Planning For The Future

planning_future_001Now that I have completed my first half-marathon, I don’t plan on letting up. On the contrary, I am going to continue setting myself more challenging goals and keep pushing myself to reach beyond my limits. That said, I have been taking it easy since the half-marathon. I spent the following few days recuperating, focusing on my swimming as a means of staying active and stretching out my muscles. I ran 5K last Wednesday at a decent clip and felt no pain in my legs, and following a trip to Ireland, got back on the treadmill to clock up 4 miles this morning. I’ll revert to 4-6 mile runs for a couple of weeks to avoid putting too much stress on my body while maintaining my fitness levels and planning for upcoming races.

At this point, I am scheduled to take part in the Scotland Run (10K) on April 7 and the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K on May 12. Interestingly, both races are a full loop of the park but in a counter-clockwise direction – something I have never done before.

Like many others, I was also watching the New York Road Runners site for updates on the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. I caught the news late last week that registration would be open on Monday, March 26 at noon and managed to sign up shortly thereafter. It appears that many others were on the ball too, because ten hours later the NYRR twitter feed broke the news that the race had reached capacity and registration was closed. The race itself is scheduled for May 19th and is one I am really looking forward to as the course includes a long downhill stretch over the second half that follows Ocean Parkway all the way to Coney Island.

My marathon situation should clear up over the next month or so. April 1st is the first registration date for the Philadelphia marathon and the field for the NYC marathon is announced around April 26th. The marathons are two weeks apart, so I can realistically only compete in one of them. My first preference is to run the NYC race, but Philadelphia is close and is a popular course among east-coast runners, so if I don’t get into the NYC race I will be just as happy to run Philly.

Retiring Old Shoes

old_shoes_001Does every runner remembers their first pair of shoes? For me it was the Brooks Defyance 4 – a pair I picked up last October after a visit to a local Jack Rabbit store. I had struggled for a few months with a couple of different pairs of shoes, but never felt as though I was getting the right level of support from them. I had passed the store one day and read on their website that they gave consultations to runners by looking at gait and pronation to determine the best set of shoes. In my case, my over-pronation and slightly excessive motion meant that I needed something with plenty of support. The sales associate recommended these shoes and after only a couple of runs I began to feel a significant difference in my legs and knees.From October through March, these shoes clocked up a total of 380 miles culminating in the New York City Half-Marathon last weekend.

I was so happy with these shoes that, a couple of weeks ago I went to Brooks web site and purchased two more pairs. Unfortunately, Brooks are no longer making these shoes having recently launched a new version of the shoe. I realize at some point I’ll have to find a new shoe but for now, at least, I have two new pairs that should last me through the summer and my marathon preparations.

NYC Half-Marathon

2012_nyc_half_001And so the day finally arrived. It started as a personal challenge to myself, and began in early January with some research and a commitment to see it through to the end. Over the following months I logged many training sessions and hundreds of miles in an effort to complete my first serious distance race and it was all over in less than two hours. The physical preparation I put in payed off in spades as I managed to meet and exceed my best expectations. What I was not ready for was the emotion that would overpower me as I took that last corner onto Water St. and caught sight of the finish line for the first time.

Step back a couple of hours to earlier that morning, and all my preparations were complete. I woke early, went through my race day routine, and left my house on time. Standing in the corral for almost an hour, I managed to keep my anxiety and excitement in check. The race began on time, but it took almost 30 minutes for me to reach the actual start line. It was a strange feeling to be approaching the start at the same time that the race leaders were completing their lap of the park.

The first mile or so was a little slower than I expected, having to navigate crowded roads and a slow moving field. I think I passed the mile marker in something like 9:30 – almost half a minute outside my normal training time and almost a minute outside my target that day. However, from that point I started to move a bit faster and notched the next few miles in under nine minutes each. I completed my first 5K split in 27:12 – remarkably, four and a half minutes faster than my very first race in July, 2011. I put my recovery from the slow start down to two factors; my familiarity with the course based on all my training runs, and seeing Jess cheer me on between mile two and mile three.

The next segment of the race went quite well, as I passed the 10K split at 54:32. I was happy to see that I was keeping a consistent pace (27:20 for 5K) and I was making good progress through the field having started so far back. Physically I felt fine, my knees were holding up to the challenge thanks to all the rest over the previous week. Mentally, I was encouraged by passing so many people (almost a 6:1 ratio) and seeing Jess again along the 7th Ave stretch.

The real challenge came in the third segment, as the course turned from a nice downhill stretch along 42nd St to the south side of the West Side Highway. This was a completely new route for me, and I could feel my legs running slightly heavier on the concrete road in comparison to the blacktop in the park. Despite the struggles, I managed to maintain my pace and passed the 15K split at 1:21:05 (26:33 for 5K). Although I had harbored dreams of finishing in under two hours throughout my training, it was really only this point that those dreams began to seem like a reality. My pace was good, and I was taking short walking breaks of 30 seconds or so at every other water station. To keep my mind busy, I kept recalculating my finish time as I checked off each mile marker. Each time I recalculated the time, I got an extra shot of motivation to keep going.

The last segment was especially hard as I began to feel the full effects of my endeavor, but I kept going – taking strength from the thought of crossing the line and the joy of my fellow runners as they whooped and raised hell in the tunnel under Battery Park. I passed the 20K marker at 1:48:17 (27:12 for 5K), the same split as my first 5K. In my mind I knew I had trained well and was in good physically shape to complete the distance in my target time. As we exited the tunnel and took the service road under the FDR and onto Old Slip, I began to feel overwhelmed by the noise from the crowd. Turning the last corner onto Water St., the sights and sounds really sank in and I felt my lower lip tremble and my eyes start to water. The crowd was relentless in their cheering, fully understanding the sacrifices they made to get to that point. Jess was there too – supporting me throughout my efforts. Crossing the line with very little left in the tank, I stopped my watch at 1:54:07 – almost a full minute inside my target time.

I was emotionally and physically drained as I embraced Jess. I had set myself a goal of completing a half-marathon, and I had met that challenge head on and done better than I could have hoped for. Every training session, every mile, and all those sacrifices melted away as the time and effort I invested paled in comparison to what I had just achieved. My finishers medal is proudly displayed at home, and serves as a constant reminder to me of what I can do when I set my mind to it.

Race Day Routine

race_day_routine_001Every runner has their own race day routine – a very personal, but essential process of preparing for a run that they have developed over a long period of time. Like most runners, I learned over time how to best prepare for a race. For my first race, I arrived at the start late and barely had time to register and warm up before the starters gun sounded. These days, I plan ahead and leave enough time to get the start and stretch.

For my second race, I forgot my running socks and ended the race with some serious chaffing on my undercarriage. After months of training and numerous different running outfits, I settled on one that I feel most comfortable in and now I set that aside a few days in advance. On race day, I know where my gear is and I know it’s clean – I don’t have to stress over my preparations and I know I will be comfortable during the run.

Some runners suffer from chub rub, the result of the thighs rubbing against each other throughout a long run. I use compression shorts to avoid that unpleasant experience, but that has actually led to another problem. Chaffing on that part of the undercarriage between the front plumbing and the back plumbing. The first time it happened to me I didn’t notice until I got home and stood under a hot shower – the stinging pain shot through me like a hot knife and it was quite painful to sit for a couple of hours. Vaseline has become an essential part of my running kit now, and before a long run of competitive race I rub a generous amount in that area to help keep my sensitive regions in good shape.

One of my most challenging aspects of the race day routine is ensuring regularity and managing my bowel movements. Sure, it’s not a glamorous topic and one that many people will avoid talking about – but a friend and I happened to get into it recently when we both had similar experiences of running with a full load. It seems like there’s no single way to ensure the timing of a bathroom visit pre-race, but there are common runners tricks that you can try. For instance, I am now in the habit of getting up 90 minutes before a run and drinking a cup of coffee first thing. After 20/30 minutes getting ready, I am ready to visit the bathroom. I also drink a lot of water the night before, and again during the night when I wake up and have to pee. The regular hydration encourages bowel movements. In addition, I have started using pepto-bismol or tums to settle my stomach and avoid a bathroom break during the race.

One last thing … two Aleve before I leave my place helps to keep the knee pains at bay.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Eleven

nyc_half_w11It’s really hard to believe how fast the time has gone by, but here I am in the second to last week of the training plan. So far, I have managed to stick pretty well to the program, only skipping out on two sessions – although I have moved some sessions around to accommodate my schedule and various niggles and strains. Speaking of … following tonight’s resistance training I felt a little tightness in my right quad. Depending on how I feel in the morning, I may switch my moderate paced 5 mile run from Wednesday to Tuesday, and do my speed work on Wednesday evening. Otherwise, the sessions are consist with prior weeks. Thursday is another resistance training day involving stationary bike, weights, and swimming. Saturday is my final long run, a 12 mile trek consisting of two full loops of Central Park. And Sunday is another easy 4 mile run to help warm down and loosen the muscles going in the final stretch.

I have to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 11 weeks. I have more energy throughout the day and feel a lot better about myself. I also have a lot more confidence in my ability to complete a long run – far more than I did when I first set out on this journey. Even now, the thought of running a marathon is less daunting than it might have been three months ago when the idea first took root. The two most important things I have learned over these 11 weeks are preparation and balance. Preparing properly, building up over time to the race distance and keeping to an appropriate pace will help me get the results I want without risking injury. Jess has also taught me the importance of balancing my running with other activities. She has been very patient throughout the program, and I hope that I have become a little more flexible now than in the beginning.

Unhappy Feet

unhappy_feet_001This is what happens when I try to break in a new pair of running shoes that I bought without proper research. It’s actually not so bad, but it’s a lesson in how to avoid changing gear without getting the right help first. I have been using the same pair of sneakers for the last 4-5 months – Brooks Defyance 4. They are the most comfortable sneakers I have had and provide just the right amount of support for a moderate over-pronator like myself. I got them late last year when I visited the Jack Rabbit on Lex & 85th. One of the sales people helped me with an assessment of my gait and based on what we saw on the video replay, recommended the shoes. I have been extremely happy with them, but they’re almost at the end of their useful life. With only two weeks to race day, I mistakenly thought it would be a good time to break in a new pair. Stupidly, I bought these new sneakers based on the online description only and this is the result.

I’ll return the sneakers, but in the meantime I hit up the Brooks website and got two pairs of the Defyance 4 (soon to be out of stock and replaced by the 5th generation shoe). I definitely dodged a bullet with this one – things could have been a lot worse. But I also learned two important lessons:

  1. I will never try to change running gear right before a race. In future I will plan to break in a new pair at least six to eight weeks in advance of a big event.
  2. When buying new shoes, I will do lots of research and get a professional opinion. A good pair of shoes can make the world of difference.