December 31, 2009

The Art of Rest, part 2

I started running regularly just over a year ago. I logged 1,200 miles in 2009, ran 16 races, including the NYC Marathon, met a bunch of new friends, and learned a ton about myself. It's been a great year. Running was the perfect gift for the man who didn't know he had it all.

This year: I plan to get faster, build some weekly miles, get up early enough to run every day, or nearly. I'm registered for the Berlin Marathon, and there will be a bunch of races in between. I hope to break 5:00 in the mile, and 3:00 in the marathon.

I hope to find just the right training cocktail. Manhattans fueled me most of this year (along with barolos and burgundies). Perhaps Old Fashioneds, or pisco sours? I've heard a Rob Roy can improve leg turnover.

To all runners everywhere, I wish you a fantastic 2010. See you on the roads.

November 5, 2009

Time is the school in which we learn

(Click on the comic panel to see the text and blow your mind.)

Marathon dopamine has been rushing through my brain for days. I haven't slept well all week, and only partly due to the effect of the time change on my infant daughter. My body is pretty much back to normal, but my head is still filled with the race.

Two nights after the NYC Marathon I woke at 3 am and couldn't get back to sleep. My mind was empty, but my metabolism thought it best to be at full speed. To busy my brain I counted off the race miles, one by one, like sheep. And strange to say, for every mile I could vividly remember the course and the sensations in my body. I remembered children's faces and the backs of runners before me. I remembered tiny decisions I made about timing and potholes.

My memory is notoriously poor. But during the race it was as if time passed more calmly, even if with a greater violence. I had a feeling of being not just affected by time but part of time, like a blob of dye flowing in its current. As Meb Keflezighi said in The New Yorker, "Cherish it. It's a beautiful thing, when you can click the miles along. It's a beautiful thing, and you better cherish it."

I have experienced that kind of metronomic intensity on only a few occasions. Counting down the days to my wedding, I remember being carried along on a kind of wave of nervous bliss. I felt confident that the river was carrying me to the right place. As the officiants did their thing I inhabited every part of my body at once, my thoughts were inspired but nearly foreign as I improvised my vows. The grin rarely left my face during the ceremony and the reception.

Three weeks earlier than her due date, my wife started having regular contractions. At first I figured it was a false alarm but it was a good time to rehearse what little we'd had time to learn. As the intervals narrowed the reality seeped in imperceptibly. I can remember each contraction - not, I hasten to add, like my wife must remember them. But I recall my metabolism settling in for a long haul (it turned out to be pretty short), I recall every minute in the car on the way to the hospital, and each deep contraction once we were in the last phase. I can taste the quality of the light as it fell on my daughter's head for the first time. (It glistened on the slime that still covered her.)

These occasions are in a different league from a race. They were permanent changes in my life and the lives of those I keep close. The race is ephemeral. It's just that it got deep into something I can't usually hold in focus.

To be able to carry that sensation of time at all times - that would be remarkable. That would be the curriculum of the race, the reason to keep going back to school until you learn it. And you never fully learn it.

I chose the title of my last post more or less by chance, from a poem by fellow Brooklynite Delmore Schwartz. I had already decided to use the same poem for today's title too, mainly because it rhymed. But now that I'm at the end of the post and I see what it's about, it's clear there was a hidden logic. So to make my point I'll just toss you the last stanza of "Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day":

Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

November 2, 2009

Time is the fire in which we burn

New York City Marathon 2009!

It was an amazing day, a total blast. It's quite something to be cheered for, and really moving to be cheered for 3 hours straight. It's all true what they say about the New York crowds - people come out, even on a damp, gray day, to raise really a beautiful racket.

I remember ever step, but somehow the race just flew by. My milestones weren't the mile markers, they were my friends and family along the course.

Bridge to Josh and Bryony (Mile 7): Couldn't believe how slow I went up the Verrazano Bridge, or how fast I came off it. Feeling very professional in my new arm warmers. Suddenly it's my home borough of Brooklyn. Over there is where you turn off to go to Lowe's and Ikea. Hey, there're Josh and Bryony! My first supporters of the race. Big energy boost, feeling great. Abruptly realize I'm hard to recognize in my sunglasses, hat, and brand-new arm warmers.

To Melissa, Karen, Dave, Katherine, Mike, Leah, Brian, Sara, and the Giant Duct Tape Flower (Mile 7.75): Next thing I'm running through my own neighborhood. I've been looking forward to this since I got up at such an ungodly hour this morning, because my wife will be showing up with a 4-foot flower made entirely out of duct tape, created by friends' awesome kids. Before I come to the Flower of Power I see neighbors Sara and Brian - enough energy to get me running way too fast. Up ahead I see a strange thing, yes, it must be the flower. Melissa's waving it like the national flag of Yippeestan, my friends are whooping, I'm hooting and hollering and running like a spazz. Now I'm really pumped, and my pace increases. Later, Melissa would tell me what was running through her mind: "What's up with those arm warmers?"

To the Bishop Loughlin HS band playing "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)" (Mile 8.86): I'd read about these guys, but I wasn't prepared for just how awesome they were in person. They play this tune over and over for hours. All I'm doing is running for a while. They're the heroes. By now I'm locked in a slightly too-fast pace.

To Judith and Gabriel (Mile 11.98): Next thing I know I've passed the annoyed Satmar Jews, and come to the hip part of Williamsburg. The hipsters don't hoot like the earlier Brooklyn crowds, but they wave enthusiastically. Despite holding a sign with a giant picture of me on it, Gabe and Judith don't recognize me until I run straight at them pointing and yelling. And yet I feel it's too late to jettison the arm warmers.

To the half-way point (Mile 13.1): Totally jazzed by Gabe and Judith, I make it to the half-way point exactly on schedule. Even so I know I've run most of the first half too fast. I don't care, I'm having a great time.

To Sue at Engineer's Gate (Mile 24.41): The second half of the race is a lot more interior to the runner. I slowed a little, well, a lot, but loved every band, cheered every disabled runner I could, and cursed the Queensboro bridge for being so steep. First Avenue rocked though the headwind was discouraging. The Bronx was fun. Harlem and Fifth Ave flew by in noisy blur. I realized at around Mile 23 that there wasn't much left in the tank. Sue cheered for me behind her camera just inside Central Park. Hope she got a picture, because I got jazzed again and accelerated just a little.

To Columbus Circle: Mile 24 had slowed me a lot - that hill is brutal, and despite deep concentration I couldn't pull much more out of my legs. I was running 40 seconds per mile slower than my target pace. Still, I started steeling myself for a flashy kick at the end.

To the finish: I turned it on as soon as I saw the turnoff up ahead. I did a quarter mile in 1:27, my fastest pace of the day. Abruptly however, it turned back off. My legs stiffened into uncooked pasta, my hands started tingling, I felt impossibly light and brittle. I could hardly move. One hundred yards to go and time had frozen, like in a dream. So I waddled. I waddled at my slowest pace of the day on broken macaroni legs so I could get this thing done.

And then it was. Done!

I felt amazing. Still too tired to take off the arm warmers though.

Although I missed my main target by a couple of minutes, there were several reasons to be satisfied:
  1. I put down everything I had on the course, and had nothing left at the finish.
  2. I ran the first half faster than my first half-marathon a year ago.
  3. I ran the second half faster than I ran the same distance in August in the NYC Half-Marathon - which I was trying to race.
  4. It was my first marathon, so I had no idea what to expect.
  5. I had an amazing day from before the start to well after the finish.
There's more to say about everything, but that's the course. I had no idea how amazing Meb Keflezighi had been, or that shoo-in Paula Radcliffe had come in fourth. The vibe was intense and hushed after the finish. But more on that later.

October 27, 2009

The Art of Rest, part 1

It's time to taper for my race, so I've been sprinting through some books to take my mind off of marathoning. So I got a book about the NYC Marathon, another about Kenyans and marathons, one about Ultramarathons, and one last one about bugs and marathons. Together they've completely changed my marathon plan.

A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins was a great tour of the route, and reading about the elites is inspiring. Now I know some of the regulars along the route and I'll be able to properly blank on their names as I approach.

Then there was Toby Tanser's More Fire, about Kenyan runners. I have to write more about this book sometime. It's not that it's compellingly written, or makes obvious sense, or has any good advice at all. But it's the best running book I've ever read (and I've read a lot). It's basically just profiles of Kenyan athletes, where they came from, and their training methods. No, not methods actually, their training spirit. The people who are the foremost international distance runners are hungry for victory. The need it economically, they seem to need it spiritually, they focus on getting it, and they don't mess around with folderol (love the image of athletes using donated heart monitor bands as clothes lines).

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall has become infamous for igniting a debate about running shoes, but I think everyone, maybe including its author, has missed the real point of the book. The entire plot and some awe-inspiring scenes at the end of the book pivot on one single, simple thing, the connection between competition and compassion. We race with and about others. The book traces the genesis of a race between some indigenous Mexicans and some North American oddballs in 2006. In the book, even races won come off as downers because of failures in generosity. The successful races in the book are powered by an innate human capacity to push individual limits to break collective boundaries. Afterward everyone parties together. McDougall spins great stories, and clearly focus tested them in bars. The message is a lightning bolt, and reminded me I still hadn't signed up with a charity for the marathon (I have since corrected this).

Racing is not obviously a team sport - but as a friend of mine once replied when I described a race as a solitary effort, "You didn't notice all those other people out there?" Race day is a deeply communal experience. And not only communal with the runners and spectators around you. When you race, the team is really everyone and everything you can fit in your heart to fuel you through.

I'm following up Born To Run with Bernd Heinrich's Why We Run. I'm not very far through it, but it's a denser meal. McDougall is a journalist, Heinrich is a lyrical scientist. He writes about endurance in all species, especially bugs, his first taxonomic love. You come away in awe of nature, time, people. All of this may seem a little cosmic, but that's the American thing. We get like that.

Somehow this is all about something oceanic. Simple, but potentially large. There's a nice profile today of Ryan Hall's charity foundation -

"A lot of people have been asking me about competing with the Africans and when are we finally going to be able to compete with these guys," Hall said. "I've been inspired by many of the African runners, where they take their prize money and go home and do something good with it. They transform their communities through their success in running. As Americans, we should be doing the same thing.

So, you want to run like a Kenyan? Run like a Tarahumara? Run like your own ancestors? Then strengthen your family bonds. Get with a group. Run for a cause. Meditate on the departed. Rest up and run with passion. Here we go. . .

October 5, 2009

Grete's Great Gallop 2009

In martial arts, or at least the one I used to practice, they say a punch is not thrown but released. It's released as soon as the internal bodily resistances to its power are eliminated. The trick is to know how to shut off the resistances, and when to firm up before and after.

How do you make yourself ready for something to happen? Adrenaline says, let's tense up and pounce. The Tai Chi Kid might say, empty your mind and explode!

On Saturday I got to Central Park just in time to grab my bib and then a high-five from Grete Waitz (now that was some seriously good juju), and we were off!

I started one corral back so I wouldn't run out too fast. Did a fairly leisurely 1/4 mile before settling into target pace. I actually ran faster than target for the first 4 miles, and even zoomed up and down the Harlem Hills - thanks to training all summer in hilly Prospect Park.

Though I was moving well I felt slow. We had gone out to dinner the night before and now I experienced the dark side of every glass of champagne, burgundy, and muscat. I got 4 hours sleep due to some developmental hurdle the baby's going through. It was a comfy 67 degrees, but 97% humidity and a blanket of cloud was kind of a downer. After 4 fast miles I began to slow to a little over target pace.

Finally 45 minutes into the race I gave in and sucked down my caffeinated gel. Oho - there it was, the slow fuse of elation (just as TK has described). I became convinced I could punch my way through to the other side of the jello mold. I gradually sped up again and just reeled in runner after runner with slow acceleration. By the end I was running as fast as at the start, and I had enough to sprint for the last tenth of a mile.

Everything came together for this one, exactly the way it didn't come together in August. I would occasionally catch myself running hunched and crumpled, but focused on my form and brought my spine back up straight. I pumped my way up the hills and flowed back down them. I was disciplined about tangents. I ran with a smile. I had fun and joked with other runners. This is elation and this is why we race.

This is a big boost for my marathon confidence. I came in 25 seconds later than my target, but the race felt great and I managed negative splits at the end. My mind was clear. My legs felt ready for anything.

What I wasn't ready for was the awesome food after the race. The finish line plum was nice, but those gravlaks on a bagel (great NY/Oslo fusion), heart-shaped waffles, and free water were straight from Valhalla. I wished I could stick around and listen to the music (I do love a Hardanger fiddle), but I had to get back home in time to get to the farmer's market and pick up bags of heavy produce, then spend the rest of the day playing charades with the darling baby girl.

Am I ready for a marathon? Who knows? But I'm certainly ready to shut down the resistances and believe in the explosion.

October 2, 2009

Right, Wrong, or Ready

For me this fall, all roads lead to Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, where the NYC Marathon starts in 29 days. But as a newbie I don't have any past marathons to help me set a pace. I have to go by shorter races and a bunch of faith.

So I'm running Grete's Great Gallop tomorrow, probably in the rain, to see whether my fitness has indeed improved over the last year of training. And if I can put in a good time I can trust my training and relax into my pace on marathon day.

Today I feel worried that the race won't show progress, that all my training won't show up. But just as I'll have to trust my training 29 days, I will trust it tomorrow.

September 28, 2009

The universe in a drop of water

Minutely observed, the smallest poem is an epic. I always figured the mile for a unit, not a race distance. But it turns out every distance has a beginning, a bunch of chapters and plot twists, and an end. Any distance can seem infinite. Zeno probably was a miler.

Teammate Brenn convinced me to run the Fifth Avenue Mile on Saturday, even though I hadn't trained or tapered for it, and had no idea about running such a short distance. It's not that I thought it would be easy - in fact I was intimidated by the idea of spending so much of myself in so short a time.

The start was brutally crowded, and I met more elbows than usual at the starting horn. I spent the first quarter mile threading my way through, determined as always to get away from the flurried mass. This naturally meant that I went out far, far too fast.

As I embarked on the second quarter I began to understand I couldn't keep up that pace, but I reasserted my form and my focus and concentrated on the hill that reared up to attack me.

The 3rd quarter was a vast dispiriting desert. Despite having crested the hill, I thought the race would never end. I wanted to pull off the course, buy a water, slink home. My lungs had no interest in this pace, and my mind lost perspective entirely. Other men were passing me at an alarming rate and I was sure I was dead last.

But by the fourth quarter I was starting to settle into my pace even as my legs urgently questioned my sanity. As the finish line came into view I considered whether I could kick. Some guy started to pass me and I decided to beat him. The kick wasn't intense but it shaved a few seconds. A New York accomplishment: getting from East 80th Street to 60th in just over 5 minutes on foot. Good thing the race wasn't run crosstown.

I surprised myself with my time, about 7 seconds faster than I expected (especially since I had been up all night with a fever). I met up with Teammates Gregg and Chris to watch a few of the next heats. We witnessed runners of 55, 65, 75 years hitting blazing times. One grinning fellow ran by juggling 3 balls. When the 90 year old man ran by (11:36) we were all floored.

We watched Shannon Rowbury warming up (she won the pro women's heat at 4:23.3), and Bernard Lagat jogged by with a shoe in each hand (couldn't figure that one out).

Each distance I've raced this year has been a novel to me. Or a heist movie. An opera, or a ship in a bottle. Twenty blocks or 20 miles are a concentrated chunk of your life, the whole long struggle in a drop of salty water. And watching so many others do the same thing brings it all back to the swooning infinite tides.

Image by Dustin Humphrey

September 25, 2009

Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo

Last night I ran fast and steady for 5 miles. In fact much faster than I'd planned. This is either very good or moderately bad.

How to know?

A few weeks ago I was hitting real resistance about two-thirds of the way through my tempo runs. During last night's tempo I hit the resistance but I was just able to focus on my resources rather than my suffering. I only lost about 4 seconds in the second half. So that's good.

But tempos are supposed to be at lactate threshold, or LT. Running at LT pace incrementally pushes the threshold up as supercompensation gives you better performance over time. A gauge of LT pace is one you could hold in an hour-long race (so my 1:04 in February's Cherry Tree gives me about 6:24 m/m). Or the McMillan calculator gives me a range between 6:12 - 6:28 m/m. Last night I ran 6:09's.

As a newbie I really should be trying to get a bodily sense of these things rather than hanging them on benchmarks. The Cherry Tree was 7 months ago, prior to any training really, and the calculator is just an Excel gimcrack. Too much gear and metrics subtracts from the pure feel of legs on the road doing a specific job.

So last night I was feeling for my LT, that is, a pace just before my legs tired. During the run I sensed aerobics were holding me back, not tired legs. For small stretches I could center my mind in my muscles and felt a lot of mojo still in there. But my chest was heaving a little.

Looks like my aerobic capacity is lagging behind my LT. Not a surprise: I'm topping out at 40 miles per week for a marathon coming in 36 days. As Joe Garland would say, my low mileage means I'm "going in soft".

I probably ran too fast to get much of an LT bump last night. But centering my mind in the muscle and its huge reserves was a big breakthrough, and one I'll need for the race.

Another Garland pearl, originally from Charlie Spedding, is the idea of a "perfect" workout. Not "hard" or "easy", but optimal for the job. I did a hard workout last night. Remains to be seen whether it was perfect. Guess we'll find out in 36 days.

September 18, 2009

You must not love the bear

"Yes, there was a depression. But how came it? Who devised it? The 'bears', sir. The depression of our stock was solely owing to the growling, the hypocritical growling, of the bears." (Melville, The Confidence-Man)

The times have shown us that, just as faith in stupid stuff makes a fragile bubble, faults in faith will keep us down. The bleak illusion of doom, be it the counterbalance to earlier delusions of eternal windfall, is still an illusion. It brings hard times on a system and the bodies that make it up.

But things are what they are. Never trust a bull. Never trust a bear.

Some recent exercise science espouses the "central governor theory", in which it is an involuntary faculty of the brain that decides when the exercising body tires. That is, it's not some chemical reaction in your muscles sending a message to the brain about fatigue, but just the opposite: the brain tells the muscles to get tired. Why? Just because.

If the theory is valid, then training is at least as much about the mind as the muscles or the lungs. The central nervous system must be convinced that the myo-fascial system has untapped reserves.

Basically the brain must stop being such a pussy. Somehow the squishy little fellow must be conned into trusting you.

In that spirit, here is my stimulus package for my bearish brain.

  1. Long tempo runs, executed with patience, toughness, and playfulness. Last night's 9 miles of tempo was faster and stronger than any training I've done in several months. I kept up with a group who dusted me last week. The air was cool and sweet. Trust your training.
  2. Bounteous training table. My wife writes about food for a living, and we've been getting on the Michael Pollan bandwagon, so pretty much everything we eat is organic, local, and delicious. I drink a big fruit smoothie every morning, with a bagel and a Clif Bar. Dinner always comes with salad. I eat a ton of good calories. Trust your training table.
  3. Recovery days after every quality run. Whether it's because I'm a rookie or an old dude or both, I need full rest days between workouts. I do light cross-training, mostly core, a few times a week. I stretch a lot. But total rest is OK too. Most the chronic problems I had earlier in the year when I ran more often have disappeared. So that's my recovery package: trust your rest.
  4. I've been training with others who run more consistent and tougher paces that I normally would. I push harder because there's someone up ahead of me, and that's annoying. Trust your training partners.
  5. I'm meditating again to help focus myself. Being able to focus on form when I'm tired has sped me up immensely. If I can meditate for an hour, I can definitely focus on the road for about that amount of time. Also, being relaxed is good. Trust your inner zen master.
  6. My wife and baby daughter have sacrificed time with me for a few hours for 4 or 5 Sundays while I do my long runs. The baby teaches me the value of patience and the big picture all the time. Trust your outer zen master.

There's more, but those are the main planks. They're what I'll think about 43 days from now, at mile 16 or so, to override the slowdown. My message to my brain is pretty much the same as my message to big, timid institutional investors - man up, engage with the system, and STFU.

September 4, 2009

Immagini del tempo

I love my long runs, and I can nail my speed workouts. But the tempo run is my weak spot right now. During last night's run I began to see why.

A couple of weeks ago I did a group tempo run - we ran approximately 5K at half-marathon pace and then another 2 miles at 10M pace. The humidity or something got me during the first part and I just couldn't keep up with the group for the pick-up, which I ran slower. This was discouraging.

Last night I ran with a slightly slower group. We did a horse-shoe in the park, doing 3.25mi around the top of the park at marathon pace, then went the same way back at half-marathon pace (actually, quite a bit faster). This time I managed to stay with the pace leaders and sprinted at the end. Total lift.

The difference? It's a mental game. When we sped up for the pick-up I started to think I couldn't hold the pace through the whole distance. I argued with my soft, pink brain, who was floundering about and yelping like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure: "I can't do it!" "Come on Belle, you can do it!" "I can't! Aaaagh!"

In fact I could. I asked the legs, Are you tired? They said no. Respiratory system? No. Fine then. Brain, I call bullshit.

Running a more manageable pace left me with gas in the tank afterward, and the sense that I could have held the marathon pace for a good long time. I ran my target paces and felt strong doing it. The confidence is everything.

The tempo run is a sustained note. It has a perfectly-timed punch line, a crazy plot twist. It's a stare-down with Shelley Winters.

After the lovely sundown run in the cool breezes of nearly-autumn - truly we have reached the filet mignon of the training season - I went for dinner with a great friend I haven't seen in a year. Got to sleep quite late after all that. But this morning was OK because -

(Image by the talented Mr. Bingo.)

September 3, 2009

Lion In A Coma

"Do you not observe that these athletes sleep away their lives, and are liable to most dangerous illnesses if they depart, in ever so slight a degree, from their customary regimen?"
(Plato, Republic, Bk III)

Sleep is the better half of training, or thereabouts. I learned this from my baby daughter, tiny Zen Master of my days and nights. When she was just a few months old and still figuring out how to move her limbs, she would invent a few new wiggles each day. Then, late at night, we could hear her thump-thump-thumping as she practiced the same moves in her sleep. Next morning we'd find our not-yet-crawling baby girl totally turned, tangled, and backwards in her crib.

It's the same for the athlete. The neural network absorbs training all night long, constellating neurons and ganglia from the shocks and motions of the day's work. So the sleepless athlete gets nowhere.

Re-enter the Zen Master. Nowadays, she crawls, stands, and is cutting teeth. After months of sleeping solidly through the night, she's back to waking us at unkind hours with gale-force bawling. This morning, 4 am found me cradling her against my chest for 45 minutes while her sobs slowly ebbed. It took me another hour after that to fall back into a restless sleep.

I treasure every minute with my daughter, including and especially 3/4 of an hour holding her tight to my drowsy body. I won't be able to solve her problems so easily forever.

On the other hand, I'm nearing the peak of marathon training. Last Sunday, 22 miles, with a fast pickup mile at the end. Tuesday, a bunch of 1-mile intervals at 10K pace (well, a little slower) and some hill sprints. And tonight, another 6.5 miles of tempo running. My legs feel good, but a week's poor sleep has left me soft.

I've learned from experience that my Zen Master always has some important life lesson for me in her visceral riddles. I don't think she's telling me to get less sleep. Probably it's something about being flexible. It's hard to bring it into focus though. I'm just so sleepy.

August 26, 2009

Media Challenge Race #5

I was raised in a desert state, so East Coast Augusts are not my habitat. Even the natives don't love the summer running, though many don't seem much slowed by it. But me, I'm slowed.

Once again, last night about 250 media elites lined up in Central Park to prove that our industry, which has been slowly dying for the last 554 years, still has pluck and spunk. Last year's race series awarded bragging rights and an outsize loving cup to NewsCorp, lighting up a good-natured rivalry that lasted all this year. McGraw-Hill/Standard & Poors, with whom I run, has been at the top of most of this year's races. But there were two close contenders, so Race #5 would determine who kept the giant tchotchke on their desk.

As the horn sounded I realized I had lined up a little too far back and had to weave to get some room. When I finally caught up to teammate B. I was feeling good, but noticed I was running slower than usual. I focused on form, using a "proprioceptive cue" I read about somewhere, in which you concentrate on pulling the world back as if it were a giant treadmill. This helps with pre-activation of the leg muscles, and provides a mild distraction from the excruciating pain lancing through your respiratory and neuro-muscular systems.

The course takes two loops around the bottom of the park. On loop one I ran at my own pace, which was still a little slower than last time. On the second loop B. pulled ahead and kept me honest for the rest of the race, since the still-humid air was trying to convince me to breathe less. Lately when I suffer during a race I've had this image of feeding meat to a tiger, or sometimes a lion. The meat comes in bloody chunks from my legs.

So to summarize, I'm on a giant treadmill, feeding parts of my body to a hungry feline.

B. had instructed me where to start that last kick, and unlike my last Media Race, I knew where the finish line was. I picked it up and passed one competitor near the finish, to come in 8th overall. (At first I misread my card to think I was #5. No, that's Race #5. Good thing I didn't make the same mistake in Race #1. That would have been a big letdown.)

Our team came in 2nd for the race, but we got 1st place for the 2009 series. Our victory was secured largely by runners over 40, prompting team blogger G. to change our team motto to "Like a fine wine. . .".

It was a decent race for me, especially considering the humidity. But it was my slowest of the series, and the humidity was actually lower than #4, where I ran about 30 seconds faster. I'm training hard now for the marathon, which probably is making me a little more tired. My run in the NYC Half was slower than my winter halfs, before I had done any training. I frankly wish my progress were more, er, progressive.

Still, my main race is in November (or taking the long view, November 2016), and before then I'll peak and taper. The weather will be nice and cool, and hopefully dryer. Till then I'm having the most fun the humidity, giant treadmills, and hungry tigers will allow.

August 17, 2009

2009 NYC Half Marathon

My goal for the NYC Half was basically to "feel strong" the whole course. It wasn't a peak race. I'm training for the NYC full marathon. And, well, it's August in NYC, yo.

On the other hand, I trained, tapered, I bought a nice shirt. Who doesn't want a PR?

I figured that despite the heat I could match my winter half-marathon times, since I'd been training. That would be enough for me.

In the end I got neither a racer's time nor a kick-ass workout, but The City was a circus and I was happy to be there.

Start time was crazy early, but it was already deep in the 70s by 5:30am. There was a soft purple caste to the bridges at dawn as I crossed the East River. Buildings dimly shimmered. I did a short warm-up run on the bridle path, stretched, watched the pro runners do the same, and tried to visit the john enough times.

The 7-mile loop in Central Park was a sunny, verdant blur, but in slow motion. I hit hills that, for once, seemed to hit me back. Nothing was enough to pull speed out of those legs. I had a strategy - start slow, build up. But endless miles oozed by and I found myself slowing.

The race finally spilled into the mirrored channel of Seventh Ave., down through Times Square. No cars, no bike messengers, the road almost to myself. It was like Hancock, but directed by Terry Gilliam, featuring a bunch of "American Idol" hopefuls, and written by a coked-up gazelle.

In Times Square there hovered a suspicious cloud of bacon smell, accompanied by a soul band called "Crispus Attucks". I felt unexpectedly hungry. At least until I nearly stepped on the traditional squished rat in the middle of the street. Moving on.

The cheering was awesome. One woman hollered "Go FDNY!" at a large, handsome guy wearing his FRNY team shirt (Front Runners of New York is the local gay and lesbian track club). There were lots of cowbells. "More cowbell," I yelled back. My speed had slowed to my training pace, but I was waving too much to feel bad about it. I love a parade.

Then, 4 miles straight down the West Side Highway, with the Financial District towering like a mirage at the end of the course. Having been stuck in traffic on this stretch on countless holiday weekends, I can tell you it was a thrill to be moving fast and running red lights.

I had hit a hard training pace by now, though certainly not a race pace, when suddenly, at the 20k point, I heard someone shout my name. There, on a traffic barrier from which he was watching the race, was teammate Gregg, hollering encouragements. This totally jazzed me. I hooted and waved and took off. I finally put together a decent race pace, gradually accelerating and passing people for the last kilometer.

I full-on sprinted the last 100 meters, and really enjoyed the finish.

Volunteers were handing out iced towels and apples. That was the best apple anyone's ever tasted.

I picked up my finisher's medal and rested on a bench on the Battery, looking out at the Statue of Liberty and drinking a bottle of water. Had the heat slowed me down? Should I have started faster? Did I try hard enough? Whatever. I was distracted from my post-race analysis to watch a bunch of bees exploiting a lovely patch of echinacea in the park.

But I wasn't done. I needed to pick myself back up and run the 4-1/2 miles home to get my full training mileage for the day. As I approached the Brooklyn Bridge a biker saw my race number and yelled, "Haven't you had enough?"


My denoument for the day was an afternoon playing with the baby in Prospect Park while my wife ran. I hadn't really achieved my goals. But it was a good day for nothing to be enough in NYC.

August 11, 2009

Lazy, hazy, crazy

The internets tell me the humidity was only 71% this morning, at 77 degrees - both lower numbers than at my last race. But somehow this morning's uphill intervals totally kicked my ass. I did one less than planned, ran about 20sec slower, and came home dripping. Dripping, I tell you.

I didn't want to push it, since I have the NYC Half this weekend. Also I take lower-intensity weeks about every 3 or 4 weeks, to avoid over-training or injury.

In fact, I really should be taking it fairly easy this year, just feeling out a rookie training schedule, seeing how my body does. I mean I'm kind of doing that - I'm only running 2 or 3 times a week now - but I'm also staying up close to what I think my limits are.

In any case I've learned more about my body this year than I have since I learned to drink. For example, I can sweat profusely without smelling bad. Who knew?

August 6, 2009

Media Challenge Race #4

Suddenly summer, huh?

Our evening race was somewhere around 80 degrees, and plenty humid. I discovered how hard 3.5 miles can be when you've got real competition. The big races I run as a free agent let me pretty much run against my own standards. Last night I was trying to crush the competition.

Short courses start to dig into systems that I'm still just developing. The start for this race is on a downhill, and by the time I get to the bottom my mouth is dry as dirt. A little farther there waits a terrible smell which is either my breath or the accumulated horse shit of countless tourist carriage rides. Then there's a long stretch of pain and despair. Then you come to the start line again to begin the whole thing one more time. I do not find any of this motivating.

Teammate B. had recently been advising me on my finishing kick. He had definitively outkicked me at the last Media race, and I was eager to learn from the master. As I rounded the bend on that final stretch, my legs full of lactate, I had been following two guys in blue singlets. One of them started to fall back, but I couldn't catch the other one. I started to look for the point B. told me to start my last sprint. I couldn't find it. Finally I saw the finish line coming up, so I just prayed and sped up. I was going fast, but as we passed the finish line I couldn't quite catch up to Blue Singlet.

Except that wasn't the finish line. It was one more crosswalk away. I was already at a sprint, and there was no point in slowing down. Blue couldn't seem to speed up. Accidentally, then, I snatched sixth place.

This would be inconsequential, and in fact was witnessed by no one, but our team won by just one point. So there's my race strategy for Media Race #4 - total disorientation.

August 2, 2009

Perpetuum mobile

Running 20 miles in circles does not have any obvious relation to human achievement, but it sure is fun.

Marathon Training Run #2 in Central Park yesterday. The park was replete with water stations, beautiful weather, and fabulous scenery. I ran slowly enough to take it all in. My long run base pace is 80% of my marathon pace, so I stayed with the 8:30 group.

I felt pretty good the whole way, and was really just watching for signs of injury. In fact my legs felt great afterward. I'm think I'm happier about that than the actual mileage. I'm running a lot less this cycle than I did in the spring, when injury prevented me from running the Brooklyn Half.

Running with a group doesn't let you get into a flow the way a solo run would. The pacers help eliminate some of the decision-making, but constantly re-establishing a place in the pack keeps you well out of nirvana.

Still, the day was perfect and the company was good. At Mile 19 our pacer started shouting, "Sprint, sprint, sprint if you got it!". What the hell, I ran the last mile about a minute faster. As I neared the 20-mile marker I heard someone coming up behind me. I accelerated. He drew up past me and accelerated too. I started a full sprint. He was in a full sprint. We were both laughing, because a 50-yard sprint after 20 slow miles is hardly the Olympics. He beat me, but it was a total rush.

July 22, 2009

. . . any club that would accept me as a member: CPTC

I usually run alone, for want of someone running with me. My thoughts are nothing but the patch of road or dirt in front of me, or else the feeling in my lower legs.

Sometimes in races I'm propelled by the simple desire to get away from everyone else.

But I know I run better with others, and in fact I like a little company. There are a lot of track clubs in New York, each with its own specialness. Betimes, I have thought of joining one.

To feel out which club might best suit me, and I them, I'm occasionally showing up at club trainings.

First up was Central Park Track Club. I tagged along with some teammates from my work running team, one drizzly misty night, to the East River track.

I got there too early, so I got specially soaked. But I like to run in the rain, and it gave me a few minutes to talk to other earlycomers.

CPTC is sponsored by Nike, has a sharp website, and has a lot of runners throughout the year in NYRR races. They're a pretty fast club, so I was expecting a lot from the training. And I got it.

Coach Tony had planned 8 x 600m repeats w/200m recovery. He gave an animated, meandering peptalk beforehand, exhorting the very mixed crowd to get ready for the upcoming team championships. Coach Tony definitely gives you a sense of purpose.

We were grouping ourselves by pace. One group went out before I was quite sure what was going on. The next group to go included teammate B., who had beat me at the last race, so I figured I'd better try to catch up. This group turned out to be real damn fast. The first two intervals were painful, as the first two should be, but I was glad I hadn't gone out with that first group, because they were already lapping us.

By the third repeat I was pretty sure I couldn't keep this up, but I was curious to see when I would tap out. Fourth, fifth. OK, just one more. Sixth, seventh. Well, just one more. Eight! We did between 2:06 and 2:08 per, with negative splits - much faster than I could have managed on my own.

It took me a good lap of jogging to recover, I expect the pace was a little faster than it should have been for my training curve. On the other hand it was a great challenge, one my brain was sure my body wasn't up to. Screw you, brain, so pink and soft.

Note to self: speed training is about suffering, as opposed to pain, also as opposed to comfort.

Note to Parks Dept: there's probably no need to turn the sprinklers on during monsoon season.

First impressions: CPTC is hardcore athletic, with a results-oriented work ethic. The group was friendly and mixed (ages, sexes, ethnicities), and welcoming. It was a good, hard workout, and I could certainly have run with the next-slower group for an efficient training. But what would be the fun in that?

July 9, 2009

Media Challenge Race #3

I had been unaccountably anxious going in to this race. Maybe it was nerves, or an allergy, but there were oddball dreams. One was about finding my father's dentures in the basement, and then another about a woman whose daughter was kidnapped and never seen again, except many years later, in a blurry video image. I got to Central Park last night fairly early, thinking I was probably late. Start time was at 7, and I wanted to leave time to warm up, find other people on my team, and figure out what to do - since I had no idea how or where this race went, and had never met my teammates. Also, I had never in my life run in the evening. Or with a team.

I went to the benches specified in the email I got from my team captain, and found a runner already sitting there. I thought he looked just like L., a lanky Parisian I had known in college who had studied math and philosophy. Over our long and intermittent friendship I methodically annoyed him with my interest in sleeping with his girlfriends (in another era I would have died like Lermontov, except L. was a fencer, so my death would have been messier). After graduation he studied massage therapy, then got a PhD in something mystical, maybe biology or computer science, and then business, and I lost track of him a few years ago. He might be in India running some kind of startup, or managing someone's money.

So I struck up a conversation with the man with L.'s face, whose real name turned out to be the same as mine. Naturally he was there for the same race as me. We chatted, and waited for something to happen. It was a beautiful evening, the air slightly cooling, the sky clear. The Sheep Meadow was full of people on blankets writing breakup emails, or talking about their operations, or plotting crimes while plucking absently at the grass. When our polite conversation had run out of steam I wandered a few steps away to stretch until other runners began to show up.

The Media Challenge is a series of 3.5-milers, in the spirit of friendly competition between New York media companies. Many of the people gravitating toward our bench wore t-shirts from NewsCorp, New York Times, ABC News, McGraw-Hill, etc. There are cordial rivalries and minor scores to settle I suppose. Myself, I found the prospect of running with coworkers exciting and it also made me tense. Racing has always floated blissfully free of my daily life, but this race would seep somehow into the highly-charged circus of my office. And whose office isn't a little intense this year?

Three and a half miles is a short distance, and therefore a painful one. Once the starting horn went off I spent the first mile leapfrogging other racers and casual joggers to get some room. This was an informal event, meaning racers had to flow through the slow metabolism of the Central Park evening crowd. I dislike crowds, so I ran the first mile at about 5:45, probably too fast. My chest quickly began to hollow out, my breath was strangely dry and irritated my throat. I settled in alongside a man wearing compression socks and a woman who seemed to be running with him. They pulled a little ahead of me and I just stayed a few feet back so they could make all the decisions about how to dodge the joggers. I found myself thinking about a Canadian woman I had met through L. several years after college. He was with her when I bumped into them by chance at a gallery in Tribeca. The Canadian and I were together for 6 months or a year. She was a sculptor and heiress from Montreal and we fought about everything. Her work was concentrated and wonderful. That year the Knicks were in the playoffs (such a very long time ago), and when I cheered at Larry Johnson's three-pointer from behind the line, she said, "I wish you were that excited about anything I did". I had to admit she had a point, and while I did get that excited about her sometimes, we only lasted a few months more. I saw her about a year afterward. She had dyed her hair blonde and was discovering hallucinogens.

I started to feel a stitch in my side. I looked at my watch - we were running around 6:20 or 6:15.

Gradually a runner in a green singlet pulled up to our group and began to pass us. This was too much for me, so I finally ditched the cute couple and drafted behind him. I had just repeatedly played the video of Usain Bolt finishing the 200m in Lausanne in less than 20 seconds, so I imagined myself following the green man and then out-kicking him at the finish with crazy long Bolt strides. At this point my heart was grotesquely engorged and my spine creaked like wicker. The green man and I were running 6-minute miles. By the time the finish finally came into view I had lost the desire or the capacity to beat him, but when I heard someone else breathing hard behind me I put together a kick and held on to my 7th place finish.

Immediately after the race I felt my body finally begin to loosen. I chatted with other finishers, including Brenn, the guy in the green Edinburgh singlet, who in fact was on my team. I was relieved I hadn't wasted energy trying to beat him. I met teammates Sue, Gregg, and Richard, and would have loved to go for pizza with them afterward, but wanted to get home for dinner with the missus. Our team did very well, taking top rank, and in a good position to win the series of five races. I had even met one of my personal goals.

The evening was still calm and lovely. As I walked to the subway I stopped and stared at the polished obelisk of the Time Warner Center. I was sure that I had not escaped whatever I had been fleeing during the race. But now the subway, now my house, now my wife and daughter, and a good night's dreamless sleep.

June 28, 2009

Achilles Hope & Possibility

Originally uploaded by niznoz
My favorite races are the ones without the money prizes. Less competitiveness, more celebration. Today's Achilles Hope & Possibility doesn't even count as a marathon qualifier, so everyone was there because they wanted to run THIS race.

I had planned to run a mile before the start, but I found myself drawn to the start of the hand-cycle race, about 20 minutes before the foot start. At the front of the crowd of recumbent contraptions was a group of young veterans, most missing one or both legs. They wore khaki t-shirts that said on the back, "We were just doing our job." I was struck by how young they were, you know, half my age. I was moved and misty-eyed for them. They had gone to war, and lost body parts. I felt sad, but filled with admiration that they were racing.

I had a great time running, cheering on the cycle and wheelchair racers, watching the cheering crowds. All the racers seemed to be in a good mood. On the last stretch my speed was frankly falling off, I got passed by a guy, then a woman. As the next guy was passing me he leaned in conspiratorially, pointed to the next runner, and said, "I'm gonna catch her".

Today was my long run day, so after I finished I took another loop around the course, to take advantage of water stations. Now I started noticing other racers. There was a boy, no older than six, running on a prosthetic right lower leg. His dad would lift him every so often, but then he wanted to be put down and ran joyfully, like all children run. There was a girl in braids, maybe 8 or 9, on a prosthetic blade, also running just like every kid in the world.

I found myself filled with happiness, and I realized I had made a mistake at the handcycle start. I had felt a kind of sadness or pity for those soldiers, for what they'd lost, whatever they'd been through, for whatever feelings they might be having. But that was my hangup. Everyone seemed to be having an awesome time. The kids I might have felt bad for were doing kid things in a happy kid way. They were complete.

Every race is a celebration. Sometimes its theme is mourning or memorial, sometimes commemoration. But whether or not it's a race "for" a cause, essentially everyone races like kids. Kids run and are happy. It's enough.

Happy child
From New York Road Runners

June 25, 2009

Running Krap Tcepsorp

Happy Birthday niznoz
During my Tuesday run I noticed for the first time just how crowned the Prospect Park loop road is. Since I always run the same way (I dislike all the tiny negotiations that running against traffic causes) one leg has to reach down farther than the other almost the entire way. Essentially, my regular route makes me run as if my left leg were 2 inches shorter than my right. In a strange coincidence, my left leg is having problems.

So today I ran the opposite direction, clockwise around the loop rather than counter-clockwise. The park is completely different in that direction. The lake, for example, is shown from a much more advantageous angle and takes a different shape. The trees, obnoxiously lush from the insistent rains, now create unfamiliar blind corners. The park is always changing, from any angle, but in its mirror state it's a parallel universe.

My college film teacher once made a short film called "The Wonder Ring," recording New York's 3rd Ave. El just before it was to be demolished. Joseph Cornell then cut together the outtakes from this film and showed them sort of reversed and upside down, calling his film "Gnir Rednow". The original is musical and lovely, a record of form and light. But I remember thinking Cornell's mirrored version was transformative, showing hidden aspects and a sort of animist spirit in the condemned trestles. Cornell always preferred time that flowed backwards, or at least turbulently.

I had a good run, with some quick, gentle intervals. When I got back home my watch had stopped.

June 17, 2009


tree heart
Originally uploaded by niznoz
Dear, sweet Running,

Do you have any idea how much I missed you? Six weeks ago you told me, I think we need to take a break. You said, It's not you, it's me. You said, I just need some time to think this through. And then you were gone. I was sure I'd die right there.

It was hard to be apart.

And then you came back. Last Sunday in the park with you, it felt just like before. It was so good to be back together again. Like the day we first met. That morning the leaves were greener than they've ever been, the sky bluer, the ground softer. The trails rose up to embrace our every step. Little children yelped with joy as we passed. Dogs looked up from whatever they were gnawing on to watch us in wonder. Old men on benches bowed their heads in nostalgic reverie.

Last Sunday I knew as soon as I saw you again that we can make this work. And I think you knew it too. But a few things have changed.

Running, let's sit down.

Well, here goes. I've been seeing other workouts. Let me explain. While we were on our "break", I was so lonely. Long story short, there was Yoga and, um, I don't know, it just happened. Don't look at me like that. Nobody planned it. It's just that Yoga was there and you weren't and I desperately needed someone. I don't think it's a forever thing. And anyway, between you and me, Yoga's really high-maintenance. It could never be like you and me, Running. I need you to know that.

And don't be angry, but I've also been thinking of trying something a little unusual. Yes, a bike. Because here's the deal, and I have to be totally honest with you: you and I were so intense, seeing each other every day, I think that's what caused our problems. I wanted more of you all the time, it was like a craving, and eventually it got unhealthy. So I think it's best for me - best for us, Running - if we keep it to three or four times a week. At least at first. Yes, I might hang with Core Workout or Bike on other days. But you know you're the one I love. Core Workout makes me feel good, but it's never the same as when I wake up to find you there.

Are you OK, Running? Good.

A bond as deep as ours won't suffer just because we explore other things. In fact, that is what makes us stronger! And no, it's not you, you're awesome. It's just how I'm built. I thought I wanted just one workout all the time, every day, but I need to be free to discover life. Frankly I'm not getting any younger. And you're not getting any older.

I'm so glad you're OK with all this. I was sure you would be. You’re so best. In November, when we're together for the Marathon, it'll be just golden. Nothing can ever take that away from us.

Right, Running? Right?


June 12, 2009

Brother Sport

Originally uploaded by niznoz
I don't usually work blue, but:

I can't fucking wait to get running again.

June 10, 2009

I break horses

my friend
Originally uploaded by niznoz
I rode out on a broken horse. . . .

It's hard to know what to write, as long as I'm not running. The rubber therapy band isn't as inspirational as the long, looping ribbon around the park. But my blog needs some sugar every once in a while, if only to keep it in shape.

I'll be running again soon, with no other goal than getting the most out of every second of the summer and early fall. Those weeks of sun and honey. At the end of it, just before the rigors of winter, there is the New York Marathon.

I've tried to replace running with yoga and some weights, in totally good faith and with all my heart, but it's not the same. Nothing tastes as good as the stillness of the park before sunup.

To all of you who are starting your own marathon run-ups, I'll be with you. And to those who have other marathons to win, be it getting out the door, or sitting through 16 straight episodes of Lost, or cleaning out your wallet, or finally finishing 2666, or whatever, I'll be with you.

May 23, 2009

How'm I s'posed to get any ridin' done?

Horses running away
Originally uploaded by niznoz
The PT says she thinks my lower legs just didn't absorb the those 50 mile weeks. Anyway, my calves stopped wishing to accompany me on my runs. So because I would not stop for them, they kindly stopped for me.

I haven't been able to run 10 feet let alone 10 miles, and I even walk funny, my gastrocnemius hanging off my bones like an old rubber band.

No runs for damn near 3 weeks now. I've filled the time halfheartedly with fitful core workouts, bouts with the elliptical machine, and some weight training. But I don't have much patience for staying put any more. I just want to run, calves be damned.

I trained for the last 4 months for next weekend's Brooklyn Half-Marathon. Now I'm not sure I can even run it, let alone "shred." Physical therapy a couple of times a week and there's some improvement. But it's a long-term thing, and one more week is unlikely to put much spring back in my step.

Will I have to give up my big race? And if I decide to race it, am I setting myself back? It's all a big ol' spin of the wheel, a soap opera, a blind date in a leaky boat.

So I wait, I wonder, I hope for fresh horses. If I can't run next week, the weekend will be peevish, and both my wife and I are tiring of the peevishness. But there're other races, and my running is a long-term thing. I could be a pretty fast old geezer someday. That's the whole point of The Long Rush.

I'm about to try a short run this afternoon. Maybe it'll knock something into place, or out of place, or some sense into my head, or just piss me off.

It's a long-term thing. Damn it.

UPDATE: Chased by dogs, paced by a rooster and some spooked cows, and netted in caterpillar silk, I managed to complete 6 miles, in a gorgeous, green late afternoon, at a decent pace. I'm vacationing in rural Pennsylvania, where the air, as they say, is like fine hooch. So it was a great thing to run again, even if it set me back, even if it hurt some, and even if the hills near did me in. I like to run.

Came back to help dig a big hole to roast tomorrow's pig in. And now it's time for a cocktail and fat fabulous steak. Like the man said, I am running to Paradise.

May 1, 2009

Believe in the crash

street poem
Originally uploaded by the amazing niznoz
April was a slow month here at The Long Rush, slow in every sense, not least because I kept taking time off from running to nurse new injuries. Actually I don't like to think of them as injuries, or not as running injuries - or really anything that could be my own damn fault.

The routine goes like this. I run a really good 50-mile week. The Sunday long run is blissful and hard. But then whammo, Monday is a bitch. Legs like lead, sharp pain in one place or another, one week it's in my side the next time behind my knee. I have to rest, ice, and elevate for a week, and it's my own damn fault.

And all I can think of for that week is how much I want to get back out on the road.

The attractions of such a cruel mistress might seem strange. I guess I'm one of those guys who wears his claw marks proudly. In fact the pain and the recovery from pain is not just an interruption of the affair, but somehow its consummation. One way to stir the stale life of the office chair is to go fight dragons. The dragon, to paraphrase Pogo, is always us.

So I push out against what seemed to be my limits. I want my 50-mile weeks, dammit. By now it's pretty clear that 50 miles is a lot for me, when I've only been running 4 months. I can't stop myself trying though, and each time the crash gets a little easier and the recovery quicker.

I've been haunted the last few weeks by this soundbite, from a story I read in the paper:

At this point, I like that fine line of balancing right between injury and not injury, seeing what I can get out of my body. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and wonder if I’ve done all I can, and if I haven’t, I go out at night and do more.

Obviously, that guy's even crazier than me. But how wise too, this idea that you can't know where injury waits except by charging toward it, that not-injury lies just this side of it, and somehow on that razor's edge you make your life your own, your own damn fault.

April 19, 2009

All the tired horses in the sun

I have finally recommenced the rites of running, after a week of lapse because of an imaginary cracked rib. In fact I probably pulled a muscle in my side running "hard" up Park Slope. My upper body strength has totally atrophied, or maybe I have flamboyant arm motion. One way or another, I seem to have pulled a muscle by flapping my arms too hard.

I missed the Scotland Run, and its fabulous t-shirt. A poet on a running shirt, and I freaking missed it. I quickly registered for today's Run As One 4M in Central Park, same course as my last race, just to get back in the saddle.

This morning I woke with last night's carousing weighing heavy in my head. After feeding myself, feeding the cat, kissing the wife still adrowse (I wish she'd stop telling me to "break a leg"), and a bad moment deciding which shoes to wear, I hopped on a train full of shy, sleepy runners.

The festival atmosphere at the lung-conscious Run As One rivaled that of the Colon Cancer Challenge, if only because there were thousands more people. But there was no one dressed as a bodily organ (or border state) this time. I made good time picking up my number, but then things fell apart. The t-shirt line was endless, there was even a wait for safety pins. The baggage area was carefully hidden up a hill and behind the Bandshell. I had to pee twice. It was pretty late by the time I was able to run my warm up.

I ran up and down the transverse, with a detour to pee again. My watch only will display the stop watch or the time, so arrived a little a late to the start, everyone already in position. A marshal directed me to my corral, but I was blocked by a big tough in a fluorescent vest. "But the marshal told me I could enter here," I whined. "Yeah?" he drawled like he was a cop in a Mack Sennett picture, "Bring him to me. Nobody gets in after time." I slinked down a little from Officer Pupp and hopped the fence, but I was still in the next corral down from mine.

This put me with a few hundred worthies who ran slower than me. Once the horn went off the pack didn't budge, and I began to get itchy. When we started to walk slowly about a minute later I thought I was going to lose my mind. We finally got going, but real slow, and I spent a half mile trying to find a place to hit my pace. I started flapping my arms to make some space, but that began to hurt my pulled muscle, so I just threaded up as best I could. This was an insanely crowded race (7500 people), so that was no mean feat.

I spent the whole race picking people off and passing them up, which was fun, but I felt like I was trying to catch up to a will-o-the-wisp. I couldn't concentrate on my splits, I just kept trying to cut the line. When the finish line finally showed up I felt great relief. I didn't pull out much of a kick till the last few feet, but I did manage to finish spent.

It was such a joy to find my cheering wife and baby there. It's hard to get the baby out to Central Park, and it's a rare treat to have my crew there. She had hooked up with some friends of ours, who waited very patiently while I kept waiting for the results.

I don't know why I needed to know the results right away. I was a little grouchy about my stressed pre-race, and just needed some immediate gratification I guess. After the results were finally announced (no plaque this time) I finally ran to catch up with the group for a lovely picnic in Riverside Park.

Apart from the crowds and the stress, I think of this race as the first of Spring. The weather was perfect and magnolias and bulbs were in plenteous bloom all over the park. Birds were chirping up a storm, jumping away as we ran past.

After almost two weeks away from running, it was lovely to flap my arms again.

(Photo from NYRR website.)

April 7, 2009


Originally uploaded by seancrane
After a long and wonderful run on Sunday, Monday found me stiff, achy and complaining of a weird middle-back ache. I cut short my easy run yesterday and ran not at all today. Still feeling punkish today, and wondering whether I'll be able to make the Scotland Run on Saturday. And I just had my racing kilt pressed.

So here's a picture of a platypus. Enjoy.

March 30, 2009

What I blog about when I blog about running

Taking out the trash just now, I was talking to my neighbor and he asked me whether I had run this morning. I had, and I mentioned I was running just about every morning these days. He seemed impressed, as you might be impressed by a man who's just swallowed a hundred goldfish - an exceptional feat, that inspires little envy.

I get that look often enough these days. My friends know me for a runner of recent vintage. Only three months ago I was running a maximum of three and a half miles, once a week, originally to have something to do while my wife ran, and then we would meet up to get greens at the farmers market. These days I'm attempting 50 mile weeks (more on that next time), and I appear to be, as my neighbor says, "really into this."

It's true, this is my new religion. I'm running with the ardor of a convert (a phrase applied slightly cruelly by V.S. Naipaul to fanatical Pakistani Muslims, but that's kind of what it's like). In the three months since I started adding miles to my occasional runs, I've acquired 13 running books and read, well, most of them. I bought tech shirts and tights, I own two pairs of training shoes and am eying a third pair, and I just bought a ridiculously fancy watch (yet I have not named it - there must be limits). And I think I mentioned the 50-mile weeks. I seem to be really into this.


Let me sidestep that question for a minute and ask, why is every single runner out there a running blogger? Every morning, in that bleary half hour in my office before the green tea kicks in, I peruse a hundred times a hundred running blogs. I have only to google the name of my last race to find pictures of all my competitors and learn their diets, hangups, and the names of their sports watches. When I run early in the morning and see the serious runners chuffing along the damp, dark track, I can practically see them composing their blog post between stance and swing.

Hi. Welcome to my blog.

Haruki Murakami is not a writer I'm much attracted to but I read, a in rather scathing review of his horribly-titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (a clumsy allusion to Carver's already-horrible story title), about the intimate parallels he draws between running and writing. How both take discipline, patience, time, etc. And there's something very true about that. I guess there could be just as many weightlifting, basketball, and gymnastics blogs. But there ain't. There's something about running that causes narrative to rise up in the gorge.

So to return to the question, why run? Or why write? Why swallow that many goldfish? Or for that matter, even just one?

I go to the ancients when I need an earthy answer. My first blog entry was as far back as I, or anyone, can go into the paleontology of running. People run. People have been running longer than there have been people, properly speaking. People run to live. Maybe to hunt, maybe to migrate, maybe to worship, probably to mate, or just to fit into that smaller-size animal skin. And it's not at all implausible that our ability to run gave us the reason to grow our big giant brains, gave us reasons to tell stories about what we saw and felt on our runs.

So: Today was a recovery run, after yesterday's long run, in which I trotted the length of the Brooklyn Bridge and back across it, through the quaint glories of Brooklyn Heights and its Promenade, Red Hook's faded docks and gleaming big-box cluster of Ikea-Lowes-Fairway-stan, back up Park Slope (oh right, that's why they call it Park freakin' Slope - pant, pant), once around Prospect Park, and over to my dear friends' house for delicious blueberry pancakes. Because of all that, I felt stiffness this morning, and in need of a little running love to loosen things up a bit. Today's shorter run, all in the park, relieved and relived the whole of yesterday's run for me.

There you have it. As Stravinsky said, "One hopes to worship God with a little art if one has any, and if one hasn't, and cannot recognize it in others, then one can at least burn a little incense." Or write a little blog. Et voilà.

The photo? That's my daughter this morning, eating her goldfish. We are raising her in the faith.

March 22, 2009

Colon Cancer Challenge 4M

I never met my grandfather, he died a year or two before I was born. But everyone says what a grand fellow he was, jolly, generous, and child-friendly. Possibly a little feckless. He lived a big part of his life in Atlantic City. He was a builder before the Depression, and he sat on the boards of banks. After all his wealth was wiped out he spent the war as a welder in a shipyard. Or maybe a riveter. He passed on to my father, and thence to me, a childlike sense of wonder, a corny sense of humor, and a giant set of toy trains. My dad is a fan of elephant jokes, and once told me salad grew on trees. Another time, in the front yard, I remember him showing me Orion in the stars, so huge. I guess Grandpa might live in those things. He might even be Orion.

Colon cancer took him at 66 years of age, unfairly as I've always thought. Today was the Colon Cancer Challenge 4-miler in Central Park, and my second race of the weekend. Last night I stayed up late making a t-shirt with Grandpa's picture (those iron-on things for your printer are super-cool). Another decoration for the fence between the quick and the dead. So Grandpa and I headed out at dawn this morning to the Central Park for some new adventure.

A good charity merits a bit of pageantry. The sun shone down on a circus of excited runners, information tents, and a guy dressed as a colon (I think he was a colon - he might have been Texas). A freakishly smooth-voiced announcer read off rules and routes as the runners milled around. Since there was a 15K starting later, the porta-potties had no lines yet and number pickup was quick. I stripped down to shorts and my t-shirt, when suddenly the wind picked up and I felt the 38-degree air. I rushed my warmup as the pre-race got going: a boy scout color guard recited the Pledge; and a blue-eyed soul outfit called The Chicklets sang our national anthem. A volunteer facing the starting line was wearing a traffic cone on his head. A few short speeches and a warning about potholes, and we were off.

I had felt pretty crappy all morning, probably from hard workouts the last few days. Once I got going I began to shake it off. I ran the first mile pretty much all-out, and just barely made my goal split. I tried to dig deeper. Mile 2 found me a little later than my goal, but I was on a mission for Grandpa. I find it hard to put together a finishing kick, I don't like pushing that far outside my comfort zone. But I glanced at my chest and my mission, whatever it was, dredged up a nice fast 800 meters or so and I finished totally spent.

I came in over my goal time by about 20 seconds. It still got me an award plaque in my age group, my second tchotchke this weekend, which I love as much as any lucite tile deserves to be loved. (I finished well behind this guy, but I'm at peace with that.)

After the race I did a full loop around Central Park to round out my long run for the day. Such a beautiful morning, and I got to gawk at the daffodils poking up all over the northern half of the park. Back in my street clothes, I went downtown to meet the missus and the baby in Soho to pick out fabric for the baby's new curtains. Pinks, blues, purples, so many patterns and textures. The fabric store was marvelous. I think we brought back six different swatches - that's how good we are at making decisions.

It was a good day to hang out with Grandpa, I think he had a good time. He managed to get through economic disaster with his humor and his wonder fully intact. I like to think he's given me a leg up in my attempt to do the same thing. In the end I believe he would like nothing more than to spend some time with the baby. Maybe she'll like the toy trains.

March 21, 2009

Smelling the flowers anyway

This morning's race, the Fuggetaboutit 5K, wound whimsically through the most beautiful trails in Prospect Park. I really admire people who know the Prospect place names, I mix them up with locales in The Hobbit (Was that Nethermead or Rivendell?). The racers passed dogwalkers (moderately impressed by our numbered bibs), gamboling children, shaded walks, sweet waterfalls, and clusters of newborn crocuses. It's impossible to me that this clear and sunny day could follow on the heels of yesterday's dense snow. It was an unexpected pleasure to charge down those obscure trails. There was a surprise at every bend, and I felt lost the whole way. I finished in about 20:30 or so (I forgot to stop my watch at the finish, and they haven't posted the results - this 5K was the afterthought of a larger duathlon), not a great time, though somehow it earned me first place. So I got a trophy for park exploration, and jogged home to spend the rest of the day playing with the baby.

March 20, 2009

The secret edge of the world

Penguin invasion!
Originally uploaded by Straymuffin
Ran today through great wet blobs of snow, which vanished as soon as they touched ground. A classic Spring snow, a joy, a circus, a happy jolt. I love to run in weather, especially wind, rain, and snow, because I feel invincible. The elements swirl around me I'm warm and don't care about how I look. Fighting me or speeding me, the wind keeps me cool and embraces me. The dense swarm of snowflakes became a widow's veil shadowing the beginnings of Spring in Prospect Park: the budding daffodils and sprays of green on some of the bushes. I felt I was nearly floating, at the farther, weirder reaches of this world. A friend wrote yesterday about a penguin who had been mimicking and mocking her on her run through Antarctica last week. She reported strafing Skuas, calving icebergs, and neon ice. Yesterday was a rest day for me, therefore naturally a day of unfulfilled longings, and when I read her wrapup of the Antarctic Marathon (sadly no link, it was a lovely description) I wanted nothing but to necklace the earth with my footprints.

I run, I don't know why, with the all the fervor of a new convert. Running helps me trace the outlines of the knowable world, to measure off time, distance, and the margins of injury.

Improbably, I've upped for two races this weekend, a Prospect Park 5K (untimed, and which I'll run gentle) and a Central Park 4-mile. Not sure yet how I'll run 4-mile, but I'll follow it up with a CP loop to complete my long run. Then I meet my wife and daughter to find some nice curtains for the baby's room. Every windbeaten explorer eventually returns to the hearth.

March 16, 2009

Temporary Like Achilles

The Tortoise and the Hare
Originally uploaded by un_owen
Yesterday I dined on a slow, slow roasted pork shoulder, cooked for a crowd of 12 by Dr. Mike for 24 hours, maybe more, I can't remember. What a wondrous, tender, savory thing it was. Lesson for athletes: slow and low works miracles on tough muscle fibers.

This morning, a lovely recovery run. In the mix of intense runs and easy runs, the recovery is the slowest. And I really have to force myself to run slowly. It took me two miles to stop trying to race the elderly and infirm speeding past me. But the last three miles, what bliss! My legs, slightly stiffened from yesterday's long run, warmed and softened, felt smooth and young. My mind stopped flitting around and just inhabited my well-basted limbs. After my stretch, incipient aches had vanished and been replaced by a rare morning energy burst.

In the old brain teaser, the one you probably heard in school, possibly while stoned, a Tortoise challenges Achilles to a race. Tortoise psyches out Achilles by saying how, as long as Tortoise gets a one-inch head start, Achilles will never catch up to him (first he has to close half the distance, then half of that, then half of that, ad nauseam). Achilles, never the brightest bulb, concedes the race. This of course is all bullshit. Slow and steady does not win the race, fast and steady does. But slow and steady does feel pretty great afterward, and might live past 100.

March 14, 2009

This ink don't run

In the old epics, the Fates record everything that will happen to mighty heroes, and even the gods can do nothing to prevent it. If Lachesis pronounces that Achilles will run ladder intervals on Tuesday, then Zeus himself cannot deter him from the track.

Alas, my personal training plan seems not to be inscribed on that sempiternal scroll. The Fates have other ideas entirely, announced sometimes by my baby daughter's oracular nighttime cries, or other times by the hushed catastrophe of my Outlook work calendar.

So far I've missed a few runs during my ever-hopeful 16-week training cycle for the Brooklyn Half (and in fact the oracle has yet tell us when that race will happen). In the last two weeks I've tried two methods of recouping those lost miles.

Last week I dropped an easy 5-mile because of snow, and just scattered its miles to other runs, making four fairly long runs rather than five normal runs.

This week I missed a run early in the week, so I squished all the runs to late-week. Now I have some lower-mileage runs, but I have no rest days until next Thursday - six runs in a row, including a 12-mile long run.

It's still early in my training cycle, so the after-effects aren't all that dire or obvious. But I believe I prefer more frequent consecutive runs to longer runs with rest days. Conventional wisdom is that consistent, high mileage creates a strong base and prevents injury. Then again I've heard that at my ripe old age, 42, it's better to run less, but faster. In an effort to cheat death and skirt the Fates, I'm trying to combine the two. The burgeoning snowdrops in Prospect Park give me eternal hope. But my preferences count for little, and final say goes to the great training plan in the sky.

I actually don't like surprises. They make me cranky and brittle. But the world is what it is, so incorporating the unforeseen into my training schedule seems like a good idea. Resolved: from now on, each week, at least one surprise run.

Yeah, I better write that down in ink.

The week past:
Easy, 6 mi
rest - "Spring forward" oversleeping
rest - stupid early meeting
fartlek, 7.5 mi
progression, 6.2 mi
easy, 4 mi
long, 12 mi