New page: Faves

I thought it was time to collect my favorite posts somewhere. Find them on the new Faves page.

Fear and loathing in Buffalo

I like to research potential marathons on It’s hard to know what to make of a race when the reviews fall on the extremes of the spectrum. But, in the case of the Buffalo Marathon at least, it can make for some pretty entertaining reading.

Ann Onymous from Rochester, NY writes:
“I signed up for a large shirt; to me, this is an implied contract – I sign up ahead AND PAY MONEY and I get a race and a large shirt (unless I show up last-minute). A t-shirt is not that big a deal (well, on second thought it is – I trained long and hard all winter for this race; it would be nice to have something to show for it, like the women in my group who got shirts). How this has been handled is an issue reflective of the race management – poor. And while I’m on my soap box…. Maybe have a few more than the dozen or so porta-johns for the 2,300 racers at the start area – I’ve not seen as much public urination in my life (well maybe except for the Boilermaker in Utica – but that doesn’t start in a downtown city area).”

I don’t get why people get so outraged about race tee shirts, either when there are only large ones left or none left. I don’t even take shirts anymore since I have so many of them clogging my drawers. If you finish a marathon, you’ve got something to show for it: your finishing time, your bragging rights and your memories. You’ll usually get a cheesey little medal too. As for public urination, she ain’t seen nothin’ until she’s come to New York, Boston or Chicago.

S.N. from West Yorks, England whines:
“The course itself is flat and fast, but crowd support is spread out – there are long periods with very little support, although there are pockets of strong support to lift you.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Do your research. You’re running in Buffalo. Buffalo! If you want big crowds, run in West Yorks. Or better yet, Shitterton.

L.W. from Washington, DC reports:
“The course was 0.3 miles too long according to my GPS system (and my husband’s) – even in the first five miles. A third of a mile wreaks havoc on your pace when you’re shooting to complete the race before being asked to move to the sidewalk.”

A GPS reporting .3 miles extra for a marathon is actually very good, considering that it’s nearly impossible to run every single tangent perfectly. More important, how can a course be “too long” in the first five miles? I think my head is going to explode.

J.C. from Pittsburgh exhorts:
“The women runner’s were phenomenal. I was with a group running 8:05’s to 8:15’s that strung me along. Another important rating for this course, all the women runners were 5 stars and some are even good runners!!!”


And, finally, there’s this screed that sounds like something out of The Daily Worker. The inscrutably named “m. g. from Parkside with my wage freeze! On ice..” writes, somewhat bafflingly:
“My running partner got hit up for change at mile 25 from some panhandler dude!REALLY! Last bummer: all that was left were loaves of bread and some off-brand diet pop for my post-race party… BREAD AND WATER! HMMM, like I said, the Control Board MUST now have taken over our local road races as well as the economic freedom of the working class! When you see them at the Corporate Challenge in their HUGE tents with catered food and limo service, wave and say hello!”

Will I run Buffalo? I have no fucking idea.

New links

I recently updated a few of my links. Yeah, uh, so what, you say? Well, I think a few of them are worth pointing out.

First, I added a link to Run Away Fast, Jaymee Marty’s running blog. Jaymee just took second at the Marine Corps Marathon, three weeks after running a 2:46:26 at Twin Cities. She’s a latecomer to running and to marathoning, as am I, and she’s also part of the over 40 set. She’s currently gearing up for a qualifying run for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials in six months. I doubt she’ll have any problems achieving that goal.

I also added links to sites for two runners in trouble. The first, set up to benefit Jenny Crain, has been around for awhile. Jenny was hit by a car while out running in August of 2008 and suffered horrific brain and other physical injuries as a result. The second site deals with Kevin McDermott‘s plight after a recent diving accident left him paralyzed, although he has made astonishing progress in restoring mobility since then.

As a side note, both these runners and their families are struggling to pay medical bills despite having been insured at the time of their accidents. If that isn’t a wake up call to people who for some baffling reason don’t support health care reform, then I don’t know what is.

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.

Fall Training: Week 7 (Special tragicomic edition)

09fall-training-07New highs, new lows. I’d planned (or, rather, Coach Kevin had planned) 95 miles for me this week. While that certainly wasn’t a new high, I was looking forward to hitting that number. It makes me feel like a superhero when I can emerge from two 90+ weeks with energy to spare.

The highs this week were a 14+ mile recovereasy run that was a lot faster than I’d planned. But it was fast despite a very low effort. I cruised along at sub-9:00 at avg 72% MHR. This after a fairly challenging 22 miler on Sunday. I was feeling very up after that on Tuesday.

I had enough energy for strides on Wednesday morning, although I didn’t run them crazily fast. Wednesday was a big mileage day, and the effects showed on Thursday. That was one of the week’s lows. I didn’t feel that great going into the run and I was struggling to run an 11:30 mile at 67%. Even though I lowered my expectations accordingly I was still shocked at how slow I was running at 89-90% effort.

Shocked and depressed, actually. I started questioning everything and finding fault everywhere. I was running too many miles. I was too fat. I was too old. I simply lacked talent. This went on for most of the afternoon, but then I pulled myself out of my funk by looking over training logs and realizing that sometimes you just have a shitty day.

I took it very easy for the next few days in order to rest up for Sunday’s sandwich run and race in Central Park, which provided the most extreme highs and lows of the week: what started out as a great race ended up an instantaneous DNF.

Now it’s Monday and I didn’t run at all today. Instead I continued to ice, compress and massage my hamstring. Then I went out for a 3.5 walk with a few experimental little jogs. The hamstring is still twingey, and it does not like going uphill. But it’s only been about 36 hours. I’ll see how it is tomorrow and go from there.

Another DNF. So why am I smiling?

This morning I experienced the second DNF of my brief competitive racing career. Loyal readers will recall the first, earlier this year, as the debacle known as the Newport Marathon. That experience made me want to stick pins in my eyes in true tragic fashion. Today’s DNF, while a bummer, was a whole different story. And, as the title of this post implies, not without its bright spots.

The site of my latest incomplete was the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff Five Miler in Central Park this morning. It was to be the centerpiece of a total run of 15 miles: 10 easy around a 5 mile race. I’d been advised by Coach Kevin to not plan to run it all out, but that if I felt good to go ahead and feel free to turn on the turbochargers. Well, dang, but I felt good today. I did a 3 mile warmup, mostly easy running but with a couple 45 second repeats at 6:30-7:00 to get my legs ready to go fast, along with my little dynamic stretching routine

Then I lined up in the second corral of runners who’ve managed a previous NYRR race over 1 mile of between 7:00-7:59 average pace. I mention this seemingly unnecessary and wonky detail because I had one goal and one desire for this race today. The goal was to simply run it as hard as I could, with the constant reminder to myself that I need to keep running hard. I don’t race shorter distances because they are so difficult for me to run, as I’m all slowtwitch muscle fibers. The desire was to finally run a NYRR race under 7:00 pace so I can start races in the first corral.

The race started and I was again reminded of why I need to get out of that stupid second corral. Despite starting nearly at the front of my corral this time, I was still stuck in a mob running 7:20 at the start. Midway through the first mile I managed to latch myself onto a guy who I only knew in my own mind as “Lurch.” He was enormous and running fast. So I hung right behind him as he muscled his way through the throngs. We picked it up and I managed a 7:01 for mile 1. Happy with that progress, I vowed not to look at the watch again. Just run fast.

Mile 2 was faster. I could feel that it was a lot faster. That turned out to have been a 6:40. Then mile 3 had some hills and I knew I’d give back some of the time gained in the previous mile, but not all of it. The remaining hills ended at the 3.5 mile mark and then things flattened out as we approached the start of Cat Hill. I was picking up the pace, passing women, and looking forward to the last 1.5 miles, most of which would be either downhill or flat. I’d saved some energy and was getting ready to take flight.

Then, coming down Cat Hill, someone shot me in the back of my right leg. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Hamstring pull. Just like that, my race was over. One loud utterance of “Fuck!” Two hops to get off the course. Three minutes massaging my hamstring and wondering if I would be kissing my fall marathon goodbye and writing off the entire year. To distract myself, I looked at my watch, which I’d turned off the moment I stopped running, since I knew I wouldn’t be running anymore today.

The watch was stopped at mile 3.71. My average pace at that point was 6:54. Hey, wait! This was good news! Had my hamstring not turned into a shrieking diva today, I was certain I could have brought that average down to the high 6:40s and just broken 34:00. Once I managed to skip awkwardly across the wall of runners, I was able to do some walking across the park to Baggage and then another quarter mile or so to the car. While the hamstring certainly hurt, my limp was slight and it became less pronounced the farther I walked.

I’ve spent the last few hours babying it with rest, ice, compression, elevation (otherwise known as the acronym RICE), some industrial strength anti-inflammatories — and it feels better. I’m fairly certain this was a freakish event tied to coming off of two big weeks (and a hard half) as well as the fact that I never run downhills fast. I’d been vaguely aware of some tightness in the right hamstring somewhere during mile 2. But it’s a rare race when something isn’t complaining, so I didn’t worry about it. I guess today’s faster running was one straw too many on the camel’s back and something quite literally had to give.

I get to try again for the coveted blue bib in about a month, when I’ll run a 4 miler in the park. If I could run this well for 5 miles, I’ve no doubt I’ll get that bib before the year is out. But for now, I’m focused on getting my right leg back online.

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?

Sansa Clip+: The Shuffle Killer

Sometime in 2007 I purchased an MP3 player and started subscribing to Rhapsody’s subscription music service, Rhapsody To Go. The player was a Clix from iRiver and while it’s been fine, I’ve never been thrilled with it. It has a tendency to freeze, it’s clunky and recently its battery life seems to have grown shorter and shorter between recharges. Its most recent woe is a battery life indicator that always cheerfully says “full!” When you’re halfway through a three hour long run and the music dies, that’s a long 90 minutes running with useless earphones in your ears.

It was time to replace the Clix. Naturally, I figured I’d first check out what iRiver was making these days. But unfortunately the iRiver web site has gone from bad to worse. I wonder if they actually want people to buy their products. Since I couldn’t make sense of their product line I next took a look at Sansa’s players, which had always had a reputation for playing nicely with Rhapsody. I settled on the Clip+ player. For $64 I got:

  • 8 gigs of storage (that’s 6 gigs more than the Clix has)
  • Room for up to 32 gigs more thanks to the MicroSD card slot
  • 15 hours of battery life
  • An FM radio with more presets than I’ll ever use
  • A sturdy, built-in clip
  • Excellent sound quality
  • An easy-to-navigate menu system
  • On-the-fly playlist creation and removal of tracks
  • Seamless integration with Rhapsody, including its radio-like, musically themed “channels” (which never worked with the Clix)
  • No software drivers needed; it’s plug and play!

All this in a package that weighs about an ounce and is smaller than a matchbox.

This is not my hand. My fingers are not chubby.

This is not my hand. My fingers are not chubby.

Despite being a Mac user since 1988 (I still remember being awed by the computing power of the Mac Plus), and still using one for my personal machine, I’ve never owned an iPod. Maybe I’m mentally challenged, but I couldn’t figure out the clickwheel the one time I tried to use one. Plus, who wants to pay for every song? For $15 a month I can download and take with me any of around 2,000,000 songs. If I want to buy something, I can download the MP3s, oftentimes for less than what Apple is charging for them on iTunes.

I’d looked at the previous generation of the Clip, but the actual clip looked flimsy, as did the materials overall. But with the “+” edition, Sansa seems to have gotten things right. I wore it on a faster run on the track this morning and, unlike the Clix, which bounced around like a small brick, I often had trouble locating the player on my shorts.

If people are willing to wrest themselves from the Apple hegemony of iTunes, the Clip+ and Rhapsody To Go are an attractive prospect. Observe:

  • The Clip+ is cheaper than the 4GB Shuffle by about $10
  • It has a radio, a voice recorder, twice the storage (and up to 10x the storage if you spring for a MicroSD card)
  • It has a display screen; shouldn’t this be a basic feature?
  • No stupid white headphones

Be a rebel. Dump the iPod.

Fall Training: Week 6

09fall-training-06Here we are at the halfway point already. I’ve got just six weeks of serious training left before going into a two week taper. Last week I hit 90 miles again after three weeks of running mileage much lower than that.

The first surprise was getting up on Monday morning and feeling surprisingly nimble considering the hard half marathon on Sunday. Then my legs seemed to get stiffer and stiffer as the day wore on. A warm bath helped, as well as some time with the foam roller.

I ran Tuesday’s “recovereasy” run at a very light effort, not even at 70%. I knew this was going to be a huge week in terms of challenging runs, plus I was going in with a recovery deficit from the race. So I decided to be conservative even though my legs still felt pretty good.

I took my tempo miles to the track and had another good session. I had no problem sustaining 89-90% for five miles and in fact could have run another mile had I wanted to. But I didn’t. I will note that the moment I stopped running, my legs started stiffening up again. The 1.75 run home was actually sort of painful. Was that still Sunday’s race lingering in my legs?

Thursday was a tough day, as it usually is. By this stage of the week I’m worn down from one or two harder workouts plus I have to run fairly big mileage this day. Since the weather was going to force me inside for the evening run I decide to do the strides in the morning. I’ve had a bad habit of skipping strides, but I felt just good enough to do them on Thursday. I did seven rather than the planned eight (miscounted).

Friday was another of my Frankenworkouts: a long run at recovery pace plus some faster intervals and short rests. I had issues with my HRM acting oddly again, and as a result I probably ran these a might too fast. Looking on the bright side, though, I’ve definitely got my speed back. I ran one repeat at 6:07 pace, which is quick for me. I couldn’t even get below 6:30 pace for a stride a few months ago when I was starting on the iron and D supps.

Saturday were two blah runs. Just getting in the miles. I crawled along at very low heart rates in order to get ready for…

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! This was the run I’d been saving myself for all week. A big 22 mile run with some elbow grease applied. The weather was atrocious, as we had the first Noreaster of the season moving through NY. But it didn’t seemed quite bad enough to take things inside on the treadmill. Some part of me believes that training in less than ideal conditions is a good mental exercise anyway. You never know what you’ll get on race day and if you’ve done some hard runs in wind and rain that offers some psychological innoculation against at least that aspect of pre-race freakouts.

I decided to do this run in Central Park. I like running the hills (I know; I’m weird that way). And since it’s a multiple loop course, if the weather turns truly foul I can always cut it short and come home. I can’t do that if I’m 10 miles away from home in Valhalla when the downpour starts.

The assignment was to run the first 12 at 75% MHR, then step up to 80% for the final 10. When I started my run the rain was steady but not terrible. I ran the first 6 in a t-shirt, long sleeve and “water resistant” jacket, plus gloves and a waterproof hat. I was soon boiling, so had to run back to the car on Columbus Ave. for a costume change. I took off my hat and my hair was soaked not from rain but from sweat.

I swapped the outer layers and ended up with the t-shirt and a very light fleece with zip up collar. Dumped the gloves and hat. Kept the tights as I was not about to pull my pants down in the middle of Manhattan (those days are long over!). Now I was ready to roll. The rain remained steady, but there were a few windows of 20 minutes or so when it turned to a mere drizzle. It was actually nearly perfect running weather, but for the wind.

While I was there I discovered a large walk for breast cancer — about 5,000 people according to the news accounts. I’m glad the park can play host to such events but I wish the marshalls would clue participants in to the fact that there are other people using the park. The walkers took up the entire roadway in some sections, so I had to hop up on curbs or take the pedestrian path (to the annoyance of regular park patrons) to get around them. Fortunately, they were done by around 11:15 and I just had 45 minutes or so of faster running by then.

The run was not easy, but it wasn’t particularly difficult either. If anything, I had trouble keeping the effort low for the first twelve. I was more in the 77-78% range for a lot of those miles, probably due to the hills and wind. I was up near 80% a mile early and drifted into the 81% range for a lot of the later miles. I only started really feeling the effort in the last three miles and in some ways the challenge was as much in the mental realm as it was in the physical one. I finished up with a faster last half mile in the 85% range and was done! Total time: just over 3:10 for 22.14 miles. I like to do a 22 miler in the 3:00-3:10 range, so I was happy with this time considering the awful conditions and tough course.

I’m a little shocked that I could do this run after a Sunday race followed by a big mileage week, but there you have it. This has me feeling pretty good about what I can accomplish in the coming weeks. I’ll hit 95 this week, which includes four days of doubles and a “sandwich run” on Sunday, again in Central Park with the Marathon Kickoff 5 miler.

Sometimes you can’t trust your heart (rate monitor)

Yesterday I went to the track in the morning to do some fast repeats. The scheduled called for 5 x 2:30 at 92% MHR with 1 minute rests. I ran a faster half mile to get my legs ready and proceeded to launch into the first repeat. I was running hard, breathing hard, but my HR was dawdling along at 86%. So I ran faster and harder, cutting the first repeat short at 1:44 when my lungs gave out. The HRM said I was at 88%.

Mystified, I ran my 1 minute jog and then tried again. Same thing. I jogged some more and thought about it. What was going on? Were my legs too tired to get myself going fast enough to get my HR up into the low 90%s? Was I glycogen depleted? Was the dreaded iron deficiency issue back? Why were my lungs giving out before my heart and legs?

I tried another and the same thing happened again. This was getting silly. Finally, on the fourth lap it occurred to me to look at my pace. I was running 6:18 pace. Aha. The HRM was bullshitting me again. Now I figured I’d been running these in the mid-90%s (which would explain why I was getting breathless before the 2+ minute mark). So I ran a few more quick ones and learned another lesson: don’t over rely on technology. I knew I was working hard and running fast. I should have trusted those perceptions over what the watch was telling me.