Some things I learned today

The Old Crtoton Aqueduct (aka “OCA”) is a lovely place to run, at least the northern section, which starts at Sleepy Hollow High School. I will probably do my tempo run there later this week for a change of scenery. More info at Joe‘s excellent blog, Westchester Trails.

Taking a long nap is much more enjoyable than sitting in a meeting.

It is possible, with extreme discipline and careful use of syntax and clauses, to cut a ~1,000 word article down to ~750 words without losing too much.

If you run with small rocks in your hands they will remind you to swing your arms. Swinging your arms makes you run faster.

Racing shoes are for racing and speedwork only. Doing any other running in them is strictly verboten.

The stopwatch tells no lies.

New Houston Hopeful Interview: Jill Howard

Extreme heat! Vicious eels! Multiple attempts to vomit!

This is just a typical day in the life of a world class triathlete. Jill Howard has experienced these challenges and more as she’s climbed the ladder from starry eyed charity marathoner to Team USA triathlete to, now, Olympic Trials hopeful. If there’s one word that comes up again and again in her interview, it’s “determination.” She’s got enough to spare.

Apologies for the wait. This one was too long in coming, due to a ridiculously busy June and July. The next profile, with two-time previous (2004, 2008) qualifier Heather May, will appear in August.


I see lots of birds on my runs. Grackles, robins, crows, red-winged blackbirds, herons, swans, ducks and, of course, geese. What I don’t often see are birds’ nests. When I see them on the ground, I pick them up and take them home. I have two on the mantle.

Today I saw quite the nest. It was unusual in many ways. For one thing, it was built in low shrubs, maybe four feet off the ground. At first I took this to indicate a lack of intelligence (or, at the very least, survival instinct) on the part of the nest builder.

Then I noticed other aspects of the nest that made me revise my initial assessment. For one thing, the nest was of an extremely robust construction. It was a small nest, presumably built by a small bird. But it was made out of very sturdy twigs, some of them up to a quarter inch in diameter. Not only that, but it was built in such a way as to be interlocked with the criss-crossing shrub branches that served as its structural foundation. The only thing missing was a cantilevered beam.

The twigs were intricately woven, in some cases with nubs along the twig being used as “catches” to hold the twig in place between other twigs. I have no idea how a small bird could have flown with such large twigs and then maneuvered or levered them into position.

Also, the nest was strategically located between two natural barriers. On one side was a large body of water (a section of the Bronx River that opens up into something resembling a big pond). On the other side was a wall of thorny shrubs. I had to carefully move these aside, branch by branch, to get to the nest.

The nest had other features. It had pieces of torn plastic woven into the inner twigs, perhaps serving as insulation or even a thin barrier to lay atop the twigs, making for a more comfortable place to sit. I also saw a few pieces of dryer lint integrated into the construction. I leave out tufts of such lint for birds, and I always wondered if they actually use it. Now I know that they do. Maybe this was our lint.

I think birds are probably a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

Training: July 4-17

Yes, there’s a big gap in training logs. About a month. That’s because June was not a serious month for training. It was all about the Mini 10K, the Green Mountain Relay, and quitting my FT day gig. So I can train seriously again, among other reasons.

I was also in transition, checking out the new coach and the new training that comes with her. I officially started training with Sandra on Saturday, July 3, which is not shown on these schedules (I should note that now the training week runs from Sunday to Saturday, unlike my previous Monday to Sunday structure).

On that first day, Sandra sent me off to do a fartlek workout. I was way out on Eastern Long Island over that weekend, so I ended up doing the run (about 6 miles total) along a lonely, relatively flat stretch of road at about 7:30 in the morning. It was just me, a family of wild turkeys and the rare service truck.

This run was a challenging introduction into the new training regimen. But I got through it and found it a strangely satisfying workout, probably because of its novelty. I haven’t done much fartlek running. I’ll be doing lots more of it, though.

A few days later I had my first speed session. This was on the worst day of the heatwave, a day we hit a real temperature of 103F. We were also having an air quality alert. The air literally stank that morning. I ran at 6AM, but it was nevertheless already in the upper 80s at that hour. The heat has been insane these past few weeks, with temperatures around 10-15 degrees above average most days.

That weekend I did a long run. It’s weird to think that 12 miles is a “long” run now. That was shorter than my “midlength” run of 14-16 miles just 9 months ago. But, okay. 12 miles is long now.

Here’s another new aspect to this training: every long run is a progression run. I get to run the first 3-4 miles at a very easy pace, but then I have to pick things up. And I must be racing the last 2 miles.

It was again incredibly hot. I lost 3 lbs on this run, and cut it short, walking the last half mile because I could feel the heat’s effects creeping up on me. Then I crashed for two hours.

For the second week I went on the “pre-race” schedule, which features just one hard workout (but it is indeed hard). Overall, the mileage is cut back and I do a mini-taper to get ready for a race. In this case, it was a 4 miler on Saturday. I also started adding in some bike time, which I’ll do 2-3x a week from here on out.

Wednesday was track session #2, this time with some longer repeats. Again, the heat and humidity were brutal that day and it was a struggle to run fast. Then I got very busy with work that day and had to skip the 4 mile recovery run in the evening.

Wednesday overnight into Thursday I had terrible DOMS. That brought back some memories of last year. I took Thursday off (as scheduled, but whaled away on the bike for an hour). Then a little token run on Friday and the race on Saturday.

I know I’m just getting into this new plan, but I have noted that I have been rested and ready for all of the harder sessions. And while they are certainly challenging from both a mental and physical standpoint, I am able to handle them without fading in either respect. So far, so good.

Race Report: Run for Central Park 4 Miler


So hot.

It was hot.

I was hot.

It’s a good thing I went watchless today because I would have been discouraged indeed by my splits. Although I have to say I’m getting better at guesstimating my capabilities in hot weather. I figured I’d be lucky to run 7:30s today and that’s about what I ran, coming in at 30:05.

I barely did a warmup today. What was the point? Some dynamic stretches, three minutes of jogging and there you go. I was in Corral 2 today (red bib), which was disappointing, but it was a big race so I wasn’t surprised. I decided to run mile 1 like a hard tempo and see how I felt by mile 2. I picked it up a little, but, wary of the effect that mile 3 typically has on me, not too much.

Mile 3 would kill me anyway. I know this because I spent most of the mile trying to catch up with Harriers teammate Addy (whom I would meet, along with my other Harriers AG cohort, Susan, at a post-race Harriers shindig about an hour later). I caught her at mile 3, passing her at the water stop. And then promptly cratered at the crest of the hill heading into mile 4. She passed me and went on to open up a 1 minute gap. Either she was picking things up to a furious pace or I died in that mile. I suspect it was the latter.

Nevertheless, I scored again (third) for the 40+ women’s team category, helping to place us in 8th today. I don’t think the under-45s came out today or we would have placed higher (although I wouldn’t have placed at all). Again I’ll say that running for team points is a motivator that I like having. And now I regret the fact that I’ll probably be doing a lot less racing as I start marathon training. Oh, well. Can’t have everything.

I was good for 9th in my AG, which out of 145 is not terrible, especially considering how bad I am at racing in hot weather.

I met about 30 or so of my teammates afterward, all of them pleasant individuals. 47 glasses of water later I still feel dehydrated. So I’ve moved on to beer. I expect to pass out soon.

Tomorrow is the first day in a long while in which I have no responsibilities. Anything I do tomorrow is optional. This includes getting out of bed. But I’ll probably do at least that. Moreover, on Monday morning at 9 AM I don’t have to join my IBM team status call. Because I don’t work there anymore. Not that the call itself was so terrible. It’s the fact that on that call every week, the coming five days of Sisyphean to do’s would be writ large, filling me with dread, resentment, despair — and a shitload of tension would further compound in my shoulders, neck and back.

My freelance writing schedule is very light next week, something I have deliberately arranged so that I at last have time to get back to my running-specific writing projects. These have been the neglected middle child of my work life lately and it’s bothered me to feel that I’ve lost the momentum I had about a month ago. But there are only so many hours in the day and I frequently ran out of them over the past few weeks.

Next week I have maybe 10-15 hours of freelance work to worry about — the workload the past month has averaged 50-60. Hallefuckinglujah.  I’ve got a massage scheduled for Thursday morning. A Houston Hopefuls update and work on a Running Times piece, plus finally getting to the Mini 10K gems. I may go see the new Predator movie…in the middle of a weekday! And running all week.

Oh, I’ll be busy. But it’s going to be fun busy. I don’t remember the last time I felt this happy about the arrival of Monday.

Recipe: Spicy cabbage salad

It’s been about four years since I posted a recipe here. Believe it or not, I do cook and I cook pretty well.

Here’s a salad I’ve been living on for the past few weeks. Since it’s 8,000 degrees here most days, it’s been good to have something you can eat cold.

Spicy Cabbage Salad

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 1 medium-sized red cabbage, diced
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • Half a red onion (or one small one), diced
  • Large handful fresh cilantro, chopped fine
  • A quarter cup of roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped

Ingredients for the dressing:

  • 3 T peanut oil
  • 2 T hoisin sauce
  • 3 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1.5 T garlic pepper sauce
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T low salt soy sauce

When shopping for a medium-sized cabbage, look for one that’s about the size of a medium cabagge. Chop up all the fresh stuff. If you hate cilantro you can substitute fresh basil. But you really should make the effort to like cilantro. When I first started eating it, it reminded me of floor cleaner. Then I started to like it. Now I can’t imagine living without it. People can change.

Make the dressing and mix it well so the oil and vinegar are emulsified (now are you impressed?). A tiny whisk is good for this. Failing that, find an old dressing bottle and shake the hell out of it (with the top on).

Throw everything in a bowl, mix it up and let it sit in the fridge for an hour for the flavors to meld. Eat.

Note: If you want to make this a complete meal nutritionally, you can add cooked shrimp, cubed chicken or, if you really hate yourself, tofu.

I don’t know how many calories this has, but it’s not many. This also makes a fabulous side salad with Chicken Gai Yang. Pair with: either a decent India Pale Ale or a Pinot Grigio. Rebels might try a Reisling or Sancerre.

Getting back to it

With “it” being marathon training.

I’m ready to dance with the capricious lady again, although it’s going to be an extended flirtation before we hit the dance floor. No fall marathon for me. Too soon. My next one will likely be Houston in January, six months from now. It’s flat, cool, has a great reputation, and is both easy and cheap to get to from NYC. I won’t even need to rent a car while there.

I’m now officially over 2009, with all its failures and disappointments. A winter and spring spent focused on just about everything but the marathon has been therapeutic. I suspect that having other new interests and friendships, running and otherwise, to pursue also provided a healthy break from three years of marathon obsession, along with some success and gratification that was absent from last year.

Accompanying this decision (and perhaps partly driving it) was another decision. Namely, to try a new coach and a new approach to training. In doing the interviews for Houston Hopefuls, a common theme that emerged was the advantage of working with someone local. Someone who can go to the track with you and note your splits, notice the dark circles under your eyes or slightly off-kilter stride, etc. Someone who is present and invested, if only because you know where they live.

I’ll be working with Sandra (Inoa) Khannouchi, who’s up in Ossining. I met Sandra when I was at the Healthy Kidney 10K press event in mid-May, interviewing her husband, Khalid, whom she coaches and manages. I ended up interviewing her as well, although at the time it hadn’t occurred to me to consider her as a possible coach. But while I was talking with her I did take note of the fact that she seemed to possess a combination of caution, confidence and optimism when it came to how she was training her star athlete to a post-surgery comeback. This made an impression on me, although perhaps only subconsciously at the time.

In the ensuing weeks, as I grappled with “what’s next?” — knowing that I didn’t feel completely at ease with the idea of spending the rest of the year pursuing good half marathon times, worrying that launching back into high mileage training might be a mistake, and hearing interesting insights from some accomplished masters runners — I started thinking that I needed to make a change.

Contacting Sandra to see if she coaches non-elites was Jonathan’s idea, actually. First I had to get over my sheepishness at approaching her: “Hi, I’m slow and old. Can you help?” It turns out that she does coach other runners, although now she’s cut way back for various reasons. Since the mid-90’s she’s coached her husband. At various times she’s coached other elites as well as recreational runners (mainly in Mexico City).

And now there’s me, a new challenge. Can she make me a faster runner even as I battle time’s rude imposition of entropy? We’ll both find out. She’s asked me to have faith in her training methods for at least 4-5 months, and I will. I have not hired her because she’s a “name” (although her resume doesn’t hurt her case) but more because I like her philosophy and because her workouts look like they’ll be effective — and, besides, she’s right there, less than half an hour away.

I spent quite awhile talking with her about goals, how her training works and how she works with runners. As for my own history, she didn’t want to know much about what came before. She is looking forward. For now, the plan is to train for a 10K, then a half, then a marathon. The theory being that I need to get faster at shorter distances before I can tackle getting faster at longer distances. This approach is being used by at least two of the women in my interview series, as well as a few of the Mini 10K elites I talked to recently.

Combined with that strategy is a focus on high quality workouts with what is for me low mileage. I’ve been running 40-50 miles average since January. The plan is to keep mileage in the 50mpw range for the foreseeable future, then work up to the mid-70s when we get into marathon training again in the fall. The training schedule is flexible, meaning if I struggle to finish a week, I just repeat it. If I’m beat up after a week, I take two days off. If a hard session is going badly, I defer it to another day. Races are highlights, but they’re not goals (other than the January marathon). The training is the goal. Getting faster is the goal. Avoiding setbacks is the goal.

My training posts will be deliberately vague about the high quality work, at Sandra’s request. Some of what I’ll be doing consists of standard workouts that anyone would recognize (12×400, anyone?). Others, however, are unusual — combinations of things that I have not seen. All of the workouts are hard, some very much so. About 40-50% of my miles will consist of hard, hard running. I haven’t tried this approach yet. Maybe it will work for me. I should know in a few months.

There are no “recovery weeks” although the days before a race will be lighter. I won’t be doing a ton of racing like I have lately, but there will be room for a few races for fun/club points, or to do as tempo efforts. And there will be a few important races to use as yardsticks to measure progress and assess readiness.

Other new things: The workouts are not on a 7 day schedule; sometimes I’ll go to the track on Tuesday, sometimes I’ll go on Saturday. Regular massages are now required, as are post-workout ice baths. There has been serious talk of altitude training — I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one, but I’m remaining open to the idea and figure that at this point I can work just about anywhere where there’s an outlet and an Internet connection. There’s more. Cross training several times a week. Stretching routines. Race visualization. Getting in the car and driving somewhere so I can run on dirt rather than pavement. Listening to my body at all times and heeding its messages whether resting, running or racing. Yes. Okay. Good. I’ll try it all. I’ll do all of it.

And still more. The HRM is generally frowned upon, as its readings, even when correct, can affect judgment and obscure larger patterns (this I know already from last year — all the data in the world didn’t help me avoid overtraining and injury). Oddly enough, I’d stopped running with the HRM on most days anyway by early last month, since it was constantly acting up and, worse, often only served as a massive mindfuck before and during races. Now its primary purpose will be to keep me from running too hard on recovery runs. Other days, it stays at home.

Training with a watch is fine, but only to record, not to use as a prescriptive device. Racing with one is actively discouraged. If you look at pictures of Khalid racing, you’ll notice that he doesn’t wear a watch. When this fact was pointed out to me, it initially blew my mind. Then it seemed strangely logical. Why would you race with a watch unless you didn’t trust your own ability to race at the appropriate effort? If you need to constantly check how fast you’re going, maybe you’re not ready to race your race yet. Or maybe you are ready, but you’ll talk yourself out of racing your best because of what your stupid watch says.

Last year was disappointing from a racing perspective, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t productive. All that high mileage running Kevin had me doing gave me a good aerobic base to build on, lots of mitochondria at the ready, and a sturdy musculoskeletal structure. This is a great starting point. And now, from here, I am throwing out almost everything I’ve done for the past two+ years and am starting all over. All I know is that I’m a hard worker and I believe that I can do better than 3:19 for the marathon.