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!