Monday, June 30, 2014

27 Days Until San Francisco

The Hills of San Francisco are teeth waiting to chew me up and spit me out. 

It’s the last day of June and there are only 27 days until the San Francisco Marathon.  I’m not in an ideal spot to run that race.  I think that with my body type and previous wear and tear on my body, I can’t train in a way where I will ever feel comfortable walking into a marathon.  That’s ok, though.  I’ve run one, I can run another. 

Last year in September, I wasn’t feeling great about where my training for NYC was.  I had just run the 5th Avenue Mile race and was thinking I wouldn’t be ready for November.  The race isn’t really conducive to marathon training.  It’s only a mile, making it the shortest race on most people’s calendars, and isn’t really a run, it’s a sprint.  It’s the one race where everyone puts the pedal to the floor to see how fast they can really go.  I ran as hard as I could and didn’t stop running for the whole race.  The police did not make me wait while cars and pedestrians crossed 5th to get to Central Park.  Then we went to brunch.

I knew what my time was, 10:29, and thought it was pretty good although I didn’t hit the mark that I wanted, which was a sub 10 minute mile.  It wasn’t until later on when my perspective on the marathon changed.  I searched for my time for the 5th Avenue Mile the previous year.  12:53.  Lots of walking.  Every tourist and cab driver crossed my face while I waited at the cross-walk pretending to be outraged.  Then we went to brunch.

I did the math quickly and realized that I had shaved over two minutes and twenty seconds of my time.  I may not have been exactly where I wanted to be but I couldn’t overlook how far I had come.  Even though it wasn’t perfect, my training was working. 

I looked back at my last month of training and am somewhat disappointed with my results.  Looking at my calendar, I’ve averaged three workouts per week.  At first thought, that sucks.  On the other hand, there have been months where I haven’t worked out 3 times that month.  The good parts: in terms of racing, I’ve logged almost 30 miles this month.  I’ve logged a few hours on the elliptical and a few more on the bike.   The jogging path alongside the Bronx River Parkway is becoming my friend again.  The best part is that the knee pain that I’ve been experiencing has gone away and I’m only experiencing what I’ve come to understand as normal knee pain for a dude of my size. 

Here’s a brief recap of my last three races:
Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half: Only my second “Official” Half Marathon.  I got off on the wrong foot because I tied my shoes too tight before the race started.  Yup.  I cut off some of the circulation to my feet and started to feel a lot of tightness in my shins for the first 3 miles.  This has happened to me a couple of times before.  I don’t know why I decided I needed to tighten my shoes before the start but if you ever see me retying my shoes, kick me in the head, fart on me, whatever you need to do to stop me. 

Aside from the shoes, I ran a solid first 10 miles.  I was consistent in my per mile times and felt strong.  I didn’t cramp up the same way that I did during my other half, I think because I have been drinking a LOT of water.  Like 20 glasses a day.  The last 3.1 miles was a different race for me.  There was a woman I’d been passing and being passed by all morning who passed me and kept going.  When it was my turn to pass her, I just didn’t have enough giddy up to do it.  I ended up 9 minutes past my goal.

I had a couple of interesting experiences with other runners.  One of them will get mentioned in another column when I talk about training for the marathon from a mental aspect.  I will say, however, that that runner showed that just because you want to quit after the first 10 minutes, it doesn’t mean that you can’t complete a half marathon.

The second was a helpful older woman who asked if I was run this race before.  I said, No, if I had, do you think I’d sign up again?  It was at this point she said to me, You know, if you come back next year like 20 pounds lighter this will be much easier for you.  Just cut out one or two things and the weight will fall right off.  Otherwise, you’ll mess up your knees.  Then she said a version of the same thing everyone says after the say something offensive, I hope you don’t me saying this. 

Not at all.  I don’t mind you telling me I’m too fat to run here and that I’m risking the health of my knees.  I responded that my knees are already pretty beat up and that I have in fact run half-marathons before.  As a matter of fact, I ran two, back to back while finishing the New York City Marathon last November.  She wasn’t quite sure what to say about that.  I ran off with my bad knees and left her in the dust.

Front Runners LGBT Pride Run:
Another gorgeous day for a run in Central Park.  This is one of my favorite races and has one of the best two energies of any of the races I’ve participated in (Scotland is the other).  The course focuses on the North Half of the Park including the Harlem Hill.  I ran the entire first mile including said Hill and was feeling pretty good.  My second mile veered off in terms of time.  My third and fourth miles were great again, felt strong, not tired and was hitting my times.  The fifth mile slipped away from me and I ended up not quite making the time I was hoping for as the race went on.  I did finish about half a minute faster per mile than my last NYRR race. 

Achilles Hope and Possibility:
If you ever want to feel bad about how out of shape you are or how poorly your training is going, don’t go to this race.  You will be competing against a bunch of differently abled athletes.  A good number of them will be in better shape than you and will be running past you.  This race is always difficult to get a good time in because of the other athletes and because there are large groups of walkers around the course.  I got caught in the wash during the beginning of the race and was almost run over by a participant in a motorized wheelchair twice.  The same participant in the same wheelchair.  Seriously. 

I wasn’t mentally locked in and so the early parts of the race where I had a hard time finding my pace threw me off and I didn’t recover.  I had some good miles and finished better than I started.  As I was running down the road on the west side of the park near 90th Street, a man was running up the hill towards me wearing a bib.  He was yelling, Smile, guys!  I want to see smiles. 

Ordinarily, this kind of behavior annoys me but this man had lost his left arm and an eye.  His face was scarred.  My best guess is that he was in the military and had been too close to something that exploded.  He was high fiving us as we were running past him.  It was impossible to not run faster after this.

In the final straightaway, I saw another runner who had finished and was encouraging the rest of us who were still finishing up.  He was tall, muscular, athletic.  He looked at me and yelled, “You ran yesterday.  Great job!”  Thank you for noticing.

With 27 days left, I’m going super strict with the diet because I need to be as light as I can for this race.  I need to do two serious long runs and a few more “short” long runs as well.  I also need to do treadmill work to improve my speed and some elliptical work to make sure I still have some cartilage left in my knees when I start the marathon. 

Most importantly, I need to get my head together in the next few weeks.  I’m excited about the race and looking forward to running it but I need to improve my mental toughness for when things don’t go my way.  Luckily, the brain can be trained like a muscle so that’s what I’m going to do.  Then we’ll go to brunch.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

37 Days Until SF

I complain a lot about running in the Back of the Pack but there is one definite advantage: As I was running the chute to the finish line of the Portugal Run, I saw a little girl sticking her hand over the barrier.  For some reason, if you are a little kid, getting a high five from someone who is participating in a sporting event is a big deal even if the guy is finishing 5,014 out of 5,065.  So I run closer to the side, slap hands with her and say, “Thank you.”  The person emceeing the event notices this and calls over the microphone, “I want one of those, too” while extending her hand onto the course.  I slap hands with her and she says over the microphone “Jeremy Farrington.  Happy Father’s Day!”  People cheer, I run through the finish line and make the person there put the medal around my neck.

I’d first like to say how beautiful running in Central Park was on Sunday.  The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot.  My kids were on their first visit to NYC and waiting near the Finish Line for me and I got a shout out.  Although sometimes running sucks, it can be fun too.

I had set a goal for an average of 14 to 15 minutes per mile.  My per mile average was 15:09 so I didn’t hit my goal although I was 57 seconds faster than my last race.  I don’t want to go too easy on myself not reaching my goal but I’m clearly improving.  The problem is that the races that I am running this year are not going to wait for me to improve.  I need to speed my process.

I think I’m walking too much and need to push myself harder.  Further along that line, I also need to improve my mental toughness.  I’ve noticed that when I track my running on a per mile basis, I start out with a fast mile, slow down and then go into a tailspin before righting the ship and finishing well.  So what I’ve found is that I like to start running and like to finish running.  The farther I am from my car and/or start line, the worse I run.  I’m looking for ways to improve that.  This is actually been something that’s plagued me in life in non-running areas. 

I’ve done some research about focus during running and I’ve found that most people say that you need to pay very close attention to your form.  Think about what your feet are doing or where your elbows are.  This is 100% the opposite of everything that I know about athletics.  In football, I would practice every move over and over and over until my body would act without having to think about it.  In football, when it comes to mechanics, thinking is death. 

For instance, in the huddle, the play is called: 4.  We run to the line and I look to see if there is a man lined up across from me.  Let’s say No.  I Iook to my right and see the Tight End.  Great.  I know I’m working with him to zone block the man across from him and the outside linebacker.  At this point, my brain goes off.  I’m listening for the quarterback’s call to move.  I take a drop step to make sure that I can block my opponent from the front.  I sink my hips slightly to get more power to drive block.  My elbows go back and my hands “go to the holsters.”  I keep my head up but back and keep my chin tucked into my collar.  I remember to bend at the knees, not at the waist.  Keep my back arched, shoulders back.  I take a step with my right foot towards the tight end and bring my hands forward, deliver a punch and try to lock out my elbows and with the tight end establish inside control on the defensive end.  I need to move my feet in a manner to push the d-end off the line of scrimmage.  I want to work off the insides of my feet because it puts more of my foot in contact with the ground than working off my toes.  I need to look under the d-end’s armpit to see if the linebacker is coming over the top.  If he is, I need to come off the d-end and start with the drop step all over again but to the other side.  All of this happens in about 3 seconds.  If I thought about how to do any of that stuff, I’d still be coming out of my stance as the guy I’m supposed to be blocking is making the tackle.

In football, thinking causes people to freeze.  You practice until your muscle memory takes over and your body moves by itself.  So I need to change my way of thinking to focus on what I’m actually doing but it feels incredibly unnatural.  I am working on being focused and working on being in the moment and being aware of my body at that time is a part of it.  With practice, perhaps it will become second nature.  I do need to figure out a way to not let my mind and body go on lunch break during my runs though.  I think in running that’s called a process goal.  I’ll get there.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

43 Days to San Fran/141 to NYC

It was a pretty exciting end to the week for me regarding this blog, particularly my post “On Being Excepted by the Running Community.”  Runner’s World has been posting about Back of the Pack Runners lately, at first making fun of them (tell us your funniest story about finishing last or almost last) then trying to reach out to Back of the Pack Runners by posting about someone’s dispiriting experience running a recent race.  Of course the runner who was quoted was a front half of the pack runner who ended up in the back due to illness and running a 5k and 10k the day before running a half marathon (I predicted this article in my On Being Excepted… article.  A blog called My No Guilt Life saw my post, quoted and linked to it  It’s always nice to know that there are people out there reading and there are others having the same experience that I am.  Not nice that they are having the same experience, just that I’m not alone.  Anyhow, Back of the Pack Runners: Stay strong!!  You have just as much of a right to be there as anybody.  Don’t let other people’s negativity take away from your positivity.  Don’t fight.  Win!

This weekend the racing season starts in earnest.  There are 4 races in the next 16 days for a total of 28.1 miles.  Sunday kicks off with Portugal Day, a 5 mile race in Central Park that I circle on my calendar every year.  As I detailed in a previous post, Year 1 it kicked my ass, Year 2 I kicked its.  When I first saw this race coming up, I had set a 12 minute per mile goal but I haven’t trained in a way that would get me there.  I have my goal for Sunday to be between 14 and 15 minutes per mile (I ran 4 miles on Saturday averaging 14:40).  That would be a large improvement over what I’ve run but I have faith in myself.  I’ll let you know what happens.

So in the past few weeks I’ve been suffering from Runner’s Knee or something like it that I think was caused by trying to jump my running hills from 0 times per week to 3 times per week.  That might have been too much but I did learn a few valuable lessons about training.

When I run hills I keep time.  I was finding that my first hill would start around 2 minutes and then my time would slow until I got to about 2 minutes and 40 seconds.  While it is natural to get tired as your workout progressed I didn’t think that my time should become that slow in so few reps.  When I was at the bottom of the hill, I decided to change my plan of action. 

Attack the hill. 

My time for that hill was 2:07.

I had been saving energy so that I could complete the exercises.  So what if I didn’t finish?  I was wasting my time doing half-assed reps with the intention of being able to finish.  I found out that even while attacking, I could do all the reps.  And I was getting a better workout.  My time is valuable.  I don’t say that in an arrogant way, all of our time is valuable.  I’d rather be playing with my kids, cooking and eating, reading a book or sleeping.  That’s just the top of the list.  If you are going to be out there, get the max workout in.  Attack that damn hill!!

With my knee bothering me, the first thing I tried to do was keep up the training.  I remember saying that I’d keep training and manage the pain.  It wasn’t working.  The pain was crazy intense while working out and didn’t go away after working out.  It was also almost impossible for me to walk up or down stairs.  My second thought to deal with the injury was to give it rest.  The rest worked somewhat.  The pain became less intense but unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sit around and wait for my knees to feel better.  I got back in the gym and started doing more elliptical and more weights.  I needed to improve flexibility and strength which the weights and elliptical did.  Sometimes you need to switch it up.  Sitting around and doing nothing doesn’t always help.

This is a tip for the Back of the Pack folks who are Run-Walkers like me.  I went to the track to run a bit and started with walking two laps around the track to warm up and also gather some info.  I started my stopwatch at my first lap and walked around the track the way I would in everyday life or when I stop running.  At the end of the lap, I looked at my watch and noted the time.  For the second lap, I made one simple change: I constantly reminded myself to Walk Fast.  I focused on what I was doing and kept reminding myself to keep moving.  At the end of the second lap, I’d shaved 30 seconds off my lap time.  So at your next race you may be able to knock a bit off your time but staying focused and reminding yourself to walk fast.  More important though is just staying in the moment and focusing on what you are doing.  Be in the moment.

My last tip for the evening has to do with dieting.  If you are Facebook friends with me, you may have caught my post about how my Weight Tracking App told me that I was a fatass and would stay that way (actual quote: At this rate, you will never reach your Target Weight).  The scale was agreeing with it.  I was getting frustrated because I know that I was denying myself of foods that I liked and the quantity.  I started keeping track of what I was eating which I recommend everyone do.  So here’s what I found, my meals were perfect.  What I was doing was I was finding a bunch of good snacks—and eating too many of them.  My company puts out snacks for us to eat and there is some good stuff in there like 100 calorie bags of Popcorners, Fiber One Bars and Skinny Cow Bars.  So a 100 calorie bag of chips is good as a snack but when you string together 5 separate 100 calorie snacks, you end up with 500 calories.  Most of the time when I’m dieting and not losing weight, I find out that I’ve been eating a lot more than I thought.  I call it Gray Area Dieting.  You’re eating the right foods, just too much.  After I recognized the Gray Area Dieting issue, I lost 7 pounds in 4 days.   Suck it Weight Tracking App!!! 

I’m heading to bed now because 5 Miles is coming bright and early tomorrow morning.  I’m particularly excited because my children will be attending their first race for Father’s Day.  Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.  Attack that Hill!