Friday, November 30, 2012

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part I

Myth Number 1: "In order to run fast you must train fast."
Myth Number 2: "You race the distance, you don't train the distance"
Myth Number 3: "Efficient, short term plans will allow you to reach and realize your running potential"
Myth Number 4: You can train for a marathon just as well running 30 miles a week as 60 miles a week.
Myth Number 5: Online logging sites/social media offer a new opportunity for measuring ourselves against our peers and keeping us on our (competitive) toes, and offer opportunities for free training advice and that's always a good thing.
"It's just a matter of understanding what's necessary and discipline yourself to do it." ~ Arthur Lydiard
Part I

Myth # 1: "In order to run fast you must train fast." True or False?

First, this is true. BUT it's taken too far. This is the number one piece of advice I hear from runners; novice, intermediate, experienced. We've heard it a million times. And we've bought into it lock-stock-and-barrel. Why?? Because it make intuitive sense. And it is absolutely true. But the problem is that, as with many things in life, these things are rarely this black and white. This is not an all or nothing proposition.

Do you have to run fast to race fast? Yes, but not ALL THE TIME. Fast running must be really pretty dang FAST. Easy running must be really really really slow! What I see time again, particularly with marathon runners, some of whom are quite experienced, is that all their runs are fairly fast (often just 15-30 seconds slower than marathon pace), even for very long runs. Few runs are really fast, and none are really really really slow. Most of us run too fast for most of our workouts, without running fast enough on hard days nor running slow enough on active recovery days.

And the fact is, that no one out there can honestly tell me (unless you are very new to running and/or live in a cave) that you haven't heard this before. But we tell ourselves that that applies to others, not to us.  Others may need those slow recovery miles - but not me. I feel great - and I'm gonna beat the pants off those slow chumps at my next race...And the Kenyans and Ethiopians (who are known to run VERY slow on recovery days) laugh all the way to the bank...

So what does it really matter if I run fast all the time? If I feel good, what's the harm? Shouldn't I be tuning in to how my body feels and running accordingly?? We're always told - 'listen to your body! Stop relying on technology.' Part of becoming a mature runner is learning how to sense where your body is and what it wants to do. There's two problems here: 1) It's all well and good to listen to your body, but it's actually very hard to shut the head out of the whole process. Are you really listening to your body? Is your brain, perhaps, whispering "Come on this is so slow, you'll feel better (mentally) if you pick it up a bit";  2) Your body doesn't know what's on tap for tomorrow. Perhaps your body joyfully proclaims, "Yay, I feel great!! let's run like the wind!!"  Your body doesn't know that you have a hard session planned for tomorrow - but YOU know that, don't you??  Well, there's a time to listen to your body and a time to tell it to shut up and listen to reason.

Let's suppose you have a hard workout scheduled for tomorrow - a long tempo, hills, intervals, etc. and today is an "easy" recovery run - but you wake up feeling fresh and springy. You have a busy day ahead of you and want to get moving or perhaps you need to exorcise some stress from your soul and psyche - and I experience this fairly often - And so, instead of running your active recovery pace, you pound out some good heart throbbing miles, return home pleasantly worked and ready to deal with your day? What's the harm in throwing in some extra fast running? How can that possibly hurt, especially when your body gives you unequivocal permission??

Well, now the question is: Will you be able to get the same quality run out of yourself tomorrow? With marathon training QUALITY and QUANTITY matter. You want to run enough miles (shear volume DOES matter. More on that later), but the trick is to increase volume without sacrificing quality. And there's the rub. You can not, over the course of weeks or months increase volume and still have really high quality hard runs if you do not respect the role of the 'active recovery' run.

Furthermore, aerobic running (at a pace that you can carry on a conversation) taps into a different metabolic system. When your running a comfortable pace you rely more on fat for fuel, sparing glycogen. If you run for 90 minutes or more this system is crucial, and really gets to work at this point. Running too fast means using glycogen rather than fat, and so that metabolic system remains untrained.

The combo of slower aerobic runs and faster fast runs (tempos in particular) is that you are able to maximize fat metabolism and lower the pace at which you can continue to rely heavily on fat (aerobic threshold - AT), sparing the limited glycogen that we can store. Since marathons generally are run just below AT pace, the obvious result is that you will be able to run a faster marathon.

Lots and lots of us succumb to the notion that some miles are 'junk miles', but those supposed 'junk miles' are important, IF they are run correctly - otherwise they're worse than junk. Don't run them and you sacrifice volume. Run them too fast, and you sacrifice quality. Run them just right, and you maximize your training for your present and future running-self.

Take the long view...Think not just of today, but of tomorrow. Think not just of tomorrow, but of next year...and the year after that...and the year after that...Running is a process. Developing the runner you can be is a state of becoming, not a state of being.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So Very Thankful...But Not Satisfied.

"There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man's lack of faith in his true self." ~ William James
Four years ago, Thanksgiving morning, I was just starting to run again after 10 agonizing months of constant pain while dealing with a particularly tenacious injury - one the doctors confidently proclaimed marked the end of my running days.

I remember my run on that Thanksgiving morning, 2008, a cold but brilliantly sunny day. I ran 3 miles that day and I was ecstatic. I was thankful to the very core of my being for those few pain free miles. I felt like myself again. I felt that I had come back to life.

Giving thanks, appreciating all that you have, is not always easy. We often focus on the things we lack, the things that aren't going as well as we wish - And I fall prey to this all too often.  But when something is taken from you, you come to really understand how important it is for you.  I hope never to experience anything like that injury again, but I also would never trade that experience for anything in the world - for it forced me to examine certain aspects of my life that were not satisfying me. That injury, in many ways, altered the course of my life in some very important ways.

I realized that I had slipped into a comfortable state of complacency - a rut that I now wanted to get out of. I realized that there were certain things I wanted to do that I had been putting off, or was too scared to try, because sometimes it's just a whole lot easier and safer staying with what you know, even if you aren't happy in that place, than actually taking the risk do something different. And so, over the course of the last 4 years I've refocused a lot of energy and attention on what I love to do - which is running and being outside and challenging myself and encouraging others to do the same. I don't know why I love to run so much. It's really a fundamentally simple and perhaps silly avocation and passion - and yet I really need it.

Four years later, I find myself in a different place...and the same place. Some things I am still settling for when they scream at me for change. For me, being deeply thankful for all that I have does not necessarily mean being entirely satisfied. I have so much to be thankful for: I'm thankful that I can run. I'm thankful for my attitude towards running and climbing and the passions that enliven and enrich my life. I'm thankful for my family and their support and love. I'm thankful for the will to make time for the things that matter. I'm thankful that I live in a beautiful, peaceful place. I'm thankful for all my friends, near and far, who encourage, support, console, push, and inspire me - who stand behind me, and boost me up when I need it.

...And yet I'm not satisfied yet.

So, I am taking this Thanksgiving to be thankful AND to look at where I want more - more satisfaction, more challenge, more life in the moments of my life. In the clip above, Alan Watts is, I believe, spot on. We live our lives doing things we need to do to survive. We tell ourselves that there are so many "must dos" that we don't have the time or energy for the things we passionately WANT to do. So many of us get stuck in this place - the "I have no other choice" place.

I find myself envying those with the means I lack - I blame fickle luck for my lot in life, where reality stands in the way of my dreams. I curse and wave my fist at the unfairness of it all. I watch as others travel the globe to run and climb. I have been told by several climbing friends that it's all about commitment (insinuating my lack of commitment). But in each and every case these people have independent means. They do not have to work for a living - and they sit there smugly telling me that I am not committed enough. I bite my tongue and sit on my hands aching to strike out at the lies.

But where does this get me? It gets me angry and frustrated and bitter. And in my more lucid moments I get that this does me no good. I just have to keep doing what I've been doing these last 4 years - holding on to the things I treasure and letting go of the soul-eating parts of my life.

Commitment means nothing if there is no risk involved. As Soren Kierkegaard convincingly argues, true commitment involves the greatest risk. Stepping into the abyss and having faith that it will all turn out alright - or it won't. But how it turns out really doesn't matter. What matters is the wholehearted commitment, in fear and trembling. If there is a net below you and you know it's there, saving you from plunging into that bottomless nothingness, then that is not commitment. Love, friendship, life choices are all richer with true and honest commitment.  And that's what I (and most of us) must embrace and be thankful for.  I am committed, completely, but sometimes I just don't know how to do what I want to do. But I know more than I did 4 years ago, or 10 years ago, and so I have to trust that if I continue to push when I need to push and follow my dreams and passions where they lead me and actually do what I want to do, that I will be that much closer to where I want to be next year...and the year after that.
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." ~ Epictetus
Four years ago I NEVER would have written this - at least not for anyone else to EVER see. This little experiment, this blog, is something I could never have fathomed four years ago.

And, if you are reading this...thank you. I am so very very thankful for your company.
"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you." ~ William James

Thursday, November 15, 2012

New York Road Runners - Just Do the Right Thing

"I'll never do that again!" ~ Grete Waitz, after winning the first of nine consecutive New York City Marathons

After a week and a half of silence - Zero communication - The NYRR updated their facebook page with the following:
"We want to reassure you that we are continuing to work hard to provide answers to your outstanding questions, and understand how important this information is to all of you. We are doing our very best to address your concerns and sort out all details. We are grateful for your patience and continued support."
This is the only news NYC Marathon runners have received concerning our status for next year's race. No emails (the last one went out when the race was cancelled), no updated information on their website...and they have not been returning calls to reporters.

So what should the NYRR do now? Well, I have a really good suggestion - Do the right thing. Period. While the waiver all runners sign may offer some legal out for the NYRR in terms of honoring our registration, ethically, the solution is clear.

Here's my suggestion:
For those who deferred prior to the cancellation of the marathon, honor the updated cancellation policy, which guarantees all entry into next years race even if they deferred in 2011 as well. This deferment option is nothing new, and those who deferred should be charged for next years race as per the normal policy.
For those who did not defer, who traveled to NYC, picked up their packets, and planned to run...They should receive guaranteed entry into next year's race, or better yet, one of the next 5 years - to spread out the impact and to allow those who can't afford to return next year to plan for a year a bit further out - at no additional cost.
Given how poorly this situation was managed, I believe the NYRR has some major damage control to attend to. The bad feelings engendered through all of this will only grow more bitter if this is not handled delicately. If the NYC Marathon has any hope of regaining it's former reputation, as the greatest marathon in the world, it must act like the greatest marathon in the world. 

Clearly the marathon should have been canceled days earlier, Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. Those of us who came in from far away had no idea, until we arrived, what devastation awaited us. News reports go only so far in capturing the reality of the situation. Even those in the midst of it couldn't quite grasp the enormity of it all. My mother just kept say, with regard to power outages and gas shortages "We just don't allow this to go on. This doesn't happen here". But there it was...going on, and it's still going on more than 2 weeks later.

Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that the decision to cancel was delayed for as long as possible in order to get as many runners (and their money) to the metropolitan area as possible before pulling the rug out from under the whole thing. The truth here matters little - the perception is the problem for this race. Runners report that the blue line marking the course stopped at 14 miles. When did the painters receive the call to stop painting? Reporters, rushing to the start area as the race announced the cancellation, found a virtual ghost town. Not a worker or volunteer in sight. When were those workers and volunteers called off the job?  Now these situations are conspiracy theory magnets, and I usually dismiss them without much thought...but...hmmmm...Maybe. All that's needed is a little doubt and that changes how people feel.

The way both Mary Wittenberg and Mayor Bloomberg handled this whole situation encouraged animosity to grow between New Yorkers and runners...Between the NYRR and runners...between New Yorkers and Bloomberg...Between New Yorkers and Wittenberg. Wounds must be healed. Anger and blame and accusations must be confronted.

Many claim that the NYRR won't or can't do what I'm suggesting for financial reasons. All that money, already spent can not be recouped. I get that. But sometimes we have to do the right thing even though it may temporarily hurt us financially. After signing a lucrative deal this year with ESPN, I suspect that the NYRR has the necessary resources to do the right thing, though it may crimp their style a bit. Perhaps next year they could cut spending in other areas - like appearance fees for elites. Why not make next year's race a "people's" race, where the average runner is first and foremost, and where elites come to show support for the race, the tradition, the city...

And don't races have insurance to cover these things? That's of course the first thing people ask when an individual suffers a tragic event - and if they don't have insurance, we tend to dismiss their complaints and point out their poor choices ( I don't fall into this camp, but many do).

I can say that this whole episode has changed my feelings about this race and, unfortunately, about this city. I wish I could say it didn't, but it did. Perhaps I went into it too idealistically. There's nothing worse than having high ideals shattered before you. A dream, 30+ years in the making, undone in a matter of days. Does this change my experience of watching Grete Waitz run through Central Park on that crisp November day so long ago?? Right now, I have to say yes, it does. I'm sad about that. And so I am hoping against all hope that the NYRR does the right thing now. I can see this being saved or lost, for me and for the race itself, depending on what they do next.

And so we wait...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NYC Marathon 2012: The Interlude

There really isn't any middle to this story. It starts and it ends, like two slices of bread with nothing in between them.

Here's the only middle I have to offer - There is no race - there is no bright spot shining through the darkness...But stuff still happened...

It's 5 p.m. Friday. The race is canceled. For the past several days I've been aware of the growing hostility toward the runners. I have been called selfish, self-centered, callous - I have been accused of being disrespectful. It doesn't matter that I've contributed to the relief effort. It doesn't matter that over the course of the year I've run several marathons (NY would have been number 6) to raise money for charity. It's all so hard to just let roll off your back. And quite honestly canceling the race is a relief. I've been dealing with the growing fear and anxiety concerning my safety. Running through the streets you're a sitting duck. You're vulnerable. As it turns out, my concerns seem justified. Protests are planed. Petitions are circulated. Volunteers setting up equipment are pelted with eggs. (

But now what? Well, first, I gotta stop the money hemorrhage. This trip came at great personal sacrifice, for myself and my family. So I jump into the rental car that's costing me big time and race off to Newark Airport to get rid of it. I just can't sit still. I have no idea how I'm getting back to my mom's but I think the Northeast Corridor trains are running again on a limited schedule, so I chance it.

I leave the car with the Enterprise lady, and feel a little relief...but not for long. I get to the train station and pace in the cold wind for an hour. I have no idea when the train is coming (or isn't) and I can't reach my sister, again. It's 8:45 p.m. I suddenly realize that I haven't eaten anything, beside a handful of crackers, since 2 in the afternoon when Barb, thankfully, shared half her sandwich with me. Well, at least I don't have to worry about fueling up for a marathon right now because I'm doing a piss-poor job of it.

I get to the Metropark station, about 10 miles from my Mom's, and wait some more, now in a completely dark parking lot surrounded by nothing but silent, dark office buildings. There's a curfew, but a few shadowy figures mill about the station. My danger alarm, which rarely goes off, is screaming at me as I huddle against a wall, out of the wind still trying to reach my sister. Finally a text goes through. It's 10:30 p.m.

My sister is stuck in traffic a few miles away. She's almost here, she assures me. She suggests that I start walking in her direction, but the blackness everywhere and the shadows moving about convince me that it is probably better to stay put. Another 30 minutes pass and she finds that she's on a gas line. "Just get gas then" I tell her.

11:30 and I see a figure emerge from the darkness waving and calling my name. "The van just died" she yells. We begin the futile effort of trying to get bad gas through the line (desperate, she had poured half a can of old gas sitting around the garage into the tank). By 11:30 the situation is hopeless - the battery is now dead. Both our cell phones are running low on power. We call my mother, who has very little gas, and she heads out to get us. Ten minutes later she calls. Her car is dead in the middle of the road. Yep. Same bad gas.

The tow truck will be here in a hour. I'm about to pass out from hypoglycemia - and the only calories my sister can find is a bottle of some Smirnoff grape something or other. I drink it. I'm desperate. Both our phones go black. We start laughing uncontrollable about the absurdity of our situation - and suddenly all the heaviness lifts and the mood brightens. My sister lights a cigarette. I bum one off her.

Human, all too human...

The tow truck hoists the van onto it's back and we head off to fetch my mother. She claims that her car is off the road after some nice men helped push it out of traffic, but as we pull up we see that she's still in the middle of the road. The driver adds her car on the back and we all pile into the cab of the truck. The heat is cranking. My neck and shoulders throb from hours of shivering.

At 5 a.m., Saturday morning, I wake in tears. Once the sun finally lights the sky I feel an urgency to go for a run, a hard run, to flush my mind, my body, and my lungs...for how long, I know not.

I need to stay on the main roads because they're the only ones generally open and somewhat safe. I run from South Plainfield into Scotch Plains towards Westfield. I come upon some utility trucks positioning themselves to remove a freshly blown do power line. I run beneath the wire ducking my head to avoid hitting it. A police cruiser pulls up as I pass and closes the road behind me. Well. There goes my way back home. I cut north, heading for Plainfield, looking for a road back. Luckily I know this area like the back of my hand - I've been running here since high school. But as I run north every road is closed. I finally find one weaving through a neighborhood and hope for the best. I see another runner. We say "Hi" and smile as only two runners running through a disaster area do - Gratefully! I come upon several blocks strewn with 60 foot trees and power lines everywhere. A PSE&G worker sitting in a pickup truck gets out as I jog slowly, assessing the situation. Before he can speak a word I blurt out, "Look I gotta get home, and all the roads are closed. I'll stay on the lawns. I won't touch anything". He just looks at me, "Just be careful". And I pick may delicately over, under, around and through a maze of wires, branches. And for the next three or four miles it's just more of the same, but eventually I make it home.

What I saw on my run...And this is 5 days after the storm hit...

Today's project is to get to a grocery store because food is running a bit scarce around the house. But the cars are still dead and the mechanic still has no power. Luckily we score a car, with some gas, from my sister's friend, and my mother and I venture out on a foraging expedition. We drive through miles of dark, closed stores and restaurants and dry cleaners. Even Burger King is closed (where I had my first 'real' job). A police "Mobile Commend Center" RV is parked in the empty lot.

We reach the market. There's some light, some life. A few people mill around. A generator provides just enough light on either end of the aisles to see. All the refrigerators and freezers are empty. Most of the shelves have only a few items sitting on them. We grab a loaf of bread (date about to expire), a butternut squash (one of the only 'fresh' things to be found), some canned goods...

I decide to leave on Sunday rather than Monday because we have the car now, and I need to seize the moment or else deal with the challenge of getting to the airport without transportation. As I sit in terminal A waiting to board I get online and see that runners are working in Staten Island, wearing their NYC Marathon t-shirts. I see that runners are running through Central Park, cheered on by spectators warming finish area bleachers. I read that a friend has run the entire course. I read that the Giants-Steelers game will be held as planned. I have a huge lump of tears in my throat. They well-up in my eyes, and drip back down into my throat. Friends try to console me - 'So sorry about the race'. They try to offer what they can...

But here's the thing, for me NONE of this is about the 'race'. I didn't run, so what. What hurts so much is what people have assumed about all the runners. The accusations, the recriminations, the outright attacks. Friends not standing by you, not trying to understand, being silent, remote - I have high expectations when it comes to friends, and when they let me down I am for a time crushed. This too shall pass. Hard lessons learned - some I'm now glad to have learned, others I wish I did not know. 

And then of course, NY is not just ANY race for me. And I crank my Ipod...

How will the epilogue go...I just don't know...

To be continued...

Monday, November 5, 2012

NYC Marathon 2012: The Prelude

In my mind's eye I never actually saw myself running the New York City Marathon. I never pictured myself running across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, through Brooklyn, over the Queensboro Bridge, up First Avenue...into Central Park...I never saw this happening - me there - and this bothered me - and this should have told me something - and it did, but I didn't want to listen until after when I had no choice. Now I understand why.

Last week I wrote about how I was grappling with the whole issue of whether or not to run. I decided to go and do what I could, for my family and for any others I might be able to help - and maybe run as well to show my support for NY and NJ. The ideal and the reality unfortunately did not match.


2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1st: I'm sitting at DIA waiting to board my flight to NJ. My sister texted me earlier that morning saying that she couldn't find gas, and had no way to fetch me from the airport. I did a little digging and had some idea of one bus that might be running, or might not, to Plainfield, where I would be deposited on the dark streets at midnight.

I haven't heard from my sister since that earlier text and can not seem to reach her. Cell service is down and has been since Monday night. I get on the plane and have no idea how I will get anywhere. I really don't want to get on this plane. What the hell am I doing? The mood on the plane is grim and resigned. Everyone wears the dread of flying into this disaster plainly on their faces. No one knows what's ahead.

As the plane descends toward Newark, I see the lights of Manhattan out the windows and the darkness of New Jersey below. I decide to rent a car since it's really the only way to get any gas. The Enterprise lady and I go from car to car looking for one with some gas. We finally find one with a little over half a tank and I head off into the darkness. My family still has no idea where I am, or how I will get to them. I'm texting friends, some 1000s of miles away, telling them what I'm doing to stave off the feeling of being absolutely alone in this. Someone, somewhere, knows where I am, so I can't be lost, even though I am feeling completely and totally lost and alone.

Driving through the darkness of Route 1, I'm having a hard time getting my bearings. I've driven down this road 1000s of times, and yet I'm really not sure where I am. I pass a five mile long line of cars terminating near the NJ Turnpike junction, waiting to get gas at a Hess station. At this point it's about 11 at night. The streetlights are dark. The stores are dark. The traffic lights are dark. The only light comes from the flashing police car lights at every intersection. And car lights weave through the eerie emptiness. The air smells of smoke - perhaps fireplaces used for heat. Perhaps smoldering houses that have burned to the ground.

Snow Patrol is playing on my Ipod..."Please just save me from this darkness"...

As I get off the highway things get even more confusing. There are lines of cars everywhere but no lights anywhere. Where are they all going? Intersections are closed and parking lots become thoroughfares - the only way to get to where you need to go. And little by little I make my way in the general direction that my internal GPS tells me to go. Eventually I find myself pulling up in front of my mother's house. I turn off the car, climb the steps, my mother opens the door. We hug. And I cry.

Friday, Nov. 2nd 8:30 a.m.: My sister drives me to Plainfield to catch a bus to Manhattan. This is the first day of any bus service. The bus is 45 minutes late. We weave our way through neighborhoods in shambles. The bus drops me at Port Authority and I make my way to the Javits Center to meet my friends Esther, Leslie and Barb at the Expo. Manhattan appears entirely normal. Bustling and happy. It's jarring for me to see this having just crossed the Hudson from NJ where nothing is the same. 

Now for the past couple days the internet and media have been attacking the NYRR, Mayor Bloomberg, and the runners. We are depicted as selfish. We don't get what's happening to people and their lives. We just want to run some stupid race. And the runners and the race become the focus for all the pain and loss that people are suffering and all that is wrong with the relief effort. It's the runner's fault. THEY are why people are still suffering. Just look at the generators, the resources they are using?

The expo feels like any other expo I've been to. I'm not so into the expo thing but it is good to hangout with friends and to feel that someone in the world doesn't hate me. And so it goes, and we make our way back to Port Authority through to the seeming normalcy that is mid-town. I'm feeling a little better, but it doesn't last long.

And I get back on the bus and head back to the third world that NJ now is. And then sitting with my mother, my phone dweedles at me. My friend Sandra, in Illinois, sends me a message that she just heard that the marathon is canceled. I chuckle and respond, "Well I haven't heard anything". I turn on the news. They are reporting that the electricity has just come back on in lower Manhattan. "ABC News - it's on now" she messages back. I switch the TV to channel 7, and there it is - breaking news - Mayor Bloomfield announces that the marathon is canceled. I call her and start cursing a blue streak...

And why is it really canceled? Because of the animosity and violent emotions irrupting among New Yorkers.

The reality, that this event was canceled due to concern about runners's safety is what is so unfortunate. This race has always been about the people of New York! And the fact is that many of us were feeling very nervous about our safety. Would we be booed? Would people throw things at us? And the hatred I've felt from people I don't even know, across the country and even more sadly, from New Yorkers is difficult to absorb and process. That's where I'm at now...I'm not sure right now that the New York City Marathon will ever recover from this. And I'm not sure I ever want to run it.

To be continued.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...