Ridgewood 5K: A mitigated disaster

Today we headed out to Ridgewood, NJ to race a 5K or 10K. I was undecided and for $10 extra I could register for both (and even run both if I was feeling in a particularly self-hating mood today — which I was, but not to the level required to double). So I registered for both.

After a terrible night’s sleep, which is par for the course for me prior to any race, no matter how inconsequential, we got up and it didn’t seem that bad out. A little warm, a little humid, but not oppressively so. At least not at 5:15AM.

As we would discover, it was about 10 degrees hotter in New Jersey. But it still didn’t feel that bad. Yet.

Jonathan was committed to doing the 10K and race it he did. He was 30 seconds off his last one, felled by the heat, which by the 8:45 start had become a factor. In the shade, it was warm. In the sun, it was baking, maybe high 70s at the start.

Still, he looked pretty good when he whizzed by on his way to the finish, well behind a gaggle of Africans (it was a money race: a whopping $200 for the winners) and some young skinny guys, but coming in 18th overall. He got second in the 50-54 AG.

I met up with him, supplied water and food and got him back to the car for a change of clothes. Then it was my turn to get ready. Now it was hot. I went off to do a warmup: half a mile jog around a parking lot followed by some short strides on a baseball field. Running at 9:00, I was out of breath. The strides were even worse. And so commenced a cascading crisis of confidence.

Frequent readers and other shut-ins will recall that I suck as a hot weather racer. My ideal racing conditions are right around the freezing mark, in which I will happily wear a tee shirt. I’ve also run some of my best races with windchills in the low teens. But put me in the heat and I melt. Or do I? Today I learned a big, painful (yet very encouraging) lesson about making assumptions.

By the 10:15 start, the sun was over the trees and the course was maybe 20% shaded. I was thinking someone should at least sprinkle me with cheese to benefit from my state of being. Can I find other ways to say that I was really, really hot? Probably. But I’ll go on.

Here are the lessons I learned today:

1. Commit or don’t bother. I screwed myself during the warmup, all of it mentally. I was afraid of the heat and didn’t want to race. Yet I’d driven all the way out here and felt obligated to. I was completely conflicted at the start, having convinced myself already that I’d have a bad race, yet struggling with a sense of obligation to bludgeon my way through the experience anyway. And the mindset that said, “I can’t race well in the heat.”

2. You can’t spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S with the letters C-R-A-P-P-Y-A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E. You can’t. I’ve had several runners whom I respect tell me recently that my attitude sucks and I need to work on it. You know who you are. Okay, I’m listening now.

3. Look at the damned watch, and look at it early. Here was the most interesting aspect of this race. I went out fast. I may not have had my head in the race, but my body was going full bore. But I’d told myself not to look at my watch, since when I’m having a bad race, looking at my watch will only make things worse.

Here’s how the first mile played out: I was running what I thought was a reasonable, but conservative, effort for the first half mile or so. My original goal pace for the race (earlier in the week, when it didn’t look like it would be so hot) was 6:39. I “knew” that wasn’t possible today. So I thought I was taking it easy in the first mile.

I knew we were coming up on the 1 mile mark and I felt shitty. I was thinking I was probably running well over 7:00 and decided to drop out and walk back. Pull over to the sidewalk, hit the watch and turn around and start walking. For the hell of it, I thought, “Well, since I’ve just bailed, I may as well see just how slow I was going.”

I had been running a 6:20 pace.

Well, fuck me gently. Turn the watch back on, turn around and start running again. But by that time I’d lost all momentum, physical and otherwise. I only lost 7 seconds on my abortive abortion, but the damage was done. I’d run too fast and now the heat was getting to me. The next mile was a full minute per mile slower. I bailed again for good at the 1.8 mark and jogged in the rest of the way.

4. Look where you’re walking. Post jog, while attempting to secure a banana, I bashed my left shin into a metal tent stake. That hurt. I’ve got a goose egg on my leg now and will have an impressive bruise in a few hours. Fortunately, my bones (and this includes my skull) are thick and not prone to breakage, a lucky state of affairs considering how gravity challenged I am. But the children nearby certainly got an earful of nasty.

Denouement: This was my third DNF. All three have had distinctively different causes. The first was a dropout at mile 18 of a marathon when I knew something was physiologically wrong with me, something that was pointless to fight. The second was a violent hamstring pull that put the kibosh on a 5 mile race in mid stride. Today was a DNF that didn’t have to happen.

Still life with trophy and contusion.

Had I looked at my watch and slowed down to my intended pace in the first mile, I probably could have run a decent race. Having a positive, or even neutral, outlook going in would have helped too. I will not do this again.

But I’m glad that this happened. The Mini 10K in less than two weeks is an important race for me. It will probably be hot and/or humid. I need to go in with a positive attitude or I’m going to screw myself again.

The best thing about today was the fact that I ran 6:20 for a mile in poor conditions at an effort that I thought was conservative. The hills of Central Park and the winds of Icahn Stadium have served to mask my level of fitness. I believe I am in better shape than I’d previously thought.

I have well over a dozen races scheduled between now and December. Please, let me have decent weather at just one. I will work on the attitude if the weather gods will work with me on everything else.

Plans for the year

Summer and fall race planning is in full swing, with training plans to be built around it. Basically, I want to continue to run shorter races, either as full out efforts or to supplement training as either race pace runs or to substitute for speedwork.

The fall is going to be all about the half marathon. I want to reach the end of 2010 having excelled at this distance. I’ll state now that my goals are lofty: a half by year’s end in the mid-1:20s. If I can run a half marathon at 6:30 pace per mile, I will feel much better equiped to start training for a marathon again.

So the summer’s got a lot of shorter stuff, with opportunities to score some points for the New York Harriers, and run many races I haven’t done before. Then I’ve got at least three half marathons I can run, about a month apart (I don’t count the Bronx Half, since it will probably be incredibly hot; if I do that one at all, I’m betting it will be as a training run).

The goal race for the fall is Richmond, VA. Jonathan may or may not do the full, but it’s a combined race, so we’ll figure it out as we get closer. I have it in the back of my mind that if things go spectacularly well this fall I’ve always got the option of doing the full there instead of the half. I like having options. Jonathan has a grad school friend who lives in St. Mary’s, Maryland, and whom we haven’t seen since (gulp) circa 1991. So we can hit her with a visit either on the way there or back. Long drive. But I’m good at those, my record being 11 hours from here to northern Maine in one day.

I will unfortunately miss Grete’s Great Gallop (a half marathon in Central Park) in early October as I’ll be out of town. That’s one I’d like to race, not only because of the whole Norwegian themed aspect (and a chance to meet Ms. Waitz), but also because it’s a club points scorer and I should not only be in good shape by then, but also in shape to race that distance in particular. But I’ll pencil that race in for 2011.

May
May 31*        Ridgewood, NJ 5K 

June
June 8*        1500 track race, Icahn Stadium
June 12*       NYRR Mini 10K, Central Park, NY (club race)
Jun 19-20*     Green Mountain Relay, VT (approx 15M over
                 three races)

July
July 5         Firecracker 8K, Southampton, NY
July 10        Women's Distance Festival 5K, Rockland
                 County, NY
July 17*       NYRR Run for Central Park 4 miler Central
                 Park, NY (club race)

August
Aug 7*         NYRR Team Championship 5 miler (club
                 championships - double points)
Aug 15         NYRR Bronx Half Marathon

September
Sept 11 or     NYRR Mind, Body, Spirit 4 miler (club race)
Sept 12        South Nyack 10 miler (could go either
                 way between these two on this weekend)
Sept 26*        Jersey City Half Marathon

October
Oct 10 or      Westchester Half Marathon
Oct 17         Bay State Half Marathon

November
Nov 13*        Richmond, VA Half Marathon

December
Dec 5*         NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K (club race)

*The asterisks indicate that I've prioritized these.

Houston (Hopefuls), we have lift off

My passion project is now live.

http://houstonhopefuls.com

I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know these impressive women as much as am.

I am working feverishly to get additional interviews up in the coming weeks. There is also a Facebook page. And I’ve got business cards on the way.

If you would like to promote this site, you are more than welcome to use the banner shown on this page in the upper right hand corner. Or I can make custom sizes to fit your site’s format.

Training: May 10-23, 2010

Well, these past few weeks have certainly been busy. Mileage was low, but punctuated by some interesting workouts and my first ever track race which was less than stellar, through no fault of my own.

Around all of this have been heavy duty work demands (on top of my M-F gig, a new freelance client with a lot of work that had to be done very quickly — lots of juggling and long hours there), plus my entré into running journalism, plus much work preparing to launch my new side project, Houston Hopefuls (see glaring banner in the upper right hand corner of this page), plus meeting my Vermont Relay teammates, plus strange, unidentifiable car parts actually falling off the bottom of my car. Seriously. The shit has been hitting the fan in a big way. But mostly in a good way.

The training has been one of the least demanding aspects of these past two weeks. Here it is. I won’t go into excruciating details because I’ve been wrestling with hand-coded HTML in WordPress (okay, Jonathan’s wrestled with it as I stood over him giving direction) all day and trying to figure out how to set up domain-specific email addresses. One minor triumph was finally figuring out how to podcast using Skype to record MP3s of phone conversations. I’d tried TalkShoe, but rejected it as it’s a proprietary format and you can’t edit the files. Now I’m going native. MP3 native, that is.

I was given two speed sessions earlier in the month to help prepare me for a mile race on the track. These were both really fun sessions. The first was a short set of cutdowns, with the last one having no assigned pace other than to “floor it.”

A few days later I did my first ever session of 300′s and holy crap were those fun. Much easier than 400′s. I got up at an ungodly hour to do those before heading into the city for a NYRR press event for the Healthy Kidney 10K, which resulted in two articles, one about the competitive elites and the other about Khalid Khannouchi’s comeback.

The first one made the front page of LetsRun.com and, shortly thereafter, was also linked as a daily news headline on Track and Field News’ website. No one has picked up the Khannouchi story, so maybe they’re sick of me already.

The next day I went in with Jonathan to watch the elites (and him) race. This one was his debut as a Warren Street member and he did well, placing 4th in his AG (those club points races are competitive) and helping to put Warren St. in 2nd place for the men’s 50+ team scoring in this race.

Jonathan appears startled at the end of this race verité clip from Joe. Also note the none-too-subtle dig at the New York Harriers.

The following week I ran my soppy race on Tuesday evening.

Then some quicker recovery runs (they are getting faster) during the week. Yesterday I did a run I haven’t done in at least a couple of years, one that I call the Yonkers Lungbuster. Yonkers is very hilly. If you want to put together a good hill run, it’s very easy to do. I ran just under 7 miles, climbing a total of 1,400 ft. My HR showed it too, averaging 86% for an 8:27 pace. It was warm and humid, which pushed it up. Still, it was a very satisfying run and it seemed to prime me for running reasonably fast again today.

This morning’s run was done along a three mile loop that circles Rockland Lake, about a half an hour northwest of our house, over the Chimpan Zee Bridge. Jonathan ran a 10K race up there. In fact, he won it in a time of 36:28. For his efforts he received an ugly trophy and a basket of Swiss skincare products. If he didn’t live with me, they’d have gone straight into the garbage. But because I’ll use anything that’s free, I’ll be slathering these expensive products on myself for weeks to come.

Weird booty.

Would you like some Swiss skincare products with your bagel?

Healthy Kidney 10K: Khannouchi’s Comeback

As promised, here’s the second report on my journalistic gatecrashing exercise. In this installment, I share what I learned from talking with Khalid Khannouchi and with his wife, Sandra Inoa, who is also his coach and agent.

I was so involved in yammering with Patrick Smyth about altitude training that I didn’t notice Khannouchi had come in. But I did sense people drifting away from our table and eventually figured out why they were flocking to the other side of the room: the comeback story had arrived. I joined them a few minutes into their session.

If you don’t follow elite running, or your exposure to it has been very recent, you probably have no idea who Khalid Khannouchi is. Khannouchi is a Moroccan-born runner (he became an American citizen in 2000) who got on the radar by winning gold for the 5000m at the World University Games in 1993. But he gradually moved up in distance over subsequent years, establishing himself as a world class marathoner in the late 1990′s.

His marathoning career began with a bang: he ran a 2:07:01 in Chicago (a race he would go on to win three more times) in 1997, which was then the world’s fastest marathon debut time. It was also (again, at the time), the fourth fastest marathon ever run. But, as it turns out, Khannouchi was just getting started. Over the next few years, he managed to lower that time in four out of his next seven marathons. His best was a 2:05:38 in London in 2002, a time that still stands as the American record.*

Then, later in 2002, Khannouchi’s fortunes turned. He began to experience problems in his left foot, which would plague him for years an cut short his training for the 2008 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials race in Central Park. Despite that, Khannouchi finished fourth, securing a spot as the team’s alternate in Beijing. After that, he ran just one more race, the Steamboat Classic in Peoria, IL, a four miler held in June, in which he would place ninth.

Surgery, followed by rehab
Khannouchi has had several surgeries on his foot and he’s hoping the most recent one, which was performed a little over a year ago, will be the one that solves his problem once and for all. When asked about the details of the surgery, he began to describe it, then leaned down and took off his shoe and sock to show rather than tell. There were his scars: one to remove a bunion and another along the top lateral instep to remove a bone spur. (Khannouchi has very attractive feet for a runner, by the way.)

Completing the rehab package are two custom made orthotics, with the left one being completely different in form and appearance from the right one. He has two sets of orthotics, one for running and one for just walking around. It took three months to arrive at the right structural formula for them. He’d get a pair, try them out, report back and then try a new pair that had been tweaked.

In the meantime, he was cross-training on a stationary bike, doing a lot of pool running and testing the waters with some jogging on the roads. He’s only been running again, after a complete post-surgery layoff from road running, for about six months.

Although he occasionally trains with his brother (I don’t know which one; he has several), Khannouchi usually trains alone, doing his track workouts at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track, trail running in Rockefeller State Park and sometimes doing a run in Central Park, where he is often recognized.

Baby steps, starting in Central Park on Saturday
What Khannouchi wanted to make perfectly clear was that the Healthy Kidney event was not meant to be a competitive race for him. He had no expectations of winning. Instead, this was a trial run to test everything out. Could he run fast and hard on pavement without pain? Could he race up and down hills? Could he push himself? These were the questions he was looking to answer on Saturday. He needed a competitive race for this experiment, and Healthy Kidney seemed like a good place to start: it’s in his backyard, he’d have competition around him and he could count on the full support of NYRR.

When asked about what other plans he had for his burgeoning comeback attempt, Khannouchi said he planned to do two more 10Ks this summer as similar, iterative tests: the Atlanta Peachtree race in July and Maine’s Beach to Beacon race in August. I went over to talk to Inoa about these races, since I figured she was the brains behind the plan. And she was. But first, she rolled her eyes and laughed when I asked about the two races. “He told you about Peachtree and Beach to Beacon?” she asked, looking a little exasperated. (As it turns out, Peachtree was already out there, but I don’t know if he was supposed to mention Beach to Beacon; a note to them post interview to inquire resulted in permission to publish their plans to go to Maine here).

Khannouchi didn’t do any 10K specific training for this race, primarily because he can’t. Because of his foot, he can’t run 200-400m track repeats, but, as he said, “You don’t need those for the marathon.” The 10K is a distance that’s long enough to reveal any lingering issues, but short enough to race frequently. I gathered that it’s also a distance that will allow Khannouchi to return to the races/courses in Georgia and Maine, where he’s done well and gotten organizational support in the past.

Two more tests, then a decision
Inoa has him running around 70 miles per week at this point. The plan is to gradually ramp up the mileage and intensity of training over the summer, using the two 10K road races to similarly test how he’s handling the load. A hard race will accomplish two things: for one, it will provide a “stress test” from which the couple can gather information about how his body is holding up to the ever increasing demands; for another, it will show whether he’s making absolute progress in terms of speed. If he’s going to compete at any distance, he needs to get faster.

Which brings me to another interesting facet of this story. Khannouchi is 38 years old. That’s not young for a male marathoner. Yet he is making a comeback in the open category, not as a masters runner. He wants to compete against everyone, not just his Age Group peers. Making a statement like that will almost certainly open him up to a wave of criticism and naysaying, which makes it all the more compelling that he’s saying it. As a side note, Khannouchi mentioned Meb Keflezighi’s comeback from what many had declared a dead career as an inspiration and galvanizing influence on his own decision to give competitive marathoning another go.

Anyway, the idea is that by the time he runs that third 10K race, he should be in or approaching full marathon training mode, meaning up to 110-120 mile weeks again. Beach to Beacon is going to be Sink or Swim, in a sense. That race should reveal his level of readiness to take on the full marathon at the competitive level he expects of himself. If he’s not ready, they’ll back off from their plans and reevaluate. If he is ready, then it’s full speed ahead.

Learning to be patient
At one point I asked Khannouchi about recovery time. I prefaced the question by saying that, since I’m a few years older than he is, I felt I could ask him this: “As you’ve gotten into your late thirties, do you find you need more recovery time? What about entire recovery weeks?”

His answer was that he did need a lot more recovery time and that it was not unusual to take workouts that he used to cram into one week when he was younger and spread them out over two weeks. But he does not take entire “down weeks.” Inoa just keeps his workload at a reasonable level throughout the training cycle.

Still, now that he’s running well again, Inoa has to rein him in. As she told me, “He’s been frustrated because he wants to jump back in and run fast workouts.” She has to hold him back and remind him that the focus right now is on regaining his fitness while avoiding injury. That means being patient.

Race day success
I spotted Khannouchi well behind the lead pack at mile 1.5 of the race, but holding up well. He was running fast and looked good. There was no sign of pain on his face, hitches in his stride or any other indicators of something being amiss. For a non-competitive effort, he still placed in a respectable 21st place, a little under three minutes off his best for the distance. He looked genuinely happy when he crossed the finish line.

I caught up with him after the race in the media area, where he was getting a massage. We chatted for a few minutes about how the race went. Here’s a transcript of our exchange:

Me: You looked really good at mile 1.5. You looked smooth and relaxed.

KK: I felt good throughout the race.

Me: So how was it?

KK: It was hard. First race in three years. I mean, it’s not going to come easy, but we felt like it was a good effort and it was very exciting to be out there. I feel like I pushed hard and, 30:30 or so — for a first race in three years, that’s a good time. Well, something promising. Not a good time, but something that we can build on.

Me: So you feel it was successful in terms of what you wanted to achieve?

KK: Just by being here it was a success. Like I said [yesterday], we talk about the fear of having injury in my mind. Just by being here it feels like I’m motivated to start all over again. It’s not going to be easy, right? We know that. So at least it was a start, and it was good.

Me: So no twinges?

KK: No, I’m going for a cooldown now, and [pointing to left foot] it feels good.

Me: I was talking with Sandra yesterday about how, if you don’t race for awhile, you can sort of forget how to race, how to pace yourself. Did you feel any of that today?

KK: Yeah, sure. Not only that, but you lose the rhythm, you lose the impact with the ground, you lose a lot of things that we have to work on. We need to improve everything little by little. It’s not going to come in a day or in a race or two. But it’s going to take patience and it’s going to take hard work and it’s going to take also, you know…the people around you have to be people that can motivate you, people that, in a bad time, will come to you and support you. I think all that stuff has to be together in order for us to make a comeback or do better or improve.

Me: And how was the crowd support? Did people recognize you and cheer you on?

KK: There was big support. I was very impressed. I always come down and do my running here when I have to get therapy in the city and people do recognize me. But there was more [of a] crowd today and there was more support. I was thrilled to run in front of them. It wasn’t what I usually run. It was, you know, more than two minutes off my personal best.

Me: Can I check in with you after Peachtree?

KK: Yes, of course! We’ll update you with what’s going on. I’m hoping it will be good news.

Me: Based on today, I think it will be.

*When I asked him which American marathoner he thought had a chance of breaking his record, he diplomatically demurred and went off on a tangent about things needing to go perfectly on race day. The guy certainly knows how to give an interview without getting himself into hot water.

The mile

Last night marked another first: my first track race.

The venue? Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island.

The distance? The mile.

The goal? Break six minutes.

The reality? Not on this night.

Just getting to the stadium was a trial. Google Maps said “18 minutes, 40 in traffic.” I gave us 45. That still wasn’t enough. It was bumper to bumper for much of the way. We finally got onto the RFK (aka Triboro, for you old school New Yorkers) Bridge and got way the hell over to prepare to exit right for Randall’s Island. I learned this lesson before when we drove to the Reebok games. But as we neared the toll plazas we saw signs that said “New. Left Lane. Ward’s Island”? Wha?

Panic. Go left or go right? We decided to stick with what we knew, which was to go right.

Now this maneuver is not for the faint of heart. I learned to drive in New York, so I’m fairly fearless on the roads, but crossing four lanes of traffic on this bridge takes the hand-eye coordination of a 12 year old and the steely resolve of a mercenary, neither of which I possess.

Jonathan, who accompanied me on this trip as much for moral support as for the purpose of helping me to not get hopelessly lost (which I would have), rolled down the window in an attempt to help me navigate through the onrush of cars. Just as he did that a giant SUV came by, landed in a pothole and sent a wave of water through the passenger side window. I half expected to see a fish in Jonathan’s lap. He was soaked.

So things were starting off well.

We wended our way down to the stadium. The next problem was, where to park? Any lots nearby were blocked and the one just outside the stadium was charging $20 for “event parking.” Oh, right. This is New York. If someone can gouge you, they will. A bunch of random schlubs running round a track was considered an “event”? I paid $20 to park for the Reebok meet. I wasn’t paying it tonight. We circled back and found parking outside of some sort of tennis complex.

It was a quick jog over to the stadium. In the pouring rain. Yes. It was pouring. And very windy.

As was promised, this was a very low key affair. I paid my $10 and then prepared to wait. It was about 6:45 and the races were to start at 7:00, running the 400, 800, 3000 and, finally, my event. The mile.

Did you know that Icahn has an open wifi network? I used it to post morose Facebook updates.

Jonathan, wet, was getting hypothermic. I gave him my extra pair of warmup pants (actually, they’re his, but I’ve gradually claimed ownership by wearing them constantly) and that helped. With no body fat, he’s delicate in cold, wet conditions. While he was off getting changed I found myself in a battle of wills with a mangy squirrel that found my duffel bag worthy of fascination. I looked at the track, which was in a downpour. And the flags, which were horizontal. I felt bad for all of us. This was rapidly feeling like a total waste of time.

I went down to do a warmup when they started the 800. I probably jogged a half mile back and forth along the side of the track. Then I did four strides. I ran the second one so fast that I nearly fell down. That would have been a little embarrassing.

Midway through the 3000 I put on my spikes, which for the record are called Gel Dirt Divas. I am not happy with that name. But they cost $35 and they are light and comfortable as can be. The 3000 ended (I felt sorry for those people, 7.5 laps in this shit). The rain had actually started to let up a bit. It was now a light rain. The wind, however, had kicked up and was a steady 20-25 mph blowing straight down the home straightaway.

The mile group was big, maybe 40-50 people. They divided us up into two races: the fasties and slowies. The fasties were all men, except for one brave woman. I raced with the slowies.

I did have a pacing strategy for this race, which was to run 88-90 for the first lap, hold on at 90 for two and three, then do whatever I could for the last 409+ meters. Standing there in the wind, I was thinking I’d be lucky to run between 6:20 and 6:30.

We line up on the special white curvy line and, whee, we actually get a starter gun. I’m in lane 5 when we go. Coming around the curve I position myself in lane 3, where I am stuck for the first lap and a half. I actually manage a 90 second first lap and think, so far so good. But it won’t last. I come through lap two seven seconds slower. Although, on the bright side, I’m now in lane 2 and working to get into the inside lane by passing a few people.

Lap three is, as Coach Kevin promised, the hardest one. My legs feel okay but my lungs are feeling it and I have a pain forming in my throat and rising up my neck to the sides of my head. This is a completely foreign sensation. I have never run this hard, for this far, in my life. Lap 3 is a little slower still, maybe 98.

We round the first 100 of the last lap and I’m really feeling it now. But I only have to do this for another 300 meters, so I push. There’s one guy a couple meters ahead of me whom I’d love to catch, but I can’t. Still, he pulls me along and I manage a slightly faster last lap, despite the extra 9 meters — another 97.

There is no clock at the finish. I don’t know what my official time is because the results haven’t been posted yet. But my watch said 6:23. I ran 1.04 miles, due to being in the outer lanes for most of the way. Doing the math, had I been in lane 1 the whole way, I would have been good for around a 6:08. Without the wind, I know I would have broken 6:00. Oh, well. Oh, well.

Afterwards, I couldn’t speak. My jaws were stiff and I was wheezing. I’d also generated a tremendous amount of heat. Despite being in a tee shirt and shorts in a wind chill in the 40s, I was boiling.

Spotted Robert (and said hi to his girlfriend, Helen, before the race), but I honestly couldn’t talk to anyone. I was in something like mild shock from the race. It was the oddest sensation.

Despite the bad conditions, the crowded track and lack of amenities like a clock for splits, I enjoyed myself. It was a new experience and an intense one at that. Unfortunately, there are no more mile races scheduled this season. But there’s a 1500 on June 8 and I’ll take another crack at it then. My goal is the 1500 equivalent of a 6:00 mile, or 5:36. I hope it’s not windy.

Healthy Kidney 10K: The Front Runners

In which I gatecrash a function meant for actual journalists

Yesterday marked by first foray into something resembling running journalism. I joined Steve Lastoe, who founded and runs NYCruns.com at the Warwick Hotel in midtown, where we met with several members of the elite field for today’s Healthy Kidney 10K run for a series of interviews.

I should point out here and now that I am totally unqualified to interview anyone about anything. I have no journalism background whatsoever. But I know how to research people, ask questions and write about the answers. I’m already flailing down this road with my Houston Hopefuls project with completely unwarranted confidence. Why stop there? I figured I’d give this a whirl for the experience.

Anyone who knows me will note that I am somewhat shy and very soft-spoken. These are not helpful qualities for an aspiring journalist, a field that tends to favor aggressively nosey loudmouths. But sometimes it’s easier to do something new when you’ve got a clear role, and yesterday I had one. I just had to remember to relax, speak up, and hit “record” at the right time.

Steve (who’d I’d never met until five minutes before the conference) and I had collaborated via email on doing pre-conference research on most of the runners who were there. We ran out of time on others, including the winner of the race, Gebre Gebremariam. I’m sure if we’d done some handicapping that wouldn’t have happened, but live and learn.

Since I started following track and field seriously a few years ago, I’ve always found its lack of popularity hard to accept. But yesterday I saw the upside of such systemic indifference: namely, that a nobody like me can turn up at something like this, offer the lamest of explanations for my being there (“I’m a blogger and I thought it would be interesting to talk to these guys.”) and still be welcomed with coffee, pastries and, best of all, unfettered access to some of the world’s top male runners for well over two hours.

In which my suspicions about elite runners are all confirmed

By and large, most runners are friendly, down-to-earth individuals. That’s why I like them. And you know what? The elites are no different in this respect. These people didn’t know me from a bucket of rocks and yet they were still willing to sit there and answer my questions, more often than not offering up smart, articulate answers.

The highlights

I’ve got well over two hours of poor quality audio. I won’t inflict that on you, but I will pull out some of the highlights from yesterday. As previously noted, I didn’t speak with the man who would go on to win the race, Gebremariam. But the five others more than made up for that lapse. My time talking with a sixth, Khalid Khannouchi — and his wife, Sandra, (who is also his coach and agent) — warrants its own post, which I’ll put up soon.

Peter Kamais (Kenya)
Kamais, 33, won the NYC Half in March by quite a wide margin. He also placed fifth in the highly competitive World’s Best 10K this year, which is always run in horribly hot and humid conditions in Puerto Rico. His time there was 27:54. This is important to note because today’s race featured a $20,000 bonus to the man who could not only win but also break the course record of 27:48. He has run 27:09 on a flat course (Tilburg, Holland in 2009). That was on the road, not the track. In other words, this man has invisible wings on his feet.

Get to know him:

  • Kamais is self coached and has always been self coached. He trains with a group in Iten, Kenya and runs with others much of the time, but he plans out his training and runs his own paces when he needs to.
  • He says he makes adjustments to his training often, based on how he feels from day to day. He does not push things on days when he’s not feeling up to doing a hard workout.
  • He loves racing hills.
  • When asked who he felt was the biggest threat in this race, he said it was Boaz Cheboiywo. But I suspect he may have said that because the man who would ultimately win today (and break the course record), Gebre Gebremariam, was sitting a few feet away within earshot.
  • His goal for the Healthy Kidney race this year was 27:45. More on that below.
  • He’s going to start training for his first marathon in August. He’s not sure which one he wants to choose as his debut race.
  • When I asked him which Kenyan marathoner he felt would be his biggest rival — the person he wanted to beat at that distance — he told us it was Paul Tergat.

Quote:
“If you’re going to run the marathon, you have to run more miles.”

Place, time, pace today:
2nd, 27:49 (4:29)

I did a run in the opposite direction so I could spot the elites (and others I knew who were running) in the early miles, then be at the finish line for the race’s conclusion. I saw the elites come through just shy of the 1.5 mark and Kamais was in the lead, but barely. Gebremariam was one step behind him and Kamais kept looking back at him.

I gather that most of the race unfolded in this fashion, with Gebremariam then making a break past the five mile mark. He came in at 27:42, besting Tadese Tola’s 27:48 and securing a $20,000 bonus. Kamais shut down in the last few strides and jogged through in 27:49. Had he not done that, he could have beaten the 2009 record, but not the 2010 time. And that was all that mattered this morning.

Collis Birmingham (Australia)
Birmingham, 25, has raced once before in New York at the 2009 Fifth Avenue Mile, where he ran 3:53.9. He represented his country in the 5K in Beijing. He’s run a 27:29 for 10K on the track, which is the current national record. He, along with his colleague, Ben St. Lawrence (below), are gearing up for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India in the fall. He considers himself a specialist at the 5K distance.

Get to know him:

  • At the Penn relays, in which he was running the first leg (1200m), Birmingham lost his shoe in the first 200. He finished the leg in 2:54.9 but then had to take a week off because he’d completely torn up his foot in the process.
  • He trains for approximately 10 weeks a year in Falls Creek, Victoria, at altitude. He’s also training in Laguna, California, near San Diego, which is at about the same altitude: roughly 6000 ft.
  • He’ll be doing the 5K at the Prefontaine Classic this summer.
  • Birmingham ran at university after a short period as an apprentice carpenter. Now he wishes he’d taken the opportunity to run for a university in the States to take advantage of the collegiate system, which is stronger in terms of runner support than what’s available from Australian universities.
  • Birmingham has gotten some help from the Victorian Institute of Sport, which offers physical services such as massage. Otherwise, as in this country, athletes are on their own to make a living aside from whatever sponsorship they can secure from shoe companies.

Quote:
“We’re not afraid of the hills.”

Place, time, pace today:
14th, 29:16 (4:43)

Ben St. Lawrence (Australia)
St. Lawrence, 28, also considers himself a 5K specialist, although he was 2nd in the Australian 10K championships last year. He ran 13:25.9 at Mt. SAC last year as well as 28:05.8 on the track, also last year.

Get to know him:

  • Upcoming races include the 3K in Ostrava, Czech Republic (his debut European race), followed by 5Ks in France and Sweden.
  • St. Lawrence ran while at university, but then decided to take a year off. That year turned into 5+ years. He got back into the game about four years ago.
  • He works full-time for ING in the HR department. The company has given him 10 weeks vacation this year to accommodate his racing schedule.
  • Does a fair amount of training on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He enjoys trail running and says he could be interested in doing a trail race or ultra marathon, but the race season for that conflicts with the Australian track season, so he hasn’t pursued it.

Quotes:
On why he got back into competitive running:
“I guess to start with, it was just to get fit and healthy again. And then I was actually a spectator at our last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and saw a few Aussies out there running and just decided that I’d rather be out there running than sitting in the stands spectating.”

On whether they ever see wild animals on the PCT:
“You see a few coyotes. And turkeys. Sometimes we’re a little worried about the turkey hunters.” [Pauses in a moment of reflection.] We don’t look like turkeys.”

Place, time, pace today:
7th, 28:36 (4:36)

Bobby Curtis (USA)
Curtis, 25, was the 2008 NCAA 5K champion and has placed well at the World Cross Country Championships (37th in 2009 and 48th this year), considering the formidable competition from Kenya and Ethiopia. He hit his personal best at the 10K (27:33.4) just two weeks ago on the track at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford.

Get to know him:

  • Thinks that running can potentially offer greater financial success than other, more traditional avenues might. If it doesn’t go well, he still considers that he’d have gotten an enriching experience from the competition and travel.
  • Has a master’s degree in public policy from William & Mary. He’ll probably go into finance, having gotten a job offer in that area, should pro running not prove lucrative enough. But he also hopes to make contacts in running and do something with that professionally when he’s done racing competitively.
  • He was realistic about his chances in the race today, acknowledging that the pace guys like Kamais would likely set would have him running outside of his current capabilities.
  • In terms of his future racing “wish list” he thinks perhaps a NYC marathon might be in his future, along with some Diamond League meets and perhaps the Great Ethiopia Run where “shopkeepers in Ethiopia run something like 27:50.”

Quote:
When asked about Josh Cox doing Comrades and whether he considers taking on an ultra race:
“I guess if you’re into something like that, that’s the best race to do it. It’s a very prestigious race. Best of luck to him. But you’ll never see me out there.”

Place, time, pace today:
22nd, 30:39 (4:56)

Patrick Smyth (USA)
Smyth, 23, bears a striking resemblance to Adam Ant (without the makeup) and is probably too young to know who Adam Ant is. His track 10K PR is 28:25.9. He placed 2nd in the USA Half Marathon championships in January with a time of 1:02:01. He trains with Team USA Minnesota/Nike.

Get to know him:

  • Smyth felt like an underdog in college and continues to feel that way. His focus is now on making a name for himself by, as he put it, “surprising people in road races.”
  • He loves the half marathon distance and wants to move up to the full marathon distance, as that’s where he feels his future is.
  • Didn’t get signed on for sponsorship out of college, so he was all set to start grad school in Chicago for a master’s in social sciences, with a focus on history. Then he started to flourish in road races last fall and has ended up deferring entry in that program until such time as it becomes obvious that professional running isn’t going to work out. So far, that hasn’t happened.
  • He’s making a living, much of it off of the US road championships (20K, 10 mile, etc.). It keeps him on the radar and keeps the money coming in. But he also can’t pick and choose. He has to compete and try to win money in order to stay afloat; that means sometimes making compromises in terms of how he’d ideally like to lay out a training cycle.
  • Smyth leaves Minnesota in the winter for the friendlier climes of Albuquerque. He has trained at altitude for the past three years and says he’s seen the difference it makes.
  • He enjoyed the NYRR Emerald Nuts run on New Year’s Eve, despite the bad weather, noting the novelty of racing with fireworks going off overhead. Although it was odd to wait around all day to race at midnight and presented logistical challenges, such as figuring out when to eat.

Quote:
When asked about the sudden drop in 10K times amongst Americans like Dathan Ritzenhein and Chris Solinksy and whether it’s changed his outlook on what he can do:
“It’s really more what I have to do to get to that level. That race (Solinsky’s 26:59.6 at Payton Jordan) really kind of objectified where you need to be to be in the mix of guys who are going to make an Olympic team or a World Championship team. So now I’ve got to just set about getting there.”

Place, time, pace today:
12th, 29:03 (4:41)

[Edited: I promised a Khannouchi profile this weekend as well, but I'm going to take some time with that one, so it could be another week or so before I post about him. For now, I'm back to working on my interviews project for the women's 2012 trials.]

I got short legs

I spent a pleasant 90 minutes yesterday evening enjoying drinks (for the record, I had water) and nibbles with the majority of my Green Mountain Relay team, plus one interloper/potential spy from the Hash House Harriers’ team (girlfriend of one of our team members, and pretty darned charming — as spies so often are).

We assembled on the 14th floor of the Library Hotel on 41st St and Madison, in the Bookmarks cafe (notice a theme?), with a little table and benches under the skylights. We were sternly warned beforehand that if we all didn’t get there at 6:30 we’d lose our special area and have to drink with the riffraff at the bar (which was noisy, which means I’d have no chance of being heard).

This meant that I had to take a train that got me into Grand Central at just before 6:00, which then meant I had to kill time. So I wandered the streets, walking to the 41st St. branch of the NY Public Library to gawk. Then I couldn’t take these mindless perambulations anymore and just went on up. I got there at 6:20 and saw, sitting in our space, a bunch of fat, pasty complexioned people in conservative business attire. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “Are these my teammates?”

It turns out they were cubicle jockeys who were squatting our reserved space. The hostess summarily booted them out. So I got to sit alone, awkwardly (because that’s how I roll), awaiting the hopefully not fat, pasty-faced arrivals. They trickled in, all looking fit as fiddles, and I recognized the two I’d met about a year ago at our Blogging Runners meetup.

Anyway, it was nice and they were nice, as I’d no doubt they would be, since at least one of the team captains, TK, seems a good judge of character (she likes me, doesn’t she?). And I know the other captain, [B.], is at least generous, as he paid the bill, and also has a sense of humor; we already have an inside joke involving Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Yes, I think this will be fun. Once I sort out the logistics of how I’m going to feed myself and maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene during this odyssey, I should be good.

The “legs” in the title of this post refer to the three sections of the race that have been assigned to me, not my actual legs. My legs aren’t long, but I wouldn’t say they’re short either. I’d say they’re just right. And very sturdy. Sturdiness is going to count for a lot in about a month.

My “leg” is Leg 4. Which means I’m Runner 4. But everyone seems to just say “You’ve got Leg 4.” The way the relay works for a 12 person team (there are “ultra” teams made up of 6 people, but that’s too much fucking running) is that you each get one leg consisting of three separate legs, or the distances of the entire 200 mile race that you’ll contribute to by racing your little heart out along them.

So, let’s review: there are 12 runners and each of us runs three race distances staggered throughout a total of 36 sections of the race, and our collective three legs are also known as a “leg.”

Still with me? Okay, now, to further complicate things, the legs (meaning the collection of three) are given a rating from 1-12 based on their overall difficulty, as determined by distance and elevation gain. Difficulty score 1 is the easiest and Difficulty score 12 is the hardest. My leg, Leg 4, is also conveniently rated “4″ in difficulty. I initially wasn’t happy with this, since I’m an overachiever and like to work hard and didn’t want anyone feeling that I either wasn’t pulling my weight or — worse (and I worry about this) — giving me a lameass leg because I’m old(er).

But after some thought, and examination of my, um, legs, I realized that what they gave me is perfect, both in terms of what my strengths are as a runner in general and the distances I have been racing lately. (Incidentally, there’s one leg that ends at a brewery. I didn’t get that one.) Here’s the breakdown of my legs’ vitals:

Leg 4 (section 4): 6.6 miles, Difficulty: Hard, Elevation: -657/+633
Leg 4 (section 16: 4.0 miles, Difficulty: Medium, Elevation: -247/+354
Leg 4 (section 28): 2.9 miles, Difficulty: Easy, Elevation: -309/+197

I warned them that I am a godawful downhill racer and actually preferred uphills given the choice. I’m only doing 13.5 miles total, but that’s fine because I think I’ll be able to actually race all of them at a decent effort given how they’re ordered. I had planned to run the first, whatever I ended up getting, in the 80-85% HR range so I don’t fry myself, and then focus on cleaning up in the final two with a full effort second race and whatever I’ve got left for the third. Heck, it’s less than 3 miles!

The subject of the Mini 10K race, which is week before the relay event, came up and there was much excitement, with at least one team member having decided to spectate rather than run it given the presence of Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher, who will be doing it as a fun run since they’ll both be fairly pregnant by then. I admitted that I’m planning to race that one like a rabid animal (since now I have team scoring to think about), regardless of the physical commitment I have a week later. No eyebrows were raised in worry or judgment.

Guest Post: The wee bunny gets a lesson in endurance

After 8 months of chemo in 2008, followed by pelvic-tissue-destroying rads and chemo in fall, then pelvis-mostly-removing surgery in spring 2009, I went for my first run since 2005 with my boyfriend’s leggy athletic pothead daughter. It was October 2009. In the past year, I’d been through times when I had almost no platelets, white blood cells, or hair. By almost no hair, you have to understand, I studied my whole hide and found exactly 4. All on my head, by the way. The only thing in my favor physically is that I too stomp around on longish pins, a fact few are allowed to forget for any length of time once they make my acquaintance.

Bunny was taught to bolt by a former boyfriend, an AWOL Marine. I suppose you can see why. I was trained to run cross-country in 1977, so I set a pace that lets me run indefinitely. You know how your basic pace and stride are sort of set in your bones? The raspy rhythm of my breaths has sounded exactly the same since my high school competitive days.

I had turned the Dilaudid up to 11. Nurses come by to fluff me up every few hours. I have no idea where I am.

On the first run, the young lady hopped off ahead and I did the tortoise thing. When we met again on her way back from Morocco, I did a slow 180 and again watched her tight white tail bounce into the twilight. I should add here that these days, it’s considered “okay” to leave your father’s middle-aged girlfriend in the dark in an unfamiliar area populated, essentially, with large men passing from behind and in front clad in sweatpants and little else, even after you’d been with her in emergency rooms for sudden life-threatening GI attacks twice since July and were aware she’d been in for those a total of five times since May.

I got to the Citroen about 15 minutes after Bunny had, admittedly somewhat weepy because I was tired and just barely able to stay in motion by then. Barely. And plus, I just hate being left behind in the dark in an unfamiliar area populated, essentially, with large men passing from behind and in front clad in sweatpants and little else. Just a quirk of mine. Her dad recommended therapy and medication for it.

I calculated that I’d just run over 5 kilometers and was quietly displeased at the absence of cheering throngs throwing unattractive but free* t-shirts and similarly disadvantaged water bottles at me. Wabbit had run farther than I, but I’d stayed upright and moving for 15 minutes longer than she. Before thinking, she tried to argue my assertion that I had shown more endurance than had she. But, I reminded her, her body was in motion for about 30 minutes, and mine for about 45. That’s 50% longer, and made it hard for her to say she could have managed the same thing. Not without proving it, anyway.

Caroline Collins, Ph.D.

*Caroline’s Law of Not Having a Bunch of Crap in Your House:
Never take anything for free that you wouldn’t pay at least $20 for in a store that day.

Training: May 3-9, 2010

50 mpw seems to be my training “set point” these days. I hope it’s not too much of a shock when I start up higher mileage in the summer. But I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

This was an eventful week for two reasons. First of all, this week featured the first race in which I was sporting a blue bib. The other big event this week was that both Jonathan and I joined the ranks of running clubdom. But two different clubs.

Joe has been working on Jonathan for awhile to join Warren Street and finally broke him this week. Then I was plied with iced tea and delicious nibbly things by a New York Harrier on Saturday and in a moment of weakness said I’d join up to bolster the 40+ womens scoring.

I don’t know how competitive these two clubs are against each other, but I suspect that once we start racing for points in earnest, the crockery will be flying. I’ve already warned Joe that I plan to sabotage Jonathan’s training at every opportunity.*

I also have to admit that I don’t really understand the points scoring system, which seems arcane, at least at first glance. But this isn’t the first time I’ve committed to something with only a vague understanding of the requirements or consequences.

Below is a picture of me with said troublemaker. We are admiring our magical blue bibs (her first as well).

Bibstruck.

The week was capped with Yet Another Race, a Mother’s Day themed 4 miler. This is getting old, I know. So old that I’m not even going to write a dedicated race report this time. Since I’m on the subject anyway, here’s my quasi race report:

On the surface, it looks like I made zero progress between this 4 miler and the 4 miler on the exact same course in March. March was a 27:34. Today was a 27:35. But one must look at the splits, grasshopper. The splits. Very important. The splits, they hold the knowledge.

March: 6:47, 6:48, 7:06, 6:42

Today: 6:47, 6:43, 7:18, 6:34

It was hellaciously windy this morning, a very strong wind mostly going from west to east, although at times it felt southwesterly. My goal was to try to run 6:45s for at least three of the four miles. Mile three on this course is always awful for me — the transverse is often windy (as it was today) and the hills on mile three, while rolling, are exhausting.

I established a 6:45ish pace pretty much immediately and was feeling really good until the transverse when the wall of wind hit us. I was really working during mile three but trying to not work so hard that I’d wreck myself for the last mile. I was more successful with that today than I typically am, as evidenced by my 6:34 final mile. This is why looking at splits is important; they tell a more informative story than the finish line clock does. I’ve got a higher level of speed endurance than I had six weeks ago. I credit all the racing for that.

I also started up with the weight training again and have been experimenting with eating loads of protein and a bit more fat throughout the day. I lost three pounds, although I know quite a bit of it was water weight. But at least the scale’s moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, as part of this effort I’m tee-totaling, which is always a drag. But I find it’s easier to just not drink than to try to drink in moderation. Not because I have a problem. I just love to drink.

I briefly flirted with the idea of doing next Saturday’s Healthy Kidney 10K race. But I need to keep my eye on the immediate prize: running a halfway decent 1500 on the 18th. Racing a hilly 10K three days before that is not going to help. So next week will feature two speed sessions: another cutdown workout on Tuesday followed by some 300s (this is new) on Friday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 400m repeats I did this week, hitting most of them at 90, although I cut the session short at the tail end of the ninth one when my pace fell off and my left hamstring started complaining. It’s taken so many hard lessons to learn to cut a workout short when there’s an issue, or not do it at all if it’s the wrong day to try.

In other news, my Olympic Trials interview project has started off well. I’ve got at least six women who are very interested in taking part, and I’m hoping to add at least a couple more to my roster. But I haven’t stopped looking. All the women have quite different running/racing backgrounds, which I’m very happy about. They are all interesting in one way or another.

*Since I am the nutritional director of the household this should be very easy for me to do. I’ll plan to feed him copious amounts of goose liver paté, slightly spoiled Stilton cheese and Baconnaise. I’m also going to start keeping an airhorn next to the bed for very early morning wakeups.

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