Archive | March, 2011

My first — and probably last — massage

31 Mar

“Did you get a happy ending?”

That’s what everyone wants to know when I tell them I got a massage last week.  A happy ending?  I would have settled for a non-neurotic beginning.

After buying a $50 massage off Living Social months ago, I promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when they sent me an email telling me the offer would expire at the end of March.  Not one to wash money down the tube, I made an appointment at Hela Spa in Chevy Chase for last Friday.  I had to take a day off work since there were so few appointments available.

Now, there’s something you need to understand.  I’m not a massage guy.  Not that I don’t like massages, but for me it’s like chocolate:  I won’t say no to it, I’m just not going to actively seek it out.

So when I got to Hela Spa, I really didn’t know the protocol of receiving a massage.  Was there something I needed to do ahead of time?  Should I talk to the masseuse in advance?  I promised myself to temper the neuroticism and enjoy it.

Apparently, easier said than done.

I arrived at Hela Spa early and was led to a dark waiting room where soft music played over the speakers.  After a few minutes, Erika came out and introduced herself as my masseuse.  When I had originally made the appointment, they told me I would be with Antonio.

“Oh, um,” I awkwardly stammered, “can I have a woman instead?”

My friend Hiller swears by male masseuses, saying their hands are stronger and so you get a better massage.  But I figured if I was going to have a stranger’s hands on me for an hour, I’d rather they belong to a woman.  I may not be homophobic, but my sore muscles might be.

I wish I had been this relaxed

I wish I had been this relaxed

Erika was very soft-spoken.  She led me to the massage room and closed the door.  There was a second where it was quiet and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do something or say anything, so I no sooner did she close the door than I blurted out, “Do I take off my clothes now?”

She seemed a bit surprised and, I’d like to think, amused, and responded, “Why don’t we sit down and you tell me what you’d like first.”

This was the beginning of my internal conversation I had with myself even as I spoke to Erika.

Duh.  Way to go, dude, act like you’re with a prostitute.  Get it together.

I told her that I’m a “marathon runner” (Why did you say “marathon”, you idiot, wouldn’t “runner” have been enough?  You’ve only run two marathons, anyway) and so I’d like a sports massage.

She said she wasn’t a trained PT but would do the best she could and asked me to take off my clothes.  “All the way, even my underwear?” I asked.

(“All the way”?  What am I, 5 years old?)

The reason I said this was that I wanted to be perfectly clear.  What if I misunderstood her directive and she came back in, I was completely naked, and she screamed in horror?  That would, for lack of a better word, suck.

She informed me that it would be easier to work on my hips but added if I wasn’t comfortable it’d be fine.  No, I replied, that would be fine.

(You’re not at a nudist colony, she’s a professional, stop making this weird.)

She left the room and I got undressed quicker than a teenager in the 60s.

When I got to my feet, I stopped.  Should I take off my socks?  Or leave them on?  I wish I could explain my thought process better, but it went something like this: Taking socks off is a sign of intimacy and I’m not here to get my feet massaged.  I should leave them on to make Erika feel more comfortable.

I jumped under the covers, completely naked except for my black socks and waited for Erika to come back.  She walked in and said she’d start on my legs.

She took off the blanket from my left leg and paused.  I wish I had seen her face when she said to me, “I’m going to take your socks off now.”


Erika then proceeded to give me an amazing massage, working the legs, then the back, the shoulders, and, yes, even my feet (They do feet!  I had no idea).  I tried to relax, but of course I kept thinking of things throughout the entire massage, like:  I wonder if she likes me as a client.  Should I chit-chat with her?  Does she mind doing this?  I don’t think I could ever do this, my hands would get tired.  How much should I tip her?  Is $20 enough?

By the time she massaged my head at the end of the hour, I decided to tip her $30.  I hope that’s enough, I thought.

She finished promptly and told me to put my clothes back on.  She met me outside and asked how it felt.  “Great!” I said, hoping she didn’t mistake my enthusiasm for insincerity.

I settled my bill and left, my body relaxed while my mind raced.  I decided that while I do like massages, the stress on my mind was too taxing and I would probably not go back anytime soon.

Still, I hope she liked me.


Staying afloat

30 Mar

Maybe I won’t drown at the Nation’s Tri after all.

One week after my friend and swimming coach Double D told me there was “nothing natural” about the way I swim, I dove back into the Marie Reed swimming pool again last night.

I swam about 1000 meters.  No huge shakes, I’m sure, to other triathletes and even other runners.  But to me, that distance might as well have been a marathon.

Maybe it was my cool new swim cap that I picked up at the SunTrust National Marathon expo.  Maybe it was because there were several cute girls watching.  Or maybe it was the numerous YouTube videos on how to swim that I watched this past week.

Either way, I felt some major improvements from last week.  I was able to multi-task better, concentrating on several aspects of my technique without getting overwhelmed by any one component.

I envisioned my spine as a metal pole keeping my body straight.  I extended my arms in slow, long motions, swiveling my shoulders back and forth in a more fluid motion, which forced me to “point” my belly button closer to a 90-degree angle.  I kept my face down and my hips up.  And instead of lifting my head each time to breathe, I focused on counting four strokes and then breathing with my cheek resting on the surface of the water.

I didn’t get it right each time.  I broke form a lot.  But when it worked, it worked big time.  I felt myself flow through the water more effortlessly and even with some natural speed.  I even timed myself, swimming one 50-meter interval in less than 63 seconds without “trying” to swim fast.

Double D kept coaching me during each lap and said I made several improvements.  More importantly, he said, I was able to tell what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.

It’s still not natural.  It may never be.  But at least, this time, it was fun.

PRs for everyone at the SunTrust National Half!

28 Mar

One year after we ran the SunTrust National Marathon — our first 26.2 race ever — Epod, Heather, and I were back at RFK on Sunday to race the event again.  This time, though, we “only” did the half.

Eight months after they moved to Denver, Heather and her boyfriend D were back in DC to visit and run the National Half.  Their goals were to beat a certain time, maybe even get a PR.  My goal?  To run the whole race pain-free.

Also, to not fall while filming it:

Race week started with a couple of 5+-mile runs that felt great.  I had been icing and stretching and foam-rolling my right knee all week, determined not to fall apart at the end of the half on Saturday.  By Friday, I was feeling strong and confident as we went to the Stadium Armory for packet pickup.

There, I met a couple of giants in the racing world.  Kara Goucher, who’s running Boston next month and who seemed genuinely excited to meet me (celebrities sure seem taller in person):

And Dana Casanave, who last year raised thousands of dollars for an African charity by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks last year.  She gave a really inspirational speech and was super nice to random people approaching her and asking for photos (also, VERY tall):

On race eve, Epod, Heather, D, and I went to Pasta Mia for a carbo-loading dinner.  We consumed two bottles of wine, two baskets of bread, and four plates of enough pasta to feed a small village.  Seriously, we could have split one dish and I still would have eaten enough glycogen to get me through the race.  But since I’m not a quitter, I ate way too much and followed dinner up with a few beers at a buddy’s BBQ that evening (not the way to get a PR, by the way).

I had trouble sleeping and woke up at 4:30am on Saturday groggy and bleary-eyed.  I picked up Kate and we all drove to the madness that was RFK, where no one knew anything about parking or where to go but where we luckily found a spot on East Capitol that a cop implied would “probably” be OK to park in.

We hung out and stretched for a while inside Stadium Armory (and admired the hell out of Kate’s awesome running tights) before we headed out to the cold to start the race.

My goal, like I said, really was to just run pain-free.  For the first time in a while, I had no number in my head when it came to a time goal, so it felt sort of liberating not to worry about a quantifiable target.  I knew that if I ran too hard and aggravated my IT band, I would be pissed at myself.  And I knew I couldn’t break my PR of 1:54:44 so I decided to just have fun.

This goal was further cemented by the fact that there would be a huge hill around mile 7 that would wipe me out if I didn’t conserve enough energy.  Running up Connecticut and Columbia avenues is not the most fun aspect of running; luckily, there is so much support from Dupont to Adams Morgan that the time flies by.

Race support matters so much it’s almost surprising.  Random strangers cheering you on just makes you happier and you (subconsciously, at least) run better hearing their cheers.

I also had several friends who came out to watch:  MJ at mile 4 on Constitution Ave, and Ryan and Nicole both at mile 7-ish on Columbia.  I like to stop and say hi when I see friends but they seem to think I’m in a hurry or something and often make me keep going.  How about a breather, come on!

By mile 9, I was dragging and it was all too easy to walk a bit longer during water breaks.  But at mile 9.3, just as I was about to eat my second serving of shot blocks, I felt a hard slap on my ass as a runner flew by, her blonde ponytail swinging side-to-side.  “Fuck!” I yelled as I realized Epod, who had taken an early 3-minute port-a-pottie break, had caught up and passed me.

No time for shot blocks, I thought, my competitive juices flowing.  I cannot let her beat me.  I picked up the pace and started to trail her in the hopes of reeling her in.

Yet step after step, I could not catch her.  Her stride looked effortless and I knew she was running a special race.  Passing her would just be a dick move, I thought, even if I could catch up to her.  By mile 12.5, when I knew my knee would be OK, I finally ran faster and caught her.

We ran the rest of the way together, with Epod showing a surprising kick that left me in the dust the last few yards.  We ran the last mile or so at an 8:45 pace and finished with the same chip time of 2:08:38.

It was my third slowest half marathon time but one of my most enjoyable.  It was Epod’s PI-PR (post-injury personal record), which gave her a runner’s high the rest of the day.

We got through the clusterfuck of the finish line and food tent and met up with D and Heather, who ran a PR of 1:42:04 (maybe a slight hangover is good for running).  We also saw MJ, who I know wished she had been able to run it with us.

We warmed up inside the Armory and then went back out to cheer on Kate, who was running her first full marathon.  We saw her just as she crossed the finish line in 3:27:56 and had so much energy she was reportedly dancing at mile 16.

Kate invited us to her place for  a post-race brunch.  One of the great benefits of running is how tasty food is after a long race.  We scarffed down cookies, quiche, fruit, banana bread, and mimosas like it was going out of style.

When we got home that afternoon, Epod and I fell asleep and snoozed for I don’t know how many hours before waking up around 6pm.  It was a great race day, one I won’t forget anytime soon.

Next race?  Cherry Blossom 10-miler this Sunday!

Everyone remembers his first time

24 Mar

Earlier this week, I was emailing with my friend/running buddy MJ and told her how notable it was that this weekend, while I’m running the SunTrust National Half Marathon, will mark one year since she, Epod, and Heather all ran out first marathon at the same event.

She quickly informed me that last year it was held the weekend before so that day had passed.

Oh.  In that case, I told her, “Happy anniversary!”

One year ago we ran what I would have never thought I could do.  When I first started running, I would go for a mile on the treadmill at 5 mph and then get off and think, “Well, that was far.”  Then I ran an 8K and thought, holy shit, that was a ridiculous distance.  Then I ran my first half marathon and thought, how could anyone go even one step further than that?

The truth is, anyone can accomplish anything.  It’s only in the shadow of inexperience that we cower from our goals.  My dad, who last August couldn’t walk after surgery on his foot and had become overweight in his 60s?  Ran his first half marathon in January and crossed the finish line beaming like a 5-year-old.

My sister, who would only get off the couch to get more soda, was inspired by my and my brother’s love of running and ran her first 5K a couple of months after watching us run a half marathon together.

So on Saturday, even though I will be running “only” the National Half Marathon and not the full, I’ll still remember my first marathon and be reminded by how far I’ve come since September 2008, when the treadmill felt like a torture device.

It will be my 39th race.  And when I’m done, I will stay at the finish line to cheer on all the marathon finishers.  And think back to my own first time.  And wish myself a happy anniversary.

NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon recap

22 Mar

No, you haven’t time traveled to the past.  Well, maybe you did, in which case, let me know how you did it.  I’m posting my video recap of the NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon from January since now I have a blog.

This race was my worst half marathon time ever — 2:17:58 (10:32) — thanks to some excruciating IT band pain that started around mile 8.  I received a cortisone shot just one week before the race but, apparently, it didn’t take.  Still, it was an outstanding event, got to run around Central Park, and I loved the die-hard attitude of so many dedicated New York runners.

Also, this is the first video I ever created.  So don’t be a dick:

Triathlon training has (unofficially) begun

21 Mar

Marie Reed Swimming Pool

“There’s nothing natural about the way you swim.”

With those words of wisdom, Double D finished his first 90-minute lesson with me in the swimming pool.  And that assessment didn’t exactly mean I was ready to challenge Michael Phelps anytime soon.

I have never been a strong swimmer.  I mean, I can stay afloat and have even navigated out of a couple of of riptides, but in signing up for the Nation’s Triathlon in September, my first three-part race, I knew swimming would easily be my weakest link.

Double D, who’s a friggin’ dolphin in the water, is a former water polo player and my swimming teammate in June’s Charlottesville Tri (team name:  Tripartisan Support).  He offered to help me learn some swimming techniques and has been trying to get me in the water for awhile.

swimming“I’ve got plenty of time!” I thought, pushing back his invites.  But finally, I decided to go this evening.  And what a wake-up call it was.

My breathing was inconsistent.  The 25-meter lanes seemed endless.  My “splashy” strokes made me look like a dying walrus out there.  Double D instructed me patiently, though, giving me several different exercises to try, such as freestyle, backstroke, frog-leg kicks, and some weird eel-like move that made me swallow half the pool.

All around me, swimmers glided through the water effortlessly.  I’m sure I sounded like a whiner as I complained to Double D about a variety of things:  when to breathe, how to move my arms, my inability to keep a straight axis, blah blah blah shut up.  Even when I did swim somewhat correctly, going two laps — 50 meters — was so difficult my form would break and I’d struggle.

If there’s one positive, though, it’s that I’ve realized how much work I need early.  So I’ll be hitting the pool at least once a week as I balance running and strength training.  I will soon have to map out a training plan that also incorporates cycling — not just for the Nation’s Tri but for my leg of the team tri in two months.

I hope I don’t drown by then.

Toy cars

16 Mar

During a short break of a long meeting, I took this shot out of an 11th floor building in Silver Spring, MD.

Toy cars

Wish I was running down there.

Long run and a Double-Double with fries

11 Mar

Even though I took two calls during the run from my parents (hey, someone’s got to play point man to my cousin’s wedding), Epod and I had a great run along a “jogging trail” while in Santa Clara this morning.  Had some knee pain at the end, but knocked out a nice-and-easy 8.62 miles in 1:29:24.

Look at my hair!

This was followed, of course, by a Double-Double with fries at In-n-Out!


I could climb those hills

10 Mar

Flying over the Sierras on my way to San Jose for my cousin’s wedding… And hopefully a nice long run this weekend.

Spartacus Fartacus

7 Mar

When my friend Ryan invited me to try a new cardio/lifting routine called Spartacus, I took one look at the 40-seconds-on/20-seconds-off program and scoffed at him, “I don’t need cardio, I run.”

But after he further explained how it worked and I looked at some of the actual exercises (“stations”), I decided to give it a try.  Ryan even offered to do the circuits with me so we met tonight at his gym for what I expected would be an easy workout day.

To complement this “easy” day, I decided to run a few miles, just to make sure I got a decent workout.  I went for a recovery run (after Saturday’s 11-miler) through Rock Creek Park and around Woodley Park, which had more hills than expected.

I got to Ryan’s place and we went to the gym to start.  He demonstrated each station and told me there wouldn’t be time to explain it while we were doing them.  Whatever. We would do two circuits with four run-throughs of five stations each, he explained.  Forty seconds per station, followed by 20 seconds of rest.  Mentally, I broke it down to a sports analogy, visualizing it as a double-header with four quarters each game.

Piece of cake.

We finally started Spartacus Fartacus, as I kept calling it with mild disdain, and I felt it was pretty easy.  I barely felt anything, really.

After a few stations, though, I started to work up a bit of a sweat.  Still, I credited it to my pre-workout run.

But after a few more stations, I wanted to vomit.

Each exercise felt more and more brutal and Ryan’s enthusiasm and encouragement just felt like sinister mocking.  He’s pure evil, I thought.  I kept sweating, cursing, and counting down the minutes until I could stop.

But no matter how hard it got, I thought, THIS is what I needed.  A good, solid workout.

Forty-five minutes later, we completed Sparatcus, sweatier than ever and panting like I had just run a 5K.

You can bet I’ll be doing it again.  Only this time, with a bit more humility.