Sunset & Suds 5K

Free beer. A lovely view. And running. What’s not to like?

If you’re looking for a fast, flat and accurately measured 5K, consider running September 15th’s Sunset & Suds. That’s a Thursday evening. The race starts at 7 pm. This race is a fundraiser for my team, the New York Harriers, and for your registration fee you’ll get the alcoholic version of the Olive Garden’s Neverending Pasta Bowl: a free beer mug and unlimited refills (or at least that’s what I’m told). I’m thinking it will be a lot less revolting than what Olive Garden gives you. That’s a good thing.

Here are details. You can register in person (or by mail, although you’re cutting it a little close at this point) at Urban Athletics’ uptown store or on race evening near the start at Hudson Beach Cafe on 105th and Riverside. Here’s the flyer (PDF).

So come on down, run with me, and then get totally ripped on a school night.

Race Report: NYRR Club Championships

Yesterday I was reminded of several things:

  • How daunting a prospect it is to excel in the NYRR club series when so many of the points races seem to fall in the summer
  • What a thrill it is to watch the faster local runners coming over the finish line
  • How many new people I’ve met in the past year since joining the New York Harriers, and how many new people I continue to meet
  • When it’s very hot and humid, it pays to be conservative in the early miles

Using my dad’s pied-à-terre on the west side as a home base, it was easy to get to the start area on 102nd Street, a 10 minute jog at most. Which makes the fact that I woke up at 4:15am even more irritating. But I can’t say I was surprised by this, since after three months of waking up at 5am to run before my commute (this fact amazed a coworker on Friday), I can’t sleep in no matter how late I go to bed.

But anyway. So we had a leisurely (very leisurely) breakfast and hopped over for number pickup with plenty of time for Jonathan to warm up for the men’s start at 8am. I bade him adieu, went to the start and shot video showing almost every single starter. I say almost because then I went to bag dropoff, used a portapotty and as I was heading over toward the ball fields to do a warmup two guys were frantically running toward the start. “It’s our first race!” they screamed (which didn’t make sense to me because you have to have run in at least two club points races previously this year in order to compete in the championships, but whatever). Even though they were 10 minutes after the start (the usual cutoff), they were allowed to go. All I can say is that I’m glad they weren’t Harriers. So embarrassing! (Just kidding; I once started the Bronx Half 10 minutes late).

Here’s the men’s start.

Speaking of Harriers, I saw shitloads of them. They were everywhere. I was saying “Hi!” right and left before the race, during the race and after the race. Harriers in the corrals, Harriers running on the course, Harriers screaming from the sidelines, exhausted Harriers wandering over to Harrier Rock in search of post-race alcohol and corn dogs, or whatever it is that Harriers eat when they socialize. It was a Harrier frenzy.

Unfortunately, we missed both the Harrier post-race gathering (the annual picnic, in fact) as well as the Warren Street post-race fete because we’d scheduled a Saturday afternoon soiree at our place (one runner, two non-runners, if you must know) since it was the only date available for everyone. We had to dash back home, as there was wine to be chilled and food to be prepared. But I’ll check out the picnic(s) next summer.

Hokay. So, Julie, how was the race?

It was pretty good, for such a hot and humid day. My time of 36:54 was nothing to write home about for a 5 miler normally, but I was happy with the way I ran yesterday. Jonathan’s advice was, “Keep some energy in reserve to get through mile 4 and you’ll be passing people like crazy in mile 5.” This turned out to be wise advice, although not always easy to follow. It took much patience, grasshopper.

I started at the front of the second corral, but the race was so small (around 500 women) that I was only about 8 rows back anyway. We started running and immediately there was a problem in front of me: a near pile up, with no apparent source, starring one of my favorite local bloggers, Washington Ran Here. Women were stopping, swerving, gasping in surprise. I was looking for a runner on the ground, but didn’t see anyone down when I ran by. Fortunately, everyone was okay.

We cleared that mess and then I spotted Emmy Stocker — outstanding Taconic Road Runners masters queen (she’s in the 50+ group) and sometime guest on the New York Running Show — just in front of me. Emmy always beats me. I caught up with her and said as much to her as we made our way west along the transverse toward West Side Drive.

“Hi, Emmy. You’re going to beat me again today.”

“Well, I don’t know. I ran an ultra last weekend.”

“You’ll beat me anyway. But if you don’t for some reason, you’ll have a great excuse.”

“Yeah. It’s called ‘old age.'”

I was going to reply that age seems to have no effect on her performances, but it took me a few seconds to formulate that thought into a coherent sentence. By then she’d taken off and was quickly headed out of earshot. That was last I saw of her.

Heeding Jonathan’s advice, I decided to run the first two miles like a hard tempo effort. No racing yet. The first mile is a rough one with lots of rolling hills, mostly up. I got passed sometimes, but was basically running with the same people for that mile. During mile 2 people really started to pass me. That was difficult to accept, but I was thinking a fair number of them would regret taking off so early on. The heat was rapidly becoming oppressive, especially in sunny spots. First two splits were 7:21 and 7:14. Breathing was one breath for every three footfalls. Not very high effort yet.

As we rounded the bottom of the park, people were still passing me and I was beginning to question this strategy. It was dispiriting, to say the least. But I kept at the same effort, passing mile 3 in 7:21. Now we were headed back uphill in that steady slog up the east side, culminating in Cat Hill. This is where the strategy started to pay off. I passed a few people on Cat Hill. Mile 4 was a not-terrible 7:53, meaning I lost about 30 seconds on the hills.

By this point I was breathing once every two footfalls. That was okay. It was time to race. We made the turn onto the straightaway that parallels Fifth Avenue. I love this part because I can recover a little from the hills and get ready to motor to the finish. There was a phalanx of people cheering on both sides near Engineer’s Gate. That was a boost. Then, beyond that, pockets of Harriers. One of them yelled, “Go, Jules!” which made me giggle, and a little sad, since my only friend who calls me that has moved away and I miss hearing that from her.

The last half mile was where the earlier miles’ discipline paid off. I overtook a few people as we made our way up toward the transverse, and nipped a few as we came around the turn toward the finish. Mile 5 was a solid 7:05.

Average pace was 7:23, which I’m pleased with considering that it was 73 degrees, 81% humidity and sunny.

Like an idiot, I wore black.

Race Report: Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park

Well, I had a better race here than I did last year when it was, apparently, hot. Last year it was 82 degrees and 53% humidity. This year it was 72 degrees and 68% humidity. I don’t know what’s worse. Last year? Although I was verging on injury at this time last year. I ran this race three weeks before I’d suffer a pelvic stress fracture in the club championships that would sideline me totally for 3+ months, then take another 4 after that to run normally again. I was also fatter then. Fat is a great insulator, which is not so great in the summer in New York City.

So. Let’s move on.

At this point, I’m happy just to be racing, so I don’t go in with any goals other than to emerge at the finish without a new and exotic injury. A decent time is a cherry on top. But I’m not trained yet, so I’m not expecting PRs at this point. I came in at 29:16, which is better than last year’s 30:05 but well off my best on this course of 27:34. I am a winter racer, that much is clear.

Jonathan and I stayed at my dad’s place on 92nd, which was a good call. We could have a fairly relaxed breakfast (especially since I woke up 45 minutes early), then jog the 1.5 miles to the start. After that we parted ways and went to do our little warmups. To be honest, I felt like crap. My freelance gig has been exhausting and a daily three hour commute through heat has taken its toll. I also wondered if my legs were still beaten up from the Van Cortlandt race nine days ago. My strides sucked. So I stopped doing them and just figured I’d run within whatever the conditions (the weather and my own) would dictate.

On the way to the corral I ran into teammate Joni, whom I’d met just once before, way back in December at the Harriers’ holiday bash and had since picked his brain via email for an article I did about cross-training (he generously shared his yoga knowledge). It turns out he’s been injured since then. I empathized with his tale of woe. We chatted in the corral for a while and then fell silent to listen to what was one of the most honest renditions of the Star Spangled Banner I’ve heard in a while. The singer was having some throat problems and, midway through the song, she audibly cleared her throat. I thought that was great. You do what you need to do, sister. Then she finished up in full form, no longer held back by the frog in her throat.

The race started and, since we were toward the back of corral 2, it was a walk-stop-jog-stop affair as we made our way up to the start mats. As always, it was pretty crowded, but I was able to weave through people.

Going out too fast. Dammit.

I pride myself on being a runner who does not normally go out too fast. But when you race after a layoff, it’s impossible to know how fast to run. You never want to run too slow. Oh, no. Never. Not that. So this happens sometimes. What I don’t like is how long it takes to realize I’ve made the mistake and then the sense of trepidation that accompanies the realization. Oh, I’m gonna pay for this.

I felt great during the first mile. Of course. I even felt pretty good through most of mile 2. But as we rounded the turn on to the 102nd St. Transverse, my legs were not happy. So they went on strike. I must have lost about 15 seconds on that mile, plodding along. Joni passed me. “Good for him,” I thought. “At least he’s having a good comeback race.” Then, into mile 3 (which is always a bad mile, what with the rolling hills), teammate Becky appeared beside me and said “Hi.” That was nice. But she passed me, which wasn’t. Lots of people were passing me. Now I was getting mad at myself.

It was fucking hot, especially in the sun. Here is where I regretted joining a team whose colors are black and black. I made a mental note to keep bugging the management to give us a white option.

At a crest of a hill, four Harriers were out cheering. I’d seen them earlier, when I was running my folly pace. Now I just felt ashamed. But it was good to see them anyway. Being cheered at always helps, even as it brings up complicated emotions.

Toward the end of mile 3 I rallied. I enjoy the last mile of this course. It’s either downhill or flat and I always pick off shitloads of people in this stretch. It’s usually my fastest mile of the race. I picked out a bunch of Ponytail Girls and gradually ran them all down. Go, me.

Make the turn on to the 72nd St. Transverse. I like this stretch too, because I can make a wide turn (“Slingshot the turn!” in Larry Rawson parlance), pick it up and feel like a rock star. The finish is pretty close. The clock’s approaching 30:00, but I know I lost time in the start mat clog. It’s lying to me.

Cross the mat in 29:16.

Considering the crap pacing, I’ll take it.

Race Report: Van Cortlandt Park 2×2 Relay

On Thursday evening I cajoled Jonathan into joining me for a race in Van Cortlandt Park. It was an evening of firsts: my first joint race with Jonathan; my first cross-country race ever; my first time on the Van Cortlandt course; my first time running in new, strange shoes; my first experience of winning baked goods.

It was also the first real race I’ve done since the Scotland Run 10K way back in April. That was a good race but since then my racing and running have left lots to be desired. A boatload of stress, travel and disaster in my personal life curtailed training for most of May. Then in the first week of June I suffered a calf injury that took a month to sort itself out. Since I have a few races coming up, I wanted to test out my calf to see if it could handle faster running on hills. I figured that if I was going to test it out, I may as well go for broke and run it up and down some serious hills. So Van Cortlandt it was.

Since I’m presently working in Manhattan, I had to drag my running gear into the city and dash off to the office bathroom to change into my superhero custume after work. Once in the bathroom stall, I discovered to my horror that I’d forgotten to pack a running bra. If you’ve seen me run (or just stand there, for that matter), you’ll know that this is an essential piece of running equipment for me. A quick, panicky call to Jonathan — complete with his wandering through the house, digging through drawers and laundry baskets — headed off this potential disaster.

The next order of business was getting up to the park. Fortunately, I work near Penn Station, so I hopped on the 2 express, transferred to the 1 local at 72nd Street, and snoozed through the 400+ stops up to end of the line in the Bronx. From there it was a quick walk up to race registration (at the Tortoise and Hare statue, directly opposite the sponsoring bakery, Lloyd’s Carrot Cake), where I met up with Jonathan, surreptitiously grabbed my bra for swap in the portapotty, and got ready to rock The Hill.

Side note: these races are bargains at $5. But, alas, this year they did not allow us to pick team names. Which is too bad because a lot of thought was put into our candidates: “We’re, Like, 100 Years Old,” “Amygdala Hijack,” and “Me Love You Long Time.”

The Trail Minimus 10

Before the race I experienced extreme indecision about what shoes to wear. I’d worn my new shoes: the New Balance Minimum 10s (trail), but so far I’ve just used them for walking around. For racing, I’d brought my Asics Dirt Devil Divas (I hate that shoe name), and had swapped the nub/cleaty things for the spikes. But after warming up in them along the gravel path that makes up about a third of the course, I was thinking those would drive me crazy. Every step was a hard shock to my feet. So I threw caution to the wind and strapped on the New Balance shoes. I’m happy to report that they are fantastic racers. Lots of grip, even on gravel, and they were great on the dirt hills.

I saw fellow podcast hosts and friends Joe Garland and Steve Lastoe and met a few people who were new to me. The race started a little late, but that was fine. I decided to let Jonathan run the first leg just in case my calf decided to rebel. That way, he’d at least get a good race in even if I didn’t. It was exciting to line up and wait for him. What happens is that the first runners start, running along the gravel path that will take them up into the hills of the park, then they come back along the path back to the start (so it’s a “lollipop” course). At that point we’re all waiting to hear their number called (and we can see them heading toward us). Once our partner reaches the start line, we give them a hand slap (or a nod or verbal attaboy or whatever) and start racing north ourselves.

The course is brutal, especially under Summer in New York conditions, which on Thursday were, as one Facebook friend called it, “Mombasa like.” But I raced at as high an effort as possible, perhaps holding back a little in the first half since I didn’t know how bad “the hill” would be. It was bad. I got passed by a few guys. But no women. Coming downhill was also a challenge, as light was fading and the path is quite rutted in spots, plus there’s a 90 degree left turn to make at the bottom. I was not about to blow the rest of my summer racing season by falling on my ass in the throwaway race. So I came down on the cautious side.

We finished in 28:20 by my watch, with Jonathan running a 13:04 and I a 15:16. That was good enough to get us first in the 100+ mixed couples category, which yielded two really good carrot cake muffins and two Barefoot Contessa-sized shirt tents. It was fun. I’ll go back for more races there, probably as early as July 21.

Us. I'm almost certainly saying something rude and/or smartassed to Jonathan.

While we were milling around afterwards someone came up and asked me about the Sunset and Suds 5K, which I remembered that my team, the New York Harriers, is involved with. I didn’t know much, although I told him where to go get information. Then he asked me lots of questions about the Harriers. It was then that I realized that when you wear a team shirt, this will happen. I extolled the club’s virtues (wild sex parties, free acid and discounts at Staples) and may have recruited a new member in the process.

Best of all, I didn’t get reinjured or even have any hints of a problem with the calf. Plus I enjoyed myself. Good race. I feel pretty confident going into the Central Park 4 Miler in a couple of weeks.

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.

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.

Going short

I ran a horrible half marathon this morning on Long Island. So horrible that I’m not going to write an official race report, although I’ll give a summary in a bit. But I’m glad I ran this race because I had something resembling an epiphany during the final 4.1 miles of Gallowalking. That epiphany was that I think it’s time I gave up on the marathon. It might seem strange that this thought came to mind while struggling through a race that’s half that distance, but maybe with some explanation it will make sense.

The race started out extremely well. I’d gone in with low expectations, figuring I would just run a comfortable pace for the first few miles and see what I got. I figured I’d be running 7:25s or so. I had a great warmup, a mile around a little lake and then two 90 second segments at faster pace. For those I’d been shooting for around 7:30 but found myself easily running 6:50-7:00.

The race started and I was running at 7:08 pace and feeling like I was doing a general aerobic run. Mile 2 was 7:12 and I still felt good. Then for mile 3 we turned into a slight wind and my pace dropped to 7:17. Mile 4 featured more wind and I slowed to 7:40. The wind was becoming a problem fast, but I kept working. I came through the 10K point in the 46:40 range but was aware that I was starting to work way too hard while at the same time people were starting to pass me. The effort wasn’t sustainable. The wind was particularly bad along Jericho Turnpike, a full on headwind. My pace kept dropping and dropping and I felt more and more exhausted.

Just before the mile 9 mark we had to ascend a short, slight hill. At the top of that it was like someone turned a switch off. I bonked and suddenly felt like you do when you have the flu. I had no energy left. I pulled over and started walking a bit. My average pace at that point was in the 8:30 range.

We would turn out of the wind after that but my race was over. I accepted it pretty easily. The hard part was realizing that I still had so far to go. I alternated strolling and running, mostly running at a recovery pace, waiting to hit the entrance to Eisenhower Park, where I knew it would be just a little over a mile until the finish. I ripped off my D-tags  shortly after my meltdown, but Long Island seems to have no trash cans anywhere, so I had to carry them for miles. I finally realized that I could just toss them among the cups at a water stop, and I did so at the 12 mile mark. I think the wind must have blown them, or perhaps a little bird picked them up, because my sister tracked me as far as the 99.17% point (that would be, what, about 200m from the finish?) before I disappeared.

That was a longer summary than I’d wanted to write, but I can’t help myself. It took a long time to jog-walk 4.1 miles. I had a lot of time to think. First I thought about why I might be racing this badly. I have a couple of theories.

For one, this past week was one of the most stressful in recent memory, as a member of my immediate family nearly died on Monday morning and remains in a Manhattan ICU with several aspects of her physical and cognitive prognoses still unknown. I didn’t eat or sleep properly for much of the week. I barely ran. I spent a lot of time worrying, absorbing, doing and crying. I stood at the start this morning already feeling tired.

I may have gone out too fast, but that’s not a problem I’ve ever had, so I doubt it. If  only I’d been racing a 5K today — I probably could have gotten a PR. I think the cumulative exhaustion + windy run is what did me in. I’ve had a few very good races lately, so I’m not reading too much into this one.

Next, I realized that the last time I’d felt this way was in December 2009 in the California International Marathon. In that race, I bonked at mile 15, managed to make it another 3 miles on one engine and then Gallowalked around 8 miles. That was painful. Bad races are always a drag, but a bad marathon is a huge drag. I know people who ran bad races in Boston this year, a year that featured weather so favorable that a man ran a 2:03:02. These are people who prepared and know how to race and felt fine and had a 20-30mph tailwind. And still they had a shitty race. While I’ve realized in the past that you can’t control everything when it comes to the marathon, what I’ve observed recently is that you can do everything right and be handed excellent conditions and still fail for not apparent reason.

The marathon is starting to feel like a sucker’s game, the Three-Card Monte of racing. You prepare for four to six months, turn up, hope to get decent weather, and start running. You have no idea what will happen. In six tries I’ve run what I consider to be a good marathon exactly once. The other five ranged from okay to disastrous. Most of them were disastrous. I’m sick of spinning the roulette wheel year after year, because it’s preventing me from actually enjoying the experience of running my “goal” races. And if I’m not enjoying any aspect of the races I’m training for, then why on earth am I training for and running them? That was the epiphany.

I said to my sister yesterday that at this point I’m feeling grateful to be able to train and race free of injury. I truly am. Today I realized that I’ve had a few good races so far this year, the best being the Scotland 10K a few weeks back. The others were a 5K and a 4 miler. I hate the 10K distance. But perhaps that’s only because I don’t train for it.

What would happen if I trained for the 10K distance and focused on that for awhile? It could be very useful, the way I see it. Joining a team has been a good experience, and I am motivated to run as many team points races as possible. Of the 12 points races in the NYRR series, eight of them are between 5K and 10K. There are other opportunities opening up to score outside of the NYRR milieu. There’s also the Icahn track series, in which I can race anything from the 1500 to 3200. There are some great shorter XC races, like the Van Cortlandt summer series. And boatloads of shorter road races here in Westchester and in Rockland and Connecticut.

Since late 2008 I have wanted to run an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. That’s not going to happen. Aside from the numerous setbacks I’ve had over the past few years, there’s the matter of stark reality to grapple with. Namely, there are masters women younger and more talented than I who are nonetheless struggling mightily to achieve this dream. If they can’t get there, then I certainly can’t. I could keep trying, but time’s rapidly running out for 2012. I’m 46 years old. I think I need to recalibrate my expectations of what I can reasonably achieve.

Since 2007 I’ve been in relentless pursuit of the marathon. I’ve enjoyed the half marathon too, and I’d still like to run those, today’s performance notwithstanding. But I’ve never seriously focused on anything shorter.

Who knows? Maybe I’d be good at it.

A bevy of updates

It’s official. I am now as addicted to Twitter as I am to Facebook. This is not good. At least I can automatically send tweets to Facebook, so that saves a little time.

I have not been a heavy Twitter user until now, primarily just exploiting it as a mechanism for automatically alerting any followers to new blog posts. But in the last week or so that I’ve gotten more active, I’ve picked up more followers and a lot more blog traffic, primarily as a result of the Davila race analysis post. For anyone who’s interested, I also started a Twitter list of New York Harriers. Plus it’s another outlet for posting useless funny shit. Like I need that. But it’s something to do during commercials since I never seem to have posession of the Tivo controls. Funny, that.

The Davila post has gotten around 1,000 hits so far and momentum is picking up. I have sent a note to my media contact at NYRR to see if she’ll be running the Mini 10K. I am afraid that, based on some post-race interviews, the answer to that will be “no.” But if it’s yes, then I will plan to interview her about the Boston race. I’ll probably keep the Mini interviews to just two or three people. It’s a lot of work to prepare for them and I think I can do a better job if I focus on just a few runners rather than trying to interview, say, five to seven of them. It’s always a crapshoot, guessing who will be most interesting and forthcoming. But I’ve gotten pretty lucky so far.

I had a fantastic workout on Tuesday morning. Between uncooperative weather, hitting hormonal low points and a fucked up back, I’ve had to rearrange my training a fair amount this week. I had three workouts scheduled for this week: a garden variety 14 mile long run, a session of 1K repeats on the track, and a 10 mile progression run (last mile at HM effort).

Since I knew I had to drop one of them, I opted to dump the track work. Doing 1K repeats will not help me in a half marathon in 11 days as much as doing a 14 miler will, especially if it’s a hard one. So I made the long run a long progression run, running low 9:00s for the first half and 8:30 down to 7:30 for the second half. I am guessing I’ll be running 7:30s next Sunday if I’m lucky. It was hard work, but it was the right effort. Most of all, it was a big confidence booster. I had doubted my ability to run 14 miles at all, so shaky has my endurance seemed lately. Now I know I can easily cover 13.1, and I’m pretty sure I can run hard for that distance if properly rested.

As for the 10 mile progression run still scheduled…well, actually, I have two of them scheduled. One was for today and the other (10 miles with the last 3 at HM effort) is scheduled for Sunday. I am still fatigued today, so I think what I am going to do is drop today’s 10 miler and just run easy, then do the 10 w/3 fast on tomorrow or Saturday and move the final speed session up a day to Tuesday, after which I can get a massage that afternoon. That will give me four days of easy running and rest before the half.

In other news, I decided not to register us for New York. Chances are good that I wouldn’t have gotten in, and, honestly, one reason I’m skipping Chicago is that I can’t deal with megarace crowds. So I’m now 95% certain we’ll be running Syracuse in mid-October. Assuming I start training after the Mini 10K, that gives me 18 weeks to prepare.

Lykkelig løyper, Grete Waitz

[That's "happy trails" in Norwegian, at least according to Google Translate]

What can you say about Grete Waitz? She was not only an inspiring talent, but she was one of running’s greatest ambassadors. There is a huge hole left in the world of running today.

I will keep the bloviations to a minimum. That’ll be easy because I never met Grete. I saw her at the expo for my first marathon, the More Magazine Marathon, 2007 edition. She was standing there with Lynn Jennings, greeting people. I was such a newbie to the sport that I had no idea who Lynn Jennings was. But I knew who Grete was. But I was too shy and awestruck to go over and say hello! Now I kick myself for that. The next time I saw her was in 2008, when she flew by me in the back of the press truck at mile 20 of the New York Marathon, where I was watching from the curb. When I started interviewing elites last year I vowed to try to meet her at the next Norwegian Festival, but I was away during the weekend of those races in October. And so that was that.

Here are some highlights from around the web. Also, I can recommend the movie Run for Your Life, a documentary about Fred Lebow, in which Waitz has a large presence.

Fellow New York Harrier (and fellow runner of Norwegian descent, although his name’s a lot easier to deal with than mine is) Douglas Hegley’s post is worth a read. He had a few chance meetings with Waitz that tell you everything you need to know about the woman. This is the most personal blog post I’ve found about Waitz thus far. But Amy’s is a good runner up, and contains links to other great stories.

Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World has this lovely tribute.

Here’s the IAAF’s remembrance of Ms. Waitz, who, it should be noted, still holds the Norwegian record for the 1500.

Waitz was ambitious and driven, yet humble and generous. Everything a champion should be.

Training: April 3-16

The adventure continues: low mileage, lots of recovery and not a little hard work. Any misgivings I’ve had about taking days off and losing easy miles were put to rest during last weekend’s race. I remain concerned about my fitness for a 13.1 mile race in two weeks. But I have to keep reminding myself of three things:

  1. I am on the comeback trail. I’m not trained for a half, so I can’t expect to pull some amazing performance out of my, um, hat under these circumstances.
  2. I have raced enough half marathons to know what the effort should feel like. It’s not like I can’t run 13.1 miles. I may just need to run them a little slower than I’d like.
  3. Everything is going to be okay.

I’m feeling so nonchalant about Long Island that I may even run with music. It’s not a crowded course and I enjoyed having tunes along the course last year (I had an interesting soundrack to all the overweight guys in their 20s who were dropping like flies around me), and I don’t think they ban headphones.

Anyway. The workouts leading up to the Scotland 10K on Sunday went exceptionally well. Freakishly well. First, I did a progression run that had me running the last two miles at 6:45 and 6:30. Color me shocked. Then I did my special pre-race session on a windy track (~15mph steady, ~25mph gusts) and the splits were around what I got a few weeks ago on a windless track. Yay, me. Coach Sandra sees me as a poster child for cross-training these days.

One thing I did during that pre-race week was to take Sunday off and then move the progression run up a day so I could have a day recovery between that and the track session. Sandra had originally scheduled them back to back on Tue/Wed, but I felt that would be too much to handle. This arrangement worked well. I may try it again before my next shorter race (the Mini 10K in June).

This past week, post-race, I took it easy. Sunday’s race took a lot out of me, although I did a quicker recovery pace on Tuesday (around 9:00 — I’m usually running 9:30-9:45 for those). Then I was fried for the second run. The weather on Wednesday was horrible, so I moved the speedwork to Thursday. It was windy, so I decided that rather than go to the track and be frustrated, I’d turn the planned 1K track repeats into a bunch of time-based segments on the road. Same work, different perspective. That worked out — I just ran hard for 3-5 minutes at a stretch until I’d reached around 20 minutes of hard running. I have no idea how far any of them were, but IT DOESN’T MATTER.

Yesterday I got a massage — the first one in about three months, and she spent the entire time trying to get the knots out of my back and shoulders — then decided not to run since I knew I’d be doing a lot of walking that evening. Last night featured drinks and something resembling food at a sports bar on Theater Row with 2010 Green Mountain Relay teammates Amy, TK, identical twins Mike and Matt (aka “Steak”) Tartar, along with honorary guest Bridges Runner (whom I was happy to get a chance to talk to for quite awhile, having previously only met her for about five seconds) — and some other dude whose name I’ve forgotten but who was very excited about the new iPad. Even though it was in a sports bar on Theater Row, it was fun!

As for the coming week, I have a lot of hard stuff and 54 miles. I will, as I’ve been doing, cut back on recovery miles if my legs are trashed. I have a 14 miler, my first in a long time, tomorrow. I will run up to White Plains and back, a run I’ve missed doing. Then more 1K repeats on the track and another progression run. And a trip back to the massage therapist so she can attack my legs.

In other news, I will be running the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 21. I’d thought we’d be away that weekend, but we will be here. Since it’s three weeks after the Long Island Half, and three weeks before the Mini 10K — and it’s a NYRR club points race — there is no reason not to run it. So run it I shall. Since I won’t get a chance to wave to the cat on Cat Hill, I will wave to the Giant Killer Rat on the boardwalk in Coney Island.

Longer term, I’m still wrestling with what to do about a fall marathon. In an unfortunate combination of bad timing and lack of foresight, I’ve managed to end up with no automatic qualifier for the New York Marathon. My meltdown at the California International Marathon, while a Boston qualifier, did not give me the 3:38 I needed for New York. Then a freak heatwave at last year’s Long Island Half turned that race into a slow training run. Since then, I’ve only been racing shorter stuff.

So now my only option is to enter the lottery if I want a shot. I think. I’m so on the fence that I can’t even deal with figuring out the details. I think the deadline’s in two days or something. I should really look. I will do that right after I hit “Publish.”

Jonathan has an autoqualifier for New York. I suppose we could both enter (he on auto, me in the lottery) and see what happens. I am not excited about flying all the way to Chicago for a race that has been hot three out of the last four years. There’s Syracuse, but it’s a brand new event and I still don’t trust the weather in October. I would like the New York option, especially if it looks like I need more training time. Decisions, decisions.

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