A Hallowe’en run

Sunday October 31st will mark 12 weeks since my injury occurred. I am a lot better now. No pain in the glute/hip/hamstring. I still have issues with my right adductor, but I’ve been applying Voltaren (gel) for the last couple of days and it’s clearing up nicely. This morning I could put on below-the-waist clothing items (Matt, this is for you: undergarments!) without having to sit down or lean against something for the first time in close to a month.

Tomorrow it’s going to be 50F at daybreak. Now that I have no pain, it’s so tempting to go out and try a run. But I won’t. I’ll wait until Hallowe’en and even then I won’t try it outside, much as I’d love to commemorate the holiday with a run in Sleepy Hollow. Running someplace nice is too much of a letdown if it doesn’t work out. No, the plan is to try a few laps at my gym’s indoor track — a 12 laps to the mile paperclip featuring 90 degree turns. It’s a horrible place to run anyway, so if I can’t run there, so what. I’ll try maybe half  a mile, tops. Just to see.

Then, if that works, I’ll try again — again, inside. I’m not going to run outside until I’m sure I can actually run for more than 10-15 minutes without pain or an altered stride.

I’m dreaming of doing a pain-free two mile run to just beyond Crestwood Station and back. That’s all I want now. It’s what I think about every day while I’m in that stupid pool. Just give me two miles by mid-November. I’m really not asking for so much.

Baby lurches

If a person’s fitness can be roughly measured by how quickly that person returns to normal after doing something strenuous, then I suppose that I am becoming fitter as an injured person.

There. I said it. I’m injured. After two weeks, I accept this. I still have not gone to the ortho, for a few reasons that I won’t go into here. But they are rational ones. And I’ll go shortly should I stop making progress.

Glimpses that I am slowly lurching toward recovery include:

  • The fact that I haven’t needed to take a painkiller since Saturday. Not even a Tylenol. The pain is sometimes a little annoying, but it doesn’t make me cry anymore.
  • I am walking more or less like a normal person most of the time, albeit still with some limited mobility on the right side.
  • Instead of plunging into a pain-filled oblivion after 5 minutes of walking, I can now go for about 20 before I have problems. Even then, they are not nearly as bad as they were.
  • I can sleep on my right side again. God, was that ever (literally) a pain. Previously, I’d roll over and yelp myself awake.
  • I am not sleeping like an exhausted person anymore. I was sleeping for 9-10 hours, plus sometimes needing an additional 1-2 hours of napping during the day. I think it was a combination of being exhausted from being in pain all the time, plus my body was working very hard to heal itself.
  • When I do screw myself up with too much walking, I’m not screwed up for the rest of the day and evening. I’m pretty much back to normal in about an hour. My injury is now more like LensCrafters than the Manhattan DMV.

I spent 45 minutes today getting a tour of the White Plains YMCA. I looked into some local health clubs, but quite frankly was horrified by their reputations as snake pits of high-pressure/shady sales tactics, overcrowding and filth. The Y was a pleasant surprise. It’s huge, clean, very well-appointed and not crowded. Everyone there is relaxed, friendly and helpful. It’s slightly more expensive than someplace like NY Sports Club or Bally’s, but I can see actually wanting to go to this place. Better yet, I can see Jonathan there. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a clangy, techno-beated gym full of grunting thumbheads.

The bad news is that both the White Plains YMCA and YWCA have closed their pools for cleaning between now and Labor Day. I am hoping the Mt. Vernon Y is not also on a cleaning spree, although the White Plains staff said not to get my hopes up. I’m waiting for a reply to my inquiry.

So, in that regard, the bad timing continues. But at least I know there’s a good local resource for cross-training (I wanted to find access to an elliptical anyway). If worse comes to worse, I’ll see if I can get myself well enough to use a low-impact machine and plan to plunge into pool running (get it?) after Labor Day.

I don’t like thinking that I’ll still be a mess by then. I don’t think I will be, based on the last few days’ progress. But I have to consider it as a possibility and deal with it.

The virtual world remains a source of hope, generosity and envy for me. Patience and acceptance are the watchwords from those who have been or are now injured. A stranger, through another stranger, has FedExed me a doohickey that allows me to use my MP3 player in the pool. But those warm fuzzy feelings are sometimes eclipsed by the envy that rears its head when I see the mundane posts about runs that everyone throws up on Facebook, Twitter and in BlogLand: 8 miles with 3 at race pace, 16 mile long run, 30 minute tempo run, 4x800s, a solid 10K race. These are the runs I should be doing. Reading about other people running, and running well, is killing me with envy, despite how happy I am for them.

Meanwhile, in the real world, as I drove through Scarsdale and White Plains today, I found myself trundling along streets that I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours training hard and dilligently on for the past few years. That got me feeling very depressed indeed. It wasn’t just thinking of all those runs that ultimately led me nowhere in terms of improvement. It was also remembering how pleasurable so many of them were, and realizing how much I took running for granted. I won’t do that again.

Training July 25-31

Yesterday marked the official one month anniversary of starting work with Coach Sandra. This week was a true assbuster, the first entire week that I can apply that qualification to, although there have certainly been some difficult individual workouts in the past few weeks. But the hard work was piled on this week, three really tough sessions over five days.

The hard work began on Tuesday morning, when I met up with Sandra bright and early at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track. This is a good place to train. While the track is not as fancy as the one at Bronxville High, it’s also not crowded with amblers. There were only two other runners there. Given that Sandra was standing in lane four with a stopwatch and yelling at me, they stayed out of our way.

Okay, Sandra wasn’t actually yelling at me. I just enjoy that image. She was yelling splits and, most of the time, encouragement. I won’t go into what we did, but it was really fucking hard. She even scaled back things a little when she saw that I was struggling through one of the repeats. I felt bad when she did that but she assured me that it’s the whole point of having a coach there and it’s better to be conservative than to overtrain.

To be honest, it’s nervewracking to have someone scrutinizing how you run. I don’t come from a track (or running at all) background, so this is a new experience for me. There’s a lot of pressure to run faster when someone is standing there at each lap, waiting for you. I don’t have trouble doing my workouts alone — meaning I will apply myself regardless of who’s around. But having that extra pressure was a real motivator to pick things up when I felt like shit. After next week Sandra won’t be there for most of my track work, at least through the rest of the summer. But I feel I have a better sense now of how I should adjust the intervals as I go along.

Here’s this week’s running tip: always run your recoveries in the opposite direction. This keeps you from stressing the same outer leg/hip (your right one if you do the hard stuff counterclockwise).

On Thursday I did a longish tempo run. It was absolutely horrible weatherwise: 82F with a dewpoint of 72 when I started. The average time is slow because my warmup/cooldown was practically walking, and my tempo miles were no great shakes due to the weather (around 7:30). I did this run on the northern section of the Old Croton Aqueduct trail and it was really, really lovely. I can’t wait to run there in the fall when it’s cool and colorful. Although there is a .6 mile long section of extreme up/down hill in the form of switchbacks as you head to and from the Hudson’s edge. That was murder to run up fast.

On Friday I got a massage and discovered just how nasty I’d been to my legs over the previous days. Hamstrings, quads, calves — everything was fucked up. Even my arms hurt, especially the forearms for some reason. I wished I’d gone for a 90 minute session since 60 didn’t seem like enough. But I ambled home (it’s a short walk from my house through suburban streets) and collapsed on the couch for a few hours. I felt okay this morning, more or less ready for another epic run.

This time I tried the middle section of the OCA. I didn’t like that one as much. Much of it is a narrow track of dirt cutting through grass. Some of it is rooted and rocky. And it’s broken up by streets (including one that required a full seven minute wait at a stoplight where four streets converged), which slows everything down. My legs felt the week’s earlier abuses at the 8 mile mark, but I kept at it. Fortunately, the weather was so pleasant today that it was almost not noticeable. In the low 70s and very dry. I ran the last few miles as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. Still, faster than the last few progression runs. I was happy with the effort considering that it was on top of two earlier faster sessions.

Next weekend is the NYRR team championships, so the mileage and intensity get dialed down again. After this week, I’m grateful for some down days.

Training July 18-24

The adventure continues. As does the heat wave.

This past week was typical of what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks: speedwork and lots of progression runs. I didn’t cross-train as much as I’d hoped to, but I’m working on making biking and weight work more of a priority. I also got my first massage since right after the Green Mountain Relay in June. I was informed that my hamstrings aren’t nearly as tight as they were then. But my back, shoulders and neck are still a holy mess.

Monday was really, really hot again. So I did my short progression run on the treadmill. That went pretty well, considering that I’d raced hard on Saturday. Wednesday was another really hot morning at the track — 90F with a dewpoint of 68. I had to do longer intervals, which was mentally difficult.

Then I stupidly ran an extra 5 miles, bringing the total to 11, which was supposed to have been distributed over two runs: 7 at the track and then 4 recovery in the evening. I got so used to running lots of miles around track sessions last year that it’s hard to break that habit. I won’t do that again. Coach Sandra was not pleased and thought I was just being overly enthusiastic (so unlike me) or simply non-compliant. I told her that I merely have poor reading comprehension sometimes and all was forgiven.

On Thursday, as often happens the day after some faster running, my legs felt zippy. So I ran the recovery run by feel, which turned into a slightly higher effort outing. But I knew I had the next day off from running, so I didn’t worry about it.

Saturday was, once again, very hot and humid, so I took the progression run inside again. This was a horrible run. My stomach was a mess and my right hamstring felt very stiff. I ended up puttering along at 10:45 pace for 4 miles before I was able to pick things up ever so gradually and run the last few miles at a properly fast pace. Given how shitty I felt, I was tempted to abandon the workout, but remembered that if I don’t finish a week, I need to do it all over again. I didn’t want to be held back in what is the training equivalent of Kindergarten.

Besides training, it was an eventful week. For one thing, it was my first week as a non-IBMer in 7 years. That took some getting used to. I also updated Houston Hopefuls at long last. Then I worked on my first byline piece for Running Times, a profile of one of the masters runners who has already qualified for the 2012 Marathon Trials, Tamara Karrh. Originally I’d hoped to do a piece on the growth of masters participation in that race over the years, with Karrh as personification of this trend (but not the article’s centerpiece). But getting historical Trials data on short notice proved impossible, despite how annoying I made myself (in a friendly, grateful way) to the USATF. Fortunately, Karrh turned out to be a great interviewee, worthy of a profile focused on her alone. That will hit the newsstands/web in October (November issue).

This week is more of the same: track work (with Coach and stopwatch this time), a tempo run and more progression miles. I’ve been exploring the local trails, to save my legs by running on soft dirt, but also for a change of venue. I don’t actually have to be anywhere these days. I can drive to a trail. I can stop and look at other creatures’ homes. I can wander the aisles of Costco at 2:00 in the afternoon. I don’t feel a shred of anxiety over this current state of affairs. I have not felt this relaxed in decades.

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.


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.

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.

Plans for the year

Summer and fall race planning is in full swing, with training plans to be built around it. Basically, I want to continue to run shorter races, either as full out efforts or to supplement training as either race pace runs or to substitute for speedwork.

The fall is going to be all about the half marathon. I want to reach the end of 2010 having excelled at this distance. I’ll state now that my goals are lofty: a half by year’s end in the mid-1:20s. If I can run a half marathon at 6:30 pace per mile, I will feel much better equiped to start training for a marathon again.

So the summer’s got a lot of shorter stuff, with opportunities to score some points for the New York Harriers, and run many races I haven’t done before. Then I’ve got at least three half marathons I can run, about a month apart (I don’t count the Bronx Half, since it will probably be incredibly hot; if I do that one at all, I’m betting it will be as a training run).

The goal race for the fall is Richmond, VA. Jonathan may or may not do the full, but it’s a combined race, so we’ll figure it out as we get closer. I have it in the back of my mind that if things go spectacularly well this fall I’ve always got the option of doing the full there instead of the half. I like having options. Jonathan has a grad school friend who lives in St. Mary’s, Maryland, and whom we haven’t seen since (gulp) circa 1991. So we can hit her with a visit either on the way there or back. Long drive. But I’m good at those, my record being 11 hours from here to northern Maine in one day.

I will unfortunately miss Grete’s Great Gallop (a half marathon in Central Park) in early October as I’ll be out of town. That’s one I’d like to race, not only because of the whole Norwegian themed aspect (and a chance to meet Ms. Waitz), but also because it’s a club points scorer and I should not only be in good shape by then, but also in shape to race that distance in particular. But I’ll pencil that race in for 2011.

May 31*        Ridgewood, NJ 5K 

June 8*        1500 track race, Icahn Stadium
June 12*       NYRR Mini 10K, Central Park, NY (club race)
Jun 19-20*     Green Mountain Relay, VT (approx 15M over
                 three races)

July 5         Firecracker 8K, Southampton, NY
July 10        Women's Distance Festival 5K, Rockland
                 County, NY
July 17*       NYRR Run for Central Park 4 miler Central
                 Park, NY (club race)

Aug 7*         NYRR Team Championship 5 miler (club
                 championships - double points)
Aug 15         NYRR Bronx Half Marathon

Sept 11 or     NYRR Mind, Body, Spirit 4 miler (club race)
Sept 12        South Nyack 10 miler (could go either
                 way between these two on this weekend)
Sept 26*        Jersey City Half Marathon

Oct 10 or      Westchester Half Marathon
Oct 17         Bay State Half Marathon

Nov 13*        Richmond, VA Half Marathon

Dec 5*         NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K (club race)

*The asterisks indicate that I've prioritized these.

Healthy Kidney 10K: Khannouchi’s Comeback

As promised, here’s the second report on my journalistic gatecrashing exercise. In this installment, I share what I learned from talking with Khalid Khannouchi and with his wife, Sandra Inoa, who is also his coach and agent.

I was so involved in yammering with Patrick Smyth about altitude training that I didn’t notice Khannouchi had come in. But I did sense people drifting away from our table and eventually figured out why they were flocking to the other side of the room: the comeback story had arrived. I joined them a few minutes into their session.

If you don’t follow elite running, or your exposure to it has been very recent, you probably have no idea who Khalid Khannouchi is. Khannouchi is a Moroccan-born runner (he became an American citizen in 2000) who got on the radar by winning gold for the 5000m at the World University Games in 1993. But he gradually moved up in distance over subsequent years, establishing himself as a world class marathoner in the late 1990’s.

His marathoning career began with a bang: he ran a 2:07:01 in Chicago (a race he would go on to win three more times) in 1997, which was then the world’s fastest marathon debut time. It was also (again, at the time), the fourth fastest marathon ever run. But, as it turns out, Khannouchi was just getting started. Over the next few years, he managed to lower that time in four out of his next seven marathons. His best was a 2:05:38 in London in 2002, a time that still stands as the American record.*

Then, later in 2002, Khannouchi’s fortunes turned. He began to experience problems in his left foot, which would plague him for years an cut short his training for the 2008 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials race in Central Park. Despite that, Khannouchi finished fourth, securing a spot as the team’s alternate in Beijing. After that, he ran just one more race, the Steamboat Classic in Peoria, IL, a four miler held in June, in which he would place ninth.

Surgery, followed by rehab
Khannouchi has had several surgeries on his foot and he’s hoping the most recent one, which was performed a little over a year ago, will be the one that solves his problem once and for all. When asked about the details of the surgery, he began to describe it, then leaned down and took off his shoe and sock to show rather than tell. There were his scars: one to remove a bunion and another along the top lateral instep to remove a bone spur. (Khannouchi has very attractive feet for a runner, by the way.)

Completing the rehab package are two custom made orthotics, with the left one being completely different in form and appearance from the right one. He has two sets of orthotics, one for running and one for just walking around. It took three months to arrive at the right structural formula for them. He’d get a pair, try them out, report back and then try a new pair that had been tweaked.

In the meantime, he was cross-training on a stationary bike, doing a lot of pool running and testing the waters with some jogging on the roads. He’s only been running again, after a complete post-surgery layoff from road running, for about six months.

Although he occasionally trains with his brother (I don’t know which one; he has several), Khannouchi usually trains alone, doing his track workouts at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track, trail running in Rockefeller State Park and sometimes doing a run in Central Park, where he is often recognized.

Baby steps, starting in Central Park on Saturday
What Khannouchi wanted to make perfectly clear was that the Healthy Kidney event was not meant to be a competitive race for him. He had no expectations of winning. Instead, this was a trial run to test everything out. Could he run fast and hard on pavement without pain? Could he race up and down hills? Could he push himself? These were the questions he was looking to answer on Saturday. He needed a competitive race for this experiment, and Healthy Kidney seemed like a good place to start: it’s in his backyard, he’d have competition around him and he could count on the full support of NYRR.

When asked about what other plans he had for his burgeoning comeback attempt, Khannouchi said he planned to do two more 10Ks this summer as similar, iterative tests: the Atlanta Peachtree race in July and Maine’s Beach to Beacon race in August. I went over to talk to Inoa about these races, since I figured she was the brains behind the plan. And she was. But first, she rolled her eyes and laughed when I asked about the two races. “He told you about Peachtree and Beach to Beacon?” she asked, looking a little exasperated. (As it turns out, Peachtree was already out there, but I don’t know if he was supposed to mention Beach to Beacon; a note to them post interview to inquire resulted in permission to publish their plans to go to Maine here).

Khannouchi didn’t do any 10K specific training for this race, primarily because he can’t. Because of his foot, he can’t run 200-400m track repeats, but, as he said, “You don’t need those for the marathon.” The 10K is a distance that’s long enough to reveal any lingering issues, but short enough to race frequently. I gathered that it’s also a distance that will allow Khannouchi to return to the races/courses in Georgia and Maine, where he’s done well and gotten organizational support in the past.

Two more tests, then a decision
Inoa has him running around 70 miles per week at this point. The plan is to gradually ramp up the mileage and intensity of training over the summer, using the two 10K road races to similarly test how he’s handling the load. A hard race will accomplish two things: for one, it will provide a “stress test” from which the couple can gather information about how his body is holding up to the ever increasing demands; for another, it will show whether he’s making absolute progress in terms of speed. If he’s going to compete at any distance, he needs to get faster.

Which brings me to another interesting facet of this story. Khannouchi is 38 years old. That’s not young for a male marathoner. Yet he is making a comeback in the open category, not as a masters runner. He wants to compete against everyone, not just his Age Group peers. Making a statement like that will almost certainly open him up to a wave of criticism and naysaying, which makes it all the more compelling that he’s saying it. As a side note, Khannouchi mentioned Meb Keflezighi’s comeback from what many had declared a dead career as an inspiration and galvanizing influence on his own decision to give competitive marathoning another go.

Anyway, the idea is that by the time he runs that third 10K race, he should be in or approaching full marathon training mode, meaning up to 110-120 mile weeks again. Beach to Beacon is going to be Sink or Swim, in a sense. That race should reveal his level of readiness to take on the full marathon at the competitive level he expects of himself. If he’s not ready, they’ll back off from their plans and reevaluate. If he is ready, then it’s full speed ahead.

Learning to be patient
At one point I asked Khannouchi about recovery time. I prefaced the question by saying that, since I’m a few years older than he is, I felt I could ask him this: “As you’ve gotten into your late thirties, do you find you need more recovery time? What about entire recovery weeks?”

His answer was that he did need a lot more recovery time and that it was not unusual to take workouts that he used to cram into one week when he was younger and spread them out over two weeks. But he does not take entire “down weeks.” Inoa just keeps his workload at a reasonable level throughout the training cycle.

Still, now that he’s running well again, Inoa has to rein him in. As she told me, “He’s been frustrated because he wants to jump back in and run fast workouts.” She has to hold him back and remind him that the focus right now is on regaining his fitness while avoiding injury. That means being patient.

Race day success
I spotted Khannouchi well behind the lead pack at mile 1.5 of the race, but holding up well. He was running fast and looked good. There was no sign of pain on his face, hitches in his stride or any other indicators of something being amiss. For a non-competitive effort, he still placed in a respectable 21st place, a little under three minutes off his best for the distance. He looked genuinely happy when he crossed the finish line.

I caught up with him after the race in the media area, where he was getting a massage. We chatted for a few minutes about how the race went. Here’s a transcript of our exchange:

Me: You looked really good at mile 1.5. You looked smooth and relaxed.

KK: I felt good throughout the race.

Me: So how was it?

KK: It was hard. First race in three years. I mean, it’s not going to come easy, but we felt like it was a good effort and it was very exciting to be out there. I feel like I pushed hard and, 30:30 or so — for a first race in three years, that’s a good time. Well, something promising. Not a good time, but something that we can build on.

Me: So you feel it was successful in terms of what you wanted to achieve?

KK: Just by being here it was a success. Like I said [yesterday], we talk about the fear of having injury in my mind. Just by being here it feels like I’m motivated to start all over again. It’s not going to be easy, right? We know that. So at least it was a start, and it was good.

Me: So no twinges?

KK: No, I’m going for a cooldown now, and [pointing to left foot] it feels good.

Me: I was talking with Sandra yesterday about how, if you don’t race for awhile, you can sort of forget how to race, how to pace yourself. Did you feel any of that today?

KK: Yeah, sure. Not only that, but you lose the rhythm, you lose the impact with the ground, you lose a lot of things that we have to work on. We need to improve everything little by little. It’s not going to come in a day or in a race or two. But it’s going to take patience and it’s going to take hard work and it’s going to take also, you know…the people around you have to be people that can motivate you, people that, in a bad time, will come to you and support you. I think all that stuff has to be together in order for us to make a comeback or do better or improve.

Me: And how was the crowd support? Did people recognize you and cheer you on?

KK: There was big support. I was very impressed. I always come down and do my running here when I have to get therapy in the city and people do recognize me. But there was more [of a] crowd today and there was more support. I was thrilled to run in front of them. It wasn’t what I usually run. It was, you know, more than two minutes off my personal best.

Me: Can I check in with you after Peachtree?

KK: Yes, of course! We’ll update you with what’s going on. I’m hoping it will be good news.

Me: Based on today, I think it will be.

*When I asked him which American marathoner he thought had a chance of breaking his record, he diplomatically demurred and went off on a tangent about things needing to go perfectly on race day. The guy certainly knows how to give an interview without getting himself into hot water.

Race Report: Scarsdale 15K

Who will survive the coming zombie invasion?

I’ll tell you who: masters runners.

The finish of the Scarsdale 15K today was a testament to two things: the value of running small local races if your goal is load up on cheap hardware from China; the dedication of racers who are on the wrong side of 40.

The top 10 finishers included the entire 50+ masters men’s team (positions 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8). The winner (Jonathan) is 53. The female winner (Emmy Stocker, who regularly beats me) is 51. Emmy’s racing pal, Frank Colella, also placed in the top 10, at age 47. He was second in his AG, which means another 40+ guy (I don’t know who) was also in the top 10. So, uh, let’s see…that means that at least 8 of the top 10 finishers today were well over 40 years of age.

Yes, it’s the youngsters who will make delicious, easily attainable zombie food while the rest of us dash off to the local gun shops and gardening centers to prepare.

Before the race I spotted Emmy and knew she’d beat me. Because she always does! I didn’t recognize any other women. This wasn’t a big race for me, meaning I wasn’t going in with any particular goals or concern for how I’d do relative to other people. I had a rough goal of wanting to at least break 1:09. I’d end up with a 1:09:37. While I wasn’t thrilled with that time, I was happy to place 2nd female and 16th overall.

The Scarsdale course is really tough. It trends toward uphill, most of it gradual, but there are a few short, steep ones thrown in. I ran the first 4 miles slightly too fast: between 7:00 and 7:10. I probably should have run 7:15 instead. My pace started to fall off after mile 5 and I’d end up with an average 7:22 pace. But given the course and the headwind in the last two miles, I’m pretty happy with that. I didn’t hit the tangents as well this time around, but that was primarily because the roads weren’t closed to traffic and I didn’t think weaving back and forth constantly was a good idea. My total distance was 9.44.

My effort was quite high, averaging 93%. It was a bit warm too, so I’m sure that pushed the HR up a bit. But I was able to run the last quarter (through a parking lot and about 300m of a track) at 6:17 (97%). So I’ve got something resembling a kick, at least when I’m finishing up on a flat section.

Emmy came in around 1:08, so the margin wasn’t that wide. I was in 6th place (F) for the first few miles, then managed to pass three women in pretty quick succession midway through the race. So I ran most of it figuring I’d get 3rd, since I’d seen Emmy and another woman ahead during the first mile or two. But apparently Emmy’s companion dropped out at some point, so I was surprised to get 2nd.

Jonathan won in 55:30, beating a youngster by about a minute. I saw him at the out and back toward the end of the race, when he had a little over a mile to go, running behind the lead vehicle and no one with him. That was a little thrill for both of us and he managed something approximating a smile when we passed each other.

Jonathan had teamed up with four other 50+ guys, including Joe, for the team competition. Apparently, decades ago, this race was larger and much more competitive. Team competition meant something. This year, they were told that they could just pick the fastest guys at the end of the race to define their team. What? But they entered their names beforehand and ended up taking half of the top 10 spots anyway.

I haven’t run this race since 2006, when I was at the very start of my racing “career” (cough cough). My time then was 1:25:something. I remember seeing the little, crappy silver-plated bowls AG winners got and feeling envious. Now I have my peanut bowl.

Suitable for serving nuts, olives or beer.

To be honest, I was nervous about racing 9+ miles. I’ve been racing distances half that length or shorter, for the most part. I did go out too fast and I need to not make that a habit. But I feel good about my endurance, and a lot more confident heading into the Long Island Half in three weeks than I would have had I not raced this one all out today.

I’ve saved the best for last. After I picked up my AG award, a woman came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you beat [name withheld]. She’s the biggest snob in Scarsdale!”

I didn’t press for details. Meaning I’m not sure if this person is the biggest running snob or the biggest snob overall. If it’s the latter, that’s quite an accomplishment, although the former is not too shabby either. Now I’m wondering what exactly you have to do to inspire such schadenfreude among your neighbors.

From Serial Mom, John Waters’ study of a June Cleaveresque serial killer on the loose in leafy suburbia:
Sloppy: Will you believe that god damn litter bugger?
Beverly: I have told her and told her. It takes ninety to a hundred years for a tin can to decompose, and she still won’t recycle.
Gus: Cost the tax payers millions of dollars last year. But she don’t care nothing about the national budget!
Beverly: I hate Mrs. Ackerman.
Gus: I hate her too.
Sloppy: I hate her guts. You know, somebody ought to kill her.
Gus: Yeah, give her a happy face, and then recycle her.
Beverly: For the sake of this planet, someone just might.

Also, Scarsdale High School has a picture gallery of distinguished alumni/alumnae, which I took the time to review since the awards ceremony took forever to start. Luminaries include: Richard Holbrooke, Tovah Feldshuh, Linda McCartney and an NPR contingent: Mara Liasson and Nina Totenberg.