Thursday, June 23, 2011

Race Report: Gold Coast Triathlon

Sunday marked the beginning of my 2011 triathlon season. For better or worse, it also took place on a super busy weekend. My comedy group had a show that evening, so last week was almost nonstop comedy rehearsals. This makes finding time to run and work out much more difficult. There's always my streak run, of course, but if I do the minimum mile or close to it, it's not much help. Saturday started off with breakfast with Shashi, a train ride, and a work softball tournament in Stamford, CT. The tournament itself went very poorly and we lost by mercy rule in the fourth inning of our first game. After that, I headed home and took a nap once I got there because I hadn't gotten that much sleep after going out the night before. Once I woke up I remembered we had a comedy meeting! I rushed down to the Lower East Side in time for the last half of the meeting, which was surprisingly productive, all things considered.

After getting home around 10, I had to get all my stuff ready for the tri. I practiced putting on and taking off my wetsuit, collected everything I would need, and made sure my bike tires were pumped. I finally went to sleep around 1am, knowing I'd have to be up a mere 3 hours later. I wasn't that bothered about it, just concerned that I wouldn't wake up in time!

Fortunately, though, I was able to and I got up and stuffed everything into my backpack, rode down to Penn Station and bought a ticket and bike permit for the 5:19 Long Island Railroad train to Port Washington. I'm normally a logistical and planning nightmare, so I was concerned that something would go wrong and I'd miss the train or not get a ticket in time, etc. Luckily, nothing like that happened and I made it onto the train in plenty of time. There were a bunch of triathletes on the same train. Seeing other runners or triathletes on the train always comforts me because I know I'm on the right track and, worst case, I can follow those people to the right place.

After a sleepy train ride, we arrived at Port Washington, where I followed another group of triathletes as they got on their bikes and began the nearly 3 mile ride to Hempstead Park. It was not a bad ride but did have a couple of hills, which I obviously have not been preparing for. After arriving at the park, I set up all my things and began to get a little concerned about the swim, since I hadn't done any swimming in the wetsuit up to that point. Plus, I forgot Body Glide! I saw everyone around me applying it and I began to have visions of chafing and blisters all over my neck, wrists and ankles. Again, though, my concerns were unfounded and I had none of these issues. I waited until the last possible minute to put on the wetsuit because it was hot. And once I did have it on, I jumped right into the water and was immediately grateful to be wearing it because the water was cold! I heard someone say it was 70 degrees but it definitely felt colder. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the wetsuit wasn't nearly as restrictive as I anticipated. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure it made the swim easier because of the added buoyancy.

The first heat began their swim promptly at 7:30 and my heat started 4 minutes after. The swim wasn't too bad, all things considered. What did suck was that my goggles are tinted yellow and the buoys we were supposed to be swimming around were also yellow. To add to this visual nightmare, the morning light and sand made the horizon one big yellow blur and sighting the buoys was very difficult. I think I made a humongous arc around the path I should have been following. I also took the typical kicks and punches that come in a mad scramble in the water. These are especially bad at the beginning and as racers round the buoys. It's easy to get distracted just trying to protect your face from other people's limbs.

After the swim I did my best to run quickly up to the transition area, tearing my wetsuit half off before I got to my bike in order to make my transition faster. Once I got there, I peeled off the bottom half of the suit, yanked on my bike shoes, and grabbed my helmet before running my bike out to the bike start. The bike course was very short and pretty easy but I had an issue which I did NOT anticipate. My bike seat was loose and so it kept tilting up! If you want an idea of how this felt, look at your own (hopefully level) bike seat and imagine that it's tilted at a 45 degree angle and you have to ride it that way. Yeah. It was bad. That was the biggest thing I had to deal with on the bike. I'm 90% certain my time would have been better without this issue, but again, the whole thing was a big learning experience.

The run went much better than it has in the past. I think I ran it in 27 minutes and change, which works out to a little more than a 9 minute mile. Not bad, considering it was after the swim and bike. Part of the run was even on a trail, which made it more difficult than usual.

Overall, I'm glad I was able to race this one. The sooner I was able to get into the season, the better. Now I'm eager to get back into training so that I can keep improving throughout the season.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Race Report: JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge

The Corporate Challenge is a race that happens every year in Central Park and involves an obscene number of runners. It takes place over two days and there are around 15,000 participants on each day. Not only that, but it's only divided into four time groups. This might seem like a lot, but to put it in perspective, the New York Road Runners races are often divided into at least 7 different groups for thousands fewer runners. As a result, there are many people who mistakenly start in a group they're either too fast or too slow for.

The group I was placed in this year was I think about in line with the times I've gotten the past few years but slower than the pace I've been running more recently. This was apparent as soon as the race started and I found myself having to jump off the road and onto the grassy side in order to pass people because it was so packed. I also took a shoulder from some obnoxious guy who was running really fast in the opposite direction. I'm not certain, but I feel like that first mile was really fast because I remember thinking I was much more tired than I should have been after the first mile. The remaining ones were slower and my time overall ended up being 29:15 over 3.5 miles, which works out to an 8:25 pace. Not what I wanted it to be, but also not too shabby. I'm really sleepy or else I would write about other things that I have on my mind. Oh well, something for tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gold Coast Tri, Here I Come

Last weekend I was casually browsing Facebook when one of the ads on my profile caught my eye. Not surprisingly, the ads that normally fill up my sidebar have to do with various running, triathlon, and general fitness topics and businesses. I tend to ignore them, as I'm sure most of us do. But for whatever reason, I was inspired to click on this ad for a sprint triathlon in (on?) Long Island. Port Washington, to be exact. I examined all the details with glee, happy that not only was it easily accessible from Manhattan, it also had a packet pickup here in the city! I clicked through a bit more to get to registration only to find that the race was full. Drat!

But I was in luck, as spots have since opened up an I was taken off the waiting list. I'm pretty excited about it since it's the first tri of the season but also a bit apprehensive. Although my run has improved vastly over last summer, I've very much undertrained on the swim and bike, so it will be interesting to see how that whole thing balances out.

Since the race last Sunday, I've also been thinking about my marathon goals. Now, I'm well-aware that 4 miles is hardly 26.2, but my pace for that race made me think that maybe qualifying for Boston isn't as impossible as it always seemed to be. I mean, clearly it will be a challenge, but it's one I can now see myself achieving some time in the near future, whether it's this year or next (but probably next). As a way to gauge the potential of this, I'm going to train for speed at the Queens half marathon next month. If all goes according to plan, I'd like to break 1:50. I initially wanted to to 1:44, but I think I'll take it one step at a time. If I hit 1:50, I'll aim for 1:44 the following month in the Bronx.

What else does this mean? Well, a lot of things. What I had in mind chiefly, though, is that I'm going to need a pair of shoes for marathon and half marathon training. Now that I've gotten into barefoot running, I think I'd like to try a shoe that's somewhere between a traditional shoe and vibrams. Something minimalist but definitely with some support. But that is a discussion for another day!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Over the River

The East River, to be more specific. I may have mentioned this before, but my streak has caused me to take a more pragmatic approach to running. Rather than set aside time for a run, I'd rather run from one place to the other. I've called this a "functional commute" in the past. More and more, I'm finding this to be the ideal way to maintain my streak. The last two days have been good examples. I recently started a sketch comedy troupe with a group of friends with whom I also take improv classes. Our weekly meetings have turned into twice weekly meetings because we have a show coming up. Sometimes these meetings take place at my apartment, but the last couple of weeks they've been at my friend Tom's place in Queens. This is less convenient for me in terms of arriving on time after work, but it provides a unique opportunity for a change of scenery on the running front.

Running from here to there or vice versa is a challenge because it involves crossing the Queensborough Bridge. The bridge itself is 1.5 miles long and, as you might imagine, is half monstrous uphill and half monstrous downhill. This bridge is also featured in the New York City marathon (at mile 16, if memory serves). People often cite it as one of the most difficult parts of the race because of how late it comes as well as the fact that it is, in fact, a huge hill. Between the marathon in 2009 and 2010, another 18 mile long run route I've done four or five times, and the last few days, I'm no stranger to the Queensborough Bridge, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a challenge every time! Not to mention the temperature has been in the mid to high 80's over the past couple of days.

Despite my complaining about its difficulty, I've enjoyed the opportunity to run a different route than usual. Tomorrow I'll be doing a morning run with Jared. Have a good Friday!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Huge PR and Equally Huge Blister

Okay, just a warning about this blister. It's not normal and in fact is quite gross. Do not scroll down too much further if you don't want to be confronted with what is almost certainly the nastiest blister I've ever gotten. You might ask why I'd post such a picture if it's that bad. To answer that question, I'd say that even though it's gross and it hurts, I'm pretty proud of it. It was the result of one of my best races to date!

It ALL started this morning, when I had to wake up for one of the races I signed up for last Friday. After two and a half years, I've gotten the prepwork (lack thereof, really) for these races down to a science. I know exactly how much time I have and I generally don't even bother picking up my race number ahead of time. I know that, even though race bib pickup time technically ends half an hour before the start of a race, it really doesn't end until a few minutes after the race starts. So this morning, after hitting the snooze button four or five times, I rolled out of bed at 8:31. 29 minutes ended up being a perfect amount of time to get dressed, run to the 72nd Street Transverse, pick up my bib, and run back to my corral to start the race. I even had a few minutes to spare!

Once there, I wasn't really able to step into the corral because there were so many people also trying to get in so I sort of waited at the side. After the national anthem was sung we had to wait about 5 minutes before there was any movement in the massive clump-line of people waiting to start. Once we started moving, it took about another 2 minutes to cross the start line. I didn't actually notice what the clock said when I crossed, which plays into what happened later on in the race.

I came out of the gate pretty strong and remember thinking that the people in my group were running slower than I remembered. My pace on the first mile was fast, and when we crossed the first mile marker I remember thinking that I couldn't believe we'd only gone one mile. I didn't see the time there either! We kept going and finally hit the 2 mile marker, at which point I finally saw the time clock read a little over 22 minutes. At the time, I didn't know how much time to subtract for pre-start line crossing faff but I figured 4 minutes couldn't have been too far off the mark, so I calculated that I'd been running for 18 minutes and was probably running a little over 9 minute miles.

At this point in the race, we started hitting a few hills and I felt myself slowing down. I'm not certain, obviously, but I felt like my third mile was probably the worst and I was thinking that as I was running, and trying not to get discouraged and settle back into a comfortable pace. We approached the third mile marker and I grabbed some water, trying as ever to practice an on-the-go drinking technique taught to me by my friend Sharon, who's run something like 20 marathons. I was definitely rusty because I nearly choked on the two sips I took, gave up, and disgustedly flung my paper cup into a trash can before passing the clock and noticing (but not really taking note) that it read slightly over 30 minutes. I kept going for another couple of minutes, still struggling to avoid feeling defeated. Then I thought back to the clock and made a shocking realization. Bear with me as I work through the same simple math I was doing during the race. If the clock read around 22 minutes at mile 2 and then around 30 minutes at mile 3, it meant my third mile was somewhere between  8 and 9 minutes. The mile I thought had been terrible was definitely no more than 9 minutes and seemed like it was probably much closer to 8. Joy!

This gave me a second wind and I rocketed along the West side of the park, finding people to pick off as I went so that I would stay motivated to the very end. When I crossed the finish line, the clock was between 38 and 39 minutes. I knew the results had to be significantly better than normal because, even if I could subtract no time, it would have been better than a 10 minute mile, which has been my benchmark for the past few years.

A few hours later when results were posted, I was stunned to find that my time was 32:29, which works out to be an 8:08 minute mile! The fastest mile I'd ever run at an NYRR race up to this point was 9:20. I can already tell that this is the start of a new, faster chapter in my running career and I am thrilled about it.


I wore my Vibrams to this race because I think my form is much better and I tend to run faster in them. The only downside is that I occasionally get blisters. Not all the time, or even often, but when it happens they tend to be pretty large in terms of surface area. This one was no different. I could feel it there even before the race was over but was still surprised to see how large it was once I took my shoes off. Also, it's a blood blister!