Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kicking Assphalt: Two Race Reports, And...

...what the hell is THIS?

More on that in a moment.

Could a post begin without the latest additions to the FRED'S TEAM HONOR ROLL? I think not!

Here they are:


bringing the total to date going to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research in honor of Liam Witt to an incredible

I said this before, but it bears repeating: for all my family and friends, but especially for those of you who donated after hearing my plea on Phedippidations, or The Extra Mile, my deepest and sincerest thanks. What can I say to people I don't know, who felt so moved by my story that they contributed either to my marathon effort or to Band of Parents? And what can I say to my friends, family and co-workers who give so generously year after year, regardless of the cause, just because it's me? "Thank you" just seems so inadequate. I'm a little overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit of all you wonderful people who are helping to not just imagine a world without cancer, but through your donations are making it a reality. There's an old Jewish expression, "bei mir bist du schoen." (sounds pretty, huh? like you can set it to music?) It means, "To me, you're beautiful."

Speaking of overwhelming and beautiful:

Liam has been adopted by the firemen at the firehouse near their NYC apartment, and they have been a source of comfort and happiness to him and his whole family. They showed up to volunteer at the original Cookies With Kids Cancer bake-a-thon, take Liam on endless tours of the firehouse, and have even given him his own locker at the station. This photo was taken two days after Liam's surgery this past July. The "guys" are like family, says Gretchen, and you can see it.

You may have noticed a few new links to the right. In my next post, I'm going to talk about some of those links, but I want to point out the link for New Balance Athletic Shoes. I got an email about a week ago from New Balance Harrisburg, saying they read and enjoyed my blog (!) and wanted to send me a pair of shoes to test. Since Saucony has given me the cold shoulder -- not even a "thanks but no thanks" note to my asking for sponsorship -- I agreed. I loves me my ProGrid Triumphs (even if they no longer come in green) but my mind can be changed. After the marathon, of course. Ain't gonna mess with it now. I've already got my marathon sneakers, and they're already broken in. But I will check the NBs out and let y'all know what I think.

Last Sunday was Grete's Great Gallop, a half marathon that's the highlight of the Norwegian Festival (that's right!) and my entry into the Phedippidations Worldwide Festival of Races. It was a week early for the PWWFOR, but I traditionally run the Worldwide Half on Grete's Gallop (if two times a tradition makes) and I wanted to hang onto that tradition. I was really nervous about this race. My hips had been sore all week, and I haven't been having the best distance runs. I was really starting to wonder if I had what it takes to get across the finish line comfortably this year. Please note that I said "comfortably." Making it across the finish line is not the issue.

I got there fairly early, but was disappointed to learn that my hero Grete Waitz had already met with the Team prior to the race. I didn't know about the change (I thought she'd meet us after) because I wasn't at the Team practice that Thursday (it was my niece's 5th birthday party!) But I did not get there too late for the WAFFLES!! I am obsessed with these freaking Belgian, er, Norwegian waffles that they serve at this race. The first year I ran this race, it rained the whole time, I hurt my leg, and I missed out on the waffles. Last year I got one before the race, and even in 80+ degree heat and humidity, I ran my second-fastest time. This year, pre-race waffle!!

The Team was doing an extra two miles prior to the race, but I just didn't have it in me. I wanted to race the half, and at that moment I felt that even two more miles would do me in. I was still sore from last week's 20-miler, and besides, I don't think I even had a drop-down week. The week I was supposed to do 13 I ended up doing 18. Besides, Jeff said it was okay not to add the two. So I lined up with Jeff, and we were soon joined by Karen, who had run 7 beforehand. The others came back, the gun went off, and we were off, for two and a half clockwise loops of Central Park, finishing at the marathon finishing line at Tavern on the Green.

Right away, big mistake. I was running with Jeff and Karen. Jeff and Karen are both MUCH faster than I am. Didn't I make this mistake last year in Staten Island? DON'T START OUT TOO FAST!! I noticed that my time for the first two miles was something like 18:30. I had to stop, but I couldn't. The competitive side of me started kicking in, and as much as I wanted to just let Jeff and Karen get ahead, there was something inside me that wouldn't let them get too far. I unfortunately erased my watch before I recorded my split times, so I don't know what my first loop time was, but I think it was somewhere in the 53 minute range. A good time for me -- for a 10K. A little too fast for me for a half, unless I was going to PR in the second half. Stranger things have happened...

Second loop, and it starts to drizzle. I love it! It was cool and drizzly and the weather was just perfect. I like doing the loop clockwise. The Great Hill is longer this way, but slightly less steep. Besides, I like the Great Hill. It's Cat Hill I could do without, and for a clockwise loop we go downhill. Yee haw! I've finally shaken Jeff and Karen, and by that I mean they're far enough ahead of me that they no longer are tempting me to go too fast too soon, when lo and behold, just as I get to the start of the downhill part of the Great Hill, there's Jeff and Karen. They're walking, and Karen doesn't look happy. She had been complaining earlier of hamstring pain. Wow. I say hello and head past them and down the hill.

I tend to psyche myself OUT during races instead of psyching myself UP. For some reason I find it hard to say things like, "Good job! You can do it! You're strong!" What I do instead is say things to myself like, "You can walk this section, you know." Then when I don't listen to myself, I feel triumphant. Is that nuts? I say this because once I passed Jeff and Karen, I all of a sudden flipped it around. I know that Karen was hurting and Jeff was walking with her and that under normal circumstances the two of them could run me into the ground and have room left over for dessert, but there's something about being faster than my coach, even under these conditions, that has always inspired me. During the first loop, there were points where I'd actually pull ahead of him and say, "Looka me! Looka me!" as I passed. Jeff knows I'm a doofus so he just laughed (and pulled ahead.) But when I pulled away for real, I fooled myself into thinking I was really and truly faster than him and Karen and used that adrenaline to get me up over the Hill. I wasn't feeling all that great (I was burping up the Gatorade) but I kept pushing it.

And, without any further ado, I crossed the finish line in 1:56:45 -- a half-marathon PR by over a minute.

The thing is, it wasn't a smart race. It was a good race, but not a smart one. I don't like NOT running a smart race. I didn't feel good, I was a little too achy for the distance covered, and had I run a smarter race, I might have finished faster, or at least feeling better. And sorry, Jeff and Karen, for using your misfortune to my advantage. Such as it was.

This week in training it was all about marathon pace. Before Grete's Gallop, our Team speed workout was doing four 1-mile repeats, with the miles starting 40 seconds BELOW marathon pace and moving up to marathon pace by the last one. So for me, it was about anti-speed. Really anti. I thought I should maybe walk some of those miles! I did a 9:50, 9:40, 9:30, and .... 9:00.

Then this week, the Cat Hill workout was again about marathon speed. 3 sets of 4. First set, slower than marathon pace, second set slightly faster, and third set at marathon pace. Cat Hill is half a mile up and down. So I did my first set at about a 9:10 pace, the second at a 9:00 and the third at 8:40. Not that THAT's my marathon pace...I think...(it's not.)

I missed the final Team stair workout this week because of the Jewish holidays, so I did my own workout on my old friend the Bethesda steps. However, it was in the high 70s and after a half-mile warm-up and 2 sets of six 2-at-a-time, 1-at-a-time, 3-at-a-time, 1-2-3-2-1s, I was feeling ill, so I cut it a little short. However, I did JUMP up the steps one at a time as my big finish, and I am normally allergic to jumping. It knocks my hips out of alignment faster than popcorn pops. But one set wasn't so bad.

Today was my revenge on Staten Island, at the Staten Island Half Marathon. Not to belabor the point, and there's already a link in this post to last year's debacle, but I was really looking forward to this race and the chance to redeem myself. In brief: last year we added 7 beforehand. I ran it with Teammates David and Ashley, both of whom are much faster than I, and I kept up with them the whole time. I asked them, "Should I be elated or concerned?" Turns out, concerned. I crashed and burned big time by mile 6 of the actual race. I drank so much Gatorade to get through the rest of the race I made myself sick, and I had to walk long stretches, the first time I needed to do that all last year. I wept as I crossed the finish line because I was so mad at myself.

This year I wanted REVENGE!!

We arrived in SI at 7:00am, and pretended it was the marathon by waiting over an hour before we started our pre-race running. I did the pre-race 7 much slower, at between a 9:30 and a 10:00 pace. I also carried 1/2 a bottle of Gatorade with me and drank it during this part, and took water and Gatorade from the 2 aid stations as well. I ran with Tricia, Anastasia, and Corinne (who I never met before, but she was really nice.) We even took a porta-potty break around mile 5 of the 7, which turned out to be more like a 7.6 (I mapped it on Buckeye Outdoors.) It's hard to figure out the half-way point. I had a feeling it was a little further back.

We pulled back into the Richmond Terrace ballfield parking lot in 1:13, with about five minutes to spare, and headed into our corrals. We are assigned corrals according to our pace time from our best mile from any race over four miles, or something like that. Nothing else can explain my 7:53 pace corral. Yes, you saw correct. No way in hell could I hold a pace like that for a half, and not after 7 miles. So I ducked into the corral two colors behind me. While I waited, I decided to pretend that this was a new race. I zeroed out my watch, I reset my iPod, I took a gel.

Annnnd, we're off!

My first two miles were 9:30s. Felt good. Mile 3 was 9:23 and mile 4 -- 9:09. Whoops, too fast. Mile 5 -- 9:28. Stayed full of Gatorade and water, and gelled again at mile 5.

Now we're heading to my crash and burn site from last year -- mile 6. The genius of this course is that even though it's an out-and-back course, miles 5-9 are not a repeat. The course hits a divided roadway, and we run on one side of the roadway from 5 to 6 1/2, then up the other side of the roadway to about mile 8, then the race diverts to the right for a trip through Fort Wadsworth (!!!! that's the start of the marathon) before hitting the first section of the course for the return. That way, there's no congestion between the faster returning runners and the slower runners.

I could feel my legs burning when I hit mile 6, as if they remembered. And I looked at my split -- 9:02. HA HA HA, AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN THIS TIME!! So, 56:03 for the first 6.

The other thing that's nice about this course is that you get to see people on both sides of the roadway. Checked in with a bunch of Teammates passing me as I went down the hill, and passing them as I went up.

Mile 7, my iPod stopped playing music, right as I got to the huge hill. While I will not use it during the marathon, ain't no way I'm not using it now. I reset it, giving up on the Nike+ (it was way off anyway, which confounds me. Why is it accurate one day and completely inaccurate the next?) So, no music up the giant hill (what goes down must go up) and I forgot to hit my watch at the right time, so I have a 10:10 mile 7 and an 8:45 mile 8. Er, no.

Through a little residential section, and then Fort Wadsworth (see you in three weeks) and then we hit the section where I remember having to walk the year before. I was a little sore, but I felt terrific. Not stopping now!! Mile 9: 9:10

Now we're back on the first part of the course, and there are two hills left, the bridge up Hannah Street, and the uphill that takes us back to Richmond Terrace. Basically, miles 11 and 12 are uphill, but 12 to the end is downhill and a straightaway. Take a gel at mile 10 (9:09) and walk a little extra to get it all in. Head to the Hannah St. bridge. 9:24.

Up the bridge, up Bay Street, up ot Richmond Terrace. Get my last Gatorade for a final boost of energy. Mile 12: 9:40. Slow, I thought, but I remember barely making up that hill last year, and this year, no problem.

Heading down Richmond Terrace, down the little hill to the access road, which seems to stretch on forever (you can't see the finish line until you make the turn into the parking lot. I hate that you can't see the finish until you're almost on it.) Mile 13, and .... for mile 13.1 - 9:37 and DONE.

Time for the half: 2:02 on the nose. Time for 20.7 -- 3:15. Not the actual time I want (I always want to be five minutes faster!) but I'm happy to take it. And I felt, for the first time this season, that I could've run six more.


PS: that thing in the picture? I don't know what it is. We saw it in the parking lot while waiting to start our pre-race 7, and someone said pick it up, maybe it's a good luck charm. I'm superstitious about that kind of stuff, so I put it in my pocket. Guess what'll be there during the marathon?

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