November 22, 2008

Free Ride

There are few things in life for free so when something comes your way it's always a pleasant surprise. I am at JFK airport waiting to board my flight to Amsterdam. I didn't pay for my ticket, I used frequent flyer miles instead. I had a rather unattractive seat on an overbooked flight and was not looking forward to it. I flew business class last year (also on miles) and was reminiscing how comfortable it was.

Soon after I arrived in the gate area, they announced that the flight was oversold and they needed 8 volunteers to give up their seats. The price? A later flight to London (8:45pm vs. the 5:25pm direct flight) and then a short flight to Amsterdam in the morning. The arrival time was 2pm rather than 7:30am. They offered $400 in Delta flight credit, which would come in handy during an Ironman year. It sounded good, but I didn't move on it. Then minutes later, when I was just about to step onto the plane, they made the announcement again and this time I decided to go for it.

While the gate agent rebooked my flight, I asked if there was any chance for an upgrade. She didn't even hesitate, she typed a few things in and said she could do it for the JFK to Heathrow portion of the flight. So not only did I not pay for this flight, but Delta ended up paying me to fly business class.

Since I suddenly had time to kill, I stopped off at Duty Free and am now enjoying free drinks in the Delta lounge. This trip is off to a very nice start.

November 21, 2008

Off to Amsterdam

Every year I spend Thanksgiving in Amsterdam. It started as a layover on the way back from Africa and became an annual tradition. It's gotten so that I know the city so well and have so many friends there that it feels like a home away from home. I have a local bar where when I arrive, it feels like I never left. I eat at familiar restaurants and stay with friends. People ask why I don't go somewhere else, like Paris or London, but the thought has never crossed my mind.

Even though I'll be on vacation, I'll be a lot more active than I've been in New York lately. I'll have my Dutch bike to get around the city and do more walking than I've done all month. And that's a good thing. I'll need to counteract some the massive quantities of beer I'll be drinking and let's not even think about the Dutch pancakes.

Bon voyage!

November 18, 2008

The Day my Blog Died

When I started this blog, I thought I might post every few days. Then my type A self took over and I felt compelled to post every day. But I enjoyed it. I had the time and I actually looked forward to it.

Then I crashed my bike and post after post became an outlet for my frustration and disappointment. Then my training thinned out. But I still had the marathon.

Now that the marathon is over, I am sad to say that my blog has died. This is a temporary death since I have the Ironman coming up, but it's still a very disappointing death. This blog is not personal. It has never been about me - who I really am, what my "real" life is like, what I do outside of triathlon. It's a training blog. It's about what it has taken for me to go from lazy to triathlete, to sub-4 marathoner and hopefully, to Ironman. So when I hit the "off season" after achieving that sub-4, I no longer had content for the blog. And that's how it died.

I'm not training, but I am busy. Work is taking a lot of time and as a consultant, that is a good thing. And life is very full. I'm moving to Brooklyn after 11 years in Manhattan so in many ways, I'm discovering an entirely new way of living. That takes time, just like training for a triathlon or a marathon. And while I can't log that time, it's just as much work. Hopefully I'll be able to ease back into the training without too much protest from my inner lazy marathoner.

November 9, 2008

Bronx Bound

I got up this morning and took a long train ride to the Bronx, but not to race, to volunteer. I'm just barely going to complete 9 qualifying races this year for the guaranteed New York City Marathon entry in '09 and they now require a volunteer shift as well. Even though I'm not sure I'll do the race, it seems like a waste to come so close and not secure the entry. So I got up on a Sunday morning and headed up to Van Cortlandt Park for the Cross Country Championships.

I haven't been to the Bronx in awhile. The last time was to volunteer on Earth Day in 2007 and that was inHunt's Point, South Bronx, which is much, much closer. Van Cortlandt Park is pretty far up there, off the last stop on the 1 train. It took just over an hour on the train ride alone.

I actually ran the Cross Country Championships back in 2002 when it still counted as a marathon qualifier. Being new to running at the time, and not having read the information on the race, I was surprised that I had to run in the mud and through the woods, in some cases down steep hills with wet leaves. It was a fun race, but I'm surprised I didn't break an ankle. I haven't done a cross country race since. I stick with nice, safe road running where I'm less likely to trip and face plant.

I arrived late and still had to kill 45 minutes before they even told me where to be. I was a course marshal and they posted me at the finish to keep people off the course and keep the racers moving after crossing the line. I really didn't have to do much. They had tons of volunteers, all trying to get into the marathon, so there wasn't much work to be done. Our shift was until 1:00, but everyone signed out at noon when the race was over so I offered to stay if needed. I helped break down the finish area and pack everything up. It would have been nice to get a head start on the hour-long train ride home, but I needed to feel like I did something and after all, that's what I was there for.

After 2 more races in December, I'll have my guaranteed entry for 2009. I'm still figuring out what I want to do next fall. I'd like to run a marathon after the Ironman, but I need to see how the training goes and if my body can handle it. I'm hoping it can because after my experience this year, I'd really like to do the race again. I likely won't be able to do it as fast, but as I learned from my previous 4 marathons, finish time isn't everything.

November 7, 2008

Different Strokes

Since I'm still not running, I decided to give swimming another try. I wanted to sleep in, but needed to be in the pool no later than 9:20 since it closes at 10. Or so I thought. When they didn't kick us out at 10, I realized it's open until noon on Fridays. Oh well. At least I was up and would have a more productive day.

I was able to swim faster today and with minimal shoulder pain, but my stroke just isn't right. I'm not balanced properly and I can't get my left elbow up enough to avoid hitting the water with my palm on entry. And today my position was off, too. Some days I feel like I'm gliding effortlessly on the surface of the water (note: not very often) and other days I feel like I have the buoyancy of a rock. Today I was a rock.

But I'm not stressing over it. I'm just getting started again and it's going to take work and patience. If it doesn't start coming back to me after a month or so, I'll schedule a couple sessions with the coach again. For now I'll just keep trying and be thankful my arm works again.

Distance - 1800 yards
Time - 37:37

November 6, 2008

Distant Memory

It's only been 4 days and the marathon is already feeling like a distant memory. It's partly because I had to jump back into work and it ended up being another very busy week and partly because there are fewer opportunities to think about it or talk about it each day. When I went back to work on Monday, only two or three people even remembered I had done it. The rest probably thought I had fallen down some stairs or been hit by a truck over the weekend based on the way I was hobbling around.

The (thankfully) diminishing pain also makes the race feel more distant. I woke up finally feeling normal again and had planned my first run today. I wanted to get some sleep so I opted to run after work. Silly me. Have I learned nothing in the past 11 years? I worked until almost 9 p.m. so it was too late to run. So instead I walked. I walked across town along Central Park instead of taking the subway. As I strolled along Central Park South and looked at Columbus Circle ahead of me I got a little nostalgic. This was the stretch just past Mile 25 where I gave it my all and didn't know if I was going to make that sub-4 goal. Everything looks so different when you're running. Now, with several lanes of traffic crowding the street and the famous blue line almost completely faded away, you'd never know there were 38,000 runners living their dreams in that same place just a few days ago.

I was a little sad that all signs of the race seemed to be gone, but then I rounded the corner at Columbus Circle and saw it: the end of the blue line where we left the street and re-entered Central Park with about 400 yards to go. This was the place where I had to shout out for runners to clear the way, where I was so close to making my goal that nothing in the world could stop me. I paused for a moment to remember and I snapped this photo. It may be a distant memory for everyone else, but it will stick with me for a very long time.

November 5, 2008

Road to Recovery

I've had a pretty slow week, which is to be expected after a marathon. I woke up on Monday feeling pretty decent. I slept in my new 2XU compression tights so my legs didn't hurt as much as usual. I was able to walk down stairs comfortably and had a spring in my step. I saw a guy on the subway who could barely get UP the stairs let alone down. I was feeling rather smug.

But then I sat at work all day and my legs swelled up like balloons. I was so puffy by the end of the day that my ankles had ceased to exist. I couldn't wait to get home and get back into my tights. I was also on a steady diet of Aleve and Advil.

Tuesday was a bit better, but horribly painful. It's always a little worse the second day so I wasn't surprised. I decided to wear my compression socks to work so thank god for knee high boots. I threw on a dress, put some leggings over the socks, put on the boots and was on my way. Only I knew I was compressing all day.

Aside from walking and stretching, I haven't been able to do much this week. So today I decided to get moving again. My legs feel 90% better, almost back to normal except for some residual stiffness. I figured a swim would be a nice start so I made my first trip to the pool in a month. It was only the second time swimming with my bad arm and the first time was major frustration so I planned to just take it easy. It wasn't as bad as I expected. My balance is terrible and it's making it hard to maintain a good body position in the water, but my stroke seems to be OK. My shoulder protested after a half mile so I did the final set with some kicking mixed in to give it a break. I was able to do 1350 yards without gasping for air and having to take massive breaks so I was happy. Small steps.

I may attempt a run tomorrow. I feel like you're not fully recovered until you can start running again. Those first steps are never fun, but you have to get back out there eventually.

I'm planning to post some pictures over the next few days as well. Unfortunately I don't have any of me actually running the race, but I'm sure Brightroom caught a few. I'm hoping there will be at least one or two that aren't totally embarrassing, but as race photos tend to go, there are no guarantees.

Distance - 1,350 yards
Time - 30:33

November 2, 2008

NYC Marathon - A Perfect Day

I woke up at 5:30 this morning and realized it was time to get up and run a marathon. Every race morning I ask myself - what were you thinking? That was particularly true today. I still had no idea what to expect, but I felt as good as I could given the circumstances.

I had an english muffin, coffee and bundled up in multiple layers to brave the chilly wait at the start. I grabbed a cab to the Staten Island Ferry, my mode of transportation out of Manhattan. The station was filled with runners and there was energy in the air. I felt sorry for the two or three people who had to take the ferry and weren't doing the race. They looked confused, as if they'd stepped into some alternate universe by mistake.

The ride across the harbor was calming. I listened to music and thought about how far I'd come. I stood by a window on the Statue of Liberty side of the boat so I had inspiring views the entire time. I was as ready as I could be.

We had to take a bus to the start area, which was divided into villages by colored starts. I was in the orange village so I grabbed some water and found a patch of grass in the sun to set up shop. I had two big sheets of mylar to sit on and wrap up in. It was freezing, about 38 degrees when I arrived. I stayed huddled in my little makeshift tent for as long as possible. With 10 minutes before the cut-off time, I finally braved the cold, stripped down to shorts and a tank top, put my cozy warm clothes in a bag and checked it. I made a skirt out of one sheet of mylar and wrapped my upper body in the other. Using the porta potty like this required some serious skill.

They did wave starts this year for the first time and I was in wave 2 at 10:00. It was about 40-42 degrees and sunny when we started, just about perfect weather for a long run. Aside from the occasional brisk wind, I felt warmed up pretty quickly, although my hands were chilly the entire race.

Even with waves, the start was so congested it took me about 20 minutes to cross the start line. The first mile is spent weaving in and out of people on the Verrazano Bridge trying to find a comfortable place. People throw clothes down and people trip on them. People stop to take pictures and people run into them. You really have to stay alert, but you can't forget to enjoy the views: thousands of other runners on the bridge with you, Manhattan to the left and the Atlantic Ocean to the right. This was my third NYC Marathon and the view never gets old.

I hit a decent pace in the first mile, 9:19, but it was slower than the 9:00 or under I was hoping to average. I had recently reduced my goal from sub-4 to 4:15 to deal with the reality of my situation, but deep down I still wanted the sub-4 and a 9:00 pace would get me there. I enjoyed the downhill of the bridge and the gradual thinning of the runners to get to 8:05 on mile 2. I did the next 6 miles comfortably at an 8:45-8:59ish pace and was feeling good. The first 10 miles of this race are literally a blur. You pass through incredible Brooklyn neighborhoods with more spectators and music than you can imagine. Because I was watching my pace so intently, I had to remind myself to enjoy it. Regardless of my finish time, I wanted to have fun in this race.

I continued to maintain a sub-9:00 pace through the half-way point except for two miles at 9:09. I was well on track for a sub-4 finish with a little buffer even. I was feeling great. And then the bridges came. There is a bridge right at the half-way point that I don't remember sucking so much. But it made my legs tired. You get about two miles to recover, then hit the mother of all bridges, the 59th Street Bridge. To say this one sucks is an understatement. I went from cranking out sub-9s comfortably to a very humbling 11:00. The incline is a mile and it sucks the life out of you at a very critical time in the race. People start dropping like flies at that point. I was able to redeem myself with a fast downhill mile and the second you hear the roar of the crowd on First Avenue, you get a little kick in your step.

First Avenue is unreal. The crowd is several people deep and there are bands and cheering stations lining the entire stretch. It's like a massive block party only you're not invited, you're the entertainment. This is the last place on earth you want to be shuffling, walking or looking miserable. But it's also mostly uphill so you have to be smart. I stayed in the middle so I didn't feel compelled to interact with the crowds, but was still drawing energy from it.

My pace continued to be strong, but the pain was really setting in around mile 18. I was prepared for pain after 20, but not this early. It was unsettling. When I hit mile 20 I had slowed to a 9:38. I was able to rally a bit on the next two, but I was suffering. Miserably. My 6-minute buffer had dwindled away and a sub-4 was looking unlikely. Upon this realization, I took about 4 walking steps at a water station thinking I should go ahead and give my body a break. What was the point of pushing through so much pain if my goal wasn't possible? But after 4 steps something inside me said to get going again. It was too soon to give up.

The final stretch of 5th Avenue was unbelievably crowded due to the spectators squeezing the course into a tiny path. They mean well, but they have no idea how hard they make it for the runners. I had to push past runners and spectators to keep moving ahead. There were a lot of walkers at this point. A lot of defeat. The urge to stop and walk with them was overwhelming. But I kept pushing.

I hit mile 23 at 3:29:44 and did the math. I was in a world of hurt, but if I had enough left to keep up the pace and maybe pick it up a bit, I could make the sub-4. I got to 24 at 3:39:05 and 25 at 3:48:09. I had 12 minutes left to cover the final stretch. Under regular circumstances, this would be no problem. But at the end of a marathon, sometimes your body just won't do what your heart and mind want. I watched tons of people quit over the last 5 miles, people who trained and had goals as well. So I didn't feel it was a done deal. I still had a lot of ground to cover.

We hit Central Park South, the final stretch before the turn back into Central Park and the finish. At this point I was running faster than I had in the entire race, covering 25-26 in 8:22. The pain was gone and I could think of nothing else but that finish.

The turn into Central Park is a narrow path. Runners were stopping to take pictures and have fun with the crowd, but I was on a mission. I had to shout out for people to move and had to really push hard to get through. I had just minutes between me and my goal. When I reached the 200 yards to go sign, I knew it was mine. I screamed, jumped up in the air and had a little Usain Bolt-style moment of celebration before crossing the finish line. I got tons of support from the crowd because you'd have to be blind not to see how much it meant to me. I finished with 1 minute, 46 seconds to spare.

I felt surprisingly good at the finish. I was unable to eat or drink, but I was walking and talking comfortably. I think my elation over making this seemingly unreachable goal carried me through. I couldn't stop smiling.

I ran this race with less than perfect training, a slightly broken shoulder and a cold that kept me from taking a deep breath. And I had the best race I could possibly have asked for. Sometimes it all just comes together, and it seems it finally did for me.

I've always loved this race, it is by far one of the most incredible experiences you can imagine. But it will always be even more special to me since I did my first sub-4 and set a PR by 57:00. I'd say that makes up for much of the disappointment in the past few months. For a brief moment, I'll be on top of the world.

Running - New York City Marathon
Distance - 26.2 miles
Time - 3:58:14

November 1, 2008

18 Hours to Go

The day before a race is always interesting. It's sometimes stressful, sometimes busy and hectic, and other times it's just another day. I'll be running my fifth marathon tomorrow and my third in NYC so the race itself is not a new experience, but the conditions are. In many ways I'm more prepared than ever. I'm in better shape than I've ever been and I'm a much faster runner. But my accident stole 6 weeks of training so in many ways, I'm as unprepared as you can be.

I'm not sure how I feel. I'm almost indifferent. I'm definitely not nervous, but I can't stop wondering: Will the training I managed to do in recovery be enough? Will it go as well as my only 20-mile training run went and allow me to finish close to my original goal of 4 hours? Or will I fall apart at Mile 22 and have to drag myself to the finish? I'm also not sure how this cold is going to affect me. I was much sicker last weekend and was able to run my best at the MCM 10K so I'm hopeful.

But I'm not worried and I'm not nervous... yet. Maybe I will be later or tomorrow. Or maybe everything I've done this year has changed how I see a marathon. Yes, it's hard and it's going to beat up my body tremendously. I will be in a world of unrivaled pain from about Mile 20 on that will last for days. But it's still easier to prepare for than even a short triathlon. I get to wake up, get dressed and walk out the door. No bike, no wetsuit, no enormous bag of gear to worry about. I don't have to fret about a flat tire or jellyfish or crashing my bike. So in many ways, I feel much more at peace than I ever have before a race and it's a great feeling.

I'm resting and sipping Gatorade to make up for last night. In a bit I'm going to head out and buy some last-minute supplies:

  • Two sheets of mylar. One to sit on (the ground is freezing and inevitably wet and the 2+ hour wait requires being in a horizontal position) and one to wrap up in if it's brutally cold.
  • Several packets of tissues. I don't use tissues when I'm actually running (warning: do not run next to me), but I figured I'd be civilized and use them before the race. They also come in handy if the porta potty runs out of paper after 35,000 people have violated them.
  • Purell. 35,000 runners and 2+ hours of porta potty use. Enough said.
  • Aquaphor. Between the Aquaphor and Body Glide, I'll be slippery as can be. There isn't much I don't lube up for a marathon. Less is more does not apply here.

I ate the world's biggest breakfast at noon and am planning to eat an early, light dinner. I have no idea if I'll be tired enough to sleep tonight. I never sleep well before a race. I don't have to be up until about 5:30 so that's a relief and with Daylight Savings, I get an extra hour.

If all goes well, I'll be finished by this time tomorrow and heading to the local bar to celebrate with my friends. As I've said before, this marathon is an end and a beginning. It's the end of this year that's been filled with challenges and it's a chance for me to prove that the accident didn't get the best of me. And it's the beginning of my next phase of training, which includes my 11-month journey to my first Ironman. That makes me want to enjoy this rest day even more.


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