Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Unplanned Long Run

With marathon training about to start again Saturdays mean long runs. I had every expectation that I would do this morning's run in Stowe, Vermont. I was supposed to fly to Burlington last night for a visit to my Aunt and Uncle who recently relocated to the Green Mountain State. Unfortunately fate the airline had a different idea.

Long story short: I woke up this morning in Arlington, Virginia (for those readers unfamiliar with NoVa, Arlington is right next to DC). Thankfully, I used to live in DC so I know the area well. What did I do? I called my DC-area running buddy Brian.

We met this morning for and early long run to try and beat the heat (ha!). We ran along the Mt. Vernon trail from Crystal City to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria, over the bridge into Maryland (you know I love bridges) and back.

Because of the heat we took it slow but it was a great run! It definitely helped make the best of a bad situation. Now if I can only make to Vermont tonight...

P.S. Sorry about any typos--I'm posting from the airport on my phone.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Feel Good Friday Post

Imagine this: you've trained for months for a goal race. You've put in the long runs, the speedwork, and gotten yourself in great racing shape. You've cleared your schedule at work for your trip--it's a destination goal race after all--and you think you've got a serious PR coming. Kudos to you. Too bad for you, though; the race is canceled.

I've had this happen once before, with a winter marathon, and I know just how much it totally sucks. Unfortunately, this week, a bunch of folks in Buffalo are having the same crappy experience. This week organizers of the Rapid Running Buffalo Half-Marathon, which was to held tomorrow, emailed participants to say the race was being postponed until sometime in the fall. Suddenly folks who had shelled out up to $95 for the entry, booked hotel rooms, and paid for flights were SOL. At least, that's how it seemed at first.

This week a white night stepped in, a Buffalo resident named Dan Horan organized a last minute replacement even. You read that correctly--in a matter of days, a dedicated race director created a brand new event. The new event, called the 50 Yard Finish, will include a half-marathon, 5k, and kid's mile just like the earlier event was supposed to. It will also finish on the Buffalo Bills' 50 yard line, something the Rapid Running event had promised. Even better, the 50 yard finished is USTAF-sanctioned while the Rapid Running one was not. Finally, although Horan has no affiliation with the canceled event, he's letting folks that already paid run his event for free! And for runner who weren't registered for the earlier event? The new entry fee is only $50!

I'm not making any of this up (for the full article see here). I'd like to nominate Horan for "Runners' Friend of the Year." So far as I can tell, he took a dead race and not only brought it back to life, but made it better than before. In a world where so many races are become corporate money-making machines, it's great to see someone do something so selfless for the sport. The world could sure use a few more folks like Horan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This is Gong to be Repetitive - Hill Repeats

I always look forward to Tuesday nights. They mean speedwork in Central Park, usually a tempo or some other crazy long(ish) workout. Occasionally, though, we do hill repeats. Hill repeats are great because they're strength training in disguise but hill repeats also suck because, well, they're strength training in disguise.

Last night was a hill repeat night. Since my team is hosting a track meet on Saturday,* we focused on short repeats last night. The workout was 15-25 100m hill repeats--run up at around 2-mile effort, and jog down. Repeat. The jog down is the only rest during the repeats.

These short, tough repeats are great because they work your core, your hip flexors, abductors, adductors, lower back, and hamstrings. They also help you to activate your fast-twitch muscles, something a tempo run doesn't do. I'm going out of town this weekend so I'll be missing the track meet but I have my first road mile of the summer next week so I figure the short speedwork will help with that too.

I might as well enjoy these short bursts of speed now because soon it will be marathon training season with its longer intervals and heavy dose of tempo runs.

*Quick plug: if you're in town you should come out to the Whippet's track meet. It's only $10 and should be really fun! Details are here: Dashing Whippets Track Meet

Monday, June 25, 2012

Running Through the Night

This weekend I had the opportunity to help a friend on her first 100 mile race--yes you read that correctly. My friend Rebecca is about as tough as they come. She's done three 12 hour races before and had even done 76 miles in 19 hours as part of a 24 hour race. That may sound like a ton of miles (and it is!) but the difference between 100 and 76 is almost a full marathon so she was really going into uncharted territory.

Rebecca came to New York to take part in the inaugural NYUR Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition. On Friday Rebecca got into town with her mom and boyfriend (her "support crew") so we all went to carbo load with another friend (and pacer) Bobby at Spumoni Gardens. During dinner Rebecca explained the course and her strategy, all while seeming unbelievably calm. We called it an early night since the race began at 5:30am the next morning.

Photo credit: Locusart
The 100-mile course began in Times Square, ran north along the Hudson into the Bronx, east to Pelham Bay Park, south and over the the Triborough Bridge into Queens, west to Flushing Meadows, and south to Rockaway Beach where I was scheduled to meet Rebecca at the Mile 71 aid station. I got there early to make sure I wouldn't miss her which meant I got to observe several runners coming through. A lot of the runners looked really beat up and some seemed a little out of it so I was worried about what to expect from Rebecca.

When she showed up a little before midnight, however, Rebecca looked surprisingly fresh. Although she'd warned Bobby and me that she might be cranky she also seemed in good spirits--especially for someone who had been on her feet for 18+ hours! After taking some time to refuel, use the bathroom, and get the requisite hugs from her support crew, Rebecca was ready to keep moving.

Unlike shorter races, where the pacer's job is truly to keep the pace and push the runner, the pacer's job in an ultra is more about keeping the runner safe, keeping the runner awake, and making sure the runner has everything he or she needs between aid stations.

I had never gone for a run past midnight before, I had never paced an ultra before, and I had never run most of the route I had volunteered for so this was a new experience.  How to describe it? Awesome.

Rebecca was so upbeat the whole time. Pacing her and watching her cope with what must have some serious pain was inspiring. When I passed her off to the next pacer on the Coney Island Boardwalk she was still alert and positive--two things I don't think I could have been after 22+ hours of running! She was determined to finish the race before the 28 hour cut-off and she did, with almost an hour to spare.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go catch up on some ZZZs.

Friday, June 22, 2012

New Flash: Heat Makes Running Harder

Those of you living along the eastern seaboard have probably been experiencing the same heatwave that struck us this week in New York. We went from temperatures that were slightly below average for June to temperatures that are slightly above average for a pizza oven. I don't mind running in the heat so much, but doing speed work in the heat is a whole different story.

When it comes to speed work in the heat, there are several options. The first one is: don't do it. But, any of you who read about my Boston race know I refuse to let heat stop me. You could also take your run inside to the treaddreadmill (but then again, you could also put a sharp metal object in your eye--that doesn't mean it's a good idea). Another option is to do your workout in the pre-dawn hours or after sundown. This is what I did last summer, but now that I'm running with a team, I have to run when they do.

Alright, so I just laid out three ways to cope with the heat and shot each one of them down. Why? Because there's a fourth option--adjust your workout. You can still get a great workout by either slowing the pace a little, reducing the number of reps or total distance, or doing some combination of the two. If you want to know how to adjust your speed for the heat, this handy calculator lets you plug in your normal speed and what equivalent speeds are as the mercury rises.

I used the adjustment strategy in my workout last night. We were scheduled to do 6 sets of 4x200 at 5k pace. Rather than adjust the pace too much, I cut the final set (so 5 sets of 4x200) and increased the rest in between sets. That way I was still able to get in a decent workout without killing myself. And then of course, I had my secret weapon lined up, a post-run ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Going the Distance (and Measuring It)

Have you ever run a race and thought you PR'd, only to find that the course was too short? Or have you ever run a race thought you had a terrible second mile only to find out that the mile marker was misplaced? These things happen in smaller races all the time but there's one race where mistakes are not an option: the 2012 Olympic Marathon.

Photo Credit: IAAF - measuring in Osaka
Today's WSJ has a great piece on the man responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the 2012 London Olympic course, and guess what, he's a local. David Katz, a middle school teacher who serves on the International Association of Athletics Federations' technical committee, is from Port Washington, N.Y. Not only has measured previous Olympic courses, he's also responsible for verifying the New York City Marathon course each year.

One thing the article makes clear--accurately measuring a 26.2 course is a long process, as much an art as a science. The complexity of the London course doesn't make things any easier. Apparently the special course designed for the Olympics has more than 90 turns! That may make for some good spectating but it doesn't make for easy measurement.

If you want to read more about measuring Olympic marathon courses, check out this 2008 article from the Times on the 2008 Beijing course.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The 3-2-1 Workout

My team's coach is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet--he's super supportive during races and workouts. I'm also convinced he's pure evil. Okay, maybe he's not evil, but he sure comes up with some tough workouts! Last night he introduced a new one to our repertoire, the 3-2-1.

What is the 3-2-1, you ask? It's 3 miles at marathon pace, followed by 2 miles at half pace, followed by 1 mile at 10k to 15k pace. It doesn't sound so bad in theory but a couple things made it especially tough yesterday:

3) There are no breaks in this workout--you are running the full 6 miles without any rest or recovery.

2) The 2 half-marathon pace miles were done on Cat Hill (you know how much I love Cat Hill) with 800m up, followed by 800m down and then repeated.

1) As an added bonus, it was incredibly humid last night.

That final mile at 10k pace was definitely a killer, but I have to say I felt great after the workout. There's nothing like that post-speed work feel, something you have to remind yourself during the workout when you feel like quitting.

Since today is supposed to be a killer with highs in the mid-90s, I'm off for a morning run with some teammates. It may be warm and sticky now, but it's only gonna get worse. Ah, summer.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Give a Little, Get a Lot: My Portugal Day Race Report

Last weekend was the Mini 10k, a women only race. To help pump the women up, most of the men from our team got together to cheer at the 5 mile mark. We had signs, balloons, and vuvuzelas. We were loud and definitely had a great time cheering the women-folk on. Well, this week's race, the Portugal Day 5 Miler was a men's team point race (women could still sign up, but they weren't trying to earn points for the team) so the women came out to cheer us on--more on that in a minute.

I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday for my usual peanut butter and bagel and read the newspaper before heading to the subway at 6:40 so I could get to the baggage area by 7. The race was in Central Park so it was easy to get to. After a nice warm-up with teammates I made a final pit-stop and I have to say that the lines were much shorter than at a normal race--amazing what happens when most of the women aren't running...

My plan was to run seriously but not to kill myself. I had talked with a couple other guys about running somewhere in the 6:10 to 6:20 range and that sounded good for the day. After a stirring rendition of the both the Portuguese and American national anthems it was time to race.

The gun went off and I was surprised at how crowded the field was. Initially I managed to run with a couple teammates but we lost each other quickly in the mass of people. I managed a 6:12 first mile and felt surprisingly good. The best part of mile 1 was seeing one of my teammates, Elizabeth, cheering from the sidelines in a polka dot bikini!

I still felt good for my 6:14 second mile. At this point we'd gotten the bulk of the hills out of the way so I was hoping for an easier time but mile 3 just felt off. I did it in 6:24 at which point I knew I wasn't trying hard enough. Mile 4 had more downhill and I knew I had to be approaching the women's cheering station. Sure enough, a huge contingent of lady Whippets were stationed just before the mile marker. I actually heard them well before I saw them which shows how loud they were cheering. That helped make for 6:14 mile 4.

Of course, as soon as the women were out of ear shot I realized I had taxed myself with all my fist pumping at their cheer station--I felt a little dizzy. I started to slow down a little bit even though the end was so close. I concentrated on running the tangents since the field had opened up and I knew I didn't have much hope for extra speed. With the finish in sight I tried some kind of kick but couldn't do better than 6:21 for my final mile.

I ended up finishing in 31:25, or 6:17 pace. To put things in perspective, my half PR, almost two years old now, was set at a 6:18 pace and my 4 mile PR is a 6:01 pace. One thing I know I have to figure out after today's race is eating. That bagel proved too heavy. The bagel breakfast works great for halves and fulls where I'm (a) waking up with more time before the start and (b) not trying to go so fast, but it's too much before short runs.

The good news is, while it wasn't a fast race I didn't feel "sluggish." I think I've managed to shake off some of the fatigue that was affecting me post-Boston and Brooklyn. Hopefully with careful training this summer I can regain some speed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Random Friday Post: I Scream for Ice Cream!

Normally I'm not a huge ice cream person. I never buy it at the grocery store (seriously, it's been at least two years since my freezer saw a pint of Ben & Jerry's) and I rarely go out for ice cream. That doesn't mean I dislike it--I'm not a communist after all--I just don't usually crave it. Well, I found a place that may change all of that. Let's just consider this post a PSA for all of you who haven't found this the paradisaical epicenter of ice cream joy that is Ample Hills Creamery.

This A+MAZING ice cream parlor is in Prospect Heights, just blocks from Grand Army Plaza where I often begin and end my weekend long runs. There are a lot of things to love about this place: they use local ingredients; they make everything in house (right down to the peppermint patties and cookies in their ice cream); and they serve all their treats in compostable containers.  

Alright, I hear you saying, those are all things that help restore karmic balance to the universe, but we're talking ice cream here. What makes this place so special?Do they lace their ice cream with opiates?

Salted Crack Caramel
Here's my three-word answer: salted. crack. caramel. Seriously, that's one of their flavors. It's a salted butter caramel ice cream laced with "crack cookies," buttery chocolate-covered Saltines. Eating it is like finding religion: Thou shalt not worship other ice creams!

In addition to the SCC (my abbrev, not theirs), there are plenty of other awesome flavors. Ones I've tried and enjoyed? Stout and Pretzels--a Guinness-chocolate ice cream with chunks of chocolate covered pretzels stirred in. Ooey Gooey Butter Cake--a super-rich vanilla creme dripping with pieces of St. Louis Ooey Gooey Butter Cake.Oh, and their Father's Day special that I tried last week, Daddy's Sundae. It's Maker's Mark bourbon vanilla bean ice cream with homemade fudge brownie pieces and swirls of their homemade salted fudge caramel.

If you're not drooling you're either a vegan, you hate puppies, or you just finished a Vermonster and simply can't stomach the thought of more ice cream right now. I can't recommend this place highly enough! And here's how this post ties into running: with all that full fat goodness you're gonna need to log some serious miles after a visit because I guarantee you'll be ordering more than one scoop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Art of Running in the Rain

I'm originally from Seattle which means I grew up with rain the way Upper East Siders grow up with nannies. Sometimes rain sucks. On a cold fall or winter day when the temperatures hovering just above freezing, rain can chill you all the way through, making it impossible to warm up post-run. During a race it can deter your friends from coming out to cheer and it can drench your change of clothes too. However, during the summer months (as Luke Bryan likes to say), rain is a good thing.

The way I see on warm summer runs you're either going to finish soaked in sweat or soaked in rain, and frankly, I smell better in the latter. Seriously, though, running in the rain can actually be quite enjoyable as long as you follow a few simple pieces of advice:

Photo Credit: Michael Dulle
Wear wicking fabric - Cotton gets really heavy in the rain and will cling to your skin. Wicking fabric doesn't soak up as much rain and so won't feel as heavy.

Make sure your shoes have traction - Sure you might want to wear your old shoes over your shiny new ones, but make sure the treads still work. Just like tires your shoes can slip if they're totally worn down.

Socks-wear them! - Hopefully you're already wearing socks, but wet shoes can equal blisters on a longer run if you don't have appropriate socks. I recommend Wrightsock and Smartwool, my two favorite brands.

Hat/Sunglasses - If it's really pouring wearing a pair of shades or a hat can help keep the rain out of your eyes. If you're wearing sunglasses, I'm a hug fan of Oakley's hydrophobic pen that you can apply to any sunglasses to prevent rain from leaving streaks--it just beads right off.

Anyway, with all the afternoon showers we've been having lately hopefully these tips will keep you from taking your runs inside to the treaddreadmill.

Monday, June 11, 2012

In-Town Getaway: Governor's Island

Those of you who read the blog regularly know that I try to get in a lot of runs off Manhattan Island. While I love my neighborhood, Central Park, the Hudson Greenway, etc., at this point I've covered most of its 23 square miles. The Borough of Manhattan, however, is bigger than Manhattan Island--it includes Randall's Island and Ward's Island, Roosevelt Island, and Marble Hill, all of which I've been to. It also includes Governors Island, which until this weekend I had somehow missed. 

In its prior life, Governors Island has served as a Coast Guard Base, but today its a public park. Part of the island is run by the National Park Service as a national historic landmark while the rest of it is run by the state and city. Since there are no bridges to the island, the only way to get there is by boat. Thankfully, there are free ferries on the weekends from the Battery Maritime Building that run pretty much every half hour and from Brooklyn Bridge Park every 10 minutes (see the schedule here). The ride itself takes less than 5 minutes.

Aerial view courtesy of
Once you make it to the island, there's a path that goes around the ice cream cone shaped perimeter (approximately 2.2 miles). You get amazing views of Lower Manhattan, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and even the Statue of Liberty. Although a large part of the "cone" is currently closed to the public, there's plenty of exploring to do at the top of the island in the historic area. By taking a few scenic detours you can easily up your mileage.

I definitely wouldn't come to Governors Island on a long run day and you should check to make sure there isn't some huge festival before planning your running trip, but it's a really nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city. I'm already planning a return run.

Friday, June 8, 2012


My apologies to Charley Sheen for the title, but remember that guess-your-time run I mentioned on Wednesday? Well, I "won." Before I tell you how close my guess was, let's talk about how awesome the overall run was.

Everyone met up at the 14th Street Park. Since this run was posted on the National Running Day website we got a ton of first-timers to join us. Out of the 30 or so people who showed up, at least half were new to the team. The captains made sure nobody was wearing a watch and we made our way to the Hudson River Greenway. The course was simple: two-miles out (downtown), and two miles back (uptown). I predicted 32:00 as my time since I wanted to do a super easy run but plenty of folks picked near race-pace times. Their logic, I guess, was that if you know what your maximum pace is, you can pick a time near that.

Me and Emily nearing the finish.
I forgot to mention the weather. The whole time we were getting ready to run dark clouds were rolling in. I figured it what a matter of when, not if, the sky would open up. Sure enough, soon after we took off we heard thunder and a light rain started.

I ended up falling in with one of the other Whippets, Emily, who had put down 34:00 for her time. A new runner, Bob, also joined us for much of the run. When we got to the turn-around Emily was sure we were doing 9-minute miles, but I knew we weren't going that slow. Somewhere on the way back the rain changed from a light drizzle to an open faucet but I think that just added to the fun.

About 800 yards from the end Emily said pointed out the finish to Bob who took off (later he said that was his fastest ever 4 miler--awesome!). When we crossed the line Annette, our "official" time keeper said 32:01 and I did a little touchdown dance. The prize? A NRD t-shirt and hat, oh, and even better, a free beer.

We all headed to the Chelsea Brewing Company where many beers were consumed along with some delicious greasy fried food. Not a bad Wednesday if you ask me!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happy National Running Day!

When you woke up this morning you may have assumed it was just another Wednesday (unless it's your birthday, in which case, happy birthday), but the first Wednesday in June is National Running Day. Who says? The folks at the Atlanta Track Club, Boston Athletic Association, Chevron Houston Marathon, Chicago Area Runners Association, Competitor Group Inc., Little Rock Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, New York Road Runners, Oregon Track Club, Running USA, Twin Cities In Motion and USA Track & Field. In other words, everyone. Okay, the whole thing is maybe a little gimmicky, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun.

Today running groups across the country are putting on all kinds of fun events. For example, my team is putting on a predict-your-time run. No one gets to wear a watch (except the person timing the event) and the winners are the runners who predict their finish time the closest. In other words, whether you're a fast run or a newbie you still have a chance at winning. There are lots of other events in NYC and elsewhere, all listed on the National Running Day website.

What if you don't have time to meet up with a group today, can you still celebrate? Duh, just go for a run! You were supposed to meet co-workers for happy hour after work? Get them to come along! Been thinking about a new pair of running shoes? Today is also the perfect day to go buy them. Who knows, your local running store might even have some freebies or giveaways.

If enough of you participate, maybe we can turn this into an official holiday and get the day off work next year. Well, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Easier Access to Randall's Island

After a long winter closure for rehabilitation, the 103rd Street Footbridge is back open! The bridge connect the East River Greenway to Wards Island (hence its other name, the Wards Island Bridge). What's that, some of you may be saying, I thought it was Randall's Island. What most people call Randall's Island today is actually two islands, Wards Island and Randall, joined together by landfill and cared for by the Randall's Island Sports Foundation.

Why should you care that the bridge is back open? Because Randall's Island Park is a great place for running. Sure you could get there this winter by using the Triboro Bridge (as I did several times), but the pedestrian bridge is much more pleasant since it allows you to avoid more city streets. Once you get to the park, there are several miles of waterfront running trails, plus public bathrooms and plenty of water fountains. If you haven't been before or just haven't been in a while, it's definitely worth a run across the bridge to check it out.

The other good piece of news? The footbridge used to be closed for five months out of the year, often with limited hours during the other seven months. Now it will be open 24/7, a huge improvement in access. DOT is also working on a pedestrian bridge to connect to a new portion of the Bronx River Greenway. All this means that runners will soon have even more options. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I ran the bridge this weekend and it looks great.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Random Friday Post: Ugly Race Pics!

One of my favorite parts of Friday is the Runner's Digest that Runner's World posts. They usually link to some crazy running stories: an article on an older-than-Boston-race where instead of t-shirts runners get pie; a piece on how the first Olympic marathon gold medalist drank brandy during the race; and one about the Ukrainian who won the "Glorious North Korea Marathon."

In addition to making sure that readers don't miss out on these important stories, they also link to new running websites. Today, they introduced me to a new site that is so awesome, I had to share it: Seriously Ugly Race Pics. Any of you who have ever run a race know that race photographers have a knack for taking photos at the worst possible moment. Trying to find an attractive race photo is like trying to find the Loch Ness monster (okay, so finding a nice running picture is a little easier now that America has been introduced to "Ridiculously Photogenic Runner Guy").

While bad photos abound, however, some are truly awful. Thankfully, the girls behind Seriously Ugly Race Pics have made it their mission to ensure that rather than go to waste, those truly terrible photos bring some joy into our hearts. I suggest you check out the site, but in the meantime, here are two of my favorites: