A Long Road Back

It’s been over six years since I lined up at the start of a race. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to get back out on the road. Sure, there’s been some periods of activity between then and now, casual runs in the neighborhood, half-hearted attempts to get back into shape after (twice) navigating the world of a newborn child. But nothing stuck and there was always an easy reason to not go for a run.

A few months back, Jess and I took the boys to see the NYC marathon. Something about seeing those runners cross that 20 mile marker caused a very strong emotional reaction inside me. I’ve been holding on to so many negative feelings about my own marathon experience that I think that’s a big part of why I stopped running in the first place and why I’ve procrastinated since then.

I used to love lining up with with all the other runners just before the race started. I used to love the feeling of gliding along the roads, passing crowds of cheering onlookers and bursting a lung during that final sprint to the line. I miss those days. I want them back.

So I’m taking the first steps on the long road back. I have some moderate goals in mind for this coming year, starting with a couple of 5K’s and 4M’s and working up to the Philly Half in November 22 and ultimately aiming for the NYC Marathon in November 23.

Flu Season

flu season 001I’m usually lucky enough to dodge the worst that flu season has to offer, but unfortunately not this year. Whatever has been circulating amongst the population latched on to me a couple of weeks ago and launched an all out assault against my body. My immune system, often a strong point, fought bravely for days to stem the tide of germs but eventually succumbed to the pressure. It’s been a rough couple of weeks, with little in the way of activity and lots of comfort food (yum but oh so bad!) to nurse me through the worst of it.

I’m starting to emerge from the worst of it, but am now faced with the prospect of having to work just that little bit harder to get myself back to where I was before the germs declared war.

Us runners live for days like these though.

Severe Tendonitis & Partial Tear

workout003That’s the official verdict. After all this time, after three doctors, x-rays, physical therapy, personal training, self-medication, and a couple of jars of snake oil, I finally have an answer.

There is severe tendonitis of the proximal patellar tendon with superimposed partial tear of the articular sided proximal tendon fibers, comprising 50% of the tendon thickness.

I went to a new doctor in my neighborhood recently and was referred to Laith Jazrawi, M.D., a sports medicine expert at NYU Langone. Dr Jazrawi and his associates performed some physical examinations of the joint in addition to x-rays and an MRI. The MRI confirmed all the suspicions but also highlighted the additional tearing of the tendon fibers which was probably been exacerbated by my stubborn refusal to stop running over the last year.

Although slightly worse than expected, it’s actually somewhat of a relief to know what the problem is. I’m tired of laboring up stairs and popping pills to mask the pain. If I’m going to make the NYC marathon later this year I need to be more serious about fixing the problem.

The initial round of treatment prescribed by Dr. Jazrawi was a relatively simple process involving nitro patches designed to promote restorative blood flow in the region. It’s only been a few weeks, but so far so good. The pain crops up less frequently, and even more encouraging, rarely strikes when climbing stairs – the one place it would hurt the most. If that wasn’t positive enough, throughout the diagnosis and treatment process, I have been running between 15 and 20 miles per week.

I’m delighted to finally be making progress with this issue and hope that, over the next few weeks and months, I can continue my recovery process and take my place on the starting line at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island in November.

These Headphones Rock

bose_sie2iEvery once in a while we come across a product that performs far beyond our expectations. Last week I had just one of those experiences.

I had tried numerous headphones over the last couple of years, never finding ones that really suited me. The over-ear type don’t give a good sound and the in-ear type make me very uncomfortable. And then I found these beauties from Bose. I really like the semi in-ear design, which allows users to hear ambient noise such as car horns, along with the Stay Hear tips that hold the headphone in the ear while running and working out.

The other day I realized that I had left them in the small pocked on the side of my running shorts after the previous days gym session. A mild moment of panic set in when it dawned on me that my shorts were midway through the spin cycle. Jess managed to intercept the shorts before they landed in the dryer and rescue the headphones. Imagine my surprise when, after plugging them into my phone, they were still working!

That’s not all. A couple of days later I dropped the very same headphones into a pint glass of water. And yet again, they survived the ordeal and continue to provide me acoustic entertainment. Most modern products are not made to last, companies opting to trade in some level quality to shorten lifespan in the hope of driving up recurring sales. Clearly that’s not a practice that Bose engage in.

If you’re in the market for some new headphones, I would highly recommend the SIE2i’s. Do you have any favorite products that exceeded your expectations?

2013 Year in Review

2013YIRAnother holiday season has come and gone, and it’s time to cast an eye over my achievement throughout the last twelve months. After the personal successes of the previous year, I entered 2013 with high hopes for myself and some lofty ambitions. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned and instead of celebrating personal records and marathon completions, I dealt with recurring injury problems and an ongoing lack of motivation.

Just like last year, the point of this review is not to rehash my success or failures in each individual event, but to look at the bigger picture and try to learn something from the past year that helps me in the next one.

My goals for the year were:

  • Finish 9 NYRR races & qualify for the 2014 NYC Marathon
  • Set a Half-Marathon PR
  • Run my first NYC Marathon
  • Run a race in under 8:00 per mile
  • Avoid serious injury
  • Don’t let running interfere with my wedding

Of the six goals I set out for myself at the start of the year, I managed to achieve a few of them. Most important of all, was ensuring that running did not conflict in any way with my wedding plans. And I’m happy to report that everything went off without a hitch. The wedding was fantastic, the honeymoon a dream, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the first seven months of what I hope is a long and happy union.

In terms of running, the year had it’s share of us and downs. Things started out well, as I carried my good form and conditioning into the first few weeks and set two personal records over the 10K and 4M distances. The second of those runs had an additional dimension of success in that I completed the distance in an average time under eight minutes a mile.

From there however, things went downhill. For the first time ever, I abandoned a race and karma seems to have continually kicked me in the arse for that failure all year. Perhaps I had developed a sense of invincibility after making such stellar progress, or else it was the lack of real goals after completing my first marathon. Whatever the reason, my motivation took a nosedive after the DNF and I struggled through the remainder of the year. I barely managed to get in shape for any of the half marathons I miraculously completed. My knee condition stopped getting worse but never really got better either, and I started to use lame reasons for avoiding runs and workouts.

There were two highlights during the remainder of the year. The first was the Fifth Avenue Mile, which I finally fit into my schedule. I hadn’t done any specific training for the event, but still managed to complete the distance in a time of 6:45. The experience was entirely different to the traditional 4/5/6.1 mile race and is something I will aim for again in 2014.

The second highlight and the years best achievement was a shared one – completing the Philadelphia Half Marathon with my sister and brother-in-law. Recent converts to running, they decided to give it a go following some encouragement from myself and decent performances in local races. That the three of us crossed the finish line at all was a fantastic achievement.┬áThat the three of us crossed the finish within a couple of minutes of each other was remarkable.

I continue to read a lot of running related material, picking up useful nuggets of information on products and training habits where I can. I have started to compile them into notes and am creating a set of workouts using the Garmin training tools that come with their Connect application.

As far as the coming year, I would like to get back to my form of 2012. To do that, I need to put in the training time across multiple disciplines (speed, hills, stamina, etc.) and that is heavily dependent on my knee holding up. Over training may certainly be the cause of my problems, so hopefully the reduction in workload and introduction of cycling and swimming will help to maintain my fitness while simultaneously reducing the stress on my joints. In terms of times, I would like to do a half in 1:45, run a 4 miler in under 30 minutes and a 10K in under 50 minutes. The other focus area is the social aspect; meeting more runners and learning from their experiences. That starts with getting involved in group runs with the North Brooklyn Runners. I’ve threatened this for a while, so hopefully this is the year I can make it happen.

I Own The 10K World Record

KenenisaBekele_001Kenenisa Bekele, a long-distance athlete from Ethiopia, is the current holder of the official 10,000M world record with a time of 26:17.53.

On 26 August 2005, Kenenisa set the current 10,000 m world record at the 29th Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels, taking nearly three seconds off his previous world record 26:20.31, and running with 5K splits of 13:09 and 13:08 minutes.

Except that, official records show I have actually run faster.

You see, back in late 2012 I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. If you look at the official results from that year you will notice that my time at the first 10K split was 21:46 – a full four and a half minutes faster than the current world record.

I wish!

worldrecord001Of course, that’s complete nonsense. For some reason my official time seems to discount the first 36 minutes of running, which if included, would give me an actual 10K split of 58:22. Let’s be honest, that’s a much more realistic number given my level of experience.

The Philly Half Family Affair

philly2013_001Sometime last year my older sister got the running bug. She started out like most of us do, running for fitness and eventually graduated to the competitive scene by taking part in a couple of local 5K races. Earlier this year she stepped it up again, and took part in the Broad Street Run, a very popular 10 mile race that goes through the heart of Philadelphia. Despite some nerves, she did really well – finishing in a time of 1:28:45. After the race, I somehow convinced her to sign up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. She in turn talked her husband and neighbor into running too.

I have to admit, it was nice to be able to talk running with her. She had the same enthusiasm and was going through the same race-associated emotions that I had gone through the previous year. It brought back some good memories of the first few races I took part in and how excited I would get about a good performance. Since this year has been something of a bust for me, to a certain extent I guess I was living vicariously through Carla and her achievements.

If you’ve been reading my last few updates you will know that my own preparations for the race were pretty disastrous. Most people taper before a big race, but in my case I went off a precipice and shut everything down. Injury and illness conspired to force me into three weeks of idleness in the lead up to the half. My last run had been the marathon kickoff in Central Park in late October – a decent run capping off a few weeks of successful training. Since then though, my training diary was completely empty – a wasteland of blank space that embarrassed me on a daily basis.

Jess and I travelled down to Philly on the Friday night, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a little extra time with Carla, her husband and their two kids. We played with the kids on Saturday morning and then all headed into the city to pick up our numbers. A brief stop at a really nice pizza restaurant helped with our carbo-loading and we were back home by 4pm, ready to relax for the evening. We had a 4AM wake-up planned, so it was an early night all around.

The next morning (or middle of the night in reality) we woke up and went through our individual preparations. By 4:30AM we were on the road and on our way to the start area in downtown Philadelphia. On the way we managed to run over a skunk, so any lingering sleepiness was soon dispelled when the smell hit in full force shortly thereafter. Even though it was cold outside, I think we were all happy to leave the confines of the car and get a bit of fresh air when we parked an hour later.

We were in the third corral, so didn’t have to wait around too long after the first batch of runners set off. Just in front of us was the Clif Bar pace runner with the 1:50 target time. For some reason, despite my complete lack of training, I felt I could keep with the pace. I managed to stay with the group for the first three or four miles, but the fast speed and lack of training eventually caught up to me and I had to drop off. Carla and Lars had also dropped off and were a little further back. I kept going over the next two miles with the aid of a couple of walk breaks, and by mile six had settled into a comfortable nine minutes mile pace. Around the half way point and just prior to the start of the challenging hill section, I slowed for a walk break. Carla and Lars caught up to me shortly after, but stopped themselves for a walk break as I started up again. We had completed the first 10K in 54 minutes. They were deep in discussionphilly2013_002s about tactics and trying to manage their pace, having gone off a little faster than planned and were concerned about lasting the distance.

Meanwhile, Jess and my niece had gotten up early and set themselves up near the Please Touch museum in Fairmount Park. Unfortunately, I missed them as I ran past but they saw me (apparently I was totally in the zone) and Carla & Lars a minute or two later. Seeing her daughter definitely helped my sister and gave her that little extra bit of motivation she needed to push on to the finish. For Jess and my niece, it was good bonding time and a nice way to spend a few hours together. After standing out in the cold cheering on the athletes for an hour, they headed off to the warmth of the car and the inviting smells of a local diner for some delicious breakfast before returning home to greet their weary runners.

For us, still out on the course, we were entering the final miles. In my case, the miles and lack of training was taking a real toll and the walk breaks became more frequent. Over the last 10K I slowed considerably, and cross the line with a time of 2:00:04. Two minutes behind me, Carla and Lars crossed the line hand-in-hand, with a time of 2:02:35. We had missed our two hour target but were happy to have finished with such a respectable time. The recovery started immediately, with water and pretzels handed out by volunteers at the finish. The ride home was relatively quiet, each of us replaying the race in our heads.

For me, finishing the race was an achievement in itself. This was the third half-marathon I had finished this year, each one on the back of interrupted training and challenging physical conditions. For my sister it was the culmination of months of training and a goal realized. Sure, the time was just outside the target, but that shouldn’t distract from the achievement. She set out to run a half-marathon and that’s exactly what she did. I felt proud of her for sticking it out and resisting the strong urge to quit at various points. Coming through a test like that builds character and makes a person stronger. For Carla and Lars, the strength and support he provided throughout the run is a testament to the strength of their relationship and the love and respect they have for each other. I’m proud of all of us for what we’ve done!

Worst Race Prep Ever

bug_001This year has not been good when it comes to race preparation. Training for both of the Spring half’s that I competed in was interrupted or cut short by injury, and the lead up to this month’s half in Philadelphia has been a catastrophe of comedic proportions. A recurrence of my knee injury, a busy work schedule, and a severe bout of food poisoning rendered me incapacitated for a lengthy period. At one point I had dreams of a PR attempt in this race, but I have not even had a sniff of a run in the last two weeks. Certainly not the best preparation for a half marathon, and completed destroying any hope a new best time.

Marathon Kickoff

psmk2013Marathon week is usually a fun time in New York City. In addition to the marathon-related activities, there’s also the Halloween Parade in the East Village. This annual freakshow is a spectacle that many marathoners work into their trip and come to town a little early just to bear witness to. There’s also the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff race, a 5M loop of Central Park that routes competitors along portions of the marathon path including the grandstand finish. For me, in addition to running part of the marathon route, the race offered up the opportunity for a competitive run out after a fairly lengthy break from middle distance competition.

Conditions were perfect as I arrived at the park. The weather was still warm enough for shorts, and short sleeves. The park was in full transition mode, with barriers and grandstands almost ready for the upcoming marathon. There was quite a large crowd already gathered and the mood was lively as runners basked in the early morning sun. Personally, I was looking forward to running at the front of the field in part because of my fast time at the Fifth Ave Mile. The course was clockwise around the park, one of only two races that travel in this direction. I had enjoyed my previous experiences running this direction. After a couple of weeks of good training, I had a feeling that a PR might be possible but tempered my expectations because of my ongoing knee issues.

The race started out very fast, more so than I had expected even. I tried to run my own pace initially and didn’t panic when quite a few runners started passing me over the first mile. Controlling my pace, I put in an 8:10 first mile and an 8:06 second mile. However, the pace started to catch up to me by the time I reached the 102nd St Transverse and at the water station I slowed down to take on some fluids and give the legs a break. This time last year I was capable of doing the same run and pace with no breaks, but given the shoddy year I have had it’s no surprise that my strength and stamina are off.

Over the remaining miles I clocked an 8:30 average pace to finish in a time of 41:43. After the race I felt fine and took only a couple of minutes to fully recover and head home. Looking back on the race, even with two walk breaks and a reduced training workload leading up to the event, I was less than two minutes off my PR for the distance. This is not the first time I have been in that position, and yet again I’m faced with the realization that, were I to have a decent period of uninterrupted training, I could probably beat all of my PRs.

If only…

This Lunchbox Saved Me A Grand!

lunchbox001I’ve told this story t a few times over the years, but never recounted it to a wider audience. A couple of years ago, in the early stages of my transformation, I had changed some of my eating habits to kick start my weight loss and compliment the running. Rather than buying pizza and over-stuffed hero’s for lunch, I switched to salads at the local deli. I was fairly consistent with the ingredients: lettuce, cabbage, mushroom, boiled egg, chicken, croutons and a little dressing. Every so often I made minor changes to avoid getting bored, like switching the mushrooms out for cucumbers. The salads were pretty good and the portion size was just enough for an office lunch, but they cost about $10 a pop (fairly typical for Manhattan). I don’t recall exactly when, but one particular day Jess and I were discussing food and I happened to tell her about my daily lunch ritual. She was particularly surprised by the cost and my willingness to spend so much. From my perspective, I felt it was worth it to gain control over my eating habits and the one area that had the potential to derail my efforts to get healthy.

Certain details of the story really registered with Jess and, looking out for my best interests as usual, she gave me this lunchbox as a gift shortly thereafter. It’s made by a company called Fit & Fresh and will keep “greens cool and crisp with the snap-in, removable ice pack! It also features a unique twist and release dressing dispenser built right in so you can shake and eat when ready!” Jess figured that, by opting to make the salads myself and bring them to work, I had the opportunity to save a bit of money while still maintaining control over my eating habits.

I took to the idea pretty quickly and developed a simple system, that I’m still using almost two years later. Every weekend, whatever ingredients we need for the week are added to the grocery list. At some point over the weekend, usually Sunday while watching some type of sports, I set about boiling, grilling, peeling and chopping the ingredients and then storing them in tupperware containers in the fridge. Every morning, I take ten minutes to shred some lettuce, drop in a handful of ingredients from each tupperware, top with some croutons and dressing, and away I go. At this point I have it down to an art and have halved the time it takes both on the weekend and in the morning.

I don’t really mind taking the same thing for lunch every day. Like I’ve said a few times, it gives me some control over a potential minefield and has definitely helped me lose weight initially and keep it off since. It’s not for everyone of course, especially the lack of variety on a daily basis – but being a creature of habit, I guess it just doesn’t bother me. In fact, I look forward to that 15 minutes when I can put my headphones on and eat my lunch.

Over the initial twelve month period I actually kept a track of how much the ingredients cost each week. Over the course of the year I figured to have saved around $1100 versus buying my lunch every day. These numbers are anecdotal, since I ended up spending the money on other things … but still, that was over a thousand dollars in pocket money that could have been used for anything!