Friday, July 29, 2016

With Renewed Vigor

In addition to reminding you of trips to places you’ll probably never get back to, ex’s you’re no longer with and relatives and pets who have passed, Facebook will also remind you if you have a blog that you haven’t written in for some time.  The reminder is not much.  Facebook is not pushy but Facebook IS persistent.  Just a little reminder every day that says, You are lazy. 

So I am returning. 


1) I miss it.  There are parts of me that enjoy writing (my fingers do not enjoy it, which makes typing awkward) 

2) I’m attempting to do something difficult in my life and can use the blog to keep me honest. 

3) It’s my sister’s birthday.  She’s the one who inspired me to start distance running in the first place and continues
to inspire me to run today.

So I had stopped writing for a few reasons but did not stop racing.  One of the reasons I stopped writing was because I hadn’t really been training.  Training is what happens between races.  It’s the hard part that no one wants to do.  It’s fairly difficult to keep writing I didn’t get to the gym/run today but will try harder tomorrow.  Rather than train so I had something to write about, it was easier to stop writing about it.  I kept racing because racing is fun, I just wasn’t putting in the work in between to make sure I had the best races I could. 

My race schedule for 2015 (when I last wrote) was light mostly due to my toddlers.  Lack of time, lack of money, lack of sleep.  I did however complete two marathons, New Jersey in May and New York in November, both of which were new personal bests for me.  These two races sandwiched the Walkway Marathon in Poughkeepsie which will go down in the books as a DNF.  Race day was extremely humid which didn’t help but more importantly, I wasn’t locked in mentally.  The more you train, the harder it gets to quit but I wasn’t training.  I also had some stuff going on at work which was distracting me from being in the moment.  Somewhere around mile 11 I realized that although I could probably make it another 15 miles, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to wander around Poughkeepsie for another 3+ hours.  I walked into an aide station and announced that I was giving up.  I regret it and will go back for round 2 one day. 

The 2016 race schedule has been light as well.  The first race of the year was cancelled due to weather conditions.  My third race of the year, which will always be known by me as the Coogan’s Run although NYRR calls it something else, seemed like an easy race to finish and a quick way to pick up credit for the 9+1 to run the NYC Marathon in 2017.  I had been experiencing some issues with numbness in my left leg from the knee down.  I was diagnosed by Dr. Internet as having piriformis syndrome, a numbness in my lower leg due to an unexplained compression of nerves in my hip socket.  I rested for a week or so before the race and stretched to try to free the nerve. Going into the race, I had also been experiencing what I thought to be a hyperextended knee caused by a vigorous session on an elliptical machine which will remain nameless.  I was beat up but figured I was capable of completing a 5K.  My running style has been self-described as “Grim Determination” so a short distance like this one, even injured, was of no concern.

I arrived in Washington Heights ready to run.  When I run, I know two times: my personal best for that distance and my personal best for that particular course.  My 5K PB was recorded during a race at MetLife Stadium which makes sense as I was amped because the race is finished by scoring a touchdown (running into the end zone) and because the course is very flat through the parking lot outside of the stadium.  In comparison, the Coogan’s course is incredibly hilly and less likely to result in personal bests.  Also, I wasn’t in as good shape as when I got the PB in New Jersey.  I started out, felt good and was enjoying my race.  At some time toward the end of Mile 2, I felt numbness in my left leg.  Looking at my watch, I was also on pace to set a new PB for the course.  I continued to run although I couldn’t really feel my foot.  I felt relatively okay for the next week and then fell asleep on the train the following Friday.  It must have been the way my knee was bent but when I woke up 25 minutes later, I was in intense pain and was having a hard time walking.  I made appointments with an orthopedist and an MRI was ordered.  They found this:

There was a sleestak living in my knee. 

Okay, I have already used that joke.  From the picture you can see the spot the arrow’s pointing to, there are some whitish spots which indicate a wintry mix of ice and snow and as always, there is congestion on the Cross Bronx Expressway.  If you study the picture long enough, you’ll believe that the guy sitting next to Jesus is actually Mary Magdalene.

Actual diagnosis: partially torn ACL, torn meniscus, torn cartilage.  I also had an impressively large (doctor’s evaluation, not mine) Baker’s Cyst on the back of my knee which was largely responsible for the lack of flexibility.  I also found out I have discoid meniscus which is the awesomest name for a band ever. 

I was told to see a PT and do rehab for five weeks and then a decision would be made regarding surgery.  I didn’t quite make it to a therapist but after the initial pain subsided and some mobility returned, I started walking a lot during my lunch break at work and eventually returning to the gym.  I switched orthopedists and after looking at my MRI, my new orthopedist recommended microfracture surgery.  He rattled off a few athletes who had the surgery including Alan Houston and Mo Vaughn.  If my memory serves me correctly, both had their careers cut short by knee issues.  Also, my knee didn’t hurt that much.  There was still some pain from time to time but it was more reminiscent of tendinitis than an injury which required surgery.  After looking at my MRI, I wondered how similar my healthy knee would look.  Was this damage new or was it something I’d been living with for some time that only came to light because I had my first MRI on my knee? 

Long story short, I decided that if I was going to have the microfracture surgery, it was going to be because I was in pain or because I couldn’t run anymore.  I finished the Queens 10K with no knee pain during the race or in the week after.  I didn’t set a PB for the course or the distance but I ran it faster than other 10Ks I have run while healthy.  I decided that it is not yet the time for surgery.
               Since then, I’ve been formulating a plan to get myself in position to run a few more races this year specifically the Chicago and New York Marathons.  If I had the surgery, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in Chicago and New York would have most likely have been a DNF as I’d have no time to train and about 4 months of limited activity prior.
               There are 71 days until the Chicago Marathon.  My plan is to drop weight and do as much as I can to strengthen my legs to take pressure off my knee while not making the injury much worse.  That’s a good plan for life in general, I think. 

Anyway, welcome back.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fred's Half or How to Run 13.1 Miles without Really Trying

Heading into the Fred Lebow Half Marathon on the 25th, I kept hearing the same thing from the people running it: “I’m not ready.”  I was in the same boat.  I’d worked out three times since the NYC Marathon in November.  Once was the Rocky 10K, then once at White Plains High School and once at the gym.   I prayed for snow but not enough fell at the right time.  If I hadn’t already completed the distance, there’s more than a decent chance that I would have skipped it.  Instead, I went out and ran.  It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be (actually got a pretty good sweat going) and barely cramped while employing a run walk method. 

Initially, I was going run 3 walk 1 but there was a point towards the middle where I moved to walk 1 run 1.  I feel right now like I need to exercise my toughness more than anything because there were times when my body felt like it could go but my brain just didn’t want to.  It wasn’t the slowest half I’ve ever finished either which was surprising.  I felt sore for a day or so before returning more or less to normal.  Returning to normal didn’t get me into the gym though.  Still working on that aspect of my running. 

I did get to check off 3 things with the race though.  I ran a race in Fred’s honor, I got credit towards my 9 + 1 and I got credit towards the 4/6 for the Manhattan Half Marathon in 2016.  I also got off my ass and had to do a work out.  That should probably be the most important part.  Your first race of the year is usually a baseline run where you see what you need to work on and set a time for you to beat next time.  Generally though, you do it with a 5K or 4 miler, not a half.  I have shown several things in my running career and will fit this into unconventional/too dumb for my own good.

My time was 3:42:12 or 16:58 per mile.  That’s the baseline.  So for the 4 Mile race yesterday, I set a goal for myself of 15 minutes per mile.  It was a 2 minute jump but I thought that cutting 9 miles off the distance would translate to a much quicker per mile time.  I also believe that during the half marathon, I completed the first 4 miles in about 1:05, so I really only needed to shave 5 minutes off that time or about a minute fifteen seconds per mile.  Very doable.  Unfortunately, I didn’t stretch/warm up enough prior to the run starting and struggled through a slow first mile at 17:05.  Could I have pushed it?  Definitely.  Did I?  Nope.  I made up some time on mile 2, lost some on mile 3 and finished right around where I should have been the whole time on mile 4.  Total time of 1:02:03 or 15:31 per mile.
Basically I missed my goal because of my first mile.  Where does this leave me?  Annoyed.  On the other hand, I’m not totally disappointed because I know that I could get there with just a little work.  For next time, I need to stretch/warm up.  I found such a breakthrough last year by running a few miles the day before a long run to get my muscles moving.  I need to get back to that now, particularly in the cold weather.  If I’m doing a warm up run the day before, it also implies that I’m working out in between my races which I have not done yet this year.  In addition to being more limber and having muscles that are ready to respond when I command them to work, it also develops the mental muscle which I’ve been lacking.  The harder you work between races makes you less likely to give up or take it easy during races.  You’ve worked too damn hard to let that guy beat you.  You know which guy I mean.

So I know have 4 weeks in between today and my next run which will always be Coogan’s to me although it appears they aren’t sponsoring it anymore.  Tomato, tomahto, it’s still a 5k on a somewhat hilly course that goes into Fort Tryon Park and up and down the streets of Washington Heights.  This is one of my favorite races.  Part of it is that it is the first race I did with NYRRs but I also enjoy the entertainment.  It’s called Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks Run or something like that and that’s what you should be expecting.  You are getting a mariachi band on one corner, bag piper on the next, electric guitar on the third.  Always something to keep you interested.

Goal for Coogan’s?  45 minutes.  It won’t be my fastest 5K but it will be a big improvement for me.  What have I done thus far to achieve said goal?  Not a damn thing.  Nothing except walking to and from the train station every day.  It’s about a mile and a half round trip.  When people say it’s “Better than nothing,” this is precisely what they mean.  I did however research a new gym membership at my old gym and am going to rejoin.  Last summer, I got the brilliant idea to cancel my membership to the gym I really liked and join one of those 10 dollar a month things.  My thought was that I needed to save money because the gym I like is really expensive.  The last thought I had before I signed up was “For 10 bucks a month, how bad can it be?”
1.       1. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

So I signed up for the gym while they were running a special.  To get in on time, I signed up online (huh?) without SEEING the gym (dumbass).

2.      2. Never join a gym without actually walking into it.  If you can go at the time you think you are most likely to frequent the gym, even better.

On my first time to the gym, I was a little surprised by how small and cramped it was.  I circled the gym like the dirtiest lurker ever thinking I’d missed something but it turns out I hadn’t.  There was, in fact, no squat rack.  There was nowhere to do deadlifts.  A hang clean most likely would have gotten me escorted out of the gym because it would knock over half the machines and most of the people.  I thought to myself “Hey, you are always talking about training Rocky 4 style.  Look how ripped he got while training using only a pile of rocks, his chubby brother-in-law and a beard.”

3.       3. No matter how monosyllabically you express yourself, you are not Rocky.  And training outdoors emphasizing functional strength is not the same as working out at a gym where they just don’t have equipment.

I had much stacked against me.  I was not motivated by the thoughts of avenging Apollo’s death.  I didn’t have a beard.  Any my brother-in-law is decidedly unchubby.  The lack of equipment in the gym didn’t inspire me to be creative, it just made me depressed and stay home.  I felt like somebody had bought a bunch of old weights at a tag sale and decided to open a gym.  I remember thinking that if this gym worked out, one day it could be a real gym.
I don’t want to keep beating up on this gym because clearly it is too weak to defend itself but it was nowhere near the experience that I needed it to be to keep my inspired.  So I’m going to pay a bit more (but still not as much as I had been paying) and go back to my old gym.  True, I did almost sand my knee off there once in 2014 but I also got into pretty good shape a couple of times there.  At least in the beginning, I’ll be excited for the change of scenery.

I’m excited to incorporate weights, particularly exercises like squats and deadlift back into the routine.  I’m stuck with the joints, tendons and cartilage (or lack thereof) that I have.  I can’t change or improve that stuff (if I can, someone let me know) but I can strengthen the muscles around those areas.  By building bigger muscles, I can take pressure off the knees and hips which will help and makes me excited.
My next plan is to work out a work out schedule.  I need to know what I’m doing to know whether or not I should be doing it.  I can make an awesome color coded calendar for 2015.  I need the discipline, need to work on the mental muscle.  I don’t want a repeat of last year when I was getting passed in the chute to finish the race and not have the competitive streak to fight it off.  I want to pass people at the end.   And at the beginning too, if possible.

Final thought re: training.  I’m going without headphones.  I got to a point once in 2014 where I was running without headphones and I ran my best race for NYRR (Portugal Day—5 Miler with 13:23 minutes per mile).  It’s a great experience but you need to work up to it.  I’m trying to work up to it.   

Monday, January 19, 2015

Final Thoughts on the Marathon, the New Year and New Goals

In looking back at the year leading up to New York, there were really two separate training pieces.  There was the lead up to San Francisco and then San Francisco to New York.  It’s easy to say that the twins took away a lot of my time but I had a reasonable training schedule during the first half of the season.  I hit the gym, I lifted weights and I ran a bunch of hills in White Plains all while having twins.  The second part of my training, I didn’t do as much of those things and had twins.  Clearly, the twins were not the determining factor although as they got older, they required more attention which made it harder to get out to train.  The thing to remember though is that there will always be something going on that will prevent you from getting into or staying in shape.  Some of those reasons will be very legitimate reasons but it’s a question as to whether or not you want to get into shape.  If you want to, you can find a way.
I could tell that “getting in shape” was slipping away from me.  There are a lot of times when you wonder how you got to a certain place but usually it’s pretty easy to figure out.  I look for avoidance.  In terms of weight loss, you’ll notice that you’ve stopped weighing yourself.  In your mind, you spin it thinking that “I haven’t gained weight” but the truth is that you don’t really know.  You haven’t weighed yourself so your mind keeps saying that you weigh X but the truth is, you weigh X + 2, X + 40 and so on.  Avoid the avoidance and keep stepping on the scale. 

I also created a calendar from a template that I found online.  I added races that I was participating in so I would know to prepare.  The calendar in itself was awesome.  I color coded my days using highlighter.  Green meant that I had worked out that day.  Red meant I’d skipped a workout.  Blue meant that I skipped a workout but it was ok because it was a rest day.  I’d write an edited version of the details of the workout in the box.  On the bottom of the page, I wrote my personal bests by distance with the intentions of crossing them off as I set new PB’s.  I’m so proud of this calendar that I would love to show it to you but I lost it.  April, May, June and July were filled mostly with Greens and Blues although more reds started sneaking in as I got closer to the San Francisco Marathon.  August had a lot of blank spaces.  Occasionally there would be a color coded day but there was an awful lot of white.  Not only was I not doing my workouts (red), I wasn’t even logging my days.  I’d love to show you this calendar and the stark contrast but I lost it.  Yup, I lost my work out log.  If there is a clearer indication that you aren’t getting done what you are supposed to, I don’t know what it is.

I also bought one of those marble notebooks we all had as kids to keep specific details on my workouts.  Lifted this much, spent so much time on the treadmill, ran 5 miles outdoors.  As you can see below, the most work I probably put into the notebook was the extensive work I did writing 4:59:59 on the outside and also the last page where I kept track of all of my splits.  I wanted to have them written here so that I could write my splits from 2014 on the next page and see by how much faster I ran.  From the blank pages from the front to the ’13 splits, it’s no wonder I didn’t beat them.  Heck, I don’t even have time entries from most of the markers in ’14 because I fell behind the truck. 

One of my favorite things that humans do is look at a situation, note a coincidence and call it a correlation.  For instance, you’ll frequently hear your football analyst say on Sunday, “In games where Jones rushes for 100 yards, the Fighting Newts are 21 and 1” meaning that when Jones hits a certain yardage marker, the Newts are almost unbeatable.  But it’s not necessarily Jones’ rushing that’s doing this.  It depends on when Jones earns his yards.  In football, when most teams take the lead they will rush the ball because it’s a safer play than attempting a pass and because the game clock continues to run at the end of the play.  If the QB throws an incomplete pass, the clock stops and gives the opposing team more of an opportunity to make up the deficit.  So when the QB for the Newts throws for three touchdowns in the first half and the staunch Newt defense scores another td on a pick-6 and the Newts are up 28-0 to start the second half, their wise coach puts in Jones and calls run play after run play.  After 25 runs for Jones, he hits 100 yards and maybe throws in an additional touchdown.  BUT he did it after the game was safely in hand.  So did Jones get his hundred yards?  Yes.  Did the Newts win?  Yes.  Was the announcer correct?  NO!  Because he is stating that the reason the Newts win is because of Jones’ dominant play.  Jones’ play had little to do with the victory at all except that maybe he helped the Newts hold on to the lead.

So while me not keeping a better calendar or workout log didn’t make me unprepared, it was a pretty good indicator that I was unprepared.  The question then becomes did you really need a calendar to make yourself aware that you weren’t working out?  Not really.  But it does help.  It’s too easy to sweep those thoughts under the rugs in our mind; the idea appears and is forgotten as soon as it comes up.  And the calendar helps you notice that it’s not that I didn’t work out today, it shows I haven’t worked out since last Thursday.  You can notice patterns like I can’t seem to work out on Tuesdays because of my schedule so I shouldn’t ever take Mondays off because most likely I’ll be out the next day.

The final indicator was this website.  I love writing in it.  Love it.  Sometimes people even tell me that they like it too.  They make me smile when they say that a post made them want to get exercise and even happier when it made them want to get exercise so much that they did get exercise.  For those of  you who have never written a blog about running a marathon in under 5 hours, you definitely feel like a fraud if you are not training.  One of my least favorite types of leadership is the “Do as I say, not as I do” style.  So while I’m telling you to get your blood moving, mine is congealing into that sticky glaze on your kitchen counter that just spreads across the formica when you wipe it.  I’d feel like the chick from Millionaire Matchmaker who can’t keep her own relationships going.  I definitely don’t want to feel like that chick.

The running skill that I’d really like to develop is the pacing aspect.  Being a former football player actually hurts me on this one.  Think about it: break the huddle then use as much energy as you have for 4 seconds.  Now we will stand around for about 20 seconds before doing it again.  If a marathon was about three blocks, I’d be all set.  Unfortunately, marathons are a touch longer and I can’t get ten other people to stand in a group while we wait for someone to tell us what to do.  Henceforth, I shouldn’t come sprinting out the gate.  I need to remember control and patience which is generally something I don’t have.  I need to save that last kick for when it’s just me and the Kenyans in a struggle to finish. 

I had thought a lot about posting closer to New Years but I don’t believe in resolutions.  For the most part, I feel like resolutions are kind of quick-fixes.  You state something with conviction as the ball drops and hope that your timing will make it more likely to come true.  After a few weeks (or days), the newness wears off and it becomes just as difficult to do whatever the resolution was as it was before.  What I’ve found with resolutions is that because of what we understand them to be, we only have one chance.  Once we break our resolutions by eating a cookie or not going to the gym, they are gone.  Then we go back to whatever it was that we were trying not to do.  It’s like once we fail, we can’t try again because we’ve attached this word “resolution” to it. 

On the other hand, I do always ask people what their resolutions are because I find it interesting to hear what it is people are trying to do more or less of.  Like I said, I don’t really believe in the concept of resolutions but I do like to set goals for myself.  This way, I can continue to work on them and only at the end of the year do I score myself.
So I have set two for 2015.  The first, of course, is to run a marathon in under 5 hours (my goal for the following year would be to get a new name for the blog).  The second goal is a very modest one.  Do 1 pull up. 

Some people reading this will be thinking “What a stupid goal.  Why don’t you just say your goal for 2016 is to breathe or go the bathroom?  Who can’t do 1 pull up?”

Short answer: Me.  Probably a bunch of other people, too, but let’s talk about me here.  I can’t do a pull up.  Never have been able to.  I’ve come close twice.  The first time was in 8th Grade.  We had been training in certain basic Phys. Ed. Classics: Push up, Sit up, Pull up, Throw up.  Every gym class for the first 10 minutes, we practiced these exercises gearing up for the test portion of the class.  Every class I would walk over to the pull up bar, grab the bar with both hands and mostly just hang from it.  Occasionally, there would be a slight bend in my arm.  As the semester went on, the bend began approaching a right angle.  When I say approaching, I mean close like when they say that an asteroid 500,000 miles away “came close to hitting Earth.”

The day of the test came.  The gym teacher was walking around and I grabbed him and dragged him to the pull up bar.  I declared “I will now do a pull up.”  I grabbed the bar, took a little bit of a hop-step and pulled my chin above the bar.  I released the bar, dropped to the ground and rubbed my biceps to prevent soreness and muscle pulls from the exertion.

“OK, let’s see it.”  The gym teacher looked at me. 

“That was it.”

“You need to do it from a dead hang.  That doesn’t count.”  I grabbed the bar again.  “Arms at full extension.”  I bent my knees and hung from the bar with elbows completely straight.  I pulled myself up a few inches but that was as far as I got.  I dropped from the bar and walked away.

The second time I almost did a pull up was in 2003.  It was the summer and I had been working out about 5 times a week with Pops.  While I wasn’t particularly training to do a pull up, I was doing a lot of general strengthening of my upper body (read: skipping a lot of leg days) and had been doing lat pull downs and curls which are two important exercises for pull ups.  Once a week, I’d walk over to the machine and attempt a pull up.  It wasn’t a pull up bar exactly.  It was just two bars that jutted out of the side of the machine with hand grips on them.  I found that to be particularly bad ass.  So every time I went over, I actually made progress.  My elbows bent.  My head got closer to the hand grips.  One night, I think it was a Wednesday, I gripped the bars and from a dead hang, pulled my eyes even to my hands.  Another couple of inches and I would have done my first full pull up.  Then, like usual, my workout schedule started falling apart.  I showed up less and less and started to avoid the pull up bars.  That was the closest I got.

So, perhaps a modest goal but an achievement that would be a first for me: Do 1 pull up.  Part of the inspiration was an issue of Men’s Health which highlighted a group of men who do workouts on jungle gyms using their body weight as resistance.  This appealed to me, partially because I have an abundance of “resistance” but also because I’ve gotten into a point where I am very interested in functional strength. 

I ran a “Mud Run” in 2012 and was surprised that I felt so beat up afterwards.  I haven’t been as sore for as long as I was after that run.  The climbing over fences and pushups and rope ladders kicked my ass.  I don’t know if I will ever do a Mud Run again, I probably will at some point, but still want the strength to be able to.

Side goal: write much more for this blog.  If I do the other two things, the writing part should be easy.  My next run: 1/25 Fred Lebow Half Marathon in Central Park.  Not in shape for this.  Not in shape at all. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflections on the Marathon

This is my first post since the marathon.  My doctor advised me to avoid strenuous exercise immediately following the race, so I took his advice and avoided blogging at all costs.  It has been a busy but exciting time for me.  In addition to my children, which are a handful, I also changed jobs.  I know it sounds a bit goofy but I really think that the confidence I have gained by finishing marathons aided me in having the confidence to move to a new company after having been at my old one for 14 years.

So NYC 2014 will be the year everyone will remember as the Windy Marathon.  All the stories are true.  I almost had a skull cap pulled off my head by the wind.  People were being pushed around particularly on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which had no mile markers because they would have gotten blown away.  I had pinned a piece of paper to my shirt with my name on it which was ripped off by mile 5.  For the rest of the race, I was called “Dad.”  Last year, I was able to make it the whole way through with 2 of 4 safety pins attached.  There were a lot of bad split times (I’m talking to you, Tiki Barber!!) due to people expending a ton of energy running into the wind during the first half.  We looked like 50,000 mimes sans makeup.

As usual, I was in the last wave of runners.  I had planned to do a run/walk method with 6 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking.  My watch is set up to notify me automatically which makes it easy.  I had decided that I would ignore the first walk break as I wouldn’t be across the bridge after 6 minutes.  I felt surprisingly good at the beginning of the race.  I say surprisingly because my training for this marathon stunk.  Like really bad.  I figured I had some energy now, so let’s see if I can push it a little farther.  So I skipped the first break.

Then I skipped the second break. 

Then the third break. 

I was torn because I knew that I really needed to pace myself but was excited because I hadn’t run 20 minutes straight in a while.  In recent races where I didn’t sprint out the starting line, I ran more consistently (and slower) but was able to finish races running as opposed to walking with terrible cramps.  But of course, once the gun goes off in the NYC Marathon, adrenaline takes over. 

At this point, I was in Brooklyn and had passed the “Sweep Bus” which sat on a side street like a vulture ready to pick off stragglers.  I finally got my emotions under control and decided to stop running at the next break.  I was ahead of my pace time, so I wasn’t worried.  I knew I would bank time for a while (i.e. come in under the 16 minute per mile pace I hoped to average) and then slowly start to “spend” those seconds as the race progressed.  At the 5K, I was 5:43 ahead of pace.  At the 10K, 8:09.  I was doing AWESOME!!!

So, at this point, imagine me as Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius), right after he ran off a cliff trying to catch the Road Runner.  He continues on for a while, slowly becoming aware that he is hovering high over the desert floor below.  Then he plummets like a stone.

(Quick side note re: Wile E. Coyote.  A coyote’s top speed is 43 miles per hour.  Roadrunners top out at 20 miles per hour.  Rather than buying out the store at Acme Corporation, Wile E. would have been much more successful had he just run down the Road Runner.  Point of the story: Sometimes you should just do what it is that you do well.  Have faith in yourself.  Don’t over complicate things and the rest will take care of itself.)

So by the 15K, I was 7:30 ahead of pace.  I had failed to notice the ground under me had disappeared and that I was running in mid-air.  I began to plummet.  I’d tell you my time at 20K but I can’t because the time markers were being pulled from the course.  Between 15 and 20, the cramps started getting pretty bad.  I started losing time on my average mile.  Even worse, I started not to care.  The sweep bus passed me.  The people inside looked warm.  Even worse, they looked happy.  My thought is always that if I start a race, I finish a race.  However, my sister and I have joked a few times about getting just bumped by a passing car in order to have an excuse to not finish.  When I ran the Harry Chapin Race in 2013, I thought that it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the dog that snapped at me caught a part of my leg.  “Of course, I couldn’t finish the race.  I was bit by a dog!!”  Sounds much better than “I was running like crap so I quit.”

With the timing sensors cleared off the course, I wouldn’t be timed again until I got back into Central Park.  Because I am usually in the back of the race, my family understands that this is a possibility and didn’t freak.  A couple of friends who were following me on the tracker were nervous that I was in a hospital or had gotten caught by a freak gust of wind and ended up in one of the rivers.

The halfway part of the marathon occurs on the Pulaski Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens.  I always like to draw strength from my Polish Heritage while running across this bridge but 2014 wasn’t the year for that.  In 2013, prior to the full marathon, the farthest I’d run was a half marathon about 3 weeks before.  The halfway point was a celebration; after that, I was setting a new personal best with every step.  Every time my foot hit the ground, I was farther than I’d ever been before.  It really felt amazing and filled me with hope.  A lot of runners have different feelings on this which I believe contribute to the “wall phenomenon.”  The runners can’t get out of their heads the idea that “I don’t know if I can do this as I’ve never done it before.”  For me it was the opposite, “I’ve never done this!  Let’s see what else I can do!!”

In 2014, just after passing the halfway point, I experienced an intense cramp that started in my left calf and went all the way up in a straight line to my butt cheek.  I had to grab onto the side of the bridge to prevent myself from falling and held on for about a minute or so until my leg relaxed.  This was the first point in any of my marathons where I didn’t know if I could finish.  If the sweep bus was rolling up it may have added another passenger but it was nowhere in sight.

In addition, I kept thinking about you.  That’s right.  You.  I’ve encouraged you to get out and get your blood moving, hopefully inspired you in some small way and I didn’t want to let you down.

My next thought: “OK.  You are going to make it to the finish line.  How?”  I started jogging again and made it about a minute before my leg cramped up and I had to cling to the side of the bridge before I could move forward.  While my walking is slow, it was faster than running for a minute and then cramping for two minutes.  I would walk as fast as I could.  That was the new plan. 
Runners have visions of themselves running.  A popular one is the “Chariots of Fire” where you are running in slow motion but far out pacing your competitors with the music playing in the background.  The accurate part that day was the slow motion.  I was passing no one and there was not a bit of classical music to be heard.  Even at its best, I describe my running style as Grim Determination, so I gritted my teeth and got to work.

I walk very slowly regularly and doing some quick math of me walking at a typical pace had me finishing just in time to get my medal engraved Mondayafternoon.  I needed to quicken my pace to as fast as I could go without triggering cramping.  I noticed that if I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing, I would go from Grim Determination to leisurely stroll.  I needed to focus. 

Ordinarily during my races/marathons, I say “When I do this next time…”  During this race, I started saying “If you do this again…”

As soon as I started NYC in 2013, I remember thinking that I would run this race for the rest of my life.  This year, I felt a little differently.  Most of my “If you do this again…” fell into the category of “If you do this again, you need to prepare better.”

The worst thing that can happen to anyone is that they experience some degree of success (see Rocky 3).  The marathon is a mental exercise more so than a physical one.  The hardest part about your first marathon is that you don’t know if you can do it.  So you train extra hard, you put down the donut, you quit huffing turpentine.  After you’ve done one, you know that it is within your realm of capability.  You double down on the donuts, you don’t mind skipping a workout here and there and you fill your humidifier with poisonous chemicals.  I fell into this category.  I hadn’t trained as hard as I had for San Francisco ’14 as I had for NYC ’13 and yet I had a faster time.  I trained less for NYC ’14 than SF ’14 and I thought I would set a new personal best.  But I didn’t and the race left me extremely humbled.  That’s actually the good part.

I think that in everyone’s life, they need to get their ass kicked now and again.  Nothing devastating, just enough to keep them humble.  They need to stay hungry (Eye of the Tiger).  I haven’t been hungry in a while (This guy is a wrecking machine, and he’s hungry!  Hell, you ain’t been hungry since you won that belt).

Unlike Rocky attempting the title defense against Clubber and getting poor Mickey killed, I am officially retiring Super Heavy Weight Champion of Distance Running (hereafter SHWCDR). 

Hold on, you are saying.  You didn’t even get bit by a dog!  You can’t quit just because you are running crappy. 

I can and I can’t.  First off, you’re not the boss of me.  But secondly, I didn’t say I was retiring.  I said the SHWCDR was retiring.

I decided during the marathon that the whole SHWCDR thing just isn’t cute anymore.  Something that always bugs me on weight loss shows and marathon human interest stories are the stories where the people said, “I wanted to run a marathon so I lost a bunch of weight and then I did it.”  I feel like that excludes people who haven’t lost weight or who want to use training for the marathon as a way to lose weight.  Their quote says to overweight people (yet again), until you become skinny, you can’t achieve.  You can’t get what you want.  I wanted to show that that’s not true.

So the SHWCDR can retire now because he’s done what he needed to do.  He showed that finishing the marathon was possible.  It’s not an unobtainable goal.

Unlike the marathon, there is no blue stripe painted on the road to show the course.  Where do I go now?

My plan involves re-examining the marathon and the training leading into the marathon to look for ways to improve.  Step 1 is MORE training.  It’s that sort of highly specific advice that will catapult me to the top.  I’ve also noted that my pacing to start the marathon did not go as planned.  Secondly, I need to retire the SHWCDR for the last time.  His mind retired after NYC 2013 because he proved what he needed to.  I am, however, still dragging his body around race courses all over the tri-state area. 

After this long absence, I hope you’ll stay with me.  By the end of the year, my blog might be the only way you can keep up!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An Open Letter to Scott


I first met you in 1994 when we were playing football at Siena but I feel like I’ve gotten to know you more in the past few months than I did in the past 20 years.  I’m guessing you will probably say the same thing about yourself.  The movie Dodgeball makes the joke that “Dodgeball doesn’t develop character; it reveals it” meaning, I guess, that the game won’t make you a bully but if you were already a bully, everyone else would know it by watching you play.  Distance running is the opposite.  While the road is merciless in pointing out your weaknesses, it will also take care of you.  When you return home, it will pat you on the back and promise tomorrow will be better.  The thing is, the road doesn’t change; it’s concrete.  That means it must have been you that is better.
Right after Siena cut its football program in 2004, you and I started speaking more via e-mail.  When the effort started to tank, I sent an inflammatory e-mail to the person who was in charge of the effort and included the entire group on the e-mail.  I’ll never forget your response: “You’re an ass but I love it!”  At that point, I realized we were more similar than I knew.
When you told me you were going to run the marathon earlier this year, I started laughing.  You said something like “are you laughing because you tricked me into joining the pain?”  But I was laughing because I knew you were going to run before you signed up, maybe I knew even before you did.  I had had a conversation with my sister about a week before and I said “Scott’s going to run New York this year.”  She asked if you had signed up and I said, “No.  But he’ll find a way.  He’s going to run.”  There was something in our e-mail conversations that told me there was a question in your mind and in your heart that you wondered if you could do it.  I recognized it because it’s the same question that got me to run my first marathon, too.
I’ve always told people who are thinking about running a marathon that it’s really two marathons, the actual day of 26.2 miles but also the marathon of training that leads up to that day.  I watched you set out on that first part of the marathon at first with concern and a little skepticism.  It’s a long path to Fort Wadsworth and life continues to throw roadblocks.  While I believed that you wanted to do it, I wasn’t sure whether or not you’d get there.  Then I watched as you started to stretch your distances, entering into races and then finishing half-marathons.  Even better, I watched as the app on the phone continued to post distances on Facebook that were farther and farther as we got closer and closer to the Marathon.  For a while now, I’ve known you can finish the Marathon.  You’ve put in the distance and spent the time and tomorrow you get to show everyone else and yourself.  Trust your training.  It’s got you here; your training and your heart will get you through this.
You posted a beautiful piece yesterday about your little girl carefully watching you as you prepared to head to Manhattan.  She’s been watching you this whole time.  She’s learning more from you than you know.  Someday, your daughter is going to see a big, seemingly insurmountable task of some type in front of her and from somewhere inside she’ll find reserves that will get her through it.  She may not realize where these reserves came from but she’s learned that from you.  As we go along in life, we find that contests aren’t always won by the fastest or biggest or strongest.   Sometimes they are won by that one person who refuses to quit.  Sometimes the day is won by the person who feels the pain, embraces it and goes on anyway. 
Last year my wife was very pregnant with our twins, so pregnant that she wasn’t able to attend the race in person but instead tracked me through the internet.  I had taped a few messages to play on my iPod when I was going through rough stretches.  One of them said, “Don’t let your kids be born having a Dad who tried really hard and almost finished the marathon.  Let them be born being able to say ‘Yes.  My Dad did it.’”  Give your little girl that same gift.
Marathon Sunday is an amazing day.  While you’ve probably been accused of having multiple personalities, on Sunday you will actually be 3 separate people.  The first person is the one who will be standing nervously, waiting with the amassed army waiting to cross the Verrazano Bridge and invade Brooklyn.  He’ll be unsure of what’s about to happen and may be thinking about your past.  This person is full of self-doubt.  The good news is that the second you step across the start line, this person ceases to exist.
Stepping across the start line is the 2nd person you will be on Sunday.  This person is filled with audacity. He’s actually crazy enough to think he can run 26.2 miles all in one day.  He knows that what he carries inside him is exactly enough to get him across that finish line.  He’ll be constantly tested.  Previously, these challenges may have been enough to discourage or dissuade him but they’ll be sorely disappointed if they think they can do that to him today.  Today, he is unstoppable. 
Sadly, that person won’t make it through the day.  That person ceases to exist after 26.2 miles as you step over the finish line.  Then you become the 3rd person you’ll be on Sunday.  This is a man of accomplishment.  This is a man of confidence because he has proven he can overcome obstacles.  This man has stared a dragon in the face and slayed it. 

This person can accomplish anything.

I’d like to start the race and run it with you but it wouldn’t matter.  Me being out there would mean nothing because once you are out there, it’s all about you.  You are all that matters.  I’d love to be there when you finish but I’m not sure that I’d recognize the man you are about to become.   The marathon is mythic and magic; it’s a transformative experience. For better, you will never be the same person after Sunday.   I know this is true because it happened to me. 
I’m impressed with how far you’ve come.  It’s so easy for us to sit back and talk about the “Glory Days.”  A lot of people don’t seek out challenges like this.  They are content to say I remember a version of me that may have been able to do this rather than see if that version of me is still alive inside of them.  I can’t wait to see you after the Marathon is done.  You’ll be waiting some time as you took the whole “Under 5 Club” thing literally and that is a goal I’ve yet to reach.  

Course, there’s always next year…

With much love,


Friday, October 31, 2014

Scott's Post-One Last Thank You, And I’m Off

I’ve been obsessed with this whole marathon thing.  I admit.  Some who know me well know the real motivations behind it all and will likely understand, if not sympathize with this obsession.  Other friends won’t know what’s behind it all but will still be genuinely interested, while still others may flip through my multiple updates and pay no mind.  A small group will likely see my incessant facebook postings about how many miles I ran each Saturday and my requests for donations every other week and roll their eyes or feel annoyed or think that I’m trying to impress people.  I don’t mind that really, that’s their own business.

The internet is a strange tool that people use for lots of different reasons.  I find facebook, in particular, to be a fascinating study.  Some people seem to use it for sheer networking purposes.  Others use it to get extended free play in Candy Crush to the point I can no longer stand it and need to cut the cord (maybe I’ll friend you again one day, Steve Cody).  Others post pictures of their family here and there to share with people they know and love.  Some seemingly use it to show off, while others seem to use it in a veiled desperation to prove to everyone they ever met that their life is fun, when perhaps it really isn’t.

At times, I am likely guilty of a little bit of all of these things (Note: except the Candy Crush, Steve Cody).  But here’s what I know and admit.  I genuinely appreciate every person who has taken their time to read my posts.  I smile at every comment and I guiltily admit to taking note of every “like.”  But above all, I am humbled and touched at all the people who have taken their time to click through to the donation page and leave a few bucks, because that takes effort and no matter the amount of the donation, that is a sacrifice.  Every time I get an e-mail from DetermiNation saying that I have received a new donation, I get butterflies.  And again, in the most sincere way possible, I thank all of you for your help and sacrifice.  In the end, I’ve helped raise nearly $6,000 for cancer research and I’m part of a group who has collectively raised over a million dollars.  For that, I am very proud.

I packed up my things last evening in preparation for this journey.  I am both excited and nervous as I don’t really know what to expect, though I certainly expect to finish.  The weather forecast has worsened, going from pleasantly warm to cold and windy, but I’m trying not to let that bother me.  Many of my co-workers have been falling ill the past few days, and while I should be ingesting my calories mostly in the form of carbs this week, a good portion of them have come in the form of chewable Airborne and Halls Vitamin C tablets.  Getting sick is not an option… at least not until Monday.

When I finished, I had everything I needed for the run packed in two bags  – my clothes, my registration form, all the little things like gels, salt pills, band-aids, anti-chaffing cream, race day breakfast stuff, snacks, liquids, you name it.  I packed it all up in bags and took a good hard look at it.  There it was… 11 months of training in two small bags.  The culmination of a journey that started on a treadmill in a hotel in Long Island last December.  I remembered some of the stepping stones – pacing my living room and getting psyched the day of my first 5k, hitting my first five mile run on a treadmill in upstate New York, finishing a 10k in Holyoke on St. Patty’s Day weekend and conquering the half-marathon.  I remembered the Facebook chat I had with Anthony Marino that made this opportunity possible, and all of the Saturdaylong-runs when I hit previously unchartered territory – 14 miles, 15 miles, 17 miles, 19 miles, and 20 miles.

Now the only one left is 26.2.

And while this is surely a challenge and one I expect to conquer, I wondered how long the elation of it all would last.  What am I going to feel like on Monday when I pack up my bags again only this time to head home, although with a shiny new medal?  Better yet, what am I going to feel like next Saturday, the day I’m used to getting up early, putting my sneakers on and heading out for my weekly long-run?  The race will be over, but how long is this journey exactly?

I think I found that answer late last night, when my five year old daughter came into the room after lights-out.  “How come I can’t go with you to your race, Daddy?”  I picked her up and put her next to me on the bed.  We sat together and had a very adult-like chat about how I’ve been running so much lately to prepare for this race.  We looked at internet pictures on my phone of previous races – the mob of runners crossing the Verrazano Bridge.  I showed her the lane where I intended to run and showed her the shirt I would be wearing, though I cautioned her that in all likelihood, she was not going to be able to pick me out of the crowd.  She seemed to understand. 

I then gave her a medal from one of my previous half-marathons and asked her to keep it safe until I came back.  She was happy to do that.  And then I told her that even though she wasn’t going to be at the race watching it in person, that she really would be there in a way because I always keep her close to my heart.  That made her very happy, and she took the medal and headed back to bed.

She hesitated a moment and turned around.  “Daddy will you win the race?” she asked.

Looking at my daughter standing in the doorway, I was so amazed at her interest in my running and realized how much of a bond it had created between us.  She ran a mile with me once before, though the last quarter-mile found her on my shoulders.  She has seen me come home from long-runs – sweaty, smelly, exhausted and barely able to walk.  She has been fascinated and always asks questions.  I knew at that moment that come next Saturday, I’ll be putting those sneakers on again and heading out in the morning to run.  Though I’m certain her question was quite literal in the sense that she really wants, if not expects me to win the New York City Marathon, I understood the question of whether or not I would win to be a more introspective one.  “Daddy, will you win the race?” she had asked.

“I already have,” I answered.

And maybe, above all, that is what will keep me running after mile 20.  I have all the support I could ask for from so many friends and family, and so many generous people have donated to such a great charity.  I will remember all of that in the early going.  But when it gets tough and I really need to dig deep, I think what will keep me moving the most is one thing…  I have to bring this little girl home a medal. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

With 3 Days to Go aka Long Time, No Talk.

            I want to say that the reason why there have been no posts since late June is that I was training at altitude in Kenya and am preparing to run the New York City Marathon in 4:59:59 which is the stated goal of this blog.
            The truth is I was abducted by aliens.  Yeah, that’s it.  I was running hills one night and saw a bright light above me.  I was lifted into the air and the rest was a blur.  I definitely remember that Scott Baio gave me pink eye.
            Unfortunately, part of me not writing was just that life got busy.  The twins have enough energy to run 5 marathons except for the fact that they can’t really run yet.  This means that in addition to not writing, I haven’t been running the way that I should.  That’s also part of why I haven’t been writing.  If I could post some super-arrogant “I ran 432 miles this week” I would have been writing all the time.  But that hasn’t been the case.
            First things first: I completed my second marathon in San Francisco on July 27th.  I set a new Personal Best for that distance even though there were a lot of issues in terms of the logistics of the race.  Without going deep into it, I had no idea where the race course was for about 3 miles which slowed me down.  I’ve had a block trying to write about the marathon and have started 4 posts about it and was unable to complete any of them.  I know I owe you a post about San Francisco and you’ll get it but not right now.  It’s amazing that writing about the race is harder than running it.
            October 9th was the 20th Anniversary of Fred Lebow’s death.  I never knew who Fred was until 2011 and as far as I know, Fred never met me.  For a full background on Fred, I heartily recommend the movie Run For Your Life.  It is the Fred Lebow story but is also deals with the confluence of this man, the NYC Marathon, New York City in the 70’s and the running movement in general.  He was the right man at the right time and without him the marathon might still just be loops around Central Park.  Actually, it might still be the Cherry Tree Marathon in the Bronx.  And the entrance fee would be only a $1.
            The first modern New York City Marathon was held in 1976, the year I was born.  Part of the appeal was that it would be a big event in honor of the country’s bicentennial.  A lot of people thought that 1977 would see the race disappear back into Central Park.
Fred convinced sponsors and the City, which was undergoing tremendous financial difficulty, to support him.  He spoke to the Hasidic Community in Yiddish to allow and to encourage a bunch of half-naked adults to run through their neighborhood.  He gave local gangs shirts and hats and made them course marshalls.  Finally, he convinced everyone to come and run. 
While the marathon was his baby, he was so busy planning and organizing the race that he didn’t take the time to run it.  In 1990, he was diagnosed with cancer which was treated and went into remission which allowed Fred to run the marathon in 1992.  He was surrounded by friends and supporters, most notably Grete Waitz, a 9 Time Winner of the Marathon who had come out of nowhere and shocked the running world when she won her first New York Marathon in 1978 after being entered into the race to provide a pacer for the runners who were expected to win.
Watching him cross the finish line always makes me tear up.  He was finally able to experience what it was that he was giving to everyone else.  In honor of the anniversary of his passing, I’d like to thank him for one of the greatest experiences of my life. 
Since its initial run, the Marathon has become more than just a race.  It is a celebration.  It’s a celebration of the city.  It’s a celebration of humanity.  It’s estimated that over 2 million people turn out to watch the race.  Sparks of passion thrown from runners ignite wildfires in the crowd, people vowing, some silently, some right out loud, that they too will run this race.  For some, it’s the alcohol talking.  For others, the sparks might not fully ignite and they will stand on the sidewalk again next year hoping to be consumed by whatever it is that’s making the runners run.
There are too many stories for the spectators to ever figure out what it is that chases the runners or what it is the runners chase.  T-shirts with pictures of loved ones or names with words like Cancer, Autism or Wounded Warriors give clues as frequently happens, it’s only part of a story.  There’s always something more, something that possibly we as runners don’t even know or realize.
More than these stories, the Marathon is triumph.  2013 was run through neighborhoods devastated by Superstorm Sandy the year before.  It was run in defiance of terrorists like those who struck in Boston earlier in the year.  In 2001, the Marathon was run less than two months after the attacks at the World Trade Center in a time when wounds were still very raw and the world was still reshaping itself.  I was reminded of the attacks and the terrorists while on the Staten Island Ferry riding to the start.  The Ferry was flanked by Coast Guard Gunships and the new World Trade Center was visible, rising proudly on the southern tip of Manhattan.
And it’s not just those nationwide triumphs either.  It is each individual’s triumph.  For as many running groups out there, it is simply you when you are out there.  There is nothing else.  There are two marathons per marathon.  There is the training that leads to the actual day and then the day itself.  To make it do race day is a victory, your first step across the Starting Line is another but it is also a promise.  It says, “I will complete this undertaking.”  And while we follow the same course route, no two runners run exactly the same race the same way our paths to get here have not been the same.

Then there is the triumph of finishing which seems to be more beautiful the more broken it is.  The obstacles that we face during our lives, our training and that day break us down but they also make us stronger.  We learn to overcome, we can adapt.  We can make ourselves better, even if it’s only for one afternoon in November.