Friday, May 28, 2010

The Gift

I’ve always loved running in the rain; it keeps me cool and it means there will be fewer people on the path. Sometimes I want the convenience of dry shoes and not walking home in a downpour without an umbrella, so last night, I scheduled my run to avoid it. The universe had other plans.

The Boss had me down for an hour run, and since Wednesday was so unbelievably hot, I was planning to do it in the morning while it was still cool. Then I remembered I don’t yet have a place where I can shower near Central Park, so rather than stew in my own stank all day at the office, I decided to suffer through the heat and humidity after work. The day turned out to be pretty mild and overcast with showers to come around 9pm, so when I finished up work at 6, it was looking to be a comfortable run. I changed into my gear and headed to the park for a long loop around the bridle path.

The run up the west side was nice. There were a few teams out, some people running hill repeats, some kids heading over to the fields for baseball practice, but most of the traffic was on the main road, which was packed with people, so I was glad to be on the bridle path. It has been so rainy this month, everything was lush and green, and it was nice to not have to suck down water every 5 minutes to stay cool. No pain to work through other than the discomfort of pushing my heart rate up, maintaining my leg cadence and not letting my stride devolve into a distance runner's shuffle. The first few miles of every run seems to be me telling my body, 'yes, we are doing this again, and we are going a little longer this time, so quit your bitching and get on board'. I don't think that negotiation will ever completely go away, especially as I get into the 15+ mile runs leading up to the Marathon, but its getting shorter and I'm remembering enough of how it feels to finally push through it and resist the urge for a sissy walk break. It hurts and I'm tired, but I'm already here, so lets get this done and go home for dinner.

I love the bridle path because it presents you with a good variety of hills. I've been trying to remember to go easy on them until I've got a few weeks of pain free miles behind me, but by the time I got to the steep uphill that takes you to the lower reservoir loop I was feeling reasonably strong and I heard a thunderstorm coming, so I decided to put my head down and charge up to the top and try to beat the rain. My energy level went to zero, but I wasn't going to let some stupid hill beat me, so I turned right and headed for the REALLY steep incline to the upper reservoir loop.

Pain, misery, not wanting to finish my run followed. I'm not strong enough for hill work yet. I couldn't hold my pace on the way up and I was having trouble getting it back as I ran the level reservoir path. I remembered why I used to prefer running the east river promenade- it is flat as a pancake and easy to crank out long runs with relatively low fitness. The bridle path was making me work when I didn't want to and I was NOT happy. And then it started to rain.

I finished half a loop on the upper path, and at the turn off to go back down the west side, I noticed a lot of runners stretching quickly and packing up. I wanted to join them but my bag was at the office and I had no cash for a cab, so I had to keep running.

Running along the main road, I still saw some teams out, a lot of cyclists in pack rides, but no one looked pleased about the sudden downpour. I wasn't either. The raindrops were big and heavy and there was a lot of lightning starting to come quick with the thunder. It was suddenly pouring and I still had almost three miles to go.

Then I crossed over the road and back into the darkness of the bridle path and everything changed. I had recovered from doing those steep inclines and was back on pace. My breathing was less labored and it felt like the world shifted more into focus than it had been a moment before. I looked around and I was the only person on the path. It felt like I was the only person in the entire PARK. The air smelled like wet earth and electricity. It was dark, and the only sound beyond my own breathing and footsteps was the rain coming through the trees. I felt my stride become more fluid, I was lighter on my feet and everything felt effortless.

I'd see groups of runners waiting out the storm and I picked up speed as I passed them in the dark, cool shelter of the bridges . I felt sorry for them; If they had started their run a little earlier, they might've tapped into the same magic I was feeling and not cared about the rain. I passed a few runners going the opposite direction, and we gave each other 'the nod'; that acknowledgment that we were both logging the hours and working hard, but this time we were also sharing something that few other people were. As long as it kept raining and as long as we kept running, we OWNED Central Park.

I flew up the last two hills on the lower west side of the path and kept running out of the park at Columbus Circle. I got caught at a few lights and had to dodge some umbrellas, but I kept running until I was at the lobby of my office building. My boss was by the door waiting for her car service to pull up, and she shook her head at me as I coasted past her.

'Poor you, what a miserable night for a run.'

I didn't expect her to understand, so I just smiled and went through the lobby and up the elevator. After I grabbed my bag, I went back down, to the subway station and onto the train. The doors closed and I looked up at several people staring at me. I glanced at my reflection in the window and saw what they were seeing. I was soaked to the bone and my legs were covered in mud and dirt. My knees and hands were purple with bruises and scabs from a couple of spills off my bike the last weekend, my hair was wet and stringy and my 'waterproof' mascara had shifted down far enough to give me some serious panda eye. I looked like I had been through hell. How could I tell these people that I do this on purpose? I push because it hurts, I get up because I know I'm going to fall again, and I run because most of the time it is hard, but sometimes is the easiest thing in the world. Anyone who runs long enough can tell you about the 'runners high', and knowing that it lives just on the other side of pain is enough to keep you going when you are really in agony. Sometimes, if you're REALLY lucky, the universe gives you a gift; time stops, you are given a double shot of endorphins right in the mainline, and for a few minutes, you get to own one of the most beautiful parks in the world.

I paid for pushing those hills too early in my comeback with sore achillies tendons, and I have some serious stretching to do before I go back to the park for my run with my coach tomorrow, but it was worth it. I can't hope to have that exact same experience again, but I can keep running until I am rewarded with a new one.

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Music: Marc Ronson

It looks like I'm not the only one who relies on the memories of wasted afternoons chasing high scores to keep them going when they are hitting a wall. Marc Ronson apparently pretends he's in the Legend of Zelda when his hours of DJ'ing/producing/giving Amy Winehouse a chance to prove she has things to offer society, start wearing him down. I don't think he uses GU Roctane as his power-up, though. (via Culture Kings)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Media: Gooooaaaaalllllll!

I'll watch soccer every now and again. I went to a Liverpool home game with Nixta a few years ago, and while I'm glad I went, the whole 'mounted cops in riot gear/old stadium with creepy riot ready feel/REALLY intense fans that literally have to be separated AT ALL TIMES to avoid a massacre made it difficult to enjoy the match.

The best experience I had was the last World Cup, when we were taking a month long road trip through Italy and Sicily. We watched matches at most every stop, even managing to find a British pub full of expats in Rome to watch England tie Sweden as the bartender bumping euro techno music at the England goals.

The guitar riff from the White Stripes 'Seven Nation Army' was the Italian team theme song, and it was really fun to hear thousands of Italians all chanting 'dahhh, dah dah dah dah dahhhhh...DAHHHHH' in unison during sports updates in between the bumping euro techno music on all the Italian radio stations we listened to on the drive.

We watched the final match between Italy/France on a ferry up the Dalmatian coast from Dubrovnik to Rijeka, Croatia. We were all crowded into a low ceilinged, dark 'lounge' with a large TV. Swarthy Italian and Croatian sailors in euro Love Boat uniforms with uniform mediterranean mustaches and cigarettes dangling from lips left their posts to come watch with us, and any time a child made a noise or blocked the view of the television, he was swatted in the head, sworn at in a mix of Italian and Croatian, then hustled off to a far corner with the other children, where I assume they formed their own Lord of the Flies social hirarchy, because their adults had clearly abandoned them for the duration of the game. I THINK they all made it out alive.

The boat kept losing the satillite signal, so the crew (which was heavily Italian) decided to ignore 'schedules' and when we got to a spot where satallite coverage was good, they weighed anchor in the middle of nowhere for an unscheduled stop. The Captain came down, hats came off, beers were passed, and we all enjoyed an amazing match. When Italy won, I swear I felt that huge ferry rocking under the weight of hundreds of booze soaked Italians screaming and jumping up and down.

So, while I don't watch it regularly, I do enjoy the World Cup and I'm looking forward to this summer's games.

Nike makes my favorite running nerd commercials, and they killed it with this short film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu for the World Cup. In addition to the soccer stars, Kobe, Federer, Homer Simpson and Gael Garcia Bernal make appearances.

Watch it! If you aren't excited about the World Cup, you will be after this.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First 5 Miler Of the Year!

Today was an awesome 2fer; my longest run of the year (and in my new orthotics!), and I did it with a suprise last minute special guest...Nixta!

We met outside of my office at 6:00 and headed to the end of the bridle path under the Pine Bank bridge at west 62nd to start our loop.

The Boss (aka The Running Coach), told me to hit 45 minutes, so we decided to do a long bridle path loop up to the 102nd street transverse and back down the east side. Nixta was sweet to run slow enough for me to keep pace, so we had a nice chat;

'I think I started too fast.'

'Stop whining.'

'This feels weird, I wonder if the injury is acting up again. Maybe I should stop.'

'Don't be such a sissy. Keep going.'

This was me today. Seriously. Coming back from a long injury is NOT pretty.

After a few miles I felt better, but it was an odd feeling to be running this long again. I kept thinking it was time for a sissy walk break, but I was able to keep going by using my old 'I'm in Super Mario Bros' trick; Pick a tree in the distance, keep running to it and get 100 points for not stopping. Pass that group of speed walkers, 300 points. One of these days-I'm going to find somewhere that will redeem all of the 'points' I've accumulated, but until then, I keep racking them up as a way to keep going when I want to stop.

I also found more stamina using my patented RUN RUN DMC hill training technique, but Nixta was not impressed. He's an idiot. Runners- the best way up a hill is to growl at it, say 'Screw you, hill!' and then charge it like Mel Gibson leading a pack of blue faced soccer hooligans in that ridiculous movie about never letting the Brits take your freedom. Now that i think about it, that's probably why Nixta doesn't like it, and hangs back when I do it. Runners- the best way to take out a British competitor is to shout 'Screw you, Limey!', and charge the hill. Seriously.

Nixta got tired of my nerdy crap at about mile 3.5, so he ran ahead as I battled it out with a body that was not happy at running for so long. I wanted to keep it at an 8:30 pace as long as I could, but the corporal rebellion was beginning. My cardio fitness had peaked and I was starting to feel like my lungs were going to burn out. I have yet to fully convert back to my runner's diet, so my run was putting some stress on the digestive process, and my entire GI system was unsure if it should keep working or reboot (note to self: bacon turkey club sandwich w/cheese and potato chips 2.5 hours before a run...not such a good idea). I spent about a quarter of a mile wondering who of those around me would come help me if I threw up. I have a lot of faith in the running community, I think I would've had no shortage of concerned running nerds making sure I was OK and then congratulating me on pushing past Mach 2 on my post injury puke barrier. I finally did need to walk it for about 30 seconds at mile 4, but I rallied quickly and finished 5.38 miles in 48:32. I hate that this is so hard for me. I'm used to blazing through a 10 mile run at this pace on a BAD day, steps. I'm getting back there. Slowly. A pretty solid effort for the first time I've taken it out of first gear post-injury.

Running with the orthotics was great, though I did get a blister on my right heel because I went too long too early in the breaking-in process. I think its going to be fine, but I need to walk around in those things a little more before my long run on Saturday. I changed into my Pumas for the walk home and it was INSANE how much different they felt after that run! It was like the (previously perfectly serviceable and comfortable for walking around town in) Dr. Scholls arch support in my left shoe was in BACKWARDS. Everything felt wrong, and I could feel my feet and ankles flopping around and rolling out like the Coach had been telling me. I thought he was exaggerating when he made those faces at my feet while I ran on the treadmill a few weeks ago, but...apparently not. My stride without the orthotics had more funky loose movement than a Soul Train dance line, and with the orthotics...steady, military precision. Look out races. Its about to get SERIOUS. My feet are NOT playing anymore. If these orthotics do what the Coach thinks they will, I am on my way to world domination. Or at least finally get down to the consistent 7 minute mile pace that I know I have in me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More About My Barbie Feet

Its a sure sign you are getting old when you start passing up cute shoes because you can tell they will murder your feet. You are REALLY getting into old dork territory when you start putting Dr. Scholl's inserts into your zapatos. I do both of these things. I still love me some hot shoes, but my relationship with them is more abstract than it used to be, and I have become more intimately accquainted with running shoes and how (if I'm not careful) the wrong choice might eventually lead me back down Injury Lane.

According to the latest running theories, if you are running in shoes, you should be running in the lightest, simplest shoes possible. This (fantastic) book did the rounds of every running club in the US last year (thanks in large part to this author interview with John Stewart) and this NYT article and video prompted many running nerds to snap up so many pairs of Vibram Five Fingers, a shortage and hippie running nerd panic ensued.

Vibram 5 Fingers-Because you can't run in your Birkenstocks and Whole Foods won't let you buy your post-run goji berries barefoot

I've read a lot about the barefoot running theory. I think it sounds logical, and I'm interested in seeing how it pans out for people who log a lot of hours in longer road races. I've read the Chi Running book, and have seen a lot of improvement when working on applying the forefoot strike technique. When I was starting to think of my recovery options, I briefly thought about at least going for some minimal shoes, like Newtons. I may still go for the Newtons once I'm a little stronger and have no more recovery pains to work through, but I have to listen to my sports doc and my running coach, and both have told me to stick to my trusty, cushioned Adidas for now, and that my high arch induced funky stride needs the support of custom orthotics. I am not ready to be sidelined again for ignoring the advice of two seasoned marathoners, so I made the appointment to get fitted.

The orthotic guy made me stand on a platform, where he took several measurements of my feet, checked how my knees and hips aligned when sitting and standing, made me do several squats and single leg lifts and then stuck me in some wet plaster to get casts of my feet. While we waited for the molds to set a bit, he told me that I need to stretch my hamstrings and achilles muscles much more. Everything was tight, and just loosening it all up would help immensely. The high arches still needed support and the discovery of a leg length discrepancy (my left leg is a few milimeters shorter than the right!) made him feel that I needed a custom insole. I don't need stability shoes, and I may be able to drop to neutral shoes with less cushioning later, but I do need the orthotic. Sorry running hippies, I like the way you think, but I went for the orthotic, so now we'll just wait and see what happens.


My inserts smell like a mixture of rubber, Ben Gay and hospital corridor. Its been a week, and starting to fade, but every time I take my running shoes off, I get a whiff of old people. They feel like hand ball rubber, are very light and apart from the thick area that supports the arch and the heel cup, they are quite thin.

Check out the blue wedge on the left heel. That's for my gimpy midget leg.

I took them out for a 2 mile spin around the track last Sunday, and they felt great. I picked what felt like an easy pace and cruised along. When I looked down at my first mile split, I noticed that easy pace was my old 8 minute mile pace. I haven't hit that pace since last July and I was just gliding through it. I stopped after two miles and had none of the inflammation I was starting to get on my last few runs. I had the boss man look at my stride today and he says its much improved. After a few more weeks of strength training to get my muscles balanced out, I'll be out of recovery mode and ready to do some road races again. Just in time to make a comeback from my pitiful performance at last year's Mini 10k!

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Music: Sleigh Bells

I'm not liking the constraints of 'Music Monday'. I'll still tag everything with 'music monday', but I'm just going to post this stuff whenever, self-imposed rules be damned.

A while back, I was tipped off about a band called Sleigh Bells. I posted one of their songs here. For months I've been waiting patiently the full album to come out and it's finally here.

Download it from itunes here.

Check out Crown on the Ground here:

As one astute youtube commenter states: this band 'goes to eleven'.

Download it now, and swagger your way through your training this weekend.

You're welcome.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mega Bike!!!

I saved and saved and saved for the duration of my injury, and two weeks ago I finally got to drain my account. In the name of death, dismemberment and triathlons...I got a road bike.

My sweet new ride!

I rode a couple of Felts and a Jamis, looked at a Cannondale and ended up going with a 2009 Felt F75. It was a little above my budget, but after riding the two bikes I came into the store with the intention of choosing between, I realized this one was the winner. Aluminum frame with carbon forks, steer tube and seat post, Shimano 105 deraileurs and levers and a Shimano 600 crank. I had no idea what all of these things were until a month ago when a bike nerd friend started helping me research bikes. I had no idea what all of these things REALLY meant until I rode a few bikes and noticed the differences between this bike, and the lesser models. I wanted THIS bike, and going a few extra bones above my budget was worth it for the jump in quality. We (me and Lou the bike shop guy) decided that if I went with one of lesser bikes in my price range, I'd spend the extra money upgrading components, and then still want to upgrade the frame down the road. This bike...maybe we'll upgrade the wheels and rims down the road and try adding some aerobars when I start racing long distances. Apart from that, this ride is everything I need.

Well, apart from THAT, and the ridiculous seat. I mean, seriously. LOOK at it. Its about the size of a burrito, and as hard as a plank of wood. I realize that I need to have some degree of hardness for racing and a squishy saddle will slow me down and hurt me in the long run, but there HAS to be something with a little more padding that can actually support my whole butt and not just one ass cheek at a time. I got the cushiest pair of bike shorts I could find and a whole tub of chamois butter, and I'm still afraid of sitting on that thing for longer than about 20 minutes. I'm going to try out a few saddles; the Terry Falcon X is up first, and the Specialized Ruby is on deck just in case the Terry can't deliver. Both are a bit wider, so hopefully having some actual support under my lady spaced sitz bones will allow me to ride longer than a few miles without crying.

Banana Seat!

I've been riding with platform pedals and cages, but it really just freaks me out. I can't tighten them enough to make them useful AND be able to pull out quickly, so I'm gonna make the shift to clipless next week. I predict some skinned knees and bruises in my future. I am fully prepared to eat it at the most embarassing and nonsensical moments. It will not be smooth sailing those first couple of tries, but that's ok...because seriously, check out how my new cycling shoes match my bike!!!!!!

You see that lady sport designers? You see that you can make a lady product without making it PINK?!!!

So to track my rides like I track my runs, I'm adding my Garmin Forerunner to the mix. Clip the face to the handlebars, a cadence sensor at the rear wheel, strap on my heart rate monitor, and I can train like the cool tri kids do. The Garmin mounts like this:

Garmin on the left, Light on the right.

The cadence sensor mounts like this:

The Black Box

And with that, I can measure my heart rate, speed, cadence and distance. That's right ya'll...its MEGA BIKE!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sissy Hips and Barbie Feet

So its been a while since I was given the go ahead to start running again, and all seems to be going well. My doc hooked me up with a new running coach and I now have the athletic micromanagement I so desperately crave. Every once in a while I will get extra sore muscles and go into a mini panic that I have to be talked out of: 'muscle pain is normal, you are starting from square one, trust the recovery plan'. Its hard to not go into a tailspin at every little ache or pain. After 8 months off, I'm wary of hurting myself again, but that's why I have the coach. Babysit me back to health, boss!

Before I got the coach on staff, I found a fellow runner (and increasingly awesome triathlete) who suffered from the same injury, probably caused by the same factors that took me down; overtraining, nutrition deficiencies and muscle imbalances (more on this later). We both had trouble getting a diagnosis and even more trouble admitting that maybe there was something really wrong, but Frayed Laces took it one step beyond and actually RAN (and finished) her first marathon on 2 full pubic rami fractures. You can read about her race, injury and recovery here.

I emailed her just before seeing my doctor to gauge whether my recovery aches and pains were similar to hers. She was super helpful and I felt much more confident in the way I had handled my time off and PT over the last 8 months. She also pointed out that if I got the OK to start running again, I needed to go slow for several months, as newly laid bone isn't strong enough to handle the impact of running. A slow buildup would help condition the bone and build the muscles in the hip area to help protect the old injury site while it healed. I was still nervous though. My last sports doc experience was pretty horrible, and I didn't want to hear another doctor tell me to give up.

Thankfully, the new doc shares my passion. He is apparently THE go-to endurance athlete doc in NYC, and when I finally saw him, he showed me all that beautiful new bone my hip was now sporting (still trying to get a copy of the xray film!), and told me to start training again, because he expected to see me at the starting line in November! After reading my MRI's we saw that I actually had TWO fractures (superior and inferior pubic rami), which is pretty common, but it was still a dick move for my old doc to not bother telling me. I told new doc about old doc and he kind of rolled his eyes and gave me a 'what a hater' look as he pitched the wonders of triathlons and how I needed to get going on my bike training soon!

He looked at my feet, had me do some single leg squats and a few resistance exercises, and told me three things; I had really high arches, weak hips and super tightly strung hamstrings and quads. The high arches mean I get less shock absorption on impact, so while I don't overstride, I'm getting a lot of pounding that can cause bone injuries. The weak hips mean that my knees are collapsing inwards, I'm not running from my core as much as I should be, which throws off my form, which causes a lot of pounding that can cause bone injuries (it also causes knee and IT band issues, which I was starting to have after the BK 1/2). The tight muscles make it harder to recover from a run, and will eventually pull too much at the bone and ligaments...which can lead to bone AND soft tissue injuries. Even if I had kept my training volume low and was nutritionally tip top, the stage was set for this injury.

Barbie Feet. Not so cute for runners

So then I saw the coach. He took one look at my feet/hips and told me to get to the gym for strength training and get into some custom orthotics. Like now. So I got fitted and until I get them back...I'll be running slowwwwwly.

My runs are short, they are few, but check out some of the views I've been enjoying!

My first run! Behold the glory of the East River Promenade

The East River Track has views of Williamsburg Bridge and the Domino Sugar Factory!

Central Park Bridle Path: my favorite run in NY

I'm running, I'm biking, I'm swimming, and I'm back on the blogging! More (belated) updates coming throughout the week!