Running Shenanigans in D.C.

I ran..well rode..away to Washington last weekend amidst the snow here in New York to take part in a small half marathon on the trail along the Ohio – Chesapeake River canal in Georgetown. Turns out, I’ve done smarter things considering the proximity of our nation’s capital to New York. It snowed, turned slush, and ice, while temperatures stayed well below freezing. Yet still we ran. I think a case can be made for the ridiculous extreme some are willing to embrace in pursuit of a goal. I’d be the first to shout, “guilty!”

In any event, after an early pasta dinner the night before and 7 hours of sleep, I got up early, had breakfast at the hotel, which was 10 minutes away, and took a uber to the start. Not one for standing around waiting to run, much less in freezing weather, I was glad I didn’t get there too early as runners shivered through their warm ups while the Marathon and 7K took off. Soon after at around 8:30 am it was my turn in the half-marathon. I had enough time before the race started to second guess my decision to run without my gloves and phone. By start time, I decided I couldn’t do without them and wrapped in my heat sheet headed out.

Let me just say, trails I love; mud, water, and ice, not so much. From the get go it was a battle to stay sure-footed and not end up on my face. Trying to avoid slipping and sliding meant I had to pay careful attention to foot placement and try to keep to firmer ground, which was impossible for most of the run. Tried though I did, I couldn’t help slowing down in the muddy and wet areas and tried picking off runners and focusing on how pretty everything looked covered in snow, and not on the challenge of running faster and breather harder. Only at the mile 6 marker and turnaround did I get rid of the heat sheet – it took that long to warm up – and I immediately felt a bit lighter. It didn’t help too much overall though, as I still struggled to finish in the time I had hoped for, finally succumbing to a slower pace in miles 10, 11, and 12, only to finish faster on the last 1.1 mile. In retrospect, the miles where I slowed down were crucial to my goal and I should have sucked it up and forged ahead at my average (until that point) of 7:30 min p/mile. However, I dropped down to 7:43 and ended up in a sad 18th place out of 162.

One week later, and my last chance of 2018 gone, I remain extremely miffed with my performance that day and this year in general. I can only hope that the new year will bring greater opportunities and smarter and faster running as I’m in it for the long haul and remain committed to chasing PR dreams.

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Chasing the elusive PR at Queens Half Marathon

Two Sundays ago I ran the Queens Half Marathon put on by NYC RUNS here in the borough of Queens in New York. It was only my second race with this organization, the first being a not-very-wow experience, but they offered a certified course to qualify for the NYC Marathon 2018 so I wasn’t averse to sucking it up to get my coveted entry. Two things happened that sorta surprised me – if that’s the right word. Firstly, the race was run way better than I expected, not by me, but by the organizers and amazing volunteers. And secondly, despite the great course, I was once again disappointed with my inability to PR and get the qualifying time I needed so badly. I have to say, this year has not been kind to me in the PR department, pun intended, I’ve had too many near-misses. Though, in all honesty, it hasn’t been all bad even though those good races haven’t amounted to much really. However, I was happy that this race was at least a good one, one I wouldn’t mine running again next year minus the cold.

Race morning dawned with frigid temperatures and had hundreds of us, who were brave enough to get out to the start in Flushing Meadows Park for a god-forsaken 5:30 am, shivering and wondering who the heck we had murdered to be deserving of such punishment. But in true out-of-our-minds runner’s style we sucked it up and passed the time trying to warm up and blowing out icy breaths. Properly corralled, we started out around 7:10 and pretty soon took to the streets of Queens. Because I’ve never raced in the Queens community before, I was really thrilled to be out among other runners embracing, what I consider, my home. Surprisingly, in spite of the chilly temps, there were quite a bit of supporters out cheering at various points throughout the course. We were also treated to random pop-up bands – small as they were – you really learn to appreciate all supporters when you’re out there slugging it out, and really incredible volunteers, who despite the cold, were out on the course at intervals handing out water, Gatorade, gels and tons of support. They were simply amazing, and helped to make sure that we had a fantastic run.

For my part, I felt I had a very strong race for the first nine miles after which things got a bit dicey. I had two hiccups with my gel falling around mile 9.5, after a few steps I missed it and had to run back, then the water cup slipped out of my hand at mile 11 and I stopped to grab another. On both occasions, I lost momentum and felt that the run got harder and my pace slower. The last mile saw me struggling to keep pace and I really feel it was then that I lost the battle for a 1:37:00 finish. Up till mile 9, I was able to lose myself in the new course and enjoy running though Queens neighborhood, parks, and around the cemetery and the botanical garden. It was when we entered Citi Field and had to meander our way through and back to the start that I had a more difficult time. As is more often the case than not, I fell short of a perfect run but managed to have a good time for the most part. The last 800 meters proved to be my fastest and most enjoyable coming into the finish area to the cheers of the crowds lining the path, marred only by my glace up to the clock, which indicated that my PR dream would not be realized that day after all. I was off by two minutes and six seconds.

We were met with food in the finish area after collecting our medals and really the only thing missing was hot drinks, since it felt even colder then and I felt like I’d have given up my medal for a hot chocolate at that point. Suffice to say, we had to settle for heat sheets and messed up as I was about my time I was in no mood to hang around and chit chat in the cold. Thus, I hustled off to collect my gear from the baggage area, change into something that wasn’t wet, and get the heck out of there to find some warmth. Eternal optimist that I am, I think it wasn’t too bad of a day’s run, after all there’s always tomorrow.

Back In the Game and training for a half-marathon PR

 

It’s been forever since I’ve trained for a half-marathon. So long in fact that this past week found me searching out advice on the best approach to training for a goal time come October 8. The chips are down and I’m back in training mode and ready to run. This is sure to be different from what I’ve become used as I’m now focusing on shorter tempo runs and speed work minus the famed long runs. Although, I’ll still be doing a bit of the long runs, only not as much, as I have another race–my yearly charity run–that same month. Double Yikes! I have never ran a half and full marathon in the same month before. Even so, my goal is centered on the half and so training is geared towards increasing speed and performance for 13.2 miles.

It’s incredible how quickly the year is flying by. My plea remains, “Why the rush?” I’m only just beginning to embrace Summer and all that it means. Never mind the temperate weather patterns we’ve been experiencing. I’d love to hang out here a bit in the sun, kicking the waves and dallying in the sand under the blue skies. Alas, that seems but a fleeting reality, which I’ll have to grab before it is but a distant memory. Pretty soon it’ll be August and then we’ll start counting down the weeks to race day. For now, I’ll hunker down in training and try to catch some waves on the weekend as much as I can–after training of course. Here’s a quick look at what my half-marathon training will look like:

  • Mon – 3 easy miles and cross training (body pump gym class)
  • Tues – 5 mile tempo run (increasing by 1 mile weekly)
  • Wed – 5.5 miles speed work (intervals or hills)
  • Thur – 6-8 miles (half-marathon pace on weeks where tempo run is on Sat otherwise off day)
  • Fri – cross training (cycling/yoga/rowing/abs workout/weights)
  • Sat – 10 mile tempo run (increasing every other week to accommodate for marathon training at marathon pace)
  • Sun – rest day
Naturally, a lot of this running is being done during late evenings on account of work as well as to escape the summer heat. It’s simply a bonus that I happen to enjoy night runs. Additionally, I have the added challenge of fitting in my cross fit training into this tight schedule. Since I’m fully committed to each of these projects, it’ll be interesting to see them all meld together into a perfect training plan that produces the results I’m striving for. I’ll admit my energy and anxiety levels are doing battle for prominence but this is my plan and I’m sticking to it.

Reviewing Ragnar Cape Cod: 200 miles in 24:11:56

Team ‘Merica

Last weekend I journeyed to The Cape for some Ragnar fun and found my inner wild and then some. Typically, these events take some planning and organizing and I’m grateful that our team had an amazing organizer for had it been left to me, I would have been too stressed with the logistics to run. As it is, our guy didn’t run but only because he was recovering from an injury. Thankfully, all I had to do was pitch in, show up, run and have fun; pretty easy stuff really and totally done.

A group of eleven of us split into two vans and left the city early Friday morning. Our intention was to make it to Nantasket Beach, where the race began, in time to check-in, grab a snack and get a few photos in before start time at 2pm. We did too, with just a few minutes to spare, and after an orientation video and a few pics, our first guy headed out amidst much fanfare for a short but fast 4.9 miles. We divided into two groups, whereby the first van held all the runners running the first leg, which was five of us, while van two held the second group. From then on we paced ourselves from point to point, to simultaneously meeting our runner while dropping off the next one as part of the relay. Van 2 went ahead to meet up at the first change-over for leg 2, and I suspected,  to get some food in.

I was next up and we were just able to make the change. Since this was my first time running this type of event, I had little idea what to expect and was pretty anxious and uncertain while running. Turned out it was much ado about nothing as save for my underlying anxiety, it was pretty routine running, just in uncharted territory, which made for an interesting run. I had a couple early kills (passing other runners) and made my 6.4 miles in about 46 minutes. Not bad for a rookie!

My most anxious moment came when it was my turn to run at 2am. Though we got decked out in lights, reflector vests and head lamps, I couldn’t help but be nervous about running under darkness. I will probably never forget it. There’s nothing quite like being able to hear yourself think. What started out as cold, about 40℉ soon warmed up as I concentrated on staying the course and not getting lost. It helped that I passed a few runners along the way and even got passed by one speedster, that way I was sure I was in the right track. Of course there were markers but the dead of night can play crazy tricks with you given that they’re not manned and there’s no one at all to question or to give directions. It’s not hard to figure that your senses would be hyper-alert as a result.

It’s crazy though, running in the dark: the utter stillness of the night, the darkness covers you like a blanket, the air smells sharp and crisp and one could be forgiven for thinking it all a dream. However the constant whisk of the wind as I sped on by was evidence enough that it was real alright. I recall peering into the darkness attempting to sift some shape out of well..nothing..but knowing that just beyond there was something, something worth seeing, but that darn it, I couldn’t make out a thing. Only the occasional bobbing headlight or flash of light from a fellow runner, or what I hoped was a runner, kept me from total isolation. In fact, that might have been among my fastest 4.7 miles, which ended on a high note.

I was up again at 7am for a double stretch of 11.9 miles total. Not my idea of a perfect run coming from what amounted to a few hours dozing in the van, but the idea was floated and I succumbed to treating it as a medium-long run of sorts. Not my smartest move without sleep and food (breakfast), so while the first half of the run was good, the second half was tough and not helped by the last two hilly miles. However, I survived, earned my bragging rights and wrapped up my mileage with around twenty-two miles.

For the rest of the race, I was cheerleader, supporter and even went back for a run with another team member to encourage one of our runners and help bring her home on a tough leg.

We wrapped up our two hundred miles around 2:25pm on Saturday in Provincetown and everyone was definitely happy to be finished and we’re ready for beers as we moved to meet our final leg runner, who had a really tough last leg of 9 miles. He killed it at a 6:25 p/min pace and was pretty much cooked at that point. We all celebrated with a run up the last stretch and headed into the Ragnar finish area for food, drinks and medals and spent a couple of hours doing photos and recon – talking about highs and lows as we ate.

It was the coolest thing to be a part of that running extravaganza and get to see all the teams that had finished – others were still running – and to swap stories and grab some swag. Eventually, we made it out of there and headed to crash for the night, at a local airbnb which consisted of more beers and wine and pizza and wings and showers and some pictionary and ultimately a movie. For my part, movie aside, my lights were out at 10:30pm; it had been a while since I had slept that early.

We were up at 6:30am next morning to showers for mother’s day and to cold pizza for a pre breakfast. True teamwork spirit in effect, we were out of there and in the car wash by 8am and heading back to New York soon after we stopped and grabbed some breakfast at a local breakfast shop; 200 miles accounted for.

Official Finish Photo
Team ‘Mercia

Running into Adventure this Summer with Obstacle Racing

Source: cloudlineapparel.com

Time goes on and so must we. A truer saying does not exist. It’s May-day – my way of ushering in the first day of May – and we’re one giant step closer to Summer. Oh the running possibilities that this awakens in my adventure-craving soul.

In the wake of both the Boston and London Marathons, many of us may feel a sort of push to run – to up our game or even to switch things up and say, maybe, compete? Maybe it’s neither of those but surely in the wake of such Kenyan greatness,  and for sure they dominated prized placings in both races, some of us have figured to find our own little niche to excel in and maybe even have some fun with. If so, I think you’re on the right track; for what’s running if you can’t enjoy some of it at the very least? Despite what non-runners may think, we’re not crazy, running can be fun!

Source: theclymb.com

Summer presents some fun opportunities for runners. While there aren’t much in the way of long-distance races, such as the marathon or other ultra running events, in the hot months ahead, in these United States, there are a variety of running events tailored to the fun-loving adventurer in each of us. Whether you decide to trek cross-country or stay local there are lots of running choices. Some popular ones that feature across the country at various and different times include: Ragnar Relay Races, Obstacle Races, which includes Mud Runs such as Reebok Spartan Race, Rugged Maniac,Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Savage Race, The Color Run, Foam Fest, Night Runs, and some even include biking. There are many others that are spin-offs and/or localized versions of these races.

Whichever or whatever you decide, even if you choose to sit these out – truly your loss – you should endeavor to get outside. Go walking, hiking, camping, swimming, riding, surfing, learn a local sport – take up soccer or baseball. On the other hand, should you choose the fun way out, make sure to bring your A game ( best effort) and best attitude to make sure you have the best experience and maybe fall in love and develop a life-long habit along the way?

As an aside, note that while adventure/ obstacle races are not endurance races, they are challenging and are strength and skill-based and requires participants to be fit and have some knowledge of extreme sports and training in some of the activities involved. Thank goodness that they’re pretty short on average or you team up and assign legs, though that in no way detracts from the skill element. They require determination, commitment – both financial and physical, and your spirit of competition and fun of course. Also, be ready to travel and overnight over a couple of days sometimes. My recommendation? Get busy, tag a team and get to planning. One last note, these races are extra fun with friends or team-mates. So team up, Summer is about to happen for you!

The Run of Champions: A Recap of the Boston Marathon ’17

Photo by Madeline Bills, Boston Daily

Most times when you run a race there’s a clear case of “hated it” or “loved it” only rarely are you caught in the middle, ambiguous about where on the running experience spectrum it belongs. My Boston run this year falls somewhere along the lines of amazing and disappointing.

@the start line

No surprise that the disappointment was all due to the weather, which, in all honesty, was hardly surprising as for days leading up to the event we were made aware of the impending warm temperatures. Of course one can always hope as in instances such as these, that maybe, just maybe, it won’t be as bad as all that. It turned out to be maddeningly so, though it felt slightly better than last year, or maybe I was just better prepared. Whichever it was, I’m thankful that I had a better experience.

The truth is, it was amazing. I can find no fault with organizers as the race was seamlessly executed and we were treated to the full effect of phenomenal volunteers and spectators along the course. It’s hardly the organizers fault that the sun graced us with its unabashedly glorious presence from the moment we disembarked the busses at Athletes Village until about mile 22. I did then what every runner had to do, which was adjust my expectations and my strategy – got comfortable with the idea and was able to enjoy the race – for the most part.

Spectators @ Framingham, Massachusetts. (Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images), abc2news.com

The cheers helped tremendously, so did the endless supply of Gatorade and water, both from the amazing volunteers and the awesome spectators. And then there was the sprinklers and open fire hydrants and soaked sponges and wet paper towels and the ices and the list goes on and on. Even the dreaded heartbreak hill and the other minor mountains didn’t seem so bad at all. In fact, the steady down hills for the first half of the race proved more difficult and taxing on my prevailing runner’s knee issue, that flared up during those said miles, than when the course was flat or uphill.

In the end, it was the sure knowledge that I was in Boston and approaching Bolyston Street and the finish line that bolstered the last mile and saw me running it in my fastest time since mile 3. Nothing like running down the home stretch to the uproar and cheers from a sea of spectators rooting for you every step of the way.

Running Inspiration: Ed Whitlock

Ed Whitlock @ the 2016 Toronto Marathon (competitor.com)

Inspiration abounds, you have only to look around.

There is nothing more disappointing or wasted than an unfulfilled dream or unrealized goal. Now imagine going through life not once allowing yourself the chance to see where “it” could have taken you; by “it” I mean that dream or goal that started as a little seed, planted by some per chance wind somewhere in the deep recesses of your psyche. I have a theory that many of us will never achieve our full or real potential, that fear and/or the lack of motivation and inspiration will be the chief deterrents to our success and happiness. However, that is another issue. Here we’ll focus on how, despite that theory, there are those who will go on to inspire, motivate and encourage others to greatness, even in spite of themselves, as was the case with Ed Whitlock, an older Canadian long distance runner and Master, who died in March.

The running world has indeed lost a great soldier and runner in Ed. Without much fanfare but with a lot of heart, he set about running, on and off over his lifetime, a simple life as he termed it – and incurred a host of records to his name and the history books in his latter years and leading up to his death. Over a course of about twenty years from ages 65 to 85 he acquired single-age world records for the 5K, half marathon, and marathon. What is particularly fascinating about Ed is that he never employed any expensive, extensive or intricate system or even had a secret to his success, he simply had a passion for running, was good at it, and had the ability. As far as he was concerned, he just ran and would argue against being called an inspiration by those of us who revered him. Simplicity and humility more than any specific training regimen seemed to be Ed’s modus operandi. I would argue that his investments, unlike so many current-day runners, never graduated to high-tech or inventive methods to improve efficiency or performance but stayed modest and relatively unchanged over the years. Old sneakers, a relatively normal diet, the average shorts and tank in good weather, slightly more for the colder temps, and a body fully engaged in continuous running motion at a steady pace were in essence his tools of trade. He went on to die of prostate cancer at the age of 86, a few months after running a sub 4:00 marathon time.

It would be a mistake if we did not take a step back and see what we can learn from Ed’s life and running ethic. If we want to honor his memory, we would do well to adopt at the very least his modesty and passion for what he believed in, his ability to defy convention and worldly standards. Ed proved once and for all that the only limits that exist are the ones we place on ourselves; that while we operate within the confines of life, we are solely responsible for our choices, attitudes and perspective. Ed chose to live his life each day limitless, ran when he could, as well as he could, where he could and he did it as long as he could. He did it his way.

Ed Whitlock @ Rotterdam Marathon
(globalnews.ca.com) The Canadian Press

A 15K with a Kick

Saturday gone, I ran the annual 15K put on by the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC) here in New York. Suffice to say, sometimes it pays to just dive in while other times it could be a monumental mistake. In this case I think my tendency to the impromptu turned out fine though I wouldn’t always bet on it. Deciding on Thursday that I would do a race on Saturday is not mired in good, well-thought-out decision-making but then I hardly make any such claim. Fanciful, impulsive, adventurous, committed, and a host of other attributes I can attest to, but always being sensible and cautious would not describe me – not by a long shot. Hence why I found myself standing outside in below freezing temperatures in Kings Park out on Long Island Saturday morning.
I was to see that my friends and I weren’t the only crazy ones making rash decisions; more and more runners kept filing in to the school compound which served as the base and start and finish area. Now in all honesty, this is a course I’ve run before. A few months back, a group of runners invited me out there for a long run and we pretty much ate up the course. Hilly, but only nine miles, it went pretty hard and fast. What we did not have then was the weather factor, which turned the tide of the run this time around.
We began in15℉ with real feel temperatures of 2 degrees. Blisteringly cold, I figured it was smart to ration my heat and wrapped myself in a heat sheet to run the first couple of miles, except it lasted about three-quarters of a mile before the wind became too much and said sheet became more of a hindrance than the help it was originally intended for. I had to dump it and face losing feeling in my face, feet and fingers. Despite my strategy of taking it easy on the hills/inclines, it slowly became harder to breathe with intermittent head and cross winds at various intervals and it took a mean mind to keep one foot in front of the other and not give in to the urge to stop and walk.  Add to that the snow and ice on the ground, in some areas, and what should have been a simple challenging run ended up being hazardous. There was little choice but to go into self-preservation mode to guard against getting injured. I reduced my pace – to a crawl really – for about a mile with three miles to go and finished up with a blistering dash in a time of 1:16.
 
We can all agree that the best part of racing in sub-temperatures is finishing and getting to enjoy the post-run eats and hot drinks. The organizers didn’t disappoint offering quite the spread to chase the chills and any discomfort away, so much so that we hung around for the official results ceremony and the raffle and giveaways. Turns out, this is one time my rash decision-making proved to be a bit of a chill running experience.

 

Racing with the Snow

“Bid me run and I will strive with things impossible.” Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

I woke up this morning smack dab in the middle of winter! I exaggerate. Seems snow tends to make fools of us all since it’s been setting up like that for the past few days, and but for my head in the proverbial sand, I would have seen it coming. Oh mother of wisdom – to sign up for a race in this crazy weather. Oh well, deal with it, I’m told; that’s what runners do best anyway. So, here I am – well within my element I guess – if I could just get this ugh hair appointment out-of-the-way, get a cross-training class in and get on to the chilling out pre race day part. See, I have such great plans, they just have to work out that way.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m running a half-marathon tomorrow with which I hope to qualify for the New York City marathon next year. Since the qualifying window closes on Dec 31, it’s kind of do or die..well maybe not die, but close. I get no do overs, not this year at least. Am I ready? As much as I’ll ever be in this weather. I’ve been pretty constant with running and though I haven’t been in full-out training mode since October, I’ve maintained a minimum level, which I believe is enough to bring it home tomorrow. The unknown element remains the course and how it pans out after the snow and rain today.

In keeping with tradition, I’ve had the huge pasta dinner and after resting up some, I’m ready for bed. Pretty early for me, but again it’s all part of tradition and good sense. Wish me luck!

What’s Running In December

Socks4Life.com

Socks4Life.com

Why, Hello December! The month of sugar and spice and everything nice – we’re hoping anyway and praying as far as running is concerned. I figure we’re in good stead this being the month we celebrate Jesus’ birth and all, plus the weather has been pretty decent so far. Hope is alive and the runner in me celebrates this with a happy run and a slight adjustment to end of year goals.

Truly, I’m not making this up on the fly nor do I believe I’m alone in my mid-goal pivot. I have always believed that it is the person who is able to grasp opportunities as they are presented that is more often than not successful in his/her endeavors. Of course it’s always a bit risky to veer off a predetermined path but you’ll never discover your strengths or true potential if you never challenge yourself to discover the badass within. And the truth is, we all have that person in us. It may take different things to incite us to action, but that’s only because we’re all uniquely different and does not speak to any timidity or lack of initiative in us. I firmly believe that runners are by far an enterprising lot. Consider the  tenacity it takes to train for a race and the sometimes brutal conditions we must endure only to fall short on race day. Our response, usually, is to right away sign up for the next race with as little fanfare as possible – tenacity is only outdone by the determination to minimize the achievement. So I’m in awesome company I know.

To this end, I had no problem on deciding  to push up my decision to qualify for the TCS NYC Marathon 2017 this month. With not a lot of options left in terms of races to choose from, limited time left to qualify and with the weather at its uncertain best, it will take a lot of faith and some crazy running to pull this off. I think I’m up for the challenge though. Since I’ve opted to go the half-marathon entry route, it’s crunch time with training and racing happening all in the next couple weeks.

The rest of the month will find me keeping my Wednesday group runs, doing speed work twice a week in Central Park, weather permitting, and getting a long run in on the weekend. I usually add some cross-training somewhere in there to mix things up a bit. So far, so good; while I’m optimistic we’ll close off the year in good spirits, so much depends on the weather. Hopefully, my optimism is contagious and that will only bring good running.🙏

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