Friday, May 30, 2014

On Being Excepted by the Running Community

Recently, Runner’s World posted a little contest on Facebook where the entrants would post about the funniest time they finished last or almost last in a race.  This was my entry:

It was hilarious. First I was handed a t-shirt that was two sizes too small. I was told that they don't usually get runners of my size. The race started and I quickly fell behind. After a few minutes, I had to start dodging cars because after the main pack of runners, the "closed course" was open to motorists. At some point, the on-course volunteers were released. I guess they figured I was so slow, I didn't need to rehydrate like the "real" runners. Oh, also because the course markers were taken down, I got lost!!! Nothing funnier than trying to find your way on the course. By the time I finished they'd already taken down the Finish Line, so I didn't get an official time. Also, they'd run out of medals!!!! What a hoot. They told me they'd mail me one but never did. I guess they thought that might encourage me to sign up the next year.

Almost all of this has happened to me, although not all in one race.  I’ve never been in a race where they’ve taken down the finish although I have been the last person through.

Apparently, sarcasm was not what they were looking for.

After reading through a couple of entries, I narrowed in on what it seemed they were looking for.  They were all essentially “The night before the 10k, I ate at a new Indian-Mexican fusion restaurant in my town and I tried the chicken curry burrito.  The next day I redefined the meaning of the word ‘fartlek’” or “I had last run my local 5k two years ago and in the year I sat out, they changed the course.  I ran the old course thinking I was leading the way the entire time until I turned left at Main and re-joined the new course.  I ran a 5 Miler and still beat 3 people who only ran a 5k!”  They didn’t want “Back of the Pack” runners; they wanted fast runners who, for whatever reason (usually scatological), were in the back.  In other words, they didn’t live there, they were just visiting.  And pooping in my backyard.

I’m a Back of the Pack Runner; I’ve been the last finisher in races.  Finishing last isn’t fun and the people who finish last are not something to make fun of.

In an attempt to reach out to the disenfranchised, Runner’s World posted a blog a few days later where a runner wrote about going for a training run at the same park where runners were running a 24 Hour UltraMarathon (the runners ran for 24 hours straight and the runner covering the most miles tallied 155) and wondering if she “deserved” to be there.  Blah blah blah, Sister Sledge music, Sugar Hill Gang, the runner accepts water from the volunteer and accepts herself in the process.  Awwww.

I’ve been running with New York Road Runners since 2011 and from day 1, I knew I didn’t fit in.  First, I didn’t wear the right clothes.  I found a recent article titled “Don’t Be That Guy at the Race” or something like that.  Apparently, I violate two cardinal rules: 1) I wear baggy shorts (the shame), 2) I tuck my t-shirt in (the horror).  Everywhere around me, people were striking yoga poses.  I stretch by tying my shoes.  BTW, I wear the wrong shoes as well.  I opt for the running sneakers with the extra cushioning instead of the sneakers that weigh 4 ounces less.  I’ve never worn sneakers where each toe gets its own home and the idea of it skeeves me out.  In that first race, I didn’t have a PB (peanut butter?) or PR (public relations?) or know what either meant (I perked up when I thought someone mentioned PBR though). 

BTW, while I was writing this blog, the Don’t Be This Guy article was reposted on Facebook by Runner’s World.  I get it Runner’s World, there’s not enough room in your world for this runner!!

Then of course, there was the other issue.  My weight.  I was the only O in a land full of I’s.  In my last race, I followed a group of four girls who were slightly ahead of me for most of the course.  I was trying to figure out why they were able to stay ahead of me when I realized that to equal my weight, one of the four girls would have to travel around the course with two of her friends on her back.  I did end up finishing ahead of them for the record.

Whether I finished ahead of them or not doesn’t really matter to me.  I race against myself every time.  In my last race, I finished about 30 seconds per mile faster than my last time.  I had an ambitious goal of 2 and a half minutes less but wasn’t able to get the training in to achieve that goal.  I’ve been training hard since then and am planning on kicking ass at my next race. 

Here’s a secret about Back of the Pack runners: We are trying hard.  Some of us are trying harder than people who finish with times that are much faster than ours.  I didn’t pick up running because it was easy.  In high school and college, running was something I did before I hit someone.  I would never use the word runner to describe myself.  In the summer before my sophomore year of high school I was in probably the best cardio shape of my life (I ran a 6:07 mile), I made myself a mix tape to listen to called the Jogging/Walking/Crawling Mix.  I didn’t even call my mixtape a Running Tape.  It did have Cat Stevens on it which may have disqualified it.

There may be a couple of thousand people who register for the races I participate in but I’m only competing with myself.  Did I improve my time?  Was I able to push myself to run an extra lamppost or did I stop short of the mark I set for myself?  Did I finish strong?  In one of my first entries on the blog, I talked about how I got frustrated for being passed at the end of the Coogan’s Run.  It wasn’t the other runner at all.  It was me not having anything left in the tank to hold off her charge, it was me not having the pride in myself to not give in, it was me not working hard enough in the weeks coming into the race.  On those days, I don’t feel much like a runner at all.

This year, I haven’t had any races that I finished thinking “I’m a Runner.”  I am coming up on the Portugal Run on June 15th which is a race that I always mark off on my calendar every year.  The first time I ran it, Farrington Racing showed up crazy late and were being yelled at to start the race in the next 30 seconds or our times wouldn’t count.  I was wearing a heavy Under Armour long sleeve shirt and the weather was really hot.  In my haste to start, I tied my shoes too tight and started losing feeling in my feet.  Finally, due to drinking a dairy-based Atkins shake before the race (MILK WAS A BAD CHOICE!), I was puking in the first quarter mile.  My race was actually so bad, I didn’t run Portugal the following year.  I was hiding.

Last year, I had been training seriously and wanted to run the race for two reasons.  First, I dedicated the race to my Dad as it was Father’s Day and my Dad has always been my best coach.  Second, I had a score to settle with the race.  I prepared well and ran a great race.  I pushed myself every chance that I could and set PB’s for per mile pace and 5 mile time.  My per mile time was 13:23. 

Your time is only important because it is a way to measure how hard you’ve been preparing.  If it’s a faster time than your last race, you trained well.  If it’s slower, you need to work a little harder.  13:23 was a good time for me although I finished 5154 out of 5279.  There wasn’t anything funny about it but I was smiling after the race.  I was a runner.

So, some people are wondering why I’m writing proudly about a time that many runners would be embarrassed by.  Is it that I’m an idiot?  Have I gotten soft?  To answer those questions, I went back to the beginning.  Why did I start running again?  To prove to myself that I could.  To myself. 

So look for me when they are about to break down the finish line.  I’ll be wearing baggy shorts and a tucked in t-shirt that’s covered in sweat.  I’ll be breathing hard; my muscles will be burning because I will be giving it all that I have left.  If it doesn’t impress you, I don’t care.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

72 to San Francisco and Finding My Motivation

If you’ve been reading my posts or talking to me in real life (if that’s a thing), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been having a tough time with my workouts.  I am fighting them every step of the way.  Here’s how it works:

J: I am going to the gym (knees, lower back immediately flare up).

J: Great, I’m at the gym but that dude is using the squat rack for curls (Just skip squats, you don’t want to wait for this clown).

J: I’m doing squats but they are heavy (you should probably cut this set short because you don’t want to hurt yourself and not be able to work out tomorrow).

J: Now I’m on the treadmill and am short of breath and my legs hurt (you’ve done weights already and some cardio, you can cut back.  You should probably stop now and not overexert yourself).

Sometimes it just goes like this:
J: I am going to the gym (knees, lower back immediately flare up). 
J: Eh, I could take another day to rest, there is a race Saturday.  I mean, I’m unprepared for it already, what difference is one workout going to make?

So for those of you who read this blog for inspiration, that beginning part might not be what you were looking for.  If anything, the take away is that even people who have finished a marathon struggle to get their daily workouts in.

For me, this issue with working out has become increasingly frustrating.  Why is it that I find it hard to motivate myself and even stranger, hard to keep motivating myself while working out.  I used to have issues getting to the gym sometimes but once I walked in I was fine.  I would think that being as I’m here anyway, might as well get my sweat on.

I found an article online where the author talks about how at the end of marathons, she would let up on herself and made the 3:30 marathon mark elusive.  I identified with her, the idea of “You have done a lot already.  You can take it easy here” really sounded familiar.  There was a bunch of sports-psychology wrapped up in the article that I didn’t understand.  I took the article to my wife who is a psychologist for clarification regarding what process goals are and what performance goals are.

We started speaking about the article and then quickly diverted.  I could tell that Maryclare was torn between being a wife and being a psychologist.  She recommended that maybe we could set up a behavior chart for me.  She also recommended that I start some sort of signal to myself when I start having negative thoughts and that might help me head them off before they result in me going home.  I recognize the negative thoughts as they are happening.  I just can’t stop them.

We continued talking and then my wife asked me an important question: Why are you running the marathon?  I asked if she expected an answer or if it was rhetorical.  She said, “You don’t have to answer me necessarily but it’s not rhetorical.  You have to know what your motivation is.”

Cue Wonder Boys:
Vernon: If you didn’t know what it was about, why were you writing it?
Grady: I couldn’t stop.

I thought about why I was registered for San Francisco and came up with four reasons:
1)      I really wanted to go to San Francisco
2)      I had run a marathon before
3)      I enjoy the look on people’s faces when I tell them I am running
4)      I signed up when it first opened because there was an “Early Bird” Special.

When I finally came up with this list, I knew that if someone told me that was their motivation to run, I’d tell them to run.  In the opposite direction.  Far and fast.

My biggest motivation for running the New York City Marathon was to prove to myself that I could set a long term goal and reach it.  I wanted to know if I could push myself.  I wanted to know that I could rise to the challenge.  Was there anything left in the tank or did I use all my gas in High School and College?  Those are good reasons for running a marathon.

So once I accepted the fact that I didn’t want to run the San Francisco Marathon, I wondered what I should do.  I still wanted to go out there and I still wanted to go out that night wearing the medal, so I still planned on running it.  This doesn’t really make a lot of sense I know.

I thought about the New York City Marathon and I know that finishing a marathon requires toughness.  Do I still have any toughness left?  I wasn’t even getting through half hour work outs or even working out consistently during the week.  I decided that I was tough in the way that I could endure the pain and punishment of running the marathon and that I would show that by enduring San Francisco.

Then I decided that I didn’t want to endure it.  I wanted to enjoy it.

I had planned on hurting after the marathon.  I still will.  I had planned on it so much that I had booked an extra day stay in town in case my Monday was shot.  But I don’t want to waste a day lying in a hotel bed wishing I had trained harder.  So rather than get all the pain on Marathon Sunday, I figured I’d spread it out over time taking a little each day rather than facing its full strength all at once.

This is not a technique you will read in any books or magazines about running.  No one ever says, “Go as a tourist; work out beforehand so the marathon does not interfere with your sightseeing. ”

So while I still may not be in the perfect headspace right now, I’m definitely in a better place.  I earned a night off tonight but got “Wins” on Tuesday and Wednesday after a blowout loss on Monday. 

Last night I was running hills in White Plains.  After finishing enough trips up the hill to constitute a “Win” for the workout, I was standing at the top of the hill looking down the street.  I told myself that I could go home with my win or I could run another hill.  I turned off my head and let my body decide.  Next thing I knew, I was walking back down to do another rep.

My thought is that right now any reason to run is a good one.  The desire to run the Marathon will come to me but I have to earn it first.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

75 Days to SF/173 to NYC

I ran a 10k at Central Park on Saturday.  I had set a goal for myself of running the 10k in under 1:30 or a per mile time of about 14:30.  This would have been a 2 minute per mile improvement over the Scotland Run which was very ambitious.  I think that goals should be realistic but ambitious.  If I had set a goal to run 5 seconds a mile faster, I doubt the elation over reaching my goal would be worth the effort.  I did not reach my goal of 14:30, finishing up around 16 minutes for an improvement of about 30 seconds.

I'm looking at my race to think about where I could improve:
1) Train more.  Last week, I only trained 3 times including the race.  I think I should be training 5 days a week.
2) Don't fight.  Win.  Prior to starting the race while we were still stuck in the corrals, the "Emcee" of the race was telling us to "run don't jog" through the corrals or we'd get "run over by the elite pace car."  As this was a race for Healthy Kidneys, there were a lot of people participating because the race means something to them and for a lot of those folks walk the races.  The Emcee yelled, "Even if you are planning on walking the race, run through the corrals."  Rows of workers lined the corral yelling at us to run or run faster.  Idiots.  Anyway, this really annoyed me and for the first mile and a half or so, I was thinking about what I might say in an angry letter instead of focusing on running or the course in front of me.  I need to pay more attention to what I'm doing and stop getting distracted by stupidity.  It's hard though because stupidity is everywhere.
3) It was much more humid out Saturday Morning than I thought it would be.  I can't really change the weather but I do need to run outside more.  The good news is that it won't be humid for San Francisco (never really humid there) or New York (happens in November, last year the temperature was around 50).  Regardless, I do need to run outside more.

Long story short, pretty disappointed with my race and I know I need to get myself together in the next 33 days.  In 33 days, I really start the race season, running the Portugal 5M and starting a 14 day stretch where I'm running 4 races including a half.

I need to be confident that I have enough time to train but I definitely don't have time to dawdle.  This post may seem disjointed because I started writing it on Sunday and finished it Tuesday afternoon but also because I have started a new post which should go up tonight, so I am cutting this one a bit short. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

81 Days to SF/179 to NYC

The marathons continue to draw closer.  Friends of mine are having successes in their training and I envy them.  I feel that I am falling further and further behind.  If I speak about this, people are quick to point out that raising two babies is difficult, work is stressful and so is trying to sell a co-op (which at this price is a steal!).  These are valid points BUT the marathons are lining up to kick my ass.  They don’t care what else is going on in my life. 

My sister, who is my “go-to” in terms of running Marathons always says that “Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  Basically, you’ll hurt but how much is up to you and how much you train.  I, apparently, am opting for the suffering.   

Last week has reminded me to get back to one of my philosophies in life.  I saw it happen to someone else today but I won’t tell their story because it’s their story.  I’ll tell mine because it’s my story and I’m egotistical.  So the theory is this:

Don’t fight.  Win.

This seems to fly in the face of common knowledge.  You need to fight to get what you want, right?

Fighting is a strange concept.  In some circumstances, it’s advised: Fight the Power, Fight Gingivitis, Fight…for your right…to paaaaaaarty.  Sometimes it’s mandated: If it’s your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.  Other times, it’s not allowable: Don’t fight with your brother.  It’s a warning: You can’t fight City Hall.  Sometimes, it’s an impossibility: I can’t fight this feeling anymore, I’ve forgotten what I’ve started fighting for.
My story is this.  When I was studying for the Bar, I needed to pay a fee as part of my application and when I went to my bank, the teller tried to charge me $12 dollars for a bank check.  I knew she was wrong but the teller was unwavering.  I tried to explain to her that she was wrong, tried to get her to call a manager but the only thing she did was tell me that if I didn’t like it, I should go to the post office where bank checks only cost $4.  If anyone has studied for the Bar Exam or studied for any other test that consumes your soul, you know that anything can set you off.  Normal things are annoying, annoying things are infuriating and people trying to steal 12 bucks from you push you to a level where a murder charge would be mitigated by a “Heat of Passion” defense.  Rather than scream at this teller who wasn’t going to help me, I walked out of the bank.  The Win was passing the Bar, which I ended up doing.  Fighting with this teller was getting me nowhere. 

At the same time in my life, I was trying to watch my weight.  My energy was low and I felt like crap.  I knew that a solid exercise plan was impossible so I needed to try to eat healthier.  While studying for the bar, you will eat anything, particularly if it’s easy to prepare.  Most junk food is easy.  You’ll use excuses—it’s because of stress, it’s only until the test is over, this bag of candy provides me with energy, the Twinkie is the reason they invented the Rule against Perpetuities!!!  I planned to get sushi after obtaining my bank check but once the bank check attempt went wrong, I thought “screw it, too much stress, at least eat something you like.”  First, I thought chicken parm wedge, then General Tso’s Chicken, then General Tso’s on a wedge.  Plus pork fried rice.  Wonton Soup (it’s healthy, it’s mostly chicken soup).  Egg rolls have vegetables.  And eggs are good for you. 

Then it dawned on me.  I had lost my focus.  I was allowing a stupid incident make me lose my focus.  I ended up getting the sushi and taking a few steps to get that bank check for free.  I didn’t fight.  I won.   I didn’t let that little setback distract me from what I really wanted to do. 

There are always things that will happen in our lives that cause emotions that generally distract us.  I know in my situation mentioned above, I was feeling bad, would have felt momentarily better eating and then much worse because I had let the situation get the best of me.  In the end, it’s not worth it.

So tonight I ran hills in White Plains in preparation for San Francisco.  They suck.  I completely avoided hills while training last year for NYC because NYC is a relatively flat race.  There are some hills but they are mostly on the bridges.  The Harry Chapin Race that I wrote about previously was hilly and it beat me up to the point of almost withdrawing from the Marathon.  San Francisco will be hillier and 4 times as long.  I’m getting ready for the pain.  Hoping to minimize the suffering.