Blow Up Your iPhone!!!! Please?!?

One of the things I (used to) look forward to before any race, be it a local 5K or a Big Event I’d been training for in solitude for several months, is the opportunity to commune with my fellow running humans before and during the race.  Well, it pains me to report that it’s really hard to find any kind of camaraderie in the start chute or on the course anymore, when fully 75% of all runners seem to have audio equipment stuffed into their ears, fully engulfed in music.

Also, I could not help but notice people whining on the ol’ face books about their GPS malfunctioning during parts of last weekend’s race in Trenton. Oh, boo-fucking-hoo!!!  Seriously?  Will someone please explain to me how this enhances your experience in any way?  If you refuse to run, or somehow find your running experience diminished, without a satellite telling you where you are, you should seek professional help immediately.  I know where I am.  I’m right here.  Thank you very much.

In a nutshell: I run to escape technology, not to become further enslaved by it.  Staring at a screen all day, I fucking live for the 4-10 hours a week where I can completely unplug, and work on my hobby with nothing more complicated than a watch on my arm.  I pity those who cannot or will not do the same.

I should not have to get this out of the way, but I will:  I love music.  Love, love, LOVE it.  And I am aware of the literature linking motivational music to enhanced performance, not to mention its anesthetic properties regarding the task at hand.  Still, I don’t need it pounding in my ears for one to four hours while I’m out running.  Having spent nearly half my life as an extremely amateur drummer (with occasional flashes of actual proficiency), my mental jukebox can dial up any of literally thousands of songs, from AC/DC to Zeppelin.  And I use this skill with alarming frequency.  Sometimes I forget all the lyrics or skip a verse, but it gets the job done.

My sister has told me on more than one occasion “I have no idea how you can be alone with your thoughts for that long.”  Granted, my thoughts are generally vile, disgusting, and self-deprecating, but overall, running actually empties my head, which I find to actually improve my performance in other aspects of life.

I know you’re by now dying for a few more reasons why else would I never think of taking my so-called smartphone along with me on my runs, so read on, kids!

Fancy traveling man that I am, I often find myself running in sketchy neighborhoods in the predawn darkness.  With nothing but a hotel room key stuffed down my compression shirt, this has rarely concerned me.  That said, doing the same thing with several hundred dollars’ worth of electronics strapped to my arm – a glowing beacon that might as well scream “Rob Me!” – seems like a very unintelligent thing to do.

Taking the whole personal safety thing one step further, I am at a loss to explain why any person with an IQ north of room temperature would go out for a run – especially on roads – equipped with anything less than 100% awareness of his or her surroundings.  In my experience, my ears have often been more important than my eyes in keeping me out of trouble out there.

Then, there are the races.  One of my favorite things about race day is that lift you get from the crowd, the random people cheering you on; by name even, if the bibs are equipped so as to identify you personally.  Why would you want to miss out on that by having Slayer, or Foster the People, or Barry Manilow drilling into your cerebral cortex?

Lastly, it’s pretty much a given that technology will, at least occasionally, let you down.  As in physically fail you, and at the worst possible moment.  I think some guy named Murphy had something to say about that.  So what do you do when you’ve been using a training aid (crutch?) for months, and it craps out on you in the last third of your Big Event?  Where are you now?  This past Saturday, I was stupefied at how many people would stop running in the middle of a half-marathon, in order to dick around with their electronic devices.  It simply blew my mind.  I can guarantee you that any of a host of issues will bog me down in Philadelphia on Sunday, but they will all be purely biological.  Why leave yet another thing to chance?

Where this tirade has inevitably taken me is to the point where I explain how I always get a chuckle when I read a race FAQ that says something like “the use of headphones on the race course is strictly prohibited.” (at a minimum, race organizers at least officially frown on this practice).  Heh. Heh.  Of course headphones are prohibited.  Of course everyone will obey this more-or-less unenforceable mandate, and of course I will not nearly be knocked over four or five times by people who decide at the last minute to cut clear across the road to the water table, absolutely oblivious to everyone around them.  Feh.

By the very nature of this activity, we are a self-absorbed lot, and we are not going to do (or not do) something simply because a race organizer says so.  It’s all about “me,” people.

It saddens (and occasionally infuriates) me that we seem completely unable to just go out and do anything anymore – even the purest, most natural fitness activity known to humankind – without being tethered to technology.  I weep for the future.

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Trenton Double Cross 10K: 6.2 Miles

Back to normal in Greater Trenton; at least my home was.  All facilities fully operational, I was able to actually resume earning a living, so I hopped a train down to our nation’s Capital Tuesday night, for a Wednesday meeting.  Having dinner at a DC bar on a Presidential Election Day evening was quite a special treat.  Calling it “Super Bowl Tuesday for Dweebs” does an all-around disservice, but that’s the best I can come up with right now.  However, when CNN called the extremely important state of Vermont for Obama, the crowd reacted as if the Redskins had just returned an overtime kickoff for a touchdown.  Some dude in the john asked me if “they called Ohio” yet (It was only 8:00. The freakin’ polls just closed.  Amateur.).  I’m just sayin’, if it walks like a duck…

There are few things I enjoy more than getting up before dawn and banging out some miles in DC, starting at my Chinatown hotel, and doing a nice loop that stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Monument.  It fills me with an energy that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s awesome.  And when it’s not being done in the dank, fetid heat (yes, even at 5:00 am) of a Washington summer?  Well, that’s just gravy.

This set me up for Trenton’s inaugural Double Cross Half Marathon and 10-K on Saturday morning.  I really, REALLY wanted to run the half, but my “virtual coaches” forbade it.  And really, how could I live with myself if I were to do something to compromise my performance in Philadelphia next week?  I donned my 10-K bib with a bit of self-consciousness, and wanted to wear a sign that read “I’m Running a Marathon in Eight Days!  Seriously!”  To be sure, I informed the few acquaintances I came across that I was indeed “only” doing the 10K for that very reason.  Narcissistic jackass.

This first go at a distance race in Trenton was not without its logistical hiccups, from an organizational standpoint.  I had the advantage of knowing my way around the city to find parking, and that the staging area was an extremely walkable distance from there; those who did not were likely no end frazzled.  On top of that, the race started a half-hour late.  For my purposes, this was not a big deal, but the 13.1-ers who timed all their pre-race rituals down to the minute were likely pretty pissed.  Still, the 2,500 runners in attendance largely took it in…stride.  Ha.  Get it?!?

My goal was to run hard, while not trying anything stupid.  A few weeks ago, I was hoping to come in at under an hour, but later said “Fuck it; let’s shoot for 55:00.”  With only about 600 of us 10K-ers in the chute, I casually settled in with the first third of the pack for the starter’s muskets.  Yes, muskets.  Three Revolutionary War re-enactors, firing muskets.  Crossroads of the Revolution, baby!

Running on Trenton streets and expressways that were cleared of vehicular traffic was super cool, in a “28 Days Later” kind of way.  At least partially owing to the small field, most of the course was largely devoid of spectators.  Crossing the Delaware via the “Trenton Makes” bridge on a beautifully crisp November morning, I thought to myself that it was moments like this that make all the training worthwhile.  I also thought that running on steel deck bridges left something to be desired.  The way the course was laid out, we started to pass a lot of 13.1 “roadkill” on the Morrisville (PA) side.  On the flip side, I crossed the Calhoun Street bridge and picked up Route 29, only to be continually smoked by the really good runners, well on their way to clocking sub-1:30 times in the half.

My wife and son were waiting for me at the entrance to Waterfront Park, where the course took a trip around the outfield warning track, then down the third base line to the finish line at home plate.  I clocked a 54:20, which easily bested my goal.  At this point in my running career, I never, ever (well, almost never) compare myself to other runners, but I could not help but notice that I came in 71st out of 591, 32nd among those with y-chromosomes, and 13th in my age group.  Armed with those data, I could only conclude that this first-year event drew an exceedingly weak field.  Still, I’ll take it.

I’m sure they will probably never see this, yet I must join (what I would hope to be) many others in thanking the organizers of the Trenton Double Cross for staging this race.  You took a chance on Trenton – a city that really needs something, anything positive to happen within her confines – and it looks like it paid off.  Here’s hoping you laid the cornerstone for what will become a proud and long-lasting tradition.

Redemption: 20 Miles

Apologies to the one or two people who read this; on account of that whole Sandy mess, I’m just returning to full functionality on the ol’ inter tubes, after ten days offline; I enjoy writing SFoT, but not nearly enough to bother thumbing out entries on my so-called smartphone.  Factor in the work mess from which I still need to extricate myself in the wake of the unplanned, unpaid “vacation” that followed Sandy’s wrath, and you can see why I’ve been AWOL for a few weeks.

You may recall that my 18-mile training run was a bit of a disaster: the wall, leg cramps, almost died, yada yada yada.  My “virtual coaches” assured me that I would bounce back in time for the 20; “take it slow” was the consensus.  Also, in an effort to ward off cramping, I had two bananas before setting off, and filled two of the bottles on my belt with Gatorade, rather than water.

I was treated to an Autumn morning, the likes of which I couldn’t have done a better job creating, even with my own personal weather machine.  Heeding the advice of those who have gone before me, I took it slow.  Really slow.  Just-fucking-finish slow.  As a result, I realized the heretofore laughable achievement of running twenty miles.  On the same day.  In a row.  Without stopping.

When I just-fucking-finished, I didn’t think “Oh well.  My goose is cooked.  There is no WAY I will ever be able to run another hour (plus…very much plus) after doing THAT.”  I felt eerily calm.  I just went into the kitchen, brewed a cup of coffee, ate something, hosed down, and was out the door with the family in under an hour.

Being on my feet for several hours after was a blessing and a curse.  I probably felt better Sunday morning than I would have, had I parked my ass in front of the TV for several hours with a pizza and a six-pack.  Which was for the best, because shit was about to get REAL in New Jersey, in less than 24 hours.

Confidence (Re-)Builder: 14 Miles

Suffice it to say, the 18-mile run felt a like a setback wrapped in achievement and excruciating pain.  I was definitely out of sorts for the rest of the weekend, the physical pain coupling with the notion that maybe that was the end of the line for me.  Maybe this big, fat train doesn’t go to 26.2?  The only way I could see to put this behind me was to literally put this behind me; with mileage!

Monday seemed to come way too soon, but without thinking, I suited up and banged out just over five miles in just under 50 minutes.  Once I got the ever-ugly first mile under my belt, the pain seemed to melt away, and the rest of the rush-hour run was quite enjoyable, so far as rush-hour road running goes.

Wednesday:  I just could not drag myself out of bed early enough to log nine miles, help get the boy ready for day care, and make the 6:56 train to Philadelphia.  That, and my alarm never went off.  Hmm…14 years into the same alarm clock, it’s unlikely that I set the buzzer for 4:30 pm purely by accident.  There must have been something sinister (and slothful) going on at the subconscious level.  Putting in nine miles after an entire day of…life, when I want nothing more than to stare blankly at a TV screen for a couple hours before passing out, is not all that easy.  Not unlike setting off on a predawn long run, however, the first step is the hardest.  I found that the back roads that I favor for my early morning jaunts are not at all suited to true nighttime running.  Death by auto, anyone?  Loath as I am to completely geek myself up, I am perilously close to decking myself out in a headlamp and reflective vest the next time I run in the dark.  My family would probably prefer a safe geek to a dead or quadriplegic whatever-I-am.  Still, the danger was somewhat invigorating, and I put in a pretty solid time for nine miles.

My Thursday five was not happening for a host of reasons, but rather than bagging it altogether, I squeezed it in on Friday.  Seeing as the long Saturday run would be dialed down a bit for this week (as is The Higdon Way), I figured this would not be the end of the world.  My punishment for skipping Thursday was five miles of ankle-deep puddles and colossal downpours on Friday.  I find the former preferable only to perhaps a compound fracture or dengue fever, but the latter was oddly enjoyable to me.  I’m strange like that.

A calm settled over me as I lay in bed, somewhat early last Friday night.  I felt neither excitement nor dread for what awaited me at 6:00 the following morning.  I just…was.  This relaxed state stayed with me after my alarm sounded, through the dreaded first mile, and never really left.  I enjoyed 14 miles of running just about as much as I am capable of enjoying 14 miles of running.  I got out early, but late enough that only the first six miles or so were run under cover of darkness.  No excretory emergencies presented themselves.  The effort and rhythm were consistent; I never felt like I was either flying or crawling.  Most importantly, nothing hurt.  I definitely could have continued past the scheduled 14, but that’s a tall order when your finish line is one block from Dunkin’ Donuts.

I think I can consider myself recovered from my last week’s disastrous 18-miler.  Entering my peak training week, I’m definitely buzzing at the prospect of logging a 40-mile week for the first time in my life.  They say the training is tougher than the race.  I agree wholeheartedly, assuming my half marathon experience to date is a fair basis for extrapolation.  All of my weekday training will go down in a Fort Wayne park; a pleasant, stress-free venue for running.  A little bit flat, but at least nobody can throw unwanted foodstuffs at me from moving cars.  Not unless they have one hell of a good arm.

I have been led to imagine that if you can run 20 miles, the final 6.2 falls under “oh hell yeah I got this,” but it seems like so much is left to chance; so many more x-factors.  Not least among them, 6.2 miles is ANOTHER HOUR OF RUNNING for me.  Probably more like 1:10, at that point.  This “wall” I keep hearing about: did I actually flirt with it when I ran the 18?  Near-total exhaustion?  Onset of leg cramps?  Check and check.  I have five days to figure this out in time for Saturday’s “dress rehearsal,” and hope I come up with a workable strategy for November 18.

I’m quite curious as to how the taper will treat me.  Obviously, I’ve only tapered for 13.1s before, and while definitely felt like I should have been running more, it didn’t drive me insane or anything.  I’m told it will be different this time around.  Whatever.  Bring it.  My legs are constantly fatigued these days.  Getting up before work to log anything more than a quick four-miler just sucks donkey turds.  I miss being awakened by my son early on a Saturday (for the past eight weeks, this has been considered “sleeping in,” ironically), watching cartoons and reading newspapers while Mommy gets a bit of hard-earned extra rest, so I sure wouldn’t mind having some of my spare time back for a few weeks.  All that said, I hope you’re eagerly awaiting my “Oh-My-Gawd-This-Fucking-Taper-Is-Killing-Me-I-Will-Never-Finish-This-Goddam-Marathon-I-Am-Losing-All-My-Conditioning-This-Is-Fucking-Bullshit!!!” post, which will probably go live on or about November 10.

Deer Count! 3 (Live Deer Count! 1)

Toenail Update!  Deteriorating.  My right “piggy (who) had roast beef” is sporting a nail that is pretty much purple underneath.  My boy accidentally stepped on it Saturday afternoon, and I almost needed to be peeled off the ceiling.

A Pyrrhic Victory: 18 Miles

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My weekday runs were displays of continued progress and dropping mile times.  The lowlight was a 9-miler in Bethesda, MD, on Wednesday.  The running itself was great, but oh my goodness, what a bunch of flaming ass-hats I encountered.  I normally like to wave to, grunt a “hey” at, or otherwise acknowledge anyone I pass on my travels.  It’s just being nice, y’know?  Would you care to guess how many times my gestures were returned, from the 40 or so walkers, runners, and cyclists I passed?!  Suffice it to say, it was a big, round number.  Also, I was cut off not once, but twice.  By motorists PULLING INTO THEIR DRIVEWAYS.  Th’ fuck?!?  And this wasn’t even Fancy Bethesda; this was Just-Inside-the-Beltway-Maybe-It’s-Not-Even-Bethesda-Proper-Bethesda.  It made Boston seem downright chummy, by comparison.

Thursday’s five-mile mission was scrubbed by life getting in the way.  I should be pleased that this was only the second time in this training program that I had to bag a run.  I toyed with making it up on Friday, but figured I should save myself for Saturday; a notion confirmed by consensus of my “virtual coaches.”  All things considered, confidence was high, heading into Saturday’s 18; the longest run I have ever attempted.

Things started well enough.  I had a proper dinner on Friday, a great night’s sleep, a sensible breakfast, and the luxury of not hitting the road until 9:00, on account of the rest of my family’s schedule.  It was just another run, with daylight (oh, blessed daylight; how I love thee!) and a bunch of new Autumn scenery, until about the 11-mile mark.  I came out of a short but steep-ish hill feeling not quite right.  However, I knew that the last seven miles held no surprises, terrain-wise, so I figured “shit, I got this!”

Oh, I got something, all right: nearly killed.  Nearing the 17-mile mark, I started to unravel.  About 2.5 miles from the finish, I reached for a higher gear to help me make a green light.  At this point, I learned something about myself that really should have been obvious: After running nearly 17 miles, I don’t HAVE a higher gear.  All I came up with was a very intimate brush with the type of leg cramps that would have dropped me like a sack of bricks in the middle of a four-lane street, had I not been able to make some last minute adjustments right before the calf knots tightened.  I spent the rest of the run trying desperately not to flex my knees too much, or point my toes downward any more than was absolutely necessary.

Dragging my slime trail across the finish line in front of my house, I literally wanted to die.  My lungs were freeze-dried from processing 3:20 worth of air that had been chilled to anywhere from 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Every last muscle below my waist was fried, and the back and shoulders were joining in, as well.  I was useless until sometime Sunday night.

I should have been thrilled at somehow managing to run 18 miles, but all was nullified by my near-complete breakdown.  The swagger I brought into this week is history.  My confidence is shot.  I am mentally and emotionally crushed.  How am I going to add two miles to this in two weeks…let alone 8.2 in five?

Fifteen for My Fifth: 15.05 Miles

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Who’s wedding anniversary is today?  Who kicked off their big day by getting out of bed at 3:45 am to run 15 miles?  How does the divorce rate of distance runners compare with that of the general population?  Who’s had enough questions for a Saturday morning?

If I were to say that I’m not yet tired of going to bed at 9:30 on a Friday night, I’d be lying.  Lying like Paul Ryan about his marathon finish time.  Yes, this getting-up-way-too-damn-early nonsense is quickly getting old; Presidential campaign old.

But the show goes on.  I walked out the door at 4:00 am sharp, into a beautiful, clear, 60-degree “morning.”  Sigh, I remember when 4:00 am was still “night.”  But I guess there comes a time to put away childish things.

After the usual (i.e., sucky) first mile and the big climb up Bear Tavern past the airport, everything fell into place very quickly for me.  I can honestly say I didn’t really “feel” anything until well into the thirteenth mile, when a bit of hunger set in, and various minor twinges made themselves known to me.  For my money, the scariest part was the two miles or so spent on Route 29 and Maddock Road.  The former is a two-lane State highway with no shoulders to speak of; the latter, a 1.5 mile stretch of rural beauty by day that is just so much pitch-black nothingness in the middle of the night.  Oh, and I almost rolled my ankle something wicked at about the 14-mile mark.  Occupational hazards of running in the dark, I suppose.

Crossing the imaginary finish line, I absolutely, positively could have kept going, believe it or not.  Overall, this journey was a massive win for me.  Beyond the objective data from this run (especially, longest distance ever), knowing how good I felt throughout and how much energy I had at the end are very good signs.  I fully realize that I’m still eleven miles short of my ultimate goal, but this is some real progress I’m making here.

Deer Count! 6 (Living Deer Count: 5)

Toenail Update!  All ten still look and feel A-O-K.

According to my dailymile stats, I burned over 2,000 calories this morning (in reality, my actual burn was probably quite a bit higher, because dailymile doesn’t know I’m a lard-ass).  Before the sun came up.  Happy Anniversary, indeed.

Speaking of…hardly anybody reads this pile of garbage (yet, I hope), but I can’t quite explain how lucky I’ve been to have Lady Legs-o-Lead by my side all these years, and as my wife for the past five.  She has given me undying love, a beautiful son (with another on the way), and too many memories to count.  Happy Anniversary, Lady.

Welcome to My Narcissistic Exercise

If you’re not some sort of a runner, you probably know someone who is.  It really is the silliest activity; one foot in front of the other, thousands upon thousands of times in a row, usually to arrive at the very place you left.  Pointless, yes?  When I took up this hobby, which would soon turn into an obsession, a friend had the standard one-word question for me:  “Why?”  Why?  Since you asked…

About a year and a half ago, I figured (OK, hoped) that it was probably not too late to atone for an adult lifetime of treating my body more or less like a toilet.  Starting my fifth decade on this planet, leaving behind ages of perceived immortality, I was able to see what could well be my future – a ceaseless treadmill of pills, doctor visits and hospital stays – a heavy user (pun absolutely intended) of the vaunted American healthcare system.  That’s where my parents are, and they don’t speak very highly of it.  So I figured if I get hooked on this running thing, maybe my first hospitalization can be for something minor like knee arthroscopy, instead of coronary bypass surgery.

On top of that, I became a father just days before my 40th birthday.  These days, that’s not an insanely advanced age for one to sire progeny, but more than old enough that I am destined to be a busted-up, decrepit old fart who is too out of shape to have a catch with Junior (and Child the Second, due to join us in early January), unless I clean up my act in a big way.

After finally having our fill of the urban paradise that is Trenton, New Jersey, we managed to escape, all the way up to the West Trenton section of Ewing Township.  It’s about five miles and a universe away.  After I adjusted to the culture shock of being able to gaze out my front window without wanting to vomit (provided I don’t look at my own lawn, of course), I noticed that lots of people around here like to do legal and productive things outside, running not insignificant among them.

Lastly, and because I don’t think my wife knows this blog exists as of yet, I think it’s safe to admit this: While out on a run, I would not be able to change a diaper, nor could I hear my then-infant son’s latest screaming fit.  Plus, I figured, If I’m going to occasionally escape the house for a little bit of “me time” – which I fiercely recommend to all new parents – I might as well spend that time doing something that’s actually good for me.  As opposed to…oh, let’s say…emptying my pocket into the cash register of any of the area’s many fine publicans.

So I literally dusted off an old pair of kicks in January 2011, and set out for a loop around my neighborhood, hoping against hope that nobody would actually see me.  Just over one mile and thirteen minutes later, I thought I would die on the spot.  But miraculously, I did not die.  So I did it again the next day.  Still alive.  About a week later, I lost my mind and ran all the way out to Trenton-Mercer Airport and back; a gaudy two miles, plus hills!

You can see where this is going, can’t you?  Two miles eventually turned into five.  I participated in my first 5K in over a decade.  If you believe in such things, the 5K is definitely the “gateway drug” of running.  It shows you that you’re not so fat, you’re not so slow, and might well be destined for something bigger.  Flogging the metaphor, I went from rocks to bricks, signing up for last year’s Philadelphia Half Marathon.  Prepping for this took 13 weeks, during which I ran over 250 miles; no small feat for this corpulent fella.  On the big day, I crossed the finish line in 2:19, and was overcome by a rush of accomplishment, soon followed by a rush of exquisite pain that would last for about a week.  I thought that was it for my illustrious running career.  Once an addict, always an addict, however; you forget about the pain as the memory recedes, and you sign up for another race.

Just over three months ago, I survived my second 13.1, the St. Luke’s Half Marathon up in Allentown.  Better than merely surviving, I knocked seven minutes off my Philly time, and on a much more difficult course.  Still hurt like holy hell for a week, though.

Having just completed two half marathons, I concluded that the terminal step in this addiction would be to run two more of them… only one right after the other.  That’s all.  Piece of cake.  Proving that I had finally hit rock bottom, I signed up for the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon, which takes place the Sunday before Thanksgiving, whether or not I am ready for it.  Putting the drug metaphor out of its misery, you can say I’ve gone from snorting it, to smoking it, all the way to mainlining it.

Thanks to the lovely folks at WordPress, who have a pretty rigorous set of standards for getting your content hosted, I get to combine the narcissistic activity of marathon training with the equally – if not more – narcissistic activity of telling you all about it!  Rather than making this all about me, however, my intent is to convince you, Sid and Terry (…sedentary?  get it?), that if I can pull this off, almost any one of you can.  Also, I look forward to sharing my novice runner’s advice and wisdom with you, absolutely free of charge!  And if I happen to even accidentally entertain any of you along the way, that’s a bonus.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.