Friday, June 27, 2014

Triathlon in the Wall Street Journal! Discuss...

It's not actually that rare for triathlon and specifically Ironman to be featured in a Wall Street Journal article. The WSJ seems to have an affinity for Ironman coverage although I was unaware of this until I googled "Ironman Wall Street Journal" not five minutes ago. What led me to that particular Google search? Well, this particular article, which I saw posted in r/triathlon (the triathlon subreddit) a few days ago.

Take a read, if you can, though I'll go ahead and TL;DR for all you lazies. The article summarizes a struggle that's currently happening between Ironman branded races and independent long and ultra distance races. A long course triathlon is typically (and perhaps detrimentally) known as a half-Ironman. This entails a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. An ultra distance triathlon is traditionally known as an Ironman and entails double the aforementioned distances (2.4, 112, 26.2 miles, respectively).

For anyone I haven't lectured about this, it's important to know that Ironman is not a race distance, but a brand. Are all Ironman (or half Ironman) races ultra (or long course) distances? Yes. Are all ultra and long course races Ironmans? No. Much like all squares are parallelograms but not all parallelograms are squares.

The Ironman brand is owned and run by the World Triathlon Corporation and most people will recognize it as having a sort of (if not an actual) monopoly over the industry. As is stated in the article, many Ironman races sell out within minutes of registration opening. Independent races on the other hand, some most noticeably produced by HITS or Rev3, often struggle to register 100 participants despite the fact that fees are almost always lower than those of Ironman races.

That's the main takeaway, though there are a couple other good points made in the article. The fact that many finishers like getting a tattoo of the Ironman logo and that triathletes can only qualify for Kona (the holy grail of triathlon entries) by placing extremely well at an Ironman are two. Interestingly, the article does mention two independent ultra distance races that don't seem to hurt for registrants. These are Beach2Battlship, which I did last year, and Vineman. I think it is important to note, though, that both cap their registrations at around 700 participants versus the thousands that usually compete in Ironman events.

There is a really good quote at the end of the article that makes the point that after someone completes one or even a few Ironman events, the importance of the brand fades quite a bit. I related to this a lot. Once I'd done an Ironman, I didn't feel a particular need to pay the premiums for those events and looked to find something a little more affordable for my second. Although I think I might be able to qualify for Boston maybe, someday, I am infinitely less optimistic that I would ever be able to qualify for Kona. Therefore, it's not all that important to me if my long or ultra distance triathlons are independently run. On the other hand, one of my coaches at Everyday Triathlete was very intent on qualifying for Kona and it made sense for him to only compete in Ironman races to accomplish this.

I don't often get comments, but if anyone is so inclined, here are two discussion points:

1. If you have completed an Ironman or ever plan to, have or would you get an M Dot (the Ironman logo) tattoo? Why?

2. Would it be important to you that your first long course or ultra distance race be an Ironman event? Why?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Race Report: Queens 10k 2014

Note: this was written Sunday night after the race.

10k is not a distance I run very frequently, yet in the last six weeks or so I've run three! Today was the Queens 10k, the fourth of six borough races (now Fred Lebow, NYC, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island).

It was an interesting race in a number of different ways. First, was our journey out to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Last night I was talking to my friend Mark, who mentioned he was also doing the race and was hoping to take a cab. He proposed splitting a one to the race since I live relatively nearby. By the end of the evening, we had an additional two people along for the ride and things were looking good. More people = cheaper cab ride for everyone.

This morning, the plan started off without a hitch. I grabbed a cab from my place around 6:40, met Mark around 6:50, and we headed up to pick up Michelle and Angelique at 59 and Lex before heading into Queens.

Most of the ride to the park was uneventful but once we approached our exit, things started to get ugly. Traffic seemed backed up for probably a mile and was barely moving. We decided to continue to the next exit but one thing led to another and before we knew it, we'd missed four or five viable routes and exits and were sitting on an exit ramp with barely 15 minutes to spare before the start of the race. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that I'd picked up bibs for Michelle, Elana, Allison and Jessica and was supposed to meet them at 7:30 to distribute. Obviously, I was not there on time and at 7:45 it was looking like I might not get there at all before the race started.

Mark suggested we simply get out of the cab right there on the ramp. We were hesitant, because we couldn't see the end of the ramp from where we were and the only other option was climbing a high fence. But it was obvious we had little choice, so we paid the cabbie, exited and started running. It ended up being a really good decision because the entrance to the park was probably a tenth of a mile away.

Michelle was a little behind me and after waiting for her a bit, she waved me on because she'd already gotten her bib and I still had to find the others. I ran ahead and told Mark and Angelique that I'd meet them at the end (I had a bag to check and kept a few things in there). After much texting back and forth, I found the Sassies. Bibbed up and ready to go, we all headed toward the corrals just as the horn blew for the start of the race.

Corrals had obviously already collapsed by this point and the volunteer at my corral was being strict about it so I joined the race with Allison, two or three corrals behind. It was a crowded race, and I found myself weaving in and out of the pack in order to keep moving ahead. I ran my first two miles just under 8 minute per mile.

Somewhere between 2 and 3, though, I came across a familiar face. At least, I thought it was familiar. It was hard to tell because I only had his side profile visible to me. After a split second of debate about whether or not I should try to talk to him, I tapped his arm. He ignored it, thinking it was just collateral damage from someone making a pass. When I tapped him again, he turned his head and I saw that it was him! My friend Nick from Cornell. This was a very pleasant surprise, as I hadn't seen Nick since last September and didn't even realize he'd started running NYRR races.

I ran with Nick for the rest of the race and we were able to do some catching up. We even kept up a decent pace, with Nick maintaining an 8:40 average pace and I an 8:22. Remember, this was only a few seconds slower than my pace last week and I was talking the whole time. I ran just under 52 minutes but was actually much more okay with it than I was last week because the circumstances were totally different. If I can maintain that pace while having conversations almost the whole time, I'm certain I have a better race in me than last week's.

After the race, I met up with Amortya (who ran an average pace under 7 minutes per mile for the first time!) and the Sassies (Elana, Michelle, Jessica, Allison), Nick, Mark, Angelique and Amortya's friends Alice and Aron. Nick, Mark, Angelique, Elana and Michelle left after the race but the rest of us traveled a short distance to Flushing for dim sum. It was a tasty, tasty morning.

Thanks for the pic, Michelle!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Race Report: Oakley Mini 10k 2014

I decided to go ahead and write this while it's still fresh in my mind, even though I was not at all pleased with my performance.

Normally I try to leave bib pickup out of the summary unless I do it on the morning of the race, but I'm going to talk about it today because it was very exciting. I went to pick up bibs and shirts for myself and my friend Michelle on Friday afternoon. I climbed the stairs to the second floor of the NYRR building on 89th Street and got in the E line. As I got to the front, the person asked my name and began rifling through the bibs. I noticed the one at the back of the stack was blue and laughingly thought to myself "what if I got a blue bib?"


I got a blue bib. Guys, I don't think I can properly communicate to you how amazing it was to get one of these. Blue bibs are distributed to runners in the front corral. It's the fastest corral! I have always told people that whenever I see someone wearing a blue bib, I feel like going up to them and shaking their hand because…well, because! They're among the best in the city. If past-me had seen today-me, she would have wanted to shake today-me's hand.

Anyway, I'm skipping ahead. That was yesterday's pleasant surprise and only happened because this is a women only race so the crowd and distribution of its abilities are a little different from most races. This morning, I got up extra early to meet Elana in Queens so we could get a few extra miles in before the race. I didn't think this would impact my time that much, but I guess it's possible. Whatever the case was, it was not my best day. I can point to a number of different things that were not helping, but it won't accomplish much. The bottom line is that I could and should have done better.

I do want to mention the blue bib effect. Believe it or not, having the blue bib actually made the race worse for me. I got into my corral and it was a whole different experience from what I'm used to. I had a perfect view of the announcer stage and all the people they brought to the podium. These included Mary Wittenberg (of course), Kathrine Switzer, Desiree Davila, Nina Kuscik and Adrianne Haslet-Davis. I've never been so close to the start line in my life. A volunteer kept telling me to move forward but I didn't want to! I barely felt like I belonged in the corral, let alone the front of it.

And that is a problem. It was a problem today and it will continue to be a problem in the future if I don't try to fix it. Whatever the pace cutoff NYRR used to determine who was in which corral, I fell into the blue one.  I belonged there by virtue of that. But I found myself feeling very insecure. I was looking around, trying to see the paces of other people and worrying when I saw that they were all (all two that I managed to see before having to focus on the start of the race) faster than mine. I couldn't shake the "what am I doing here?" feeling. If I intend to qualify for Boston at any point, I need to be a lot more confident in my abilities.

Back to the race. As soon as the horn rang out, my corral moved forward. I've never crossed the start line so quickly at a Road Runners race. I knew I'd go out fast since I was surrounded by fast people, so I tried to be aware of that and not go out as quickly as I was inclined to. I ran my first mile in 7:32, which was probably a bit fast. But my biggest issue was that I was in my head about whether or not I could keep up with everyone else and internally deciding that I probably couldn't and constantly checking to reaffirm that self-defeating attitude. It was kind of a nightmare. And once I had sufficiently sunk my race to the point where I didn't need to check those things, it just became a slog. I had a tough race and ended up with a time of 51:36.

Elana and Michelle also had tough runs. Elana dropped off at mile 5 and headed home while Michelle continued on to the finish. Afterward, there was a post-race festival and we hung out there for a bit. We entered the raffle and got autographs from Desiree Linden, who was also cool enough to take a picture and chat briefly. We were in line to meet Lauren Fleshman, but she seemed to disappear before we made it to the front of the line.


It was not my best race performance, but there will be better.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Race Report: Midnight Half 2014

I'm pretty sure I didn't write a race report for last year's half marathon, but I should have. It's a race well worth a report. To be fair, though, there are many races worth reports that I don't get around to writing about.

Last year was the first time I did the Midnight Half marathon. The only reason I even knew it was happening was that someone posted in the Facebook group for the Hudson Dusters. When I signed up, I was one of the last registrants. I think they had about 120 participants and I was either 120 or 121. There was one other Duster also doing the race, Corrina.

She's the reason I was able to sign up on time this year. Although she unfortunately was unable to race due to a stress fracture (ugh), she sent me a message letting me know that registration was opening. I signed up right away in anticipation of a great race.

It took place on Saturday and began at 11pm as opposed to starting at midnight on Friday night like it did last year. On Saturday morning, Amortya and I still met for a long run but limited it to 10 miles, since I knew I'd have the race later in the evening. I picked up my bib around 10pm, which gave me plenty of time to run back home, change, use my own facilities and walk Phoebe. One major thing I like about this race is that headquarters has been only a couple blocks from home in both 2013 and 2014.

The night was much cooler this year than it was last year and that was a good thing. The route was slightly different, but still consisted of 5 or 6 checkpoints and a couple of out-and-backs. A little before 11pm, everyone gathered at race headquarters began heading down to the start, which took place right on the water just under the Manhattan Bridge. After about 10 minutes of milling around and waiting for stragglers, the race began.

One interesting part of this race is that participants can take liberties with the route. As long as runners reach all the checkpoints, it doesn't really matter how they get there. As a result, the group almost immediately thinned out, as different packs of runners separated to catch the route they thought would be the most expedient. At the end of the day, though, I'm not convinced there's much time to be saved in the distance between the start and the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge.

Once on the Manhattan Bridge, I was situated snugly within a pack of runners that probably numbered about 10. Toward the Brooklyn side of the bridge, a couple of runners in the group made a move and I followed. The danger with going out too fast in this race is that it's easy to get lost if you don't know the route and I don't know it well at all. My goal was to keep runners pretty well ahead of and behind me to decrease the chance that I'd get lost.

But I didn't do a very good job. Soon enough, I found myself trying to keep pace with a couple of people who were running together and doing so successfully at a rapid clip. I kept up with those guys (actually one guy and one woman) until we reached the Navy Yard but started dropping behind at that point. Fortunately, there were a couple of guys from the Front Runners who were also in front of me but whom I managed to keep within my sights. They would be my hares for the rest of the race.

On my way out to the second to last checkpoint, I realized I was doing decently in terms of placement. As I made my way to the checkpoint, I made a point to count all the women I saw who were running in the opposite direction. I counted that there couldn't have been many more than 10 women ahead of me in the race and I was encouraged to keep up the pace.

Finally, I finished the second out-and-back and made it back to the last checkpoint. I had reached the home stretch, and the only things standing between me and the end were the Manhattan Bridge and a little of the Lower East Side, which I know like the back of my hand. Once I returned to race HQ, I joined the after party, which is only so enjoyable when you don't really know anyone and aren't good at mingling. I stayed for a bit but went home after 15 or 20 minutes.

When all was said and done, I ran it in just over 1:50, which was almost the same time I had for the Brooklyn Half. I was 9th woman overall (according to the unofficial results)! I'm already looking forward to next year.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stepping It Up

Alright, so after nearly half a year of lackadaisical, directionless training, I finally got to the point where I'd had enough. I reached this point a week before the Brooklyn Half Marathon and decided that the week leading up to the Brooklyn Half would be the last one in which I consumed alcohol, at least for the foreseeable future.

As you might know, this isn't the first time I've decided to cut booze out of my life for training purposes. In fact, the very first time I did it was just about five years ago, which is really hard to believe. I did it then for the New York City Marathon in both 2009 and 2010. In 2011, I signed up for my first Ironman and resolved not to drink for the entire year prior.

This time, I'm not sure what the time period is going to be. So far, it's been about three weeks and it hasn't been difficult. The thing I miss most is trying different kinds of beer. Now that I've spent a few weeks resetting my alcohol consumption, I'm trying to decide if I won't keep teetotaling for another month or two before relaxing my rules a bit, or if I'll continue on with total prohibition. This has yet to be decided.

Additionally, Amortya and I are making efforts to train harder and smarter. Our weekend runs have been long (18 miles two weeks ago, 15 miles on Sunday) considering the only marathon for which we've signed up is NYC, which is a full 7 months from now. We've also added speed sessions during the week, which have so far consisted of mile and 2-mile repeats. This week, I also had my own treadmill session in which I ran 5 half mile repeats at a 7:03min/mile pace.

The ultimate goal, and one I've been talking about for over a year, is eventually qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I consider this early stage to be more of a base building stage and I think we're off to a good start.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Race Report: Brooklyn Half 2014 - WARNING: Monstrously Texty

Ah, yes. The Brooklyn Half. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this race is one of my favorites of the year. It's true for a number of reasons, which I probably enumerate every year in a post just like this one. Nevertheless, I am going to do it again.

Obviously one reason is that it's my favorite race distance. I've spoken to many people at length about my race distance preferences and the half marathon is just the perfect number of miles. Not so many that you feel destroyed after finishing, but enough that it still feels like a feat and worthy of post race waffles (or beer, in this case). So there's that. Additionally, this race takes place at a pivotal time in the year, the beginning of summer. It's even more true this year than it has been in years past because the winter was brutal. I have been waiting for this weather for months and months and months, and it was in full force on May 18, the day of the Brooklyn Half.

In the last two years, NYRR has done a stellar job of stepping up the experience for the Brooklyn Half, transforming it from a friendly, local race to an iconic, enormous, still friendly, still local race. The size of it has also ballooned, going from around 10,000 in 2009 to 14,000 in 2012 to 21,000 in 2013 to a whopping 25,000 this year (these are years I ran it, explaining missing numbers from 2010 and 2011). In the last two years, they've begun holding a "Pre-Party" which I suppose is a cooler way of saying "expo." This was a fun affair in both 2013 and 2014, although the weather when we went this year was less than desirable.

I met Amortya and Jeremy at the pre-party this year on Friday, the day immediately before the race itself. I'd hoped to avoid this, but was unable to because my comedy group has its meetings on Thursday and I couldn't make it on Wednesday. No matter, it was fun even in spite of the rain. Jeremy and I enjoyed pre-party beers and Morty got pre-party whoopee pies. Afterward, I had dinner with Morty and our friend Shweta before heading home for my pre-race sleep.

As usual, I didn't get much sleep before the race. I think I went to sleep at 1 or 1:30 and had to wake up around 4:30 because my wave started at 7:00 on the dot and I wanted to make sure I got there with plenty of time, after my experience this year at the NYC Half. Mission accomplished on that front, I managed to get into the corrals by 6:20, which is some kind of record for me.

In terms of expectations, mine for this one were not great. I didn't do the training I'd hoped to do at all. I didn't even manage to do the very small amount of speedwork I did in preparation for the NYC Half in March. Having low expectations is always something of a self-fulfilling prophecy for me and this was no exception.

The race itself was fine. I struggled more than I should have for the time I ran (1:50 and change) but chalked it up to exactly the things I imagined would get in my way from the beginning. It took me longer than usual to find my pace for this race, though once I'd found it I kept it up until around mile 10, when I started to struggle. The day was warm and sunny, but I didn't consider that to be much of an issue.

I wasn't especially proud of my performance, but I was proud that I never completely gave up on the race. It would have been so easy to do, since my expectations were low and completely blowing the thing would have just fit right into the crummy way I felt about my training. See how it is? If I had given up, it would have been easy to explain away the terrible result. But I was determined to fight for whatever mediocre result I could. I feel like I'm not explaining this well. Bottom line: giving up and failing is an easier pill to swallow than trying really hard and failing (albeit less spectacularly).

After I finished, I met up with Amortya and Jeremy. We dilly-dallied for a bit because we were slightly apprehensive about drinking beer before 10:00am. At around 10:30, though, we caved and headed to a bar called Peggy O'Neil's for post race booze. I saw a number of people from my running team, the Hudson Dusters and also hoped to meet up with Michelle, Jessica, Jessica, Allison and Elana but we didn't end up getting together. At some point after Jeremy and I had consumed some large beers, Amortya left and my friends Monica, Dirk and Helen arrived. We hung out on the beach until about 4:30. All in all, it was a very good day.

Friday, June 6, 2014

We Heart Kidney Tom

This is my friend, Tom:

Tom, in all his handsome glory
A few months ago, Tom was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. The most basic layman's terms I can gather and communicate is that this disease causes scarring in the functional unit of the kidney, which can lead to a range of mild to severe kidney problems. It's chronic, but treatable over time and with some combination of good care and luck, symptoms will hopefully subside over time rather than getting worse.

Tom is a really awesome guy whom I've known since the end of 2009 when we started taking improv classes. Since then, we've been in the Chupacabra Conspiracy together and I can say with a high level of confidence that Tom is one of the wittiest comedians I know. I keep telling him to do stand up. Maybe one day he will!

At one of our Chupacabra shows

As you can imagine, Tom has many friends who love him a lot. We were all dismayed to hear about the diagnosis, even if we were also optimistic that it would respond to treatment. A few weeks after, my friend Michelle decided to run the NYRR Healthy Kidney 10K in Tom's honor and invited an even larger group to join her. We were all very much onboard with this idea.

But wait! There's more. It was decided that the participation of everyone but Michelle would be kept a secret from Tom. His girlfriend Carmen was in on the surprise and instrumental in maintaining the secret. The story was that Michelle was running the race in Tom's honor and would therefore have to come cheer her on. Carmen told him that, while she'd love to do the race, she would be busy with something else that morning but insisted that he go and spectate for Michelle.

Eight of us registered for the race and we decided to make t-shirts for ourselves and for Tom and his parents, who also planned to attend the race (unbeknownst to Tom). The night before, we all gathered at my friend Jessica G's apartment for a t-shirt making party. In attendance were Carmen, Jessica A, Elana, Allison, Michelle and myself. And obviously Jessica G.

Beautiful faces holding more beautiful faces
Tell me more!
Don't be fooled by her shy smile. Carmen was a kidney scheme mastermind.
It was getting late
After all the shirts were made, we went home for some pre-race sleep, woke up bright and early and headed to Central Park. Props to Elana, Jessica and Allison for running to the race from Queens! Once at the park, we were joined by Amortya. We made a special shirt just for him that we named the "Tom Bra." You'll see why shortly. We also got some last minute advice and encouragement from Mr. Speculum:

Michelle had instructed Tom to be waiting for us on the Central Park loop at 72nd Street. Despite the fact that many in our group run different paces, we decided to stick together until we saw Tom in order to maximize the surprise. The gun went off and we probably waited for 5 minutes before actually crossing the start line. After about half a mile, we saw Tom on the loop. The look on his face as we passed by was priceless. He even ran for a bit with us, which is really something if you know Tom.

After we saw him and all gave him hugs, we split up and ran the race in smaller groups. None of us was running for time, so we enjoyed ourselves and met up after the finish line for food and fun.

We all had an amazing time preparing for and running this race and we think Tom did, too, even though he professes a hatred of running. He's really just a big ol' softie on the inside. We love you, Tom!

A big thanks to Moses G. and Jessica A. for contributing pictures!