Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If I were being chased by a guy with a knife...

You've heard this expression.  If you are a runner talking to a non-runner, casually mentioning how many miles you ran today, the non-runner chimes in and says, "I couldn't run that far if I were being chased by a guy with a knife!".  Similarly, if you are a non-runner trying to flatter or otherwise appear less immortal than the runner, you respond to the runner's mileage tally with, "I couldn't run that far if I were being chased by a guy with a knife!".  It is the most overused and least logical expression ever shared between the worlds of runners and non-runners.  No wonder we don't understand each other!  

Why is it always a knife?  And a guy?  Why not a bear?  Or a guy with a tarantula? Or a bear with a tarantula?

Here's the scenario. I ran 9 miles.  Someone "couldn't run 9 miles if they were being chased by a guy with a knife".  Why would a guy run after you for 9 miles with a knife?  What the hell did you do to this guy that he felt compelled to run 9 miles to stab you?  Where are you that there isn't anyone to call or anywhere to hide from this 9-mile-knife-wielding houligan?

Okay so let's just go along with the scenario.  So there I was, mugging someone, and the victim turned on me with a knife and... No, that's not realistic.  So there I was, kicking someone's puppy, and... No, wouldn't happen.  So there I was, insulting someone for having obnoxious, ill-mannered children...yeahhhh that's more like it... and the parent of the ill-mannered child comes at me with a knife.  In a fit of rage the parent, let's call it a father, abandons the child and a pursuit ensues.  (I think we now understand why the child is so obnoxious, and that my insulting tirade was completely justified).  In my fantasy I'm going to pretend that I happened to be wearing running clothes.  I spin and take flight, and in a burst of adrenaline I take off at a fast clip, but I hear this maniac behind me and he's too close for comfort.  My speed increases, until my years of training start creeping into my psyche.  I can't sustain this pace.  If I start off too fast I am going to bonk.  I'm not adequately hydrated.  I should start off slow so I can achieve a negative split.  All of these educated running thoughts are going to overwhelm me and supersede my fight-or-flight instinct.  No doubt I'll try to rationalize this with the maniac so he can understand the need to Finish Strong! but it's a safe bet he'll stab me before I can show him my split times on the Garmin.  So in this scenario, it's not going take the stabber 9 miles to reach me.  He'll get to me before we reach the street.

Now, let's just say I make it to the street, and he has to pause for oncoming traffic.  I get a slight advantage, and from there I have time to fully prepare my race strategy.  And, there are no side streets or payphones for the next 9 miles.  In that case?  Oh yeah, I got that.  And later the local news would tell of a mysterious John Doe found on a deserted street, knife in hand, cause of death likely cardiac arrest, heat stroke, dehydration, or feelings of inadequacy.  

Is this one of the subconscious reasons why we run distance?  To have a sense of immortality, where we possess the ability to flee from danger?  What if, instead of thinking of whatever horror we are running from, we think of the fulfillment that we are running towards?  What would you run 9 miles for?  Or 13.1? Or 26.2? Or 50????

Monday, July 16, 2012

JP Morgan Corporate Challenge - race* report

Two years ago, back when I was still new to racing, I ran the 2010 JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Boston representing my company, Putnam Investments.  I remember it being a complete log jam of people and thoroughly overwhelming, but it was fun hanging out with friends and overall I was glad I participated.  Fast forward two years, and here we go again. 
We received the email on April 17th soliciting runners for this year's event, and by the end of the day all Putnam slots were full.  This was disappointing to a lot of people that wanted to participate and had no idea how quickly the slots would fill up.  Also disappointing was the lack of coordination within our team, and no communication regarding the race.  We received our shirts the day before the race, and were left with only mediums and larges.  Jaimee scooped up the last of the mediums for us, but they looked like nightgowns on us and required some modifications.  I cut the sleeves off and tucked in the bottom of the shirt, but Jaimee took it a step further by cutting off the bottom and even making her own V-neck.  Very Flashdance. 
Jaimee offered to drive into Boston, so Kerri, Steve (one of our lunch run buddies), Chris (Steve's friend), and I all met at Jaimee's house and we drove in together.  It was just under 90 degrees driving into Boston, and unfortunately there was no sea breeze to cool us down.  We relaxed in the shade in Boston Common and waited for the rest of our team to arrive.  Finally our team captain arrived with the bibs and t-shirts for anyone who hadn't picked theirs up yet.  There were 100 runners representing team Putnam, 100 race bibs, and approximately 45 safety pins.  I managed to snag 2 pins, and many other runners didn't have any pins or only one.  Some people ended up not wearing a bib because they couldn't find any pins, and others asked other teams for spares.  Not exactly a great start to a race. 

Now hiring: Wardrobe Manager

The pre-race crowd was deceiving, as the Common was relatively empty while we relaxed at the gazebo.  As we made our way to the start line, the crowds quickly thickened and it was impossible to move.  Finally we were able to move into the starting chute, and we lined up at the 7:00 pace sign.  Although I knew this pace was a little fast for me, I also knew I didn't want to get stuck behind a few thousand other runners.  With 12,000 runners on a 3.5 mile course, start line positioning is important.  Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to feel the same way.
This was the second race in a row where I was frustrated by the lack of start line etiquette.  It took several minutes to cross the start line, and then I was swallowed up in a sea of body parts.  Passing people wasn't an option for the first five minutes of the course, as we were forced to walk with the crowd. Finally when the pace began to speed up, I found myself running an 11 minute pace, passing people that were walking.  It's impossible to describe how crowded this race was, but at one point I had the following thought, "This is what Running with the Bulls must feel like.  Right before the bull tramples you."  I tried to take advantage of every opening I could, only to get blocked by yet more walkers and slow joggers.  If I tried to pass near the middle of the street I would get blocked by groups running together.  If I tried to pass on the side of the street I would risk getting tripped by the feet of the barriers.  There were no safe options.  If anyone fell, they would surely be trampled.  The best (only) good part about this race was seeing the Citgo sign and the beautiful houses of the Back Bay.  I finished the race in a disappointing 30:54 (a full minute slower than 2 years ago) and headed to the post-race snack area.  There were generous amounts of water bottles, fruit snacks, bananas, and Larabars.  Rumor has it there were Hoodsie cups too but I didn't see those.  We met back at the gazebo and all had our own version of the same story to tell.  Although our times were slow, it was nice to see Jaimee, Kerri, and I come in 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively for team Putnam (females).  The race bibs had a QR code on them, which was really handy.  We were able to scan the code immediately to get our finish time and pace.  All races should do this!  Finally, as we all recounted the crowds, the poor planning, and the ill-fitting t-shirts, Jaimee showed us all what she thought of the Putnam shirt.

After the race we headed back to Jaimee's house and enjoyed a few post-race beers and a dip in her pool, which was a real treat!  That was definitely the best part of the race.  *Okay if we are being completely honest, watching Steve diving off the diving board was the best part of the race.

Twice now I have done this race, and the second time was worse than the first.  This will definitely be the last time I participate in this event, but the part I really liked was our lunch buddies (sans Todd) running together.  This coming weekend will be an exciting one too, as Jaimee, Kerri and I head to Portland Maine for the Old Port Half Marathon!  I was just reading the course description which highlighted a couple of key narrow areas that will cause some backup.  Eh, no problem!  Our ninja skills are freshly sharpened!

Click here to see the Corporate Challenge course

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The best part of a long run: when it's over

I'm two weeks away from my first half marathon of the year, and I've been dodging the pre-requisite long training runs.  Life gets in the way, races get in the way, heat... You name it, I can turn it into an excuse to shorten my route.  But, since it's been a year since I've logged any 1+ hour runs on my feet, I knew I had to get my act together.
Kerri and I planned to run today, and when the forecast called for mid-90's and oppressive humidity, I insisted on running early.  I mentioned it on Twitter, and somehow  ended up talking Jeff into running with us.  Jeff is training for the Chicago Marathon so he was looking to run long as well.  Turns out he was several beers deep on the night, when everything sounds fun.
We picked up Kerri and headed to the RI bike path, which has become a favorite of mine on the long run.  It's a safe path with friendly people, and if you go early enough it's completely shaded.  Our run started at 6:45am so we didn't see a ton of people for the first half.  I carried my fuel belt with frozen water bottles, which was a nice treat.  The ice thawed and stayed cold for over an hour, and the ice on my back was a bonus!  A couple miles into the run Kerri broke away and ran ahead, while Jeff and I tried to stick to a 9:45-10 minute slow pace.  She makes me nervous when she does this because she doesn't carry a watch, or water, and I didn't know how far she'd end up going.  The good thing about this path is that it is out and back, so there's *virtually no way to get lost.
On Thursday I ran with Anthony and another Jeff on some trails in Upton and I managed to roll my ankle pretty badly, and then managed to do it twice more over the course of the run.  It was quite tender yesterday and I didn't have a ton of confidence that I'd be able to make today's run.  I had it wrapped and iced much of yesterday and that did seem to help.  On today's run, the ankle immediately spoke up and bothered me a lot over the first several miles but seemed to ease up after that.  I'm not sure if the ankle actually stopped hurting or if the discomfort of the heat of the day trumped the ankle pain, but either way it wasn't an issue after about mile 3.
At one point Jeff and I hit a railroad crossing, with the signals flashing! We waited for the train.  And waited.  And waited.  Turns out there was a problem with the signal and there really wasn't a train coming, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't welcome the unexpected break.

Jeff and I finally made it to the six mile mark, and Kerri was nowhere to be found.  We walked an extra quarter mile to see if we could spot her, but eventually we had to get moving again before we stiffened up too much.  We figured that she probably ran a little farther than she should but would turn around when she was ready and would probably catch up to us.  Or, maybe she missed one turn that the bike path takes.  The way back was a lot slower as we had to climb back up the hills we had run down on the way out.  The heat was getting to us, and Jeff's dehydration from last night's beers were starting to give him some leg cramps.  We decided to walk the last mile back while he dealt with his leg cramp, and really started to panic when Kerri still hadn't caught up to us.  We worried about the fact that she didn't have water, and were making plans on how we were going to find her.  When we reached the parking lot, however, there was Kerri.  Looking fresh and well rested (she mentioned she was waiting for us for quite a while).  And oh, while she was running she bumped into someone who knows someone and he ended up giving her a bottle of water.  I'm still not clear on how she beat us back, but Kerri is after all our team ninja and so I'm not really surprised.
So here it is: 12 miles done. It wasn't fun after about mile 9, and by mile 10 I wouldn't have minded being kidnapped, but we did it.  I still hate running in heat and I'm not a fan of the chafing that seems to join it, but I just might hate it a little less nowadays.  And the best part about the run was climbing into the car when we were done, and realizing it was only 9am and the hardest part of the weekend was behind us!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Race Report: Finish at the 50 10K

Tuesday marked the third consecutive year that Harvard Pilgrim has hosted a race at Gillette Stadium.  In the first two years, the race was a 10K on the morning of July 4th.  This year they made a drastic change by adding a 5K option and scheduling the race for the evening of July 3rd instead.  I had a hunch this would change the feel of the race, and that hunch was spot on.
The 10K is a weird distance that I don't have a lot of experience with.  In looking back at my race calendars, I've run a lot of 5 milers and a bunch of half marathons, but nothing in between.  The distance is short enough that you have to keep your speed up, but long enough that you have to reserve enough energy or you'll fizzle out at the end.  It requires strategy, and this is a great course to practice that strategy.  It's a very comfortable course, and doesn't get much flatter.  In fact, I felt like I was running downhill a lot. That's the good part about this race.  The bad part is that it takes place in July, and whether the race takes place at 10am or 6pm, either way it's still hot.  
This year, the race not only expanded to include a 5K option  but also added fireworks afterwards, making it an all night affair and encouraging a lot more participants.  In fact, participation more than doubled with over 7,000 entrants.  Seems that quite a few people wanted a chance to run across the field at Gillette Stadium and meet Jerod Mayo at the finish line.  And why not?  A 5K is a doable distance for runners and walkers alike and a much less intimidating distance than the 10K.  The result of this was, let's call it... "growing pains".

As mentioned, the course itself is great.  The volunteers at the water stops were efficient, and there were plenty of water stops.  I heard some folks complain that there weren't enough water stops, but I disagree.  There were stops at the 1.5 mile, 3 mile, 4 mile, and 5 mile marks.  As always, it's fun running across the field at Gillette Stadium.  And the fireworks were a blast!

As mentioned, the theme of this year was growing pains.  I'm all for encouraging maximum participation but it shouldn't come at the expense of the entrant's experience. Both the 5K and the 10K races started at the same time, which caused overcrowding in the starting chute.  The chute was poorly designed, with the entry points to the chute blocked in several areas by large towers of water bottles.  Because of this, many runners were unable to enter the chutes and masses of people spilled out onto the sidewalks.  I could have lived with this, except...
Runners were self seeded, with the understanding that you line up in your pace category.  There are always going to be exceptions to this, but for the most part in most of the races I've participated in, runners do a pretty good and honest job at this.  I believe part of the problem in this race is that many of the participants were not avid racers, but instead local folks that wanted a chance to tour the stadium and used the 5K as a way to leisurely stroll the property.  And since they were just walking, heck why not start in front to get a head start!  The result was a bottleneck of runners trying to skirt around walkers and very slow joggers during the first mile.  I very much believe in running a smart race and avoiding jockeying for position at the beginning, which generally only results in wasted energy.  In this case it couldn't be helped, and it was very frustrating to me.
A similar frustration bubbled up in the final moments of the race, where the 5K and 10K routes merged shortly before entering the stadium.  It appears that someone had the foresight to realize this might become a problem, and had cones up to separate the two divisions.  Guess what runners do with cones...They run in between them!  If you really want to keep the two divisions separate, put up a solid barrier.  Here's the issue.  I'm a moderately paced 10K runner.  I'm not super fast, but I finished in the top 30% at a time of 54:45.  All of the folks finishing the 10K at this time are fairly strong runners looking for a good solid kick at the end.  Instead, we were finishing simultaneously with 5K entrants who were walking a 5K with a 54 minute finish time.  That's snail's pace.  The result: Log jam at the end in which I was barely able to jog around people up to the finish line.  Don't get me wrong, I am by no means a snobby runner.  I'm not breaking records or doing anything outstanding, but I have a strategy that really came unraveled because of the poor logistics.  My main strategy at the end of that race was "get me to a bottle of water as quickly as possible!", which leads me to my next gripe.  The water was all located outside the stadium, with signs posted everywhere that there was "NO RE-ENTRY!"  No one read those signs.  There were massive amounts of people standing, sitting, stretching, and drinking lots of water.  When I crossed that finish line I was lightheaded and nauseous, and knocked into people like a pinball trying to get off the field for water.  Literally, I would have failed a field sobriety test.  I'm not saying people shouldn't be able to hang out on the field, but if the "no re-entry" thing can't be enforced, then at least make it easier for finishers to get to the water before they pass out (which I nearly did).  

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't publicly humiliate the people that took advantage of the post-race snacks, hoarding them as if they were preparing for Armageddon.  This was an issue last year as well, when people were taking entire cases of granola bars instead of taking a single granola bar out of the case.  Seems that the race officials tried to prevent this by handing out pre-stuffed bags with goodies.  But these clever doomsday'ers found a work around, by stuffing tote bags with literally dozens of these pre-filled bags.  Not only does this represent heinous greed, but we can't even say it's impulsive.  Because really, what are you doing on the field of Gillette Stadium, after a 10K race, with several large empty tote bags?  Shame on you, sloths, for robbing the people that were still out on the course, working harder than you did.  

I'm always going to run this race, because despite everything I just said, I really enjoy it. This race is put on by DMSE (Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, a top notch racing outfit) and I'm confident they will continue to fine tune this young event. The bottom line is that if they are going to continue drawing big-league numbers of participants, they are going to have to treat it like a big-league race.

But anyways, back to me...
Logistics aside, I still had a great time.  I stuck to my plan and ran conservatively in the first couple of miles, and even managed to move to the side of the road to wave to my son Andrew and Ronnie's wife Donna who were cheering for us.  Well, Donna was cheering for us.  Andrew was chatting on the phone, and holding a bag of Subway sandwiches.  I must say even though I was aggravated at all the people that lined up too far ahead, the benefit of this was that I felt like a rock star the entire race.  I literally passed people constantly for 6 miles, and had very few people pass me.  That was psychologically motivating, and although I got caught in a lot of traffic where it was difficult to pass, I felt relatively strong throughout the race.  My only hiccup was at the final water stop, where I slowed to walk, drank a sip of water and poured the rest over myself.  When I went to run again, my legs were spent and I found it very difficult to get back up to speed.  In the future, it seems that maybe I'm better off carrying my own water to avoid interrupting my legs' rhythm.  Once in the stadium, I was overwhelmed with thirst, crowds, and the feeling of any-minute-now-I'm-going-to-pass-out-or-vomit-or-both.  I pinballed my way to the water, grabbed a chunk of ice and stuck it under my hat, and downed a couple bottles of water.  Whereas the first two years I savored every moment of the experience of being on the field, looking for celebrities, seeing myself on the jumbotron, on this day it was more about survival.  Once I came back to life we headed back to the car, changed into dry clothes, and set up a great spread for tailgating.

Bragging rights...
As mentioned, my finishing time was 54:45.  Although I had a time goal of low 50's, I had modified that due to the heat.  Not only is that a new PR for me at that distance, but it's also a whopping six minutes faster than last year!