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Race to Stop the Silence 8K: Race Recap

26 Apr

Lace them up for another race

Anyone who has seen Drunk History’s take on the Edison-Tesla rivalry knows the best line from the spoof outside of “I’m inventing electricity… and you look like an asshole” is the following:

“This is hell. I’m in hell.”

This was the line I kept thinking about while shattering my 8K PR on Saturday morning in the Race to Stop the Silence 8K in downtown DC.

Positive thinking?  I’ll leave that for the yogis and New Ageists.

I’m Jewish.  I thrive on complaining.

So as my legs burned and my lungs heaved as I ran to break the 40-minute mark, that line was the only thing I thought about.  This is hell.  I’m in hell.

Because holy fuck balls, people.  It was hell.

Am I running a race in the 1920s?

I signed up for the race specifically because I love the 8K distance.  You run faster than you would at a 10K but without the lactic acid-burning horror show of a 5K.

My goal was break my previous PR — 41:32.  My secret goal, though, was to break 40 minutes, a lofty target I came up with shortly after running a 48:54 in the Marine Corps 10K in 2009, when I piggybacked my friend Heather’s jackrabbit pace and smashed a PR I still consider unbreakable.

But over the past few months, with knee injuries slowing me down and speed becoming a rarer and rarer feature of my running, the idea of ever breaking any PR started to creep in.  Maybe, I wondered, my fastest races were behind me.

Forget my opinion.  Let’s consider the facts:

Through the end of 2009, when running a race in which I had an opportunity to PR, I did so 9 out of 16 times.  This means I PR’d in more than 56% of the races I ran.

Since then, though, I have PR’d in only 2 out of 12 races I have run, good for a 16.7% PR rate.

In addition, I hadn’t PR’d at any major race distance since my last 8K, which was in May 2010.

Now I know that the law of diminishing returns dictates that of course I would PR less often over time.  Still, I didn’t think I had hit my ceiling so soon.

Race photographers could learn a thing or two from Epod

I woke up Saturday morning feeling good.  Epod and I biked down to Freedom Plaza with plenty of time for me to pick up my bib and packet.

With only about 600 people running the 8K, the race had a “small town feel” to it, which was great.  I was able to line up close to the starting line and only took me 12 seconds to go through after the proverbial gun went off.

Now, the course was a bit of a clusterfuck.  Though we were running southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue from 13th Street, we veered down and back up three streets before even getting to the 3rd Street turn.  If you had seen us from above, we resembled a saw.

This caused some groaning due to so many tight turns.  Still, I found myself running the first mile in the 7:30s and though I told myself I was going too fast and I might blow up, I felt strong so I allowed myself to keep going.

My usual game plan in any race is simple:  negative splits.  But as this race went on and I realized I was going faster than planned and the loop back would be slightly uphill, I threw the original plan out the window and came up with a new one, the Steve Prefontaine plan:  run like hell and hang on for dear life.  Which is what I did.

I tried to break the race into manageable thirds, starting out fast for the first third, cruising and conserving energy for the middle third, and then throwing caution out the window for the final third.  By the time I was in the final third, though, I was in serious pain.

But it wasn’t unmanageable pain.  It was all-out effort pain, which is what you need to go through sometimes when racing for a PR.  I kept chugging and chugging and was so happy to see Epod in the final stretch yelling my name but was too tired to even muster a head nod.

In fact, I didn’t even look at my watch to see if the elusive under-40 goal was in sight.  I just…ran.

When I crossed the finish line, I caught my breath and looked at my Garmin.  I couldn’t believe it.

This is hell. I'm in hell.

Epod came running over, knowing I had beat my PR.  She threw her arms around me and told me how proud she was of me.  I couldn’t even spare one second, I told her, trying to explain the situation while panting.

My splits looked like this:

Mile 1:  7:27

Mile 2:  7:59

Mile 3:  8:14

Mile 4:  8:10

Mile 5:  7:55

And the final 0.04 mile sprint to the finish line:  13 seconds, a 5:25 pace.

Now I know I still can break PRs once in a while.  Even if it means going through hell.

Back to basics

22 Apr

Taking a break by the Potomac River

While running down Rock Creek Parkway with my friend Ryan last evening, I stopped to admire the sunlight streaming through the trees on the C&O Canal.

Don’t worry, I did it all tough-like.

In the manliest way possible, I told him, “That light looks so good.”

He verbified, “Why aren’t you runography-ing, then?”

As much as I like to be aware of my surroundings while I run to get a good shot, sometimes it’s good to let go, to lose yourself in the moment, to not always be “ON”.

That said, I looked at him quizzically and said, “Oh, yeah.”  So I took out my iPhone and started snapping.

Ryan running toward Watergate...not staged at all; nope, not at all

The run itself wasn’t that great.  Ryan doesn’t usually run and my back was suddenly sore from manly stuff I do at work, like carry heavy shit around for other people.

We did take the time, though, to catch up and talk wedding stuff (he’s getting married in a month) and, of course, sports.  We went about 2.5 miles with a few walking breaks along the way.

Running steps by the Potomac

I was worried I might have ruined running for him (I wanted him to associate it with positive thoughts so he’d do it again) and so was pleasantly surprised this morning to wake up to an email that included this line:

“I think that I’ll survive and maybe even give that ‘running’ thing a shot again sometime.”

I’m so proud.  He’ll be completing marathons in no time.

Running like a tourist

21 Apr

Great DC memorial? Or greatest DC memorial?

There is a school of thought that scoffs at the notion that we can ever photograph a moment as it really was. We crop, frame, eliminate, and choose what we decide to photograph, in a way robbing the viewer of what we were truly experiencing.

I think about this whenever I see them.  You know…tourists.  They descend on Washington, DC — my city — pretty much all the time, but especially in beautiful weather.  Clamoring around the White House gate, standing on the left of Metro escalators (DC’s most tired cliche, FYI), and practically camping on my favorite site — the Lincoln Memorial.

Most people try to photograph DC’s monuments and memorials as if other people weren’t there.  We search futily for that unobstructed view, wishing people would just. fucking. move.

I know I do this.

South side of Lincoln Memorial

But tourists are part of the scenery.  Whether I’m running on the Mall or photographing what I see or doing both — like I did on Tuesday, a perfect evening for running — they are unavoidable.

Of course, there are still ways to find new viewpoints of the same old shots.

After coming up on Lincoln, I battled past tourists for a while before deciding to take some detailed shots of the columns and the shadows on the walls.  It forced me to find a new perspective of the memorial, perspectives that I don’t usually try to notice.

Meanwhile, I was having a great run, just one of those perfect spring runs where you feel like you can go longer than you had planned.

So I did.

I ran 7.1 miles in total, running to the Mall and then around Lincoln and then back up Rock Creek Parkway.  I ran at what felt like a comfortable pace but everytime I looked down at my Garmin, I was pacing in the 8:50s, much faster than an easy or long run should be for me.

But I went with it.  By the time I got home, I had clocked 1:04:44, a blistering (for a long run) 9:08 pace.

I guess I should visit Lincoln and his admirers more often.

Friday night race, Shmiday night race

18 Apr

I was supposed to race a 5K last Friday evening with Epod and MJ.  The Crystal Run 5K Friday series, where they host 5 consecutive races on 5 consecutive Fridays.

Unfortunately, the traffic gods (none of which are benevolent) saw fit to keep me from the event.  Even though I left work at 4pm, I was stuck on the highways and streets for 2.5 hours, unable to get to Arlington for the race.

Listening to This American Life podcasts calmed me down enough (mostly) and helped me not yell (too much) at the other drivers.  But after crawling along at a snail’s pace for miles and miles, I realized I wouldn’t make the race and called Epod to break the news.

Still, I had to run.

Running east on the Calvert Street Bridge

When I got home, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and headed out on a run.  I wanted to do something different, run somewhere new.  In a city where I feel I have seen nearly every inch of running terrain, this can prove difficult sometimes.

So I headed down to Rock Creek but veered off the beaten path and into the woods.  I ran along the dirt path, behind Oak Hill Cemetery, up hills I had never been on and jumping over ground I had never seen.  I ran up to Wisconsin Avenue and then down Reservoir Road, skipping along new streets and sidewalks.

It was exactly what I needed.

Rock Creek Park

I also decided to take a new photo app for a spin:  Pro HDR.

Camera+ — my replacement camera app — has a really good HDR filter.  But I wanted to see the difference using an app designed exclusively to capture high-dynamic photos.

The app works by taking one shot in low light and one in high light and then merging the two images together.  This requires the photographer to be absolutely still for a few seconds, a difficult prospect for runography since I’m usually moving when I take photos.

This requirement, though, was a blessing in disguise since it forced me to look for good shots.  It took away the spontaneity of shooting from the hip and made me really keep an eye out for attractive scenes.  Throughout my run, I was wholly conscious of everything I looked at, which made me enjoy the run actively rather than passively.

Rock Creek

The results were surprisingly outstanding.  The photos were vivid and full of light.

After taking the shots, I processed them through Camera+ anyway, but only to take advantage of the app’s new Clarity feature, which renders HDR shots even more dramatically.

I ran a little more than 4 miles on Friday, with a lot of stops to take some shots.  And while I still wish I had raced Crystal City, I at least remembered the benefits of stopping once in a while to take it all in.

Dumbarton Bridge overlooking Rock Creek Parkway

Rock Creek Parkway seen from Calvert Street Bridge

Save the Clock Tower 5K and a cycling accident

11 Apr

When I read last week that WordPress employees were inviting the WP community to participate in a virtual 5K, I thought it was silly.

You KNOW you wish this race existed

But when I got home on Friday and saw my still-unworn homage to Back to the Future — a “Save the Clock Tower Hill Valley ’85 5K Run” t-shirt — I decided I would not only run the virtual race, I would make it a fictional race as well.

Back to the Future is not only my favorite movie of all time, it is, coincidentally, also the GREATEST MOVIE EVER.  Citizen Kane, Shmitizen Kane, that’s what I always say.

Really, I’m always saying it, ask anyone.

Of course, to prepare myself, I first downloaded the title theme from the movie to my iPod.  Priorities, you know.

I headed out in the rain and decided to take it easy since my legs were still sore from last Sunday’s Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler.  It was a “race” but I wasn’t “racing” it.  The route was simple:  south on 16th, down New Hampshire Ave. to Dupont, around the circle and east on Mass Ave., then retrace my steps.

I felt sluggish out there but when that movie soundtrack came on, I thought, If Marty McFly can save not only himself but the fabric of the universe itself, I can run these 3.1 miles.

I finished it in 29:57 (9:40 pace), far slower than my average 5K time (25:30) or PR (22:34).  And no, I didn’t hit 88 mph.

I followed that “race” with a long bike ride with Epod Saturday morning.

We started out winding up Beach Drive, dodging angry drivers yelling out their windows, and traversing some tough terrain on the trails before the Capital Crescent Trail.

If I know Epod, she was making sounds like "Vroom, vroom!"

We took a water/snack break in Bethesda and then headed home.  After a few miles, as we sailed down at 15 mph, I asked her if she wanted to see what it felt like to go 20 mph.

Just then, though, Epod’s shoelace got caught on the pedal, which forced her to move to her right and slide off the trail.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her spin out and hit the ground.

You'd have thought trying to get this photo would have caused the accident

I slammed on my brakes and threw my bike down and started running back to her.  It’s funny the things you think about in a split second, even during high-adrenaline moments.  Because the thought that went through my mind as I ran to her was, Hmm, so this is what it’s going to be like in the triathlon when I stop cycling and start running.  Interesting.

I got to her and she was alright.  A little shaken up, a couple of cuts and bruises, but overall OK.  She dusted herself off and, being the tough chick she is, got back on the bike and we pedaled home.

“It’s a good thing we weren’t going 20 mph,” I told Epod.  She agreed.

Still.  Imagine if we had had a flux capacitor.

Kayaks and shadows on the Canal

8 Apr
20110408-094345.jpg

Scott and me running on the C&O canal towpath

I run this planet

7 Apr
20110406-084229.jpg

Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

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!

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.