Training: May 22-28

Yeah, so I’m back to into it, officially doing 10K-specific training now. I am also back to self-coaching at the moment, not owing to any displeasure with what Coach Sandra had me doing, but because we’ve not been in much contact lately and I couldn’t really afford to wait around for guidance.

I looked around for a 10K plan and settled on this one from RunningPlanet.com. A few others I looked at didn’t seem to have a lot of variation in the track work. I like all the different workouts here — short repeats, mile repeats, ladder workouts, plus lots of tempo running and a smidgen of hill work — as well as the fact that I could easily slot in several races as logical replacements for certain workouts. Clearly, it was meant to be. So this is my plan.

Since I started my new gig in Manhattan on Friday, I had to do my first Ungodly Hour workout. I was at the Bronxville track at 5:00 am sharp. Amazingly, there was a guy (he looked bulky, like a sprinter) just leaving as I was arriving. Then I had the place to myself until about 5:45, at which point I was finishing up. It was nice to be there alone, save for one rabbit who raced me for about 20 metres along the backstretch.

I was able to function well for the rest of the day. I think the key to getting runs in early is going to be getting to bed early. Easier said than done. Or, rather, I can go to bed as early as I like; it’s getting to sleep that’s the challenge.

The workout went pretty well considering the extremely high humidity and that fact that I had no idea what kind of shape I’m in. 800s were in the 3:30 range and 200s in the 00:42 range. That’s about where I was in cooler weather a couple of months ago, so I have not lost any appreciable level of fitness, at least at the shorter distances. I think doing some faster stuff every week has helped maintain speed.

But I’m gonna get faster. I have some very aggressive goals for the year, although I will not share them.

The schedule’s pretty easy for the first month — just two workouts a week. After the Mink 10K on June 11, things start to heat up and I’ll be moving to three hard runs a week. I’ve modified the schedule for race weeks, usually, putting in a mini taper. I’ll be able to run the Mini, a Central Park 4 miler, a Van Cortlandt Park 2 miler (or a 5K up in Rockland, depending on work shedule) and, to cap off this cycle, the Team Championship 5 miler in August. Then I go into around 6 weeks of training for the mile.

Mileage will average in the high-30s to mid-40s, increasing just as my current project commitment (and need to commute) should end. I suspect I’ll have a lot of treadmill running in my future, but that’s fine. I’m doing core work at home, on the living room floor, twice a week. I will work in at least one weight session at the gym on weekends (another mid-week if time permits).

I think this is doable.

Training: Meh

My last training update was in mid-April. In the five or so weeks since then I have taken no less than 18 DAYS OFF. That should have been more like 4 DAYS OFF. Between slight injury, familial medical emergencies, travel and minor rebellions by my house and car, it’s not been a great time for running. If I’ve done little running, I’ve done absolutely no weight work and I’ve completely neglected stretching and rolling. Bad runner. BAD RUNNER!

I’m turning over a new leaf this week. Today I went to the gym — after an interview for a new project in Manhattan — yes, to the gym, all the way the hell up in Briarcliff Manor. There, I discovered the extent to which entropy has set in. Someone traded my upper body for that of an anemic tree frog, because I couldn’t lift anything. I had to lower all my weights by at least 25% in order to do 20 reps. I will do weights at least once per week.

Then I ran 5 miles on one of their treadmills. I have a treadmill at home, but I was there anyway, so I might as well get it done. It was a long five miles, since, after I started, I looked up to see what was showing on the television right above me and it was Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular. What a surprise! Like a bad car accident, I couldn’t look. But I couldn’t look away. There was her BFF Tom Cruise, in the special seat right next to Oafrah! There was Madonna! There was Dakota Fanning! There were unfamous people talking about their dead kids or something! There were hot-panted dancers shaking their asses along with Beyonce to something that the obviously overwhelmed closed caption transcriber kept referring to as a “motha.” I kept misreading it as “mothra,” which gave it a TRIPLE BIZARRENESS SCORE!!!

Oh my god. What a celebration of megalomania!* I enjoyed every second of it. And this was just Part 1!

I know someone who briefly worked for Oprah. Have you gotten the impression that she’s a really nice person? Well, guess what? She’s not! She is actually insane.

Establishing forward momentum

I have a plan for the next 11 weeks, one that will take me up to the NYRR Club Championships in early August. I’ll be doing 10K race training even though the club champs distance is 5 miles. Close enough. It’s interesting stuff: lots of track work, longer repeats, hill repeats. Repeats, repeats, repeats. Run, rinse, and repeat. Plus a little tempo work. And only two runs over 10 miles. That’s gonna feel a little weird. I’ll recommit to doing weight work at least once a week, preferably twice.

I’ve slotted in several races along the way: the Mini 10K next month; a 4 mile cross-country relay race (2 miles each) in Van Cortlandt Park in early July, for which I hope to enlist Jonathan as my partner; the Central Park 4 Miler about a week after that; and then goal race — Club Champs! Where I busted my pelvis in two a year ago! — two weeks after that.

Then I’ll do 6 weeks of mile-specific training for the Fifth Ave Mile. Then another 10 week cycle of 10K training for the Joe Kleinerman race in early December. I’ll find some shorter races up in my neck of the woods to do during October and November. And, finally, six weeks of 5K training for the El Paso 5K in Houston over Olympic Trials weekend in January.

Phew.

But.

I am excited to get started tomorrow.

Now, as I prepare to interview tomorrow morning for a rather intensive 2+ month freelance engagement, much of it onsite in Manhattan, I find myself wondering how I will fit the training in. But I take heart: I’ll be running around 40 mpw most weeks, and that’s with 1 rest day every week. I should be able to fit it all in between getting up early or using the treadmill in the evenings. And, if I don’t get the gig then I’ll have plenty of time for training. It’s a win-win either way.

Race Report or whatever: the Brooklyn Half

A three hour tour. A THREE HOUR TOUR!!!

No, it didn’t take me three hours to run a half marathon (I came in a shade under two hours), but it did take me three hours to get home. And that was too damned long.

The actual race was the least interesting part of today. So let’s start with the pre-race goings on. I stayed overnight at my dad’s place on the Upper West Side and, as I usually do before any race, even those I don’t give a shit about, I could not sleep properly. Fake Ambien let me down and at 3:30 a car alarm woke me up for good, well in advance of my 4:30 alarm. I was running on around five hours of sleep.

Fortified by strong coffee and Mini Wheats, I dashed down to where a van the New York Harriers had rented was stationed on 85th and Broadway. There, I met up with a few people I knew already, but most whom I didn’t. The highlight of that standing around experience was when a drunk young man stumbled upon our group, with a seemingly sober woman in tow, and declared, swaying, heavy-lidded and rubbery-lipped, “My wife is pregnant!” The woman he was with looked a little horrified and said, “I’m not pregnant!”

Then, looking at our shirts, Drunk Guy said, “What are the New York Harriers?”

Since no one answered him I jumped in and said, “We are a cult!” That got me a few laughs and a few odd looks, and in this fashion I was able to quickly and efficiently determine who I should talk to post-race. Just kidding. Sort of.

At 5:45 sharp we clambered into the van and wended our way down to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A bunch of Harriers dashed out and started running…somewhere. When I see people running fast before a race, and I have no idea where baggage or the start are, I tend to get panicky and just follow them. So I was tearing along and it was at that point that I got a sense of how humid it was. It was 96% humidity this morning, according to NYRR. That’s pretty fucking humid. I am a terrible hot weather runner, especially early in the summer season, and the wisdom of my plan to run a slowish long run today was becoming more and more evident by the minute.

Even though I had a red bib I lined up a corral back, at the very back of the yellow-bibbed group. That turned out to be perfect as I was running 8:30 or so to start and would run in that range for the next 9 miles or so. Prospect Park is very pretty and I liked the nature of its hills. Unlike Central Park’s they are very long and gradual. With two loops of the park making up slightly more than half the race, I got very familiar with those hills and had fun running them. I was also glad for the 7:00 am start because the sun was still low and as such the run was, up until the last 2.5 miles or so, almost completely shaded. That helped on a day like today, in which we had horrible humidity and full sun.

A virtual friend from LetsRun.com (and now Facebook) who goes by the moniker Humbled (and who lives in Detroit, but visits Brooklyn often to visit her significant other) had noted that she’d be in town spectating the race today. I looked for her along Ocean Parkway, but didn’t spot her. Much as I would like to meet her eventually, I was sort of glad about that because in the last few miles I was getting pretty cranky and I’m sure I smelled like a barn.

I had no goal for the race going in other than to just do a regular long run. But as I trundled along I decided that I’d try to come in under two hours. I gave up some time in the last few miles due to stopping and taking lots of water. But my average pace was 9:04 and I came in a shade under 1:59. Numbers are stupid on days like today. But I still care about them.

In the last couple of miles people were struggling with the weather. I saw a few runners down along the side of the road, and a few wobbling along the boardwalk. The med tent at the finish was very busy. Had I actually raced today, I’m pretty sure I would have been among its visitors given how I felt in the last few miles.

The post-race meetup was the best part of the day, although the effect of the weather, dehydration and beer took me by surprise. After a week of hardening myself in England with concoctions like Twickenham Naked Ladies, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and Bertie’s Snuff Film Lager (okay, I made that one up), I’d thought I’d be fine having a drink at 9:30 in the morning. We met up at something called Beer Island, which made me think of the song “Beer Picnic,” written by my friend Carolyn (Lengel) Enright for her 1980’s band Bad Tuna Experience. Just about any title that starts with “beer” is bound to sound festive.

Schmaltz Brewery's Human Blockhead: delicious but also dangerous. It's 10% alcohol -- more drunk for your buck!

Anyway, at Beer Island I became enamored of their Coney Island Human Blockhead, the label of which features Coney Island Sideshow master of ceremonies (and person who can hammer a nail into his nose, among other fantastic talents) Donny Vomit. Unfortunately, Human Blockhead only comes in 650ml bottles, or slightly less than twice the amount of beer you’ll typically get in a bottle.

Dehydrated and on a more or less empty stomach, even sipping the stuff I was wobbly myself after half a bottle. At noon I realized I would have trouble walking without embarrassing myself. So I hung out for awhile longer, finished it up and, at 1:30 realized that I could put off the ordeal of making my way home no longer. Walking was still a slight challenge, especially on sand, but whatever. I wanted to make it home before The Rapture, which was scheduled for 6:00 pm.

I said my goodbyes to all the nice Harriers (I know many more of them now, and none of them are assholes) and headed over to Nathan’s because I had to put something in my stomach. I have no idea why, but I went with the softshell crab sandwich, of which I could only eat the crab. After wolfing that down I was ready for the subway, which would take at least 90 minutes, plus I had to stop off at my dad’s place first before making my way up to where my car was parked on 108th Street. I’d have plenty of time to sober up!

Did you know that there are 381 stops in Brooklyn on the Q train from Stillwell Avenue? I slept through them all, waking up at Canal Street in Manhattan. Then the Q driver announced we were local. So I snoozed up to 42nd Street, where I hoped to transfer to the 2/3 express. But those were not running, so I had another tedious set of local stops up to 96th Street on the 1.

Anyway, it took me three hours to get from Beer Island to my house. That’s too long. I’m not running Brooklyn again. It’s far easier to get wasted post-race in Manhattan.

Houston, we have a plan

I had pretty solid plans to go to Houston in January whatever happened in terms of my own Olympic Trial dreams. There will just be too many interesting people there to miss it. Plus, there’s the Trials! For awhile I was thinking I’d skip it, since I thought it might just be too depressing to go now that I’ve regained sanity and given up on my own quest for a qualifier.

But that would be silly. I’m not upset about it now, so I’m doubtful that I will be eight months from now. Besides, as more and more people whom I’d like to meet are coming out of the woodwork and posting “I’m going to be in Houston!” on Facebook, I get more and more excited about the prospect. Not only do a have a slew of Houston Hopefuls to meet, but a whole lot of people whom I have only known virtually will be there, as will my friend Pigtails Flying. And, I hope, Coach Sandra and her star athlete, Khalid Khannouchi.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to register for the 5K race they run in conjunction with the half and full (open, not Trials) marathon races on marathon weekend. I hope to be a specialist at shorter distances by then, and much faster than I am now. The first masters female last year ran a 22:46. Pfft. I can beat that easily now. At my current level I could crack the top 10. Maybe I’ll make it a goal to place in the top 5. Yeah, that would be fun. And perhaps even possible. See? It’s all about picking the right race.

By doing a 5K, I can relax and watch the Trials, and not worry about running around talking to people, or going out and having a beer or two the evening before my race. I can even bail on the 5K altogether without it being a big deal. But I don’t think I will unless I’m injured or something.

Yes. This sounds like a good plan.

Lights! Camera! Travel!

Two weeks without a post. Dearie me.

It’s been one heck of a spring so far, primarily consisting of familial highs and lows, and mostly just lows for running. First, my stepmother nearly died after surgery complications. That was three weeks ago. She’s still in the ICU, clawing her way back to normality. So that’s completely sucked. But I did learn a lot about my family and myself in terms of our personal strengths and weaknesses and how we all cope with disaster. That was interesting and useful.

Then I blew up in the Long Island Half and declared that marathons were dead to me. My feelings have not changed.

This photo needs no caption.

I spent the last week in England with Jonathan’s family, and that was a great time, although, like all travel and concentrated social time, kind of exhausting too. J.’s brother and his husband live in southwest London, while his mother and her husband live in the western cape of South Africa. We try to convene in one of our locales at least every 18-36 months. I hadn’t been to the UK since 2006. It’s changed in some ways but not in others. For example, while cars (and people) are getting bigger, their streets and parking spaces are not. This makes riding in a car a harrowing experience. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, worrying about my inlaws’ paint job and side mirrors.

Out and about...

We are active tourists. I think it’s really stupid to travel to a place and sit around inside, which is part of why I don’t care where I stay, usually, as long as it’s not diseased or dangerous. Fortunately, J.’s family is also up for lots of walking, tube-riding and ticket-buying, so our days and evenings were filled with interesting things to do. Highlights include:

A guided walk with London Walks, which has become a kind of tradition when we go there. This time around we did a square mile tour of the city’s center, getting a history of, among other things, Roman London, the Black Death, the births of the Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London, and too many buildings designed by Christopher Wren (the Michael Caine of historical London architecture) to count.

A memorial to victims of the plague.

War Horse, which has been playing in London for quite awhile but just opened in Lincoln Center and has gotten a shitload of Tony nominations. As previously noted, I’m not a theatre person, but I appreciate a creatively conceived and executed production in any media, and this delivered. Skilled puppeteers steered giant horses (and a tank) around a stage for two hours. The play’s a little long and overly sentimental (but that’s par for the course in almost any English treatment of WW1 and WW2 — that’s my sweeping, culturally insensitive opinion; go ahead and flame away!), but it was nevertheless impressive. The casting director gets Most Creative Casting award for putting a black man into the role of an embittered SS Captain. Not since seeing Charlton Heston playing a Mexican narc in Touch of Evil have I had to work so hard to suspend my disbelief.

Also, I noted that at play intermissions, English people rush out to the lobby to buy tiny containers of ice cream, which they bring back to their seatmates in huge stacks. Then they all sit there and eat it together, looking supremely happy and satisfied. This was a spectacle so utterly charming and weird that I was beside myself.

In one of a dozen pubs visited.

A massive Joan Miro retrospective at the Tate Modern, which I dragged J.’s family to, although I did not hear complaints. But they were probably being polite. There were 13 rooms of works spanning his career, organized chronologically and placed within the context of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s Spain, which I admit to having known absolutely nothing about. Now I know almost nothing about those periods of history.

Sadly, I did not get to drink Piddle while there.

A long weekend in County Dorset, to the southwest of London, which is on the southern coast. J. spent most of his childhood and his early teens in this area and it’s incredibly beautiful. Friends of his brother’s have an apartment right on the beach in Sandbanks that they let us use. We had two memorable lunches: the first to reconnect with Jonathan’s stepfather, who we’d last seen circa 1993; the second to celebrate a major milestone birthday for his mother. We visited too many pubs to recall.

Saw lots of these...

The cultural highlight of that last venue was viewing the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised music competition that drew 125 million viewers this year. Each European nation puts forth its “best” song and performer(s) in a bid to win the votes of its peers (you can’t vote for your own country, nor are larger nations allowed to skew the numbers — everyone gets the same number of votes). If you have never seen Eurovision, it’s difficult grasp its level of sheer gaudy absurdity. The event goes on for hours, and it’s kind of like Star Search meets Top of the Pops meets Solid Gold. Fortunately, we have YouTube (see below).

...and lots of these.

Singers from nation after nation take the stage, usually with lots of non-singing dancers in tow, against a backdrop of often stunning visual effects. Then the voting begins and at that point you’re glad you’ve been drinking because it goes on for about an hour and half, with each nation’s vote doler outer (usually a tarted up woman, probably a local television personality) struggling to chatter coyly in broken English (Ha! Ha! Foreigners are so funny when they try to speak proper English!). The winning nation gets the dubious prize of hosting next year’s Eurovision, which is presumably a massively expensive proposition, so we found ourselves wondering if Portugal, Iceland and Greece might be sandbagging. Winning performers rarely go on to stardom, the exception being Abba, who won in 1974 with “Waterloo.”

I think my favorite part of watching Eurovision is the spontaneous reactions we all have. We can’t stop ourselves from saying things like:

“God, is everyone in Iceland that fat?”

“Wait a minute. Her name’s Kati? But that’s a man!”

“What is wrong with the French?”

You also get a real sense of what people in the various countries find sexy and stylish. It’s rarely what I find sexy and stylish.

I have never correctly guessed who will win. I’m never even close. This year’s winners were Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, with an anemic, schmaltzy duet called “Running Scared.” I was banking on either Ireland, with its bizarre, poppy entry from twin brothers (and big fans of epaulets, hair gel and Devo) Jedward. Or Serbia’s Nina, who rocked the final with a stylish sixties vibe and, as a chunky-legged girl from peasant stock like myself, proved exteme bravery in wearing white tights on international television. But, no, all the bands I hated made the top 10. Special mention goes to Moldova, for its entry, “So Lucky,” which embodies the sort of demented eye- and ear-raping that you expect of Eurovision.

Azerbaijan: Cream-colored bland FTW.

Ireland: We don’t care if we win. We’ll charge it!

Serbia: Don’t worry, if we don’t win we can always get jobs at Target.

Moldova: Coneheads and unicycles! Thank you!

Jonathan procures pork pies at Borough Market.

Clearly, given the length of my Eurovision report, this was my favorite part of the trip. But I sampled a lot of English culinary staples this time around: black pudding, Scotch eggs, pork pies and my ritual fish and chips/mushy peas, this time from a decades-old childhood chippy that Jonathan was amazed to find still bustling despite everything around it having changed.

Fifty years later, while entire streets and buildings are gone, the humble chip shop still stands.

Unfortunately, since J. got the bright idea that we should all drink absinthe during this musical ordeal, I had a mild hangover the next morning and, while stumbling out for a walk along the beach, managed to bash my left foot on a gate. I’ve done something to it because after an eight mile run the next day my left hip flexor and adductor were iffy. My foot still hurts when I flex it. Kids, don’t drink and run.

Branksome Chine, where we did part of a longish run.

With the foot issue, travel stress and terrible nutrition (and almost no running) of the past week, I plan to jog rather than race the Brooklyn Half this weekend, mostly to collect my 10 points for internal New York Harrier scoring. I’m hoping I can redeem them for pistachio nuts or bobby pins or something at the end of the year.

Cat. Box. Zen.

I don’t usually talk about my cat. For one thing, I don’t ascribe to the philosophy that she is a “member of the family.” She’s more like a resentful boarder. For another, I know that listening to stories about my cat is about as interesting and appealing as watching me clip my toenails. So I’ll try to make this not a cute cat story.

Our cat, Peekie, (a nickname of Pequod, which is the name of the whaling vessel in Moby Dick) it basically batshit crazy most of the time. She’s half feral and is notable for her random explosions of violence and love of killing things. But she can also be surprisingly relaxed and often, in rare moments, when she forgets that she hates us and is afraid of everything and everyone, she’s almost like a normal, well-adjusted cat. Almost.

It’s a happy coincidence that we ended up with a cat whose neuroses roughly mirror our own. As a bonus, she is, like us, also incredibly attached to her little routines. One of them involves her use of the cat litter box. She will wait until we sit down to eat in the dining room, and then she will go to work with what sounds like a major excavation project of her litter box in the next room, the kitchen. Yesterday I was eating breakfast alone, watching the sun come up and listening to the sounds of frantic cat litter relocation. Lulled by her rhythmic scrapings and bored beyond belief by my sugar-free generic Mini Wheats, I became lost in thought. A few minutes later, I realized that the scraping had stopped and the house was quiet. Eerily quiet. An investigation was in order.

First I looked for Peekie in the kitchen, but she was not to be found there. I came round into the living room and looked for her on what we call her “beach towel,” an old bath towel we’ve tucked behind a chair. She was not splayed there as she usually is. Then I looked across the room. And that’s when I saw it: a picture of such contentment and bliss that I was momentarily struck breathless.

There, smashed into an empty Amazon.com box, sat Peekie. It was a small box, about 6″x10″ and not very deep. She had explored the box the previous evening, scoping it out, inserting an experimental paw. She’d clearly wanted to get into the box, but at the time she couldn’t figure out how. It seemed that she’d finally cracked that nut. She was sitting in the box, upright, her furry chest thrust outward almost majestically. Looking straight ahead, her eyes were half open. She was breathing deeply and purring softly, the picture of happy solitude. She wanted to be nowhere else in the world at that moment than sitting quietly in that box.

I know that cats are not self-aware. They probably can’t have anything resembling personal goals. But she’d solved a problem and fulfilled a strong desire in that moment. She was supremely at peace. Beatific, even. Looking at her, I thought, “That is what I’d like for myself, even for just a few moments, every single day.”

Then she hopped out of the box, ran over to the rug and started practicing small animal disembowelments with a tennis ball. It was good while it lasted.

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