Cyclography might just be too hazardous

5 Apr

I took a “sick day” yesterday because after several long hours and days and weeks at work, I needed a personal day to decompress.

My plan to laze away on the couch and watch baseball all day (thanks, Comcast MLB package!) was thwarted, though, by the guilt I felt when I looked outside and saw a sunny, 75-degree day.  Seriously, it was the best day of the year so far, an absolutely perfect day to be outside doing something fun.

Since I had run Cherry Blossom on Sunday and knew better than to run the day after a 10-mile race (see?  I’m learning!), I decided to take my bike out for a spin.

I’m so happy I did.

Heather and D? Cyclists in love

I started out nice and easy, biking down Rock Creek and veering on to Canal Street, stopping to take some photos and enjoy the sun and the views of the Potomac.  Then I got on to Capital Crescent Trail without any real plan of how far I should go.

I knew I wanted to do a long bike ride since I was in no hurry to get back but I thought I should probably only go 15 miles max.  It had been awhile since I had biked regularly and didn’t want to do anything stupid.

Speaking of stupid…taking photos while cycling?  Not the easiest thing to do.  I liked the results of my Hispatamtic experiment at the Cherry Blossom race, so I figured I’d go with that photo app again.

But balancing yourself using one hand and shooting from the hip while traveling at more than 15 mph is downright dangerous.  There’s a reason I’m a runographer and not a cyclographer.

Don't fall off...don't fall off...don't fall off...

The first few miles were tough, probably due to the wind and my lack of muscle memory on the bike.  I struggled to get any real speed and wondered after 5 or 6 miles if I should cut the ride short.

But then, just like when you’re running and something clicks, I started to feel good.  I pedaled faster and more efficiently and the sweat and heavy breathing became more manageable.  I reached Bethesda after about 10+ miles and turned around.

The way back was even better.

I was churning faster and faster and in my 15th mile, was really moving.  I looked at my watch and saw a pace of 2:58, which I calculated to be more than 20 mph!  Since I’ve never run that fast, obviously, and had never biked at this pace, I realized I was propelling myself faster than I had ever gone.  I biked that mile at a 3:07 pace, and paced 10 of my 20+ miles under 4:00 (over 15 mph).  I know I was going slightly downhill but I didn’t care, I felt like I was willing myself to move that fast!

At least I stopped for this shot

I kept going at a solid clip and made it back home at exactly 20.5 miles, having averaged 14.3 mph for the whole ride.

I felt great but, more importantly, confident that I’d be able to hold my own at the Charlottesville International Trtiathlon in June.

As long as I don’t try to take any photos during the race.

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Groundhog Day at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

4 Apr

When I first ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in 2009, I posted a time of 1:29:47.

That race was a pivotal moment for me since, at the time, it was the longest distance I had ever run and the first time I had ever run under a 9-minute pace.

History, it seems, has a way of repeating itself.

After not running it last year, I raced Cherry Blossom again yesterday and posted — yes, you guessed it —  exactly 1:29:47.

What are the odds?

Not one second off from my previous time.  What are the odds that that could happen?  I don’t think I could have hit that if I had tried to match the same time.

I didn’t go into the race thinking I would beat my course PR.  In fact, I had the same attitude I carried into the SunTrust Half last week and just wanted to enjoy myself and not have any ITBS pain.

Epod and I woke up at 5:30 AM and took the Metro down to the Mall.  I felt very excited to run the race again after missing last year’s to go to my best friend’s bachelor party (I gave my bib to a buddy) and had memories of my 2009 race, the run that changed the way I even thought about running.

Epod putting on her bib while we wait for the Metro

Ready to go

That was the race that made me feel like a real runner.  I had such a tremendous runner’s high that lasted days if not weeks that it probably led to my original ITB pain from overuse.  For days, I couldn’t not run.  I was out on the roads every day, pushing too hard, not being smart, and chasing that elusive high.  After a couple of weeks of increased workload, I felt pain in my left knee and realized I had aggravated my IT band.

Many miles later, I learned my lesson.  And yesterday was my reward.

I ran the beginning of the race extra slow, pacing the first 2 miles in a very easy 20:15.  Epod and I ran together for the most part, chatting and doing some fun people-watching.

Outta my way!

Corralled

But after crossing back into DC on the Memorial Bridge, I felt great and pushed my speed into the low 8:20s and 8:30s over the next 7 miles.

As each mile came and went, I knew I had a shot at beating my course PR and decided if I was pain-free and felt good, I would go for it.

View of Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial from Arlington

Cherry Blossoms at Hains Point

At mile 9, I looked at my Garmin and realized I would have to run exactly an 8-minute mile to match 1:29:47.  I knew I had the energy to try but if there was anything that would stop me, it would be the packed course.  I had been dodging runners left and right throughout the entire race and in the last stretch, it wasn’t showing any signs of thinning.Still, I buckled down and got to work.  My side was hurting and my legs were sore from the faster-than-expected turnover, but I told myself that if I didn’t try as hard as I could, I would be pissed at myself.  Just try, I told myself, and who cares what the clock says.

Chasing shadows

The last mile of the Cherry Blossom race course is lined with thousands of supporters, many with great signs (“You think this is hard, try dating ME”) and doling out high-fives and words of encouragement.  I busted ass up the hill and when I saw the finish line banner, I sprinted with everything I had.

I barreled that last mile in 8:05, plus the final .11 on my Garmin at a 6:40 pace.  I literally could not have run any faster.

I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and gasped for breath.  I walked a few steps after steadying myself and looked down at my watch.  1:29:49.  Two seconds? I thought.  I missed it by two seconds?

I would find out later, obviously, that my Garmin was off by those two seconds in my favor.  But at the time, all I could do was smile and shake my head.  I tried the hardest I could and made it close, so I was satisfied.

CB race medal

I picked up some water, a banana, a muffin, and my medal and met Epod by the Washington Monument.  We took some photos and shared stories of our respective race experiences (she also killed it, beating her course PR) before getting cold and going home.

Starting to freeze our asses off

After realizing I had matched my 2009 time, I thought about how I could have beat my course PR if I had just run one second faster.  By the same token, though, I also realized I could have missed my course PR if I had run one second slower.

Maybe next year, I’ll go for three in a row.

Look at me, I’m yogaing!

1 Apr

Last week, while Heather and D were visiting DC for the SunTrust National Half Marathon, I commended her on the yoga progress she had made.

In particular, I was impressed with her ability to strike a pose that had her head down, her arms on her knees, and her whole body balanced on her hands while upside down.

“It’s easy to do,” she told me as I rolled my eyes and scoffed.  “Here, I’ll show you.”

She proceeded to show me exactly just how easy it was for someone like me — who thinks of yoga as something barefoot, new age hippies do in the park — to strike this pose.

And you know what?  It was easy.

I couldn’t believe it.  Within seconds, I was doing yoga.  “Look at me!” I proudly declared, “I’m yogaing!”

Sure enough, I was balancing on my hands upside down in a challenging yet attainable pose.  Epod was also able to do it and told me how it was a pretty common move in yoga.

That move has since transformed me.  I have decided that I want to immerse myself in yoga, to dig deep into it, to learn its physical as well as spiritual challenges in the hopes of making me a better person and, hopefully, meditator.

I have already signed up for a month-long series of beginning yoga classes here in DC.  I might also stop running so I can sufficiently dedicate myself to the ways of yoga.  I have even created a Twitter account so I can share my journey.

It’s http://twitter.com/april-fools-ill-never-do-yoga.

I hope you’ll follow me.

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.”

Oops.

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.