A comedy of errors, not a race report (NYC Half)

Waiting for that train. This cup of Dunkin caused a few problems on race day.

Blogger’s note: This is not my race recap of the New York City Half Marathon. That is coming in the next day or two. This is just a story I find kind of amusing after the fact that happened to me this morning, all because I wanted a cup of Dunks.

It was 5:55 in the morning. Everything was dark, except for the street lights, the store signs and the police blues. I was walking from one subway stop to another to make a transfer on my way to Prospect Park for the NYC Half Marathon when I spotted that pink and orange sign. Across the street from my next train there was a Dunkin’ Donuts. I was on my way to run 13.1 miles, up at a time when I’m usually only a few hours into sleep, and the only caffeine I had so far was a weak cup of instant coffee in my hotel room.

I took the chance that I wouldn’t miss the next train and would still make it to bag check in plenty of time before the race.

The coffee was worth it, but it caused me a couple of big headaches.

I did miss that train, by about a minute, and had to wait 25 minutes for the next one to show up. Ah crap. I was going to be cutting it super close, but I had my coffee, so I would probably be OK.

The train finally showed up, and it was overflowing with runners. I jogged to the end of the train, trying to find a spot to sneak in. I found one in the last car, but just as I tried to step in, the doors closed.

Now I was starting to panic.

I stood outside that door for 30 seconds with three other runners, each of us asking if there was a way we could get them to open for the door for us. I started playing scenarios in my head of what I would do. Call an Uber? Wait for another train? Tuck my tail between my legs and bail? I knew I could start the race in any corral, but I was worried about being able to drop off my bag, not mention use the bathroom (coffee, you know). I was wearing joggers and a hoodie over my race kit, and I wanted to stash them away, as well as my phone, ID and debit card, so I would have them after the race.

Thankfully, the door did open and we were able to board that train. It was a slow mover though, and I started to check my watch, watching valuable time tick away. My bag check was scheduled to close at 6:50 and the train didn’t leave the station until 6:35ish. We had seven stops to go.

This was not good.

I peeled off my hoodie and joggers, turned off my phone and stashed it all in my bag. I pulled out my inhaler and took a couple off puffs, and grab a couple Gu’s and some gum so I’d be ready to go.

The train stopped at our stop at 6:49 a.m. Well, I wasn’t making that bag check. Shit.

Still, I jogged about .75 miles in Prospect Park to the bag check area and was directed to the end for the “late” bag check. Phew, I thought, I don’t have to figure out a way to get this stuff to the finish line, or just ditch most of it, after all. I checked my bag, made a quick bathroom pitstop, and entered my corral about 25 minutes before the race.

Crisis adverted. Panic over.

Or so I thought.

I ran the race, not thinking twice about my near meltdown in that subway station. I was glad I had that coffee. The caffeine was worth the stress.

Or so I thought.

I finished the race and walked through Central Park toward the bag check area, where again, I was directed to the end of the line where the “late” bag check was (outside of Central Park). I think they actually called it the “error” bag check.

It was a fucking error all right.

I walked up to the group of people standing along a fence, with a few UPS trucks, a bunch of clear plastic bags, and a couple volunteers on the other side and took a spot behind the people. I figured everyone would show their bib when they got to the fence, a volunteer would grab it and everyone would move up.

Wrong.

Everyone just stood there with their bib numbers held over their heads and the volunteers shouted numbers in panic. The wind started to pick up, I started to get super cold, and I had no where to go. I was pinned into a group of about 200 people, getting bounced from my right, nudged from my left, and pushed into the person in front of me from behind. Some dude’s armpit was in my face for about 15 minutes before I finally left in a huff, forcing my way through the crowd to the street on the verge of a panic attack from the claustrophobia.

I walked to the end of the line, where the crowd was a lot smaller and I could snag a spot along the fence. I held my number over the fence and tried to get the attention of a volunteer. More and more volunteers were showing up, but it took them a few minutes to figure out how this whole thing worked. One extremely eager kid would pick up a bag and just start shouting the number. “2349. Anyone here 2349? Going once. Going twice.”

This was not going well.

30 minutes after entering the bag check area, my hands chapped and red from the wind, sweat crusting over on my face, legs starting to cramp because I needed to stretch, a volunteer finally walked over and handed me my bag. Crossing the finish line this morning was nothing compared to the excitement and relief I felt when I was handed that bag.

I learned a valuable lesson about big city races today. When they give you a timeline to follow for arriving at the start line, it is worth trying to abide by it. I had the best intentions, that coffee just threw things out of whack.

Just remember, don’t ever check a bag in the “late/error” bag check. It will take almost as long to get it back as it takes you to run the race.

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Heading to the Big Apple

I probably sound like a broken record, skipping back to the same topic and the same themes from blog to blog to blog (there haven’t been many of them lately). I’m feeling many of the same feelings six days away from the New York City Half Marathon as I have so many times before, so this blog may sound a bit familiar.

Sorry, but at least I’m blogging.

When I toe the line for the NYC Half on Sunday, I don’t really know what to expect. I don’t really have a plan. I don’t have a goal. I’m flying by the seat of my pants.

I should say, before I tell you that I probably won’t run that fast (I won’t, and that’s OK), I’m having a good time training right now. Since recovering from that brutal cold that knocked me off my feet at the beginning of the year, and struggling to run marathon pace at the Mid Winter Classic, I’ve put in a solid five weeks of training with the half marathon/marathon class at Fleet Feet. I have done a couple of good workouts a week, run 8-10 miles for my long run most weeks, and most importantly, my knees feel pretty good. There are some niggles that pop up when training ramps up – my right hamstring still gets tired and sore and I tweaked my right hip – but, for the most part I feel good.

So I’ll head to NYC this weekend feeling good about myself. I am not, however, really ready to race. I am not fit enough to go out and put in a super hard effort for 13.1 miles, the kind of effort where you empty the tank and need a few days off after crossing the finish line.

And that’s cool. I’m truly happy to be healthy and to be enjoying the work. I’m wondering how I’m going to hold up as it gets tougher, but I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

What I hope happens at the NYC Half is I can run a good, semi-hard effort, and walk away feeling good about myself. I don’t want to jog, though it would be kind of cool to really take it all in. I mean, running down Time Square with no traffic sounds fucking amazing. The most important thing I can do Sunday is get in a good workout and head home feeling healthy, ready to keep this groove going.

When I entered the lottery for this race, I was hoping I would be able to get into shape to run a really good race. Staring a Maine winter straight in the face, maybe that wasn’t the smartest idea, and sure enough, winter has been hard to train in . Getting sick didn’t help, so I’m not really in shape to go out and crush a half marathon. So I’ve adjusted. My goals are now solely focused on the Chicago Marathon. A part of me feels like it is a bad idea to put so much focus on one race, but a bigger part of me feels like I’m taking a little bit of pressure off myself. It takes a little bit of the importance off the races I run before Chicago. They are just tune ups, check ins, work toward a bigger goal.

And I’m not trying to build up Chicago to be too big of a deal. Of course I will have a full year of thinking about and training for that race when it rolls around, and I have set a couple of big goals for that race. More important than those goals though, is that I make it to the race healthy and leave the race feeling like I did everything I could to get ready and walk away feeling good, ready to keep running and having fun (after a short break). If I don’t reach those big, lofty goals, it will be OK if I walk away feeling better than I did after that shitshow at the Sugarloaf Marathon.

New York is just a step. It’s a test. It’s a check-in. Most important, I hope it is fun and I hope it feels good (of course it will hurt, but I don’t want to walk away limping and hating running).

I guess I do have a goal, after all.

Enjoy the process

Sometimes, you just have to splash in the puddles.

I feel like every time I sit down and write about training going well, something pops up and knocks me down. Whether is the the weather, or my achy knees, or a bout with a cold that sends me to bed coughing up a lung for a week, I have had a hard time getting into a groove. Whenever things feel like they were going well, BAM, I fall off the horse and into a rut.

So I’m hesitant to sit down with my computer and blog anything about training. Going back to my baseball playing days, I’ve always been a little bit superstitious (or a lot superstitious). I’m afraid I will jinx myself by writing about it, so …

(Training is going OK, I will say that).

For the time being, I’m not going to get into training too much. I’m not going to talk about workouts or mileage or paces.

That kind of fits in with my No. 1 goal for running right now, anyway. Yes, I am trying to train hard and focus on getting better. I have a big goal race to get ready for and I enjoy putting in the works.

But my top goal right now is to enjoy that process. If I take this too seriously, if I worry too much about what I am or am not able to accomplish, if I fret about it too much, it tends not to be too much fun.

And if this isn’t at least a little bit fun, I should go find something else to do. If I’m going to spend a couple hours a day trying to get fit and faster, I should probably try to enjoy it.

So that is where my mind is at right now. When I gear up and walk out the door to go for a run, I tell myself to enjoy it. If it the roads are snowy and wet, look around and see how pretty the white stuff makes everything. If there is ice every where, make it a game not to fall on my face. When I have hard intervals on the schedule, celebrate every time I finish a rep (I do this in my head, there will be no post-rep celebratory dance). On my long runs, I try to cover as much new ground, take as many random turns, as possible.

I’m not always very successful at this, but I’m making an effort. I’ve talked about this a few times before, too, and sometimes I fall of that horse too. All I can do right now is try my best to keep the right frame of mind. Keep pushing myself to stay consistent, do the work, and enjoy doing the work.

If not, it won’t matter if I jinx myself or not, running is going to suck.

The achy knees chronicles

Training to be The Man. Oh wait, I can’t be The Man, Becky Lynch is The Man.

A week and a day removed from the Mid Winter Classic, the first hard, long effort I’ve put in since the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon in September (well, the MDI Half was a sort of hard effort, basically 13.1 miles at marathon pace), I’m left with the same question I had after racing in September:

Will my knees hold up through marathon training and the marathon?

In the days after both the KRRT Half and the Mid Winter Classic, my arthritic knees were sore, my right one more after the half, my left more after Mid Winter. There was a dull ache in both knees for a few days and running was not my favorite thing to do. Last week it took a mile or so for my left knee to warm up and stop being sore.

I’m not sure my knees hurt here, but I’m pretty sure everything else did. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

That dull ache in the days after a 13.1-mile race and a 10-mile race has put some doubt in my mind about the possibility of running 26.2 miles in October. If 10 miles at 8:28 left me feeling that beat up, what am I going to feel like after 26.2? I mean, I know it is supposed to hurt, but will I even be able to finish it?

I have a few reasons to optimistic about my chances in October.

First, my training for both of those races wasn’t exactly stellar. I wasn’t doing a ton of workouts in preparation for the Rail Trail Half and I was sick as a dog for at least two weeks leading into Mid Winter. My mileage has been pretty low and my body hasn’t had time to acclimate to that much time on my feet. I am confident (hopeful?) I will work harder this spring/summer/fall (I’m already making progress) to prepare myself for the marathon. I’ll run enough miles, I’ll do enough workouts, I’ll get better about doing strength workouts to build myself up enough to hold up for the marathon.

Second, I have been smarter about my diet and keeping up with my physical therapy. I ran the half at 180 pounds, the Mid Winter Classic at 177ish. I know the numbers on the scale don’t mean everything, but I’m overweight. I’m clearly better than I was when I weighed 235, but I’m still carrying around too much. With bad knees and a tired back, that extra weight isn’t helping.

I put on a bunch of weight right before running the Sugarloaf Marathon in May 2017 because I got injured and got lazy and ate my feelings. It made for an ugly day and I’m still not quite over the whole thing. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

The good news on that front is, I’m down about 7 pounds in 2019. I was stuck between 180-185 for a long time, probably since I ran the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017. I started this year at 182 and when I weighed myself Monday morning, I weighed 175. I can credit that mostly to giving up beer, eating a smaller breakfast, and not crushing half a jar of peanut butter after work each night.

I’ve also done my physical therapy every day and done at least 30 pushups most days this year (I skipped three days, and one of those I did 50-plus burpees). All of this is hopefully going to make me stronger and put me in a better position to be finish the marathon strong in October.

I’m trying to stay positive and not fret about what lies down the road in three months, six months, nine months. If you know me, however, you know I’m constantly asking questions, constantly doubting what’s possible, constantly questioning my abilities.

That’s the other thing I need to work on as I train for the marathon. And I’m trying, but that has been a life-long battle, so it’s hard to say if I’ll ever win.

Lesson learned at Mid Winter Classic 6.0

Climbing that hill at the end of mile 5. It was pain train time. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

When I signed up for the Mid Winter Classic in November, I had high hopes. I was continuing to make progress, a little more than a year removed from two months on the shelf because of my bum knees, and I thought I was ready to dive into some hard training.

It didn’t exactly work out that way partly because I got a little lazy, partly because the weather was a jerk, mostly because I was sick for almost a month.

I battled my way through the 10-miler, undertrained and finished in a little bit of pain (it’s OK, I’m not injured, I’m just out of shape and have bad knees). I battled the voices in my head telling me to stop, I ran consistent splits, and run negative splits.

And I learned a few things along the way.

• Don’t listen to the voices in my head.

This is a constant battle, but even more so now that I haven’t been racing very much and I haven’t been putting too many workouts to really, truly make myself uncomfortable. When I started to hurt just before all those hills in mile 2 on Sunday, I almost turned around and jogged back to the finish line. I gave myself permission to run just 5 miles hard-ish, then jog the final 5 miles. I almost stopped and walked during mile 8 (I even pulled over to the side of the road). I was hurting and wanted to stop, but I didn’t listen to my head and kept going.

I need to focus on my core.

My back started to get tired and sore climbing that huge hill at the end of mile 5 and the start of mile 6. It has been getting sore when I work out or when I stand up at work. That’s a sure sign that I have been neglecting my core. I’ve been doing pushups and I even did a couple of CrossFit workouts (that shit hurts), but planks and other core work … well, I’ve been slacking. That has to stop.

I have a lot of work to do.

It took a pretty big effort for me to average 8:38 miles for 10 miles on Sunday. Granted, it’s a pretty tough course, but my goal for Chicago is to run that pace (or faster) for 26.2 miles. Running 25-30 miles a week and slacking off on strength work is not going to cut it. I found that out, struggling through those final 5 miles at “marathon pace” on Sunday. Big goals take big work and it’s time to get to work.

• Don’t skip my warmup or my cooldown.

I spent most of the time before the race catching up with friends, and I don’t regret that at all. I do regret not warming up. I didn’t do any dynamic stretching, I didn’t jog, I just stood around and chatted, then when the canon went off (and scored the shit out of me), I started running. My hamstrings were tight, my calves were tight, my hips were tight. I felt miserable and that is a recipe for disaster. My hamstring have been too much of a problem for me to skip that step.

A day after the race I’m a little bit sore and my knees, specifically my left one, are feeling a little beat up, but I also have a ton of information to build on as I take the next step in training. These lessons should be valuable as I prepare to run the New York City Half Marathon in March and the Chicago Marathon in October.

There is a lot of work to do, at least I have some ideas what that work should be.

The good with the bad

The treadmill hasn’t been my friend this year, but Monday I turned on WWE Network on my phone and just made myself run for an hour. It was exactly what I needed.

We are not quite a month into the new year, a year in which I have set some pretty lofty goals for myself, and running has kind of been all over the place. There have been a few good workouts, a week and a half of feeling like garbage, and some not so great weather.

It really has been a weird stretch. Last Wednesday I put in a pretty good workout with the group over at FleetFeet and yesterday I had a nice little speed session on my own. In between, I bailed a mile and a half into a steady state run on the treadmill and I didn’t run at all on Sunday because the weather was awful, the roads were a mess, and everything was closed (except for work, I did have to work).

Those speed sessions on the past two Wednesday, were a nice little confidence boost. Two weeks ago, I did 6×5 minutes at 7:50ish pace with one minute of recovery. This Wednesday, I did 3×10 minutes at 8:15ish pace with two minutes of recovery. I have not done many efforts like that since starting my comeback from bad knees a little more than a year ago.

That workout I bailed on Saturday, well that just pissed me off, for a number of reasons. I’m mostly upset because I wasn’t tough enough to push through it. I was on the treadmill and 8:40 pace felt like sprinting. I smashed the stop button on the treadmill, feeling defeated and annoyed. I ended up spending some time on the elliptical and the rowing machine before giving up and going home. I’m also annoyed with myself for not going outside. I wanted to be comfortable and run in shorts and a T-shirt. The treadmill sounded like a good choice but the treadmill has been a struggle for me this year. I should have known better.

I’m not where I want to be right now and I have had to change my goal for the Mid-Winter Classic because of it. That’s OK, as I wrote before, my goal race is in October. Still, I would like to be in a better place than I am right now. I can’t really control that I got sick, but I need to do a better job of time management and motivation.

That stuff is coming along. This week is off to a good start. I did a little CrossFit workout Monday, which I thought was going to kill me, but I want to try to mix in a few times a week because I need to get stronger. I then played some tricks to get myself through a 6-miler on the treadmill, I had that good workout yesterday and I did a super-easy recovery 4 miles in the pouring rain today.

Hopefully, I can continue the momentum and get myself into a good spot for the NYC Half, then into a good place to crush training for the Chicago Marathon.

2019 is a year of big goals, for which I need to do a lot of training to reach. I just hope it won’t be such a mixed bag.

In a better place

This guy is having a much easier time running than he did a year and a half ago.
BURN IT DOWN!

I was scrolling through old Facebook posts yesterday looking for a photo, when I came across a blog post I wrote in August 2017. I was trying to pump myself up, trying to get out of a funk, trying to come to grip with the fact that a few things were probably always going to bother me when it came to running, and to try to make the most of it.

I bring that post up now because I wrote quite a bit about how my left knee always seems to hurt and that feels like so long ago. It used to be every time I went for a run, that knee hurt for a least the first mile, and it always hurt after the fact. No more.

It was a couple months after I wrote that blog post that my right knee started to act up and finally put me on the shelf. While trying to figure out why I had a shooting pain in my right knee, I finally decided to address the issue in my left knee.

I read that post and I tried to remember what that felt like. My knee is not 100 percent, it probably never will be. I still feel a twinge here or there (it happened tonight as I warmed up for my speed workout), but the days where the first mile of every run has me wondering if I should stop, limp back home and get someone to put my knee back together, are long gone.

I’m not 100 percent sure exactly what was/is wrong with that knee. From what I’ve gathered from the doctors and physical therapist I saw there are a few things going on in there, including arthritis. It bothered me off and on for years, pretty much since I went knee to knee with a base runner during a baseball game while playing in an over-30 league.

It’s such a relief to run without always worrying about that pain. It’s taken a consistent (I need to do better) physical therapy routine and rebuilding my form to alleviate that pain. It has been a long, tricky road to stop heal striking and over striding, one I’m still working on over a year later, but running with better form has made an enormous difference.

I do worry how my knees will react when I start to really ramp up my mileage. Last year started with Couch to 5K and I never logged more than 40 miles in a week. When marathon training really ramps up, I’ll be running in the 50-mile per week range. Will my knees flare up when I do that? I have no idea and I’m not going to stress out about it. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing (hopefully a little more, actually), doing what I can to keep myself healthy, and try not to stress about what the future holds for that creaky knee.

My hope is that the future continues to get better. I’m in a much better place as a runner than I was when I wrote that post. I’m not as fit or fast as I was back then but running feels a hell of a lot better.

And that pumps me up.