Too soon?

I guess bad marathons really are like childbirth: you forget the extreme pain and suffering after awhile and start yearning to pop another one out.

My marathon plans (or lack thereof) for the spring have not changed. In fact, now that the big spring races are around the corner and running bloggers are started to post things like “just eight weeks to Boston…” I find I’m relieved not to be among the worriers.

One decision we did make about the spring was to bag the idea of running the New Jersey Half again. I’m annoyed with this race. Not only have they jacked the fees up to the $100 range (for a half!), but they sin in other ways. Their web site looks like it was put together by a 12-year-old. They don’t respond to emails. Their explanation of how to defer an entry to next year is written like something off of Engrish Funny. And you can no longer park anywhere near the course. You have to go stand in a parking lot and wait for their buses (which were late last year). So, screw you, New Jersey. I’m entered for the full marathon this year, which I’ll defer until next year and decide then if I want to run the full or write it off as a loss.

Just for fun, I’m including this quote from the NJ site, in which they attempt to describe a change to the course:

Approximately 4.3 miles of the southern end of the 2009 course, in Elberon, will not exist in 2010. It has been replaced by approximately 4.3 mile in Oceanport.

Sorry, I’m a writer and editor. This sort of thing makes me crazy. When you say something “will not exist in 2010,” it reads as if the race director has metaphysical powers and has transported entire neighborhoods into a yawning cosmic void. Probably the same one into which my deferral request will be cast.

Instead, we’re going to give the Providence, RI half marathon a spin. It’s the same weekend, but it’s in Providence! I haven’t been there since sometime in the mid-1980s. I remember it was a cute city and I had a great breakfast at the Newport Creamery (it’s still there!). Affordable hotels abound just blocks from the start/finish and it’s close enough that we can drive home after the race. And it’s only $55.

Change of plan: We’re running Long Island. $50 and it’s 40 mins from our house. No hotel, no long drives…and it’s flat!

As for the fall, I’m already forgetting my past agonies and considering a full marathon again. Specifically, the Richmond, VA marathon. It’s well-established and large enough that I could easily find people to run with, but not so huge as to be overwhelming. We could also combine it with a trip to see a friend of Jonathan’s who lives in Maryland. My idea is to use the Westchester Half in October as a tune-up race or Mpace training run, and then do the full in VA five weeks later.

The other possibility is making the Westchester Half my goal race for the fall, then plan to run the New York Marathon as a fun run a month later. But I don’t know that I’d be satisfied with doing that. The sheer size of the NY race and the logistics of just getting to the start line have always been daunting. I’m not sure whether going in with the attitude that I’ll run it for the scenery and experience would help make those things more tolerable or have the opposite effect, making the venture seem like a complete waste of time and effort. I’m leaning against the idea, but I’ve got months to decide.

I’m surprised that I’m thinking about a full race again this soon. The last two races, and a few good workouts, are having their intended effect, I suppose. That being to renew my confidence that I’m not necessarily doomed to a future of hideous marathon implosions. Still, it’s weird to be hearing the siren call of the marathon already.

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!

“Yes, I am a freak. Be glad your husband isn’t.”

We just did a 3.5 mile run around Capitol Park, which our hotel is on the corner of. Along the way, we talked shop with a friendly woman from Philly (45-49 AG, by my sly extraction of information regarding qualifying for Boston). She’s trying for a qualifier tomorrow and I think she’ll make it, at least if her recent times are any indication.

I was happy to note that my heart rate (both while resting and running) seems back to its normal self. So no red flags are waving (or, like in the spring, actually whacking me) in my face.

On the way back up to our room we shared the elevator with four women about my age. One of them exclaimed, “Oh! You have the watch I just gave my husband. How do you like it?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“I do like it,” I replied. “But they removed some key features from the previous model.”

*Elevator bleat!*

She looked disappointed. “Really? Like what?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“Well,” I replied, slipping into full freak mode, despite my best efforts. “You can’t review your run during a session like you could before.”

*Elevator bleat!*

“You mean you can’t review the run afterwards?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“No. I mean, like, if you want to check your splits…” I noticed all four women looked confused. “You know,” I blundered onward, “Like while doing intervals on the track.” Awkward pause. “You, um, can’t do that anymore.”

*Elevator bleat!*

All heads nodded, yet still obviously perplexed. Jonathan sighed. I examined the elevator floor.

*Bleat! … Bleat! … Bleat!*

Ah. Freedom.

WhyMall?

The trip from our humble domicile to Sacramento was relatively pain-free. But it was long, especially since we decided to pick up our race packets yesterday so we wouldn’t have to deal with it today.

The plan today is to do some shopping for dinner this evening. I’m a control freak (which is probably obvious to anyone who’s read more than three of my posts) and have no interest in attending the giant pasta feeds most races put on. My thought is:  I made it this far without catching a bug; how would I feel if I got food poisoning the night before the race?

The solution is to stay in a place that has at least a fridge and microwave in the room. This time we got lucky and I secured a kitchenette, so I can actually cook. All of this comes in handy for the post-race feed, which involves our lying around in front of the television, consuming all of the “bad” foods (and huge amounts of beer and wine) that we can’t have in any regular or extreme way during training.

Our room is perfect in other ways too. Our bedroom (which is separate from our living area) is backed up to a giant electrical closet, far from the elevators and on the ninth floor. The hotel also made me sign their No Party Policy. In our last hotel, our neighbors were up at 1:30AM watching television and engaging in a discourse over it that was loud enough for me to make out the substance of their exchange. Before that, we shared a wall with what must have been the winners for Loudest Scene at the National Porn Awards.

Anyhoo. Here I am, up early and still on New York time. Despite how incredibly busy work was prior to leaving, I managed to pack everything I needed. I did discover, once on the plane, that while I managed to pack my little computer, I’d stupidly turned it on beforehand. So I had no battery life left. I’d planned to do some writing and editing, and it would have been nice to have had the option of frittering away the 6.5 hours playing mindless games, but it was not to be.

Fortunately, I also brought a book. But I couldn’t dip into that without first engaging in my traditional perusal of the SkyMall catalogue. I can make a game out of this activity: What’s the most expensive item? Least expensive? How many of them make dubious claims based on shoddy science? Are there any that look outright dangerous? That sort of thing.

If I can find something that hits the trifecta — extravagant, unnecessary and inconvenient — well, that’s the winning item. Nothing I found quite hit that lofty mark, although the second one below comes awfully close. Here are the highlights:

“Have you ever wanted to make or receive a phone call underwater?” No, but I’ll bet Ted Kennedy did. For just $1,790 (cell phone not included), you can yammer away underwater with colleagues, family or illicit lovers while diving for clams or engaging in recovery of drowning victims.  “Honey, can you pick up bread on the way home? The dive’s going great, except my tank is…low…glug glug glug…”

“Produce your own water!” For $999 you can have an enormous, hideous contraption (in one of three cheerful primary colors) that — get this — actually makes water. We’re talking seven gallons a day! At just $0.20 per gallon. Or you could do what we do at my house: just turn on one of several taps we have, conveniently located right where we need them; we even have several outside.

Does anyone like bidets? I don’t. I won’t go into crass detail, much as I’d love to, but bidets are just weird. So the idea of buying my very own travel bidet seems like something I’d only do if I wanted to take a great trip abroad and ruin it. I especially appreciate the copywriter’s clever double entendre: “Enjoy the confidence…no matter where you go.” Also: $44.95? I could buy a turkey baster for $9.99 and get the same effect.

And finally, in the “I don’t think we should take the kids to any more barbecues at Bill and Mindy’s house” category, it’s the Zombie of Montclaire Moors statue. I think it speaks for itself. Note: No Rush Delivery!

At the moment, I’m preparing to go out and run 3 miles around Capitol Park, just to see how cold it’s going to feel tomorrow morning. Then it’s a day of list-making, light shopping, an attempt at napping, dinner and early to bed.

Of hamstrings and advanced planning

Just an update as I try to unwind for a few minutes from the latest work-related debacle.

My hamstring is better after several days of self restraint. I’ve done almost as much walking as I have running in the few days since it went “Oh, snap! You dih’in’t!” on Sunday. This morning had me running a slightly zippier 9:30 pace, including an experimental zoom at 7:15 pace for about 45 seconds at the end of the run. All systems seem go.

Tomorrow I’ll further test Hammy’s tolerance with a tempo run on the track. I’ll do a two mile warmup to get there, then another good mile or so of speeding up to see if it starts to rattle. If it’s okay, I’ll try two at tempo pace and see if there are any complaints. Then I’ll try another two, then do some recovery miles afterward to head home for a bath, a bagel and some gratitude for my body’s ability to heal itself. And if it doesn’t go well, I’ll cut things short and continue to rest.

In other news, I appreciated all the feedback on where to go for spring 2010. I’m traveled out after this year and upon reviewing the various options realized that any race I would travel (meaning “fly”) to would present the same relative chances of good or bad weather than anything I’d find closer to home. Since I need to fix about 3,000 issues with my house next year, I’ve decided I’m going local for 2010 at least for the spring, to save money and cut down on time off from work, for which I do not get paid, lucky freelancer that I am.

I’ll target the 2010 NJ Marathon (May 2) for my goal race in terms of training and taper timing. I’ve run the half marathon there twice and it was the site of my two fastest half marathons (and many PRs at shorter distances in the process) to date. What amazes me (and I should have absorbed this lesson by now) is how fast the hotels there fill up for a race that’s half a year off.

The host hotel, right on the start/finish line, is full up, as is the fancy schmancy boutique hotel ($400+ a night) two blocks from the start. Everything else is miles away. Fortunately, there are still rooms available at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in West Long Branch on Rt. 36. This place is not on the hotels listed on the marathon’s web site, by the way. But it’s less than a mile from Monmouth Racetrack (where the parking and shuttles are) and the rooms have a fridge and microwave. Perfect!

Since Jonathan wants more training time after the Sacramento race in December, he won’t run New Jersey with me. Instead, it looks likely that he’ll do the Buffalo Marathon a month later. That’s a mere 6.5 hours away by car, no airplanes required. We know someone who’s run it three times and liked it (and his times were remarkably consistent with performances elsewhere from year to year, so the course and conditions don’t appear to be a killer). Plus, I can register too and keep it as a backup if something goes awry in New Jersey. Even if it doesn’t, I can always run it as a fun run. Or, if I’m feeling like a fully recovered bad ass, do my best Mary Akor impersonation and race that one too.

So that’s the plan so far. I’m keeping your suggestions in a list for future reference, and I see others researching spring races have hit this site in web searches. So it’s all valuable stuff.

Help me pick my spring 2010 marathon

I tend to have years that are either “off” or “on” in terms of heavy travel. One year we’ll travel a lot and neglect the house (which is a 1928 colonial in perpetual decline). The next, we’ll stay home and put money into our crumbling domicile. 2009 was an “on” year for travel. Next year will be mostly “off.” But that doesn’t preclude some travel for a spring marathon. I would like to limit it to a long weekend and keep it close enough that it can be driven to in a day (10 hours is the max I can tolerate) or easily flown to from NYC area airports. I accept that we’ll probably need to change planes along the way.

I’ve been researching and I’ve narrowed things down to a few races that look good in terms of location, size, weather/course and reputation/reviews. Since I like cooler weather races I’m looking for mid-to-late May as the outside date. But I’m not averse to doing something earlier, such as in mid-to-late March or April. The ones I’m researching are listed below in the poll.

Note that I haven’t included the Long Branch New Jersey marathon because the weather can be so unpredictable. But I may keep it around as a backup race. Weather considerations are the biggest reason that I’ve not included a lot of New England races that would normally be on my radar.

So, where should I run? If not one of these, what races do you like that are accessible from New England, and why do you recommend them?

Edited: I didn’t think I’d have to be this pedantic, but if you voted “Other” can you please offer a brief comment on which “other” race you have in mind and why?

Fall Training: Week 5

09fall-training-05Having recovered from the difficult previous week, I decided to have another go at running some miles at marathon effort before leaving South Africa. This run went much better than Friday’s semi-disaster, as it was again in the low 60s and the sun was behind the clouds.

Despite a weekend of drinking, staying up late and stuffing myself, I felt pretty good for this run. Although I have to admit that I was looking forward to getting home and swearing off shortbread biscuits, chocolate and buckets of wine and beer. At least until after I run CIM in December.

Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with getting home and getting ready for my reentry into work and serious training again.

I guess I managed to kill a few brain cells with all that fabulous local wine and beer because on Thursday I went out and hammered a workout that was supposed to be on the easy side. My Thursday speed session should have been run at recovery pace, with the exception of the 8:00 at speedy effort. Instead, I ran the whole thing at moderate-to-hard effort. My legs felt great and I just forgot that I wasn’t supposed to run this hard for these workouts.

Not surprisingly, I was tired on the subsequent recovery runs. I cut the Saturday run short by a mile and ran it at a slow jog pace to try to save my legs for Sunday’s race.

I went into the Westchester Half on Sunday expecting…well, not really expecting anything. I didn’t know if I’d do badly, well, or somewhere inbetween. As it turns out, I did very well under the circumstances. Maybe those lighter mileage weeks gave me the rest I needed to race well. Or maybe it was the wine, chocolate and beer.

Between this and the Whale half, I’m feeling good about my current level of fitness. The next few weeks of training — under what I hope will be healthier, more amenable conditions — should yield more clues as to where I am.

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