Friday, February 25, 2011

Breakthrough Week! Cherry Tree and FRNY Relay Inv-ASIAN!!!

I'm happy to report that the past couple of weeks have been a breakthrough period for me.

First, my past three indoor track workouts have been really great.  I won't bore you with all the details of the workouts, but last Tuesday we did 5 x mile repeats, last Thursday we did 8 x 800, and this Tuesday we did 5 x miles again.  Each night, I got progressively faster and faster with my repeats, and I finished strong at the end.  My last miles on both nights were 6:04, and my last 800 was 2:51.  Even more exciting is that I'm starting to almost be able to keep up with the front pack of the fast group.  Kevin, Peter and Mikey are such strong runners that I think running even in their vicinity helps me to push myself harder and run smarter.  I really feel myself improving on the track, and it's getter pretty exciting.

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On Sunday, I got to test out my training at the Cherry Tree Relay, a 10 mile relay that takes place in Prospect Park and is organized by the Prospect Park Track Club.  Those of you who are regular readers of Running to Dinner may remember that I ran it last year and, while I had a ton of fun, it was a bit of a disappointing race.  This year I did much better, and felt much better.

My team for 2011 was with Rachel and Kyle, and our team name was A Guy, A Girl and a Monster.  Rachel took the first leg and I was the second and handed off to Kyle.  When it time for me to run, I immediately felt that my legs were still sore from the 20-mile run I had done the day before.  I started cursing myself, wondering why I was so stupid to do a race the day after my longest run in almost a year.  After the first mile or so, my legs loosened up a bit, but I continued to hold back because I didn't want to overstrain my legs.  Plus, both Rachel and Kyle were doing the Computrainer session with me later that afternoon, so I suspected that they were going to save some of their leg strength for that.

It was nice, though, that even as I was running very conservatively, I was passing lots of people.  (Many or even most of them were doing the full 10 miles themselves, so it wasn't like I was really that much faster than people.  But still, it felt good to pass people.)  When the dreaded Prospect Park hill came around mile 2, it actually felt smaller than I remembered it as I felt myself breeze over the top.  From there, it was smooth sailing to the last few hundred meters, where a nice downhill ushers the runners to the transition area.  That was the part where I really sprinted since that's where everyone sees you, haha.

In the end, I finished in about 22:30 (about a 6:45 pace), which was a minute faster than last year's time.  It wasn't particularly fast, but it felt good, and it was much better than last year.  I'm hoping that this means next week at the Coogan's 5K, I will be able to do it in under 20 minutes (6:26 pace).  It sounds like a big difference, but I will have rested legs and be mentally prepared to do it at that time.  I need to get a fast race time before they take away my blue bib at NYRR races, which is based on a 6:13 pace I raced way back in a 5k in 2009.  What I wouldn't give to be able to run that pace again...

You may remember in last year's Cherry Tree post that all of the Front Runner relay teams make fun team posters for the race.  I made ours this year, after spending way too many hours trying to figure out how to use Gimp, the free alternative to Photoshop.  It's based on the poster for the 1953 film Robot Monster, which is often credited as being one of the worst movies of all time.

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A few hours after the Cherry Tree Relay -- or, I guess more accurately, after a few Bloody Marys and Jello Shots at the Front Runners New York Post-Cherry Tree Relay Brunch -- I headed over to my much-despised Computrainer session for some more workout fun.  I'm going to spare you all of the details, but I just wanted to report that, for the first time, I was actually able to finish the whole workout in the allotted time!!!  Hooray!!  30.43 miles an an hour and 54 minutes.  Yes, I was still the last one to finish, and yes, I came in 22 minutes after Peter and Kyle, but I still finished!  And not only that, I actually sped up in the last 5 miles!  (Mostly I sped up because I was just so sick of the whole thing and wanted it to end, but still, I think that means I'm getting better and more determined.)

One thing I did a little differently this time was to watch my cadence.  My fancy schmancy new bike has a cadence counting thingy on the bike computer, and I tried to make sure I was going around 80-90 the whole time.  Any lower and I put it into an easier gear; any higher and I made it harder.  That seemed to help so that my legs didn't tire out so fast.  I'm going to try it out again at the next Computrainer session and see if it still works.

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Last night was the fourth and final installment of NYRR's Thursday Night at the Races.  They had three events: the 3000 meter, the 1500 meter, and a 10,000 meter relay.  I did the 3000 and the relay, and it was just a great, great, great night!

First, the 3000.  I was a little nervous about doing the 3000 before the relay, since I knew my legs wouldn't be fresh for the relay.  But I really needed to get one last race in before the Coogan's 5K next weekend, and I thought a good 3000 would go a long way towards boosting my confidence for that race.  And, well, I had a really good race!

I was in the 6th and final heat of the race.  In retrospect, I guess I probably should have been in the 5th heat, since most of the people in my heat were quite a bit slower than me.  Oh well.  When the starting gun went off, one guy took off...way off.  After a bit of jostling, I tucked in right behind the second guy.  He did his first 200 at around 42 seconds.  I knew that was too fast for me, since my plan was to start off at 45s and try to speed up at the end.  I stuck with him, though, because I could tell he was slowing down for the second lap.  I think it was about 45 seconds; good.  Third lap was maybe a little slower.  Then the forth lap came and we were like 2 seconds slower than 6-minute pace.  Ugh.  I knew this guy was fading fast, but I was nervous about passing him and being on my own for over a mile without a pacer.  But I had to do it.  I just ran right past him and went out on my own.

Luckily, the clock was there, and it's easy to figure out 45-second splits in my head.  Also, FRNY Assistant Coach Chris was calling out my splits each time I passed him.  I managed to get a bunch of consistent 45-second 200s.  But 15 laps is a long way to go, and without a rabbit to pace off of, I was concerned that I could fall off my pace at any moment.  That's when seeing all the other Front Runners on the course cheering for me really helped me along.  Gemma, Martha, Scott, Paul, AJ -- every time I passed that long straightaway they were there yelling and clapping.  And on the other side there was Chris, telling me exactly what I needed to hear.  The other thing that helped me was the fact that almost everyone in the heat was much slower than me. I was lapping people one by one.  And every time I passed someone, it gave me an extra little boost of energy.  I felt great.

But the last three laps were hard.  I wanted it to end so bad.  Then I thought about the very last workout that I did on Tuesday (5 x mile repeats; first 1000 at 10k pace, last 600 faster).  And I just channeled all my energy into speeding up for the last 600.  On my very last lap, I lengthened my stride and charged around that track so friggin' fast, so excited to finish that damn race.  And I did it!  11:11!!!  Woohooo!  Just under a 6-minute mile pace.  It felt great.

That was exactly the race that I needed.  Going into Coogan's in one week with a 3000 in under 6 minute pace, I'm feeling really confident that I can get a great time in the 5K.  Not only am I physically ready, but I feel that I am mentally pumped up for an awesome race.  I'm really excited.

And the night got even better.

The last event of the evening was the biggest race.  A 10,000 meter relay, which is actually a 10 x 5 x 200m relay...  Each team has 10 runners, with each runner running five separate legs of 200 meters each.  It's a fast race.  And with 8-10 teams competing in each heat, it's an incredible race to watch.

A couple of months ago, someone said in passing at an indoor workout, "Wouldn't it be fun to make an all Asian relay team?"  I remember Kelsey joked, "OMG, they wouldn't be able to tell us apart...'didn't you just run?'"  But then I started counting, and just from the people who went to the workouts we had enough for an all-Asian 10,000 meter relay.  So that's pretty much what we did!  Me, Kelsey, Kent, Onesimo, Thomas, Chikara, Steve, Tsing, Da and honorary-Asian Ekong joined together to form FRNY Relay Inv-ASIAN!!!  OMG, it was so much fun and so perfect!

We actually had THREE Front Runner teams competing last night.  An open team that joined with members of Central Park Track Club and Urban Athletics ran in the first heat, and the first-ever FRNY all-women's 10,000 meter relay, who ran with us in the third heat.

Because of the many, many, many runners and heats throughout the night, our race didn't start till after midnight!  So we waited, and waited and waited.  But finally our time came, and there was just so much excitement.  There were 7 or 8 teams in our heat, so 70-80 runners lined up on the track.  It was a really cool sight.  But then runners 3-10 of each team lined up on the side and the first two runners took their positions on the track.  I was runner number 1 on the Asian team, so I got to start with the gun.  When it when off, I booked it as fast as I could around the track.  I have no idea how fast I was going, but I think it was probably in the mid 30s.  Some people zoomed wayyyyy past me, and other were behind.  But the distance is so short that there's no time to think about anything other than running as fast as you possibly can around that track.

I handed the baton off to Chikara.  It was not graceful.  But it worked.

And then I waited for the nine other runners to finish their legs before I went again.  The problem was, it seemed like they ran their legs really fast.  By the time I finally caught my breath about 3-4 minutes later, Steve was up, which meant Tsing was next to hand off to me.  And it just kept repeating.

It was so intense and so fast.  But what made it so much fun was that there was a mess of Front Runners just all over the place.  It was great to be in the same heat as the FRNY Women because we could run with them on the track, and when we weren't running, we could cheer with them.  The Asians finished in about 27 minutes, and the Women finished in 34:03.  Way to go, team!!!  And to make the experience even more amazing, as the women were finishing their race, the Race Director called all of the Front Runners onto the track.  He had us all line up in lane 2, so that when the last few women passed by, they would run by our thunderous applause and cheering.  Even some of the runners at the meet who weren't Front Runners lined up with us to cheer the women on.  And then, as Megan took the anchor leg and ran toward the finish line, all of the other Front Runner women followed her through and celebrated the club's huge achievements of the evening.  It was really an amazing experience that made all of us so proud to be part of a great club.  What a wonderful night!

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I don't have a lot of fun eating news to report this week, so I've decided to post a picture from a grilled chicken sandwich on focaccia that I had earlier this month at the Amsterdam Ale House in New York.  Lately, I've been going to AAH about once a month, on the first Wednesday of every month.  The first Wednesday is "Wild Women Wednesdays" at FRNY, and the women show up in larger numbers and pick the place where we go to dinner.  They usually pick the Amsterdam Ale House, which is fine with me, since they have a great selection of draft beer and really tasty onion rings.  Yummmm.....  I'm looking forward to this coming Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

AIDS Service Center, Track Meet and Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, The Trevor Project

Lots of running and eating news to report this past month.  Sorry for cramming it all into one long post!

First, I am so super proud to say that I've received an award from the AIDS Service Center NYC for the work that I've done for them on behalf of Front Runners New York.  FRNY has had a great relationship with ASC over the past few years.  For those of you who aren't familiar with ASC's work, they're a community organization that provides services for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.  Their programs include peer education and training, harm reduction, specialized women's services, HIV counseling and testing, and a host of other services that help NYC's most vulnerable individuals and families survive and thrive in the face of HIV/AIDS.

I've actually been involved with ASC for longer than I have with FRNY, since my good friend David Berman used to work with them.  (By the way, ASC holds a great party every June, Safer Sex in the City, which I've been proud to be on the planning committee for.)  FRNY's partnership with ASC started out in 2009 when FRNY's Charitable Foundation provided ASC's clients with hundreds of holiday gifts bags (which consisted of hats and gloves and the like).  We then gave ASC a large financial gift so that they could continue doing the valuable work that they do.  In honor of FRNY's gift, ASC named their new wellness room the "Front Runners New York Wellness Room," and even held a dedication ceremony for it.  That's when I, along with several other Front Runners, received our awards, which honored us for our "spirit of giving" which has "touched the lives of countless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS."

It was a really touching gesture by ASC.  I'm so proud of the work that they do, and so happy that FRNY has been able to develop a great partnership with them.

The picture above is of me and Sharen Duke, the Executive Director of ASC, and a current member of FRNY.  Sharen actually ran in the 2010 New York City Marathon wearing the Front Runners singlet, and finished in an amazing 4:22:29, earning her the 3rd fastest FRNY Women's Masters time in history.  Awesome job, Sharen!!!

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Remember my post about cheering with the Front Runners at the ING New York City Marathon?  Well, the New York Road Runners did a story about our cheering group in their New York Runner Magazine!  Check it out below!

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This past week was a week of tough races.  Last Thursday was NYRR's Thursday Night at the Races.  I decided to run the mile on the track.  It was my first track race since last year's FRNY Track Meet, when I did the 1200m in the Distance Medley Relay with Team Joy Luck Club, and only the second time I've ever raced a mile in my life (the first one was at the FRNY Track Meet in 2008... a 5:33.42 that may forever be out of my reach now...).

I knew this wasn't going to be the race of my life.  I had done a speed workout on Tuesday, and then a pretty fast 6-mile loop on Wednesday, so my legs were tired even before the race started.  I really wanted to break 5:45, though, but wasn't quite sure if I'd be able to do it.

I was really nervous.  There's something about running on the track that terrifies me.  Maybe it's the fact that everyone is standing in the middle of the track watching you.  Maybe it's that in short distances, you're pushing your body harder than you ever would in a road race.  Or maybe it's that the track sometimes seems dominated by people who are running 4-minute miles.  Either way, I felt a huge pit in my stomach, a feeling of utter terror that I haven't experienced before a race in years, if ever.

Then the starting gun went off.  Through the sheer randomness of how we lined up, I was placed in lane one.  All of the other nine runners in my heat were outside of me on the track.  That meant that everyone had to merge together after the start, except for me.  So for the first 75 meters or so, I was out ahead of everyone.  I didn't know what was going on, and where everyone else was.  Then I realized that I was out in front.  I hate running in front of everyone, since I'm so bad at pacing myself.  Koach Kelsey saw me kind of confused and panicking around the bend, and he yelled out to me to run my own race.  It was definitely comforting to hear that.

Finally, as I was finishing the first lap, I was passed.  This was actually a relief to me, as it made me think I wasn't going out too crazy fast.  My first lap was 41 seconds.

Around lap three was when I wanted the race to end.  I had completely forgotten that feeling you get when you run really, really fast at the Armory, and your mouth, throat and lungs can't deal with the dry, disgusting indoor air there.  I felt like I needed a giant glass of water, but I still needed to go five more times around that damn track.  And I started getting passed by two more people.  Kelsey was telling me to keep up with them, he said he knew I could do it.  I knew I could too, but my legs and my breathing just weren't cooperating.  I felt myself slowing down rather than trying to reach them.  I saw that my splits had fallen closer to 44 seconds.  I just couldn't get myself to push harder.  It was a bit disappointing, especially when I was passed again towards the end of the mile.

But I knew I could still make my time of 5:45.  I managed to pull it together for the last 100 meters, pump my arms harder and broaden my stride a bit, and I charged for that finish line.  I put everything I could into that finish, and got there, at 5:44, just in the nick of time!  OMG, I was so happy!  So relieved that it was over.  So glad I had accomplished what I set out to do.  It was a great feeling.  Even though it was 11 seconds slower than my mile from 2008, it made me realize that I have it in me to run fast, to set a goal and then grasp it.  It's a great feeling.

But it wasn't just me that got myself around the track those eight times.  I think I saw Kelsey 16 times during those eight loops, as he ran back and forth and back and forth to encourage me to do my best.  And then there were at least a dozen other Front Runners, at various points along the track, always cheering me on whenever I ran by.  What a great way to run a race, knowing that I'm being helped out every step of the way by my friends and teammates.  Thanks to all of you who pushed and pulled me along!

After last Thursday's experience, I think I'll run the Mile again at the FRNY Annual Indoor Track Meet in March.  You should join me!  Click below to register:

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Sunday was the Valentine's Day Marathon / Half-Marathon / 10K, the Valentine's Day version of the free race that I did with my parents on Christmas Day.  I had gone to the race intending to run three loops (about 19 miles), but instead, ran-walked one loop, through treacherous ice and snow.  It was brutal, slippery, and dangerous, and it took me almost an hour and a half to finish.  But once I realized that this wasn't going to be my long run of the week, it was actually kind of fun.

Here's a picture of the 10K group.  Some other Front Runners decided to run a second loop.  No, thank you!

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It was Chinese New Year a little while ago.  I invited a bunch of Front Runners out to me and Fatai's annual Chinese New Year's Dinner and Booze Fest.  I decided to do things a little differently this year.  Last year, the gays all complained that the restaurant's set menu was too weird and Chinese-y.  Nobody liked the jellyfish and the baby octopus, and the fried flounder, and blah blah blah.  So this year, I pre-picked all the dishes and just ordered everything a la carte.  I was a little nervous, since it's hard to order for 24 picky gays (and Rachel, a vegetarian).  But everyone uniformly said that the food was MUCH better than last year, so I think it was a big success.

Here's what I ordered.  For just $25 per person, we all filled up on some really tasty Chinese food, and around 20 bottles of wine (plus a bottle of Stoli--thanks, Anthony!).

-minced beef, egg white and parsley soup (veggie bean curd soup for Rachel)

-peking duck
-sliced beef w/ black mushrooms + bamboo shoots
-pork chop w/ peking sauce
-steamed chicken w/ mushrooms
-diced pickles and bacon w/ snow peas
-beef chow fun

-steamed buffalo fish
-prawns w/ crispy walnuts in mayonnaise (always a big hit!)
-salt baked squid w/ chili
-clams w/ black bean sauce

-assorted veggies + mushrooms buddhist style
-braised eggplant
-braised bean curd w/ brown sauce
-sauteed snow pea shoots

Here are some pictures of the food, fun and booze:

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OMG, it's less than nine weeks to the Boston Marathon!  I'm definitely getting nervous, even though I think my training has been pretty good so far.

I was chatting with my friend Audra the other day, who's also running Boston, and she came up with a great idea.  She told me that last fall, she went out for a bike ride over the George Washington Bridge, where she saw rainbow streamers left by individuals and a few "You Are Not Alone" signs bolted to the railings.  This was shortly after Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers, had committed suicide.  Audra approached me with the idea of joining together with some other LGBT runners to raise money for the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides a 24-hour confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.

I have a special fondness for the Trevor Project because, as you might remember from an earlier post, several Front Runners and I created a video as part of the Trevor Project's "It Gets Better" campaign.  If you haven't seen it, or would like to see it again, click below (note that Janice who appears in the video with me is also running in Boston and also raising money for the Trevor Project; so is Paul, who appears towards the end):

In this time when incidences of anti-gay bullying and suicides of gay youth are rampant, the Trevor Project's work is so important.  I'm so proud to be able to support an organization that is working to save the lives of LGBT youth all over the country.  Please join me in donating to the Trevor Project by clicking below so they can continue their amazing work.  Thank you!