Thursday, December 9, 2010

November... Indian-Chinese, Cheering, Biking and Beef Parts

Sorry for a long post!  This has been a busy month with running and eating!

Right before Thanksgiving, the FRNY Multisport Mondays group got dinner after our swim workout.  Aneesh suggested we go to Tangra Asian Fusion in Sunnyside, Queens.  I'm generally not a huge fan of Asian fusion, since I think it usually take the most overdone aspects of Americanized Asian cuisines and combines it to make dishes that are completely boring and lacking of an personality.  But Tangra was different.  First of all, it was an Indian-Chinese place, which I've never been to before. The restaurant boasted of taking Chinese dishes and cooking techniques, and preparing them in the style (and with the spices) of Indian food.

But what made me really appreciate the food at Tangra was that it wasn't the sort of "Asian Fusion" that's invented by a chef or restaurateur because it's the trendy cuisine of the time, like all those places in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen that make a better lycheetini than a tom yum soup.  No, at Tangra, you got the sense that the cuisine was made out of necessity, by generations of ethnic Chinese expats who found themselves in the ghettos of Calcutta or Delhi, forced to recreate their favorite dishes with unfamiliar ingredients.  There were spices like cardamom, coriander and turmeric, rarely used in Chinese food, that worked very well in our dishes.  Overall, it was a very tasty dinner.  I'm hoping the Multisport Monday group makes these dinner outings a regular thing (are you reading this, Rachel?).

Derek playing with his food.

They brought out a big flaming ice cream platter for Philip's birthday! (It wasn't really his birthday, though)

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I spent a busy weekend in November cheering on Front Runners in various races.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving was the NYRR Knickerbocker 60k.  Yes, that's right, 60k.  Or 37.2 miles.  Or nine times around the middle four-mile loop of Central Park.  Seven Front Runners were crazy enough to run that race. This was Anthony's first Ultra, and I decided to help pace him during one of his loops.  I got him on his 8th loop, so by that time, he had already run about 28 miles.  He was in amazing spirits when I ran with him, and was even doing quite a bit of talking as I ran with him.

Anthony finished in 6:08:09, which is a 9:53 pace.  Personally, I think it's a little nuts to want to run for six hours straight.  But it's just amazing to me to see how much Anthony has really progressed as a runner over the past two years since he joined FRNY, and how he was able to set a goal of doing an Ultra and finishing it.  Congratulations, Anthony!!!

Here's a picture right after Anthony's 8th loop, as I handed him off to Kelsey to finish off the race.

Later that day, Kelsey, Jonathan (who had just done the 60k!) and I took a Chinatown bus to Philly, to cheer for the Front Runners running the Philadelphia Marathon (and to hit some gaybars).  Ten Front Runners went down to run the race, a few more did the half, and even more joined as part of Cheer Force One!

Ray K had an awesome sign.  People were cracking up as they ran by:

We had an ambitious plan to see the runners at four different spots along the course, miles 1.5, 5, 16 and 23. We actually were able to hit all four spots in time to see the runners go by (Although my original plan of jogging the four miles from mile 5 to mile 16 was replaced with taking a taxi.  It was much warmer and faster.)

One of the highlights of the marathon was seeing Ryan run a fabulous race.  After being sidelined with a heel spur for much of 2010, Ryan came back, stronger than ever, to run a 3:15:48, qualifying for Boston with 11 seconds to spare. Way to go, Ryan!

Bernie ran a great race too.  Here's team Cheer Force One celebrating her PR and BQ time of 4:00:38.  Awesome!

Afterwards, Cheer Force One celebrated in true Front Runners fashion by having a boozy brunch.  We went to Mixto, a Cuban place in the heart of Philly's Gayborhood.  I couldn't resist the "Bacon Bloody Mary," which was made with bacon-infused vodka and garnished with a slice of crispy bacon.  It was really good.  And potent.  :-)

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For Thanksgiving, I went to see my parents who live in San Jose, California.  While there, my older brother and I embarked on what is now a family Thanksgiving tradition--we made the trek up Mount Hamilton, which is the highest mountain overlooking Silicon Valley. The 19-mile road to the top rises over 4,000 feet.  I honestly can't describe how brutal this ride was.  I pretty much had enough after the first couple of miles.

Here we are about halfway up.  You can see the Lick Observatory, at the summit, waaaayyyy behind me.

I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say it took us about two and a half hours to reach the top.  So, like, 8 miles per hour average.  I can run faster than that!  The good thing is, I think we beat last year's time by almost an hour!  So maybe I'm getting better on the bike after all.

When we reached the top, there was snow on the ground and it was freezing!  But we got a good picture and were very happy to rest our legs a bit.

Going down the mountain was not as simple as just letting gravity bring us down.  There are two dips along the route, for about a mile or so each, where you have to go back uphill.  When I reached the first dip, my quads just completely gave out.  I had nothing left to give.  I had to get off the bike, and my quads were throbbing.  That's never happened to me before...they pretty much completely seized up.  I stood there for a few minutes, massaging them and trying to warm them up.  (I think it was a combination of the intense hill climbing, followed by the freezing cold descent that caused it.)  For the rest of the descent, I was in agony.  Even when I was just going down, I could barely muster up the strength to spin the pedals.  I had to stop another time to massage my quads.  It was pretty rough.

In the end, we finally made it up and down the mountain.  I was so glad it was over.  And I was ready to tackle some turkey.

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I mentioned before that my parents have a persimmon tree in their backyard.  When I came back to NYC from California, my carry-on bag weighed about fifty pounds, since my mom insisted I fill it up with persimmons.  If anyone wants some, I have about a million still left in my fridge.

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This past Sunday was the Joe Kleinerman 10k, a club points race.  The night before, I carbo-loaded / went drinking at Ralph's Italian Restaurant in Hell's Kitchen.  Ralph's is a kind of nondescript neighborhood Italian place, not one of my favorites, but Dane love it since he lives around the corner.  One thing I don't like is that their menu doesn't include my favorite pasta dish--linguine with frutti di mare.  But on this day they had a special: a linguine with frutti di mare that included a half a lobster AND came with fra diavolo sauce.  OMG so perfect!  It totally made my night.  :-)

The next morning, I could feel the glasses of wine that I had the night before.  I could tell when I woke up that it wasn't going to be a good race.

And in fact, it wasn't.  I probably ran faster on Saturday's fun run.  Oh well, whatever.  Maybe next year will mark my return to racing competitively.

Waaayyy underdressed for the 30 degree race!

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I'm kind of surprised that I've never posted a blog entry about my tasty homemade Chinese beef noodle soup.  It's one of my favorite things to cook, and it's my absolute favorite comfort food.  So I was excited that Mike Terry came over Sunday evening, which was one of the coldest days so far this year, because it meant I could make a nice big pot of "niu rou mian." (牛肉麵).

The meal started off with a trip to the Deluxe Food Market, my favorite Chinatown butcher, where I got all the tasty cuts of beef that I like.  First is beef brisket.  They call it "beef frank" at Deluxe food, which I don't really understand.  In Chinese food, the whole point of the brisket is not the meat itself, but the layer of gristle / silverskin that's attached to the underside of it.  You have to cook it for a long time in order to get it tender enough to be edible, but it has a fun, chewy texture to it.

Beef shank / shin meat is also a very gristley cut of beef.  But here, the gristle is marbled throughout, like the fat in a filet mignon, so that each bite is combination of tender and chewy.  Yummmm.  

Beef tendon is one of my favorites.  It's tough and rubbery if undercooked, but if you let it simmer for a few hours, it practically dissolves in your mouth, leaving a wonderful, gelatinous, meaty taste in your mouth.

Last was the tripe.  Cows have four stomachs, but the second and third one are the ones I think people usually eat.  The second one, called the "reticulum," is where honeycomb tripe comes from.  The third one, which I prefer, is called the "omasum" but is known euphemistically in Chinese as "100 leaves," since the many layers make it look like the pages of a book.  The thing with tripe is that before you cook it, you should boil it for a long time, a couple of times in order to get the stinkyness out.  After all, that's where all the digested food hangs out until it's ready to be...eliminated by the cow.  But once you get the smell out, it tastes really good.
100 leaves tripe, next to the "pork uterus," which I have never eaten.

To make the meat, I just simmered everything in a big pot for about two and a half hours.  In the pot was water, lots of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, brown sugar, Chinese five spice powder (which is a combination of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, Sichuan peppercorn, and fennel seeds), whole star anise, dried orange peels, some sweet bean paste, and scallion, ginger and garlic.  

Two and a half hours later, I cut up the meat, put it on some noodles with some of the braising soup, added some blanched baby Chinese broccoli shoots, chopped scallions and cilantro, and spicy bean paste.  Mmmmmmm....  the perfect way to warm up on a cold winter night.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cheering to Dinner...and It Gets Better!

It's been almost two weeks since the New York City Marathon, and I have lots of news to report.

First off, cheering for the marathon was SO MUCH FUN!  I have to admit, the weekend leading up to the race was kind of a bummer for me.  As I mentioned last year, marathon weekend is one of the biggest weekends of the year for Front Runners (next to Pride weekend), as we host a big pasta dinner, a pancake breakfast, and the water station at mile 24.  But this year, I couldn't help but think that I was an outsider, undeserving of all of the carbs since I wasn't running.  When it seemed like all of Front Runners, indeed the whole city, was preparing for the run of their lives, to me it felt like it was just another day.

To get my mind off of not running the marathon, I tried to completely immerse myself in cheering for those who were running.  I was determined to be the best Front Runner cheerer ever!  To that end, Mikey and I dubbed our cheering squad as CHEER FORCE ONE, and we embarked on a momentous crafting project--making a huge banner with the FRNY logo so we could cheer our teammates and have them notice us as they ran by.  It was one of my first major sewing projects since last year's yoga mat bag.  And it came out really well!

Sunday morning, team Cheer Force One gathered at Mike's house in Greenpoint, where we were treated to a yummy breakfast spread.  My favorite was a marscapone whipped cream that went on the French toast.  Very tasty.  :-)  Oh, plus we had some mimosas and Irish hot chocolate, and I made a giant thermos full of bourbon and hot cider.  Heehee, we were definitely going to be toasty despite the cool temperatures.

Our first stop was around mile 8.  This was a great spot to cheer from, since everyone was still feeling pretty fresh, looked good, and were happy to see us.

As you can see, there were about a dozen members of Cheer Force One!

Here's John and Rich, the 2nd and 3rd Front Runner finishers, whizzing by us at mile 8.  John ran a 2:41:53--that's a 6:11 pace for the whole marathon--and came in 159th out of almost 45,000 finishers!  Pretty amazing that his marathon pace is faster than the pace for my 5k PR (6:12).

It was somewhat bittersweet, though, to see another group of Front Runners come by.  Mikey, Cenk, Darin, Manja and Marty formed a 3:30 pace group and all came by together.  For the week leading up to the marathon, even two days before the race, I seriously debated doing the marathon and running with them. They looked like they were having so much fun; it would have been great to run the whole race with a group of friends around to help pace me.  But in the end, I decided that it was wiser to just be a spectator.  Trying to run a marathon with the little training that I had, and just coming off two injuries, was probably not a good idea. And I didn't even know if I could run a 3:30...I would have been really upset if I had set out to run a relatively modest pace for a marathon, and not even be able to keep that up (my Blue Line Run was at about a 3:30 pace, and we all know how that went).  

After Team 3:30 came by, Team Cheer Force One headed to our next stop.  I had wanted to try to see the runners at three locations--Miles 8, 18, and 23--but John was just too damn fast, and we decided that we probably wouldn't be able to make it to 18 in time for him.  So we went directly to Mile 23, around 95th and 5th, with our banner, hot toddy, and bullhorn in tow.

This was a great spot, pretty much at the top of that looooong 5th Avenue hill that I always hated running this late into the race. With our banner, I think the Front Runners could see us cheering from far away, and it was good to think that we might have helped boost their energy and spirits as they motored up the hill.  We stayed there for a while, and got to see everyone from the lead men to the middle-of-the-packers.  It was great to see so many Front Runners!  And every time a Front Runner came by, I went berserk and started screaming, jumping, and waving the banner. By the end of the day I had no voice left.  But it was so much fun!!

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My other big news of the week is that my running club, Front Runners New York, released its video for the It Gets Better Project.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the It Gets Better Project is a collection of videos that were made in response to a recent and heartbreaking string of suicides following instances of anti-gay bullying.  The videos are directed towards kids facing bullying and harassment or considering suicide.  It's a terrible tragedy that 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school, and more than 1/3 of all LGBT kids have attempted to commit suicide.  I hope our video can reach some of these kids and possibly make a difference in their lives.

I'm so proud that FRNY has decided to take part in this project, and I'm so honored that I was able to have a part in it.  Please take some time to view the video and forward it to your friends, families and colleagues, especially to any young people or anyone who works with young people, like teachers and coaches.  Together, I think we can really help make a difference in the lives of countless LGBT youth.

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This week, Front Runners also restarted its indoor track workout season.  Our first workout was Tuesday.  Even though this will be my fourth year doing the Armory workouts, I always get butterflies in my stomach before every workout.  And it was no different on Tuesday.  Our first workout was 8x400m.  I was really nervous.  The last time I ran on a track was at the Lockport 100 Mile Relay in July.  And I have lost like pretty much all of my fitness since then.  So this was going to be interesting.

I decided not to run with the "fast" group, settling instead in one of the "medium" groups.  I didn't want to run first in the group either, so luckily Tsing was in my group and I was able to tuck in right behind him the whole time.  My plan was to try to just maintain 90-second 400s.  The first one was a little slow, like 93 seconds, but we gradually got faster and faster.  I finished the 8th 400 in 84 seconds, and I felt like I could do a lot more.  It felt great to be back, running fast-ish.  But for now, I'm trying to take it easy for a few weeks; there's no sense in rushing into the speed workouts right now.  I have my eyes on Boston in April 2011.  Until then, I'm going to train smart, stay as injury-free as I can, and enjoy my gradual progression back into shape.

On the Subway after the Track Workout.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Will Be a Spectator

So I've decided I will not be running the 2010 ING New York City Marathon.  This was a very difficult decision, but I believe it was the right one.  I am seriously undertrained, and have been battling injury for the past year.  My mileage has been way, way down from where it was even in the spring, and I've had very few successful long runs this season.  For me to run a marathon in just two weeks would be extremely difficult, possibly risking even more injury.  It would also be a really really really slow run, and would just not be an enjoyable experience for me.

I came to this decision on Sunday, in the middle of what was to be my last long run before the marathon.  You'll recall that last week was the FRNY Blue Line Run, the last 20 miles of the marathon, and I had a pretty disastrous run, pretty much falling apart and having to take a taxi after 17 miles.  After last week, I gave myself one more chance to have a good long run before the marathon.  I came up with a great 22 mile route, which traces the last 15 miles of the marathon, following a 7-mile run from my apartment to Williamsburg.  I specifically wanted to do the end of the marathon route again so that, on race day, I wouldn't be dogged by the reminder of how crappy I felt during the Blue Line Run down Fifth Avenue.

So Sunday, I headed out for my planned 22-miler.  I felt fine for the first 12-13 miles.  But then I just started to get tired, and kind of lost my energy to keep it going.  I could probably have still continued, but I knew it would be a struggle, and mentally, I knew that it just wouldn't be fun.  About mile 14, I stated thinking that I just didn't want to run 8 more miles to finish my planned run; and the thought of running 12 more miles in the marathon just seemed like it would be miserable.  So I decided to just stop, enjoy the run that I had, defer on this year's marathon, and head home for some lunch.

It was a difficult decision, but one that I think I'm glad I made.  Running is supposed to be enjoyable.  Even when it's difficult and I'm pushing myself to the limit, I enjoy it.  But pushing myself to do a race that I'm not properly trained for is just not fun.  It's also not responsible running.  I'd like to think that I've matured enough as a runner that I don't have to be out there for every race, pushing my body to do things that it really shouldn't be doing.  It's not always about the distance covered, or the time that I ran it in, or how many times I can do a race.  Running is more about the love of the sport, and the ability to continue pursuing this passion.  I know that, by making the difficult but responsible decision to pass on this year's NYC Marathon, I am strengthening my love for running, and taking care of my body so that I can have other great races in the future.  While I'm definitely disappointed in missing out on New York, I am even more inspired to take care of myself and train properly in the spring in order to have a kick ass Boston.  I'm so excited to get back in shape and renew my love of running.

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After deciding not to run the marathon, I was definitely a little bummed.  But fortunately, I had previously made plans for some runner friends to come over for dinner.  Among them were Mikey and Derek who got me excited to be a part of "CHEER FORCE ONE," our marathon cheering squad.  I'm hoping we'll get to see our teammates in three separate spots--Greenpoint, 1st Ave and 5th Ave.  I've never actually been a spectator at the marathon, so think this will be a lot of fun.  

Ever since Mikey's chicken dinner last week, I've been thinking about making some pulled pork.  The last time I cooked up a pork shoulder, though, I ended up eating pulled pork for weeks, and I got a little sick of it.  So this time I decided to have a pulled pork party, with a bunch of fun side dishes.  

This time, I made my own barbecue sauce (although I kept handy a bottle of store-bought sauce just in case I was unsuccessful).  I actually make barbecue sauce often, but I only know how to make it with asian flavors (soy sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger, hoisin, oyster sauce, bulgogi sauce, etc.)  But I didn't want this sauce to be too asiany, because I didn't think that would work so well with my side dishes.  So my sauce consisted of: sauteed chopped onions, garlic power, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, chili power, cayenne pepper powder, Manishewitz grape wine, red wine vinegar and a little bit of sriracha sauce.  It came out really good!  A perfect blend of tartness and sweetness, with a little bit of a kick.  Someone even commented that I would make a lot of money if I bottled it.  :-)

For my side dishes, I made cole slaw, baked beans, collard greens and a corn pudding.  Mikey and I got into a disagreement about the collard greens.  He thought they should be sauteed and served crisp and bright green.  I thought that, when serving collard greens with barbecue, they should be cooked for a loooong time, and super wilted to the point where they practically melt in your mouth.  We ended up in a compromise and served them somewhat wilted but still crisp.  Feel free to comment below on how you like your collard greens!

I think the biggest hit of the night was the corn pudding.  I decided to make corn pudding because I thought it would be a more interesting alternative to cornbread, which I'm not always a huge fan of.  Everyone liked it!  It was completely finished by the end of the night.  The consistency was kind of half-pudding/half-cornbread, and it was really able to showcase the sweetness of the corn.  I thought I'd include a recipe, which I adapted from a combination of this and this:

              Dave's Delicious Corn Pudding

              3 15-ounce cans of corn (2 cans drained; 1 can pureed)
              1 medium chopped onion, sauteed
              2 eggs
              6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted
              8 oz sour cream
              1 box jiffy corn bread mix
              1 tablespoon sugar

              Combine all ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Enjoy!

And for dessert, homemade sweet potato pie.  Yummmmmm!!!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blue Line Run and Chicken

This Sunday was the Front Runners annual Blue Line Run.  It's definitely my favorite run of the year.  Every year, three weeks before the New York City Marathon, FRNY meets in Brooklyn and runs the last 20 miles of the marathon, from Brooklyn through Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Manhattan again, to end up at the finish line in front of Tavern on the Green.  I had missed the Blue Line Run for the past two years because it was the same weekend as the Chicago Marathon, so I was especially excited about doing it this year.

And so were a LOT of other Front Runners.  We had 120 people show up to the start!!!  (I remember when I did it three years ago, there were maybe 30-40 people.)  We also had about 15 FRNY volunteers to hand out Gatorade along the course, and Steve and Jim were on bikes directing us.  It was quite an impressive production and I think everyone really enjoyed the run, especially the FRs who are doing the marathon in three weeks.

I, however, had kind of a sucky run.  You may remember from my last post that I got kicked really hard in the knee at the MightyMan Triathlon a couple of weeks ago.  Well, that kind of messed up my running for two weeks.  I had run exactly three times in the two weeks between MightyMan and the Blue Line Run.  The first time, three days later on a Wednesday fun run, I was only able to run about a mile and half before my knee got in so much pain that I couldn't even bend it without it hurting.  I then took off the next week and made an appointment with Jordan Metzl for the following Tuesday.  Dr. Metzl looked at the x-ray and said I was fine, that it was probably just a bruise on my knee, and that I should not change my plans to run the marathon.  So the next day, Wednesday, I went back to the fun run.  At mile three, my knee felt fine, so I decided to do the six mile loop.  But it hit me at mile five, and I pretty much had to walk the last mile.  I was pissed.  Dane and Ryan passed me and I was mean to them.  Michael O asked me afterwards how my run was and I pretty much snapped at him.  I was just so upset that after all this time (about a YEAR) of dealing with my butt issue, I finally start to get back to the point where I'm running consistently, and I friggin f-ck up my knee.  UGH.  I was, however, slightly reassured by the fact that I was able to run longer than I had the previous Wednesday, and took it as a sign that I would improve, hopefully before the marathon.

So on Sunday, for the Blue Line Run, my hope was just to finish.  I had run the first 10 miles at about an 8-minute pace, with Marty and Paul, and I felt pretty good.  Then, turning onto First Avenue from the 59th Street Bridge, I had a pretty abrupt and devastating downward crash.  My knee locked up and my energy level came spiraling down.  I stopped to stretch my legs at 60th Street.  By this time, most of the people in the 8-minute mile pack had passed me, so I ended up slowing down drastically.  I told myself I would probably just run across 90th Street and cut off the top of Manhattan and the Bronx (saving 5 miles).  I spent the next mile and a half jogging and sometimes walking, stopping another time or two to stretch.  When 90th Street came, I started feeling fine again, so I decided to run to 125th Street.  The stretch down 5th Avenue from 125th to 90th Streets is, I think, one of the harder parts in the Marathon, and an area where I don't run very often; so I wanted to get at least that part of the course in.

I spent the next mile and a half with more jogging/walking/stretching until I fiiiinnnally got to 125th Street.  As I contemplated turning left onto 125th Street to cut the run short, the Willis Avenue Bridge stared me in the face, taunting me, enticing me to cross into the Bronx.  Against my better judgment, I decided to cross the bridge, intending to finish the entire twenty mile run.  But as soon as I crossed, I started to really feel like I was falling apart.  My knee was hurting, I was tired, my butt was aching, and I was getting chaffed from my shorts.  But I pushed on, taking more frequent walk breaks and stretching my legs.  I felt miserable.  I finally decided that I would run to 90th Street and just take a taxi to the finish.  That last mile, from 110th to 90th, I felt would never end.  It seemed like I was practically walking it.  Rob and some others were manning the water stop at 100th Street, and when I saw them, I felt so embarrassed for being so beat up after only 17 miles, and lagging so far behind people who I should have been running with.  I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the 20 miles, so I mustered all the energy I had to basically crawl down to 90th Street, where I promptly jumped into a taxi to take me to Tavern on the Green.

It was a humiliating, completely disappointing run.  And in that taxi ride, as I tried to come to terms with the run, I wondered if I should admit defeat and withdraw from this year's NYC Marathon.  But at the same time, I was somewhat encouraged.  This was my first real run after two weeks of very little running, and I did manage to do 17 miles.  My knee felt fine for the first 10 miles, which is such a huge difference from just a week ago, when I couldn't even run two miles without pain.  And I'm guessing that part of the reason I ran out of steam during the run was because I had one or two too many beers the night before at Coach Rachel's housewarming party.  (Damn you, Rachel!)

Post Blue Line Run (Photo by Ted Paszek)

So right now, I have mixed feelings about the marathon.  I still haven't decided if I'm going to go through with it.  But I've gone running since Sunday, and my knee feels pretty good.  My plan is to run one more long run this weekend, 20 or 22 miles, and see how I feel.  If I can finish it and feel good, I'll do the marathon.  If not, then I guess it's just not going to happen for me this year.  It would be really disappointing, but I'm not going to force it if it isn't in the cards.  Besides, I've never been a spectator for the NYC Marathon, and I've never worked the FRNY Water Station at Mile 24, so watching the marathon could be fun too.  I guess I'll see how this weekend's run goes.
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Sunday after the Blue Line Run, I went over to Mike Terry's house to help him cook dinner for some of the runners who were coming over.  We decided to make soul food because it is sooooul delicious.  :-)

We made "fried" chicken, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes and collard greens.  The fried chicken was actually oven baked, but it was nice and crispy because we made a crust of crushed seasoned cornflakes.  I bought whole chickens which we had to butcher ourselves.  I've butchered hundreds of chickens before, but I've never been really good at it.  And I always end up leaving the oysters hanging on the carcass, which is the best part.  Mikey was cringing at how much meat I was wasting.  But I don't really mind since I usually freeze the carcass for soup at a later date, and a little extra meat on the bones makes the soup taste good.

Mikey made the mac and cheese, which was delicious.  I need to get the recipe from him.  The collard greens and the sweet potatoes were pretty simple, though.  I found some smoked ham pieces at Western Beef that I was able to add to the greens, and I put in a touch of brown sugar and vinegar.  For the sweet potatoes, I cut them up into little medallions, mixed them with the juice and zest of an orange, some salt pepper and more brown sugar, and baked.  I love the freshness that orange zest provides.  Yumm.

*                                *                                *

After Sunday's disastrous run, I was able to cheer myself up by registering for next year's Boston Marathon.  Registration opened at 9am on Monday.  After several attempts to get through the BAA's servers, I was able to register around 10:30.  Unfortunately, the race filled up at 5:03 Monday evening, so a lot of people who were planning to register didn't get in.  I'm kind of bummed about this, since part of the reason last year's Boston was so much fun was that there was a big group of Front Runners there (16 of us running, with lots more cheering).  I'm definitely going to miss being part of a big group this year.  To the Front Runners who qualified for Boston but weren't able to register, you guys are a huge inspiration to me, and I'm going to run the best race I can run in your honor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Literally The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done In My Life

Oh. My. God.  It's more than a week later and I still can't get over how brutal it was.  It was so hard.  I just wanted it to end....  Writing about it now is bringing back all these awful, horrific memories of it.  Ugh.

I'm referring to the MightyMan Half Ironman that I completed last Sunday in Montauk, Long Island.  I was my first Half Ironman distance race, and it may well be my last.  I certainly am not in any rush to do another anytime soon.

Mike and I at the transition area the day before the race.

I admit that I was terribly undertrained for this race.  I wasn't looking to break any records or anything; all I wanted to do was to finish the race.  But I had no idea that even my modest goal would be so difficult to accomplish.

Three of us Front Runners did the tri: me, Mike Terry and Dave Pitches.  It was me and Mike's first Half Ironman; Dave has done a bunch of them.  Dave and Dan Elliot invited me and Mike to stay at their cottage in Montauk; I think that was the highlight of my weekend more than the race itself.  Dave and Dan fed us really well, drove us around to check out the course, and gave us some much appreciated tips about the course and conquering the distance.  

Dave drove us around to check out the course.

Pumping my tires before the race...hoping I won't have to do it again during the race!

We woke up at around 5:00 the morning of the race.  Mikey and I were in Wave 1, which started at 6:40.  Dave started around 6:55.  After a breakfast of Clif Bar, coffee and banana, the three of us biked to the start, about a mile away.  It was still dark out, and there was this ominous feeling of the calm before the storm, as there were several other bikers on the street all riding to the start.

It was cold at the start, in the 50s.  And the day was going to be a windy one.  A wetsuit was definitely necessary.  I also brought with me a pair of arm warmers for the bike ride.  We had to set up our transition area in the dark.  Looking around me while setting up, I started to get a little nervous.  The bike racks are set up by waves, so I was with everyone else in the under 35 men's group.  And pretty much all of them looked like they were serious triathletes.

At the transition area before the race.

A few minutes before 6:40, Mike and I went into the water.  The swim was in a freshwater lake in Montauk, Fort Pond.  When we stepped in, Mike and I were both pleasantly surprised to feel that the water was actually quite warm, in the mid to upper 60s.  Wearing a wetsuit, the water was actually very nice, much more comfortable than the cold, windy air. The start of the swim was in the water, but it was shallow enough that we could stand and not have to tread water.  

And then, with very little fanfare or warning, the starting horn sounded and everyone was off.  I got stuck in the middle of everyone and within the first 30 seconds, someone kicked me really, really, really hard in the knee.  I felt an explosive pain in my knee and let out a big "Oww, F-ck" while underwater.  I immediately thought the my race was over before it even really started.  But within a few seconds, the sharp pain went away and I was left with just a slightly sore knee.  I didn't really notice it anymore for the rest of the race.

The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful.  It was a 1.2 mile swim, in kind of a big triangle.  As the later waves of swimmer started every four minutes or so, I found myself getting passed by the faster ones  in each group.  But I was always able to see people in my wave around me, so it gave me some comfort to know that I wasn't the very last person.  

About 3/4 of a mile through, I looked up, and I realized I was swimming sideways.  One of the lifeguards saw me and asked if I was ok.  I said that I was, he pointed me in the right direction, and I proceeded ahead.  But just 10 seconds later, I looked up again and I realized that I had done it again.  For some reason, I kept turning myself 90 degrees to the right and swimming off course.  The fact that it happened twice in a row made me nervous, wondering if I was having delusions or something.  I had to stop swimming, tread water, take off my goggles, take a few deep breaths and try to reorient myself.  After a few seconds, I calmed down, found my place, and continued again--this time, in the right direction.

The swim took me about 48 minutes.  I was quite pleased.  There were still a number of people in my wave behind me.  And I felt great exiting the water.  I knew my hardest event was coming up, but I felt like I had a lot of energy in store.

The first transition took a little longer than I would have liked, mostly because it was a pain to put my arm warmers on my wet arms.  But I was soooo glad I had them.  The bike was freeeezing!  And it seemed like there was always a headwind or a crosswind to deal with.  The 56-mile ride took us around two loops of Montauk, with lots of little out-and-back offshoots that were kind of annoying.  It was pretty hilly, although I guess it could have been much worse (the website says it's 2200 feet of elevation gain).  A lot of the offshoots were down narrow streets where you had to bike around a cul-de-sac, which meant a lot of slowing down.  But the one thing I liked about the course was that there were lots of opportunities to see the other bikers.  I got to see both Mike and Dave several times during the race.

I don't remember a lot about the specifics of the bike.  All I really remember is just how miserable I was.  The sucky thing about this distance is that even when you're halfway through there still another 28 friggin miles  to go.  

I finished my first loop at 1:46.  I was a bit disappointed about that.  I knew that even if I was able to somehow maintain my speed for the second half, I wouldn't be able to break 3:30 on my bike.  (My only other time riding 56 miles in a race was last year when I did the Mooseman Triathlon as a relay with Dane and Ryan.  I did that bike in 3:28:30.  My training last year consisted of maybe four bike rides, none of which were longer than 30 miles.  This year, I've logged several 50, 60, and 70-mile bike rides, but somehow I've gotten even slower.  WTF?!?!)

On my second loop, I found myself getting out of the saddle a lot, since my legs were quickly being depleted of their strength.  But I think this ended up tiring my legs out even more since I was pushing harder.  My legs were so tired and one hill was so steep that my cyclocomputer said I was going just 6 miles per hour.  (Going back downhill, though, I clocked a 34 mph, which I think is the fastest I've ever was a little scary.)  As I came biking in towards the transition, I saw Mike on what must have been the middle of his second loop on the run.  Oh, and the 2nd place overall finisher was about to come in.  Kind of demoralizing when people are finishing and I didn't even start the run yet.  But I trudged on...

When I started the run, my time was around 4:33.  I was a bit relieved, since it meant I had almost two hours to reach the goal I had in the back of my mind of finishing in under 6:30.  Even if I ran the worst half of my life, I would be able to make it.  But as soon as I started running, I knew it was going to be tough.  My legs felt like I had cinder blocks attached to them.  The bike had just completely drained me and I had nothing left to give with my legs.  At first, I was passing people, but then it just became too much work.  I also realized that most of the people I was passing were probably on their second loop, so the fact that I was passing them wasn't really that much of victory.  So I settled into about a 9 minute pace, feeling that every step was like going into quicksand and I was moving in slow motion.

I did like two things about the run, though.  First, it was two loops, and each mile was marked, so it was easier to subdivide the course into manageable segments, and tell myself, say, that I was 2/3 of the way done with the first loop, etc.  Second, at the water stations they gave out defizzed Coca-Cola.  It was my first time ever trying it in a race, and I just loved it.  It was nice and sweet, didn't upset my stomach, and gave me a little caffeine boost afterwards.  It was good not having to drink the nasty Gatorade Endurance Formula that they always give out at marathons.

The run also included its share of brutal hills.  One of them was aptly named "Murder Hill."  It seemed like it was pretty much vertical.  About half the people I saw were walking up it.  I managed to stare straight ahead and continue running up the whole thing (twice!).  I was actually very pleased that I didn't have to walk at all on the run (even though my running was slooooow).

Around halfway through with the run, I realized that I wasn't going to get under 6:30.  Ugh.  But around mile 12, I realized that I might not even be able to finish my half in under 2 hours.  That would have been really upsetting, considering that my PR is about half an hour faster.  So I mustered all the energy I could to run that last mile as fast as I could.  I was passing people left and right.  I felt like a superstar, though in reality I think I must have been like an eight minute pace.  Still, I had a little tiny kick left to pass some guy about 100 meters from the finish and snag that finishing tape all to myself.  Final run time: 1:59:41.  Total race time: 6:33:28.  I was never so happy to be done with a race before in my life.

I pretty much collapsed as soon as I finished.  I've never been so physically spent in my life.  I barely had the energy to even realize that I just finished a Half Ironman.  But then it dawned on me, that I had just completed 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running.  I had pushed myself so hard, in an event that was so demanding and difficult that most people probably can't fathom the distance.  And it really made me proud of my accomplishment.  Even though I didn't have the best time, or do as well as I would have liked, I still finished the most challenging athletic event of my life.  I was happy.

Thanks to Mike Terry (who finished in an amazing 5:02:18 in his very first Half IM) for letting me convince him to join me in this race.  Thanks also to Dave Pitches (6:42:34 and First in his age group!) and Dan Elliot for their great hospitality over the weekend.  And thanks to Coaches Rachel and Mike Totaro, without whom none of this multisport madness would ever have occurred.  As for me, I am very glad that the tri season is now over and I can take a break!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reach the Beach 2010!!!

We did it!!!  After 209.06 miles, 25 hours 9 minutes and 27 seconds, team Front Runners NY Ultragays ran from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach, covering countless miles of misery, sleeplessness, terror, darkness, cold, and agony.  Along the way, there were many unforgettable moments of jubilation, excitement, and just plain fun that made Reach the Beach 2010 one of my favorite running events of all time.

In a first for FRNY, we sent SIX teams of runners to RTB this year: a regular 12-person men's team ("The Real Front Runners of New York"), four men's ultra teams ("The Ultra Mission Men," "Fast Not Furious," "The Clowns Will Get Me," and "The Ultragays") and one mixed team ("The Ladies Tea Society")--in total about 50 runners and support people.  And from what I can tell, everyone had a ton of fun and put in some really impressive racing.

We started the morning with FRNY's traditional pre-RTB breakfast at Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, NH.  These are seriously the best pancakes anywhere!  You get to choose your own batter and mix-in for each pancake.... I got buckwheat/blueberry, oatmeal buttermilk/chocolate chip, and cornmeal/coconut...  yummm!!

After breakfast, team Ultragays got to Cannon Mountain for our 3pm start.  This year, our start time was the same as three of the four other FRNY men's teams.  This was both good and bad.  Good because, at least at the beginning, we would be seeing the other teams along the course.  Bad because the fact that we would be "competing" against each other could make things a bit more stressful.  The other two ultra teams (the Mission Men and Fast Not Furious) were quite a bit faster than us, so I expected them to take off pretty quickly and probably lose us not long after the start.  But I figured we were pretty evenly matched up against the Real Front Runners team (even though they were 12 and we were just 6), so I was a little nervous that it could become an intense fight for the finish the whole way.  Actually, the thought of a competition made me feel super anxious...during the pre-race orientation, Mike Terry had to calm me down because I was pretty much hyperventilating.  I tried to convince myself that we weren't really competing against the other FRNY teams--we were just running the relay to have fun.

There are indeed many opportunities to focus on having fun at RTB in a way that does not involve the stresses of racing.  One is our wardrobe.  The Ultragays of course were wearing cute little custom singlets.  We got navy Asics singlets this year, very similar to the official FRNY racing singlets, but with "ULTRAGAYS" emblazoned on the front with our team motto, "Live FAB or Die!"  People definitely noticed us, and we got a bunch of compliments.  We also decorated our van proudly proclaiming that we were the Ultragays.  I think we were able to bring a lot of good attention to both our team and FRNY.  Probably in part due to our van and singlets, and partly due to our fabulousness, we found out there was another gay running team in the race, a non-FRNY team, "GURL Boston."  I think GURL stands for Gay Urban Running League.  We met some of their runners and they seemed very nice.  If any of you GURLs are reading this, feel free to come to an FRNY Fun Run the next time you're in New York!

At 3:00, our teams were off.  Kyle was the first to run.  His first leg was a moderate-hard 7.97 miles, leading out of Cannon Mountain onto the the roads of Franconia, NH.  We had planned to meet him halfway to give him Gatorade.  As we entered the van and drove off, this was when our first (and, thankfully, only real) stressful incident came.  The time was ticking, we had to meet Kyle about 30 minutes after he started, and I realized that I lost my cell phone.  I was torn between just letting go and hoping the phone made its way to the  lost and found, and having my whole team turn around to look for my phone.  We ended up turning around the van, getting a little lost on the highway, running back to the start, where the race official had found my phone and was holding it for safekeeping.  Apparently, as I was jumping up and down cheering on Kyle and the other Front Runners, my phone fell out of my pocket.  Anyway, crisis averted.

I was the sixth leg in my team, so the last one to go.  The order was Kyle, Evan, Peter, Onesimo, Mike Terry and me.  Paul was our driver.  Here's our list of legs:
My hope for the relay was to keep all of my legs to a 7:00-7:30 pace.  I started my first leg at 6:10 pm, so I had to don a reflective vest with flashing lights and a headlamp even though it wasn't dark yet. For my first leg, which was also my longest at 8.62 miles and a net downhill of 373 feet, my concern was to not go too fast.  I knew that the downhill pounding would be killer on my quads, which I would definitely regret by leg five or six, so I tried my best not to let myself get carried away.  RTB is the one time of year when I break out my Garmin, since the miles aren't marked and I would go crazy not knowing how fast I'm going or how much I have left.  I set the watch to beep every half mile so I could adjust my running accordingly.  My pacing was a little inconsistent on this first leg, with half-mile laps between 3:23 (6:46 pace) and 3:39 (7:18 pace).  But I finished leg 1 pretty much right on target in 60:52 (7:03 pace).

My second leg was at 10:36 pm.  It was short, just 3.87 miles, but there was a bit of a vertical climb.  This was my first leg in the dark.  To make matters worse, the first half mile was in the woods.  It was pitch black, not even any moonlight could get in through the trees.  And while the first quarter mile was on a paved bike path, it soon turned into a dirt trail.  OMG, are you kidding me?!?!  There was no light, and twigs and rocks were all over the place.  I could just imagine myself twisting an ankle and taking a spill.  I was going slowly in this area, and I got passed by two runners, but I thought that it would be better to be safe than sorry.  This leg was more consistent, though, with half-mile splits between 3:32 (7:04 pace) and 3:43 (7:26 pace).  My final time was 27:41 (7:09 pace).  

Right after my second leg, we drove to Transition Area 13, which is always my favorite TA.  Here, some local townspeople set up a veritable smörgåsbord of hot, tasty, home-cooked food.  I filled up, and it really hit the spot.

I was definitely concerned about my third leg, which I started at 3:10 am.  It was 4.89 miles and, although it was mostly downhill, the last mile had a 250' rise.  I took my first half mile out at 3:18 (6:36 pace), which I soon realized was way too fast.  I slowed down a bit and my next three miles were all around 7:30 pace.  But then the hill came.  It was pretty brutal, although I did pass three people.  My Garmin beeped but I refused to look at it because I didn't want to know how slow I was going.  About a third of a mile from the finish, a runner passed me, and I mustered up all the energy I could to try to stay with him.  But I couldn't really hang on, and he finished quite a bit before me.  So the splits for the last 2 miles were:
              Mile 3.0 - 3.5    3:56 (7:52 pace)
              Mile 3.5 - 4.0    4:04 (8:08 pace)
              Mile 4.0 - 4.5    4:16 (8:32 pace....yikes!)
              Mile 4.5 - 4.89  3:10 (8:08 pace) 
This was my slowest leg, which I finished in 38:22 (7:50 pace).  Ugh.

After leg 3, I pretty much passed out.  I felt like crap.  As you can see, I looked like crap too:

I ended up sleeping through the next several transitions.  I just didn't have the energy to cheer on everyone or help give out Gatorade.  Apparently, at one point I abruptly woke up from my slumber and yelled out mean/funny things about certain other people...I don't really remember, I was pretty delirious at that point.

I was really nervous about leg 4.  It wasn't particularly difficult, except for a half-mile, 90 foot hill at mile 5.5 (pretty similar in size and distance to Harlem Hill), but it was my second longest run at 6.87 miles.  I felt like my legs had nothing more to give.  I popped an Aleve beforehand and hoped for the best.  I don't remember very much about this leg, but it began at 7:45 am, so I didn't have to wear the stupid vest anymore.  (You can see from the picture above that I had to put medical tape on my neck because the vest was chafing it so much.)  The van stopped about halfway through to give me Gatorade.  A woman passed me, going really fast and I couldn't keep up with her; that annoyed me.  But I did manage to pass about a dozen other people.  I finished in 51:42, for an average 7:31 pace on this leg.  The half-mile that included the big hill was at 4:07 (8:14 pace).

Somewhere between my 4th and 5th legs, the "Real Front Runners" team passed us.  I felt completely defeated.  Of course, it wasn't really a competition, especially since they had twelve runners compared to our six.  But we had been ahead up until now, and it was so disappointing that with their much fresher legs, they had caught up and then overtaken us.  At this point, I started to get stressed out.  Our teams were pretty much neck and neck.  I was running against Manja from the Real Front Runners.  Leg five was a short one, only 3.15 miles.  It was 12:47 pm, and I felt like it was a new day.  As I stood at the transition area with Manja, I saw that Mike, from my team, was the next runner to come in.  He had taken the lead back for the Ultragays!  I couldn't see where the next Real Front Runner was, so I knew I had a comfortable lead.  I grabbed the baton/wristband from Mike and proceeded to BOOK IT out of there.  My emotions were all over the place. But I knew I couldn't let myself get passed by Manja.  I ran so friggin fast.  My first half mile was 3:18 (6:36 pace).  I knew there was no way I could sustain that speed, after already running over 24 miles.  But I couldn't help it -- I was terrified at the prospect of being passed by another Front Runner.  My first two miles were well under 7 minute pace.  It was so hard.  I looked over my shoulder after a left turn to see if he was behind me.  I didn't see him, and let out a huge sigh of relief.  I slowed down a tiny bit for the last mile, and made it to the transition at 21:38...a 6:52 pace, my fastest pace of the day!  Manja must have been flying for that last mile too, though, because he came in right after me.

By the time I was up for the final leg of the race, the Real Front Runners had passed us again and were well ahead of us.  I actually felt this was a bit of a relief.  I couldn't bear another intensely stressful, fast leg.  My last leg was 4.09 miles.  It was also the very last leg of the relay, so I got to actually "Reach the Beach."  The leg started at 3:40 in the afternoon, and I was so exhausted by this point after 24 hours of racing.  The first two miles headed straight towards the beach, and the last two miles ran along the coastline.  About a mile in, I could smell the sea air and I knew I was getting close.  I had passed several people along the way.  But one guy who I passed at mile 1 decided to stick with me.  He proceeded to follow me, about 3 steps behind me, for the entire rest of the run.  I couldn't shake him off.  And he was pushing me to go faster and faster.  All I wanted was for him to pass me so I could finish my last couple of miles without killing myself.  But he just stuck on, three feet behind me.  As we were at the last half mile or so, spectators were cheering for us.  They loved the fact that we were almost neck-and-neck.  I heard someone shout out that there was a fight to the finish.  Around this time, I also heard, coming from above, people shouting "DAAAVE LIIIIINNN!"  I didn't know who it was or where it came from, but it just pushed me to go harder and faster.

Then, with about a quarter mile left, I made a turn, and I had reached the beach!  But... I had to run on....  SAND?!?!   Not even packed beach sand but loose sand, that almost stopped me dead in my tracks.  But I knew that the other guy was just a few feet behind me, so I kept pushing, trying to wade through the ankle-deep sand.  And finally, FINALLY, I saw the finishing chute.  I looked for my team but they were nowhere in sight.  I heard other Front Runners though, cheering for me, and I just ran as hard as I could possibly go through that finish line.

It was exhilarating.  It was such of rush of emotions.  I had no idea I could push myself that hard.  I was so relieved it was over.  I was so happy to see other Front Runners at the end to cheer me through.  But I was so heartbroken that the rest of the Ultragays weren't there to share the moment with me (their van had apparently gotten stuck in traffic and couldn't make it to the finish in time).

That last leg, miles 27-31, was one of my faster ones, which I ran at a 7:04 pace.  I was elated.  This past year has been a tough one for me and my running.  I knew I was undertrained.  I've had to deal with my butt injury for almost a year now.  Through x-rays, MRIs, loads of physical therapy, and even a steroid injection, my running (and my sanity) have taken quite a toll.  I truly, really had doubts about whether I would be able to finish this race.

But in the end, both my team and I (and my Club) did great.  I finished my 31.49 miles at a 7:16 pace.  A little bit slower than last year's 7:03 pace, but a solid time nonetheless.  I felt great at the finish and proud that I could push myself so hard.  My team, the Ultragays, was the fifth FRNY team, but I was so happy of our achievement.  We finished the 209.06 miles at an astonishing 7:13 pace, enough to place us 25th out of 429 finishers (most of whom were 12-person teams).  And even more important than our clock time, was the fact that we had just a great time together.  Due to several dropouts, the Jewish holiday, injury and last minute conflicts, our team was not assembled until two days before we left for New Hampshire.  At times, I had doubts about whether there would actually be an Ultragays team.  But in the end, we all raced remarkably well, and we had a time that none of us will ever forget.  Thanks Mike, Kyle, Peter, Onesimo, Evan and Paul for making Reach the Beach 2010 such a great, exciting, crazy, memorable and fun experience!

Congratulations to all of the Front Runners New York teams, and to everyone who ran Reach the Beach!!!

Team Name     
Overall   Category   Cat/Plc.  Pace   Finish Time
--------  --------   --------  ----   ----------

FRNY Ultra Mission Men          
10   1-Men Ultra     1/19      6:27   22:31:00

Front Runners Fast not Furious  
13   1-Men Ultra     2/19      6:38   23:07:43

FRNY - The Clowns Will Get Me   
19   1-Men Ultra     5/19      7:08   24:52:26

Real Front Runners of New York  
24   2-Men Open      6/118     7:11   25:04:29

Front Runners NY Ultragays      
25   1-Men Ultra     6/19      7:13   25:09:27

FRNY Ladies Tea Society         
330  14-Mixed Open   104/148   8:53   30:58:53