Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Philly Half Was Kind of Crappy

Sometimes in a race, especially a longer race, you know in the first few steps that it’s not your day. I knew before I had even run a half mile of the Rock and Roll Philly Half on Sunday that I was already walking a fine line between feeling bad and being downright miserable. From that point on, the goal was to stay on the “bad” side of the line for as long as possible. That would end up being about seven miles. But more on that in a second.

First, let’s talk about the week leading up to the race.  I spent the weekend in Charlotte where on Saturday, I ran in a new pair of shoes (rookie mistake) that left me sore and blistered after a 9 mile loop. Sunday, I did a 5 mile progression (6:00-5:20) where I struggled to stay upright on sections of very slick boardwalk. I was probably being overly and unnecessarily cautious as I have a history of falling down. I didn’t think anything of the combo of minor issues until Tuesday when I did my final workout for the race (1.5 miles @ 7:50, 4x800 @ 2:30) and had to stretch my calf between every interval. By the cool down it was obvious I had a calf strain – minor, but needing TLC. I spent the next three days not running a step or doing anything for that matter besides icing, eating handfuls of arnica and massaging the sore muscle. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t losing any fitness (I wasn’t), but mentally it’s very unsettling to take three days off leading up to a goal race.

As this all unfolded, the forecast for Sunday got worse by the day. By Saturday morning, it was clear that race time would be soupy to say the least. This concerned me because in the past, I’ve survived heat but crumbled in the humidity. Terry and I talked on the phone before I got on the train to Philadelphia. We decided I would not race if the calf was still an issue on the afternoon shakeout run, but the weather alone would not be enough reason to pull the plug. After all, not every race can be ideal conditions. Terry thought based on recent workouts (including a very tough/satisfying 2x5 mile @ 5:26 pace) I was capable of running 1:12 or a little faster on a good day. Seeing as how this was not going to be a good day the thought was 1:13-1:14.

Saturday in Philadelphia was warm, but pleasant. My first run in three days felt fine if a little rusty, but my calf was probably 85% which for me was good enough to race. I did my best to not think about the unexpected time off and instead just think of it as a very good taper and do everything I would normally do the night before a big race. There was an ice bath, a giant bottle of water mixed with Nuun, stretching, obligatory race kit photo for Instagram, sushi dinner and a beer. Race morning started with coffee, quinoa waffles and peanut butter then a jog from the hotel to the starting line. I decided to leave my Garmin in the hotel and run on feel.

The air was indisputably thick as we waited in the corral. During a shoot with Kara Goucher a few weeks prior to the race we talked about running the first half of the race together (to be completely honest, I am not entirely sure how serious of a plan this was). Either way, I bagged the idea at the line knowing that my humidity history was poor and she is an Olympian capable of adapting much better than I am. When the horn sounded we went out in a nice pack, rolling through the first mile in 5:20. It was a bit fast, but to be expected on this course. From there I settled into 5:30 pace (1:12 on the nose) but it didn’t feel easy. I knew that I couldn’t hold on for 13 miles unless I clicked into a rhythm and when that didn’t happen by the 4th mile it was obvious it was only a matter of time before a blow-up.  I figured in the best case scenario I hold on for 10 and see what happens. In my mind the only option was to go for it.

That brings us to mile 7. Having gone through the 10k at 34:20 which is still right around 1:12, I was starting to struggle. I was running with Greg Cass from CPTC and decided to just stick with him as long as I could. Without a Garmin, I had no clue what pace we were going. It still felt like 5:30, so I was shocked to see 5:40-something at the next mile. The miles got increasingly slower and dangerously close to 6:00 but never any easier. Dropping out crossed my mind, but I resisted the temptation. Besides, I wasn’t really sure where I would go if I did quit. It seemed like the best way to get to the finish line was to just keep running there although what I was doing was starting to look less like running and more like self-torture. I stayed with Greg for five more miles during which we would occasionally share a brief exchange about how miserable we were. At mile 12, I had nothing left. I slowed dramatically and felt like it was going to take everything I had just to finish. Greg and two women pulled away and I knew barring some burst of non-existent energy, I was going to run much slower than the very bottom of the range I had expected to run.

1:15:29 is that time. I don’t like it, but I like it better than DNF. I’m not sure what I learned during the experience other than more proof that I can’t handle humidity. But I am happy and surprised not to be too upset about it in the grand scheme of things. Sure, I’m bummed to have spent an entire summer targeting a race that ended up being a dud. However, I don’t think the race is any indication of lack of fitness, preparation, aging, etc. It was just a bad race. I know this wouldn’t be my attitude three years ago.

The big picture is that I really enjoyed training this summer, ran some workouts I was proud of and got into the best shape I have been in since 2012. After a year of trying and failing, I have finally figured out how to maximize training quality with an odd work and sleep schedule. This race was not my chance to capitalize on that, but the window hasn't closed. I’m 3 days shy of 31 and that’s still plenty young to pull down some PRs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Rules of Running in New York City

I took this picture during a run. In general, don't take pictures when you're running
I have lived in New York for more than three years now and by my off-the-top-of-my-head estimation, I have run somewhere in the ballpark of 10 million miles in Manhattan’s two places to run: Central Park and the West Side Highway.  During that time, I have evolved from a quiet, polite guy who says “excuse me” and stops so tourists can take pictures of street performers, foliage, hobos, etc. to screaming obscenities at tourists, running into them if they don’t move and under no circumstances stopping, changing course or delaying my spitting/snot-rocketing for their stupid pictures.  Honestly, I’m not sure how I’m not still standing on the Bridle Path waiting for the 300th picture of everyone gathered around the reservoir (“Take it again!  I blinked!”).  But, I was na├»ve then. I didn’t know that if you want to run in New York, you have to run with balls, you have to run selfishly and you have to run with hyper-awareness of your surroundings. This past weekend, as I raced – and beat -- a bus with “Pippin” painted on the side of it across a driveway on the West Side Highway, I realized I had made the complete transition.  And you know me. I'm a stickler for rules (that I make up. Not anyone else's). So, now I am ready to pass on to you, the rules (Version 1) of running in New York City.

You can’t run on city streets – People always ask, “Where do you run?”  “Is it cool to see all the buildings?”  “How do you deal with the crowds?”  As I said above, there are two places to run in Manhattan: Central Park and the West Side Highway.  You can try to run on city streets, but you will find yourself stopping approximately every four feet for large crowds of people, stoplights or food vendors.  You also run the very high risk of falling into the concrete basement of a bar. If you try to run in the bike lane you will be hit by a bike, car or street sweeper depending on the time of day.

You can run over the Brooklyn Bridge – As long as you do it before 8am.  If you try to run over the Brooklyn Bridge after this time you will get sucked into a large crowd of tourists and it will take you no less than three hours to get to the other side.  Also note, there is a running lane and a biking lane on the bridge. Do not run in the biking lane. You will get run over. The cyclist may not even ring the bell.

You can run on the bike path on the West Side Highway  -- Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, you can run in the designated bike lane on the West Side Highway. Ignore the giant sign that tells you to run on the sidewalk portion adjacent to the river. Will some cyclists yell at you? Sure, but it’s better than tripping over a bench and/or someone walking their dog. The bike path is wide enough for everyone.  Just be polite and run to the side.  Also, look out for golf carts.

Your life is worth less than a cab fare – Cab drivers won’t stop for you.  If you run out in front of a cab thinking the driver is going to stop, your next step is going to be through pearly or fiery gates. 

You can drink out of the water fountains in Central Park – Do raccoons, squirrels and possibly people pee in them? Probably. But, I nor anyone I know has ever gotten dysentery from drinking out of them and it beats strapping on a fuel belt.  Don’t strap on a fuel belt.

Bathrooms are not easy to find – You can’t just run into the gas station when disaster strikes. Sometimes the nearest bathroom is mile away. Sometimes it’s two. Sometimes making it to that bathroom is not an option. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of in Central Park and I’m sorry. That said, I know where every single bathroom is in those 843 acres and I know the quickest way to get there. They are not always open. Rushing to a bathroom to be greeted by a locked door is one hundred times worse than going through the subway turnstile as the train doors close.  At least in that case there will be another train.  A locked bathroom means a trip to the woods. Now, if an emergency strikes on the West Side Highway and you aren’t close to a bathroom, I don’t know what to tell you. Fortunately, it has never happened to me. If I had to take a guess at your best bet, I’d say it would be hanging over the railing into the Hudson River.

You can’t smoke in NYC Parks – It’s illegal. I will not hesitate to inform those I see/smell engaging in the habit. I implore you to do the same.

Never leave without a metro card and a $5 – A lot of stuff can happen and you might need to get home. You might not be able to run there. Maybe you run into some friends and they want to grab a beer when you’re done. Maybe you break your ankle.  No matter where you are, a subway is always within walking (or hobbling) distance. Be prepared. What’s the $5 for?  It’s for the coffee or the beer. Wait, it’s New York. Better make it $10.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Philadelphia Half Marathon Training: Week 8

This week was a lesson in adjusting.  If you have never tried to run with a half-head, half-chest cold in the dog days of summer, I hope it's an experience you never have to endure.  This might not have been the worst cold I have ever had, but it was certainly the most stubborn and persistent.  By my count it lasted for 10 days.  During those 10 days breathing, sleeping and therefore running were all exponentially more difficult than they would have been had I been healthy.  Still, I have a tough time accepting these factors are the reasons runs go poorly and wind up getting discouraged after a bad workout blaming my fitness as opposed to poor health and a dew point of 72 degrees (See Tuesday).  The summary for those who don't want to keep reading (and I can't blame you) is that this week picked up where last week left off (terrible) but finished on a high and reassuring note.

Monday: 30 minutes of core.  With friends still in town for a bachelor party and the cold still depleting my energy, I thought it would be better to take the rest day earlier in the week instead of later.

Tuesday: The plan called for 8X800 @ 2:32-2:36 with 300m (90 second) jog rest.  My health and the oppressive conditions at 10am when I set out should have been a signal to adjust expectations significantly and be OK with it, but that is not my strong point.  It was 88 degrees with a dew point of 72 which is downright soupy.  The workout started out tough and steadily slid into misery.  I was hitting the targets for the first set of four, but then the heat combined with cold medication started to mess with my stomach and the second set was disastrous.  I forced myself to finish but by the final interval I was barely moving.  Six-days removed from the workout, it's actually pretty impressive that I didn't drop out or run even slower given all the issues, but that's not what I was thinking last Tuesday.  The combination of this week's effort combined with last week's failed attempted at two mile repeats left me questioning my preparedness and caused me to seriously re-evaluate the remainder of my week in order to expedite recovery from the cold.  In particular, I was signed up for the Autism Speaks 4 Mile race in Central Park Saturday morning.  Terry and I decided that unless weather conditions were perfect, it might not be worth jeopardizing the main objective (Philly Half).  I figured I would decide by Thursday when the forecast would be more reliable.

Wednesday: 9 miles on the Central Park Bridle Path.  This was the first adjustment to the week's schedule.  It was supposed to be a 90-95 minute medium long run, but was scaled back to an abbreviated and very easy effort.

Thursday: 10 miles in Central Park.  Today was the first day since we were in Idaho I felt like my body actually wanted to be running.  Before heading out, I looked at Saturday's forecast and saw it was supposed to be worse than Tuesday.  That was enough to finalize the decision to not race Saturday and add a couple of miles to today's run.

Friday: 7 miles in Central Park, 8x20 second strides.  This was a rare Friday evening run in Central Park as the sun was setting.  Beautiful.

Saturday: 12 mile death march on the West Side Highway.  I woke up to a text from Thomas who said the 4 miler was one of the hardest races he'd ever run.  Other recaps and posts by experienced runners expressed similar sentiments.  It made me pretty satisfied with my decision to sit this one out.  I stayed in bed a little later hoping storms would roll in and burn off the humidity.  They did not.  In fact, when I started running at 10:50 it was comically humid.  I ran as easy as I could for 90 minutes and by the time I was done I looked like I had stood in a car wash for an hour and a half -- minus the soap.  I think the shirt, shorts and shoes I was wearing are still wet.  30 minutes of core in the evening.

Sunday: 16 miles with a 7 mile wave tempo (5:20-5:25/5:50-5:55).  Today was the polar opposite of yesterday.  Anyone could have run fast in this weather.  It was in the high 60s with 0% humidity when I set out on the West Side Highway just before 10am.  There was a Race for the Cure in Central Park, so I knew the highway would be packed with the non-race runners/walkers.  It was.  On the four-mile warmup, I had to dodge bikes and large packs of runners, but fortunately when the workout started the obstacles were limited.  The plan was to alternate between 5:30 and 6:00 for seven miles.  I ended up going a little faster which I attribute to my body's relief after days of running in the humidity.  On the second faster mile, a guy crossed the path with his head buried in his phone.  I started yelling to let him know I was coming.  His response was to stop directly in front of me almost causing me to crash into him.  Of course, he blamed me for his failure to observe his surroundings.  That's the kind of behavior that gets you mowed down by a taxi in this city.  Miles for this workout: 5:21, 5:52, 5:21, 5:51, 5:22, 5:55, 5:23.

Total Weekly Mileage: 66

Beer of the Week:

I really wanted to like the two Harlem beers I tried this week.  Harlem Renaissance Wit had a funky aftertaste.  Sugar Hill Golden Ale was just OK.  As I have in the past, I turned to Oregon for help. I've had my eye on Full Sail's Session Lage for a long time.  I think it's the cute bottles.  I finally picked up a six pack this weekend.  Session is a refreshing summer-time beer without being a summer ale.  It's a true lager with almost a sweet taste, not at all heavy and at 11 ounces a bottle, great if you don't want too much to drink.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Philadelphia Half Marathon Training: Week 7

August has thrown me some curve balls. Two weeks ago I came down with what I can only describe as food poisoning. This week, I struggled to overcome a cold that gradually progressed from a three-day sore throat to an all-out summer sniffler. I have a high tolerance for pain, but no tolerance for discomfort. This was discomfort at its most uncomfortable. I spent the week as a whining, complaining, snotty mess. Without the kind of cold medications meth addicts use, I couldn't sleep but the drugs made my heart race and that kept me up too. At press time, the cold appears to be on its last legs after seven long days. All that is left is a wad of mucus that refuses to dislodge from my throat and a bit of lingering fatigue from a week of poor-quality sleep. With three weeks left until the race, I can't afford any more obstacles.

Monday -- 8.3 miles with Josh in Central Park. This was the first day I could tell I was on the brink of an illness. I met Josh on the West Side Drive to run together for the first time since the beginning of the summer. 30 minutes of core while watching Seinfeld on my DVR before work.

Tuesday -- 10.3 miles with Josh in Central Park. My throat felt like sandpaper when I woke up this morning, but other than that, I was OK. It was very humid out and I ended up taking the train home to the dismay of the straphangers who had to share a car with me. After getting home, I remembered I was supposed to do strides today. I need to start tying a string around my finger to remind me to actually do them.

Wednesday -- Workout Fail. I had 4x2 miles on my calendar and failed to complete it for a number of factors; 50% of which were my fault. Here's what I did wrong: Moved the workout from the flat track or the West Side Highway to the lower loop of Central Park. I was under the false belief that the downhills would make up for the uphills and failed to adjust goal times to account for aforementioned hills and oppressive humidity. Terry later mentioned that I could have easily started the intervals 10 seconds slower (Five seconds for the hills and five for the humidity) and would have likely completed the workout as opposed to bailing on the first mile of the third repeat. The mounting effects of a cold on my breathing were also a slight factor. I was fortunate to have Jason and Josh's company for this effort. Sticking with Jason who is faster than me for the first repeat should have been an immediate indication that I was pushing too hard too soon. The end result ended up being 10:56 for the first set, 10:46 for the second, a 5:25 mile and then an afternoon of regret and self-doubt.

Thursday -- 13.5 miles on the West Side Highway. I took a sick day from work today to make sure I didn't have strep throat. I spent most of the day in bed alternating between reading and sleeping. I did numerous Google searches on running with a cold only to find the same information I find every other time I have had a cold. The general rule is "above the neck go ahead, below the neck stay in bed." Historically, running has sped up my recovery from colds. Late in the evening, I ended up getting in a fairly brisk medium long run along the Hudson and feeling much better after breathing in fresh air.

Friday -- 8.5 miles in Central Park. Somehow I woke up feeling worse this morning and slogged through a run on the Bridle Path through a haze of cold medication. I kept the pace and effort laughably easy as I couldn't afford to have another soul-crushing workout tomorrow. Oh, and I remembered to do strides!

Saturday -- 18 mile run with a 10 mile Marathon Pace Run on the West Side Highway. Oh, how far gone are the days of being able to wake up with the sunrise and set out for a run before the city awakes. After working the night shift for more than a year, a 6:30am workout is synonymous with "all-nighter". But today I had no choice. The guys were coming into town in the mid-morning for a weekend-long bachelor party and I wanted to have the tough workout well out of the way by then. Also, Sarah and I had similar workouts and were able to link up for the first time in who knows how long. When I rolled out of bed from six hours of staring at the ceiling and cursing my cold, I skipped the pre-run stretching and replaced it with pre-run netty pot, zicam and intense nose blowing. I shoveled a Picky Bar down my throat and guzzled a cup of coffee as I waited for the elevator. This would end up being a bad idea. I felt surprisingly decent as I ran to meet Sarah in Riverside Park. As we settled into the prescribed pace, 5:50 came easy. Too easy actually. We were a little quick through the first mile before dialing it back. Around 3 miles into the tempo, I was reminded of my late breakfast. I hoped it would be a brief reminder; a nudge maybe, but it was not. A half-mile later, I had to make a pit stop in a conveniently-located bus terminal. With the precision of a NASCAR pit crew, I took care of what needed to be taken care of and then sped back down pit road settling right back into the pace. It was discouraging to have to stop mid-workout, but as Sarah said when we met back up, it's good practice for the unexpected. All things considered, the workout was a success with the splits being: 5:45, 5:52, 5:53, 5:47 (pit stop), 5:46, 5:50 (back w/ Sarah), 5:52, 5:47, 5:45, 5:42.  I have been questioning my decision not to do an extra two miles for a total of 12. I think I could have handled it, but I ran out of real estate on the West Side Highway and I thought it might be a good idea to remain conservative while using so much energy to fight the cold. 

Sunday -- 6 miles with Jesse in Central Park. I'll be honest. Most of my "hydrating" yesterday was with beer. I know it was the wrong thing to do, but it was after all, a bachelor party. While the pace of the consumption was slow and steady, the day was long and despite never being overly intoxicated and chasing every drink with water, I woke up with a pretty wicked hangover. Oddly, this six mile run on the Bridle Path was the best I felt all day. That's probably because it was oppressively humid and I sweat out the worst of the toxins. I had the option to take today off, but I always enjoy getting in some miles with Jesse and logistically, it will probably be better to take tomorrow off. The hangover stuck around for the rest of the day and I did all I could to stay hydrated.  My cold however, seems to be dissipating and perhaps tomorrow's day off will be its death knoll.

Total Weekly Mileage: 78.4 (most since February)

Beer of the Week:
Empire White Aphro

I have fond memories of times spent at the Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, NY. So, when I see its beers on taps, I jump at the chance to go back in time to my early-20s. White Aphro was on tap at the Headless Horseman near Union Square. It's a Wit Ale only available on tap in New York State. The lemon and ginger flavors are pretty pronounced and it drinks a little heavier than its color would lead you to believe, but still very good and a selection you should try if you find it at your local watering hole.

Next Week:  Hold-off on those PSLs!  We're in for the hottest, most humid days of the summer!