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.

Race Report: NYRR Colon Cancer Challenge 4 Miler

Oh, happy day. I feel like little Charlie Bucket, having at last found the special, golden-ticketed chocolate bar. Sure, it’s not exactly a candy-filled wonderland with Gene Wilder and a cabal of singing and dancing orange dwarves. But it’s the next best thing: entrance to Corral 1 in NYRR races for the foreseeable future.

After my recent good two miler and Thursday’s fabulous track session, I was feeling pretty good about my chances today. The one worry that I couldn’t do anything about was the wind. Everything else that I had control over, I took care of.

I got to the park ridiculously early: at 8:40 for a 10:00 o’clock race. I did not want to get stuck in the back of Corral 2 again and have to spend the first mile fighting crowds. So I found Baggage, wandered around, did a 1 mile warmup, peed about nine times, and then headed to the corral at 9:30. With a magazine. A guy in Corral 1 teased me about bringing a magazine to the race, and I realized it probably was a bit weird. But it was either that or stand there and be nervous.

It was cold today, but the windchill was above freezing, which helped. I wore a disposable long sleeve race shirt and some disposable gloves, my lightest tights and a short sleeve tee. And my new favorite racers, the Asics Hyperspeeds. I was situated in the front of Corral 2, although Corral 1 was barely a third full. Once they removed the tape separating the corrals and we moved up, I was for all intents and purposes starting in Corral 1 anyway, maybe 5 seconds from the start mat.

Horn blows and I remember my mantra: “Just keeping running hard.” I have my watch set to show average pace. That’s all I need to see. In the first half mile my average pace is 6:36. Probably too fast, but whereas trying to bank time in a 10 miler and up is foolish, I’ve learned recently that you can get away with this in shorter races.

Then, at about the .75 mark, potential disaster strikes. Two giant black trucks are pulling out of a side driveway directly into our path. The first is stretched nearly across the course area, perpendicular to runners. A cop yells, “Hold up! Stop!” Yeah. Uh, huh. That’s going to happen.

This unexpected turn of events greatly displeases those of us who are approaching at approximately 9MPH. We swear at the cops. We call them idiots. I don’t know what’s happening behind me after I veer 90 degrees to go around their vehicles, but I hear a lot of yelling.

I’m so angry and freaked out that my heart rate has soared. I have to calm down. We’re turning onto Museum Mile and I remind myself that this is always a great stretch to regroup, since it’s the closest to flat you’ll get on that course. It’s also a long straightaway. So I cruise it, trying to relax a little and prepare for the hills that are coming in the second half.

I come through mile 1 in 6:47. Good. I have a 12 second credit in my account.

We hit the 102nd Street Transverse. My hands are boiling, so I dump the gloves along the side of the road, just before the turn onto West Side Drive. Second mile split is 6:48. Credit is now 25 seconds.

The worst part of the course is coming, a series of rolling hills, most of them up, that always both slows and wears me down. I know I will give back some seconds here; the question is how many.

Oh, it’s windy now too. There’s a brisk headwind coming from the E/SE. NYRR always underreports the wind in their stats: they say 6MPH. It was more like 10MPH steady with gusts.

Mile three sucks: 7:06. Credit has reduced to 19 seconds. One mile to go, much of it downhill. I do not want this to be a squeaker. But unless I blow up I think I’ve got this. Finally.

But now the wind is making me nervous. Was that last mile so slow because of the wind rather than the hills? If I ran 18 seconds slower in mile 3 than in miles 1 and 2, I could just lose this by a hair again. So I start running a little harder. I focus on hitting the tangents. I am passing people, people who are dying because they ran too hard up those hills. My legs are really starting to hurt. But I know this will be over with soon.

I also don’t see that many women. I see two a ways ahead of me. None are with me. It’s not a huge race, but, still, I’m surprised at how few of us there are. I’m not racing anyone else anyway, just the clock. I don’t give a shit about finishing position or awards or anything today. I just want to be wearing a fucking blue bib when I come back here next weekend.

We pass the Delacorte and the flat bit is in sight. If I can continue to motor along this I’ll be fine. I know it’s less than half a mile. I keep running hard. There’s the turn for the finish. In a final fit of obsessive-compulsive overachievement I decide that I won’t be happy unless I finish with a clock time of well under 28:00. I cross the mat with the clock reading 27:43.

Mile 4 was 6:42. Apparently I didn’t hit the tangents perfectly because my watch read 4.02. The .02 was run at 6:11 pace. Whee!

My fate is sealed.

I was in such a good mood that I decided to get the 5 mile recovery run out of the way then and there. So after some water and an energy bar I was back out on the course, headed up to the transverse where, to my mild surprise, my gloves were still lying. A retrieved them, turned around, and headed back down the east side. Toward the 4.5 mile mark the 15K race leaders started coming through. I was glad I wasn’t running that race since the wind had picked up and it felt like the temperature had dropped.

By the time I got back to Baggage they’d posted the results. Well. To make a good day better, I discovered that not only had I won my first ever award in a NYRR race, but I’d done it with style: 1st in the 40-44 women’s AG. It’s a good thing my birthday is a week away because the 45-49 winner beat me by 16 seconds. I was 12th overall, out of over 1,300 women. I’m still in somewhat of a state of disbelief.

Manning the awards table was an elderly gentleman named Al Goldstein (not to be confused with the Al Goldstein of Screw Magazine fame). He gave me a congratulatory hug and told me that hugging attractive women on Sundays was the biggest fringe benefit of his volunteer job, which NYRR founding member Kurt Steiner gave to him in 1992.

While I was standing there chatting with him, I had a quintessential New York City moment. A woman came up to the awards table and picked up one of the awards, which are all the same: half inch thick blocks of plexiglass with the award details engraved on the back, so they show through the surface of the plastic (they make good paperweights). Al said, in a friendly yet firm voice, “Please don’t handle the awards.” To which the woman replied, “I was just trying to see if they were glass or plastic.”

Al said, “They’re plastic.”

To which she testily replied, “Well, this is a race to fight colon cancer. They shouldn’t be made of plastic since that causes cancer.”

Al gave her a look that I can only describe as withering. I was somewhat tempted to ask her if she was concerned that runners would insert the awards into their asses. Otherwise, what was the issue? But I decided against it.

So one of my unwritten goals for this season has been met: I’m now a blue bib girl. Next week I do my longest race yet this year, the Scotland 10K, back on those hills. I have no goals, although it would be nice to break 7:00 again.

Spring Training: Week 3

I was a happy runner this week. All my paces dropped and recovery time is also getting back on track after two weeks of very delayed recovery.

It was overall a speedier week, with the exception of Wednesday, which featured some wicked menstrual cramps in the first two miles — so bad that for a few minutes I thought I might lose my oatmeal. That passed, but not after strolling for a third of a mile; hence, the slow overall pace. But by and large my recovery runs are in the 10:00 range, a good minute faster than even a few weeks ago.

Tuesday’s midlength run was an odd one. I started out running inexplicably slow relative to effort. Then something kicked into gear and I was running faster at the same effort. The middle three miles were slowed by a muddy, slippery trail. But I was pleased to break 9:00 pace for a run in the high 70%s for effort.

I returned to the track on Friday morning for what turned out to be surprisingly good session. I say “surprisingly” because I again was running like crap for the warmup miles and had resigned myself to probably having an equally ho-hum speed session. But I started in on the faster quarter miles and found that running 1:34-1:38 felt just right (assigned pace was slower, but it felt way too slow). HR’s were in the right range, so I’m glad I went with the impulse to run them faster. I wore my spikes, which I’m sure helped speed me along.

Saturday’s recovery run (around 10:00, even though I left it off the chart) was also fine. I’m so used to running recoveries at 11:00 pace that it makes me nervous to go faster. But my HR says it’s fine, so I go.

This morning’s 14+ miler was great fun. I started with three miles below 73% then picked things up to 74-78%, throwing in a couple of 81% miles at the end. Ran those at 8:23, a pace that required considerably more effort a month ago.

Next week goes back down to 60 miles, but with three quality workouts again. All my workout paces are getting adjusted downward in light of this week’s data.

I’m feeling confident enough that I’ll be running as consistently as planned this season to go ahead and buy some new shoes to rotate into my colorful menagerie of blown rubber. It’s early in the year, which means the new models are coming out and you know what that means: the “old” models are on sale! I picked up two pairs of Pearl Izumi Streaks for around $70 with tax and shipping each. That’s at least $15-20 off what I’ve paid for those in the past. I’ve got several newer pairs of racing flats of various makes and two pairs of my recovery run stalwarts (the Saucony Grid Tangent 3) early in their mileage lives. So I’m set for the next few months.

The racing calendars are starting to take shape as well. I’m going to do as much racing as I can in Central Park this season (in pursuit of my coveted bib, plus there are a few races I enjoy, such as the Colon Cancer 15K). I’ll take it month by month, but it looks likely that I’ll be racing at least every 2-3 weeks. Some weeks will be back to back. I’ve even got one weekend where I might do back to back races on Saturday and Sunday (short ones).

But I’ll play it by ear. The first goal — enjoying training again and seeing improvement — is starting to take shape. Having fun racing again is the next goal on the horizon.

To wear: whatnot

The weather forecast for tomorrow’s race over the past 10 days has evolved from cool and rainy, to cold and cloudy, to freezing and sunny. I can’t get any read on the wind situation, as it seems to shift (like the wind!) every time I check, going from reasonable to downright ugly. But it’s going to do whatever it’s going to do, regardless of how much I worry.

I won’t be running in a Mr. Peanut costume tomorrow, so I won’t be easy to spot. But if you’d like to try, here’s my planned ensemble: black shorts, a bright orange tee shirt, black armwarmers, cheap black gloves (which I’ll abandon by mile 3 or so) and my orange “Kentucky racers” (courtesy of my virtual running pal, Tracy, who spends her days experiencing New Running Shoe Smell). I’ll start off with my Ted Corbitt Memorial 15K white cotton longsleeve, which I’ll also abandon early on.

I should also note that my experiment with living life as a blonde is drawing to a close after a year of fun with chemicals. I’m now more solidly on the brown side and will probably stay that way since the time and expense of maintaining my flaxen locks has become too burdensome. I’ll update the blog photo once I get a shot where I don’t look like Richard Lewis.

This will be my first outing with armwarmers, which I admit I felt a little douchey about buying, but when I have them on they actually look kind of cool, and they make my arms look less porcine, which is always a bonus.

The forecasted temps are actually ideal for me. I race best when it’s just above freezing, and start to get too warm if it gets anywhere near 50. But I know a windchill of 27 at the start is too cold for just a short sleeve shirt, and I didn’t bring any technical clothing I’m willing to throw away. If I wear a long sleeve tech shirt, though, I’ll be sweating by the end, when the temps are expected to be right around 40.

Armwarmer bonus: Extra storage space. I will take five gels during the race. I can fit four in my shorts’ pockets. Now I can stick the fifth one in the sleeve of my armwarmer rather than carrying in my hand it all the way to mile 3. Hooray!

Review: Nike Lunar Trainer

Short review: I hate these shoes! I have never actually hated a running shoe until these showed up on my doorstep.

They feel mushy and cheaply made. Also, the outsole flares out in such as way that it actually makes running feel awkward. And there are no extra eyelets to lock the laces in place. I’m sure there’s a lot of other things wrong with these, but I haven’t run in them enough to discover them.

Jonathan, however, loves the Lunar Trainer. Go figure.

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