Monday, January 30, 2012

One of Those Mornings

Just one of those mornings.

"Houston, we have problem..."
On Saturday, I merged onto the highway, the sun piercing through the windshield. I reached up for the visor when it dawned on me, “F#$%!” I blurted out. Not only had I forgotten my wallet, but I owed one of my friends breakfast that morning. Then I slowed down.

Tom Hanks' character from Apollo 13 popped into my head, and I heard him mutter that "hopefully this is the glitch” for their mission, or in this case, for my morning. And then I immediately regretted the thought remembering how the rest of the movie panned out.

On my ride down the eerily barren Virginia highways, I thought about my run for the morning. My ambitious half marathon plan called for a 10 mile progression run. Not only would it be my first attempt at double digits since spraining my ankle, but also only my second speed workout of the New Year.

I vacillated between turning it into a “time on my feet run” where I just got in the mileage versus the “court the pain” type of workout to shock my system into real training again. When I pulled into Dangerfield Marina at the 12 mile mark of the Mt. Vernon Trail, I still didn’t have a clue.

So, I started with some dynamic stretching and decided to hit the bathroom one more time. I felt my spirits lifting and the adrenaline begin to bring my sleepy limbs to life at the prospect of a long run again. Then I laughed. “Long run.”

I already knew it would feel funny plugging 10 miles into my training log as a “long run,” but I would relish seeing the pink shaded bar next to all those green “easy” bars. Remember when 10 miles was just any old evening. When I was in.

I got to the bathroom door. Locked. See response above. I ducked into the bushes and took care of business.

When I returned to the car, I pulled my water bottle from my backpack, locked the car, and started walking toward the trail. Something didn’t seem right, but I kept going. When I looked down at my watch, it hit me: I’d forgotten the hand-sleeve for my water bottle. See response above. “Houston….” So, I carried it with my like a fat, sloshing baton. For 10 miles.

I started at an easy pace still unsure of exactly what to do with this workout, but only knowing that I’d be covering double digits. I wore an old pair of GT 2160s instead of my lighter DS Trainers for the extra support. But I’d broken the 500 mile threshold on those old Asics and just felt clunky as I meandered along the Potomac River toward Mt. Vernon.

At the first mile, I glanced at my wrist and raised my eyebrows at the 7:29 pace that felt strangely comfortable. I began to flirt again with the idea of “courting the pain.” I came barreling through Old Town Alexandria and seemed to find the stride I’d forgotten on my five miler earlier in the week.

When I left Old Town behind, I had a mile to go to the turnaround. I weaved around idling joggers and found that the pace had dropped naturally to 6:45. My body had decided for me. And I channeled Greg McMillan’s advice to “Give each workout a purpose.”

My watch beeped at the 5 mile mark and I did a slow seagull turn then hit the gas. Let’s get uncomfortable, I thought.

The morning came alive. It was a rare (or rare for this winter) brisk morning and the same sun that blinded me in the morning, energized me as I climbed my way up Union Street and through Old Town again. “Looking good!” a runner called out to me. I waved and recognized that this was the second time we’d crossed paths this morning. It gave me an extra surge and I rounded the corner that would lead me out the other side of Old Town once again.

My shoulders began to ache from the water bottle. I kept switching hands but every time I carried it on my left side, my heart rate shot up. I let my arms fall to my side and shook them out.

I took one more glance at my watch and saw 6:22. Hold on, now, I said to myself as the fatigue started to seep into my quads. I tried to tell my lungs to tell my legs to stay in gear.

With a half mile to go, I could see the stop sign that would indeed mark the stopping point for this run. I closed my eyes for a moment and focused on my form. I wanted to send those 2160s out on a high note, one last good run.

I clicked my watch and brought my hands to my head, letting the cold air fill my lungs.

The strain came to my legs and I walked gingerly back to the car. I looked at my watch and saw 1:09:11.

Just one of those mornings.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ragnar Relay DC Ambassador Run Roundup

Only for Ragnar would I grow a 'stache
like this.
When the e-mail arrived in my inbox at the turn of the year, I thought, “Could I do this?” A beat. “Definitely.” And so, I began furiously filling out the Ragnar Relay Ambassador application and commenced checking my e-mail constantly to see if I’d heard back, acceptance or not.

A week ago, when I saw the (1) on my browser tab, I naturally thought nothing of it, until I saw the Ragnar e-mail address. I had been accepted.

That’s how I found myself trotting down the dark and damp D.C. Mall at 6:45 Wednesday night to meet up with my fellow Ragnar Relay D.C. Ambassadors. Because what do you do when you call a bunch of runners together for a meeting? You have the meeting on the run. If only real life could be that way. Can you imagine being in one of those meetings that suddenly goes sour, the ones where it takes every concentrated effort to keep your eyes open, when your thoughts wander away to your run later in the afternoon or just how did that brown stain get on the ceiling and you return to the conversation realizing that you’ve missed about five minutes and yet the person is STILL talking but you haven’t missed anything…wouldn’t it be great if you could just drop the pace down so that 1) they couldn’t continue talking or 2) you just leave them behind.

Whew, I digress.

About 12 of us gathered in front of the Smithsonian Metro stop and shuffled back and forth on our toes and heels as we waited for everyone to arrive. The warmth generated by jogging from car to meeting point began to dissipate and a quiet chill started to settle on me.

I looked around at my new ambassador cohorts and, like Ragnar itself (and the running life for that matter) we were the perfect cross section of the running population: male and female, younger and older, experienced and beginner, speedy and easy…but the one link that we shared, other than running of course, was Ragnar.

When asked on the application, “Why do you want to become a Ragnar Ambassador,” I wrote:
“When I lace up and go for a run, go to the gym, or go to cheer friends at races, and I spot the Ragnar t-shirt, it’s an instant conversation starter….If there’s time to converse, conversations usually devolve into team names, outfits, van decorations, magnets, and the general camaraderie over such things as random cravings for beef jerky at 3:00 in the morning and 'sleeping' in some sort of field. I believe every runner should experience that knowing nod from other Ragnar finishers, the one that signals that you know what one another has been through to earn the right to wear that shirt. Fast or slow, in it to win it or just complete it, they should have the opportunity to join that fraternity of delirious accomplishment.

And I want to share my experience with them to ensure that they do.”

After brief introductions, we set out in a big clump of runners tumbling down the Mall toward the spotlighted Capitol, getting yelled at by homeless men to "keep it down."The conversation, like the pace, flowed smoothly. We chatted about our past Ragnar experiences, the finish lines we’ve crossed, and the starting lines we aim to toe. You could pass easily between the group and move from conversation to conversation. It’s not often I get to run in a group this big, so I was surprised at how quickly the time passed as you either carried the conversation or let it carry you as a quiet observer.

Four and a half miles came and went and soon we had stretched our run from the Capitol to the Lincoln and back to the Metro.

When chatted longer about tentative plans for the year as that same quiet cold began to seep in again as our sweat dried. Then we broke and went our separate ways into the night.

I can’t wait to continue giving back to a race and a series that has given so much to me. This is only the beginning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When I was in Marathon Shape

“I should have run 10,” my friend texted me on Sunday morning. “That was where I started coming apart.”

Marathon shape personified
I had asked him how the 13 miles treated him. Soon after that reply, he followed up with, “This is fun, right?”

It used to be.

Fast forward to last night. My same friend and I met up for dinner before going to the Caps game. The conversation, as it tends to do, turned to running. We sounded like two old codgers reminiscing about the glory days. Most sentences started with, “When I was in marathon shape,” and ended with a deep sigh and a bite of pizza.

In many ways, you could argue (and we tried to) that these so-called “glory days” passed us by after our fall races: I PRing in NY and he running his third fastest marathon of 17 in Philly.

Between those November races and last night’s dinner lay the wasteland of days marked by holiday food buffets, sprained ankles, and road trips. When the number of empty wine and beer bottles out-tallied the number of miles run.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re both back on the wagon (or bus as it were), and training for the Rock ‘n Roll DC Half Marathon in March. The meals are more sensible and a splurge like last night’s has become the exception rather than the norm. Words like “high fiber,” “vegetable smoothie,” and “lentils” are staples as are the noises I make a few hours after.

But gone are the days of the effortless 10 and 12 milers that were simply considered, A Tuesday Run. We romanticized the days of the 40 and 50 mile down weeks and scoffed at attempting that now. A 38 day hiatus will do that to you. The fitness lingers in your memory, but your legs and lungs have amnesia.

Our problem, my problem, is that I’m still in the mindset that a 35-40 minute run is not even a recovery run, but a taper run. The reality, however, is that the hills I used to charge up now leave me huffing near the crest. And the thought of suffering through my own first attempt at double digits this weekend makes me slightly nervous.

I know that this is just temporary, that my body just needs to adjust to training again, but in this day and age of instant gratification, “I want it now!” This feeling largely comes on the heels of my first “so-so” run.

I let out for an easy five miler in the misty Monday evening. The air was too warm for a jacket but too wet to go without one. I brought the dog with me to ensure I controlled the pace. At the 2.5 mile mark, my head felt cloudy, my legs heavy, and I groaned inwardly knowing that the hill work on this particular loop comes in the second half. Every thought in my head nearly began, “When I was in marathon shape….” before I finally snuffed the thought out with a simple phrase from a favorite yoga podcast: “Be in the moment.”

And the moment is of course this training cycle, this workout, this interval, or this mile.

While I daydream about the runner who led me swiftly through the streets of NY in the fall, I press onward with the visions of the runner I will become once the rust falls away.

When I was in marathon shape…. When I train up for this half marathon....

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Love Affair

The Mt. Vernon Trail at Mile 15.
It’s no secret: I love running in D.C. And while I’ve blogged about my runs in and around the city in the past, there are moments when my passion for covering its ground is reignited. Yesterday, in the gray morning light, during a routine six miler, I had one such run where the words came as quickly as my footfalls and it was all I could do to hold it in….

When I stepped out of the car, the wind cut through my jacket as if I was wearing nothing at all. It was the kind of cold that reaches through you and into your bones. White clouds stretched over the sky and matched the blanket of snow that lingered from Friday’s storm. If the sky didn’t betray the threat of snow, the sharp smell in the air erased any doubt. I squinted through the wind, making my way to the back of my car to get a quick stretch on and pluck my iPod and ear buds.

I surveyed the unusually sparse parking lot that normally teems with bikers, runners, and picnickers. Where visitors normally stalk parking spaces, I had the pick of the lot. A couple of black Lincolns idled, their drivers on cell phones or thumbing through the morning paper, waiting for their passenger to arrive.

Satisfied and just damn cold, I slammed the backdoor. The wind gathered noise until it reached a near deafening roar. I tilted my head back and followed the 737 folding up its wheels and gaining altitude as it began to trace the Potomac River and disappear into the clouds.

I ducked into the porta-potty and didn’t bother wrangling the plastic door shut. With nothing left, I began.

Just the other day, I found myself romanticizing about the notion of having snow on the ground. The mercury read 52 and something about seeing that in January just didn’t feel right. Friday night, I got my wish and reluctantly had to postpone my Saturday morning run to Sunday. With my dad in town and an early flight out of Reagan Airport, that’s how I found myself in the unusual position of standing alone in Gravelly Point, just 400m shy of the 15 mile marker on the Mount Vernon Trail.

My first tentative steps to warm up my ankle came and went, and as I trotted by that 15 mile marker, my stride returned, the wind receded, and I knew this was going to be one of “those runs.”

I passed under the 14th street bridge, which offered the first glimpse of the Jefferson memorial. The trail meandered alongside the choppy black water. The silence and the gray made the stone monuments and bridges somehow colder and more imposing. It was as if the storm had drained the color from the trail and muted its soundtrack of passing cars, bike bells, and breathy conversations. Even my outfit, black tights and a gray top, fit the landscape.  Only the yellow dashes marking the trail lanes in each direction blazed the way.

Something about that stillness and gray canvas called on past memories of commuting over this bridge into high school every day.

After Memorial Bridge, I charged by the 17 mile marker and stepped carefully around the frozen puddles. As the trail neared its end, the asphalt became wooden planks that linked it to Roosevelt Island. Here, the snow and ice had not melted. I turned off my iPod and listened to the silence that cracked with the crunch of the snow and ice underfoot. I traded views of the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Memorial for the archway of bare branches that opens up to the TR Island parking lot. I chuckled thinking that the last time I made this run, I was shirtless and just meters away from hitting my 400 mile goal.

I made the hard U-turn to start the back end of my out and back and watch the monuments reappear. As I retraced my steps, the clouds gave way and the first flurries of the morning spilled over before a light snow began to fall. A smile broke over my frozen face and I fought the urge to drop the pace to tempo even though every instinct in my body screamed for me to drive forward. Instead, I held back to enjoy that rare moment of having this regularly busy section of the Mt. Vernon trail to myself. I wasn’t quite ready to reenter the real world and let this chapter of my love affair with the City end.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Gospel According to the Training Plan

Since returning home from the New York Marathon, which seems at once a distant memory and just days ago, our refrigerator has looked bare. Not the inside, but the door. To the discerning eye, you might disagree looking at the collage of cards, pictures, and magnets. But to the discerning runner, the void is immediate. It lacks the one thing that tells us what day it is, what week it is, what workout it is, what pace to run, and what distance to cover.

It is: the Training Plan.

It is the Gospel according to the Road. It is the moral compass deterring us from caloric right and wrong. It is the dictator ruling our life with an iron fist. It is the “other woman” (or man) calling us to trails in the pre-dawn hours, the darkness, the heat, the rain, the ice, no matter what the cost.

But within its neatly stacked rows and perfect boxes lies the secrets, lies the hope, lies the grit that will carry us to the start and – God willing – the finish line “for which we’ve striven these many months.”

In the beginning, the thought of running outside the confines of a plan seemed glorious. After 14-16 weeks of all that structure, wouldn’t it feel good to just go do whatever feels right? It was ok in the early going. I’d knock out a three miler, a five miler, the trail I’d wanted to do, double digits on the weekend to maintain a base. But soon after, I felt aimless.

Prior to the now infamous ankle sprain, I couldn’t wait to put a specific half marathon program together. It had been almost four years since a half was the goal race on my calendar. Once I took to the couch, I quickly put that plan out of my head knowing that the only thing worse than putting together a training plan you couldn’t use was deleting workouts on it that went to waste.

Instead, I put programs together for my friends, living vicariously through their workouts.

As the strength in my ankle returned, so too did the itch to fill that void on the fridge. Earlier this week, I dug out my list where I jot down workouts I might want to incorporate. I visited Greg McMillan, the Running Times, Flotrack, and spread all my notes out on the kitchen table along with my training log. My weeks started to come together, the boxes filling with notations and abbreviations that would cause the non-runner to consult the Rosetta Stone for translation.

The days of the week no longer have the same names taught to us in pre-school. You see, Tuesday is never Tuesday again. It’s “Speed Work.” And so is Thursday for that matter. Monday is “Easy,” Wednesday is “Recovery,” Friday is “Rest,” Saturday is “Long,” and Sunday is “Off.”

The posting of the Training Plan brings so much hope. Tabula rasa. There is purpose. No boxes checked. Only the promise of what could be.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Back on the Bus

Gray clouds pulled in over the noon-time sky yesterday. The wind rattled the bare tree limbs and pushed around the chairs on our back deck. A chill ran up my spine as I tightened my laces, pulled on a pair of gloves, and clipped the dog to her leash. For the first time in 38 days (who’s counting?), I was going for a run.
Around this time last year, when I waited impatiently for my knee to heal so I could get down to Boston training, I remember speaking to my Uncle who said something along the lines of, “You need to get to the point where you don’t even think about it or question that it’s hurting.” But every twinge, every misstep sent my mind reeling. It wasn’t until many months later that I returned from a run and thought, Oh, I guess my knee is ok.

So it’s been with my ankle and the soundtrack to my rehab, The Waiting is the Hardest Part. On my “feel the day” morning walks, when I’m riding what seem like endless miles (yet going nowhere) on the exercise bike, or doing squats in the gym, I brace for that ankle to…well, brace.

It had been just over two weeks since I last tried to run, and all signs pointed to hope. Just this past Saturday, I gallowalked for three miles, gaining confidence with each successful running step that my ankle didn’t shatter. I gave my dad the good news later that day and got that extra bit of reassurance I seem to think we all need before truly believing in something. He said, “You sound completely healed. You’re not going to do any more damage to it, you just have to deal with any of the lingering discomfort.”

Mattie and I stepped out the door and she seemed to sense that this wasn’t just another long walk to the clubhouse and back. The wind bristled her fur and she scampered to the end of her leash then turned her head to look at me as if to say, “We’re doing this, right?” And we did.

I started off at a slow jog up the short hill that leads out of my neighborhood. Each time I stepped down on my right foot, I waited for the pain. When we hit the circle and the road tipped down, my old turnover returned. We chuffed up the hill to the stoplight and waited to cross the main road. There was some discomfort but nothing that raised any red flags.

I rested against the light pole and rolled my ankle in wide loops, clockwise then counterclockwise, as the traffic zoomed by. It clicked around 11:00 each time. When the light turned green, we trotted off into the next neighborhood, and the discomfort vanished completely. I tapped the volume on my iPod and opened up my stride.

We got to the one mile mark and surged onward. I tried to temper the adrenaline coursing through me, recalling the wise words of the Wolf in Pulp Fiction. I cheesily uttered, “Man, I feel so alive!” to the dog who forged ahead, her ears back and collar jangling.

Between miles two and three, I started putting the running schedule together in my head. “Ok, I could get in three days this week, topping off at five miles on Saturday. Then maybe four days next week with some light speed work, then just slip right into my half marathon program….”

When we returned to the stoplight for the final .4 miles of the run, Calvin Harris' “Feels So Close” came on, a song I downloaded long ago with visions of flowing through runs while listening to it. Finally, I had that chance.

Back at the house, I sat the top step and unlaced the key from my shoe as I always do and sat there to let the wind wash over us and let the sweat dry. I thought about Quenton Cassidy and how nice it was to be “on the bus one more time.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Olympic Trials Ramblings

When the gun went off on Saturday…rather, when the gun went off on NBC, Saturday afternoon, I sat in my friends’ basement, helping myself to some chips and salsa, sipping on a Chimay, and thought: this is it.
The 2012 Olympians. Courtesy of
Christmas morning, err, afternoon, had arrived.
As I mentioned last Friday, I’d had this day circled on the calendar for some time. I followed the journeys of the favorites and the hopefuls leading up to race day. I drew on their experiences and used them as my own motivation when storm clouds moved in around my head. The time had finally come and the stories had all merged together on one spot as they always do: the starting line.

Here are some of my thoughts and observations during the Trials: 
  • Blackhawk Down – First off, I love hockey. But part of me died inside when the Blackhawks scored with under a minute to play to send the game to overtime, thereby delaying the start of the Trials’ telecast. 
  • Ctrl+alt+delete – Before heading to my friends’ house, I feverishly worked in our basement trying to set the DVR to record the Trials at 3:00. We had the dreaded black screen blinking “No Signal.” While I laced together a string of obscenities after each Verizon "help" page led me nowhere, I finally decided to unplug the cable box and plug it back in. Why is it always just that easy?
  • My Dad the Faux Spoiler – I went into total media blackout at 9:00 a.m. EST. Though when I spoke to my dad later that morning the following ensued:
“Good morning.”
“Don’t say anything. I don’t want to know. I know it’s over.”
“Yep, it’s over. And I know who’s going.”
“I’m waiting until 3:00, don’t say anything.”
“Actually the women’s race is still going. Last time I checked, a pack of three had broken away.”
“Dad, seriously. Let’s move on. I’m in full media blackout until 5:00 tonight.”
“Well, since it’s running coverage, you could probably still live like a normal person and never know that it went on.”Truer words…but just in case, the Facebook, Twitter, e-mail embargo was in full effect.
  • Wow Me – While this was a “Trial” for the marathoners, I hope that NBC sees that it was a trial for their Olympic marathon coverage too. And they failed. I'm mostly over the fact that there was no live feed (the intro paragraph of this blog aside), but you'd think with the delay between the race and the actual telecast they could have, oh, I don't know, put some splits up!? I thought the commentary was awful. Would it have killed them to flash up mile markers so we knew where the runners were on the course?  These athletes are covering 26.2 miles at 4 and 5-something per mile. Let me be amazed!
  • Michael Wardian’s Ponytail is Everywhere – A cheer went up in the room when we spotted Michael Wardian’s signature backwards white hat and ponytail on the startline; he’s an Arlington, VA-based superhuman distance runner; we then proceeded to tell our, “Well, I saw Wardian at….” stories. Wardian also sprinted to the lead of the '07 Trials just to say he led; I thought Ryan Hall made it pretty clear that there'd be none of that this time around.
  • Double Dip – Wardian ran the Houston marathon the day after the trials too. Dude got his money's worth.
  • Home Cooking – Another cheer went up when we realized the runner leading the women’s race was from Falls Church, VA, just down the road from us. Then in the next frame, she faded. Alas.
  • Wave Goodbye – I rooted so hard for Ritz to stay with the lead pack, especially at mile 18 when Abdi started waving his arms at the crowd. I was ready to wave good bye to his spot. Not a fan.
  • Junk in the Front – Speaking of Ritz, did you see those “shorts” he ran in? Not just the shorts but everything else! My wife traveled to Massachusetts this weekend, and we usually leave those kinds of observations to her. But, I must have channeled her spirit because all of the sudden the words, "Check out Ritz's package," came out of my mouth. There's no recovering from that.
  • Rainbow Bright - And speaking of fashion, Meb's shoes? Whoa.
  • Cold as Ice - Desi looked automatic out there; I know Shalane won, but Desi just looks like a cold killer; she gives nothing away behind those sunglasses (except the lead, ba-zing!).
  • Kenyan Trials – Funniest comment to my last blog goes to runDanrun; run_nyc74 posted: “I just wish Kenya had an Olympic Marathon Trial. I’d definitely watch that. It would be better than the actual Olympics!” To which Dan replied: “The Kenyan Trials can be watched at the Olympics as 3.” 
  • Christmas is Over – When it was all said and done, I sat back and blew out a long sigh. It felt like I was a little kid all over again and I had torn through all my Christmas gifts and it was suddenly over too fast….until we get to see them do it again this summer.
Let the countdown to London begin!

What were your impressionable moments from the Trials?

Friday, January 13, 2012

London Calling

I didn’t think it could be done. But, on a bright November morning in 2010, I awoke to my alarm, fried up some eggs, brewed a pot of coffee and descended into our basement with the Sunday Post tucked under my arm. I was going to watch the New York Marathon.

We all know running a marathon is a challenge. And even spectating a marathon in-person can be quite the workout. But watching a marathon on TV? Surely, there are other more exciting things on Sunday TV.

That morning, I didn’t crease that newspaper once. I sat riveted to the screen watching Shalane duke it out, and willing Meb to hold on to the chase pack. I submitted my NYC marathon entry that afternoon, then I did the only thing left: I laced up and went for my own run.

Earlier this week in my co-worker’s office, I had the generic “what are you up to this weekend” talk (even though it was Monday). Without hesitation, without even a thought to the NFL playoffs or my beloved and woeful Capitals, I blurted out: From 3-5 on Saturday I’m watching the Olympic Marathon Trials.

I watched her face fall. Then it contorted in skepticism. Then the laughing began.
“I’m sorry. You’re going to watch running? For two hours?”

I hadn’t anticipated how this might sound. In my head, the thought of three spots on the line to go to the Olympics -- the Olympics! -- was all the reason I needed. To somehow live through Again to Carthage, and share in the hope, glory, and devastation of these athletes who have dedicated so many miles, so many hours, so many years of their life to just run 26.2 more and the right to do it again on the grandest stage.

And yet, I got laughter as a response. I may as well have said that I was going to watch the puddles freeze outside. But, I’ve had January 14 circled on the calendar since the summer.

When I really became a student of the running game, the 2007 trials were just ramping up. I remember flipping through Runner’s World, thinking Who are these guys? Now, names like Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenheim, Nick Arciniaga, and the Brooks Hanson’s project, are all part of my vocabulary. (Side note: I’ve met two thirds of the 2008 men’s marathon team. Boom.)

The past three weeks, I’ve been in my glory. Between the Flotrack coverage of Davila, Hall, McMillan Elite, Marathon Road, the Running Times feature on the '84 trials, and the Runner’s World online coverage, it’s been hard to focus on much else.

For some, the Olympic team is on the line. For others it’s the culmination of years and years of training just to meet the standard and get to compete in the race.

I will be detached from all electronic communication and news sources until 5:00 tomorrow evening since NBC, in their infinite wisdom, is not live streaming or live broadcasting the race. Rather, they have the “special” from 3-5.

So, if anyone needs me, I’ll be downstairs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So, You Gained a Little Weight

Well, it happened. The moment I long suspected would come, finally arrived at 6:32 a.m. this morning. Here it is: I’m fat.

Everybody relax. I say this tongue-in-cheek, mostly trying to scrape the last remnants of peanut butter from said cheek. But, I found out this morning that indeed, I have gained nine pounds since the New York City Marathon.

My suspicions began long ago, right around Thanksgiving. Right around the time I poured myself another Belgian Trappiste Triple and went back for thirds. Right around the time I deleted the Greg McMillan e-mail, “How to avoid the holiday bulge” with a dismissive sniff.

I ignored the warning sides signs. The day I lost a notch on my belt. The day my abs disappeared.

“You’re just full,” my kind wife would say. And normally, I’d believe her. I tend to get the food baby after big meals. Then I entered my second trimester. Then I ordered the eggs benedict. Then I ate a second lunch of coldcuts at Rachel’s grandmother’s (little known fact: the Boston roads are actually paved with Italian coldcuts). Then I finished everyone’s dinner…and dessert. Then I went to bed full…again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

“I may not be running 60 miles a week anymore, but I’m still eating like it, yuck yuck yuck. Speaking of which, you going to finish that?” I would say to anyone who hadn’t already heard me say it, as I reached across the table with my fork. Then I’d tweak my ankle and softly sob into my fully loaded baked potato, reminded that I actually wasn’t running any miles anymore.

This morning, I signed in at the gym, my friend standing behind me. “Oh, look,” he said, eyeing up one of the signs on the counter. “The Tannita scale is back…today! We should do it.”

I put the pen down and rolled my eyes toward him. “I don’t know,” I said, already knowing the prognosis. “I’ll think about it.”

So we went on with our workout. I hoisted weights and thought about how nice it is to finally be doing some real work again. I’ve ridden over 25 miles on the stationary bike the past two days and think, think, that I can start running again on Monday…and not a moment too soon.

On my last set, my friend walked by me and hopped up on the scale to get his reading. The Tannita scale calculates your weight, body fat, BMI, and hydration. Though neither of us could quite remember exactly what our numbers were last time, I did know that my weight was 158 and my body fat was in the single digits. I touched at my sides looking for those ribs to pluck.

My friend stepped off the scale. “Did you pass?” I asked, snickering as he pulled his shoes back on.
“I think so. I also think you should do it.”

And so, I started to untie my shoes. The trainer went on about doing it at the beginning of our workout next time because of the hydration factor, and blah blah, I’m sure these are valid points, but my workout time won’t affect my weight. I stepped on and watched the numbers climb. They skipped right over where I had been back in November.

First the digital confirmation. Then she kindly printed out the paper for me with all my readings.

I, of course, am perfectly healthy. My weight and other readouts actually fall smack in the middle of the “normal/recommended” range. It’s just, well, I’ve felt healthier. And I’ve certainly eaten healthier.

“How was the gym?” my wife asked when I got home.
“I’m fat,” I said holding up the paper for her.
“I hate you,” she said, before softening. “So, you gained a little weight. If it’s any consolation, you still look emaciated to me. Idiot.” Then she kissed our food baby.

So, I sit here (part of the problem), longing to stoke the fire and get the furnace hot again. And no, you can finish that.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Getting my (Running) Life in Order

The text came in moments after my tweet went up. It read, “Get a life would you!” Ah, a father’s love. The tweet in question said: “Just spent 20 minutes in @officedepot flipping through day planners to find the perfect training log and finally settled on one. #runnerd.”

*Sigh* It’s a sad admission. But alas, it’s true.

First, some context. I spent a lot of my childhood fretting over binder tabs, folders, and organizing my Topps hockey cards by number and year. I even had those little white circle stickers that you could put over sheets of looseleaf when the binder rings ripped a hole in your paper so a third of your sheet hung out of the binder and crinkled up in your backpack....My palms are sweating just thinking about it. I'm not even going to mention the folders on my computer except to sum them up in one word: immaculate.

I digress....

For the past couple years, I’ve been using my free Runner’s World training log, and it’s served me fairly well. For those wondering, I keep an online training log as well, i.e, I don't completely live in the dark ages, or the early-90s.

But there’s something about holding all those miles and workouts in my hands. For big races, I like to pull it out of my bag and flip through the days, weeks, and months of sweat and ink that brought me to that moment. It somehow brings more gravity, more enormity, to the situation. It makes me believe. Somewhere lurking in those pages is the reason for the PR, the knowledge that I can kick the pace down at mile 20, start an 800m kick at the end of a 5K, or drop more than a minute off my 10-mile PR.

I’m also a big believer in quotes and printing out articles and neatly placing them between the pages of my training log, something I can’t do online.

So, with 2012 just a week old, I decided it was time for a more serious training log. And, dear readers, the day planner is made for this. But which one?

I strode with naive confidence down the bright white aisles of Office Depot and found the display marked “Calendars.” I skimmed the three shelves and quickly realized I’d gotten into more than I bargained for. I also discovered that I am incredibly particular. For those who already know me, zip it.

There were 8.5x11 sized calendars, 5x7, and pocket-sized. Ones with a page for each day, each week, each month; hard covers, soft covers; black, red, green, purple covers. Some were lined, others blocks of white space. And still more had the hours of each work day.

I stood there, mouth falling open, eyes trying to drink it all in. What did I really want?

As I started to thumb through each one, there were attributes that I liked in each but not one that had everything. I realized, that a true day planner would be too thick. I liked the weeks, but I wanted one that also had the full month at the beginning. The one with tabs for each month was nice too. I definitely didn't like having the hours on each day. I'd narrowed it to three, when I saw her.

I picked up the Day Minder Executive Weekly/Monthly Calendar.

This beauty features a one page monthly calendar at the front end of each month. Behind the monthly page, each seven day week gets a two-page spread with eight lines to fill in whatever is going on that day, and it doesn’t have the annoying hours on it, which, as I mentioned, I am not a fan of. Plus, each month and week comes with its own notes section so I can jot down goals for the month, a specific race, or general comments. In short, my OCD-self was in love.

Naturally I wasn’t thinking of cost. I mean, how can you put a price on getting (and keeping) your (running) life together? However, after I swiped my card, it hit me that the cashier said $26.24. I thought, Really? I just dropped almost $30 on a calendar?

When I got home and explained this to my wife, her friend piped in and said, “Money is no object for this. I mean, you have to live with this thing for a year. I support your decision.”

My face lit up. Someone who understands.

What do you think?

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Payoff

Not the actual sunrise this morning since I regrettably did
not have my camera. But this comes courtesy of photolvr35
on Flickr.
The alarm went off at 7:00 this morning. I know what you’re thinking, “He said he was getting up at 6:00 to ‘feel the day’ and squeeze in a morning run.” Everybody relax. On Fridays, I get to work from home, which also means I can cut out my commute and snag an extra 30-60 minutes of sleep.

However, this morning, as I said, the alarm went off at 7:00 and I wobbled. Do I really need to walk the dog longer this morning? She’s going on a hike with Rachel this afternoon. The rationalization was in full effect, as went through the motions of pulling on my warmups. The longer morning walk for the dog is secondary, I shouted in my head. The longer morning walk for you is primary.

Still wrestling with the idea, I slid on my gloves and tuned in my iPod, all the while thinking, If you don’t get out the door to walk long every morning, how are you going to get up to go run short every morning?

This morning, the payoff came almost immediately, and it’s not even ankle related. No, the payoff was this: a magnificent sunrise. My only regret is that I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture.

Normally when I wake up, the sky is still dark or the eastern horizon is beginning to soften. Somewhere between taking a shower and getting out the door, night has officially receded and the sun blares through my windshield causing all traffic reports to reference the dreaded “sunshine delay.”

At 7:00 today, however, the timing was perfect. I stepped out of the house and glanced over to my left to see the fleece of clouds glowing like the orange embers of a roaring fire. All of the rationalization and second-guessing burned away.

Mattie and I walked toward the sunrise to start the front end of our 1.6mi round trip out and back. The sky continued to glow, changing from orange embers to the buzzing of neon pink signs. And when we reached the turnaround point near the 18th hole, a haze of pink water shimmered in the hazard where the reflection of the bare trees swam.

We stopped for a second to take it all in. Mattie sat down at my side as if appreciating the moment with me. It quickly became one of those times that no matter how much you didn't want to get out the door and run (or walk in this case), you're always glad you did.

We continued on with the sunrise at our backs until we reached the house again. By then, the sky had lost its palette of colors and instead reflected an ordinary crisp winter morning.

Today, the day felt good.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Feeling the Day

When I let the words come out, they sounded like a bad New Year’s resolution. The kind that you might stick with once, maybe twice, and then bail on. You know, how suddenly the gym is overcrowded and filled with pretenders and the good intentioned.
It sounded like that. I believe it went something like, “I’m going to start getting up 30 minutes earlier to get an easy three miler in.”

“At 6am it’s not really a training run,” Brother Colm said. “I call it ‘feeling the day’, and it’s not compulsory, and not supervised. And yet every one of them will do it.”

Brother Colm is a Kenyan Athletic coach who has hosted the St. Patrick’s Training Camp every year since 1989. He lives in the distance running mecca of Iten, and he’s speaking to Ian O’Riordan, an Irish journalist, known as a Mzungu, or white man to the locals, who spent three weeks living and training at altitude at an Iten running camp.

The run Colm references is roughly three miles and hardly factors into each athlete’s mileage, if they give it a second thought at all. It seems as much a part of their morning routine as brushing their teeth. And, as the article goes on to say, Colm and O’Riordan are on their way to the first true workout of the day, a hill session at 10:00 a.m.

O’Riordan’s entire account of the camp is a great read, but the idea of “feeling the day” immediately jumped out at me when I read this article after it popped up in an e-mail from my dad. It is in fact the culprit for my cheesy sounding resolution.

Prior to reading it, I’d made adding mileage to my weekly totals a 2012 priority once I can hit the roads in earnest again. I’ve dabbled in morning runs before, mostly to squeeze a workout in because of afternoon/evening plans or to beat the summer Virginia humidity. But I’ve never considered making them a staple of my workouts, preferring instead to capture 30 precious minutes of sleep.

At first, I thought about those three miles and considered how much value they might actually add. But when you stack three miles up over four to five days of running, that’s an extra 12-15 miles per week. In addition to adding a sixth day of running (I’ve only ever run five days a week), it seemed like the next logical step. Plus, I’ve seen my body respond pretty favorably to shake out and recovery runs, which this would no doubt become.

With my ankle on the mend, I thought I could not only get in some extra work on it, but also begin priming my body to be up at 6:00 when I can run again.

So, yesterday morning, bundled up and with dog leash in hand, I took off into our dark and still neighborhood before the sun had begun to lighten the sky and the coffee percolated in lit kitchens. I set off to “feel the day” and shake the grogginess from my head and my limbs before the day’s work began. My dog Mattie had a skip in her step when she realized we were continuing on past our normal loop, then scampered ahead of me when we set off down the path normally reserved for long-after-work-walks. I had my iPod tuned in to the local morning show that gets me to work in the morning. When we returned to the house, it was no later than normal had I bagged that extra 30 minutes of sleep, and instead of moving from room to room half awake, my thoughts were clear and I felt oddly alert for that time of the day.

When I take these on later in the month (fingers crossed), I’ll do so without a watch, not really caring what the time or the pace is, but rather to feel my body coming alive with the day rather than forcing it to.

After all, as one of the Kenyas points out, “The Mzungus, they say, have the watches; the Kenyans have the time.”

Get out and see what the day feels like before the real work begins.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Small Step in 2012

The Confucius saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." With that in mind, I began my first run of 2012. The sun disappeared behind the woods-lined track in the late afternoon dusk, and I cinched up my laces extra tight, paused at the starting line, and took my first step around the oval.

The step is only significant in that it’s my first determined step since spraining my ankle just over three weeks ago. While the coloring and shape of my foot has returned to normal, I’m just now able to walk without the lace up brace I’ve relied on so heavily over the past 24 days (who’s counting?).

January 2 has been the date circled in my head that would mark my return to running since being relegated to the couch.
In these 24 days, I've written the alphabet backwards and forwards, in uppercase and lowercase, in cursive (remember cursive?) with my right foot. I've done tight circles and long lazy circles with it while watching TV, watching traffic, or simply watching the world slip by. There's been no heat, moist heat, heat from the steam room, the sauna, the shower, ice cubes, ice packs, and icy hot. I've hopped, hobbled, and walked (forward and backward) around the house, up and down stairs. I've poked, prodded, and massaged the swollen areas.

Everytime Saturday came around again, I marveled at the progress and imagined with great hope and whimsy what it might look like in seven more days.

My wife and I took our dog to the track and began speed walking to get things loosened up. When we reached the back stretch, my confidence rose with every step I took without pain. Gone was the tightness in my Achilles, the quick, sharp pain at the top of my toes, and the dull ache that lingered on the outside of my ankle.

Memories of races past and hard fought interval workouts on this very backstretch began to whisper to me as the wind bit at our faces.

When we hit the quarter mile mark, I chickened out and decided one more walking lap was in order. My wife urged me on and laughed as she dropped a few steps behind me and mock chased me as we sped around the turn.

A small pit grew in my stomach as we took on the final 100m that would mark a half mile. This feeling, at this moment, on this track, was familar. It's the anticipation of the next interval, when the first 100m of recovery feels like there's an infinity of rest to be had. At 200m, the breathing returns to normal, the stinging in your muscles recedes, and you think that, "Hey, this isn't so bad." But after 300m, when you steer around the final turn and stare at the final 100m of straightaway that 90 seconds ago seemed to go on into eternity, is suddenly approaching at warp speed, and though the stinging may have receded, the body never forgets.

“I’m nervous,” I finally said out loud.
“Don’t be nervous,” Rachel said. “You’re going to be fine, whether it’s today or another day.”

I crossed the line, took a deep breath, and said, “Here we go.”

My first footfall on the injured foot rattled with pain. I grimaced and trudged on in a slow jog around the first turn. My foot felt like the heavy, yet delicate tree limbs encased in ice after a day’s worth of wet snow. With each step, the casing began to crack and my foot gained a wider range of motion. Like Forrest Gump, the braces fell to the roadside, only instead of getting faster, I grew more uncomfortable. My foot felt like it lacked the up and down flex it needed to complete each stride. At 50m, the pain grew too great on the inside of my foot and throughout my Achilles.

“I have to shut it down,” I said, and I returned to a brisk walk.
“I’m proud of you,” Rachel said.
“For what?”
“For not pushing it and letting it heal correctly.”

We forged on until crossing the line for the fourth time to mark one mile, the first of the new year. Rachel carried on while I moved to the outer lane and worked on my core. At least I could keep getting stronger so that when I can finally run, I’ll be ready.

“Are you disappointed?” she asked as we made our way back to the car.
“Not as much as I thought I would be,” I said, actually believing that answer. “It’s my second full day without the brace and I can walk pretty damn fast and my ankle actually feels better that all the scar tissue is breaking up. I’m not thrilled but I’m optimistic.”

So, where to go from here? I am a walking, foot-flexing machine! To the dog’s delight, I am trying to get in three miles of walking a day and will see if I can pepper in some Gallo-walking. It’s 11 weeks until my first goal race of 2012, the Rock ‘n Roll DC Half Marathon. Will I hit my sub-1:20 goal?

One step at a time.
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