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.

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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!