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.