Friday, May 8, 2015

Random Friday Post: Proposing at the Finish

By now some of you may have seen the story about the couple who tried to get engaged at the finish line of the Pittsburgh Half Marathon last weekend. If not, definitely check it out here. In brief, Bryan Peterson planned to propose to Veronica Carter, his girlfriend of eight years, at the end of the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. The two crossed the finish line together but before he could get down on one knee, medical personnel interrupted the touching personal moment and told them to move along. They had to walk another dozen or so yards before Peterson could finish his proposal--Carter said yes.

As some of my faithful readers know, I proposed to my wife at the finish of the 2013 New York City Marathon so I now consider myself an expert on finish line proposals. Ours went off without a hitch and no race officials interrupted, and that was in New York with over 50,000 finishers, where as the Pittsburgh Half had just under 15,000. Why the difference? Peterson made two rookie mistakes which cost him his perfect proposal. Hopefully he reads this post so that he can get it right the next time around.

If you or someone you know are planning a finish line proposal: just head my simple advice:

1) Propose before crossing, not after. Obviously, this won't work if you're worried about time. In 2013, my now-wife and I had both PR'd at the Chicago Marathon three weeks earlier so neither of us was running for time in New York. By proposing just before you cross, you're in control. I proposed with roughly 200 yards to go--close enough that we could see the finish, but not so close that officials could hurry us along. 

2) Get down on one knee first. Peterson lost the element of surprise because he tried to say too much before getting down on one knee. If he'd gotten down on one knee right away, even if race officials had still tried to move him, he probably could've finished his proposal first. I told my now-wife I was having serious hip pain before "collapsing" onto one knee. There was no risk of losing the element of surprise and anyone who could see us knew what was happening so it was very unlikely we'd be told to move along.

In all seriousness, I think it's wonderful that Carter said yes, even with the minor snafu. If the two of them would like to invite me to their wedding, I'd be happy to offer them some more running romance pointers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday Recipe: Chilled Cucumber Soup

I don't think I've posted a recipe on here in a couple years which is kind of crazy given how much I cook. As someone who tries to eat healthy and keep the food bill from getting too out of hand, I end up bringing breakfast and lunch to work pretty much every day. My wife and I also try to eat in for dinner most weeknights too, though sometimes at least once a week we do give into cravings for Chinese, Middle Eastern, or Mexican takeout.

Given our schedules, it makes sense to cook large dishes that we can eat several nights in a row. For example, if I know I've got a rest day on Monday, I can plan on having extra time to cook then so that on Tuesday, when I usually have a long speed work session, we can just pull something out of the fridge.

Since it's finally starting to feel like spring here, I had a craving for chilled soup this week. Chilled soups are some of the best weeknight dinners to make because (a) you don't have to cook them and (b) you never have to reheat them--suck it microwave! Anyway, this week I settled on a chilled cucumber soup because our local fruit guy was practically giving away cucumbers. I kind of made up a recipe after looking at several different ones and was very happy with the results.

Hope you like it too!

Chilled Cucumber Soup

3 lbs cucumbers, peeled, halved,     seeded and coarsely chopped*
1 1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
2 tbls. lemon juice
1/2 red onion,
2 garlic cloves
1/3 c. loosely packed fresh dill
2 tbls. loosely packed fresh tarragon 
1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and white pepper

For Serving:
1 avocado, roughly chopped

Combine the chopped cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, onion, garlic, dill, tarragon. and the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Using an immersion blender or food processor to blend until relatively smooth (I like to make sure there are still some chunks of cucumber). Season with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight (this lets all the flavors meld together).

When ready to serve, pour the soup into bowls. Garnish with the avocado and croutons, and top with a drizzle of olive oil.

*You can really use any kind of cucumber. I used a mix of English and garden cucumbers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My 2015 Boston Marathon Race Report

In 2014 I had a great experience in Boston—I ran a course PR and managed a 10 second negative split. Going into 2015, I had every reason to expect an even better race.  In spite of a terrible winter in New York, I had a really good training cycle, running my fastest half in over two years and tying my 10k PR despite a nasty cold.  I also had two teammates who were looking to run around the same time as me so I figured I would have some on-course support and motivation. 
All smiles before the race.

Going into the race a lot of folks were worried about the forecast of wind and rain, but I tried not to let it worry me much. I went to sleep the night before feeling optimistic and excited. The morning of the race, the temperature was near perfect and though it drizzled some in the Athletes' Village, it was dry when race officials began calling Wave 1 runners to the corrals. I stuck back with my teammates Steve and Tim who were aiming for something in the 2:57 to 2:59:59 range, just like me. Thanks to my time in Chicago, I was in Corral 3 this year, but it made more sense to stick with them so I hung back in Corral 5. 

I had a strategy that I had been preaching to them--and to anyone that would listen--throughout training, start below goal pace, gradually pick up the pace to goal pace by the half, take the hills easy, and give it everything for the final 10k--we were certainly successful with the first part of that strategy. 

After the gun went off, it took us roughly two and a half minutes to cross the start because of the crowds. We held back on the first mile, trying to save our quads from a big downhill thrashing. We crossed the first mile in about 7:22, a little slower than I had planned on, but I would have rather had it slow than fast. I reassured everyone--don't worry, there's plenty of time to make it up, don't speed up yet--and we kept things easy for mile 2, taking it in 7:04. Despite the easy pace, my legs felt sluggish. I kept reminding myself that sometimes it takes a few miles to really wake up, two miles in is too soon to worry. 

We slowly started picking things up and by the time we crossed the 5k in 22:09, a 7:08 average, we were running around a 6:58 pace. I felt like we were settling into a groove, though I still hadn't found my full race juju until somewhere in Ashland we heard "Shake It Off," possibly the greatest song of our generation my current favorite guilty pleasure song. I sung shouted "you could have been getting down to this sick beat" and suddenly felt like a million bucks. It attracted the attention of another runner, a woman from York, Pennsylvania, who said she liked our energy and would try to stick with us for a bit. T. Swift clearly helped because we ran the second 5k in 21:31, a 6:56 pace, closer to the to the low 6:50s we'd planned on. 

Passing the 10k mark and the Framingham Train Depot also meant that we were in familiar territory since the three of us had run this part of the course only three week's earlier. The next several miles are some of the more boring on the course but it's early enough in the race that I never really mind. Somewhere around mile 8 it finally started raining but it didn't slow us down--when we crossed the 15k we were averaging a 6:55 pace.  

Although I tried to remain positive, I wasn't feeling like my normal buoyant. Even as we ran through Natick Center I was having serious doubts. I told the others that it wasn't going to be my day but the new friend we'd made told me to just focus on the individual mile. "You may feel better on the next one," she said. We ran passed the co-eds of Wellesley College who were in high spirits despite the weather and it gave me a little pick-me-up, though, no--we didn't stop to kiss any of them. 

We passed the 20k in 1:26:40, meaning we had done the last 5k in 21:32, a 6:56 pace. We were obviously being very consistent but we were far from our goal pace. Still, I warned the others against speeding up too much. We weren't going to make up all of the lost time in the next mile. We continued on to the half, hitting it in 1:31:22, more than two minutes off of our pre-race goal of 1:29. At this point I told Tim and Steve to go ahead. I knew I wasn't going to be making up much time on the second half and I didn't want to hold them back. Tim listened but Steve decided to stick with me a bit longer. 

The Wellesley stretch of the course is always longer than I remember, but at least it's largely flat or downhill. We saw one our teammates and his wife and got a huge cheer from them, which was fun and I got a kick out of passing the same dumpster I had peed behind during our run three weeks earlier (Shh! Don't tell the Wellesley P.D.!). Steve and I hit the 20k in 1:48:13, maintaining a pretty consistent pace with a 6:57 average for that 5k. 

Photo Credit: Rich Blake
I was hurting and ready to slow down, but I wanted to try and stick with Steve until at least Mile 17 and the Newton Fire Station since I knew we would have some teammates cheering there. We passed the gel station and I took one of the gels I had with me, deciding against grabbing a Clif Shot since I still had two GUs. It was a struggle to keep up with Steve, but I hung with him and we made the turn onto Comm. Ave--the start of the hills. Sure enough, our teammates were there and they went wild! That was awesome, but I was ready to back off. I watched as Steve pulled ahead up the hill and focused on running my own race. I was sure my legs were going to crap out at some point, I was just hoping I could postpone that until as close to the end as possible.

I hit the 30k, roughly one-third of the way through hills, at 2:09:57, or a 7:00 pace for that 5k. I tried going the math to estimate possible finishing times but my brain wasn't really cooperating. I hoped I could at least beat my first Boston time of 3:08. I slowed over the later hills, taking Miles 20 and 21 in 7:11 and 7:21 respectively, but at least I was still upright. As I began the descent down the backside of Heartbreak Hill I started to feel a little more positive. A PR wasn't in the cards, but maybe I could at least get a BQ. One of my teammates was cheering by Boston College and that helped too. Somehow I brought my pace back under 7 and ran a 6:51 mile for Mile 22.

Once the course turned onto Beacon Street in Brookline I changed my mental strategy. Instead of thinking, four miles to go, I thought, just get to the 23 mile marker. I was taking the advice of our friend from York, who I had lost somewhere around the Newton Lower Falls. I felt pretty defeated when I hit Mile 23 in 7:09, but I knew I was in the home stretch. Don't walk, don't walk, I kept telling myself. Mile 24 is almost all downhill and that definitely helped as I brought my pace back down to 6:54. 

Photo Credit: Running in the City
At this point I could see the Citgo Sign, which I knew signaled Mile 25. The rain was really coming down and I was drenched, but the crowds were thick, helping me to ignore the weather. I passed the 40k in 2:53:54 and knew I only had about 2k to go, crossing Mile 25 right after in 7:02. Now I began concentrating on making it to Hereford, where my wife would be waiting. Down Comm. Ave. the crowds were electric, even in the pouring rain, and I barely noticed the Mass. Ave. underpass thanks to the cheers of some friends who were stationed right before it. 

I turned onto Hereford and looked for my wife, who I knew would be on the right side near Newbury Street. I saw her and she saw me and I blew her a big kiss. Less than a half mile to go, I was so ready for the finish. I made the turn onto Boylston and remembered just how disheartening that final stretch can be. The finish line looks so far away, with the 26 mile mark clearly visible roughly halfway down the street. I hit Mile 26 in 7:01 but didn't have any kick left for the final 385 yards. I crossed the finish, threw up my hands, and suddenly felt much better--I had just finished my 6th Boston Marathon! My final time was 3:03:26, it was almost a full five minutes slower than my 2014 time, but given the funk I'd been in for much of the race I was pretty happy with the result. 

A Post-Race Post-Script

Making my way through the finish chute I bumped into Steve and Tim who had waited for me. They both run negative splits and PR'd, which was awesome to hear. It was too cold to linger so we got our heatsheets and medals and made our way back to our AirBnb. It may not have been an easy day for me, but it was great to share it with some many different people. Hopefully I learned something from the experience that I can bring to next year's race.