An inner athlete's manifesto.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"The Rub, the Task"--Miles 20 and Beyond

There's been a few times while running, that I felt like I was reaching down into some pit to muster up a single serving of strength to finish. Nothing since has compared to the last chunk of the ING NYC Marathon. Right now, I picture you all camping on asphalt at Staten Island. Maybe someone brought a deck of cards, maybe you're on your second hot chocolate and you found a Dunkin' Donuts hat. The excitement and impatience to start--to begin--and the hopefulness of how well you'd like to race compare just as greatly as remembering that hope, say, at mile 22.

It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of dark Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one's steps to the upper air--there's the rub, the task.

This quote describes how I felt about mile 20 when I ran New York in 2010. My body was already pissed off at me, and then we reached the Bronx...

"How was your time?" My friend Bri asked a few days later.

"Uhh, not the best. The Bronx killed me."

"Don't worry," she said. "The Bronx has that effect on people whether or not they're running marathons."

I think the real task at hand in those late miles is to get your mind off all the pain your body's enduring. After those last, painful miles where even elites may falter, the finish line and beyond is all that matters; it's the true beginning for most of us runners.

So don't give up. And remember why you started.

Good luck, runners!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why I May or May Not Ever Be a Pro Athlete

On my way to NYRR's 3rd Annual Five Borough Bash, I got lucky. Traffic crawled up Park Ave, and as I scrolled through my twitter feed, I found out Lauren Fleshman was at a store just a few blocks away. Moments later, I was running down the streets of New York to meet this running rockstar. Lauren, who is down-to-earth and awesome, got me thinking, "Why can't (or can) I do that?" Here's my reasonings:

1. I'll say it--I will do anything for free running gear, even if it means dragging myself out of bed after two days of being sick and running three miles (it was worth it--I got a nice gym bag, a hat, and I got to meet/run with Bart Yasso). And I believe that pros enjoy getting gear for "free" also; their names are even on their shirts. Damn. That's nice. During last year's ING NYC Marathon, I wore a tech shirt from a Healthy Kidney run I did a few years back. I took the shirt to my favorite bar and had all the regulars sign it with permanent marker, and I colored my name across the front. Running those 26.2 miles with people yelling my name definitely spurred me on. If I had my name on my shirt ALL the time, of course I'd run faster. Imagine the possibilities. If I had the actual lettering across my shirt, I probably would have swept up the marathon faster than what post-season baseball does to Boston. I would be...a pro.

2. I like the same things pros like. After I met Lauren Fleshman, I decided to go home and re-read a recent article about her in Runner's World. She eats burgers, drinks beer, and is 30 years old. I, too, do these things and happen to also be 30. Sure, I'd have to run a lot more and be more strict about my diet. And Lauren has been running a long time, but I can't help but it ever too late?

3. Sometimes, I feel like a pro. Everytime I run a faster 10k, or pass someone, I get a cheap thrill. When a non-runner friend compliments me in awe of my (albeit minor) running accomplishments, my runner's ego soars--even without an Olympic record. I have a competitive edge that creeps out when I hit the pavement.

I guess it just goes to show that you don't have to be a pro to feel like an athlete.

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why You Want to be a Runner

1. Chances are, you've realized that you're a little nuts anyway--why not go the next step and sign up for a race? Runners get up at five, sometimes four in the morning, to run marathons and the like. I'm sure you've done crazy things, too. It was a chilly morning in Queens when I realized that running provided a sweaty outlet for all of us lunatics; there we were, lined up for blocks at six am, waiting for shuttle buses to take us to the start of a half marathon. The only other people around that early on a fall, Saturday morning were people going to work. They looked at all of us like we were crazy. Hey--they were on to something.

2. Running is SO effing popular right now. The NYC Marathon grows in numbers every year. In 2010, over half the participants were running their first marathon. Forget the fact that Oprah and Lance have ran marathons, your friends are doing it, and your friends used to be the laziest people you knew until they started running. Get off the couch.

3. You already have a lot in common with runners. They like the same things you do--wine, pizza, beer, burgers...that's four things already you can discuss when you join a local running group. Sure, we take running seriously, but beer tastes seriously better after putting a good five miles in.

4. Running gives you a sense of achievement and pride, no matter what the distance. Runners, like you, are sweet on the outside with a competitive core tucked in the grit of their shoes. Runners Ego is the small smile we have when we realize we ran a faster 5k this week than last week, or when we finish at the top of our age group. Runners at all levels experience a sense of self-worth and satisfaction when they sit in front of their eggs and pancakes at brunch and know they've earned it. And there's nothing more satisfying than the moment you run so much, you become a running mentor to someone just starting out. "I ran my fastest yet," someone recently said to me. I beamed as though a kid had just given me a drawing to hang on the fridge with a magnet, I was so proud of my new running friend. :) That so makes running worth it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hot Lessons from the Queens Half-Marathon

Each summer, I run the Queens Half Marathon in July. It is always a scorcher, and since I recognize that I tend to wilt in the heat and truly run at a snail's pace, I vow each year to do better than the previous year. This requires more training time in the heat, and early on this summer, I realized that was not going to happen. I just hate anything above 80 degrees.

Here's where I went wrong: Confidence. Since I have done several half marathons, some more prepared than others, I thought that I could run this race fairly easily with a bare minimun of distance training. I knew the course was fairly flat, and I was prepared to sweat through it. I thought running twice that distance would give me enough training elasticity to make it through anything.

I was wrong, friends. Painfully wrong, even though I wasn't necessarily running for prize money or anything. Training is crucial, and though I am a master at holding myself up mentally, I simply lacked the amount of physicality needed to finish this race without any sort of injury. (Really, preventing injury should be more of any runner's focus, but let's get real--how many of us just zip out there day-to-day, ignoring pain, because it feels good to know we put in a good six miler? A show of hands, anyone?).

Now here's where I went right: Confidence. I knew I didn't train enough. I also knew I needed that race as part of my 9+1 to do the marathon next year. I was going to finish the race, carefully, by setting a good pace for myself the first few miles. I made a plan. Learning how to make a plan is an important step for any runner; subsequently, I would argue that knowing how to adjust that plan is crucial to being a successful runner. Within five miles of the race, I saw two ambulances alongside the course, helping runners already overcome with heat exhaustion. This is a wake-up call--take it easy, I thought. I adjusted my plan to run (slow) through the whole half to running to mile 8. At mile 8, I was going to see how I felt, then maybe continue to mile 9. I had to re-adjust this plan after mile 7, when the heat was taking its toll on me. I walked for five minutes, then picked it up again. I had to keep adjusting my plan this way as the race went on.

As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I felt it--something in the top of my left leg being torn, pulled, wrung out like a wet rag--and I knew I had done it. I injured myself.

Egads, this is not a fun injury. I am not even sure what exactly I injured. It could be a fussy I.T. band, maybe my gracillis or TFL...either way, it is something that crosses over my hip and possibly my knee, and it hurts like all hell during hip extension. I thought for sure it would be fine after a few days of rest.

WRONG AGAIN: I went out for a leisurely six miles five days later. I knew I was pushing it after mile four, but my route was an out-and-back, and I did have to get, well, back. I did, painfully, and now I am done. This, friends, is when cross-training and rehab come in. Officially. Technically, they should be there as a preventative measure for runners. Train all the muscles so that your primary movers have something to fall back on when they tire. Stretch. And KNOW WHEN TO QUIT. Now, I definitely have to take a break from my kicks and settle for something different in the ways of sweat, or I am going to further injure myself.

For other runners who have been put-out of the race for awhile (and for those who don't own their own pool for water-running), here is a list of exercises to try during your break from the soles (Ahhh, puns galore!): *

For cardio
Spinning, clycling, elliptical, stairmaster, jump rope, and jumping jacks. A fast-paced, light resistance, circuit-type weight routine can also elevate your heart rate to ideal aerobic conditions. Take a dance class, try some zumba, do whatever you can for that cardiovascular high.

For strength
Side steps, lateral and medial lunges, step-ups, pilates, yoga, push-ups and other core work (planks, side planks, etc). Try focusing on your upper body strength for a change, instead of your gams--buy a few dumbbells and rock it out at home.  Balance it out.

Returning to running slowly. You do not want a groundhog's day injury.

Good luck in your new endeavors, and stay tuned for a shoe update.

*These exercises are NOT injury specific, and some may make things worse depending on your injury. They are BROAD, general suggestions/alternatives to running if you can't get your run on. If you have a serious injury, only a doctor/physical therapist may accurately and safely give you a guide of exercises and therapy to try.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Letter From the Editor: The Athlete In You

Dear Readers,

A few of you have recently asked me for advice for a runner just starting out. I want to first congratulate you on your decision to kick some asphalt. The following tips should get you well on your way to becoming a smelly, sweaty, running fanatic.

1. Get a move on. The hardest thing about running is lacing up your shoes and heading out the door. Some tricks I use to actually start: I lay out my running clothes and shoes before I go to bed. I also go to bed earlier than usual. Now, if you are not a morning person, but want/need to run in the mornings, I recommend gradually waking up earlier—don’t try to pull a hardcore, 5:30am 6 mile run before work at 8am if you normally don’t get up until 7am. Instead, start with a short, 30 minute run at 6:30 (or even a 20 minute run, as I like to sneak in sometimes when I just need to snooze a little more). For those of you who don't do morning anything, I find any run after work to be highly beneficial in stress relief. You will always feel better after a run, even a quick one.

2. Fuel before you fly. Running is one of those activities that you don’t want to skip out on your carbs and protein before your run. You don’t have to eat a giant breakfast, but you do need SOMETHING in your stomach 30 minutes prior, and sorry carb-o-phobes, you DO need your carbs for running. Why? Because your body goes through different energy stores throughout the duration of your run, and that bowl of oatmeal is going to break you out of the 30-40 minute crash zone and give you a second wind when you need it most. Now, if you don’t ever have any intention of running for longer than 10-20 minutes at a time, fine, do what you want. But if you don’t eat enough for a long run, don’t blame me if you end up pulling over to the side of the sidewalk because of that nauseous feeling you’ll get. Try a banana and some oatmeal, or yogurt and granola with a piece of fruit, or cereal with strawberries, etc. A little bite before you stride, and you can (and should) eat more when you finish your run.

3. Don’t worry about how fast you are running. Instead, make a goal based on time intervals that you know you can reach. For example, a lot of runners start off walking for five minutes, running for two, walking again, running again, etc. This is an effective way to build up those running legs. Many people can do this on-off routine for at least 10-20 minutes. This is how I started. Gradually build up on the amount of total running time until you can run (at whatever pace) for a straight 20 minutes. Then, young grasshopper, you can work on speed.

4. Again, set a time goal as opposed to a distance goal, like, today, I will run for 30 minutes at an easy pace. When you start running, you are building up cardiovascular strength, so even if your goal is one mile, that mile can be daunting for your heart if you didn’t do ANY cardiovascular activity prior to deciding to run (of course, this will vary according to fitness level, but it is important to keep in mind so you don’t get discouraged). You are doing something new for your body! Congratulations! You will get better and faster in time, so don’t worry if you feel slow; we all had to start somewhere.

5. You will always feel better after a run, even an imperfect one. This is my favorite things about running. Even if you have to stop and walk for a minute, remember that professional athletes need to do this sometimes during their training. There are so many potential hang-ups in running—side stitches and cramping, unexpected weather, foot cramps, blisters, etc. Expect to experience all of these eventually in your running lifespan. You must not worry about them, as they happen to every runner, and sometimes one or more of these issues can be so painful you will have to stop and walk for a bit. Don’t sweat it; think of it as injury prevention.  It happens to the best of us, and it will make you a stronger runner.

5. Proper shoes for your feet are worth it. Go to a specialty shop and get your stride tested. A good running store will video your stride, and put you in a pair of shoes appropriate for your feet. Expect to spend around 80-100 bucks for a good pair of running shoes, but trust that they will treat your feet like the bee’s knees, and a reputable running shop will let you return them after a week if for whatever reason your feet don’t take with the shoe (Note: poor running shoes can lead to pain in not only your feet, but your calves, knees, shins, joints, etc.).

Last Words:  After my first race, I had an intense desire to know about what the heck I was doing to my body. READ about what you are DOING; you will do it better, and, your desire to do it will increase because you have a better understanding of what your body is doing. It’s a win-win situation.

When I started running, I didn’t think of it the way I do now. I actually didn't think too much about it at all, except that I just kept setting small goals for myself. After I reached several small goals, I set one giant one--running the NYC Marathon--and I did it! You can do it, too.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

To Run or Not to Run

I fell asleep last night with every intention of running, until my alarm went off at 7am, and I remembered that it was bitterly cold out--at least for a teasing March that has already had a few days in the sunny 60s. Hibernation mode kicked in, and I slept another two hours.

I only felt slightly guilty for skipping my run when I left the house, even though I have a half marathon in less than two weeks, for cryin' out loud. But a day off is good for you; it's better to take it in stride (get it?) than to get worked up about a missed workout and feel guilty.


I didn't even think of playing hookey again until I got off work at 7pm. It was still light outside, and slightly windy. I was inexplicably inspired by the cool, brisk evening. I took a quick lower loop in the park and retreated back to the gym for bicep, tricep, and core workout. Now my abs and arms feel killer, and my mind is truly at peace with my body.

Tips for Beating Your Inner "Just Don't Do It":

1. Crap happens. The sooner you own this, the better. There will ALWAYS be something that could stand between you and your workout, if you let it. You need to know that.

2. Identify what the sensation is, exactly, that is causing the impasse. Is your body honestly fatigued from stress or the prior day's workout? Is the weather unmotivating you? Do you NEED rest, or are you enjoying being cozy? Are you underfueled (yes, not eating properly can totally kill motivation) or dehydrated? Did you SEVER a limb somehow in your sleep? What the eff is it? Identify it. And then...

3. Categorize your reasons for not working out into two groups: "I can live with that reason" group or the "That is BS and you know it" group. It is important to maintain flexibility between the groups because sometimes your body will mask genuine fatigue with various other excuses (gulp. I said it--the E word). If your reason falls into the first group, and you are not cheating, then by all means, take a load off. If it falls into the second group, well, you may want to do a little more evaluation before playing hookey.

4. Remember this old adage: working out isn't always fun, but no one has ever felt like crap AFTER a workout. One of my instructors in training school told our class once that she actually loathes her workouts sometimes, but she does them anyway knowing the benefits outweigh the un-fun factor. She is right. Sometimes is isn't fun to push your body through pain. That doesn't sound fun at all. But since exercise will always release endorphins, you can never feel worse after a workout. You will always feel stronger, faster, and like you just brought sexy back.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Running Legs

Schlepping through the miles on a cold, rainy day is difficult enough; it is a lot harder when your brain has completely severed itself from the act of running. My will wanted to run—my legs did not, and my mind did not want to focus on the task at hand. Halfway through my run, I lamented, “Where did my running legs go? This used to be easy.”

After a few lame walking breaks where I was feeling lazy and sorry for myself, I remembered that the only way to get my running legs back was to run. I resorted to the following tactics:

1. Stop walking, start running (again). Even if you are running slow, you are running.

2. Focus on a point in front of you and make it to that point. Then pick another point, and do the same. I freaking hate this tactic, but there is a reason why every runner’s magazine out there will give this as advice once every handful of issues—it works. At first, I was picking trees. Then I decided to go with the stoplights since they were all green in the park at the moment, and the color green gives me a “go get ‘em” type focus.

3. Think green. Thinking of the color green made me feel light, airy, and springy. Thinking of orange makes me feel fast and cheetah-like. The purple and white tulips blooming on the side of the road matched my shoes and made me feel fresh. I don’t know why color associations help for me, but they work.

4. Adjust your form. Are you running tall?

5. Pat yourself on the back for even running at all. You may not have broken a training record, but you are running, damn it. You made time out of your day for you.

6. Recall one of your favorite running moments. Mine happened a few weeks ago. It was a perfect, spring-like day (although not yet Spring, which made it all more perfect). I couldn’t have asked for a better run—I was fueled properly, and I was bounding up the hills steadily. About 45 minutes in, I remembered that my body was going to tap into its secondary energy sources and give me a boost any minute. It did. About five minutes later, I got my mental boost. A young girl was riding her bike around the park with her father. She and I were trekking up the same hill at about the same time, only she was slightly ahead. With just the peak of the hill to go, and her dad waiting up at the top, her legs slowed, and it was as if she was pedaling with bricks as feet. “Come on! You can do it!” her dad shouted. “Go get ‘em! Only a few feet more!” an onlooker said. The little girl glanced up at the miniature crowd that had formed on the grass at the side of the road in Central Park—she was a star, she realized. With a mighty effort, she stood up on her biked and pushed with all her strength up her little mountain to the cheers of her crowd. I couldn’t help but smile as I ran past.

Monday, February 7, 2011

No Excuses, Love Mom

Today's entry is short. I was going to skip my run entirely because I figured the journey to the post office seemed daunting enough. Then I opened the package from my mom. She bought me new running gloves for Christmas (yes, I am just now picking them up).

Thanks, Mom! Now I have no excuse to not run today. Not even the cold can stop me.

Here is a little jam I am dedicating to you runners today. Enjoy!

The Northwest Corner of Death

Saturday, I was determined to run in my favorite sanctuary, Central Park. The streets have been filled with ice, slush, and snow for over a month, but I knew the road around the park would probably be plowed and fairly clear. 30-degree weather had been keeping me on the treadmill, but it was 34 degrees, and I needed a break. No matter what, I thought, I am going to run outside.

I bundled up and headed out, immediately regretting my decision. It was nasty out, but not raining hard enough for me to give up and return to treadmill monotony. It was just a steady, unrelenting drizzle (almost mist) of ice-cold rain. But I knew it would beat another day on the treadmill.

I felt better the moment my feet hit the familiar, tree-lined black pavement. There were plenty of other runners out torturing themselves in the ice-rain, and I felt very comfortable and confident that I had made the right decision by sticking with my plan. Pretty soon, I was well into my running groove, maintaining my pace, my breathing, thinking about nothing but the park and how familiar this route is to me. Soon I was rounding the road at what long ago, I named the Northwest Corner of Death.

The first time I came across the Northwest Corner of Death was about four years ago when I decided I was going to skip running around the reservoir in the center of the park and just start running around the entire park. There is a shortcut you can take in this corner of the park that cuts off about a mile of the distance you would run if you ran on the road all the way around the park. My first time not taking the shortcut is when I understood why the shortcut is there.

There is no gentle way of putting it; this corner--flanked by two giant hills--sucks even if you are expecting the pain that lies ahead. There have been several races I've done in Central Park, and usually I only glance at where the start is. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a race, and suddenly, instead of taking the shortcut, I am climbing a hill--a big, bad, wolf of a hill. If you run around the park counterclockwise, you are already on top of the second hill when you begin the corner (due to elevation variances around the park). You enjoy a nice, downhill curve overlooking the ice rink (which is a pool during the summer), then you climb the other hill and enjoy very lovely, LONG downhill until the tennis courts. If you are running clockwise around the park, you climb twice. The downhill on the first hill is a tease when you know your second climb is literally around the corner. Clockwise is definitely harder.

I was running counterclockwise. Though I was running in the easier direction, the climb on that hill is no small dice; it looks even more looming with cliff-like sandstone overhanging in the road.

Noting the beauty of the snow-covered rocks on my left, and being mindful of a few, small stubborn patches of ice in the road, I climbed the second hill, and thought about how hard it used to be for me. The Northwest Corner of Death, for the first time, held no power over me, even though I am far from being in race-shape for the spring season.

 I have progressed in my years of running, and this realization left me feeling elated! No more, is this corner my own personal journey through hilly Hades, but an opportunity to reach the top and enjoy my downhill stride grandeur.

Whatever you've accomplished over the years, recognize it and enjoy your own downhill stride grandeur. There's nothing like giving yourself a pat on the back.