Lykkelig løyper, Grete Waitz

[That’s “happy trails” in Norwegian, at least according to Google Translate]

What can you say about Grete Waitz? She was not only an inspiring talent, but she was one of running’s greatest ambassadors. There is a huge hole left in the world of running today.

I will keep the bloviations to a minimum. That’ll be easy because I never met Grete. I saw her at the expo for my first marathon, the More Magazine Marathon, 2007 edition. She was standing there with Lynn Jennings, greeting people. I was such a newbie to the sport that I had no idea who Lynn Jennings was. But I knew who Grete was. But I was too shy and awestruck to go over and say hello! Now I kick myself for that. The next time I saw her was in 2008, when she flew by me in the back of the press truck at mile 20 of the New York Marathon, where I was watching from the curb. When I started interviewing elites last year I vowed to try to meet her at the next Norwegian Festival, but I was away during the weekend of those races in October. And so that was that.

Here are some highlights from around the web. Also, I can recommend the movie Run for Your Life, a documentary about Fred Lebow, in which Waitz has a large presence.

Fellow New York Harrier (and fellow runner of Norwegian descent, although his name’s a lot easier to deal with than mine is) Douglas Hegley’s post is worth a read. He had a few chance meetings with Waitz that tell you everything you need to know about the woman. This is the most personal blog post I’ve found about Waitz thus far. But Amy’s is a good runner up, and contains links to other great stories.

Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World has this lovely tribute.

Here’s the IAAF’s remembrance of Ms. Waitz, who, it should be noted, still holds the Norwegian record for the 1500.

Waitz was ambitious and driven, yet humble and generous. Everything a champion should be.

NYC Marathon 2010: Racing Verité

Rinus from Holland put together this “runner’s eye view” of the marathon. He’s compressed his 4:17:19 run into 00:07:11 of footage. I think we refer to that sort of timing as a “New York Minute.”

Race Report: Washingtonville High School 5K

I’m racing so often these days that I’m getting sick of writing race reports. Or at least I worry that my race reports are boring. I’ll try to make this interesting.

How’s this for an opening gambit: Jonathan was beaten today by a guy with a mullet. He was right in front of me at the start (I was just behind the guys at the front) and I found myself unpleasantly entranced by his straggly neck-shading locks during the National Anthem. After the race I got a look at his front and discovered that he bore a striking resemblance to Davy Jones of The Monkees. But with a mullet.

Now that I have your attention, here’s the race report: Warm up, blah blah blah. Feel crappy, nervous, blah blah. Stand behind mullet guy. RD yells “Go!” and we’re off. Too fast. I’m running with teenage girls and 12-year-old boys who have never run a race. I know this because they are weaving all over the place and asking me, “Are we supposed to run off to the left or something?”

We’re all going at around 5:50 pace and this is just silly. So I slow down. The 12-year-old boys die after 200m (no endurance, these kids today), but the confused girls are still with me. By the quarter mile mark we’re running at a more reasonable 6:30 pace. Then they start slowing down and I don’t want to get complacent, so I pass them, suddenly feeling very Kathy Bates in Steel Magnolias Fried Green Tomatoes.* The rest of the race, I see one woman ahead of me and wait and wait and wait for someone else to catch up. No one does.

The woman is a high schooler in black, probably about 5’10” and all of 130 lbs. She is floating and I know there’s no chance I’ll catch her. I hit the first mile split in 6:37. We turn north. And. Cue the wind. Mile two is way windy. My pace drops to 6:56 for that one. Ugh. But I know the course is sort of in the shape of a bent spoon (or helium balloon on its last legs, if you prefer; or crushed lollipop…), so we should be turning out of the wind eventually and getting it on our sides again.

But that second mile has killed me and at the 2.5 mile mark I start thinking how nice it would be just slow down a bit, or even walk. Or stop and sit down. There’s an idea. But I have to keep going. I’m a little mad at myself because I know I mentally gave up to some extent when I realized in mile 2, as I watched my average speed eroding, that I wouldn’t break 21:00 today. I’m at 7:00 pace at 2.5 miles. This is unacceptable. I snap myself out of it and run the next half mile about 10 seconds faster. Then I see people turning into the parking lot at 3 miles and gun it for the last tenth for a finishing time of 21:12.

So I’m a bit disappointed, but I ran as well as I could today. Since this was a nearly flat course (total up/down elevation was around 150 ft) I now have a 5K pace to use as a baseline for training and for coming up with a reasonable (ha ha) pacing plan for next Sunday’s half marathon on Long Island. I suspect my legs were still tired from Wednesday’s speed workout, since I had leg soreness in the middle of the night. I knew I should have gone with my instinct on Wednesday to do 4 x 800 rather an 5 x 800. Live and learn.

Today's haul. The graphic is a wizard hat ("Washingtonville Wizards").

This week’s haul included a lovely plastic trophy (and bonus non-haltingly correct pronunciation of my last name) and an AG medal. Jonathan came in (I think) sixth with 17:35 while also smashing the 50-54 course record by about a minute. He was, as previously stated, beaten by Mullet Man (who turned out to be in his 30s). We hung around, eating free bananas and watching the kids’ races, waiting for the awards ceremony, which could only happen after they raffled off 4,000 gift certificates from local establishments. These little races are a hoot. They always remind me of political protests — everyone and everything is given equal importance and tedium is never an obstacle in either planning or execution.

More fun stupid stuff…

The drive to Washingtonville, about an hour from our place in Yonkers, is very pretty if you get off of 87 and instead take the Palisades Parkway. On the way, you go past an exit for Letchworth Village (a sign that always makes us giggle). We made up a town to go with it: Lushton.

On the way back we noticed a Mercedes with a vanity license: 4MYBOGIE. What does it mean? That led to a half hour session of FBI style profiling the type of person who gets a vanity license plate. Highly critical profiling, naturally. This sort of thing is why I can go on long car trips with Jonathan; there’s no pressure to talk, and when we do talk, it’s usually at least entertaining, if not always deep.

For the hell of it, here’s a picture of our cat, looking more cute and less pissed off than usual. She was in bed when we left at 8:00 am this morning. I predicted she would still be in bed when we arrived home at 1:00 pm. I was right.

*Whoops. Wrong movie. I’m not surprised I got them mixed up as they are both insufferable movies about annoying Southern women that came out around the same time. Steel Magnolias was so awful that I finally decided it must be a satire of something. I only made it through an hour of it before returning the DVD. I don’t think I made it much farther through Fried Green Tomatoes.

Dear Crazy Costco Bitch: The Movie

Beautiful little movie

This is the best thing you’ll see today, I promise.

Watch it.

Winter Basebuilding: Week 7


Recovery, reshmovery. This was a tough week!

Well, okay, it really wasn’t. My perspective is skewed because today’s run was a hard effort. A very hard effort, done a couple of days after another hard effort — which I did late in the day, so had only about 36 hours between hard efforts rather than the usual 48.

The “recovery” days were also made harder by running snow. Didn’t I say very recently that I wasn’t going to run in snow again? Well, forget I said that. Because I ran in snow again. Twice. My excuse? Besides the fact that treadmill time is the slowest unit of time in the known universe, I don’t feel good about missing my strides. So I went out and did them on a snowy track.

I felt very “Rocky IV” this week, running in the snow. All I lacked was a supporting beam strapped to my shoulders and a kindly old man with a tipped over oxen cart in need of righting by some strong young thing with a curled lip and a Brooklyn accent.

Tuesday’s easy run with 10 minutes of 5K effort tacked on was actually sort of fun, owing to the fact that I felt pretty rested, having taken Monday off. Although I ran the first half of this out and back into a headwind, so I was pretty worn down by the time it came to doing the fast miles.

Wednesday and Thursday were the aforementioned snow runs. Friday was a bit of a bastard; half an hour is a long time to run at 10K effort. It’s practically a 10K race (well, okay, I exaggerate). I wasn’t thrilled with the paces, but I was tired and going by heart rate. 6:59-7:05 gave me 88-91% MHR. I didn’t want to completely kill myself on this run since I knew what was coming up on Sunday.

Which brings us to today, which called for a 16 miler with 75 minutes at marathon effort. In my case, that’s close to 10 miles on the nose at a 7:20-7:34 pace. I played with the treadmill speed to give my leg muscles some variety, and really only did the lower range for a few miles. What’s interesting is that I didn’t find this too difficult to do until the final 10 minutes, when fatigue set in and my heart rate crept up fairly quickly to 87% over the last mile.

The whole run took 2:10 — during which I watched one of my favorite flicks, Mulholland Drive, on our new treadmill room television. This movie is David Lynch’s masterpiece — the movie I like to think that he spent his entire career on a trajectory toward.* Every time I watch that movie, I spot something new (easier to do on a 26″ screen than on a 12″ inch screen, by the way) and ponder the disjointed story from a new perspective, developing a slightly altered theory about what it all means.

Truth be told, I probably could have run more of the miles at 7:20 pace today. But I have two 90 mile weeks coming up — followed by 19 weeks of real marathon training. There will be plenty of work to do soon enough.

Week 8, the penultimate week of basebuilding, features a 14 miler, a 10 mile easy run with a full 25 minutes (in intervals) at 5K effort, two days of longer doubles and…and…a 20 miler with the last 15 minutes at 5K-8K effort. Jeeheezus…

In case this all weren’t real enough, I just registered online for the Newport, OR marathon in late May. That’s where all this madness is leading.

*Interested Lynch fans might also read my review of INLAND EMPIRE from a couple of years back.

Fall Training: Week 8

Week one of my “build” period of basebuilding went off with a bang — and ended with a milestone: I ran just under 97 miles this week, which is the most I’ve run in a week. Ever.

There was a lot of variety this week, with no less than four quality sessions* including an experiment with a relatively unsung method for improving VO2 max (more below). I also did two harder workouts back to back on Tue/Wed, just to see how I’d feel later in the week.

I know this week’s cumulative mileage, combined with some harder workouts (and the back-to-back sessions), was enough to facilitate some adaptation because I had two incidences of the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) late in the week, back to back (surprise, surprise). This happened in the early days of hard training for my spring race, but it eventually went away, so I’m not worried about it. Unfortunately, it always seems to strike in the dead of the night, which totally disrupts my sleep cycle. It’s annoying, but I’m not annoyed enough to shift my harder runs to late in the day.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 6.1 miles recovery pace (AM); 5 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Tuesday: 11.8 miles easy pace with speed intervals on the track
  • Wednesday: 15.2 mile long run (steady pace)
  • Thursday: 6.1 miles recovery pace (AM); 6.2 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Friday: 10.1 miles easy pace with Billat surges (AM); 4 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Saturday: 6.2 miles recovery pace (AM); 6.1 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Sunday: 20 mile long run with 4 miles at marathon pace

Total mileage: 96.8 miles

Paces this week:

  • Recovery: 9:10 – 10:33
  • Intervals: 6:46 – 7:02
  • Easy: 8:02 – 8:58
  • Long: 8:32
  • Marathon pace: 7:25

Although I’m much better acclimated to the heat and humidity (and it was bad early in the week), my reaction to it seems very inconsistent. For example, on Tuesday I really struggled with doing intervals (1200m), when the temp was 75 and the humidity 85%. I’d planned to do 4-5 at 4:55-5:10 each, but ended up doing 3, dropping the workout when I had legs of lead midway through the 4th. It was quite uncomfortable running in the heat, and a brisk wind of around 10mph on the backstretch was also a factor.

The combined heat and humidity was even worse on Wednesday (same temp, but 87% humidity), yet I managed to run an 8:32 pace over 15 miles (less than 24 hours after speedwork, no less), with no water stops. I’ve always been better at long running, but I was very surprised by how easy the run was, and even pleasant at times. It was so bad out that I could actually wring sweat out of my shirt when I got home.

On Friday I did an easy run over 10 miles and threw in something I’d like to experiment with: I call them “Billat surges” (maybe other people do too, but if they do I’m not aware of it). What are Billat surges? They are a series of surges of faster running at V02 max, broken up with recoveries of equal time length at 50% of V02 max. They are based on several studies by French researcher (and 1:18 half marathoner) Veronique Billat. Information here and here.

In my case, this worked out to running for 30 seconds at around 6:20 per mile pace, followed by 30 seconds at 9:30 pace. It’s a great idea, but unfortunately my execution was lousy. I attempted to do this along Pipeline Road, a long, unsidewalked stretch of road that runs between Scarsdale and Hartsdale train stations (and the only way to get from the south to the north paved pedestrian path). It was rush hour (which means lots of crazed SUV drivers who can’t be bothered to slow down and move over 12 inches to keep from killing me) plus there was construction going on, so it was pretty chaotic.

Also, I’ve discovered that the Garmin takes just about 30 seconds to figure out what pace you’re running, so it’s very difficult to know if you’re going too slow, too fast or just right. The result was a series of 12 on/offs at anywhere from 5:55 to 6:45 pace for the “on”s. Not exactly on target. I want to incorporate these workouts into fall race training, so I’ll probably end up going to the track and doing them there, where I can put down some sort of markers for distance and just use the watch as stopwatch.

The muscle soreness appeared at 3:00AM on Friday night and then again, like clockwork, at 3:00 AM again last night. So I’ve gotten around 11 hours of sleep between those two nights. And yet, despite that, I felt pretty good this morning. Good enough to do a 20 miler inside on the treadmill with miles 16 through 19 at a pace equivalent to a 3:15 marathon (7:27ish — nothing’s exact on the treadmill).

I started this training cycle two months ago at 3:18 paces and guessed that I could move down to 3:15 at this point. Now I’m thinking I should move down further, since my heart rate for the marathon pace miles was between 81-84%. Pretty low effort. So I’ll start training (at least inside, where it’s not insanely hot) at 3:12-3:13 paces for the next few weeks as I attempt to work my way down to 3:08 training paces for October.

My, how the mind wanders while running 20 miles inside. Over the years, when trapped in a tedious environment, I’ve made up a little mental game of thinking up names for nonexistent rock bands (here are three: Girl in Trouble, Shudder To Think and Gay Baby). I thought up a good one for a band consisting of runners today: Cardiac Creep.

To further fill the three hours of tedium in my little room of torture, I listened to a newish mix of mp3s while watching parts of various movies. If you’ve never combined random music as background to popular movies, it’s time you tried. You could probably skip the next Whitney Biennial because you will hit on something approaching art, since wildly incongruous pairings of musical and cinematic artistic expression can result. Some of the odd (and, I suppose, ironic) pairings this morning included:

  • “Let The Good Times Roll” (The Cars) playing behind a scene from “Cape Fear” (the remake) in which Robert DeNiro takes a chunk out of poor Ileana Douglas‘ cheek with his bare teeth.
  • “More Human Than Human” (White Zombie) playing behind a scene of Edward Norton getting the crap beaten out of him in “Fight Club”.
  • “Highway To Hell” (AC/DC) playing behind a scene of Molly Ringwald sewing what looks like a pink potato sack prom frock in “Pretty In Pink”.

What else is there to say? I’m a strange person.

Coming up in Fall Training Week 9: I hold the pace at 97 miles, but with a little less intensity. I’ll do another attempt at the Billat surges, another set of hill repeats, and a little more marathon pace running. All capped by the first 22 miler in about four months. This is assuming my legs don’t explode in the middle of the night first.

*Probably too many. But, hey, I’m excited.

The hissing of summer swans

Okay, it was a goose. But I couldn’t resist a Joni Mitchell-related pun.

Today was my first longish run since the April 6th race. Among the sights today were:

  • Dog Runner Man: A professional dog walker who runs with his charges. He’s usually got four dogs in tow. Last time, it was mid-sized mutts and little yappy jobs. Today it was the big guns, including three of my favorite breed: German Shepherds.
  • Badass Goose Dad: I know it’s spring because the geese couples are beginning to show up with their little fluffball chick children. Which means Dad Goose goes batshit if you get with 10 yards of the family. I was chased by a hissing goose a year or two back, and it’s an image seared into my brain. Today I gave them wide berth and even had to employ the “make yourself look really big” trick (arms akimbo) to psyche out the goose. One time we were in a car and a goose charged the car!
  • Mysterious Parking Lot Crowd: Every child in Crestwood was gathered in the Crestwood station parking lot this morning for some mysterious event. They all had sport uniforms on. From a distance, I thought I’d stumbled on another meeting of what Jonathan and I have referred to as The Idiots’ Club — a giant crowd of adults was gathered last weekend in the same general area, but totally blocking the entire path, milling around, not at all aware that anyone else might be using it. Today I thought the same thing: one of my favorite Claire Fisher lines from “Six Feet Under”: “News flash! Other people exist!”
  • Fast Runner Guy I Haven’t Seen Before. I saw a very fast, very fit guy running this morning. Harumph. And I thought I knew all the decent runners in the area by sight.

I’ve not taken the standard advice to do no hard running for at least 26 days after a marathon. I did a lot of recovery and “easy” (faster than recovery) running last week. This week I did a 4 mile tempo run at 7:05-7:15 per mile pace on Friday morning on the very high quality (if not totally distance accurate) Bronxville High School track (one of the many perks of living right up the road from incredibly rich people). This morning was a 14.7 miler, which I surprised myself by doing at 8:15 per mile pace, at a lowish heart rate no less. I’m not sure where all that speed is coming from, but I’ll take it.

Next weekend is my half marathon in New Jersey. If it goes well, I think I’ll make a habit of doing one a month after the marathon, since it keeps me working during recovery and provides some remedy for the post-marathon melancholy.

On the family front, the other shoe has dropped with regard to my grandmother. She’s back in hospice once again, by her own choice. I wish she’d fight on, but maybe when I reach 93, and time and illness have stolen some of my most treasured faculties, I’ll also decide to throw in the towel on life. It’s a hard, hard thing to say goodbye. But love was all around when I was out there two weeks ago, as was the black humor that seems to run in both sides of the family (which would explain why my sister and I have it in spades).

I’m still on the hook for writing her obituary. But I can’t quite bring myself to tackle that one yet.

Some random media notes:

I’ve rented a string of dreadful movies lately. Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” was a welcome break from that last night. It’s a classic hero’s journey storyline. Well-written and I’ll watch about anything Christian Bale’s in. Unfortunately, the movie should have ended about 20 minutes earlier than it did, but other than that it was a good flick.

I’m also really enjoying Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, “The Post-Birthday World“. It’s a “Sliding Doors”-type of structure, with alternate chapters portraying how the main character’s life plays out under two scenarios: one in which she kisses a man, the other in which she doesn’t. Her work can be uneven — I thought “Game Control” fell apart as a story about halfway through, losing all momentum, for example or, in the case of “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a good start ended up careening into histrionic melodrama. But she is a very skilled writer and she has a wonderful eye for absurd situations and the comedic potential presented by the tensions between siblings and their parents.

Hugs for Huckabee

Props and a big shoutout to my homies in Alameda, California rapping for Huckabee. Somebody’s gotta give that man some attention in that state.

Okay, it’s my darling (and highly enlightened) niece and nephew.

This is your brain. This is your brain on home video. Any questions?

Training week in review: 7 of 18

This week’s training theme:

If you want to get better at something, do it a lot.

Oh, my god. This training business is hard.

I ran nine times this week, covering just under 86 miles. The schedule wasn’t that different than two weeks ago, but I feel as if I’ve been run over by a truck today.

The highlights this week included a slightly longer tempo run, with a block of three miles at 7:24 – 7:30 and, a mile later in the run, another block of two miles at (surprise!) 7:18. Dang. This training business may be hard, but it seems to actually work. The next day I did a 15 miler at 8:39 avg pace (!), a 12 miler on Friday at about the same pace and…drum roll, please…this morning I did just under 20 miles, last nine “around” marathon pace (more on that in a moment).

So, yeah, I’m dog tired. But I am also very happy with the way things are going. And excited about the Manhattan Half Marathon next Sunday in Central Park, which I’m using as a replacement to the training schedule’s tempo run. My dream time for this race is 1:40. It would be a real kick to take 10 minutes off my last half marathon time. But I’m not exactly going to be rested, so I’ll be happy with anything under 1:44.

About this morning’s run — I feel good about it because it went well despite being very windy for pretty much the whole way. Steady wind of 12-15 MPH with gusts of 25 MPH or so, although it was constantly shifting direction. During a few of the more sheltered stretches, it wasn’t too bad. But along the exposed parts of the route (pretty much all along the Bronx River Parkway) it was unrelenting. Going out this morning, I decided to have a positive attitude and just do my best.

So that’s what I did. I was aiming for a pace of between 7:40 – 8:00. I made it on some miles, not on others. What’s funny is you can tell the bits in which I was battling the wind, because the pace slows way down and the heart rate shoots way up. Some of the faster miles were probably due to a tailwind (although I’d love to believe that they were due to my supremely competent legs). But the time averages out to around 8:00 per mile, so I’m happy with what I was able to do.

Here are my splits after mile 11 of the run: 8:06, 7:49, 7:49, 8:09, 8:03, 7:52, 8:12, 7:42, 7:50

Today’s run was also notable in that I tried out an alternate fueling source: Gatorade Endurance (which seems to be de rigueur on most marathon courses these days). I planted two small bottles of the “lemon” (cough cough) flavor along the course and kept a third in the car at the midway point. I have to say, the stuff tastes like window cleaner (or at least how I imagine window cleaner might taste). I am cursed with a delicate stomach but, aside from a twinge after downing 8 oz. at once, I didn’t have any problems with it. (Plus my teeth are so shiny now!) Nonetheless, I think I’m leaning toward the Hammer Gels for fueling. They’re a pain in the ass to carry, but they definitely provided a more noticeable “lift” on a couple of recent runs. And they don’t taste like industrial-strength cleaning products.

Once again, the couch is mine today. The pattern lately is that I come home after these Sunday runs, take a bath, eat something very large, have a beer and promptly pass out for at least 45 minutes. After that, I’m still in a semi-zombie state, but at least I can muster the energy to make dinner and engage in light conversation.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 6 miles recovery pace (AM), 4 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Tuesday: 11 mile tempo run with five miles at very speedy pace
  • Wednesday, 15.1 miles, long run (steady) pace
  • Thursday, 6.2 miles recovery pace (AM), 3.8 miles recover pace (PM)
  • Friday, 12.4 miles, long run (steady) pace
  • Saturday, 7.6 miles recovery pace*
  • Sunday, 19.8 miles, long run with 9 miles at or below marathon pace

Total mileage: 85.9 miles

Paces this week:

  • Tempo: 7:19 – 7:24
  • Long: 7:38 – 9:35
  • Recovery: 9:15 – 10:00

This week’s quote:

The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

— Robert Frost

Coming up in training week eight: My doubles double, bringing me to four two-a-days of recovery runs. One 15 miler and one 22 miler (longest one yet) during the week. Then the half marathon on Sunday. Also, for some culture, we head up to White Plains (I’m tempted to run there, since we run more often than drive to White Plains lately) for a one-night-only showing of Spirit of the Marathon on Thursday evening. Review to come.

* This was supposed to have been an “easy” run with strideouts. But I ran way too fast on Friday and paid the price the next day.