Racing is the fun part

Moving unearths mementos from the past and with them the bittersweet combination of dust and nostalgia. Among outdated textbooks, pictures of college parties that were spared Facebook infamy, and a 2 lb GPS watch, I found this 2008 article from the D.C. Examiner, which profiles my preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon. Six years have passed since the article was published. I'm finished with graduate school and living in a different city. I'm still training for marathons and have similar goals, but my approach towards meeting these goals is slightly different.  In preparation for the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon I ran multiple 100 mile weeks and averaged 70 per week on the year. However, a great portion of those runs, maybe 30%, was at shuffle-jog pace. I was interested in the cardiovascular benefits of "time on your feet" rather than building speed and running economy. This plan worked out remarkably well for me. I finished in 2:51:14 and captured 3rd place.

In spite of this success, evolving circumstances have called for an adaptation to my training program. This time around, under the advisement of Coach Tom McGlynn and the RunCoach program, I've focused on quality over quantity. I've maxed out at 70 mpw, but each and every run has served a purpose. I've done higher quality long runs than ever before and consistently worked out twice a week. In addition to a different training philosophy, my mileage has been lower because I've had to gradually dig myself out of a hole left by untreated anemia and four years away from the road racing circuit. The plan is to continue increasing my mileage in the next cycle, though the emphasis will remain on quality over quantity.

My mindset is also somewhat different heading into this race. Like my self-expectations for Marine Corps, I have high hopes for myself going into the Eugene Marathon. Where I differ is that I no longer consider finishing a victory. I know that I can go out and finish a marathon tomorrow. This is not why I race. I  have tiered goals. In other words, "I would be over the moon if I ran X time," "I would be happy if I ran Y time," and "I would be satisfied if I ran Z time." Anything outside of those times would be a disservice to my long-term goals. Finishing a marathon when you feel sub-par, for whatever reason, is a mental victory. But it's a trophy I've already earned. My sights are set on new challenges and new accomplishments.

I feel as physically and mentally prepared as I could be with two weeks to go. As Kara Goucher said, "Racing is the fun part; it's the reward for all the hard work." I can't wait to let loose and have a blast in Eugene!


Moving versus motion

Last week was the first hiccup in this training cycle. The last 6.5 years of my life have been pretty transient. I transitioned from being a graduate student to a pre-doctoral intern to a full-time professional, moving 6 times and living in 3 different states in the process. After going through so many moves, I've pared down rather than accumulated things. It was for this reason that I so grossly underestimated how difficult my most recent move would be. Almost every waking hour of this past weekend was spent doing some sort of manual labor. On top of that, or perhaps because of it, I became physically ill, taking a break from lugging boxes to vomit. Training suffered, too. I had to take my first unplanned day off and only managed 6 miles on the day I was supposed to do my long run. I squeaked out 45 miles for the week, when I was supposed to do 60. Life happens. I felt better on Sunday night, so hopefully I can resume normal training this week. And return to my usual policy of using my arms as little as possible. Change is good and I'm happy with my new place, but next time I'm hiring movers.
The new 'hood.


The Art of Making a Marathon Playlist

Creating a good playlist is a lot like running a marathon; it's hard work, and whether or not you succeed depends on tempo and pacing. Putting a Norah Jones lullaby between 2Pac and DMX makes as much sense as dropping a 5:30 mile when you're cruising at 6:20s. I submit for your review my pump-up playlist for the Eugene marathon. Naturally it includes 26 songs, one for each mile of the race. I took into account tempo, variety of musical genres, song order, and lyrical message, striving to come up with the perfect musical  representation of the race I intend to run.

I start with Bleachers' peppy but controlled anthem "I Wanna Get Better." In a marathon you want to start out conservatively, so this earnest, humble message of self-improvement is preferable to adrenaline-pumping, ego-stroking self-congratulation, which will come later. I continue on the modesty train with the Candlebox ballad "Far Behind." It's a slow-paced reminder not to get too excited; there is still a lot of work to do, and the finish line is far, far away. The Mowgli's "San Francisco" says "Hey, you came all the way out to the west coast to run this race. Let's have some fun!" The next seven songs take me through mile 10, rounding out the beginning portion of the race with peppy but controlled beats and inspirational messages about perseverance. 
Song #11 is "Started From the Bottom" by Drake. It is at this point in the race that I'll begin to shift my efforts from holding back to holding steady. The shift will be difficult. I'll need a musical reward in the form of Drake's relatively mild, self-congratulatory smugness. Normally country music, with its self-pitying laments and languid pace, would be reserved for the beginning portion of a marathon. "Fastest Girl in Town" is not your everyday country song. It has a rather aggressive tempo and a heavy-handed message, making it more appropriate for mile 12. I'll be maintaining a hard effort in the race, but I'll still have to conserve some energy for the final few miles. Through song 20, the tempo of the playlist stays pretty high, but messages of omnipotence are titrated with messages of modest perseverance. My favorite of these songs is #15, "Handlebars." It talks about the relationship between power and control and is a good metaphor for a marathon. The narrator gradually assumes more and more power, until he spirals out of control, as one would if he got greedy and tried to maintain an overly ambitious pace in a marathon. The line "I can make anybody go to prison just because I don't like him" resonates. Every good racer is at least a little bit sadistic, deriving pleasure from making competitors hurt. On a different note, I also really like "Kick, Push." The song is about a skateboarder but could easily be applied to a marathoner. "So let's kick... and push... and coast..."
And finally we get to the final 10k, where the race begins. If the first portion is about holding back, and the second portion is about holding steady, the final portion is about holding on for dear life. This kind of anguish requires the most aggressive beats and self-indulgent lyrics to sustain momentum. "Remember The Name" starts things off right. The lyrics use some fuzzy math (10% luck + 20% skill + 15% concentrated power of will + 5% pleasure + 50% pain + 100% reason to remember the name = 200%), but at the 20 mile mark of a marathon nobody's doing any math. "F.U.T.W.," in my opinion, is the best and most underrated track from Jay Z's Magna Carta album. "Don't be good my nigga, be great..." Word. "Pour Some Sugar on me," my longtime personal pump-up anthem, is perfect for the final two miles of the race when I'll be fantasizing about being doused with a cooler of Gatorade. Coming through the final mile, making my way into the famed Hayward Field, I'll be channeling Steve Prefontaine. And DJ Khaled's "All I do is win."

I'll be listening to this as I try visualize the race. I figure I should be doing some mental preparation to complement all of the physical training.



Long runs have more to love

I live for long runs. No other way I'd want to spend a weekend morning:-)


Urban Fairy Tale: The Pimp's New Clothes!

Once upon a time there was a pimp with a big mouth and an eye for flashy fashion. His name was Bull E. Biggs, not that you would have heard of him. His pimping resume was pretty flimsy, but his smack talk was aggressive enough to command submission, if not respect. His rise to pimpdom was as unorthodox as his style. Rather than honorably working his way up the pimping ranks, he seized control of the most lucrative city blocks with his loud mouth and louder fashion sense.

Though he was loud and prolific with his speech (see www.pimpmypants.blogspot.com), he wasn’t particularly creative or clever. His jokes were more mean than funny. For instance, he frequently told “your momma” jokes but neglected to include a punchline: Your momma is so stupid, Your momma is so fat, Your momma is so ugly, and so on. People did laugh at his “jokes,” but this was mostly because they were afraid that they’d become the next target if they didn’t.

Bull was equally insulting to the eyes as he was on the ears. His wardrobe included hypercolor t-shirts, jorts, knee-high argyle socks, feather headdresses, trucker hats with gas station logos, shredded tank tops, pastel skinny jeans, knee high boots with wedge heels, bejeweled eye patches, and so on. His bold choices elicited many looks and comments, always complimentary, even if the openmouthed stares belied feelings of revulsion. Still, the combination of flashy clothes and bombastic personality lulled people into acquiescence and helped him maintain control over his territory.

Bull’s call girls were the most frequent targets of his so-called humor, and their choice of clothing was the bull’s eye, so to speak. He loved to belittle them for wearing little shorts, seeming to forget that those shorts earned him the most cash—and that his own fashion choices often left less to the imagination. One of his call girls, Selma Body, was particularly bothered by Bull’s affronts. She recognized that laughing at his "jokes" only reinforced them but, like the others, was lulled into submission by his vitriolic threats.

Like any connoisseur of style, Bull often took time out of his busy schedule of brokering sex acts to attend showcases of emerging fashion designers. He was so taken with the designs of a man named Sartorius Twist that he commissioned him to design a coat. Sartorius was quickly becoming famous for designing clothes that defiantly pushed the boundaries of pure exhibitionism. The coat Bull had in mind was to exhibit as much of his body as possible; it was to be an outer layer to showcase the inner Bull. Sartorius was the perfect man to create it.

Sartorius insisted on observing the Bull in his habitat to get a sense of his personality. He followed Bull on his daily rounds; He watched him intimidate fellow pimps, ingratiate himself to johns, strong-arm call girls, and count his money. Then he returned to his studio, where he sealed the doors and windows, and got to work.

The next morning he emerged, carrying a giant box with a red ribbon and a small note attached. He presented the box to Bull and promptly departed, having collected his payment in the initial meeting, as cunning contractors are wont to do. The note read: "This coat has magical powers and can only be seen by those who are wise, fit, and attractive."

Bull stared at the open box for several minutes, scratching his head. Then he stripped down and covered his naked body with his precious new coat. It was summer after all; he figured that it would be too hot for more than one layer. Bull proudly strutted over to his territory, puffing out his chest at the sight of each wide-eyed stare. When he noticed that he was drawing a crowd he stopped to address his followers.

Like a movie star on a red carpet he announced the name of the coat’s designer and read the note aloud: “This coat has magical powers and can only be seen by those who are wise, fit, and attractive.” The crowd, which had been emitting raucous laughter and chatter, fell silent. Expressions ranged from confusion to horror. After a few moments, the buzz returned. Onlookers wiped away their smirks and began uttering phrases like “bold, clean lines” and “inventive fabric choice." Bull beamed with a smug sense of self-satisfaction...

... until the buzz was pierced with a pointed cry.

“Don’t you see? He’s naked! The trick got tricked!” The crowd parted to reveal Selma Body and fell silent once again. This time the silence was punctuated with laughter rather than faux-insight. The man who spent his days ridiculing others—in some cases about their choice of clothes—had become the target of ridicule. People pointed at him and guffawed, making disparaging remarks about his physical appearance and intellect. Bull had become the bull’s eye.

The story doesn’t end there. Bull decided to re-evaluate his life as a result of the humiliation. He realized that he was making fun of others because he was unhappy with himself. He was threatened by the things that others’ had, things that he coveted, so he ridiculed them. He was particularly jealous of the clothes that the prostitutes got to wear, which is why he teased them so relentlessly. It was through this epiphany that Bull realized his true calling: he was born to be a drag queen. Thus, Bella Biggs was born.

One day, while sashaying down the street, Bella crossed paths with a familiar face. “Selma Body!” she exclaimed, genuinely happy to the woman who changed her for the better. “It’s just Selma,” Selma corrected, “I don’t do that anymore.” The two exchanged brief pleasantries and continued on their ways, headed in separate but healthier directions.

And they lived happily ever after!


What does this have to do with running? Admittedly little. But bullying and mob mentality can impact any group. Sports teams are not immune. I came up with the idea for this story while running through “The Block” in Baltimore. Any similarity to actual pimps and prostitutes is coincidental. Similarity to people I know is unavoidable.


Running Riddle

You need both of these things to be successful, but they aren't always compatible. You have to put intense amounts of effort into both, but the more effort you put into one, the less you get out of the other. Striking a balance between them is the key to unlocking a PR.

What are they? Training and Racing.

I'm still trying to figure out the balance. On the training-racing continuum I fall more towards the training side. I tend to focus so much on training that I don't let myself race. I never want to back off of workouts to taper for a race because there's always another race further down the line in need of base-building. Toeing the line when I'm not rested isn't a desirable option either. I don't want to race unless I know I can do my best. So I end up waiting. Then something happens- injury, illness, etc. I'm not able to do the race "further down the line," and I have months of solid training with nothing to show for it. Falling more towards the racing side of the continuum can have its pitfalls as well. Tapering and racing too much can stand in the way of building the strength that comes from longer workouts and higher mileage. The trick is finding the middle ground on the continuum.

This week I tried to push myself toward the middle and be more of a racer. My goal race is the Eugene Marathon, 8 weeks from today, so I'm right in the thick of marathon training. Normally I would have done a 20 miler this morning, but I wanted to do the Bel Air Town Run 5k. Dusty was doing it, so I was going to go anyway. I figured I might as well race. But the trainer in me was stubbornly holding onto my long run. When would I do it if not Sunday morning? I didn't want to do it the day before the race, so Saturday wasn't an option... These are the times when I'm most grateful for RunCoach telling me what to do. I backed off the intensity of my workouts on Monday and Thursday, maintained the mileage, and did an 18 miler on Friday night. I was okay with this compromise but felt a little nervous going into the race. I'm used to feeling fresh as a daisy when I toe the line. Having no expectations should be a relief, but for me it was nerve-wracking. I really had no idea what to expect, and the idea of running too far off my recent times was scary.

I ended up running 17:37. It was relatively slower than my most recent race (Pike's Peek 10k- 35:56), but not by too much. All in all, I'm very glad I raced. Without my usual taper it took a little longer than usual to warm up and get into race-mode, but after mile #1 I was in a groove. I didn't have to sacrifice too much training, and it was a confidence booster. I may have to race a little more often. But only if I can figure out a way to squeeze in my long run!


Humans of the NCR Trail

Thoughts on the Run

People sometimes ask, "what do you think about when you run," as if being alone with one's own thoughts for an extended period of time is unfathomable. Running is one of the few times that a person is unplugged from social media and, if alone, from all social interactions. To some it might seem like a prison sentence. For an introvert like me, it's a highlight of my week. It's not that I don't like people or being around them, but my appreciation for people and their intricacies may be expressed differently from that of an extrovert. If someone were to ask me what I thought about on my run on May 17, 2014 this would be my answer:

Humans of the NCR Trail

Humans of New York is a blog depicting snapshots of colorful NYC residents and occasional quotes offering a window into their lives. On my run I passed by several interesting characters and was inspired to create a parallel post depicting humans of the NCR Trail. I wasn't carrying a camera and didn't stop to interview anyone, but this is what I imagined their inner monologues to be.

Spotted: A middle-aged man and his teenage son, wearing matching khaki hats with straps under the chin and wide brims for sun protection.

Man- As soon as we get home I need to update the Kiplinger Budget Worksheet. I haven't recalibrated for projected earnings from overtime telecommuting. Gotta do that ASAP. JJ's wearing his Dartmouth t-shirt again. If we're going to afford it I'll need to do a lot more weekend overtime this year. This may be one of our last Saturdays on the NCR...At least I know he'll make the most of it academically, if not socially. All he talks about is the "natural landscape of New Hampshire." I doubt he even knows there's a Greek scene. If he knows what a Greek scene is... Some parents would be pleased to have a kid so disinterested in partying, but I honestly wouldn't mind if had a beer or two. Sandra and I never talk about it, but I know she's as concerned as I am about his lack of social skills. Sometimes it's hard to believe he came from us. She's a social butterfly, and I've never had any problems with people. When I was his age I was friends with everyone in my boy scout troop. Scouts would have given him an instant social circle, but he said he didn't want to be "confined by bureaucracy." After all, "wilderness with rules and structure isn't wilderness at all." Where did this kid come from?

Boy- Is that another ruby-crowned kinglet?  No, from this angle it looks like the red was coming from the wing, not the head. That makes it either a red-winged blackbird or an american redstart warbler. Please tell me it's the warbler. I need to make some headway if I want to spot all 266 species regularly occurring in Baltimore County before I go to college. Jackpot. I can see the orange on the breast and tail. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a warbler! Check and check. Only 26 species to go...

Spotted: An older, married couple in their 80s, holding hands and walking very slowly.

Woman- Would you look at those kids in the canoes? I know the rain was heavy this week, but I don't think the water is deep enough. I hope they don't get stuck in the mud. Oh, that makes me think of the time Peter and I took out the canoe on Deep Creek Lake. Goodness, that must have been sometime in the 1950s! Yes, I remember. It was the first time I met most of his family. We were staying at his aunt's cabin, sleeping in separate bedrooms, of course. Neither of us was particularly interested in canoeing, but we sure were keen on getting away from his family from a few hours. He proclaimed himself a boating expert, even though I was pretty sure he had never canoed a day in his life. One thing led to another and soon we were necking in the boat, gradually drifting toward the shoreline. It took us several minutes to notice that we were lodged on a bar of mud and sand. Back then we didn't notice much besides each other. He said that it was my fault for distracting him with my beauty. Such a charmer! After several failed attempts at getting us unstuck with the paddles, Peter jumped out, determined to push us free. The force of his body jumping out dislodged the boat, setting me adrift. He stumbled to get his footing, falling backwards into the knee-deep water. Now covered in mud and debris, he looked like what I imagined the Loch Ness Monster to look like. I feigned fright, using the paddles to escape from the swamp thing, propelling the boat toward the middle of the lake. He swam towards me in pursuit, laughing and uttering a combination growl-snort-- what he imagined a lake monster to sound like, I suppose. He eventually reached the boat. By that time I had decided that he had been sufficiently punished for falsely presenting himself as a boating expert. I reached out a hand to help him back in the canoe, but Peter had other ideas. He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the water with him. I let out a fake scream as I fell forward into the water, tipping our boat over in the process. Now we were really in a pickle, but all we could do was laugh. I joked that for an esteemed boating expert like Peter, flipping the canoe back over should be no trouble at all. Of course we were unsuccessful in our attempts to do so. Since we had lost our paddles in the commotion, our only option was to swim the boat back to the dock. By the time we got there his whole family was waiting. Word had traveled fast, and they were none too pleased with our shenanigans. His aunt pointedly wiped a bit of mud, a scarlet letter of sorts, off my cheek.... Yes, I hope those kids don't get stuck in the mud.

Man- It's a nice day for a walk. Thank God Iris and I can still get around without walkers. Even if we couldn't I sure as hell wouldn't let one of those contraptions slow me down. Hell, I'd take it out with me in one of those boats over there if I had to. What are those things called? Canoes or kayaks? Either way. I don't think I've ever been in one. One more thing to add to the bucket list.

Spotted: A younger couple, the man running a foot ahead of the woman.

Man- 2 miles down, 7 miles to go. Is she grimacing? No, I think that was just a facial twitch. I know how important it is to Sheila that she gets in her long runs for the Baltimore Marathon. When she finishes she'll feel like she's finally back in shape. She already looks great to me, but, like my annoying sister said, the finish line is a metaphor for her pre-baby body. If she can just get there, she'll ease up on herself a bit. If anyone can do it it's her. And I'll be there every step of the way, like I was during the pregnancy. Even if it means we have to pay my sister to babysit every Saturday morning. Even if we have listen to her drone on and on about how we need to sign Emma up for pre-school, pilates, and a retirement fund. Whatever the cost, Sheila won't have to do this alone. Sure, I'll have to run a little slower than I otherwise would, but I don't mind doing that for her. Besides, I'm earning major brownie points.

Woman- I'm going to push Rob in the water if he insists on running a foot ahead of me. I get it. You're taller, stronger, and faster than me. Now swallow your ego and run beside me like a normal person or we're never having sex again.

Spotted: A young woman, wearing a "Life is Good" sweatshirt and a fanny pack.

Woman- Ten o'clock. Brett is probably waking up about now. In a few minutes he'll stumble downstairs and fix himself a beer and some frosted flakes, his idea of a hangover cure, and take it onto the deck, where he'll sit with a look of disdain as people travel back and forth on the trail, polluting his backyard with their happy chatter. He won't expect me back from my run for another hour, so I still have about two hours before he starts wondering where I am. By then I'll be across the Pennsylvania line and can hitchhike to the York bus station. I didn't want to tip him off to my escape by taking too many of my things, but I did manage to smuggle my phone, wallet, and a picture of our dog, which I'm keeping in my fanny pack. God, am I really wearing a fanny pack? I can tell by the looks on the faces of passersby that my outfit choice is, shall we say, unique. In addition to the fanny pack I am wearing a sweatshirt. In 78 degree weather. While running. I may need it on the bus. Buses can get chilly. It doesn't matter. Soon I'll be able to get new clothes. Soon I'll be free. I haven't felt this comfortable in years. Life is good.

Epilogue: People are fascinating creatures. The actual inner monologues of the people I saw on this run are likely far more interesting than the ones that I came up with. The only way to know for sure would be to ask them what they think about while they're running. Until then I'll continue to come up with my own theories.