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.