Monday, December 11, 2017

How to ruin a marathon with one meal

The text message from my cousin Tracy, at 1:19 a.m., read, "Oh no!! Authentic San Antonio Mexican food is not something to mess with.  I hope you are ok."

Gloria and I love Mexican food; and while Tracy's statement may be true, we were under its thrall on Friday and Saturday.  At home in Parsippany, NJ, we have some excellent Mexican food places (Maddy's Mexican Grill!) that are far more authentic than (and superior to) the big chain restaurants. But this was San Antonio - less than 170 miles from the Mexican border - in the state that put the "Tex" in "Tex-Mex"!  How do we resist the call?

Let us not forget, also, that we had spent a day and a half in the car and we were craving any kind of real food. So, on Friday night, we ate outside on the deck at a fast-casual Tex-Mex place (a small franchise called Mama Margie's), enjoying the beautiful, balmy weather; and we planned on leaving it at that. On Saturday, we traversed the River Walk, drank a few beers, and had a light lunch at an Irish pub, planning to eat a traditional runner's meal of pasta at a local Italian restaurant.  But since you find about as many decent Italian restaurants in San Antonio as you do decent Mexican restaurants in Parsippany, we found ourselves being pulled back under the spell of burritos and enchiladas, landing at El Rodeo, a seriously authentic little joint. 

The instant I finished my bean and cheese enchiladas, I was filled with regret.  There was a bomb of not-easily-digestible food in the pit of my stomach and it was not going anywhere anytime soon.  It felt like there was a pound of cheese in my tummy, and I was suddenly reminded of how the three slices of cheesy pizza before the Fortitude for First Descendants Marathon led to my worst marathon ever, which involved vomiting in the 26th mile. 

So after a couple of failed attempts of trying to induce vomiting (a horrible experience, even in failure - how do bulimics do this??) and a general freak-out that included a little bit of crying and a lot of whining, I finally accepted the fact that I had to live with my boneheaded choice of a pre-race meal.  While Gloria slept peacefully (I was so jealous!!), I slipped out to find the nearest convenience store where I could buy some Tums at 1 a.m.  

But first, I had to send a message to my cousins to let them know not to expect me at the finish line in 3:03.  So at 1:12 a.m., my message to Tracy that prompted the aforementioned reply read:

"I'm readjusting my finish goal and expecting to finish closer to 3:30. I made some bad food choices and now my tummy hurts, so it's going to be a tough race. 😭"

After finally finding a 24-hour convenience store, I got back to bed around 2 a.m., hoping against hope that the Tums would do their thing and relieve my aching stomach.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Marathon XVII

When approaching my 17th marathon, I took what I had learned in the past 10 years,  modified it to fit my needs and trained wisely.

On one hand, coming off of a difficult first half of the year - with injuries before and after the extraordinarily difficult Red Rock Canyon Marathon and decent comeback showings at the Storm King 10K and Franklin Lakes half-marathon - I was hesitant to push too hard and cause another setback.

On the other hand, at age 43, with 10 years of distance running behind me, I know that my window for a PR is rapidly closing and the time might be nigh to go for it, especially because Gloria expressed interest in running the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Antonio, Texas, which has a mostly flat course.

So I hedged my bet. I played it safe by forgoing a Hal Higdon Advanced training program - which calls for speed work and hill sprints - in favor of the Intermediate 2 program, which focuses squarely on mileage and occasional pace runs, but modifying it to make it a little more challenging. Instead of occasional mid-length pace runs, I tried to do as many runs as possible - short and long - at or near my 7:01 PR pace.  In addition, I added mileage to two of the three peak weeks, maxing out my longest run at 22 miles, instead of 20; with a total of 54 miles for the week, instead of 50.

It worked perfectly. For the past two months, my short runs (three to five miles) averaged at a 7:01 pace, My mid-length runs (six to 11 miles) averaged out at a 7:10, and my long runs (13 to 22 miles) averaged at a 7:17. 

This put me in the position to at least attempt to run a PR race (3:04:41). But it also kept me in check, knowing that I could back off during the race if it did not seem within my reach.  This newfound ability to readjust my goals sensibly mid-race would help me achieve a quality result (like in Maine and Myrtle Beach), rather than going for broke and crashing into the wall (like in Utah and New Hampshire).

By the time Gloria and I packed up the car and began the 1,800-mile drive on Thursday from Parsippany to San Antonio, I was brimming with confidence.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ten years later - My first marathon

Ten years ago, I ran my first marathon. Here is my race report from the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 18, 2007.  It was the beginning of a new era in my life and, gosh, it seems like it has been ages since then. 

Now, with my wife, Gloria, about to run her first marathon in less than two weeks, it feels even more appropriate to share these thoughts, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, she will share hers.


Nov. 18, 2007

When 5:30 a.m. came around, I had been awake for some time, but now I had to get out and report to the Philadelphia Marathon starting line at 6:30. I splashed some water on my face, got dressed and kissed my sleepy girlfriend on the forehead. She wished me luck then took a picture of me. Man, I looked nervous.

Out the door and down the road, in the dark, to the area in front of the art museum, the 15-minute walk felt good as I ate my banana and protein bar. My teeth were chattering because of...the cold? Or was I just that nervous? I sang "Freedom of '76" (a song by Ween about Philly) out loud to entertain myself and keep calm. I left my jacket, gloves and other items in the designated spot (one of an array of school buses, labeled by bib number) and found a spot on the grass to stretch.

It was almost 6:30, so I made my way to the multitude of port-a-johns on the lawn. While waiting in line, I told the guy next to me that it was my first marathon. He said to me, "Don't ever forget the feeling. You only get one first marathon. Always remember that feeling of crossing that finish line."
"I just hope to make it there," I said.

"You will," he replied. With those two words, a total stranger boosted my confidence and helped turn my nervousness into excitement. At the starting line, the first thing I learned about marathon runners was that they're not shy about bodily fluids. Behind me, a woman told another that she had to pee, but it was too late to get to the port-a-sans, so the other said, "Just do it right here."

I dared not turn around to offer my two cents in the matter and instead looked down and watched a little stream flow past my feet.

Barely audible announcements were being made over the loudspeakers (probably more for the benefit of the spectators), while we stood and waited the cold, damp dawn. I couldn't wait to start running, if not only to warm up. I was getting nervous again and started wondering if I really belonged at this particular area near the starting line. Maybe my goal was too lofty for a first timer.

Finally, well after the planned 7 a.m. start time, it was time to run...or, rather, walk. With so many thousands of people cramped on one street, it was a good minute's walk just to get to the actual starting line. Thank goodness for timing chip technology, which starts timing each runner at the line, not when the horn blows. Once I was able to get going, I knew I was going out too quickly, even as the words of Ashley's friend ("Don't start out too fast!") kept ringing in my ears. But the delay of walking to the starting line psyched me out and, because we were about 10 minutes behind schedule, I started to fear that my parents would miss me at the suggested spots I mapped out the evening before. ("I should be passing by the corner of Chestnut and 13th at 7:45...")

So I plowed through the first five miles with gusto, smiling as the spectators cheered us on through downtown Center City. When I neared the six mile marker, I spotted my mom and dad. "MOM!!! DAD!!!!" I shouted, and my mom fired off the camera with the speed and accuracy of an expert gunslinger. Shortly thereafter, I saw Karen waving from the sidewalk. I was so happy my girlfriend was there to share in the excitement, I couldn't help myself - I ran right up to her and planted a big kiss on her lips without even stopping. As everyone around us went, "Awwwwwww..." I felt like I was probably the happiest guy on the course.

But I was only six miles in and there was much work ahead. Recognizing that I was about 45 seconds ahead of my planned pace, I pulled back a bit, now that I felt like I caught up to the clock. Crossing the bridge and heading up 34th Street toward the Philadelphia Zoo, that whole bodily fluid thing was noticeable again as I saw male runners stop on the side of the road to relieve themselves. I sure was glad I went before we started. Twice.

I was having other problems at around Mile 8 - some chafing on two tender spots of my upper body. I was wearing my "technical" polyester T-shirt from the Long Branch Half Marathon, but the culprit was cotton long-sleeve shirt on top. As dawn gave way to morning, it got warm enough to shed the outer layer, so at the next water station, I threw the cotton shirt near one of the tables where they were collecting discarded clothes for donation. Good deed done for the day, I was finally able to enjoy my breatheable shirt and beautiful Fairmount Park, with no more chafing issues, and I made it through the park section with ease.

Crossing back over the Schuykill River, the half-marathoners broke away to head toward the finish line while those of us going the full distance hooked north on Kelly Drive. There was something peaceful and serene about this stretch, so even though there weren't many spectators in miles 15 through 17 it was enjoyable. I watched as the elite runners ran toward me, already on their 24th mile, knowing I'd be on my way back soon enough.

As volunteers waved me through a highway interchange, one was yawning. "Tiring, isn't it?" I joked as I passed and in minutes I was entering a little town called Manayunk. The next four miles led runners up and down its Main Street. There was a giant sign, greeters and then a tavern on the right, outside of which patrons were handing runners cups

Laughing, I took one. And yes, it was indeed beer! At a marathon! I couldn't get over it.

Main Street was packed with spectators, cheering enthusiastically. I was near another guy named Dan (with a shirt bearing his name), so as people shouted, "Go Dan!" I pretended they were shouting for me. In front of me was a woman whom I believe was Amy Palmiero-Winters. She had one leg and one amazing prosthesis, specifically designed for running. As the crowd cheered her on, I basked in the good vibes all around.

When I hit the turn-around point, shortly after the 20th mile marker, I was well aware of the fact that I was now running my farthest distance ever. Passing the slower runners in their 15th through 17th mile, just as the elites did with me less than an hour before, the only thing left to do was focus on the clocks. I sucked down a packet of Gu and began the final 10K.

With each mile clock, I calculated my current pace and what to expect to see on the next clock. It was at the 22-mile marker that I stopped counting up and began counting down: Only four more miles to go. I wouldn't say I hit "the wall" that I've heard so much about, but I definitely started feeling the wear and tear on my body. At 23 miles, I told myself what I always say when there are three miles to go, no matter the length of the course: It's just a piece-of-cake 5K from here.

More and more spectators lined the roads, the closer I got to the finish line. With only one mile to go, I knew I'd done it. I thought about my hard work in training, how I was set to beat my goal by several minutes and how this was probably the best day of my life. The sides of the road were packed with people as I neared the art museum and the end of my journey. As they cheered for regular folks like me, I remembered that guy at the port-o-lets from hours before: "Don't ever forget the feeling," he had said, and now I knew I wouldn't. My eyes welled up as I yelled out, "Thank you, Philadelphia! This is my first marathon! Thank you for making it so special!"

At that, the lovely people of Philly found it in their hearts to applaud the sentimental guy with the New Jersey shirt and the teary eyes. I pushed into the best sprint I could muster and crossed the finish line a full eight minutes ahead of my goal time. I barely remember getting my finisher's medal because the shock of stopping after hours of running was enough to make me delirious. But I do remember the first familiar face I saw. It was Karen, as she stood behind the barricade and called to me. I hugged her so tightly over the railing and cried, "I did it! I really did it!"

She then presented me with another medal - a large custom-made one with an inscription that echoed the same sentiment from the stranger at the port-a-whatevers, "Remember the feeling...always."

I definitely will.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Ten years later: My first half-marathon

Tomorrow is the 10-year anniversary my first marathon, an event that changed my life in so many amazing ways.  I will post my race report from that race tomorrow, but first, as a lead-up to it, here is the report from my first half-marathon - the Long Branch Half Marathon in April of 2007, as it was published at the time in my old blog, Heart and Soles:

April 29, 2007

The race experience is quite different when you're with a group of friends. As the alarms sounded at five-something in the morning, I accepted Jean's and Ashley's invitations to go next door to their room and enjoy a bagel breakfast before packing up and heading out. With the gang all together, we drove to the event site in Long Branch, near the Ocean Place Resort

With thousands of participants, it was no surprise that it was tough to find parking, but we eventually settled in and picked up our race packets. All four of us were pretty nervous. I was lucky to have Karen there to pep talk me and give me one last squeeze of my bothersome right-side trapezius muscle.

It was almost time. I had trained well; I was ready. No iPod, no water bottle, this was the real thing. I had set two goals - an "idealistic" one and a "realistic" one. If I finished within a seven-minute range of the realistic one, I told Karen, I would be happy. If I was able to out-pace that and hit my idealistic target, I'd be very happy.

Lining up at the start, I saw the marathon pacers about whom Carolina had told me eariler (the New Jersey Marathon was a simultaneous event, with the marathoners doing the loop twice). I found a guy with an orange flag that displayed a time that was about eight seconds per mile faster than my idealistic goal. If I could keep up with him for at least some of the time, I'd be on the right track and then able to settle into my own groove. It occurred to me: Wow, I'm kind of in the front of the pack here. Is this where I really belong?

I must have tied and re-tied my shoes a dozen times before the starting gun. Too, too loose...argh! I'm so nervous!

Finally, the race began. After passing the cheering crowds (and a lot of them) in the first half mile, I kept my focus on the pacer. How many marathons does this guy run a year? How does he deal with holding that orange flag for 26.2 miles? How experienced does someone have to be able to pick a pace and run it with little or no fluctuation?

Somewhere in the second mile, another thought crept in; a scary, yet exciting one: I want to run faster. I tried to tell myself to hold my horses, that it was too early to push my limits, that I probably wouldn't feel like this in the tenth mile. But I also knew that this was a flat course, so there would be no hills throwing off my pace or making me work harder. If I set my own pace, I could stick with it. Worst case scenario - I pull back and meet up with Orange Flag Guy again.

I stepped up my pace, and that was the last I saw of the orange flag. Increasing to a comfortable but competitive pace, I felt a rush of excitement as I passed more cheering spectators ("Go Daniel!" they'd say, making me realize why it was extremely beneficial to have your name on your bib) and clocks showing my pace getting faster with each passing mile. By the end of the fifth mile, I was about two minutes ahead of my idealistic goal! 

Passing by the large group of spectators in the sixth mile, I scanned the crowd for Karen. Seeing her, I shouted, "I AM VERY HAPPY!" Only she knew what I really meant by that, but it garnered a few chuckles from the crowd.

Somehow, I continued the pace through the tenth mile. The cheering spectators, the live musicians (I even sang out loud with "Back In Black"), the folks dressed in hula skirts who gave me a lei, the flat course, and excellent weather conditions, all made me feel so full of energy and positivity that I never once felt tired. No fatigue, no pain, all joy. This was a perfect race.

Running along Ocean Avenue for the beginning of the end - the last three miles - I knew that no matter what happened from this point, the outcome was going to be a good one. I can even slow down and STILL finish with a favorable time. But instead of slowing down, I sped up. None of what transpired in the past 10 miles mattered anymore, this was now merely just some piece-of-cake 5K. I can bang this out in less than 20 minutes.

I probably started pushing it too fast, too soon, because when I passed the sign that read, "One mile to go!" I was pretty much in full-on sprint mode. This is going to hurt, but what's the point of slowing down now? It did, there wasn't, so I didn't.

I was on the boardwalk, the finish line wasn't yet in view, but there were now throngs of spectators to my left, all cheering me on. Me! Little ol' me. Little ol' never-been-an-athlete, can't-play-a-sport-worth-a-damn, could've-easily-failed-gym-class, ME! They're calling me by name! The lei, flapping on my neck, had people laughing and saying, "Aloha!" (I don't think spectators are used to goofballs like me being in the top 10%.) 

My legs were chugging as fast as they could go, my heart was pounding and my head was practically spinning. Tears were streaming down my face and I was grinning like a fool. As I zoomed by, I heard someone say, "Is he laughing or crying?"

I heard the reply, "I think a little bit of both."

The time on the clock at the finish line was four full minutes faster than my idealistic goal! I don't quite remember what I did or said when I crossed the line. I remember huffing and puffing and wanting very badly to keep moving as the nice volunteer and I struggled to remove the timing chip from my ankle. After a big hug from Karen and a desperate search for water, I walked for a while to cool down. I drank the water a little too fast and thought it was going to come right back up, but thankfully, it didn't.

For the next hour I cheered the rest of the runners in, calling as many as I could by name as they pushed to the finish line. I gave big shout-outs to Carolina, Jean, Ashley and my friend Elaine, as they ran the final stretch on the boardwalk. Once the gang was back together, we went inside where they were serving a fantastic array of food. On my way in, I noticed they were posting the results. With almost 3000 participants, it seemed logical to start looking around 200th place on the list since I'm no big athlete but I usually squeak by into the top 10 percent. I scanned up, up, up... 

100th...50th...40th...No way!!! 30th place? Out of 2700? I'll say it again...I am VERY happy!

This was exciting news, but I was also incredibly hungry, so I grabbed whatever I could - a bagel! Vegetarian chili! Cereal! Pretzels! Anything! Just give it to me and let me shove it down my gullet! We went to Red Bank to have a proper lunch, proudly displaying our medals, and spent some time at the stores in the town.

We capped the day by treating ourselves to some dessert at the ice cream shop; and we did it without any guilt. We deserved it.


The next day, I sent an email to Jean, Ashley and Carolina, the fellow runners with whom I trained and traveled for the race:

I want to tell you how proud I am of all of us. We signed up for the race, trained hard and reached our goals – all within a matter of months. We didn’t let the number of miles intimidate us; we stuck to our guns and trained through the winter; and we crossed that finish line, head held high.
This was the longest and farthest I’ve ever run and, if I remember correctly, the same goes for you, too. Personally, I would’ve never dreamed of this a year and a half ago.
We really did it...and we should feel super-good about ourselves. I’m glad we experienced the whole thing, from training to pre-race dinner to post race celebration, together


This pic is from a race we ran five months earlier, but all the gals from the gang are in it.  Clockwise from top left are me; my running guru, Tim Norris; Ashley; our co-worker, Harry; a guy who I think was Ashley's boyfriend at the time; Carolina; and Jean.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bolt 4 Ben - Franklin Lakes Scenic Half Marathon

Because I had been steadily building my strength back up from injury and Gloria was interested in doing more running, we decided to register for the Bolt 4 Ben Franklin Lakes Scenic Half Marathon taking place on Sept. 24 in Bergen County.  This would be her third half-marathon and my 10th, but it had been years since either of us had run this distance.

In July, it seemed like a great idea on a far-off date. But as race day got closer, I did not feel ready.

It was a good thing the race was only about 20 miles away because the 8 a.m. start time and the logistics of parking in a separate location (an office complex with a big parking lot) and taking a bus to the start (the community center, with a tiny lot) meant getting up before the crack of dawn.

I tried to do my stretches and do a warmup jog on this cool, beautiful early autumn morning. But my tummy was in a knot and my mindset was leaning far toward the negative.  Gloria tried to calm my nerves, saying that I did all the training - and did it well - and that I should trust that.  After 11 years and 86 races, I should know that, but lately, each time it feels like this is the one that is going to break me.

As we lined up at the community center on Vichiconti Way, I saw Rob Albano, with whom I have crossed paths at many races, all of which he won (this one included), and placed myself near the front of the pack. At the go signal, we were off and running, making a right turn on Pulis Avenue and another quick turn onto Old Mill Road, with gently rolling hills into the first and second mile markers, where I clocked 6:16 and 6:15.

[course map:]

My old mantra used to be "run the race for which you trained," but this time around, it was "run the race you are running today."

In other words, even though I did my training runs as if I was gunning for a 6:15 PR pace, I knew there was no chance for that on the hills of Franklin Lakes, and still recovering from an injury.  So I ran what felt right; and if at any time that meant taking it down a notch, then I would readjust my goal...which is exactly what I did in the third mile, as we turned left onto Franklin Avenue and right onto Ewing Avenue, where the inclines got a little longer and tougher, causing me to hang back to a 6:37.

That was a little too slow for what I wanted to accomplish, so I picked it back up for a 6:20 and 6:24 around a couple of side streets and back onto Ewing and into the right turn onto High Mountain Avenue. "High" and "Mountain" are two words you do not want on the name of a street in a race.  But I motored up the inevitable hill before turning left onto Scioto for more rolling hills and a 6:27 in the sixth mile.

By this point, Mr. Albano and the second and third place runners (Cole Dailey and Atilla Sabahoglu, respectively) were long gone and I was in fifth place behind Michael Miano.

The strangest part of the course came next - a short jaunt on a rocky, downhill bit of trail that was unnerving enough to slow me down to a 6:31 for the seventh mile as we turned right onto the pavement of Indian Trail, but by the time we turned left on Franklin Lake Road, I had overtaken Mr. Miano and secured a fourth place position, where I figured I would stay since the other guys were at least two minutes in front of me.

Clocking in Mile 8 with a 6:21, I was averaging a 6:24 pace and that seemed like a good place to stay, so my goal from there was to come as close to that average as possible for each successive mile - no slower, no faster.

Zig-zagging through a few residential side-streets (Walder, Farmdale, Oldwoods, Briarwoods, Bayberry, Woodfield and McCoy), I hit a 6:33 going uphill in Mile 9.  I thought I would make up the difference in the downhill to the 10th mile marker, but a 6:27 was all I could muster, and I knew that meant I was losing steam.  The old pain returning to my glutes was a pretty good indicator too, so with a 6:31 in the 11th mile on Colonial Road, I needed this race to be over soon.

I was down to a 6:26 average, and that was still pretty darn good, so it was time to readjust again and shoot to keep the last two miles in that ballpark.

But the turn from Colonial Road to a severe uphill on Franklin Avenue was soul-crushing, leg-destroying, pace-killing and race-ruining.  I pushed with all my might, feeling like I might not even make it.  The 6:48 mile felt like a slow crawl into despair.  The terrain leveled off as we turned back onto Old Mill Road, but the damage was done.  I was drained, gassed and completely kaput, and Mr. Miano seized that opportunity to pass me in the last mile, just before we turned on to a bit of paved trail that would lead us back to the community center and the finish line.

The trail had too many twists and turns.  Winding around through the woods on a narrow trail is not conducive to anyone trying to pass the runner ahead or preparing to sprint to the finish.  Of course, I was in no condition to do either of those things. Pushing as hard as I could, I checked in with a 6:56 in the 13th mile, feeling utterly miserable.

I finished only 10 seconds behind Mr. Miano for a fifth place standing and first in my age group - a genuine age group win, by the way, as all five guys in front of me were in their 20s and 30s.  Not bad for a guy about to turn 43.

In the end, my pace averaged to 6:29, and my 1:24:56 resulted in the third best half-marathon of my life. Add to that a lovely metal water bottle emblazoned with the race logo as my age group prize and I would say it was a pretty successful day at a race that was well-organized with great signage (no getting lost!), excellent volunteers, and nifty swag (everyone got a medal!).  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Storm King 10K

The race website for the Storm King Run in Highlands, N.Y., organized by the West Point - Highland Falls Rotary, has a link to the course description.  It reads "Hilly Contour Medium Difficulty". 

Friends, I have now run 86 races, so believe me when I tell you, this is a very loose definition of "medium difficulty".  It certainly was not the insane challenge of the Red Rock Canyon Marathon in Las Vegas or the Park City Marathon in Utah.  But as 10K races go, this was pretty rough.  

I am certain that the elevation chart on that webpage is incorrect, too, because it has the lowest point in the middle of the race. but that is thoroughly impossible because at the turnaround point of this out-and-back course, we were on top of an enormous hill with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River below us.  I know I did not imagine pushing with all my strength to get up that hill during that entire third mile.

Let me back up for a minute.  This was, in fact, a lovely and well-organized race.  It was also a small race, with only 93 runners in the 10K, 114 participants in the 5K, and a one-mile fun run for the kids.  There was also a contingency of West Point cadets running the race, which served as a reminder that we were, in fact, standing near the entrance gates to the prestigious military academy as the national anthem played before the beginning of the race. 

This being my first competitive race since February, I was a unsure of where I should place myself at the start. There were some dudes, young and older (meaning, my age), that looked pretty darn fit and ready, and here I was in the middle of half-marathon training coming off an injury.  So I planted myself two or three people deep.  Besides, a slower, steadier start would probably be good for me, especially if it was to be hilly.

The entire first half of the 5K was downhill.  As several people surged ahead on the decline, I hung back and let gravity do the work. After all, we had to do this mile and a half uphill on the back end.  To my surprise, most of the pack broke off at the 5K turnaround point and I suddenly realized I was in fourth place. The next half of the "out" portion of the route was rolling hills.  On one of the uphills, I made a move (as I tend to do) and overtook third place runner (44-year-old Phil Dacunto), and I even had the top two in my sight.  

That third mile uphill to the overlook, though, was a challenge.  I do believe it had to be around a 400-foot elevation gain, and as we climbed, I inched ever so much more closely to the second place runner (Logan Brady, 25).  As we rounded the top and made the turnaround, I passed him.  But he must have saved up a little more than I had for the downhill and he passed me again.

My brief moments in second place

Still, I remembered that confidence that I always had about making my moves on the uphills, though I wondered if I could keep doing it this time, having not done any real hill training. So things remained status quo as I simply tried to keep pace and not fall back from the fatigue I was definitely feeling. 

Passing by Gloria as she started to make her way up the big hill was a great pick-me-up, as always, but I warned her, "That hill is brutal!"

When it came time to tackle that last mile-and-a-half of upgrade, I had caught up to Logan, and said, "Well, this is going to suck."

I chugged up past him and never looked back.  I was in second place again and though I could see Dalton Martin (age 25) almost the entire time, I never had the slightest expectation that I could catch up to him.  Judging from his form, he seemed to be expending a lot less energy than I was.  I was at maximum effort; he still seemed like he had plenty of gas in the tank.

10K winner Dalton Martin, in charge and in control
I was practically running on empty as we approached the final mile, so not only was I slowing down, another contender was speeding up from behind both Logan and me.  As 32-year-old Matthew Lensing blew past me, I was jealous of how much he had managed to save up.  I was dying out there and he was cruising.  Look at the two photos below, taken a few seconds apart.  Matthew's form is perfect and he seems in complete control, whereas I am falling apart and my leg is swinging wildly.

Matthew Lensing - great form, strong finish
Me - gasping for air, dying inside, flailing about

Despite the agony of trying to charge up this punishing hill, I was extremely happy knowing that on my first race back from a too-long hiatus, I had not only tackled this course that was definitely more than "medium difficulty" at a competitive pace, but I would also be coming back strong with a brand new trophy.  

That was just what I needed to get my confidence level back up, and my finish time of 39:31, only mere seconds away from Matthew (39:07) and Dalton (38:57), is something of which I can be truly proud. 

As I said to Gloria (who finished with a respectable 1:04:19 for her first 10K!) when I collected my trophy, immediately she took this picture...

"I'm back, baby!"

Full results posted here:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

This is not the end

As recently as a month ago, I really thought my racing career was over.

When I suffered from a back injury which sidelined me from late 2014 through spring 2015, I knew it would take time and a great deal of physical therapy; but I was certain there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  Not only did I return, I was stronger, leaner and faster than ever.

But this year, with what I suspect was either a gluteal or piriformis strain (or both) that took months to heal, followed by a recurring, sharp and severe pain in my leg that the clueless doctors at Vanguard Medical Group in Verona could not identify (though the thieving swine charged me $150 to tell me I should just rest it), it felt like the end of my racing days.  Sure, I could get out there and trot some miles for maintenance and weight control, but speedy racing?  Forget it.  Over.  Done.  Fin.

On the other hand, nothing motivates me more than someone telling me I can not or should not do something.  The quack told me to rest and take Advil, so I did exactly the opposite.  I took no medication, and still went out there and ran on my bad leg, often in agony.  But I pushed through it.  Active recovery.  And you know what?  With each successive run, I pushed the pace a little more (reducing my pace from 9-minute miles down to sub-7s) and increased the mileage gradually (to as much as 16 miles!) and each time, it hurt a little less.

So Gloria and I registered for a half-marathon for September.  I still use the Hal Higdon training program, which calls for shorter races midway through, so a 10K was on the schedule for this past weekend.  On Thursday, Gloria found the Storm King 10K, which is organized by the West Point-Highland Falls Rotary and takes place at West Point Military Academy in Highlands, N.Y.  On Friday, we registered.  Sunday, we raced.