Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Changed Perspective

Marathon training has a way of changing your perspective on a lot of things. Before my first 26.2 I used to think of any run over 7 or so miles as "long." Now, when I have a weekend "long run" of 15, it seems like nothing. Similarly, I used to think waking up at 6:45 for a run was early. Now that I have to be at work earlier and I have multiple midweek MLRs*, 5am seems like a reasonable hour for running.

Today's MLR was a 12 miler (yes, they're slowing creeping up in distance). I ran south along the Hudson all the way to 46th Street, where I turned around and ran back to 72nd where I cut across Riverside Park and continued to Central Park, returning home along East Drive.

Here's a great picture of Riverside Park in the wee morning hours courtesy of Wolf in NY. Riverside Park and the Hudson River Greenway tend to be pretty empty in the early hours--I could count the total number of other runners I saw on one hand--but that's what I like about it. It's a chance for me to think, to assess my running, and to just get into the zone.

By the time I got home from my run today, I felt great. I'm ready to attack the work day and I'm really looking forward to another successful week of training.

*Medium Long Run--basically any run between 10 and 15 miles.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting lost, or the joys of trying a new route.

During the week, it's all I can do to get myself out of bed in time to squeeze in a run in my neighborhood before work. On the weekends, however, there's usually more time for runs that go further afield. Often, I'll do what I did Saturday and run to some far off point and take the train home. Once in a while, however, I'll take the subway to some new place and run there. Yesterday was one of those days.

I do a fair amount of runs in Astoria and Long Island City, but I've only ventured deeper into Queens on a handful of occasions. For a while now, the siren song of Forest Park has been calling me, so with the skies clear and the temps hovering around 40, I decided to go for it.

I got off the E at Kew Gardens - Union Turnpike and had little trouble making my way to the Forest Park. Forest Park is a nice middle ground between the well-manicured but urban feeling Central and Prospect Parks, and the wilder stretches of Van Cortlandt Park's wooded trails. It also has some pretty decent hills (which I guess you should expect when one of the surrounding neighborhoods has "hills" in its name!).

Because I didn't plan out the run too carefully before hand--the idea was to "explore"--I ended up getting turned around a couple of times. Oh well, at least I got to see more. I ended my run at the area's main commercial strip and picked up a Sicilian slice at Portofino. Nick's Pizza, which is just a couple blocks away, is supposed to serve one of the best pies in the city, but they don't sell slices so I'll just have to visit them next time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wind and sun, or an impromptu long run.

I had a 15 mile long run scheduled for this weekend. With the weather sunny and (relatively) warm, I decided yesterday was the perfect day for it. Often times I map my long runs out before hand but yesterday I opted to improvise.

I set out heading south along the East River Esplanade. There were plenty of folks out taking advantage of the weather (and the reopened path). I went over the Queensboro Bridge and circled back to Vernon Ave along the waterfront. I always enjoy running through Hunter's Point but I'm always tempted to stop for a bite to eat and a cup of coffee--one of my favorite coffee shops in the city is here (Sweetleaf).

I headed over the Pulaski Bridge (which still has the 13.1 and 13 mile marks from the marathon painted on it) into Greenpoint. I like running along the more industrial West St instead of along Franklin or Manhattan which are both busier commercial strips.

I continued on Kent along the Williamsburg waterfront eventually making it to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. If you've never been to the Navy Yard before, it's home to one of the eeriest and most fascinating set of buildings, Admiral's Row. Unfortunately, the city is going to begin demolition of these buildings tomorrow so you may be out of time.

After stopping to gaze at the soon to-be razed buildings, I continued into Vinegar Hill and made my way to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Then I continued on to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (technically it's an esplanade!). At this point I knew I had done at least 15 miles, probably more, but I didn't feel like stopping. I made my way to the Manhattan Bridge (always much less crowded than the Brooklyn Bridge) and crossed over on the northern path.

Once back in Manhattan I made my way down the Allen Street bike path to the East River Park. The city has been working on improving this park too and it's still a work in progress. I made my way to Battery Park and then turned north on Greenwich. I now had a destination--Whole Foods TriBeCa. My run took me past the work in progress at the World Trade Center site--it's truly inspiring to see up close! Finally I made it to Whole Foods, 20 miles done!

Here's the map:

After the run I met my roommate at Curly's Lunch on 14th Street. This vegan and vegetarian restaurant is a great post-run spot! I gorged on their vegetarian Philly "cheesesteak" and fries. All that greesy goodness made the run worthwhile (though it probably undid some of the run's beneficial effects.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A recovery run, or my favorite Harlem route.

Here we are at the end of another work week. After doing 30 miles in three days (which will seem like nothing once I hit 70 mpw but seems like a lot now that I've been doing 40 mpw), I was ready for a recovery run today. Given the forecast, I was prepared to do the run on the TM at the gym, but thankfully, I woke up to mist instead of rain. With temps in the mid-40s, it was downright pleasant out.

I have a route I do for recovery runs that's mostly flat. I'd say about 80% of runs involve Central Park but when you live on the north end, you can't enter the park without tackling the Harlem Hills. I didn't want to do that today so I stuck to my flatter recovery route. It takes me through Morningside Park, along St. Nicholas Park, through central Harlem and back along 5th and later along Lenox.

I love this run though because of all the stoplights I don't do it often. It's great to see Harlem in the pre-dawn hours. Each time I pick different side streets and notice new buildings. For those who haven't spent much time in Harlem, it has some of the best residential architecture in the city. With rows of preserved brownstones and dozens of churches in all manner of styles, it's a real visual treat. On days like today, I feel privileged to live in such a great neighborhood.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Running with the forecast, or why it pays to plan ahead.

Friday is supposed to be the warmest day of the week–it’s also supposed to be the wettest. I had an 11 miler schedule for tomorrow, but given the forecast, I opted to get it out of the way today.

In the winter, more so than any other time of the year, it’s important to look at the forecast several days out when planning your run. This is especially true when you’ve got long runs or speedwork on your schedule. An easy five miler in the rain? No big deal. A recovery run with temps in the teens? You’ll manage. An 18 miler with a 20 mph headwind and freezing rain? No thanks!

I tend to be pretty obsessive about the 5 day forecast. Sure, it can change, and sure I’ve toughed it out in all kinds of weather. We all know that come race day, you have no control of what Mother Nature does, but I’m a firm believer that marathon training is demanding enough to prepare you, even if you change your plans to fit the forecast.

As for today’s run? It went great! 11.1 miles total, down through Central Park and back home along the Hudson River Greenway.

An early 8, or why I love the Reservoir

Today my schedule called for an 8 miler with 10 x 100m strides (actually, the schedule called for this run yesterday, but I figured I would take advantage of the wamer temps–hello mid-40s!–for my 11).

In an ideal world, I would do strides barefoot on the grass, but in NYC in the middle of winter trying to find an open stretch of flat green space is like trying to find a nude beach in Dubai. I’ve found that the next best option is the Centeral Park Reservoir loop. It’s a dirt/gravel path with markers every 20 yds, so computing distance is easy, and it’s flat! The only downside is that for a day or two after any big rain, there are giant puddles everywhere (thankfully, it hasn’t rained since Monday).

The run itself wasn’t too eventful. My strides were pretty consistent, with the final 5 being about 1 second faster each than the first 5. The only weird thing was a pain I noticed in my right hamstring during my cool-down. Hopefully this is just one of those random aches that’ll go away after some quality time with the foam roller tonight!

Note: This entry was originally posted January 25, 2012.

Marathon Training Day #1, or how I welcomed the reopening of the East River Esplanade

In 2010, I ran my first Boston Marathon using an 18 week plan (I modified Hal Higdon’s Advanced II schedule). The following year, I used another 18 week schedule (Peter Pfitzinger’s 18/70). Were I using an 18 week schedule this time around, I would 6 weeks into marathon training by now. However, because I had he Houston Half on tap this year, I decided to concentrate on training for that during December. That means I’m trying a 12 marathon schedule for the first time. I think I’ve got a pretty good base–40 to 50 miles a week with weekend long runs of 13 to 16 miles–so I’m hoping to arrive in Hopkinton ready to go.

Officially, this marathon cycle kicked off yesterday, but Mondays are rest days in the Pfitz program (I’m using his 12/70 plan) so today was my first “real” day. The plan called for 11 miles but after Sunday’s 2+ loop of Central Park, I wanted something less repetitive. Thankfully, the East Side Esplanade has reopened in the E 70s so I ran south through Central Park, along 60th to the East River, and was able to enjoy the uninterrupted waterfront path all the way to 120th St.

It’s hard to believe it, but  path has been closed for more than a year while they put up a new pedestrian bridge at E 78th St. While I doubt I’ll be using that bridge much, it definitely is great to see the City investing in pedestrian improvements. It seems like every year waterfront access gets better. Now if they could only do something about that pesky stretch from 34th to 59th…

Note: This entry was originally posted January 24, 2012.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Frozen Fingers; or the Perils of Cheap Gloves

We’ve been spoiled in New York this winter. Until this weekend we only had snow once–back in October! There have been some cold mornings where I’ve opted for a treadmill (“TM”) run, but the majority of days, I’ve been able to run outside with no problem. In fact, it’s been so nice, I’ve only had to bust out the tights once and I didn’t even bother getting my thick gloves out of storage.

Now, enter yesterday’s snow. It wasn’t much snow as far as a normal winter is concerned, but I’ve kind of wussed out. I did yesterday’s run on the TM (mainly because I went to the opera yesterday–the Enchanted Island–and couldn’t run until 6 pm) but today I was determined to do a long run outside. Well, I’m happy to report I got in 14.6 miles in Central Park doing two figure-eight loops (where I criss-cross back and forth using the 103rd and 72nd transverse) but by the time I got back to my apartment, I could no longer feel my fingers. I guess those $2 gloves I bought at Target aren’t really designed for long cold runs… If this keeps up, I may need to invest in something a little more functional.

Now that my fingers have thawed I’ve settled in for some football, frozen cookie dough (homemade, of course), and a bottle of Three Floyd’s Arctic Panzer Wolf (a treat I brought back from Chicago).

And now…my first beer review:

Beer Name: Arctic Panzer Wolf
Brewery: Three Floyd’s (IN)
Style: Imperial IPA
My take on it: I’m a huge hophead so I tend to love big IPAs and this one is no exception. It’s citrusy and sweet on the tongue at first but there’s a nice bitter finish (think lemon rinds). You can feel the alcohol, but in a warming kind of way that I appreciate after a cold run! You won’t find this in NYC, but if you’re in the Midwest, I would definitely recommend picking up a bottle or ordering a pint.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Aramco Houston Half-Marathon

When I signed up for the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon last year I really wanted to use it as a PR race but that wasn’t in the cards this weekend. First a shout-out to my wonderful hosts, the aunt and uncle of a law school classmate of mine (who was supposed to run too but had to cancel her trip last minute), who could not have been more welcoming (the aunt also ran the race and PRd with a 1:41!!!).

I’ve been battling a cold for the past two weeks so I had B and C time goals in mind. Friday night my flight out was delayed several times so instead of getting in before 9, I got in near 11. By the time I got to sleep it was well past midnight and unfortunately my brain didn’t realize I didn’t have work the next morning because it woke me up around 5:15 am! When I did my 3 mile shakeout run later in the day my legs still felt kind of heavy—not light and fresh the way they were supposed to.

In order to get downtown on Sunday for the start we had to leave by 5 am which meant a 4:15 wake-up and another night of not enough sleep. I had my usual bagel with peanut butter (having had my ritual pancakes for breakfast and pasta for dinner the day before) and we were out the door right on time. We cruised downtown with no traffic and found a spot in a garage by 5:30. At 5:45 we left the warm car and headed over to the convention center. There weren’t any port-o-potties in sight so, after ditching my warm clothes, I headed to the corals for a pit stop. It was a little chilly, but not cold and with clear skies, the weather was absolutely perfect.

Although the half has around 11,000 people, there are only three corals, the A, B, and open corals. I thought it would be a mess but it worked surprisingly well—I managed to get almost to the front. After several running celebrities were introduced, a prayer was offered, and the anthem sung, the gun went off.
In spite of the large number of people I experience no crowding at the beginning. You run immediately over the freeway on a bridge which constitutes the biggest “hill” of the course. To your left, you can see the full marathoners who merge onto the same bridge. At mile 1, I realized I had started my watch too early and for the first time in my running history the course clocks were behind my watch! I knocked out mile 2 in a PR pace but I could feel the effort—the last time I ran a PR, the whole race felt effortless so I already had doubts.

The areas we were running through definitely had a inner-city feel, but after seeing so much suburban sprawl, it was a nice change. We were now running with the marathoners but the course remained very open. At this point my legs started to feel tired. My breathing was great but my body wasn’t giving me the speed I asked for. My pace didn’t change too much for the next couple miles, but I was having serious doubts since nothing felt right.

Just after mile 5, we turned onto what is essentially a long straightaway that lasts for 4 miles. I began asking myself if I shouldn’t just slow down and treat the day as a long run. Nevertheless, I kept going, reminding myself that I was still on track for my C goal and that my B goal was not impossible.
Because of an out-and-back spur, at mile 7 you start seeing faster half-marathoners running towards you on the other side of the street. At this point I began counting the minutes until I would may the turnaround and join them. Around mile 9, just after the turnaround another guy was running right beside me. I picked up the pace a little to match him as he increased speed and stuck with him. He told me I was doing great and I returned the compliment. He definitely kept me moving faster than I would have on my own.
Just before mile 10, the course makes a right turn onto a parkway and begins heading downtown. From this point onward, I had one goal: finish! I lost my supportive friend somewhere along the parkway but I tried to keep up my own pace. Thes were slower miles but with the downtown skyline drawing me in, I found more energy than I thought I had.

Finally, I could see the convention center which signaled the finish line. I knew I would meet my C goal with no problem but I still tried to speed up when I saw the 400 meters to go sign. I crossed the finish in 1:24:37, my slowest time since 2009, but felt great about it. I had run the race without throwing in the towel and had a great time overall enjoying the spectators, the other runners, and the city itself. I hope to return next year for a second chance at this race!