Monday, October 19, 2009

Chasing guys in Central Park

Runners in Central Park
For weeks (and by weeks, I mean almost 30 years), I’ve been trying to get my sweet tooth under control and my training on track. I’ve thought about using my twitter feed (above) as a wall of shame, posting all the unnecessary sweets I eat and workouts I blow, to remind myself how bad I’ve been.

Then I spent a few days in New York.

The wall of shame would have taken twitter down, down, down…

As usual: totally worth it.

It was rainy and cold most of our days in Jersey City and NYC, but no weather holds us down! We visited Betsy and Dan, who were kind enough to give up much of their busy days and nights to eat Cuban food and seek out terrific cupcakes and cookie-dough lumps with their out-of-towner friends. (Jersey City, if you haven’t been, is really quite pleasant.)

One of my favorite things to do in New York, though, is running in Central Park. Last time we were in the city, I took the fastest fly-by 10-miler through the streets and park that I couldn’t wait to run it again.

Two years later, Neil suited up for Central Park jaunt too.

In fact, Neil and Dan both suited up! They ran Neil’s workout while I took off for 4+ miles that hopscotched between 6-8:00/mile. Despite all the recent loafing and all the walking, I felt like I was flying right away. How could I not? I was in one of my favorite places; NYC Marathon banners fluttered in the wet air; and… well, there was a dude who just couldn’t be outrun by a girl.

Funny thing you notice in Central Park: New Yorkers (N+D saw Anderson Cooper), it seems, run equipped to trek the Andes—gallons of water strapped to their waists, rain gear to the max, enough tech to guide a jumbo jet—and don’t move very fast.

Then a sleekly dressed dude whipped past me a few minutes into the run. Big deal, right? I didn’t think much of it until he flew by and slowed when he was 10 feet in front. Maintaining my pace, I would nip his heels, and he’d speed up. Other dudes would run past: nothing. I’d catch him again, and he’d take off.

Why not have some fun?

Nice part about the CP route was the general unflatness—it wasn’t hilly, by any means, but kept things interesting. On the uphills, I’d take off and make Runner Dude push the tempo to keep up, before I cruised the downhills, where he’d waste energy passing. That was a good 2-3 miles.

Then on one last hill, he just couldn’t keep up. He fell back, and I ran into the sunset of beating-the-runner-dude-in-Central-Park glory. I realize my sad entertainments are lame. But I no longer swim with Flipper Dude at Kent State, and I have to get my kicks somewhere.

Levain Bakery cookiesI ran my cooldown back through the path to find Neil and Dan, and then we found our way to a great café whose harvest porridge and nutty breads made for perfect recovery food after a energetic jaunt.

And while I’m trying to cut back, I felt wholly deserving, not long after breakfast, of the biggest warm cookie [made outside of my kitchen] from Levain Bakery. Not so much because I had run hard or because we had walked there or because I had demonstrated any kind of restraint on this trip.

I was on vacation, and this girl can make a wall of shame look pretty dee-licious.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A little off the sides

Cuppie on a scale by Jessie OlesonJust like most chicks, I've suffered from poor body image all my life. My worst fears about my arms or butt or thighs were always confirmed by people I was meant to respect or revere (last words my late swim coach ever spoke to me: "next year we'll have to work on those fat legs of yours"), and sometimes I wonder how I didn't end up with some serious disorders.

While I've dropped 10-15 pounds since high school (mostly trimmed baby fat and bulky butterflier's muscle to lean), I still feel plenty of chunk to junk when I'm running. Sure, now it's more about carrying less baggage on the run than looking like Filippa Hamilton, but how can not feel guilty for putting my adult self through the torture I survived as a teen?

Well, I can say I'm more healthy about it now. I have the mix of exercise (i.e., various forms of cardio, strength and flexibility training) that makes for healthy living, and, I'd say, at least 95% of the eating part down. But if you've known me for 5-10 minutes, you're aware of the mind-blowing indulgence that makes up that spare 5%, which gives me an extra 5-15 pounds I don't want to carry past my 30th birthday.

So, for the first time since I was a teenager, I'm actively trying to shed some weight... and admitting it out loud. Hey! Blogging about marathons and triathlons has kept me honest. It could work with butt-chopping too!

The timing couldn't be better: I'm in between big races right now and won't start training for the Pittsburgh Marathon until December. And some sustainable adjustments should get me on the right track before those miles start stacking up.

No, no, no... I'm not saying a permanent good-bye to cupcakes or bread pudding or crepes. I'll just be revisiting the concept of moderation and seeing what it means for my back fat.

It's hard to cut back overall calories when you're training—you need the extra energy and stored jolts to get through the next hard workout—but I know I scarf thousands of spare calories on bad days, birthdays, depressed days, I'll-eat-better-tomorrow days, Saturdays, wedding days that add up faster than the national debt.

Maybe I need some shock diversion therapy with buttercream or something. Just no gimmicks or fads, please: I have races to run! But I hope by February I'll make some progress to carry through spring. Something tells me running hills in Pittsburgh will feel better with less junk in my trunk. And that's all I want: to feel great.

(Cuppie on a scale by Jessie Oleson,

Monday, October 5, 2009

What the tweet?

twitter whale

One major change this summer: I followed my own training plan for the Akron Half. It's only been three years of running for me, but after two marathons, a couple halves and a bunch of other races, I felt I had a solid enough foundation to give self-training a try.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not training Olympians anytime soon. My plan gleaned bits from Runner's World workouts I've dug in the past, Galloway tips and brain-training's Matt Fitzgerald. I spent much more time cross-training (i.e., low-impact aerobics, high-volume cycling, swimming, pilates, yoga, tennis) and taking joy-runs... being happy and loving what I was doing.

Most importantly, my training plan flowed with (and sometimes pushed against) the way my body was feeling day to day and configured workouts based on what's worked for me in the past.

Sure, I probably didn't push myself to levels I could and, maybe, should have, but I provided myself with the new experience of running a major distance PR injury free! Will I always run the GP plan? Probably not. It pays to switch things up a bit.

Hence the new blog! Another major change this summer: I couldn't squeeze in blog time (it was a good-busy summer). In fact, I had a difficult enough time logging my workouts on a scrap sheet of paper! I like to keep myself and buds on the up and up, however, so I've blended micro-blogging (the daily tidbits at the top of the page) with more lengthy race reports and diatribes below. I'm working on ways to improve the site over the next few months and welcome your suggestions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Akron Half and the Summer of Run

Akron Marathon 2009 start

Akron rocked something fierce this year. For the third year in a row, the weather was perfect, the streets were lined with cheerleaders and I crossed the finish with a PR.

Talk of the bad weather loomed like scary clouds all week. Cold temps, hard winds, driving rain. We were supposed to get something nasty on Saturday, and I showed up at the start prepared with shorts, a singlet and my trusty Red Sox hat. Unfortunately, I also showed up with a serious need for a bathroom stop.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… I have a history with bathroom starts and Akron. But this year I had an excuse! Long story short: Neil joined the ranks of awesomites running at Akron this year, kicking off “Crazy for Swayze” in the marathon relay. When we saw bathroom lines were too long, he split to hang with Pacer E at the start… and I tried finding a line. Until I realized Neil hadn’t picked up his relay bracelet, that is. I ditched the line with five minutes to go, picked up a bracelet, spied E’s 3:40 sign, and found Neil with a bracelet already in hand. Nuts!

At least I found Landon at the start. Too bad for him, all I could talk about was needing a bathroom. Thankfully for the race and my blog post, the bladder saga didn’t last too long.

We took off into Akron at 7 a.m. sharp, and I had my Strategy A in place: stay within eyeshot of the 3:20 pacer (7:38/mile), aiming for 7:47 splits over 13.1 miles. Imagine my consternation when I hit mile 1 at 7:11 (not another speedster pacer at the start)!

Well, I learned from the Cleveland debacle and slowed down. Landon had taken off with the fast guys and my bladder was weighing my down. I fought my sinking spirits hard… until I heard the next pace group nipping at my heels! How frustrating to think the 3:30 group (8:01/mile) was catching up already.

I almost felt like taking the race easy until the pacer passed. With his 3:20 sign. I didn’t show up at the start with glasses or contacts, so I didn’t notice I was tracking the 3:10 pacer through the first mile. Switching off my negative thoughts, I found a bathroom (lost about 2:00 and the pace group) and then found my rhythm as I ran the most steady, metered and evenly paced race in my three years.

Well, steady for Akron, at least.

It was going to be rough hitting my A Goal (1:42:30) with the bathroom break, but I was going to give Akron and its hills a run for its money. I was surprised, though, by the magnitude of Akron’s hills—despite two previous appearances, I seemed to have deleted all memory of the race route and its complete absence of flats—as I embraced the challenge.

Rick VaughnFor all Akron’s elevation, it has plenty of supporters cheering you up those damned hills. I lucked out in my race position too: I kept pace with a guy running in full costume as good ol’ Rick Vaughn from Major League! Every crowd we passed erupted in cheers for the guy and he totally kept me on pace, and it was a major bummer when we parted ways at the marathon split.

The rest of the trek was delightfully uneventful. While I had a few momentary cramps and energy slumps, I just ran a very comfortable pace and absorbed the atmosphere. It was way rad to see Landon’s lady Laura race-side handing out high-fives. Her spirits came in quite handy after heart-attack hill… but that’s for mile 12.

We only had a few cool sprinkles throughout the race, so I was burning up under that baseball cap. I thanked my good graces, then, when I caught site of Kate, cheering on the U. Akron campus, and threw all my spare stuff her way. What a savior! (Thank you, Kate!) Rick Vaughn thanked me for ditching the Boston hat, and as I crossed mile 10 at a PR 1:19:30, I assured him it was from my Johnny Damon halloween costume from a few years ago. It was the least I could do.

Although I should have done much more in the way of long, drawn-out hill-training this summer. All was dandy through 11 as we sped downhill just outside downtown Akron. I met Rob from and picked up as many seconds the hill offered. But then the marathon split, and it was confirmed: what goes down, must go up.

The half turned onto a part of the towpath where, I’m almost certain, bad people are taken to be tortured. We all went silent, huffing and puffing up heart-attack hill. The route was marked with “5% Grade” signs the whole way up (as if I needed to be reminded I was running uphill), but felt like a much bigger pain. So, I was surprised when I clocked an 8:38 mile-12 split because it felt like 30!

Now, I don’t know Akron very well, but I could tell we were so close to the finish. I gave Laura one last sweaty, happy-to-be-almost-done high-five on my way into downtown and just tried to stay even… while totally emptying the tank!

No one passed me in the last mile, and I was happy to see Neil cheering at the stadium entrance as I barreled down the final street. Akron’s stadium finish can’t be beat, even when the final stretch (cloth-covered grass outfield this year) catches you by surprise the first few steps and makes that final sprint pokier than you’d hoped.

But even as my feet sunk and slipped, I watched the clock and knew that even if I somersaulted to the finish, I’d get a huge PR!

I finished in 1:44:32 (7:58/mile), a 9:06 PR!

Neil led off his relay with a 3.5-mile leg in 29:13. The awesome fivesome ran 26.2 in 4:02:49. Congrats to Neil, Glen, Steven, Melina and Christine! (Neil’s finisher medal is hanging on our fireplace just below his Fantasy Football trophy.) And high-fives all around to Landon, E, Salty, CJV, Janet and everyone who made it to the races, including cheerleaders Nino, Jessica, Laura and Kate.

Akron Half capped a pretty sweet summer for running. Not only did I finally make it to a major race injury-free, I had won my first race at the Holy Cross 5K with a 22:26 PR two weeks earlier. I’m so proud of Neil venturing into the world of running and being so fast… so fast!

And these races have me on pace to wear a Boston hat for good reason when I hit the Pittsburgh marathon this spring.