Thursday, November 28, 2019

Spectating the NYC Marathon

I have run 22 marathons over the past 12 years, but I have never attended one specifically to be a spectator.  So when my friends Meredith and John, with whom I have attended both Phish shows and races, said they were running the New York City Marathon, my wife, Gloria, and I decided to make some Phish-related signs for them and head into the big city to cheer them on.

First and foremost, we needed a plan.  I printed out the marathon course map, the NYC subway map, and dug out my old NYC street map and started plotting.

Knowing that they were planning on running 10-minute miles and that their wave was starting at around 10:40, I determined we could see them in five different spots, in three boroughs.  Once we got to Manhattan, we took the R train to 36th Street in Brooklyn to catch them at about the fifth mile.

Finding them was tougher than we had thought because this early in the race, the pack was pretty thick, and taking up both sides of the two-way avenue.  At a tiny break in the throng, I managed to run into the center median for a better view.  Somehow, I managed to see them, and they saw me with my "Go John and Meredith go!" sign.  

But even if we had not seen them, we quickly realized that cheering for random strangers is incredibly fun, especially when people had their names on their bibs or their clothing.  And as a marathon runner myself, I know how much that means, and what a mental boost it can provide.

After seeing our friends, though, it was right back down to the subway to catch the R train north to the eighth mile, near the Barclays Center.  We had less than a half hour to get there and find a good spot, but we made it and, once again, saw them and shouted for them as loudly as we good, holding up our "Blaze on, John and Meredith!" sign.

Our next stop was Court Square in Queens, near the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge in the 15th mile.  We had an hour to get there, but we had to walk a bit and get to the G train, and we both had to make a pit stop to hit the bathroom (a reality that we did not think to factor into our plan).  So once we got to the general area, we found an open bar/restaurant, ordered a couple of beers, did our business and went out to join the crowd.  We held up our sign ("Run like an antelope, John and Meredith!") but we did not see them.  At some point, we figured we had missed them (though Meredith later confirmed they saw us!), so we hustled back to the subway for stop number four.

We took an R train from Queens Plaza and then, in Manhattan, transferred to a 6 train heading north to East Harlem to catch them in the 19th mile on First Avenue, just before they crossed the Willis Avenue bridge to the Bronx.  With less than 40 minutes to do all that, we cut it close, but managed to get to the bridge mere minutes before they did.  By now, the pack had thinned considerably so it was much easier to spot them and to talk to them.  They were hoofing along, but slowing down a bit. 

That was probably bad for them but good for us, giving us extra time to walk across town to Fifth Avenue to catch them in the 23rd mile after they came back into Manhattan.  We had one more sign for them, this time with a more obscure Phish lyric, "Run so fast, your feet don't touch the ground!" and one last time, we managed to see them and wish them well.  We could see signs of fatigue, but they looked good and there was no doubt they were going to finish this thing.

Alas, we were unable to get through Central Park so see it, what with the myriad spectators crowding the area around Columbus Circle, where the runners enter Central Park.  We tried, but there was no getting through - at least not in the time we had left to do so.

So we sent them text messages to congratulate them and went on our merry way back to New Jersey.  In all, we spent about four hours riding subways, cheering on our friends and lots of strangers, and enjoyed all the good vibes that the New York City Marathon brings without having to run 26.2 miles.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Purple Stride 5K - Nov. 10, 2019

So, yes, after four relatively disappointing 5Ks, I immediately started training for a December 10K using Hal Higdon's Advanced 10K training program.

And, wow, it is a killer program.  With Tuesday tempo runs (up to 60 minutes), Wednesday 400-meter track sprints (up to 12), Saturday runs partially at race pace, and Sunday runs in which the last 25 percent of the miles are done near race pace, we are essentially talking about four days of speed training per week.  That leaves Monday and Thursday for easy runs and an optional (!) rest day on Friday.

As per usual with Higdon's programs, races are included midway through training.  This past Sunday, being halfway through the eight-week cycle, it was time for yet another 5K.  It just so happened that this fell on the day of the annual Purple Stride 5K in Parsippany, a benefit for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.  In support of our friend, whose mom died from the disease, Gloria and I and our friends jogged it in 2016 and walked it in 2017.  Last year, I raced it competitively while training for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, taking third place with a time of 18:11, my last sub-19 5K.

At the start line on Sunday, some guy said to his kid, referring to me, "Just stay behind this guy and draft him if you can.  He looks fast."

That made me feel good, but I wondered if I would live up to his expectations after my past four outings.  At the sound of the horn, I blasted off, legs in full extension, pumping as hard as I could to get off to a good start, and to warm the hell up on this 30-something degree day while wearing only shorts and a single long-sleeve polyester running shirt.  For the first mile in this flat course through what is essentially a giant park of office buildings, a young runner in a cape took the lead and I stayed elbow to elbow with Justin Tufano (literally - he actually kept bumping elbows with me - even as we approached the left-hand turnaround, he kept drifting and pushing me to the right).

I hit the first mile 5:52 and it felt great.  I did not even feel like I was pushing hard enough to get a split like that.  Both Mr. Tufano and I pushed ahead of the caped runner and pressed on into mile 2.  I pulled away from Tufano and briefly held the lead until I heard footsteps coming up behind.  I was surprised to see the person passing me was not Tufano but someone else - an 18-year-old kid named Sam Fowler - and he was doing it effortlessly.  There was no catching up to him, and I was already slowing down, but I was OK with my 6:09 second mile.

Turning around again (those turnarounds are such momentum killers!), I gave it everything I had, with Tufano right behind me.  I only managed to stay in front of him by three seconds, but it was enough as I threw my body forward into the third mile with a 6:04 and a finish time of 18:50.

Unbelievably, I had managed to get my first sub-19 in a year, at the same race as my last one.  It was a pleasant surprise, and just what I needed to fend off the sometimes depressing sight of my drastically lower 5Ks lately.  This was a nice boost.  I may not be close to what I was a year or two ago, but at this point, I will take any sub-19 I can get.

Last year's event was fraught with problems, notably the course being too short.  In addition, the timing company, Best Race, screwed me over with the results, putting me at fourth place, rather than at my rightful third (they never fixed it on their website).  This time, though the course was re-measured to accuracy, Best Race once again managed to screw me over by spelling my name wrong - check out the results and you see that Daniel Falioto took second place at the 2019 Purple Stride 5K in Parsippany. [eye roll] 

But hey, it was a good cause with good friends and my best 5K of the year.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

John Samra Memorial 5K, Clifton, NJ - Oct. 20, 2019

As you age, you know it is going to happen.  It is inevitable.  At some point, your legs simply can not propel you as quickly as they once did.  

For the past few years, I had wondered not so much when, but how it would happen.  Would it be a quick demise, like I thought it would be after the car accident in 2013 permanently messed up my back?  Nope - I ran my fastest 5Ks after that.  Or would it be a gradual decline, losing a few seconds a year, as I had begun to do shortly after those amazing sub-18 races in 2016? 

Apparently not.  For even though my 5K times had slipped to the low 18s in 2017 and the mid-18s in 2018, I chalked that up to not specifically training for those races (I had been in the middle of marathon training) and tough conditions (hilly courses, cold winter days).

But there I was in Clifton on Sunday morning, doing my fourth 5K in 10 weeks, having trained for them using Hal Higdon's Advanced 5K program, and I found myself in yet another struggle to try to get under 19 minutes. I had broken 19 minutes for the first time 11 years ago and had continued to do it at least once a year (except 2017, when I ran no 5Ks) through last year. 

In fact, the first time I ran the John Samra Memorial 5K - in 2009 - I obtained a PR with an 18:30.  It was the first time my average pace was sub-6.

I may be getting slower, but I still take my place at the front of the start line.
That's me in the blue skull cap and navy blue shirt.
I ran it again two years later, with a 19:09 and this year's looked to be more like that one. Perhaps I could blame that hill in the first mile.  After blasting out of the city's municipal complex on this crisp October morning with no wind, and onto Colfax Avenue, I took the left onto Clifton Avenue, for the tough uphill.  Somehow, I managed a 5:53.  Off to a surprisingly great start, I wondered if I was finally back in sub-19 shape.  

Around the curve and back on flat land, the left onto 3rd Avenue followed by the right onto Washington brought me to the spot (commemorated by a fire truck with an enormous American flag) where the race's namesake - a Clifton cop - was tragically killed.  Around the block to get back onto 3rd, I was in third place and watching the middle-to-back of the pack running toward me, many offering encouragement.  I saw my buddy, Ed Holster (a Clifton cop himself) hoofing along, as well. Mile two was 6:06.

I had lost some time, but was still in sub-19 territory.  Not only that, but I had that hill coming again, but this time, I was going down.  I tried to extend my legs, but I could feel it starting to hurt.  And the memory of that pain from those long, downhill strides at the end of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon held me back from pushing my legs into full extension.  Worse still, we passed Colfax Avenue in order to proceed to Van Houten Avenue and enter the municipal complex from the opposite side, and that involved going up one more hill. With only a half-mile to go, I was quickly petering out.  A 6:28 third mile, and nothing left in the tank to sprint to the end.

Rounding the final curve next to Clifton City Hall.
Rounding the corner toward City Hall, I heaved my body forward as best as I could, with my lovely wife, Gloria cheering me on once again.  I finished with a 19:22 - my slowest race in more than 10 years.  

Pushing to the end.
So with PRs long gone, and even a sub-19 unattainable, it is clear that age is finally taken its toll.  At 45, I am on the decline.  I will have to live with that; what choice do I have? 

After the race, I told Gloria that I was done racing for the year.  It was too depressing to train harder and while getting worse results.  So, no more.  Done.  That is it.  Finito for 2019.

Naturally, on Monday, I started training for a December 10K.

Did I mention that I somehow came in third place overall?
Ed and me, post race.

(All photos by Gloria Galioto)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Run Little Falls 5K - Oct. 6, 2019

During the eight years that I  lived in the Township of Little Falls, N.J., I ran the Passaic Valley Rotary River Run 5K six times.  I got a few PRs at that autumn race, as my short game improved year after year, culminating in my peak in 2016. I moved out of the town that year, and at some point since then, that race ceased to exist.  

To my delight, I found out that a new race - Run Little Falls - was debuting this fall in Little Falls and it would coincide perfectly with my current 5K training cycle.  

Though training had not exactly gone well - days of fatigue and lots of pain in my legs, especially my left hamstring - I was excited to go back to my old hometown and race on the streets I had come to know so well. 

With fewer than 200 participants, it was not a big race, but a nice turnout for a brand new event.  Even more impressive was that it seemed like the town's residents were really behind it.  Looking at the results sheet, one might guess that half of the participants were from Little Falls.  Even the mayor ran it.  

Funny side note about that: the T-shirts that all the participants received read, "I'm not the mayor, but I Run Little Falls."  That is, all the participants except one - Mayor Damiano's read, "I AM the mayor, and I Run Little Falls"!

The race started on the track of Passaic Valley High School - the very track on which I did years of interval training - and the course led us onto Main Street, Cedar Grove Road and Wilmore Road for the first mile, which I ran in 6:09.  Already I could see that there had been no improvement since Surftown, but like that race a month ago, the competition was quite soft and I was in third place, and closing in on second.

Turning onto Prospect Street and up the course's one hill, I pulled into second and stayed there for the remainder of the race.  The leader, 22-year-old Sean Lang was long gone.  Maybe a few years ago, I could have kept up with his 5:42 pace, but no longer.  As I crested the hill and did the quick turns on Stevens Avenue, Walnut Street and Union Avenue before getting back onto Main Street, I tried to maintain the pace I had established and came close with a 6:12. 

The downhill came halfway through the third mile, so I pushed into it with all my might, opening up my stride and much as it would go.  My legs were hurting again, and I thought my left hamstring was going to seize up, as it had been doing all year when put under great stress.  I squeaked out a 6:00 for that last mile.

Those times, of course, are from my Garmin, which always seems to cause some discrepancies.  I gave it everything I had getting onto the track at the high school again and finished with a 19:10, which would mean that the last tenth of a mile took 49 seconds.  That is absurd, though, because it would equate to an 8:10 pace.  Sure, I may have slowed down in my fatigue, but not that much, especially not at the end of a 5K.

So, once again, either my Garmin is calculating miles too short, or the course was too long.  But either way, I do not really care.  I trained for a race and I ran the race.  I put my best effort into it and came out of it with another worthwhile experience...and a $20 gift certificate to Dick's Sporting Goods for winning my age group.  Not bad for a morning out in the old town.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Surftown 5K - Westerly, R.I. - Sept. 8, 2019

After my less-than-spectacular return to the 5K last month, I was determined to get back into a heavy-duty training program for the next eight weeks, which would culminate in the Run Little Falls 5K in my old hometown.  So I returned to Hal Higdon’s Advanced 5K program for the first time in seven years in hopes that I could at least knock a minute or so off of my time from the Dover race.

As is typical with the Hal Higdon programs, a practice race is prescribed halfway through the training.  It is a good way to gauge how well things are going, and it provides a much-appreciated extra rest day, the day before the race. 

My midway 5K came on Sept. 8, the first day of my weeklong wedding anniversary vacation to Block Island, so Gloria and I found a race at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, R.I., just over the border from Connecticut (and one town west of Weekapaug, a little town forever memorialized in song by Phish).  The Surftown Half Marathon & 5K, hosted by the Hartford Marathon Foundation, is actually more the former than the latter, with about a thousand participants running the 13.1 and some stiff competition in the lead pack (everyone in the top 10 did a sub-6 pace!); and about half that doing the 5K, with a very soft field (spoiler - nobody did a sub-6 pace!).

I have been doing speed training for eight weeks now, so I figured my muscles would remember how to go fast and stay fast for at least a little while – certainly this race would be an improvement over the last one, right?

Reluctantly, I planted myself toward the front of the pack at the start line and pushed off hard at the go signal.  I knew that at least the first mile, west along Atlantic Avenue and parallel to the beach, was going to be flat, so I threw myself into it, surprisingly breaking into the lead for the first few tenths of a mile.  Shortly thereafter, though, 26-year-old Caitlin Abelseth pulled ahead of me and stayed in the front for the rest of the race, eventually winning with a well-run, but relatively slow 18:47 (I have run races where I barely won my age group, let alone the whole megillah, with a time like that).  Her movement was swift, her pace consistent and her form impeccable.  I bet she is capable of much more than that 6:02 pace.  It seemed effortless for her. 

Firmly in second place, I turned right onto Maplewood Avenue and hit the first mile marker with a 6:04.  Already, though, I could tell this was not going to go as well as I had hoped.  A left onto Bayberry Road brought us to another left onto Ocean View Highway and only a small incline before the turnaround.  My second mile was not any better, with a 6:11.  And I was already out of gas.  What has happened to me?

At that point, my head was swirling with thoughts like, “It’s really over – my best racing days are behind me.  What’s the point anymore?  Why am I doing this?  I’m going to be 45 soon and now my age is finally catching up to me.”

My age was not the only thing catching up to me – 15-year-old Ryan Reed, an obvious track kid, was behind me the whole race, but dug into his reserves and passed me on the final stretch along Atlantic Avenue.  I, however, had no reserves.  I felt heavy and leaden; my legs felt like rubber; and I wanted it to be over.  I pushed as hard as I could, looking for anything – any burst of energy or extra gear or hidden strength to surge to the finish line.  But there was no surge to be had.  My third mile was a 6:13. 

A race that I would have won handily a year ago ended up being my slowest 5K in four years (when I came back from a six-month hiatus from an injury).  Instead of improving upon my Dover result, I blew it and ran a 19:18 - my second worst race of the last 10 years or so.

It was frustrating and heartbreaking (as well as tiring and painful).  And yet, there was my wonderful wife, Gloria, putting it all into perspective for me – reminding me that I had managed to come in third place overall; that the people that beat me were decades younger than I; and that this race was only part of my training, and not the finished product of my training regimen.  Most of all, while I was busy being hard on myself, she was proud of me for another race accomplishment.

So, there you have it.  I gave it my all.  My all is not what it was a year ago and will probably be even less than that a year from now.  And yet, I should be proud? 

Damn right, I should.  And I will be proud three weeks from now in Little Falls, knowing that, once again, I will bring my best game, whatever it may be, as a 45-year-old guy that has nothing left to prove.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Dover Renaissance 5K

At some point, it had to get done, and the longer I waited, the harder it would be.

I had not run a short race all year, so on the morning of Aug. 10 when I showed up in downtown Dover, I was nervous.  My friend, Gavin, later that afternoon, asked why I would be so nervous.  I was no stranger to 5Ks, plus I had been doing marathons, so three miles should be nothing.

Oh, if it were only that simple.  

I explained to him that the goal of short races is not to run it and finish, but to run fast.  And even though I had done dozens of them before, every race is different and each one comes with its own set of expectations.

For this race, the expectations were low, no question, but it was important to find out if I still had even a little shred of the speed and endurance I exhibited three years ago when I nailed my huge 17:38 PR.  At the go signal, I burst onto West Blackwell Street for a flat straightaway that lasted almost the entire first mile.  The cool morning air was already being burned off by the sun, which had come out and started blazing just before the start of the race.

The turn onto Salem Street sent us onto a bridge over railroad tracks, the course's only hill.  It was steep enough to cause some folks to slow down and it put me right back into the mindset of the old days (when I actually did hill training) - make the move and pass people on the hill.  I did so and, on the other side of the bridge, I hit the first mile mark with a 5:49 - my fastest mile since December!

But despite the flat terrain of Orem and Watson drives, Harrison and Wilson streets and Harding Avenue in the second mile, there was no keeping it up.  A 6:12 second mile was all I could muster.  

I was, however, in fifth place and closing in on the two guys ahead of me who were running side by side.  A big push in the final mile could get me third!

After powering up the hill again, I managed to get next to them on the straightaway back along West Blackwell Street even pulling ahead for a brief moment before falling back again.  

As I did so, the guy to my right - Matthew Rorigue - turned his head and let out a bunch of spit.  Come on, man.  Moments later, he did it again, showering my lower legs with his saliva.  What a jerk.  Barely able to breathe, let alone speak, I blurted, "Stop spitting on me!"

"Sorry," he said, but that is nonsense.  He saw me right next to him.  He had to know I was there.  What an inconsiderate jerk.

I was not next to him for much longer anyway because I was fading fast.  My third mile was a 6:13.  Matthew and the other guy, Patrick Neighbour (who squeaked past Matthew with a fraction of a second difference) went ahead and I rounding the corner into the finish line with a 19:03. (See the full results)

OK, so here are the cold, hard facts: The only other times in the past decade that I ran a 5K that took longer than 19 minutes were the windy 19-degree day in January 2018 and my first race after being sidelined for six months from back pain in June of 2015.  Despite being almost 45 years old and having run four marathons within seven months, that data hung over me pretty heavily.

But, thankfully, I had my wonderful wife, Gloria, right there on the sideline, pep talking me at the beginning, cheering me in to the end and reminding me afterward of all the things for which I should be proud (not the least of which being fifth place overall and tops in my age group!).  

She was right, of course - I should be proud.  I shook off the rust, ran the best race I could and, most importantly, got my feet back in the game for more short racing.  I am going to train hard for the next eight weeks and see what I can muster up for an October 5K.  Whatever happens, I know I continue to have my heart in my soles and to run like an antelope.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Post-marathon to 5K

Four marathons in seven months.

I have been running races for 13 years and this is the first time I have done that.  With the exception of the first of the four, they were not my best (or my worst, though), but it is still an achievement
of which I am incredibly proud.

There is, however, one huge downside to spending seven months simply logging miles - speed gets lost.  

So after one recovery week following the Mad Marathon, I made it my business to start getting back to the grind of speed training.  That meant returning to Hal Higdon's four-week Advanced Post-Marathon program, which re-introduces speed work into training with weekend tempo runs and mid-week mile intervals. 

I couched the mid-week mile intervals within seven-mile runs, taking the first, third, fifth and seventh miles slowly; and doing the second, fourth and sixth at as fast a pace I could muster.  The goal was to increase the speed of those fast miles each week.  The first week was encouraging as I was off to a good start with fast miles averaging 6:17.  But the second week saw no improvement.  Thankfully, in the third week I ran my first sub-6 mile of the year, but even then, the second two took such a sharp downward turn that my average ended up at 6:09.

During the previous few years, I was doing so much speed work that I could regularly pump out sub-6s.  Now, a little older, a bit more banged up, and a lot more out of practice, I could barely squeak out a 5:59.  In my defense, this was all happening in the blazing heat of the summer.  Trying to do tempo runs and long runs in 90-degree heat can wipe you out.  Yes, I ran 13 miles, up and over huge hills in Boonton, N.J., on the day it was 95 degrees and sunny.

The 5K I selected (with much help from Gloria) for the culmination of the training program was the 21st annual Dover Renaissance Run in Dover, N.J., on Aug. 10.  Luckily, it was the first relatively cool weekend in a while.  I was not going into it expecting much, but with a temperature in the mid-60s and low humidity, I was ready to give it all I had.  

Because that is what you do at the short races - you do not just run three miles.  You lay it all out there.