Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Case You Missed It...

There's a great piece in this week's issue of the New Yorker (which, incidentally, is probably my favorite magazine) about a Michigan dentist named Keith Litton. Why on earth would I post about a dentist, especially one from the Wolverine State? Well, this dentist has been accused of cheating in tons of distance events from 5ks to marathons, including the Boston Marathon.

The article, "Marathon Man," by Mark Singer is behind a paywall on their website so you'll have to head to a newstand to read the whole the thing. What's interesting about this article is that it really represents the culmination of years of internet chatter about this man. Sites from Runner's World to Let's Run have long forums discussing his supposed race results. There's even an entire blog devoted to exposing him as a fraud.

Unlike some famous marathon frauds (remember Rosie?), Litton never burst onto the national scene with a major marathon win. He just posted a long serious of impressive times. Others began noticing when they discovered Litton had "finished" towards the front but somehow escaped check-points and course photographers.

Stories like this are extremely interesting, but they're also sad. Running is supposed to be about seeing what you can accomplish physically and mentally. This man may not have stolen any large prize purses, but he did cheat other runners out of honest competition and he cheated himself out of a real opportunity to perform.

Hope you all check out the article and please feel free to post any reactions.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Heartbreak, Marathon Style

Even though the Olympics officially got underway Friday with the opening ceremonies, the first track and field events don't begin until this Friday (August 3rd). Nevertheless, there's still been plenty of drama in the world of running, mainly in the women's marathon.

Over the weekend two stars purportedly dropped out of the race, Britain's Paula Radcliffe and our very own Desi Davila. While sources now report that Desi is still in, Paula's withdrawal has been confirmed. The final days before any marathon are obviously stressful--you put in month's of effort only to have it come down to one day, but in the Olympics the stakes are obviously much higher.

Unlike races that happen every year, the Olympic marathon happens only once every 4 years and even the world's best racers risk not getting in to their preferred event. I really hope Desi makes it to the start but at least she (theoretically) will have another shot at Olympic glory. Unfortunately, at 38, Paula Radcliffe's days of dominating the sport are over and her chance to dominate the podium in the city where she set her world record has been dashed.

If things are this exciting now, just wait until the actual events begin!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beer Review! Heady Topper

I haven't done a beer review since April and I'm not sure anyone reads them, but once in a while I get bored with writing about running--not for long, though, the Olympics should provide plenty of fodder! Anyway, without further ado, a beer review.

When it comes to rares, sought-after brews, there are generally two types. The first type are limited release beers, ones that only come out once a year or so. These beers appear only fleetingly and if you miss them, you have to wait a whole year for another chance. If you're a beer geek you know plenty of these like Pliny the Younger, Sexual Chocolate, and Canadian Breakfast Stout. The second type are beers that are produced by smaller brewers with limited distribution. This second type is the kind I'm talking about today with the Alchemist's Heady Topper.

Photo credit: http://brewyorknewyork.com/
The Alchemist is a tiny Vermont Brewery that rarely distributes outside of its home state. In fact, New York City only received a shipment of the beer for the first time in May and ever since it's been all but impossible to get ahold of. So before I get to my review, how did I come across this tough-to-find brew? Easy, I visited the cannery in Waterbury, Vermont. On a quick side note, the cannery is just down the street from the Ben and Jerry's factory and I guarantee you a visit to the former is much more pleasant than a visit to the latter.

Okay, that's more than enough background--what about the damn beer?!? Here's my executive summary: it's delicious.

Now for the more detailed review. Heady Topper is a double IPA and weighs in at 8% ABV. It's pretty much only available in cans and that's how you're supposed to drink it--straight out of the can. As soon as you pop the top you're hit with the strong smell of tropical fruit. I wish my olfactory sense was good enough to pick out individual fruits--all I can say is I was immediately transported to Tahiti (I've never been there, if you have and that metaphor sucks, pick your favorite tropical paradise and put that in your nose).

As for taste, the biggest initial flavor is grapefruit but that is soon joined by pine, and--not that I know what it tastes like but--maybe a little bit of pot (which makes sense given that canibis and hops are related), er, let's say earthiness? It starts out slightly sweet but finishes dry with just a hint of bitterness. The carbonation, like almost every aspect of this beer, is just perfect.

The bottom line is this beer is excellent. If you're ever in Vermont it's definitely worth a detour to Waterbury and if you ever see this beer in a bar outside the Green Mountain State YOU HAVE TO ORDER IT! Even if you're not a huge IPA person it might just turn you.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Training Tip: Double Up!

"Double your pleasure, double your fun." That's what the old Double Mint ad said, anyway. Is the whole double idea true with running? I find it is. As marathon training begins I like to up my overall mileage, in part so my weekly long run doesn't seem like such a huge chunk of my weekly mileage. One "easy" way to do this is by incorporating doubles--days when you run two different times.

These guys know all about doubles.
Pre-marathon, the big focus is usually building endurance. If you're like me, you've given yourself some time off of heavy mileage and reduced your long run distance following your last major race. This means you need to take some time to rebuild your base. Once you've rebuilt your endurance by gradually increasing your mileage, you can hold onto it without doing long runs every day--one or two a week is sufficient to keep it up. Now the hard part of training begins as you add in quality (i.e., hard) workouts like repeats, hills, tempos, etc. Obviously these sessions can really take it out of you.

Here's where the counterintuitive part comes in--adding a second run can increase your recovery! [Note: Now would be a great time to revisit my post on recovery runs if you haven't read it].  For starters, a long run is tougher on your body than two short runs even if the total distance is the same. Secondly, if you do doubles with some regularity, it stimulates your body to adapt--you're getting an aerobic stimulus two times in one day!

My favorite kind of double.
Doing a second run on a hard day can also serve one of two beneficial purposes. If you do an easy run on the morning of a hard workout day, you body gets warmed up. You may find you feel more energetic come time for your workout. If you do a second run after a hard workout, you're running a pre-fatigued state. This forces your body to tap into slightly different energy stores and to use different muscles, both of which can have benefits come race day.

There's another obvious plus to doubles. In periods of extreme weather, like 90+ degree summer days or frigid winter days, it can be much easier psychologically and physiologically to spend two short periods outside rather than a single extended period.  Yes there's much to be said for acclimating yourself to the kinds of conditions you may face on race day, but on easy days, doubles can help you avoid the extra stress that extreme temperatures place on the body.

One word of caution, be careful adding doubles to your schedule. I recommend this great article from Running Times, which details a smart approach to incorporating doubles. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Exploring on the Run: Boston

As my Friday post may have hinted, I was out of town this weekend. For the first time in ages I went to Boston for reasons completely unrelated to the BAA marathon. Although I went to hang out with friends that doesn't mean there was no running involved in my visit.

Every year during race weekend I get to do a short shake-out run and every year I think: Gee, wouldn't it be swell to explore a Boston's running paths? Well, this weekend offered a perfect opportunity for me to cover some new territory. I was staying in Brookline right on the marathon course but my goal was to avoid the course as much as possible.

Lot of green around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir
I finally got to run the Chestnut Hill Reservoir which is right next to the course. Although its circumference is almost the same as the Central Park Reservoir, it feels much bigger because the path is much wider and its surrounded by open space.

From there I made my way to the Charles which has both paved and unpaved paths on either side. I crossed into Cambridge over the Weeks bridge, ran around Harvard Square and the Cambridge Common, before taking the Harvard Bridge back into Boston.

At that point I followed Beacon Street back towards where I was staying, retracing the marathon route in reverse. It felt like more of a climb than I remembered, but just to finish on a high note, I took a detour up Summit Ave which climbs to Corey Hill's 515 peak and offers great views of the city from Corey Hill Park (I'm told they're even better in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees.

It was a wonderful run and an even better weekend. With any luck, I'll be back in Boston before next April.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend WTF: The Louisiana Marathon

Friday's Runner's World Daily post clued me into a piece of clever marketing from the folks at the Louisiana Marathon. They've put together a list of signs of running addiction:

While I recognize this is just a bit of cheeky marketing, I have a few quibbles with it.

First, these are not signs of running addiction, they are signs of racing addiction.  Notice how each of the 10 refers to racing?

I know plenty of folks who run daily but rarely if ever race--the runners you see in the park every morning at the same time, logging miles rain or shine, in extreme heat or in a blizzard. They are likely prime candidates for a real Runners Anonymous, true running adicts.

Now that I've clarified that little detail, I'd like to go through some of the individual "signs."

1. Are you signed up for more than one race right now? Umm, yes. At least here in NYC, you have no choice but to sign up for races months in advance. That means at any given time, most members of the local running community have several races on their calendar though we may be talking about an entire season.

2. Do you start to feel down if you haven't run a race in a very long time? I made that question better. The answer is now obviously yes.

3. When asked about your racing from non-running people, do you find yourself talking with great passion to the point that the person that asked the question regrets ever asking? This is rookie mistake. The true running addict has his addiction under control to the point where he can hide it from others.

4. Do you plan all your vacations around a race? No, but I plan races around my vacations.

5. Are your closets and dressers filled with race t-shirts? If you've been racing long enough, you've learned to dispose of crappy race tees or perhaps you've turned them into a Race Quilt.

6. Do your thoughts switch to the next schedule race immediately after finishing? No, my thoughts switch to pizza, nachos, and beer proper post-race nutrition immediately after finishing. I don't start thinking about the next schedule race until at least a few hours later.

7. Has anyone ever asked if your running buddy is your significant other? I can't commit to just one "running buddy."

8. Have you run out of room on your medal rack for your medals? My medal rack is a large shoebox under my bed; it still has lots of room.

9. Do you drool at someones medal and immediately sign up for that race? Why this stupid obsession with medals?

10. Have you run races on back-to-back weekend or better yet, on back-to-back days? Back-to-back weekends? I think I did two 5ks 8 days apart once. Back-to-back days? No--only someone who doesn't care about his performance would run races on back-to-back days.

Alright, so I think I have proven that I'm not a race addict though I may be a running curmudgeon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Random Friday Rant: Packin' Ain't Easy

Most of the time I have nothing but good things to say about running: I love the way I feel after a hard workout, I love planning trips around awesome races, and I love spending time outside every day. One thing I don't love? Packing.

No, not that kind of packing.
The downside to being a runner (the only real one that I can think of) is packing for a trip. No matter how short your travels, you need to bring nearly twice as much stuff as a normal person non-runner.

For example, this weekend I am going to Boston for a couple of days (and hopefully the beach as well). If I were a a non-runner, I could get away with the lightest of bags. I would bring the shoes on my feet, some flip-flops, swim trunks, an extra t-shirt, and some clean socks and underwear. However, since I am a runner, I have to pack my running shoes, running clothes, running sunglasses, running watch, and running water bottle. Suddenly my packing list just got a lot longer and that little backpack I could have used has been replaced by heavy duffel bag.

Okay, so this is clearly a superficial first-world problem, but sometimes I do wonder how the other half lives packs.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Surprise: I'm In!!!

Okay folks, I've been keeping this under wraps, but if you look to the right of your screen (unless you're viewing this on mobile, in which case, stay put), you may have notices a change in the "upcoming races" section. That's right: Chicago is out and New York is in!!!

Alright, a quick explanation. If you remember, gentle reader, back in April I was not chosen in the NYC lottery. I had signed up for Chicago and figured that was that. Well, I found out recently that I might be able to secure a spot and started weighing the reasons for picking one over the other:

New York
Very flat course
Not so flat course (hello bridges!)
Free post-race beer(s)
Are you kiddin’ me?!?
75% of being HOT
50% chance of being warm
Get there by plane
Get there by subway
Have to stay in a hotel
Get to sleep in own bed
Friends running
Teammates running
1.5 million spectators
2 million spectators
Strangers cheering
Friends cheering
Hop on a plane after the race
Walk home after the race

Okay, so maybe I stacked that deck a little, but the point is, in my heart I obviously wanted to run New York. It'll be great training with the same folks I'm going to run with. And, even though New York is a tougher course to master, I think running with teammates may help be get a little extra speed out of my legs to make up for it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When Your Coach is Ryan Hall

It's not often a major newspaper devotes heavy coverage to the running world but with the Olympics fast approaching the appetite for stories about US athletes is obviously increasing. This past weekend the New York Times ran a wonderful profile of Ryan Hall by Jeré Longman titled, A Runner's Belief: God is His Coach. As always, I encourage to read the whole piece--it's surprisingly in-depth--but I thought I would offer some of my reactions.

Credit: runlearnrepeat
Regardless of whether you're a spiritual person, a religious devotee, or a militant atheist, it's hard not to appreciate that Hall's decision to forgo a "traditional" coach took guts. This was certainly not a case of a cocky runner saying, I'm too cool for school. Hall has always come across to me as a very humble person (so has Meb Keflezighi for that matter, coincidence that these are our two best marathoners?).

There's always a danger when we rely too much on someone else for guidance that we'll become passive and accepting. I think part of what Hall realized was that he needed to take more ownership over the direction of his training. His former coach makes the point in the article that:
“It’s not easy to say, ‘I screwed up,’ ” Mahon said. “It’s easier when someone else says, ‘This is why, and we can change it.’ ”
That's definitely true but part of Hall's new program is about being very in touch with his own running. At the end of the day whether Hall is talking to God or himself, what he's trying to do is to listen to his body and to carefully evaluate his training strategies. That level of self-awareness is something we should all seek, whether we have a coach or not.

There's one last line in the piece that I really love:
His spiritual growth, [Hall] said, has freed him from caution and a dependence on results for his happiness.
I think it's really important not to be too results focused. We need to be able to put ourselves out there, give it our all, and just feel good about that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bad Idea: a Hot, Hot, Hot Long Run

This weekend was hot! Okay, that's not much of a revelation to anyone (yours truly included) but it didn't make it any easier to cope with the high temps. After a dismal 4-mile race on Saturday (nearly 2 minutes off my PR) I tried to log some extra miles with teammates in the hopes that I could get my long run out of the way. Unfortunately, that plan proved to be a bit too ambitious and I called it quits after 5 extra miles. That meant Sunday was long run day.
The Shelter Pavilion
I need one day a week to sleep in and thanks to my race Saturday wasn't that day. That meant that instead of getting a jump on my Sunday run I let myself lay in bed until 9am. By the time I was ready to head out the door it was almost 10am. In the winter starting a run a little later can be a good thing, but in the summer it's asking for trouble. Almost immediately I could feel the heat sapping me of energy.

I had a great course planned, along the East River, then over to Randall's Island to take the Triboro Bridge to Queens. In Queens I ran along the water heading south to the Pulaski Bridge. This first half of my run was very much familiar territory--I've done that route at least a dozen times before--but it was a struggle. I kept drinking water but I also felt parched.

As I made my way into Brooklyn my spirits picked up a little. There I'd plotted a new course that took me by the Newton Creek waste water treatment plant (cooler looking than it sounds) and McGolrick Park--a beautiful spot with several monuments and the landmarked classical Shelter Pavilion.* That was definitely the highlight of the run. After that, it felt more like a death march to the finish.

For the final miles I followed part of the New York City marathon course in reverse (which reminds me--I will have a bit of news for you readers later this week) before making a slight detour to finish at one of my favorite places: Bergen Bagels. The everything bagel I got made the subway ride home tolerable but I was wiped out. The moral of the story? Start your long runs early! An afternoon nap and an earlier start would have been a lot better than running in that heat!
* The park also had a surprisingly large farmers market that runs through November. I'm definitely going to try and come check it out sometime when I'm not running and can actually carry some gooseberries home.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

One is the Loneliest Runner...

I've been very lucky the past few weeks because, with the exception of the days during my trip to Vermont, I've been able to make every team speed workout. I used to do speed work alone almost exclusively and usually in the early morning. Since that's what I was used to it didn't totally suck seem that bad. Chalk it up to "what you don't know can't hurt you," because now that I've started doing speed work in a group, it's hard to imagine flying solo anymore.

The hill I used for my 200s, Morningside Dr.
Unfortunately, I've got a very busy week at work and I knew there was no way I'd be out in time to make last nights 7pm workout in Central Park. Did I just decide to skip the workout? If you're guess is yes, you probably haven't been reading this blog for very long. I decided to do the workout tout seul and before work.

What was the workout? Hill repeats--twelve to fourteen 200m repeats at 5k pace to be precise. You know what? It wasn't all that bad. I got up super early and discovered that it's a lot cooler at 5am than 7pm (okay, I already knew that, but the part of me that likes sleep tends to overpower the part of me that likes lower temps). I also discovered that I can still push myself without "good" peer pressure since I did the full 14 instead of stopping at 12.

The moral of the story: I can miss a team workout and still do the work but it's definitely more fun when you have others yelling at you encouraging you to do your best.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Infamous Underwear Run

Friday night, a perfect time for blowing off some steam and running in your underwear. Huh? That's right. Last Friday was the NYC Triathlon's annual underwear run in Central Park. It's a fun run to kick off the weekend's festivities with the actual NYC Tri on Sunday.

The event is extremely fun but also well-organized. Although it's free to run, participants are supposed to register and the event fills up very quickly each year. This year's theme was "Celebrate America" so there was tons of Red, White, and Blue on the course.

The race is at 7:30 but participants tend to get their closer to 6:30 so they have time to strip and strut their stuff take photos. I had a ton of teammates running so we met up before hand to take photos in front of the newly reopened Cherry Hill fountain.

The whole time there were a couple of corny announcers making bad puns about underwear which helped make the event feel even more relaxed. Shortly before 7:30 we all made our way to the start. The "race" (it's really just a fun run) is 1.7 miles--the lower loop in Central Park. I ran with a bunch of teammates until the very end when I decided to pick it up a bit, mainly because it was hot and I wanted water.

At the finish they had salads from Qdoba, ice-cold water bottles, and Muscle Milk. Not too shabby for a free event!!! Oh yeah, one of my teammates came in second. The prize? Self-respect.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vermont Travelogue Part 2: Montpellier Mile Race Report

When planning my trip to Vermont I did my usual "find a race" research and stumbled upon the Montpelier Mile. I haven't raced many road miles because there are few opportunities to do so, but every year in September I do the 5th Avenue Mile. This smaller race in Vermont seemed perfect because (a) it would be a great opportunity to practice the mile and (b) it would be short enough that it wouldn't disrupt my otherwise relaxed vacation.

After several days of exploring, Tuesday evening rolled around. Both my Aunt and Uncle decided to drive me to Montpelier, which is only about 30 minutes from Stowe. They were even kind enough to let me listen to my "pump-up jamz" (i.e., trashy pop and hip-hop) on the ride down. We found parking without too much problem and walked over to the bib pick-up which was across the street from the gold-domed capitol building.

I got in some strides and some loosening up drills, made about fifty visits to the port-a-potties and then it was time to line up. The only downside to this race was the starting line. They have kids and recreational runners line up on one side and more seasoned runners line up on the other. Unfortunately both groups start at the same time. It was a little chaotic initially but I don't think it cost me more than a second or two overall and it was fun to see how speedy some of the kids were out there.

The course itself was great. It was flat (which is no small miracle in Vermont) and it was clearly marked every 1/4 mile. Although it was an out-and-back, the turnaround point was a rotary which meant you didn't have to worry about a sharp turn. Having it set up that way actually made it feel faster than courses that simply run in a straight line.

I came in at 5:39. Maybe I should be disappointed by this time but I'm not. I've done very little speedwork recently aimed at shorter distances recently, having taken things relatively easy lately. Hopefully between now and September's 5th Avenue Mile I'll be able to do enough speedwork to get my time back down.

After the race (and a quick change in a public bathroom), we went for dinner at the New England Culinary Institute's restaurant on Main Street. The food was great and we got done just in time to take in some of the fireworks. It was definitely a great evening and it more than made up for the fact that my flight home the next day prevented me from seeing the fireworks in NYC.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vermont Travelogue Part I: Run for the Hills (or Green Mountains)

With the 4th falling on a Wednesday this year I made plans to go out of town for a long weekend. Other than for the Boston Marathon, I haven't been away from the city for more than 48 hours since Christmas so I was definitely ready for a vacation. As I said in my last post, my Aunt and Uncle repatriated to Stowe, Vermont earlier this summer which gave me the perfect excuse to go visit them.
The only covered bridge I saw on a run.

After 28 hours of travel (thank you U.S. Airways and your 3 cancelled flights!!!) I finally landed at BTV just in time to make our second dinner reservation at L'Amante, an Italian restaurant in downtown Burlington. The food was excellent and so was the service--the owner even stopped by out table to tell me how happy she was I had finally made it! I can't imagine that happening at too many places in New York.

So cool to see the clouds down below
Although it was an extremely relaxing visit, I didn't do much sitting still. Each morning I got in a beautiful run around Stowe and I manged to avoid the doing the same route twice. The village is extremely proud of it's 5.5 mile paved Rec Path but I pretty much stuck to the winding country roads. Of course, my runs tended to be on the slow side because of the steep hills. I think I had an average 600 ft elevation gain per run. To put things in perspective: the highest natural point in Manhattan is only 265 ft! The scenery was absolutely amazing. Some mornings it would be cloudy in the village and I would literally climb out of the clouds during my run. I didn't see any moose, but I ran past plenty of cows and even spotted a beaver.

More Vermont scenery from a run.
After my runs we would go for coffee and baked goods at one of the local bakeries, coffee shops, or markets.Most days I met my Aunt post-run and we would walk her 3-year-old Belgian shepherd Gracie. We spent the afternoons exploring, touring Middlebury where my Aunt went to college, shopping at the local farmers market, visiting several great breweries, taking scenic drives, and enjoying some local ice cream.*

Of course, if I'm visiting someplace and there's a race going on I have to run it so Tuesday night we headed to the state capital for Montpelier Mile. Stay tuned for Part II of my Vermont Travelogue, my race report.
* We drove by the Ben & Jerry's factory but it looked WAY TOO MUCH like Disneyland for our taste.