Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Introspection on the Runner's Code

Jeremy and I once debated a philosophy of Ayn Rand which is called “rational self-interest.” From a Wikipedia article (refrain from judging my source), “According to Rand, a rational man holds his own life as his highest value, rationality as his highest virtue, and his happiness as the final purpose of his life.” She speaks out relatively vehemently about the concept of altruism for its own sake, believing that its practice, selflessness, belies an actual lack of self.

I was not onboard with this at all when we first discussed it. I suppose I refused to reason through the philosophy and stubbornly viewed it in different terms, as a condemnation of selflessness. I was brought up Catholic and this seemed absolutely antithetical to everything I believed about human beings and their obligations to each other. Admittedly, the jury is still out on my Catholic upbringing versus this intellectual view on morality. They’re not mutually exclusive of one another but they’re also not completely compatible.

As usual, I digress. The longer I’ve been part of the endurance sport community, the more strongly I’ve come to believe that we do have obligations to one another as members of the community. But these obligations don’t represent a lack or absence of self, they enhance self. They are an extension of ourselves. Cheering people on at races, running with them, helping someone avoid all the mistakes I’ve made in my own amateur career. Doing those things makes me happy and maximizes my joy. And those that might benefit from that, in turn, put their own joy back into the community. Maybe, depending on the context, selfless and selfish actions can be the same things.

I thought about all this after last weekend, when a number of my friends ran their first races. Being able to watch them (and people I didn’t even know) run was the best thing about the whole weekend, even though I ran my own PR. I mentioned this to my own friend and running mentor, Sharon, who I’m sure had her own running mentor and she said something like “we all pass it along.”

Maybe that’s the endurance athlete’s moral code. It’s some hybrid of rational selfishness and self-sacrifice. It’s an elevation of self that comes from giving back at least as much as we’ve been given along the road.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My First Sub-4 Marathon

In the days before Rock 'n' Roll USA, I came to the full realization that it's been almost a year and a half since I last ran a proper marathon. I momentarily wondered if it was possible that I'd forgotten what running a marathon entailed, but I quickly came to the conclusion that I hadn't. If anything, I'd supplanted that knowledge and experience with a better, broader spectrum of each.

I think I proved myself mostly right. And I'm sure it didn't hurt that this was my seventh marathon. At this point in my endurance career, marathons are, well, fun. I went into this one with a sort of serenity that I've never had before a marathon. My goal was to run a sub-4 hour marathon. Normally, it takes a lot of mental discipline not to let the weight of my goals bring down my psyche. Not this time. I went into it knowing I could run a sub-4. I had no qualms about my ability to do it and understood that all I had to do was make it happen.

As usual, I didn't get much sleep the night before and I kept Amortya and our gracious friend Shivani from getting any either because I arrived in DC at almost 2am. We woke up at 5, got ready, and headed for the start around 6. Upon arrival, I used the restroom (glad I did it when I did because the lines grew obscenely long very quickly), we checked a bag, and headed to the corrals. My corral was 15 and Amortya's was 19 but I really wanted to find the 4:00 pace group. After unsuccessfully trying to locate my friend Eric, we milled about the corral area trying to locate the pace leader. Finally, just as the gun was about to go off, we spotted the sign in the corral behind us.

Thank you, pace group leader!

The 4:00 marathon pace group and the 2:00 half marathon pace group started the race together, so it was nice to have a big group to stick with. Around mile 7 (I think), Amortya split off to use the bathroom and I continued on. Not long after, I pulled ahead of the pace group against my better judgment. I balanced my fear of going out too fast by remembering my Baltimore Marathon experience and trusting in my ability to run my own race.

The race was very large from the beginning to about mile 12, which is where the half marathon runners split off to their finish. I thought it would be helpful when the crowd thinned out but found that I actually lost my sense of pace a little bit. Being surrounded by runners turned out to be easier for me to deal with than the comparative desolation of my new, sparse surroundings.

After a couple miles, though, I found my way again and was happy to reach mile 16, at which point it became a countdown from 10. By 20, the race was taking its toll and I felt myself slowing down. But never did it occur to me to stop or ease up. I was taking it one mile at a time and calculating what time I could expect to see on my watch at the next mile marker by doing 9 minute miles. 3:00, 3:09, 3:18, 3:27, 3:36, 3:45, 3:54 were my last milestones. Though I knew I was slowing, I'd built up a couple minutes' lead before that last hour and just kept telling myself I needed to go fast enough to still hit those times. I hit all of them and sailed in at 3:55:26. I even managed a good kick.

It showed me how much tougher I've become mentally since the last time I ran a marathon. Between 2012 in 2012, training for and completing the Ironman, it was probably inevitable. Still, this might have been the first time I fully appreciated how far I've come. From beginning to end, I approached this marathon differently than any other, as a significantly better and stronger runner.

Amortya also ran a sub-4 and it was his first marathon! This is only the beginning for him and I expect that he's got many, faster marathons in him. Kudos, good sir!

After the race we met up with Shivani for post-race, pre-St. Patrick's Day shenanigans before catching the bus back to NYC in the evening. Great day!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Exciting Weekend Ahead

And finally, my first marathon of the season has arrived. Even more exciting, though, is that a number of friends have their own firsts to celebrate. Amortya is running his very first marathon in DC as well. He actually signed up for this way back in September so I think he's really itching to get out there and get this thing done. Even more impressive, it looks like he's on track to run a sub-4 on his very first try!

My friend Marilyn is also running her first marathon in LA despite being plagued by what is hopefully a minor foot injury. Looks like she's been smart about mostly resting up and just getting ready for race day so I expect her to knock it out of the park.

Monica and Dirk are running their first half marathons right here in NYC! And lucky for me, Rock n' Roll USA is on Saturday so I can make it back in plenty of time to cheer them on. With the exception of Central Park, NYC is a pretty decent first-time half marathon because the course runs through Times Square, which is thrilling. An additional bonus is that Jeremy will be handing out medals at the finish line! Monica has also had some injury trouble, but last I checked she's on to run.

Finally, my friend Maria is doing her first 70.3 in San Juan. This is early in the triathlon season, but weather in PR should be beautiful, if a little bit warm.

If you know any of these people, make sure you wish them luck. They'll obviously kick ass, but who doesn't love a little encouragement? Best of luck to everyone racing this weekend!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Taper Begins

This is a little misleading, since our last long long run was actually last weekend. This weekend was the first short long run before Rock n Roll USA, which will take place in a couple of weeks.

This week, Amortya and I started a little later than usual, since we knew it wouldn't take as long. The weather looked like it was going to be glorious when we first started, but by the middle of the run it was chilly and overcast.

We still did it in very decent time. 12 miles in a little under 1:48. I think Amortya is quickly outgrowing me as a running buddy. I was working to keep up with him pretty much the entire time!

A quick note about last week's 20-miler, which is that I saw three running/triathlete people. That's pretty cool, and was an indication to me that the NYC running community is surprisingly small. I saw Wilson, who's a runner and triathlete as well as the owner and operator of Nom Wah tea parlor. We spotted each other on the Brooklyn Bridge, which was barely a mile into our run. I also saw Michael, who's a stellar triathlete and also did the Providence 70.3 last year. Finally, I saw Steve Lastoe, who's behind NYCRUNS (and even commented once on a post I did about the Verrazano Half).

The last one was no coincidence, as NYCRUNS held its inaugural Central Park Marathon and half last weekend.

It's getting to that time in the year when I am completely over winter and ready to be wearing a lot less in the way of clothing. Shorts >>>> Pants. More on that later.