Tuesday, April 5, 2016

track. Lane One. On Your Left!...MOVE!!!! The definitive guide to track etiquette

It’s that time of year again- the days are growing longer, the snow has melted, and runners everywhere are coming out of hibernation, and headed to their local track. (OK some of us never really stopped doing track work). Since I started running and racing 20+ years ago there is one thing I can count on. No matter what day of the week, what time of day (or night), no matter what the weather, when you arrive at the track you will not be the only one there. So I’ve put together a working list of some rules to keep in mind the next time you head out to your local track in an effort to make it a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone. That’s right - I just called track workouts fun.

1) The track is for EVERYONE.
This is the golden rule of the track, and must be kept in mind at all times. From the the walkers right on up to the sprinters, and even the people who have never run a step in their life, the track is for everyone. You don’t have more or less of a right to use it just because of your ability level.

2) Run fast, turn left.
In other words, the infield should always be to your left. Some runners may choose to jog their recoveries in the opposite direction, or if you’re out for a long run or walk, alternating directions every mile or so can help spread the work between both legs. However this should never be done in lane 1 or 2. Use the infield or the outermost lane if you choose to run against the flow of runners. And if someone is already using the outer lane(s), they have the right of way. Which Brings me to the next rule…

3) Lanes 1 and 2 are for fast running.
What is fast running? Simply, if you are in lane 1 and people have to run around you, you should not be in lane 1. Lane 1 is never for walking. Lane 1 is never for running backwards or for standing around. You wouldn’t drive 20 mph on an interstate highway in the left lane. The same principle applies to the track.

4) Lanes 4,5,6, (and 7 and 8 if your track is this wide) are for slower running.
This is the place for you to run at a slower pace. If you need to walk that is fine- use the outermost lane.

5) NEVER leave anything in lane 1 (or any lane)!
Bags, clothing, gear, yourself, etc. The track is for running! Do not stand around, do not sit on the track, do not stretch on the track. That is what the rest of the world is for. The track is for running.

6) Look both ways before you cross.
This should be a no brainer, but I’ve had it happen to me many times. You wouldn’t wander into the street without looking. Don’t wander onto the track without looking. Stay in your lane (unless passing a workout partner).

7) Leave your wheels at home.
Do not inline skate on the track. Do not ride a bicycle, or a scooter on the track. Do not bring your hoverboard to the track. Do not walk with a baby stroller on the track. Tracks are specially designed to run on. Wheels will damage the surface.

8) Schools, organized teams, and organized track meets get priority.
You would think this would be a no brainer, but as a coach, a teacher, and a runner, I’ve seen it all before. Do not jump the fence of your local high school while school is in session and sneak in a workout. That is called trespassing and the Police will get involved. Do not use the excuse that you're a taxpayer and you have a right to be there. No you don’t. In general, if a track is on school grounds, even if school is not in session, ask permission to use the track. If school personnel tell you no, say OK and find another track, or ask if there are times when the public is permitted to use the track.

- If a public park has a public track that is used by school teams, try to use it when the team is not there or introduce yourself to the coach and politely ask if you may share the track. If permission is granted realize that the team gets priority and you should not expect to use lanes 1 or 2.

-If a track meet is getting started as you are finishing up your workout, or is already going on as you approach the track this is not the time to use the track. Finish up your workout, or find somewhere else to run.

9) Smile. Be polite.
The weather is perfect, you’ve done a proper warm up, you are ready to start your next interval, when all of a sudden a nursing home bus pulls up and a group of walkers step on the track. In lanes 1 and 2. One of them has a ski pole with a sharp end balanced on his shoulders and his arms slung over the pole. He sometimes wanders into lanes 2 and 3. That’s because a Soccer game is going on and all the players have their bags in Lane 1 on the backstretch. Soccer balls are constantly being kicked on the track and left there. Simultaneously there’s a woman running 5 miles in Lane 1 in the wrong direction who refuses to move. Without any warning a child decides to run across the track, trips and falls and his mother comes running. Now a group of parents gather around blocking lanes 3 and 4. They remain there for 10 minutes before moving. A large man in a sweatsuit and workboots leaves his 50 lb. weights in lane 1 as he is mixing lunges and cardio. The grounds crew mistook your half full gatorade bottle for trash and now it’s at the bottom of a garbage can. You wisely decide you are never coming to this track again at 4 PM on a Tuesday night, only to find the track two miles away has a different set of obstacles. Only this time its 6 AM, 35 degrees, and raining….Oh and there’s that guy with the ski pole again. And all you wanted to do was a few 800’s!

It would be funny if I was making this stuff up, but again, these are all true stories. Although I’d be lying if I said this was all happening at the same time. (Usually it’s only three or four of these examples happening together.) So you’re left with two options:

A) Vent your anger. Yell at the woman running in the wrong direction that we are not in England (Spoiler alert-they run the same direction all over the world). You pick up those 50 lb. weights and hurl them onto the in-field. (You can count this as your upper body exercise for today). Tell the team’s Soccer coach to learn how to manage his players, go home and call up the school Athletic Director (make sure to mention your tax dollars!) Accuse the grounds crew of knowingly throwing away your gatorade and threaten to get them fired (Again-tax dollars). YOU are the only real runner here! So what if you just made runners everywhere look like we think the world revolves around us. It does!

B) Remember rule 1. Ever heard the saying “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”? Ask the coach if he or she wouldn’t mind if the players move their gear off the track. Smile and say thanks. That gatorade in the trash? Well it was next to 4 other empty bottles. And no one wants a track that looks like a garbage dump. The woman running in the opposite direction? She’s a runner too. Ask if she wouldn’t mind trying the other direction for at least a few laps. (Bonus points if you direct her to this article). For all you know she is training for the same race as you. The walkers in lane 1 and 2? Politely ask if they wouldn’t mind if you take lane 1.You might want to throw in that you need an exact measured distance. What you’ve just become in this scenario is an ambassador for our sport. Those walkers might become runners. That runner might just join your running club. And you just got a great workout without looking like a jerk and blowing a gasket.

10) Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.
I’ll never forget what a coach told me when I complained about some of the scenarios in #9. It was a particularly difficult workout, and everyone and everything seemed to be getting in my way on the track. He reminded me that I'm training for a race, and that in races you are going to have to go around other competitors, around potholes, through crowded water stops, and the occasional cheering fan that is a little too close to the course. (Yes sometimes people actually cheer for us). While we would like to run every tangent perfectly it’s usually unrealistic. If you’ve had a little experience switching from lanes 1 and 2 on the track, then passing your opponents in the final straightaway on race day will be nothing new. No one is perfect and no matter how polite you ask someone to share the track you are bound to find someone unwilling to move. Deal with it and move on. After all, you are a runner.

Did I forget any? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving in Glen Ridge- The Quest For The Holy Cup

For many, Thanksgiving is all about traditions. Growing up, it meant a few days off from school (Yay!) accompanied by a trip to a cramped 105 degree Brooklyn apartment. (Nay!) accompanied by hanging up some Christmas decorations the next day, then back to school. Later in High school, Thanksgiving was a little more enticing. No school on Thursday meant I would go skateboarding or rollerblading on Wednesday night (Hey it was the 90's!). Living a stone's throw from NYC I used to like to go up the hill from where I lived and look at the NYC skyline and see the Empire State building all lit up in Autumn colors of gold, orange, and brown. The next day I'd sleep in, watch the last 30 minutes of the parade, and get on with the overeating. It also meant high school Cross Country and Football season were over and when we headed back to school on Monday, Winter track began and we took over the JV locker rooms while the Basketball team took over the Varsity locker rooms. Fast forward a few more years and the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving meant going out to "party" all night and hoping you'd run into some old high school friends. But when you did, it was always just weird and awkward when you realized that apart from sitting next to each other in English class for 4 years, you have absolutely nothing in common with 95% of your graduating class. A few more years, and too many pounds later, with a reinvigorated spark for running and I heard about a local "Turkey Trot" taking place in the next town over, The Ashenfelter 8K Classic, or A8K for short.

A quick google search revealed some information about the race. The year prior (2006) had been a cold rain I couldn't believe people would actually run in...let alone on Thanksgiving morning. I also learned that 8K is 4.97 Miles, but that 8K sounds much cooler than 5 Miler. Now onto this Ashen-whatever his name is guy... I quickly found out that the race was named in honor of living legend Horace Ashenfelter, gold medalist at the 1952 Olympic 3000m steeple chase, who just so happened to  also be living in the next town over from me, and who, at the time, aged 84 years young (presently 92) was still known to be seen running around the streets of Glen Ridge, NJ. Which brings me to one of my favorite stories of the namesake of the A8K.

Like many of us who work full time jobs and find time to dedicate to training, as the story goes, Horace Ashenfelter in his 1952 build up to Olympic Gold would train through his hometown of Glen Ridge, NJ, hurdling the benches in Glenfield park. Long before the first American running boom of Frank Shorter, Steve Prefontaine, and Tom Flemming, seeing someone running through the park at 10 PM dressed in what was described as "underwear" (more likely a cotton singlet and shorts) was enough to warrant a call to the local Police Department. Imagine your workout being interrupted and explaining to the Police that you are an FBI agent training to win in the Olympics! Crazy, to be sure, but a good kind of crazy. For after all, we runners wear our crazy as a badge of honor. Like many runners I have my pre-race routine every year at the A8K which includes a warm up through nearby Glenfield Park, and those storied benches. It helps me get into the spirit of the event, and escape the huge crowds that are slowly gathering 1/4 mile away.
with Horace Ashenfelter, 2010, 3rd Place in my age group

Now, having raced consecutively here since 2007 (I unofficially ran in 2012 on Dr's orders that I should not race that year) I've come to love this event as one of my favorite races of the year, second only to The Boston Marathon. And as my Wednesday night "Pre-Thanksgiving" traditions have changed over the years, one of my favorite traditions is attending the pre race packet pickup held annually in Glen Ridge High School's gymnasium. Nothing fancy to attract anyone here, but it is always fun bumping into many friends, team mates, rivals, and runners of all ages. You pick up your bib (race number), long sleeve A8K tech top, chat a little about the race, and return home in time to pin your race bib to your singlet and get in a good night's sleep before the big day. For a few years, I would then go home and start to brine my Turkey, but watching Paul Simon in a turkey suit on SNL's thanksgiving special is more fun.

Most races give out awards for overall wins (1st, 2nd, and 3rd, Male & Female) as well as age groups. A plastic trophy, or a medal is par for the course. You come in 90th place overall at most races, don't place in your age group and go home empty handed. No one is going to pat you on the back. But at the A8K the stakes are always higher. For one thing this has been a USA Track & Field team championship race for several years, which means the fast guys and girls come out. For another, many college and high school runners are home for the holiday and coming out of Cross Country season, usually in outstanding shape. And, what better to do with all that hard earned fitness, than test it out at the (mostly) flat and (very) fast A8K. Which is why with 3,100 finishers (as of 2015), it's a pretty big deal to be in the top 100 men or women. For the men, you'll need to basically be able to run a 6 min/mile pace. For the woman this year you needed 7:21 pace or faster...not an easy feat for either gender! And for this prestigious top 100 you are awarded with a coffee mug. Yup, thats right a coffee mug, that people literally talk about all year long. There really is nothing fancy about these mugs. They've looked that same for years, varying only in color and the date printed on them. Although this year, for the 15th running, mugs were slightly different than years past, white with a blue interior and handle for men, and white with a pink interior and handle for women, and a bit smaller than usual. I've seen videos of people fighting each other on Black Friday for that last flat screen door buster deal, and I imagine that is what it must be like when the last mug is presented. I was 109th male across the line in 2008 and my team mates made a pretty big deal about how close I came to earning the coveted mug. I didn't realize at the time just how prestigious this unassuming coffee mug could be, but since that day, I've made it my annual Thanksgiving Day mission to earn that mug! Age group winners are awarded with high quality running jackets or shirts embroidered with the A8K classic logo. You show up wearing one of these at your next Sunday morning group run, and people will know what it means.

After receiving (or according to the odds not receiving your mug), you get to shake hands with the namesake of this event, Horance Ashenfelter himself, and proceed back into the warm high school gym, to change out of your racing gear, in to some dry warm-ups, and get in a cool down. Of course it feels so nice to be out of the cold, and it's always so much fun talking and wishing friends Happy Thanksgiving that I tend to delay my cool down, but when I do you can find me back at Glenfield park, just as our local hero was 63 years ago. This year, several of the adult runners I coach were in attendance, and it was great to hear about their races, and PR's. Definitely a nice addition to the day!  And then it's over the river and through the woods, to get that carbohydrate/protein rich Thanksgiving dinner that you know you earned!

Oh, and as for me this year...28:36 at 64th place. Back a few seconds from my PR. Not something worth mentioning, if not for the mug!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 Summer Recap

Well, it's been a while since I wrote my last blog entry. So long in fact, that the last time I wrote, I was slowly packing up my running gloves, and jackets and unpacking my shorts and singlets. And now here it is, officially Autumn, and the return of the cold weather running gear. A lot has happened in those shorts and singlets. Mostly sweat, a few PR's, some new hardware, and another summer of great memories.

After Boston, I spent the time recovering by getting some nice rides on my road bike, and gradually re-introduced running into my week. Before long, I was hitting the track for weekly sessions getting ready for "The Big Three"...President's cup 5K, Lager Run 5K, and The Sunset Classic 5M.
Now I'm not sure if everyone has the same holy reverence as I do for these three races, but as I've written before, I find a race I like and do it every year, hopefully a little faster each time. So lets start with the first race of my summer, President's Cup 5K Open men's championship in Millburn NJ.

If there's one thing you can bet on it's the consistency of this race. It is always packed with talent, it is always fast, and Mother Nature will always surprise you with what she has in store for the night. With a relatively cool temperature (70 degrees F) and relatively high humidity (95%) it was anyone's guess just how much the weather would be a factor. But as in years past there is something special about this hilly race. Not only is it one of the most competitive 5Ks in the state, but one of the fastest too. I managed to sneak in a PR. In fact, the first time I ever broke 18:00 was on this course, and after holding onto a 17:18 PR (also set on this course) I managed to PR again this year with a 17:14. With a time like this I would be standing on the overall podium in many local races. But this is President's Cup, where my PR still placed me at 47th overall, but did manage to earn me the coveted Age Group 35-39 year championship title with a strongly packed field of 59 others. But this was my first 5K in almost a year...surely I could better my PR in the upcoming Lager Run 5K, a flatter, faster course which I train on several times a week. Only problem is, the Lager Run is always 6 days away from President's Cup so there's minimal time to recover, train, and get ready for another PR. This year however The Sunset Classic did a swap, and would be held a week after President's Cup, also on a Monday.

The Sunset Classic 5 Miler is one of those races that you look forward to every year, and then once you are in mile 3 you wish you had trained better...or the course wasn't so hilly...or it wasn't so hot...or it wasn't a few days after a previous fast race...or, well you get the point. All kidding aside this is a race that people tend to shy away from and I'm not quite sure why. Five milers are rare these days, and this one is, by far, my favorite. For one thing it's another night race. I realized the first time I ever ran it how apt the name "The Sunset Classic" was. It takes place at sunset and there's a significant uphill climb at the beginning of mile 2 on, you guessed it, Sunset Ave. As with President's Cup I've run this race every year since 2007 and I have to say, it never gets easier. What has changed is my overall place. I went from 99th place in 2007, to 49th the next year, then 18th, 8th, 10th, 8th again, 7th, and finally to 3rd this year. I even ran in 2010 when the race was cancelled due to renovation of the Foley Field track finish when a small group of us gathered and ran the course. (That year I won... I swear!) But one of my favorite traditions with this race is gathering with friends after the race over a little food and conversation. When we are all together it doesn't matter who came in what place, or who PR'd it's about the camaraderie that runners share on a nice June evening. Driving back home from the after-party is a little bitter sweet. There's usually some nice hardware to display and often a new PR, but this also marks that "The Big Three" is over. But not so fast. Remember this year the Lager Run 5K came last.
Lager Run 5K race shirts from 2007-2015
The Lager Run 5K is The Ashenfelter 8K's little brother. It's run on many of the same streets, benefits the same charity, has the same race director, and has the same quality and class we have come to expect from both races. This race is flat and fast, and usually pretty hot. If you run the Lager Run 5K and the Sunset Classic (always a week apart from each other) you might get a feeling of deja-vu. It shares Forest Ave, but in opposite directions (as does the A8K in November). It also boasts a track finish. Usually I use President's cup as a way of gauging my 5K fitness and have been fortunate enough to PR here. I then try to go onto Lager Run and better my PR, but this year I paid for my aggressive first mile tactics and had a slow last mile, resulting in missing a PR by 6 seconds. After the team and individual awards many of us head across the track to the title sponsor, Fitzgerald's for a post race meal. But if that's not for you, beverages and pretzels are provided at the finish line for all racers over 21. Many people will tell you that's the reason they come here, but let's face it, you are going to be hard pressed to find a faster, higher quality 5K, which is what brings me back year after year. In fact, 2015 marked my 9th consecutive Lager Run 5K finish.

In years past, after "The Big Three," there were a few options. A) Take my running fitness and add swimming and cycling to get ready for an upcoming triathlon or two B) Back off from racing, but put my nose to the grindstone training for an upcoming fall marathon C) Refocus on training for my upcoming "River to Sea" stage race, or D) Take a week of easy recovery miles, train through the summer, and refocus on fast fall racing. Sometimes a combination of some or all of that. This year, I went with option D and refocused on The Liberty Half Marathon, where I hoped to PR. I had already turned down an invite to the "River to Sea Relay" (R2C) and had firmly made up my mind (even if I was secretly regretting it). If you are not familiar with R2C here is a link to the Runner's World article written by a team mate and training partner. So, off I set in the blistering July heat, gradually increasing my weekly mileage and heading out for early morning tempo runs. What I didn't expect was a last minute injury of one of my training partners, leaving him out of R2C. I told him if he couldn't do it, I'd step in and take his place. One more tempo run through the pea-soup-thick summer heat and humidity and I was in a van with 7 other runners about to start another year of R2C on tired legs, and not in the shape I wanted to be.

As I ran my 7th (and what I thought at the time was my last R2C in 2013 I tried to go out with a bang. I had run the same stages (1 & 9) every single year. And I was fortunate enough to get faster and faster each year. So for my swan song, I tried ending with times I could look back on proudly in years to come, and as something I thought might stand a year or so before one of my teammates inevitably bested those times. If, and it was a huge if, I ever raced R2C again, I certainly would NOT race stages 1 & 9 ever again. I was done... So on the morning of the 2015 I began Stage 1 in a heat advisory. Knowing this stage of the race better than most I tried to go out strong, but leave something in the tank for stage 9, nicknamed the "frying pan". It's flat alright, but not a square inch of shade in the 1pm August heat for 9 miles of New Jersey's badlands. I ended up PR'ing my stage in an average sub 6 minute pace. 8 times and every time faster. I knew I had something left in the tank, but worried just how much. Later in the day, I raced the dreaded "frying pan" and PR'd. Nine miles in 93 degree sun with an average of 6:00/mile pace. I finished...and felt good! Which was a good thing, as one of my teammates was having a bad day and was unable to finish his stage. Some shuffling of team members, and FINALLY I was running something other than stages 1 & 9. This time the glory stage- 2.5 miles at 5:48 pace into the finish. I had started the day on a bridge over the Delaware River on the NJ/PA border and was now swimming in the Sea of Manasquan, NJ. Seventh place out of 124 teams. And I'll never run stages 1 or 9 again. (Until next year)

R2C had shown me that my current fitness level was better than I had thought. Now if I could continue training through the rest of the summer and improve just a slight bit I could set a new PR at the Liberty Half Marathon in Jersey City, NJ. Another stacked field and another men's open championship race meant a lot of young fast guys and $3000 in prize money left no delusion that I would be placing on the podium in this race. This was the site of my first half marathon in 2007, and then the site of my worst half marathon in 2008, when I vowed not to return. And I hadn't in 6 years. And just like R2C, here I was attempting a PR. The first 8 miles went by like clockwork. I stayed tucked in a nice pack and the strong winds weren't a factor, but as we headed onto the boardwalk of Liberty State Park after mile 8 the winds took a significant effort to try to stay on pace, and I slowly started to drift off the back of the pack. Before I knew it, I was completely alone for the next few miles, battling a fierce headwind that seemed to come from every angle. The fact that you make a 90 degree turn about 20 times in the last 3 miles was no help. I finally put a final surge with half mile to go and passed a small pack, only to have some of them take me in the final 50 meters to the finish. I still earned a new PR of 1:18:46 good enough for 5th place out of the 225 men in my age division.

And now, as I planned to do after the Lager Run, I get to take a little break with just some easy recovery miles...oh wait, the Ashenfelter 8K State Championship is only 6 weeks away.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

2015 Boston Marathon Race Recap

A few years ago I sat down and wrote a "5 year Plan" of running goals I wanted to achieve. "Complete 5 consecutive Boston Marathons" topped my list. And just before 1pm Boston, MA time this past Monday I achieved my goal.

As I bounced back relatively quickly from a February injury, I was able to still get many quality weeks of training in and hoped to minimize any "lost" training time. There were certainly days in March and April when I questioned how much, if any fitness I lost during my weeks of cross training, and I think had it not been for the undesirable weather conditions this would have undoubtedly been another PR Marathon for me; but that is the nature of the marathon.  You train for over 4 months specifically for one day, and hope that on that one morning, all the stars will align and the weather gods will shine on you (but not shine too hot!) My last few weeks went by ideally, hitting all my targeted workouts, sometimes even faster and easier than I had planned. I skipped a tune up 20K five weeks out, as I was still unsure if that would push me back into an injury. With a few weeks to go I was sure of a PR, but just how much of a PR I didn't know. There was little room for error in my race plan.

On Sunday, April 19th I started my solo journey up to Boston. Just me, a cooler full of carbs and fluids, and some tunes on the radio. I'm not one for car magnets or stickers, but just before leaving I taped my previous 4 Boston 26.2 stickers to my rear car window. I always enjoy driving on the Mass Pike and seeing the other 26.2 stickers as we pass the exits for Hopkinton, Newton, the giant Citgo sign that marks "1 mile to go" and finally exiting near Boylston Street. As I got closer to Boston, I began seeing other cars with their oval stickers and honked my horn and waved, which most times was met with a look of confusion followed by amusement. The things you do on a solo 5 hour car ride to sane...After a quick visit to the crowded expo, I checked in at my hotel, un-packed, pinned my bib to my race uniform, ate more carbs, drank another couple of gallons of water, and walked/jogged around my hotel's parking lot when, before I knew it, it was time to go to bed.   

I checked the weather report one last time.  It called for a 40-45 degree day, overcast with a slight headwind, and a decent chance of rain as we were making our final descent into Boston. “Not bad,” I thought.  I'll tuck into a pack and draft a bit if the winds picked up, and all would be good.  After 9 marathons, I was excited to have a cool crisp forecast. The next day everything would change.

I had set my alarm for 4:45 am, and usually I sleep surprisingly well the night before a race, but at 3 am I was wide awake and tossing and turning.  Not before long, I was boarding the "T" towards Copley Square in the crisp morning sunrise. I always enjoy seeing the other runners slowly filling the cars along with all the locals on their way to work (Hey, I thought no one worked on Patriot's Day). It's a weird fashion show that combines last decade’s torn jackets and paint splattered sweatpants, with the newest and lightest (and brightest) racing flats. Throw on an unwanted race hat, and some dirty gardening gloves for that "been there, done that" look. Some choose to top off their ensemble with a banana and a bottle of Gatorade in hand, but let's face it, that just screams "first-timer" since all of that will be provided ad-nauseam in the athlete's village.  Now at this point you are in Boston, about 2 blocks from where the race ends. The funny thing is, you board one of hundreds of yellow school buses (whose windows will promptly fog because of all the well hydrated runners and the cool morning air) and get driven out 26.2 miles to the tiny town of Hopkinton where, you guessed it, you sit and wait to run the whole way back to Boston. Only the very last few miles are actually run in Boston, but I guess the “Hopkinton/Ashland/Framingham/Newton/Wellesley/Brookline Marathon” wouldn't have the same ring to it. 

Usually hanging out in the athletes village is one of my favorite mornings of the year. There's a special energy in the air, so I like to stroll around taking in all the sights and sounds, hydrating, and chatting with all the other runners - many who have traveled great distances for the honor of standing in this port-a-john line. But this year we all made a beeline to one of the three large white tents where we sat shoulder to shoulder wrapped in whatever we could find to keep ourselves dry and warm.  40 degrees with a light, steady rain and not knowing anyone around me, I began to think about just getting the race over with and beginning my long journey back home.  Definitely not the energy of previous years. Before long, Wave 1 was called to the starting corrals, which are about 0.7 miles from the village. By now the rain had tapered off, and the streets were barely wet. There was hope for good race conditions after all. By the time I got into my corral I had bumped into a few teammates, and was finally getting into the spirit of the day. 

The elite men were introduced and announced over the PA. Meb Keflizighi was announced as "the only man who can ever lay claim to being the NYC Marathon champion, the Boston Marathon champion, and an Olympic marathon medal winner". And here I was, standing less than 100 feet away from him about to start the same race. Quite a feeling. 

The race began, and I tried to go out slow, which is not too hard being that you are literally running on a narrow suburban road with only one lane of traffic going in each direction, and no shoulder or sidewalk. By Mile 6, the initial descent (and the steepest downhill section of the race) was over. I was perfectly on target to race a 2:51 marathon, actually getting quite comfortable as my core temperature rose in the chilly morning air.  Soon the rain started, and it would not stop for the rest of the race. Next the winds picked up. What was advertised as a westbound headwind, in fact felt as though it was coming from every angle- except from the tail. As my jersey, shorts, hat, and gloves slowly became wet with perspiration, and spilled fluids from the hydration stations, my clothes felt heavy, the rain started picking up, and I began to feel colder and colder with every wind gust. There were two tactical choices: try to find a pack to draft off of, but who never seemed to run the tangents, or breakaway and run into the wind and take the tangents. After trying to tuck in and draft for the early miles I realized that no matter how close I am drafting, no matter many runner flank me, the wind was still a big part of the equation. 

By the middle of the race, I caught up to another runner I train with, and we matched each other step for step. We chatted a bit, maybe too much, as I slowly started to feel the tightness in my hamstrings and hips. The "Scream Tunnel" of Wellesley caught us slightly by surprise, but provided a refreshing burst of energy. If nothing more than getting your mind off the race and pain for a few minutes as you read all the signs, and watch the faces. By the halfway point I was perfectly on pace for a mid 2:51 finish, exactly what I was hoping for, if not a tiny bit fast. I was soon reminded of why I decided to wear my USA Olympic singlet once again this year as I started hearing chants of "USA, USA". Something I would have found quite corny a few years ago, but after the 2013 race, I don't know who liked hearing it more, me or the spectators themselves. Speaking of spectators, someone was holding up a pre-peeled banana, which I devoured, and partially attribute to the fact that for the first time in 10 marathons I finished not feeling like I hadn’t eaten in a week, Thank you banana woman, whoever you are. By mile 16, I was trailing my friend, only a few seconds behind, and still within striking distance, but feeling the cold rain tightening up my legs, and wishing I was closer to the finish. I was starting to just want to be done with this race.

The last and third part of the race started at roughly mile 16 with the first of the 4 Newton Hills. I feel the hills less and less every year, and have been affected by the undulating course less and less, although I still do enjoy the downhill breaks where my lungs and arms get a little break, while my quads are taking the brunt of the pounding. I was actually able to stay focused and knew when we were cresting heartbreak, unlike my first Boston when I kept asking other runners around me "Is this heartbreak hill?" on every hill (for the record it is the 4th and final hill). As you crest heartbreak you make a pretty steep decent down past Boston College, which is usually a nice psychological lift. In years past the crowds here were huge, and you could smell the beer in the air from half a mile away, but either the weather kept the crowds smaller this year, or I was too exhausted to feel any mental lift at this point. As we make our way into Boston you can usually see the giant Citgo sign , which unofficially marks the one mile to go mark, from about 3-4 miles away, but the low lying grey clouds and rain kept visibility low this year, meaning I actually didn't see the sign until the appropriate one mile to go mark. By this point I was hurting bad, and my pace had slipped to an overall average of 6:36 pace. One second behind my PR pace, but I was still convinced that I could bang out two hard last miles and get my PR by a sliver. If only I didn't add yet another second per mile, and slip into a 6:37 pace in the 25th mile, now hitting my first and only 7:00 mile. It was clear that today was not going to be a PR, but it wasn't going to be a total failure either. As I passed the 26 mile marker I gave it one last shot at a final 0.2 mile sprint at 6:25 pace. I crossed the finish line, no arms raised, passed on water, received the medal around my neck, and kept trying to move, until after refusing three medics, I got taken to the medical tent.

to be continued...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Training While Injured :Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cross Training

Goodbye February, and good riddance.  If you are an endurance athlete in the American North East you probably feel the same way I do. But it's not just the sub-zero "Arctic Blasts" and feet upon feet of ice and snow that I'm looking forward to forgetting. I'm putting an injury behind me too. Technically speaking I had a minor case of "High Hamstring Tendinopathy" which is basically a sprain where my hamstring attaches to my glute. Its a real pain in the butt. My last post was a recap of my PR half marathon in late January. By February 1st, with the Boston Marathon quickly approaching I was officially not running. So what to do? Well this is my story of lots of cross training, strength and conditioning, physical therapy, diet, and rest. As of today, March 1st, I'm running well again, a little stronger, and hopefully a little wiser.
     I recently read an article that over 70% of runners will be injured at some point in their running career. Not having a major injury since a case of shin splints as a Sophomore track runner, I was beginning to think I would enjoy a lifetime of the 30% minority who ran uninjured. And I might have if not for pushing my luck. Here's my analysis of what happened to me, and some advice if you too find yourself one of the unlucky 70%.
1.) REST! I continually tell the athletes I coach that rest days are the most important days of your training week. All the other days we are tearing down our bodies, and pushing out of our comfort zone. This amounts to nothing if there aren't days for the training stimulus to be absorbed by the body. Many coaches believe that it takes 1 day for every mile raced for the body to be ready to resume hard training. One of the main reasons I got injured is because I jumped back into hard training right after my race. Worked before for me, but not this time. Rest can include reduced mileage, cross training, or can be as simple as getting more sleep. Instead of waking up pre-dawn on Sunday mornings for long runs, I would try to sleep in, and fit in my workouts around family obligations.
2.) Physical Therapy (PT). If you live in NJ, you do not need to get a referral from your regular doctor to see a Physical Therapist. The PT I saw is a runner, and has treated many athletes in my running club, so I trusted they would help get me back on the roads quickly and safely. Ask other athletes to recommend a good PT - they can be your best friend while injured. But overall make sure your PT understands your needs as a runner, and that above all, you feel comfortable with them.
3.) Cross Train! Yes you can maintain fitness when you can't run! While I took a few forced days off from running before my first PT appointment, I quickly set up my road bike on the indoor trainer. (Just make sure your PT clears you for this activity). While I would much rather have been outdoors cycling on the roads for hours, this February was a no-go for cycling outdoors. Here's some of the things that got me through my workouts:
         A) A few good pairs of cycling shorts. Try cycling for more than an hour without them and you will quickly see why this is the top of my list. You will probably need more than one pair, unless you plan on doing laundry every night.
         B) A cyclometer OR a watch with a heart rate monitor, and, if you can, a cadence sensor. It's hard work to get your heart rate up to the same level as it would be if you are running. I like to drop to a high gear and increase my cadence to above the 100 mark to make my heart get into the zone I need, rather than to use a lower gear with low cadence which taxes your muscles more, but not your cardio system.  If your schedule called for a 2 hour run, try to cycle for at least the same amount of time. Include a good warm up, and cool down. And yes, you can get interval workouts indoors. After a good warm up try getting up out of the saddle and changing into a low gear to really get your heart pumping. Switch gears, recover, and repeat. One workout I like is 10 x 3 minutes hard with 1:30 rest periods. Experiment or search for a specific indoor interval DVD.
        C) Something to watch. There are many great DVD's made specifically for indoor cycling. Do an internet search and then go to your local bike or triathlon shop and purchase one. It will help you keep your sanity. The days I wasn't watching a cycling workout on DVD, I would stream YouTube videos to my Roku player and watch old stages of the Tour De France, various past Spring Classics, or even more free indoor cycling workouts.
        D) Various extras. There are hundreds of products to spend money on if you are cycling indoors, here are some various other things that helped me out: An extra shirt or jacket to help get your core temperature up, which will aide in getting your heart rate into the proper zone,  2-3 Cold bottles of water, at least 1 large towel for all the sweat (wait and see), a hat, (again to absorb the sweat), remote controls within an arms reach, phone with ear buds already attached - for that mid workout call which you will want to take,  and maybe a stool/table to place your various things.

4.) Strength and Conditioning. Again, talk with your PT or coach to design a program that is right for you. The last thing you need to do is to further injure yourself because you suddenly started doing new exercises. I had been strength training regularly long before my injury so all I did was up the amount of times per week up to 4 sessions per week. Most of my exercises are body weight exercises augmented with a medicine ball, and some small free weights. I added my strengtehning sessions immediately after getting off the bike to lengthen my workout, and keep my heart rate still working. If done right, your strengthening sessions can be a light cardio activity. With my PT's supervision we not only worked upper body and core, but worked to strengthen my hamstrings (and lower body) to make them more resilient to the stress of training for and racing a marathon. Some days we worked on agility and balance, but after several sessions, I learned to correct form to strengthen areas of my body that were being neglected, and probably led me to injury in the first place.

5.) Diet/Nutrition. I made sure to watch what I ate since I was burning less calories than I would be if I were running full time. Most athletes could benefit from cutting out or adding certain things in their diet, and a time of injury can be a perfect time. For starters I cut out all sweets - no cookies, cakes, or foods with extra added sugars. Secondly, I didn't need the Saturday night pasta dinners. If I bonked on the bike (I never did) the kitchen was never more than a short walk away. I also upped my protein intake as my muscles needed the protein to help rebuild the damaged tissue. You may want to consult a Doctor about adding vitamin/mineral supplements into your diet. I weighed myself daily to make sure I wasn't gaining weight. At the end of February, I was exactly where I was before the injury because I made smart choices about caloric intake.

6.) Rebuilding Mileage. All this cross training and strengthening probably didn't result in any huge fitness gains, but I'm confident I didn't lose much either. When I did start running again towards the middle of February it was for 3 miles on a flat course. My first successful run was in the pitch black in 7 degree weather, and I loved every minute of it. I made a pattern of run/cycle repeat. Soon I was running 5 miles, then 8, then back to back days, and today I'm up to 15. What I like best is that aside from my legs getting used to the pounding again, I'm running the exact same training paces as pre-injury. My heart rate is exactly in the same zone(s) as pre-injury too. With a good mileage base my next step is to slowly reintroduce the intensity. With The 2015 Boston Marathon now officially 7 weeks away, I'm still optimistic of a good race. I know I'm not where I wanted to be, and the time I thought I was going to originally run is doubtful, but I'm feeling more and more confident that I'll be at the starting line in Hopkinton, and maybe more importantly feeling good and smiling as I'm coming down Bolyston Street to complete my 5th Boston Marathon.

7.) Support Team. I probably would have given up trying and taken an extended rest from running if it weren't for my support team. From my wife, who would refill my bottles mid-ride, to my Mother-in-Law, who would babysit for me while I was going to PT, to my friends and training partners, who I managed to avoid seeing face to face, but traded phone calls, emails, and texts. Everything from watching film clips for the soon to be released documentary about the Boston Marathon, and reading articles like this, zipping up past Boston Marathon jackets as I head out for runs, and even visiting the B.A.A. website has been giving me the motivation to get out there, run and train smart, and wait for this winter to be over with and get one of my favorite Rites of Spring under way.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Fred Lebow Half Marathon recap

     I'm a runner of habit. I find a race I like, and I continue to do it year after year. So yesterday was my 8th consecutive Manhattan Half Marathon, now officially rebranded the Fred Lebow Half Marathon  after the late, great first president of NYRR. So running this race each year brings back memories of the past years races - The pre dawn carpools from Montclair NJ to the Upper West Side. Checking the weather forecast obsessively to see just how cold it will be, how many inches of snow we will or won't get (The race was turned into an un-timed, un-scored "fun run" because of heavy snow in 2012), and what direction the wind will be blowing on East Park Drive. Wondering what happens to the ducks in the South Lagoon during the cold (Theories include someone coming by in a truck and relocating them for the winter). Remembering the days when the front pack would be lapping me by mile 7, about to finish their race while I still had a grueling 6 mile slog up and down the cold icy hills until I could make the final turn onto the 72nd street transverse and end this suffer-fest. Hey, the faster you run the quicker you can get back into warm dry clothes and enjoy the free mini pretzels, right?
     Well as I sit here in my warm dry clothes with Grant Green playing on the Hi-Fi, and as the "Nor'Beaster" begins to drop it's 24+" of snow on New York City I'm still replaying yesterday's performance in my head. I like to use this race as a gauge to see how my Boston Marathon training has been going, and what I need to work on and what seems to be working just fine. For starters I ran a PR. Official time was 1:19:01, a personal record of 55 seconds. I ended up in 15th place Overall, back 3 from last year's 12th place finish, and 2nd in my new Age Group. Last year I was able to win the 30-34 Age group with a slower time-showing just how talented a field showed up for this year's race.

Fred Lebowski

     As is usual with this (and so many races) the first 400 meters or so was a lot of jockeying for position, settling into place, and ignoring the sprinters in the lead. After about a mile or two of slightly rolling hills I was settled into a nice chase pack of about 4 or 5 runners. Two of which I made the mistake of underestimating and who took me at the 10 mile mark. It was easy to tell this was going to be a fast race, with the lead out vehicle already completely out of sight by the time we got to the Harlem Hills around mile 4. I was able to drop a few runners in my pack and hung on to the back of a new pack as I moved up a position or two while we descended through the Upper West side, and past the starting point, now about mile 6. I checked my overall pace on my GPS watch and noticed I was holding a 6:02 pace. Last year I had PR'd here by holding 6:07's. "Was this a fool's game?" I thought to myself. Either I was about to pay for my aggressive pace and blow up through the second lap, or I was going to hold this and run a pretty nice PR. To be completely honest, I was confident of a PR, and didn't actually realize just how aggressive I was racing or if I should slow down or speed up. It felt good, so I went with it.
     Right about the 7 mile mark, as the Harlem Hills had broken up my pack I realized I was completely alone. The next runner looked strong, but was at least 100 meters ahead of me. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed my competition was also 100 meters behind me. Great...no man's land. Completely alone, save the little Devil and Angel- one on each shoulder- as they started in with their business. "Quit now! Walk back to baggage check, change into your dry warm ups, and go hang out at the designated meet up spot in Starbucks while you stay warm and wait for all your team mates and friends to come meet you and laugh at you about how you went out too fast and blew up! Its getting painful, and you still have 6 more miles of hills!", the Devil prodded. "Don't listen to him!", the cherub pleaded. "You're somewhere in the top 20 right now. You are running the best half marathon of your life, and your going to give up because it's getting uncomfortable? How do you think everyone else in this race feels?" If only I could stay on pace and get to Mile 8, the Harlem Hills would be the last big challenge. And in what seemed like a blink of an eye, I was powering up the Harlem Hills near Central Park North, slowly starting to lap the walkers, when out of nowhere, a runner with an obvious height to weight disadvantage (think Michael Phelps) to me started passing me. As I looked down at my watch I realized I was slowly giving up time, now struggling to hold 6:13 pace. I held on, only giving up a few seconds and as we finally crested the last big hill and made our descent South, I caught back up, and we absorbed another runner (also built like a swimmer-massive back and shoulders and large arms). I was able to get the words "lets work together to finish this" out, when they both started to pick up the pace. The mile clicked off and we were now were well into mile 10, weaving in and out of hundreds of runners trying to find a hole in the crowd to get the tangent, when I looked at my watch and realized we were now at 5:40 pace. Devil or Angel no longer had any influence, this was a suicide mission to think I could hold this pace for another 2 and a half miles. They had bested me, and all I could think was "I hope they aren't in my age group" (Turns out they were both in the 40-45 age group - proof that younger doesn't always mean faster!). I settled back into a more manageable pace in the mid 5:50's as we hit the 12 Mile mark, and past the starting line for the final time.
     Now weaving in and out of the sea of humanity, I just kept waiting for the break where finishers cut to the left, and those starting their second loop stay to the right. Finally! As I approached the left turn cut-in at 72nd street I knew I had one last finishing kick and was definitely going to PR. But it hadn't occurred to me just where a 6:02 pace would land me. As I kicked into my final sprint, I stared at the clock, clicking away...1:18:57, 1:18:58,  was I actually about to break 1:19? That wasn't even the plan, and just last year I was astonished to break 1:20 for the first time ever. I crossed the line, caught my breath and took a look behind me. The footsteps I heard were only in my head, there was no one behind me for another 39 seconds. I looked again at my watch, and realized I actually hadn't hit stop, but hit "lap", and that my watch was still running. Did I break 1:19? I would have to wait until official results were posted later in the day, to realize I had missed it by a mere 2 seconds. A little cool down, a meet up at Starbucks, and back in the car, Jersey bound.
     And thats's that. I have a new PR. And a new Fred Lebow cycling hat, which I, for one, like. (Yes, I realize I might be the only one the likes it. But I still say it's better than my 400th race shirt.)  I probably won't purchase the pictures but, if you need a visual to my story click here to check out the official race photos. Or maybe don't. I apparently didn't do a good job of getting the gel I took at mile 6 into my mouth and have brown globby stuff all over my teeth and face in the finish line photos. Being a runner of habit, I'll most likely be there again next year, aiming for a new PR, and remembering my first ever Manhattan half in 2008, when I did go out too hard, blew up, and Doug Williams  passed me about mile 12, laughed and asked "what happened to you?" But that's another story for a different day.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lets start at the present

     I've heard it over and over..."Do you have a blog? You should write about your running, your races, and your (mis)adventures as an endurance athlete and coach." I guess I haven't ever pursued this blog for the reasons that: A) I think I'm a pretty lousy writer, B) I don't think anyone would actually care to read about my training, and coaching experiences, and C) Every time I do try to sit down and write something I end up going back after 24 hours, re-reading it, realizing that what I wrote is not very good, and deleting it. So here it goes- my own running blog. Maybe there will be a post here and there about my other big passion, being a drummer, musician, and drum teacher, but generally I've started this blog for the purpose of running related stories. If you want to know about my drumming life click here to go to my website.
     So lets start at the present- Today, Sunday January 18, 2015. Sunday mornings mean one thing for most runners- long runs. With the Fred Lebow Half Marathon only a week away I was aiming for a  run of about 15 Miles today. I headed out of my house for a 7 AM start at a hosted run a member of The Essex Running Club was having at her home in West Caldwell. The course called for a few residential hills before heading to the West Essex Trail for an out and back 6 miles, then back on the streets and hills for some post-run hot oatmeal and home baked carbs, some conversation while we defrosted, then home by 9:30. The weather forecast- not too great. Just hovering around freezing with heavy rain predicted to really start coming down by 10 AM. Sounded like I'd just make it by the skin of my teeth.
     So as I stood shivering in a driveway in West Caldwell NJ, with the freezing rain beginning to fall in the pre dawn cold I eagerly awaited for my training partners to gather and begin our run. The first mile or two we ran at a comfortable pace, conversing, and enjoying the company of my three other running compatriots. Soon it was just myself and one other runner, affectionally nicknamed "Madman" who had already ran 6 miles from his house to get to the start and was looking to run 22 miles in total. (Do I really need to get into the origins of his nickname?) A few wrong turns and an increasingly icy course later we began noticing our traction getting worse by the minute.
     There was the inevitable slipping and sliding, until we realized the street was becoming a solid sheet of ice, as the sidewalks had apparently already been for some time. So along the suburban lawns of western Essex County we continued, slipping and sliding, turning our watches off and on every 30 seconds. (Madman who doesn't turn his watch off at brief stops says we were running at a  10 min + pace.) As I tried to convince him we would be sure to have great footing if only we could finally reach the trail head, and he tried to convince me that this was not only completely pointless but downright dangerous we began to turn back and walk. As we crept across the frozen sidewalk, now about to throw in the towel, we found a small park with two adjacent baseball diamonds. Finally getting some decent traction on the grass we looped and looped and made figure 8's around and around the tiny park for another 4 miles. What had become an aggravating exercise to just stay upright was actually becoming fun again. We traded stories of playing in the rain in our younger days, and wondered who were the bigger idiots: us running around this little park for 15+ laps or the slipping and sliding cars on the nearby street. We both agreed-if not for one another's company this would be a total nightmare.
Your author's failed attempt at rehydration
     As we finally made it back to the hosted run at exactly 10 Miles, we got into some dry clothes, gathered around a warm fireplace, re-loaded up on some homemade carbs, watched runners slide in the door, and swapped stories of how many times we fell, how many miles we didn't complete, and checked our phones to read the official reports of how bad it all really was. The salt spreader who glided into 3 cars, the runner from our club who was picked up on her way home by a good Samaritan in his brand new SUV only to slide and crash it minutes later, the reports of slippery ice covered streets, the 38 car pileup on the Turnpike, and the 400 reported car accidents. Suddenly those extra 5 miles I didn't run didn't seem to matter. I was warm, safe, with friends, and about to finally get into the car and drive home now that the travel restrictions had been lifted and the roads finally safe to navigate. Madman of course ran his 6 Miles back home. (I still don't need to explain the nickname, do I?)
     So my first race of 2015 is now 7 days away, and I guess you can say I started my taper by default. The forecast calls for dry, but cold conditions this week, and on race day. Will it really matter as I'm racing in Central Park next weekend that I was forced to cut my run short? Probably not. I finally got the inspiration I needed to start up this blog, and I've added another story to my arsenal about playing in the rain in my younger days. After all the training and suffering we do isn't it mostly about having fun and spending time with friends anyway?