Monday, October 28, 2013

America's Next Sock Model & Other Musings on a Quiet Fall

I was subtly reminded over the weekend that I have fallen a bit behind on keeping up my blog ("Your blog sucks," --Meagan Nedlo.  Oh yeah, Meagan?  Well, spell check suggests I change your last name to "noodle".).  It was the kick in the pants I needed to write an entry despite not being even slightly motivated to do so.

That has really been the theme as it relates to activities other than family, work and fantasy football lately. Although, the fantasy football part is not going all that great.   That sort of lackadaisicalness or perhaps hyper-focus on what is the most important right now has had the most impact on my running and my writing.  I haven't thought much about either lately in hopes that time away will re-ignite some passions.

The most important update since my last update is that things in general are a lot better than they were. I never count my chickens (or is it eggs I should be counting?), but the health issues that plagued me since February seem to be resolving.  Monthly blood tests have shown levels nearing normal and sleep is no longer a chore.  I can't say 100% for sure that it's the new gluten-free diet that's lead to all the positive changes, but if it's not, it's one heck of a coincidence. Plus, I've really learned to love hard cider (served like beer, made like wine), and I don't miss bread all that much, so I think I'll stick with it. Cookies are tough though.  Real tough because cookies are EVERYWHERE.  Cookie dough ice cream? Out! Cookie cake?  Don't even think about it.

During my hiatus, I turned 30.  That was terrifying.  You can use your 20s as an excuse for all sorts of immature actions and naivety.  "Did I forget to pay the electric bill 4 months in a row?  Oh, 20s..."  Your 30s?  Not so much.  Plus, 30 is the age where the internet tells me bad things will start to happen to me.  My metabolism will slow down, my body will heal slower, I'll creak when I walk.  It's when a myriad of terminal and chronic diseases show up.  But regardless of all that,  my 30th birthday was pretty special.  My family and many of my closest friends came out to celebrate and I decided growing old won't be so bad with so many awesome people in my life.
With Dad, Mom and Lauren at the 30th birthday dinner

With the exception of some stubborn tendinitis in my left hamstring, running feels nearly natural again.  I've kept my promise and done only easy running since the Autism Speaks 4 Miler in early September.  It's allowed me to be completely flexible with when I run or who I run with.  I'm coaching Lauren for next week's New York City Marathon and I've been able to sneak in some runs with her here and there.  Like last year, I'm trying to ensure that Lauren's running takes priority over mine as she prepares for her big race.

Yesterday, after a beautiful long run on the Chessie Trail in Lexington, Virginia where we had traveled for Lauren's 10 year college reunion, I started thinking seriously about Boston and how I'd approach it this year.  That required some reflection on what worked and what didn't work last year.  There's a lot more that didn't work than did.  First of all, I'm not very good at coaching myself.  It's self-motivation that's my problem.  I don't lack it.  I have too much of it.  I push through workouts I shouldn't be doing and run too far and too fast on easy days.  I want to make the most of this upcoming Boston experience and it's going to take someone who's smarter than me to make that happen.  So, that's step one.

Secondly, I started training way too early.  With an 18 week training program, I was probably ready to run a great marathon in mid to late February.  Instead, I had six weeks left with which to get sick, completely flame out and run a mediocre marathon.  This year, come December, I plan to be running a little bit harder than I am now, but it will be more of a transitional phase building a base for a 12 week program that starts in 2014.
On a completely separate note, I'd like to talk about my new leg modeling career.  I was halfway through a post-work, pre-bed nightcap when I got an email from a co-worker saying her neighbor, a photographer, needed runners legs.  Flattered and not at all creeped out, I told her I was interested.  The deal was $300 to model compression socks for a very well-known sporting apparel company.  I arrived at the studio in the East Village not really sure what to expect.  I pulled on the first pair of socks and the photographer and I immediately both knew we had a problem.  My leg hair was sticking out of the tight socks and was sure to show up on camera. I didn't want to lose $300, so I asked for a razor, went into the bathroom and shaved my left calf bald.  The rest of the shoot consisted of me hanging my left foot into space to recreate various stages of running.  Now,  I only look mildly ridiculous with one half of one hairless leg.  Contrary to what I have been lead to believe by  many a hairless cyclist, I have not noticed any aerodynamic advantage.

I'm not sure if I'll be contacted for any modeling gigs, or if any photographer is interested in shooting me from the calf up (probably not), but for now I don't think I'll quit my job and/or hire an agent and move to LA.

By the way, when I'm not blogging, I'm not reading blogs either, so if you announced an engagement, pregnancy, job change, sex change, etc. on your blog recently, I missed it.  So, congratulations on getting married, being a parent, your promotion and/or your new gender.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

After months of hell, you can only hope that the answer is as easy as giving up beer.

To say that 2013 has been a bad year would be unfair.  I have met a lot of great people and learned so much about being married, living in New York City and producing TV news and I have forgotten half of it.  Instead, I'll call it puzzling.

Looking back at my last few posts, they have all addressed my ongoing health troubles.  They continue.  Every once in a while I'll have a run that doesn't feel terrible, or even a week where I start to feel like myself again, but one step forward almost always is followed by two steps back.  This has been going on for six months.  Through it all, I've had blood tests, brain scans, bone scans, seen an endocrinologist, seen a gastroenterologist, taken breaks from running, drastically reduced running, adopted a consistent work schedule, cut back on sugar, cut back on coffee, increased my iron intake, been medicated, been un-medicated, been re-medicated, and the the list goes on.  All of it with the same result which is no result.  We've ruled out brain tumors, thyroid problems, cancer, etc (all things doctors hypothesized, by the way).  But,  my blood levels are still far from normal.  My bones are still far from strong.  My sleep is still far from adequate.  My running has at the best plateaued, but I think it would be more accurate to say it has suffered greatly, which is of course, the least of my worries.

At my monthly check-in yesterday, I was ending my visit with an acupuncture treatment when the doctor came back into the room in the middle of my relaxation.  She had a lightbulb.  I either have Celiac's disease  or a severe gluten intolerance.  We talked about the signs and symptoms and it all made sense.  It's a hard condition to diagnose because the symptoms themselves are indicative of so many other issues, hence all the other tests.  People often have a lifelong "sensitive stomach."  I do, but I have always just written it off as a minor inconvenience.  The onset of the serious rejection is often marked by increased anxiety (re:insomnia) and as it develops you essentially become malnourished as your body stops absorbing nutrients.  That of course, comes with it's own subset of consequences; fatigue, malaise, fogginess, irritability to name a few of the fun ones.  I eat around the clock.  I would say I eat double the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day and I go to great lengths to ensure I get everything my body needs. I take supplements for things like Vitamin B, D and calcium just in case. There is no other way I could be malnourished unless something was wrong internally.

Now for the next test.  Monday, I'll have a blood test to check for antibodies consistent with gluten intolerance.  If the evidence continues to point in that direction, they'll put a tube down my throat which sounds like great fun for someone with a sensitive gag reflex.  But, I hope it's the gluten.  I really do.  I don't love the prospect of giving up breads, beer and cereal (although a quick Google search told me that both Guinness and Fruity Pebbles are OK), but at this point there isn't much I wouldn't give up to end what has been a nightmare.

Beer, no matter how delicious, is probably not in my future
I'll admit, I've been skeptical of the anti-gluten movement.  I've even written it off as a fad at times, but I know too many people who have had drastic transformations by eliminating it from their diet.   In the meantime, I think I am done racing for awhile.  This season just never got off the ground.  Since Boston, I haven't been proud of any workout or any race.  It turns out, it's incredibly difficult to run fast and hard in this state.  I am working way too hard for results that are well below expectations.  I don't see a point in towing the line if I can't run at the level I know I am capable of. The hope is that after a couple of months of recreational running and adjusting to a new way of eating, I'll feel like 1983-2012 Jay again.

Lauren told me the other day that I was a different person than I used to be, and she is right.  Worse than the impact on running, worse than the lack of sleep is that I feel withdrawn and pessimistic and that's not who I am or have ever been.  It's also not fair to the people who have to deal with me every day.  Furthermore, I'm sick of writing blog entries about this crap.  Time to take drastic measures, make sacrifices and hopefully end this year heading in the right direction.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Blogging about a break and about being broken

It's been a month since my self-imposed break from running, and even though I don't feel particularly motivated to write, I am afraid I'll lose the 2 or 3 regular readers I still have if I stay away from this blog any longer (Hi Mom!).

I don't remember the last time I took two weeks off from training and was actually serious about it.  Even when I lived in Syracuse and beer and burgers took precedent over running, my belly and I were still getting out there at least four times a week. 

But since I am always telling people to listen to their bodies and not ignore obvious signals, I knew I had to practice what I preach and truly shut it down.  For me, that meant no running, no ridiculously long elliptical sessions, no spin classes, no swimming (or what I call, swimming.  Most call it "not drowning").  For an entire fortnight, I didn't exercise.  I took a few yoga classes that focused more on relaxing than on breaking a sweat, walked the dog around the block a few times and didn't change my diet.

I used my downtime to analyze how I got where I was.  Why was my body turning on me now after years of running high mileage and high intensity while working long and often odd hours?   Once I identified the problems (anxiety, lack of sleep, holes in my diet), I began looking for ways to fix them. Since giving up hard training is not an option yet, I accepted that I had to make some lifestyle changes if I wanted to keep running competitively.  Running wasn't causing the problems, but in the situation I found myself in, it was contributing to them.

The first problem I had to tackle was my ongoing struggle with insomnia.  I don't know what started it all back in February, but I believe it was the beginning of the downward spiral.  If you have ever had insomnia, you know how it goes.  You can't sleep, so you worry about being able to fall asleep which in turn, causes your mind to race, therefore keeping you up even longer.  After a couple of nights of this, the mere thought of bedtime itself becomes a source of stress.  It's torture.

I got into a real bad place trying every method possible to cure my insomnia.  Teas turned into pills from the health foods store which turned into pills from the pharmacy.  You don't want to see my medicine cabinet.  I could knock out a elephant.  Here's the problem with sleeping drugs: You aren't getting quality sleep when you use them.  It's fake sleep.  I didn't sleep without some sort of sleep aid for more than four months. During that time, I rarely got REM sleep which is when the body produces the chemicals and hormones it needs to function properly.  Thus, the disastrous blood tests that scared me into making my health my only priority. 

A good friend who knows a lot about sleep told me the drugs were only going to exacerbate the problem, so one night at the very beginning of the break I quit them cold turkey.  Before I did that, I had to summon up courage and confidence in my ability to sleep naturally.  I decided if I couldn't sleep, I'd get up and do something until I was tired.  I accepted the fact that I might go days without sleeping before this deeply-dug hole was filled.  I practiced nightly meditation.  I eliminated the computer and the television in the hour before sleep (this is difficult since my job consists of putting things on television).  I bought a face mask and ear plugs to eliminate the lights and noise of living in the middle of Manhattan.  Ya know that whole "city that never sleeps" thing?  There's truth to it.

So far, it has worked.  I sleep soundly most nights and am gradually feeling more like myself again.  I really didn't know how bad it gotten until I experienced "normal" again.  While, I have yet to get follow-up blood tests, I can tell that I am a different person.

Fourteen days is a long time for an addict like me.  By the end of my detox, I was itching to get back out there again. While you don't lose a ton of fitness over the span of two weeks, you can't just pick up where you left off.  My first run back was spent running alongside Lauren in a 5K race in Brooklyn.  I followed it up with two weeks of easy running with no stress workouts.

At the top of Conejos Peak in Colorado
The final piece of the puzzle was a week-long vacation to Colorado last week with Lauren and her family.  In the middle of the mountains with no cell service and barely any internet connection, I was forced to disconnect from the world for the first time in months.  I could actually feel the tension release.  A tight spot in between my shoulder blades where my stress gathers relaxed and I think I grew a couple of inches as a result.  I ran free and easy at 8,000 feet elevation every day with no watch and no preplanned route.  Sometimes, when the view was particularly pretty, I stopped and just took it all in.  It was all quite cathartic. 

Home again, I expect the anxiety will return, which is just unfortunately, how I am wired.  But, I'm armed with new weapons with which to fight it and a fresh knowledge of what I have to do to keep myself healthy and strong.  Next week, I'll hit the track for some light speedwork and then see how I race at Team Championships on Saturday.  I'm not expecting a PR, but it will be a good fitness test in the build up to the Philadelphia Half in September.  Refreshed, rejuvenated, relieved.  This is a new starting line.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Time to Shut Down and Retool

It dawned on me tonight as I shoveled prune after prune into my mouth, that I actually don’t know what fruit prunes come from.  Until now, all I have known about prunes is that they are found in cardboard boxes in old people’s fridges somewhere near the bottle of Italian dressing that expired last February (but, it’s still good!  That stuff doesn’t really expire!) AND that they are the source of some not-so pleasant tasting juice.

What am I doing eating prunes?  Plums, by the way.  They come from plums.  It turns out they are high in iron.  Furthermore, it turns out that I am low in iron.  Very low.  Alarming low.  Upon seeing my ferritin level, the doctor asked if I was having my period. 

I hadn’t been feeling energized in weeks.  Every run felt like work.  Every workout felt like death.  I was pushing as hard as I could, but the results showed otherwise.  I wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I went to the doctor and asked to have some blood work done.  I thought perhaps I was hypothyroid and maybe I could get some of those drugs that all of Alberto Salazar’s athletes get to take.  But while the tests found out-of-whack levels of almost everything else (including, but certainly not limited to my iron levels), my thyroid is just fine.

What’s next?  I did another round of blood tests to make sure the numbers from the initial test are accurate.  If they are, the first step will be finding the root of the problem.  It could be caused by a number of things, but the most likely culprit is a nervous system imbalance due a constant state of anxiety.  There are a couple of much more serious causes that are not outside the realm of possibility, but at this point they are not likely.  Let’s hope it stays that way. 

Of course, all of this is somehow related to a struggle with insomnia that has now lasted four months.  It has evolved from the inability to sleep most nights to the inability to sleep every night.  It's not that I am not tired.  It is that my brain seems to have forgotten how to shut down.  I am relying on Ambien every night (something I once swore I would never do) which does not actually induce sleep.  It induces amnesia.  Once it wears off, I am awake and no matter how tired I am, I cannot fall back to sleep.  Words don't properly illustrate how torturous this is. The question is: Is the insomnia causing the abnormal blood tests or are the blood abnormalities causing the insomnia. 

Following yesterday's five mile race in the park that felt like I was dragging a pickup truck behind me, I am hanging up my running shoes for a bit and focusing on letting my body restore itself.  While there is no proof running is causing any of this, a break would certainly allow my body to produce the hormones and nutrients it needs to function properly without having to restore muscle tears and other stores depleted by running.  I believe it's important for athletes on any level to know and listen to their bodies.  In this case, I knew something was wrong and now I know I need to be vigilant about fixing it.  Taking a step back from the daily grind of training could be the key to consistent training in the future. Continuing to push through workouts could prolong what has been one of the most trying periods of my life. 

The solution is much easier said than done.  I need to find the off switch and hit it as hard as I can to get it into place.  It has proven it's jammed in the "on" position pretty tight.  Ideally, I'd go to my parent's cottage for two weeks and leave every electronic I own in New York.  But, as an adult with real life responsibilities, that's not possible.  Instead, I'll control the variables I can and reduce physical and mental stress to the best of my ability.  Once the ball is rolling, hopefully, everything will fall into place.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Keep on Trackin'

Every muscle of my lower body aches right now.  Saturday’s speed session on the track and today’s moderately brisk long run combined with a lack of sleep (yes, that’s still happening) are the main contributing factors.  Although, I’ll give honorable mention to my desk chair which is slightly more comfortable than a subway bench and the layer of dust that has accumulated on my trigger point roller.

Let’s go back to Saturday.  Up until that point in the week, I had put in a pretty solid week of training, allowing me to build up some confidence for two upcoming points races.  Tuesday, I had done mile hill repeats at 5 mile race pace and for the first time since Boston my training runs weren't feeling like a chore with my hamstring keeping relatively quiet.  That’s why I really needed Saturday’s speed session at the track to take the oomph out of my mojo. Here’s the thing. I’m not fast.  I never have been and with 30 much closer than I like to admit, I probably never will be.  Even when I am firing on all cylinders, I’m a total dud at intervals that range from 800 meters down.  Some coaches will tell you that you have to master every distance.  You’ll only nail the half marathon if you can crank out back to back 60 second quarters.  Can that lead to success in longer distances?  Absolutely.  But,  I don’t think that’s applicable to all runners.  Not everyone has every gear.  It's science.   
On the track in Charlotte in 2011.  I think I was running the 800 and I am positive I was getting my ass kicked

However, what I lack in speed, I make up for in stubbornness.  Knowing full well that I am going to look like a fish out of water, I go into every speed session thinking “this will be the workout in which I break through”.   Why the misguided faith?  Because when you go into a  session already accepting a struggle you always become an accurate predictor of your fate. Even if the results aren’t earth shattering, the effort and the exertion that comes with going all out are beneficial to the big picture.   So you have to believe in yourself even if there’s no past examples to draw from.  Saturday morning, I arrived at the track, head held high, ready to take on the world and I ended up sucking the wind of my faster teammates.  I was much more in my comfort zone as I logged 16 miles along the Hudson River today feeling like I could log 10 more.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

No Sleep at Brooklyn

For better or for worse (ok, worse) my insomnia and its impact on my running are becoming themes on this blog.  I was certain putting the Boston Marathon in the rear view mirror would be the end of the sleepless nights as I had determined it was the cause of my anxiety.  I even wrote an article about it.  After Boston, I bumped running down the priority list a notch replacing it with my quest to get healthy and feel like myself again.  Let's just say I'm not there yet.  There are currently more nights I don't sleep than nights that I do.  I've swallowed my pride and started swallowing Ambien when necessary, which I once vowed to never do out of fear of the side effects.  So far, I haven't woken up in the neighbor's kitchen making pancakes in my underwear  (Whether you read that as I'm wearing only underwear or that the pancakes are being cooked inside the underwear, both are fears I have).

On a more natural note, I have found regular meditation to be tremendously beneficial. However, meditation, while relaxing, is not easy. Completely shutting out the outside world takes practice.  Much like running, the more you do it, the better you get.  I'm definitely still in the walk-run stage of my meditation training, but making progress.

With all of that going on coupled with a lack of fitness due to a month of minimal running and few workouts (read: 3), I went into Saturday's Brooklyn Half Marathon with no expectations whatsoever.  It is the first race I have lined up for in years with no goals.  I was running because the team needed bodies and because I thought 13.1 miles at a harder pace would be a good indicator of where I was as I got ready to get serious about running again and start training for summer races.  As long as I finished without walking, I'd be happy.

I worked until 12am the night before the race and bag check closed at 6:20, so insomnia or no insomnia, the window for sleep was small.  We got to Brooklyn in a cab with 15 minutes to spare. Walking into bag check was eye-opening.  Thanks to what happened in Boston, checking your bag for a road race has become akin to going through airport security.   I took my shoes off out of habit after the security guard looked in my bag. 

We were in the corrals a half-hour before the race and I was surprised to not feel completely exhausted.  When the gun went off, despite no real warm up or strides, my legs actually felt springy.  Of course, 13.1 miles is a long way.  I tucked in with the chase pack and selfishly, let two guys from another team do most of the work as we ran around 5:30 pace for the first couple of miles.  When the pack pulled away, I stayed on pace through Prospect Park and coming out of the park, I thought I was either going to have a really good day or an epic blow up. 
Photo Courtesy: Da Ping Lao

What happened was somewhere in between.  According to the timing I did in my head (which I should point out is flawless as I time TV shows for a living), I was on pace to run about 1:12:30.  It's not a PR, but it would have been totally unexpected.  Then, around mile 10, I started to slow down.  It wasn't that my body was feeling fatigued, it was that my legs simply stopped turning over.  One of my teammates caught me and encouraged me to come with him.  I tried, and I couldn't.  I spent the next three miles struggling to not get passed by a guy who thrice stopped to stretch his calf on the curb.  He got me the first two times, but the last time I prevailed -- or he ran out of real estate.  Either way. 

I finished in 1:13:24.  I didn't set the world on fire or even create a smoke condition, but it's a respectable time that I can build off of in the coming weeks and months.  I'm going to keep trying to tackle the sleep issues, but now that my post-Boston downtime is over, I am gong to stop letting it interfere with my running.  If I have to move a workout here and there, fine, but it's time to get back on the horse.

Of course, the headline of this blog should not be my run at all.  This race was a benchmark on Lauren's training and she PRed by six minutes!  That's a huge 5K PR and a huge Half Marathon PR n the span of five weeks.  Talk about setting the world on fire...

Lauren celebrates her Half Marathon PR with a giant beer

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Slowly getting back on my feet (really slowly)

I haven't run much in the past 10 days.  There's been a short jog here and there, but for the most part, my energy outside work has been reserved for finding ways to avoid putting on pants and looking for new foods on which to spread peanut butter. (Admission: most of the time, I just eat it out of the jar by the spoonful).

I promised myself I would take ample time off after the Boston Marathon; at least one week of no running followed by at least two weeks of minimal running.  I was planning for the physical recovery, but the mental recovery has turned out to be a longer process than I anticipated.

Not to insinuate that there is a positive spin to what happened, but in a sense, the need for an emotional cleanse has kept my ambition in check.  I have a habit of jipping the recovery process.  In the past, this has resulted in a broken foot and an inflamed IT band that according to one doctor, "looked like a Christmas tree" on the MRI.  Both injuries have called for much more time off than I should have taken immediately after the marathon.  But, what happened on April 15th put running in perspective.

I've enjoyed going for walks since the race.  We found Tanya while walking near the reservoir in Central Park.

Tragedies have a way of making you appreciate the basics.  In this case that's the ability to run when I want, where I want and with who I want.  No one has taken running away from me like they did from hundreds of people who came to the Boston Marathon for the sheer joy of spectating at a road race.  There will be plenty of time to live by the Garmin and cheat unconsciousness in a workout meant to push physical limitation, but I consider myself fortunate to be able to control when and if I will start doing that again by the choices I make now.  

Until then, If I'd rather go for a walk, or sit in the sun and read the paper, drink a beer or three or hell, eat peanut butter right out of the jar until I can't stomach it anymore, I'll do that instead.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The 2013 Boston Marathon

When I crossed the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the first thing I said audibly and to no one in particular was "that's enough of that for a while."  Then, as I do at the conclusion of every marathon, I began thinking about how I would summarize the most important race of the year.  It's a thought process that for me, traditionally continues through the post-race Epsom salt or ice bath, through the beers and burgers, through the train or plane ride home and culminates in a long, often rambling recap the next day.
Our crew ready to race in the Athletes' Village prior to the start

I thought I would talk about my time; a new personal best, but not my goal.  I thought I would talk about the health hurdles I had to attempt to clear to get to the starting line.  I thought I would talk about how Pandora's Sleep and Relaxation Station still has ads every two to three songs that will jolt you out of a trance just as your mind begins to surrender to sleep the night before the big race.  I thought I would talk about being fortunate enough to toe the line and run most of the race with one of my best friends and the guy who's running I admired so much, I decided to try it myself some 12 years ago.  I thought about splits. I thought about Heartbreak Hill.  I thought about the next race.  

I won't be elaborating on any of that.

Charlotte Super Runner, Friend and all-around Good Guy Billy Shue and I after finishing.  People standing in this very spot less than two hours later would witness indescribable violence.

In the days since the explosions, I've been trying in vain to articulate how this terrorist attack has impacted me emotionally.  I've struggled to describe my thoughts to friends, family, fellow runners and even my wife. I've spent almost every hour of this week writing about the facts of the case for my job as a journalist covering the latest developments, but I can't quite capture the feelings in words for myself.   I'm mad.  I'm sad.  I'm angry.  I'm confused.  I'm still in disbelief.  But it's more than that.  A lot more.

As runners, we hold the Boston Marathon on a pedestal.  It's our Super Bowl.  It's our Christmas and it's our Holy Land.  Even runners who aren't in the race come to experience the oldest, most prestigious marathon in the world.  We, like everyone else who hold things so sacred, don't expect or mentally prepare for someone to come along and shake the pedestal in an attempt to scar our innocence. Even a cynical, slightly paranoid person like myself lets their guard down on race day.  There are other things to worry about and focus on over the course of 26.2 miles.

Five days later what happened is still very surreal.  It's been surreal since I got that phone call alerting me to the news and it remained surreal during the violent standoff that ended in the death and capture of the men believed to be responsible for what will forever be a dark chapter in tens of thousands of lives.  This happened at the Boston Marathon?

After running across it early Monday afternoon, the next time I actually saw the finish line was Wednesday morning when some of the barricades and police tape had been removed from the crime scene.  People had already begun leaving flowers and writing messages on poster board that was probably originally intended for inspirational signs along the race course.  Some left their finisher's medals behind.  I will never forget the overwhelming power of that sight.  Here is a line that runners prepare for years to cross.  We train for separate marathons just to qualify, many of us having to make multiple attempts.  For those outside the sport, the term "BQ" is something you will hear a lot of runners say.  "I finally BQ'ed!" And when we do, we spend months getting ready for the Big One.  So, to see something that represents so much hard work, so much accomplishment and so many tears of joy turned into something that represents so much pain, so much shock and so many tears of sadness....well, that's's just. I don't know.

The memorial left at on Boylston Street not far from the finish line

I am going to stop trying to make sense of it now.  I never will comprehend what happened and why and that's a good thing.  I've moved on to trying to process it.  This stream-of-consciousness blog post is the beginning of that journey for me.  I went for a long walk today with no destination other than a good coffee shop.  When I got home, something started to happen as I approached the front door of my building.  It's something I have been wanting to happen since Monday afternoon at 2:51.  I started to sob.  The pain this race week left in my hamstrings, my quads and my calves will soon subside and I'll start running again, but my heart is going to hurt for a long time.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

All. Sleep. Till BOSTON!

I was angry, frustrated and scared as I slipped into my running costume on Saturday morning.  In a little over an hour, I had to race a 10K in Central Park.  It was to be my last hard effort before the Boston Marathon and more importantly, the second points race of the NYRR team racing season.  But, all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and continue to try in vain to get some sleep.

My little bout with insomnia turned into a crisis (at least in my mind) after one full week of tossing and turning.  I was getting out of bed each day not sure if I had slept the night before but feeling pretty certain I hadn't.  My days were spent in what felt like suspended animation where I just went through the motions of working, eating and running in a thick fog.  Focus was impossible.  Inevitably, I got sick.  The Thursday before the race, I cracked.  I called out sick to work and locked myself in my apartment with the goal of resetting the system.  Things got better, but Friday night was still far from quality sleep that made me feel race ready.

I made the stubborn decision to go anyways.  I had already sacrificed a workout the weekend before because of this affliction, I wasn't going to sacrifice another one.  At the very least, it would be a chance to see what it felt like running hard in my condition lest I have to do it in the big race or worst case scenario, it could be the run that tells me I have to drop out of Boston.  Aerobically, I knew I was fit, but mentally, I was worried the train was going off the tracks.  With little rest going into the race, I accepted that a great performance was not a possibility, but wanted to try and score for the team and restore some confidence.

The pre-race jog was a death march as I tried to wake up my body and warm up in the once-again freezing temperatures.  Then, the race started and something clicked.  My head instantly cleared and I knew what I needed to do.  The first mile, the UA guys all ran together in a pack clocking a conservatively slow first mile.  I think experience has taught all of us that going out hard is a suicide mission in the hilly park. By mile two, we had fanned out and I found a group of the top four Central Park guys to latch on to.  At that point in the race, I was running 4th on our team and knew that if I kept the guys in the orange and blue singlets in my sights, we'd be able to again defeat our rivals.

There was really only one point in the race where I felt like dropping out.  In the middle of mile 4 coming off the Harlem Hills, I started to get very tired, but being with the group was a huge motivator to keep going.  In the last mile, I was out of energy.  The Central Park guys put in a final move, but I was already running at 5:10 pace and it wasn't going to get much faster than that on this particular day.  I did the math in my head and knew that UA has secured a third place finish in the team race. (Our first guy ended up being scored for another team in error.  This is currently in the process of being fixed.) 

Then, about 400 yards from the finish line, the announcer came on the mic and said, "and here comes our female winner."  Now, I am not a sexist. I don't consider myself a chauvinist and I doubt you'd find anyone who does.   I am well aware of the fact that there are many women out there who can take me to the cleaners.  I am also well aware that many of my female friends that have "slower" times than me are in fact, MUCH MUCH better runners than I am comparatively. But on this day, in this race I did not want to get "chicked".  I summoned up everything I had left in the tank and kicked it to the finish line crossing in 33:11 with 10 seconds to spare.  The woman who won set the course record, and I have to say, it was pretty impressive.  As for me, that's a PR by a few seconds in a distance that I have raced only three times since moving to New York City.  I have no doubt that I have the fitness for a faster time, but given the circumstances, this was the confidence booster I needed going into the marathon. 

And that's it.  Time to put my feet up, load up on pasta and get pampered. Last year, I wrote about the importance of and the science behind the taper.  I talked about blending training plans of the past with new training plans, etc. etc.  Forget all that.  This year, I have one strategy: sleep.  No matter who's taper schedule you look at, one thing remains consistent.  The hours of sleep you log count much more than the number of miles you log. After using a variety of methods including but not limited to Tylenol PM and scotch (not at the same time), sleep is coming naturally again this week.  If I can help it, I'll be the most well-rested runner in Hopkinton next Monday. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Push, Pull or Drag it In!

Remember those old car dealership commercials when the big voice would claim that they would take any old bucket-of-bolts car you had and give you $1,000?  The voice over would be covered with pictures of cars that looked like they had either been set on fire or spent a year or two at the bottom of a scum pond, All you had to do was tie a rope to it and drag it to the other side of town and VOILA!  You got a grand.   The last couple of weeks, I have felt like one of those cars.  But, not only am I the car, I am the guy pulling the rope too.

Ever since the foot tendinitis last month, it has been a backward domino effect.  Instead of dominoes falling down, barriers keep popping up.  I've been able to hurdle them, but it's making this process extremely difficult and tiring.  The tendinitis in my hamstring has stuck around as I expected.  With physical therapy twice a week, deep tissue massage and acupuncture not to mention my at-home exercises, the pain has been greatly reduced and the mobility greatly increased, but it is still there and has limited my ability to do fast, short intervals.

Last week, I started battling with insomnia.  Thanks to my life-long anxiety, this inability to sleep despite being completely exhausted has reared its ugly head in the past, but never during a marathon cycle.  First, I am unable to fall asleep.  Then, when I finally do fall asleep, the slightest movement or noise will wake me up and I am awake for the rest of the night worrying about falling back to sleep.  Much like the injuries, I am doing everything I can to clear this water pit.  Acupuncture is not only a great way to treat an ache or pain, but it helps with psychosomatic problems as well.  Lauren picked up some tea from the Health Food store in the neighborhood.  It's called Valerian Root and its key ingredient is found in Valium.  The tea itself is an all-natural herbal sedative.  It works wonders.  Unfortunately, it also smells like old running shoes.  We have to keep the box wrapped tightly in several plastic bags to keep the entire apartment from stinking.  Earlier this week, I made a double dose as I left work at 12:30am.  I got in the cab with it and the driver put the windows down.  It's not often you get in a cab in New York City and the offensive odor belongs to you.

Tonight, I drank decaf coffee after dinner, a beverage I have in the past referred to as "pointless".  I'll change my stance now.  Tonight, before I go to sleep, I'll dab some lavender oil on my pillow.  It may all sound crazy, but when you go 5 days without sleeping, you start to get desperate (also you hallucinate).  One thing I refuse to do is take a prescription sleep aid like Ambien.  I have heard too many Ambien horror stories and I don't want to find myself in the middle of the 24-hour CVS at 3am in my underpants.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Beganics

Every marathon cycle I have been through so far has had bumps in the road, but this one seems to have a pothole every couple hundred yards.  Why might that be?  It's a question I keep asking myself and it is one of the things I think about as I lie awake at night.  The answer is actually quite obvious.  I'm not training any harder than I have in the past and I am not working longer hours, but for the first time I am training with a very inconsistent life schedule.  I don't work the same days or the same shifts from week to week and the cumulative effect of that is clearly taking its toll.  The body likes a schedule and hates surprises.  Uncertainty and a certain amount of situational unhappiness that I won't get into on this forum are also playing a role.  Even though I use running as a therapy, the build-up of things I run to get away from (run away from?) also make running more challenging.  It's a Catch-22. 

 At first, I thought my insomnia was a sign of overtraining, but all of the other things that come with that are absent.  My last few workouts have hit the mark.  I still want to eat everything in sight. I'll clear this hurdle like the last few and I will push, pull or drag myself to Hopinkton.  Then, I'll run like hell to Boston.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Boston training is really hard. Here's how you make it harder.

I started my last blog my comparing injuries to alligators in a pit, saying they were getting dangerously close to me on the tight rope above.  So, what happened next should come as no surprise.  The way I see it, I made it ¾ of the way across the tightrope before one of those alligators nipped my hamstring right near my butt.  It’s a potential show-stopper as far as injuries go.  I’ve already called off this weekend’s New York City Half, but I am determined to not let this ruin my Boston plans.

Like most runners, when something hurts, I Google it.  Then, I diagnose it.  I usually choose the worst possible affliction (fracture, tear, Ebola virus…) and am pleasantly surprised when someone with a medical background tells me I am wrong.  My hamstring started to hurt the evening after a particularly slippery 11 mile run in the snow. I knew on the run that continuing in the conditions was a bad idea, but my Upstate New York snow snobbery kept me going.   I survived an intense workout the next day, a 23 mile long run the day after that and two easy runs all with minimal pain.  But a fartlek run on Wednesday afternoon threw up some red flags.  The pain intensified during the intervals and as I cooled down, I could tell my gait was severely flawed, not fluid and potentially setting me up for other injuries.  Commence Googling and based on the evidence, I had with one run, developed hamstring tendonitis.
Stretching my hamstring during a "weekend" get away with Lauren in Beacon, NY

Two days later, an orthopedist said something to me that no doctor has ever said to me before: “Your diagnosis is correct.”  Under his advice, and the advice of a physical therapist, I am taking three days off to cross train and that means no New York City Half Marathon.  Taking the race off my schedule was a particularly painful, albeit necessary (not to mention costly) decision. I’ve sort of held that race on a pedestal since running it last year, using my 1:11:19 finishing time as proof that I can hang in the almost-front of the pack.  I was looking forward to doing it again, but it is not the goal race, and running it all-out this close to the hamstring injury could be catastrophic and season-ending.  Three people, all with more medical training than my search-engine savvy self told me in no uncertain terms should I attempt to race this weekend.  I was dumb enough to run in the snow.  I am not so dumb that I’ll ignore their advice.

Right now, I’m logging long sessions on the elliptical;  90 minutes in the morning, 30 in the afternoon.  Thank God for all the episodes of “Dowton Abbey” I have to catch up on.  I’m doing corrective exercises 2-3 times a day, sitting on a lacrosse or golf ball at work and icing when I can.  I’m also, against my usual practice, taking NSAIDs to control the inflammation. I usually let nature heal, but the bad news is, that this injury is probably not going correct itself in the four weeks between now and Boston; not without me totally shutting it down which would, of course, mean no Boston.  So I have to manage it.  Speed work will be a challenge as will hills.  The good news is, with aggressive treatment, I can likely run through it after this brief lay-off.  The key is focusing on form and not letting this injury alter my stride.  If I can lay down a solid week of running next week, I’ll attempt a marathon-pace run at the NYC 13.1 in Queens next weekend, perhaps try to hammer out a few more interval sessions, and then taper for the race.  My fingers are crossed.  The already tough road to Hopkinton just got a little bumpier, but not impossible to overcome.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The toughest week of the Boston over.

I'm always telling people that marathon training is like walking a tightrope over a pit of salivating injuries. If, of course, injuries could salivate.  The injuries that have taken up residence  in my pit are not only salivating, they look straight-up rabid and they are jumping up and nipping at my heels, or more accurately, my hamstring and my foot.

I just survived what will be the toughest stretch of my Boston cycle.  From Sunday to Sunday, I ran 113 miles (95 for the Monday-Sunday week), one race, two stress workouts and one long run of 23 miles.  I didn't keep track of the number of ice sessions, Epsom salt baths and foam roller rolls I crammed into that time.  Nor did I keep track of the calories I consumed, but I can say that we might have to start selling our stuff to pay our grocery bills.

It all started last Sunday at the Coogans Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K in Washington Heights.  This is one of my favorite races of the year, but it couldn't come at a more inopportune time.  There really is no room for such a short, fast effort this late in the marathon cycle, but since it's a points race, I feel obligated to put it all on the line.  That means, I back off the throttle for the week leading up to the race and hope I remember how to go fast after weeks of aerobic threshold and marathon paced runs. Not knowing what to expect, I stepped to the line on what was a bitter cold and windy morning.  Still a bit groggy from working late the night before, I found all my teammates when the gun went off and formed a pack of yellow Urban Athletic singlets.  It was immediately apparent that the cold air would make breathing more labored than usual when running just a tick above five minute pace.  In a repeat of last year's race, it was Josh Lerch and me side-by-side as we moved into Fort Tryon.  It would stay that way until the end of the race, me leading the uphills (of which there are many), Josh leading the downhills (an equal amount).  We ended up finishing a second apart just  under 16 minutes.  Josh in 15:58, me in 15:59, second and third scorers on the team respectively.  Urban Athletics took third behind the Ethiopian team of West Side Runners and the New York Athletic Club.
Josh and I coming down the stretch on the Coogans course. Yep, I heel strike when I get tired.

Despite running seven seconds slower than last year, I was pleased with the effort given the conditions and my complete lack of speed training.  Last year at this same point in my marathon cycle, I had several short interval workouts under my belt.

Following a massive brunch at a teammate's nearby apartment, Chris Carrier who had run 15:51, joined me for a backpack clad run back to Columbus Circle. Even with the extra load on our backs and in our stomachs, we were clicking off seven minute miles by the end.
I did my 1000s in the new Adidas Takumi Sen which are surprisingly responsive and lightning fast

A much needed recovery day consisting of 12 easy miles Monday set up another hard effort Tuesday.  The plan called for 6x1000 at roughly 5K pace.  Since Tuesday is a day off from work for me, I delayed this workout until 4:30pm when I met my friend Gerson in the park.  He showed me a 1K loop around some baseball fields that would be a much better place to churn these out than the track.  My legs were a little heavy, but the solo workout was a success, hitting each interval between 3:03 and 3:05.

I did a longer (15 miles) recovery run on the Alter G Wednesday, eight easy miles with Heidi at 4:30am on Thursday and planned to do my next workout Friday.  I still thought there was a possibility I could complete the workout when I walked outside into the driving, stinging sleet and snow, but less than a quarter of a mile down the West Side Highway and it was pretty obvious that the conditions were not conducive to 3x2 miles.  And here is where I made a rookie mistake.  Instead of taking the run inside to the treadmill, I pressed on running a total of 11 miles in flats on uneven snow.  Not surprisingly, I've been dealing with a nagging hamstring pain ever since.
Urban Athletics awarded 3rd place at the NYRR Club Night Awards , which meant  I had to get up really early to get a run in that day.

Saturday morning, I did 3X2 miles on the West Side Highway which in a period of 24 hours had gone from snow-covered to bone dry.  A nasty wind coming from the south made the first two-mile interval brutal.  After clocking a 5:30 first mile, I lost my focus and struggled to a 5:45 second mile which felt more like five flat.  I thought about bagging it, but my luck changed on the second set of miles.  5:15 and 5:17 gave me a 10:32.  Then 5:19 and 5:21 gave me a 10:40.  My hamstring was pretty tender on the cool down  but I was happy with a workout that was 2/3 successful.  But, by the end of the day I had forgotten about the workout and was only concerned about the pain which got increasingly worse while I was at work.  I spent the entire shift sitting on a frozen water bottle or a lacrosse ball in hopes of massaging out whatever mess I made.  I couldn't afford to miss the next day's 23 miler.

When I got home, I rolled the hell out of my leg, then slathered icy hot on the sore muscle before crawling into bed.  Five hours later (damn you, Daylight Saving), I woke up still sore, but ready to give the long run a whirl.  The first couple of miles to the park were not pleasant, nor was the first 6.2 mile lap.  At one point, I told the guys who had joined me that this run was over once I got back to Columbus Circle. However, by the time that came, the pain had subsided substantially.  "Ok, I'll do one more lap," I thought.  The next time around, I had committed to the full 23, thus completing my 95 mile week.

I'm forcing myself to take a previously unscheduled day off tomorrow and maybe seek some physical therapy relief for the hamstring. The New York City Half Marathon is next weekend, but with Boston just five weeks away, it's time to get conservative.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stalling on a Workout, so here's a shoe review

When I woke up this morning, my Saturday, I told myself I would eat breakfast, read the paper and then make my way to the track to bang out 1,000 meter repeats.  It's 2:30pm now.  Breakfast is digested and so is lunch. The coffee pot is empty and I've read every paper in Billy Joel's song and then some.  I've now mentally committed to a 4pm departure.  It's the most beautiful day in a string of cold winter downers, but my motivation tank is empty.

As I kill time, I'll write about shoes.  Late last week, I picked up a pair of the Adidas Boost which is the company's new shoe.  It promises to revolutionize distance running footwear and perhaps distance running itself.  Some have claimed that the first runner to break the 2 hour marathon will do it wearing a shoe with the Boost technology.

My curiosity, and yes my excitement started growing when I saw the first ad for the shoe some months ago.  I'm already an Adidas junky, thanks mostly to its sponsorship of the Urban Athletics racing team, but also because about two years ago after a string of injuries and missteps, I discovered that I find my stride in their shoes.  My current shoe rotation boasts 10 pair of Adidas which now includes a pair of all black Boost.

So, what makes the Boost so special?  It's cushioning material is different from that found in any other running shoe currently on the market.  Adidas teamed up with chemical giant BASF to create a granular material which was transformed into thousands of small energy capsules to make up the Boost's midsole.  According to Adidas, the capsules store and unleash energy more efficiently with each stride and provide the highest energy return of any leading shoe.  In short, it is super soft ride.  On top of that, it is said to be incredibly durable.  I've heard some say you can put up to 1,000 miles on the shoe.  By comparison, I usually retire a shoe after 350 miles.

The local Adidas representative was nice enough to give me a pair of the $150 shoes so I could share my thoughts.  I've made sure I got three solid runs in before forming an opinion and now I am ready to declare the Boost a solid recovery shoe.  You can't beat the cushioning.  I have been battling tendinitis in my left foot for the better part of a month now.  The pain is generally present enough to be annoying but not debilitating.  In the Boost, it's virtually non-existent.  However, there is a trade-off.  After the first run in the shoes, my knees were a little achy, likely due to the transfer of impact.  I'm not a biomechanics specialist, so I could be way off on this, but other runners described the same feeling.  Fortunately, once I got used to the shoes that post-run soreness disappeared.  I ran 9 miles at a fairly brisk pace yesterday and have no sore knees or otherwise to report.

I call them a solid recovery shoe because I don't think this particular model would be responsive enough for speed work.  If you are looking for a quick turnover, stick with the Adios or even the Bostons (my two personal favorite shoes).  It's less shoe.  This could, however, change when the Boost Adios become available to the general public in July.  The long distance flats are already making waves on the professional international marathon circuit.   They were on the feet of the first and second place finisher at the Tokyo Marathon. 

If you are someone who likes to have a shoe for every type of run, I would recommend having the Boost in your rotation.  Sunday, I ran a 5k (recap to come tonight or tomorrow) in the Adios and followed it up with a 12 mile run in the Bostons.  Monday morning, it was good to have something as forgiving as the Boost to put on for my recovery miles. I'm interested to see how long they last.  It's not the midsole I am worried about, but the rubber on the heel and the tech fit upper which is really comfortable and stretchy, but I question it's durability.  I have a habit of poking holes in the top and sides of shoes. But, I think the new technology has a lot of potential and will end up playing a big role in the advancement of the industry as Adidas adds it to more of its models.  Get on board early and see what it is all about.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Annual Oscar Blog

I’ve delayed my Oscar Blog long enough.  It’s been weeks since I saw the final nominee for Best Picture (Les Miserables) and tomorrow it’s wheels up to LAX to cover the ceremony from the red carpet.  So, with hours remaining until my cross-country trip, I briefly turn the Jaunting Journalist into the Running Reviewer (Movie-Watching Marathoner?). 

First, the nominees for best picture and how they stack up for me.  Unlike last year, there weren’t any movies I hated (See: Tree of Life).  There were movies I loved, movies I liked and movies I could take or leave.  Also, let me point out that I am not a professional critic.  I am not a Hollywood insider and I never studied film.  I’m just an average Joe who likes to watch and discuss movies.  Sadly, average Joe’s like me don’t pick the Oscar winners so my choices for the big awards will probably be all wrong.

Movies I loved:
Django Unchained -  Critics of this movie will tell you that it is predictable Tarantino.  I disagree.  Yes, of course there is a massacre scene that is so bloody, you will laugh.  Gratuitous cursing and violence abounds.  I’ll admit, I had to drag myself to go see this.  The running time of nearly three hours was enough to make me wary.  I’m also not a Jamie Foxx fan.  But, I have never had so much fun watching a movie in a theater.  It takes the issues of racism and slavery and combines them with intelligent comedy and revenge that neither offends or disrespects the seriousness of the problems.  Perhaps that is because Christoph Watz gives the most side-splitting performance of the year as Dr. King Schultz, but we’ll get to that in my picks and predictions.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – The acting and the imagery prop up the story in this sleeper about a dying father and his six-year-old daughter.  The title comes from Bayou folklore about a giant species of beast which once ruled the earth and it will return to rule it again.  The execution of this narrative is weak, but the relationship between the single father and the tomboy child are enough to make the movie one of the more beautiful pictures I have ever seen.  These people live in squalor, yet the way the movie is shot makes their shanty and adjoining trailer look like a voluptuous landscape full of color, vegetation and creatures. The narration by Quvenzhane Wallis (who like the man who plays her father, had never acted before) is both innocent and brilliant.  It’s impossible not to fall in love with the characters.

Argo – I’m a sucker for movies about modern history.  But, of the three nominees that fit that bill, only Argo makes it on to the “Loved it List”.   The reason?  I am also a sucker for movies that entertain me and keep me in suspense.  Argo did both of those things. By now, you know the plotline and I am willing for forgive the Hollywood additions to the story (there was no chase down the runaway as the plane with the hostages took off) because of the script, direction and acting.  I am stunned that Ben Affleck did not get a nomination for best director and believe it is the biggest snub issued by the Academy this year.

Movies I liked:

Lincoln – This of course, is the second movie about modern history.  Was it an excellent film?  Of course.  It even kept me in suspense despite knowing that the 13th amendment passed (even though Mississippi just ratified it this week), but it was not especially entertaining and even dragged at some points.  Understandably, the writers of the screenplay had to take some liberties with the dialogue, but it needed to walk a fine line, not make up story lines.  Mary Todd Lincoln’s role in this movie was far too amplified.  We have no reason to believe she was the character Sally Field portrayed (in my opinion, unbelievably)  and the story adds nothing to the movie’s main plot.  That said, I do think the movie was well done and you can’t argue that Daniel Day Lewis hit it out of the park.  When doesn’t he?  Perhaps there was just too much hype, but I just wasn’t blown away.

Zero Dark Thirty – And here is the third movie about modern history.  It’s a good movie, but it has extreme highs and lows.  The final 10 minutes of the movie are as heart-stopping as anything from Kathryn Bigelow’s previous film, The Hurt Locker, but there are sections where I caught myself dozing off.  I think the publicity surrounding the movie as of late has also knocked it down a peg for me.  While a Hollywood interpretation of the facts is understandable when it comes to a historic event as far in the past as Lincoln, or as relatively trivial as Argo, it seems wrong to play fast and loose with the facts with an event so fresh.

Les Miserables – This movie loses points in my book because I don’t think it’s a challenging film to make.  It’s Les Miserables.  The Farrelly Brothers couldn’t mess it up.  Russell Crowe could, however and does.  He’s not a singer and that’s not his fault.  It’s a casting error.  It’s not that he can’t match pitch.  It’s that he just sounds uncomfortable and out of place.  And that’s really the only criticism I have.  It’s a fantastic story with familiar songs.  Anne Hathaway is as good as advertised.  Hugh Jackman does not disappoint and I was pleasantly surprised by Amanda Seyfried (who I once exchanged pleasantries with while walking a friend’s dog), but the fact remains that Les Miserables is low-hanging fruit.

Silver Linings Playbook --   Bradley Cooper was the biggest surprise of this Oscar season for me.  Who knew he had it in him?  It’s a serious story about mental illness with characters as frustrating as they are loveable.  Cooper’s character, Jennifer Lawrence’s character and Robert DiNero’s character all have serious issues and the collision of these three mentally unstable people makes for a compelling story that is executed with phenomenal acting.  The only fault I find in the movie is the acceleration of the love story.  Cooper’s character, Pat originally wants nothing to do with Lawrence’s character, Tiffany.  His change of heart seems to happen rather suddenly.  Still, this movie rises above the noise of the romantic comedies of late and I’m glad to see it was nominated.

Take it or leave it:

Amour – This is where my Average Joe attitude shines through. The art house crowd raved about this movie.  I spent the hours after watching it desperately trying to dig myself out of the depression it put me in.  The movie is about unconditional love in the face of imminent death.  The wife, played by Emmanuelle Riva, suffers a stroke early in the film.  The rest of the movie is about her painful decline from functioning adult to incontinent, babbling vegetable.  It’s painful to watch and that was the intent.  I know this is real life, but I go to the movies to escape. 

Life of Pi – Did you see “Castaway”?  This is like Castaway, but with characters less loveable than Tom Hanks and the Volleyball.  Much like the first several hundred pages of the book, I was bored for the first two hours of the movie.  The end grabbed my attention because the twist, but for the most part this movie was a lot of pretty pictures with very little substance.

Picks and Predictions
Best Film
What I want it to be: Django Unchained
What I think it will be: Argo

It's all politics and Argo's recent success at lesser award shows seem to point to Oscar victory.  Plus, the Academy needs to make up for not nominating Affleck.

Best Actor:
Who I want it to be: Bradley Cooper
Who I think it will be: Daniel Day Lewis

You expect a mesmerizing performance out of Lewis.  You don't expect it from Cooper which is why I think he deserves the statue.

Best Actress:*
Who I want it to be: Quvenzhane Wallis
Who I think it will be: Jessica Chastain

I can't think of another movie in which a child carried the entire film.  But, Jessica Chastain is a critics darling.  I think she's wonderful, but I don't think her performance in Zero Dark Thirty was what made the movie special.
*The only film with a nomination for a major award that I didn't see was The Impossible for which Naomi Watts was nominated.  

Best Supporting Actor:
Who I want it to be: Christoph Waltz
Who I think it will be: Robert DiNero

This is tough because I loved DiNero in Silver Linings Playbook but the best character out of all the nominated movies is played by Waltz in Django Unchained.  The argument could be made to put that role in the Best Actor category.

Best Supporting Actress:
Who I want it to be: Anne Hathaway
Who I think it will be: Anne Hathaway

Watch the "I Dreamed a Dream" scene, don't cry and then tell me there is a reason anyone else is even nominated. 

Best Director:
Who I want it to be: Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Who I think it will be: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

With two no-name actors and a potentially far-fetched tale, Zeitlin turned Beasts of the Southern Wild into a masterpiece. But Lincoln is Spielberg's latest masterpiece and the Academy won't overlook it.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Road Bump to Boston

In the interest of remaining positive, I’ll start by saying, “it could be worse.”   And it could.  My foot could be broken along with my dreams of running fast at Boston.  Instead it’s just filled with a bunch of conditions that end in “-itis”.  Tendinitis.  Bursitis.  There’s also impaction, all things that my podiatrist says should clear up in 5-7 days as long as I don’t run outside. 

I think I can trace its origins to a particularly cold, particularly long run in Newark late last month.  I ran 20 miles on severely cambered roads on a morning where the temperature only climbed as high as nine degrees.  When I returned to my parent’s house there was more than just a feeling of accomplishment, there was a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.  I was sore all over, more so than usual.  The next day’s run was a true slog.  I could barely move my legs and it seemed to take forever to recover.  Back in New York City, the aches turned into a slight pain in the left side of my foot that would come and go during the course of some runs.  While it was cause for some concern, I was successfully completing key workouts:  600s, a 22 miler, a 6 mile tempo.  I ran three back to back 90 mile weeks.  So, I iced it, stretched it and little more.
Pardy Smith Road in Newark was covered in snow when  I did my 20 mile run.

It all came to a head last Sunday.  I had 18 miles on the calendar with 12 of them at marathon pace.  I nailed the workout, but the run was tough and at the end my foot reminded me of its frailty.  The cool down digressed from a jog to a limp and I knew it was time to make fixing the pain my top priority.  Anyone who knows my history with even the mere threat of injury can probably guess what happened next.  Panic mode this time included physical therapy, the podiatrist, XRay, and finally an MRI.  The results of the MRI were bittersweet.  No breaks, but a lot of problems that could derail the train if I don’t address them immediately. 

With eight weeks until the race, now is the time to be conservative and not lose a lot, if any fitness.  This week, which was scheduled as a down week, has been re-purposed as pure recovery.  Next week, things were supposed to ramp back up again, but it looks like I will have to delay that by a couple of days.  Since I can’t run outside, I have been doing all of my runs on the Alter G treadmill at 75% of my body weight.  I have a love/hate relationship with this device.  I love it because most runners aren’t fortunate enough to have access to one, and I have one I can use every day except for Sunday thanks to the fine folks at Finish Line Physical Therapy in Chelsea. I hate it because it’s not exactly the most comfortable ride.  Imagine running with a wedgie for 10 miles.   Now imagine that same pull in the front.  It can be unpleasant.  Plus, since there aren’t a whole lot of Alter G’s in New York City (they cost $30,000-$40,000), I can’t spend all day on it.  When my time is up, it’s up.  That’s only fair.

If things aren’t better by midway through next week, I’ll try a shot of cortisone, but it’s a last resort.  Right now, I am not even taking NSAIDs as they tend to slow the healing process, just letting nature run its course.  At this point, my foot still hurts.  I had ice on both sides of it as I wrote this blog, but I remain optimistic that this a small bump on the road to Boston, one that I might actually benefit from as this rest lets more than just my foot, but the rest of my battered body, restore.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thank God for Running

Snow from the train window somewhere between Utica (home of the Tomato Pie) and Rome (home of the Woodstock where people threw mud at Green Day and set things on fire because of overpriced water)

We are on a train passing through the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys en route to upstate New York (the real upstate New York, not the Bronx) and everything is covered in snow.  All I can think about is bundling up in layers and trudging through it in running shoes for hours on end.  Running in the snow used to be common. In fact, I grew tired of it. In college, I owned one pair of green running tights that made me look like Santa's lanky helper.  I wore them so often, they wore out. Now, it's a rare treat to be in anything other than shorts thanks to more than three years in North Carolina where a light dusting closes schools and empties grocery store shelves (see any Charlotte-area news website today) and two more in New York City where I can count the number of snowfalls I've seen on three fingers. 

When I first put pen to paper and laid out my 18 week plan for the Boston Marathon, I was scared.  I guess there is an element of fear anytime you commit to going "all in" on a marathon, but this was the first time doubt crept into my mind.  For the first time, I was embarking on this challenge on my own without the aid of a coach and without someone else to hold me accountable.  I had doubts about my mental toughness and abilility to grind out 90 miles a week again.  Doubts that I could survive countless workouts that took my body to the well and then kept digging to some sort of exhaustion sub-basement.  Doubt that I could clear the high bar I had set for myself this go round, all while walking the balance beam that is work and family (wife and dog...for now).  In my head, the knowledge that the only person I'd be letting down would be myself if I chose not to put in the work, would make it easier to let off the gas.  Could I resist that urge?  It's freeing not to have another person invested in your goal, but it's dangerous and it requires a new kind of self-discipline. 

Six weeks into the plan and the doubt has given way to a sense of stability and control. At a point in life where so many things are up in the air and my fate is determined by so many others and often on their schedule, I know exactly what is on my training plan for tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that. No one can change it but me (and an injury, but I'm working harder than ever to prevent the preventable ones).  I can't explain how or why, but knowing that there is something like that in my life makes me a better husband, a better employee and a better friend.  That, as much as my goal of running 2:32 on April 15th is why I am getting up to run 20 miles tomorrow.  Alone.  In the snow and savoring every step.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sabattical is Over

I was reminscing about the past few months in daydream form recently and it dawned on me that I actually have a blog for that very reason.  There are so many events or topics that would lend themselves to their own separate blog entry, but that ship has sailed and in the interest of getting back up to speed, I will condense them all into Readers' Digest versions.

Life when I am not in my running costume (I totally stole "running costume" from Jordan) is a little complicated right now (specifically work)...maybe not complicated, but complex and to be quite honest, not all that interesting.  So, I am going to keep this entry focused on training and racing, both mine and Lauren's.

Major event # 1 -- The New York City Marathon is Cancelled.  I am too late to the "should they have cancelled it" debate.  Plus, I'd rather not share my thoughts on that on a public forum.  It happened.  A lot of hearts were broken.  A lot of race plans went out the window.  A lot of work done by one unnamed journalist was all for naught.  But the hurricane that caused the cancellation did damage that was far worse.  People lost lives, homes and worldly possessions.  We lost a marathon.  I hope the race can bounce back and be an inspiring event that brings all five boroughs together next year.

Despite the race being cancelled, we still got to have breakfast with Ryan Hall. 

Major event # 2 -- Lauren Runs the Thunder Road Marathon.  Event #2 is a direct result of event #1.  Lauren was registered for the New York City Marathon and after months of training was ready to hit one out of the park.  As the marathon neared and the public sentiment worsened, our excitement and enthusiasm for participating in the event began to shrink.  When it was cancelled, it was a relief, but it did present a new problem.  Neither of us wanted all of Lauren's hard work to go to waste. Fearing a rush on nearby races, just minutes before the marathon was officially called off, I registered her for a marathon in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania that was set to take place the same day.  It was an insurance policy if nothing else worked out.  Over dinner that night, Lauren decided she would instead enter the Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte where we knew there would be supportive friends lining the course and familiar streets to navigate for 26.2 miles. The only downside was that with it being so far away and on a weekend, I would not be able to attend.  At the last minute, our friend Tara agreed to work for me and I took a pre-dawn flight to Charlotte on the morning of the race where I met Lauren on the course at mile 10.  She ran fantastically on the hilly course with a fierce head wind, finishing her first marathon in 3:51:50.

Perhaps having to go to the "back up plan" race was a blessing in disguise.  Look who was at the finish line!

Major Event # 3 -- Urban Athletics Defeats the Central Park Track Club.  Our small, grassroots team sponsored by a local running store went into the final race of the 2012 NYRR season tied for third place in the team standings with the much bigger, much deeper Central Park Track Club.  (West Side Track Club made up of Ethiopians and Kenyans and the New York Athletic Club made up of former collegiate standouts were one and two respectively).  We knew we had to go all out if we wanted to beat CPTC in the Join the Voices 5 Miler.  Long story short, we put our top 4 guys in front of their first guy that day and beat them handily.  I was 4th on the team with a new 5 mile PR of 26:06.  I know I can run faster, but since this was first real race back from injury, I was pleased.

Me, followed by Jeff Poindexter and Jerry Faulkner climbing a hill early in the Join the Voices 5 Miler

Major Event # 4 -- Training for the 2013 Boston Marathon.  For better or worse, I am making another attempt to capture my white whale.  December 10th marked 18 weeks until the race and the beginning of a new and ambitious training plan.  For all intents and purposes, I am coaching myself.  I am following a plan from Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger with some of my own workouts sprinkled in.  Instead of topping out at 100 miles, I will top out at 90 miles.  Instead of doing lots of speed, I will do lots of tempos.  I will resist the urge to run races that will not benefit my marathon fitness.  I will do core and strength building 2-3 times a week to avoid injury.  Key workouts so far have been 4-5 mile tempos at no slower than 5:25 pace and marathon pace runs at 5:45-5:50 pace.  I have set a goal of 2:32 which is 5:50 pace.
With the UA team following what will be a rare track appearance for me during this training cycle

Major Event # 5 -- Caitlin and Garrett get married.  Ok, so this isn't exactly a running event, but in a way it was.  I met Caitlin through running and she quickly became one of my best friends.  Lauren and I were honored to be at her wedding in Winston-Salem, NC at the end of December.   In the days surrounding the wedding, I was lucky enough to get in rave runs on the trails at Wake Forest University, at Salem Lake and on the streets of Charlotte with a new look Charlotte Running Club.  The enthusiasm of the community rubbed off on me, and I am hoping it stays with me through the cold, dark winter months leading to April 15th.

yeah.  it was a good night