Friday, October 30, 2009

I got two flu shots on Wednesday and I’ve been feeling a little achy ever since. I’m not sure whether I am just catching what Jack and Erin have had for the last few weeks or if this is the result of the vaccines. I suppose the cause doesn’t matter as much as the effect.

I’m taking the day off from running because I want to get out there tomorrow and get in a 20 miler before trick-or-treating. The marathon is only three weeks away and I need to get in one more very long run before I begin to taper. Hopefully a mellow day and a good night’s rest will recharge the batteries enough for me to get out there and rock the run.

Su: 6
M: 5 (speed)
T: 5
W: 6 Tempo
Th: 5
Fr: off
Sat: 20
Total: 47

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some Thoughts on Training

I was reading some articles on the net that discussed the tragic deaths of three runners at the Detroit ½ marathon last week-end. Many of the experts interviewed in various media outlets thought the cluster was a statistical aberration and not a result of any changed circumstances that would raise the mortality rate for marathon participants above the current level of roughly 1-in-50,000 to 1-in-75,000. Nevertheless some interesting facts have emerged which make me wonder whether insufficient training was implicated.

According to an article at Live Science, “among people who properly train for a marathon and work their body up to such a peak performance, heart failure is very rare.” Fair enough.

Although the friends and family of the men said they had trained for the 13.1-mile race and were in great shape, from what I’ve been able to garner from news reports, this might not have been exactly accurate.
Brown, the oldest fatality in Detroit at age 65, usually ran the full marathon, but decided this year to join his wife in the shorter event. "He'd had some health problems which weren't related to running. He wasn't in the best of shape," said Allman, president of the River City Runners Club in Parkersburg, W. Va.

Langdon (36), another fatality, was apparently going the full marathon distance and had run half marathons before, but he hadn't trained for a full marathon, said his mother-in-law, Deborah Windish.

Fenlon (26) the youngest casualty, “jogged and weightlifted” and was apparently healthy. He had no history of heart disease, according to his mother, Laura Fenlon. Fenlon had been training with his girlfriend since June for Sunday's race, said his mother, "They had been running like six miles," she said. (Six miles?)

The three runners in Detroit are among a cluster of seven deaths since early September in prominent ½ marathons and marathons. If it turns out that the other’s training was implicated, one has to question whether too many runners are attempting marathons without being fully prepared.

I found this from the San Jose Mercury News: “J.T. Service, the race director for Sunday's Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley Marathon, described the recent tragedies as a "wake-up call" for event organizers — and perhaps runners, too.

"I'm not sure, but sometimes people might not be ready for what they're getting themselves into," added Service, an elite marathoner himself… Hard-core marathoners have been joined on the pavement by people of all shapes, sizes and ages who view events more as challenging fun runs rather than races.”
Service, a long-time race director, was also quoted in the Mercury article as saying, "I don't know if the marathon is the answer for everybody. Maybe that's not the best stance to take as a race director. But there are worthy distances that are shorter and still great for charitable endeavors."

Three-time Olympian Craig Virgin, the runner-up in the 1981 Boston Marathon noted that "It has been packaged, marketed and promoted that anybody can do a marathon if they get a little bit of instruction." Virgin once worked with Team In Training (a leading charitable organization), but now thinks that the charity arm of road running "falsely misleads people" into believing they can run a marathon without serious training.

Now, runners are, for the most part, responsible adults, able to make their own decision about whether they are properly prepared. On the other hand I wonder whether you could get two runners together to agree on what “properly prepared” actually means. Some marathon training programs advocate running every other day, some three times a week, and the conventional wisdom holds that 40-50 miles per week should be the standard. Those are pretty divergent concepts of training.

My question to you all is whether race organizers have any responsibility to ensure that runners appear at the starting line sufficiently trained. Is there any way to even make this workable? Should it be the race organizers business at all?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Running and Music

If you are interested in responding to my letter to the Times, scroll down to the next post. Otherwise...

I heard a story on the radio yesterday, I think it was NPR, which noted that many of the larger races have been banning the participants from wearing portable listening devices and from accepting water from anywhere other than official aid stations along the marathon route. In fact, the top two female winners of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon were both disqualified for those very offences. "The fastest woman, Cassie Peller, a 23-year-old student at Marquette University, was disqualified shortly after the race for accepting aid - a water bottle - from a friend outside of the official water stations. That made Jennifer Goebel, 27, the winner, but only for a couple days," according to A few days later race director Kristine Hinrichs confirmed that Goebel has also been disqualified for using her iPod in the late stages of the run. Apparently, Runners competing for USATF championships with cash prizes are not allowed to use electronic devices." An official from USATF said Goebel's disqualification "may be a first in the country," as race directors are now allowed to determine whether to ban iPods during races, Held reported.

In Milwaukee, at least, the organizer’s rule didn’t apply to mid-pack runners, only the elites who were competing for prize money, but that isn’t the case with some popular East Coast marathons like New York and Philadelphia. While there is a ban in place for NYC, race organizers will not be enforcing it.

So why ban Ipods? The USTAF claims the rule was put in place because of concerns that runners listening to music would have a competitive edge over those who were simply listening to the little voice in their heads. A secondary reason involved safety concerns about runners not being able to hear race announcements and there were also some insurance company issues. Apparently there is some science to support the performance enhancing effect of music on athletic performance. Anecdotal evidence abounds.

I’ve run distance events both with and without an Ipod. The ½ marathon I ran without my I-pod I beat my previous PR by almost 4 minutes. Then again, I was better trained for that race so I can’t say whether music (or lack of music) was a factor. All of my indoor treadmill runs are done with an Ipod, otherwise I get so bored that I feel like I might claw my eyes out. On my long training runs, I take it or leave it depending on my mood. The runs where I listen to music are usually a little faster than those without. I have to wonder though, whether running a race with an I-Pod is gives me an unfair advantage. Full disclosure: I also drink coffee before a race and caffeine is a known performance enhancer. Am I cheating? Do you race with an I-Pod? What do you think about a ban?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Open Post to Everyone Who Read My Letter in the NY Times and Thinks I'm An Asshole

Welcome back. I had to take the blog down for a bit because the attacks on my personal integrity were starting to get tiresome. I deleted any comments that referenced my religious beliefs, or intimated that I was morally defective. Comment moderation remains on. Comments engaging issues will be posted. Comments attacking me personally will be read by me, but not by anyone else. They will be posted, and mocked, if sufficiently entertaining.

Most people who commented, while they clearly (clearly!) disagree with the idea of a cut-off time or a qualifying time, took particular exception to the following: “So, when I pass some fat dude who looks to be gearing up for a 7 hour finish I get a little annoyed at the fact that he's even there-because its obvious he hasn't spent too much time in training.” Now, I didn’t hear from any undertrained fat dudes, who are really the only people who should be taking exception to what I wrote, but I got an earful from cancer survivors, heart transplant recipients and the like, who seemed to think that that comment applied to them. I’m not sure why. I certainly didn’t say anything negative against first-time runners, cancer survivors, or anyone else who wants to run 26.2 miles as a sign of their recovery/survival/whatever. I have nothing but respect for people who have overcome adversity and want to celebrate this by running. Could I have framed this in a better way? Absolutely. I apologize to undertrained fat dudes everywhere, and anyone else I may have offended.

My intention was not to question why people run, or their motivations for wanting to finish a marathon. People’s goals are all different. MY goal is to set a PR while passing as many people as possible between the start and the finish lines. After all, the marathon is a RACE. (I’m not sure why competition has turned into a dirty word when it comes to the marathon.) If your goals are different, who am I to question them? That said, I don’t think the course should be open until every single person who signed up for the race and wants to finish, crosses the finish line. Nor should the people who stopped for lunch and to socialize with their friends along the route get a medal for finishing. Not if you’re going to give the same medal to someone who ran the whole way. It isn’t fair to the runners.

Remember, I also said this: “I have no problem with people plodding their way through a course in 6 or 7 hours” and this: “My personal belief is that stopping for lunch should result in instant disqualification, but this is America and I suppose if you pay your entrance fee you have a right to toe the starting line and take whatever detours you want.”

If anyone wants to debate these points, I’m all for it. Interesting ideas I’ve heard include specifically differentiating races with qualifying times with those without to try to strike a balance between those who want to go out and race and those who are looking for a less competitive experience.

Anyway for those of you running a marathon this fall, good luck. Hopefully I’ll see you at the finish line.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

19 in the Hole

This morning I headed out the door and came back 19 miles and 2:53.01 later. It was tough, but not as hard as running that 15 I did a few weeks ago, for some odd reason. I feel a little sore and a touch fatigued, but I know I could have hit 20 pretty easily. I was having trouble picturing another 6 miles on top of that, but I know it can be done since I've done it twice before.

This I know because from my 18 years of running hither and yon across most of the tri-state area, I've learned that the body doesn't do the running. The mind does. If you tell the mind that it has to run 18 miles without stopping, the body will obey, absent some structural injury that simply prevents forward momentum. On longer distances the mind requires a bit more attention, or distraction, depending on the circumstances. I firmly believe that with enough training of mind and body, anyone is capable of running any distance. I really hope I'm not eating my words come mid-November.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Running & Sitting

So, back after a short break spent moving, unpacking and settling in. I’ve been having some trouble sleeping in the new house, probably because the boys are coming into our room earlier than they did in Great Neck and also because I haven’t been able to find my white noise machine. I know it’s in the box with the alarm clock, which I also haven’t been able to find. Last week I skipped my long run-it was all I could do to keep up with 6 milers as tired as I was from humping boxes and putting Ikea furniture together-so I’m a little concerned about trying to run 18 tomorrow. The marathon has been the furthest thing from my mind these past couple of weeks and last night I even considered throwing in the towel and switching to the half. I decided to defer my decision until I see how tomorrow’s long run treats my body.

In addition to being a runner and a lawyer, I am also a student of Zen Buddhism. It was with a heavy heart that I discovered that an old teacher of mine recently passed from this life. John Daido Loori, the founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism died on October 9 at age 78 after a protracted battle with lung cancer. I took dokusan with Loori-Roshi only once, about ten years ago, but I soaked up his dharma like a sponge through recorded lectures and visits to the Zen Mountain Monastery and the Fire Lotus Zendo. Logistics and life circumstances prevented me from becoming a formal student, but I feel that Daido taught me more about reality than I could ever properly thank him for. I took Jack and Dimitri up to the monastery for the Zen Kids program last fall and saw the old man making the rounds of the dining hall. By then he had already received his cancer diagnosis and was looking pretty frail. Nevertheless, his eyes were bright and it was obvious that his spirit was strong.

While some of his dharma brothers have drifted into new ageism, and Buddhism as a whole seems to be suffering from the trivialization brought about by excessive attention from pop culture, Daido retained the essence of the dharma in his teachings while simultaneously integrating Buddhism into the American context. He often described his approach as "radical conservatism." He had a healthy distrust of consumer society and was in no hurry to exchange traditional Buddhist values for passing fads.

In his own words, Loori described how he saw Zen in America in an interview with Shambhala Sun in 2001: "Zen is not Japanese and it's not Chinese. It is American. It didn't come from Asia; it has always been here. It is a way of using your mind and living your life and doing it with other people. Unfortunately nobody can supply a rule book to go by because what it is about can't be spoken of, and that which can be spoken of is not it. So we need to go deep in ourselves to find the foundation of it. Zen is a practice that has to do with liberation, not some kind of easy certainty. The wisdom of that liberation not only affects our lives but all those whom we come in contact with, all that we know, and all that we do."

He will be missed.

The mind-
what can we say of it?
Forms, created by rock shadows.
-John Daido Loori Roshi

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Busy Week

Packing, building things, cleaning, more packing. I’m right in the thick of it now. Tonight I plan to shove the remaining contents of my two bedroom apartment into cardboard boxes. I will drink wine while doing so. The wine will be consumed before tackling the bedroom closet, but after disconnecting the electrical supply for the ceiling fan. We’ll be up late, I fear, since the early part of the week was dedicated to making the Syosset house habitable and torturing Ikea hardware with Allen wrenches. The boys will be spending the night with grandma out in Mt. Sinai.

Like many New Yorkers I have moved fairly frequently. Over the last 20 years I have lived in at least 10 apartments. During the past two decades I have reduced the act of pulling up roots and transplanting them in greener fields to a set series of movements, performed in order, over the course of several months. Granted, there are always small surprises, usually revolving around broken promises made by U-Haul and Ryder, and plenty of last minute scrambling, but overall things have gone smoothly.

For the first time I’ve hired a couple of helpers. Hopefully they will arrive on time and reasonably sober, but if I have to handle it alone I can. I have before. All this activity has left little time for running-I was only able to muster up a 33 mile week-but that is to be expected. I’ll have to take off tomorrow, seeing as how it is the actual moving day, but I’ll be back on the road on Sunday. See you then.

S: 6
M: 5
T: 5
W: 12
Th: off
Fri: 5
Sat: off
Total: 33

Friday, October 2, 2009

15 Miles in the Bag

Yesterday I managed to get a 15 mile run finished before my first conference call. It’s been a number of years since I last ran 15miles, and although my brain had forgotten what it was like to run for two hours plus, my legs remembered the feeling pretty well. It was harder than I expected, especially that last two miles, when I felt like my feet were barely clearing the uneven sidewalk flagstones and my knees were reminding me that the last time I tried this I was a much younger man. Well, if I can do 15 I can do 18. If I can do 18, I can do 20, etc.

I hope I can get in at least two 20 milers before race day, but with the move and my upcoming trip to San Diego, it might be tough. I might try a long run in California if my work schedule permits. I find it very soothing to cruise along the beach. What better a place than California to enjoy a little LSD. (Long, slow, distance).