Monday, November 30, 2009

Recovery II

A reduced running schedule the week of Thanksgiving is a difficult thing. On the one hand, recovery from the marathon requires a certain amount of compulsory inactivity, on the other hand, apply/blueberry crumb pie. Achieving balance is tricky. This year I made it through Thanksgiving week without stuffing myself fuller than the turkey, but I was also less active than usual. By Thursday morning I was trotting down the road at a 10+ minute mile pace, happy to be moving forward on healing legs, however slowly. Four miles seemed quite enough. Friday was more of the same. Saturday found me in better stead, and I bumped up the speed a little and added a mile. Sunday was a 5 miler at a nine minute mile.Getting there.

This week I plan on making use of the elliptical for a few days and perhaps doing an 8 miler towards the end of the week to aid recovery and keep up my fitness while I try to decide on a new goal. I have a suspicion that things are going to be busy at work and home for a while, so I think I’m going to stay on point and focus on bettering my time in the ½ marathon as well as taking to the trails at the nature preserve near the house for some cross-country running. By mid-January I’ll probably be thinking about a spring marathon, but I’m not going to make any commitments right now.

The week-end was restful and full of family activities. We took the boys into the City on Friday to see the Samurai exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I got all the exterior Christmas lights up. We also cooked a big pot of stew and a chicken and olive tagine. The weather has been perfect for outdoor activities, but I know the deep freeze is lurking somewhere around the corner. Fortunately, I think work is going to take me to San Diego a couple of times over the next few months so I’ll get to enjoy some southern California weather and a few runs along the waterfront. I’ll be back tomorrow with a post on stretching, or something like that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Here's a couple of me after the race. You can see how painful kneeling was for me after the finish by the way I'm holding onto the stroller with a death grip.


Training for and running the marathon was hard, but I’m finding the recovery part harder. I am unaccustomed to being idle and I’m chafing to get back out on the road and log some miles. A friend of mine who regularly runs 3 hour marathons at age 42 has been urging me to take off an entire week or two to let the muscles heal. That’s what he does and it makes him a faster, better runner. Intellectually, I know he’s right, but I’m an endorphin junky and I’m starting to get antsy without my fix.

I decided after the marathon that I would forgo running until the day I could walk down the stairs in my house without feeling any pain in my knees, hip or quads. Today was not that day. I’m definitely on the mend, but I think I need at last another two days before I can resume even light running without risk of injury. Ordinarily I would hit up the elliptical or stationary bike just to keep active, but I don’t belong to a gym yet in my new town and I’m off work until next Monday (no office gym) so my options are limited. I think tomorrow I’ll propose a pre-Thanksgiving walk in the nature preserve near the house. Walking is healthy, I hear. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

I woke with a start and peered at the clock. 5:15am. I swung my legs out of the hotel bed and quietly got dressed. It took me a while to figure out a way to pin on my number and stow my Clif Shots (like GU but made with brown rice syrup) in the new fanny pack that I bought at the expo the night before. I got it all sorted out, kissed Erin and made my way down to Broad Street, where I joined an unusually silent procession of runners who were heading towards the Marathon starting line at the other end of Ben Franklin Parkway. Philly has a lot of hotels and they were all seemingly disgorging their lycra clad guests at the same time. The distance to the starting line from the Doubletree on Broad Street is a mile and a half, and there is no way to get there by public transportation. Along the way I ate some sort of energy bar and worried about the lines for the port-o-johns.

6:15am I was waiting on one of those lines. At 6:30pm I was waiting again. Nerves, I guess. I found the 3:50 pace group which was inexplicably lined up in the gray corral, rather then the green corral. Slight panic. Made the first of several mental adjustments. (Incidentally, the weather was perfect. 42 degrees at the start and it didn’t get above 55 for the duration of the race) 7:00, we’re off! Or not. This year the race started in waves so it was closer to 7:20 when we crossed the starting line and I hit the button on my Garmin. I had pockets full of Cliff Shots, and a bracelet on my right wrist that had the splits for every mile printed on it for a 3:50 finish (courtesy of Cliff). This would prove valuable once I lost the pace group.

The first 5 miles were along narrow Philadelphia streets that had been designed and built  back in the days when Ben Franklin was still a dandy around town. Unfortunately, the staggered starts didn’t do much to reduce the crowds. I felt more like I was running with the bulls in Pamplona than with runners in Philadelphia. (I must pause here to take note of the fact that there were many, many runners who completely overestimated their abilities, started in the first corral, and became lumbering obstacles to everyone behind them by the time they hit the wall at mile three.) Around mile 5 I slowed down at a water stop and saw an open port-o-san. I let the pace group go, peed, then ran a 7:38 mile to catch up with the pace group. Stupid, I know, and I paid for it later.

At Mile 6 I spied Erin and the boys at the corner of Chestnut and Broad. I gave Erin a kiss, tossed her my hat and gloves and continued up Chestnut towards West Philly. I was feeling good and the crowds just before the bridge were very energetic. The race then entered University City and climbed a long gradual uphill towards Drexel University. I passed by some Drexel frat houses at mile 7 or 8 and noted that the kids had probably been up since the night before, and in any event, were clearly wasted. A particularly cheerful bunch were blasting music and offering swigs of beer from a gallon milk jug. I declined.

Another hill greeted us as we passed the zoo and entered Fairmont Park. My legs were starting to protest when we came out of the park and headed back to the Parkway at the 13.1 mile marker. The ½ marathon peeled off at this point and the marathoners headed up Kelly Drive towards the town of Manayunk where the turn-around was. I let the 3:50 group peel away at mile 14 and they quickly pulled away. I couldn’t understand it, because I was hitting my splits pretty dead on yet they were running a pace that was much faster than 8:47. I later realized Clif promises that the pacers will get their group to the finish line 2 minutes faster than the advertised pace time, and they run negative splits for the first half of the race.

The lead racers started passing me coming from the opposite direction as I got to mile 16. They were cruising. I was not. I briefly rallied when I noticed that one of the lead runners  was a 60 year old man wearing a pink ballerina outfit, but it didn’t last. The route from mile 15-20 follows along the Schuylkill River and is fairly devoid of spectators. I put on my I-Pod at mile 18 and grimly soldiered on.

As I entered Manayunk I grabbed a small glass of beer that was offered by the local Hash-House Harriers club and downed it. It tasted pretty good considering it was warm Yeungling and I had had nothing to eat but Clif Shots and water for the previous three hours. I made the turn-around at the 20 mile mark and headed back down the river. I was dying. The last six miles totally sucked. My knees and ankles were killing me and my pace started creeping up to over a 9:00/mile. Every time it did I sped up which made it hurt even more.

At mile 22 I saw a runner power-vomiting on a tree off the side of the road. The EMT’s pulled up seconds later and carted him away. At that moment I would have given the rest of my energy gels to grab a few seconds of rest on the backboard his unconscious body was strapped to.

I passed through a gauntlet of cheering spectators and hit the finish line in 1:51.07. The guy next to me promptly passed out, fell over and was dragged out of the chute. I picked up my medal and a bottle of water, found Erin and the kids in the crowd and limped back to the hotel for a shower. It had been an unbelievable day and a great race. Thank you, Philadelphia, for reminding this old goat that he can still get up the mountain every once and a while.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I completed the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:51.08. The end was tough, but isn't it always? I'll have a full race report tomorrow, but right now I'm working on a plate of tacos. Mmmm. Tacos.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Parting Thoughts

Well, I'm putting the kids in the car and heading down to Philly. The race is tomorrow. I've had a case of the taper worm these last few days and have been eating a lot, but I've been trying to keep it on the healthy side. Today I'll hit the expo, pick up my bib, take the kids to the Please Touch museum and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow after the race, it's a trip to John's Roast Pork for a cheesesteak. I feel pretty good, albeit a bit nervous. See you on the other side of 26.2.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Palin on Running

A long time ago, during the reign of King George Bush II, I was the author of a lefty political blog. I was an extremely vociferous blogger, the very epitome of the angry crank in the basement. I sat at my desk firing my slings and arrows hither and yon, striking out at anyone who didn’t agree with my own peculiar brand of anarcho-libertarian-progressivism. During the last election a particular target of my ire was Sarah Palin, the erstwhile Governer of Alaska and former vice-presidential nominee. Sarah was, to be fair, an easy target. To compound the fact that she lacked a certain intellectual rigor, she also suffered from that peculiar Republican tendency to dig in your heels during the discussion of an important issue despite the fact that the position you’re taking is patently absurd.

Well, Sarah has a new book out and the publicity machine is cranking away, ensuring that every time we open a paper or turn on the news we’re greeted with a picture of the former Ms. Wassila’s sunny face and chirpy banter. Palin’s current complaint about the media centers around a picture of her on the cover of Newsweek, (at left) apparently taken during a photo shoot for Runners World. Wait, WHAT? Apparently the controversial photo was shot for the August 2009 issue, which featured Palin in the monthly “I’m a Runner” column.

I headed on over to Runners World’s web site to read the interview, which I found completely fascinating. Apparently Palin has been running regularly for 35 years, and in 2005 ran a sub four-hour marathon (The 2005 Humpy's Marathon in Anchorage). One of her greatest frustrations she had during the campaign (besides Katie Couric, I assume) was that the McCain staff wouldn't adjust her schedule so she could fit in a run. As she put it, “The days never went as well if I couldn't get out there and sweat.”

Although it kills me to say this, my opinion of Palin has just inched up a couple of notches. She cites George Sheehan as one of her favorite authors and answered a question about what running has taught her about politics this way: “Same thing it's taught me about life: You have to have determination and set goals, and you don't complain when something's hurting because no one wants to hear it.” Ain’t it the truth.

Finally, Palin on running in general: “It doesn't matter your background, your demographics, your race, your political affiliation—it's such a uniting, healthy, fun, awesome activity…we're all there together and we're smiling and we're having a good time because we're going to do something healthy and active. We need more of that. That's what sports are able to do. It's a wonderful kind of diversion from the divisiveness that is politics or that is life.” Amen, Sarah. Keep that in mind, ok?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Anyone who runs long distances and has a family life outside running, eventually encounters tension between the demands of the sport and the responsibility of being a full-time parent or partner. Let’s face it, distance running requires a certain amount of discipline and training which take up time that could be spent doing other things. With the paucity of free time most of us have to spare for anything other than work, conflicts on how to best utilize that time are bound to arise.

Some of us are lucky-I have access to a gym (with a shower) at work and I’m able to log 25 miles per week on the treadmill during my lunch hour-but not everyone has that luxury. I’m also fortunate to have a family that understands that running makes me a better person, and by extension, a better father and partner. I think that is the key. It is imperative for the runner to communicate to his or her family the depth of commitment to the running lifestyle in a way that makes sense to non-runners. This isn’t easy. Runners tend to be fiercely dedicated to the sport in a way that elliptical jockeys simply aren’t. Putting on a light coat and heading out to run in the driving rain or snow seems totally insane to most people, yet it makes perfect sense to me, as I’d imagine it does to most runners. Put simply, I have to get out there and put in the miles the same way I have to drink water or eat. Running keeps me fit, gives me the mental acuity to solve seemingly intractable problems, clears my head and improves my mood. It is meditation in motion, poetry in physical form.

Running is such a part of my identity that I can’t even imagine life without it. I would willingly get up at 4am, in the winter, to run in the dark, rather than push it aside in the name of time constraints. Of course, I love my family and would do anything for them. I’d give up running in a heartbeat for them if they asked-but because of how much it means to me, I know they never would.

I think I do a decent job balancing the demands of family life with running. It is easier for me because my family is incredibly supportive-they come to my races and cheer me on in all kids of nasty weather. Could I do better? I suppose one could always do better. I strive for balance. You'll have to ask them if I've managed to achieve it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Six Days to Go

Six days remain until the Philadelphia Marathon. I ran 4 miles on the treadmill at lunch today, the shortest distance I’ve run since 2007. For some odd reason I’ve also dropped 5 pounds in the last few weeks. This is encouraging, although seemingly without reason. I gained that same five pounds over the course of the last six months as I increased my mileage and concurrently, my eating. Perhaps the last three weeks of decreased mileage also decreased my appetite or something. Whatever, I’m not going to worry about it.

My plan for after the race is to decrease mileage to 20 or 25 a week and see if I get back to my fighting weight of 178 which is where I was before I started racking up the miles. I also think I want to spend more time in the gym this winter, working on strength training with an eye towards trying some triathlons. I love running but I think I’m a little burnt from this training cycle.

I have an addictive personality, which is great for training routines that require high mileage. Unfortunately I also tend to push myself pretty hard towards the outer limits of my physical abilities, and end up overtraining. One this race is over I can go back to being a normal neurotic runner and leave the high mileage to the young kids.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pacing Myself

I got my final confirmation email from the Philadelphia Marathon yesterday. Based on my anticipated finish time I have been assigned to the “grey” corral. At the time I submitted my race application I put down an estimated finish time of 4 hours, but I’ve decided to run with the Clif Bar Pace Crew and try to finish in 3:50. I therefore have to change my position to start in the “green” corral. According to the email this should be a simple process to accomplish at the expo. I like the idea of running with a pace group. Who better to run the race with than others who share your goal and level of fitness? I ran with the 3:50 group for a few miles last year when I was competing in the ½ marathon. The pacer was pretty entertaining.

I can’t believe the race is next week-end. I am starting to get a little nervous. Instead of worrying about the race I should probably be looking for things for the kids to do on Saturday. The race I can handle; two kids in Philly without some planned activities, maybe not.
Past week:
S: 6
M: 5
T: 5
W: 5
Th: 8
Fr: 5
Sat: Off
Total: 34

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calories Out

Runner’s World has an intriguing Peak Performance blog entry up which discusses the amount of calories burned by various exercises like running, biking, walking and swimming. I was always under the impression that whether you ran or walked a mile, the energy expenditure was the same-roughly 100 calories. Apparently that isn’t the case. Running actually burns about 30 percent more calories per mile than walking, because running involves a completely different form of locomotion than walking. Runners "hop" or "bounce" across the ground, while walkers skim along without raising their center of gravity. All that hopping burns a lot of extra calories. There is a handy chart in the article that compares the exercises. For simplicity sake, in running, your gross calorie burn per mile = .75 x wt in lbs. For walking, it = .57 x wt in lbs. So a 175 pound runner burns approximately 130 calories per mile. Hand me another granola bar.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two Weeks to Go

I ended up running 14 on Saturday and I wasn’t feeling it. Dragged my rear the whole way and my legs felt like cement. I probably should have gone with my instincts, knocked it back to 10 and took Sunday off, but I ended up running 6 yesterday at an average pace of 9:15. I’m definitely overtraining. Thank god it’s time to start the taper. Hopefully after two weeks of moderate mileage I’ll be back in fighting form. My concern now is food intake. I’ve been eating everything in sight since my mileage has exceeded 35/week and I’ve actually gained a few pounds during the training cycle. I’ll be monitoring my intake much more closely and I have decided to skip my evening glass (or 2) of red wine until after the race. That decision will make the next two weeks feel far longer than they actually will be. Sacrifice is good for the soul, I suppose.
Last week:
S: Off
M: 5 speed
T: 5
W: 5
Th: 6 tempo
Fr: 5
Sat: 14 (8:53 pace)
Total: 40

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


My babysitter just asked me for the day off tomorrow to go on a job interview, which torpedoes my chance of getting in a long run during the week. Instead I’ll be home with my son, entertaining him while simultaneously trying to get work done. He’s almost three years old and can’t quite comprehend why I have to do work on the computer rather than play with him in the park all morning. Frankly, I’d rather play in the park with him all morning, but the boss wouldn’t understand.

I suppose if it’s a nice day I can pump up the tires on the baby-jogger and get out there for 5 or 6. I haven’t used that thing for a while. When J. was a little baby I used to take him for runs in Silver Lake Park every week-end. We both appreciated the fresh air and got to know each other better. I remember thinking that his legs would never get long enough to reach the footrest at the bottom of the stroller-now they hang below it. Time passes so quickly. Less than three weeks to the Philly Marathon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Meb Keflezighi

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that Mebrahtom Keflezighi’s win at the New York marathon has become controversial. Even though Meb, an American citizen who immigrated to the United States at age 12, never ran a step before he was trained in running programs here in the US, there have been a number of people who are questioning whether he is “American enough” to claim victory under the hallowed flag of our forefathers.

Most criticism I’ve read of the people espousing this view point to racism as the explanation, but I have my doubts. I think the post 9-11 xenophobia cultivated over the 8 years of the Bush administration is more to blame. Hey, Meb has a funny name and he was born somewhere else. This alone makes him suspect to the legions of red state mouth-breathers who’s closest brush with a marathon was probably when they passed by their TV Sunday morning on their way to the kitchen for another plate of biscuits and gravy.

In North America, except for the Native Americans, everybody is an immigrant. My grandfather came to this country from the ass end of Poland in 1918, became an American citizen and worked his tail off so his kids could have a better life. He would have scratched his head at the idea of someone criticizing someone who has been here for 20 years as not “American” enough. As someone pointed out in a letter responding to the Times article on this subject, “All the comments about when you become a REAL American miss the point. A country of immigrants should be thrilled to see that one person of recent immigration succeed.” And so I am.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shoe Fetish

Despite my recent affinity for minimalist-shoe running, I went out and bought a new pair of Saucony Pro-Grid Guide II running shoes yesterday. I figured this is the last possible week I could buy a pair of shoes and have them sufficiently broken in by race day. My last pair was disintegrating on my feet and had, by my estimation 1,120 miles on them. It was time to say good-bye.

For the last couple of months I’ve been switching between my old Sauconys and my Nike Frees. I’ve never had the guts to take the Frees on a run longer than 7 miles. While I agree intellectually with the minimalist shoe philosophy advocated by Chris McDougall in his well researched book, Born to Run, I was too chicken to try a 15 miler on the Frees. Don’t get me wrong, I love those shoes-they fit like a glove, or rather, a sock, and I feel like my feet have benefited from all the exercise they have been getting that they don’t get in regular running shoes. They are pretty comfortable to boot. Nevertheless, modern roadways are not the plains of the Serengeti and I am not a subsistence hunter. So, I took a trip to Dicks and tried on a few pairs of Sauconys. (I love that brand and have been wearing them almost continuously since 1990. Anyone remember the Jazz 3000? You can buy it today for $19.95, although it was state of the art in the 1980s).

Today at lunch I slipped on the new kicks and knocked off a brisk five on the treadmill at lunch. What a difference! I forgot how good a fresh pair of shoes feels on the feet. Can’t wait to do 15 in them later on this week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Marathon Sunday

Here in NY, 40,000 people are making their way to Staten Island right now to run the marathon. Good luck to everyone running. I'll be watching the festivities on TV from the comfort of my couch. Ran 20 yesterday so I'm taking the day off. I'm allowing myself more rest days as the race gets closer. I have a tendency towards overtraining that I need to rein in or I'll get injured.

That last 20 miler was tough yesterday. No obvious pain anywhere, just general pain everywhere. I was slightly faster than last week, averaging 8:53 per mile. If I can maintain that over the last 10k, then I'll have a sub-4 hour finish in Philadelphia in three weeks. We'll see.