Racing in the rain vs Sunshine: A review of the Popular Brooklyn Half

An ideal spring race day would boast an average of 65° temps and be cool and overcast. Lovely right? Lovely and rare. Most runners know we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature on any given day; we can plan and strategize as much as we want, but when it comes down to it – when we stand at the start line of a race- our run is dictated primarily by the weather conditions with ability and efficiency coming in second. I’ve had three races so far this year that have left me in little doubt of that fact.

Last Saturday around 25,000 of us ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon to the tune of pouring rain. Now, I’ll be honest, this was my fourth time running this race and while the course was consistent in its wretchedness in the latter half, it was the first time I felt better able to deal with that part of it. All credit to the rains that never let up. Past races on this course have either been hot or humid, not true of this past one and I was only too glad. Seems, for running, I’m partial to cool weather conditions even if it’s wet as oppose to running with sunshine or in the heat, and please, never when it’s freezing rain.

Conditions at the start of the race were wet and hazy that Saturday morning and one couldn’t really be sure how things would progress. Granted, there was a lot of shivering going on, but it was manageable. We knew it would feel much better once we started to run and thankfully it did. What proved treacherous was navigating the puddles and oftentimes slippery roads. I soon gave up that fruitless struggle and committed to running with soaked and squishy shoes. The advantage of running in the rain is that because one need not be concerned with the perils of heat exhaustion, energy can be better utilized focusing on maximizing running efficiency, thus improving pace. And so, once I chuffed my preoccupation with soggy-less shoes, I was able to run and let the chips fall where they may. This strategy allowed me to really enjoy running in Prospect Park and have a really good first half, hills and all. Unfortunately, it didn’t last; though I did feel great up to mile 10. As usually happens with me on Ocean Parkway, the final stretch to Coney Island, I started to lose steam, and myself a bit, as it seemed that stretch would go on forever. With no end or variety in sight, it took all I had and then some to try to stay under an eight minute mile. I managed to do so to finish in 1:39 but I remain hugely disappointed that I couldn’t improve my time by two minutes.

I feel certain that this was the race to get the personal best I’ve been chasing since last year, except there’s something that I’m doing that’s not working. I’m committed to figuring out what the heck it is and so it stands to reason that I’m looking to my diet, sleep, and/or training to get the answers. I mean we had near-perfect running conditions yet I couldn’t deliver on the time. Meanwhile, after crossing the finish line, while I was a bit breathless, I was perfectly fine in under five minutes. I was neither in pain nor exhausted. I felt great. That begs the question, why then wasn’t I able to push more feeling as good as I was at the end? I’m not sure but it’s a question I mean to have answered.

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Taking NYC Half Marathon Lessons to Boston

Three weekends ago over 30 thousand runners ran the new course from Prospect Park, Brooklyn through the streets of New York City, into Times Square to finish NYRR’s (New York Road Runners) famous NYC half marathon in Central Park.

It’s a morning that I will remember for some time to come. Starting out cold and windy, runners were left to improvise at the start with triple layers, blankets, heat sheets and various oddities with one aim in mind, that of not freezing to death, or at the very least, keeping the blood flowing so leg muscles wouldn’t cramp or freeze up. The weather wasn’t that much of a surprise, this race has always been a cold one, but what threw a lot of us off was the brutality of the cold, which was February-like in its intensity. With real-feel temperatures in the teens there wasn’t much we could do but run, run and hope like hell that it would warm up a little and the wind would be kind. This leads to lesson 1: Plan B is hugely important. Extreme temperatures requires plan and goal adaptations, which quite likely means a change in running strategy.

The new course proved that most times different is good. It made for interesting running with new sights, or at least sights seen from a different angle, and many unsuspecting spectators in midtown Manhattan. Bless the hearts of all those who came out in their numbers to support and cheer along the course. They helped me navigate the head and cross winds and to dig deeper when the going got rough. I felt that if they weren’t running yet were willing to brave the cold to support those who were, then it was only right that I give it my best shot. One thing I definitely will take with me is lesson 2: No future pit stops to use the toilet. I’ve always been good at running without that necessity but for some strange reason, that morning, coming off the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn, at around mile 3, I had to go. Huge mistake; for though there were toilets lined up on the side, and while I jumped the railings to get to them, since there was no visible entry, and almost face-planted for my efforts, they were all locked save for one – the last one I tried out of a whole slough.. I sincerely lost about 8-10 minutes there and never really recovered. On the other hand, I felt really good about my hydration, there were adequate water stops, a gel station, and amazing volunteers behind those tables along the course. It is absolutely true that the race would not have been what it was without them. Lessons 3: Giving back blesses not only the one who receives but the giver as well. I am super appreciative to volunteers who give of their time and sacrifice their comfort for us runners.

As I head into Boston this weekend, I’m also mindful of being thankful for the opportunity to be there and to be able to participate in this amazing race for the third time. I remain committed to running my best race and to lesson 4: Never take a race for granted, no matter how much times you’ve run it before, or get complacent with a course. Have a healthy respect for it and always approach it with a strategy that it may become necessary to tweak.

It’s so important to see the opportunity for learning and development in every area of life and running is no different. If the goal is to be a better runner then there’s no better place to learn than in the field.

March-ING on!

Source: pop sugar.com

Gotta say I’ve been ready for Spring since the ending of January. And now that March is here, I’m talking myself into its sights and sounds wherever I go. But darn it… the weather just won’t cooperate. I can do rain. What I can’t do is cold rain and the snow/sleet that accompanies it, along with the crazy wind we’ve been getting. One can only hope it’s on its way out. Meanwhile, there’s been lots of running so as to keep up with my first official race of the year – the NYC Half Marathon – happening this Sunday.

Ambivalence seems to be the order of the day as I’m not sure how to feel. Part of me is excited about the new course for this race – a new course is always a thrill – on the other hand, past experience has left me in chills. Literally. The timing of this race almost always ensures it’s a cold one. One can only hope for a miracle of sorts this time around. Weather projections aside however, there’s the usual pomp & excitement that comes with runners taking over the streets of NYC – running through Times Square never gets old, and now we get to explore different parts of the city as well. No more West Side Highway and Seaport or Financial District for me. I think many of us will not miss that too much, if at all, since running near the water is no one’s idea of a fun race on a cold day. That being said, I’m not sure if it’s wise to describe this as a fun run. Well..maybe so, maybe not, it all depends on perspective. Since I’d love to run a PR I’m not looking for too much of excitement. But hey, I’m not opposed to having a bit of fun out there on the course if time allows, which it probably won’t and that’s not the view of a pessimist. On the contrary, I’m always optimistic about my runs, maybe too much so some might say. In any and every event, I’m hoping for a good race and plan on spending this week relaxing the running, doing a bit more cross training, eating well, and getting to bed earlier. Notice I didn’t say early, because that’s near impossible, but earlier will ensure I get between 6-7 hours sleep per night in order to be able to execute a good race.

Race-preparedness means that I’d do well to look over the course, devise a running strategy and a few days before (like Thursday) go through my race checklist to make sure everything’s squared away and I’m ready to go. Most likely, I’ll enjoy a short, easy run on Saturday morning, about 3-5 miles – mainly because it’s become more of a tradition before my races, but also because it simply makes me feel better.

There really is no magic to this sport. You train, eat well, rest and allow the body to recover, and then just go out there on D-day and give it your best. At least that’s what I plan on doing. Wish me luck!

Ready, Set, Run-ning Gear

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.

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.

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!

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