Friday, February 24, 2012

Ahead by nearly a century

As Boston gets closer, the mileage gets higher, the workouts get harder and I get hungrier. Nearing the end of a February that includes three consecutive weeks of 85, 98 and 95 miles. I am struggling to remember a time when I was thoroughly stuffed. This week, the seminary at which we live hosted a free pancake breakfast. They probably didn't bank on my appetite as they prepared the feast. Two plates piled high with hot cakes, fruit and fresh whipped cream and I still had room for M&Ms when I got home. (Side anecdote: Lauren and I took Julie and Brian to the M & M store and could not resist the allure of the wall of milk chocolate in a candy shell. We now have enough M & M's to sustain us through Christmas...or maybe next week. Who knows?)

Since my last post, which was about movies and not running, things have progressed quite nicely on the fitness front. Minus a disastrous attempt at racing the mile at the Armory, I've finished every run at workout satisfied. The day after the track disaster, I put in a hard 7 mile tempo in the park , solo at 5:38 pace. I can thank the frustration hangover for some of that speed. That run was followed up by a moderately paced 20 miler with Josh and JR over the George Washington Bridge and onto the steep hills and switchbacks of the Palisades Greenway before heading back into Central Park.

The next week was a grind from start to finish. At Tuesday’s UA workout, we hammered 400s around the Great Lawn. Although, I should point out that hammering is relative. My 12 repeats ranged from 65-70 seconds and the rest was generous. During the faster ones, my face contorted in a twisted grimace and my arms flailed wildly. People with actual speed can go much faster and look much more graceful. I have always lacked both grace and speed. It took me two days, three runs and 30 miles to recover. I also am learning that the high mileage requires me to run in the morning and with my current work schedule that means 4:30am. If I ever go months without updating this blog, assume that I was kidnapped by a wandering drifter somewhere along the Hudson river during one of those runs.

Once recovered, I hit the Central Park 4 mile course last Friday to attempt a solo effort at 3X2 miles. The course is moderately hilly, but so are all the races there, so workouts like these provide a good simulation of race day conditions. The times were 10:50, 10:37 and 10:43 with a three minute jogging rest. I would have liked to run the last one a bit quicker, but even with a 5:17 closing mile I had gone out too slow to dip below 10:40 again.

Because Julie and Brian were coming into town Saturday afternoon and I didn’t want them to waste part of their trip here waiting for me to run 22 miles, I planned to do another quick turnaround. I was out the door by 7am Saturday morning, ipod loaded with some of my favorite recent records and headed South down the Hudson. I covered 14 miles with only rare glimpses at the Garmin before meeting up with Meagan, also visiting, at Paragon Sports in Union Square so she could keep me company for the last 8 miles. By the end of the run, I had traveled nearly 23 miles at an unintentional, yet very comfortable speed of 6:45/mile. Getting the long run out of the way allowed for a worry-free Thai feast later in the evening with Meagan, Jordan (who is nursing an injury) and Julie and Brian. The next day, which was supposed to be an easy run with Meagan and Heidi, turned into me running with about 9 women and feeling like the creeper of the group. We kept the first 9 miles easy, but then Meagan and I picked it up heading down the Hudson River so she could make engagement. My legs were toast when I got back home.

I believe if you are going to run high mileage, run it consistently. One week at 90-100 miles is wasting your time. I train on a three weeks hard, one week easy schedule. I could not be more excited to be coming to the end of this current three week block. Last night’s team workout again focused on speed and turnover, and I don’t have either. I was able to hang on with the front pack from the duration of the ladder which started at 400 and climbed to 1200 before descending at a faster pace, but I wasn’t turning any heads. By the final 400, my legs felt like they were going to come out from under me. It’s easy to get disappointed when you are pushing harder than your times reflect, but I am trying to remember that you sometimes sacrifice that gear you need to hammer a 400 for stamina in the marathon.

One more long run tomorrow. 20 miles with the last 6 at marathon pace or faster, then a week to take it relatively easy for a 5K race. I hope 5000 meters is long enough for me to stick my nose in the competition.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

And the Oscar Goes to...

When I am not running, working or walking to points near and far in Manhattan, I am actually a pretty lazy person. I am happy spending hours on end (if such time becomes available) sitting on the couch and either reading a book, watching hours of DVRed television, or watching a movie. I also spend more time playing Words With Friends than I care to calculate, lest it depress me.

This year, I challenged myself to do something I hadn't done before. When I say challenge, I hope that doesn't conjure up images of climbing Mount Everest or doing 500 push ups a day. This challenge was far less physically-taxing. My goal was to watch all the movies nominated for the Academy Awards Best Picture.

With the aid of the movie studios which sent me several screener copies of the likely nominees (because I am a member of the Writers Guild of America), I completed my goal this afternoon. I am having a tough time picking my favorite movie, so I am going to break this year's nine nominees into four categories: Loved it, Liked it, Disappointed, Hated it.

Loved It:

The Help -- Lauren points out that I love a story more than anything. It trumps cinematography, acting, sound effects, etc. Of all the movies nominated this year, this one was my favorite story. It had lovable characters, and from what I know about American history, was an accurate depiction of life in the deep south prior to the Civil Rights movement. Besides loving a good story, one of my favorite genres is historical fiction and of the three movies on the list of nominees that fit that genre, this one was the best one. Yes, it does have a fairly predictable happy ending where everything works out for the good guys and goes to hell in a hand basket for the bad guys, but who said that was a bad thing? I have not read the book that this movie is an adaptation of, but I am told it sticks to the story. The Help lets you experience the gamut of emotions from laughter, to anger to tears.

Hugo -- Martin Scorcese's fantasy about a child machinist and a former filmmaker who cross paths in a Paris train station is the most complete of this year's nominees. It's a beautiful story, with amazing imagery and wonderful acting. I'm not quite sure how Ben Kingsley was not nominated for his role. When this movie came out, I had no interest in seeing it. Nothing about a children's movie in 3-D appeals to me on the surface. However, I cannot stress how wrong I was. This movie was meant to be see on the big screen. Scorcese does not use 3-D to have things pop out of the screen and startle the audience, but instead uses it to bring the audience into the film. When old books open, you can see the dust particles. When papers fall, they appear to be scattering around you as you sit in the theater. What's truly great about this movie is that much of the storyline revolves around a real-life pre-World War II filmmaker who brought magic to early cinema. The movie tells his story by reminding you how magic the movies can be.

The Artist -- This was the last of the nominees I saw and it was the one I almost didn't see. I can tell you I am glad I did. This is a silent film about the fall of silent films and therefore, the superstars affiliated with them. As a movie with dialogue, it would be nothing special. But, as a silent film complete with an orchestral arrangement and fullscreen text of important conversations, it is captivating and brilliant. It is amazing how much you can learn about a movie character through their facial expressions, actions and body language. Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller was my favorite character in any of this year's films this year and is deserving of the Oscar for Best Actress even though she wasn't nominated (note: there are many best actress nominees whose performances I didn't see). But forget Bejo, the runaway performance in The Artist is the performance of Uggie, who plays the unnamed dog and a central part of the plot. The Artist really is a fun movie with some very serious moments and an ending that is sure to bring a smile. I should point out that it is not a truly silent film. There are two moments where talking is heard, and they are very poignant.

Liked it:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- This movie was incredibly close to being in the above category. But, as I was putting this list together, I forgot about it completely, and I don't think it's possible to forget about a movie that I loved. Then, I started to focus on its flaws. Sure, this tale of a boy who lost his father on 9/11 is very moving. I shed a few tears. But, looking back on it, I wonder how much of that is because 9/11 wasn't that long ago. It's still a very fresh memory for most people. In fact, several people I know here in New York won't see this movie because it is too soon. Again, I liked this movie and the performance of the very young Thomas Horn is awesome. However, it was a bit of a stretch to believe an 11-year-old child was free to wander around New York City on his own. And his task, which I won't reveal, seems like an impossible one to accomplish in a city of eight million people.

The Descendants -- Life in Hawaii isn't all surfing and sunbathing. There are real Americans living there, doing real work and dealing with real problems. This movie is about some of those people. It's unique because it is the first movie I have seen set in Hawaii that isn't about how awesome and tropical Hawaii is. In fact, life is pretty crappy for the family this movie centers around. And that is why The Descendants is on the like list and not the love list. It's kind of depressing. What I loved about it was the cast. It has the best ensemble of all the nominees. George Clooney is great as always and Shailene Woodley does a great job of playing a role that can be tired and cliche, the rebellious teenaged daughter. But the most moving scene in this movie is delivered by Judy Greer, who angrily confronts a comatose adulterer.

Moneyball -- How do you turn a book about the economics of baseball into a movie worth watching? Moneyball is how. While it won't go down as one of the classic, motivational sports movies like Rudy or Hoosiers it is a great underdog story. Brad Pitt has solidified himself as one of the best actors of this generation and should probably win the Oscar for playing Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, who with the help of a recent Yale graduate, changes the way winning baseball teams are assembled. You don't have to like or care about baseball to enjoy this movie, which was itself an underdog and almost never got made. I am glad it did.


Midnight in Paris -- I realize I am in the minority on this one. Most people I know loved this movie. I didn't hate it. I just felt like it could have been better. Woody Allen tries to accomplish a lot in a little bit of time with this romantic comedy about a man (Owen Wilson) who falls in love with Paris on a trip there with his insufferable fiance (Rachel McAdams). Why does he fall in love with Paris? Because at the stroke of midnight each night, he is whisked away to the time of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, his literary heroes, and is able to pick their brains and even get their advice on his own novel. That's a cute story, but if I am to believe that Owen Wilson is an intelligent, aspiring writer, I can't understand how he so quickly accepts the fact that he is essentially stepping into a time machine each night and going back in time. I am not suggesting there be some long, drawn out period of doubt. But, there is no period of doubt at all. I also have trouble believing that a character so lovable as Wilson's is engaged to McAdam's character. She plays a woman so materialistic and mean that no one would an ounce of self-respect would want to spend the rest of their life with her. I also thought the final romantic twist was a stretch as the character involved barely makes an appearance in the movie before becoming the new love interest that provides the happy ending.

Hated it:

War Horse -- The special effects in this movie are trademark Spielberg. They are incredible. Other than that, War Horse is a real snooze. It's about a horse that is whisked away from a teenaged farm boy to be part of the British war effort in World War I. Through a series of events, he ends up back with the boy, now a grown man. But the only character you have time to connect with throughout this two-plus hour movie is the horse, which makes it hard to be too excited when he ends up back with the boy that you haven't seen in 90 minutes. I guess the reason Spielberg didn't use any known actors in this movie is because there were no real characters.

Tree of Life -- Terrence Mallick wants you know that he is smarter and more creative than you. He does it by making a movie that is so bizarre and off-the-wall that you almost need to be him to get it. Even Sean Penn, who is in the movie, was disappointed in the final product. It's a non-linear "story" about a middle-American family in the 1950s that experiences a loss. You never find out just how or why that loss happened. But, you do get to spend 15 minutes watching Mallick's interpretation of how the Earth was formed and how dinosaurs became extinct. This is really a self-righteous waste of time and if I can prevent just one person from watching it, I will at least feel somewhat like my having to sit through it was justified.

So, what wins Best Picture? I didn't actually know what my answer was going to be when I started writing this, but I think the Oscar goes to Hugo. I enjoyed the story of "The Help", more, but Hugo is the most-complete movie in this year's crop.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Alas an update.

I have been running a lot. I have been working a lot. I have been sleeping a little. While the imbalance has not seemed to impact my performance as a runner, it has seemed to cause some cognitive decline. Last night, I got home from an 11.5 mile jaunt through Central Park, said hello to Pepper, set the convection oven to preheat and went to the basement to fetch some frozen chicken and edamame for dinner. I forgot that the door to the basement locks behind you and if you let it latch, you are locked in. Thankfully, I had my phone, and I was able to text Lauren. She contacted a friend in the building who came to retrieve me about 15 minutes later.

As I re-entered my apartment, tail between my legs, I noticed it smelled of bananas foster. That’s when I remembered that we have been keeping our bananas in the convection oven during the day so they are out of reach of the potassium-seeking mouse that roams our building. A bunch of roasted bananas serves no purpose. It appears 3-5 hours of sleep a night is enough to get me through 11 miles or more, but it is not enough to be successfully domestic.

Things should settle down soon. Some staffing challenges at work, coupled with a Giants Super Bowl win have created a lot of opportunities for extra assignments. I am looking forward to working a Monday-Friday day shift for the next couple of weeks.

Since my last update, there has been a lot of excitement. I won’t recap it all because that ship has sailed.

Most notably, Lauren and I enjoyed a fantastic honeymoon in Belize. If you are looking for the perfect balance of paradise and adventure, this is the place for you. We divided our time between the mountains and the beach and could not have asked for or imagined a more beautiful setting. It was exactly what both of us needed; time with each other and just each other. Good wine, good food, good weather and the best company. Pure, uninterrupted bliss. You don’t get a lot of that when you live in Manhattan and work opposite schedules.

Also very notable, Lauren and I traveled to Baltimore to attend the Baptism of our Goddaughter, Stella. It was a quick trip for me, going down and back in the same day, but worth every second. It was a beautiful experience and I was honored to be there on such a special day.

And regrettably notable, we experienced a little scare with Pepper. As she waited for me to get soup from a Vietnamese place last month, something spooked her and she ran into traffic. This was extremely uncharacteristic of her. I didn't see what happened, but it appears she was clipped by a car. We are blessed that the injury to her hind leg was not severe and she seems to be almost back to her old-self. Her confidence is not 100% and every once and a while she walks with a limp, but the vet has assured us she will be fine. I, on the other hand, will never get back the ten years that was shaved off my life as the whole thing transpired.

Fast forward to the recent past. I’m waist-deep into Boston training and at this point, firing on all cylinders. I’m averaging 80-85 miles a week and building. Key workouts have included a 20 mile run in a driving snow/ice storm, 1200 repeats at 3:37 pace, 18 miles with the last 6 miles at 5:40 pace, a four mile tempo at 5:30 pace and finally, the first race of the 2012 season this past weekend.

I was glad the Gridiron Classic 4 Miler was on Sunday. It allowed me to cheer for Lauren in her race Saturday morning. (She did great by the way, finishing 3rd in her age group on a very hilly course!) Oddly enough, despite having living here 8 months, this was my first race entirely in Central Park. I have logged hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles there, but I have yet to experience it as a race course. I was initiated quickly. The gun went off and we went straight up a hill (Cat Hill, for those of you familiar with the terrain). I tucked into the lead pack, staying in close proximity with a Central Park Track Club runner I knew was in my wheelhouse.

The top five, headed by a NYAC runner and some WSX foreign recruits, opened up a gap and it was just me and the CPTC guy swapping wind-blocking duties as we crossed the first mile in 5:12; not bad for climbing. The wind-blocking was of great importance during this race, as my face felt frozen almost as soon as we started running fast. By mile two, we had picked it up a little and were given a slight reprieve on the hills , going through in 5:09.

But the race was made on mile three, and this is where I learned how punishing Central Park could be. The entire mile was an uphill climb and even though I caught and passed one of the WSX runners, I allowed myself to lose some ground. When I got to the mile marker and saw I had clocked a 5:20, I did some quick math and knew I had to recover if I wanted to dip under 21:00 for the race. With heavy legs, I found that extra gear and gunned for the finish. I was on pace as I hit the cruel last 200 meters, an uphill climb to Tavern on the Green. Thinking, “no guts no glory”, I took the hill at top speed and went through the last mile in 5:08, crossing the line in 20:53, 7th place overall.

This was the first time I have raced the four-mile distance since March of 2010 and it’s a 15 second PR on a course that is considerably more difficult that the Shamrock 4 Mile course, and slightly tougher than the Run for Your Life 4 Mile course, both in Charlotte. But, since no race is perfect, I did find some “items to work on.” Most importantly, although I was pretty spent after the race, I felt like there was a little left in the tank. In a race situation, there should never be anything left in the tank. That 5:20 mile was unacceptable. Yes, it was on a hill, but there should not be an eight second difference between that mile and my next slowest mile. That said, this was an exercise in racing tired. I did two quality workouts in the week leading up to the race and was not 100% rested when I got to the starting line.

Ok, this is already much longer than I intended. Working out the spring race schedule now, but I am hoping to get in another mid-distance race before the big New York City Half Marathon in March.