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.