Sunday, February 25, 2018

My own personal 5K #2 - Feb. 18, 2018


The email came on Saturday, before the snow even fell, that the fourth and final race of the Passaic County Technical Institute 5K series had been postponed until March 11.

Not only was I looking forward to getting the damn thing over with and never committing to a race series again, but the new date clashed with my own personal schedule.  This would mean that, in the end, I will have spent $100 on three small races on a difficult course that was incorrectly measured and I will have little to show for it because I will miss the finale.

Never one to waste valuable training, I did my own personal 5K again on Sunday, just as I had last month when the bitter cold shut down my intended post-marathon 5K.

Perhaps I can blame it on the strong wind or the steadily inclining point-to-point course I laid out, but it ended up being relatively bad anyway.  And it is probably my own fault for being way too inside my head, with my heart never really into it, no matter how much I convinced myself I was pushing with all my might.

The first mile had the biggest hill, so I surprised myself with a 5:56.  I thought I was keeping my leg turnover consistent, so the 6:11 of the second mile was a bit upsetting.  With only one more mile to go along the steady incline of River Road in Parsippany, I could not seem to pick up the momentum at all, as I hit mile three with another 6:11, finishing out the 3.1-mile course with 18:57 as my final time.  Not exactly the kind of result for which I was training.

On the other hand, perhaps my mind was not really in the game because I am simultaneously training for a March half-marathon, so this "race" was actually the first three miles of a 15-mile long run; and the last thing I wanted was to be burned out with 12 more miles to go.  I managed to do those next 12 miles at a pace in the mid-7s, which bodes well for my long game.

And then...


Just when I had made my peace with my freedom from the race series, another email came Monday  morning - the race was re-re-scheduled for March 4.  A date on which I am completely available.  Which means this thing is not over yet...and I have to do two more weeks of speed training. 

My whole lower half hurts thinking about it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

PCTI Winter 5K Series Race 3 - Feb. 3, 2018

Keeping race-winner Rob Albano's "tactical" description in mind, I had to be sure not to overdo it with the speed work. But repeating the last two weeks of Hal Higdon's Advance 5K training program, in the time between each of the four races in the PCTI winter series meant a day of eight 400-meter repeats, two tempo runs (45 minutes and 30 minutes) and quick six 200-meter repeats.

Of course, "overdoing it" is relative.  My 400s have been good, averaging in the low 1:20s; and my 200s have been OK, averaging around 40 seconds. No matter how hard I pushed on my tempo runs, though, I could barely get under a 6:00 pace, even for a few minutes.  That recurring and nagging problem with my glutes and piriformis kept me from really opening up.  My glutes are still in a constant state of soreness and a new pain in the back of my leg (my hamstring, probably) has been another source of recurring grief.

Since there was only one week between races #2 and #3, I was happy that it meant I had two taper weeks in a row (the 6x200 and the 30-minute tempo, plus two easy three-milers). 

My first mile in this third in the series was a mess mentally - Why am I out in front, with Rob Albano behind me? And damn, did I gain more weight (because I can feel my belly jiggling)?

I thought maybe Rob was messing with me, letting me taste the lead before nabbing it from me, but I later found out that he was taking it easy after having run a race the previous day.  Sheesh, and here I was complaining about having run a race last week.  And yes, I have gained five (or ten) pounds.

I was able to hang with Ryan Savercool until the first mile marker (5:50) before he broke away, with Rob passing me by to run alongside him. The gap continued to widen as they sped up and I slowed down. As with Race #1, pushing up that first hill took too much out of me, so by the time I hit the second mile (6:04 on my watch, but a little more on the too-long course), I was already grunting and gasping...and the gasping hurt because the air was so chilly.  

The long incline of Kattak Parkway seemed to suck whatever energy I had left, so the final steep descent into the last loop around the school was a relief, even though everything hurt and I simply could not get full extension from my legs. The rest of the third mile (6:05) was merely on fumes and my hard, mad dash to the finish line for the last two-tenths of a mile (still one tenth too long) took everything I had left. 

That allowed me to finish with an official time of 18:56 (third place again), though my real 5K time would have been closer to 18:26, coming in with a 5:59 pace.  I may be getting older and slower, but I am still sneaking in under a 6:00 pace.  Not only that, but everyone else in the top five each week has been younger than I (though Walter Hass was noticeably absent this week).

Unless something goes horribly wrong with me or unbelievably right with fourth placer Anthony Bertollo, I might have a lock on third place overall in this (admittedly very small) series.

Monday, January 29, 2018

PCTI Winter Series 5K, Race 2 - Jan. 28, 2018

How does one train for a race series?  

Though I have done a few back-to-back races, a series of four is new territory for me, so I have been trying to figure out how best to train. I asked the great Rob Albano (current and eventual winner of this series...and every other race he runs) and he said to think of the races as "tactical"; to regard them as "challenging workouts" rather than events for which to be in tip-top shape.  

But since I only do challenging workouts in order to get into tip-top shape for races, I still felt stuck.  However, I liked the word "tactical," so that got me thinking - what if I simply used the last two weeks of the Hal Higdon Advanced 5K training program and kept repeating them.  That would give me a peak week and a taper week before the first two and fourth races, and a single taper week before the third.

It was a rainy Sunday morning, but at least it was warmer than last time (low 40s), so once we got going, blasting off for that downhill, it did not take long to warm up, despite wearing shorts and a thin polyester long sleeve shirt. Naturally, Rob Albano darted out to the front, doing his insane 4:55 pace (you call that "tactical", Rob?), but this time three young guys formed a little pack in front of me.

After the first big uphill, and as we made our way to the first mile mark on Kattak Parkway, 15-year-old Anthony Bertollo (the fourth placer from last time) started to flag, so I overtook him as I hit the first mile mark (according to my Garmin) in 5:52, though the marker was up farther and clocked me in at 5:59.  Ross Mistretta, the race director had moved up the turnaround point to shorten the too-long course from last week, but he did not move it far enough.

Around the main Passaic County Technical Institute a second time, there was a slighter incline, but it still required some work and it was there that I started to make my move on 18-year-old Walter Hass (the fifth placer last time). As we rounded the corner, Ross was standing there and said to me, "Go get those young guys!"

So I did.  I closed the gap as we approached the second mile mark (6:01 on my watch) and, for the next uphill, near the police academy, I passed Walter and chugged along - never looking back, but always expecting him to be at my heels (though he was not).  However, I was also far from the heels of the second-placer (26 years old) Ryan Savercool and there was no catching him.

Finally cresting that last incline on Kattak and pushing into the downhill for the third time around the building, I focused on my leg turnover, taking big strides. I was starting to lose control of my breathing and my tummy started feeling the nausea of pushing too hard for too long, but I had picked the pace up to a 5:55 for the third mile (hitting it on my watch long before the marker) and threw everything I had into the final sprint, which ended up being two tenths of a mile, instead of one tenth.

My watch hit 3.1 at 18:28, and I hit the finish mat at 18:56, securing third place again. 

Having done more speed work and more hill training in the past two weeks - combined with the better weather - I managed to push my pace down by around seven seconds.  With the next race only one week away, instead of two, I will do the short bursts of speed work and take the extra rest days of the final-week taper, and hope I can keep up a consistent sub-6 pace for the remainder of the series.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

PCTI Winter Series 5K, Race 1 - Jan. 14, 2018

" the course is a little long..." said Ross Mistretta, the organizer of the small PCTI Winter Series, as he explained the course turns before the race.

Wait, what?  Did I just not pay $100 to run a series of four USATF-certified 5Ks?  What do you mean the course is a little long?

It was 19 degrees, a little windy and the course was clearly going to be quite a bastard with its tough hills and twists and turns.  The last thing I needed was there to be more of it.

There were about 40 people at Passaic County Technical Institute this morning; and, aside from the always amazing Rob Albano, whom everyone knew would be the obvious winner, nobody seemed truly jazzed to be there.

Yet there we all were, about to run this difficult (and "little long") course for the first of four times.  Apparently, this is the first time in a few years that this series has been held, so Rob seemed especially happy for it to be back.  Me, I have never done a race series before, so this would be a new experience for me.

At the "go" command, we ran downhill and around the main PCTI building for a full loop, passing where we started (so, you know, going back uphill) and onto Kattak Road, which continued to be an incline. During this first mile, I settled into third place, but quickly overtook the man in front of me for a brief time in second place. 

The first half of the PCTI Winter Series course

We turned around just before reaching Oldham Road and, as I approached the first mile marker with an exhausting 6:09, but not before I heard footsteps coming up behind me quickly.  I thought the guy I passed was ratcheting it up, but instead it was someone different and there was no overtaking him.  His stride was long, his turnover was measured and his speed could not be matched by the likes of me.

I was already feeling gassed, so heading downhill and around the main building again (the opposite direction) was a boost.  But it was back uphill again as we rounded one parking lot and then ran through another, cutting through the police academy area before making our way toward the northern entrance, back at the top of Kattak Road.  I do not know what my second mile was, but it was damn slow, I can tell you that.

The second half of the PCTI Winter Series 5K course

Pushing again and trying to use that downhill for all it was worth as we rounded the main building a third time, and, finally, to the finish in front of the building, I maintained my third place standing, but the second place guy made sure it was distant. A finish time of 19:41 would have been extremely disappointing if not for the fact that it was freezing cold and the course was, according to Gloria's Garmin, approximately 3.2 miles long.  That means my real time was probably closer to 19:04. All things considered, I can live with that.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

My own personal 5K - Jan. 7, 2018

As with my previous marathons, I used Hal Higdon's Post-Marathon training program to recover, reset and re-train.  The intermediate version is five week plan includes some speed work, in order to get the short game back on track, and ends with a 5K race.

Training didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked.  It seems I must have peaked last year because the speed was not coming back this time around.  I struggled on my mile repeats, pushing as hard as I could and only coming up with 6:10-ish miles, and I barely had the stamina to run at peak sub-6 pace for the 10 to 15 minutes in the middle of my tempo runs.  And when I finished each of these runs, and my long runs, too, I was aching in my legs and, especially, my buttocks.  

Nevertheless, I picked out a tiny no-frills trail race in Freehold to run on Sunday, but I found out last week that it was cancelled because there was still too much snow on the ground from the recent storm.  Desperate for another race to run (because, dammit, I trained), I was alerted to the NYC Runs five-mile race in Central Park.  So I go to the website to register and...cancelled due to the extreme cold.

OK, it was 12 degrees on Sunday morning.  Maybe it was too cold to race after all.

But, I repeat, I trained.  And I trained hard. Even if the results were less than desirable, I put in the work (in the freezing cold!), and I wanted the payoff.

So I strapped on the ol' Garmin, put on my most lightweight winter gear and ran my own damn 5K here in Parsippany.  On the plus side, the course I ran near my apartment was mostly flat, save for one annoying incline (not even a hill, really). On the negative side, with no other people and no race atmosphere, it was hard to get into the mental state of racing.

Nonetheless, I gave it all I had and blasted out the first mile at a surprising 5:50.  My first thought was, I'll never sustain that, but I almost did, clocking the second mile at 5:54.  

By that point, the cold was affecting me - not on the outside, but in my lungs and heart.  It felt like I was breathing glass and my heart was pounding.  

It's a race, I kept telling myself.  It's a race.

And in a race, you push on, despite the pain and that voice in your head that tries to convince you that there is no shame in slowing down.  

I did slow down a little, but still managed a 5:58 for the last mile, finishing up the 3.11 miles with an 18:21 finish time.  Not bad, all things considered. It took a frighteningly long time for my heart rate to finally stabilize and for me to fully catch my breath, but it was all well worth it for my fifth best 5K time ever.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Phish at Madison Square Garden, Dec. 31, 2017

At some point, in the middle of the third set of last night's New Year's Eve Phish show in New York, I turned to my wife, Gloria, and declared, "No other band in the world does this. No. Other. Band."  Anyone who experienced the sea of twinkling lights in the audience and the pirate flag and sail on stage last night (or, really, any NYE Phish show) would say the same.

My 15th Phish show of 2017, my sixth New Year's Phish show and my 144th Phish show overall. After 24 years, this band continues to astound, amaze and, most of all, entertain.

New Year's Eve shows are also tough tickets to get, but thanks to John and Meredith, our good friends in both Phish and running, we obtained tickets.  Both the sound and the view from section 224 were excellent, though we did feel a bit crowded and cramped.  And hot.  Boy, did we sweat on this cold, single-digit temperature night.

How could we not? With the rock coming fast and hard, "Carini", "Suzy Greenberg", "My Friend, My Friend", "Fluffhead", a particularly raging "46 Days", a rip-roaring "Maze", and a huge climax in the set-ending "Character Zero", the party got off to a fantastic start.  A well-executed "Reba" and a less-well executed "Poor Heart" kept things fun, if not a bit retro - that set list could have easily been from 12/31/2002.

The second set started with a relatively-brief "Possum" which gave way to a mostly standard, but still rousing "Fuego" before "Gotta Jibboo" brought the first epic jam of the night. After several minutes of funk for our dancing pleasure, Trey modulated the key and sent the jam into a full-on 3.0 standard bliss jam before managing to bring it back to the original key and groove for the ending. "Golgi Apparatus" got off to a shaky start, but recovered; and "What's the Use" brought its usual beauty in those ascending notes while Chris Kuroda continued to outdo himself with the lights.  The set ended with a classic "You Enjoy Myself" - complete with trampolines, bass-and-drums segment, and vocal jam - which saw Phish doing everything Phish does at its best.

Kind of looks like a doughnut

Everyone in the arena was given wristbands at the beginning of the show.  We figured the wristbands would light up and make things look neat for the webcast, and the brief test during set break, during which everyone's wristbands flashed in multiple colors for mere seconds caused a roar from the crowd. Clues from the band's email and t-shirt and poster images seemed to point to some kind of spaceship theme.

The wristbands

But when the music started (Trey's song, "Soul Planet") and a giant sail was set up on the stage, complete with a jolly roger pirate flag (which, of course, included the Phish logo), we all realized we had the wrong kind of ship in mind.  The stage had been transformed into a giant pirate ship, complete with cannons blasting confetti, and we, the fans, were the sea, as Kuroda controlled the wristband lights in waves of blue and green.  And as crew hands on deck (some suspended from the sail's rigging) turned the giant sail, the waves of light followed.  It was a masterpiece of lighting and stage design, a thing of beauty.

Throughout the song, and the set, the entire audience became part of the light show, and after the countdown to the New Year, the band played "Auld Lang Syne" as the myriad blue and white balloons dropped from the ceiling, along with confetti and streamers. "Free" continued the set and, with its reference to how "the ship goes sliding by", it was clear this would be a nautically themed set.  Sure enough "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing", "The Moma Dance", "Prince Caspian" and "Wading in the Velvet Sea" followed, and though the set list was predictable, it was by no means any less exciting.  "ASIHTOS" was especially powerful; dare I say, the third best version I have heard (next to 6/19/2004 and 7/30/2017).

Finishing the set with "First Tube", Trey threw everything he had into it - the energy was thick in the room as he crashed into those E-minor and A-minor breaks before bursting into the A-major jam as Chris let loose and went completely bananaballs with the lights on the stage, on the ceiling and on our wrists.  It not only looked and sounded phenomenal, but it felt amazing, too.  Only music, and the communal sharing of it, can bring that kind of elation.

The "Loving Cup" encore put a button on the night and we all left Madison Square Garden as happy campers, knowing that we rang in the new year in a way that no one else could have understood; and that we sailed our ship into 2018 with our souls filled with joy and wristbands that continued to flash right through to when we walked in the door of our apartment at around 2:30 a.m.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Phish at Madison Square Garden, Dec. 30, 2017

Ah, Dec. 30.  The date on which I have seen Phish more than any other.  

It was the date of their first Madison Square Garden show ever (12/30/94) and subsequently, returned for 10 more shows at that venue on that date. Of those, I was at eight.  Plus, there was the New Year's shows at Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in Florida on 12/30 and 12/31/99.

So, yes, Dec. 30 is special to me, and Phish once again lived up to my expectations by opening the show with a classic '90s "Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove", complete with the super old-school ending in "Mike's".  I had not seen a "Mike's" opener since 6/16/2012 in Atlantic City. 

OK, so Trey bungled "Hydrogen" a little, but contrary to what '90s purists think, he bungled it a lot back then, too.  He also played it a lot more often back then, so if he blew one or two of them, there were several more that were good.  In 2017, it was the only one.  

Keeping it old-school for a while, not only did the band launch into "Tweezer", but after an incredible jam that had Chris Kuroda doing absolutely stunning visuals with the lights (which were everywhere - on the ceiling, around the sides, in the front, in the back), the song ended with the long-abandoned coda in which the main riff returns (sort of) and the song slows to a halt.  Only this time, the last note ended with Fishman singing his 2016 masterpiece "Ass Handed".  "Kill Devil Falls" reminded us again that 3.0 is just as good as 1.0, but the "Bathtub Gin" that followed was yet another stand-out (with more CK goodness on the lights).

The set could have ended there and I would have been happy, but instead we saw the return of "Brother" (a big early '90s song that only saw six plays in 3.0) - slow and weird; and oddly funky for its 3/4 meter, allowing Page to lay down some interesting grooves on the clavinet. This was followed by "More", the 2016 set-ender powerhouse that made jelly of us all with its positive vibe, happy chord progression and knockout solo at the end.

Damn, that was just set one!  Am I gushing too much?  

It is probably as common and cliche for a second set to open with "Down With Disease" as the first set to open with "AC/DC Bag", but the former is always much more welcome because "Disease" jams can be marvelous things.  This one had everything - over the course of almost a half-hour, it went from energetic to mellow to textured to dark and noisy, and finally culminated with a happy bliss jam (naturally). The fact that one of my favorite 3.0 songs, "Steam" followed was icing on this already tasty, tasty cake.  At the end, the jam got spacey in the best, most literal way possible - the sounds and lights made me feel like we were in a spaceship that was about to blast off.

The sound quality is bad, but you get the idea.

"Light" was probably good, but I was too distracted by the bros in front of me smoking an enormous blunt, with their stinky smoke being blown directly into my face for what seemed to be an eternity, and "Farmhouse" was so mellow that the set seemed to be in danger of falling apart.  Good thing "Run Like an Antelope" was there to save it and finish it off with an enormous climax. 

The "Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise" encore topped the show off perfectly and no one could have possibly gone home dissatisfied.  The only question now is, what could possibly be in store for New Year's Eve?