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“how injured runners keep from going insane”

Yes. I know. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Some of us for much, much longer than others.

This is all I’ve got.

Race Report: Flushing Meadows 5K

Today I raced the inaugural Flushing Meadows 5K race in Corona Park, Queens. The park was the site of two world’s fairs (1939 and 1964), and it contains very large, and very visually striking, vestiges of at least one of them. I’m too lazy to research more than that. This is a blog, people.

The race was hosted by the Sri Chinmoy organization which is, as far as I can tell, a benign religious cult. Whatever they are, they put on a well-organized race. The race started on time, it was well-marked, well-staffed (there was a volunteer at every turn — and there were lots of turns), and they gave out huge honking trophies to winners, plus age group winners’ medals. The awards were so…well, big…that I couldn’t bring myself to skip the awards ceremony.

This trophy is really no big deal.

As for the course, this is not a race in which to attempt a PR. The course starts south of the Long Island Expressway and, unfortunately, in order to cross the LIE one needs to run up and over a short but very steep hill, both at the start and finish. Strike one against speed. Strike two against speed is the fact that the route winds all around Corona Park and there is a 90 degree (or worse) turn about every 200m or so. As usual, I did not look at my watch while racing but I did set it up to autolap on the kilometers. The only fast kilometer I ran was the second one (4:03) and that was only because it was almost all straightaway save for one 45 degree turn to the left.

We started at 10:00 am sharp and I was immediately the first woman. I doubted this would last, and I was right. A young woman with a lovely blonde ponytail passed me at about the half mile mark and within another few hundred meters I knew I’d never catch her. She would finish around 50 seconds ahead of me. After that, no women passed me and only one man did. I passed two teenage boys who went out too fast and died in the second kilometer. And that was the end of any passing action.

It was a tough race. For one thing, all of us in front were running alone. There were no packs. There was just a string of runners separated by around 15-20 feet each. The turns were frustrating and mentally draining. At some point in the middle of the race I settled for second place women’s and then things kind of went south from there from a mental standpoint. I knew the nature of the course was going to prevent me from running as well as I could have normally, so I found myself taking an, “Eh, why bother?” attitude. I was totally drifting off in the fourth kilometer (my slowest at 4:25) and then rallied for the last one and got back down to 4:12 territory despite the sharp turns and insane hill. But it was kind of depressing to see 21:15 on the clock when I came through. My PR is 21:12. I couldn’t find four seconds in there? I could have if I’d tried harder. I also wonder if I ran too far and too fast on Thursday (7 miles at 8:26 avg). In the past I’ve taken the day off two days before the race. I will do that before the 5 miler I have scheduled for a week from tomorrow.

This is one of three 5K races I have scheduled leading up to Houston. The primary purpose of these races is just to get some practice racing the 5K. I am very shaky in terms of knowing how it’s supposed to feel. But these races are also good gauges of where I am fitness-wise. Despite a disappointing clock time, I’m happy with the effort today and I do think I’ve gained some speed endurance in the past six or so weeks of training. I have seven more weeks to work at it.

Splits: 4:16, 4:03, 4:16, 4:25, 4:14

My watch read 3.12 miles, so I did a stellar job of hitting the tangents today. Either that or the course was short!

Sri Chinmoy may be familiar to some of you runners out there, but more as a creator of ultra running events than as a religious leader. (That Wikipedia page is worth a look; you will learn, among other “facts,” that he painted 200,000 paintings and lifted celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Sting over his head.) His organization is best known for their “self-transcendence” series of races in Queens. These races are, frankly, insane. They hold races that go on for 6 and 10 days, respectively — in Corona Park — running as much as possible, on as little sleep as possible, to accumulate as many miles as possible. But the crowning achievement in insanity is their 3,100 mile race, which takes place over many weeks in summer and is run around a single block in Queens. The block is circled 5,649 times, to be exact.

Yes. Runners are crazy.

Training: Nov 13 – 19

This week featured two workouts (planned) and two days off (one of them unplanned). I had to cut back on the first workout since my back was still iffy. I had planned to do 4×10 mins at tempo pace on Sunday, but it took me about 5 miles to feel good on the run. But by that time it was too late to start doing that much tempo work. So I slashed it in half. Doing some work is always better than doing no work.

I should note that last week’s back issues put the kibosh on doing any major weight work. Then an out of town guest (nephew Joe!) put paid to any plans to do gym visits while here’s here. So, with Thanksgiving and a race, I probably won’t get back to weights until after 11/26. But I will get back to it.

The next day, on Monday, I still had speed in my legs and ran a very zippy recovery run. Then I took Tuesday off, my planned rest day for the week. On Wednesday I was zippier still, ripping through a 7 mile recovery effort in 8:18 — a pace that was moderate effort run pace a mere 9 months ago or so. That felt great.

On Thursday I headed back up to Edgemont track, which I had mostly to myself for the first half of the workout, then just a few walkers who stayed out of my way. It was a tough day for a workout. Cold and quite windy. I had a bracing 20 mph wind that was a total to near-total headwind for about 150m of each 400m lap. The workout was a “ladder” session, with lots of 200s, some 400s, a single 800, then back down to the 400s and 200s. All repeats were at mile race pace (or, as was the case today, mile race effort).

I love running 200s, and this time around I arranged those so I had either a side- or tailwind. I had to adjust target times give the wind, but I didn’t do too badly. And things were very consistent. Splits:
40, 45, 42, 44, 90, 94, 3:15, 92, 91, 42, 44, 45, 41

Then I got a 90 minute massage, which revealed major problems in my neck, shoulders, calves and — no surprise here — lower back. I need to go back, but not until after a race on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Naturally, I have Thanksgiving and, possibly, day after Thanksgiving social plans. It will take a steely discipline and extreme fortitude not to eat and drink myself silly. I do want to perform well on Saturday since it’s a flat 5K course. I have no clue how much speed endurance I have right now, but I’d be delighted if I could hold anything around a 6:40 pace, conditions permitting.

On Friday I was back doing slower recovery miles, 5 miles at a 9:45 crawl. Very tired.

Then on Friday evening I had my second experience with post-French cuisine gastrointestinal distress. Got home at 1 am, having felt not quite right driving home. By 2 am my bowels were rebelling. By 3 am the puking had begun. And so the tag teaming continued early into Saturday morning, finally easing off around 5:30, when I fell into a dead sleep for 3 hours. There was to be no running that day.

I suspect I’m allergic (or “food intolerant”) to either duck or escargot (“snails”). Both of these foods figured into my last expulsionfest in March as well as Friday’s technicolor extravaganza. I will, with some sadness, probably never eat either of these two foods again.

With the post-foodpocalypse day of rest, the week was a light one in terms of mileage. That’s fine. Despite a stomach feeling like it had been spindled, I went out and ran a fastish 9 miler, followed by an outstanding tempo session this morning. I’m feeling very good about my training these days. But we’ll truly see its value (or not) on Saturday, when I go out and run a race of the distance for which I’m training. If it doesn’t work where the rubber hits the road, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Just one gear note: I needed a new mid-layer, since my old Mountain Hardware zip-ups (which I love) are getting so faded and frayed. On a lark I bought this one, a wool/synthetic mix from Nike for $80. This shirt is fantastic. So many nice details. For one, it has a little zip pocket, which is useful. It also has robust hand warmers — little concealed finger-covering flaps that are hidden in the sleeves. Very effective for keeping hands warm a the start of a run. The neck closes and is comfortable. Plus the cut is just right; it’s formfitting without feeling tight or binding. You just feel snug. It also means it’s a great shirt to wear walking about, under a coat. You do have to hand wash it because it’s wool. And hand dry it. Totally worth it. I like the blue. May need to try one of the other colors…

Houston in January: Let’s put the “social” back in “social media”

It’s come to my attention that a lot of people whom I kind of — but don’t really, but would like to — know are going to be descending upon Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. Since I just got turned down for a media credential, plus I’m only racing the 5K (although I will have my semi-hysterial pre-marathon SO in tow, which means gettng there early to minimize travel stress), I’ll have free time on my hands.

Chances are good that I’ll arrive late Thursday and leave early in the day on Monday. Unless I decide to skulk around outside of the press events, which means I’ll probably be arrested for harrassment and/or loitering and thrown into jail, I should be fairly footloose and fancy free. I can’t get drunk, though. At least not after Friday night.

I would like to meet you if I can. Maybe even assemble in a group to watch the Trials with — I will be cheering for several actual people I sort of know. Or for the full/half marathon, if you’re not running those — after I race the 5K I’ll be out cheering for lots of people in those races too. Or have someone to say “Hi” to at the finish of the 5K — or perhaps even at the start. Dinner, drinks, brunch. Pom-poms. Making fun of Houston. The possibilities are truly endless.

If you’re going to be there and want to try to arrange a meetup or two, please let me know with a comment and/or email. I can’t keep track of who’s going and who’s running what when. I think I need to start building a spreadsheet or something.

Training: Nov 6 – 12

Last week was on the lighter side due to two very late nights and a violent 24 hours or so of back spasm. I returned to the Rockies on Sunday for another tempo session around Swan Lake. But I was not feeling the love this week. It was windy and I just seemed slow. I was slow. Times were about 15-20 seconds off the last session. It’s fine, though. Sometimes you just have a sub-par run. Afterwards we headed straight to the gym where we had lunch and avoided the blaring NYC Marathon coverage on the café’s television. That would have to wait until later. There were heavy objects to be lifted and boxes to be jumped up and down on and off of first.

The next day my legs were peppy as hell. I zipped along at sub 8:30 with nary a pant. Tuesday evening was the final evening of my storytelling class. That involved a performance. I went for a run early in the day, did a little work and then spent the rest of the day relaxing, meditating and even napping. This is a luxury I rarely allow myself. It was fun to do on a Tuesday.

The performance went well (or, at least, people told me it did), then we had dinner with some friends and then the evening’s second act began, as we discovered that our car had been towed. Everything turns into a pumpkin at 11pm, according to the NYPD. Since I’m rarely out that late (and we arrived at an empty parking space at 11:20), I forgot. So we walked about a mile and a half to the tow pound, calling on the way as they searched for our car. Eventually they found it and, after taking a sum of money from us that I’d rather not disclose, we had our car back. I will read street signs (and my watch) more carefully from now on.

We got to bed at about 2:00am. I was exhausted the next day. So I didn’t run.

Thursday was another speed session. This time around I departed from Jack Daniels’ assigned work(b)out and decided to do what Jonathan called a “classic 5K workout”: 1K repeats at goal 5K pace. Goal for the near future is 6:25. That would get me under 20:00. I went to the track and attempted these but found myself struggling. But I wasn’t struggling with running so much as I was struggling with math. I got home and realized I ran the repeats too fast by about 5 seconds per minute pace. That doesn’t sound like much, but, believe me, you feel it when you’re already pushing the effort. I could only do three of my planned five. I did what I’ve done before, which is to cut down the length of the repeats and up the speed for the last few. It wasn’t a terrible workout or anything.

I miss mile training. 5K training is so much harder.

Friday featured a slow recovery run and legs too tired to do strides. Then a long day in the city, capped off with a midnight showing of a concert film by Sigur Rós called INNI. That ended at 1:30am. And then. We managed to get ourselves caught in a traffic jam at 2:00am. Police had closed off a great swath of the West Side Highway, so traffic got diverted. We got to bed at around 3:00am.

I must have been sitting weird all day because I got out of the car, twisted slightly, and then my back went into a screaming, oh-god-what-the-fuck-is-that back spasm. That lasted through the next day. Moving around a lot helped. Sitting sent it back into spasm. So I’ve been moving around a lot.

What a week. I’m not built for late nights.

Sweet Tweets

Lately I’ve been enjoying using Twitter as a platform for very short-form comedy writing. I have ongoing series on various themes. It’s only recently that I started including a hashtag on these for easy retrieval (or for others to contribute to the theme, although they rarely do). There is something about being constrained by 140 characters (actually, it’s fewer now that I tack on a hashtag) that is invaluable to improving my writing skills. It’s a challenge to be funny in that format, just as it’s challenging to write a good haiku poem.

Anyway, recently I’ve had a few series that are running-related. The first was a series that explored the best reasons to drop out of the NYC Marathon. Last night I did another in response to a stupid article I read with tips from Kara Goucher and her sponsor, Amway. That one’s on tips for running your first marathon.

I write a lot of these during the weird mental twillight that happens in the 45 minutes between when I take an Ambien and when I fall asleep. I think there’s something about that drug that blows mung out of the cogs and lets absurdity flow.

I’ll probably do more of them since runners are such a dedicated crowd. And it’s not like there’s a ton of runner-specific comedy out there. Unless you count Toni Reavis’ violence-laden race commentary.

Training: Oct 30 – Nov 5

Welcome to winter! I wish I had a short memory because if I did:

  • I would forget that we had temperatures around 80 earlier in October
  • I would also forget that it snowed for 5 months last winter

We got about 6 inches of snow the day before Halloween. Much damage, to my training schedule and to my trees, resulted. I’m moving on. I need to be more flexible than my trees were.

Maybe the cancellation of my planned Sunday race was a blessing in disguise, though. I took it easy in terms of mileage early in the week. Then I had a monster day of driving and sitting around in conference rooms. I spent no less than 4 hours in the car. It was a 16 hour day. I was tired on Wednesday.

And yet. My legs were strangely peppy. My recovery runs are now consistently under 9:00 pace, often more like 8:30. This just shocks me. Also, with the exception of the day after a very hard run, I have plenty of energy for strides. While I’m sorry that it took me several years to realize that I do best on two workouts a week, not three, I’m happy to finally be flourishing by following this guideline.

Because of the cancelled race, this was a light week. But. Maybe also a good thing. Because I went to the track on Thursday. And. Sweet Jesus. I’m improving.

But first. About false starts…

We first went to the Edgemont High School track, but discovered something very important. There is a reason a Mondo surface track is better than rubber. When water freezes on rubber it turns into a sheet of ice. A good 50m of Edgemont, the part that gets no sun, was totally unrunnable due to ice. So this track will be largely useless in winter. That is a shame.

But at least we do have a Mondo track up here, and that’s at Bronxville. So we got back into the car and drove there, hoping we would not encounter another Circus of the Absurd. We did not.

My targets for the 1200s were 4:50. I flew through the first one in 4:40. Second one in 4:41. Wind picked up for the third one, yielding a 4:46. Hot damn. I’ve gotten faster. On the fourth one I got totally thrown off by crowds of children, so I cut it short at 800 (3:13). I decided to run a final 400 fast, just to see what my legs could do after this effort. I did an 84. That’s 5:38 pace for those of you following along at home.

Training: Oct 23 – 29

This week of training featured my first tempo run at Rockefeller State Park (aka “the Rockies”), and it was enjoyable. It’s a good park to run in once you figure out how not to get unspeakably lost. The last time we ran there one area in particular caught my eye: Swan Lake. This small lake has a trail (or, rather, several trails that connect) running around it. With the exception of a short little hill, it’s basically flat and it’s almost exactly a mile around. But since I’m running my tempos by time, that doesn’t matter. But it’s still worth noting.

The warmup to running includes a vigorous 3 miles that are mostly uphill. A long, steady grade on packed dirt or fine gravel. I like the uphill because it forces me to control my warmup pace but also feels like I’m getting a good little bit of hill work in. By the time I get to Swan Lake I’m ready to rumble.

This week’s tempo tacked on around another mile over last week’s. I wear my heart rate monitor for these so I’m running at the right effort. Paces have been right in line with what I’m guessing is my current VDOT of around 49: 6:55 per mile, give or take. Going to a newish place helps make tempo running, if not enjoyable, then at least a little more interesting. The lake is very pretty and there aren’t that many people walking around it if you get there early enough.

I had hoped to do weight work on Sunday but something took me away from it so I ended up moving it to Monday. I did a fairly big session, with the usual upper body work plus lots of leg stuff and plyometrics. I’m also back to doing core work consistently. But there was a price to pay for moving it to Monday. I went to Edgemont 36 hours later to do a speed workout and was just unbelievably slow, heavy-legged and tired. I struggled to hit 5:16 for the first 1200. Then, with a might effort, got down to 5:02 for the second one. My target was around 4:50. Clearly, I was wiped out from the tempo run plus weight work. So I threw in a couple of 400s just to see what I could do there and it was difficult to even hit 90 for those.

As (my former) Coach Sandra would say, I was “running like shit.”

So I went home. I took the next couple of days off, both because of work commitments and also because I had been scheduled to race a 5 miler in Central Park. But that was cancelled. Due. To. SNOW! Yes. We got a fucking snow storm in late October. But not just any snow storm. A snow storm that created massive damage to trees (the snow was heavy). So now our yard is full of giant downed branches that need to be professionally removed. The damage to trees in local parks is also impressive. Central and Prospect Parks were closed because it was so unsafe to walk around. New York is now down to two seasons. Thanks, Climate Change!

In anticipation of racing I did my little wimpy 2-3 miler with strides. Boy, was I ready to race. But it was not to be. But that was okay. Because my next week of training, which I will post about momentarily, featured a track workout that was nothing short of fantabulous.

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