helpful. Headed into Liberty State Park, I knew there were two guys working behind me, and I contemplated slowing my pace so I could run with them. In hindsight, that would have been smart, but I motored on alone along a greenway that ran parallel to the Hudson River.

Besides some pretty spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Lower Manhattan, the course itself was dreadful. It was pancake flat with absolutely no elevation changes. Terrain alternated between asphalt, concrete, mud and a number of boardwalks. There were also more turns than I have ever seen in one race. I will however, give the race organizers credit for marking the course well. Somewhere in Jersey City, there is a hardware store that is completely out of white spray paint. Not to mention the humidity. Last week was as perfect as it gets for running. Temperatures were in the low 60s and the air was dry. This week felt like July.

At miles 6 and 7, I contemplated dropping out. I was already feeling like I was running on an empty energy tank. But, I had no idea how I would get back to the start/finish area where Lauren was waiting for me (she is so supportive). My times had fallen off significantly. I knew that I had the fitness to go faster, but my body was not heeding the command to pick up the pace. I simply could not speed up.

In the closing miles, I was passed by one person, the only one I saw the entire race. As I came down the stretch, my Garmin showed 1:14:40 for 13.1 miles. But, with so many turns, it's more likely I ran a tactically poor race than the course was long. I crossed the line in 1:15:37. Not even a PR. 13.3 miles according to the GPS, but as I always say, before we had GPS watches, we just trusted the course. This race has been run for 18 years. I am sure they have a handle on it.

I'm pretty down about the performance. It's frustrating because after a great run for me at Boilermaker, I put all my eggs into this basket. I know for a fact that the fitness for sub 1:14 was there. But, I know I can't dwell on it. My first race as a married man and Urban Athletics team member and last race as a 27-year-old was a bust. But, there will be plenty more. I am fairly certain I know why I ran the way I did and I think there is still plenty of time to capitalize on all the hard work. I am going to consult with Mark and see how quickly he thinks I can attempt another half-marathon. There is an NYRR event in Central Park next weekend, but that seems too soon. The upside is, I get free-entry and it's close. I'd love to fly to Charlotte or Syracuse and hit either the Thunder Road Half, where I would have Paul to work with or the Empire State Half which would be like a homecoming race for me. There is still a lot of research to do.

After coming back to Manhattan and getting some pancakes for brunch with Lauren, I collapsed into bed and fell into a deep sleep. It couldn't be more obvious that my body was craving the rest.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughts on Tying the Knot and Cutting Ties

Every wedding has a horror story. Leading up to my own nuptials, I heard everyone else’s. Perhaps over the years, they’d become embellished, but they all served as little hiccups in an otherwise perfect day. That’s why, as my wedding day approached, I waited for something to go terribly wrong and leave Lauren and I scrambling at the last minute. Would the restaurant we chose for our rehearsal dinner lose power, ruining all the food? Would our priest come down with dysentery, leaving him unable to perform the ceremony? Perhaps our caterer got the wrong day, or my parents’ flight would be cancelled. The eve of the wedding came and went with everything running smoothly. The rehearsal was easy. The dinner was fantastic. Some of our guests were delayed by a traffic jam on 95 somewhere between Washington and Charlotte, but everyone made it in time for the food to be served and the wine to be poured. There were speeches that made me feel as if I were at a roast. The perfect mixture of laughter and tears.

Saturday morning, I set out on 16+ mile run with a group of nearly 30 people. I watched every step, looking for errant twigs, branches and trash bags. No open wounds, or worse yet, broken bones for me! The hours between the run and the ceremony were filled with a delicious brunch, a stop to pick up the kegs, a brief shopping spree at Jos. A Bank and most importantly, a nap. I was at the church in time for pictures, and despite the humidity, it was a beautiful day. Of course, Lauren looked stunning in her dress, which I saw for the first time when I walked into the courtyard for our photos together.

At one point, I imagined a paralyzing nervousness would overcome me. Aaron said it could happen when I walked into the church for the first time and saw all the people staring at me. But, it never happened. I remained as cool as the other side of the pillow for the entire ceremony. I guess that’s one side effect of extreme confidence. The music was perfect, the sermon was perfect and Lauren said, “I will.” With the exception of jumping the gun on the kiss, the hard part of getting hitched went off without a hitch.

Our reception was the perfect party. It was a low-key Carolina Barbecue feast with local beer, good wine, delicious desserts and our best friends and closest family members. Lauren’s dad made the room in the church look like a bonafide banquet hall. The DJ didn’t play anything on my “Do Not Play List” (Nickleback, Nikki Minaj, etc.) and did play “Bye, Bye, Bye”, “Ride Wit Me”, and “New York, New York”…ya know, wedding classics. There was a champagne shower, heartfelt speeches and a photo memory book that will last a lifetime. There were so many friends we would have loved to have invited to share the occasion with us, but it just wasn’t possible. If we had invited our entire fantasy guest list we would have needed a bigger church and a bigger budget.

Our mini-moon was…wait for it…perfect. Farrell and Steve let us use their cabin in Ashe County for a few days. The entire time we were there it poured, allowing us to do absolutely nothing for a solid 48 hours. Until you have planned and executed a wedding, you have no idea how draining it is. And this, coming from me who did about 25% of the work to Lauren’s 75%. We were both totally wiped out. Neither of us stayed awake past 10pm and we slept both until at least 8. I managed to get some light running in, although, I didn’t push it on the hilly terrain and I had to stop and walk for territorial dogs. We ate like royalty. On the first night, we made a pasta primavera with hot Italian sausage. The second night, I grilled steaks (burning them a bit), while Lauren made asparagus and roasted sweet potatoes. It was a short, but sweet trip.

Now, we’re back in the big city. Our wedding marks not only the beginning of our life together, but the official end to our time in Charlotte. True, I’ve been in New York since June 18th, but with Lauren there, it felt like I had one foot in each city. Now, both feet are firmly planted in Manhattan. I plan to submerse myself in the community, the culture and the job here just like I did in Charlotte. I’ve already dove headfirst into my new position at ABC. I’m on a competitive running team sponsored by a local store and Adidas and a member of the New York Road Runners. I am getting to know people in our very unique neighborhood nestled in the heart of eclectic Chelsea. We are going to be here for at least three years and now that Lauren has joined me here, we are well on our way to planting roots and making this our home.

We will never have what we had in Charlotte, but we hope to have an experience that is equally as rewarding and life-changing. That said, I’d be lying if I said a part of me won’t stay in Charlotte. In the past, I’ve picked up and left town never to be heard from again. College. Syracuse to some extent. That’s all well and great for a while because it’s easy to vanish, but in the end, I’ve ended up regretting not making the minimal effort to stay in touch with people who were integral parts of my life. On my fifth major move of my life, it’s time to try a different approach. I won’t cut ties with Charlotte, I’ll just loosen them. For my sanity and the sanity of others, I will be a silent, paying member of the running club. But, I’ll keep in contact and follow the successes, trials, tribulations and major life events of my closest friends. For them, I want to remain no farther than a phone call away. Who knows what the future holds? It’s a cliché’, but it is so because it is true. Lauren and I love Charlotte, and after three years in the middle of Manhattan, we will find ourselves at another crossroads. Going back is not unrealistic. It is as much of a possibility as anything else. We have talked about settling down there because of its location, it’s climate and most importantly, its people.

Look, I don’t know where “home” is yet. I know where it is for now. I know who it is with. We have the rest of our lives to figure out the rest.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Small Town Race in the Big City

Although I raced a 5K in Prospect Park last week, this weekend's Sgt. Keith Anderson Brooklyn Bridge 5K was the first race I signed up for after moving to New York City. The race was appealing for a number of reasons. First and foremost, my training plan had me racing this weekend anyways. It was designed when I had the Blue Points 5K in Charlotte on my schedule. Secondly, as a tourist masquerading as a local, this was a good way to explore the Brooklyn Bridge and blend in with the city folk. The course is over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back. Good way to check that landmark off the list. And third, it's the same weekend as the New York Road Runners Club Championship race in Central Park, which I wasn't eligible to run in and the Nautica New York City Triathlon which I had no desire to compete in (Swimming is bad enough, but swimming in the Hudson River? I think I'll pass).

It is the third reason that gives this blog entry its title. With two other marquee events in town, this was definitely destined to be as low key as it gets for Manhattan. Even in New York, there are only so many runners to toe the line at various races...even if they do offer breathtaking views of the island. I arrived at New York City Hall Park via cab roughly 90 minutes before the start of the race. Although, I was pretty certain it would be a small race, I wasn't positive and wanted to give myself plenty of time. I was, however, one of the first people there. The race is put on by the NYPD in memory of an officer who collapsed and died in 2004 while chasing a suspect down the street. While the police force here is the best of the best, they are not, understandably, race directors. I had to laugh as I stretched on a park bench listening to two officers try to determine how they would operate the bag check. When one came up with the idea of handing all the runners raffle tickets to carry with them, I felt compelled to go from observer to advisor. With the dew point about 2 degrees lower than the air temperature it would be mere seconds before those tiny tickets disintegrated into something unrecognizeable. I showed the guys the tear off section of the race bib and viola...we have a bag check. They were very grateful.

I was drenched following my warm up which took me around Lower Manhattan, past Ground Zero and through the Financial District. No doubt about it, it was a sticky day. About 10 minutes before the start, everyone started to make their way toward the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. As the crowd congregated, I surveyed the possible competition and noticed that I might be on my own for this one. Even though there were about 800 people in the race, I didn't see many people in short shorts, flats and a singlet (not that they guy in basketball shorts and Asics Kayanos hasn't come out of nowhere in the past). In fact, a couple of guys came up to me and told me I would probably win. Of course, I never take anything like that for granted, and as we followed an NYPD bagpiper to the official starting line, the trim, shirtless chap next to me had me wondering if there might be some competition after all.

When the horn sounded, the other runner was matching me stride-for-stride on the uphill start. I was feeling the incline of the bridge immediately, and though it was keeping me from going out too fast, I was worried I might be doing the opposite and going out too slow. As we crested the hill, I threw in a surge and the other runner couldn't hang. From that point on, it would be me and my thoughts. I didn't see another soul as I made my way over the wooden walkway. Just after crossing over a slab of concrete that says "Welcome to Brooklyn", there is a nice downhill and then two cops waiting at the turn around. This turn around was reminiscent of the old China Grove barrel and I slowed significantly.

Going back toward Manhattan, I was running against the oncoming crowd. They were all very supportive and I tried my best to cheer for all of them while taking in the stunning view of lower Manhattan from high above the traffic on the bridge. It's a fairly narrow walkway, so I had to really do some maneuvering. Just after the mile two mark, a kid, maybe no older than 8, suddenly shifted right into my path. I didn't even have time to realize what was happening and I went down hard. I banged my knee on the bridge and scraped my hand. I was shaken, but got back up and tried to regain the time I had lost. It took a good 30 seconds to get my stride back and I temporarily had a little limp.

After that mishap, it was smooth sailing. I came off the bridge and into city hall park where the announcer called my name and lots of NYPD officers cheered. Following a three mile cool down, I got a lovely trophy and took my picture with Sgt. Ferguson's mother and a couple of detectives. I'll keep that picture in my wallet lest I ever get caught for public urination.

I am definitely satisfied with the race. Although I ran 16:26, that does include a slow up at the turn-around (because I wasn't sure it actually was the turn-around), and of course the fall. Not to mention, I ran it with no one to push me at all. The race is a good confidence builder as I ramp up for the half-marathon. I need to find a good 10k to run in between now and September 25th, but so far, nothing is popping up on the schedule.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Life Recap (with a miniature race recap too)

I won't even call myself an amateur runner. Running happens to be my hobby and it happens to teeter on the edge of obsession. I can admit it. The past six weeks have been a true test of how passionate I am about the hobby and how much I can juggle without letting one of the balls drop.

Life is about prioritizing. My priorities are my fiancee' Lauren and our families, my job and that order. I won't lie. There have been times, perhaps even recently, where running came before work. But, I am in a position now where that would be suicide. The stakes are too high. On top of all that, I am still in the middle of a major move. Since I have moved to New York, I feel like my life is straddling Charlotte in New York. That's a pretty big distance to cover. Getting moved into our new home in Chelsea will be a big relief once it happens.

Running hasn't taken a backseat. Not in the least bit. But, I have had to get a lot more creative with how I keep my training consistent. Gone for now are the days of regular hours at work. In fact, more often than not, I am working long and late shifts making it impossible to get up for a 5:30am run. This was especially challenging during a recent string of days where New York City saw record heat, with the thermometer reaching 100 or hotter three days in a row. To make it work, I went to bed as soon as I got home at 12am, and made sure I was out the door by 7:45am to get the mileage in before the worst part of the day. Some days, instead of a 6:00am easy shakeout, I'll do a 12:00am easy shakeout. Same concept and benefit, different time.

I've had to get accustomed to doing speed work on my own. If everything lines up right, I can make it to the Central Park Track Club's Tuesday night workout, but so far, that's only happened twice. As some one who likes solo recovery runs, but hates solo interval and tempo runs, this has not been an easy transition. Yet, I'm proud to say I haven't bagged a single workout. In fact, I've had some of my best performances.

The long run requires some choreography. The first hurdle is the lack of locations. When you live in Manhattan there are really only two places to run that don't require a subway ride. One is Central Park the other is the West Side Highway. That's not a complaint. Both are among the best, most scenic places to run in the United States. Central Park for the obvious reasons and the West Side Highway because you can see the entire island if you stay on it long enough. On a given long run, you get fantastic views of the Interpid, the Empire State Building, the emerging Freedom Tower, The Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, Wall Street, Chelsea Piers and the South Street Seaport if you make it long enough. However, just like any other running location, they grow monotonous. A change of scenery means a significant time commitment. I loved my 17 miler in Rockefeller State Park with Dan and Val Matena earlier this month, but the travel time is three hours round trip. Van Cortlandt Park is a little closer, but it will cost about an hour's worth of travel time. That's a lot of hours to sacrifice when your work schedule on weekends is 1pm-12am.

I am still trying to figure out how I will work racing into this new life. I work weekends, but fortunately I work weekend evenings. So, I can race as long as the race is somewhere in the New York metro area. This weekend was my first test. I signed up for a very low-key 5K at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. By low key, I mean it was not a New York Road Runners Club event. There were still about 1,000 people in the race. Getting to the park took two trains and about 50 minutes, so I had to be up pretty early. I got there with plenty of time for a three mile warm up. When the gun went off, naturally, I went out with the leaders. Since everyone was a stranger, I figured I'd see how long I could hang with the front pack and go from there. I hit the mile in 5:07 feeling decent, but then ran smack into mile two which is a steady uphill climb. Even though I picked off two runners on the hill, I was struggling. By the time I hit the downhill third mile, I was pretty well spent and not able to take as much advantage of it as I would have liked. I finished in 16:23 which placed me 10th overall. Not a PR, but it matches my time at China Grove last month and on a much more challenging course. It's progression, albeit slow.

The next couple of weeks will be the real test of time management. I am fortunate to have the very knowledgeable Mark Hadley of Maximum Performance Running coaching me from a far, and encouraging me to stick with the plan. I am hoping to be in peak condition for the Newport Libery Half Marathon in Jersey City, NJ on September 25th, the day before I turn 28-years-old. August will be where I hit my highest mileage, peaking at around 85 miles per week. I don't expect to working in the newsroom fewer than 50 hours on top of the running. Oh yeah, and on September 3rd, I'm getting married to the love of my life.

Juggling isn't easy. If it was, everyone would do it. I'm going to juggle as long as I can. Right now, I see no signs of backing off and hopefully that is the case for many years. But, it's always important to know in the back of your mind which balls you can drop when your routine starts to slip, and which ones you always want to have in your hands.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Races

It's been an unusual couple of weeks. My routine is gone. Any sort of regularity in my sleep, eating, work schedule and training is non-existent. All things must happen when time allows. That said, I think I have done a pretty good job of maintaining a healthy balance. Three weeks into this new chapter in a new city, I don't think I have lost any of the discipline I learned in Charlotte.

If anything has faltered, it is sleep. It was especially hard to come by in the days leading up to the Boilermaker 15K in Utica. I signed up for this race two weeks after coming back from my back injury. I had just finished a particularly rewarding 16 mile run in Charlottesville, and gained enough confidence to put a race on the schedule in ink. I hadn't run it since college, but had fond memories of the atmosphere and organization of the biggest 15K road race in the country. However, I did not anticipate the life changes that would come as a prelude to the starter's horn.

The Friday before the race, I worked until 12am, and had to be up to catch a town car to the airport at 5:30am. I got to Rochester, rented a car and drove to Newark in time for an easy run, a quick nap and a couple's shower my aunt was throwing. I went to bed at our cottage in Wolcott around 10pm that night and was up at 4am to make the two hour drive to Utica. Although the race didn't start until 8:15 (or so I thought. More in a few paragraphs), I hadn't made it to the expo the evening before so I had to pick up my packet by 7am.

With Lauren keeping me company, I felt decent on the drive. I actually drank an entire cup of coffee thinking three hours was plenty of time to work it out of my system. We got to the starting line and it was surprisingly chilly. It was barely 60 degrees and although it was still early, that boded well for what the weather might be like come race time. During my warm-up, I passed by the elite tent where I saw throngs of Kenyans and Ethiopians along with Bill Rodgers, Stephan Shay and Pezz. I was surprised to see here there. I also ran into Brad DePoint who ran on my team at Oswego.

As I made my way to the starting line, I heard the announcer say the race would begin in 10 minutes. Apparently, it started at 8 and not 8:15 and I still had 13,000 people to make my way through. I didn't make many friends as I pushed and shoved my way to my assigned corral at the front as someone sang the National Anthem. Somehow, I made it to the very front line right behind the elite field. But, there was no time for strides.

When the horn blew, I got into a pack of people and tried to settle in without going out too fast. Not knowing what kind of shape I was in, and knowing the course was very demanding, I hoped to break 52 minutes which wouldn't be a PR by any means, but would be about 5:35 pace and a decent confidence booster. I hit the first mile in 5:17, which is nice and controlled, but I felt terrible. Through the second mile, I hoped I was just shaking out the uncomfortable and would find a nice groove by mile three to settle in to. During the third mile, a blazing fast woman pulled up along side me and I thought I might stay with her. We ran together through the 5K point. I crossed at 17:05 feeling like I had just run a 16:00 and wondering if I could hang on for two more 5Ks. I actually contemplated dropping out. I didn't, but the woman dropped me. I would later find out she is a Russian who runs for Adidas and was the second female finisher making some megabucks for her run.

As you start mile four, you hit the biggest hill on the course. You can see it wind and climb through a park as you hit the base of it. Seeing the ascent demoralized me. Adding insult to injury, as we ran through the water station at the mile marker, some guy shoved me. I responded with a, "what the hell, man?" But, he didn't say a thing. I climbed the hill, feeling my pace drop. I wasn't wearing my Garmin, but I felt slow. Nearing the top of the hill, I managed to pick off a couple of people and by the time we hit the downhill, the grove I was looking for had suddenly shown up. With my first four miles not a total disaster, I thought I might be able to salvage the race. Mile five was a 5:04 (all downhill), and I felt like a new runner. I went through the 10K in 33:56.

The crowd support at Boilermaker is phenomenal. It's the biggest event Utica has all year. It's televised. They shut down the entire city and people line the streets like they would for a marathon. So, I decided to take a page from the Aaron Linz racing handbook and use the crowd to my advantage. I'd pump my fist in the air, cup my hand to my ear, high-five little kids. It was a blast. At mile eight, a radio station was set up and playing "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry. I did a little dance then started lip-synching the song and the people went crazy. These antics may have ended up costing me a few seconds and a little bit of injury, but I was having too much fun to care.

With a mile to go, I still felt fresh and decided to lay it all out. The crowds are really loud there, so I gave it all I had and motored to the finish. When I crossed the line, my watch said 51:11, but my official time on the results was 51:17. Still a PR and a great feeling. Lauren found me as soon as I came through the chute and we started walking toward the party My quads and calves were pretty wrecked (and are searing today), but the unlimited free Saranac beer at the finish line made that pain disappear. By the way, any race the ends at a brewery is a race you want to do. We hung around the huge post-race party for about a half-hour. There was a great band and tons of food. Then, it was 3.5 miles back to the car at the starting line. I ran it, a little bit tipsy from the beer and flying high from the race and the excitement.

Four races into the "season" and this is the first one I am truly pleased with. The challenge going forward is to continue to do the workouts without my Charlotte support group and log the miles day-in and day-out. I have been good about it thus far, using the Boilermaker as my motivation. I think I'll be able to use the same race as a reason to keep up the hard work because I'll want to eclipse that performance when I step to the line again.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Respect the rest

It's often hard to practice what you preach. Generally, your "sermon" is your description of an idealistic you, while you know in your heart that the old "easier said than done" expression is applicable. I always tell new runners if they are going to listen to anyone, listen to their bodies. When people ask me about rest days, I tell them it is not necessary to schedule a rest day, but rather to be open to taking one if your body sends you the signals.

The sheer magnitude of this week sort of snuck up on me. I was running in Central Park on Friday wondering why I felt so run down and so sore. It seemed like my mileage was fairly low. But, as I started to look at how much had changed since last Saturday, it dawned on me that it was one of my most intense weeks yet. Saturday morning, I ran a 5K in Charlotte. Granted, the time wasn't blisteringly fast, but it was a hilly course and I still worked hard. Less than two hours after the race, I was on a plane moving to my new home in New York. I unpacked my stuff and went for another run. The next morning, I was up at the crack of dawn for a 17 miler. Monday, I started my new job. I've run every day and done two high-quality, high intensity workouts and another long run since then. Most of my runs have been in Central Park, which is a relatively challenging place to run.

With all that on the table, it should be no surprise that when I started toward the Hudson River path for this morning's run, my body rejected the plans. I had 11-12 miles on the calendar. My body had 0-0. At first, I told my body to shut up. I pushed on toward the water, each stride a reminder of who was boss. The protests of my quads, my hamstrings and to some extent, my calves were getting louder. I had to give in. I could tell I am not injured, just tired, sore and in desperate need of a a day off my feet. Less than three minutes into the run, I turned around and walked home.

For many, that's a simple thing to do. For me, it's always tough. It's been more than a month since the last time I took a day without running and that's because when I don't log the miles, I don't feel like the day is complete. As a runner, the most challenging days on my schedule are not the mile repeats, the tempos or or the 20 milers, but rather the off days. Those are the days where I have to go against everything I want to do and do nothing because it's what I have to do.

But what is the alternative? When you run on sore or tired legs, your gait inevitably changes. Any amount of miles you run with that altered gait could turn that soreness into an all-out injury, and then we're not talking about days off. We're talking about weeks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

In a New York Minute

A little more than two years ago, I gave a red headed runner I'd never met before a ride home from a track workout at Johnson C. Smith University. Through the internet, Facebook and approaching people randomly at races (including an easily excitable bald headed guy and a super fast Brit), a handful of us had met there in search of people who wanted to get a training group started. On the car ride to her house we both bemoaned about our experience in Charlotte thus far. We each had a few close friends, but wanted something more. We wanted a community and we agreed the scene was a impenetrable. We talked about how Charlotte was a speed bump on the route to bigger and better things for both of us. We liked it here, but we didn't love it. We'd both jump at the next opportunity to go some place else.

I'll never forget that car ride for two reasons. First, because it was the first conversation I had with one of my best friends. And second, because we were both so wrong.

I don't have to give anyone a history lesson, but I will expand on the permanent impact being a runner in Charlotte has had on my life. The community that grew from those impromptu track sessions not only introduced me to more people to run with than I could ever imagine, but it introduced me to my Charlotte family. Because of running, I directly or indirectly met roommates, teammates and even a soul mate. The woman who is going to be my wife in less than three months became a part of my world because I am a part of that world.

And oddly enough, that is how I find myself alone in my new Manhattan home right now, walking a tightrope between being thrilled and feeling empty. When we first started dating, Lauren cautioned me of her plan to leave Charlotte, and I told her I'd follow her. It wasn't some cheesy pick up line. I meant it. I knew early on that she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. So, when she was accepted to school in New York City, I knew I had to find a job. I was contractually obligated to work at my Charlotte job until April of 2012, unless I could pay several thousands dollars to dissolve the contract. Lauren was starting school in September and we were prepared to live apart for at least seven months. Still, with such a narrow and highly competitive employment target, I thought it would be OK to start feeling out the landscape of television news in New York.

What I did not expect was to have a job offer at the number one television station in the United States within weeks of putting out those feelers. The offer allowed me to meet the financial requirements to make an early exit from WBTV. Career wise it was a no-brainer; a dream job with a network. Relationship-wise, it was another no-brainer. It turned the tables on who would come to New York first, but drastically cut down the amount of time we'd have to spend in a long distance relationship. I took the job and I start tomorrow.

But that easy decision lead to one of the hardest tasks I ever had to do -- giving up a routine, and a present spot in a group I felt more at ease with than any group of people I have ever been a part of. I know the friends I made in Charlotte will be my friends for the rest of my life no matter what the distance between us. The distance we traveled together both literally and figuratively created an unbreakable bond. But that doesn't make it any easier to know that when I wake up tomorrow to go for a run, I won't be meeting Caitlin somewhere on Morehead Street, Aaron at the Dowd, Paul at Old Bell, Billy popping out of the bushes somewhere or Ben and Megan coming down Sardis Road from their house. No amount of time or new training partners will make me not miss seeing their faces and running stride for stride with all of them or the countless others with whom I shared long runs, short runs and workouts.

You see, the running scene in Charlotte became a community. An open, accepting, inclusive and embracing community. I don't like Charlotte. I love Charlotte. It wasn't just a speed bump. It was a Sunday long of those Sunday long runs where the miles just click by, you don't look at your watch and you never want it to end.

Monday, June 13, 2011

We're talking 'bout the China Grove

(Yes, I am putting off writing the sappy entry about how I am leaving Charlotte. I haven’t found the words yet.)

The China Grove Main Street Challenge is one of the best local races in the Charlotte-area, and easily a top three 5K. That’s why I penciled it in as my “comeback race” when I started a new training plan in April. Of course, I got trigger happy and ran the King Tiger 5K last weekend. But this Friday night race in Rowan County would be the real return.

I met a crew of the Charlotte Running Club’s finest at the Dowd YMCA right after the 6pm news on Friday night. A caravan consisting of Lauren, Caitlin, John, Boriana, Lat , Matt and Alice made our way up I-85. When we got there, we found a money parking spot on a side street near the starting line and made the short jog over to the registration area. There, we ran into a sea of familiar faces. Pete, Theoden, Allen, Richard…it was like being at a Grand Prix race. Back at the car, we took a series of humorous photos before heading out for a three mile warm-up.

In the vein of superstition, I peed behind the same abandoned building as I chose last year. We also saw a sign outside what appeared to be a dive bar advertising “50 cent Wangs”. One might think it was a mistake, but the opposite side of the sign said the same thing. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a male strip club. But to play it safe, I didn’t go inside to check.

I had heard the horses were coming out for this one, and at the line I saw just how big the stable was. Seven or eight guys from Asheville’s stud team (Ryan Woods, Stuart Moran, etc.), a guy Brett that I thought I might be able to hang with for a bit and Bob Marchinko and Compton were both representing the CRC. As is customary at this race, there was a prayer from a local preacher/runner then the gun went off. The pack of gazelle’s shot out front and I knew I needed to resist the urge to try and hang on to them, even though I would probably only last a half-mile anyways. So, I tucked in with Brett and another guy and we took turns leading the chase pack. The pace felt brisk, but sustainable, however, that first mile is blazing fast. We hit the mile in 5:01 and I didn’t feel totally spent. I thought I was either going to have a great race or a colossal collapse.

China Grove is an out-and-back course. You turn around by circling an orange traffic barrel. I, for some reason, am scared of the barrel and always gingerly make the turn. As I did, I lost a step or two on the other two guys. Heading toward the two mile mark, they were gapping me. I hit the two mile in 10:17, proving that my early pace was apparently not one I could hold. Now, I found myself at a familiar place – alone on the race course. My Garmin indicated my pace was slipping, and my goal was to make sure it didn’t slip too far. Nearing the three mile mark, I saw Mike Beigay and Ben Hovis, both cheering and encouraging me to step it up a little bit. At one point, I had dipped down to 5:30 pace, but I brought it back to 5:25 before the mile clicked.

I crossed the line in 16:23, 11th place overall. I’m not disappointed with the time. Considering I am still building race strength, I’m happy to have cracked 16:30. I think my pacing plan needs some work and that will have to be my focus over the next couple of weeks before Boilermaker. I ran this race in 16:07 last year, but I was coming off the Boston Marathon mileage and I had stiff competition from Paul and Chris to push me a little harder. To show you how much this race has grown, in 2010, my low 16s time placed me 4th. This year, I didn’t even place in my age group! I don’t even remember the last time that happened. There were 9 guys under 16, most of them between the ages of 25-29 with impressive Division 1 college stats. So, you could say it was a pretty humbling experience.

The CRC had some strong showings. Caitlin Chrisman brought home the cash and the trophy on the women’s side with Alice in second and Boriana in 4th. John Compton was the third place finisher with an impressive time of 14:50! Leonard Hilliard got a new PR and was the second master’s finisher. I know Allen got an age group award and Lat won his age group. I am sure there are more.

Jordan Kinley would be proud. Following the precedent he set at last year’s race, I snagged an entire left over pizza for the car ride home. On a side note, let me just say that China Grove has the best post-race food. Pizzas, unlimited fresh fruit, cookies, donuts, bagels….it’s a buffet!

A memorable experience at what will likely be the last race I run here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hey Look! A Race!

I got home from a fairly successful interval workout at McAlpine last Friday morning and told Lauren that I was going to attempt to race the King Tiger 5K the following weekend. We had both originally planned on running the race to raise money for the hospital that helped take care of our friends' daughter. But my plan was to lay low and run at training pace. Following the workout, I had a surge of confidence and curiousity.

I didn't say much to anyone about it. I wasn't trying to be overly secretive, but that just downplayed it in my head. I know, I know. It's just a little local 5K. It's not the New York City Marathon. But, I hadn't serisously stepped to the starting line of a race since Thanksgiving Day.

My goal going into the race -- based on nothing but a couple of workouts -- was to finish in the top 5, break 17 minutes and have a good tune up for China Grove on Friday. I figured I'd hang with the leaders as long as I could and fall off the back when it didn't feel comfortable.

I got in about a three mile warmup and some strides before the race then crammed into the front of the line. When the command was given, I tucked in right behind Paul and a kid I didn't recognize with a UNC singlet on. Being off the scene for a while, I had no idea who he was. Going out I felt really stale and wondered if this was a bad idea. I hit the first mile in 5:10 and Paul started to pull away. UNC kid was clearly fading and I passed him with ease going around the first time shortly after the one mile marker.

Mile two was lonely. I could see Paul opening the gap and there wasn't really anyone close behind me either. I rolled through it in 5:14, and headed for the hills of mile three. At this point, I was pretty confident that barring some sort of disaster a la getting hit by a car, I had solidified my spot in second place. I wasn't racing for time, so I eased off going up the biggest hill on the course, and kept it comfortable on the third mile instead of trying to make up time on Paul. There was no way I was going to catch him anyways.

I hit the third mile marker in 5:25 and was ready for the finish when I accidentally took a wrong turn. I realized immediately that I messed up and was quickly able to correct my mistake. I think it maybe cost me five seconds. Nothing big. I crossed the line in 16:38; the happiest 16:38 I have ever raced. I high-fived Paul, and the girl who had her hand out to take my chip. Sure, it was the same place I finished last time I ran this race (in 2009) and it was 15 seconds slower, but it let me know I was close to being back in racing shape and if I keep up the workouts, I should be back to last year's times in a month or so.

Paul ran awesome, and has been running awesome, so he's going to be tough to catch this summer. Chad and Billy are consistently a force to be reckoned with and Stephen Spada on the podium with a wild kick and a 17:01! I had really missed the Charlotte road racing scene, and it feels really great to be back!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Radio Silence

I am not ignoring my blog. There is so much I want to say, but all of it relates to or includes something that is still technically a secret. A lot of you already know, but I can't say it publicly yet. Nothing I write without including this piece of information could possibly be genuine or sum up what I am feeling. I hope to have something to say soon...and it will be an outpouring.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I don’t want this blog to become the long form version of my training log. The theme is supposed to be how running interacts with my everyday life; relationships, career, etc. But, right now, running is the only aspect of my life I think I can discuss in an open forum. So, at least one more entry will be a recap of workouts and an assessment of how things are going. My apologies for the lack of depth and substance.

I am nearly three weeks into my training plan from Mark Hadley and Maximum Performance running, and feeling stronger with each run. Hold that. Let’s go with ‘feeling stronger with each workout.’ I’ve felt like pure death on a couple of recovery runs, which means I am working hard. With each week, the workouts become tougher, yet I continue to complete them and gain confidence that it won’t be long until I race again.

May 7 (16 mile long easy run at Latta Plantation) – This was the first time in a long time Aaron, Caitlin and I ran together. Just the three of us. There’s something special about getting in a run with my two fellow Charlotte Running Club founders. You might think all we talk about is the club when we’re running together. But, you’d be wrong. We don’t talk about the club at all. It’s very refreshing.

May 10 (20X200 with 200 rest at JCSU Track) – I’d have to go back many training logs to find the last time I did 200 meter repeats. But, I am going to see more fast, short intervals this time around since no marathons are in the near future. On paper, 20 by 200 sounds pretty simple. They’re just really long strides right? Wrong. 200 meters is a long way when you are sprinting and I am not sprinter. I want to exceed my expectations in every workout, and in this one, I simply met my expectations. My fastest was 32 seconds. My slowest was 35. I did have lots of horses to try and keep up with. Aaron, Paul, Eric and Alex, who has quite the kick.

May 13 (4.5 mile progressive tempo from 6:10 to 5:50 from my house to the Booty Loop) – One more mediocre workout. I promise the good stuff is coming. Actually, of all the workouts I am going to write about, this one is the worst. I woke up feeling sluggish, not looking forward to doing this one on my own. I was moving slowly during the two-mile warm-up, and dropping down to 6:10 was a shock to the system. I should also point out it was pea soup humid and I was sweating before I got off my front porch. I hit the first mile in 6:06, but quite taxed. By mile two, I was actually on the Booty Loop and clicked off a 5:57. I didn’t think I had much more to give, but somehow hit 5:55. It did not get any better. My last mile, which even though was all uphill, was a disappointing 6:07 and my last half-mile was 5:58 pace. I trudged home, drenched in sweat and blood. Yes, blood. My socks would not stay up during this workout and the friction from the humidity tore up my heels something fierce.

May 15 (14.6 mile steady state run at McMullen Greenway) – What happens when you put Aaron, Paul, Stephen, Matt and I in the same work out? We crush it. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather on a Sunday morning. We started out on the Great Harvest course, navigating the hilly 5k at roughly 6:45 pace. The goal was to average somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 and I could tell early on, we’d be much closer to 6:30 than 6:45. As we headed back into McMullen, the pace slowly descended. By midway, we were in the 6:20s, and moving down. At one point, I mentioned I was going to shut it down at the prescribed 14 miles, but when that point came and went, I was still going. It was Stephen who kept us all going, throwing in surges and pushing the pace. When we finished, it was a real sense of accomplishment and I was happy to hang with such a tough crowd for such a long run. We had averaged 6:25 pace.

May 17 (5X1 with 400 rest mile at Providence Day School Track) – I was concerned that this workout would suffer because of its close proximity to the steady state, but it did not. It was raining pretty good when I met up with Paul, Mike, Billy, Stephen and Nathan at Old Bell. We immediately ruled out doing this at McAlpine, and considered sacking it all together. Fortunately, we chose to stick with it and just moved the workout to the oval. Paul was nice enough to slow down and guide me through the first three right on target. My goal for the whole workout was somewhere between 5:20 and 5:30. We went 5:29, 5:27, 5:23. On the fourth, I was pretty much on my own, but was still able to knock out a 5:20. On the final interval, I was able to manage 5:18. Sure, these aren't blazing fast times, but they are respectable and comparable to some mile repeats I did early last fall.

Riveting stuff, right? Don't get used to it. I have a feeling the next couple of entries will have some real meat.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Week 1: Back to the grind

As promised, my summer/fall training program started on May 1st and at this point is off to a good start. Although, I am hesitant to say such things because previous expressions of confidence have resulted in broken bones and twisted back muscles. Below are a few highlights:

May 1 (long run at Davidson trails) -- A big group of runners met to run at one of my favorite local running spots. I had 18 on the calendar, but only to prove to myself I could do it. Common sense prevailed and I ended up doing 16. After all, no marathons are in my near future. Plus, finishing the run sooner meant getting to Summit Coffee sooner, and that is the best reward for a successful long run.

May 3 (1,000s at JCSU) -- This was the first time I had stepped out on to a track for a planned workout since October 19, 2010. The absence did not go unnoticed by the gods of the oval. My plan called for 5X1,000 at 3:15 to 3:20 pace. Paul, who was preparing for a race, was kind enough to slow down and guide me through the first four. My legs felt ok, but my stomach reacted poorly to the hot, humid weather, the evening hours (I have become primarily, a morning runner) and of course, the intensity. I did hit all the marks, although my fastest interval was my second one and my slowest was the last one. I'll have to work to turn that around.

May 6 (8 mile tempo at the Landsdowne Loop) -- I walked away from this workout confident that I might not have lost as much as I feared. The plan called for an eight mile progression starting at 7:00 and working my way down to sub 6:00. I met a big group well before sunrise at Old Bell. Billy, Mike and Stephen had planned to do a 40 minute tempo at sub-6:00, while Paul, Alex and I would lag behind. Secretly, Paul and I had schemed to try and catch them. We started at 6:20 while the others took off. In no time, we were below 6:00 and descending. Landsdowne is a tough 2.35 mile loop, which I have noted in other blogs. Still, we were clicking off 5:45s through the hillier sections. Around 6.5, we spotted Billy drifting toward us. At this point, Paul dropped me on his way to 5:30s. I picked it up to 5:40 and set my sights on the unknowing target. Honestly, I didn't expect to catch him. Billy is fast and in good shape. But my will pushed me through. Around mile 7, I pulled up along side of him. We matched stride for stride for 100 yards or so, and then I took off. Billy ended up extending his tempo and doing the 8 miles as well.

For the first week back (Monday-Sunday), I logged 72.1 miles. Included in that total is the CRC Birthday Tequila 400, which I continue to not be good at.

The early assessment is that the endurance remained in tact better than the all-out speed. It will continue to be a week-by-week process, but for now, the summer looks like it will be a lot of fun!

Friday, May 6, 2011

I thought I was going to do a tri, but I am not

When I was hurt, I swam a lot. A lot. I mean, not Michael Phelps a lot, but coming from nothing it was a whole bunch. I got acceptably good at too. Again, not Michael Phelps good, but if you saw me when I started, you'd agree. I owe a bit of gratitude to the pool. It kept my aerobic capacity in decent shape and that made a world of difference when I started running again. But, for me it was a means to an end. I swam to keep myself in shape when I couldn't run. I can run now, so I don't need to swim. Not only that, I don't want to swim.

Ok, I miss it a little bit. I went from having a hate-hate relationship with it to a love-hate relationship with it. I admit, it can be really refreshing to get out of the pool after a 2,000 meter swim. Every muscle in your body feels like it got a workout. But, I don't miss it enough to justify adding it into a pretty crammed running routine. I know that my running and the maintenance I try to do to keep myself injury-free takes up a lot of my free time. and on top of a 40+ hour a week job, it leaves precious time for me to spend with the people I love and care about. And, I know that because of the 5:30am runs and the stressful workdays, I can be a little testy when the day finally ends.

I am passionate about running. If I can't do it, I am miserable. I will make sacrifices to run. It is my release. Swimming doesn't evoke the same kind of emotions or dedication. That is why it has never been a consistent part of my routine.

I guess it was a bit idealistic of me to sign up for Tri-Latta. It was February. I was hurt. I was swimming a lot and I thought that when I started running again, I'd keep up the swimming. And for a while, I did. When you run 30 or 40 miles a week, that's not too hard. When it increases to 60 or 70, for me, something's got to give. So, with less than a month until Tri-Latta, I have decided that is $70 that will be wasted.

I am racing that weekend. I have marked June 10th's China Grove Main Street Challenge as my first 5K. Paul told me on a tempo run this morning that four or five guys from Asheville are coming down. That means I'd better keep running.

Monday, April 25, 2011

25 Days in Review

I am not a big "week in review" guy. I don't have a problem with it, it just isn't my style. But, knock on wood, April has treated pretty me pretty comparison with January, February and March who are all jerks. So, I thought I'd break it down for those who are without Athleticore, and for some odd reason, care.

I set April 1st as the beginning of a base-building period (just running -- no workouts), with May 1st being the target for starting a new training plan. Prior to April 1, I had spent roughly three weeks of March working my way up to being able to run every day, starting with three walk-runs a week on the treadmill, easing into outdoor running on pavement, and eventually running 6-7 days a week. As I write today, I am feeling fit and fresh. I've put together a tentative race schedule, and I'm excited to finally get 2011 underway.

April 1-3 -- 26.9 miles. 1hour, 10 minutes of corrective exercises/strength training.
Key Run: April 2nd on the McMullen greenway. I met up with Aaron, Caleb and Yusef. I hadn't run at McMullen since before the marathon in November.

April 4-10 -- 57.3 miles. 1hour of spinning. 1 hour, 16 minutes of corrective exercises/strength training.
Key Run: April 8th I did 8 solo miles around the Dilworth/Myers Park area. It was just an awesome Charlotte spring morning. Crisp, but not cold. The sun was just coming up. I came back feeling sappy about my sport of choice.
Interesting note: I have not biked since this week.

April 11-17: 69.3 miles. 57 minutes of strength/corrective exercises.
Key Run: April 17th I met Jesse in Arlington for my long run. It was good catching up with him because we hadn't run together in years. After he split off, I got to see some nice scenery (Roosevelt Island). I got lost and ended up running an extra three miles, but it was really nice out and I felt great. By far longest run since the marathon and 100% pain free.

April 18-April 24: 64.8 miles. 1hour, 30 minutes of strength/corrective exercises (including one appointment with Mark Kane.)
Key Runs: This was just a solid week. I ran with three different groups Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and got a chance to run with 11 different people (Jordan, Thomas, Michelle, David, Paul, Justin, Kevin, Jason A, Jason M, Aaron, Kahn). We did the Museum Mile course on each run. Saturday the 24th, I was in Lexington, Virginia visiting Lauren's dad for Easter. I hated the idea of getting up before the sun to do my long run, but ended up glad that I did. I logged 16 miles on the scenic and forgiving (soft-surface) Chessie Trail and felt as good as I have felt since early fall. I was effortlessly clicking off 6:45s. At the end of the run, I randomly ran into Jenna W who was out for a run before coaching at the Big South conference meet going on at VMI.

One more week of this "easy" stuff, then it's time to focus on some competitions. I've registered for the Boilermaker, and this year I am actually going to run it. I am looking forward to a little bit of speed work with Cailtin, Meagan and, Alice tomorrow morning. But, the challenge going forward is just as much about being smart and sustainable as it is about being fast and competitive.