The Music of Running
WINTER TRAINING WARNING:

A NO WHINING ZONE is in effect for the rest of the winter.

I love Twitter.  It helps us connect with people we want to connect with.  It’s also valuable for information updates and resource sharing, as well as getting inspired by fellow athletes.  Sometimes, however, Twitter is reduced to a repetitious weather report from many (present company included). 

You’ve seen it: A screen shot of the frigid temperatures, a photo of a snowy yard.  I’ve been guilty of this myself.  We are sharing what we already know: it’s cold and it snows in winter.  Can we get over it? 

Here’s the thing: We are athletes.  We train twelve months of the year.  If a big spring race is coming up, we must train.  Yes, a foot of snow will force us to get creative and flexible with our training plans, but at the end of the day, we must get in the workout.  Whether it’s using a treadmill, Yaktrax, or running on a planned rest day (if that day turns out to be the better day weather-wise), our training plans must be “breathing training plans.” We mustn’t ruminate if we need to adjust.

The other thing I won’t do: I won’t complain about the weather. Yes, on the inside, I might be worn down or frustrated by it, but I can’t waste my energy worrying about it.  Whining doesn’t get the workout done.  The race date doesn’t get moved, so neither should our training. 

To help cope with the bad weather, I’m sharing some of the things that help me deal with it:

Wind Chill Factor (the “Feels Like” temp):  Wind just reminds us we are alive. When it smacks you in the face, smile back at it.  What else can you do?  Sometimes I yell too…it’s cathartic.  Try it.  If that doesn’t work, cursing is acceptable. 

Snow:  Remember when we were young?  The snow excited us.  We couldn’t get outside fast enough.  Throw on the Yaktrax and greet the snow head on.  Instead of sledding, hit a trail or right-of-way path to stay away from cars.  Otherwise throw on your Hi Viz gear or hit the treadmill.

Darkness: Personally, I have more trouble with the shorter days than the actual weather because of my poor vision.  This year, I bought a headlamp and I have my NB jacket, which glows in the dark. These things help, but it’s still hard to catch the potholes.  I’ve turned my ankles at least three times.  Perhaps, try a midday run when temperatures moderate and the darkness is gone.

Group: If I know I have to meet a friend to run, it gets me out of bed to do it.  Plain and simple.  If it’s just me running, there is more risk of hitting the snooze.  So, if you can find someone as crazy and willing as you to brave it, I’d try it. 

I’m not saying to be stupid or be a hero out there, but it’s possible to make it through winter and come out in great shape for the spring.  Also, we can do it without whining about it. 

Yes, it’s winter, thank you for the reminder

The Track Feels Like Home…

The track feels like home, and sometimes you must break into your own house  

Saturday morning.  Crunched for time. If I was going to be able to handle the rest of my responsibilities that day, my track workout needed to start by 7am.  As I approached the entrance to the track area, it was clear that it was locked. 

“Now what?”

Option 1: Drive to the next township, and see if their track is open?  That would eat more precious time.  No. 

Option 2: Climb the six feet high fence, and enter the track illegally?  Smiling…Yes.

As I started my climb, my inner monologue was: “What the bleep are you doing?” However, as one leg went over the top, I shifted to: “Breakin’ the Law, Breakin’ the Law” from Judas Priest with eyes wide open and grinning.  I know, a minor infraction, but when I landed on the other side of the fence, freedom was before me.

The track was mine, and nobody else’s.  It would stay that way for the entire workout. This. This place feels like home. Familiar: With a sense of place. Finite: yet so many possibilities…memories to be made, work to be done.    

I’ll spare you the details of the actual workout because you’ve done your own such workouts; however, I’d like to share some of the sounds of the track from that snowy, windy morning with you…

On the turns: The relentless sloshing sounds of my feet from the wet, slippery track

Back Straight: The unforgiving, dissonant howl of the winter wind blaring in my ears and face. 

Front Straight: The transition to the quiet serenity of the tailwind, with silence broken by my labored breathing. 

Across the street: The metronomic clanging of the flagpole, mocking my temporary pain. 

That inner voice: “200m more - don’t leave it here.”

Breaking the law to do this was worth the effort.  As I climbed my way out of there, I cut myself just below my left knee.  This was a small price to pay for the opportunity to be there.  To be home. 

I found the picture for my icon (on google--shh) but I think the source is your blog, so, credit where credit is due: thank you for a picture to match my url :)

Oh, no worries, feel free, I’m sure I got it on Google too.  :-)

2013 - Running Year in Review

Strange year: There was the good, the bad and the scary.  The scary dominated, but the good won out in the end.  As far as the bad? We always learn from the bad.

The Good:

·         Adult PRs in the 5k (17:43), 10k (38:26), Half (1:20:43), and Marathon (2:55:10)

·         New High in annual mileage ( 1,601 and counting )

·         Got up enough nerve to join a running group

·         #BostonStrong (more on that later) 

The Bad:

·         Barely finishing the ½ Sauer ½ Kraut after being sick all week

·         Melting at the Wilkes-Barre Half turning in a “Positive” split like none other

·         Summer injury JUST before ramping up training

The Scary:

·         The irregular heartbeat DNF at the Runner’s World Half

·         Boston 04/15/13 (this was the scary bad)

On Boston

Boston taught me a few things:

1.       I’m never going to be fully ok (and that’s ok)

2.       I’m an unapologetic crier

3.       People ARE inherently good, and runners rule … #BostonStrong

2013 taught me a few things too:

·         PRs do NOT translate into satisfaction and fun

·         Happiness and fun matter

·         See your doctor

·         Maybe I’m not an island after all (Running Groups are good)

That being said, in 2014, I’m cutting back my racing (maybe) and PR attempts (hopefully). I would say I’m going to have more fun with running, but saying things like that doesn’t work.  Forcing fun doesn’t work.

I’m just not going to think so much.  I will start by not wearing a watch in 2014.

One thing is for sure:  I’ll be in Boston on 4/21/14, and I plan on taking back Boylston Street. 

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 Before added security

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 PR

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Delaware Marathon 05/12/13

Cemetery Running is NOT Scary

There is a beautiful place a mile from where I live.  It is a serene, wooded 3.2 mile loop complete with built-in wildlife. It is quiet, safe and free of automobile traffic.   I run and I find peace there. It’s called the Ardsley Cemetery.  Up until New Year’s Day of this year, it was only a cemetery to me.  However, a friend of mine invited me to go for a run, and today I see it differently.  It all started something like this:

(At a New Year’s Eve party)

Friend: “Hey want to run tomorrow?” 

Me: “Sure, where?”

Friend: “The cemetery on Jenkintown Road.”

Me: “Cemetery, really?  Isn’t that creepy?”

Friend: “Not at all, come check it out.”

So, bleary-eyed, I joined him and two others, and surprise: a runner’s oasis. 

Though, it did take some time to see it as an oasis.  Initially, I focused on the names and dates on the headstones.  I was uncertain if what we were doing was disrespectful or not.    

“Should we be doing this?” 

“Should we be talking?” 

“Should we use a lower voice?” 

Well, now the residents of the cemetery haven’t seemed to mind (although I do have a no cursing rule for myself when we are there. I’m not always successful at following that rule though). 

Nearly a year later, the Ardsley Cemetery is a regular route for three friends and me.  We meet at 6:30am, and we set out to the quiet place.  Each of us has very busy, hectic lives, but for 45 minutes, we are sheltered from stress in the pleasant environs of the cemetery. 

The grounds aren’t completely occupied by the deceased.  There are woods and paths filled with countless deer, including a large buck that has no fear of us.  He is a majestic fellow, and I fear him slightly.  He appears to be the leader of the herd, and when the herd runs, it is a sight to witness. 

In a recent post, I admitted to being morbid.  I’m not sure if running in a cemetery falls in line with that, but I can say this: I am at peace when running there, and I hope its residents are all at peace too. 

Runner’s Amnesia: A Lesson from the Philadelphia Marathon

Two years ago, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon with my wife, as she attempted to qualify for Boston.  It was very memorable.  I even did a long, very detailed Race Recap (see archives).  I remember a ton from that race, even the most intricate details. It was a very special and fun experience. 

This year, I ran the same race; however, this time, I had a PR in mind.   The good news:  I got my PR; however, the bad news:  I don’t remember much from this race. 

Yes, I remember some fragmented sensory details:

Sounds: A bad song – What Does the Fox Say?  A good song: Welcome to the Jungle. The occasional “Go Jared, Go Gerald” cheers from awesome spectators (great crowd support this year).

Sights: A race sign: “Tired? Honey Badger Don’t Care.” Also, I got to see my wife and some friends on the out-and-back portion of Kelly Drive; however, I don’t remember what I said to them. 

Smells: The amazing aroma of food in Manayunk, and the beer emanating from the Drexel students on 34th Street. 

That’s about it.  Other than the above, I remember the “pre-race” stuff and the “post-race” stuff.  The “during-race” stuff: Not so much. 

I have tried hard over the last three days to think of specific moments or memories in the race, and I can only come up with two:

1)  Mile 1: Accidentally bumping into a runner, who replied rudely “JESUS CHRIST!” – Thank you rude runner.  You are partially responsible for getting me fired up from that point onward.  

 2) Mile 9ish (near zoo):

Me: (Burp) “Oh that felt so good.”

Fellow Runner: (Burp) “That was awesome.” 

So, aside from a negative interaction and burping, nothing else.  No other memories (Oh wait, two Gu fell out of my pocket on Delaware Avenue, so I had to turn around and pick them up - I just remembered that). Perhaps I’m in a temporary state of Runner’s Amnesia and maybe additional memories will come back to me (just like the Gu story). 

For sixteen weeks, I was laser focused on a PR. Mission Accomplished. Yes, there is some satisfaction to it, but at what expense?  First of all, I don’t remember much from the race.  Second, I’m sure I was a grump, especially in the final weeks leading up to the race.  Third, I might not be physically burned out from training, but I’m mentally burned out from Spring-Fall-Spring-Fall marathons over the last two years.

Major Lesson Learned: A PR does not equate to more fun or wonderful memories

In five weeks, I start another marathon training cycle, and I plan on enjoying every moment of this down time.  Also, I’ve decided there will not be a PR attempt in this race.  In fact, I might run it with my wife. It’s time to have fun again (although, this might not be fun for her)!! 

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(Photos help us remember)

A Tale of Two Race Days: Runner’s World Hat Trick*

When you are in the race medical tent, they give you a card, and this card lists levels of severity. One of the categories is “deceased.”  Even though I was bummed out by my first DNF, this card put things in perspective:  I was still alive to read it.

As far as the heart palpitations and shortness of breath at Mile 8 of the Half Marathon portion of the Runner’s World Hat Trick?  That put a scare into me for sure.  It takes a lot to get me to stop during a race, and being frightened for my life was a good enough reason for me. 

Maybe my comments to Bart Yasso the night before the DNF were ominous, but at the pasta dinner, I told Bart that I felt like I was pushing my luck with the Hat Trick.  Also, in speaking with Meghan Loftus, Senior Editor at Runner’s World, we were discussing our goals for the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon.  I mentioned that if “I can survive the next eight days, weather-permitting, I should be in good shape for a PR attempt.” 

Pushing my luck” and “Survive

Who knew those comments would take on such heavy weight?    

Aside from this scare, there were reasons to be relieved and happy.  Just the day before my DNF, I had an adult PR in the 5k (17:43), and came within 3 seconds of an adult PR in the 10k (38:29).  Second, it was a wonderful weekend spent with my wife in Bethlehem, PA, a great place to be in October (or any month for that matter).  Third, Runner’s World puts on a great show. We had a blast.

But…

…it was hard not to worry about my health and the uncertainty of my next run.  As runners, we want to get out there and…well…run.  Also, I knew dropping out of the race was the right decision; however, I was down about the race.  I felt like I didn’t close out the Hat Trick (hence, the asterisk).  

Then, just the day after my DNF, my wife showed me an article about a runner from Northeast Pennsylvania who died of a heart attack after a 5k on Saturday. Her name was Jen Stec, and she was only 38. Well, that woke me up.  I felt silly and selfish for dwelling on my own race.  In hindsight, I was lucky. Jen Stec was not so lucky.  When she laced up her sneakers for that local 5k, she had no idea it would be the last time she would be lacing up her sneakers.  There is no other word for this but tragic. 

Sometimes I am morbid.  My wife will tell you that.  In my last post, I joked that the Reaper is undefeated, and our time here is temporary.  Also, I have been guilty of telling my wife that if I ever died during a run, that would be fine with me.  The truth is: this is a load of crap.  My race-scare only confirmed that I am petrified of death.  The jokes are a way to deal with this fear. 

Since the race, I have followed up with my doctor, and I even ran again.  When I laced up my sneakers for that run, I was nervous.  I thought about Jen Stec.   She was no different than you or me.  She loved to run.  We love to run. 

I am still here, and, if you are reading this, you are still here too.  Let’s not take that for granted. 

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The Good Day

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The Scary Day

The End of the PR

I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one…” 

Recently, I wrote that after getting a PR at the Half Marathon distance.  The truth is, I don’t know how many more years I have left in which a PR is a possibility.  Two years?  Five years?  Ten?

Part of me wants the possibility of a PR to always be there.  This possibility means a lot.  It means I’ve still got it, or I’m still competitive with myself.  To run a race distance faster than you ever have is a great feeling, but what happens when we plateau or slow down as we age?  It is inevitable.  

On plateauing

I once overheard two runners discussing PRs on a shuttle bus before the Bolder Boulder 10k. One turned to the other and said:

If you’re able to run the same time every year, you’re actually getting faster.” 

Initially, this didn’t make sense to me.  To me, his words meant stagnation; however, he was right.  Age is a factor, so when we reach the point of not getting faster, if we’re not getting slower either, this should be considered a victory for the aging, right?   If age wasn’t a factor, there would only be one qualifying time for men, and one qualifying time for women for the Boston Marathon. 

Yes, we’re all aging.  The next race you run will be the youngest you’re going to be in your remaining races.   It smacks you in the face, doesn’t it? 

On slowing down

So, what happens when we get slower?  What becomes our motivation in a race then?  Is it to keep moving?  To stay fit? To maintain a social life? These are admirable motivators.  For me, it would be to relieve stress, but personally, I might be more relaxed during a race if I knew I wasn’t PRing that day.  Who am I kidding? I’ll never be fully relaxed during a race. OK, so maybe it would be to relieve a different kind of stress. 

Should we stop trying to PR if there is no possibility of a PR?    One of my friends on dailymile, in response to my initial quote, had an encouraging quote of his own: 

Hey I’m 57 and still trying for PRs. Never stop trying.”  Thank you, Glenn.

Look, we are lulled into a false sense that running and many other things in life are permanent.  I wish they were, but, let’s face it, the Reaper is undefeated.

So, let’s run now, and let’s take Glenn’s advice: Never stop trying. 

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Yes, it flies

Race Recap: OCNJ Half Marathon 2013

I packed the wine, but I forgot the opener.  In a dry town, such as Ocean City, NJ, this induced temporary panic.  Where the heck were we going to find a wine opener on a dry island? Before you judge my fondness of wine, I will tell you that I can live without it; however, one of my pre-race rituals is a glass (or two) of wine the night before (I’m 99% sure I started the hashtag #Wineloading).

The good news: tragedy averted… Our room at The Flanders Hotel (two blocks from the starting line) had a wine opener. 

Phew.

My wife and I had a private happy hour before heading out to dinner at Cousin’s (a perfectly nice place in Ocean City for pre-race pasta).  

Race Day

Waking up two blocks from the start of a race feels good.  Less to worry about:  How long will it take to get there? What will parking be like? Etc.  On the other hand, the 9am race start does not feel as good.  I like an 8am start (at the latest). That extra hour feels like an eternity to me; however, we made the most of it by eating casually in our room, and headed toward the start just before 8:30am. 

A pre-race positive of this race:  NO Porta-Johns to worry about because the Ocean City boardwalk has plenty of public restrooms!  Knowing this can really calm a runner down. 

The start time weather was 57 degrees and sunny.  I was a little worried it might be windy, but so far so good.  I knew the lack of wind wouldn’t last but it could have been much worse. 

My wife and I gave each other our normal pre-race kiss and told each other to be careful (another ritual).  Based on previous results of this race, I knew if I was feeling good, I could possibly finish in the Top 10; however, I refused to line up on the front line of a race (I’m superstitious about being  presumptuous).  So, I lined up in row two, just behind the guys wearing split shorts and singlets.

When the gun went off, we headed west on 9th Street.  I followed the lead pack (a group of eight men and two women).  I kept my distance behind them because I didn’t want to go out too fast.  The first turn is on to Asbury Avenue, part of the central shopping area for Ocean City.  It’s a beautiful street, with lots of mom and pop shops (even though it looks like Starbuck’s is infiltrating the town soon).

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With the front pack (of eight now) in my sights, my pace felt comfortable; however, my first mile was 6:10, which was a little faster than I wanted.  I decided not to panic because I felt so good.  Mile 2, another 6:10, but I still felt fine.  Most of Mile 3 involves crossing the Ocean Drive bridge as part of an out and back portion of the race.   As I started to catch two runners that had fallen off the lead pack just before the toll booth at the base of the bridge, I made some lame attempt at an EZ Pass joke.  Thud, ok, these two didn’t like my humor, so I moved ahead of them. 

I figured the bridge would be a slower mile because of the long ascent up, and it was slower but not by much (6:16).  It was here that I thought one of two things was going to happen:  1) This race was going to be a disaster, or 2) This would be a special day.

On the other side of the bridge, the view of the Egg Harbor Inlet heading toward Longport was beautiful.  The sky was crisp and blue (I would have liked a few more clouds because I was starting to heat up).  After the turnaround, we headed back to face the bridge again, and most of Mile 4 into Mile 5 is the bridge.  My cumulative time at Mile 5 was Sub30, which I haven’t done since college.  Since I was still feeling good, I figured the course might be slightly mismarked.  I didn’t overanalyze it.

At this point, the lead pack had broken up, and there were five or six runners in front of me, two of which probably wouldn’t be caught.  Just before getting on to the boardwalk, I passed another runner, and found myself in 5th place.  The surface of the boardwalk felt much better than I thought it would.  It was more bouncy and forgiving than pavement, but you still had to be careful of uneven spots. I slipped into 4th place.

As I passed people lined up for breakfast at Browns Restaurant, the aroma was amazing.  I was temporarily jealous of them!  Miles 6-8 were steady (6:03, 6:05, & 6:05).  During this stretch, I ran side-by-side with the 3rd place runner.  I asked him if he thought we could catch the two guys in front of us, and he emphatically said no.   As we exited the boardwalk near Mile 9, he started to labor so I tried to focus on the 2nd place runner.  As I continued south toward 36th Street, Mr. 2nd Place’s shirt was getting bigger.  He was getting closer!  We turned around near Mile 10. 

“Ok, only 5k to go, no problem,” I thought to myself as I started to head north again toward the boardwalk.  

This is when the wind kicked up.  The last 3.1 was directly into a constant headwind.  Ouch.  This was the toughest part of the race.  My thoughts turned from Mr. 2nd Place to survival. The steadiness of the wind almost broke my spirit, but, just before returning to the boardwalk for the homestretch, I saw my wife, and she gave me a boost.  Less than two miles to go! 

This time, the boardwalk was more crowded with non-racers.  It was a bit of a challenge avoiding some cyclists and casual walkers; however, many of the people cheering started telling me the same thing: “You can catch him!” 

“Catch who?” I thought. 

There he was: Mr. 2nd Place! 

Before I knew it, I was nearly side-by-side him with ½ mile to go.  He must have heard my foot steps because he turned around.  When he noticed me, he went into another gear because he sprung forward and put some distance between us. 

With less than two blocks to go, I made my final surge, but I was running out of real estate.  The crowd noise got louder.  We both sped up but our pace was the same now.  He ended up taking 2nd place by 4 seconds. 

As I crossed the line in 1:20:42, I realized I had beaten my PR by 2mins 28secs.  I was satisfied but suspicious.  I knew I ran a PR pace but not dramatically faster than previous races. 

Later, my wife and I determined that the race was most likely about .08 short of 13.1.  So, even with my personal adjustment, I probably would have run 1:21:26 if the course was a true Half.  Still, it would have been a PR by 1min 44secs. 

All in all, it was a fun race and a great experience.  The post-race food included Manco & Manco pizza, salt water taffy, donuts, pretzels and plenty of fruit.  A nice spread!  Also, you had your choice of a medal or a visor.  I chose the medal and my wife chose the visor.  A thoughtful option! 

Thankfully, regarding the two scenarios I envisioned at Mile 3: The race was special as opposed to a disaster. 

I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one at age 43. 

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(My kind of race expo)

 

Your Autumn Running Playlist

Fall arrives Sunday!! Oh Autumn, we love you.  Let’s face it, this is the best time of year to run. To aid in this wonderful time, I’ve compiled a playlist of autumn running songs.  Can you help me add a few? 

1. Go Where the Leaves Go by Matt Pond

2. Mr. November by The National

3. In the Wind by Lord Huron

4. Autumn Sweater by Yo La Tengo

5. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by The White Stripes

6. Autumn Almanac by The Kinks

7. November Days by The Origin

8. Indian Summer Sky by U2

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9. September by Earth, Wind & Fire

10. Summer’s End by Foo Fighters

11. October by deadmau5

12. Forever Autumn by The Moody Blues