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.