Start: 05h30 at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Finish: 17h30 at Sahara Stadium, Kingsmead in Durban, South Africa
Distance: 89km – 56 miles

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gone Too Soon

I've been putting off this post for a long time, hoping and praying that I wouldn't have to do it. Unfortunately, I keep glancing nervously at my calendar and the imminent count-down to 10-10-10 marches incessantly on. Five days to go until I have to attempt my first 26.2.

Now, at this point, I should be nervous in any case. I should be obsessively going over racing strategy. Putting together playlists perfectly catered to ever twist and turn in the Chicago Marathon course. I'd definitely throw some Rick Astley in for North Columbus Drive, and some Deadmau5 for the long straight down lakeshore.

Instead, I've spent the last three weeks trying to nurse a knee back to health after doing significant damage to it on a surprisingly brutal hike in the Marin Headlands - who knew that descending a 2.5 mile long 45 degree incline after an 8 mile hike would take a toll on the knees?

The view was definitely worth it though:

Nonetheless, here I sit with a significant obstacle in my path. 

Luckily, I don't think my fitness is going to be a problem. So, I think the plan for now is going to be to suit up, head to Chicago, and try to do the race at an extremely slow, measured pace. I'll drop out at the first sign of the injury flaring up, but overall aim to finish in around 5 and a half hours - a far cry from the 4:20 I had originally been targeting.

And so now, in the week where I should be getting excited about the adventure ahead, instead I find myself skimming through race calendars trying to find a suitable replacement race. Jamaica in December anyone?

Friday, August 27, 2010

In it for the long haul

Clad in spandex and armed only with $20, a Metro card, iPod, and an energy gel, I ventured out into the quiet pre-dawn New York streets to take on the 20 mile run, the heart of marathon training. It's been a long time since I've felt this nervous about a race or run, but the 20 miler is an entirely different physical and, more importantly, mental beast than your typical long run. This is the farthest distance that most recreational marathoners will run before the actual race, and in some ways is even more difficult than a marathon as you lack the crowd support and adrenaline to spur you onwards. However, I'm very happy to report that my run went fantastic and has left me feeling much more confident in my ability to cross the finish line on October 31.

Unlike my usual waterfront runs, this morning I spent half of my route trotting up Lexington and Park Avenues and through Central Park. Streets that are normally crammed with tourists and hustling New Yorkers were eerily quiet at 5am; it was almost as though I was alone in the city. As I climbed up a hilly section of Park Avenue, I watched the sun rise above the UES - absolutely beautiful and about as close as I've ever come to a spiritual experience. Today's run reminded me why I love the sport so much; running offers you the chance to really appreciate the sacred in the profane and get intimately acquainted with your home turf. The miles literally just melted away as I was too preoccupied in admiring Grand Central sans tourists, taking in the Met's architecture, or chasing pigeons across the trail.

Alright enough romanticizing, as soon as my runner's high wears off I will not be reminiscing so poetically about this morning. Here are a few of my useful takeaways from today's run:
  1. Plan ahead. There's a reason distance running appeals to so many Type A, OCD individuals... Running for hours on end requires a strategy! And organization! YAY. Preparation is critical for a successful 20 miler. Map your route ahead of time, lay out your clothes and gear the night before, think about the timing of fuel intake, etc. If you take care of these tasks before you hit the road, you'll free yourself up to focus on quality running!

  2. Experiment. One of the cardinal rules of marathons is DON'T TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. The last thing you want to do at the marathon is mess around with new shoes, food, pacing, etc. So take advantage of your weekly long runs to experiment with everything from your morning pre-run routine to the best blister-preventing socks.

    After a lot of trial and error, I think I've finally found a solid food/hydration plan for my long runs. While most energy gels make my stomach upset (and taste ridiculously gross), slowly eating a Clif Shot over the course of a mile or two is gentle enough for me to handle and provides a good supply of simple carbohydrates to keep my legs going after I burn through my breakfast. I follow up the gel with a huge Gatorade courtesy of the nearest bodega, which I'll nurse for the second half of the run. Remember - if you're running for longer than 75 minutes, always start consuming calories after the first 30-60 minutes. You'll set yourself up for a bonked run if you wait till your legs are already dead. Not even a Gatorade mainline will save you then.

  3. Refuel. Most runners are pretty good about carbing up before a long run or race, but it's equally important to replenish your body's depleted glycogen stores within 15-60 minutes post-run. Look for drinks (or make your own!) with a good mix of protein and carbohydrates. Doing so will drastically cut down on fatigue over the next 24 hours and help rebuild muscle fibers. My personal fave is a big glass of chocolate milk, which studies have shown is actually one of the best recovery drinks. Yum! Runner's World also has some great tips for general post-run recovery that I definitely recommend checking out.

  4. Restraint. One of the most common mistakes among first-time marathoners is running too fast during their long run. Long runs should be taken a minute or so slower than your planned marathon pace, or 1 1/2 - 2 minutes slower than your best 10K time. Running slowly minimizes your chances of injury (obviously a valid concern when running crazy length distances), and is an opportunity to get your body accustomed to moving for 3+ straight hours, a benefit that cannot be overestimated on race day. Save your sprinting flats and rage runs for tempo/track work days - there it's totally acceptable!
Happy running this weekend, y'all!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Weekly Running Roundup: BE MORE EFFICIENT

In an attempt to force some structure on my blogging habits, I've decided to start posting a weekly roundup of any interesting/life changing running articles, news, workouts, or events. Get ready to be bombarded with KNOWLEDGE, whether you like it or not.

For those wary of the barefoot running trend, a new study from the University of Wisconsin found that simply shortening your stride can increase running efficiency and prevent injuries - similar perks to running sans shoes but minus shelling out $80 for a pair of Vibrams. Also, I would just like to note that I totally beat UW to the punch back in March. BOO YA!

However, the 12+ hours spent in my cubicle may thwart any gains made by even the best running form. According to Pete Pfitzinger, co-author of Advanced Marathoning, sitting at a desk from 9-5 causes "the hamstrings [to] become short and weak and the core muscles do not have to work as you lean back in your chair." Oh, and sitting in a cube also increases vulnerability to ITB syndrome. Fantastic. Maybe Citi will dish out for one of these?

But when in doubt, you can always let external stimuli propel you into better running. NYT's Well blog reports on the interplay between music and exercise. Unsurprisingly listening to up-tempo music often motivates and tricks the body into working harder, performing faster. What better excuse do you need to download La Roux's new album, blast Cascada with pride, or go with some old school Matchbox 20 (oddly enough they're on ALL my running playlists)? Although, there is definitely some merit to unplugging the iPod now and then on your run. Running with just the thoughts in your head can be wonderfully refreshing even if you're not maxing out your speed.

Speaking of speedy runners, three of the world's top marathoners, Samuel Wanjiru, Tsegaye Kebede and Robert Cheruiyot, just announced that they'll be joining the already stacked elite field at Chicago's Bank of America Marathon. With several marathon championships and sub-2:06 records under their belts, these three runners are guaranteed to give spectators a great show at the Chicago marathon, which is renowned for being one of the fastest courses in the world. Greg, you'll be right up there with them right?

Hope you enjoyed your lunchtime information spam; obviously I had a productive morning at the office. Definitely let me know if there are any topics that YOU'D like to read about - clearly this is an evolving project!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coping with rage hunger

It's official: my stomach has taken control of my body. Obviously that's a slight overstatement (errr not really), but in all seriousness, my hunger has reached new levels often times leaving me bonking halfway through a run or rage hungering at all my friends. Sorry!

This week has been case in point. Since Saturday's 18 mile run (!!!), I have literally been constantly hungry. Embarrassingly so. I highly doubt it's professional to be downing your lunch during a 10am meeting, but desperate times call for desperate measures? Obviously my high mileage has forced my body to burn calories like never before, but the issue has also been exacerbated by less than great eating habits for the past couple of months. I most likely haven't been getting as much fiber/protein as I should since Seamless provides at least two of my meals a day, leaving me at the nutritional whim of Tribeca's restaurants. Less than ideal. Besides being fun and wonderfully destressing, cooking is the best way to ensure you get the proper nutritional mix to maximize your training.

So last night, I took advantage of an early exit from the office to swing by the Union Square Greenmarket to scope out the vestiges of summer's produce. Snagged a few pints of shiny yellow and red cherry tomatoes, a couple shallots, and a bundle of fresh basil, which I decided to combine with some pasta and spicy Italian sausage. Perfect combination of carbs, MEAT, and fresh veggies for a hungry runner. I wanted to whip up one of my mum's standard summer pasta dishes, but of course I couldn't find the recipe and was way too lazy to fill out the form for Cook's Illustrated free online trial. So I winged it!

Homage to end of summer tomatoes
(Loosely adapted from the vague memory of a Cook's Illustrated recipe)
2 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic (1/4 inch slice)
4 large shallots (sliced in rings)
3/4 lb spicy Italian sausage
2 tbsp olive oil
red pepper (to taste)
kosher salt
farfalle or orecchiette pasta
arugula (optional)
pecorino or some other hard cheese, preferably with a little bite

Preheat oven to 300F. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and place whole cherry tomatoes on sheet along with sliced garlic and shallots. It's okay to leave the shallot rings intact rather than separating as it will help prevent them from burning. Toss vegetables with 2 tbsp olive oil and salt pepper to taste. Slow roast in oven for ~30-40 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes.

While the tomatoes are doing their thing, heat a dash of oil in a frying pan and quickly sear the outside of the sausages on high heat (3-4 minutes). Turn heat down and cook the sausages almost through for another 10 minutes. Drain fat from the pan and then allow meat to rest/cool for a few minutes before chopping into bite-sized pieces.

Stir the sausage into tomato mixture and put back in the oven for another 20-30 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to burst. While you're waiting for your tomato sausage mixture to finish up, boil water and cook your pasta of choice - I prefer farfalle or orecchiette. After the tomatoes have burst and the onions look nice and caramelized, remove from oven and mix with pasta and arugula if you want some extra veggie lovin'. Garnish with basil and shaved pecorino cheese. Last step, put food to face.
I got a little overzealous in my cooking binge last night, so I also tried my hand at this fantastic recipe for goat cheese and caramelized onion cornbread from Smitten Kitchen! If you like corn, cheese, bread, or really just happiness, then you should definitely bake this immediately. Clearly I had to sample a smidge before getting around to photographing it.

Coming up: tackling the formidable 20 mile run, energy gel reviews, my running bucket list, and more NYRR races!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why MTA is the bane of my existence

This past Sunday, Kim and I put on our gamefaces and braved New York's northern most borough for the NYRR Bronx Half Marathon. The race itself went remarkably well. The weather calmed itself down to the mid-70s, Kim didn't die of an asthma attack, and I restrained the urge to run fast, keeping a consistent, slow pace throughout all of the very hilly 13.1 miles. The course was a little...interesting. Took place mainly in residential neighborhoods, some sketchier than others, with quite a few turn-around points and unexpectedly lots of hills. Overall, it was solid training run and I would have given the whole experience a gold star if it weren't for the SUBWAY RIDE OF DOOM.

Now what should have been a straightforward, albeit hour long trip, to the Bronx turned into a two-hour one way ticket to transportation meltdown. Efficiency is not MTA's strong suite it seems. Things started off poorly when Trip Planner blatantly lied to us and left us stranded in the sweltering Union Square stop, waiting close to 30 minutes for the 4 train. Of course upon arriving, the 4 train is 1. packed and 2. going local. Yessssssss, nothing better than a 30 stop trip to the hood. At this point, my inner punctuality freak was stressing slightly that we'd be cutting it close to the start, but I reassured myself that as long as the rest of the trip went smoothly we'd have a few minutes before the gun went off to hit baggage check and stretch.

False. Two stops and 20 minutes away from the race's start, the train conductor announced that due to MTA's epic timeliness fail they were going to expedite the train's route and skip the next couple of stops. WTF. There were maybe a handful of non-runners on the train at 6:45am. So a few hundred NYRRs were forced to chill out on the platform waiting for a new train that would deign to stop at Bedford Boulevard. End story, Kim and I missed the start by 20 minutes and were just 10 minutes shy of them shutting down the starting gate.

Oh, and post-race there were no Manhattan bound trains at our station. Silly me, why ever would I want to go back to the island. So we had the "privilege" of going to the end of the 4 line. I'm just glad we're still alive.

To best express my RAGE towards MTA, I'm offering you a little photographic homage to Sunday's misadventures. Or I'm just looking for an excuse to dabble in Paint after reading waaaay too many Hyperbole and a Half posts. If you, haven't seen this blog, stop what you're doing immediately (well after you finish reading and commenting on my post) and go to this site. Guaranteed hours of procrastination.

1. Chaos after ALL the runners were kicked off the train two stops away from the race with less than 15 minutes till the start. Not okay, MTA.

2. Kim really didn't want her face in this one for some reason. And I was haterading on the world/SO SAD that we missed the start of the race.
3. Awww we've pulled ourselves out of the hate spiral enough for a loveydovey photo.

4. No idea. Whatever, bet this luchador knew better than to trust MTA to deliver his spandex clad ass to the race on time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Updates (and advice) to the face

Looking back over my last couple posts, I realize that I've been a bit remiss in writing about how the actual MCM training is going. You know, the point (partly) of this blog? My bad. So time for a training update. I'm officially 4 1/2 weeks through my training schedule aka there are exactly 80 days until the Marine Corps Marathon. OMFG. Just vocalizing that pushed me slightly towards a panic attack.

Truthfully I've been fairly diligent at sticking to the training plan I outlined back in July. In total I've logged 114 miles since July 12. I've slogged through at least one easy run each week (those Friday ones somehow always seem to get dropped for drinks...) and have busted out my stopwatch for weekly speed sessions at the 8th St. Track, which is delightfully close to our new apartment. Cross training has gone remarkably well - light strength training and biking twice a week will hopefully decrease my chances of injury. Fingers crossed.

Unsurprisingly the biggest challenge has been finding the time to squeeze in my long runs. Between going away dinners, birthday parties, and the MOVE FROM HELL, my weekends have been crammed full with non-running friendly activities. So far I've only missed one long run, which isn't too shabby. This past Sunday, I completed a 16 mile run - the farthest yet - and in a few short weeks I have my first 20 miler. Out of my mind. Thankfully I'll be dialing back the mileage a bit this weekend for the Bronx Half Marathon.

So after a solid month of marathon training, I feel unjustifiably cocky enough to dole out some advice on useful training tips:
  1. Do your long run every week! This is hands down the most important part of marathon training, for obvious reasons.
  2. Tap your inner only-child and learn to enjoy spending time by yourself. Unless you're lucky enough to have an entertaining running partner, you'll be spending a lot of solo time on the road. Audio books, language lessons, Euro trash playlists, and your own thoughts will become your new best friends.
  3. Invest in good socks. I know this may sound silly, but seriously, I spent what seemed like an exorbitant amount on wicking running socks a few months ago and my feet have never been happier. Haven't had a single blister! And yes, that was the first image of "happy feet" I could find that wasn't a penguin.

However, there have definitely been a few mishaps since I started training... Here are some of my "bright" ideas to avoid like the plague:
  1. Heavy drinking the night before your long run.
  2. Heavy drinking in general.
  3. Running 16 miles. Hungover. At 2pm in the 95 degree heat. Without a water bottle. In other words, being a bloody idiot.
  4. Wearing light colored running bras... Ladies, running (or ever) is not a time you want to be soliciting awk creeper chest level stares due to unexpected nippage so either layer up or just wear black.
What tips to do y'all have for training?

Have a few backlogged posts on Comrades, FOOD, and other super cool races that I promise to post in the next week or so.

P.S. Less than a month till Comrades sign-up begins. AHHH.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Superior Sex

Lured you in with the title didn't I? Bahahaha, get your head out of the gutter. I'm referring to why women are often the superior sex when it comes to ultramarathons. Continuing today's trend of articles/blogs for thought, here's an interesting piece on how extreme endurance running often favors female runners. Physically women aren't equipped to compete with men in shorter, faster distances; hence why elite men and women runners race in different fields. However, ultramarathons require more than just a strong heart and set of lungs. Physical size, joint health, and mental concentration are equally important, and it's these qualities that allow women, such as Diana Finkel and Pam Reed, to tromp their male competitors.

The author also touches on the psychological differences between men and women that can give female runners an edge:
"...I firmly believe that good women endurance athletes are also psychologically better than. Men tend to think 'harder, faster, stronger;' women tend to think with more determination and tenacity. Especially the kind of woman who tackles ultra endurance events."
Not naming names, but sound familiar, anyone?