Monday, August 27, 2012

New York, New York...The NYRR's Very Bad Idea

"Everyone wins the marathon. We all have the same feeling at the start—nervous, anxious, excited. It is a broader, richer, and even with twenty-seven thousand people—more intimate experience than I found when racing in track. New York is the marathon that all the biggest stars want to win, but has also been the stage for an array of human stories more vast than any other sporting event. " ~ Grete Waitz 
Late last week the New York Road Runners announced a new and, in my opinion, bad policy change concerning bag check at this year's New York City Marathon:

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New 2012 ING New York City Marathon No-Baggage Policy to Ease Post-Finish Congestion

For 2012, under a new policy designed to ease finish-line congestion, runners will no longer check baggage at the start of the race, and there will be no baggage retrieval after the finish.
Our primary objective is to provide our runners with the safest and best possible race-day experience. We have received overwhelming feedback from our runners about the need to address the issue of post-race congestion and waiting time to exit Central Park. In response, and in close consultation with New York City agencies, the new No-Baggage Policy was developed over several years to provide a better and safer post-finish experience.
In order to minimize inconvenience to our runners, NYRR has invested in a number of enhancements, including:
  • The Marathon Finish Line Poncho, a water-repellent, hooded, and fleece-lined garment to be handed out to every finisher
  • Establishing NYRR "Call Home" stations at the start and post-finish so runners can communicate with friends and family
  • A new and improved Family Reunion area near the runner exit
  • Increasing the number of wave starts from three to four to reduce runner density along the course and at the finish line.
Additionally, in a shared commitment to giving back to the local community, much of the clothing left behind at the start will be donated to charity through a partnership with New York/New Jersey Goodwill Industries and UPS.
We understand that the No-Baggage Policy is a major change for our runners, and we want to do everything we can to keep you comfortable and happy before and after your race.

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Our concession prize??? This lovely hunter-orange fleece lined poncho! Seriously?? Couldn't they have just given us a nice, simple "jogging suit" or something?


From my perusal of the comments on various running sites and the NYCM Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/ingnycm ), I'd say that most runners are mighty pissed about this sudden change in policy. The NYRR has already acquiring a bad reputation as greedy - charging $255.00 for US runners and a hundred or so bucks more for international runners, all while signing very lucrative TV deal with ESPN ( http://www.irunnerblog.com/running/espn-nyc-marathon-race-fee-debate/ ). This new and "improved" policy is simply making matters worse. NYRR makes more money and the runners get charged even more for even less! When I checked last, there were 618 comments about this change on their facebook page. Every single one of them was negative! And there's now a petition campaign set up set up to show the NYRR how much we RUNNERS(!) detest this policy:  https://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-road-runners-bring-back-the-baggage-check

Now all of this is being done, they claim, for the sake of the runners.The finish area and the long walk away from the finish area turns into a weaving, stumbling traffic jam of dazed runners. Supposedly, this change in policy will shorten exit time by 30 minutes. But from the many stories I've heard from runners with years of experience running NYC, the bag check lines are NOT the issue. Tired runners are the issue - and a lot of them. Many say that once they made their way to the UPS trucks to retrieve their bags the wait was minimal. I just don't buy their story.

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So what's a runner to do. Well we're all already committed to the tune of $255.00 and so suck it up, we must.For questions and concerns the kind NYRR directs us to the helpful Q & A section of the website - Where are basically told that we are on our own:
What should I wear to the start?
Warm, water-resistant clothing is recommended for the staging area, which is outdoors. We recommend that you start to set aside clothing now to wear to the start and donate. We will be providing updates and tips from our Medical Director on how to stay warm at the start.
So we better go buy some warm clothes from Goodwill to leave behind which will then be donated to Goodwill. I know I sound like a cheap grouch saying this, but even when I buy stuff at Goodwill, I like to keep it because, well, last I checked, money doesn't grow on trees. Okay - I guess I can deal with this, but the issue is why do I have to deal with this. Is this about the runners or the NYRR?


And hopefully conditions will not look like this because the Fort Wadsworth staging area does not have any shelter. Next time I guess I need to qualify for the VIP treatment that the REAL runners get - Heated tents with complimentary breakfast and pipping hot coffee.  Running The Red Carpet
How can I get warm and dry after the race?
You'll receive your Heatsheet very soon after crossing the finish line, and then your Marathon Finish Line Poncho (fits women and men from under 5' to over 6') shortly after that. We also recommend that those of you who have a friend or family member meeting you in Family Reunion have them bring along warm, dry clothes.
I guess those of us who may be traveling alone to the race (and I'm doing this for financial reasons) and won't have family support are just gonna have to make due with the hideous poncho.
How am I supposed to get to my home or hotel without any money or Metrocard? You can carry a credit card, Metrocard, and/or cash in a pocket, wristband, armband, or small waist pack, or have your friends and family meet you at Family Reunion or a nearby location and give you the items you need.
And if we need to rely on mass transit we better carry some cash or a credit card!  Supposedly the subways are free - but some of us are coming in from New Jersey. NJ Transit is not free. Now, when I race I carry as little as possible - I wear as little as possible, because, well, this isn't a training run it's a race even for those of us who are pretty darn slow.Somehow I doubt that the elites have to carry a credit card in their shorts. Oh, come on people! Who and what is this all about.

There's two real questions/issues that I keep coming back to: 1) Why is the NYRR making things MORE difficult for the runners?, and 2) Why make people upset and poison the whole atmosphere of the race. When we sign up, we know that the NYCM is a logistical challenge, but this makes it more difficult. The feeling most runners seem to be expressing is that this whole policy change is not actually about the runners and the race is no longer about the runners. The feeling is that the NYRR has lost the vision. This is supposed to be about the runners and the community. This is supposed to be the biggest and best marathon in the world. What a disappointment when the runners aren't put first.

I've wanted to run NYC since I was a 16 year old track and cross country runner, standing with my father in Central Park, watching Grete Waitz fly by. Has the spirit changed?

I doubt Fred Lebow is smiling down on these proceedings.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sleep and Recovery




Recovery: It's the biggest deal in running today. The better and faster you are able to recover from a hard effort, the stronger and sooner the next hard effort may be. But recovery is not just for the body - it effects your mind and motivation and coping skills just as much.

Recently, I've been suffering from temporary mild freak-out episodes, where everything feels like it's coming down around my head: I don't have a moment to think, to write, to reflect, to enjoy life. I'm just going going going...and I proclaim, for all to hear, that something must give or else I will snap.

What the hell is my problem? I've got a good life: A loving and supportive family. A job (actually multiple jobs) that I find rewarding and stimulating (usually). I've carved out time for my passionate pursuits - and yet, I feel just plain w-o-r-n  d-o-w-n to the bone.


What I've come to recognize and accept is that I am not getting enough shut-eye! Sleep often is sacrificed for so called "greater ends" - but at some point you hit the wall. You drag yourself through your day. There's no vim, no vigor in your spirit - You are unable to sort through the moments and happenings of your days and weeks. You feel completely overwhelmed.

We runners spend so much time talking about ice baths, and recovery drinks, and foam rollers, etc. but we're missing THE most important part of recovery. Perhaps it's the key to a flourishing life. A necessary, though perhaps not entirely sufficient ingredient for a good life: adequate, quality sleep!

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How fast and how well you recover between hard workouts can make or break a training cycle. Recover well and quickly, and you may reap the benefits of hard runs. Recover poorly, and find yourself slipping into over training, exhaustion, depression...and ever slowing times even with greater effort.

Many runners succumb to the idea that if I just keep working harder I will get stronger, faster - I will become awesome - I just need to do more, run faster...If one VO2Max workout isn't bringing down my times, then I'd better add another. I've just gotta get my lazy butt in gear and push, push, push. But the question is: Does this approach really work?

Work, stress, effort - without recovery means only that you will tear yourself down and never build yourself up. The benefit of a particular run is both the work (which will result in muscular micro-tears) and the rest that allows stressed muscle to heal and become stronger in the process. If that healing does not happen, you will only get weaker, slower, and more susceptible to injury - and of course you're going to be depressed because the harder you work the crappier you feel!

Recently I attended a weekend Coach Training seminar with the Lydiard Foundation. We spent a fair amount of time on recovery and the 12 significant predictors of recovery. Dr. Peter Davis, who served as Exercise Physiologist beginning in 1981 with Nike's Athletics West and later (among other notable appointments) was recruited by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to direct their Coaching and Sport Sciences Division, made a comment that cut through the air and hit me square between the eyes: Sleep is the number one, most important factor for recovery. And it is the most under recognized factor today, for everyone, for health and well being.

Now, I've known for a long long time that I haven't really given sleep its due, and I always say "tomorrow night I'll go to bed earlier", but let's face it - that doesn't happen. But this comment shook me from my dogmatic overachieving insomnia, and caused me to dig deeper and find out more. Could this be one of my problems?

So, what are some of the effects of sleep deprivation?

Nervous system
  • Metabolic activity of the brain decreases significantly after 24 hours of sustained wakefulness
  • Drowsiness, reduced concentration and memory
  • Hallucinations and mood swings
Immune system
  • Reduced immune system function, measured by white blood cell count.
Cardiovascular system
  • Increased heart rate variability
Other
  • Decreased in body temperature
  • Decrease release of growth hormone.
  • Depression

And here's the kicker - while most adults require at least 8 hours of sleep per day, athletes require more, upwards of 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Add to this that research also indicates that all sleep is not equal - WHEN you get the sleep matters - and the more sleep you can get before 12 a.m. the better. So sleeping from 9 p.m.- 6a.m. allows for a better, more restorative sleep than sleeping from 12 a.m.- 9 a.m.

The problem here is not a couple nights of bad sleep. The problem is when we consistently get inadequate sleep. In our go-go-go culture, this is often the case for many of us. We make due and get by on 4-5 hours of sleep and solider on. I've heard many many runners say "You can sleep when you're dead". But this attitude is undermining all of our other efforts! Overtime, long term inadequate sleep results in changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress and how we deal with stress, muscle recovery, and mood. Sleep deprivation also leads to elevated levels of cortisol and human growth hormone which may interfere with tissue repair and growth, and glycogen synthesis decreases. Hence, there's a constant breakdown with out the necessary rebuilding and refueling. Over time, this can lead to injury and overtraining as we constantly make demands on our bodies but never allow for repair to take place.

So I'm doing EVERYTHING I can do to get more sleep. If it means I don't have the cleanest house in the world, so be it. If it means I need to scale back on some activities, then that's what it's gotta be. It isn't easy. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But I've been consciously and conscientiously working on this for a several weeks - and the effort continues...

Get stronger - be happier - sleep more. Start today!

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Here's some interesting studies and articles on this subject:
https://trailrunnermag.com/destinations/west/413-stop-sacrificing-sleepf
http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=5812
http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267--13281-0,00.html

The Things That Change Us

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” ~ Goethe Sometimes we never "go back" to what we were before....