Monday, December 19, 2011

Morning Workout Rage: Part 1

My Running Partner is Back

At the beginning of February, I wrote that I'd been joined on my runs by a partner. A furry, long, low-to-the ground partner. I remember that on our very first run she was basically dragging me around the small lower loop of Central Park. I even named one of my frequent streak routes (the Phoebe Loop) after her.

She wasn't very well behaved on our runs, thought. Unfortunately even as time passed, she didn't get much better. When we'd start running, she would start jumping and barking. At some point, I stopped bringing her along because running with her was going to require more training than I had time to provide. And so it went for 9 months. I kept running the Phoebe loop without Phoebe and Phoebe stuck to her normal walks.

When I came home from my Thanksgiving, I was shocked when I was greeted by a fat Phoebe! I had no idea how out of shape she was and was unsure how she had reached that state. But I was determined to put her on a diet and exercise regimen so she could lose weight and get back to her lean Corgi self. So, Phoebe has been getting a little bit less food than usual and has been going on the Phoebe Loop once or twice per week. Here she is, say "hi!"

Oh, by the way, we did solve the mystery of Phoebe's impending obesity. She'd accidentally been receiving a cup more food per day than she's supposed to, which is nearly twice as much food as she needs. It shouldn't take too long to get her back in shape, though.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2012 Race Calendar Starting to Take Shape

As you may have read, my A race for 2012 is the Ironman US Championship in August. I'm trying to arrange my race calendar so that I can keep my focus on the Ironman while avoiding boredom. In all honesty, I doubt I'll find myself bored. Still, though, there should be more rhyme and reason to how I select my races this year versus those prior.

In choosing my race calendar, I should also evaluate my goal progress for 2011. I achieved a fair few of the things I set out to do, but I also missed a good number. In my goal analysis, I'll have to determine which unattained goals will carry over into 2012 and which ones I'll shelve for later. Ultimately, today is not the day for my goal analysis. It probably should come first, but I'm very much the type of person who acts before (or often without) thinking and thus, have already begun registering for races next year.

Which brings me to the point of this post. With the Empire State Building Run-Up out of the picture, my winter is freed up for other training. I've already signed up for the Manhattan Half-Marathon on January 21st as well as the Gridiron Classic on February 5th. The Gridiron always takes place on the day of the Super Bowl. I've always wanted to race it but have run one reason or another why I haven't been able to. Not this year!

Also, I decided that this is finally my year to do the New York City Half Marathon. Unlike the NYRR Half Marathon series, which consists of a half in each borough, the New York City half is a separate event that runs from top to bottom of the island and through iconic parts of the city. Incidentally, the course passes right by my building. The cost of this race is over four times as much as your typical half marathon series race, which is why I've avoided doing it for the past few years. It was always one of those races that I thought I should do once, so when I realized I accidentally qualified for it this year, I took it as a sign. The NYC Half takes place on March 18th, 2012.

There may or may not be more road races during that period, but they're what I have planned for now. As for multi-sport races, I plan to start off 2012 with participation in JackRabbit's Indoor Triathlon Series. I did a few of these last year and they're a pretty cool way to stay into tri during the winter time. Team Lipstick, the triathlon team I train with sometimes, is doing the race on February 5th. Now that I'm writing this entry, I see that there will be a conflict with that and the Gridiron Classic. I'll still do both but it will decrease my edge for the tri, at which I'd hoped to be competitive. Ah, well.

So as far as that goes, there are four events: January 8th, January 22nd, February 5th and February 19th. The way this series works is that if a competitor makes it in the top ten for any of these four, she is automatically qualified for the Indoor Triathlon Championships, which take place in March. Last year, I just squeaked into the championships, so I hope to do so this year by a more definitive margin. The plan right now is to race until I qualify. With any luck, I won't have to do all four. Not that I would mind, but it gets expensive.

So that's how my winter season is shaping up. I'll spend more time talking about the rest of the year at a later date. For now, stay tuned for a new rage comic. I hope you all are enjoying the holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The ESBRU Squirmies

Although it's not official yet, my hope of doing the Empire State Building Run-Up 2012 is quickly slipping away. My sources (aka Twitter) are saying that notices have been sent and credit card charges have already been made. I have gotten neither of those things and my status on the website says "In non-guaranteed entry drawing." I'm really hoping they'll at least update my status so I don't hang around refreshing the screen all evening (is it bad that I'm admitting I'll be doing that?).

I'm not sure why I got myself so worked up about this one. Perhaps it's because I find the prospect of running around iconic New York City to be an unparalleled experience. Also, this race is simply very different from most of the ones I've done. It should scare me, but it doesn't. Ah, well. Here's hoping for ESBRU 2013!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Note on Streaks

So my big streak ended awhile back and it was a sad day when it did. Fortunately the day after, when I realized what happened, was also a very happy day because it was the same day that I destroyed my old marathon PR by 24 minutes. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

The point is, streaks are one of those things that's most effective the first time around. I tried restarting the streak between then and the marathon and didn't have much luck with it. I think if I was to have another really successful one, I would have to take a break from streaks for a good long time first.

After that second little streak ended just before the marathon, I wasn't really sure what to do about the whole thing. On one hand, I felt like I was cheapening the principles behind the streak every time I reentered it halfheartedly. On the other, I was really afraid not to have anything to motivate me to run at least almost every day. I don't want to get back to the point when I feel comfortable not running for a couple of days in a row!

That's when I saw it on Twitter. The Runner's World holiday streak. It was an RW challenge to run every day between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I figured I can do that. It doesn't solve my streak/motivation dilemma in the long term, but it does give me something for another few weeks. I'll figure it out then. For now, it's been a good adventure. Definitely different from much of the time I've spent streaking in the last few months since it's now starting to get really cold. Granted, when I started my streak in February, it was also really cold but it's harder getting back into it than you'd think.

So, yes. I'm on Day 16 of the Runner's World streak. How about you? Anyone else keeping a streak, Runner's World or otherwise? Let's keep this thing going until New Year's Day!

DEALWATCH: Asics Shoes on Sale!

Yes. It's true. A sale on my blog that doesn't involve Xterra wetsuits. Asics shoes for $50! Again, this is not my brand, nor are they women's shoes, but still. Maybe there's a man in your life who would love some Asics Gel Nimbus shoes. Also, I'm partial to Academy because we have them in Texas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Race Report: The Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot

The second race I completed while in Texas was the Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot. It was a last-minute deal. I sort of wish I'd decided on it sooner so that I could have been better prepared. As it was, I was still very excited because I read on the website that they were trying to break the Guinness record for largest number of people dressed as turkeys and doing something or other. I'm not exactly certain what the record is, but they were trying to accomplish it by having as many people as possible dress in head-to-toe turkey costumes while racing.

Some people might be turned off by this prospect, but I was thrilled and immediately began making plans for a head-to-toe turkey costume, even though it was the evening prior to the race and my costume options were quickly shrinking. But when you're in Texas and need something for cheap at odd hours, there's always Wal-Mart, which is where I ended up going on my turkey costume quest.

The criteria for this costume were that it had to be both a shirt and pants of the same color, and that color had to be black, white, or brown. I decided on white, because the instructions also mentioned that the chest area could have different colors. In this little stipulation, I saw my opportunity to reGen-ify my costume.  Additionally, each turkey had to have a headpiece (beak), feather plume in the back, and turkey feet. In order to achieve this, I purchased white long johns, colored pencils, and brown colored paper. Out of these materials, I created my turkey accessories. My brother, Matthew, was a big fan of my feather plume.

I stayed up finishing my creation until 1am. Generally, I'm pretty good at not getting very much sleep but still being able to wake up when I need to, but not on this evening. Again, I might have planned this all a little better. But if there's one thing I'm really terrible at, it's planning things in advance. The race was supposed to start at 9am but the website noted that turkeys should be there at 7:30 to be verified and lined up properly. I set my alarm for 5:30 accordingly.

I woke up to a nasty surprise when I opened my eyes, checked my phone, and saw that it was 7:46. I was supposed to be at the race 16 minutes prior to when I woke up! And races in Dallas are not like races in New York, the majority of which take place in Central Park, which is a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. No, getting to this race was going to be a trek. I threw on my turkey top and turkey bottom, grabbed the rest of my costume and threw it in my rental car, and flew out the door a little after 8am.

Between not being good at directions and not being able to use the major highway that should have gotten me down to City Hall, it took me 45-55 minutes to arrive and park. At this point, I knew I'd missed my opportunity to be a verified turkey and was worried about missing the start of the race entirely. Fortunately, I volunteered at this race in 2009 and knew that I had a little extra time because it takes so long for all the runners to cross the start line. After parking, I jumped out of my car, grabbed my costume (I was determined to race as a turkey, even if I had to be an unverified turkey) and started following the crowds of people wearing race bibs. Keep in mind that I hadn't even registered and the race was minutes from starting.

Finally, I found the start line area only to be confronted with an enormous mass of people standing between me and where I needed to register for the race. Wearing my turkey suit and beak, I began weaving my way through the crowd with my feet and plume in hand, aiming to acquire safety pins to finally put them on once I'd registered.

After a lot of pushing and utterings of "excuse me" I found myself in the parking garage where registration is conducted. I hurriedly registered for the untimed race, as I was a good 15 or 20 minutes too late to be timed. Then I discovered more horrifying news: they were out of safety pins. I had to tape my bib to myself. Forget about my turkey accessories! I was moderately heartbroken at this news. Not to mention concerned about having to carry so many things for 8 miles since there was either no bag check or I was unable to find it and probably didn't have time even if there was one I could find. By the time I had taped my bib to myself and attached my turkey feet (I was really determined to wear as much of the costume as I could), it was already ten minutes past 9. The race had technically started, though you never would have known it by the number of people who still hadn't seemed to have moved an inch.

Crossing the start was slow going. I was clearly in the back since I had started so late and it was tough navigating through a sea of walkers, strollers, adorable puppies and babies, etc. If you intend to PR, this is not the race for it. It is just too crowded. And the crowds continued like that for the entire duration of the 5k. I was weaving in and out of lines of runners and groups of families. It was only at the split that I felt I was able to keep any sort of decent pace. Plus, I was carrying my wallet, keys, phone, turkey plume, and eventually race bib IN MY HANDS. It was a juggling act, that's for sure. One that I didn't really enjoy. At one point all my cards almost fell out of my wallet! Toward the end of the 5k portion I even lost a turkey foot.

All that said, the race course after the 5k racers split off was cool. I'm not very familiar with downtown Dallas so I can't say exactly where we were (though I can post the race course, which I will do now):

It's the picture at the bottom of the second page. Anyway, the coolest thing about the course was that we got to run a nice stretch of elevated highway that had been closed just for this race! It was very cool. I kind of wish I'd taken a picture of the view.

As far as pace goes, I'm not really sure how I was doing. From the clocks I saw at the mile markers, I felt like I was running somewhere between 8:30 and 9 minute miles after the first 5k of the race. 8 miles seemed a lot shorter than I anticipated it would feel. After the 5k split I ran a couple of miles before coming across the 5 mile marker, which is when I realized there were only 3 miles to go. Only 3! The race felt like it was practically over!

It wasn't, clearly, but I was glad it felt like it was passing quickly instead of dragging on. I was also glad that the 8 mile finish was separate from the 5k finish so that I was able to avoid the same mess from earlier in the race. Afterward, I got my banana and Activia yogurt and asked a little boy to take a picture of me, reGen half-turkey abomination that I was. I wasn't even wearing my beak at that point because it had gotten twisted around my neck and I wanted to make sure that didn't cause problems down the road. This is the result:

There is nothing even remotely turkey-ish about this photo. I just look like someone who made the awkward decision to wear white after Labor Day. And run 8 miles. And wear my race t-shirt around my neck like a cape. Ah, well. It was still a good race and my first ever Dallas Turkey Trot. Hopefully, my race day execution will be a little smoother next year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Speedwork: Necessary Fun

I'm trying to go chronologically through all the things I've wanted to write about since my trip home. This is one of them. As I think I mentioned before, I did a pretty decent job running almost every day while I was in Texas. For the few days around the 5k, I ran a couple of loops around my dad's neighborhood. Although it wasn't hot, per se, it was very muggy. But they were still decent runs. In San Antonio I did loops around my grandparents' neighborhood. While I was running I couldn't help but think that if I lived there I'd start a running club so fast...I was imagining the things I could do while I was running! Kids races, occasional 5k's and race series, it would be great. Maybe I should put those thoughts to use at some point.

For now, though, I'll focus on my own racing. Once I got to Dallas, I found a new, more exciting running experience. It wasn't that the scenery or the weather was better, it was that I found a place to run that energized me. I went to the Tom Muehlenbeck recreation center in Plano to work out. It's a gorgeous facility, and if you're ever in the area for one reason or another I'd recommend checking it out. Especially if there's a possibility that you'd move there.

One of the things I like most about it that I'd nearly forgotten about is their indoor walking/jogging track. It's not a regulation sized, indoor track, but it does provide a different running setting than I'm used to. There are 11 laps to a mile. Normally when I hear that sort of thing I roll my eyes because the thought of circling that many times to do one mile makes my head spin. But not this time. As I started running, I had the urge to just go fast. So, I did. I started doing impromptu speedwork which consisted of sprinting every other lap and just running the others at a normal pace. At times I'd switch it up and do two lap or half mile repeats. But what became even more evident to me during the few days I ran there was that I like running fast. When I started, I convinced myself that speed was not my thing and that I just did distance better. I almost felt like runs less than 6 miles in length weren't worth the time.

Throughout the course of this year, that perspective has changed drastically and it's beginning to show in my races. Not only can I go fast if I work at it, I LOVE going fast. That indoor track only inspired a greater love of it in me. Now I'm looking to do speedwork every chance I get. I should have been doing it the whole time, but better late than never, right?

My goal is to start racing short distances (10k and shorter) at close to an 8 minute per mile pace. After running as an adult for almost four years, I've come to the full realization that not only can I be fast, I love being fast and I'm excited about the prospect of getting faster in the coming months.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Race Report: Thanksgiving Fun Run at the T-Heads

After another lengthy period away from the blogosphere, I have returned! I visited my home state of Texas to see my family for Thanksgiving. On Thursday the 17th, I flew to Corpus Christi for the first leg of my journey.

Friends who have known me for awhile can attest to the fact that I like to take any opportunity to race in exotic (and by exotic, I mean different from home) locales. Although I haven't quite graduated to planning an actual runcation, I do like to search for races off the beaten path when I travel. This brings me to the Carroll Tiger Thanksgiving Fun Run at the T-Heads in Corpus Christi. What a name! What a town! What a race!

Too dramatic? Perhaps. To be fair, I was highly amused when I went to register and pick up my packet at the local Fleet Feet store. My dad and I waited in line for a few minutes while volunteers registered a couple of kids. Little kids. I don't think I thought anything of it at the time, but it would play into things later on. What I was especially amused about were the swag bags we got. Now don't get me wrong, I was impressed with the swag bag in general since it was such a small race, but one of the items in the bag was a beer koozie! That's right, a beer koozie for race swag. It was an entertaining first. Plus, the t-shirt was cute:

Race start time was 8:00am and it wasn't far from my dad's house, so we left at 7:30. I was obviously ALL decked out in my Team reGen gear. Once we arrived, I immediately began to scope out the competition. I've always maintained that if I ever win any age group awards, it'll be at a local race like this one. There are just too damn many runners in and around NYC. So naturally, I was trying to see who I needed to keep pace with to make this dream come true.

This is where my previous observation about the kids at Fleet Feet comes in. Most of the runners at this 5k were kids! They looked like they ranged in age from maybe 7 to 13. Corpus Christi and Texas in general has some issues when it comes to making an active lifestyle a priority. Judging from the number of kids eager to run this 5k, though, you wouldn't have guessed. The involvement of so many kids in the local running community was really impressive.

Along with small children, however, there were also high school kids on cross country teams. Those guys are usually very competitive. I wasn't terribly worried about them, though, because I knew they would be in a different age group. By the time we lined up at the start of the race, I had only spotted a couple of potential contenders and I was determined to start strong.

Unfortunately, starting strong is not the race strategy that works best for me. I always do best when I start slow, gain confidence, and start passing people. When I try to start strong, I typically start too strong and end up burning out and slowing way down halfway through the race.

Surprise! That's what happened here. The race course went down a boardwalk of sorts and veered off twice into what are called "t-heads" before a turnaround which took us back to the start. I've taken the liberty of creating a not-to-scale diagram of the race course below:

It was a tougher course than I expected, but I think mostly because I started off too fast. Those kids really raced out and I probably tried a little too hard to keep up. My dad started behind me but by the middle of the race had passed me. He ended up finishing in 23 and change and I crossed the finish at 25:34. I've been hoping to run a sub-25 5k so this was a little disappointing, but, hey, it was a good run. I really felt like I might have won an age group award, but they didn't end up announcing awards after all. So much for that. Guess I'll have to wait a little longer for my first age group award!

Another awkward photo gem!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Knickerbocker in 2011

Sad face. For the last two years I've done the Knickerbocker 60k, which takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving. In case you were wondering, the race course includes nine 4-mile loops around Central Park. It's a little grueling but something I've enjoyed incorporating into my holiday traditions over the last couple of years. Plus, it allows me to not give a crap about all the crap I eat on Thanksgiving Day.

But I don't want to give up on the idea of a pre-holiday ultramarathon altogether. Instead, I think I'll search for a good 50k (I'd say 60k but I feel that the distance is a little less common) to do before Christmas. I'd prefer that it not be a trail race but I might not have the option of being picky. Anyway, if anyone has a good race suggestion, please let me know! I'd love to find one sometime in December. Additionally, if anyone out there would be interested in running it too, shoot me an email.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Race Report: The ING NYC Marathon - Part 2

So there I was, conflicted about how to proceed and very fidgety. I couldn't stop scanning the crowd behind me in an attempt to calculate how long it might take for the group to catch me. Or alternatively, how slowly I should start in order to meet up with them. Neither conclusion seemed appealing, so I decided to wing it and hoped that I would be able to stay just in front of the group.

Another dilemma I had was what to do with my phone. It's recently been losing charge alarmingly fast and it became evident early in the morning that this would pose a problem. I woke up around 6 and the phone was at 100%. In an effort to conserve battery life, I turned off almost all background apps except for the clock and marathon tracking apps. I started listening to music on my way to the Subway but quickly turned it off because I realized it would drain the phone even faster! By the time I reached the start line at 10:40am, the phone was at 53%. I turned off everything in the background except for the tracking app and started the race without music. As a side note, I don't know if I'd ever raced without music. I certainly hadn't run an entire marathon without it, and yet that's what I found myself deciding to do.

The gun went off and the pack moved pretty quickly in comparison to other races I've done. It didn't take long at all to cross the start line. I found myself confronted with the majesty of the Verrazano Bridge. It might be the most breathtaking part of the race because you've just started, everything is exciting, the views are gorgeous, and all the runners around you are just as thrilled. I quickly lost the other woman with whom I'd been searching for the pace group. I suppose I should have taken that as a hint to go a little slower, but I did not. I could feel that I was running faster than I should but I was afraid of slowing down too much, so I decided to keep up my pace until I couldn't anymore. I'd learn later that I was actually very consistent over the first half of the race.

The first two miles of the marathon are the bridge and the next six go straight up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. In the last two years, my friends Kim and Szymon lived in Bay Ridge and always came to cheer at the beginning of the 4th Avenue stretch. They've since moved, but I pretended they were there anyway! The next cheer spot I had to look forward to was 4th Avenue and 11th Street, where small contingent of Team Lipstick members led by Laura was waiting with signs and enthusiastic high fives. I made a game of counting down the blocks until that spot and I made every five or so a mini-milestone.

 Oh hey Kim!

After that, there were a few places where I knew people might be. Geri's boyfriend Dan was on the course too and she mentioned that he would be standing at the 8 mile turn. I took a very wide, slow turn to increase my chances of spotting him but still had no luck. The 5 or so miles between 4th Avenue and the Pulaski Bridge were pleasant. I saw a lot of clever signs, lots of cheering and music, even a couple dressed as a pair of running shoes! Also, I decided to turn my phone off altogether at this point. At around mile 10, my battery was at 29% and I knew it would be dead by the end of the race at that rate.

The Pulaski Bridge comes about halfway through and it was at this point that the 4:10 pace group caught and passed me. Admittedly, this made me nervous because I didn't think I had a 4:10 marathon in me. The fact that I'd kept up that pace for 13 miles worried me a little bit. Who knows? Maybe it was just a mental thing.

A couple miles up from the Pulaski, Jared was supposedly waiting to pace Geri for the last 10 miles of the race. I'd hoped to see him as I passed but must have missed him.

The Queensborough Bridge is a rough run in later miles of a race. It's a rough run in general, but even worse on already tired legs. Still, though, the view is beautiful, there's usually a good breeze blowing through, and lots of spirited yelling can be heard. Even better, the entrance into Manhattan is exhilarating. Intrepid spectators perch themselves on upper sections of the exit ramp where runners pour out and loop back onto 1st Avenue. The crowds are four and five people deep and their cheers are thunderous. I get a little emotional just thinking about it.

Upon reentering Manhattan, I turned my phone back on, not realizing that the tracking app wasn't working anyway. The entry onto 1st Avenue marks the beginning of a straight 3 and a half mile stretch to the Bronx. But again, I had friends to look forward to! Michelle, Jessica and Tom from my sketch comedy group (The Chupacabra Conspiracy, FYI) were cheering at a corner in the high 70's and 1st. I spotted them and, after a flurry of hugs and a quick picture, was back on my way. They were holding signs and I don't even remember what they said because I couldn't even think about it. Beyond the fact that they were there and I was really glad to see them, most details just weren't registering. I think I remember Tom saying "You are very sweaty" and trying to avoid my wet, stinky hug but he conceded in the end. Sorry, Tom!

My roommate Monica and her boyfriend Dirk said they might be at 90th and 1st, so I kept my eyes peeled there but didn't see them. After that, I had to do my best to ignore the fatigue and fight (myself, obviously) my way into the Bronx. And the Bronx, for the tiny amount of mileage it gets in the race, is awesome when it comes to cheering and overall good spirit. It was a short but excellent mile and I quickly found myself once again crossing over into Manhattan at mile 21.

Even though I only had five miles left, the going was getting tough. I was starting to get that deflated feeling in my upper body and I felt the pounding of every step in the balls of my feet. For whatever reason, my toe was also slamming against the front of my shoe. That was new and an unpleasant surprise, though it may result in my very first lost toenail (which I'm clearly too proud of)! It took everything, and I mean everything in me not to stop and walk for stretches at a time. I conceded to this urge once, but only as an approximately block-long extension of a water stop. I find that it gets easier and easier to stop and walk the more frequently I do it and I wanted desperately to avoid falling into this same trap that's gotten me the last two years.

Most of miles 21-24 are down Fifth Avenue and the crowds balloon once again and they are raucous, cheering anyone and everyone on to the finish, which is only 2.2 miles away once runners enter Central Park at the Engineer's Gate (90th and 5th). As it turns out, my roommate was in the park but I missed her! I kept running and doing my best to enjoy the presence of the crowds in the park and trying to feed off of the energy. But the truth was, I wanted to be finished and I knew I was close. I approached the Mile 25 water stop and considered the fact that it's operated largely by Cornell alums (I've gotten emails about volunteering for it before). Any other time, I might have looked for people I knew, but I was in no mood for it when I was passing through. I just wanted to be at the finish line!

At this time I'd also gotten a stitch in my side, which was making breathing and running painful. Near the exit of the park I got a call from my mom, who was sitting in the stands at the end of the race and had just witnessed someone be walked across the finish line. She was worried about me and I don't think I did anything to make her feel better since speaking was beginning to be painful and probably sounded labored and agonized. I wasn't worried, I knew I would be fine once I finished but that I needed to get there first. We agreed that I'd call just before I got to the right section so that she could see me cross the finish line.

Finally, I exited the park and found myself on 59th Street, which is the south end of Central Park and the true home stretch of the whole thing. Crowds line both sides of the barricades until Columbus Circle, where we turned back into the park for the last 800 meters. I called my mom and told her I'd be at the end momentarily and once I saw her section, I began waving at everyone! They were all very nice and waved back at me, but somehow I didn't see my mom. Although I hoped that she had at least seen me, a phone call after I crossed the finish line revealed that she had not! It was disappointing, but still. I'd finished the race in under four hours and thirty minutes! 4:28:25, to be exact.

I'll go into post-race activities in coming days because this post is already epic without them. Bottom line: marathon number six is in the books. I'm always elated after finishing a marathon and always want to sign up for my next one straightaway. But that, my friends, is also a discussion for a different day. For now, I hope I haven't bored you too much and I bid you good night.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Race Report: The ING NYC Marathon - Part 1

I didn't want to break this up into two posts but I realized it was already super long before I had even started talking about the race itself! So here we are discussing the race in the first of two installments. And what a race it was. This was my third New York City Marathon, and I can say with complete certainty that I love it more and more every year.

In the days preceding the race, I tried tweeting every article I could find about it because its history is long and storied. I won't opine on details too much because I'm relatively new to the scene. I can't speak to things like the marathon's first running, the first five-borough route, its significance after 9/11. As much as I enjoy reading about these events, I don't feel qualified to delve too deeply into them, so I won't. Maybe someday I'll do a history post after conducting some extensive research.

Let's start with the Expo and how I arrived there fifteen minutes before it closed. I know, I would have preferred to make it there earlier too, but it just worked out that way. The fact that bib pickup closed at 7 on both Thursday and Friday made it difficult for me to get to the Expo from work in time and I spent Saturday getting ready. My mom ended up meeting me there straight from the airport because we were concerned that it would close before we made it if we met up at my apartment first.

Things were wrapping up when I arrived, so I didn't have time to walk around and check out all the cool vendors and promotions. I really only had time to grab a pace team bib (4:30) before heading home and grabbing a nice pasta dinner from Cafe Metro, which was the same pre-marathon dinner I had last year. I went to bed around 11, which is later than I intended but still really not bad since Daylight Savings Time gave us an extra hour of sleep.

I woke up a few times throughout the night. It's not unusual for me on race eve, but this time I felt like the night would not end! I kept waking up and expecting that it would be time for me to jump out of bed and hop a train to South Ferry. 6am could not come fast enough. When it finally did, I heard shuffling about from outside my room and guessed correctly that it was Giri (my roommate's boyfriend) getting ready to leave himself. Giri is a speed demon and had a 9:40 start time, so left about ten minutes before I did.

Once I was up and about, I finished attaching bibs to my shirt. I mentioned in an earlier post that I intended to wear my name bib from Baltimore in lieu of writing my name on the shirt itself. Unfortunately, after I attached all three of my bibs, I felt that I was experiencing a potentially detrimental excess of bib. I removed the name bib and left my regular and pace team ones.

I chose my Team reGen jacket and newly discovered Cornell sweatpants as outerwear, said bye to my mom, and headed out into the early morning to get a bagel and banana from Cafe Metro. I walked over to the 50th Street 1 station and waited patiently for the train to South Ferry with a bunch of other runners. Not surprisingly, it took the train 10 or 15 minutes to arrive but once it did, the trip was uneventful. The ferry ride was similarly predictable, but I always find riding it to a race (the Staten Island Half or marathon) to be exciting. From there, runners were bused to Fort Wadsworth. I used my bus ride to take a nice nap. 

Once I arrived and got through security, I surveyed the scene. Dunkin Donuts gives out bagels (another thing I should have remembered since I bought my own), coffee, and awesome hats. I got myself some coffee and a hat and temporarily switched it with my reGen visor to keep my head warm. At the same time, I wanted to ease into the cold, so I took off my sweatpants while leaving my jacket on with the intent of acclimating to the cold a little bit before removing my jacket.

Speaking of outer clothes, I have yet to ditch a piece of clothing pre-race. Not that it shouldn't be done, but I haven't needed to. This year it was actually easier than last because it was warmer, so parting with my pants and jacket close to an hour before the start wasn't a big deal.

After drinking my coffee, removing my pants, and applying a lubricant sample I'd gotten from the Expo, I started looking for my friend, Geri (running on behalf of the Women's Sports Foundation) and we had some good marathon chat. I was also supposed to meet up with a fellow Team Lipstick member, but wasn't able to find her before I had to make a mad dash to go to the bathroom and check my bag. You'd think after a couple of years of doing this already I would know the drill.

While waiting for the bathroom, I also spotted Wilson! We were able to exchange quick hellos and wish each other luck before parting ways again. I went to the bathroom and checked my bag just in time. A little late, in fact. The truck for my corral had actually already closed and they had to put it into a later corral's truck. Once that was done, I started heading for the corrals, hoping to find the 4:30 pace team somewhere along the way.

Alas, I didn't find my pace team before lining up in the corral! Normally, the group leaders are very easy to spot because they carry signs with balloons attached stating which pace group they are leading. It wasn't until I had nearly reached the start line with a fellow lost pace team member that we realized the pace group was WAY behind us. I was concerned because I knew if I started first but waited for and ran with the pace team the entire way, I wouldn't finish under 4:30! Just as America the Beautiful rang out to the masses of runners, I was faced with a race strategy dilemma.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Cheap Triathlete Presents: Marathon Milestones

I briefly covered this in my post about the Baltimore Marathon, but here are the 6 milestones that I'll be looking out for tomorrow:

This is the reality check milestone. It's that time during the race when one might think to oneself "huzzah, I have run for nearly one full hour. I have but a mere four hours more of this race" if one thought very formally to oneself in a British accent. Okay, fine maybe I only imagined it in a British accent.

 This is my now-I'm-into-it mile. By this point, I have hit my stride and I'm ready to take on another 19 miles. Typically, the weather is good, the people are great, and I'm happy to be running.

I don't know who this guy is, but hopefully he doesn't mind being in my blog. Anyway, mile 10. I mean, come on. When is 10 NOT a milestone?

OMGMILE13IMHALFWAYDONE is a vague approximation of what goes through my head once I hit this mile marker. I mean sure, it's not quite halfway but it might as well be. And sometimes they throw a 13.1 mile marker in there for funsies anyway. PS - the Big Sur Marathon mentioned in the pic above is one that I've heard is beautiful. Hopefully someday I'll get out there to do it.

Pretend that the 17 mile marker isn't there because what I want you to focus on is mile 16. I got this one from my friend Sharon. While running with me during my very first marathon, she mentioned that mile 16 is where the remainder of the race is in single digits! It might be a convoluted milestone for some, but it's one of my favorites.

Another Big Sur sign. Mile 20 is the big one. It's the mile when the reality of your impending completion of a MARATHON starts to sink in. "Holy crap! I'm almost finished!" Interestingly enough, it also makes that last six miles feel longer than the previous 10 just because you're so close and so far.

After mile 20, it's all guts for me. Others might have a milestone between 20 and the end, but when I hit 20, I know it's time to stay strong and finish it out. Those last few miles can go by painfully slowly, especially 23-25. In New York City, however, that's also one of the most adrenaline-filled parts of the course because runners near the park, where there are wall to wall people behind the barricades. 

I'm so excited about tomorrow. No matter how I finish, it's going to be a great day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Marathon Rage

I enjoy making rage comics (see Here is one I made that's inspired by my love of running. And attractive male runners.

Well Played, Cafe Metro, Well Played

The Cafe Metro in the ground floor of my building put this bad boy up last night. I couldn't help but get excited.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Things Are Getting Real

I meant to write yesterday and even took a bunch of notes at work about what to write so I wouldn't forget. It figures that I would forget the list of things I didn't want to forget.

One of the things that I wanted to write about and unfortunately was unable to attend after all, was a run with Ryan Hall and Bart Yasso! I'll give you a minute to get excited. As Bruce from Family Guy would say:

For those who don't know, Ryan Hall is arguably the best American marathoner today. Bart Yasso is the CRO (Chief Running Officer) at Runner's World and an icon. He's done all kinds of amazing things that I'm sure you'll read about on his website. Anyway, these guys were at Footlocker near Union Square and led a run at 6:30 this evening. Wouldn't you know I'd get caught up at work! To add insult to injury, I also missed the Team Lipstick run that happens every Wednesday at 7:00pm. Ah, well. 

The finish line went up today, as well (actually I think it may have gone up yesterday, but I can't remember). The blue line ceremony (they paint a blue line along the whole course!) was definitely today. The whole thing starts to feel very real once I see that finish line in the park. I'm noticing marathon tourists more and more, whether on their morning run or just walking around Midtown.

Another thing I'm starting to get excited about is all the people I'll see along the course! My roommates will be taking in the marathon from a bar somewhere along 1st ave. Additionally, my Chupacabras (of Chupacabra Conspiracy fame) will be congregating at 1st and 78th street! In Brooklyn I'll look forward to seeing CEO and founder of Team Lipstick, Laura Cozik and along the course I'll see other Team Lipstick members! And last, but most of all, my mom will be there too, all the way from Texas! 

There I go abusing the exclamation point again. Whatever. If there's an occasion that warrants it, it's the New York City Marathon.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Six Days!

We're down to six days. Before I get into a few marathon-rated topics, a couple of orders of business. 1. There's a new poll up. Answer it! 2. I now have a Facebook page! Look up The Cheap Triathlete and, if you like it in real life, like it on Facebook! Alright, I think I've used up my quota of exclamation points. I'll try to refrain for the rest of this post.

And now, to the fun stuff. International runners are already arriving and taking in the city. Also, many stores and brands are running promotional events that sound awesome. Today Asics held an event in Columbus Circle with a virtual Ryan Hall in case you ever wondered how long you could keep up pace with an elite runner. Additionally, NYRR is running a promotion with Nissan in which they drive a Nissan LEAF to a different location every day and people can show up for swag and a chance to win an actual Nissan LEAF.

Bad news is that the park is in really bad shape after the storm. Earlier reports from today say that the park could lose up to 1000 trees. I didn't realize how serious it was until going to the park yesterday and today for this morning's quidditch workout. There were tree branches everywhere. I even saw an entire tree ripped up from the roots. And it was under pavement. Hopefully the cleanup will be fast and efficient.

Stay tuned for more marathon coverage. If you're in the area, enjoy the atmosphere and check out some marathon events!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

DEALWATCH: Yet Another Xterra Sale

And you thought you'd missed your chance. Never fear, the cheaptriathlete is here to give you new and functional coupon codes! See below:

Did you catch the coupon code? It's  ACTXYZ. For more information on the sale, Xterra, and (the source of the deal), you can also follow this link. Happy shopping!

The Countdown Begins

Well, folks, we are one week away from the ING New York City Marathon. This weekend proved to be anomalous weather-wise, as we had a freak snowstorm. It's not even November yet! The weather for next Sunday looks more promising. Let's take a look at the forecast!

I can do mostly cloudy with a high near 60. My fear is that we're still too far out for that to be reliable information. But hey, as long as there's no freak snowstorm I guess it's doable, right? Right. 

Things on Facebook and Twitter have been ramping up as various groups (and individual runners, of course) are getting ready for Sunday. Last week NYRR put out a call for Social Media Reporters for the marathon, so I emailed about it. I guess there was something just crazy enough about the fact that I tweeted from miles 4 and 10 of the Baltimore Marathon because I got a response on Thursday! While I imagine it involves just starting/keeping up marathon conversation on various social media outlets, I'm not certain what it entails exactly. I guess I'll find out for sure during tomorrow's informational meeting.

There are a lot of things to get excited about this week. The Marathon Expo begins on Thursday. I'd like to get out there sometime Thursday or Friday, but I'm not sure it will be possible because of work. Maybe things will be slow and I'll be able to sneak out for a couple of hours. Marathon week is typically kicked off with the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff, but it was canceled today due to hazardous conditions in the park. Too bad, because I'd hoped to get to the finish to sample some reGen (note: if you have a running group that would like to sample it, please let me know!). Also canceled was the Halloween Marathon, part of the Holiday Marathon series that some of you in the NYC area may have heard of.

And as has happened with every marathon for the last few years, I didn't properly plan my outfit! I mean, since I know what I'm in for with the outfit I wore at Baltimore, I'll be wearing that on Sunday as well. But I always say I'm going to put my name on the back of my shirt and never do. Not that it's too late, but I'd like to figure out a good way to do it on a dry fit shirt. Fortunately, I did come up with a solution for this, even if it's not necessarily ideal. Behold!

When I signed up for my pace group in Baltimore, the guy at the table wrote my name on this bib and told me to wear it on my back. I did, it worked well, and so I'm going to do the same thing for NYC. And I'm hoping that I'll hear a lot more "Go Katie!" because of it. Normally I hear a fair amount of that for other Katies and just pretend it's for me. This time, it WILL be for me!

I didn't do my last "long" run today but I intend to do it tomorrow as my normal Monday commitment (improv) has been postponed.

I'll update tomorrow about the NYRR meeting. Should be interesting and I'm looking forward to a fun and exciting week!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest Race Report: The ING Hartford Marathon

Name: Szymon
Hometown: Port Washington, NY
Runner since: 2008 

Favorite Recovery Food: Pizza 
Favorite Recovery Drink: Water. Lots of it.

Here is my race report of the 2011 Hartford Marathon.

All in all, I think I was a bit too cocky going into the race. I thought I trained well; I did about 7 runs of 18 miles or longer, with a maximum of 21 miles. I knew I could run at a solid 7:12 pace for 10 miles with no problem, because I have done such a session. But I did not know how the wall would feel, especially after going for miles at a 7:20 pace.

I was very nervous for the race. I always get a bit nervous before races but this was the marathon. I spent the night before up at my wife’s uncle’s house in MA, 30 minutes from Hartford. I was able to sleep for about 6 hours the night before. Woke up at 5:45am. I was nervous as hell so I hit up a coffee and two pop tarts, the breakfast of champions. At 6:15am we left for Hartford. The plan was to arrive at 6:45am, get the bib, use the restroom and hook up with the 3:15 pace group at 7:40am.

We got in at 6:45am, but the XL Center was packed. The line to get bibs was crazy, if only because there was also a 5k and a half marathon happening at the same time as the marathon. We got to the park at 7:30am. It was time to use the bathroom. The lines were so ridiculous that we stood in line for over 25 minutes. At 7:55am I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the pace group in the throng of runners. I dressed down to my running clothes and joined the group. I knew I was going to have to pass a bunch of people so I squeezed through as much as I could. I started the marathon about 4 minutes after the gun went off.

The first few miles were great. Loud music, people cheering. In fact, the start was actually all of the marathon and half marathon runners. I spent the first mile weaving through the crowds. I ran through sidewalks, grass and everything in between to avoid the people on the road. At the 1 mile mark someone yelled “Only 25 miles to go!”. Lots of good energy. At about mile 2 the full and half courses split so there was much less congestion.

2 miles in I felt incredibly good. This is only expected after a solid 3 week taper. I ran the 2 miles at about a 7:10 pace. Fast, but I felt good and slowed it down a bit. The next few miles were ran out of the downtown area, along the CT River and back to downtown. During this time I passed quite a lot of runners including the 3:30 pace group. I felt strong and at about mile 5 I took my first GU. By this time I had noticed that hydration might not be great. Either I felt that the cups were not big enough or did not have enough liquid. I felt I had to take 2 cups at every station at the bare minimum. As an aside, the Gatorade was also watered down. This only presented a minor challenge, but would be a factor when exhaustion set in. I did notice I was running a bit too fast; still at about 7:15-7:20 pace, but somehow I found it too difficult to slow down.

At about mile 6 when we ran over the CT River, I passed the 3:25 pace group. I stayed with them for a few minutes, but soon passed them. The next 6 miles were pretty uneventful. I stayed on about a 7:15-7:20 pace during this time. I ran with a few people during this time exchanging a few words here and there. I first felt the beginnings of being tired at about mile 11-12. I did not think much of it; running 12 miles at this pace is not exactly easy. I passed the half at around 1:35 and change. That puts me somewhere around 7:17 pace. Wow, I thought. I was doing great. If I keep this pace up I may be able to finish in 3:10!

That, was not to happen. At mile 16 I started feeling the miles and I definitely started slowing down. Mile 17 marked a U-turn in the course. This was a point I was looking forward to. From there on, it is just 9 miles straight back to the finish, which happened to be in the same park as the start. The next 3 miles were a bit tough. Slowly I felt my body getting weaker and I felt the pace begin to be more and more difficult to keep up. I had been texting my wife a bit here and there but I send her one word: “Walling”.

I passed the 20 mile marker in about 2:29 and change. This meant a ~7:27 pace. I definitely slowed down a lot from the half marathon mark. At the mile 20 hydration station I grabbed two cups of Gatorade and decided to walk while I drank. I was shocked when my legs almost immediately gave out. I considered myself lucky that I did not fall. After 15 seconds of walking, I turned it into a slow run. Basically, I figured if walking was this difficult there is no point in walking.

The next 2 miles were incredibly tough. Runners passed me. The spectators that were around this point of the course tried to tell me words of encouragement. I high-fived anyone who would, trying to get some motivation but the wall kept on beating me down. My wife kept on sending me encouraging texts, which helped but only so much.

At mile 22 I had to take a walk break again. This time, the walk was about 4 to 5 minutes. It was really tough now because in my mind I knew I wasn’t going to finish in 3:15, not to even mention 3:10. But every minute I walked I doubted my ability to finish in 3:20 or even 3:30. At some point I decided to start running again. Ever since the U-turn at mile 17 I thought my next most encouraging checkpoint would be mile 24. I remembered the exact location in the course and remembered how close it seemed to the end. I continued my slow run trying my best to finish strong. I tried to zone out; to ignore everything and everyone around me. About a quarter mile before the 24 mile marker when I could see it, the 3:30 pace group passed me. This was extremely tough mentally. How could I even think of 3:10 and now the 3:30 pace group passed me?

I kept on running. At the 25th mile, I got some drinks and walked up the bridge. I texted my wife that I passed 25 and walking up. Right after I sent this message I looked at my watch. It said ~3:21:30. I still had a chance to finish in under 3:30. I texted my wife again saying “Coming home baby” and I ran my ass out. I covered about 1.1 miles in about 8.25 minutes, a 7:30 pace until the finish line. I felt fast. I passed some other runners. I had this intense motivation out of nowhere. I saw a few people cramping up and having difficulty and offered some words of encouragement as I passed by.

I passed the 26th mile to loud cheers. Someone sprinted past me. F them. I was just trying to finish under 3:30 at this point. I turned at 26.1 miles and was able to see the finish line. I upped my pace and looked for my wife. I saw her, waved and smiled. She took a photo of me. I kept on running towards the finish. I heard the announcer announce my name as I was steps from the finish and I raised my hand. I finished in 3:29:49, average 8:01 pace.

All in all, the last 10k lasted about an hour or so. Outside the solid effort in the last 1.2 miles, the 5 miles before took me an average of 10:12min/mile, just slightly above my 7:27 pace at 20 miles. When people now ask me what the wall feels like my answer will be: your first 20 miles are at a 7:20 pace and you feel ok, and the last 10k is 2:30 slower and it feels doubly as hard.

After the race I cramped up bad. After my long runs my hamstrings and calves always cramp up, but after this race it was even worse. Initially I was fine. I walked, drank water. But before soon, the pain came and I grimaced in pain kind of rolling in some mud. Luckily there was a free massage available and I immediately asked for one. That, plus a bagel, yogurt and salty chips and finally a beer, are what really helped me feel better.

The first thing I told my wife when I saw her was “who the fuck does this???”, but I honestly can’t wait to do this again.

Leftover Marathon Tidbits

I'm excited to announce that tomorrow I'll be posting the blog's very first guest race profile! In light of that, there are a few things about Baltimore that I forgot to mention but want to put in before Szymon's report on the ING Hartford Marathon.

First, I forgot to talk about how after the race, I found Team reGen again and got to help them distribute a bunch of samples in the finishers' village. It was great not only getting more involved with the team, but also meeting people that I'd previously only seen or heard from on Twitter or Facebook. For example, I met Marci who is a two-time Ironman finisher and a ten-time marathon finisher! That's right, the Baltimore Marathon was her tenth 26.2.

Second, I forgot to mention one of the biggest parts of the weekend and my Baltimore Marathon experience as a whole; I broke my streak. I know, I could hardly believe it once I realized what had happened. On Friday I was so concerned with getting to Baltimore, picking up my packet, meeting Team reGen and preparing for the race that I completely forgot to get my mile in. Totally forgot. I only remembered on marathon morning when I was packing up my bag. I was pretty disappointed since it happened accidentally, but I decided that there was something meaningful about its timing. Maybe it was symbolic. Of what, I'm not certain. I'm sure it could be spun a thousand different ways. But the fact of the matter is, my 8 month, 11 day streak is over. I've started a new one and I'm on day 4.

Third, part of the victory here was that I can go into the NYC marathon with many fewer worries. I'll still be nervous and I'll still get choked up at the start, but I'll feel much less pressure to run it under 4:30. I hope it happens, but I won't be broken up if it doesn't because I just love the experience.

Fourth, a few race specifics. Although I purchased those Clif Shot Bloks, I didn't eat them. As I was trying to determine what to check in my bag and what to keep on me, I didn't relish the idea of carting them along for 13 or 14 miles and I didn't have any sort of pocket in which to keep them. I decided to leave them in the hopes that there would be gels on the course. There were, but interestingly enough, I picked one up (around mile 15, maybe?) and held it the entire race. This may have been the first marathon in which I didn't consume any sort of nutrition (not counting fluids) during the race. Additionally, there weren't start waves! I suppose this is similar to the way it's done at the Big D Texas Marathon that I've done a couple of times, but I was surprised.

Never underestimate the value of a really good, upbeat playlist. I'm not ashamed to admit that I love listening to music when I run. The playlist I used began as one I created during the hour and a half or so I had before the Staten Island Half Marathon and later expanded upon when I realized that it was very effective as a race playlist.

I'll never stop being irked by people who say things like "It's all downhill from here!" I know they mean well, but 99% of the time, they're lying!

Finally, I met a woman who's trying to run a marathon in each of the 50 states on the bus to AND from NYC. I didn't get her contact info, though I probably should have because I'd be interested in following her progress. It was interesting to talk to her. She's covered 11 states so far and I wish her the best of luck.

So yes, I think that's finally everything. Now, everyone get excited for tomorrow's post and have a good run (or bike or swim...or other)! Oh, PS, here are a couple of pictures I was able to take with Team reGen:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Now It's A Party

This fall has just been a crazy amount of awesome when it comes to races and goals. I think it's been about 9 months in the making and is the result of new perspectives on training as well as new willpower to follow them through but that doesn't make it any less stunning for me. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. As you may or may not have read already, I ran yesterday's Baltimore Marathon with Team reGen.

I left on the 3pm bus to Baltimore on Friday and took Greyhound. Their service was pretty good. Wi-fi, lots of legroom, and outlets. I couldn't have asked for much more, so the trip was pleasant. I arrived in Baltimore around 7:30pm, later than I originally expected, and took a cab from the bus terminal to the Baltimore Convention Center where I needed to pick up my race number and visit the reGen table to say hi. This marathon seemed to be a much smaller production than the New York City Marathon. I won't comment on whether or not that's a good thing, only that there were definitely differences.

After finding the expo itself, I entered and got my numbers and t-shirt and then wandered around a little bit. I found the reGen table without much trouble but was a little bit at a loss for what to do. I wanted to be helpful but only ended up being sort of awkward in my attempt. I ended up meeting up with them again after the race, so it was okay.

At the expo I purchased Clif Shot Bloks, which I intended to consume during the race. I've tried them before and find them way more pleasant to eat during a race than Gu or Power Bar Gels. Each brand has its own version of the Bloks, the best comparison to which I can think of is fruit snacks. I find the consistency to be much more tolerable than the gooey semi-drinkable gel versions. I also got some socks, as I forgot to pack them. Once I finished at the expo, I headed to my hotel. It was in a nice location and the room itself was big and comfortable. I ordered some spaghetti for dinner, got my clothes ready, and headed to bed, having set five or six alarms between my phone, the alarm clock, and a wake-up call.

I woke up around 6:30, which was a little later than I wanted to wake up but still left me plenty of time to dress, pack up, check out, and head down to check my bag in and enjoy the continental breakfast that the hotel provided. I was thinking I would eat a bagel because that has always been reliable pre-race food for me but I only saw cereal and yogurt once I got downstairs. It wasn't until AFTER I'd finished my Frosted Flakes that I realized I missed most of the breakfast options, which were on the other side of the wall. No matter, though. The Frosted Flakes and coffee I had were just fine.

I strolled to the start and almost immediately found the 4:30 pace group that I had joined at the expo. What I hadn't found, though, was bag check! Plus, I was beginning to run out of time before the race started. I began running around, asking people where bag check was to mostly no avail. Finally, after asking five or six people, I found someone who knew and followed his directions, scrambling over and checking my bag with about 10 minutes before race time. I ran back to the start and found my pace group again but had to sort of wait about 10 feet in front of them because it was too crowded to move very much.

At the gun start, I hung back a little in order to join up with the pace group and we were off! I barely remember the first few miles, but the fourth one sticks in my mind because it went right by the Baltimore Zoo and employees had taken out some of the animals and were holding them next to the course! It was pretty cool. I can't say I had ever been cheered on by a baby alligator, penguin, gigantic rabbit or rooster before yesterday!

After that, I actually lost the pace group. I was running through water stops but the rest of the group was not, which began to create space between myself and them, although the folks I did keep up with for a large portion of the race had also initially started with that pace group. Perhaps this sounds creepy, but I began to think of those people as my marathon family. My awareness of them and their relation to me kept me on track. I remember hitting mile 7 and feeling like I was finally into the race. Throughout, I was trying to make milestones for myself so that I had something to look forward to. After mile 7, I looked for mile 10 (I even tweeted at mile 10. I'm not ashamed). After mile 10, I looked for 13.1 as the halfway point. After the halfway point, I looked for 16 because that's the point at which I could start counting the miles down from 10.

Also at mile 16 was the merge of half marathon and full marathon participants. I actually did not like this at all because the course became flooded with runners. And I lost my marathon family! I had to find new people to keep track of. I also found myself having to weave in and out of the half marathoners in order to keep running my race. Additionally, the course was hilly and I had a near panic attack every time I would look forward and see the top of a hill apparently swarming with people. It wasn't ideal, but I was able to work with it. Oh! Along with a half and full marathon, this race was also a relay so there were three places at which the relay teams would switch runners. This created a chaotic scene at these points (miles 7, 13, and 19, approximately) but it wasn't too bad overall.

Before the race started, I was intent on working on 1 thing, which I had hoped to write about but didn't get a chance to. That thing was pushing through the wall. I feel like I always hit a wall around mile 18 and it throws my whole race off. This time I was determined to push through it. After mile 16, I was trying to adjust to the new dynamic of the race. I should note, though, that there was no mile 16 marker. Or there was and I missed it. The next one I saw was mile 17. I think. This part is a little funky because I honestly remember hitting the merge, getting myself used to it, worrying about hitting the wall, and then suddenly being at mile 19! That mile marker hit me hard. I realized that I was already a mile into what is normally a 2 mile wall. I GOT HALFWAY THROUGH MY WALL WITHOUT EVER REALLY HITTING IT. Yes, it was that shocking for me and I was re-energized.

Miles 19-21 were around a small body of water. I was hoping it was longer than it was, but it was still a good distraction. 22-26.2 were all mental. It was all about keeping to the race and not thinking about the fact that I was so close to the end after already having come so far. Interestingly enough, I was barely timing myself throughout the course of this race. I think I checked the clock on my phone three times and they were all after mile 16. I checked a couple of times between 11 and 12 and then once more at 12:16, which is when I realized I was making really good time and could shatter the 4:30 goal I set for myself for the NYC Marathon. But I still didn't get excited. My main catchphrase from mile 16 to the end was "no chicken counting." I sometimes make catchphrases for myself that I can keep repeating to motivate me throughout the race. So no chickens were counted until I crossed the finish line and knew I was well under 4:30.  I also kicked harder than I EVER have at a marathon before. I was in the last tenth of a mile, nearly tripped on the feet of the girl in front of me and remember thinking "screw it" and sprinted hard to the finish.

After the race I wandered around like a tired, sore idiot trying to find bag check again. I was getting really grumpy toward the end because I was holding so much stuff and wasn't able to eat any of my food. Not that I was very hungry right after the race, but I was a little bit. Immediately off the finish line, the reGen team was waiting with a delicious, ice cold reGen. Judging from the fact that my legs aren't sore at all today, I'd say it worked pretty well.

Oh, water stops. I always forget those. I didn't really start taking water until a few miles in and once I did, I got really good at running through them. It wasn't until the very end of the race that I walked through two or three. It was a little bit windy, and at one water stop an entire top layer of Gatorade cups was blown up into the volunteers and runners! I got a Gatorade shower all over the backs of my legs.

Well this has been an epic post and it's about time I conclude it. My final time was 4:21:35 and here is a picture of my medal:

Thanks for a great race, Team reGen!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Baltimore Bound

In a few minutes I'll head to Baltimore for tomorrow's Baltimore Marathon with Team reGen. I'm very excited. Wish I'd been able to get down there sooner, but I'll arrive around 7pm. I have a couple specific things I want to accomplish tomorrow, but not enough time to talk about them right now.

Hopefully I'll find a computer to use once I get down there because I'm not taking mine. If I can, I'll try updating. If not, catch you on the flip side!

A Half Marathon PR Two Years in the Making - Part 1

As you're reading this, keep in mind that I wrote half of it nearly two weeks ago and the other half today, which is why date and time references may not match up. 

Yes, all. It's true. After two years of waddling through half marathons (8 of them, actually, but who's counting), I've finally broken the half marathon PR I set two years ago this coming Sunday. That was the Staten Island half marathon and it took place a month before the New York City Marathon. I ran it in 2:06:17. For a long time after I had a difficult time maintaining a pace under 10 minutes per mile during half marathons. Mostly it was a mental thing, but for a couple I did have some foot issues. This is a rundown of my half marathon track record:

Half Marathon Grand Prix: Manhattan - My very first half marathon. I ran it in 2:11:53. I didn't realize it at the time but it was really pretty decent for a first half marathon.

Half Marathon Grand Prix: Bronx - My very first Bronx half took place in February (it's since been moved to August due to the New York Half Marathon now taking place in March). The weather was perfect. Even though these races were only two weeks apart, Manhattan was held in 14 degree weather and the Bronx was held in 50 or 60 degree weather. It was weird, but I certainly wasn't complaining for the Bronx half. I ran it in 2:11:38, besting my first attempt by mere seconds.

Half Marathon Grand Prix: Brooklyn - To this day, the only Brooklyn half I've run. It's such a popular race that it fills up within a day or two and registration opens up sometime in January. Granted, it was around 90 degrees during this race, but still. I remember not being strong during the race. I remember taking the two laps around Prospect Park a little fast, which always freaks me out and typically hurts the rest of my race. I ran this one in 2:22:00.

Half Marathon Grand Prix: Queens - I don't remember this one very well but I'm sort of okay with that because I didn't do very well, either. Time: 2:19:53

Grete's Great Gallop: I don't know what the deal was with these later 2009 half marathons. I seem to have settled into a 10:40ish pace so that I finished most of them around 2:20. Grete's is always the same course, two clockwise loops of Central Park. It's not my favorite course, but the race atmosphere is always great. Time: 2:19:00. Oh! I also remember that this was my first experience with the fantastic after-Gallop food. They served lox on bagels!

Half Marathon Grand Prix: Staten Island - Lo and behold, a half marathon PR that also accomplished my goal of running a half marathon under 2:10. Since this was my first Staten Island half, I didn't have too many expectations. I actually met some friends there and was happy for the good company, even if it was only before the race started. What I do remember about this race is that I did well because I met someone else I knew at the race, passed her in the first mile, and then kept imagining that she would catch up! Perhaps it's not nice and maybe there were better ways to motivate myself, but for whatever reason, that one really worked!

NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon - Time: 2:19:24. I dunno, all. I guess this was my go-to half marathon pace. The Manhattan Half Marathon is also two loops around Central Park, but these are counterclockwise and start at the lower West end of the park. This one was meh for me. The best thing about it was having brunch with friends after. Special shout-out to one of those friends, Szymon, who is running tomorrow's ING Hartford Marathon!

You know what? This is getting boring for me and probably more so for you. Let's make this a Part 1 and leave it at

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Race Report: Staten Island Half Marathon

Alright, now that I've gotten my big-picture lessons from yesterday out there, it's time to do a slightly more in-depth analysis of the race itself. Yesterday was unusual because I actually got to the race way earlier than was necessary. Normally I have to jump into the last corral because I don't get to the start until 1 or 2 minutes before the race. Not yesterday. I guess it was one benefit to the race not being in my backyard.

The race was supposed to start at 8:30am and race instructions (which, I know, I'm not normally great at paying attention to) said that the last ferry that would get runners to the start in time was the one that left at 7:30. I figured I'd play it safe and get onto the 7:00am ferry. In order to get down there in time, I planned to wake up at 5:00 and leave my apartment by 5:30. But in all my surprisingly prudent planning, something had to give, so I actually woke up at 5:15 and left around 5:45. To my great surprise, I got all the way down to South Ferry (the Southern-most station in Manhattan) by 6:20 and was therefore able to take the 6:30 ferry and to Staten Island itself by 7:00ish. So yes, I had kind of a lot of time to while away, but it wasn't too bad.

I picked up my bib and t-shirt right away but didn't check my backpack until about the last 15 minutes before the race. It was a little chilly before we started, so I wanted to wait as long as possible before having to take my overshirt off. When I finally did check my bag, it was a relief because along with my race stuff, it contained a box of reGen that I intended to distribute after the race.

As I mentioned earlier, I got to the race early enough that I was even able to enter my corral! Hooray! Normally I don't really care. I've always been at the back of the pack, so I tend to take it for granted that I'll either start at the end or close to it. It wasn't until Sunday when I realized the value in starting at the correct corral. It only took me 2 minutes to make it to the starting mats (normally it takes closer to 10 at NYRR races) and we were off!

This truly felt like a fast half marathon, and I don't even mean because I was running it faster than I normally do. Maybe it was because it was my third time running this exact course and it has stuck in my mind pretty well over the last few years. But we reached the first mile marker very quickly and before I knew it we were at mile 4! Now, before I get into the 5-8 mile out-and-back, let me talk about bridges and overpasses. Running under them is one of my absolute favorite things to do during a race. Why? The hoot and holler! If you ever run a race with enough people, try letting out a nice howl under the overpass. If the running crowd at that race is any fun at all, you'll get a chorus of whoops, cheers and howls back! It's awesome and I may or may not have (definitely) done it under the one overpass in this race. I will say, though, that the orange corral is a much less enthusiastic hoot and holler crowd than the pink, light blue, and purple crowd. Bonus points for pink, light blue and purple!

Not long after that, we hit the beginning of one of the toughest parts of the race. It's a humongous downhill. Now, I'm all for downhills, but my stomach always sinks a little when I know that I'll suffer as much on the way up as I coasted on the way down. It was one of those. The downhill extends almost to the 6 mile marker, after which the course goes flat for the next mile and a half or so, at which point the hill back up begins. It's a tough climb and I was really afraid that I would lose my momentum coming out of that hill. It definitely took me a bit to regain my pace, but I did eventually. The 8 mile marker is not far from the end of that hill and I was happy to see it.

Mile 9 is the point at which runners begin to trace the path back to where the race started, not far in front of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. It was at this point that I was almost certain I was going to break two hours, but I still didn't want to count my proverbial chickens, so I refrained. Until mile 11, that is. At that point, I calculated that even if I ran the next two miles at a 10 minute/mile pace, I would still make it and I felt comfortable enough in that that I began to get excited.

I crossed the finish line as the clock read 2:00:10 and knew that I had run just under two hours, since the clock had been at 2 minutes when I started. I was absolutely elated, as I mentioned on Sunday and I haven't been so excited about an endurance accomplishment in a couple of years.

Oh! I almost forgot to talk about hydration. This race was a bit warm for October and very sunny. I got a nice tan, in fact. The humidity was also high at 75%. Despite these facts, however, I still only stopped at four or five hydration points. I guess I feel like they disrupt my momentum at the beginning of a race. Not really an important factor, but something I thought I'd mention.

So as usual, the Staten Island Half Marathon defied my expectations to become one of my best races of the year. I'll drink (some Diet Coke) to that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

DEALWATCH: Sale on Xterra Wetsuits - Fall 2011

So I've noticed that my blog gets tons of hits from a post I did earlier this year about a sale on Xterra wetsuits. I feel a little bad that this sale is so out of date, so I found a new sale! Bargain hunters, rejoice, for I have a code that will secure significant wetsuit savings for you and your loved ones. Behold:

Take note, readers. That coupon code is ATHLINK and it is good until October 16th (next Sunday). I suppose it's only fair to mention that this deal comes courtesy of the website Athlinks, which is a pretty cool site that aggregates any race results you might have floating around on the Internet and puts them in one place for you!

So there you have it. I'm working on two other posts that I just haven't gotten around to finishing, not to mention a bunch of other writing I really need to get on top of. Anyway, enjoy the sale. Take advantage before next Sunday!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Now I See

I turned a corner today. A really big, pointy corner. And of course it came during the half marathon that's been the most enigmatically bright spot on my race calendar over the past three years. Each time I've had few, if any expectations of this surprisingly hilly course, located in Staten Island, of all places and each time I end up pleasantly surprised.

Today was especially triumphant. For the first time ever, I ran a half marathon in under 2 hours. 1:58 flat, to be exact.

Since I started running, my general goal has been to accomplish everything I can accomplish while minimizing the amount of suckiness of the experience. To some extent, this goes hand-in-hand with another problematic attitude I've had that I've also mentioned in the past, which is trying to keep my social life intact while training for these races. Now, let me be clear. There's nothing wrong with that strategy, per se. I firmly believe that a runner needs to derive some measure of enjoyment from running or else they'll never stick with it. For me, that used to mean minimizing the amount of time my athletic endeavors took from the rest of my life and hoping that the time I did devote to them would be enough for what I wanted to accomplish.

This approach has built-in limitations. It's compatible with the more qualitative goal of improving but makes specific goal-setting an exercise in disappointment. If I had understood that, maybe I wouldn't have bothered with specific goals and would have been content to always be getting better and setting new PRs. Not so. This is especially well illustrated in my half marathon endeavors simply because I've done so many of them. I ran my first two in January and February of 2009 in 2:11 and change. At the time, this didn't mean much to me, it just seemed reasonable. In retrospect, those were really good first half marathons but I didn't know enough to understand. And while I wanted to improve (for the record, my goal after that was 2:10), I didn't really have a strategy for how. I just hoped it would happen. I was running, but without any particular direction.

So what happened when I set myself a goal but didn't plan out how I was going to get there? I toiled through a string of mediocre half marathons. I define them as mediocre not because of my time, but because of the races themselves. I ran them poorly. If I'd put everything I had into them and still gotten the same times, I could have been happy with them.

That's the key. That's what I've had missing all this time. Grit, boldness. They're scary things, and not simply because they're difficult to achieve. Even more so because they're so damn risky. If I train for months and months for a race and I run that race with everything in me and don't accomplish my goal, it's my failure. If I put in miles casually and run the race at a pace that's comfortable and I don't achieve my goal, I can always say, "well, I just didn't train hard enough."

It might be safe, but it didn't leave me with much to show for my efforts. In 2009 I set a new PR of 2:06:17. After that, I had my sights set on 2 hours. But it would be nearly 2 years before I even approached that goal! This came last weekend when I ran Grete's Great Gallop in 2:01:51 and it wasn't until a little bit into the race that I realized I was in a position to do something really good. I ran the first few miles of that race like I always had and then found it in me to start pushing. I pushed to the end with great results but knew that it could have been better.

This morning when I left home to catch the ferry to Staten Island, I wasn't really expecting to have another good race. I thought I'd already had mine last week and I could hardly expect to repeat. But then I got into my corral and I was reminded of how far I've come this year. I started with a pink bib and now wear yellow or orange. That didn't happen by accident. It happened because I started looking to actually achieve my goals with much less regard to what I would have to sacrifice for them. I got faster. I thought of all these things and realized I wanted to keep up with my corral mates! I was there, they were there. If they could do it, so could I.

And so the struggle began. I told myself to take it one mile at a time. To make sure that, more often than not, the last minute on the clock decreased by 1 each time I passed a mile marker (my convoluted way of ensuring my mile pace was at least close to 9 minutes). I don't do well with watches so I rely on zen and the mile marker clocks. It's a hilly course, which didn't matter at the beginning but did in the middle of the race, as there is a three or four mile segment which starts with a massive downhill and has a flat, out-and-back sub segment which opens up into an equally massive uphill. I kept waiting for my energy and pace to flag after each large hill at the end. It never did. After a few moments of recovery, I found myself back on pace with everyone else and each time this glorious reaffirmation occurred, I pushed myself a little harder.

I knew that I'd crossed the timing mat when the clock read about 2 minutes so I calculated that as long as I crossed the finish mats while the clock read under 2:02, I would run a sub 2 hour half marathon. When I read 2:00:10 as I crossed the mat, I knew I had done it. Honestly, I don't think I've been so proud of an accomplishment since I finished my very first marathon. I ran this race with heart and I left everything out there. It was worth it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conclusion to the Neverending Central Park Run

So a couple of days ago I left off talking about the 18 mile Marathon Tune-Up which took place in Central Park. I had just eaten the gel (vom, almost literally). But I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to recover from the strain of more difficult areas of the park like Harlem and Cat Hills. Cat Hill is the worst hill on the East Side. I've only recently come to know it by that name, which is strange since I've been running in the park for three years. I can only assume it's because of the panther (or some other wild cat) statue at the top of a rock wall there.

ANYWAY, the run ended great. I finished in 3:02 and change, which is a good 25 minutes faster than I've ever run this race in the past. I'm still convinced that it was mostly a mental thing. In past years, I've gotten in my head at later miles and taken walking breaks. I'm getting much better at keeping in mind that the more walking I do during a long run or marathon, the longer it will take and the longer it will be before I can eat the crap out of something. This time, I did not lose sight of my end goal.

What I will say about this race is that I ran into a few issues that I've had in the past, but were easier to isolate and identify here. The first was chafing. I should have known better than to wear new clothes on a run of such a long distance. In my defense, though, I thought I had worn this style of short in another long run. They're the Tempo 2 in 1 shorts, so there's a second, tight pair of shorts under the regular baggy ones. The older pair of these that I own are perfect. The inner layer comes down to just above my knee and so I didn't have an issue when I wore them on my long run previously. Unfortunately, these new ones had a much shorter inner layer. For this reason, they kept riding up and exposing my legs to a ginormous chafing hazard. I ran the whole first lap awkwardly pulling my shorts down and running with my toes pointed out just to find some relief. Fortunately, I thought ahead and visited the medical tent just after mile 6 for some Vaseline. That solved the problem (though it did leave me with greasy hands for the remaining 12 miles, but all things considered I can't complain). So that was lesson number 1.

Lesson number 2 may have been discovering the value of well-timed race nutrition. I can barely call it nutrition, because it was not nutritious at all. But the timing of its consumption, I think, was perfect. The night before the race I went to a couple of friends' birthday parties. I was in a rush to get ready and get down to the Lower East Side, so I skipped dinner. Naturally, by 11:40pm this situation needed to be remedied. I was on my way home when I spotted a wild Taco Bell! I know, you're probably all cringing right now because who would ever, EVER eat Taco Bell only hours before an 18 mile race. To that, I respond, "this idiot" and I would indicate myself with a judgmental finger wag. There, I said it. I ate Taco Bell at midnight the night before a huge run.

It was a terrible idea that I think may have helped me during the race. The thing is, normally I don't think at all about nutrition and fueling the day before a race; I only begin to think of that the morning of, when I'm grabbing something to eat while running out the door. Sometimes it's cereal, or reGen, or a bagel, if I do enough planning to have time to acquire one. Occasionally I don't eat anything at all. These poor decisions typically come back to haunt me later in the race because I find myself ravenous around mile 10. Ravenous and lethargic.

Sunday morning was no different. I consumed about 200 calories before the race. Maybe this is enough, but I'm not sure. I think it wasn't considering I didn't eat for the race on Saturday. And I did get hungry during the race, but the hunger faded quickly and I found that, in spite of it, I still had a good amount of energy. I'm starting to wonder if it isn't because I had Taco Bell as late as I did. Now, let me be clear. I am not under the impression that Taco Bell is good pre-race food. I am, however, more aware of just how large of an impact race nutrition can have on my performance. If was ever to repeat this, I would eat something much more wholesome around the same late night time. If that worked out, I might continue doing it. If not, I'd be very cognizant of my meals during the day before.

One bad thing I've been experiencing more often is stomach issues. "Gastric distress," as my friend, Kim, termed it before her wedding. I don't know why but I'm hopeful that it's always been something I've dealt with, only now I'm in tune enough with my body to recognize it.

And again, it's late and I'm tired. I didn't even write about the Team Lipstick run I had today. I guess I'll save it for another day. Good night, all.