Monday, February 28, 2011

Tokyo Marathon 2011

The evening prior to the race Vin & I didn't really have much of a plan, more like a general inkling of when to get together and basically stuff ourselves full of carbs: this ultimately happened around 6pm on Saturday. In most every training schedule "carb loading" is renowned for its pre-race importance, and I can't argue with it otherwise. We both planned to call it an early night after watching Earth with the kids, and though I told Vin's oldest daughter that it was Darth Vader narrating, she refused to believe me on the basis of Darth Vader being just a character in a movie, and Earth was based in real life. That's solid logic, but the fact remains James Earl Jones is narrating that damn thing.

Before nighty-night time, Vin & I both opted to partake in pre-race お風呂 (ofuro), which is a wicked awesome Japanese style hot bath—OK, stop the snickering, the baths were at separate times—and that really went a long way to loosen the muscles, and just in general relax the mind the night before the big race. Though, I should comment on the two completely different attitudes that were taking place the night before: 1) Vin: yea, there's this thing we're doing tomorrow, maybe you heard of it, it's a marathon. No big deal. 2) Joe: Am I insane for even thinking about trying to attempt to take down this beast? Will I live only long enough to regret ever having tangoed with such a gigantic monster? Good-sweet-sweat-beaded-Christ beard, I'm doomed. And so, with those thoughts akin to visions of sugar plumbs dancing through our heads, we sought sleep.

5am, Vin wakes me up and we start "carb intaking", I want to be careful in the wording here since the night before we literally loaded our bellies with so much pasta & bread it was hard to move; cautious of how full we felt the night before, we didn't want to stuff ourselves past a humanly decent satiated threshold. Our departing time was 7am, so we had 2 hours to kill with nothing much beyond being awake that we needed to do. I think these 2 hours were very crucial to the mental state we left his apartment with. We played Minor Threat songs, joked around, debated the weather predictions from 5 different sources, and sipped on green tea. We basically did the same things we always do when we're together and get pumped up about doing something awesome: in an escalating fashion, we feed off of each others excitement until we're roaring juggernauts of kinetic energy. Perfect for a race day.

7am, we head for the station, which is conveniently on the backside of the apartment. Along the way other marathoners can be seen with their running shoes and clear plastic clothes bags that are sanctioned by the race officials to put your stuff in before the race starts. We picked up a friend along the way who followed us up until the Starbucks where we met people from Vin's running club, Namban Rengyo. We had a good hour or so to kill there, and the baggage despot was in sight across the street, so other than being crazy crowded with runners and an overflowing abundance of consternation from the usual patrons who just wanted latte, but instead were met with a packed parlor of people in various states of dress & undress, it was a perfect location to bide our time. I photo-bombed a few snapshots just for fun and sipped on a small cup of black coffee with faint images of Dale Cooper boasting "damn fine" in the back of my mind.

Twin Peaks Love

Minutes skipped by like Daniel Faraday's description of time travel physics by way of a needle playing on a scratched record, and the loudspeakers were threatening people that if they weren't on their starting blocks in 15 minutes they would be escorted to the end area behind all the runners. I still had to check my baggage, so this was the point I lost Vinnie. He was starting in block B and I was back in block E. We had a loose plan of staying on the left side, I would run fast and he would run slow, and at some point we would meet. It was a madhouse of people slowly shuffling to their starting positions. Though it was morning and cold, the good news was, with so many people around the bodies not only blocked the chilly breeze, but provided an adequate amount of heat. The bad news was, that black coffee I had back at Starbucks was ready to leave me. I followed an arrow that pointed in the general direction of sections C through K. When I got to the top of the ramp, the Freddy Krueger nightmare image of a person holding a sign designating the area I had spent so long shuffling towards as K slapped me in the face like razor fingers. I caught sight of another guy with an E on his number tag that was pushing up the sidelines, and immediately followed behind him. I know it seems like a lot to risk, putting my faith in the fact he knew where he was going, but I also had an ace up my sleeve in the chance he was wrong: since arriving in Japan I have had the good fortune of getting my way in various situations simply because I am gaijin. If, say, we ended up in the wrong block, I was just going to simply say, "I don't understand" repeatedly, and sooner or later they would either let me be, or escort me to the front of the line, which are consistently the only two outcomes that seem to happen in those scenarios: win-win!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Can say I finished a marathon, but can't say I ran one

So today was what Joe and I have been building up to: the Tokyo Marathon.

To recap how I've come into this race, runner's knee knocked me out of my running schedule around Christmas. At that point, I decided to take off from running to recover and ordered a stationary bike, just in case taking off didn't do it. A day or so before the bike arrived, I gave running a go, and things still weren't better.

So that forced me to choose between the lesser of two evils. The longer I stayed on the bike, the more likely my knee would be better, but the worse prepared I'd be for actually running in the marathon. On the other hand, if I tried to run before and screwed up my knee, that could have put me out of the marathon completely. So I ultimately decided that I would just stay on the bike until the marathon, while doing exercises and stretches the help with the runner's knee.

That also changed my whole perspective on the marathon. While training through December, I'd been watching my pace go down and down. Things were progressing so smoothly, I was getting hopeful for a 3:30:00 time or so. That inclination went out the window with my injury.

The plan became survival. I would just go out at a nice and easy pace and focus on getting through the race, rather than worrying about my time. Joe's plan was to run with me for the first half, chatting while running, but then pick it up on the second half. I figured I'd try to pick it up a bit for the last 10km if I was feeling good, but I didn't want to push my luck.

And that brings us right up to the marathon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ye Olde Haunts

Yesterday I was in a pretty unique position. It was the first cross training day of the taper week 1, the weather was decent—though slightly chilly—and I had errands to run; which really equates to giving me a reason to go out with Schwinny Cooper. So I took a leisurely foot to a half broken pedal and set out about the town. I immediately grew nostalgic for the streets I have spent so many cold winter weeks pounding & puffing through in the past 16 weeks. I rode through Oreland, my hometown, the town I've spent the majority of my life in, and then headed over to Flourtown—a favorite area for skating back in the day—and breezed back through Erdenheim, a place I had lived briefly in high school, until I circled back through North Hills, and found myself once again back in O-town. It was a good ride. My legs felt heavy at the hilliest points, but I chalk that up, like an outline of a body in a seedy motel parking lot, to the 12 mile LSD I had done the day before. While 12 miles isn't that big of a deal anymore, it still tires out the legs something fierce. When I got home I google mapped my ride to find something I probably should have realized long before now, but it just didn't hit me until that moment; my life, has been neatly contained in less than a 12 mile perimeter, that exists on the outskirts of Philadelphia. I could run 2 laps around the borders of existence as I know it, and that still would not be a full marathon. And here we are, by all accounts, about to break the boundaries.

Today was meant to be a rest day. If you look at the Higdon schedule for any given week, you'll see Mondays & Fridays are primarily rest days. Ah, sweet sweet Mondays & Fridays! But this isn't a normal week by any means: I leave for Japan in less than 24 hours. Part of what I like about the Higdon schedule is its flexibility. Higgy Stardust certainly knows that marathon training is not an easy undertaking, even for someone as seasoned as himself, it is time consuming, as well as physically & mentally draining (though, I must also say there is something exhilarating about pushing yourself farther than you've ever gone before, and finding there's a new, stronger, side of said self way out there). So, instead of resting, I swapped out tomorrow's 5 miler for today's rest day. This was my last run on US soil before the marathon; unless of course I find myself restless at 3am tonight, terrified of the flight ahead of me, and just go for a pre-dawn jog to settle my nerves. I couldn't have really asked for a better day though: it's 58°F, sunny, and just generally uplifting. I ran in shorts outside for the first time in months! That's always a sign of good weather. The only downside is that my Nike+ has already died on me. I don't know why, maybe it's not meant for marathon training, but if it doesn't hold up to constant running, who would really bother buying it? I'm also pretty certain the thing never kept accurate track of my distance, because google maps often gave entirely different estimates. It's kinda too late to do anything about it, so I'll probably just end up shelling out the yen for another one when I arrive in the land of the rising sun. But it's truly a bummer, especially when I face the unfamiliar streets of Nippon for my taper week 2 runs; I'll simply have no idea how far I've gone, unless I find a nice park to pounce, like Tigger, around in.

Also, I can attest, first hand, to the warnings that Hal Higdon repeatedly emphasizes in his 2 week taper schedule prior to the BIG race day: the drop in miles seems very significant, especially after 15 weeks of racking up the miles like Steve Wiebe racks up points for the high score in Donkey Kong, and one immediately begins trying to compensate, whether by running faster, or looking for that extra mile to squeeze in there somewhere along a route that is meant to be a low mile run. I hate it. I really feel like I'm cheating myself out of valuable training days, but I have to reason that Higdon knows what he's talking about, and he wouldn't steer me wrong at this point. Essentially my training is over at this point, what's left, after that 20 mile precipice, is a waiting game. So it's best to listen to Higdon. I'd rather not take unnecessary risks with just under 2 weeks left, which means listening to reason, as opposed to my gut reaction cranking out more miles. The idea now is to keep your muscles loose, give them a nice little respite before the shock and awe of 26.2 descends upon them like winged monkeys tearing the Scarecrow apart in The Wizard of Oz. Hold on to your ruby slippers boys & girls, we have a bit of a journey still ahead of us, and sure, while there's no place like home, home doesn't necessarily have to be a place to begin with, it can easily be a concept you keep close to heart.

Rhythm Method: Spoon "The Underdog"

"Spoon!" for me, was a battle cry in my halcyon teenage years. It was a humorous bit of poppycock that Saturday morning cartoons, like The Tick, showcased with droll non sequiturs so hilarious, to our ears (and impressionable minds), that we just had to filter them into our daily vernacular. Also worth noting, is the general good nature of the phrase itself, while most other utterances at the time were euphemistic in nature, "Spoon!" stands out as something so entirely innocent that its sincerity as pure unadulterated fun never comes into question.

What does any of that have to do with Spoon the band from Austin, Texas? Honestly, they both share a noun. I know, I seem to have pulled some Slumdog Millionaire three-card monte scenario on you all with this tenuous connection, but who's to say Britt Daniel didn't have The Tick in mind when he penned The Underdog (I realize the answer to that question is most likely Britt Daniel, but humor me here)? Most likely Mr. Daniel had the sardonic double-barreled two-fisted middle finger blast in the face of industry in mind when he wrote it, but what still comes across is a brazenly earnest approach to getting by from doing things your own way and succeeding without selling out your values. Whether it's the happy-go-lucky fighting of evil doers, or humming a ditty that never makes it past your own ears, we've all been underdogs from time to time, and the message remains clear: don't give up.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I've read innumerable accounts of how the 5 miles you run after that first 20 are the hardest, but I thought they were talking about while you're running the marathon, not 2 days later with a rest period in between. It was far too presumptuous of me to think it only applied to the race. Within the first few strides of today's 5 miler, I knew I was in for a challenge.

The main thing, besides immediate fatigue in my legs, which were obviously not ready to be put to work just yet after Sunday's 20 mile monster mash, that hindered today's run was the howling winds that seemed to kick me in the face at every turn on the road. It was quite the blustery day here at this pooh corner of the Hundred Acre Wood. Wind, especially the bitter cold variety, has a way of greedily tearing the air away from your face before you've had the chance to inhale a significant amount of O2 when you need it most, while running, which really wreaks havoc on the respiratory system, and all those other important systems that keeps a body going. It's not like I'm some cyborg from the year 3022, who can readily handle these conditions, I'm from now's time, and human no less, so I'm on my own when it comes to breathing an adequate amount to sustain life, which I enjoy doing, often, if not always.

I made it to the full 5, but I definitely struggled through much of the run. I trust Higdon. I've gotten this far based on his wisdom alone, and now that the longest training run is out of the way, the only thing between me and the marathon is two sweet sweet weeks of tapering. I know I'm still in crazy marathon mode when I look at this upcoming weekend's 12 mile run as relief, a treat even. I have one more week of good old USA earth beneath my feet before heading overseas to Japandyland to take on one heck of a beast of a long run, and whatever else life has in store. I started this whole running craze with Vincent jogging patiently at my side, and here's hoping his knee heals enough to take on this next big one with me as well. Hey OK, folks, we're in taper country now, there's no turning back, so we're marathon bound.

Down to my last saving throw

So (both of) our frequent readers may have noticed that I've been missing from this blog for a while. That largely comes down to two things: work (including the business surrounding switching jobs, which I recently did) and injury.

I was going to make a detailed post about all of the trials and tribulations of my injury, but let me just give you the short version. Based on my basic internet self-diagnosis, I seemed to have run into a case of good old runner's knee right around Christmas. That led me to take a few weeks off. When I tried running again, I was only able to get through about three miles before it started acting up. All my training has since been switched to a stationary bike that I bought, which doesn't bother the knee at all.

So here's the revised plan for the marathon... Continue training on the bike until close to the marathon. The week of, go out and feel out the road a bit. If the knee seems alright, give the marathon a go, with survival (not a good pace) being the mantra. That's my last saving throw for the Tokyo marathon. If I know it's not going to work out beforehand, I'll pass off the number to someone who can actually run it and maybe I'll ride around on my bike from point to point in the marathon to cheer on Joe (and get in some cross training to boot). If things are looking OK up to the marathon but the knee gets choppy during the marathon, I drop out at the first sign of trouble and turn towards my next race. Otherwise, I suppose I just might actually muddle my way through the whole darn thing.

Riding the bike feels like cake, so I've been making my bike sessions longer than my running sessions would be, assuming a slow 10-minute-per-mile pace. My shortest bike sessions are maybe 1:15:00, and I try to do them every day since I don't really feel like I need the off days. On Sunday, the day when Hal had us doing our longest 20-mile run, I sat on that bike for 3:50:00, which was actually the first time I ever felt sore on it. (I figured that 20 miles at a slow 10-minute-per-mile pace would have been 3:20:00, so I just added some more on top of that.)

And that's basically my revised pace for the marathon; rather than the 9-, 8-, or even 7-minute mile pace I was striving for previously, I've now been relegated to the middle of the bell curve (according to the data from last year, at least) with only a hope to even get a 10- or 11-minute mile pace. That puts my marathon time in a range from approximately 4:20:00 to 4:50:00. If I do pull that off, I suppose it's not horrendous, but it's much worse that I had hoped.

In any case, keep your fingers crossed...

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Perfect Day For Bananafish

I was stuck in a bit of a trance when I was approaching mile 19 today, but was immediately zapped out of it while passing a guy about to get in his car who asked me "Is this your second run today, or are you still going from earlier?". He was speaking directly to the plan I had approached the day with, because I was on a freshly mapped 4 mile loop system, so at any given interval within the past nearly 3 hours he could have seen me pass his house up to 5 times, this being the 5th. 

Anyway, this was my first interaction with a would-be spectator, and when I responded to his question with "I'm still going, just about to finish off 20 miles", the guy's face registered a look of such incredulous shock at my nonchalant utterance of that statement that one might assume his internal thought process was interpreting what I really said as "I am a cyborg from the year 3022. I am skipping through time collecting pivotal information that will eventually be used to finally overthrow the fascist hybrid canine rule of the planetary alliance of galactic star chasers. Do you sir, own a dog?"

I've seen that look time and time again, as non-runners, hearing someone confess their goal of getting to 26.2 in one long run, immediately look disgusted by the mere thought of it. But I've come to question something myself out of this look: is the disgust really with the runner, or is it with their own realization they're not doing anything active & healthy in their lives? I don't mean to sound conceited here, just throwing that idea out there, because along with that look of disgust inevitably comes a more guilty introspective downward glance at the ground, wondering, even if ever so briefly, how far they themselves could move along that same ground. Or maybe the thought of, "I no longer want to be in a conversation with crazy here anymore" is what's really going on. Either way, I certainly encourage all to run, but of course, at this point in my life I may be biased. 

It wasn't all that long ago that I gave Vincent that same look on a day when I picked him up at Trenton train station, and his first question to me when hoping in the car was, "Do you want to go for a run?". The hem & haw routine started almost immediately. I didn't want to run, but I was also extremely curious about what would happen if I started to—I was on the cross country team for exactly 2 weeks in high school. It took me exactly 1 week to realize I didn't want to be running long distances out in the winter weathered air, and exactly another week to decide I was right about my initial instinct on that first week. I quit— and though there's a lot more to that story, we'll gloss over it for another time, because, as you might might guess, the outcome of that fateful day is that I'm here typing this running blog 3 weeks away from my first marathon...

Let's get down to the nitty gritty shall we?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day

So, I've been forced to trek out as much as my training as permissible bunkered below ground in my aunt's basement while the rest of suburban Philadelphia has been glazed over day after day with a fresh coat of snow & ice. There is good news in the forecast however—well, not so much in a meteorological sense, but in a traditional one— since that lovable 125 year old li'l rascal Punxsutawney Phil has gone on record as noting we are in for an early spring.

He saw no shadow when emerging from his hog-cave this frigid wintery morning. I find the great irony in all of this is that if he's right, we only have 2 more weeks of egregious winter weather to make it through, but for me, with a 20 miler on the calendar for this weekend I need the spring break now, because in 2 weeks, I'll be 6,800 miles away and I don't know if Groundhog premonitions apply to international weather systems. I'm sure as I leave Pennsylvania, I'll take with me the knowledge that even if not scientifically accurate, at the very least, what I hear the Groundhog saying is "I know, I hate all this snow too, so let's be done with it already". He's a hog after my own heart.