My First Did-Not-Finish

“Shame, boatloads of shame,
Day after day, more of the same.”
– The Avett Brothers

manhattanhalf_001In the year or more that I’ve been running competitively I’ve had some interesting race day experiences. The vast majority of them have been positive, one of the reasons I have stuck with it so long and had so much success losing weight and getting into shape. However, it was somewhat inevitable that I would eventually have a dodgy on the course and my luck eventually ran out last Sunday at the Manhattan Half-Marathon. For the first time ever, I failed to complete the full race distance.

This was the first race of the five borough series, a set of races that takes place in each of the cities boroughs and provides automatic entry to the following years NYC Half-Marathon. I planned to run the race with Zhenya, my occasional training partner. In the days leading up to the race, the forecast promised an cold but dry morning and sure enough the wind that morning was bone chilling. I layered up with my favorite tights and under armor shirts, and then stacked on tech shirts, hats and gloves to give extra protection against the elements. It wasn’t enough!

After stripping off the outer layers and checking our bags, we made our way to the start corrals. For the next fifteen minutes we stood around in freezing temperatures (the board at the bottom of the park said it was 20F) and tried desperately to stave off the chills.

Once we started, I hoped that the run would bring my body temperature back up and keep the cold out, but as I completed the first loop of the park I couldn’t shake the cold from inside of me. Coming around the southern end of the park and up the east side, I passed the seven mile marker in a time of 57:30. My time was pretty reasonable, but my mind just couldn’t fathom keeping going for another 45-50 minutes. And that’s when I stopped.

Almost immediately I regretted the decision. I sat on the guard rail and debated started up again, but as each minute passed by the thought of spending another minute in these freezing temperatures became less and less attractive. I decided I had had enough, and walked back toward the finish line to pick up my bag and get put back on my sweats. On the way there one of the course marshals asked me if I was ok or needed medical attention. I responded automatically and as I heard myself say the words, “I’m fine … I just don’t want to do this anymore,” I felt that growing sense of shame inside of me. For the next few days I tried not to think about what happened, and as time passed and I spoke to more and more people, I began to realize that I was being a bit too hard on myself. These things happen – I’m going to have some bad days from time to time. The key things is to learn from the experiences, see what works for me and where the issues are and manage my race schedule going forward.

I’ve stopped beating myself up over my first DNF. It probably won’t be my last.


oatmealOver the last year and a half or so, I have tested out numerous foods in that breakfast / pre-run timeslot. I have a somewhat sensitive stomach, so I need to have something solid inside me prior to ingesting the typical high carb gels. Banana’s are a pretty safe food for me, but there are limits to how many I can eat. Fatty foods are a big no-no, and any kind of cereal that requires milk is off limits (who takes dairy before a big run?). After so many attempts to find the ideal pre-race meal, the one food that I keep coming back to, that satisfies my hunger without upsetting my stomach, is oatmeal. It’s both basic and filling, provides the right level of carbs and protein to sustain my body during the run.

I typically make my oatmeal the night before, using the traditional method of boiling water with a pinch of salt and then adding the old fashioned oats. As a rule I avoid the instant oatmeal because of the excess sugar which, when mixed with high carb gels, can cause unpleasant intestinal issues (you know what I mean)! Once it’s thick enough, I put it into a container and refrigerate until the morning. Cold oatmeal doesn’t bother me, and pre-making it the night before saves valuable time in the morning that could be better spent stretching or sleeping. Whether eating hold or cold, I like to top my oatmeal off with some honey, mini kisses, and mixed nuts if available. Altogether it’s a pretty appetizing breakfast and has yet to lead to stomach issues prior to or during the race.

A single serving of oatmeal (made with Quaker Oats or something similar) contains approximately 3g of fat, 27g of carbs, and 5g of protein. With a healthy dose of carbs for lunch the day before, that’s the ideal platform and source of fuel for a problem free run!

Hey Joe …

kleinerman_10k_002This was my second time running the Joe Kleinerman 10K. Unlike last year, when the race started and finished near the 102nd St. Transverse, this edition of the race had the start and finish located in the area of the 72nd St. Transverse. It’s all much the same to me, although the biggest difference with the new course is that the big hills come towards the end. I have to admit that I do like getting the Harlem Hill over with early on when running in Central Park.

I really hadn’t done a whole of running or training over the holidays. I used our trip to Europe as an excuse to take a break from everything running, especially after the intensity of the prior couple of months both leading up to and immediately after the Philadelphia Marathon. Being the first post-holidays race, I figured my fitness and stamina levels would be down from their peaks and I might struggle to put up a good time.

Apparently not!

The morning was relatively nice for January, with temperatures a little above freezing and no breeze to speak of. My morning routine had gone off without a hitch, and I felt really good as the race wound it’s way around the southern end of the park and up toward Cat Hill. My legs were turning over nicely and as I powered up the hill, I felt no pain in my knee. By the third mile marker I was clocking a faster than expected pace of 8:00 per mile, with most of the major hills remaining.

Funnily enough, Harlem Hill and the three sisters on the West side failed to significantly slow me down, and I completed the second half of the race with a slightly slower pace, to hit the finish in a time of 50:19 (8:07 per mile) – a new personal best for the distance.

In the immediate aftermath of the race I felt a little guilty, mainly because I thought I hadn’t worked hard enough to earn the personal best distinction. It was the first time I had ever felt that way after a race and took some time to rationalize. In the ensuing days however, I read a lot of articles about training styles and the effects of long-term stamina training. As it turns out, even though I took a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays, the rate of decline was incredibly slow because of the intensity of my marathon training. Running experts and publications alike all spoke about the benefits of rest and allowing the body to recover following high intensity training. It’s an area I didn’t pay a lot of attention to up to that point, but something that I plan on incorporating into future training plans to create a more balanced regimen going forward.

2012 Year In Review

2012As I have had some downtime over the last couple of weeks, I have been enjoying the holidays and giving my body a break from this running business. Getting away from it all for a few days has provided me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and on all that I have achieved. The point of this review is not to recount my performance in each race – that’s been done in detail already. The point is to take a more holistic view of my performance in relation to my goals and objectives, and think about where I can do better next year. I’ll admit that, over the past twelve months, I have far exceeded any expectations I had going into this endeavor. When I first started running I thought I would struggle to reach a point where I actually enjoyed the activity. Although I still dread the early morning runs and sometimes struggle with heavy legs, I look forward to most of my runs; the long and short training runs act as a form of meditation, whereas the races themselves feed my need for competition and achievement.

Going back to the start of the year, I set myself a few goals:

  • Finish 9 NYRR races & qualify for the 2013 NYC Marathon
  • Run a Half-Marathon in under 2 hours
  • Run a Marathon in under 4 hours
  • Run a race in under 8:00 per mile
  • Avoid serious injury

Of the five goals I set out for myself at the start of the year, I managed to achieve four of them. In my mind that was pretty remarkable, especially in the context of where I was physically just 18 – 24 months ago. It wasn’t that long ago that the thought of running scared me (I imagined with horror all my wobbly bits, well wobbling!). The first few months at the gym were filled with shame as I wore the results of my over-eating and general laziness for all to see. However, I slowly started to see some changes and in time I was able to run further and faster. At the same time, my clothes started to feel a little looser and I became more comfortable in my own skin. Skip forward a year and the changes in me were much more evident. I was ready to take my running to the streets to really see what I could.

Over the course of the year I registered for 14-15 NYRR races at a cost of $540, all marathon qualifiers. As it turns out, I actually only ran the required nine because of scheduling issues and injury. For the coming year, I will be more selective with the races I sign up for. This year promises to be a busy one, so it’s important I keep in mind the commitment I made to Jess way back at the beginning and make sure that running doesn’t take over my life and dictate my schedule.

I originally planned to run a half-marathon last year, but ended up running three. Each one was a fantastic experience and if I’m being honest, I have to admit that it’s probably my favorite distance. The half-marathon is a real test of both speed and endurance and I enjoy the mental and physical challenge it provides. A friend of mine who also runs mentioned recently that he has a half-marathon personal best of 1:36 – a full 12 minutes better than mine, so I’m looking to continue improving my own time in this distance and hopefully taking a crack at that record by the end of the year. In terms of the marathon, I’m not going to rehash my Philadelphia mistakes, but I am planning to compete in just one this year because of the training commitment required. I qualified for the NYC Marathon in November through the 9+1 program and will make sure to take all my supplements as I look to finish in under four hours this time around.

Average pace is a tricky thing to aim for because different race distances require different levels of effort. However, my first ever race saw me finish with an 8:13 per mile average in just under 4 miles so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine getting under the 8:00 minute mile barrier. At least that’s what I thought. There were times where I really struggled and it was only at the very end of the year, as I peaked from my marathon training that I started to put in the performances necessary to take me under that eight minute mile pace. Now that I managed to break it, my next target is 7:30 per mile!

I read a lot of running materials, whether it’s books, blogs, or magazines. One of the comments that kept coming up was the inevitability of injuries. Apparently it happens to everyone, and although we can take preventative measures to limit their impact, eventually the strain will catch up. Sad to say, it happened to me this past year. Luckily the tendonitis was not extreme and a month’s rest helped my knee recover. I have to be conscious of mixing weights and stretches into my routine to prevent a recurrence and ensure my leg muscles remain strong enough to withstand the constant stress. Despite the injury, I am pretty lucky that it was not serious and so, I hope to continue that trend me monitoring my body and making sure I eat, stretch, and vary my workouts to provide a solid foundation for the next twelve months.

As far as the coming year, my goals have not changed all that much except in my finish times. However, I have added one new one to the list. I’m getting married in May, so the goal is to make sure that running does not interfere with my wedding. I’m pretty sure I can do it – I just have to avoid scheduling any big races or intense training for the weeks leading up to and after the wedding and honeymoon.