Other running stuff (not deep thoughts)

It’s Twofer Tuesday on RLaG. You get TWO posts!

Here’s other stuff that’s going on.

I was tempted to do the Randall’s Island Zombie Run, but at $60 it’s expensive. Plus, as I wanted to go as a zombie, I’ll be all overachieving and need to get plastic gashes and such. It’s coming at the end of a huge month in terms of personal and professional commitments. So I’m going to skip it.

Our household NYRR membership lapses in November. I truly don’t give a shit. I’ve barely run any NYRR races and have been soured on them as an organization for various reasons lately. Their races have just gotten too crowded. When I get back into racing I’ll probably return to CT, NJ and Rockland/Orange counties where there are wide open spaces, fast ladies and cheap trophies aplenty.

Yesterday I took JS on a tour of Van Cortlandt Park. We ran a bit along the South County Trail, which is actually a paved path, and then parted ways so I could go back and hit the XC course for some tempo miles. JS continued going north and eventually his Tuckahoe Road. The path continues north and becomes the North County Trail around Elsmford. I wish I’d known about this path when I was training for CIM, as it has a mile+ gradual hill. In any case, we’ll return, I think often. I’m sick of the running path I’ve been using for close to 14 (eep) years.

The dirt cheap gym I joined is in Yonkers at the Cross County Mall. Blink Fitness is a wildly expanding NY-area gym. It’s $15 a month. You get treadmills, ellipticals, sort of shitty stationary bikes (not spin bikes), FormFitness strength machines and a smattering of free weights. That’s about it. You have to bring your own towels. But it’s $15, people. That’s, like, three beers at one happy hour.

Tammy Lifka, whom I interviewed for my Houston Hopefuls project, just ran a 2:49:02 in Chicago. She has been struggling with her running for quite awhile, but she changed her regimen (and her coach) and now seems to be on a tremendous upswing. I am incredibly happy for her.

Lize Brittin, whom I also interviewed for a Runners Round Table podcast close to two years ago (again, eep), has just self-published her memoir of anorexia, Training on Empty. I read a very early draft of this book and gave some feedback. It’s compelling stuff. The foreword is written by the author of my all-time favorite running memoir, Lorraine Moller. Here’s a review from Kevin Beck.

And finally. Shoe companies are clearing out their 2012 models to make way for new editions. So if you want to stock up on the shoes that are working for you, now’s a good time to pick up “last year’s models” at closeout prices.

Stuff! (product roundup)

I’ve acquired some new stuff. Let me tell you about it.

First, some shoes.

Right before I got injured a month ago I ordered a pair of the Saucony Type A5 (because I’m a Type A kind of person). My inherited racers, the Asics Hyperspeed 3s, aside from being man shoes, were going on three years old. So the Sauconys, which are ultra light and are not man shoes, are meant to replace those. Even though I raced today, I opted not to wear them because I have yet to have done more than a 4 mile easy run in them. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my horrible running lessons, it’s that you should never try out a brand new model in a race. I’ll give you the lowdown on those after my next couple of speed workouts. I sized up a half size from my usual running shoe size, incidentally.

Today, instead, I wore my other new pair of shoes, the Brooks PureConnect. I wore these for my semi-fast 10 miler in Central Park last weekend, so I figured it was safe to wear them in a 10K over the same course. I am not brand loyal at all. I will try any model of shoe by any maker if it looks like it will fit my foot shape and is light. The lighter the better, in fact. When I first looked at the PureConnect I worried that it would be too narrow in the toebox and that it might break down quickly. They look narrow on my feet, but they fit very well nevertheless (I had to go a half size up in these as well). They are very comfortable, light (though not as light as the new Sauconys) and they suit my midfoot strike. The purple color paired with raspberry-colored laces is way rad. I don’t know how long they’ll last, but I typically replace my shoes after about 300 miles anyway. They have been good for easy runs and they were outstanding in a race situation today. I’ll bet they would make a good marathon shoe. Not that I’m ever going to run one of those again.

Next, outergarments. Or an outergarment.

I couple of months ago I realized that my two midweight fleeces (Mountain Hardwear) were looking very shabby indeed. I have been racing and training in them since 2007. It was time to replace them. So I bought the Nike Dri-Fit Wool Half Zip and let me tell you, this shirt is the bomb. It’s a mix of wool and (inner lining) polyester fleece. It’s not too heavy, and it breathes very well, so it’s versatile. I wore it over a thermal base layer on 25F days this winter and it was fine. But it’s also worked well over a tech tee in 45 degree weather. It has thumbholes and, for when I forget my gloves (which is frequently), these handy little retractable finger-covering flaps. Nothing up your sleeve? I don’t think so! Top it off with a zip side pocket, reflective highlights and a zip neck that’s actually comfortable and we have a winner. It’s on sale now too, so I’ll probably pick up another one. Also, the colors are not the usual garish, barfworthy shades that seem to be all the rage.

Finally, undergarments.

This is not my ass, nor is it my (possibly Hebrew?) tramp stamp.

For my birthday I received Oiselle’s Rundies from a runner friend who knows how important and gratifying it is to wear your love of running even in places where no one except your significant other (or, depending on how drunk you get on the weekend, a few strangers standing on the sidewalk as your cab speeds by) can see it. You can wear your heart on your sleeve. Or you can wear your workout on your ass. It’s your choice. With Rundies, you’ll have underpants to cover all seven days of running and underpantsing. I like the retro look of some of them (I’m wearing the very 70′s yellow-with-blue-piping model today, the one that says “race” on the ass). Rundies are comfortable and well made. They are 100% cotton, so they’ll shrink a little bit in the first wash. But the colors don’t run, even if the panties do. I am happy in my Rundies.

Training: Dec 11 – 17

Now we’re in the home stretch. There’s a month to go before my goal 5K race in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. The emphasis now is on (in this order):

  1. Staying uninjured
  2. Making tweaks to training to address weaknesses
  3. Determining what a reasonable goal pace would be

I’ve managed to remain uninjured since July. Since I’m not going to be doing anything radically different in the next four weeks, I don’t see that as being an issue. But I am being careful to warm up properly before speedwork or shorter races and do proper cool down runs. I’ve slacked off on rolling and massage, though. I like to live dangerously.

As for the second point, I will be doing more work that’s specific to race pace, while reducing the amount of pure tempo running in the original Daniels plan. I have a big workout planned for Christmas day — not in terms of length, but in terms of workload. I am hoping to learn some things from it. All of the rest of the workouts are typically a mix of 5K race pace running and tempo running.

For the pacing question, between the next 5K test race — two weeks out from race day — and a session of 1K repeats five days out, I should be able to arrive at a range of paces in which to run on race day.

This training week’s Tuesday session is typical of the weird shit Daniels assigns for late-cycle 5K training. I get what he’s doing: he’s put together a workout that taxes the spectrum of your system and works everything. While I think these are good to do, I have to consider that I have dropped his third workout every week (because I’m old), usually in favor of doing one very speed-focused session and then one like this one, which hits the tempo end of things. Other times, I’ve dropped his plan entirely, going for 1K repeats. These just work for me — I like the immediate feedback they give me, answering the question: how’s it feel to run goal 5K pace now? By doing the same track workout every few weeks I can see if there’s progress because I’m in a venue that removes the many variables introduced by, say, racing 5Ks on different courses.

My recovery run times are dropping too.

I ran a decent race on Saturday, nabbing a small (but psychologically important) PR, breaking 21:00 at last. On New Year’s Day I will again try for a 20:30.

In other news, I tried out a pair of Skechers Go Run shoes. Skechers is courting my running club and they gave out a coupon for free shoes at the Harriers’ holiday party. I ordered a pair and I have to say that they are good shoes. They are very light (maybe ~6 oz each?) and flexible. They are meant to promote a mid-foot strike. I already land on my mid-foot, so they’re comfortable to run in, but I suspect that if you’re a heel striker they might drive you crazy. My one issue with them is that the heel area is very wide, although the rest of the shoe fits very well. I like them enough that I will probably buy some heel inserts to try to fix the problem. I would love to try racing in them, but I’m afraid they’d slip off at the heel if anyone steps on me.

A few minutes with Jenny Simpson

Jenny (Barringer) Simpson’s running résumé is so impressive that it’s difficult to choose among the highlights. A 2008 Olympian in the 3000m steeplechase, breaker of numerous collegiate records and one American record, and, most recently, gold medalist in the 1500m at worlds — the first American woman to win gold in that event since Mary Decker-Slaney won it in 1983. Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to sit down with her. Incidentally, Simpson won the Fifth Avenue Mile this year.

When you win a gold medal and walk down the street in the event’s home city, do people recognize you?
That was one of the strangest things. I left the stadium to go to dinner that night. Even on the way to dinner there were people stopping us on the street for pictures. It wasn’t just Koreans, it was people visiting, all kinds of people.

Was that odd for you?
It was very strange. Of course, I’m very flattered and want to be accomodating  and take pictures with people. But it’s just so strange to be walking down the street and having people say, “Oh, my gosh! You won the gold medal. Can we have a picture?” Two or three days later, my husband and I were supposed to meet each other at a train station. We couldn’t find each other and once we finally did find each other we needed some help in order to make our train on time. The security guard was more than happy to accomodate us because he knew that I’d won a gold medal. It’s just so strange to have a security guard working in the train station know who we were.

When you watch a race, everyone’s wearing Nike kits. But you went with New Balance. How come? What did they offer you that someone like Nike didn’t?
I had the beautiful luxury of being in a situation where I had several different companies that I could visit and ultimately choose from. It ended up being a scenario very similar to college. If you’re good in high school and you get five full scholarship offers, at that point you’re deciding what the best fit is for you. I felt like I had full scholarships from all of these places and at the end of the day I was able to decide who was the best fit for who I am and what I want to try to accomplish.

What I found in New Balance was an incredible family. From the moment I met these people I felt that they genuinely wanted to be a part of making my career as great as it could be. I wasn’t necessarily simply a vehicle for their product. They were able to communicate that to me the best. I know that they have a lot of resources, but they keep their team relatively small. All those things were really attractive to me.

They seem to reward loyalty with loyalty. When you look at someone like Khalid Khannouchi, who’s been with them since the mid-nineties — they’ve supported him through eight years of injury. It’s really kind of amazing.
One of the main things I considered when I was looking for a college was how many people went on to compete professionally after going to there. What’s the success, the longevity of their runners? So when it came time to choose a sponsor, I wanted to compare the relative size of the company to the number of people that they sponsor. New Balance is impressive in that they are incredibly loyal to the people they sign. Through the good years and bad years they take ownership of the people they signed and who’ve been with them for years. I just think that’s a really honorable thing to do.

If you run for a shoe company like New Balance, but you can’t quite find a pair of shoes that works for you, will they customize shoes for you?
Absolutely. And with New Balance it’s even easier because their factory is in the US. It’s not like you go get fitted and then they send it out to China. You can walk to the factory in Lawrence, just outside of Boston, and they make your shoes for you there. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to walk to the factory and see the people working on your shoes and on your products. That’s a whole other inspiring side of the company. They’re true to their message in that they employ US workers and keep it US made. That meant a lot to me.

I’m interested in the fact that you moved down in distance. That’s unusual. You were an outstanding steeplechaser and then moved down to the 1500. What drove that decision?
I’ve always wondered if anyone else leaving college has ever moved down. I can’t think of anyone.

Well, there’s you and Anna Pierce.
That’s true. When I was racing in 2009, everyone remembers when I went to Prefontaine and broke four minutes in the 1500. That was really a game changer for me. In that moment we realized that there was a whole other part of middle distance racing that I had an aptitude for. I went on and finished my track and cross country seasons, just as we’d planned to do.

But I always knew in the back of my mind that I had this great ability in the middle distances. So when I no longer had the opportunity to stay in Boulder, I was looking for a coach. I know how to train for a steeplechase and for a 5k. What I really don’t know is the highly specialized skills for the 800 and 1500. I looked for a coach specifically for middle distances and found an incredible match in Juli (Benson) Henner at the Air Force Academy. She’s done exactly that: taken the things I’m already good at and made me so much better.

Do you miss the steeplechase?
I do miss it. I miss it because I was so familiar with it. I miss it because I had a lot of success in it. The 1500 can be a little bit of a crapshoot. You go out and know you have a certain ability, but tactics are so important in that race. A great example is Brussels. I ran 4:03 and that’s a really great time. But I was in back, near last. So it can be really trying in that sense. You can have a great time, but a poor performance. Or you can win, but people will accuse you of racing a slow time. So in that sense you have to hold your own, and just own that you’re good at this event and that you’re going to keep getting better.

The steeple is more consistent as far as running similar times, and the event itself is definitely not as deep as the 1500. So if you’re running around seventh in the world you’re always going to place somewhere between fifth and tenth in the world.at the world championships. It’s a very different dynamic in that sense. More predictable.

All I know is that every time I watch the steeplechase, I’m always afraid for the runners. It looks so hazardous, especially when you go over the water jump.
I know! It is. I used to say that the steeplechase is the NASCAR of track and field because everyone comes to watch the crashes.

Have you raced any road miles?
I’ve never run a road mile. This is my first one. I’m very excited.

How do you think it will differ for you from a tactical standpoint?
Everyone is going to be missing that comfort of knowing exactly where you are every step of the race. When you’re on the track, you know in every moment, “I have 520 meters to go, I have 150 meters to go.” We’re so comfortable running those curves and knowing where we are. So I think it’s going to miss that level of comfort. Given how deep the field is, how good the field is, this year, I think it’s going to turn into a really exciting race.

How will you warm up for this race?
I do the same warmup for every single race and workout. I start with a short run and some dynamic stretches. Then I’ll run really easy for 15 or 20 minutes and then start my drills and my strides. All of that is really standard and set in stone. The one thing that isn’t set in stone is when you put on your spikes. That’s determined by the event. If it’s something like the world championships, where we have to go through a lot of call rooms, I’ll wait until we get into the call rooms to put on my shoes. If it’s a really relaxed race like Rieti, I’ll put on my spikes while I’m still doing my warmup.

Is that a mental transition you’re making as well, when you put on your spikes?
Absolutely. You put on your spikes and everything from that moment on is faster, a little bit more explosive, more intense.

Here’s a fly on the wall question. Those of us who are amateur runners don’t know what happens in a championship race. Beforehand, are you all herded into the same room together? What’s actually happening before we see you all out on the track?
I’m kind of a nerd, probably. But I always thought it would be interesting to write a short story just on that process, going from the warmup area to the track.

We don’t know what happens. We see you come out…
Yeah, it’s kind of a black box thing.

Are you thrown together, or are you given some space?
It depends on the venue. I’ll use the last world championships as an example. We go into the call room around 45 minutes before we go to the start line. At a typical race, that’s usually not long after you would start your warmup. So we have a 50 minute warmup and then we have 45 minutes in these call rooms.

You have to sit around for 45 minutes?
Yeah. We go into the first call room and they have to check everything. They check your bibs on the front and on the back. They have to make sure that all your logos are in compliance. They have to make sure you don’t have anything in your bag that you can pull out that’s noncompliant. Then they check your spikes, they check your uniform. They go through all of this for every single person in the field. They divide all those jobs between call room one and call room two. When you’re in call room two, there’s typically a place for you to do some strides, run around, do some drills. Call room two is where we all put our spikes on.

But while you’re in the first call room, you’re literally sitting in a small room with all the people you’re going to be racing. It’s usually really quiet. It’s kind of tense. By the time you get to call room two people are kind of shaken out again, they’re doing their strides, putting their shoes on. At that point — this what you all see — in our warmups, with our backpacks, we all walk out onto the track. At the point we usually have about five minutes, just enough time to put in one or two strides before we have to take all of our clothes off and step to the line.

Well, you don’t take all of your clothes off.
I should say all of our warmups off.

If you took all of your clothes off it might increase track and field viewership.
[Laughs] That’s true!

I want to ask you about the 2009 race in which you broke the NCAA 5k indoor record*. It was the most bizarre video, because it looked like you were running the race alone. I remember wondering how you kept up that effort while running solo. How do you run like that when there’s no one else around you to push you?
That was such an unusual situation for two reasons. For one, I was racing by myself. The other other funny thing about that video is that no one knows that anything’s going on.

Right! There are guys wandering out on the track. No one knows what’s happening.
Exactly. Something else that was unusual about that race was the track. It was something like 308 meters. A really strange distance. So the splits are in different places all around the track. There’s no way for an athlete by themselves to know the splits for a 5k going around that track. They designate someone to run around the track and give splits. I’d separated myself from the group and so the guy giving splits had to decide, “Do I give splits to the girl that’s winning or to the rest of the group that’s racing?” He made the decision — and I applaud him for this — to give splits to the majority of the group and let me go and do my thing. But at this point I’m at 2k, not even halfway into the race, and I have no information about how I’m running.

The absence of knowing where I was in the race or how fast I was going actually made me run better. It made me run so much better. I think it was a combination of no knowing — the bliss of not knowing — and the fact that I had this little bit of fear. I set out that day wanting to run 15:20. I knew that was going to be difficult to do. So I had this feeling, “If I slow down I don’t know if I’m going to be on pace anymore.” So that drove me to keep picking it up every lap. It was funny, too — my coaches are very calm, collected people. But they started looking more and more frantic each time I came around. And I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh. Is this not going as well as I thought it was?” I felt really under control, really good.

Did they think you were running too fast?
No. They were so excited. They thought, “Man, she looks so good! She’s running every single lap better and better and better.” So I just misinterpreted their reaction. They were all excited about what was going on. So it was for reasons of ignorance that I kept running harder and harder and better and better. When I crossed the line and saw 15:01 I didn’t think that was right. When you’re racing out there by yourself, I think it’s so important — and I said this about the 1500 in Daegu — to focus on yourself and how you feel. People ask me all the time, “What are you thinking about?” I’m thinking about running, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling. If you focus on yourself and forget about the time or the people around you, you’ll get the most out of yourself. That’s how I run solo races.

*I can’t find the video for this race. If anyone out there has a link, please share it!

Review: New Balance Minimus 10 Road; Pearl Izumi Streak 2

Aside from my recent purchase of the New Balance Minimus 10 Trail, it’s been quite awhile since I bought some new running shoes for daily training — probably around a year and a half. Since my running was either non-existent or spotty in the post-injury months last summer, I didn’t need new shoes. So I’ve been coasting along on a bunch of models from 2008/2009, primarily the Pearl Izumi Streak 1 and the Saucony Fastwitch 3. I’ve been racing in the Asics Gel Hyperspeed 3s and still like those a lot.

Now that we’ve gotten that preamble out of the way, let’s talk about some new shoes. Since I am (knock wood) once again ramping up my running to a consistent 40-50 mpw, I felt it was time to purchase some new kicks. As noted in a previous race report, I really like the Minimus 10 Trails, both for racing and walking around in (they look great with jeans). Since those have worked out so well, I thought I’d pick up a pair of the Road models, since you can never have enough racing shoes.

I’ll say what’s most important first: the Minimus Trail and the Minimus Road share a model number and not much else. Whereas I was instantly in love with the feel of the Trails, I suspect that the Roads are shoes that I will grow to love. Some of that may have to do with the fact that I was expecting them to feel like the Trails. They do not. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Trails are extremely light and thin, meaning there’s hardly any material on the upper and you’re meant to wear them without socks. The sole is flexible as hell and you will feel every pebble and root you step on. They are fantastic shoes. So imagine my surprise when I strapped on the Road model in preparation to do a track workout, only to discover a shoe that is more rigid than Dick Cheney. The Roads feel like a track spike without the spikes. They’re stiff and there’s not a lot of sole hitting the ground. Like the Trails, they are almost truly a “flat” — there’s almost no heel-to-toe drop. If you have achilles tendon issues, or you are not a true “neutral” (meaning your foot tends to roll either inward or outward) runner, then I would stay away from this shoe.

I have to say that I didn’t like them over the 15 minutes of warmup running on the track. The Bronxville track is a hard surface anyway and the shoes just made it feel harder. I also noticed that they’re a little larger than the Trails. I had to tighten the laces a bit. But overall, these two models are made for my feet: wide toebox, medium width midfoot and extremely narrow heel.

Where these shoes really shined was during some longer repeats. I was running 1200s (and a fast mile) today and once I got going they felt really good. The stiffness didn’t seem like such an issue at faster speeds and I felt like my feet had a lot of support. Given the “hardness” of the ride, I probably wouldn’t wear these for anything longer than a road 10K (if even that). I’ll probably wear them in the Percy Sutton 5K in Harlem in a few weeks.

The other model I upgraded was the Pearl Izumi Streak. I went through about five pairs of these during marathon training in 2008/2009 and they were great shoes for long runs especially. Mile 22 felt as comfortable as mile 2 in those shoes. But on a scale of 1-10, they were always about an 8. They had a few minor, but annoying, problems: the first was the sizing, which always felt about a quarter size too big. You have to size up in these anyway (to 8.5 for me, a half size up from my usual 8 in a runner), but that was too big. An 8 was too small. So I’d end up wearing thicker running socks to compensate (or two pairs). They felt like clown shoes because of this.

Also, the toe box was slightly too wide, so I’d end up with blisters and, eventually, callouses on the first and second toes. Finally, I didn’t like how the sole flared out in front and back, and the heel had odd, round plastic inserts that always looked to me like they’d been stolen from a disassembled sex toy.

For once…for once…a shoe company has improved rather than destroyed a shoe model over time. In the Streak 2, Pearl Izumi has fixed those three problems. These shoes are the bomb. My measure of a regular trainer is how aware of it I am when I’m running. I am not aware of wearing shoes when I run in these. They fit perfectly, are light, and seem made for my feet and running form. Running 9:00 pace was comfortable as well doing some strides. The longest I’ve gone is 7 miles, but I can’t see them having an issue at longer distances. I’ll try them out on some longer runs, which these days top out at about 10 miles for me. While the Streaks are not the most attractive shoes in the world, they are keepers.

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: Coogan’s 5K

I still hate 5Ks. But I hate them a little less after this race. Maybe the Gridiron 4 Miler a month ago helped to prepare me for this. Or maybe it’s the fact that I still have no real race endurance (meaning I know that trying to race, say, a 15K would be infinitely more painful and embarrassing than any 5K at this point). But this was okay.

Fun stuff: This was my first race wearing a New York Harriers shirt. There were unexpected benefits. Well, at least one, which was getting acknowledgments (running the gamut from staid nods to frenetic thumbs up) from fellow Harriers. It also meant I could tap a fellow Harrier (as I did today) and say, “Good luck!” without the action being confusing.

Also, I started the race a few feet away from Gary Muhrcke, known by marathon history nerds as the winner of the inaugural New York City Marathon, and by watchers of the YES! Network as the enthusiastic man on the commercials for Super Runners Shop, which Muhrcke founded.

Minor annoyances: NYRR was not enforcing its corral system today. I started the race surrounded by people in bibs with numbers 5,000 and above. They should have been two or three corrals back. I spent the first third of a mile fighting my way through slower runners. Boo. Also, they started the race three minutes early. Bizarre. Finally, the finish line was not marked with a banner. So what I thought was the finish mat was actually the final start mat. I hit Stop and started jogging after hitting it. Later, my results would reflect this: I lost about 6 seconds due to not knowing where the finish actually was. Grr.

The deets: Allowing for the initial crowding problem (and my theory that the course is slightly harder than the 4 miler course in Central Park), I think I’ve improved slightly since last month. I was careful not to kill myself in the first mile, and I was good about motoring on the downhills, as I passed a lot of people.

The big hill from 1.9-2.6 was not that terrible. Once I crested it, I recovered pretty quickly and was able to roll pretty well through the last half mile. Although that was a treacherous stretch, as it was Pothole City, especially under the bridge. Although I am told by Amy, who calls Washington Heights home, that they did a lot of work to fill those holes before the race, so I should be grateful.

I have no memory whatsoever of the bands or the actual scenery on the course.

Also, it was raining steadily and there were numerous puddles. My favorite racing shoes — the Asics Hyperspeeds — are equipped with drainage holes in the bottom. These are great when it’s pouring rain because it’s like wearing colanders on your feet — the water drains right out. On a day like today it just means your socks get wet during the warmup. But it’s a 5K. It’s not a marathon. Wet feet: not an issue.

The stats: 22:13 (to my watch’s 22:06, dammit), 11th in my AG, 2nd F40+ Harrier. Yay.

The whole point: I know why you join a club now. For the post-race drinks! Think about it. Go drinking at 11AM alone and you’re a sad lush. Go drinking with other people at 11AM and you’re being sociable and festive. I met up with around 30 of my black-clad teammates at Amsterdam Ale House (they wisely avoided the clusterfuck at Coogan’s; I knew there was a reason I joined this club) for Newcastle and chitchat. Urp.

Well, that was alright

Today marked my tentative return to racing, hot on the heels of my tentative return to training. Tomorrow it will be six months to the day that I suffered a catastrophic fracture to my right sacrum on the hills of Central Park in the Club Championships. I have kept the racing shoes I was wearing at the time, with that race’s D-Tag still attached, within view of our bed. Every morning I wake up, see the shoes, and remind myself that I’ll race sometime again.

This morning I finally got to cut the D-Tag off and put a new one on. It was a meaningful moment. I’ll admit that I was a little reluctant to wear the same shoes, lest they jinx me. But I’m not superstitious in the least, and I love racing in them (they are men’s — unisex, whatever — Asics Gel Hyperspeeds that I inherited from Jonathan, for whom they were slightly too small).

I almost didn’t run this race, the NYRR Gridiron 4 Miler. Twice. Yesterday I ran two very easy 3 milers on the treadmill, as Coach Sandra’s pre-race schedule instructs. I couldn’t do the 100m strides (’cause I was on the stupid treadmill). After the AM run, my right leg didn’t feel good. Specifically, it’s an area in my groin that I place somewhere between the innermost adductor and the hamstring insertion point. I will call it my “graint.” My graint hurt during and after that run. I stretched and rolled the hell out of the area for an hour afterwards. Then I did the second run in the evening. Same issue. More stretching, rolling and cursing under my breath. The issue abated for a few hours but reemerged while I was, of all things, lying on the couch watching Spartacus. I went to bed, figuring that if it was still complaining in the morning I’d bag the race rather than risk a repeat performance of August.

This morning arrived, way too early, because I was nervous, at 5AM. All was well with the graint. In fact, everything was going really well. No traffic. Conveniently located snowdrift to park in. Baggage wasn’t too crowded. Then I went for my warmup just north of the start line. The course on East Drive was a mess. Slush and black ice abounded. It was especially treacherous in spots immediately south and north of the 72nd St Transverse. I probably ran under a mile to warm up, primarily as an investigative sortee to scope out where the worst spots were on the road. Was the entire course going to be like this? 15 minutes before start, I nearly headed home. One overextension of my graint and I could be screwed for months to come.

Things looked a little better on Cat Hill where, not coincidentally, there was some sun. I figured I should run at least the first half mile conservatively (and note where other runners ahead might be falling on their asses) and be careful in the shady sections. I lined up toward the back of the blue corral, where it was Sardine City.

I didn’t feel well. I haven’t slept well all week and the cumulative deficit showed in the mirror this morning. My stomach was screwed up before the race, no doubt due to nerves. I have not run at a sustained high effort for more than two miles since the summer. And, atop all this worry, I remain worried about getting reinjured. I have learned that it can happen easily and without warning.

So, yes, “conservative start” were the watch words today. I was glad to be in the back of the corral. Let others fly out and find the ice patches. I didn’t want to feel pushed to run faster than I was comfortable running. My “fast” running has been around 7:10 lately. Not surprisingly, that’s the pace I ran today.

I left the Garmin at home, but I wore my basic Timex so I could at least get my finish time and, if I remembered, the mile splits. I didn’t look at my watch while I was racing, as I’ve learned that this is A Bad Thing To Do. Mile 1 was on the slow side: 7:20. I somehow missed the 2 mile marker, but at 3 those two together were 14:24. I made up time on the last mile, a 6:59. I did not race all out today, although I was close. To be honest, I was worried about my graint exploding with rage should I push the pace below 7:00. But it was fine throughout and I only felt slight complaints at the end. Within a few minutes, those were gone. It’s fine now.

The purpose of this race was threefold:

  1. Simply have the experience of racing again. I have missed this unbelievably so.
  2. See if I can run fast without retriggering my chronic injury.
  3. Get some sense of my current fitness level.

As for 1, I got it. It was fun. I wished I’d raced a little harder, but item 2 took priority. That was also good. I feel confident about going back into hard training again. I will add some fartlek work (on the treadmill, not in the pool, yay) this coming week. Item 3 was about where I expected it to be: I’ve been doing tempo work at around 7:15 on a flat treadmill. It makes sense that I’d get about that pace racing on hills.

I missed out on an AG award by 1 second. That’s okay. One lucite paperweight is enough for me. Official time: 28:42, 55th F overall. Well off my best on that course of 27:34, but that’s no big surprise.

I am so fucking happy to have run a significant distance on the faster side with (seemingly) no ill effects. You have no idea.

Review: Saucony Kinvara

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a shoe review. This is primarily because I’ve found a few models that I’ve been happy enough to stick with over the past 18 months or so: the Pearl Izumi Streak and the Saucony Fastwitch 3. They are covered on the reviews page (the Streak being pretty much identical to the Peak XC reviewed there). I used to use these for just racing or faster running, relying on another Saucony shoe, the Grid Tangent 3, as my daily training workhorse.

I was never totally thrilled with the Grid Tangent. This isn’t obvious, since I’m on my eighth pair. I kept buying it because it didn’t cause problems, and that is reason enough to buy a shoe. But I’ve been phasing those out as I’ve moved to doing my daily training in what I used to consider “speed” shoes (the Streak and the Fastwitch), and racing in even lighter shoes, such as the Asics HyperSpeed or the Adidas Adizero Ace, the former of which is a true racing flat. To give you a sense of how often I run in what, I’m on my sixth pair each of the Streak and the Fastwitch. The Adidas shoes (I also sometimes run in the Adizero Tempo) are slightly too narrow, so I won’t buy those models again.

This isn't even all of them.

Anyway, the net of all this is that I have been a runner in transition, and my shoe choices reflect it. I have not jumped on the minimalist bandwagon (and you should probably put some space between me and barefoot running enthusiasts at parties). I’ve merely found that I’ve gotten more comfortable in lighter and lighter shoes. At this point, even the Grid Tangent, at 7.9 oz. each, feels too heavy. Add to this that I’ve discovered that, despite my feet falling into the “slight overpronator” category, I’ve found that neutral shoes are more comfortable to run in. The lighter shoes typically fall into the neutral category, so this has been a happy discovery.

Here I am today, doing most of my training runs in the Streak or Fastwitch. The Streak’s problem is that it’s just slightly too big (but if I half size down it’s slightly too small). So unless I wear thick socks, it can feel a little floppy. I wear very thin socks in the summer, so it gathers dust for 3-4 months a year. And the problem with the Fastwitch is that it’s a shoe designed for the slight overpronator. Which means it’s a little stiff around the arch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great shoe — at 6.6 oz. each, very light and fast, and it held up under the demands of a full marathon. But I am aware of the shoe while I am running in it. I don’t like to be aware of my shoes.

Sorry for the long preamble. There is a point to all of this. Saucony recently came out with a new model, the Kinvara. They have billed it as a “minimalist trainer.” It’s got a low heel-to-toe drop (meaning the heel is only 4mm higher than the toe). But this is not a racing flat. If anything, the sole is on the thicker side, and it’s flared out a bit, so there’s lots of lateral coverage. This design does not equal “heavy,” however. The Kinvara is only slightly heavier (meaning a few tenths of an oz. each) than is the Fastwitch.

It’s a great shoe. I think it may be the best trainer I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many. It’s light, but solid. You can feel the road, but it’s not “feel every pebble” thin like a flat. And it’s flexible and even feels a bit springy. I am months away from doing 20 milers, so I can’t say how it holds up over distance. But on 10-12 milers it’s been fine. Even though Saucony doesn’t bill it as a racer, I suspect it would perform very well at at the marathon distance.

One quibble: the colors. Do women really want pastel-colored running shoes? I don’t. The available colors are straight out of one of Estelle Getty’s polyester leisure suits from The Golden Girls. I am actually tempted to size down the men’s model (although I’m worried that the heel won’t be narrow enough for me) so I don’t have to wear Easter colors on my feel. They also conveniently don’t go with any of my other running clothes.

Here’s Saucony’s video about the Kinvara.

I’ll still experiment with doing speedwork and racing in lighter and lighter flats. But in the Kinvara I’ve found my new daily trainer for all of those other miles.

The mile

Last night marked another first: my first track race.

The venue? Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island.

The distance? The mile.

The goal? Break six minutes.

The reality? Not on this night.

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

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

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

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

So things were starting off well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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