Sunday, June 5, 2011

GSSI Testing: Party Like the Pros

In the weeks following the 2011 Boston Marathon, a random twist of fate brought the good people of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) to me and I was invited to participate in nutrition and endurance testing while they were in NYC for the 2011 NFL Draft.  My first thought was, “this can’t be for real, why the hell would I be chosen for such a thing?!”  But it was real and after sitting there and staring at the invitation I went ahead and accepted.  In my mind I simply thought, “how often would I have the opportunity to go through the same tests that professional athletes go through?”  Secretly, all I wanted to know was if I would sweat a Gatorade color while in black-and-white!!!

The testing was part of the GSSI’s efforts to help endurance athletes gain a better understanding of how their bodies work and provide ways to improve their athletic performance via nutrition and hydration.  It consisted of a Body Composition (BOD POD) assessment, the Wingate bike test, 1-mile run estimating VO2, and a fueling survey with a sports scientist.  When I got the sheet describing all of the tests I was ridiculously excited and then mortified to be put under the microscope a little bit, but once I was told one last little surprise bit of information all that apprehension went away.  I was told that in addition to the testing I was also going to have the opportunity to sit and pick the brain of U.S. Olympian and long distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein, which just so happens to be among my favorite U.S. distance runners. Too cool!

Now, to give you a little perspective on how crazy fast this all happened, I received the email at 3:22 pm that Tuesday and I essentially had 24-hours to pull together all of the medical releases and doctors signatures so that they would even let me participate, which turned out to be a rather daunting task with work and such an incredibly tight window to get everything in to the powers that be.  I’m amazed that I managed to pull it all together in time, but thanks to the help of a few friends and some shameless ignoring of the work on my desk I was all systems go.

Thursday rolls around and I’m basically on the edge of my seat until the clock rings time-to-go-o’clock and I bolt out of the office and head to midtown west.  It’s just my luck that while I am en route the sky opens up and the heavens crack in dramatic and biblical fashion.  The streets are flooded and the rain is coming down in sheets.   Regardless of the inclement conditions I get my sorry butt there and I go from excited to absolutely mortified and intimidated by the scene once I walk through the door.  I know most of you have seen the commercials during almost every sport on TV with the treadmill, bike and all the rest set up in a white room with lab scientists around … well, this was staged EXACTLY like that and I quickly descended into the pit of my stomach.

The BOD POD:  This was the first test and perhaps the most embarrassing.  This test is designed to determine your body composition, the ratio of lean (muscle) mass to fat mass.  First of all you are asked to tear down to just compression shorts and are then weighed, which I was a little self-conscious about.  I found out I was 190 pounds, which was news to me!  I hadn’t weighed myself in probably two or three years and I never thought I was that heavy, but I hadn’t done anything than eat since Boston, so it kind of made sense.  From there you go into the BOD POD in just the compression shorts and this really amusing red swim cap.  Now, the BOD POD itself looks a lot like a giant egg with a window, or Dr. Evil’s escape pod, or the chamber in The Fly that creates the Brundle Fly!  Very “ground control to Major Tom”.  You simply sit inside the POD silently, they press a few buttons and BAM it’s done!  If you’re claustrophobic it probably isn’t that comfortable, but all in a painless experience that provided me with some interesting information.  I was hoping for a little gamma radiation experiment and to turn green and jacked when I get mad, but alas it was not to be.  What I did learn: I was in the “Moderately Lean” category with a percent body fat of 16.5.
The Wingate:  Next up was the Wingate stationary bike test, which is designed to measure anaerobic capacity, power and fatigue; the energy system responsible for quick bursts of energy such as those used during interval training.  Basically what you did for this test was climb onto this special stationary bike and are then asked to build up your cadence until you are at your maximum output at which point they count down from ten and throw a load of resistance on and you are supposed to continue to “sprint” as fast as you can with that load on for 30-seconds.  Now, when they told me a “load” I thought a really big steep hill, well, I was wrong.  This was basically like pedaling at full speed on a flat and then being thrown onto the steepest slopes of Everest and being told to maintain that cadence and pace!  It.  Was.  Ridiculous!  Seriously, this test should be called “the Emasculator,” because there is no way you feel like any sort of athlete at all, let alone in shape, by the time you are done with this one.  So, I was cranking right along, the lab tech called out the 10-second count, I pushed to maximum warp, and then WHAM they the load on and I was immediately put in my place athletically.  The only thought running through my head was the same that runs through my head whenever I’m having a bad run, “just do NOT stop turning your feet over!”  I managed to fight and push my way through the duration, but only just barely, and the techs said that I did a lot better than most of the others that had come through did, which I took as them just being nice, but who can say?  It was incredibly tough yet interesting as I spun my legs loose and they showed me the computer data from the test.  The results were as follows: Peak Power = 1,413 Watts (W), Fatigue Index = 60.44%, Anaerobic Capacity = 9.7 W/kg.

1-Mile Sub-Maximal Treadmill Run:  So, after the humbling of the Wingate test I had the opportunity to redeem myself running on the treadmill, something I loathe doing, but at least it was something I know I can hold my own at.  This test sub-maximally estimates your aerobic capacity (VO2 Max), the energy system allowing you to continue activity for a prolonged period, as well as also factoring into how well you recover between bouts of exercise.   Here I was simply asked to put on a heart rate monitor and run a mile at a sustained comfortable pace, which was a 7:25 pace.  Funny enough, there wasn’t much more to this test than that.  I was somewhere in the 95th percentile (54.35 mL/kg/min). 

Fuel Survey:  Lastly, I sat with one of the technicians and went through a myriad of questions regarding my fuel intake before, during and after my workouts in an effort to assess whether I was fueling properly to achieve maximum performance.  I found this to be one of the most interesting aspects of the testing, because I felt like I fueled well during training, but I only scored 13/30.  The major reason for my score being so low was that I didn’t fuel heading into my workouts.  For my morning workouts I generally just rolled out of bed and got them done without an fuel intake and it was the same for my evening workouts, but my saving grace was that I did fuel up within 30-minutes of completing my workouts with carbs and protein (thank you Athletes HoneyMilk & HoneyStinger). Furthermore, I redeemed myself with the fact that I am good about hydrating, which they also tested that morning courtesy of a urine sample.  I was a little shocked by my low score, but it was great to hear their suggestions and I also appreciated the fact that they weren’t trying to sell me on the new Gatorade Pro Series. 

Once the testing was finished I had the pleasure of sitting with and talking to Dathan Ritzenhein, whom I’ve watched race on a number of occasions, but never did I realize how small he is or, probably more appropriately, how large I am by comparison.  I mean seriously, I look like I am superimposed or photoshopped into the picture of the two of us … I truly am Sasquatchian ... call me GIGANTOR!!!!  Anyway, while I sat there with him we talked about some of the different workouts him and his coach use to get him ready to race, discussing the merits of the track, shorter high intensity workouts, and the idea that “mileage is King”.  We also talked about the Olympic trials in Houston next year and how we both think that having the men’s and women’s trials on the same day sort of cheapen the experience.  The last Olympic trials were held at the New York and Boston marathons giving each gender their moment in the sun, so to speak.  I was extremely pleased at how down to earth Dathan was and the ease to with we spoke.   It was refreshing and a moment in time that I will definitely cherish. 

I have to thank the Gatorade Sports Science Institute for this amazing opportunity to undergo the rigorous testing processes that professional athletes go through for assessing their endurance and nutrition.  It was an incredibly enlightening and unforgettable experience, so thank you!!  Since that time I’ve experimented with what I learned and have had fantastic results, most noticeably at the Reach the Beach Relay – Massachusetts.  I feel like I now have a much more solid grasp of my fueling and hydration situation and will continue to fine-tune it over the summer heading into the fall marathon season. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2011 Boston Marathon: More Than A Race

When I look back at my experience at the 2011 Boston Marathon and try to find the words to adequately convey all that transpired I’ve been at a loss. What transpired on April 18th fell well short of expectation yet far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Happiness and bliss, heartbreak and sorrow, pain and peace, a myriad of descriptors ineptly fall from my lips giving no credence to a day that truly deserves more, so in order to give voice to the inexpressible I shall borrow from one whose words are far superior to my own and resonate with the story still to follow:

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places”
Ernest Hemmingway.

Heading into race weekend, as I mentioned in my previous post, my nerves were getting the best of me mentally, but physically I felt good to go. My two runs up by my parent’s house were smooth, relaxed and completely comfortable. Mechanically I felt sound, I was on my home turf, and I had the support of my family and friends that were going to be out on the course. Those two days prior to the race went almost entirely according to plan, which should have been my first clue that something was going to go awry, because in the Sasquatch family nothing ever, and I do mean ever, goes the way we plan for it to. The night before the race my travel companions, Eissa and Elyssa, and I made the trip south into the City and little by little I felt the tight knit confidence I had built up over those couple of days slacken and begin to unravel.

That evening became an unfortunate comedy of errors, where we made a slight miscalculation in the reading of the address for the apartment we were staying at. We were on the right street, only about 400 numbers and a couple of miles away on a night when bars were just starting to empty as Ray Allen drained the Celtics’ game winning three-ball with seconds on the clock, so grabbing a cab was an adventure all its own. Once we finally got ourselves situated, I’d say settled, but I just wasn’t, I simply laid there staring out the window from the couch where I was “sleeping” and just kept fidgeting and fidgeting, freaking myself out that I wouldn’t hear my alarm or I’d go get dressed and realize that I forgot something essential. Those are the things one comes to expect on the night before a big race, but what weighed on my mind the most had nothing to do with logistics or preparedness, it was about disappointment. Not anything physical, but rather a feeling heading into the race, a pressure that I had slowly been piling upon myself all week long and now my chest was feeling the full burden and displacement of that weight on the race still to come.

I wanted nothing more than for Boston to be the culmination of what was an amazing spring season for everyone on Team Sasquatch, a moment where I was no longer a coach but just a runner amongst 26,000 others careening through the streets of Massachusetts. But, in a moment of unequivocal shock and fear I felt as if I was stripped bare beneath a single spotlight on a dark stage with the eyes of the world trained on my every moment. A little dramatic in interpretation? Yes, absolutely, but the fear that was swelling within my chest that I would not be able to put forth an effort worthy of my Team, my family, Maddy’s son Stone, everyone that donated to my fund-raising, and my own pride was so much so that there is no other way I can describe it. I could feel myself buckling beneath the Atlas weight my mind had cultivated and I just continued to stare watching the night sky absorb the last shades of mercury and cobalt in its black velvet cloak.

I was greeted into the new day with the jarring and unbelievably annoying shriek of the air-raid alarm on my new iPhone, which I have learned to love and hate. My morning routine went without incident, but I was still on edge and extremely jittery. I ate, all bathroom issues were resolved, all my gear was accounted for, the only thing that was even remotely in question was whether or not to wear a sleeveless base layer underneath my race shirt, which I spent the day before writing all the names of the contributors to my JDRF fund-raising on. After being outside for a while and feeling the briskness of the wind, which had blown all the flags straight, for the duration of the morning I decided that being a little warmer was a good idea. This was the first mistake of the day.

As the race began I stripped off my throwaway shirt and settled in with the rapacious hoard in wave 1 corral 5 that seemed to consume the entire roadway. Why wasn’t there enough room for people to get into the corral? I have no idea, but it was a mess. The never-ending mass of humanity amoebically swelled and surged forward and as I crossed the start mat I finally began to relax a bit, at least mentally. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, I could still feel the tension and stress in my ribs. The first mile few miles were good and slow, which was exactly to plan, and when I hit the 5k mark I had pretty well settled in pace-wise, but it just wasn’t clean and fluid. The tautness in my chest felt like two big hands threading their fingers between my ribs and pressing on my lungs. What was worse was that my legs felt a bit stiff, something I thought would just work itself out over those early miles, but apparently I was mistaken. So, on the one hand my head was a lot clearer, on the other my body had lingering doubts.

Shortly after the 10k mark I was up to speed and was holding a nice steady pace, but I was feeling like crap and now the day was starting to heat up. Somewhere along that stretch I tossed off my nice lined pair of Pearl arm sleeves, which was oh so refreshing, but that was far from the end of my mid-run tear down. A little further along my shorts became a phenomenally useful storage receptacle with my favorite hat being shoved into my crotch and then my wonderful Sugoi gloves jammed in the back. This is significant, because when it finally came time to strip off the nice Falke base layer, which I thought I was going to need for the duration of the race, at mile 8 there wasn’t any storage space left in my newly developed Swiss Army shorts. What soon followed was my runner’s interpretation of a woman taking her bra off without removing her shirt and I’m not gonna lie, the bra trick is far cooler and more fun to witness than watching the missing link trying to maintain a 6:50 mile whilst stripping a fitted base layer from under a singlet. It was an ugly piece of mobile performance art that a few poor souls running behind me enjoyed, highlighted with a guffaw or three. Once I was free from that sleeveless Bastille I felt so much better, but the damage may have already been done.

As we hit the “Tunnel of Love” two things became abundantly clear: #1) the bulge in my shorts was completely unnatural and oddly misshapen, and #2) the rest of the day was going to be a battle. The pressure in my chest was still present (albeit to a lesser degree), my abstinent legs begrudgingly continued to turn over, but I was still getting my nutrition in and holding the pace I wanted, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? Exactly! So I held on, I kept on cranking, but it didn’t last as long as I would have hoped. Around mile 16 I went to continue my nutrition regiment and realized the potential for an occurrence of the Inverse Newton Law – what goes down must come up – was a serious, serious possibility and I decided to pass on any sort of force feeding … another error.

Right after the 30k mark, the fade was on, like a ‘Jersey Shore’ trip to the barber. My legs were asking questions I didn’t have the answers to, my stomach was agitated with the needle buried below ‘E’, and for such a lovely sunny day, the clouds were starting to roll in around my head. Somewhere just past Heartbreak Hill the World began to spin ever so slightly and I knew that if I was going to finish I had to stop and shake that off. Shortly after cresting the hill on the downward slope I tried to hit the reset button and bring everything back together. The walk was brief and it helper clear the cobwebs, but it didn’t last. Within the next mile I had to do it again, and then again, and then the time between each stop became shorter and shorter. As I felt my body begin to knot up from the stop and go I took one final look at my watch and saw that my goal was gone, this was not going to be the day I had so hoped it would be.

I kept moving and the more I thought about the goal I worked towards all winter, no matter the weather, watching it slipping away I felt a little piece of myself break. I listened to the crowd pushing me to carry on, to get my legs turning over again and I did, but as my pace and finishing time continued to slip I took a deep breath, looked about the course, and decided to make something of what time and distance that remained by helping whomever I could. There was nothing for me to prove by forcing the issue, but I could help others who still had their goals in sight. I started talking to everyone around me, encouraging them to push a little longer, to find their feet and fight their way to the finish. My walk breaks became strategically placed in locations where others were walking, fighting off cramps, really anywhere there was an opportunity I could do something for someone else to get them to the finish line.

Then, right after making the final left hand turn onto Boylston Street, bringing the finish line into full focus, I felt my legs under me and was just going to push it out until I saw this guy shouldering a taller fellow along the course. Seeing the smaller Irishman awkwardly carrying the much taller gentleman, who was almost completely out on his feet, I stopped and asked if he wanted a hand. He said that he was OK and that I should push on, but I told him my goal was long gone and that he looked like he could really use the help. I stepped in and took the man’s other arm and we started working our way towards the finish line.

As I leaned in and took the man’s other arm, in broken, vomit laden English, he asked me my name, to which I replied, but when I asked him his I’m pretty sure his synapses decided to take a breather and the Irishman filled in saying his name was “Don”. I have no idea why I can’t remember the name of the Irishman. I really should know, because I talked to him long after the race was over. I digress. We slowly ambled along the race route, Don’s legs just barely bearing any weight, and I called out to the grand stand waving my other arm to get them cheering him in, hoping that that would help wake him up a bit. We hit the finish line mat at 3:16:18, about three feet from a guy who had just proposed to his fiancĂ©, and we hauled Don over to a medic with a wheel chair. The Irishman and I shook hands and congratulated one another as we walked on.

Looking back on all that transpired on the course, completely ignoring my finish time, this may be the best race I have ever run. My time was far from what it should have been and the world did break me, but I am so happy and proud of what I did in that broken place that I think this may have been my best race to date. This one was for Stone and Maddy Hubbard, you guys are amazing, and I hope the effort I put forth is worthy of your names and all of those that appeared on my back.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Running With The Devil

It is none too often that I can reasonably and factually say that I don’t have something to say, whether it’s inane, meaningless babble purged from the stagnant, dusty recesses of my brain or the lofty, intellectual, Sasquatchian lexicon laden musings of my absurdly nerdy synaptic bundles, but over the last eight weeks I’ve lost me words. I’ve been absolutely flummoxed, staring blankly at the glow of a few lines of text, edited, re-edited, re-written, struck through, and discarded, which gets to be quite taxing on a furry man’s mind. Just the same, I have come to an understanding and whilst the hour may be late for such an epiphany, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

*Note: Each song coincides with the section below it*

Within a few strides of leaving work for this past Boston Marathon weekend, “Fear is your only God!” blasting in my ear balls, and I could feel all the cylinders fall into place one click at a time. I knew from the moment that I started scheduling this spring racing season last fall that it was going to be ambitious, but I didn’t fear it. I welcomed the challenge with a good plan and a fistful of bravado, but it is one thing to see it on the calendar and another to start living it. As time carried on and everything on that schedule became more real the nerves started to settle in and set-up a nice Hooverville in my stomach, keeping me in persistent knots. The first quarter of 2011 most closely resembled a Sasquatch plate spinner on the Ed Sullivan Show, in perpetual motion, the fur creating a sweet optical illusion of speed, hoping to just be quick enough to keep from breaking any of the plates. Much easier said than done and in the end one plate did fall, the question is which one?

In February, I journeyed far south to a vast foreign land called “Texas”, where I ran the Austin Marathon, which, and it pains me to say this, was a pretty sweet race. In addition to myself, there were a number of Team Sasquatch runners participating in both the half and full marathons and in retrospect this was a race fraught with demons. Each runner was locked up in foot-to-face combat battling the stigma of a bad race, the self-inflicted moniker of “slow”, pushing through an injury, getting their nutrition and its timing down, or finding their love for the sport again. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but it’s like running with a psychotically possessed version of Peter Pan’s shadow punching, kicking, clawing, and pulling at you, breaking your will, trying to force you to concede. They fought for every stride and every breath and when it was all said and done the day was ours and it was Mojito’clock! I couldn’t be prouder of the effort, tenacity, and mental toughness that was on display over the weekend and to make it even sweeter the majority of the Team members their had never met in person, but the camaraderie was such that you would think they trained with the Tuesday & Thursday Night Torture crew in New York. It was like hanging with the Goonies, just not sure who Sloth would’ve been … probably me though!

Fast forward four weeks and I leave the Right Coast for the self-proclaimed, yet deservedly maligned, “Best” Coast for the LA Marathon. It is while in the City of Angels that I come to realize that even the best-laid plans are not without their flaws. After a lovely and relaxing Friday and Saturday night with my brother and some friends it was time to toe the line once more, but due to a few crossed wires I ended up running the race on my own rather than pacing anyone. I thought to myself in the final moments before the race began, “ok, this will be a solid training run with Boston just up ahead.” Of course that is before all the choirs of Angels decided to cry, weep, piss, spit, raspberry, snot, puke, and crap all over us. Within a mile, not a few, a mile, the rain started coming down lightly and progressively got heavier. That was fine, I can deal with that, but the temperature of the rainwater and the lovely punishing wind gusts that careened through the city streets, like Mr. Freeze in a Maserati and humbled me.

By mile 18 my calf locked up, I was 17 lovely shades of blue and purple, run/walking, then just walking and shivering, and at mile 21 my shoulder angel and devil decided to make an appearance. “It’s only five more miles, you can totally do this, collect your medal, and take a nice eleven and a half hour shower with the water on scorching!” said the prideful devil turning my face and staring me down intently. “What are you going to gain from this run that will help you prep for Boston? A medal? A nice calf injury and hypothermia with a side of upper respiratory infection? What would you tell one of your runners?” queried the exasperated angel backhanding the side of my face. Feeling defeated, but knowing I was making the right decision I flicked the little devil into one of the massive freezing cold puddles and walked off the course. It was the first time I’ve ever DNF’d a race, even though the LA Marathon website has me finishing in 3:45 or something, and the almost shameful feeling that settled in was one that lingered like a storm cloud following Snoopy, zapping him as he tried to escape it.

The week after LA was all about getting that irksome, deafening, prideful little voice to, as my Pappy would say, “stifle thy self.” Tuesday was back to the routine with work, training, and refocusing on the prize, Boston. Each day whipped past and then I found myself sitting at my computer working on training plans on a decent Sunday afternoon passively looking for motivation to even leave my apartment, let alone go for a long, hilly and completely isolated 21-mile run. But, in a flash, there was a nudge and another and one more and as they flashed upon my twitter feed it was time to man up and get my ass in gear. I ate, hydrated, got all my gear together, and marshaled myself to a course that I tell anyone I train, “Do NOT do this alone.” I needed to do it. I needed a real test for my legs that was challenging and done at a pace indicative of my training and aspirations for Boston.

I crossed over the GW Bridge being blown to the side, as per usual, feeling that slight twinge in my calf and just kept going. Once over the bridge it was all about me and my head. I kept thinking to myself, “if your calf goes to hell and you have to walk back this is going to be one long, long day!” But after the first good climb I just focused on the run, enjoying the peace and serenity of the park, the absence of all distractions, and the simplicity of just me and the road. My favorite feature of this course, and why I love it so friggin’ much, is a one mile climb dead in the center of it that can be oh so humbling, but I pushed through it and, like the super running dork that I am, when I cleared the crest I clapped for the effort. Yah, I was a total tool that day, but on that particular day I had to give myself a little credit for sticking with it. I negative split the back half of the course passing the one other runner I saw on the course, but not before sharing my water bottle and endurolytes with him, apparently he was a little unprepared. Having slain the mighty Pallisades Park course I felt ready for the beast that is Boston.

Within the single beat of a hummingbird’s wings it’s time to taper and it just wouldn’t be a normal taper if something weird didn’t happen, right? Whether it’s the lovely aches and pains or those last few training runs that just feel like crap, something always seems to rise to the surface. Well, during the last month of my training I started hitting the pool regularly to give my legs a rest and just keep working my lungs. Two Fridays before the marathon I hit the pool and get 1,000 yards in quick before I erupt at the senior citizen save the manatee float parade that was bobbing its way along the “Fast/Medium” lane. I jump out, head down to the locker room to shower. Just as I get there I stop and take one good deep breath to settle the magma coursing through my veins and when I let that breath out I got into the worst back spasm I have ever experienced in my life, only on my lower left side. The spasm is so violent that I have to pseudo-dash for the bathroom so I can puke my guts out. Why? Who the hell knows, but it was ugly, the discomfort lingering for days, and whatever confidence I had cached was purged to the porcelain Gods that one fine day.

Needless to say I had a hard time shaking all of the detritus from my mind heading into Boston Marathon weekend and what’s worse is that I haven’t been even the slightest bit excited about the race. Yes, I am one of those people that tend not to get excited until the day of, but this was different. I have nerves!! I decided weeks ago to dedicate my race my race to Team Sasquatch member Maddy Hubbard’s 14-year-old son Stone who was recently diagnosed with Type-I Diabetes, something to which I am extremely proud of. The incredible generosity of the Twitterverse is something to marvel at. With the support of more than 50 contributors, my own personal time goals, so many others tracking my time, my back still bothering me, and my boss cranky about me missing work on Monday those aforementioned nerves started feeling like a swarming hoard of sadistic animatronic “It’s a Small World After All” characters holding a concert in my guts.

Before long I’ll be toeing the line and I will know how this story will end, but what I do know regardless is that I will keep fighting and endure.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Recovery Savvy ... or Superhero in Disguise!

In the beginning, there was absolutely no way in hell you would ever be able to squeeze me into a pair of tights.  I grew up with a ballerina sister and those things were reserved for the daintily feminine.  But, as I got into winter training and fighting through the brutally cold and variable weather patterns of the Northeastern United States, tights became a necessity, one that I took to very slowly. 
At first I wore shorts over my tights, just like I had seen my brother’s college soccer team do at the end of their fall season.  Well, that and the fact that there was just something weird about wearing something form fitting and having my non-existent posterior end and velociraptor legs on pseudo-display.  I just wasn’t comfortable with it.  Then, after much harassment from running teammates and my coach I gave up the ghost and stopped with the shorts-on-top look and wore them as the running Gods fully intended me to … with my break lights blaring!  But, I digress. 

Shortly after the 2010 Chicago I came upon a pair of recovery tights – I know, MORE tights for the guy who wouldn’t even THINK of wearing tights a few years ago – adorned by a pair of awesome individuals, Lee and Isis (aka @runningcouple on twitter).  I was immediately curious as I caught a glimpse of the stirrup-style feet and asked if they were recovery socks.  They said no, they were full tights (Zoot CompressRx Recovery Tights) and that they absolutely loved them and lived in them after long runs and races.  I did a little research into them, since I have toyed with a number of recovery products and these just sounded interesting.  Four months later I bought a pair and I have to tell you I am completely sold on them. 

Why are they awesome? Let me tell you, first of all, you get to look like a superhero in these things! Friggin’ amazing! I could totally go out and fight crime daily in them and not worry about any muscle fatigue whatsoever. But seriously, I’ve done a couple of long 18-19 mile runs and put the Zoot CompressRx Recovery Tights on after, worn them for the day, and have felt like I was ready to rumble by the next morning. 
It’s like Mr. Miyagi is working on my legs for the entire day, preparing me to kick the crap out of the Cobra Kai dojo single handedly … wow, rereading that just sounds a bit creepy, but you get what I mean.  These recovery tights are simply phenomenal for recharging your legs and breathing life back into them.  One thing to note about them, even more so than regular running tights, is the amount of time it takes to get these bad boys on.  It can be a bit of a process that is nowhere near to superhero phone booth efficient, but once you finally get them completely on you will be so happy!  Furthermore, they can be a little difficult to keep up depending on your size.  I found that I struggled keeping the waist portion up and was a little self conscious about squatting down to pick things up, like the stereotypical plumber.  In terms of cost, I have seen these tights run between $110-$150, which is pretty consistent with the likes of CW-X and others.

Despite these minor inconveniences, which seem to accompany almost any type of tight – ladies, I don’t know how you do it daily – I highly recommend Zoot CompressRx Recovery Tights.  I have tried a lot of different recovery products and this one is by far the best one that I have used.  These bad boys will be going on after every long training run and marathon from here on out.  Seriously … you feel and look like a SUPERHERO … that should be reason enough.

Friday, October 15, 2010

CM10: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

It’s taken nearly a full week to completely digest all that went down at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, but as the dust, and my stomach, has settled I now know that this race was definitely not the prettiest or my fastest, but it may well have been the toughest I have ever run and my most meaningful as a runner.  Seriously, this is not that imposing a course to run. It’s flat, it’s fast, and there is an outstanding crowd to support you, all the makings of a phenomenal race and PR. And yet, who knew what exciting and unexpected adversity awaited me on such a beautiful 10/10/10? …? … Well then, allow me to enlighten you with ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ of my Chicago Marathon.

Opening Credits:
Being one of the 5 World Marathon Majors, one would assume that getting to the start and the seeded corrals would be pretty simple and without too much stress. Something for which you would expect to give a lot of credit to the organizers for, but alas this was not that day.  Hahahaha!  In fact, it could NOT have been further from the truth!  Race day morning I intended to arrive at Corral B at 7:00 am to meet two other runners, Josh (@jdhollandsc) and Susan (@susanruns), but once I got out of the hotel and headed toward the seeded corrals I realized that this was never going to happen.  People were meandering about slamming into everything within arm’s distance, like a an overzealous kindergarten class all getting off of a merry-go-round going 90 mph at the same time, it was rather chaotic.  This was then further compounded when I realized the Seeded Corral entrance was on the other side of the park and that myself and about 11-gagillion other people were all trying to get through a bib-check-gate about the size of a broom closet!  This was the slowest moving pack of fast runners I have ever been in, but to be fair to them, it wasn’t their fault.  It was rather amusing to watch the numerous individuals auditioning for the role of Spider-Man by climbing the 10-12-foot tall chain link fence separating us from the path to our corrals. It was pretty ridiculous. People were PISSED!  I just didn’t care so long as I got there before the gun went.

The Good:
Ok, so not the best of beginnings, but it got better! After quickly watering a tree, I entered Corral B ready to rumble.  I was calm, collected, focused, and felt loose and well prepared despite all of the little nagging voices in the back of my mind reminding about my knee over the last few weeks and missing my last good long run.  In that moment, I channeled my inner Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth from Pulp Fiction, “Bitch, be cool!”  “Be cool, hunny bunny.”  Once I was back on the level, it was go time and the good times DID roll.

The first 16-miles could not have gone better.  I was perfectly in-line with my pace plan and just hammered out the miles almost effortlessly.  Check out the splits:
Mile 1:  7:02          Mile 9:  6:48
  Mile 2:  6:48          Mile 10:  6:36
 Mile 3:  6:48          Mile 11:  6:42
 Mile 4:  6:36          Mile 12:  6:33
 Mile 5:  6:41          Mile 13:  6:39
 Mile 6:  6:42          Mile 14:  6:43
Mile 7:  6:38          Mile 15:  6:48
Mile 8:  6:33          Mile 16:  6:54

Even At mile 16 I still had plenty in the tank and in the legs and was ready to keep hammering out the miles … that is until IT happened …

The Bad:
Shortly after mile-16 is when IT happened.  I hit the aid station for both Gatorade and water and then proceeded to take my next vanilla GU.  Somewhere in that next half-mile did my best impression of Lard Ass from Stand By Me and proceeded to projectile vomit on the side of the course!!! This, my friends, was a first for me and was oh-so-much worse than the incident with the fly months and months ago.  Now, this pit stop was REALLY quick!  I wasn’t about to let my whole race disappear because of this, so once I was done I was done and I got right back into rhythm and on course, but my head was recalculating EVERYTHING as I was now going to be running a high pace with a severely depleted system.  As it turns I didn’t lose a lot of time over the next two-miles, but I only had water for the next couple of water stops, just to be on the safe side. 

At mile-19 I start to feel the effects of running with a tank that is pretty close to be completely empty, if it wasn’t there already, and I feel my head starting to get a little light and fuzzy. I decide heading into the next aid station that I’m going to WALK, something I NEVER do, and suck down some Gatorade and water, since I’m sweating like Ted Striker in Airplane!  As soon as the Gatorade, which was thicker than semi-congealed red Jell-O, hit my stomach I knew that something was not right at all and I rushed to the water station hoping to dilute it quickly, but it was all for not!  The second volley of regurgitation struck shortly thereafter and I now knew that my sub-3:00:00 marathon goal was now out of sight.  Even more disconcerting than the lack of nutrition going on was the fact that my vomitotiousness had now tapped out my muscles (core, hips, legs) and everything was starting to tighten up on me.  This all happened very quickly, but I decided I was going to run as much as I could and keep fighting.

The Ugly:
Over the next 2-miles I went to wipe my forehead, thinking that with the heat constantly rising I would be sopping wet, but I wasn’t.  What I ended up doing was merely flaking off some salt that had dried up on my face.  Crap!  I needed some water and some salt and I needed them FAST.  I stopped at the next medical tent I saw and asked if they had Endurolytes or salt tablets or anything of that sort so I could try something other than syrupy Gatorade or GU, but as it turns out not one, not two, but THREE different medical tents that approached were not equipped with anything of the sort.  So, with no alternative left to me, at mile-21 I tried downing Gatorade again with a quick water chaser, but it yielded the same result … GROSS!  Well, I guess the third time is the charm, because after that last episode there was no more puking!  Then again, there was no more drinking Gatorade either, I just stuck with water and … um … water!  Regardless of it all I kept running, or what could at least mildly be discerned as running.

So, there I am, completely depleted, muscles on fire and tightening all the time, stomach ablaze, and with a head that kept getting foggier and foggier ever half to three-quarters of a mile.  Every time I start to run again it takes so much out of me just to get into any sort of rhythm and my legs are just fighting me with every stride I take.  I reduced myself to a run-walk regiment, with walking gaps of no longer than 30-seconds, just so I can keep my head from fogging up too much and giving me the spins and I am able to manage this for the majority of the rest of the race. 

Closing Credits:
During this long, long, long final 10k of this race my mind is whipping around with all kinds of detritus, which had been bouncing off the insides of my skull and accumulated in my brain since mile-16ish.  I had started keeping a running tally of the number of times that I felt like quitting and just packing it in, which by final count was like 738 times.  I thought about the logistics if I DNF’d when I first wanted to bow out and how the hell I would have even made it back to the start/finish.  I thought about how much work I had put into this race, the amount of pressure I had placed on myself to hit my mark.  Then, I finally came around to it and I thought about my runners, all the members of Team Sasquatch and my Tues/Thurs Night Torture crew that I talk to about all of the things that can happen in a race and how to handle them, and it is in that moment that I find some inner peace and I start seeing things clearly.

One thing that I have always said and that I truly believe is that if you can truly wrap your mind around what you need to do you can make your body do anything, and this was a moment where I felt myself truly grasp that concept.  With each mile marker that I passed I kept my eye on the total time and in that moment of absolute clarity I knew that Boston was still within reach, but I just couldn’t let myself be dragged in the minutia that my body was forcing on me.  With about 1.5 miles to go I hear the crowd lining the streets start yelling, “Yah! Come on Boston pacers! Finish Strong!”  At which point I start talking to myself out loud, which @mattsix can vouch for since he saw me doing it, and simply say, “You can’t walk another step until this is done. Move your ass, get yourself out in front of those 3:10 pacers and don’t look back!”  As the words slip past my lips rather softly one of the pacers smiles a little and I turn up my pace just enough to get out in front of the both of them.  I get to that miserable, stupid hill within the last half mile, which is just so insignificant as hills go, and I just push it out with whatever I have left.

As I hit the finish line mat my watch reads 3:08:50!  I quickly think to myself, “Mission Accomplished,” and then I look up to find the nearest medical staffer as I am once again fighting off the spins!  The guy grabs me and walks me through the finisher’s area asking me if I want a wheel chair or to get an IV and I kindly brush him off and ask him to just walk with me to get some ice, water and anything to eat.  I was just hoping that the fact that I was no longer running would allow things to settle nicely in my stomach, which it fortunately did. 

Humbled & Happy:
Now, with it all said and done, I have to admit that this race may have been my finest moment as a runner.  Gross?  Yes.  Absolutely humbling?  For sure.  But, I can’t help be feel an incredible sense of pride in the fact that regardless of how many times I wanted to quit and how much it hurt I didn’t.  I fought tooth and nail for everything on 10/10/10 and managed to pull something off that under the circumstances I didn’t think I could. 

In addition to that, I have to give major shout outs to the Team Sasquatch runners that also participated in the Chicago Marathon and did this coach proud: Suman (@runnrgrl), Lisa (@bemadthen), Andrea French (@drefrench), Maddy Hubbard (@maddyhubba), and Steph (@bkcalamity – part of the Tu/Th Crew).  You were all amazing and I am so proud of what you all did!! I would also like to congratulate and give a shout out to some of the other Tweeps I had the honor of finally meeting: my PiC Samantha (@skdickey), @Diva_Marci, @MikeMoore924, @MissBojana, @LadySuann, @RunningCouple, @CrossFitRox, @Jenn_if_er, @Chathana, @DrewVoo, @OnTheWineRoute, @MLindzy, @RunnerNavyMom, and @TinyJenna.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Speedy Sasquatch & The Last Crusade

In the beginning, the running shoe was the simplest piece of athletic footwear, you just slipped it on without thinking about anything at all, went out the door and ran. Well, those days are long since gone and what we are seeing now is that running shoes are now one of the most technically distinct, diverse, and talked about. Seriously, runners are starting to be as bad as friggin’ Roadies and their bike porn! Everyone checking out each other’s feet, seeing what brand, model and color scheme they’re rockin’ and giving their two-cents. I mean it’s like going to buy a car, something I haven’t done in over a decade, but the analogy still works!

First you have your traditional Gas Guzzlers – solid, traditional construction and design – from all the big names: Nike, Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, Saucony, and New Balance. If you’re looking for something a little more modern in terms of design, technology and efficiency you’ve got your alternative fuel/clean diesel edition with the Newtons. Then there are those that have gotten so fed up with the shoe market and all the choices that are out there that they won’t even waste their money shoes! These proud purists have gone back to their hunter gatherer roots and are running barefoot like our centuries old ancestors! Don’t worry though, if you’re not quite ready to give up your gas guzzlers and let your bare skin meet the icky road or trail, but are intrigued by the current barefoot movement there is an intermediary step that can be taken with a hybrid model … the Vibram FiveFingers.

Now that being said, I have nothing against any of these shoe manufacturers or their products. Each of us is built completely differently and as such there are merits and shortcomings that exist with any shoe, or lack thereof, that we choose to run in.

But what is one to do when you walk into your local running store and see all the choices that exist? This is not something that solely strikes the newbie, but one that even experienced runners are facing with greater frequency, because, just as with computers, the technology is advancing at an uncanny rate and the number of new brands and products that are hitting the market is remarkable. So, here we stand gazing at the wall, the questions are endless, the options ever expanding, and our confusion exponentially increasing. The quest to find the best running shoe for you now rivals that of the Holy Grail … the Last Crusade!

For the sheer awesomeness of it, I’ll be drawing a parallel to the last REAL Indiana Jones movie … you know, the one with Sean Connery! Anyway, at the end of the film Indy enters the cave of the knight and is surrounded by countless cups, goblets and chalices ranging from gaudily ornate to the most basic receptacle, and a choice has to be made. The strongest and bravest of the knights that had set across the desert to protect the grail reminds Indy to “Choose. But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” And, like Indy, we are left with the same difficult choice as we stare inquisitively at the brands, models, styles and colors so seductively displayed before us at our local running store. We must choose, but choose wisely, for the true shoe will keep us healthy, happy and strong and a false one will strip it from us.

So how DO we know? Can we know with any sort of certainty whilst in the store? The honest answer is, No. But, there are ways to reduce the variables and make things a little easier during the selection process.

1. Location, Location, Location: Go to a store that is dedicated to the sport, rather than to a sporting goods store. You want to go somewhere where the staff is experienced, knowledgeable and, this is a big plus, can do a gait analysis on the spot so they have a clear picture of how you run. Another good thing to clue you into a good store is if they have their own running team or organize their own training runs and clinics.

2. Be Prepared: This sounds a little silly and ridiculous, but this is something that helps me with my runners, bring your current/last pair of running shoes with you to the store. Why? In addition to giving salesperson the make and model of what you have been wearing, which people can tend to forget, they can also examine the compression and wear pattern on the soles to see how you run and how old/how many miles you are putting on them. This is particularly helpful in cases where stores do not do on-site gait analysis.

3. Function Before Fabulous: If you are like me at all, and I know that there are a ton of us out there, color is a HUGE attractor in running shoes. Over the years I have gotten more and more jaded due to the fact that the models I wear traditional have come in a base white with red or blue accents, which have alternated each model season. Boring!! I’ve tried other prettier shoes that have more fun color schemes and have had horrible results, because they simply are NOT the correct shoes for me to be wearing. Shoe manufacturers are becoming more aware of this and are making strides; so just hang on if your shoe hasn’t quite caught up with the color schemes yet.

4. Learn to Crawl Before You Run: Before I say anything on this topic, I just want to be clear that I have nothing against either Newton or Vibram FiveFingers at all. In fact, I have enjoyed seeing the amazing results that people have achieved in their footwear and have nothing bad to say about either of them. When it comes to some of these newer brands and technologies, such as Newton and Vibram FiveFingers, understand that these are not shoes to just slip on and run in everyday right away. Both types of shoes require you to integrate them into your running regiment slowly, alternating them with a traditional pair of shoes until your muscles are ready, then you get to incrementally add on the miles.

All of that being said, I have one final point to make regarding all of this and it is quite simply this: FORM TRUMPS ALL. When I started training, like really training, my running form was fair at best. I went through every brand of shoe trying to find one that could handle the miles and didn’t kill my feet and legs, but basically just winged it from the get go. Then working with my coach I focused less on what I was wearing on my feet and more on improving my form, shifting my foot strike, and finding my true stride. As I worked on my form more and more I needed less and less shoe, starting with near corrective footwear in the Brooks Beast, working into the Asics Kayano, the Under Armour Revenant, Asics DS Trainers, and now onto the Brooks Ravenna. 

Is Form the be-all end-all answer to the question? No, it isn’t, because there are certainly situations where people have issues with their feet and need very specific shoes and/or insoles. Furthermore, I don't claim to be the foremost authority on the subject, but from my experience and extensive observation of all of my own runners this is where the most gains are made.  Really focusing on form and technique before every run (via plyometric drills as a warm-up) and during your maintenance/recovery runs you will start to see and feel improvement. As you gain greater efficiency you’ll feel lighter on your feet, be able to go farther without feeling as worn, and your pace will naturally become quicker. This is something that is pretty easy to implement and maintain once you start doing it and the second the results come it’s even easier!

So runners, next time you go to your local running store be prepared and choose wisely! The roads and trails are out there waiting for you!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Sasquatch vs. The Fly: 10K Main Event

T’was a week ago this Saturday
A most beautiful morning I have to say
One perfect to run a blistering pace
With a sinister smile upon my face
During the Healthy Kidney 10k.

I was sure that I would dominate the whole way
Sprinting up hills while others just faded away
But as it would be
Something happened to me
And this wasn’t to be my day.

All was well during miles 1 to 3
Unleashing my legs and setting them free
Laying waste to the Central Park course
Like an unstoppable Sasquatchian force
But what happened next who could foresee.

Then somewhere between miles 3 and 4
I was assaulted by something I now abhor
T’was a tiny, insignificant little fly
One that my eye simply couldn’t spy
And, yes, you could say I’m a bit sore.

The little bastard turned kamikaze
And proceeded to fly directly at me
Steadily running 6:15s heading south
He took aim at my open mouth
And proceeded to exercise its hostility.

WHAM! A direct hit!
And my body was thrown into a fit
I began to dry heave and gag
Doubled over, I began to sag
Firing off round after round of spit.

To the man looking at me with a curious eye
I pointed to my mouth gasping, “Fly!”
He had no idea what I was saying
With the grotesqueness I was displaying
Which is too bad cause I felt like I could die!

Once I pulled myself together
It was time to decide whether
I should fight to regain my goal
The one the fly so villainously stole
Or if I had reached the end of my tether.

It was impossible to deny
The efficacy of the fly
And his attack on me
Which quite obviously
Made my body completely fry.

As I fought to regain my previous pace
I was then forced to face
The inevitable truth of the matter
That my stride could get no flatter
And this was not going to be my race.

My body felt totally tapped
My race plan completely scrapped
But I battled on right through the finish line
Cursing the fly’s damn bee-line
Still feeling like complete crap.

I finished in 40:41
But my work was far from done
As I turned back onto the course
Cheering a tour de force
Enjoying this fun in the sun.

So what does one learn from such a tale
Of running bliss, despite the fail
To always keep a watchful eye
For the next errant, vindictive fly
And its overwhelming desire to assail!