Monday, January 30, 2012

A Home Run

Usually when I head home to NJ, I end up running by myself.  Which, incidentally, I don't mind, because I like to go out when I feel like going, and hit the parks and the routes I used to run back in the day.  But now when I go home I check in with Jason Gers to see what he's got going on.  I've known Jason for a while, but had never done any training sessions with him until I was home over Christmas.  At this point he's a little faster than I am running, but in general, we're pretty closely matched. 

He said he aws going to do a 14 mile run on Saturday morning, with the first 10 easy, then 3 up tempo, then a mile easy.  I met him at 8am at the beach in Sea Bright, where it was atypically very calm.  No wind whatsoever, the ocean was totally flat.  Temp was in the mid 30s.  Also joining us were three of his usual training comrades: twins Jay and Dave McGovern, and Bob Horn.  I'd never met these guys before, but I've known their names for years.  The McGoverns were a few years older in high school (and at a different school) and while they were good then, they're much faster now.  All three of those guys are mainstays of the local NJ running scene, you'll always see their names high up in the results.

The planned route was from Sea Bright towards Red Bank (so basically I could have just met them at the turnaround), through Rumson, Little Silver, and Fair Haven.  A nice little run.  Mostly flat, a few gentle inclines and declines, all road.  The first couple of miles were chill in the 7:15 range, and then dropped to 7:00-7:10 for the rest of the first 10 miles.  When we hit 10, we picked it up to <6:30 pace (6:29, 6:25, 6:20).  Since I am in pretty decent shape, despite this being just my 4th run in the last two weeks, the effort wasn't going to kill me.  It was more the running 14 miles that was wearing me out.  But I got through it, and felt good.

Saturday night I headed up to beautiful Newark, NJ, with my dad to see Seton Hall take on Louisville.  We had awesome seats, and the game was great.  It started off bad for The Hall, who were down 15 early, and looked like they were going to go down with a wimper.  But in the 2nd half they summoned the courage of lions and came back!  Of course, both sides were playing pretty poor basketball, it was as if neither side wanted to win.  Seton Hall ended up losing, but it was still a fun game as always.

On the professional running circuit, pretty bad ass weekend.  At the Dubai Marathon, 9 of the top 10 were Ethiopian, with the winner setting a course record (2:04:23) in his marathon DEBUT.  The guy is allegedly 21 years old.  And, he negative split it.  Shattered Gebrselassie's previous CR, in fact the top 4 were under 2:05, and there were 13 runners under 2:08.  Insane.  Even the women's race was fast, with 3 under 2:20 and the top 10 all under 2:26. 

We were also treated to some indoor track from the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.  It wasn't the Millrose Games, though, which moved from MSG to the NYC Armory, but based on the broadcast you wouldn't have known that, as they were still basically calling it Millrose.  This weekend's broadcast is the New Balance Indoor Games from Boston.  AND the Superbowl.  It's a great Sunday of sport!

Friday, January 27, 2012

One Moment in Time

Behold, the Magic of College Park!

On Wednesday I was given the opportunity to attend the biggest sporting event of the year in College Park: Maryland vs Duke.  This is always a big game, and although the Terps have not been as successful over the past few years, you just never know what's going to happen.  This year was an even bigger occasion, as they dedicated the court to Gary Williams prior to the game.  When my old tri buddy Larry "The Slug" Rutledge offered me this seat a few months ago, I was so psyched and could obviously not pass it up.  It was so loud in the Comcast Center that you couldn't even hear the tribute video, but it didn't matter, because the place got quiet QUICK when Gary took the mic.  Known for rarely cracking a smile, it was a rare chance to see GW legitimately choked up as he addressed the crowd and gave on final fist pump.  Gary was the maestro behind the Terps' rebirth in the 80s, following the death of Len Bias and the subsequent NCAA sanctions, and led them to Sweet 16s, a Final Four, and, a year later, an NCAA Championship.  I had the rarest of rare opportunities that year, to actually be in attendance at the Georgia Dome as my college won its first National Championship.  There are few moments in my entire life that can even come close to that night 10 years ago. 

The game itself was up and down.  The Terps built a little lead, but went into the half down by a basket.  In the 2nd half, they kept it close for a while, but lost the momentum, and couldn't close.  Duke is, unfortunately, just a much better team.  At least the Terps put up a fight.

It's always a trip down memory lane when I'm in CP, and on this particular Wednesday, I also had the chance to swim in the pool that I learned to swim in all those years ago.  Larry got me into the gym and we headed down to the pool, and, unlike the Merritt, it is:

1) an enormous pool
2) super deep
3) very well lit
4) not chock full o'chemicals

The 50m pool was cut up into a 25y section, which I swam in, while the deeper end/diving well was being utilized by the soon-to-be-cut water polo team and diving team.  There are 10 lanes when they do it this way, and 5 were being used for a Masters' team, but 5 were open to circle swim.  When I arrived, I had to share a lane, but pretty soon I was the only one in the pool.

I'm always talking about how somehow I used to be able to swim much faster than I do now, and that I don't believe it because I still race about the same speed.  And yes, obviously meters are longer than yards, but even with a typical conversion, I still come nowhere close to what I used to do in CP. 

I had already swam Wednesday morning, but wasn't going to pass up the chance to swim in the big pool, so I gleefully hopped in and started swimming.  It felt so good, such a massive volume of water, I love it.  The way the water spills into a little causeway, it's just so fast!  And with a nice, visible digital clock, I could easily see my splits.  The difference a pool makes.  The one thing I did notice was that it was a warmer temp than they used to keep it.  It was comfortable, but I was looking forward to the colder water.

I did a 500 warmup, then 3x100 and then 4x50, before going into a main set of 3x(200-100-50) on 3:00, 1:30 and then 50y easy in between sets.  First one: 2:50, 1:23, :38.  Comfortable.  Even with a conversion of 8-9sec/100, that still was faster than I would normally swim in the meter pool.  Second set: 2:45, 1:19, :37.  Nice!  Last set: 2:39, 1:17, :36.  It was awesome to have a reminder of previous swimming "glory."  I've never been a particularly good, or a fast, swimmer, but I remember being able to do 200s in the 2:40s, and 100s in the 1:12 range and able to do them on 1:20.  My swim workouts were all set up by Tri Guy Tommy back then, and they were so different than what I do now.  3x a week, 4000-5500y, with a 500 w/u, 5x100 drill-swim, then up to 800 of kicking (with fins).  Main sets would be in the 2000-2500 range. 

I decided to see what I could do for a couple of hundreds, so I went hard for one (1:15) and waited til 2:00 to go again.  Another 1:14/15.  Then 2x50 on :60 (:35, :34).  Not too bad.  I think part of it was, when my knee was better, I could really do a strong dolphin kick and I'd take a minimal amount of strokes per length, and I was doing a lot more "speed" in the pool.

What's most sad perhaps is the fact that, as of July 1, the pool will have no swim/dive team or water polo team inhabiting it, when the school cuts 8 sports teams (including those, and men's xc/track)

I was really pleased with the workout, and just excited to get to be in College Park for the night.  I decided to not swim on Thursday, instead opting for my first attempt at riding in almost 2 months.  Just an easy 45 minutes on the trainer.  Predictably, I hated it.  This morning it was back to the pool and I felt terrible.  Such is life.

The other initiative is getting back in the weight room.  When weight training was part of my regular routine, I was almost never hurt, I felt stronger, and had more energy.  With typical IM training predicating high volume, it's hard to find the energy or desire to be in the gym.  But, when you look at the improvement Craig Alexander made this year, and see that he was putting in the gym time, it's hard to deny the correlation.  Of course I'm not talking about meathead-style training, but strength and balance.  My body is so broken down, it's the least I can do.  3 days in the gym this week, focusing on building smart, core, stretching, foam rolling - the little things I generally avoid.  Seems to be working.

Heading up to NJ shortly as this week is college hoops week for me.  Seton Hall vs Louisville tomorrow night at The Rock in Newark.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Band

Time is a weird concept. 

The sun rises, the sun sets.  We wake up, we go to sleep.  Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking.  Into the future.  I think I tend to notice time more following a bigger race.  For instance, 10 days ago I ran a marathon.  It feels like a lifetime has passed since then.  In the days following the marathon, I didn't run, I didn't ride my bike.  I took Sunday and Monday completely off, and then tried to get in the pool on Tuesday.  I felt terrible.  I actually got out of the pool after getting through just 1000m, something I hadn't done in a long time.  Wednesday I was able to swim a little more, 3000m.  I finally ran again on Thursday, an easy 6 miles with Kris.  It did not feel good.  Mostly it was just muscle soreness and tight hamstring/piriformis, but I was surprised at how beat up I was.

The weekend weather forecast looked less-than-stellar, which was good, because I committed to spending an inordinate amount of time in the pool.  Alyssa had 4 swims scheduled between Friday and Sunday, and, due to a tired Thursday morning, Coach Hill said "just do Thursday's workout on Saturday morning, and Saturday's workout in the afternoon."  The swims looked like this:

Fri: 3000m/2500m
Sat: 3100m/4700m
Sun: 3700m

17,000 meters in three days across five swims.  I swam 15,000 meters ALL of last January.  Alyssa's workouts are very specific, while for me, as long as I'm in the pool, physically touching the water, I think that's good enough.  She tends to have a lot of pulling, and a lot of work with the band.  I don't like to do either of these things.  Actually, I will rephrase.  I like pulling, but I've always been of the "keep it to less than a third of your total swim volume."  The Saturday afternoon swim called for 500-1000-1500 main set with paddles, pull buoy, band (PBB).  I PBB'd the 500 and 1500, but just swam the 1000. 

Perhaps most notable was how I felt better on Friday and Saturday afternoon than their respective morning counterpart.  And, even more surprising, was how awesome I felt on Sunday.  To quote Drake, I was "on one."  Too bad that many, many hundreds of meters were with the dreaded Band.  In fairness, it was a lot easier since I didn't do anything other than swim all weekend, but still, it was a lot for me. 

Needless to say, my body was pretty displeased with me on Monday.  I convinced myself to run again, and ended up muddling through 70 minutes just barely under 7:30 pace.  I kept thinking, "you better check yourself, before you wreck yourself."  And, when this morning's 6am swim came 'round, it was another exercise in futility.  Not only did I get smoked by Alyssa, I barely made our pretty generous time interval on our 10x200 main set.  I then decided to lift and stretch a bit.  I now have a new 2012 goal:


Seriously, when did I become this inflexible?  Once upon a time I did actually go to yoga class on Wednesdays at the gym, and wasn't this bad.  After the meager lift/stretch session, I was feeling plucky and thought man, I should ball.  You know, pick up the rock and hoop it up.  15 shots and one made basket later, I was walking back into the locker room after jamming my thumb hard enough to make it bleed.  Playing basketball.  By myself.

With a light workout load over the weekend, I took the opportunity to engage in some fun activities:

1. Went to the Baltimore Comedy Factory ( to see one of my favorite comics, Iliza Schlesinger.  She won the last Last Comic Standing season, and until now had never had the opportunity to see her live.  It was hilarious, and a great start to the weekend. 

2. Went to the University of Maryland Indoor Invite on Saturday to watch some of my TWSS teammates run, and ran into some familiar faces along the way.  The "Save UMD XC and Track" campaign is still alive, but with $4.2 million to raise by July 1, it's still a big task.

3. Went to see The Artist with Alyssa on Saturday night.  When I heard about this black and white, silent film a few months ago, I was really excited.  This 90 minute journey back to a better time of film making was well worth the trip to Arundel Mills on a Saturday night (I hate going there).  Jean Dujardin was incredible, and was nominated this morning for Best Actor, and Berenice Bejo was an absolute star (she's nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role).  The film is up for Best Picture, and the screenplay got a nod for Best Original Screenplay.  If you have the opportunity to see this, do it!

This week it's all about college hoops, as I am going to the Maryland vs Duke game on Wednesday (thanks to Larry!) and then Seton Hall vs Pitt on Saturday in NJ with my dad.  Remember to keep the balance!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Have a Dream

That someday, I will run a good marathon.

This weekend was not one of them.  Fortunately, I did start my 2012 campaign by accomplishing one of my goals: qualify for Boston 2013. 

With the Boston Marathon changing its qualification requirements (chopping 5 minutes off previous qualifying times per age group), and me not having run an open marathon since Boston 2009, I was going to have to run at least one marathon this year.  And, with a new registration process, I knew I'd have to run it before September.  While I am planning on running NYC Marathon later this year, it would be too late for next year's Boston. 

That left me a couple of options: look to something like VA Beach's Shamrock Marathon or DC's National Marathon in March, or try to get it done in Charleston.  The races in March were appealing because of their proximity to Baltimore, field size and support, and it would give me plenty of time to train.  Charleston was appealing because it was a place I'd never been, an "easy" course and a Saturday event.  But it was also just 7 weeks after Ironman Arizona, and after the long 2011, I needed a break.

Immediately following the Ironman, I was still undecided about what race to target, and figured I needed a good month of running before I could commit.  I ran 6 miles post-Ironman week, and then weeks of 30, 44, 53.  I decided I felt good enough to be able to get through the marathon in Charleston.  I felt like 7 minute pace was a good goal, which would be a 3:03, and give me a comfortable cushion for the Boston registration process later this year. 

I ran a few workouts during December, but was not going to try and cram workouts and long runs in.  The two longest runs I did were 17, one on Christmas day and one on New Year's Day.  17 miles is not even close to what I should have been doing, but I didn't have time to worry about it by the time January hit.  It then became "rest up enough so you're feeling good on race day." 

Alyssa and I flew down to Charleston on Friday morning, leaving a cold, windy Baltimore and arriving to a cold, windy South Carolina.  We ate a great bbq lunch at Nick's BBQ on King St, and then tried to drive the course.  The maps provided by the race did not include road names, just colored lines and approximated turns, so needless to say we got lost.  After running the race, we wouldn't have been able to follow the course anyway.  This was the first sign that this race was not going to be well-organized.  We then stopped off at the "expo" to pick up our stuff, and scooped up Andy, Ed and Conrad from the airport.  The four guys went for a dangerously dark shakeout run, which was Conrad pace (quicker than I would have liked).  We were all hoping the wind would die down, because we knew the temperature was not going to magically rise. 

Race morning came and the wind had calmed down a bit, but not much.  And it was cold.  34 degrees is what the thermometer read.  Conrad and I got dropped off at the marathon start at 7:15 and stood around until 7:40 when we went to warm up for a few minutes.  Since it was so cold, I was going to start the race with my singlet, and two light/longsleeve tech shirts, and was wearing shorts and gloves.  In my haste to get out of the car, I forgot to grab my little EFS liquid flask.  Oops.  I would see the others around mile 9.5, so I could grab it from them then. 

The race starts on East Bay Avenue, and runs a mile and a quarter south to the end of the peninsula.  I made sure to not get caught up in the race and go out comfortably, but I could tell we were still moving quick.  6:23 at the mile confirmed that.  I told Conrad I was going to back off, and as we headed north it was obvious we were going to be going into the wind for most of the day.  Mile 2 was 6:29.  Still too fast.  Tried to ease into the slowing rather than just stop dead, so mile 3 was finally more in line at 6:37 and mile 4 was 6:40. 

About the course: the first 3 miles were in the downtown area, which is nice.  It quickly becomes more like Baltimore (see also: pretty hood) and for miles you are just running on some boring deserted road that parallels the overhead highway and a train track.  It's very unattractive, and super quiet.  I didn't expect any crowd support, so I was able to deal with that, but it was just so boring.  Very flat, but the wind was negating any of that benefit.  Every so often Conrad, who was using the marathon as a long run, would turn around and jog back towards me, run with me for a minute, and then take off again. 

Miles 5-8 were: 6:32, 6:43, 6:28, 7:16.  I think 5 and 7 were a tad short, and that 8 was a bit long, because I felt pretty locked into 6:40-6:45 at that point, and we were running in a straight line.  Until Mile 8, when there was a little bridge to run up and over, but we had the downhill so I figured it zeroed out. 

I guess it was around 8 or so that we sharply doubled back on ourselves, and as we headed south for a few hundred feet, it became so quiet and you felt, for the first time, what it was like to not fight the wind.  That disappeared when we Zorro'd our way onto another road headed north.  This was around 9.5 and I could see, and hear, Ed, Alyssa and Andy.  They had all run the 5k, which started/finished at the marathon finish.  Ed and Alyssa each won, and Andy had run with Alyssa to help pace her to her first sub 20 5k!  The Shrimp and Grits 5k, as it was called, was 3 miles, but with a 15:12 for Ed and 19:05 for Alyssa, we put their time estimates for the right distance at 15:45 and 19:45.

I passed off my top layer shirt and grabbed an EFS flask and continued on my way.  The half marathoners were about to split off, and all of a sudden it went from a couple dozen people around to 3.  Seriously, there was nobody around.  It was dead quiet.  The road also stopped being pancake flat and began to roll a little bit.  It was also at this point that I realized, since Mile 8, we hadn't had a water stop in a while.  It was over 3 miles without a water stop, and the volunteers were poorly executing their distribution strategies.  Of course, it's always on the athlete, but as I would approach a water station, I would point to a person and a cup, and say "water" or "gatorade" - and without fail, each one would literally pull their arm back towards them at the last second.  Of course the teenaged volunteers always think this is pretty funny, but I assure you, it's not.  They were also holding the cups in a really stupid way, so I was barely getting any water at each stop. 

Miles 9-13: 13:33 (9 + 10), 6:42, 6:45, 6:50.  Half split est: 1:27:45

I felt good about that, it was right where I thought I should be.  I figured 1:28-1:30 would be where I needed to be to buffer a slower second half, but, if I felt good, and could double it, would put me in a place to break 3 hours.  But a few things were starting to worry me.

1. Since the start, I had been more than aware of my hamstring and piriformis.  It is never good in the cold, and there were a few times when it would lock up mid-stride. 

2. I had to go to the bathroom.  I thought I could maybe make quick pit stop and relieve myself, but I was worried about starting up again, and how much time it would take.

So I forged on.  And now the course was just getting ridiculous.  It was a lot of running around circles, figure 8s, and running on little walking paths behind schools and through neighborhoods.  As each mile passed, I was sure that my pace had to have slowed to over 7s because of all the turns.  I remember one point, behind a school somewhere in the 14th mile, that I turned around the building and just got blasted in the face by the wind.  Yet somehow that mile was still 6:50. 

I had come through 10 miles at 1:06:42, and thought if I could hit 20 miles around 2:15, that would put me in a good place for a 3 hour race.  I was feeling very full, and was having trouble eating anything.  Miles 14-18 were annoying, but got through them in 6:50, 6:47, 6:51, 6:53, 6:53. 

By that point, I've now run longer (excluding IMAZ, where I didn't really run) than any run since the end of October.  2.5 months without a run over 18 miles is a long time!  It was around this point in the race that we also merged back up with the half marathoners.  So now I'm stuck behind 2:30 half marathoners as we entered this ridiculous little neighborhood, and I can pinpoint the exact moment where I lost my momentum.  It was when I got to a water table, and the volunteers were not holding the water, it was just sitting on the tables.  I had to get water, but had to zoom around a few half runners and try to grab whatever I could.  It was ineffective. 

On the path, I got stuck behind a group of people taking up the width of the path.  They were running and carrying something.  I could see a body, and these guys all had the same shirt on that said something I couldn't read.  I thought maybe it was a disabled person or wounded soldier, and was touched by the display.  Until I made my way around them and saw it was a CPR dummy, and they were EMTs.  Now I was pretty annoyed that they rudely took up the entire path when they didn't need to.  It was as if the race organizers didn't bother to inform the slower half marathoners that they were going to be caught.

Miles 19 and 20: 7:11, 7:13 (2:15:40)

Holy crap.  I still have a 10k to run, and have now gone right by the finish line for the 2nd time in this race.  Doing the quick math, I realized at 7 minute pace I would run a 43:30 10k, and that would be good enough to get me under 3.  Only problem was, I wasn't running under 7 minute pace.  I knew I needed to keep the carnage under 7:30/mi to make sure I achieved my only goal.  Around 21, I saw the gang again, who encouraged me to keep going.  I had an out and back 5 miles.  Out with the wind, back into it to finish the race.  Uh-oh. 

I've been through this before, it's an all too familiar feeling.  I just can't go any longer.  But I had to keep my head in it.  I did not want to miss by a few seconds, or get it, but have it be barely under 3:05 and then still not get in.  I watched as the few runners ahead of me were heading back into the finish, and they all looked terrible.  Except for the girl and her two pacers that had passed me at 20 like I was standing still.  They put 5 minutes into me in 5 miles.  Ouch.

Miles 21-Finish were not pretty: 7:24, 7:20, 7:34, 7:43, 8:00, 8:17, 1:45

I realized I was going to run under 3:05, but I knew if I tried to press it at all, it could seriously shut me down, and I just had to keep moving forward.  I allowed my body to slow down and, like the Winter Warlock, just tried to put one foot in front of the other. 

I crossed the line in 3:03:43, which is a full 7 minute PR (sadly) from my first marathon in NYC.  Not happy about the super positive splitting, but all things considered, it's what I should have expected.  I was 15th overall, and the winning time was a "slow" 2:45.  Much slower than last year.  After the finish line, despite the temp barely clipping 44 degrees, no mylar blankets!  I could definitely have used one to keep whatever heat was in me, in me.  I was freezing. 

The gang came over and we went into the tent, where I sat down and shivered.  There were a few angels though, like the lady who was a massage therapist and came over to help get the cramping out of my legs, and the guy who handed me a dry shirt to wear, and the lady who kept trying to feed me this allegedly magic water.  The Shrimp and Grits were, as advertised, delicious.  And since we were all winners in some capacity, we all took home some hardware.  It always reminds me of moon rocks, particularly in Apollo 13 when they were confused why the plane was coming in off trajectory, and it was because they weighed less than expected - since they expected them to be carrying moon rocks. 

Conrad was a great help out there, as he probably ended up running 28 miles at least during his 3:00:01 run.  And the cheering and support from the others was also great.  We then got to watch the Olympic Trials on Saturday afternoon at the restaurant we ate at for lunch.  They were a little confused as to why we wanted to watch Running, but we excitedly watched all 2 hours while eating bbq. 

Ultimately, I'm pleased with a PR to start the year, but wish I had prepared better and run a little faster.  I'll have NYC later this year to redeem myself maybe, but I still sit as one of the fastest half marathoners with the slowest marathon times that I know!  Even though I liked Charleston, and would return (perhaps for Cooper River Bridge 10k), but would not go back for this race.  I hope they can make the changes necessary to grow their event, but it wasn't my favorite race.

I'm also really glad I didn't stop to go to the bathroom.  3:05 minue 3:03:43 = 1:17.  It could have made the difference. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

A New Year, A New You

When I see Jennifer Hudson on these Weight Watchers commercials, my first thought is:

DAMN.  She looks fine.

But, it also got me to thinking, what is about a new year that makes people think "cool, I'm going to make lifestyle changes that will last forever. Effective 1/1/12."  The #1 resolution has got to be "get in shape."  But "get in shape" isn't a measurable goal.  What is "in shape?"  Round, after all, is a shape*.  Goals need to be measurable, as it's these metrics that determine our success, or failure, in achieving them. 

Sometimes you're hungry.  Sometimes you're really hungry.  And sometimes, when you're really hungry, you're faced with an opportunity to eat a 36oz (post-cooked) burger, topped with a couple of tomatos, many slices of cheese, mayonnaise, an over-sized pickle, and a ton of lettuce.  Not to mention the bun.  Oh, and the plate of fries.  Then the waitress tells you that if you eat the whole thing, by yourself, it's free and you get your picture on the wall.  THEN she tells you that if you eat it in the fastest recorded time (30 minutes), they name it after you. 

Coincidentally, I faced this very situation 7 years ago.  It was a burger joint in Chicago, and while I didn't go in with the goal of eating this behemoth burger, once I was presented the challenge, I heartily accepted.  I knew not how to approach eating the thing, so I cut it into more manageable quarters.  The first quarter I consumed in 3 minutes.  The 2nd, another 3 minutes.  I was halfway done at just 6 minutes into the ordeal.  But my eyes were much larger than my stomach.  3rd quarter, 10 minutes.  Slowing down, but I still had 14 minutes to eat the last quarter (and the fries).  The meat was cold and rubbery, barely cooked.  My hand was shaking as I scooped up the little bits of beef.  I had the meat sweats.  Ultimately, I finished, but it was painful, and it had taken me 35 minutes.  I had lost 10 years of my life by consuming the burger, but I did it.

How is there a correlation between eating a grossly oversized burger and my personal athletic goals?  It's actually pretty simple.  Sometimes I dream too big.  With the burger, I was lured by the fact I could have my name live on in glory if I ate it the fastest, and perhaps overestimated my eating abilities.  I looked at the pictures of the people on the wall, previous burger-eaters, and they were all morbidly obese Chicagoans.  And, with the exception of the guy who had eaten it in an inhuman 30 minutes, all the others were over an hour.  I had eaten it in the 2nd fastest time ever, but I felt like I had failed because my goal had been set so high.

With running, and triathlon, I have always felt I could achieve more.  No matter the distance, I always felt like I should be able to go faster.  Under 2:40 for the marathon, under 2:00 for a legitimate Olympic distance Triathlon, under 9:00 for an Ironman.  While they were reaches, and I knew how hard I'd have to work, I felt that if I worked hard enough, I could definitely achieve them.  Ambitious goals are partly to blame for my most disappointing results: NYC Marathon 2008, Boston Marathon 2009, any and all Eaglemans, 2012 Ironman campaign.  What makes it even more frustrating is that since getting hit in 2009, I've even scaled my goals back to more realistic ones, and have still missed the mark. 

Since I don't want to dwell on my past disappointments, I'm going to realign my goals, and how I measure success, for 2012.  To say I want to run a number of miles is really arbitrary, even though it can be measured.  I can say I want to run 2500 miles (50mpw) but the reality is that I probably won't hit that.  And whether I do or don't, if the total number of miles run doesn't result in certain time objectives, I won't have reached my goals.  Here is what I aim to accomplish in 2012:

1. Race LESS
3. Race FASTER

Broken down, it's really that simple.  I raced 30 times last year.  Too many.  I, like many, get excited when it's time to race, but I want to make them count more this year.  My target for this year is 16.  And instead of a season that includes two iron-distance triathlons, this year will include none.  I have two marathons on the schedule, but outside of that, my longest events will be Eagleman and Survival of the Shawangunks.  And despite what I know about my limits, I believe I can still turn the old legs over, so I want to target certain events and distances that I believe I can run Post-Collegiate PRs in.  Here's a list:

Mile - 5:00.11 (Maryland Alumni Mile, 2011).  Aiming for 4:40 at downhill mile, 4:50 on the track
5k - 16:48 (Shamrock, 2008).  I will be running Shamrock again this year
10k - 35:26 (Pike's Peek, 2007).  Running this one again this year.  Home to my 34:08 PR (2003)
Club Challenge 10 mile - 58:55 (2009).
Half - 1:18:38 (PDR, 2011). 
Marathon - 3:10:51 (NYC, 2008).  Running this one again.

I'm not sure if I'll get to run a flat 10 miler, but if I do, I'll be aiming for my 58:12 (Broad Street, 2008) PR.  They are challenging for me, but all attainable, particularly if I back off triathlon a little bit.  My actual time goals include getting under 35 minutes for 10k at Pike's Peek, and running under 2:50 at NYC.

Since I do have a few triathlons on the schedule, I'd be remiss if I didn't post some goals for them.  But I really am not sure yet, since I haven't ridden my bike in 6 weeks, if I'm going to start again.  Those will have to wait. 

The main thing for me is being resolute, in preparation for and execution of my goals.  It's painful to realize that you may not achieve what you believe you can, but we still get out there every day and pursue the dream.  I have to take a step back, come up with a plan for whatever it is I want to get out of athletics, and stick to it.  "Just finishing" was never a thought for me with the burger, just as it is never a thought for me with Ironman.  I want to do more than just finish, but right now, maybe it's not in the cards. 

For now, it was a good first week of 2012.  With my 17 mile run on New Year's Day, I realized that I ran 17 mile long runs on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  I feel like that's pretty good, because on those two days in particular, it's almost always easier to NOT run.  After a lot of Bowl-watching (including the OTs and the late nights!) I managed to get into the pool to the tune of 13,200 meters, including yesterday's 4200m day.  I feel good about that, as it's almost as much as I swam all of last January.  I also ran 40 miles, and it was a weird week.  Tuesday was SO cold - 22 degrees, with a much colder windchill, and we were on the track.  I didn't enjoy the cold, and felt uncomfortable running hard in it.  But then it warmed back up, and by Friday, I was running without a shirt again.  Saturday morning was a chill, but hilly, 10 miles, and I felt my legs coming around.  I decided to not run yesterday and this week is going to be pretty light.  Running a marathon in mid-January is a weird way to start the year!  Firmness of purpose.

Headed to Charleston on Friday, just in time for the temperature to dip a little here in Baltimore.  And, even though my race is run concurrently, I'm excited for my friend Chrissie Ramsey, who is running Saturday's Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston!



Tuesday, January 03, 2012

11 Moments of 2011

My name is Ryan McGrath, and I have an addiction.  I am addicted to racing.  Often I do it very poorly. 

It's true, I really do have a problem.  I competed in 30 races this year.  Not every one of them was designed to be a real "race," as some were efforts of convenience.  But, I donned a number and crossed a start/finish line 30 times this year.  If I did a recap of the entire year, it would be really, really long.  And all 6 of you would NOT want to read it.  So instead, I'm going to go through my 11 highlights, or lowlights, of the year.  I'll just call them the 11 Moments That Stand Out (in no particular order):

1. Starting the year on the wrong feet.  Alyssa was going to do this PHUNT Run, a no-frills, no-cost trail race, on Sunday, January 2nd, so the four idiots (Pat, Zero, Ed, myself) and Meg D/Pete decided we'd crash the party.  We figured the 20k (12.4 miles) shouldn't take us more than 1h45m, because honestly, how hard could trails be?  Finding ourselves on the wrong route less than a quarter mile into the race, apparently it was pretty hard.  The thickest, sloppiest mud I've ever seen, combined with getting lost a few more times, snow, ice cold water, and hunger, resulted in the worst 2h25m of running I'd ever done.  For us, it was at least 16 miles we ended up running.  Alyssa somehow stuck it out for the 50k.

2. Party in the City Where the Heat is On.  Lebron was man enough to take his talents to South Beach, and so were we, for the third annual trip to the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon.  This time it was a small crew, consisting of me, Zero, Barf, Dustin, and my brother.  I wasn't sure what to expect from the race, as it was just two months after the IM, and following PHUNT I'd had a lot of knee and foot problems.  Somehow I pulled out a 1:21:49, which was faster than I ran there in 2009, when I was in shape to run much faster.  My goal had been to run under 1:23:00 so I'd have a guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon if I wanted it.  Considering this race was still relatively early in my comeback trail, looking back, it was one of my best of the year.

3. We're getting the band back together.  Club Challenge is one of my favorite events, least favorite races, and a rite of passage if you plan on running in Baltimore.  The first year I raced (2006), I ran like garbage, going out too hard and coming back in a crawl to run 1:04 something.  The next year I was ready for it, but snow canceled the event.  2008 I was running pretty well, and managed to go 59:25.  2009 I was running even better, and went 58:55.  Not sure how my body would fare on the knee-jarring downhills on the hilly course, I only thought in my head that I could run close to 6 minute pace.  When I actually did it (1:00:12), I was pretty surprised.  Somehow I managed to run back-to-back 5 milers faster than any of my actual 5 mile race this year.  Go figure. 

4. The Race of Truth.  2011 was the year of the Mile for me.  I raced this distance more than any other, running 3 road miles and 3 track miles.  I had a great (downhill) mile at Westminster Main St Mile in April, running 4:50, and a couple of weeks later I ran 5:00.11 on the track at the Maryland Alumni Mile.  I'm still positive it was under 5, but whatever.  Then, on Memorial Day, despite 3 days of brutal, monster training, I still managed a 5:07 at the Loudoun St Mile in VA.  Then it was downhill, and the effects of IM training seeped in.  5:16 on the track, 5:19 on the track, 5:30 on the road.  Ouch.  Not a pretty end, but I vow to be back in 2012.

5. Back to the Track.  #4 was a good segue into this one, which was a return to track racing.  I'm slow as shit, and really have no business being on a track, but I love it.  I raced quite a bit on the track this year, even "competing" in the 4x100m relay at one of the BRRC meets.  I did two 5000m races (17:46 each) and a 2 mile (11:10).  There really is nothing more fun in the summer than to go out to a low key track meet and just see what you can do against some high school kids. 

6. Y'all Come Back Now.  I love to travel, particularly when I can go with friends, and even moreso when I can find a race that fits in.  This year was a perfect storm of activity, as the Peachtree 10k (see also: 60,000 people running down Peachtree Street in Atlanta) fell in line with an Orioles weekend series against the Braves.  Alyssa, Arjun, Melissa, Brennan, Ed and I hopped in the ol' family truckster and tackled the 714 mile drive to ATL down Tobacco Rd, stopping along the way in Blacksburg, VA, and Raleigh, NC (on the way home).  Brennan got us hooked up with game tickets, and come Monday (July 4, race day), we were toeing the line with the likes of Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman, to run one of the worst races I could have imagined.  It was so humid, and after an initial flat/downhill, it was just up, up, up for the back half.  Very hard.  Even harder was having to run BACK to the hotel.  An awesome experience though, I recommend you run the race if you have the opportunity.

7. Always a bridesmaid.  The brothers McLoughlin and I headed home to NJ in July to race in our friend's sprint (Randolph Lake).  Now, the three of us knows each other quite well, and based on the layout of the race (short swim, longer/harder bike, 5k run) I felt I had my best opportunity to bring my head-to-head record against them up.  Our friend Mike was the RD, and it was at his half iron last October that I finished 2nd.  Was it finally time to win a race?  When we saw Doug Clark show up in the morning, the answer was a resounding: NO.  Doug is awesome.  My best effort was to make sure he didn't eat up my 4 minute head start.  I managed to cross the line first, but he made up all by :30 of the gap, and was the overall winner.  Oh well.  It was still a good race for me.

8. Luray is for Lovers.  The VA Power Couple of Triathlon, the Mighty Palavecinos, owned this year's event.  Matias stomped errbody in Saturday's Olympic, and then came back to win again Sunday's sprint (fortunately Mighty Matias has gone "pro" for 2012 from what I hear).  KGD, now KGDP, won the Olympic, and took 2nd in the sprint.  CTR, Zero, and Pat could only watch as Matias ripped into us, but Alyssa gave KGD a run for her money, as she finished 2nd in the Olympic.  Meanwhile I had the most frustrating race I've ever had and just tried to make sure Ben didn't catch me.  Luray is one of the highlights of our year, and this year was even more fun as the 6 of us (CTR, Z, Pat, Ben, Alyssa, me) rented a cabin atop some absurd dirt road that only Alyssa's car could get to.  Then we rode a very challenging Skyline Drive ride the next day.  I'm eyeing this one for a great battle in 2012.

9. A PR at PDR.  With my hindered abilities, PRs at this point, while not impossible, are certainly not expected.  Particularly not when I decided to race a half marathon just three weeks after IM Louisville.  But Philly Distance Run is my jam; it's one of my favorite races on the planet, and I couldn't pass it up.  It also happened to be the day before my 30th birthday, and I really just wanted to go out on top, rather than with the sour taste of IM Louisville still lingering.  It was a gamble, because it honestly could have gone really poorly.  Fortunately for me, it didn't, and I was rewarded with a 4 second PR in what had to have been the best-run race I've ever had.  I was also fortunate to have Ed and Pat running near me for a little bit, but before the halfway point, I was on my own, and I was glad.  I worked hard, stayed tough, and took a little time out of my best time there. 

10. Ironman Failures.  A year ago if you had asked me if my 10:40:00 would still be my PR at the end of this year I would have said absolutely not.  I thought that was the best I could have done on that day, but I also thought it was the worst I would do.  A 3:57 marathon off a 5:32 bike, I was going to wreck that this year.  More time to train, more hours, more strength and overall fitness DO NOT MEAN YOU DO BETTER.  Louisville I could accept as a fluke.  I just got really, really sick at the really, really worst time.  If you take my swim into account, it was absolutely the best swim I've had this year, and likely the best swim of my life.  This, coming after a summer where I was swimming like shit.  Then, even on the bike, despite literally soft pedaling the entire second half, I still managed to split a 5:14.  And, even when I felt super duper sick, I managed to run just a little over 7 minute pace, for a few miles at least.  Arizona was just sad.  I don't know what happened, I don't know why I get sick when I travel to these races, I don't know why I didn't have it that day.  It's the most frustrating thing in the world to me, and in order to keep what little sanity I have left, I have no choice but to give up on this distance.

11. A win is a win.  I wouldn't end it on a bad note, so the moment I'll remember most from this year is my first triathlon win at the Waterman's Half.  Everything was so clutch about this day.  I was able to sign up for the race ON race day.  C'mon, how great is that?  It was in MD, so I didn't have to go far.  It was a Saturday race.  I mostly did it because it fit into my schedule and I wanted to do another longer distance race before IMAZ, but it worked out that everyone else in the triathlon world must have taken that weekend off.  I cruised in the water, coming out in 3rd and onto the bike in 2nd, and made quick work on the bike to assume the lead.  After I got passed, I made a wise decision to keep my effort steady and not worry about the guy in front, and just be confident in my run.  It was the right move, because within 3 miles on the run, I ate up the 3 minute lead he had, and cruised in for the win.  It was a very cool moment, and it was nice to have Alyssa there to see it. 

12. WE GOT HIM (bonus moment)

Of course, these are all quite selfish moments, and none of us would be anything without the crews that support us.  2011 was the year of the marathon, and it was awesome to see Ed run 2:36:45 at Chicago.  He averaged 10 miles per day (3652 for the year) and raced a zillion times, from the mile to the marathon and everything in between, setting numerous PRs and always working his schedule around others to run.  Then Pat ran his first marathon, and to be on hand for that was great.  Nothing beats running in your city, especially when your super pregnant wife and baby Megatron can waddle out of the house and walk a block and see you go by.  Pat's 2:50:43 at BALTIMORE has to be one of the best marathon debuts I've ever seen.  Zero, who will always mystify us as to how he can race so well on seemingly no training, put down massive PRs in the 5k, 10k, 10mi, half, Olympic tri and IRONMAN, where he went 9:49 at Louisville.  Incredible.  Brennan came off his tough 2010 to renew his passion for running, taking a different approach to racing and training, and helping others get to where they wanted to go.  Arjun ran the fastest 5k he's run since he's lived here, and Melissa got herself into some of the best shape I've ever seen her.  Ben got lucky and didn't have to swim at his first half iron, and signed up for his first IM this year.  Kris took a huge chunk out of his marathon PR at Richmond, training mostly on his own to do it.  My tri partners in crime, OJ/Benda/David Lee, helped so much in the first half of the year, and now that we're committed to S.O.S., I'll get to see them more through the spring and summer.  CTR exposed himself to the tri community and has become a valuable asset in the fight against crime.  My mom and dad made it out to Arizona to check out an unfortunately shitty race, good thing they think that crossing the line is a big accomplishment.  And really, not enough can be said about the amazing year Alyssa had - running a hundred mile trail race in Hawaii in January, and then qualifying for Hawaii later in the year.  How many people have done that?  Or do a 100k trail race 3 weeks after an Ironman?  Or do a 100 miler, 2 Ironmans, a 100k, two one mile races, a half marathon, a cross country 5k, PR in most things from the beer mile to Olympic distance, qualify for Hawaii ALL in the same year?  Not anybody I know.

So while 2011, all in all, was not my best year, it was for my friends, and I'll take that as a win.  And then just cross my fingers that maybe 2012 is a little better for me.

Monday, January 02, 2012


This was the year that my good friend Ben Ingram finished up his PhD...

It's also the number of miles I ran this year, which is the most I've run since I started keeping track in 2005 (I wonder how many I was running during college, when my average weeks through the year were more like 80 instead of 40...)

I capped off the month of December with 216 miles, also the most I've run since March of 2009 (two months before getting hit).  My last four weeks have been: 30, 44, 53, 60 and with yesterday's long run, this week was 61.  It feels mostly pretty good to be running slightly higher mileage right now, of course, I have not touched my bike this month.  That wasn't by design, rather by laziness.  And just the fact that I only have so much energy, and on a whim I signed up for the Charleston Marathon (Jan 14) so I figured I'd be better off not riding and instead focusing on running a little more.  I've gotten more comfortable again running in the 70-90 minute range, and I've even done a few workouts, like this little gem on Tuesday:

4800m: 17:50 (5:55, 5:58, 5:57)
1:30 rest
3200m: 11:48 (5:54, 5:54)
2:45 rest (to wait for Dustin to come around)
1600m: 5:40

The 6 minute pace or just under felt okay, I certainly don't feel as comfortable running that as I used to, but the fact I can still do it is pretty cool. 

The pool this month was weird.  I felt great in the beginning of the month, still somewhat fresh after AZ, but as the weeks went on, and the running mileage went up, I was no longer feeling as good.  I ended the month with 30,000m of swimming, which was well up from the 17k I swam last December.  However, the 0 miles on the bike was well below the monster 40 miles I rode last December.  So it evened out. 

If I were going to grade myself for the month of December, it would look like:

Swimming - A.  30k in the pool in my "off" month is pretty good, and I actually did a few things like a) attempted to swim more strokes, including butterfly and even attending my first ever swim practice. (7 people in my lane!)

Cycling - F. Ha.  I mean, I can't justify any better grade for that considering I put up a goose egg.  Would you get a grade if you didn't go to class and didn't turn in any assignments?  Well, depending on your major.  I suppose my friend Greg still did at least earn a 0.42 GPA that first semester of college...

Running - A+.  216 miles for the month, a 7 day stretch of 68 miles, workouts, feeling good.  That's a very positive end to the year for me.  I don't think I've had to do any runs completely by myself, we've had an awesome group lately, so I'm very thankful for that.  The friendly weather for December certainly helped, as I haven't been cold yet.  Even my chilblains haven't showed up in full effect, so that's been good.

My long run yesterday KO'd me.  17 miles in Mt. Washington area with Dustin, Nate, Conrad, and Seth.  After getting back to Gilman, I hopped on the track for two miles at 6:50, 6:45, and that effort felt much easier than most of the rest of the run.  I'm hopeful it's enough to get me to the line in Charleston in good shape.  Not ideal, but then again, neither was this abbreviated training cycle.  I didn't go out on NYE, didn't have anything to drink, so I could be ready for Sunday's run, and afterwards I felt like I had been out until 6 in the morning.  I kept my New Year's Day tradition of Chinese food following the run, with Alyssa, and basically sat on the couch all day and watched episodes of ABC's Once Upon a Time. 

I'm going to do something a little different for my end of the year wrap-up this year, but I'll get to that this week.  For now, I'll do my final overall grades for the year:

Swimming - B+.  You can study and study and study, but if you don't do well on tests, what would your teachers have to grade you on?  This year I took a slightly different approach to swimming, and it offered mixed results.  In my shorter distance races, I did not feel like I performed very well, but in 3 of my 4 longer races (half IM and up) I felt like I did pretty well.  I had a poor swim at Columbia, and while I thought I did well at Eagleman, I still lost a lot of time.  Part of this was, due to the very warm spring and summer, water temps prohibited wetsuits, and I didn't pick up a speedsuit until August.  NJ Tri was probably my worst swim of the year, but then I had a great day at IM Louisville, Waterman's Half, and a good result at IM Arizona.  I swam 443,500m (275 miles) this year, which was way down from 2010 (I think something like 550k), but in the end, had better IM swims.  I'll be changing it up again for 2012 to try and improve on my weak areas.

Cycling - B.  Good rides at Columbia and Eagleman were overshadowed by a summer of incredible bad luck.  Flats were the trend for me this year, and the most frustrating episode came when I rode the Luray course with my rear wheel completely jammed up against the chainstay.  I felt like I made progress to get back to where I had been, especially at the races that I could compare previous performances, but then I had lackluster days at some, including the big two (IMLou, IMAZ).  I rode 5569 miles this year, and at least I enjoyed most of my rides.  Need to figure out what I'm doing for 2012, which will feature fewer triathlons, so it may feature less riding overall.

Running - A.  Hard to not at least pat myself on the back a little bit for some of my performances.  Two 17:46 5k track races within a month of each other, on either end of an Ironman, and a half marathon PR of 1:18:38 just three weeks after the IM were pretty good results for me.  I would say my best triathlon run of the year was at Waterman's, when I was comfortably able to go 1:33:03 on a challenging course, or the 5k at Randolph Lake Sprint.  Every other race was a worthless piece of garbage on the run for me.  I did also manage a 1:00:12 at Club Challenge, which was, looking back, a great race for me, and the 1:21:49 half in January was a big result, especially considering when it was.  I ran 1968 miles, as I mentioned, which was a lot for me.  Average of 37/week, next year's goal is going to be around 40/week for the year, which I suspect may be a little higher as I focus on running for more of the year.