Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Sound of Hope, and my first loop of '08

As I mentioned in earlier posts, there's been a lot of construction -- rather, destruction -- in my neighborhood these last several months. Across from the rear of our building, on 57th Street, used to be a whole bunch of brownstones and low-rise buildings. "Back in the day," on Sunday afternoon somebody would usually practice their sax and we could hear it. It reminded me of my old apartment on W. 22nd St. which faced out on the backyard of a restaurant that had a Sunday jazz brunch. It's the only thing I miss about that apartment. Well, those brownstones are gone now, bought by and destroyed by Extell, to make way for what we're told is going to be Time Warner Center Junior -- shops on the bottom, hotel in the middle, residences on top. Right now we have a lovely view of the pit where this tower will eventually rise, and Carnegie Hall across the street. I was looking out the window today, in fact, before I went out for my run, thinking about the sax player and how much I missed it. When I got home, what did I hear but my friend the sax player practicing away! I thought this person was a victim of the 57th St. brownstone purge, but thankfully not. As soon as I heard it, I started to cry. With so many things in my life turning upside-down, to hear the sax again was an anchor to the days when this was a neighborhood. It's a good omen, it gives me hope.

For those who asked, yes, I'm in -- I did my nine qualifying races in 2007 and I have guaranteed entry into this year's NYC Marathon. Tomorrow morning is the first chance for those of us who've done that to claim our stake, and I'll be there. Then Fred's Team starts up in a couple of months and we'll be back on the training wagon again. Dear readers, and members of the Honor Roll, start saving your dollars because you know what's coming...

Speaking of running, haven't been getting in as much as I hoped this past week. That's the problem with being unemployed -- because you have free time, you book and book yourself and then there's no time left. Also, because you do have time, you tend to squander it -- oh, I'm free until X o'clock, I can mess around until then, and then all of a sudden half a day is gone. Now, hard as it may be to believe but I am the laziest person you could ever meet. Huh? But you run marathons! Yes, true, but on the other hand if there was a way for me to drive from my bedroom to my bathroom I would do it. Misplaced priorities. So having too much time on my hands is proving to be a bad thing.

The other thing that's eating away at my time is trying to get some pick-up work as a transcriptionist/scopist in these weeks between work (a scopist is someone who transcribes steno notes as opposed to transcribing audio or video material.) Turns out, not as easy as I thought (is anything ever?) It's one of those Catch-22 situations where you can't get work without experience, but you can't get experience unless you get work. I have most of the tools -- I have the computer, most of the software, I read steno, and with the steno machine I type 180 wpm -- but because I didn't graduate from a transcriptionist or scopist course I don't have the experience necessary to jump in and get some jobs. There are a couple of forums I started subscribing to, plus a transcription website that's been helpful in shaping my resume to make it look like I'm qualified (which I am, just not in the conventional way) and lots of job leads that might lead to some work. I was going to go back to school for these three more weeks that I'm home, but I don't think I want to spend the $$ to take basically 6 classes, which is all I'd get in before I have to go back to Florida. I'm heading down to school tomorrow to talk to them and see if I can work out a deal. Anyways, researching all these different things just takes a bucketload of time -- I sit down at the computer and zap, the day is gone.

But enough about me, onto, well, me. Running me, though. So yes, not getting in enough runs, but I'm really enjoying the quality of the runs. I never realized just how much better I run in the cold. I admire those who prefer warm- and hot-weather running -- I'm not one of them. Look at my paces for the runs I did this week, and mind you, I did not push the pace of any of these runs: 8:58 per mile on the humid day, then 8:16 for the 33 degree day Thursday and an 8:25 today for another 33, 34 degree day. I can't believe that I am that affected by the temperature that there would be that much difference between hot and cold weather. Boy, I'm going to hate running in Florida again, even though it will be good practice for summer. Yuck.

Skipped the Al Gordon 4 miler yesterday. Who is Al Gordon, you ask. Just read the race t-shirt: "In 2008 the former chairman of Kidder, Peabody will turn 107. He serves on NYRR's board of directors, gives to many research and social causes and still believes the discipline of sports can apply to a successful life. 'Keep moving' has been Al Gordon's lifelong motto. And what a life it's been." Yes, that's all on the shirt. Friday's promised snow and ice storms actually did happen, and the weather was just too dangerous. NYRR smartly called the race, making it a "fun run" instead and saying that everyone who registered for the race has it count towards the nine we need for guaranteed entry to NYC '09, regardless of whether we run it. I actually woke up early enough to contemplate going, but it was 31 degrees out, meaning that the roads were still icy. Slipping on the ice didn't particularly sound like my idea of "fun," and since I got the credit for it anyway -- back to bed.

To make up for yesterday, and because I wanted to, today I did my first full loop of Central Park since returning, my first of the year, in fact. I was dreading it a little, since I've barely done any hillwork for months. Florida is not exactly known for its rolling hills, you know. I didn't even think I was going to do the loop when I started out today; I set the Nike+ for 45 minutes. Tomorrow's supposed to be nice, too, and I figured two shorter runs instead of one longer one. But once I got out there, after the first few minutes of getting adjusted to the pace and temperature, I felt so good I just wanted to keep going. Besides, I signed up for a 15K in two weeks, I need to get a few decent runs in. The Park was crowded today -- people training for Boston, and also the More Marathon in April. I don't ever see a lot of people on the road in Florida, but I know they're there; they have Road Runner Clubs in Boca and Ft. Lauderdale, but they meet at times that don't work for my work. Anyway, I was surprised by how little I felt both Cat Hill and the Great Hill today. I'm pretty sure I've lost most of the benefits of our marathon hill training, but glad to see that some of it is still there. If I decided to do some repeats, I'm sure I'd be singing a different tune. I'm going to do a hill workout this week -- Sunday is the Coogan's Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K, and Ft. Tryon Park is HILLY! That's a tough little 5K, but there is beer at the end. Mmm, 9am beer!

Off to the Oscars! More anon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

Jiggity jig!

Yes, I am back in NYC, I arrived Saturday afternoon. I left the show I was doing in Florida a couple of days early because I had a wedding to attend. Fortunately I was able to get a friend to sub in for me there.

Before I get into travel and wedding stories, and even a little about running, let me take a moment to say hello to Mo, and thanks for the kind words! The best place to find marathon training info in my archives is summer and fall of '07, that's where the bulk of the long runs were. You can also check my training log on Buckeye Outdoors by clicking on the sidebar and checking my mileage and training during those months; I was really good about logging everything. Enjoy those ice baths!

It is good to be home. No offense to anyone (I hope) that it was strange -- and good! -- to get off the plane in Newark and see people who weren't 80 years old and white. After a few weeks in south Florida, and especially after living in a retirement community as I do when I'm there, you forget that there are other ethnic groups in the world. Ahh, variety.

Sunday was my friends Margaret and Andrew's wedding. My roomie Laura was one of the maids of honor, as was our friend Shirley. It was held at Battery Gardens, a restaurant and catering facility inside Battery Park. I've run by this place a number of times during marathon training, it's along the West Side Highway path, and I had no idea what it was. From the outside it looks like an extension of the building it sits next to, the Department of Homeland Securities Training Facility (for real), and it's accessible by a junky service road. But it's beautiful inside, and the views of the water were magnificent. The service was lovely, very personal, and of course everyone looked beautiful. Since I live with Laura I got the inside scoop on the tasting menu, and that was what was on my mind when we went to the pre-wedding party on Saturday night -- what's on the menu? Priorities, people! It was served buffet-style, which was a great idea, and I had heard so much praise for the short ribs that even though I normally don't eat meat, I tried some. They were pretty darn good (there was also pasta, salmon and Peking duck for entrees.) And though I don't eat dairy, I made the exception for the wedding -- well, not the cake, it was a tree of cannollis and Beard Papa cream puffs. We had been told that they overbought on the cannollis and cream puffs and to eat our share. I did my duty.

I should've run on Saturday afternoon when I got home, or Sunday morning, but I was operating on fumes. I'm the world's worst flyer. Not paranoid about the flight, but everything surrounding the flight -- missing the flight, getting searched, can't take my carry-on on the plane. The first time I flew my cat to Florida, I had to fly her in cargo, and they lost her. I was able to find her -- ON THE CURB OUTSIDE, unattended. That was traumatic, to say the least, and from then on I've been super-paranoid about checking anything, and it just spills over into everything else. There's other stuff going on, too, that I'll get into another time, and between that, and packing, and making sure the show was going to be okay without me, I got maybe 5 hours sleep total over 72 hours.

But I'm home now, and after 8 actual hours of sleep two days in a row, I went for a run today (Monday.) Okay, let's check the date: February 18. And the temperature. 60 degrees! Wait, did I really go back to NYC, or just loop back to Florida? I went out for a welcome-home 5 miler. And lo and behold, five minutes into it I was sweating up a storm. In February. In NYC. It was so humid out, the cool breeze did nothing to help. But it was a definite improvement over Florida. And while I didn't forget how hilly the Park is, my legs kind of did. Ah, Cat Hill, how I missed ya! Not. I'm going to try to get some hillwork in while I'm home, since there's precious few of those where I train in Florida. I used my Nike+ to track the run, and it's so funny to see the difference -- mile 1, which has a lot of small rolling hills (from 59th St to 72nd St) was an 8:20 mile. Mile 2 has Cat Hill, it was a 9:10. I wasn't pushing or anything, the other miles were 9:17, 9:18, and 9:04. I have some doubt as to the accuracy of the pacing per mile on the Nike+, but I'm happy with a reasonably correct result, and it did feel ultimately like a 9 minute mile average.

Oh, two other good things that happened this week: I was able to see the amazing Miri Ingwer and have her fix my right butt cheek. As I suspected, she took a look at me and said, "The problem isn't your hamstring, it's your hip," and proceeded to bend, twist and stretch me into a pretzel. And for two whole days, there was zero pain! It wasn't that I was in constant agony or anything, it was just a nagging ache that I would feel while running, and also when I sat for a long period of time. Now that I've got a plane ride and a bunch of runs behind me, the ache is starting to return, but now I know how to address it, and that a few more sessions when I return to Florida will vanquish the pain from my ass. If only everything else WEREN'T such a pain in my ass...

The other thing is that Matt, my Stenotrader buddy, souped up my steno machine. He did an overhaul at the end of December, and shimmed the keys to shorten the stroke length (less length = more speed.) It felt great, but I realized at the beginning of my last week in Florida that the shimming made the paper notes stack up on top of each other. See, you can use the machine with paper -- which I have to do in school when I test -- and without, when I plug it into the computer and use it with my steno software, which is what I do out of school. When notes "stack" it's like you're typing them on top of each other, the spacing between lines is too narrow and they become hard to read. You can make these adjustments on better machines, but mine is just a 200 student model. So Matt took my machine back and put a motor in it, so it can run in manual mode with paper and space properly, or electric mode, like the 400 model (still a student model) which requires much less effort, with or without paper. So in essence he made my machine 200 better. Thanks, Matt!

Off to practice now. More anon!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Random Musings

Oh, mah Gawd it's HOT in Florida!
No, really?
It was 82 degrees at 9am. Now it's 85. How am I going to run in this? Even the Team workouts get cancelled when the temps are too high. I don't have a gym membership down here, so heading for the treadmill isn't an option. I would run at night here, after work, but the gates are locked when I get back and I'd have to run on the golf course. That doesn't bug me, but I'm afraid that the people who live facing the course will see a shadowy figure and call the cops. I guess I'll need to tough it out. A couple of days ago I did a 4-miler that I thought was going to kill me. I took a Succeed cap (electrolytes) and had Gatorade but I still felt lousy. Good practice for summer, I guess.

I forgot to mention that my parents were also down here in Florida visiting for two weeks. It is their apartment, after all. And no, Dad, when I talked about new crops of madness in my life in a previous post, I was not referring to your visit. In fact, the only negative thing about their visit was that I had to sleep on the pull-out couch for two weeks, and that's just no fun. Oh, and they didn't leave the fridge stocked with food, nor the bathroom stocked with new towels (for some reason, my parents -- no, my Dad -- became obsessed with getting new towels last time they were down there. For an apartment that stands empty nearly eight months of the year, and at its fullest holds three people, there are now about 2 dozen towels.) I was such a wreck for the first week anyway with my computer trauma, I was certainly no joy to behold. But it was lovely to have them down there with me.

Now I'm nervous because I'm coming back to NYC in a week and a half, and I've got a month before my next "tour of duty" in Florida, and no job or nothing to come back to. I can't get unemployment until after the second gig because I won't have enough weeks of work in a calendar quarter. So it's TempVille for me. Of course there are all these little things I need to do in the month that I'm home that have to be worked around, like getting my taxes done. Why does life have to interfere so much

Some of the things I've noticed while running around Delray and Boca, is that there are precious few sidewalks. Why is that? I'm always reading studies that say people need to walk more, but how are these people supposed to walk when there's no safe place for them to do that? No wonder folks take their cars two blocks to the store.

And I've never seen so much random stuff on the sidewalks as I do here. I'm not talking about gum wrappers and such. On my runs I've found tampons (new and, um, used,) diapers, pizza boxes, cassette tapes, a whole dead fish (not from the supermarket, but from the ocean, which is really odd considering where I stay is nowhere near the water) and tons of clothing, especially shoes. I don't understand how a shoe can be left on the sidewalk. How can you not realize you've lost a shoe? No, it's not sneakers over the telephone poles, this is a retirement community, not a drug-infested neighborhood. Just random shoes. The weirdest one was when I first got down here, a sofa cushion. How does a sofa cushion end up on the street? Anyway, it was there for a couple of days, then it was gone. The weird part was that two days after that, it came back. Huh? Did someone take it home, decided they didn't like it and put it back? It's gone again, but I keep looking for it. Maybe that's why there aren't more sidewalks, to keep all this crap off them.

On Atlantic Avenue, Sky King Fireworks is located next door to ABC Liquor. Am I the only one who thinks that may not be such a grand idea? (I just went out to try to take a picture of it, but there's no place to park. I'm sure it's on Google Earth somewhere.)

Okay, enough avoidance. I've got my AirAides, I'm taking a Succeed and doing maybe three miles, four if my water holds out. I've been eating so much lately, I need to burn some of it off.

For real this time. I'm going.

Off I go.

Out the door...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Race Report: Miami Half Marathon

Hello, dearest readers, and for the first time in a number of weeks, we begin with NO APOLOGIES!! After a week and a half of hellaciousness involving my computer and my overreaction to it, I am for the most part back up and running, in every sense of the word.

So much to discuss running- and life-wise. Today we’ll focus more on the running, because I just finished the ING Miami Half Marathon, and I had a great time. Great time in every sense of the word (I’m just full of word play today!) This is a long one, so strap in.

Two days before the Half I went into Miami to get my race packet and info at the Expo. I was happy to see the guys, I think they’re called Fit For Sports, who were at last year’s NYC expo with all the paper suits, throwaway clothes and cheap accessories; they had at least four booths there. I asked them where they were at this year’s NYC expo, and they told me that they weren’t even invited to participate. It wasn’t even a question of cost, they were flat-out shut out. Can you believe it? It’s a shame. I definitely had the feeling that the NYC Expo was more “corporate” than last year’s expo, with higher-profile and higher-priced goods and services; that confirmed my feelings. The Miami expo was a little friendlier on the wallet, at least, although there was plenty of high-priced stuff available for those who wanted it. Lots of plastic surgery consultation booths, which was strange.

Word of warning: if you go to a health and fitness expo, if the all-natural food booths give you a popcorn sample, make sure you find out what’s on it. This booth wasn’t pushing the popcorn, they were pushing fish oil, which they had sprayed on the popcorn. Mm-mm good! Not.

In the race packet we got a shirt and a hat from 2007. Hmm. More on that in a moment. Big in the giveaways at the Expo was those plasticy backpacks, I got two from Publix (local grocery chain) and one from Geico. Plus lots of coupons, random samples, a bag holder, some Larabars, and a bunch of keychains.

Race day morning. A whopping two hours of sleep the night before (I had a show, so I didn’t get home until 10:30pm, then I was too hopped up and nervous to get any real rest.) Up at 2:45am, out the door by 3:30am. The race started at 6:15am, but it was suggested for those of us driving to get there before 5am. It was a one hour drive to the start/finish line, at the American Airlines Arena. I’m glad I was early – I found a garage four blocks from the start/finish line, and I had no problem parking. There were a bunch of people just hanging out by their cars, so I did the same. There was no need to check my bag; I was so close to the start/finish line anyway, I could just go back to the car for anything I needed. I wore my Fred’s Team singlet, and Team race shorts over compression shorts. I knew a lot of Teamers were running the NY Half on the same day, so this was my way of racing with them. Go Team! The temp was in the high 50s at this point, expected to climb into the 70s. The biggest problem was what to do between 4:30am and 6:15am, besides go to the bathroom. Which I did. A lot. And let me point out, each time – NO WAITING. I love you, Miami!!

I think there were about 12,000 participants in the Miami race, with 8,000 for the half, and the rest for the full (this is the 6th year of the event.) The start line is at the American Airlines Arena, with the finish line about four blocks away at Bayfront Park. It was still very dark outside when we started heading into the corrals. They do lettered corrals, with each corral corresponding to a predicted finish time. Both marathoners and half-ers start together, the split doesn't come until mile 12.8. I was in corral E. I stretched and chatted with some of the other runners. I didn’t get that sense of camaraderie that NY had -- I remember how much fun it was to run in Central Park in the week leading up to the marathon, that every runner I saw was a friend and shared my excitement. Here, not so much, but then again, here, not so much at stake, so maybe that was part of it. One of the people I was lined up with was barefoot. I know that barefoot running is supposed to be good for your feet, but I’d be concerned about glass and drawbridge gratings. He said that after a while, you get used to it. Wow. There are so many other things I'd prefer to get used to.

6:15am, a short fireworks burst, and we’re off. The NYC Marathon kicks off with “New York, New York.” Well, there is indeed a Miami Song, it was a rap song with a chorus that was something like “Welcome to Miami, welcome to Miami.” Not quite the same. I wonder, do all of these event marathons have local or state songs to kick them off? And what are they?

I’ve certainly run in the dark before, and raced early in the AM, but not like this, the sun hadn’t even begun to rise. The first four miles are through Watson Island and over the MacArthur Causeway, which is over Biscayne Bay. To the right you could see all the large cruise ships lined up, all their lights on. It was pretty magnificent. To the left, Miami and the bay. This road is very recognizable from every action movie ever set in South Florida. I didn’t have any music with me (I didn’t think it would be good to wear an iPod for this race, although they didn’t issue any statements discouraging them) and I was kind of wishing I had. It would have been a nice background companion, since most of the race was spectator-free, and the promised entertainment was little more than a car hooked up to a speaker blaring, yes, Miami Sound Machine as we headed onto the Causeway (NOT the conga song, though!) I guess all the bands were later in the race, more for the marathoners’ benefit. I talked with a couple of racers, one of whom had “New Yawker” on his race bib (our names were on our bibs.) He told me he hadn’t run any distance runs since the Marine Corps Marathon, but came down for the weekend just to see if he still had it in him. We chatted until the first water stop, when he took off.

We got off the Causeway and headed into South Beach proper, running through the historic district. It was really cool, I love the SoBe (look at how I fling around that lingo like a native!) Art Deco architecture. There’s tons of gorgeous old houses and hotels, not like the McMansions further north. And of course, famous Ocean Avenue, with the water on one side and the hotels on the other. Plus Versace’s mansion, you can’t really see much past the gates but it’s still interesting. The sun had risen by this point, and it was starting to get a little warm. We ran through the center of the shopping district, Miami’s “Fifth Avenue,” as the promotional brochure says. We ran through a residential neighborhood, past the Holocaust Memorial, and then started the jaunt across the Venetian Causeway that leads through a whole series of what I believe they call the Venetian Islands off the Miami coast – San Marco, San Marino, Biscayne, some others. All beautiful, mega-rich residential neighborhoods. Stunning houses. Beautiful views of the water. Boy, it would be nice to be rich and live here.

Over a drawbridge and back onto the Mainland. We’re at mile 10 by this point, and here was a cool thing that they did for the race: the ING cheering section. They have this in NYC, too, but it’s more of a crowd zone there. In Miami, this section was a half-mile gauntlet where we ran practically single-file through rows of cheering spectators. It was really, really cool. It gave me the boost I definitely needed at that point. The bands began appearing at this point, too. I guess that since most of the first half is run on local roads in residential neighborhoods, there’s not much that can be done in terms of a band set-up. This was the business district now, with lots of open spaces for bands, and – hilariously – people playing “Rockstar” on a big screen.

After mile 12, they start to split the marathons and half-ers up. The lanes were clearly marked both on the ground and with two giant arches labeled HALF and FULL. I’ve heard stories of people who made the wrong turn in half-and-full combo races, so I was happy to see how easy they made it here.

At this point the temps were in the mid-70s. I had a gel at mile 7, but I still was feeling a little depleted. I think I was hotter than I realized. After passing the arch the roads seemed to stretch endlessly on. It’s a conspiracy that all races find a way to stretch that last half-mile into another mile. And then, surprisingly, there was the finish line! I had somehow thought we were closer to mile 12 than 13 when we split from the marathon, and I had plenty of kick for the finish. I crossed under the clock at 2:02:15.

I was expecting a finish around 2:02, 2:03, but I was secretly hoping for under 2:00, which I haven’t done since my first half-mary, Brooklyn in 2005, which I finished in 1:58:27. But I didn’t want to pressure myself, so when I took my splits I refused to look at the total time on my watch, and had no idea how far into the race I crossed the start line. I didn’t even wear a pace band (I don’t like them anyway.) As soon as I crossed the mat, I checked my watch.


Check out these splits:
4-8:56 (downhill off the Causeway)
13.1-8:41 (for the mile plus .1)

This was exactly the way I wanted to run this race. Love those negative splits! I couldn’t be more pleased!

The medal is really cool, it’s a spinning palm tree inside of two spinning circles. It weighs about a kazillion pounds, but it’s pretty snazzy. They also give you hand towels instead of heatshields at the end, very handy. There was a post-race fair at Bayfront Park (it looked so different in the sunlight!) where I picked up yet another Publix bag, a Saturn bag, and a cowbell (huh?) They were also giving out recovery kits with foot powder, deodorant, and face wipes. The food booths were selling fried sausage and mozzarepas, which smelled both delicious and nauseating, as it was only 8:30am.

I highly recommend this race, at least the half portion. Having not run the full mary, I can’t give it a nod either way, but as far as races go in general, this one was really nice. It was big without being crowded, well-supported with water and aid stations, fairly flat (at least the first half) and very scenic. Check them out, at

My one quibble, the water stations were sometimes set up at somewhat inconvenient spots, like on a bend in the road, or a narrower part of the roadway, and they were a little smaller than I was used to; even the smaller NYC races have longer tables. There was a lot of jockeying for water, and somewhere around mile 8 where someone poured a whole cup of water into my shoe thanks to a bad cup hand-off.

Oh, the hat story. I overheard two people talking about them during the race. Last year there was a big scandal because the hats were supposed to be part of the giveaway, and they ran out, so a lot of people didn’t get them .This year, the hats we got – they weren’t last year’s hats, they were mislabeled 2007 instead of 2008. Okay, it’s a stupid story. But wow, that’s a pretty major mistake.

More anon!