Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why I am Running the Boston Marathon

Shortly after surviving the 2012 Boston Marathon I made a definitive, conviction-filled decision: It was time for a break from 26.2.  I had trained harder than I ever had before, was in the best shape of my life and had run as hard as my body would allow me to in record heat.  I walked away proud of my performance under the circumstances, immensely proud, but with a time that was much slower than I thought I was capable of.  And I was OK with that. 

Fast forward to last month. Boston was a vivid, but distant memory.  I was running again after spending the summer on the sidelines.  Temperatures were hovering right around ideal running weather. Marathon season was in full swing. My friends were running races and crushing them.  I was training Lauren to run her first marathon all while preparing a two-hour television special all about marathon running.  In short, it's easy to say you aren't going to do something when there is an absence of temptation.  But when you can see the candy jar, it's a lot harder not to take a piece. 

Hours after the last finisher crossed the line at the Chicago Marathon, I became one of the last people to get into the Boston Marathon.  I'm not exaggerating.  Minutes after I registered, I went back to the BAA Homepage and registration was closed.  I looked at other marathons.  Cincinnati's Flying Pig and Duluth's Grandma's Marathon were both on the shortlist.  In the end, however, nothing beats Boston.  I have a love/hate relationship with it.  In my last two attempt at Boston I have loved the experience, but hated the race.  I am on a mission to make it a love/love relationship.  I'm a sucker for tradition and nothing radiates tradition in the world of long distance running quite like the race that runs from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.  Now, if I can just get my body and the weather to cooperate with my goals.  Not to mention, getting to Boston from New York City is a lot easier and cheaper than getting to Duluth, Minnesota. 

Today I found out my friend Jesse, who is one of the main reasons I started doing this whole running thing in the first place is also running Boston.  That lit the fire.  My plan is to continue to run around 60-70 miles a week with shorter, faster workouts through January and then dive back into marathon training.  I'm still toying with what that program will look like.

So, why I am a running Boston?  Spite.  Revenge.  The chance to prove something to myself.  I think those are as good a reasons as any.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Reflections on Sandy as a Journalist, then as a Runner

You never think the weather is going to be as bad as the predictions of the people on television.  I work with some of the best meteorologists in the country, yet even I had this vision of Hurricane Sandy being this minor inconvenience.  I expected a long night or two at work, some downed trees and a return to normalcy well before runners started to come into town for the New York City Marathon. 

I guess it is hard envision the worst storm you've ever seen before you actually see it.  By Tuesday night, it was clear that my optimism was misguided.  I ran to work Tuesday morning because the Mayor had already shut the subways down which put cabs at a premium.  I dressed in head to toe orange – orange hat, coat, shorts and even shoes – and could have easily been mistaken for a road cone.  I set out down the West Side Highway, heading directly into a strong wind.  With Sandy hours away, the 30th Street heliport and several piers had already flooded.  I stopped to tweet pictures.  At Central Park, every entrance was blocked by police tape.  The danger of falling trees had forced the city to shut down every city park.  Inside, the finish line for the marathon was left unattended.
Road Cone!

I didn't actually see the storm crash ashore in person.  I saw it on a collage of television screens transmitting pictures from our live crews in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut.  I was in the windowless control room at work when hurricane force winds and a rapidly rising tide washed away boardwalks on Coney Island, in Atlantic City and in the Rockaways.  I was in the anchors' ears picking and choosing which soaked, windblown reporter to go to next, when I saw live pictures of a flooded street less than three blocks from my house.  I knew Lauren and Pepper were safe, but I felt helpless. I called them the second I got a breather from the booth. By the time I walked out of the building, nearly 14 ½ hours after I ran in, Manhattan was a ghost town.  The streets were empty, buildings were pitch black.  Coastal Brooklyn was underwater.  Entire neighborhoods in Queens were on fire. Staten Island was unrecognizable. That city that never sleeps, was knocked out cold.

The coverage in the days that followed is a blur of long hours filled with images of burned down houses and washed out roads and news conferences from mayors and governors.  The entire newsroom survived on pizza, Chinese food, Halloween candy and coffee.  As journalists, we worked our tails off around the clock to save people from the incoming storm, and then when Sandy had come and gone, we kept plugging along to get them the information they needed to get food, water, shelter or even just to get back to work.  We hardly paused.  It’s not always about shootings, car crashes and Lindsay Lohan.  But, I won’t get into my rant on why TV News is just as relevant as it was in the Cronkite days. 

Our home in Chelsea was without power, heat or hot water for a better part of the week.  I can’t complain though.  All of our possessions were unscathed and we had a hotel room to stay in and friendly neighbors to walk and feed the dog.  Some people lost everything.  Dozens lost their lives.  Still, the word from City Hall was that the marathon would be run.  Even though it was not the decision I expected after the clouds had cleared, I trusted that the leaders of the greatest city in the world were not making a mistake.  As one of the people producing the content of the marathon morning special, it was clear that if there was going to be a race, the tone had to change.  Along with one of the best editors in the business, I worked well into Friday morning to re-work months worth of scripts and video and put the emphasis on the race organizers’ efforts to raise money for storm victims.  When the sun came up, I went to the expo with a camera to shoot video for the first time since college and gather interviews with people from around the world who had traveled to New York to run the race despite the conditions and growing hostility from the community as a whole.  I went to the still-closed Central Park and found Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor who both talked about the healing power of running.  Everyone hoped that the marathon would be something New York rallied around just like it is every year, but the tide of outrage was rising.

With Ryan Hall hours before the announcement
As surprised as I was by the city’s decision to move forward with the marathon, I was more surprised by the anger directed at the participants.  People threatened to boo runners, throw eggs at them and even trip them.  They were threatening to boo people like my friend Bjorn who came here from Norway.  They were threatening to throw things at Sarah Reinersten, a tremendous athlete with a prosthetic leg hoping set her personal best.  They were threatening to trip people like my wife, who was running her first marathon and in doing so, had raised $6,000 for colon cancer research.  I understood why people were upset, but why were they upset with the marathoners?  I guess in the heat of the moment, in the midst of utter devastation, it’s hard to be rational. 

By Friday afternoon, the positive angle on the race had become almost impossible to spin.  A New York Post cover picture of generators being used to power the media center tent started a snowball effect.  Politicians were lining up to release a statement calling for the marathon to be called off.  A man in a truck who was headed to Staten Island to deliver water stopped to yell at me as I shot an interview on the street.  The police commissioner said the NYPD didn't have the energy or the man power.  At five o’clock, the marathon was cancelled.

I talked to the CEO of the New York Road Runners minutes after she made the announcement and it was clear the decision and the negative press had taken its toll.  It was a heartbreaking scene, but while I felt bad, I don’t worry about the long term impact on her or the other city leaders who came under fire for this debacle.  They are paid well to make tough decisions.  They have thick skin.  I worry about the future of the race.  I worry about people holding a grudge against something as harmless and beautiful as a marathon.  Running in the park on what would have been marathon Sunday, I saw the spirit of the long distance runner on display from thousands -- maybe 15,000, maybe 20,000 – of people who trained for months and in some cases, flew halfway around the world for a race that didn’t happen.  None of them told a woe-is-me story.  No one sulked.  Instead, they made the best of it, waved their country’s flag and cheered for their fellow runners. On the other side of the city, thousands more runners crammed onto to the Staten Island Ferry with backpacks full of food, water and batteries to deliver to the people who understandably were a little skeptical of inviting 47,500 runners to what is left of their borough.  That’s what I pray people remember about the 2012 New York City Marathon.

I don’t want Sandy to come back. Ever.  But the guy I waved at on the Harlem Hills, the man who ran with me on the Upper East Side, those people I saw cleaning up parks with their bib numbers on…. I want them to come back every year.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Reluctant Race

I had no plans to race a half-marathon for the remainder of 2012.  That changed over breakfast on my birthday.  Lauren and I were at our favorite neighborhood breakfast spot enjoying baked oatmeal when I got a text from Urban Athletic's Team Manager Herbie.  "Can you do Grete's?" He asked.  Grete's is a half marathon that is comprised of two-plus loops of Central Park.  That means two times the Harlem Hills.  I was hoping he would never ask.  "Only if you absolutely need me to score points for the team," I responded after a little bit of whining into my bowl.  "We do." He wrote back.

My expectations for a fast time are low.  My expectations for a fun time are relatively high.  I told Herbie that I haven't been training for a long race.  I've been focusing on the 5K and planned to test my legs in a cross country race at Van Cortlandt Park on the same day.  I had already registered so I'll just consider it a donation to the  Road Runners.  On top of that, I have just completed a week of working overnights couple with half-a-week of a sinus infection.  These are not ideal pre-race conditions.  That said, Grete's is an NYRR event so it should be a big field with my choice of runners to run with.  It doesn't start until 10:30 in the morning which is late enough to sleep in and early enough to still get brunch after the race.  And there is of course, the reason I am running.  It's a team event so a decent finish time should score us some points.  It's been far too long since I've been of any help to UA.  Also, the race shirts are bad ass!

Is this a pre-emptive strike of excuses?  I guess you could say that.  But, I am not entering the race with the goal of breaking my PR.  I just want to be in the standings.  I know I am not in the best shape right now, but there is no excuse not to be a factor tomorrow morning.  If I'm not, I'll blame Friday night's shrimp vindaloo, the warmer-than-fall weather and whatever else I can think of...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rules of Running

During a Facebook conversation with a friend and teammate recently, I was reminded that runners have their own set of rules.  I don’t mean runners as a group.  We have those too (don’t wear the race t-shirt during the race, no two-stepping, etc.) But, in addition to those, each runner has his or her own unique demands.  All of us expect our fellow runners to follow them.  99% of the time this does not happen.  Part of the problem is that these rules are rarely written down. Although most of the problem is that the rules are ridiculous.  That is why I am going to share my ridiculous list of six running rules whether you want to know about them or not.  They are not listed in order of importance.  They are all important.

1.       A race is a race.  If you fill out the registration form, cross the starting line and then cross the finish line, you have by definition just competed in a race.  I don’t care if you didn’t PR, or you were “just doing it as a tempo”.  You owe it to every other runner in the race, the race organizers and yourself to respect the event.  Nothing annoys me more than seeing someone deliberately leave a race out of their training log because it was “just a workout.”  Your goals may be different than others competing, but you still ran a race.

2.       Don’t complain about running.  It’s not your job.  No one is making you do it.  It’s a hobby.  If I see a Facebook status that says, “I wish I could sleep in, but I have to get up and do my long run,”  I will think long and hard about de-friending that person.  Complain about not being able to run.  That sucks.  For the select few for whom running IS their job, they have even less room to complain.  They get paid for something most of us do in our spare time for fun.  Most people cannot say this about their profession.   People aren’t getting up at 5am to snake stranger’s toilets for the sheer enjoyment of it.  Professional runners must realize that we would all give children, life-savings and/or limbs to have their jobs.  So when they whine (and very few actually do), that’s like William Shatner going to a Star Trek convention and  complaining about how much he hates being Captain Kirk.  That said, most professional runners are underpaid, but that is whole different topic.

3.       You almost always have time to run....  unless you are in solitary confinement.  You just have to make time.  Sometimes if you want to get a run in, you have to get creative.  That’s part of the commitment you make when you commit to being a serious runner.  Training for Boston, I was working long hours, so I got out the door as early as 3:45 some mornings.  You have to make a lot of sacrifices to be the best you can be or you have to lower your expectations.  If you must, go to bed early.  Skip parties.  Don’t sleep in.  But when following this rule, remember one thing: running revolves around life.  Life doesn’t revolve around running.

Spongebob Elvis 

4.       Do not get beat by someone in costume.  My good friend John Compton is one of the best runners I know.  He once had a duel to the death with a a talented runner dressed in a taco suit and emerged victorious.  I can’t explain in words exactly why getting beat by someone in costume is so humiliating, but I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than getting my race photos and seeing the image of Spongebob Elvis whizzing past me like I’m standing still.  Look at the non-costumed people in these photos.  They are devastated The less-threatening the character, the more crushing the defeat.  It's almost acceptable to get passed by someone dressed a Flash Gordon. But, imagine telling your friends that you were beat by Minnie Mouse.  Note: this guy is making following this particular rule very difficult for a lot of runners.

5.       Your  finishing time is not negotiable. It’s what the official results say. You do not get to subtract time to tie your shoe, poop, etc.  “Well, I ran the marathon in 2:45 minutes, but I stopped to use the porta-john for 2 minutes, so really it was a 2:43.”  WRONG!  The amount of time it takes you to get from the starting line to the finishing line is your race time.  If you decide to watch “Gettysburgh” after the gun goes off at a 5K and then it takes you 15 minutes to run 3.1 miles, congratulations, you have just completed a 4 hour and 51 minute 5k!

Coconut Cream Donut minute before I destroyed it
6.       Reward yourself with a donut.   Or ice cream, cake, ho-hos, ding-dongs, giant lollipops…whatever.  It’s ok.  You can eat them.  I eat a donut every time I run 18 miles or more.  It’s the only time I eat donuts.  When you burn more than 2,000 calories before most people are out of bed, a few hundred empty calories aren’t going to hurt. 

I don't mean to offend anyone.  These are my rules and the only person really required to follow them is me (and Lauren). 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall Freestyle

Fun or frustrating.  When I started my long journey toward regaining fitness I was at a fork in the road.  I could look at it as having to do all the work I did two years ago over again, or as a chance to do some workouts, races and rave runs I wouldn't do if I were in the midst of serious training.  I obviously chose the latter or I wouldn't be writing right now.  I'd be analyzing my last run trying to figure out why my easy run pace was five seconds slower than I had hoped or scrolling through splits from Tuesday's speed session on my Garmin in an effort to formulate a plan to do the next workout better.

But I'm not even wearing a Garmin except for on tempos and long runs.  I'm wearing the most simple/durable Timex the company makes.  I bought this watch four years ago when I was working in a running store and recently found it in the bottom of my running drawer amidst widowed socks, still ticking, correct date and time give or take three minutes.

Registration for the Boston Marathon has opened and probably closed.  I don't know.  I haven't checked.  I had a fleeting thought or two of signing up, but in the grand scheme of things, the marathon is not the goal.  The goal is getting fit and mixing it up in some local races.  The goal is taking my running seriously, but taking Lauren's running more seriously as she ramps up to run her first marathon, one that has much more meaning in it its 26.2 miles than any of mine ever have.  I run marathons for me.  She's running for a cause.  This sport is a selfish one 99% of the time.  Sorry Occupy Wall Street, but in this case Lauren is the 1%.

With Lauren's marathon high atop the priority list and her field placement keeping her occupied on Sunday mornings, we were tasked with finding a half marathon on a Saturday morning.  The only one we could find was a tiny race in Rockaway Beach, Queens.  The Ramones famously sang about hitching a ride to this beach front community.  I hope they got one, because the subway takes forever to get there!

We boarded the A train at 4:45am.  That's roughly the same time people who stayed at the bars until closing time are stumbling on board for their rides back to the outer boroughs.  Other than a luggage-carrying couple likely headed to JFK, I reckon Lauren and I were the only people in the train car for which it was Saturday morning and not still Friday night.  During a ride that long, you can watch people go through the many phases of intoxication.  It starts at obnoxiously loud and ends with silently drooling.

The race itself was a rarity for New York City.  There were maybe 150 people on the starting line, including me who at the time had not run farther than 12.5 miles post-injury and planned to run 6:30s. The duration of the 13.1 miles were run on a boardwalk feet from the Atlantic Ocean and instead of corals and a starter's horn, there was a line drawn on the ground and a guy who yelled "go".

My run isn't worth recapping.  I did the workout I set out to do in hopes that it would help me climb back up the fitness ladder.  I was battling a bout of food poisoning which made things interesting, but other than that, it was a run that happened to end with me sitting on my butt in the ocean.  I had reminded Lauren that this was not her goal race and to keep it controlled, and even without going 100% she would PR.  PR she did, by four minutes!  You may think running on a flat boardwalk is easy, but it is actually killer.  Your legs absorb all the energy and by the end, they feel pretty shot. Boardwalks are no cakewalks.

Lauren continues to progress.  She has run 20 miles for the first time and did it in stifling humidity.  As I write this, she has just walked in the door from a 15 miler. She is impressing all the Urban Athletics coaches at her weekly speed sessions. She is diligent about doing the ancillary work it takes to fend of the ever-present threat of injury every marathoner fights. Most importantly, she has achieved her goal of raising $5,000 for Get Your Rear In Gear and there are still 7 weeks until the race. 

As for me, well I am having a blast.  I just got back from one of those runs where you finish thankful that you can run.  I'm running about 60 miles a week.  Thursday night, I won a 5K.  Wait, that requires a little explanation.  I crashed what I am pretty sure was supposed to be a fun run for charity in Riverside Park because I had a three mile tempo on my calendar and saw the opportunity to run on a marked course and drink free beer.  My goal was to tempo at 5:25 pace and I did 5:22 pace.  Three weeks ago, I did my first three mile tempo since coming back  and ran 5:35 pace.  So, things are on track.  I have some goals for the fall, but I am not worried about them.  This unorthodox, freestyle plan seems to be getting the job done.  I've never been a math guy, so maybe fewer numbers, formulas and calendars is the trick for now.  I'm a pretty regimented person though, so rest assured I'll go back to my old ways soon. What's important is that running is a whole lot of fun right now for me, and being the proud husband of a first time marathoner...that's just plain cool.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hey Little Kids! I can beat you in a race. Let's go!

To borrow a term from my good friend Mike Kahn, I am in what you might call “Fun-Run Shape” right now.   If I were to say, lie about being older than 10 and signing up for the children’s dash that comes after a local 5K, I could win if the conditions are right and Usain Bolt’s children (not sure if he has any) aren’t also in the race.  It’s a good place to be.  I’m not complaining.

To get out of fun run shape and back into local 5K shape, I am doing something I normally don’t recommend.  I’m coaching myself.  Let me preface this by saying I am a strong proponent of having a coach.  Any runner who wants to take training and racing seriously should find someone to fill that role; even really smart runners.  It’s more for a dissenting opinion than anything else. Someone to give you the OK to take a day off or someone to look at the big picture and adjust accordingly.  I find that runners tend to get caught up in the “right now” instead of the “two weeks from now”.  It often takes an objective voice to keep us from doing something stupid. 

I am only coaching myself until I graduate from the Fun Run Phase.  I have been injured more than my fair share in the past four years.  But, I have made sure to turn each of those injuries into a positive learning experience.  In doing such and through trial and error, I have become sort of an expert  on how my body recovers and how it adapts to running after an extended period of time off my feet.  I’ve taken the “jump right back into it approach” and pulled my calf and I’ve taken the “low volume/high speed” approach and pulled a very large and painful muscle in my back.  Now, I know the cues.

Patience.  This week, I finally topped 50 miles.  It’s my seventh week of running.  In my first week, I ran six miles.  To say I’m being conservative is like calling “Call Me Maybe” “Slightly Catchy.”  But it has worked.  No Garmin.  No expectations and working off a “training plan” that is day-to-day instead of month to month.  For someone who craves structure, this is a tough adjustment.  There are some basic rules.  I set a mileage goal,  the type of workout or workouts and one long run.  Then, I try to color in between the lines with whatever crayon looks best for the overall picture.

Some key runs have helped me arrive at Fun Run Shape.  A three-mile tempo last week at an average of 5:35 pace didn’t blow anyone’s doors off, but  was encouraging.  Two double-digit runs that both included significant pickups have been key to restoring endurance.  As the distance and the intensity increases, I hope to feel and see a transition, and then put it to the test in the fall. I’m going to toe the line at a couple of Cross Country races to get used to racing, then shoot for a 5K PR the day before the New York City Marathon.  I’ll need a coach for that though, because that’s about the time I get crazy and irrational with my training.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Where am I?

I have location confusion.  I call it that because I don’t know what else to call it.  It’s when I travel to a former place of residence and have fleeting thoughts of people I might see or places I might go that are actually in another former place of residence.  Does that make sense?    An example:  As we headed to Charlotte this past weekend, I thought about how good it would be to see my family.  My family lives in upstate New York.  These are very quick thoughts.  I’m talking about fragments of a second; just enough to register. 

I have the same kind of moments with running.  As I dealt with my most recent injury, I would have fleeting thoughts about my next workout or race, only to very quickly come crashing back down to earth.  I’ve moved to three cities in the past nine years.  I have had two major injuries in the past three years.  It seems that when your reality becomes drastically different, remnants of the old reality remain in your subconscious.  Why am I writing about this?  No real reason other than I’ve been wanting to put down the odd feeling in words.

However, it is topical.  My running reality has been slowly changing over the past several weeks.  I am transitioning from injured to cautiously healed.  I also like to describe it as a transition between being oblivious to my lack of fitness to being acutely aware of my lack of fitness.  What started at 3 days and 10 miles of running a week has slowly and methodically built to 6 days and 50 miles a week of running.  Now, it’s time to add in workouts.

Last Thursday, I decided to test the wheels with the most basic workout in my repertoire.  I ran easy over to the Urban Athletics Headquarters on the Upper East Side and met up with my teammates for the first time since May. I then tacked on a couple of more easy miles with them before they split off to do a hill workout.  Then, I launched into what I call “minuters”.  It is one minute hard (3k-5k pace) followed by one minute easy (normal training pace) times 10.  During the first five intervals, I felt like I was on cloud 9.  I dropped the hammer and felt like I was gliding with ease.  Wherever my stride had been hiding, I had found it.  I even ran by one jogger who exclaimed, “whoa!”  The second half of the workout was not quite as fun.  Minute number 6 was hard.  Number 7 was laborious.  Number 8 caused a sharp pain in my side.  Numbers 9 and 10 were simply a sad display.

But no one said rehabbing would be easy and I didn’t expect to come back in prime 5K shape.  This is the hard part.  But it is also the fun part.  As I mentioned, Lauren and I spent the second half of last week in Charlotte where I was more than happy to be able to at least run.  It allowed me the chance to join in on some easy runs with some of my favorite training partners.  The best way to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while is to keep up with them on a run. 

I’ve signed up for a 5K in the fall and I’d like to run a respectable time.  A race on the calendar is the incentive I need to do the work required to get back in shape.  Maintaining fitness is very hard and takes dedication.  Regaining it is harder and takes patience and persistence.  Just like training for a marathon, building fitness is a science.  My plan is to continue the base building phase through mid September with a slow climb to 70 miles a week.  Right now, I think the focus needs to be on the mileage and not the intensity, so I will limit quality workouts to one per week and they won’t be ball busters.  Of course, of all the runners I coach, I am the lowest priority.  My wife’s marathon plan and the 5K plan I’m working on for some of my co-workers take precedent. 

On a side note, my visit to Charlotte was eye-opening for many reasons.  First and foremost (a cliché, but I didn’t have a better introductory phrase), the growth of the running community is palpable.  I am not talking about numbers, but in terms of diversity and increase in talent.  I have been gone one year and on the group runs I attended, I met as many new faces as familiar faces. Caitlin, Aaron and the board have done an incredible job finding people in Charlotte who have a passion for running and want to share it with other runners in the community.  A woman named Sue Falco is one of those new faces who is using running to fight cancer; her cancer and the cancer that impacts so many people in a non-discriminatory fashion. She not only has a passion for running, but a passion for life.  Lauren and I talked to her for an hour.  We could have talked to her all day.  Her drive and the success of her relatively new race in town are proof that Charlotte’s running scene will continue to thrive and grow for many years.

I also noticed how on board Charlotte is with the nationwide Yogurt and Yoga craze.  Yogurt and yoga shops are on every corner and in most cases next door to each other.  On East Boulevard there is a new yogurt shop across the street from another new yogurt shop.  You can have too much of a good thing.  And my God, the snow…oh wait, that’s Syracuse. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Birthday Letter to IT Band Syndrome

August 4, 2012

Dear IT Band Syndrome,  

  Happy three month birthday!  I guess it's true what they say: "Time doesn't fly when you're not having fun."  I still remember the day you came into my life.  I wasn't expecting you, but you came out of nowhere and stopped me in my tracks on the West Side Highway. Thanks for showing up two miles from my house so I had to hobble home in excruciating pain.  It took like an hour.  You know how sometimes you say, "one day, I'll look back on that moment and laugh."  This is not one of those moments. Oh, how you love surprises.  Remember that time when you went away for two weeks and let me run and get all optimistic?   I thought you had left, but turns out you were just hiding.  Such a practical joker, ITBS.

But, now that you're three months old it's time to have a serious talk.  I won't belabor the point (unlike you).  It's time to move out.  This isn't working.  I've been trying for weeks to drop not-so-subtle hints.  I've poked you with needles, attacked you with creams and pills, rolled over you repeatedly with a giant styrofoam cylinder.  I've counter-attacked you with stronger glutes and hips. I've strangled you with my own fingers and the fingers of at least three other people.  You're the house guest that stays after the hosts have put on their pajamas.  And you're not even the life of the party.  When you are around, I'm a different person.  You do things that hurt me.  You have ruined an entire road racing season for me and you've cost me thousands of dollars.  You're not a syndrome.  You're a parasite.

Maybe you noticed, but I have been leaving you behind on runs lately.  Today, I ran nearly 45 minutes before you caught up to me and even then, all it took was a couple of strides to lose you again.  Pretty soon, I'm going to be stronger than you.  I'm no fool though.  I know I have to watch my back now that we know each other.  You're a sly bastard and you won't let me out of your sights.  I also know you have friends who are waiting to pounce on how out of shape you've made me.  I'm watching for them too.

Here's the deal.  You have until the end of the Olympics to pack your stuff and get out.  What will I do without you?  I plan on going back to the old me and working my butt off to race again.

Good Riddance,

Monday, July 23, 2012

Patience, Young Grasshopper

I have often said that being injured is more time consuming than being healthy.  Furthermore, coming back from injury takes even more time out of your day.  Returning to competitive running from a case of IT Band Syndrome as severe as mine is a science.  It must be done delicately and with just the right amount of running, cross-training, stretching/massage and strength exercises.  In fact, this is my fourth attempt and it is drastically different than the previous three which obviously failed.  Gone is a timetable.  Gone are goals with the exception of one: get back to running pain free.  To remind myself why I should never again neglect to do necessary maintenance and to warn others of the dangers of skipping such an integral part of training, I am going to chronicle the process.  Remember, I am embarking on this endeavor nearly three months after the injury sidelined me.  Before I got to this point, there were hours upon hours of cross-training to maintain aerobic fitness, stretching routines, massages, three doctors, an acupuncturist and 10 weeks of physical therapy which I am still doing.  I won’t got into the details as I have already written about them ad nausea and if you make it through this Tolliken-length tale, you’ll  just be plain nauseous.  

Monday: After working until just past midnight, I dragged myself out of bed before 8 with the intention of hitting the pool for 2,000 meters before my physical therapy appointment.  Instead, I ended up laying on the couch for an hour and a half before sliding to the floor to do 10 minutes of rolling my IT Band on the foam roller and then headed to PT.  At PT, Jason continued ASTYM treatment on my right leg and did some new stretches.  Then, I walked to the pool to find out lap swimming ended at 10am.  I guess that is why I put it on the calendar for 8:30am.  Back-up plan.  I hopped on the elliptical for a quick 45 minutes.  Usually I do an hour, but I was short on time today.  I got off the elliptical and spent five minutes stretching and then five more minutes doing hip and glute strengthening exercises with the resistance band.  I put on my flats because super-awesome marathon runner Camille Heron told me she found success converting to flats only after battling IT Band Syndrome. Then, I headed for the West Side Highway.  The plan was to run for 15 minutes and if there was no pain by the end, I could run 20 minutes on Wednesday.  If there was pain, I’d stick to 15 minutes.  I’m happy to report that the 15 minutes was a smashing success.  When I got home, I iced my IT band as a precaution, guzzled a protein shake, showered and was out the door just in time to make it to work.  I did another round of foam rolling and icing when I got home.

Tuesday:  I was well into my day before I learned that it was not Wednesday.  It was only because I tried to sign up for the 12:30 spin class at the New York Sports Club on 62nd and Broadway that I know now that today is in fact, Tuesday.  My inconsistent schedule has the tendency to eliminate the “feel” of a certain day of the week. I had taken the train up to the Upper West Side early after another failed attempt at swimming.  This time, I actually arrived at the Chelsea Rec Center during lap swim hours, but when I looked in the pool and saw each lane had no fewer than five people in it, I decided to bag it.  You can’t get in a rhythm when the water is that congested.  Once again, I searched for plan B.  I wanted to get in a solid workout today, preferably with some intervals, so I looked up when spin classes were offered on Wednesdays at the NYSC locations near my house and office.  The 12:30pm at 62nd and Broadway was the most convenient.  With time to kill, I got home and did some stuff around the apartment before spending some quality time with my foam roller, and doing most of Coach Jay Johnson’s Myrtl Routine.  I was at the gym by 11:30 with plans to do some light elliptical work then go to spin.  But, since there was no spin, I improvised an elliptical workout.  75 minutes total with 20X1 minute hard in the middle.  I gradually upped the resistance from 7 to 9 and kept the incline between 10-11.  The one good thing about spending so much time on the bike and elliptical is that I get to catch up on episodes of All Songs Considered and This American Life.  When I was done, I did my every-other day core routine.  In the locker room, some meathead referred to the elliptical as the “machine for females.”  Asshat.

Wednesday:  Today was the day I wanted yesterday to be.   I woke up five out of six days deep into a very long work week and was definitely feeling the effects.  I finally started making my way toward the NYSC on 16th and 8th following roughly 15 minutes of hemming and another 15 minutes of hawing.  My plan for today was pretty straight-forward:  Light stretching, one hour of easy elliptical work, hip and glute strengthening and a “longer” run.   The only thing worth re-capping is the run.  I upped my time to 20 minutes today, a five minute increase over the previous four runs.  It was another success with no sign of pain whatsoever.  However, I am well aware that I am far from being out of the woods.  I will do one more 20 minute run Friday and then up it to 25 minutes if that goes well.  I continue to do all of my runs on the pancake-flat West Side Highway and in flats.  I am off work tomorrow, so I hope to get in some solid work beginning with physical therapy in the morning.

Thursday: Today was my Saturday, so I figured it would be as good of time as ever to get some solid work in.  I got up early to head to an 8am physical therapy session.  I am hoping these are winding down.  It’s not that I don’t love the treatment that I get at Finish Line PT.  It’s that my insurance company is growing weary of paying for it.  Jason added some dynamic work into my routine, most of which involves jumping and all of which involves me looking like an idiot.   Around 11:45, I headed to the gym to do my core circuit and stretch/strengthening drills before a 12:30pm spin class.  I take spin because it forces me to work hard in a group setting, but I don’t enjoy it.  There are times when it is made marginally better by the instructor’s choice of music.  This was not one of those times.  It was all songs you might here at a rave DJed by Delilah of Delilah After Dark.  Following what may have been the longest 45 minutes of my week, I put in another 45 on the elliptical with much better music and then called it a day.   Following a quick lunch, I headed to Brooklyn for a much-needed massage.

Friday:  The bad: I had to get up at 7:30am.  The good: It was because I was meeting Michelle to RUN!  I haven’t run with another human being in quite some time, so I would have made this happen no matter what the time.  We did an easy run up the West Side Highway.  This was another 20 minuter for me, so it was brief, but still rewarding.  I ended up running 22 minutes by the time we got back home with no pain.  It looks like I am graduating to 25 minutes for my “long run” on Sunday.  After a 10am showing of “The Dark Knight Rises”, lunch and a nap, I logged one hour on the elliptical to get in my full cardio for the day.

Saturday: With the memory of Thursday’s spin nightmare still fresh in my mind, I signed up for another spin class at the same NYSC.  When I am working the overnight shift like I am now, the structure of a timed group activity is beneficial for two reasons.  1) If I sign up, I am sure to go.  2) I can’t be lazy and slowly pedal along when others are watching so it ensures I work hard. Of course, before the spin class I had 30 minutes of circuit work to complete.  Jason has added a hopping exercise to my routine which unfortunately requires way more coordination that I possess.  But I try really hard so that has to count for something.  The spin class was remarkably better than the last one, except the instructor seemed to be suffering from some affliction that makes it impossible to control the volume of her voice.  She had a microphone on, but for some reason she kept yelling.  The good news is, I pedaled faster and harder out of fear.  When the class ended, I tacked on 15 minutes on the elliptical to get in a full hour of cardio.

Sunday: Another big test today.  When work ended at 10am, I walked down to Tavern on the Green where I was meeting Michelle for a 25 minute run.  For those of you who made it this far, that is a five minute increase over the last run.  I did some deep stretches, then we headed toward the reservoir on the Bridle Path.  It is always good to spend some time in the park.  Logistically, it’s a little tougher with the runs being so short.  For the most part, I felt good but there were a few pains in the IT Band, so I’ll have to see how Tuesday’s 25 minute run goes before making the next step.  I had thoughts of skipping today’s yoga class, but with the ITB feeling a little tight, I figured the stretch would be an investment.  Thankfully, Lauren went with me so it didn’t mean missing any time with her.  I was on my toes for the first 45 minutes of the class, but I always have to keep myself from falling asleep when the yogi has you lay on the mat and close your eyes.  One day, I am going to wake up in a dark empty room hours after a class has ended wondering where I am and how I got there.  I decided to take the rest of the day off and eat ice cream (it was after all, National Ice Cream day.). 

The hardest part of adding running back in is that it is the opposite of marathon training.  When you are ramping up mileage for the big race, you push your body even when it doesn't want to go any farther.  Now, I am forcing myself to stop even when I want to keep going.

If you thought reading this was mind-numbing, you should try to keep up with this kind of schedule. I ended up putting in 10 hours of cross-training and an hour and a half of running.  To compare, eleven and a half-hours is exactly the amount of time I spent running during my highest mileage week of the Boston Marathon cycle.  I spent absolutely no time cross-training or strength training during that week.  Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t be sliding on my shorts to go ride the bike again.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's the Sauce

In this blog, I write about running, or more recently, ellipticalling (spell check tells me that the word “elliptical” does not have  a gerund form.  I will ignore it).  This is an entry about food.  As a runner, nutrition is a vital part of training.  Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken (officially called “Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken” which may or may not be racist) is a vital part of Lauren’s and my diet.  That is, until this week. 

Here’s the back story.  I discovered this convenient meal in 2008 during my first ever visit to a Trader Joe’s in Charlotte as I cruised the aisles looking for snacks to fill my bachelor pad.  Above it in the freezer case was a sign that said --  and I am paraphrasing here -- “voted most popular frozen food item in the universe.”  Considering the size of the universe and the number of frozen food items available, I thought it was worth a shot – the logistics of conducting such a large poll, notwithstanding.  When I made it for the first time (18-20 minutes in the oven on 400), I was not disappointed.  Not only was it delicious, it was relatively nutritious:  Seven grams of fat, 190 calories per serving. I’d generally eat two to two and a half servings.   

After that fantastic first impression, I bought the orange chicken on every trip to Trader Joe’s, a tradition that has continued on my transitions from bachelor to husband and from North Carolina to New York City.  That brings us to this week.  Lauren was out for the evening, and I was going to make an easy dinner.  I grabbed the bag of frozen chicken from the freezer and as I did, something caught my eye.  “16 grams of fat, 320 calories per serving.”  What?  I looked again.  I was not reading it wrong.  The chicken was all of the sudden worse for me than going to McDonalds.

Following a brief Google search that yielded no answers, I fired off this email to the Trader Joe’s customer service team:

“My wife and I are long time Trader Joe's customers.  It's the only place we shop in New York City. One staple product in our household is the Mandarin Orange Chicken.  We found it to be a relatively healthy and incredibly easy dinner option.  I became accustomed to it and I never looked at the nutrition facts.  However, as I pulled out the chicken for tonight's dinner, I was startled to find the nutrition information had changed dramatically.  While there was once 35 grams of fat in the bag, there is now more than double that amount.  When did this happen and could someone please explain to me why?  Thank you!

This afternoon, I received this response:

Thank you for your feedback and sharing your concerns.  We did recently have to update the nutritional information on our Mandarin Orange Chicken.  Unfortunately, the sauce had not been included in the overall nutritional factors so we had to make these corrections.  Your concerns have been shared with our Product Steering Committee.

The sauce?!?! How did they not include the sauce in the nutrition facts?  Without the sauce, is it not Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken.  It’s just chicken. One thing is for sure, this kind of egregious mistake would never happen at Wegmans.

There will be no more orange chicken in our household.  I imagine a brief but painful chicken withdrawal period, but there are other frozen meals out there, regardless of whether or not they are the best in the universe.  Or maybe I need to stop looking at the nutritional facts and eat on in blissful ignorance.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Injury Hierarchy, Lessons Learned and My Review of the New Smashing Pumpkins Album

I would much rather have a stress fracture than IT Band Syndrome.  I'll let the five or six of you who were patient enough to read through my incessant whining about my broken ankle take a second to scream, curse my name and/or hurl your computer through a window.  Finished?  Now, let me explain why.  A fracture is a cut and dry injury.  You get an x-ray.  You get a boot.  You stay off it for six to eight weeks. It's healed.  Does it suck?  Yeah.  But, at least you know the treatment and the timetable.  There is comfort in a definitive diagnosis and prognosis.

IT Band Syndrome on the other hand, is an anomaly.  It can last for six days or six months.  I know runners who did nothing but rest and got better.  I know runners who relied on intricate stretching.  I know runners who relied on strength training.  There are studies and web pages to support the merits of all three methods.  Believe me, there isn't an article or message board post on the subject that I have not read.  This of course can lead to information overload which can lead to an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach. 

I took it a step further.  I included the kitchen sink and remodeled the whole room with too many contractors.  10 weeks into the injury and well on my way to going crazy, I had only marginally improved. The problem is, any program like this needs to be sustainable.  Obviously, once the injury is gone, you won't be rehabilitating anymore.  However, to stay healthy you will want to do some of the exercises in the interest of prevention. So, with the help of a pep talk from my beyond supportive wife -- who has somehow resisted strangling me despite the money and time I have spent -- I have finally settled into a program that I hope will have me pounding the pavement pain free and that I can pull pieces from once I am running again.

Research as well as consultation with very smart doctors and physical therapists has helped me put together a more structured and consistent plan that involves cross training (a mix of swimming, elliptical and spin classes every day to maintain aerobic fitness), yoga (one to two times a week to enhance flexibility), strength training/physical therapy (At home stretching, band exercises, this routine to strengthen hip and glute muscles and two visits to the PT per week to work out scar tissue and loosen muscles) and even a little bit of running (more on that in a second).  Yes, that is five things, but I left out the kitchen sink and laid off some of the contractors.  I have taken acupuncture and the Alter G treadmill out of the equation.  It's not because they are ineffective.  I got treatment from one of the best athletic acupuncturists in New York City.  However, I believe acupuncture works when you go consistently and often.  With work and physical therapy, my acupuncture visits were a sporadic afterthought at best.  As for the Alter G, I stand by my belief that it is the most important running invention of the last decade.  However, for me it provided too much false hope.  I'd have a great run on the Alter G and feel like I was ready to get back to training.  Then, I'd go outside and blow up.  This would not be a problem if access to the Alter G was more frequent and I could run on it every day.  There are very few of these expensive machines in the city and understandably, the one at my PT's office is in high demand.  That meant I was only getting a slot twice a week at best.  I see no point in running twice a week.  In fact, I think for me it's mentally tougher than not running at all.  So, I stopped signing up for it.

There are several schools of thought on how to add running back into the routine when recovering from IT Band Syndrome.  Some say to simply run through it.  Others say just to run really fast for all of your runs.  And others say not to run at all.  I don't think any of these theories is wrong.  But like everything else surrounding this injury, there are a number of right answers.  Running through it was not an option for me.  When it flared up, it hurt to the point that my gait was severely altered and then it hurt for the rest of the day.  My attempts to start running again have all started at 30 minutes and would include running on back to back days,  which I now know is too ambitious.  For the next couple of weeks, my runs won't last longer than 20 minutes.  While it is not even enough time to get your heart rate up, it is allowing the body to adjust.  With no races whatsoever on the calendar, I can take as long as I want to build back to base mileage.

I am not going to say when I hope to be doing workouts again.  I don't even have a time frame in my head because it's not up to me.

I wrote this entire blog while listening to the new Smashing Pumpkins album, "Oceania" streaming on YouTube.  It's decent, but not worth buying.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Let's be real

Here are three colloquialisms: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  The third time is NOT a charm.  I altered the third one, but all three phrases would be an appropriate way to describe the conclusion I reached last night.

This IT band injury isn't getting any better.  It's tricky because three times now it has fooled me into believing I was ready to gradually ease back into running only to get me to a place where I felt optimistic and started to make a game plan before flaring right back up again.  Once, it let me go an entire seven runs before coming back with a vengeance.  This most recent go-round, I made it to the end of my third untimed, slow, easy trail run and with the car in sight, that familiar pain shot through the back and side of my knee.  Despite the proximity of the vehicle, it was a long enough walk back for me to empty my curse word arsenal.  It hurt the rest of the night.

I'm driving myself and my wife crazy trying to get better.  I spend every minute that I am not at work doing some sort of stretch or strength exercise.  I eat dinner with ice somewhere on my leg.  I spend a lot of money and time on physical therapy, massages, acupuncture and doctor's visits.  I take an epsom salt bath before bed.  I sleep in very restrictive compression tights. I have taken time to cross-train.  I have taken time to not train at all.  Naproxen.  Arnica.  Topical NSAIDs.  Cortisone.   I'm a man obsessed.  The result of nine weeks of this madness?  A new full time job and my leg still hurts.

I had really hoped this week vacation at my parent's cottage would be a chance to redeem my summer.  I love running here and always find clarity in doing so. The day after my sister's wedding, I logged 25 minutes on the trails along Keuka Lake.  The next day, I got 30 minutes in along Seneca Lake.  Yesterday, what started as a promising jog on the grassy athletic fields in North Rose ended in heartache. 

But I suppose I did find some clarity. It's time to face reality.  The status of my injury has hardly changed.  Best case scenario: I can run 40 miles a week by August.  That gives me the least amount of time possible to prepare for the race I want to run in Philadelphia in November. But, self-imposed time tables hanging over my head are probably working against me.  So, I'm going to consider my entry fee into the Philly Marathon a generous donation to the race director.  Instead of doing this on my schedule, we are going to do this on my IT band's schedule.  Maybe it will decide it wants to play ball tomorrow.  Maybe it needs a few more months.  I'll continue to treat it aggressively and keep relatively in shape via less exciting and more stationary forms of exercise.  This morning, I reeled in a 14 inch large mouthed bass.  It's a start.  I'll live vicariously through Lauren's training for the New York City Marathon, covering the marathon from a news perspective at work and by watching my teammates in local races. 

Right now, I am going to go kayak around the bay and not think about my leg for the rest of the day.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I got high

The comparison between running and drugs is a tired analogy.  How many studies do we need to fund about whether "runner's high" is a real thing or just some made up feeling runners talk about to make sedentary people feel like they are missing out on something? I know it's a drug because it can and in my case, has lead to addiction.

Much like drugs that get you high, say "addiction" and you immediately think of empty vodka bottles, rehab and Lindsay Lohan.  But, I think being addicted to running is a good thing.  Furthermore, I think it's OK if you let your addiction rub off on people here and there.

During my five weeks of IT Band Syndrome (not that it's gone, but I'll get to that), I'll be the first to admit that there has been a little bit of withdrawal.  I get crabby, cranky and eat large portions of ice cream as a response to the void left by the absence of 80 miles a week.  But, unlike injuries in the past, I haven't totally shut out the world of running, pretending it doesn't exist.  I've channeled my injury into being a fan of the running goals of my friends and my family.

Shortly before the injury struck, Lauren surprised us both by getting into the 2012 New York City Marathon.  Not only has she never run a marathon/showed no interest in doing so, her running had taken a backseat for a good three months to the more important things happening in her life.  You should know though, Lauren doesn't turn down a challenge no matter how difficult it might be. 

Fast forward to today, she is more than a month into her training plan and already raised nearly $2,000 for colon cancer research in honor of our friend Amiee who passed away last winter.  So far, the highlight of her training was last weekend's Get Your Rear in Gear 4 Miler in Brooklyn where she, our friends Josh and Tanya and I all ran the race in brightly colored briefs.

I've also had a front row seat to Urban Athletics success in the New York Road Runners Race series.  We were the second place team in the Brooklyn Half Marathon and third place at this week's Portugal Day Five Miler.  Sure, I want to be out there scoring points and duking it out with the Central Park Track Club, but being a cheerleader is the next best thing and it gives me that much more motivation to be smart about taking it easy and getting strong for the fall.

And from my perspective, that's what I am doing.  I've spent the past five weeks slowly evolving from the pool (thanks to Tanya for sneaking me into Equinox) to the elliptical to the Alter G, to the roads.  In between, there has been massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, an MRI and double the amount of stretching I had done in my entire life leading up to this point.  Last week, I ran 31 miles.  This week, I hope to run 40.  But, the number isn't set in stone.  There are still small aches and pains here and there, and I have read enough about IT Band injuries (i.e. every article on the entire internet) to know that just because it's gone for a few days, even a few weeks, doesn't mean it's not going to come back with a vengeance.  If it doesn't feel right, I don't run.  It's that simple. 

The thing about any drug is when you take too much of it, it sort of looses its edge -- just a little bit.  it becomes a permanent buzz instead of a temporary lift.  Long lay-offs allow you realize how wonderful running is.  Coming back from an injury sucks in a lot of ways, but the upside is you are playing our sport in its simplest form.  As I was running down the West Side Highway tonight, no GPS device, no set number of miles to run, I felt that high that I've missed for the past couple of weeks, temporarily lifting me from the fog of a tough day at the office.  I'm excited to get back to that permanent buzz, but this will be fun for a while.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

You can't nap during an MRI (and other tales from the sidelines)

I'm a newbie to the whole magnetic resonance imaging thing so I didn't understand why the radiologist laughed at me when I told her I planned to doze off as the machine took high tech pictures of my right leg.  I slipped the required headphones over my ears (another clue) and had just shut my eyes when the sound of a landing helicopter filled the room.  Seriously.  I have flown in helicopters (ok, a helicopter) and the two noises are indistinguishable.  When it would stop briefly, a loud clicking noise that resembled a monotonous techno beat would fill the void.  I actually am not sure if that noise came from the machine or if the radiologist just had really bad taste in music. 

I am still hurt, and worse yet, no one in the community of people who are supposed to determine what is wrong seem to know what's wrong.  There has been little to no improvement.  My right quad remains constantly numb and my knee locks up after about a mile rendering the entire leg useless.  My orthopedist, who works on Olympic runners said to me, "your case is sort of a mystery."  My massage therapist (the best of the best in NYC), says my quad is extremely tight.  My physical therapist agrees.  This has gone from an IT band injury to potential tendinitis, pinched nerve, herniated disc, piriformis or any combination of the aforementioned afflictions.  I plan to add an acupuncturist to my team of specialists this week.

I was reminded yesterday of something Alberto Salazar said.  I'm paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of "It's harder to not run than to run."  He's right.  Despite that, I am trying to exude positivity.  Negativity doesn't help injuries heal.  There are a million and two things about being sidelined that suck, but I am making a conscious effort to only dwell on those things for a finite amount of time each day.  A very wise runner we'll call "Nathan" encouraged me to take advantage of a life that isn't possible when you are a competitive runner on the side.  I'm doing that by taking a different approach to cross-training.  Instead of trying to replace running with mind-numbing hours on the elliptical and stationary bike, I am swimming when I have time, eating right (minus the ice cream), getting lots of sleep and focusing on stretching and flexibility.  It leaves me with much more time to spend with Lauren and Pepper, read a good book and watch a good movie.

That said, it was in part, bad movies that ended the days of two hour elliptical rides.  I had just finished "All About Steve" and was 25 minutes into "Click" when either my knee legitimately started to hurt or Adam Sandler was so terrible that my brain started sending pain signals to it in an attempt to get me off the machine.  I haven't been on since.

I'm going to try and share the funny, anecdotal side of being hurt on the blog.  There is one.  Look no further than the pool locker room at the Chelsea Rec Center for proof of that.  I'll have to learn Korean to pick up on some of the hilarity but since that's where I'll be centering the majority of my athletic energy until I get this figured out, it might just be possible.  And once I do get this figured out, I have something harder than learning a foreign language to work on -- a marathon PR.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Return of the Low-Impact Triathlete

The only thing worse than coming home from a community pool with the smell of chlorine seeping from your pores is coming home from a community pool without the smell of chlorine seeping from your pores.  Following my first aquajogging session in more than a year, I can report the latter.  It makes you wonder about the cleanliness of the pool at the Chelsea Recreation Center and its urine to water ratio.

Clearly, I am fighting yet another injury or else I wouldn't have spent the better part of a beautiful Sunday afternoon on a bike and in an indoor pool.  This time, it is in my IT band and it came out of nowhere.  Actually, I shouldn't have been all that surprised last Friday when a pain on the outside of my knee caused me to stop in my tracks and walk home.  Just days before, I had proudly told Heidi that I had not been injured in 14 months.  My fate was sealed.

The injured IT band is frightening new territory for me.  I don't know much about it except from what I have learned from the Google.  Of course, Google anything enough and you can convince yourself that the pain you are experiencing is symptomatic of a brain tumor and you have six days to live.  That is why I attacked this injury aggressively and immediately.  Anyone who is familiar with my history of injuries knows I have a tendency to freak out on the first day I am unable to run.  I don't exactly under-react to anything. So, it should be no surprise that I have seen two doctors and one physical therapist so far and will be seeing a new physical therapist on Wednesday.

But that is a little over the top for even me.  Let me explain.  The first doctor I saw was not a runner and gave me some photocopied exercises from Runner's World.  I've been a Runner's World subscriber for many years and my subscription fee is not covered by my insurance.  Some friends recommended another doctor in town who specializes in running injuries.  With nothing to lose, I made an appointment with him and he is the one who diagnosed the IT band issue which he referred to as "acute" and said it would probably take a couple of weeks to work itself out.  He prescribed a heavy duty anti-inflammatory, some topical cortisone cream and physical therapy.  Looking for convenience, I stopped into the PT practice closest to my office. This particular office was also not very runner-oriented, and when the PT told me it was going to be eight weeks before I ran again, I tuned her out.  Everything she said sounded like Charlie Brown's parents for the rest of the visit.  I've learned my lesson.  Check and make sure the practice is accustomed to dealing with runners before wasting your time.

Other than seeking medical treatment, I've hit the cross-training hard, spending hours on end on the elliptical, stationary bike and as of today, in the pool.  I've had to re-evaluate my spring season, scratching this weekend's Healthy Kidney 10K and next weekend's Brooklyn Half Marathon off my schedule.  At this point, I am still holding out hope for a return to racing by late June or early July. 

How did it happen?  I blame Boston and myself.  I think the marathon was the catalyst.  The conditions and the effort took a tremendous toll on my body.  It was a toll that took a week or so to fully realize.  However, the underlying weaknesses were there.  With the increase in mileage and intensity leading up to the race, I let strength and stretching exercises fall by the wayside.  I know full well that to run at the level I desire to run at, these exercises are of utmost importance.  IT Band injuries are often the result of weak glutes, a problem that has been the cause of past injuries.  I hope this is the last time I have to regret my laziness in the prevention department.

Hopefully, it won't be long before I'm back at it.  With any luck, I'll be stronger and well-rested.  Until then, if you know anything about the IT band, or have any good advice, I'll take anything and everything I can get!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Man Vs. Nature: Boston Marathon Edition

Since the beginning of time, man (woman too) has been trying to triumph over nature. This has been a constant theme since the cavemen. We chase tornadoes, we ride behemoth waves, we build our homes on fault lines. The list goes on. I don't think anyone is keeping score and knows who is ahead after all these years. but it's a fight that often blurs the fine line between bravery and insanity. Monday. in a small town some 26 miles from the center of Boston, Massachusetts, 25,000 brave or insane people went toe to toe with nature to partake in an event that's grueling no matter what the weather conditions.

Not that the people who organize the Boston Marathon didn't try to stop us. As race day drew closer, and the forecasted 85 plus degrees grew more imminent, the Boston Athletic Association sent emails, tweets and Facebook statuses urging people to reconsider running, warning anyone who might not have done the bulk of their training in or around a blast furnace that their involvement in the race may lead to their involvement in a funeral, or at the very least a trip to the emergency room. News reports from the Boston television stations and newspapers predicted a mass casualty scenario. These were almost identical conditions to the 2007 Chicago Marathon and in that race, people died. No one would have faulted any runner from throwing in the towel.

On the surface, I adopted a brave attitude. In one particular Facebook post, I boldly stated, "F the weather." But under that facade was fear, uncertainty and anger. I was scared of how my body would handle the extreme temperatures mostly because I had never run in heat like this for a race this long. I was angry because no matter how well my body adapted to the conditions, I was certain my goal of running 2:33-2:35 was out the window; a goal I had fixated on for months and sacrificed sleep, food and social interactions to meet. Thanks to something beyond my control, it was gone. But despite the option to defer, I planned to confront the challenge. My Urban Athletics teammates and I talked extensively before the race about how we would adjust our race plan. We talked about going slower, but in the end made the decision to stick to it and see what happens. To fight nature, man must be stubborn.

It was already 80 degrees when we got to the to the first corral in Hopkinton at 9:30am. There was still 30 minutes until the start. To put that in perspective, the 1982 Boston Marathon famously referred to as the "Duel in the Sun", a race that drained Alberto Salazar to the extent that he never fully recovered, had a high temperature of 68 and that race started at noon. As I side note, I will now refer to that race as the "Duel in the Moderately Uncomfortable, but certainly Manageable Conditions." I respectfully request they change the title of the book.

I had consumed so much water and Gatorade over the past 24 hours that my empty Gatorade bottle came in handy about five minutes before the start. I always drink a lot leading up to a marathon, but this time around, I turned down no opportunities to hydrate. I was already sweating and I hadn't run a step. Adding insult to injury, there was not a cloud in the sky and the Boston Marathon course is not exactly known for it's tree canopy.

As we made our way down the hill that marks the beginning of the world's most famous marathon, there was the natural urge to go out hard and follow the dreamers who thought that starting fast meant finishing strong. But, the three of us Urbanosos (As our coach calls us), stuck to the plan. 5:52 pace and no faster. As expected, it felt slow, but it was only the beginning and it doesn't take an extensive knowledge of distance running to know that a lot changes over 26.2 miles. We rolled through the first few miles almost effortlessly. There was little conversation aside from the occasional pace update. Unlike other marathons, I took advantage of the water stops from the start. Whereas I usually wait until mile 4, I grabbed a Gatorade and a water at mile 1. There was no reason to delay hydration on a day like this.

Around mile 8, my teammate Josh asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was still feeling good which was the truth. He told me he was as well, but would later admit that was not exactly the case. We had already opened up a small gap on our other teammate Kevin, but we were still averaging 5:52s. Three miles later, I was faced with my first major decision of the race. I started to find myself a couple of steps in front of Josh and would reign it in, to get side by side. That's when he told me to go ahead if I felt good. I thought it was too early, but he told me he was already feeling heavy legs. At this point in the race, I knew chances were I would meet the same fate, but I had not yet. Low 5:50s were still happening fairly naturally. I reluctantly moved on to face the next 15 miles alone and planned to keep pushing at goal marathon pace until the inevitable happened.

As I got to Wellesley, I could hear the screams of the hundreds of women who line the course. They are loud and everyone of them has a sign demanding they be kissed because of their heritage ("kiss me, I'm Irish", "kiss me I'm Canadian", "kiss me I'm from Idaho", etc.) The atmosphere lends itself to a surge. But, I made that mistake in 2010 and promised to not make it again. 5;55 through the Wellesley campus. I was proud of my restraint. Oh, and I didn't kiss any girls either. Not that the thought even crossed my mind. I'm a married man with a race to run! I went through the half-marathon at 1:17:25 which was right on target. I had survived half of the race without crashing, but I knew it wouldn't last and I was trying to salvage as much as I could.

Shortly after the throngs of young, intoxicated women, I saw Meagan Nedlo (who is young, but was not intoxicated). She was with some friends from the BAA exactly where she had told me she was going to be. She ran out into the street and handed me a frozen water bottle and some encouraging words at no extra charge. The frozen water was heaven-sent. I drank what I could and rubbed the rest of my face and neck. Let me take a second to talk about the spectators. They are a large part of the reason that I, and countless other runners finished and/or survived this race. I am not just talking about the spectators that I knew, but the complete and total strangers who went above and beyond to keep runners healthy and cool. In four previous marathons, I had never taken anything that didn't come from an official aid station. I always fear the jokester with a cup of vodka. But, in this marathon, I passed up no opportunities to pour a cup of water over my head or use a wet sponge to wipe my brow. People worked very hard to help us fight this fight and probably spent a lot of money too. It's an outpouring of kindness I won't soon forget and further enhances my positive views of the Boston area.

At mile 14, the thermometer on a bank said 85 degrees. That didn't take into account the heat radiating off the asphalt. I was still on pace, but starting to get hot and the yellow gatorade at the water stops was starting to get warmer. I took my second energy gel of the day, a peanut butter Gu and didn't gag on it, so I as able to take in all the nutrients it offered. The next three miles were slightly slower, but still under 6:00 pace. It wasn't until mile 18 that the train started to fall of the tracks.

The first hill in Newton was bad. The second hill was terrible. The third hill was excruciating and the fourth hill, Heartbreak Hill was an absolute nightmare. At this point in the race, the heat was starting to shut down all my systems. The collapse had happened and it had happened fast. I went from running 5:50s to 6:20s in a matter of inches. As hard as I tried, I couldn't dump enough water on my head to stay cool, and the water I was able to put in my system was luke warm at best. I didn't walk up any of the hills, but the shuffle I slowed down to couldn't have been much faster. The screams of, "come on 406" (my bib number), kept me going, but the urge to drop out was getting stronger. I started to examine my goals and bargain with myself. The reach goal of 2:33-34 had been unattainable from the start. Now, barring some miraculous rejuvenation, 2:35 was pretty much a pipe dream too. Could I still at least PR?

The last 7 miles of the race can only be described as a death march. I tried to think of a more creative term, but nothing sums it up better. I ran a 6:58 on mile 20 (the mile that includes Heartbreak Hill). It was my slowest mile of the race. My goal gradually transitioned from 2:35 to PR to 2:40 to just finishing. I was not going to drop out. I thought of all the 4am runs, the 20 miler in a snow storm, the speed workouts that ended with me so exhausted I could barely stand up. I thought of the sacrifices that not only I had made, but that my wife had made too. Besides, I had already spent $100 on the official race jacket, and everyone knows you can't wear the jacket if you don't finish the race. I'd crawl across the finish line if I had to and at this point, the possibility was not all that unlikely.

The now piping hot yellow Gatorade was starting to be a cruel joke. If I never drink yellow Gatorade again, it will be too soon. At mile 22.5, Josh's girlfriend Tanya handed me a chocolate Gu and a salt packet. I squirted the Gu into my mouth, but it had the consistency of paste and I couldn't swallow it. I tore open the salt packet and dumped it into my mouth in hopes that the sodium would give me a boost, but all it did was give me a mouth full of salt with no water stop in sight. I should have taken the Gatorade bottle from my teammate Matt. All around me, people were dropping like flies. This was the Boston Massacre. Runners at the peak of their fitness were reduced to crumbled, sweaty piles of flesh and muscle on the side of the road, their marathon dreams destroyed by a random act of Mother Nature. As bad of shape as I was in, I was fortunate to still be on my feet.

I wish I could say that somewhere in those last three miles, I got my second wind and motored to the finish line, but that didn't happen. I staggered my way over the overpass that stares at the iconic Citgo sign, ambled on to Hereford and swayed on to Boylston where the finish line appeared to be on the other side of the universe. Lauren was screaming my name and I didn't even hear it. I feel terrible about it, but at the time I felt terrible about something else and my tunnel vision only let me see the finish. I crossed the line in 2:41:12, six minutes slower than my goal. I wasn't mad. I was just relieved.

About 5 minutes later, that changed. I was mad. I was in shape to run the race of my life and the opportunity was stolen from me. 18 weeks of hard training, the hardest and most focused I have ever done, wasted. I wanted to cry. But it didn't last long. After I picked up my bag, the flood of supportive messages started coming in. An email from Paul and a text from Caitlin told me I had finished in the top 100, an accomplishment in itself. Runners around me shared war stories. All of them had missed their goals by anywhere from 6-10 minutes. The winners of the race had run 9 minutes slower than the previous year. This was not a day to brag about your time. It was a day to brag about your tenacity. My teammates missed their goals by more than they would have liked to, but they didn't drop out. My friend Allen was primed for a low 3:00 time, but ran what may be the gutsiest run I've heard yet; a race filled with vomit and urges to seek medical attention that culminated in a 5:03 finish. He's OK. We had a beer last night.

I had to laugh when the post-race survey that came from the BAA yesterday asked, "besides the heat, how would you rate your Boston Marathon race experience?" That's tantamount to saying, "besides all the commotion with the gun, Mr. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" But seriously, I wouldn't change a thing about how I went about tackling the conditions. A lot of very smart runners told me to back off and be conservative. I don't doubt that would have been the smartest, safest thing to do. But, I would have been really angry with myself if I finished that race and felt like I could have given more.

The first person I actually spoke to after the race was Lauren who was beaming with pride. She has and always will be my number one fan and 95% of the reason I am able to give running and competing the attention I give it. When I say being a supporter is as hard of a job as being a competitor, I'm not kidding. The support from her and all of my friends over the past few days has convinced me that Monday's Boston Marathon was not a missed opportunity, but a chance to seize an opportunity. The same training that got me in shape to run a 2:30 marathon, also got me in shape to fight through the hottest April day in Boston history and easily the hardest athletic endeavour I have ever completed. While scores of runners dropped out, I was able to hang on, pretty or not, to finish 95th in a race that I once dreamed of simply competing in. I didn't leave Boston with a new PR, not even close. I'm not walking as well as I used to and it might be awhile before I can run again. But, I left wearing the jacket (it cooled down). Again, I'm not sure anyone is keeping score in this battle we fight with nature, but if someone is, kindly put a point in my column.