Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summer update

It has been quite a while since I posted anything on this blog. We are with excitement and nervous anticipation awaiting the arrival of our second child, pumpkin, due any time now. Since pumpkin decided rather selfishly to arrive on this planet sometime during the fall marathon racing season, this has scuppered any plans I might have had to do some long races this year. So although I have been running quite a bit, it has been fairly informal, without any goal in mind (my running log, should anyone be interested, can be seen here). I have been doing quite a lot of Saturday morning group runs with the Prospect Park Track Club, including last weekend running from Brooklyn to the George Washington Bridge along the Manhattan West Side bike path. I sometimes find it almost joyful to do long runs as part of a group. Running and shared pain is an unbeatable combination. I have also been running during the week in Rockefeller Park (in Westchester County). After running there for several years now, I still get lost from time to time after stumbling into parts of the park I have never encountered before.

During the very rare quiet moment at work, I do dream of leaving the corporate life behind and running bare chested in the mountains to a soundtrack of French hip hop. This is where I hope to be this time next year:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The One and Only Brooklyn Half Marathon!

One of the things the New York Road Runners Club does that I actually like a lot is the five borough half-marathon series: a half marathon race in each of New York City's five boroughs. Most years I manage to do at least three out of the five races. The most special of these five races is the Brooklyn half marathon. The Brooklyn half marathon is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, it takes place in Brooklyn, the best borough in New York City. Secondly, it starts in Prospect Park, the best park in New York City. And thirdly, it ends right by the beach in Coney Island. Finishing a race and then going to the beach on a nice warm day is a very good thing indeed. Especially when there are hot dogs and beer close by.

Despite all the great things about the Brooklyn half marathon, I really wasn't in the mood to run it this year. Following a couple of weeks of sleepless nights and a ramp up in my training, I woke up on Saturday morning with tired legs and absolutely no desire to run. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had conveniently decided to shut down all subway lines going to the start of race, just for this weekend. I arrived at Prospect Park at 6am in a bad mood, feeling like a loser and wishing I was back home in bed.

One of the interesting things I find about racing is all the wierd thoughts that go through my head before and during a race. Running a 13 mile race at hard effort at 7am on a Saturday morning is fundamentally a silly and uncomfortable thing to do. The mind rebels. Here are some of the things that went through my mind:
  • At mile 3, I decided the race was boring, and that I was going to drop out and go home.
  • At mile 5 I saw Prospect Park Track Club coach Tony Watson. I decided he would be mad with me if I dropped out of the race due to boredom, so decided to carry on.
  • At mile 6, I decided I was having a wonderful time, now that the race was starting to hurt a little.
  • At mile 7, I believed I was running such an amazing race, that maybe this would mean I could qualify for Boston in my next marathon.
  • At mile 12, I thought I had a chance of breaking my PR by a minute, so I ran so hard I almost started to vomit, and had to slow down.
Well unfortunately I didn't run quite the spectacular race I was fantasizing about, although I did achieve a PR by 1 second, finishing in 1 hour  47 minutes, 26 seconds. My previous PR was achieved eight years ago, in Central Park. I also managed to run negative splits, averaging a 7:50 pace for the last few miles. Even better, at the end of the race they had chocolate bagels. Brooklyn rocks!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Report from Bear Mountain

On Saturday I ran my first marathon of the year at Bear Mountain, about 50 miles north of New York City in the Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks. This is one of the races in the North Face Endurance Challenge series, which also includes a 50 miler and a 50K. I had originally signed up for the 50K race a few months earlier, hoping to provide some motivation for much needed, post holiday season fat-burning long runs. Alas, I was not inspired: I barely nudged over 25-30 miles a week of training for the months leading up to the race, and a short trip to Mexico City for a wedding left me with a poo infection and further lack of desire to run. The week before the race, not wanting to waste the registration fee, I downgraded to the marathon and decided to see how far I could go on what would be, at the very least, a very scenic and challenging course.

Well, I managed to finish in the race in my worst ever marathon time of 6 hours 7 minutes, more than 2 hours slower than my best ever marathon time. I think this was also one of the most enjoyable marathons I have run, and even more surprisingly, I placed 3rd out of the 13 runners in my age group. Despite being named the Endurance Challenge, I did not find the endurance aspect of the race to be the most challenging part of it. The real challenge was that the course was "very technical", which is runner speak for saying that it was very hard to actually run on the course. It was a trail race, and for most of the way, the trail was covered with rocks, fallen trees, streams, and discarded GU packets. It was necessary to be very careful where you ran, and there were parts of the race where running seemed to be completely out of the question. Furthermore, the course was quite hilly for this part of the country: I recorded over 4,000 feet of elevation gain (and 4,000 feet of elevation loss). Although the trail was very well marked with pink ribbons, I managed to get lost and run at least an extra mile. This was my fault: I had assumed that we wouldn't be doing any rock climbing, so didn't notice the pink ribbons leading up a vertical wall of granite.

I will definitely do this race again, and hopefully improve my time. So, here are a few things I learnt for the future me to read a year or two from now:

  • It is really necessary to train on the course before the race. Three days after the race, I still have sore muscles in places where I didn't know muscles existed. 
  • It is necessary to carry lots of water. Some parts of the course are fairly remote and the aid stations can be quite far apart (7 miles at one point). Since the afternoon was hot and the progress was slow, this could mean 90-120 mins between water refills.
  • I need to spend more time doing real hill training for trail runs like this. At least once or twice a week. And on a big hill - running hill repeats in Prospect Park is not enough. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Top secret revealed!

It's official! My wife Lauren is officially pregnant. We made it through the first trimester. Our second child should be beginning life on this planet sometime in October. It is a wonderful thing, and we feel very blessed.  Anyone have recommendations for double running strollers?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Celebrate Life Half Marathon Race Report

This morning I dragged the entire family (wife + child + doggy-teddy) on a long 100 mile drive north of New York City to the small town of Rock Hill in the Catskills. This was so that I could run the Celebrate Life Half Marathon, part of the King and Queen of the Mountains Challenge race series. This race series is organized by the Sullivan Striders. The Wurtsboro 30K, the second race of the series, has become one of my favourite races within close driving distance of New York City. Since we would be away for the Wurtsboro race this year, I wanted to try the half marathon instead. However I didn't want to spend most of the day away from my wife and daughter (and doggy-teddy). Spending the whole day running instead of being with family always makes me feel like a loser. So I suggested to my wife that she accompany me to the race, and afterwards we would spend some time in the Catskills and enjoy the countryside. Being the totally cool and wonderful person she is, she thought this was a good idea, so off we went.

It was hailing when we left the house just after 8am. The drive to the Catskills was notable for long delays caused by flooded roads from the previous nights storm. It was also notable for the improvised bathroom break I took while driving 80 miles an hour on the I-87. We arrived at the race 5 minutes before the start, and I quickly registered and lined up with the other runners.

The quick transition from driving to running made the first mile or two quite difficult. I settled into a comfortable pace after a couple of miles, and enjoyed the frozen lakes, snow and fir trees. The race was hilly. Not big hills, but rolling hills for most of the way. I was almost always running either uphill or downhill. However I enjoyed myself far more in this race than I ever do on the New York Road Runners five borough half marathons. The miles seemed to whizz by surprisingly quickly and unexpectedly. I slowed down a little towards the end as my legs became tired from the constant hills. I finished the race in 1 hour 51 minutes, a time I was satisfied with given the challenging course.

The organizers had arranged for postrace food catered by Outback Steakhouse. While this was far more impressive than anything I am used to, we chose instead to drive to Wurtsboro for lunch, where every restaurant seemed to be Italian (although there was also an Italian / American / Chinese restaurant). After lunch it started raining hard again, so we decided to go home. We took a circuitous route back in order to avoid the flooded roads. We didn't actually get home until after 4pm. It was a long day, and not one I would have liked to have spent alone. I am getting soft in my old age. Maybe running is not the most important thing in life after all.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lessons from Scott Jurek

Last Thursday I went to see Scott Jurek give a presentation at Jack Rabbit Sports in Manhattan. I also got to speak with him after the presentation. Scott Jurek can fairly be described as the best American ultramarathoner ever. I had to restrain myself from bowing down to the floor and chanting "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy". He won the Western States 100 mile race seven times in a row, and Badwater (135 miles in Death Valley in July) twice in row. He is also a really nice, down to earth guy. And he is a vegan. He shared with us some of his running wisdom. Here are a few of the things I learned:

1. He never runs more than 35 miles in a single training run, even for races at or over 100 miles. He does run back to back runs of 35 miles each. He runs a lot of hills. He runs 100-120 miles a week.

2. He does recovery runs really, really slowly. He described how Kenyan runners do recovery runs at a 10 minute pace, while running hard at a 5:30 pace. (This means I should be doing my recovery runs *a lot* slower.)

3. He says that long runs should be done at or near goal pace. You can't expect to hit a goal pace for an ultra if you don't train to run long at that pace.

4. He suggested we check out Jack Daniel's book "Daniels' Running Formula" for training advice.

5. He recommends speed work, such as mile repeats, even for ultras.

6. He recommends Green Magma, an organic barley grass juice extract. This seems to be the only food supplement he takes. I have been trying it out as a replacement for my first coffee in the morning. Despite the powder being a luminous green, it has not yet had any effect on my poo.

7. While Scott believes barefoot running has something to offer as part of a training program, he does think it is better to wear something on the feet (he refers to the Tarahumara not going barefoot in "Born to Run").

Many thanks to Scott for taking the time to visit us in New York, and to Jack Rabbit Sports and Brooks for making this visit possible.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NYRR Al Gordon Snowflake Run Race Report

This last Sunday I finally managed to run my first race of the year, thus breaking a three month race drought. I had actually thought the race, which takes place in Prospect Park, was scheduled for the following weekend. I was reminded otherwise by my friend Rachel a couple of days before. I had already planned to go long the weekend of the race with an 18 mile run on Sunday. Not wanting to sacrifice the long run for the race, which was a 4 miler, I decided to do both. My plan was to run to Prospect Park, do a few loops, run the race, do a few more loops, then run home.

Unfortunately I woke up the morning of the race with a very bad stomach and a strong desire to poo a lot. I did poo a lot. I pooed three times before leaving the house. I am not sure whether this was due to the Ethiopian food we had eaten the night before, or the stomach bug which I had heard was making its way around the people of New York. Either way, feeling a little whoozy, I started running to Prospect Park, hoping the whooziness would go way.

After picking up my race number, I ran a loop of the Park, then lined up at the start of the race. I ran into Frank DeLeo, ultra runner extraordinaire and fellow Prospect Park Track Club team member. I decided I would try to stay with Frank during the race. I run with Frank during the Prospect Park Track Club speed training workouts. I often start the workouts running faster than Frank, then he finishes them running faster than me. Frank is better at pacing than me.

After the horn blew, Frank went out quite fast. I had a hard time keeping up with him at first. My legs were a little tired from the 6.5 miles I had already run before the race. Then somehow either he slowed down or I got faster. I overtook him. I kept running, thinking I was making a mistake and should slow down. It is always tempting to start out races too fast, and let the more experienced runners breeze by you later in the race.

I ran the first mile, including the hilly part, at a 7:30 pace. This wasn't too bad, and I was starting to feel good and enjoy myself. I ran the second mile again at a 7:30 pace. After two miles, I started looking out for Frank. I ran the third mile, which was partly downhill, at a 7:10 pace. After three miles my stomach was feeling really bad. I started retching during the last mile. I finished the last mile at around a 7:30 pace, making a time of 29:42 for the race overall. Walking through the finishers area, I stopped to bend over and let exit some stomach contents.

After saying hello to some fellow running club members, I started to feel better and ran another loop of the Park at a very slow pace. At this point my legs started to feel tired, so I decided to run home. Overall, I ran 15 miles, including the 4 mile race. Running a race inside a long run was an interesting experience. I would definitely like to try it again sometime, maybe when I am feeling better.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prospect Park Track Club Cherry Tree 10 Miler Race Report

Today my running club, the Prospect Park Track Club, held their annual Cherry Tree 10 mile race and relay. Billed as a "race for the hardcore", it has been one of my favourite (and, truth be told, only) winter races for quite a few years now. I have a large collection of Cherry Tree race t-shirts. These are among my favourite of all race t-shirts in that I actually still wear them while running, rather than storing them in the back of the closet and forgetting about them.

The race consists of three loops of Prospect Park, one of my regular running haunts. This was to be the second year in a row that I did not run the race. I was on "running spouse" duty. Ever since our daughter Bijs made an appearance into our lives, my wife Lauren has demanded that this race is hers. Instead of running, I took on the more arduous task of pushing the stroller, singing Frere Jacques for hours and hours, and reminding our daughter that Mummy hasn't disappeared forever. Running spouse duty was quite hard. However, I did get to see all the runners as they whizzed by multiple times. It was inspiring and salutory. "I need to work harder on my running", I said to myself, as Bijs and I retired to Connecticut Muffin for hot chococate and bagels while Lauren completed her third lap of the park.

We cheered Lauren as she finished the race. She looked exhausted but very happy. Bijs and I were very proud of her. We went back to Connecticut Muffin for more bagels. I was pretty exhausted by this point, so we went home and tried to return to bed.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Why I love running, part 1

I found this beautiful quote on the forums:

"Perhaps the genius of ultra running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are."

David Blaikie

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My first ever DNF

Ever since running the JFK 50 miler at the end of November, I have been in a bit of a running slump. At first I had planned to take a complete month off from running after the race. I was inspired to do so after reading an article on Scott Jurek's blog, where he describes how he takes four to six weeks of complete rest from running at the end of every year to recharge his batteries, mentally and physically. The blog article goes on to describe how some Kenyan runners also take a long break from running at the end of every season, sometimes not running a step for two months. I decided to give it a try. It was much harder than I imagined. In fact I found not running at all to be quite a bit harder than training for an ultramarathon. I found it to be so hard that I started cheating. I started doing little three or four mile runs a couple of times a week. I needed to do this in order to maintain some mental equilibrium. My cheating got worse: I started doing six miles runs from Brooklyn over the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges to and from Manhattan. Finally I accepted that I had failed to achieve my goal of a complete break from running. I cannot live without running, even for a few weeks. This was my first ever DNF (Did Not Finish). This is why I am not Scott Jurek. I now have a lot more admiration for people who do not run. I had no idea how difficult this is.

Despite failing at not running at all, after six weeks I also found it difficult to become motivated to run a lot and resume hard training. So for a while now I have been running in "maintenance mode", just enough to stay sane, but no more. But I miss the long distance runs, and I miss running in the woods and falling flat on my face as I trip over hidden tree roots. I needed something to motivate me to start running hard again.

At last I have finally found the motivation I am looking for. Last week I signed up for the North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge. This is series of races, from 10K to 50 miles, taking place over the weekend of May 8th-9th in Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks, about 50 miles north of New York City. I registered for the 50K race. I was tempted to register for the 50 mile race, however from the description of the course on the website this sounds extremely challenging:

"The 50-Mile course has roughly 9,000 feet of elevation gain over technical, rocky trails with multiple shallow stream crossings and hiking sections." "The North Face Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain is likely as tough as any endurance trail run this area could offer," said Brian Duncanson, race ambassador and course designer.

This clip from a previous year gives some idea of the terrain:

Yesterday, after work (I work in Westchester), I drove up to Bear Mountain to get an idea of what I had signed up for. I ran up Bear Mountain, just as it was getting dark. It was everything I love about running on trails. It was very hilly, very beautiful, a little scary, and very challenging. I am not sure I will be ready to run 31 miles on this type of terrain by the beginning of May. But I am going to try. I plan to go to Bear Mountain at least once a week up until race day, to get some experience of running in this environment. One day I would like to be able to complete the full 50 mile distance, maybe next year, maybe the year after. It seems daunting. So now I have a goal. The running slump is over.