Friday, March 30, 2012

DC Road Trip!

This morning I'm heading to DC for a brief visit. The main reason I'm going (as you may have guessed if you've looked at the right hand column on my blog) is for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. I'm not planning on racing this one since Boston is just two weeks away, but my office was able to hook me up with a bib for this otherwise lottery-only race.

Those that read the blog regularly know I went to undergrad in DC. In fact, DC is where I really got into running. First as a way to keep in shape, and later as a way of life. During my senior spring, back in 2008, I actually ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. I had done the Marine Corps Marathon in 2007 so the Cherry Blossom was only my second "big" race. I shocked myself by finishing in 1:08:41, a 6:53 pace. At the time I was lucky on my daily runs to do much under 8:00.

Like I said, I'm not looking to race tomorrow (in fact, I will be disappointed with myself if I do!), just run to enjoy myself, but it will be interesting revisiting this course 4 years later. I've been back to DC dozens of times in between to visit friends (and even run a few races) but his will feel like a running homecoming. With any luck, I'll also get to enjoy the cherry blossoms along the course!

Training Essentials: Flexibility

Note: As we get closer to Boston (only 17 days to go), I'm going to highlight some of the things that have been "essential" to me during training. Now, for all you literalists out there, by essential I simply mean things I wouldn't want to train without. 

This morning's run reminded me that flexibility is key to any training plan. I don't mean physical flexibility, though stretching certainly has its place; I'm talking about rolling with the punches. It's been my experience that many--though definitely not all--dedicated distance runners are a little type-a, maybe even borderline obsessive-compulsive. In fact, in the classic novel about running, Once a Runner, John L.Parker wrote that being OCD is "probably an absolute necessity for a true distance man."

This compulsive drive is part of what helps dedicated runners log miles every day, even when they feel less than 100%. It's what gets us early morning runners out of bed at the crack of dawn when all we want to do is hit the snooze button (or better still, smash the alarm clock with a hammer). In other words, being a little compulsive can be a good thing, but like nearly every aspect of life, moderation is key. In this case, that means being flexible from time to time.

I've already talked about being flexible when it comes to the weather, but there are other times when it pays to walk the line between being committed to your training and being a robot. Being too compulsive can lead to things like burnout or injury, while being too relaxed might lead to undertraining. For me this cycle, being flexible has meant moving the time of my run on certain days to respond to other commitments; it's meant taking a few days off to deal with a potential injury; and I need to know that on Patriot's Day it may mean adjusting my time goal. I'll tell you what, though, sometimes it takes an awful lot of dedication to be flexible!
Today's Run: 6.1 miles at 7:44 pace.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Barefoot Runners Revolt!

Okay, the barefoot runners didn't necessarily revolt, but they did file a class action lawsuit against Vibram, the brand that makes the FiveFingers line of footwear that is supposed to allow for a barefoot running form while protecting the soles of your feet from sharp objects and such. It's not often that my legal career and my love of running intersect, so indulge me as I delve into this "news" story. The suit, which purports to represent over 100 people, was filed last week in the Federal District Court for Massachusetts.

As I read the complaint (which you can find here), the plaintiffs are making 2 main allegations:

(1) Although Vibram's website and promotional material clearly states that it may take time for users to adjust their form and therefor they should transition slowly to the use of FiveFingers, some people will never adjust their form and Vibram has failed to publicize this fact. Basically, this is a failure to warn claim.

(2) Vibram made claims about the health benefits of its FiveFingers as compared to traditional running shoes but the claims are unsupported by scientific studies. This is a pretty standard false advertising claim.

So what do the plaintiffs want from Vibram? First, they want the company to stop making health claims about FiveFingers. Second, they want Vibram to "disgorge," or return, the profits it made off the consumers that it supposedly duped.

I'm a little rusty on false advertising law and I certainly haven't gone over this complaint with a fine tooth comb, but it seems like the case will come down to the quality of the studies that Vibram relied on in touting the benefits of its shoes and barefooting running in general.

I've never really bought the whole barefoot running hype. I read Born to Run and actually really enjoyed it, but it didn't make me want to abandon my shoes. That said, if I were set on going "barefoot" on my runs in the urban jungle, I would definitely want at least something between my feet and city streets. It'll be really interesting to see how this case proceeds given the still enormous popularity of FiveFingers (I saw at least four people in them on my run this morning). So far this story hasn't really hit the mainstream media, but if this case gets past summary judgment, I'm sure it'll make headlines sooner or later.
Today's Run: 6.5 miles at 7:49 pace.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Running as a Mental Sport

This is hardly an original thought, but running is definitely a mental sport. I was reminded of this fact in a big way today during my medium long run. Yesterday I got in a speed session, 8x800 at just under 5k pace and last night I hit the gym for some strength training and stretching. Add yesterday's activities together and what do you get? Sore legs!

A lot of times the mental struggle begins when my alarm clock goes off. Do I really want to get up now? Couldn't I just do my run later this afternoon? Or take an extra rest day? Didn't I feel a tickle in my throat last night or something? Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with any of that today--I woke up feeling good to go. When I got out the door, though, and started running, it was a different story. Not only did my legs feel tired and heavy, but I had a 10mph headwind the whole route. That meant the challenge today was finding the mental drive to finish the run, to ignore my tired legs, and to resist the temptation to hop on the subway every time I passed a station.

Let me be clear, it's important to recognize the difference between discomfort and actually pain. Running through discomfort is a good thing. You practice using you mind to conquer your body and this is the kind of practice that lead you to push the pace harder in a race or to cover new distances. Running through serious pain is not a good thing--it's a stupid thing. You can end up injuring yourself (like I did with my Achilles a couple of weeks ago) and damaging your future performance potential. Alright, now that I've got that disclaimer out there, let's talk about how the whole mental thing works.

Today I kept thinking about a bigger goal. In this case, that goal is Boston. I know who tired I will feel in the final miles of the marathon. I kept telling myself today, no matter how tired your legs feel, they will feel more tired on April 16 and stopping will not be an option then. I also thought about my reward for this morning's run. When I run to work (as I did today), I buy a giant from the cafeteria for breakfast. I kept telling myself, you have to earn that delicious muffin.

There are plenty of other mental strategies you can use--during the marathon I have a special phrase or mantra (harder, better, faster, stronger--thank you Daft Punk!) that I save for the final miles. Even though I don't listen to music on most runs, if I'm doing a long run by myself, sometimes I'll break out my iPod for the final 2 to 3 miles. The extra energy I get from the music sort of simulates the extra energy I get in most races as I approach the finish line crowds.

What's the point of all this rambling nonsense? It's just as important to practice these various mental strategies during your training as it is to put in the physical effort. Knowing how to use these mental strategies on race day can really give you a boost. Let's just hope I can practice what I preach on April 16!
Today's Run: 13.3 miles at 7:50 pace.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Recovery Run?

The day after a long run I usually like to do a recovery run. I know many people take a rest day after a long run, but for me, getting a recovery run done the day after feels better. With this in mind I decided to meet up with Dashing Whippets folks for my run yesterday. On Sundays the group meets at Grand Army Plaza. It's a bit of a trek, but it's always nice to run with other people and to get a change of scenery.

There were two groups yesterday--the group doing a recovery run of about 3 miles at a 9 minute pace, and the group doing a long run at around 7:30 pace. Three miles sounded too short and 9 minute pace sounded too slow so naturally I went with the long run group. Initially the run felt tough but doable. I asked one of the guys with a Garmin for our pace and he said 6:50! We slowed it down later but I felt pretty good for being able to keep up the day after my Boston 21.

The run yesterday followed part of the new Brooklyn Half course before heading down to the Brooklyn Heights waterfront. I stuck with the group until we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. With 10 miles under my belt I called it a day and hopped on the subway back uptown (convenient because the ride to Harlem is much shorter from Chambers St than from Grand Army Plaza!).

It may not have been the best call for me to have pushed the pace yesterday but it did give me a nice confidence boost. If I could maintain a good clip on tired legs for 10 miles, hopefully marathon pace on race day shouldn't be so bad--at least not until Newton.
Yesterday's Run:
10.1 miles at 7:26 pace. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Field Notes: To Boston and Back

I can't even begin to say how much fun I had in Boston this weekend on my mini-field trip. I treated my excursion not only as a training session but also as a 24hr vacation: I watched two movies (one going--The Godfather Part I--and one coming back--Wall Street), finished reading Atonement, leisurely read the Saturday Globe, had a delicious dinner out, and had a great brunch. All that and I did my 21 mile run.

On Saturday morning I woke up early to catch the commuter rail out of Back Bay station. They could have called this train the Marathon Limited because it was filled with runners. I was on the Framingham/Worcester line which runs along a significant portion of the marathon course (great for spectators without cars) so people got off at different points along the way. Looking out the window I could see packs of runners heading back into Boston. 

I got off the train at Framingham, which is a little after mile 6 on the course. The train depot (see right) is one of the 116 year-old route's landmarks. I crossed over the tracks and took off due east. Even though I've run the marathon two times before yesterday's run felt new. Without the thousands of runners and spectators I could actually see everything I was passing. I also had more time to take it all in. At the same time, in my head I tried putting the run into race context. For example, by the time you get to Framingham on race day the course have pretty much leveled out after a nearly 300-foot descent in the first four miles. Your legs should still feel fresh and you should have plenty of energy, but you have already take a beating. 

As I continued on I began passing many of the runners I had seen from the train. Most of the large groups were folks running for local charities like the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I was really impressed to see how many volunteers they had out staffing water stops along the way.

I found myself much more aware of the rolling hills than I have been on race day. Even the level parts of the course aren't really flat. In Wellesley I stopped at Marathon Sports and picked up a gel. It was the first gel I've had since NYC in November but I felt like I needed a boost. I didn't linger by the official marathon merchandise but I did take a quick peak at the jacket--bright orange! Not my favorite but I have a feeling I will probably end up getting one at the expo anyway. There was a bakery across the street and I really wished I could have sat down and enjoyed a pastry! 

The highlight of yesterday's run was obviously Newton. Once you turn onto Comm. Ave (Commonwealth Ave) the infamous Newton Hills really begin (although they actually started earlier, back by Newton Lower Falls. Some observations: the second hill seems to be the longest and the toughest; there is WAY MORE downhill than I remember from race day; Heartbreak Hill is much shorter than I remember. For those who haven't run the course or the race before, none of the hills is that bad when viewed in isolation. It's the fact that they're piled one on top of the other from miles 16 to 20. Now I said the hills were a highlight yesterday. Why? Because there were tons of people along this section. Not only were the charity teams out, but Saucony and New Balance had aid stations too. I scored some water and energy bars (which I stuffed in a pocket for post-run). The only bummer was at mile 21. There was a "finish" sign for all the folks who had started their runs at Hopkinton but I had to keep going.

The final miles weren't bad--they're mainly flat--but there were far fewer runners on the course. I crossed the finish line--it's painted on Boylston year round, though since it hasn't been touched up yet it looked pretty roughed up. The next time I see it it'll be freshly painted and I'll be the one looking roughed up.
Today's (Sat.) Run:
21 miles at 7:33 pace.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Breaking News: Brooklyn Half Announced

For those of you familiar with the New York running scene, you know that the last couple of months have seen increasing speculation, frustration, and desperation surrounding NYRR's Brooklyn Half-Marathon. For those who don't live in the NYC area or those living under a rock not familiar with the Brooklyn Half or the hullabaloo surrounding it, here's a little background:

NYRR (traditionally) does a half-marathon in each of the 5 boroughs as part of their, you guessed it, 5 Borough Half-Marathon Grand Prix. Manhattan happens in January and never generates much excitement because it's just two frigid laps of Central Park. Queens was cancelled this year (or more accurately, demoted to 10k status) and the Bronx and Staten Island races are a long ways off.

Brooklyn has been by far the most popular of the races, at least as long as I've been in the city. I admit to changing travel plans to fit the race in my schedule. Usually, like other NYRR races, details are announced well in advance and registration opens up several months before. This time around, however, NYRR announced the date back at the beginning of the year but kept all the other details shrouded in mystery, hence the aforementioned wild speculation. It even spawned a tongue-in-cheek website for those who've been pulling their hair out waiting for more info: Is the Brooklyn Half On-Sale?

Well, last night, while I slept, NYRR finally announced that the race will go on sale Monday at noon. They also announced the course which has some changes from previous years in order to accommodate the new 15,000 runner cap (last year the race had just under 6,000 finishers). The other bit of news is the new price. For Road Runners members the price is $45, up from $25 last year and $18 the year before. I still think that's a pretty reasonable price for a half, especially considering the member price for the NYC Half last weekend was a whopping $113. 

I have a feeling people are going to go crazy on Monday but hopefully after everyone has registered folks can calm down and return to running as usual, at least until May 19. Oh, and hopefully I can sign up too!

A Friday Field Trip: Boston

Today after work I'll be heading to Penn Station for a little field trip to Boston. A few weeks ago I heard that one of the local running clubs had planned a weekend trip to Boston to do their long run on the marathon course. This little factoid set the wheels in my head turning. You mean, you can go to Boston on a normal weekend? The trains run year round? Not just for Patriot's Day? I was as shocked as you undoubtedly are.

Since I booked far enough in advance, I was able to get a "cheap" ticket for the train which is so much more relaxing than the bus. I'll be arriving this evening and staying with the cousin of a runner friend (I just love the way I always meet new people through running!). Tomorrow, I will wake up early, take the commuter rail out of the city and run back into town. Then it'll be time to shower, repack, and head back to New York.

Wish me and my Achilles luck!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Miracle Cure - Rest

Like many type A people runners, I don't like taking rest days but after my Achilles tendon started bothering me over the weekend I realized that rest was my only option if I want to make it to the starting line in Boston. Well, loyal readers (hi Mom!), I am happy to report that rest seems to be working.

I've been icing my tendon twice day, taking ibuprofen (though I'm weaning myself off of that that since I started taking it 5 days ago) and taping the tendon using KT Tape (jury's still out on this one, I'll report back when the verdict is in). After an easy test run yesterday morning there was no pain. I can't tell you how ecstatic I was to be able to run 5 miles and feel, well, nothing!

Today I decided to give a long run a try with a run to work. If I run the most direct route it's 9.1 miles but there are plenty of subway stops near my run. I told myself if I felt any pain during the run I would immediately stop and head to the nearest train. Thankfully, there was no pain. In fact, after working a few cobwebs off (after three days of no running and one day of slow miles my legs felt a little unresponsive at first), I felt really good. I managed a few marathon pace (MP) miles midway through the run.

As I got closer to my office I decided to keep going. Since I work in the Financial District where Manhattan comes to a point, I can easily add miles to my run by continuing down and around instead of taking the first turn-off for my office so that's what I did. The result, 12 pain free miles! I could have jumped for joy but I didn't want to push my luck.

Now I'm not naive enough to think I'm completely out of the woods--whatever was wrong with my tendon is not completely healed--so I'll be playing it safe for the next couple of weeks. I may even throw in some extra rest days, but for now I'm just thankful to be able to run!
Today's Run: 12 miles at 7:30 pace. It was super foggy this morning:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Training Essentials: Hydration!

Since I'm taking a break from serious running (see yesterday's post for an explanation), I figure now is as good a time as any to talk about another training essential: hydration! This is hardly a sexy topic, but it's important (as I found out over my Christmas holiday when I wound up in bed for two days from dehydration!).

During the summer, getting water on the run is easy because there are so many water fountains along my routes but during the winter, all those fountains get turned off. That means if I want water, I have to carry it.

Back in 2007 when I was training for my first marathon purchased a water bottle and holder from Ultimate Direction. It  had a pocket that could hold a couple gels (we'll talk about those another day), keys, etc. The bottle also had a nice rubber top ("kicker valve") that you could pull out easily with your teeth. Out of all the water bottles I've had this was my favorite, not just for running, but for biking too, since you really only needed one hand to use it. Unfortunately, as I see it, it had two shortcomings:

(1) The kicker valve came unglued and I had to replace the top of the water bottle during a training cycle. Thankfully my local running store let me do this for free.

(2) I didn't like running with a pack around my waist--it made me nauseous. Now that is totally a personal thing since many folks I know swear by belts of various kinds. I just know it was more me.

For my subsequent training cycles I've gone with a different bottle, the Hydraform Thermal-Lite from Amphipod. This is a handheld bottle so there's nothing to wear around your waist. Although I'll admit it took a little getting used to, after almost two years with this things I barely notice I'm carrying it anymore. The bottle is shaped to fit your hand and it has a strap that also has a mini-storage pocket (it'll hold keys--not much else). I ended up with an "insulated" model but I'm not sure the insulation does all that much (for $4 less you can get it without the insulation).

I realize this whole entry almost sounds like an advertisement so let me say clearly that no one paid me to write any of this (wouldn't that be great if they did though? Running can get expensive!). There's also nothing essential about buying a special water bottle. I have plenty of long runs over the years where for some reason or another I end up running with a disposable water bottle and they work fine too. I just like know that I'm reusing a bottle instead of generating waste. It also helps that I had a gift certificate that I used both times I need a bottle. Anyway, this is way more than you probably wanted to know about this kind of drinking.
Today's Run (Yes, there was a run today and I didn't notice any Achilles pain though I'm not out of the woods yet):
5.3 miles at 7:55 pace.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ouch! Achilles Pain

We interrupt this regularly scheduled training schedule to bring you some Achilles pain. Last week I started feeling some pain in my Achilles tendon after a run in my new shoes. I figured it was just due to the fact that I was used to the new kicks so I sort of ignored it at first. Unfortunately, after Saturday's long run it flared up again.

I've been really lucky with injuries so far in my running career--other than a twisted ankle I've never had anything that kept me from running for more than a day or two. Part of the reason why is, I try and listen to my body. A lot of problems go away if you respond quickly enough. I'm hoping my Saturday long run didn't screw things up too badly. To be safe I've taken a few days off and have been taking ibuprofen and icing my ankle area.

Anyone who's a serious runner knows how hard it can be to take time off for any reason, but it's much better to take a few days off early on to contain a problem than it is to let the problem get of control, forcing you to take a much longer time off down the line.

I'm starting to reevaluate Boston. I still have every intention of running, but I'm prepared to take it easy if that's what my body needs. I want a good summer of training and racing and I'm not willing to sacrifice that for a few extra miles this week. With any luck, the strong base I've laid will see me through and my recovery will be speedy, but if not, I'm trying to make the mental preparations now.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What Better Way to Celebrate St Patty's Day than with a Boston Simulation?

With less than a month to go until Boston, I'm running out of long runs. Though it's hard to believe, after this weekend, I have just one more 20 miler to go! This morning my running group put together a Boston simulation 20 miler for those of use who'll be heading to Hopkinton on Patriot's Day. 

We met in Washington Heights, right by the GW Bridge, where you'll find Manhattan's biggest hills. Since most folks are running tomorrow's NYC Half, the run wasn't very well attended but that didn't matter to those of us who showed up. After a quick detour of the GW and back (why? just because) we started a quick descent to mimic Boston's initial downhill miles. 

Our simulation profile
The weather was almost perfect, sunny and in the mid-50s. We ran along Riverside Drive and into Riverside Park, making our way to the Hudson Greenway at 103rd street. Given how empty the path is during the winter, it was amazing to see so many people out running and biking! We kept the pace pretty light for the first part of the run, around 7:50, although occasionally we found ourselves going faster and had to dial it back. 

Once we got to 59th Street it was time to turn east towards Central Park and the Newton-simulating hills. At this point we began picking up the pace, weeving through the crowds at Columbus Circle and entering the packed park. Our route took us clockwise, up around the west side of the park for two laps of the Harlem Hills. At this point we were down to two runners. Unfortunately I did something to my achilles on Wednesday and it still hasn't recovered. At mile 16 I decided it was better to slow down for my ankle's sake but I still managed to finish the run with 20.9 miles. 

I'm going to take the next couple days off for the sake of my achilles but I'm feeling pretty confident for Boston. Next week I head to Boston for a "real simulation" so then we'll really see. I can't believe how fast this training cycle has flown by!
Today's Run: 20.9 at 7:39 pace.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Random Friday Post: HOYA SAXA!

I used to run by this sign almost every day so this post is running related.
I have a confession to make: I bleed Hoya Blue. If I trip during a run and skin my knee? Hoya Blue. If I cut myself shaving? Hoya Blue. Okay, so this is metaphorical Hoya Blue, but still, the point is, I love my Hoyas. I was thrilled when the Women's Cross Country team took home the NCAA championship this year since "back in the day" I had some good friends on the team, but we know what really matters at Georgetown: basketball.

After a disappointing performance in the Big East Tournament, the Hoyas take on Belmont today at 3:10 pm. I, unfortunately, will be stuck at work, but I'll be rooting for the Hoyas from my desk. It seems like everyone, even the New York Times, is predicting an upset, but I'm hoping the Hoyas can hold out and make it to the Third Round so I can watch them this weekend. Georgetown's strength seems to be it's defense whereas Belmont is known for the offense. If nothing else, it should be a good game for those who can watch.
Today's run: 10.2 miles at a 7:39 pace. 
Only 31 days until Boston!

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I read the NY Times daily but somehow I missed this awesome post from the City Room Complaint Box feature. It's from last week and the author zeros in on one of my running-related pet peeves: people who go the wrong way around the Central Park reservoir.

For those who don't run regularly in Central Park, the reservoir is ringed by a 1.58 mile dirt running path. The path is relatively narrow--wide enough for about three people to stand side-by-side--so users are restricted to running in one direction, counter clockwise. Strollers, dogs, and bikes are also prohibited. There are bright green signs every few hundred yards with instructions, arrows and pictures for the newcomers. Unfortunately, plenty of folks seem to ignore the signs.

During peak hours, especially in the evenings or on weekends, the path gets so packed that it can be tough to navigate when everyone is moving counterclockwise. Throw in a few folks who feel entitled to go clockwise and it's gets downright frustrating. Unlike the post's author, I've also seen the occasional bike, stroller, and dog on the path too. The people with bikes are usually tourists with their Bike N Roll rentals and I'm sure some of them don't speak English and/or are genuinely confused. I've have a harder time believing that everyone else is. As the Complaint Box author says:
Is it really so difficult to heed the signs? It may be possible to miss sighting one of them. It takes some effort, or sheer indifference to the world and other people around you, to miss all of them.
I've talked to other runners who sometimes [knowingly] go the wrong way around the reservoir and they don't see it as a big deal and plenty of commenters who posted on the Times website seem to think the Complaint Box author is loopy for suggesting they follow the signs (actually something of them seem to think she's a whole lot worse than loopy...). Clearly this issue isn't as black and white as I had thought! 


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Running Rewards

There are a lot of ways running is rewarding: it's great for your health (running can boost your immune system, increase lung capacity, strengthen your heart, and lower your risk of stroke or blood clots); it's an excellent stress reliever; and studies show that running can improve your mood. Now, these are all great things, but sometimes, after a run you want a tangible reward.

My weekend reward.
Two times a week, on my long run day and my midweek medium long day, I reward myself post-run with food. It's nothing big--during the week it's a homemade muffin from the cafeteria at work (and even then, I go for the healthiest option, low-fat bran with flax seeds) and on weekends it's either an everything bagel and low-fat scallion cream cheese or some other kind of baked good depending on where my run has taken me. Do I need these rewards to run? No, but they definitely help make the miles a little easier.

At this point, to some extent, I can say that running is usually it's own reward, but for new runners that may not be the case. If allowing yourself some kind of treat motivates you to get out the door, then I say go for it. The trick is to make sure that whatever your reward is doesn't outweigh the benefits of the run. If your reward is food, keep it sensible. If you're more motivated by things like new clothes or a night of debauchery (I've been known to enjoy the occasional 4:30am bender myself), try tying them to a mileage goal or something similarly long term instead of individual workouts.

Alright, it's time for me to go eat my reward.

 (Since this is a running blog, I'm going to try posting my actual runs on here from now on)
Today's Run:15.2 miles at 7:40 pace.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Training Essentials: Compression Socks

Note: As we get closer to Boston (only two weeks left of real training until the taper!!!), I'm going to highlight some of the items that have been "essential" to me during training. Now, for all you literalists out there, by essential I simply mean things I wouldn't want to train without. 

Today I'm starting with one of my favorite items--compression socks.

The main theory behind running socks--yes, like with most running trends, it's theory, not fact--is that the compression of the lower leg increases the blood flow flushing out the fatigue causing by-products from a hard workout. Some folks swear by them on race day including elites like Chris Solinsky and Paula Radcliffe, while other folks use them exclusively as a post-run recovery tool.

What do scientists think? According to a 2007 study conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa wearing compression socks during a race or workout doesn't actually improve performance. The same study, however, found that wearing compression socks after a tough workout leads to a faster lactate recovery rate. 

So when do I wear compression socks? I wear them during some harder workouts (like today's 7x800 speed session) and often on long runs. I don't know for sure whether they help, but they certainly aren't hurting my performance. I also use them as a recovery tool. Post-race or just when my legs are feeling a little sore, I'll put them on around the house for an hour or so. [Note: From personal experience, don't wear them to bed--your toes will not be happy in the morning.]

As for which ones I recommend, there are a dozen or so brands out there. I have tried and like 2XU, CW-X, and CEP. I like the sleeves better during a run (they only cover your calf so you can wear normal socks) but the full socks better post-run. Are these the holy grail of running? No. Could I train without them? Obviously, since I didn't get my first pair until marathon #4. That said, I'm hooked on them now and definitely think they're worth checking out.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Brooklyn-Based Long Run

I guess I ended up taking the weekend off of posting but don't worry, I didn't take off from running. On Saturday I picked up a new pair of shoes (I'll be posting about them soon with some kind of review) so I had to give them a test drive. What was supposed to be an easy 6 turned into an easy 10 just because I was enjoying the sunlight so much. That run also brought me to 67 miles, pretty close to my marathon mileage peak.

Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza
Yesterday was a long run day--20 miles on my schedule. The Dashing Whippets do Sunday long runs in Brooklyn so I decided to head to Kings County for a change of scenery. It was a little bit of a struggle to get out of bed with one less hour of sleep but I managed to eat my bowl of cheerios and drag my butt to the subway. The group met at Grand Army Plaza in front of Prospect Park and boy were there a lot of us, probably 25 in all. Although it was chilly when I left my house, by the time I got to the meeting place it had warmed up considerably and with plenty of sun it was the perfect day for a run.

A good group of folks were looking to do 12 to 20 miles at a 7:45 pace so I went with them. The route we ran was great, taking us through Park Slope to Red Hook then along the water passing through Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, the Navy Yard into Williamsburg. When we got to McCarren Park we turned around and did the New York City Marathon route in reverse which was fun--I realized the course has more hills than I thought.

Throughout the run we lost a person here or there as folks running shorter distances peeled off to catch the subway home. By the time we made it to Lafayette Ave in Clinton Hill we were down to 7 people and by the time we made it back to Prospect Park we were down to 5. Only two of us were looking to do a full twenty so we entered the park and did a loop. I was sore at the end, but I have to say the run went by pretty quickly. All the midweek 15 milers I've been doing seem to be paying off because yesterday I felt fresh until the final couple miles. With Boston exactly 5 weeks from today it's nice to have another quality 20 under my belt and it was even nicer to run it with such a great group of people.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Your Biggest Competitor

Last night I went to my first track workout with the Dashing Whippets, a local running club that, incidentally, after the workout, I am now sure I want to join. While usual track workouts involve intervals at set distances, last night's was a bit different; it was a benchmark workout. They do these workouts once a quarter and the whole purpose is to see where you are at in your running.

One of the things I love about running is that, for most of us mere mortals, training and racing isn't about beating everyone else. We're not running for bragging rights, we're running to see how far we can push ourselves and to see how much we can grow and improve. In other words, while running is very competitive, most of that competition is internal. That's why you always here runners talk about PRs (U.S) or PBs (everywhere else), personal records and personal bests.

Last night's workout illustrated this perfectly. The whole point of a benchmark workout is to establish a yardstick against which you can measure yourself. While you may be running with others, it's not someone else's fitness that matters, it's your own. I've been keeping a running log for ages now, but since most runs (except for races) are done at prescribed paces, it can be hard to pinpoint improvement. I'm really excited about the prospect of working with a team and watching my performance (hopefully) improve.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Misunderstood: The Recovery Run

Yesterday I ran what felt like a pretty tough 15.2 miler. Probably what made it feel so tough is the fact that my legs are still recovering from Sunday's half-marathon. Needless to say, I was happy to have a simple 5 mile recovery run on tap this morning. As far back as I can remember, "recovery runs" have been a part of my training schedule. For those non-runners out there, a recovery run is a relatively short, slow run done after a harder run (like a speed workout or a long run). Sometimes they're done the following day, sometimes they're done only a matter of hours after the hard workout.

These shoes look pretty beat up. I bet they could use a recovery run.
The old school explanation for recovery runs is something like this:
The recovery run will help you to recover faster by increasing blood flow which brings recovery aid in the form of oxygen, clearing away lactic acid, and helping you replenish your glycogen stores.
These days, most experts say that recovery runs do not help you recovery faster. According to running guru Matt Fitzgerald, lactic acid levels return to normal within an hour after even the toughest workouts and lactic acid isn't even the cause of muscle fatigue.  There also is no scientific evidence that light activity like a recovery run promotes muscle tissue repair, glycogen replenishment, or any other physiological response that actually speeds muscle recovery. 

So why bother with recovery runs?  They're not junk workouts, they actually help you work on two things: overall mileage and running on tired legs. First, speaking to mileage, or training volume, the benefit is easy to explain: within your own physical limits, the more running you do, the fitter you become, even if your workouts are relatively easy. Recovery runs also help you to work on your running economy because you do the run in a pre-fatigued state without creating enough additional stress to necessitate more recovery time.

I wish someone had explained the logic behind these runs to me in the beginning because it can be difficult forcing yourself to run slower than usual, but there you have. Recovery runs are a valuable part of any training regime, even if it's not for the reasons you may have thought.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Morning Runner's Schedule

Once upon a time I was night owl. Okay, not really, but I used to stay up past 10pm on weeknights. I've been more of a morning person than a night owl for as long as I can remember--you try working in bakery in high school and see what that does to your sleep schedule--but I would still stay awake for prime time television.

During undergrad, my schedule began to shift slowly towards the morning hours. I've always preferred running at the start of my day, but somehow I've let me day start earlier and earlier. It used to be a morning run meant waking up at 7:30am, maybe 7:00 if I wanted a longer run. Bedtime was a respectable 10pm or 10:30 in those youthful days.

Now? I might as well be called grandpa with the hours I keep. My usual bedtime is now closer to 8pm no matter what time I'm getting up (4:45 for a medium long run, 5:45 for a shorter run). Having a weeknight get-together at 8:30? Don't expect me to show up. Dinner at 7:30? Can we move it forward at least a half hour?

The thing is, I don't mind my old man bedtime. I seriously value my sleep and consider it an essential part of training, but I'm sure most non-runners (and probably plenty of after-work runners) thing I'm a few cards short of a full deck.

I'd like to say that once marathon training is over my sleep schedule will return to something that let's me watch 30 Rock when it's actually on TV, but summer's coming up: if you want to beat the heat, you have to run before the sun comes up!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Race Report: E Murray Todd Half

On Sunday I ran my second E. Murray Todd Half-Marathon (EMT) as a tune-up race for Boston. I like to include shorter races as part of marathon training whenever I can. First , the more I race, the more I get used to the pre-race jitters and, second, racing is way more fun that doing speed work by myself.

EMT is small race (about 500 people) put on by the Monmouth Co. Parks Department in Lincroft, New Jersey. I probably never would have discovered it--and certainly never would have done it--had it not been for one of my running buddies, Bettina, who lives in NJ. Last year we were both running Boston and she suggested this course and a good tune-up. I had such a good time that as soon as Bettina told me she was doing it again I knew I had to sign up.

Since this was a tune-up race I hadn't done much in the way of targeted training. That means I went into without a set goal (read: anything under 1:25 would be acceptable). The real point was just to test my fitness on a course that's closer to Boston than anything I would find in the city (see the profile below).

I got into New Jersey Saturday evening since Bettina and and her family were gracious enough to let me stay the night. We did the obligatory pasta dinner carbo-load followed by the not-so-obligatory but oh-so-delicious chocolate-crumb-cake-load. Thankfully, I was even able to get a pretty good night's sleep (not always the case the night before a race).

The next morning I had my ritual bagel peanut butter and a glass of Gatorade before we drove to the race. One of the great things about EMT is that it starts and ends at the Brookdale Community College Gym. That means you can wait inside where it's warm before the race and shower afterward. Bettina and I picked up our numbers and t-shirts and tried unsuccessfully to find our friend Kelly who was also running.

After my usual 50+ bathroom visits, we headed to the start line. Thankfully, Bettina had given me a garbage to wear while waiting since it was 39 and I was wearing only shorts, a singlet, and a new pair of arm warmers (I lost my old one's in the wash!). I also owe Bettina because she lent me her extra Garmin since I had forgotten my old-school Timex at work on Friday.

Although the race was timed using b-tags, there was no start mat so everyone would be going by gun time. I tried to get as close to the line as possible before the official said, "GO!"

Some of the runners took off like bullets as we ran out of the community college. I just picked a pace that felt like I could hold and didn't worry about who was in front of me. Mile 1 went by in 6:15.

The first mile or two go through residential areas and if it weren't for the fact that there were only a handful of folks spectating, it would have felt a lot like Boston. Mile 2 went by in 6:21.

Pretty early on I found another runner to talk to who also lives NYC. It turns out he's from Brooklyn and will also be running Boston. Although his half and full PRs were much faster than mine, we happened to be going the same pace and the conversation made for a good distraction.

My only real complaint about the race has to do with the water stops. The first one, near mile 3, was on the right side, off the road. Trash cans blocked easy access and instead of standing forward with cups, the volunteers were hunkered behind the table. Grabbing water wasn't easy and I think it slowed me down a little. Mile 3 was 6:27.

Over the next mile the course narrowed a bit (we were running on roads still partially open to traffic) and a hill slowed me down to 6:34 for the mile. I got through 5 miles in 32:03 according to the official clock.  I always try to run the tangents but unfortunately the second water stop, right by mile 6, was on the wrong side of the road just before a turn. For the next few miles, I hit the lap button at the wrong time so I don't have accurate splits.

At mile mile 6 my new found running buddy apologized but told me he had a killer playlist for the final 7 miles of the race. I told him no problem but began to inch ahead. The course was now pretty rural with fields and horse farms. At once point we passed what looked like an apple orchard.

The real hills in this race happen in miles 6 to 10. I also feel that a half marathon starts around mile 7 when you've got about 10k to go. In spit of some tough hills, I felt pretty strong during this stretch. Just before Mile 10 when you hit the last and probably toughest hill of the race, I caught up with another runner. I told him "You got this." He said, "No, I don't, but you look like your in it for the long haul." That made me feel pretty good. I had run miles 5 to 10 in 32:32 (6:30 pace) which was slower than I would have liked, but I did feel good in spite of some challenging hills.

The final 5k goes through the paved trails of Thompson Park and there is a lot more winding back and forth than the course map above indicates. At any one point you can look forward and see runners snaking one direction or another in front of you, deceptively close. These seemed like the longest miles of the course even though they were the flattest. Nevertheless, I had now settled on a goal of sub-1:25 (my permanent back-up half goal) and I knew that was going to happen if I could just stick with it. Just after mile 12 as we turned back into the community college, a spectator said to me, "Not much left." I wasn't sure if he was talking about the course or me!

I also got passed by a kid (I later found out he was 17) but I couldn't keep up. Still, I felt pretty strong and knew I would have a surge left for the final .1. Sure enough, at Mile 13 I picked it up and covered the final stretch at a 5:32 pace. I crossed the finish line in 1:24:54.

It was slower than my time at Houston (1:24:37) and my time from last year (1:24:11) but I didn't feel bad about it. Last year, I had taken a long time off following the New York Marathon and begun an 18 week Boston program at the end of December. This time around I took almost no time off, but only began doing speed work again a few weeks ago. Considering how strong I felt during this race, I'm pretty confident that I am on the right track for Boston.

It may not have been my best day, but somehow, even though I cam in 28th overall, I was third in my AG.* That means I got to take home a cool trophy (see left). Even better, Bettina shattered her old PR by almost 5 minutes, running a 1:36:27!!! That was good enough for 2nd in her AG! Even our friend Kelly, whom we finally found after the race, set a PR.

As always, every race is a learning experience. I'm really glad I did this one and now I'm pumped for my final month of serious Boston training! I think doing all my long runs on hilly terrain has paid off but now it may be time to increase the speed work, particularly the MP miles.

 *There's really no mystery here. The overall winners weren't eligible for AG awards which bumped me up a couple of slots. I'm not complaining though!

The Return of Old Man Winter!

Later this week the weatherman is calling for high temps in the 60s! With a forecast like that it's easy to forget that it's still technically winter. Well, it was easy to forget until today--this morning I woke up to a 21 degree windchill. Ugh.

As I've posted before, the whole east coast has been extremely luck this winter. With the warmest February on record here in the city, I never had to break out my insulated running tights or my heavy running tops and I think I ran with a hat once. Last winter, it seems like every run I did involved frozen toes and I probably doubled my collection of cold-weather running gear.

I can't really complain about a few isolated days of cold, but today did make me realize how much I'm looking forward to spring (and to a lesser extent, summer). I can't wait for the extra hours of sunlight and runs where I never need more than shorts and a t-shirt. Spring begins on March 20, exactly two weeks from today so here's hoping today was Old Man Winter's last hurrah as he prepares to go into hibernation for another year.

By the way, I'm still working on that race report and hope to have it finished tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Lazy Pre-Race Day

I'll have a race report for Sunday's half posted soon (today or tomorrow), but I never got a chance to post about my gloriously uneventful Saturday so I figured I would do that first.

With no long run to do, I had no reason to wake up early on Saturday so I didn't. I slept in! Until 8:30! It was awesome! It's rare that I get to have a truly lazy morning but I let myself have one this weekend. I made coffee, had a nice leisurely breakfast, and went to the gym for some serious stretching and foam-rolling. I then spent a good couple hours packing, cleaning, and watching Netflix.

It may not sound like an exciting day, but that's the point: it wasn't. I tend to be go-go-go type, but every once in a while it's nice to have a truly lazy, ordinary, only mildly-productive day. This was a good reminder of what I have to look forward to during the post-Boston recovery period. For now, though, it's time to get back on the training bandwagon, to buckle down, and concentrate on these final weeks of serious preparation.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Beer Review: Hill Farmstead's Everett

With my half-marathon coming up Sunday I'm officially in "detox" mode, but just because I'm going to have a dry weekend doesn't mean the rest of you should! For today's beer review we travel north to Greensboro Bend, Vermont. (Actually, I traveled south since I sampled this beer last Sunday while visiting the forgotten borough).

Hill Farmstead Brewery was started by Shaun Hill in April of 2010. It's definitely a micro operation (possibly even a nano) so his beer only makes it to NYC occasionally and so far as know, only ever on draft (though he does bottle some of his brews). I've been wanting to try one of Hill's beers for a while know but it was until this past Sunday I found myself at the right bar at the right time.

I had some time to kill before the next bust to the ferry so popped into Adobe Blues, a bar/restaurant with a wild west look, a TexMex menu, and an excellent beer menu. Once I saw that had a Hill Farmstead beer on tap, though, I knew what I would be ordering.

The beer is called Everett, it's a strong porter (7.5%) named after Hill's great-uncle. The bar served it to me in a 12 oz snifter glass. This was a dark beer, black like oil, with a mocha head. The beer had a great cocoa smell to it with some caramel notes too.

This was a "thick" porter--nothing watery here--with lighter carbonation (think smooth, not bubbly--if it were a wine I might say pétillant).

Now onto the taste: definitely lots of rich unsweetened chocolate here and some coffee overtones (like freshly roasted beans) too. There's some sweetness in the finish but afterwards there's a bit of char. Overall a really delicious beer.

Although I drank mine slowly and let it warm a bit, I think this beer would be out of this world if served from a cask. If you see any Hill Farmstead beers on your travels, I highly recommend giving them a try!

Random Friday Post: Crazy Cheese!

I never said this blog was only going to be about running, but if you thought that would be the case, allow me to disabuse you. I am a three dimensional person (most of the time) and there is more to me than my love of distance running (most of the time). Today, I want to talk about one of those other loves: cheese. [Note, however, that if you read all the way to the end of this post you are a brave soul I promise to tie this whole thing back into running.]

I'm not going to go into some culinary diatribe on the ways in which unpasteurized Italian blue has changed my life, or tell you that each time I indulge in St. André I feel I like I should immediately go to confession. No, I want to talk about a particularly eccentric cheesemonger here in New York.

One of my favorite grocery stores here in New York is West Side Market. Each of their three locations has prepared food (for that post-run refueling), plenty of Powerade (for that post-run rehydration), and a good beer selection (for that post-run dehydration). But only one location, the 14th St store, has "The Doctor," a rock 'n' roll cheesemonger whose real name is Peter Daniels.

What makes him such a rockin' duke of dairy? Well, it could be the classic rock he sings along to while slicing and packaging cheese. It could be the fact that he dresses more like a roadie than a counter clerk. But the real reason is the awesome labels he puts on his cheese. Check out a few great examples and that promised running tie-in after the jump.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In the Misty Morning

Today was one of those days (one of many, actually) where my run makes me think about just how luck I am to live in New York. I have a half-marathon this weekend and while it's not a goal race, I am planning on racing it. That means I've given myself a slight break on this week's mileage so today I had 9 miles on tap.

Usually, 9 miles is short enough that I'll do a run around home before heading for work, but it also happens to be exactly 9.1 from my apartment to my office--you see where this is going. I ran to work again today. The funny thing is, when I lived in DC I never ran to work, and there, given the lumbering bus I had to take, running would have been faster! Anyway, running to work is now something I'm trying to do at least once or twice a week as I've said in earlier posts.

Today's run, though, was special. Did I run a new route? No. Almost every inch I covered today I also ran on Tuesday. Did my legs feel refreshed and ready to run to the ends of the earth at whatever pace I told them to? No. Then why was this run special? Because of the mist.

You might call the mist fog and it did make me think of the almost-magic fog that shrouds New York Harbor in Mark Helprin's 1983 ode to New York, Winter's Tale. I'm sticking with mist, though, because that's what it felt like.

Parts of downtown faded into nothing and the Statue of Liberty looked like an unkowable Oceanid from Greek mythology. Okay, now I sound like I'm on something. The point is, New York City is always changing. Usually when people say this they're referring to the cycle of demolition and construction or the ebb and flow of immigrants. Today, I realized that it's much more basic than that. No two days offer the same city so you have to enjoy each one as it's presented to you.