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.