Tuesday, December 29, 2009

To The Pain

The fall marathon season is now closed, many a runner is nursing their aches, illness and fatigue and “now is the winter of our discontent.” The streets and trails are mottled with breathy hisses and moans of discomfort, but the subtext is wrought with hope and aspirations for the spring season. Sick? Perhaps. Psychotic? More than likely. Music to my ears? Most definitely. But what about those painful sounds that still linger in the arctic breezes that we are all blessed with these days. What about the pain and discomfort? When is it more than just an ache? What is the dividing line between soreness, pain and injury? When is it time to stop? This is THE most difficult question to ask a runner … well, that and why we do this in the first place, but that is beside the point … at what point do we need to just stop?

You may ask why this is such a difficult question to answer, and it is quite simply because there is no clearly defined answer. No set of rules or indicators that can give you a finite answer that either explains what is going on, how far we can push, how much we can take, at what point does this pain become something more than serious? These are all questions that the little voice whispering to us as we turn our feet over and we start to hyper focus on every twinge from toe to IT band. So what can we do? How do you know what to do when those whispers are no longer whispers anymore?

Rule #1: If your gait changes at any point STOP.

One of the great deceivers in the running World is the compensation injury. You trip or step on something that puts you out of alignment. It hurts, but not enough to make you stop, but your stride is a little off, not a lot, but still noticeable and you keep going. Next day you wake up, lace’m up and hit the road only to notice that you are really sore not where you had your little digger, but someplace completely different. That is the EVIL of the compensation injury. You alter yourself just enough to make it through your race or run and then are a mess the next day, because other body parts had to pick up the slack so you didn’t work that spot you originally hurt.

Is there a time and a place to fight through something like that? Sure, but you, as a runner, need to understand the consequences of pushing through it. I know that 90% of the people reading this would fight through something like the aforementioned incident for a Boston Qualifying time. Hell, I’ve even done it! But, when it was over I wasn’t even able to run Boston that year, because I couldn’t shake the compensation injury and had to defer. When you get to these moments, and you will, understand the cost and consequences before you take on that next mile.

Rule #2: Never, and I mean NEVER, mess with the major joints: knees and ankles.

At RAGNAR New York I stepped on a bad piece of pavement during my overnight 13-mile leg of the relay and rolled my ankle really badly. I fought off the roll with only a few miles to go and finished the leg, but that didn’t come without a price, as I was unable to complete the race like I wanted to. At RAGNAR New England I illustrated what my father would call “the flat learning curve,” as I once again rolled that same ankle and tried to fight through it only to have the pain trace up into my right knee and hamstring, which has, more or less, sidelined me up until the last month or so. During that time I have simply let it rest and recuperate while working on strengthening the problem areas. It sucks and I hate it, but I know that if I want to be back and running like I was at my peak I can’t mess with this plan at all. Not even for one run, because that is all it takes to regress back into that mess.

Rule #3: Know your limits.

This rule is a little hazier than the other two, but it is no less valuable. We all have limits and barriers that we can test and stretch and to see our true potential we need to know what they feel like. That is the beauty of lunges, squats, speed intervals, hills, mile repeats, gauntlet track workouts, and all of those other training runs that we have come to love and adore, like that Grandmother that smells like moth balls and kisses you leaving a nasty lipstick mark, but always gives the great Christmas and birthday presents … can’t help but love them! The process may suck but the prize at the end kicks serious butt.

Training exercises and runs, like the ones I described above, are notorious for aches, pains, fried lungs, vomiting, exhaustion, and grievous muscle fatigue, but this is NOT the same as the pains of Rule #1 & #2. These are growing pains, your body simply reminding you that you haven’t reached your full potential yet and that there is more work to be done. Do we see incidents of Rule #1 & #2 in training? Absolutely. Sh*t happens. If either of those situations were to arise during a training run, you bail right away. No training run is worth being sidelined for any stretch of time, and as my coach always told me, “missing one run isn’t going to make or break your training season.”

When it comes to a runner’s body, the corporeal is always playing second fiddle to the mind. As I’ve said before, and I am sure I will say it again, running is 70% in your head and 30% in your body. When you are out there you have to listen to your body, hear what it is telling you and know what it means. I haven’t been the best listener over the last 2 years and I have suffered for it, but no more. If you have questions reach out to the running community, ask me if you like (just leave a comment), but we are all here together and are all pulling for one another to succeed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Oh Why Do We Do This?

It is the question to end ALL questions: Why? People look for answers in all facets of life, but none are looked at with more skepticism, disbelief and rolled-eye inquisitiveness than that of the endurance athlete. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters – sorry William, the ladies rock!) are constantly asked why it is we do what we do and, to be completely honest, I typically hear two or three answers: 1) the bucket list approach; 2) the thrill of competition; 3) the Life cereal approach – I like it. I really like it! They are both valid answers, but there is always something more to it than that. Something else that drives us to take a pass at sleeping in on the weekends in favor of a long run and puts us to bed early on “date nights” to race the next day. This past year I had one runner in particular help bring this into focus for me, my reason for running, training and pushing myself every week.

I met Hannah some time ago through a mutual acquaintance with the understanding that she wanted to train for her first marathon and run it in under four hours, but needed some guidance along the way. Of course I said yes and immediately got started designing the framework for her plan. She had done a few halves, but had never gone any farther than 13 miles, so I knew that it would take some time to get things up to speed. Hannah took to the training amazingly well, even amidst a few minor injury setbacks, getting stronger all the time. Then about two-thirds of the way into everything a bomb dropped.

Hannah got a call from her family telling her that her father, a marathoner himself who was going to be running with her, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease) and was not only going to be incapable of running the race with her, but would in all likelihood not be going to Vermont at all. Now, most people rocked with news like that are rattled to their very core and Hannah was, but rather than having this news quell her spirit she took it and used it as motivation. Within the span of a few days she stayed on-track with our program, set-up fundraising for ALS research in her father’s name and had exhibited more heart, drive and determination to hit her mark for father than most of the elites do.

When the time came, Hannah hit her mark in Vermont and did so with a surprise visit from her father on the course, showing her how truly amazing the human spirit is. I remember getting the call from her and the pain, pride and utter happiness that was in her voice as she professed her success and how much it meant to her to have her father there for it.

Have I got ya thinkin’ yet?

When I thought back on those 18-weeks and that one perfect day on the course for Hannah it churned up a lot that I had not thought about in some time. Like Hannah and most everyone, I suppose, I do what I do for my parents. My father, the do-everything man, is one of the major reasons I got into coaching and much of what I have in terms of skill working with people is derived from him. A thunderclap of a rumbling voice, a kind, gentle hand, and one of the most insanely brilliant logical minds I have ever come across with a clean, simple love for the purity of sport. He has coached soccer for over 25 years, the majority of those years training teams that did not feature any of his own children, and has never asked for a dime in doing so. He loves the game, his teams and has only ever wanted to help each and every player become a better athlete and inspire them as individuals. As I write this, he is probably preparing food stores for his annual trip to Emmaus House with his players to make Thanksgiving dinner for those less fortunate, something that I have had the honor of being a part of over the years. He is a remarkable man that I strive to emulate each day of my life and can only hope to leave as profound a footprint as he has on the lives of so many of his athletes.

My mother is not an athlete, nor does she feign to be, although there are those of us who think she should go to the Olympics for power walking … the woman is like a serial killer in a horror movie, no matter how fast you go she always seems to catch you. Regardless of her lack of athleticism she is tougher than any endurance athlete you will ever encounter. She has stared down the demon that is breast cancer twice and has smote it both times. Soft spoken, sweet, and powerful in spirit and words, a talent that has inspired me, she has always shown me the way to live my life, embracing every breath with warm, loving arms and keeping your mind focused on what is good in this World and what you can do to help make it better one individual at a time. She is selfless, almost to a fault, and wholly and freely opens her heart to those in need and only ever asks for them to pay it forward and help someone else in their time of need. It is the rhythm of her heart that beats so powerfully within my own every time I lace them up.

Why do I run? I run for them. I run for my father who is the man who is everything I strive to be. I run to inspire my runners, leading by example, as he has done for me from day one. I run for my mother whose strength and enormous heart fuels these words and whose strength in spirit drives me everyday to be more than I am. I run for my brother and sister who think I am totally insane for running any more than five miles at a time and yet constantly remind me how amazing and important it is to have them as part of my support system. I run for my runners, because I know no other way than to lead by example and give them everything that I am everyday no matter what it is they need, whether it is running advice, saying the right words, or just the comfort of knowing that they are NEVER alone. Lastly, I run for you, who are kind enough to read this long post, and the hope that I have inspired you in some way with this to think about why you lace up your trainers each day and the footprint you leave behind.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The 3 Ps of the Marathon Virgin

The Chicago Marathon has come and gone and the fall marathon season is in full swing. Every week more and more runners will lose their marathon virginity and much like that first time, they are nervous, edgy, excited, panicky, freaked and frustrated. With that in mind, everyone take a nice deep breath, hold it for a count of five … exhale … and RELAX!!!!! Remember, this is supposed to be FUN! I know, not quite the ‘F’ word most people associate with running a marathon, but, honestly, it really is Fun!

So, for all you newbies out there that are getting amp’d up for their big day, here are my three-Ps to a primo first 26.2!

This applies to couple of areas. First, for the last 2-3 weeks you have been tapering, reducing your weekly mileage and gearing up for the big day, remember to be PATIENT during that time. Trust in your plan. Don’t get all jived because your runs are short, slow and simple. They are designed to be that way. The leading cause of injury and DNFs (Did Not Finish) in marathoners is overtraining. The reduced miles and slower paces are there to help your body recover and be fresh for race day so you can put forth your best effort possible. It also helps reduce the possibility of getting injured. If you are really having a hard time settling into it, reach out to someone who HAS done a marathon, – coach, friend, teammate, Tweep – and let them help you get grounded. It is better to be a little undertrained and fresh than to be overtrained and fatigued.

Secondly, when you do get to the starting line and you are in the swarm of your corral waiting to cross the starting line and hammer this thing out, be PATIENT out the gate. It is an amazing adrenaline rush in that moment when the gun goes off, you're ready to tear the course up and you end up going out a full two-minutes per mile faster to start out ... Oops! I know you have all heard of ‘the Wall’, right? Well, if you get caught up in the thrill of the chase at the start I can promise you that you will have some serious face time with him when you get to that region around 17-19 miles in. The introduction will be quick and then he’ll ask you if he can hang around for a while and I can assure you he will. First time out, hit the wall so hard I was practically in tears, it was unbelievable and yet completely avoidable. Here’s a tip to help those of you that are like me and love to blow the doors off early, stand in the very back of your corral. Let the swarm build in front of you all but ensuring for a slow handful of miles at the start and allowing you to ease into the race properly. It sucks and can be frustrating, but the benefits are felt later on as you realize you still have a lot in the tank and you have passed a quarter of a million people on the course!

Getting ready for the marathon is like getting ready for a family trip overseas, the more you plan and prepare everything the easier it is on you. For ridiculous travelers like myself, who are always early, have back-ups for everything and are just otherwise nervy and paranoid, a marathon checklist is the way to go! Presumably you’ve been rehearsing for race day morning with every long run that you have had, fine tuning your routine until it is on cruise control. The less you have to think about the better, ease the stress! Here is the breakdown I use for my checklist:

- Pre-Race Clothing (All depending on Temperature): Throw away clothes to wear in the corral, Blanket/Card board to sit on, etc.
- Nutrition & Hydration: Pre, During, and Post Race.
- Race Wear: singlet, shorts, socks, calf & arm sleeves, sunglasses, sunscreen, body glide, arm sleeves, etc. Prepare for all contingencies.
- Post Race clothing: Sweats! You will feel a little chilled at the end from dehydration and from sweating a lot, so be prepared and have a towel and loose fitting clothing to change into.

One other situation you need to prepare and plan for is your goal(s). This is more important psychologically speaking. The marathon is a real test of wills and if you have problems with the first ‘P’ you can have a really hard time hitting a time goal, especially if it is a lofty time goal. For your first time out, make things simple, have three goals in mind: Achievable, Within Reach, and a Lofty. My first marathon I did this and it served me well: Finish without walking, 3:30 or better, Boston Qualify. I ended up walking thanks to a moron that I ran behind, which caused my hamstring to knot, but I still finished in 3:26. Next time around it was: Finish Injury Free, Finish under 3:26, Boston Qualify. The second time I hit 3:07 and hit the lofty goal, learning from the mistakes I made the first time around.

This doesn’t mean go buy yourself a Garmin! I mean be present for the entire day! Live in the moment. Forget about everything else and savour every nuance of this amazing achievement. This is a feat that you have undertaken the likes of which a relative few can even fathom. 26.2 miles of running in one day!! You trained for this moment for months in whatever conditions Mother Nature felt like throwing at you, pushing your body to its limits with your lungs burning, sweat pouring, blisters swelling and you willingly did it day after day to get to this one moment. Keep all that you have toiled over in perspective as you soak it all in. The long runs. The shin splints. The countless disgusting gelatinous supplements. The friday nights given up for more sleep for long runs on saturday mornings! Coffee not first thing in the morning, but only AFTER you put your miles in. All of that to be revered by crowds of cheering people with music playing, your name screamed, doing what you even thought at one time was unthinkable … it is simply GLORIOUS!!!! It is your moment. One that you will relish and relive every time anyone asks about it. You become immortal!

Newbies, go forth and dominate! Live, breathe and amaze the World! Good Luck!!

A Few Other Tips for Race Day:

- Do NOT try anything new. Keep things the way you have trained. Little alterations can have a big effect in a long race like this.
- Have your name on the front of your shirt … the crowd calling your name will give you that added push when you need it!
- Dress as if 10-15 degrees warmer than it is. Once on the course for a while you will feel like you are on fire OR wear pieces you can peel off (arm sleeves, beanie, gloves, etc.).
- Don’t break rhythm. When you go to a water stop, don’t stop shuffling your feet in rhythm; keep them going because you use a lot of energy just getting them going again.

For more tips hit me up on twitter or leave a comment and I will be sure to address it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last 10k & the Lil' Voice

Over the last couple of months training my gallant, gaggle of galloping gals I have been posed numerous queries about running and training, but none so tricky as this one to explain: How do you train the brain to own the last 10k of the marathon without ever having run that far or run that race distance before?

There are all sorts of answers to this question that I am sure you can find on every coaching website or training book, and to some extent they are all correct. But since this is my little plot of lovely on the interweb, I shall only speak for myself and what I have come to understand and believe.

From this coach’s perspective there are a few ways to train and prep your brain for that ominous final 10k without ever having run the full 26.2 miles before. Honestly, a lot of it seems like common sense, but it still seems to elude people. Anyway, the most effective way, and best answer I have to this question, is to do a shorter distance – say a 21 to 23-miler – and do a focused workout over that distance. This past weekend I took three of my current runners out for a nice 21-mile stroll over the George Washington Bridge and through Pallisades Park with a focus on hill work.

For one in particular, Jo (aka LIrunner9), I broke her run into three parts, which ultimately resulted in a hill focused progression run, which is how we are approaching her ‘A’ race. Her focus through the first half of her run was to temper her pace, taking it easy right up to the 9.5-mile marker, which is set off by a nice 1-mile continuous climb. Tasty!! From that long climb through the back half of the run, Jo did a hill digger – pushing every incline – for the rest of the distance and then a hard push over the last 2-miles to test her finishing kick. Seriously, this is one of my favorite runs I do and it always kicks my ass and I always go back for seconds!

Anyway, for the ‘why.’ We started out at little slower pace to get the legs loose and to get comfortable with some unknown terrain, since she had never been through this section of the Park before. Also, this was a GROUP run and I didn’t want to edit out the social aspect at all, because the running community is amazing and it is fantastic to know that everyone out there is really pulling for one another to succeed. Furthermore, for the NYC marathon, one of the great tools that can be used to achieve your goal is to fall into one of the many pace groups that will pepper the race route and use them to help motivate and keep your rhythm nice and steady, which can often times be hard to do when you go out solo and get swept up in the adrenaline surge of marathon day.

Getting back to the run, the big hill climb was the launching point for digger portion of this run for a few reasons: 1. It is unlike anything that Jo will encounter in her race in terms of length, pitch, and difficulty. 2. It was dead in the middle of a very hilly course, which is lighter on the way out than on the way back, so burning the legs heading into the turn around ensured that the back half would be more work than coming out. Taking into account that approach, you can much closer simulate the full marathon distance without actually having to run it. 3. By pushing the 1-mile climb and forcing the issue you prompt the most difficult aspect of this run and the last 10k of the marathon, the mental side. At this point that lil' voice starts with the questions in the runner’s head: How am I going to finish this? What the hell am I thinking doing this crap? Where the hell is the top of this thing?! How am I going to be able to stick to my plan after I crest this friggin’ hill?!

By making the back half of the run a digger, every hill, every minute incline tests the runner’s conditioning and resolve to fight through the pain, fatigue and self-defeating psychological torture. It is supremely important for the runner to KNOW that this moment is exactly what they have been training for and that there is no stopping them. This is where you tell yourself, “My mind doesn’t work for my body, my body works for my mind. Now move!!!” The mind is an amazing thing and if you can truly wrap it around that very simple idea, and I mean REALLY believe it, you will begin to see just how far and how much you can push your body.

The last two miles of this run is where you take the aforementioned mentality and really put it into action testing your conditioning as you kick to the finish. Those last miles are the culmination of everything that you have done, the hill repeats, the track work, speed drills, strength exercises, and especially your core work. I’ve had Jo, as well as all of my other runners, on a strictly regimented core routine that is done after every workout, to prepare them just for this moment. When you get to this point in this run or the marathon, your legs are tapped, or at least should start to really feel that way, and you start to depend more and more on your core to help pull your knees up and forward, keep your legs turning over, and driving yourself towards the tape. For Jo’s run, the last 2 miles were pretty flat and consistent and after all of those hills it was the first opportunity she had to really open her stride and legs back up and she really pushed through them.

So, what are the last 10k of the marathon like? It is pain. It is sweat. It is tears. You’ve hit the wall, busted through it and are looking for anything and everything within yourself and the crowds along the streets to help push you through to the finish line. It is the ultimate test of your mental toughness. The point where that lil' voice in your head that you have trusted to this point now begins to cast doubt over the tone of your mantras. You wince. You really start to question everything that you are doing in terms of your pace and planning. Your watch and the course clock hang heavy on you as you constantly check your time, doing the math as quickly as your strained brain can handle. And you know what, you WILL get through it.

Running that last 10k is as much about your training as it is about who you are as a person. When you hear that lil’ voice in your head telling you that there is nothing left, that this is too much, do you listen? Or, do you tell yourself the most basic mantra I know, which got me through my first marathon, “You’ve worked too hard for this. There is NO stopping until it is done!” I have the utmost respect for anyone, and I do mean anyone, that has the stones to go out and train and run a marathon, whether it’s a three-hour Boston qualifier or a six-hour run-walker. The mental and physical toughness that this event tests you with from the starting gun to the moment they place that metal around your neck is phenomenal!

So, to answer the question with a question: When you get to that last 10k and that lil’ voice starts to chime in, what will your response be?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Triple-H Comes a Knockin'!!

After running Sunday’s NYC Half-Marathon in some pretty grueling hot conditions I thought that I should talk a little about training and racing in the triple-H (Hazy, Hot, Humid). You know what I am talking about, the type where you look out the window at 6 a.m. excited to throw down a nice long run – beautiful, sunny, slight breeze in the trees to keep you cool. Then you open your door and it’s like breaking the seal of the airlock in “Aliens,” steam shooting out, that nice muggy, wet slap in the face, and you feel your body wilt, like spinach in boiling water, saying to yourself in an instant, “This is really not going to be that fun.” So how do we combat the forces of nature when they decide to stack the deck against a good day?

Be smart. Hazy, hot and humid conditions are tough on the body. With the heat comes a rise in core temperature, which gets the sweat flowing early and often. It also diminishes the amount of fluid available to your exercising muscles. As a result, those muscles receive less oxygen and nutrients, your body can’t get rid of lactic acid readily and you start to slow down. Let me tell you, when you feel that hit you, you really need to take notice. Here are a few little things that we can do to keep our training going without getting hammered by Triple-H!

First thing to consider is your timing. Get your butt out of bed in the morning early enough that the sun hasn’t put the World on broil just yet. Or, you can be like me, since I hate the morning anyway, and run at dusk while the day is cooling off – for those in the burbs, just be sure to wear reflective clothing for any traffic or poorly lit areas.

Secondly, and this is sort of a no brainer: dress for success! You want to try and be as comfortable as possible. Light, loose fitting, breathable, moisture wicking, technical materials are the only way to go. This is particularly important when it comes to socks, because of your susceptibility to blistering. There is nothing worse than basting in your own fluids on the course, because you’re wearing something that was a little thick (ex. Regular cotton t-shirt or tank top) and super saturated with your sweat. So much fun to be able to ring out your clothes on the street and see how many fluid ounces you managed to excrete!

Another thing to consider in the clothing department, and this is a bit more touch and go due to the self-consciousness factor, but the less you can wear the better. Gentlemen, this is not just for the boys that weigh four pounds and need to show off their 6-pack abs, this applies to you as well. Ladies, this is lot touchier subject, but I wanted to raise it just the same. The simple fact is that the more you let your skin breathe during runs on hot days the better. Sunday I ran in a short-sleeved shirt, because I could not for the life of me find my racing singlet, and I felt like I was stuffed in a pressure cooker. As soon as I wised-up, stopped worrying about the visibility of my race number, and stripped the shirt I felt so much better and was regretting the fact that I didn’t do it sooner. Even just the little breeze you get from moving through air at your pace can cool you off just enough to make things a little more bearable.

Over the last couple of seasons there is one piece of equipment that I have come to see as REQUIRED and that is a good pair of sunglasses. Slaves to fashion, leave your D&Gs and Ray Bans at home! A good pair of lightweight running sunglasses can do wondrous things for you while out on the course. I have had horrible runs simply because the sun punished my poor baby blues giving me the nicest and longest lasting headaches you can imagine! Seriously, it’s no good. It seems like such a small petty thing, but not having to squint or fight off the glare and feel beat down by the sun in that way really does a lot for you physically and for your psyche as you pour on the miles. By the same token, visors and running hats are also great things to have!

This one is a big one to remember and there are a lot of us that struggle with it, but in the heat you have to be willing to SLOW DOWN. I know, the two words that none of us want to hear, but if you don’t do it yourself your body will do it for you and it won’t be nice about it at all! Take a walk/shade break just to let your body adjust a little bit.

Lastly, and this one goes without saying, hydrate the hell out of yourself inside and out! If weather.com, and I know you are all slaves to the weather widget, indicates that you will be doing a hellfire run the next day, prepare well the night before. Make note of your urine color, yes I am being that gross, and make sure that it is just faintly tinted yellow, so you know you are hydrated well. If it is clear you may be a little over hydrated and you could be pissing away nutrients that you need. During your run, make sure you take the time to have a few good solid sips of cold water, if that is even humanly possible in this type of weather, every mile or two. Cold water gives you that little psychological kick you want/need and it also passes through your stomach quickly. Also, douse your head whenever you take the time to have a drink, that way you try and keep that internal temperature down a little bit.

OK, enough of this public service announcement-esque blog post! Hope it helps a little bit. Run Smart & Be Safe!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why do we fall?

There are so many amazing things to be excited about when it comes to running and we all love to hear about and make the sport so enriching: the beautiful scenery of trail running, getting that “runner’s high,” running a sub-whatever mile for the first time, the camaraderie of the running community, passing people during a race, hitting a PR, qualifying for Boston. But, what about those nasty, gritty, sweat drenched, lip biting, lung burning, gasping, lead-legged, self-doubt laden runs that we all dread? Why SHOULD we love those just as much? Quite simply, and I am now showing my extreme dorkiness, but it is still very true, “Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” – Alfred (Michael Caine) “Batman Begins.”

I was reminded this weekend why horrible runs are so important. I was talking with a fellow runner about their week and they were almost sullen about the run they had had that day; it was long, hot, muggy, crampy, lead-legged and was so miserable that it nearly brought them to tears. That, my friends, is a tough day. As we talked about the rest of their week, they had had an amazing training week and all of their runs to this point had been without much adversity, that is until that day. It took a while to meander through all of the detritus, because emotions can be so tightly bound to our training, but the why became quite clear and it made me think. Why do we NEED these runs that make us want to quit the sport we love? Good question, right?! I know! And trust me I have answers!

As in all life experiences, these train wrecks are incredible teaching tools for us all. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but training is 70% mental and 30% physical. Utter dog crap runs like this one test your metal. They make you question everything you are doing. You hit a wall. It’s when you hit that wall that you have to be ready to peel yourself off and know that one run does not make or break your training. They also teach you how to fight. How to focus your mind on the task at hand and FORCE your body to respond. Make your body your mind’s bitch! Even if the run is absolutely horrific in your mind the moment you finish take comfort in the fact that you DID finish and fought through it. When you hit the wall during a marathon it all becomes about mind, will and your ability to focus yourself on positive thoughts and energies that will fuel you to the finish: “Oh my God my legs are tired and hurt like hell! BUT there is NO stopping. There is NO walking. I OWN this race and when I get through that finish line there is NO PAIN.”

Taking the mental aspect a step further, when you have a run like this it is the perfect time, once you get over the whole tragedy of it all, to do a serious self-assessment and analysis. Take a good hard, objective look at your run and your performance and figure out where things went awry. Start simple with the run itself, while it's fresh in your mind. Work your way from your body and the physical conditions to the execution of your plan for that particular run. Ask yourself some questions: What exactly was my issue? My legs? Lungs? Cramps? When did they start? Was it the heat? Was I sweating more than usual? Did I go out too fast? Did I have enough nutrition and water on the course? Is the timing of my nutrition off? Did I have enough this morning before I started?

As you pull those answers together start looking at your preparation that day and the night before, if it was a long run. Then look at it in the context of your week. Maybe you did two really hard, focused runs during the week that took more out of your legs than you anticipated and this run was a little too ambitious given the rest of the week? Finding the why is always an amalgamation of details. For example, hazy, hot & humid + dead legs + not hydrating properly + tough pace plan + long distance = WORST RUN OF MY LIFE! As is the case with most personal problems – and yes runners, when we have issues with runs they are always presented as personal problems – we can just be too close to things to see them clearly, so go ahead and bounce it off of someone, a coach, your running partner, even talking to your dog works, because when you start to hear what went on in your own words out loud it can quickly come into focus.

Craptastic training runs and races are an education! They teach us sooooo much about ourselves and what we are capable of. How tough we are mentally, how well we know our bodies, and how far and hard we can push both. Next time you have a run that makes you want to ask for a trial separation from your running shoes, which you really just want to push through a wood chipper, and just give up on the whole running thing remember a few things: 1) If it was easy EVERYONE would do it, but they don’t because they think it’s insane. 2) You are, in fact, insane. 3) One bad run does not make or break your training or racing season. 4) Take all that you can learn from such an experience and use it to make you a stronger and smarter athlete. 5) We are all out there with you, you are not alone and we’ve all been there and will be there again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Testing, testing, one, two, R2C14!

It has been a year since I broke into the World of distance relay running, something which I have become rather enamored with ever since that first experience. What race could have possibly stolen the pitter-patter of my loping heart … The River to the Sea. Oh yes, that’s right folks my relay virginity, as disgusting as it may sound, was claimed by “The Dirty”, a.k.a. New Jersey. It is an insanely sick concept, a 7-person (there will be no sexist crap here) team running from Milford, New Jersey, on the East bank of the Delaware River 92 miles across the state till they hit the Atlantic in Manasquan. Sounds fun, right? Toxic waste, unidentifiable odoriferous emanations, the outstanding housewives, the Sopranos, and the goddam Jets! Regardless of the innumerable shortcomings of the so-called Garden State, this race is a lot of fun.

Last year I was invited to run this race by one of my former Race With Purpose coaches, Dave Darcy, and happily accepted not knowing what the hell I was getting myself into. At that point I was only maybe a month into running outside again coming off of injury. I spent most of the winter lifting weights, doing the elliptical, getting on the stationary bike and eating, the combination of which had added a number of pounds to my upper body. These were all pounds that made this race particularly difficult, but it was good. I needed to get out on the road more and really test my foot and fitness and this seemed like a great way.

Our team, Fast Forward, was a nice mix of guys from 30-65 (Irving, John, Miles, Dave, Kiet, Al and myself) … ya, that’s right, we’re not ageists either! Just so I don’t regurgitate two races at once, here is the long and short of it. We came in 4th overall and won the Men’s Open division. It was fantastic and I was told, not asked, but told that I had to do it the next year to defend our crown.

Just for the pun of it, Fast Forward to 2009 and time to defend our title! For those who know me, I am NOT morning person, regardless of the SOP of the road-racing World, and the R2C, like Jersey, sucks because I had to get up at the unholy and painful hour of 3:30 am. It was so freaking early that when I got down to my rendez-vous point to catch my ride at Canal and Broadway people were just stumbling out of the bars and clubs in the area! Last year I saw a nice brawl on the corner, but no such luck this time around.

It took us a while to get out to the start and the ground fog heading through some of the farms on the back roads out there was pretty impressive. I mean you couldn’t see anything it was so thick. When we reached the start it was just as quaint as the previous year and Irving, the captain and organizer of our team, was just as edgy as I remembered from last year. He has this way of eyeballing everyone, sizing up the competition as we prep our support vehicles and double check our supplies, which is very amusing and yet very unsettling. There were 120 Teams and we were listed as #4.

Just as in the previous year, I was once more being forced into doing leg 4 and 13, which are two of the longer and more difficult legs. The most difficult ones were reserved for the fastest and most fit, which were Kiet and myself. I may have whined and complained a bit for fun, but I really didn’t mind as my mindset going in was to go out and really test my legs and fitness, something that I have not done in some time. These two legs were just what the doctor ordered, hilly, hot and unrelenting … delicious!

Our Team started out at 7:10 am, a full 35-minutes later than last year, but we started out quite well and we quickly gained a lot of grain on the Teams already out on the course. Now my first leg, leg 4, is called “The Beast” (be sure to turn on the elevation chart) and it is for good reason. Within the first half-mile or so you just start to climb and then continue to do so for what appears to be FOREVER, but what I have recently mapped out to be approximately 3.5 miles (I also appear to have misplaced a turn that has the missing half mile). What makes “The Beast” even more difficult is how little shade there is and you’re left out there gassed by the course then slapped in the face by the heat; a nice test of ones character and metal. I LOVE IT! I ended up doing the 8.7-mile leg in 53:46 (6:11/mile pace), which shocked me as I did the math. I had issues breathing along the climb and was fighting the whole time, never finding my rhythm. When I finally hit the decline portion of the course my breathing balanced out, the battery acid in my legs subsided and rhythm was restored and I really started to push it out. I ended up passing 7 Teams on my way through leaving only 4 ahead of us.

Just to bring things into focus with this particular relay, all of the starts are staggered in the hopes that the majority of the Teams will be finishing around the same time … everyone jockeying for position into the final leg. It is an amazing idea, one that rarely yields the desired result, but somehow this small race manages to create that great competitive drama annually, so my hats off to them!

My second leg, leg 13, is the “Do or Die” leg, pretty flat, really fast and the one that can make or break your day. I love how I always seem to get these. At this point we already knew that victory was not going to be possible. We had been caught by Bucknell’s cross country team, who were running low to mid-5s, as well as a few others and the last leg is only 3-miles, but is run by 66-year-old Al … not exactly our fastest, but certainly our most impressive! Love Al, quality human being and a damn fine runner.

Heading into this 8-mile leg I just wanted to go out there and keep us from dropping any more places. I didn’t realize how hard I ran “The Beast” till I started this one out. It took a while just to shake the acid out and feel ok. The first few miles were horrible and completely unpleasant and I really just felt like slowing down and stopping. We weren’t going to win or even repeat as Men’s Open champions, but then it happened … there was someone to pass in front of me, a good ways off but still in eye-shot. My teammates kept telling me, “He’s 50-seconds ahead of you, you got him!” “He’s 30-seconds out, keep it up.” “The gap is only 10-seconds, you’re right on top of him!” This went on for 6-miles and then the course takes the runners onto a trail for the last two.

The trail section is a straight shot with tree branches draped over the top of the path on both sides creating a tunneling effect and as you looked down the path you could see almost all of your competition. Legs on fire, lungs ready to quit, stomach ready to puke and all I could think was, “Just keep turning them over! You walk now and this will all be for nothing and it will be an awfully long walk!” My mind really focused on that idea, my breathing adjusted to a really fast rhythm, but one that I could bear, and my legs just kept churning it out. I ended up passing three teams in that last two miles and for the first time doing the R2C I was passed … he was maybe 20 years old, maybe weighed 130 lbs, and maybe had had his testicles drop already … and I was ok with that. Final time for the 8-mile leg was 49:50 (6:16/mile pace).

Al did an amazing job on the final 3-miles tearing off solid 8s and we ended up finishing 7th. I love the end of this race because you finish on the sand of the beach at sunset and they feed you, which needed to happen! As for the test, I have to admit that I was really happy with the results, because I really didn’t think that I had that sustained pace in me, but the human body never ceases to amaze. Now we’ll just have to wait and see what this old group of guys can do next year!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Blossoming for Boston

Last year when I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler it was the last gasp of my running season. I had already injured my left foot with an undiagnosed ailment, which to this day baffles my sports medicine physio, and had pulled myself out of the Boston Marathon. I figured at that point, and my doc agreed, that there wasn’t much more damage I could do so I might as well go and try and enjoy it since I had already dropped the money on it.

So, I ran the race like I would any other, except this time I did it with a few aspirin coursing through me to take the edge off the pain. Oh yah, by the way, it was freezing goddam cold, raining and completely miserable! Regardless, I go out and run the 10 miles with one of my favorite and most admired runners, Erin Strout, and the two of us pretty much gripe through the whole thing, pleading for it to end so we can go get warm and have some brunch. When it was all said and done and the aspirin wore off, the misery continued and had a nice piercing pain shooting through my left foot and leg for the rest of the day and night, just for good measure. The very next day I hung up the running shoes for two months or so.

Fast forward to April 2009, same race, but completely different set of circumstances. This year, Boston is on, but I once again found myself in a precarious physical condition, this time fighting off Overtraining Syndrome for, give or take, three weeks. My legs had been feeling drained, my lungs tapped and psychologically I was burnt out. During those three weeks or so I had shelved my original schedule and reduced myself to 3 runs (1 maintenance, 1 hill/speed, 1 long), 2 swims and 2 full rest days a week. The plan, albeit difficult to adhere to given my masochistic, gung ho mentality and desire to crush Boston, worked wonders.

Bill Risch and I took Bolt Bus on down to DC on Saturday morning under a dismal sky, but with glowing weather reports on all the weather stations for the race. When we hit DC the sky was blue, the sun was shining gleefully upon us and the wind was slapping us in the face telling us to go the hell back where we came from. I instantly thought, “Great! Last year all over again, minus the rain!” We exited the parking lot and proceeded to walk directly to the Expo and just get it done. We were also hoping to Tweetup with new compatriot IronmanBobby at the expo, but we got our wires all crossed and it didn’t really happen.

That afternoon we met up with my old assistant soccer coach, Bailey, whose father I was training for a short time in the fall, and my cousin Cyndi. We ended up going to Kramerbooks and having pie … a lot of pie … and there was much rejoicing! While we were sitting the woman next to us started asking if we were running the race and where were from etc., exchanging introductory pleasantries. As it turns out she is an author by the name of Kimi Puntillo who was signing her new book “Great Races, Incredible Places.” She told us how she had run a marathon on every continent, including the Antarctic and one on the Great Wall of China, which just sounded arduous and painful on all that stone!

Later that evening, after dinner with running super star Erin Strout, Bill Risch and his entire family, and a few of his cronies (a story in itself for another day), the Tweetup with IronmanBobby resurfaced and became a reality. We met at Starbucks in Dupont Circle, which provided us with a nice backdrop of local color that included, but was not limited to, a roaming Bachelorette party with the bride-to-be wearing an illuminated sash and tiara, and a gaggle of shirtless, frat pledges doing circuits of the rotary. This rendez-vous turned out to be a meeting of the minds and a podcast ambush as IronmanBobby explained that he wanted to interview me for the next installment of a series he has been developing about newbie triathletes transitioning to the sport from a background heavily in one of the disciplines. Apparently I am a representative from the runners’ side of the equation … who knew? It was a lot of fun talking shop and really discussing some of my concerns going into tri training and who is or when one can be considered an “athlete”? It’s an interesting question and one that I will let go until the podcast is released.

Getting back to the task at hand, the race, you really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect morning. There was just the slightest taste of a chill in the air. The sky was clear and azure blue as daybreak crested the Nation’s capitol. Bill and I jogged over to the start to warm-up and we had just enough time drop off our bag and get into our corrals to stretch a little before the starting gun.

My mentality heading into the weekend was simple: this is a test. I really needed to find out how much my body had recuperated over the last several weeks and see what I could do. To be fair and honest, I was really nervous about doing this race, simply because of the psychological blow I could possibly receive if I wasn’t anywhere near where I felt like I needed to be. I was bracing myself for that possibility; while at the same time reminding myself that if there is nothing risked there is nothing to be gained.

When the gun went and it was time to go to work I immediately went into game face mode and just went to work. As is the start with all of these massive races that sell out in a day or two, getting through the first mile takes a while and I reminded myself of that fact when I checked out my first split. I don’t know how there is always a few 60 year old runners in the first corral, who quite obviously can’t hold the pace that those in that group will drive out, but, as per usual, there was and getting around them was a bit of a chore.

After the first couple of miles, I believe, I ran up behind Strouter and bid her a good morning as I continued on past her. My pace was good, my stride was well balanced and even and it felt really good. Cruising through the course I focused on being steady, maintaining a good breath:stride ratio/rhythm, and smooth, efficient form. It must have worked, because my splits throughout the race were pretty much spot on, except where I took on water, where I lost a few seconds.

At one point during the last third of the race I noticed that my legs felt kind of funny, almost like they weren’t there, almost phantom-like. It was the strangest thing and I later found out that Strouter said she was feeling something similar. I mean, I was cruising and feeling pretty good and to be honest I was a little surprised at how good I was feeling based upon the last race I really ran. This was Worlds apart from that, thankfully in a much more positive light!

Mile 7-8 was really funny, because it was completely miss-marked and EVERYONE all of sudden clicked there watches at the 8-mile marker and instantly started talking, “Wow, either we’re really hauling ass or they have no idea how far a mile is?” It was true though, I checked my split and it was like a 5:47 mile by their markers and that would really have been something!

As we hit the last mile marker I did some assessment and acknowledged the fact that I was intact, holding steady, comfortable and actually could feel it in my legs and lungs that I could have pushed harder and still had kick for the finish. With a half-mile to go I came along side a Tri-guy, not sure what team he was with, looked at him and said, “Half-mile to go. It’s time to close the show. Me and you, let’s push this out.” And with that said he started to match me stride-for-stride, but it didn’t last. For those who know me, the sight of a hill climb in a race peppered with runners is like a shark smelling a flailing wounded seal in the water; I just start to crush it. Within 20-yards of starting the miniscule climb my finishing partner was dying and had faded. When I crested the hill and started to press through the decline I noticed that I was alone. It was really weird, there wasn’t a soul within 25-yards of me, in front or behind. I held steady and finished strong.

My official finishing time was 1:05:02 (6:31 pace). This was exactly what I needed heading into the final two weeks before the Boston Marathon, physically, emotionally and psychologically. To go out and blow out a nice run like that and KNOW that there was more in the tank for the entire race and still have that little bit of spring and kick at the finish that had been missing for weeks was fantastic.

I’ve been waiting two years for this race and this year I almost let it slip out from under me, but I’m not going to let that happen. The new plan has been working. My eye is still on the prize and only 10 days left.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WTF is with this OTS nonsense!

It’s been a while since I have posted anything and perhaps that is indicative of one of the symptoms that I have been exhibiting over the few weeks. Now, there is some debate as to whether I have actually fallen victim to OTS, so I suppose I will leave it up to, my audience and peers, to be the final judge and jury regarding me having Overtraining Syndrome.

Over the last several weeks I have experienced diminished performance the likes of which I would not wish upon any runner. My legs have lacked pick-up and pace, I’ve been fatigued, my body unresponsive to any sort of finishing kick, what appeared to be diminished lung capacity, and, for those who know me this may be the worst indicator of them all, I have had nothing in the tank for crunching hills. It’s tragic really, I love hitting hills and pushing hard with a strong quick turnover and cadence, but not right now. Furthermore, I have NEVER just dropped out of a training run unless I was injured, but I almost, so very nearly, did that very thing recently and even toyed with the idea of throwing the towel in on Boston and running for a long while. Once those thoughts shot through my mind all I could think was, “YIKES!”

This is not a pity party, although it may seem like it a bit. This is more of an assessment of the situation and bringing to light the elements and symptoms of overtraining that I didn’t even know existed in a list format. This is an education at my own expense.

So what is overtraining syndrome? Paraphrasing here, it is when an athlete trains beyond the body’s ability to rest and recover. Ostensibly, it’s an imbalance in your training:resting ratio - you train so hard and so often that you don’t provide your body the time it needs to rest, recover and repair itself. The symptoms read like an athlete’s bad dream, but here is a list of them that seem to be agreed upon by a variety of sources:
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Loss of motivation
  • Persistent fatigue, even with rest
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability and an inability to concentrate
  • Persistent mild leg soreness, fatigue and/or aches and pains
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport and/or depression
  • Decreased immunity
  • A compulsive need to exercise (this one wasn’t across the board but fit)
I’m not a hypochondriac or anything, but when I started to research this possibility I was like a freshman in their first psychology class and thinking they are schizophrenic, all signs pointed towards a diagnosis I did not want to hear. So, I went outside my own head and sent my grocery list of symptoms to my coach and awaited a response. His answer was simple, to the point and in five words or less, “You are overtrained.” There I was, creeping closer and closer to Boston, the race I have been waiting for two years now, and I am now hearing that I am overtrained! My response: “NNNOoooooooo! That’s impossible!!” a la Luke Skywalker’s finding out Darth Vader is his father in ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’

After the initial shock, irritation, aggravation and outright rage dissipated it was then time to reassess the situation and see what I could do to salvage my ‘A’ race. First thing’s first, training was stepped down and more rest was added to the mix. In lieu of tempo runs I inserted swimming into the mix, which is something that I have not done in a lap format ever in my life. In fact, the only way I know how to swim at all really is from watching my Dad, beyond that I am just winging it.

The addition of the swimming has been welcomed and wonderful and I never thought that I would ever really like hitting the pool and doing laps, and yet, here I am doing it three days a week and thinking about adding a fourth. Swimming is amazing in how my running form and rhythm can be so easily translated and transferred into this other medium. When I run I am constantly taking into account the sound and count of my feet in conjunction with my breathing, which in the water translates into my hands entering the water with each stroke and my breathing. It’s amazing.

Now, with my weekly mileage reduced to just core workouts that I approach with purpose and focus, pushing myself and my body to recall why I am doing this and how it is going to feel when race day comes. Just a couple of these a week with a longer run at a reasonably comfortable pace should bring my mind and body back into alignment and I hope that this approach will illustrate what the pool work has meant to my cardio and lungs.

The time has come to test out the theoretical and see if I can bring myself back in reality and run a quality race that I can be happy with!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Love LSD

Going into this weekend I had a very specific plan in mind, one that required strict adherence. The plan was simple: 25 miles from Friday through Sunday (5 easy miles Friday, push through a 5K race Saturday, 18 easy miles Sunday) . Not too difficult, right? Pretty straight forward. But, there is always that game of degrees that we runners like to play where we are constantly redefining and altering our own perception of "easy" or "light" or "comfortable." It is a glorious game with very few rules, but a lot of penalties that can be accrued during its practice. Personally, I am a vicious offender when playing this game, but I am recovering. What are the steps to recovery, you may ask? Well, there aren't steps per se, but I have found a great way to curb this behavior without causing any irreparable damage, which, in the end, helped me actually stick to my game plan.

Friday night, after another glorious work day I was looking forward to getting out and relieving myself of some unwanted stress, but because of my experience during speed work earlier in the week - uh, I had no speed and couldn't push myself at all - I knew that I really needed to tone down all of my recovery and maintenance runs and bring the speed way down. I have been a little gung ho about my training this Winter and it has taken its toll on my body and the time has come to be much more shrewd about my approach. So, how did I manage that for this particular run? 1) I kept reminding myself that I would be racing a 5K in approximately 15 hours and that any sort of pace tonight would adversely affect my performance. 2) I set my Polar watch, which I have the foot pod for, to beep at me whenever I went faster than an 8:20 pace - Ah, the beauty of technology! 3) Selected a nice slow jam to get stuck in my head and just let my feet synch with the beat - this is something that is not as easy to find and apply as you may think. That's quite a bit, huh? It really is, but for whatever my mind works in mysterious ways and this appeared to work.

Saturday morning was perhaps as frustrating a race as I have run over this past year. For this one I had to trek to Brooklyn, which wasn't too terrible on the train this particular morning as I was thoroughly entertained by my book, "Fool" by Christopher Moore, and was wearing enough layers that I wasn't instantly frost bitten by the arctic gusts of wind that seemed to follow me wherever I went.The exciting part of this race was that I was reunited with my running partner from last year, Speedy Elf, which was excellent, because I haven't run with him in a long, long time. Anyway, the two of us were shooting for a sub-6 pace, but were unsuccessful by a mere 5 seconds! Honestly though, it was a race I hope to erase from memory rather quickly. What I came to understand during this race was that ALL of my fast twitch muscles are on strike, or have committed suicide, and that my legs are now honed in on longer distance runs and my finishing kick is now about as impressive as an Ewok running the 100-year dash ... Pathetic, yes! Cute, fuzzy and amusing, Yes, but Pathethic! It was a completely humbling experience, one that knocked me down a few pegs and reminded me that I need to start to have shorter more specific workouts to aid in the development of that speed and to take it easy on maintenance, recovery and longer runs that don't have a race specific purpose.

So, in continuing with the nice ebb and flow of things we've reached Sunday, where I planned on doing 18-miles (from my UWS apartment on 107th, down the West Side Highway via Riverside Park, over the Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect Park and then two loops of the park). Now, for those unfamiliar with Race With Purpose from last Fall, this run is also known as the "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn" run. What made this run in particular so effective was that I met up with two fellow RwPers along the way and they helped make this rather lengthy journey simply outstanding. When you run the majority of your training runs solo you forget how wonderful it is to run in a group and it has been one of the things that I have missed most this Winter, but when I do have the company it does make everything so much simpler and more enjoyable. I take my time, my pace is never an issue, I relax more, and when it comes time to turn on the jets I can and with greater confidence. All in all, the workout benefit is so much greater when with a group and I hope to either be racing or with a group for the rest of my long runs this season. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, I was unable to resist the temptation to go beyond my prescribed distance, only by 1.65 miles, thanks to another friend I bumped into in Prospect Park who convinced me to keep going, but I can't be too upset because I did prove to myself that I have the endurance for this while hitting a nice 6:40 pace for the last couple of miles. You can only imagine the big smile on my face after that!

What have we learned? I'm slow over short distances, so muggers and pick pockets should be fine. Recovery and maintenance runs NEED to be just that and the pace needs to take a back seat for nothing more than the health of your body. Lastly, LSD is best done in good company!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are You Mental? (Part 2)

Last year, at about this time, I injured my left foot in the most bizarre way and was forced to hang up my shoes and defer out of the Boston Marathon. Then last week, I was jumping out of the shower after a decent training run, slipped and kicked the side of the tub. Within a half an hour after that most graceful of stumbles I felt the pain and discomfort that I felt a year ago – same spot, same persistent pain – and started to panic. At that point I wasn’t sure if it was just a stinger or if this was the exact injury that knocked me out of Boston last year. With a race to run on Sunday, a day or so later, I decided to ice and rest on Saturday and really just try and figure it out a bit.

Saturday afternoon and evening were unnerving, because whenever my foot wasn’t wrapped it was ungodly sore and made it really difficult to walk, let alone run. I became increasingly agitated, irritable and unpleasant as I was working myself up to a full-blown panic attack. Eventually I managed to mellow out enough to get some rest and still consider the 20k Boston Build-up in Southport, CT.

Race Day AM, I went through my usual routine, got on the train and wrapped my foot just like I usually do. Everything seemed to be pretty much in order and I started getting a little excited, because it was finally warm enough to wear shorts for a race. The course was challenging and fun and I really went out and tried to test myself, my foot and get a fair assessment of where the hell I was physically. As it turns out, I was doing pretty well. I finished in 1:22:42 (6:39 pace), which was good enough for 29th overall in the 170+ field.

After the race, I went home and finally took off the wrap and that is when I knew that I needed to take some time off to be safe. As soon as the wrap released and my foot was free from its bonds I was sore. I stretched, iced and rested for the remainder of the evening and while I was enjoying English Premier League Review Show that night I made the decision to keep the foot wrapped and shelf running for the majority of the week … something that is much easier said than done. For me, this was a “practice what you preach” moment, listening to my body and being patient with an injury that could potentially set me back quite a bit.

I really struggled reading the emails, tweets and messages from other runners and triathletes about their training, doing the things they love, and then not going out and joining in myself. Throughout the week I had to remind myself that I have a goal to achieve at the end of all of this and that going out before I have nipped this injury would jeopardize my ability to reach my goal. It was incredibly humbling, and at times more painful than the injury itself, to break from the tightly regimented routine that I had developed over the proceeding couple of months. In an effort to pacify my urges I started doing two-a-day core workouts so that, in my mind, I would still be building and working towards my goal even if I wasn’t running.

The days went by painfully slow, but then it was TGIF and it was time to lace’em up and get back out in the park and check on the status of my foot. As soon as the clock struck 6 p.m. I flew out of work and was jogging back to the park, all the while my mind hyper-focused on my left foot, honing in on any discomfort or pain with ridiculous sensitivity, but there was none. It felt just like I had before I had gone ahead and kicked the tub.

About half-way through the run I realized how good I felt, like I was gliding, strong and effortless, for about 5-miles. It was exactly what I needed and all the tension, irritability and unpleasantness that had festered throughout the week just sweated free from my body, it was perfect. I felt better than I have in a while, probably due to overtraining, but we live and learn.

I followed this run up with another on Sunday with Coach Adam, Javier, Javier's dog Simba and Bill Risch up in Rockefeller Park. It was a nice 14-miles or so and, as per usual, Adam threw a couple curves in there by having us do hill repeats at one point, then he decided we needed to do as many hills as we could find along the park’s trails. How sweet of him! It was a great trail run and I was incredibly relieved to complete it pain free!!

You may be asking why I have included this video clip of a not-so-pleasant injury to this entry and my reasoning is this: the Arsenal FC player featured, Eduardo da Silva, was told that he may never play the game again due to the severity of the injury and the amount of rehab that he would require. Well, this past Monday Eduardo returned to the pitch for the first time in nearly a year and not only scored, but inked the score sheet twice. He looked lively, comfortable and so unbelievably happy to be doing what he loved that I felt like I had to share. The amount of patience and mental toughness it must have taken to go through his recovery period and then to set foot on the field again, all the while worrying about getting hurt again, is remarkable.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Know When To Say When

Heading into my Boston training I have been tinkering and toying with my training strategy and in doing so have tested my legs quite a bit. The training plan I set out for myself has me doing between 40 and 50+ miles weekly, something that I have not consciously gone out and tried, but know that I am capable of doing. One thing I haven't been sure of is how my body would react to the high frequency and mileage this early in my training and how that might translate down the road, which brings me back to the question I started out with this season:

Is it better to do higher miles with greater consistency, or, do shorter, more intense and focus specific workouts during the week with high mileage weekends?

For the last month, I went with the former selection, gradually increasing my base mileage runs while maintaining my planned weekend long run schedule. I knew going into it that it would take a little bit for my body to adjust to the increase and get back into a consistent running rhythm, but it may have been a little too early for this.

Last fall, training with the Race With Purpose Fall Marathon group I was building back up from injury and was not doing a lot of heavy mileage, but felt great. My speed kept increasing every couple of weeks, my stamina was good and my body felt no adverse effects to anything that I was doing. Sounds pretty good, right? As the season closed, I was really feeling fatigued over the last 6 weeks and with the little rest I allowed myself preparing all of my runners for their particular race I really needed to take some time off.

With the Holidays came my hiatus from running, which left me bored a bit, but planning ahead for my push towards Boston. Developing this little testing plan I implemented the high-volume regiment that I mentioned earlier and took to it as best I could, but since the very start I have felt fatigued, stiff, sore and otherwise unhappy with it. At first I thought it was just the cold that was making this all so unbearable, but it wasn't. I fought and pushed my way through workouts that have kicked the crap out of me, giving everything I have to execute them to the letter and it took a toll.

Last week I started thinking about the work I did in the Fall and how light, strong, fast and fearless I felt and knew that this little experiment needed to be altered. So, as I hit Thursday night and I finished my 8-mile run with pick-ups I told myself, "That's it! Enough's enough! I'm racing Sunday and doing about 17 total miles, just core for the next two days while my legs recover enough to not want to smote me on Sunday - especially with my new competition with Mangorunner."

The two days off were the best thing I could have done for my body. It is the whole "practice what you preach" thing. All fall I told my teammates to listen to their bodies when it comes to their training and that the better they know their bodies and what they can take the better their training will be. For my part, I don't think I have really pushed my body that hard yet. I feel like there is a well of untapped potential that I have yet to reach, but I am starting to find my way to it.

Sunday was the NYRR Manhattan Half-Marathon and I showed up mentally prepared to rock it, but physically annoyed. As many runners can attest to, if you don't take care of your business in the morning it can make a training run or race an absolute HELL! Apparently my body wanted to remind me of that fun fact and decided that I should suffer through the entire 13.1-mile race around Central Park.

For the entire duration of the race I felt nauseous, the worst of it during miles 4 and 8. For that span I just kept talking to myself, saying, "You can stop at the next portos and just get it over with, but suffer to get back up to speed or you can stick it out, maybe puke while on the course, but fight your way through it." In the end, I just fought through it, knowing full well that if I did stop the cold would consume me and I would feel even worse trying to get my legs to turn over again.

It was a battle of epic proportions, but I feel that I won this one! I finished the race in 1:27:05 (6:38 pace) without any nutrition (knowing that I would puke it up) and only two sips of water on the course (1. because they were all ice cups, and 2. because I felt like I would puke it up). For the last mile of the race I had repeatedly caught up to this one guy and every time I did he would take off, not allowing anyone to pass him ... that is until the last half of a mile. Then I finally drew level with him and called out to him, "OK, now it's time to see your kick!" The two of us started to pour it on and we were level for about 400m (with a number of other runners taking up the finishing kick mantel at the same time), but over the last quarter I overtook him and smiled my way through the finish line.

After finishing I went back up the course to cheer on my teammates and run in a friend of mine who is coming back from injury and looking to dominate her Spring marathon.

Now it is time to put into affect the second portion of this training experiment and work with lower mileage, but with focused and specific high-intensity workouts three days a week and a steady increase in my weekend long run mileage. All of this will be done uttering the "listen to your body" mantra, which I think will bring about the exact results I am looking for.

"Success isn't how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started." ~ Prefontaine

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Return of the Fun Run

Coming to the close of last week I had altered my training schedule, scaling it back a little, so I could be prepared for the first throwdown between myself and Mangorunner. This was something that bothered me to some extent, because I hate to amend my training schedule to the shorter end of my mileage, but it made the most sense and my body was having a hard time adjusting to the higher mileage. Regardless of all my apprehensions, it never ended up being an issue, because Mother Nature ensured that neither one of us was going to be able to race ... they both were snow and iced out.

So, in the absence of my Boston Build-Up 15K race I decided to go up to Rockefeller Park to do a trail run with Coach Adam and fellow RwPer Farrah, who will also be running Boston in April. The snow was still falling in the morning, but it wasn't quite as biting cold as it had been the day before. It really was quite beautiful, aside from the disgusting black/grey/brown sludge created by all the cars on the streets. I met Farrah on the train heading up to Philipse Manor gearing up as we rumbled along, texting back and forth with Coach Adam so he knew where we were. As it turns out, once you head outside of the City and get into the burbs plowing must be a somewhat foreign concept, because he ended up being late, due to poor road conditions.

Farrah and I walked towards Rockefeller Park and Coach Adam picked us up on the side of the road looking like a couple of transient, hobo athletes; me in all black and brown and Farrah in an outfit of delightfully vibrant contrasting colors, like Helen Keller mix-n-matched it for her. When we got up to the high school parking lot we pulled up next to Jackie Vanover who humbled us all by coming out at all after doing the Walt Disney Goofy's Race & a Half Challenge the previous weekend. Coach Adam, in a wondrous attempt to trump that feat, stripped down to his running shorts ... in the snow ... and was like, "What? You're all going to wish you were dressed like me once we're out there." Below is an accurate representation of just how excited Coach Adam was:

Once he finished getting himself run-ready, we hit the trails, for what ended up being 12-miles, and it was amazing! After a brutal week where I had mentally been struggling with fatigue, the mercilessly cold temperatures, and the many miles in my training schedule this run was the perfect response. It was almost as if I had forgotten how much FUN it can be to go on a run with a group where you don't care what the pace is, you just go out and enjoy it. I found myself reveling in every moment that we had in the snow caked woods with drifts raining down on us blown free from the limbs high above. I was captivated by all that saw and felt on those trails and remembered why I love running and what an amazing and beautiful place the World is.

Just a little literary food for thought, R.W. Emerson once wrote, "Nothing divine dies. All good is eternally reproductive. The beauty of nature reforms itself in the mind, and not for barren contemplation, but for new creation."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Are You Mental? (part 1)

I am sure that I am not the only one that gets up in the morning over the Winter, opens the window for five seconds and instantly utters one simple, primally fueled phrase: f#ck it's cold! Accompanying that phrase is an autonomic response where your body shudders for a second and unconsciously returns to bed forcibly repeating through every nerve in your body that, "there is NO WAY in hell we are running in this sh&t!" That is the very moment when the mental side of Winter training begins and it is the most difficult one to overcome.

Last weekend I got to experience the full gamut of the mental onslaught that runners go through running in the frigid temperatures of the Northeast. While I was walking the dogs Saturday morning, before the sun had even crept over the horizon line, I just kept thinking, "ya know, a rest day would be a good idea right about now. So what if there isn't one scheduled for a couple of days. What could it hurt?" But, I knew that my biggest handicap thus far in my training has been consistency, thanks to illness, etc. so I really, really couldn't afford to take the day off.

Then I thought, "15-miles is really far and it gets dark early here, maybe I could do like eight and call it a day?" But, I had been silly and watched the news and knew that snow was coming and there was no way that I would be running that far in the Burbs with 8-10 inches of snow due to fall overnight and into the following morning.

With all the facts there and the day starting to get away from me, I set a timetable and wrapped my head around doing my 15-miler at 2:30 pm, which according to weather.com was going to be the warmest time of day, a balmy 23-degrees, but with the windchill more like 12-degrees. At 2 pm I geared up: tights, sleeveless, long sleeve Underarmour cold gear, hat, gloves, water bottle fuel belt and my marathon windbreaker. Once I suited up I stretched in the warmth of the house, took the dogs out one more time before I left and then stepped to the edge of the driveway to hammer it out.

Literally 400 meters down the street, the only thing I could think was, "I am an Idiot!" That first mile was absolute torture, not from a muscle standpoint, but just adjusting to the wind and the temperature of the air on my legs. Back and forth my mind flip flopped about whether I would be able to handle the full 15 or if I would cut it short. In the end, I kept my head, my body heated up and the run was really good.

The cold crisp air kept the roads clear and the scenery along the way was outstanding. At one point I passed a small pond where the local kids were skating with their parents and as I went by they said, "Look at that guy running, he's crazy. I bet he wishes he was skating instead?" Little did those kids know that I can't skate at all and am a complete embarrassment when on the ice. I probably would've have ended up crashing into the whole lot of them causing carnage and mass hysteria!

As I hit mile 11 or so, I all of a sudden had a nice second wind and busted out a 6:40 mile, which completely threw me for a loop. I looked at my watch and began talking to myself out loud, reminding myself that I wanted to be disciplined and not veer from the plan. I toned it down, got back into rhythm and kept it going.

All in all, it was an awesome long run that I would have been remiss if I had allowed my head to cave and keep me home. This is the kind of mental test that teaches you how to "hit the wall" and smash right through it! By forcing yourself to make the efforts that your mind tells you aren't such great ideas and persevering you can achieve something amazing. There is no greater feeling than to go out and complete one of these runs that people think you are nuts for doing and then talk to those same people afterwards and say, "I did my whole training run in some cold, raw conditions, what did you do today?"

I am sure that this is NOT the last time this Winter training season that I will be battling nature and my own head, so stay tuned as the battle for the supremacy of Speedy Sasquatch continues!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dead Leg Tempo Test

After a week of relative consistency it came time to give my body a little test to see where it is and what could be more perfect than to execute this test at the first race of the Boston Build-Up series in CT. So, on a cold, crisp sunny Sunday morning I ventured out to Scarsdale to meet Coach Adam and to catch a ride out to the race. I was pretty excited about this race since I have not lined up for a race since the ING New York City Marathon in November and going out with a good-sized group working towards the same goal would definitely keep me honest while out on the course.

The plan heading into this 10K was to do what I call a “Dead Leg” tempo run. It's exactly what it sounds like, a tempo run done on legs that I fried the day prior. In this particular case, I wore them down doing a 13.5-mile run in Central Park broken into three segments (4 easy miles @ 8-minute pace, 8 moderate miles @ 7-7:20 pace, 1.5 easy cool down miles @ 8-minute pace). I know that these are not my true paces, but because of my recent bout with inconsistency and illness I didn’t want to overdo it and risk any sort of injury.

We arrived at the high school in Rowayton nice and early to grab our numbers, etc., but weren’t too happy with the 28-degrees with a bit of wind for good measure. With our registration task and bathroom visitations completed we went back out to the car and sat comfortably with the heated seats cranking. Coach Adam, who typically jabs at me about wearing tights and warm clothes in such weather, broke down and stated, “I’m not going back out there till five minutes before the race starts.” It was a refreshing change in tune, but he still showed me up running in shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt, the cheeky bastard!

The biggest challenge for me in a race like this, without a pace partner around, is not getting caught up in the moment and completely disregarding my plan. This is the mental discipline part of running that I have really had to learn and ingrain in myself over the last two years and I think I am finally getting the hang of it, because I did what I set out to do.

My self-prescribed plan involved starting out in the back of the pack and working my way forward for the duration of the race. I wanted to feel that little mental edge and motivation that is inherent in passing people on the course. That little added confidence that keeps the spring in your stride, something that I have not felt since New York. Honestly, I’m completely fascinated by all of the subtle psychological nuances that influence a runner and how they race. I am always trying to keep a clear, focused mind so I can hear and feel how my body reacts to everything while on the course - wind, body temperature, hills, false flats, icy spots, other runners, my own footfall, annoying people with headphones who can't hear you when you are trying to pass them on a trail, etc. It is a constant and perpetual learning experience.

From the starting gun, which I never even heard, I quickly settled into my pace (roughly 6:30s) and never lost it. I was within +/- 5 seconds from start to finish. My legs felt pretty good despite the previous day’s miles, but my breathing rhythm was a little erratic during miles 5 and 6, thanks to a couple of well placed hills. The frustrating part in all of that was I knew they were coming and tried to prepare myself for them, but still ended up all over the place with my breathing. At least I didn’t get to the top of that last hill and have to stop so I could dry heave, like I did the previous year. This race last year was the only time I have EVER had to stop in a race, because I thought I was going to puke.

For the last three-quarters of a mile I had a little fun catching up to this big triathlon guy who every time I got level with him would start sprinting a bit. These bursts were nice and he looked really fast while doing them, but I kept the same pace and with each one the separation he created decreased until he really just had nothing left. The last time we came level I said to him, “come on, big man, only 400 meters to go push’em out,” and then proceeded to pass him. That was the last I saw of him, but I heard him trying to get his wind back to catch me all the way through the finish.

The last 100 meters of this race was the BEST! You came into the high school’s parking lot and the road that leads up to the front door, which also happened to be our finish, was like running on a Slip’N Slide that someone left out for the winter. It was nothing but densely packed ice that scared the crap out of me! Earlier, when I walked across it to go inside and get my bib I nearly bought it and sprawled out on the ice like Jason Priestley playing a figure skater on SNL and that was just walking. It also drummed up memories of my college days running in the winter and that one fatal slip on a sidewalk in PA that resulted in a torn hamstring and the end of my running days for a great many moons.

I ended up finishing 40th overall at a 6:39 pace according to them and a 6:30 pace according to my watch. It was a good test for my legs and lungs. I maintained my pace throughout, was disciplined and finished with energy to burn. It was a great run, some good fun and I am looking forward to the second Build-Up race in two weeks, which has even more meaning since it was the last race I participated in last year before I deferred my Boston entry due to my injured left foot. It will be time for some revenge!