Saturday, October 30, 2010

Today, I'm running my last long run.

The days you think are going to be big ones, they are never as big as you make them out to be in your head. It’s the regular days, the ones that start out normal, those are the days that end up being the biggest.

Today marks my last long run. It's the last weekend where I will have to start thinking about what I'm eating two whole days before the big workout. It's the last time that I will be "busy" one night of the weekend. Busy eating, sleeping and running, that is. It's the last weekend morning that I will wake up early and venture out into the city that never sleeps during her morning nap.

So naturally, I'm jumping for joy that I finally get that long run day back to myself. Not so much.

I'm not sure when these long runs went from chore to pleasure, but I suddenly love every inch of them from the waking-up-early-part to the cold-bath-part. Of course, those long runs aren't all cupcakes and sunshine. I usually hit one or two patches during the run when my mind becomes hyper-conscious of every footstep already taken and everyone footstep yet to come and the miles stretch out for days.

But it's awful and awesome all at the same time.

When I cross my "finishing line" and stumble to a bench to stretch out, I'm all smiles. In fact, before I even finish, as I shuffle down musuem mile past all the tourists taking pictures of the park and the museums, I'm smiling like a fool. I hope I'm doing my part to dispell the myth about angry New Yorkers.

That sense of accomplishment after a run is so huge and yet so singular and personal. During the run, it's all about the next step, but when it's over, and I stare down the miles past, I still cannot help but be surprised that I actually ran that far. I imagine that for someone who has been running their whole life - the Ryan Halls of the world - that this would just be another day. But to me, who only two summers ago I tackled my first run in Central Park by running barely a mile and a half, to me, it's almost a miracle.

I've definitely had periods in my life where I've been more fit than I was two years ago. In high school, I was borderline obsessed with swimming and trained year round, sometimes twice a day. During graduate school I picked up a six mile a day run habit. But when I moved to the Big Apple, working long hours and partying took precedence and my health fell to the wayside. And that was exactly how I envisioned my life unfolding in this city. After all, isn't that what we see on television and in the movies?

Life in this city is supposed to be a grand whirl of new restuarants and designer coctails, four inch high heels and jobs that require late hours and suits. Or it's about trying to make it for the love of your art, and discovering the awesome counter-culture that thrives in every corner of the city not overgrown with tourists. But instead of all of that glamour, I found my way, dirty and sweaty, on a run.

And that's why I will miss these long runs, because each time I finish a long run, it reminds me that things never turn out the way that I expect, and that good things come from the small and seemingly inconsequential decisions. They fill my weeks with a regular and grand sense of accomplishment that gives me the courage and the strength to try to tackle the impossible in other areas of my life. As the sports writer John Hanc put it, "I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible."

Quote from "What a Difference A Day Makes" of Grey's Anatomy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

23 Days Until Philadelphia Marathon!

Only three more weeks until the big day, and one more long run before finally, FINALLY, resting before the big race.

Photo of Marathon by G. Widman for GPTMC
Photo of Skyline by B. Krist for GPTMC

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Like any addict, I didn’t think this was going to happen to me. It started as a once in a while habit – a pick me up after a late night of cramming for exams. It wasn’t long though before I progressed to a daily fix, first laden with sugar and milk, and then as the addiction grew roots into my system, I craved it black and scalding hot. If I didn’t get my cup of coffee first thing in the morning , there was no hope for the day.

Though I was completely hooked on my daily cup, I had not reached junkie-status. A cup or two a day did the trick often enough. I probably would have continued on in this state for years, had I not decided to enter the world of marathons. Long
training runs and daily six a.m. workouts demanded that I start thinking about how I fueled my body immediately before and during strenuous exercise.

But instead of turning to whole foods, I followed popular training advice and decided to supplement with scientifically formulated options from the running store. Shot blocks, gels, sport beans, chomps – whatever you call them. They are small, sweet, portable snacks, no bigger than two tablespoons and contain the proper ratio of electrolytes and simple carbohydrates. To make the gels sexy, extra vitamins or herbs are added to the gels promising to help a runner go faster for longer. In plain English, they’re legal performance enhancers.

Being a coffee addict, I naturally scoffed at the super herbs and amino acids, and went straight for the extra caffeine. Between 60-70% of all the products contain some caffeine. The average is about 30 mg of caffeine which equates to 20-30% of an average cup of drip coffee. But, I’m trying to run a marathon here.

I need all the help I can get.

So I skipped right over the ones that said caffeine to the ones reading ‘2x caffeine.’ At first, I only took one ‘2x caffeine’ during the last 3-4 mile slug. But as my mileage creeped up, I switched over to only amped-up caffeine dosages, so that I was soon consuming the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee during the run. That’s in addition to the two cups that I downed with breakfast Then I discovered the espresso shot gel from Clif Bars. 100mg of pure caffeine right before the run to put me at around 5 cups of coffee on a long run day – all before noon. At that rate, I was going to need an IV from Starbucks on race day to feel any effects whatsoever.

Then I read this interesting book called “Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life” by Brendan Brazier. The book espouses an excellent theory about how to nourish your body while performing extreme exercise, and it also highlighted a rather obvious principle about the use of stimulants during exercise. (And no, it’s not the vegan meals that help you perform better either. Here’s a link to the No Meat Athlete’s blog post on the basic premise of his book if you are interested.)

There are two ways to get energy: directly from food consumed or stimulation. When I eat a banana and a granola bar, the carbohydrates, fat and protein in these items will help fuel my impending run. My body will literally digest the food and use it directly to power the run, as opposed to storing it for later (for fat) or for regular maintenance (cell regeneration). When I drink a cup of coffee, it will stimulate my body and only feel like I have increased energy. I’m buying energy on credit when I drink a cup of coffee, and I’m paying for energy with cash when I eat a banana. But when the workout is over, my body pays back that energy plus interest, leaving me exhausted for the remainder of the day.

In “Thrive” Brendan doesn’t discourage the use of caffeine to enhance workouts but he strongly advocates that it should be used sparingly and only during the most strenuous workouts or races. By only using caffeine sparingly, a true burst of energy and endurance is felt. Just like I plan to race my marathon in a lighter pair of Brooks running shoes than I’ve been training in, the idea that I would be able to actually feel a surge of energy from a cup of coffee seemed like it could be a huge physical (and psychological) advantage.

So I quit coffee. One day I woke up and just didn’t have my daily cup. I did the same the next day too, and the day after that. This was not a painless activity. The first day I felt lightheaded, the second day I had a pounding headache, and the third day I couldn’t focus. Note what I didn’t feel: tired, which is naturally what I assumed I would feel without my daily kick in the pants. Eventually, after less than a week’s time all withdrawal symptoms had passed. .

After abstaining from coffee for a whole week, I had my first cup of coffee right before a long run. Not only did I feel the coffee stimulate my body into overdrive, but I felt excited and even giddy about a four hour workout. Then when I set out on my run, that nervous energy dissipated into a cool, lightness which took me right through the eighteen mile hurdle. After failing to complete eighteen miles on two separate occasions, when I finally did conquer that distance, I felt that I had reached pre-run fueling nirvana – if such a thing exists.

I’m oddly very proud that I kicked my coffee habit, and super psyched about the new little boost that I can look forward to from a cup of coffee on race days. And that’s just the thing about running marathons. It takes me to places both literally and figuratively that I never before imagined. A year ago I would have acted as if giving up coffee was akin to going without air, but now after a few pages from some book, I’m off it.

To someone who hasn’t run a marathon, the greatest part of the whole exercise would seem to be crossing that finish line, but as I’m getting closer and closer to my big day, I have a sneaking suspicion that the race is just the cherry on top. More and more, the training seems to be the most magical part – from the way a fellow marathoner can become an instant friend to the surprise realization that I can get ready for work – including a shower – in under 15 minutes. But of course, I still haven’t actually run a marathon yet, so what do I know?

Eight and A Half Miles through Central Park and Riverside Park

I love Central Park. I really do. But when I run there every day, I need a change of pace. So here's my last long-short run route. I'm taking it out of the park and over to the West Side.

The course starts by the MET and follows Central Park Drive East to the 72nd Street Transverse. Then I'm taking 72nd Street to Riverside Park where I will run in the park up to 110th Street. At 110, I'll turn around but I'll run back on the Riverwalk path, by cutting under the West Side Highway to the path that runs on the boardwalk.

From there it's straight down to 65th Street, right behind the Trump Buildings and then running up the huge hill, and across to the Park. Once I reach Central Park, I'm going to jump on the Bridle Path and follow that north to the Reservoir. I'll run across the bottom of the Reservoir and back to the MET.

Voila! 8.45 miles all before work even starts.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New York City Marathon Resources

Maybe you are running the NYC Marathon. Maybe your sister or father or coworker is running New York for a charity to honor a loved one. Maybe you just want a quintessential New York City experience. Or maybe, like me, you're running New York in 2011 and you want to stare the beast in the eye before you finally take him on.

Either way, here's a bunch of resources to help you navigate the marathon and marathon week. (Yep, we make it a week long event here!)

Q: Where is a good spot to watch to watch the marathon?

A: Anywhere! There are fans cheering on every inch of the course, minus the bridges. Here's a link to the course map. Plus here's another map that shows the subway stops near the route.

Q: What time will the marathon runners reach 1st avenue? The finish line?

A: The fastest runners start at 9:40 a.m. and you can estimate 5 minute miles for the leaders. So you if you are stationed at 72nd and First Avenue, that's about mile 16.75, so you can expect to see runners at eleven in the morning.
But remember the slowest runners can start at 10:40 am and take upwards of 5 hours to run, so there will be people streaming through the city all afternoon.

Q: What famous people are running the marathon?

A: There is someone for everyone! For fashionistas, there is Rachel Roy and several models, for the foodies, Bobby Flay will be out there, and for the Subway fans, there's Jared. Here's a complete list.

Q: What is the New York Marathon course like?

A: This isn't the easiest marathon to run. It's certainly not the one where you get lots of space between you and the other forty thousand runners. But there are spectactors along the entire course - with things like gospel choirs in Harlem and views of the Manahattan skyline each time you cross a bridge (aka hill). Here's a three minute video of the course and here's a description of the course strategy for runners.

Q: I want some marathon running gear! Where can I buy some?

A: You can buy marthon gear at the expo in the days before the race. Or you can pop into any running store in the city and score a t-shirt or nice little fleece. My favorite running stores are Jack Rabbit at 85th and Lex and NYC Running Company in Columbus Circle.

Q: What fun things are there to do in the city for the spectators?

A: Check out the expo for lots of running and health gear if you are an aspiring marathoner or health nut. If you like to tailgate, then check out the Coors Light Refreshment stops along the course. If all the buzz has got you itching for a run, try the NYRR Five Mile race on the Friday before the run. Check out the fireworks on Marathon Eve in Central Park or scope out one of the many special events that NYRR's is offering this week.

Q: I need to eat some Italian food the night before the race. Any recommendations?

A: Yes, get your fix of Italian in a neighborhood less populated with tourists. Try the Upper East Side or Upper West Side, and make reservations before hand. I like UVA Wine Bar, Becco, and Tiramisu. Or if you are like me and your big meal before the race is going to be light, try the salad bar at Whole Foods in Union Square. I know it's not fancy, but you can make your own salad - either lettuce or a grain salad (pasta, quinoa, rice, wheat berries) and add the protein and oil that you need instead of giving the waitress a big headache.
Plus you can eat your salad in the cafe upstairs and enjoy pretty views of Union Square while you eat.

Q: I need more gels. I forgot my running socks. My iPod headphones broke. Help!

A: Chill out. This in New York City, not the middle of a corn field. Ask your hotel for the nearest running store, or use that smart phone and google it. If you need a specific brand, the largest running stores in the city are the Running Company stores so head to one of those. Also, the flagship Nike store on 57th street will probably have your Nike gear. You can get headphones, gatorade, batteries, and everything else at a drug store.

Q: I've never been to New York before. My knowledge of the city is based upon television and movies. What can I do to make the trip less stressful?

A: First, check out the course via the course bus tour. This will give you an idea of what to expect on race day. If you are looking for something to do that doesn't require too much walking or standing, try a Broadway show, a boat tour on the Water Taxi, or a Central Park tour in a pedi-cab. Most tourist attractions will require long periods of standing in lines, so skip those. And don't worry, because you'll get some awesome photos of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan if you take the ferry to the starting line.

Q: How many people will run the marathon this year?

A: NYRR estimates that about 45,000 people will run, which is the most to run a marathon ever.

Good Luck to all and I'll see you at my watching spot - the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Five Miles With a View

Here's a five mile route with views of the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, the United Nations, Roosevelt Island and midtown and Queens on the East River!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


There are only 39 more days until the Philadelphia Marathon on November 21, 2010. In running speak, that is 26 more workouts, 2 twenty mile runs, 1 five mile race, and one pair of shoes from now.

Staten Island Half Marathon

The Staten Island Half Marathon on Sunday was great this weekend. The course is mostly flat and though it goes through some industrial and suburban areas, it's filled with lots of pretty views of southern Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey.
Plus I had a personal best time of 2:19! Now, it's time to start counting down to the marathon. Only six more weeks to go.

Vegetarian Sources of Protein

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a hardcore vegetarian. I’ll have the occasional steak or sushi roll when the mood strikes me – mostly when I’m dining out or back home in Michigan. But by and large, I eat a vegetarian diet. These choices are motivated by health concerns: many cuts of meat are high in saturated fats and cholesterol. And by lifestyle choices: meat based meals provide almost no immediate running fuel. Meat is also harder to digest than plant products and therefore consumes more energy to extract nutrients.

My muscles still need their protein though, and tofu can get to be pretty boring. Not to mention the fact that there is conflicting information about whether or not excessive amounts of soy protein are beneficial or harmful. Thankfully, there are so many other sources of protein available these days and the health food store around the block from my apartment carries many of these options. Here’s a list of my main sources of protein – supplemented with the weekend treat of a steak.

Quinoa-Oh, how I love thee. I’ve already waxed and waned poetic about my love for quinoa and even shared a recipe on it. 1 cup cooked quinoa has 254 calories, 4 grams of fat, 47 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber.

Tempeh-A protein made out of fermented vegetables or grains, it has a chewy, hearty texture and it tastes mild but a little nutty. It’s good in stir-fries, or toasted up in a pan with a little oil and salt. It’s nutrional profile is pretty awesome which I why I tolerate it. Half of a package has 240 calories, 11 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fiber.

Nuts-Walnuts, almonds, pecans, and cashews are my favorite and I get my fill by adding them to salads, pasta dishes or alone in trail mixes. One ounce of almonds (about 24 nuts) has 170 calories, 15 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbs, 6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

Seeds-My favorites seeds are chia seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds. I eat them like nuts, except for chia seeds which I use in a whole different way. I add chia to smoothies, in baked good recipes, and I make chia gel and use it as a substitute for oil. One tablespoon of chia seeds has 69 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and 5.5 grams of fiber.

Peas-Cooked peas can only go so far in life. They taste delicious but with their distinct flavor cannot be used often. However, I am addicted to the Trader Joe’s Wasabi Peas. It’s a bit of a splurge, but the sharp wasabi flavor helps temper the appetite. One quarter cup of TJ’s Wasabi Peas has 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fiber.

Seitan-A vegetarian protein made out of the gluten of wheat, it has a meat like texture and taste. It’s hard to make and so I never make it, but once in a while I get it at a restaurant. Three ounces of seitan has 130 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and no fiber.

Ancient grains-Wheat berries, farro, and spelt are ancient grains served still in their husks. They have a chewy texture and nutty taste that complement salads. You can now buy pastas, crackers, cookies and more baked goods made from these flours and providing a more attractive nutrition profile. Half a cup of farro has 200 calories, 2 grams of fat, 52 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, and 7 grams of fiber.

Hemp seeds
-My current protein powder of choice, the taste of hemp is nutty but a little bit off. It also is bright green and imparts this color on everything. That being said, it’s has Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s and is a great source of protein. Four tablespoons of hemp protein powder has 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbs, 11 grams of protein, and 14 grams of fiber.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Staten Island Half Marathon

Uh oh! I haven't worked out since Monday. What gives?

Well, the Staten Island Half-Marathon is this weekend, and I'm tapering for the race. What exactly does tapering mean?

Tapering means...

good sleep

eating lots of carbs (65%-75% of my calories)

mentally visualizing the race

making plans to get to Staten Island at 8am on a Sunday

resting my legs

taking a break from exercising

buying new running shoes

listening to inspirational music

getting excited about racing

Out of the park, away from the Upper East Side, and passing by the starting point for the New York Marathon, this race should be fun and inspirational. It's been over a year since I ran a half-marathon and in that time, I've trained so much more, and I would love the chance to tackle this distance again.

Also, Sunday is 10-10-10. Sounds like a good luck date to me!

Staten Island here I come!

Songs on Repeat the Week of October 4

This week is a very special week. It's quarter end, too many people have birthdays this week, and I'm tapering for the Staten Island Half Marathon.

As much as tapering is a phsyical break from all the training, it's a mental ramp up in motivation. Bring on the music with good vibes!

Everlasting Light by The Black Keys

On My Way by DJ Khaled

Ghost in the Machine by B.o.B.

Do It by Nelly Furtado

Hey World (Don't Give Up Version)by Michael Franti & Spearhead

Simple As... by Kid Cudi

My Life (Feat. Lil' Wayne) by The Game

Now all I have to do is work on my Staten Island dance moves...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Finally Legal - An 18 Mile Run

Here's my eighteen mile run route. Pretty much the same as 17, only this time I turned around at Chambers Street.

Oh man, do you know how happy I am to have finally conquered this beast? Took me three tries, but I made it!


Plus One, Minus One Wall

This marathon story isn’t ending in Philadelphia. That’s just the beginning.

In 2011, I will run the New York Marathon through the nine plus one program offered by New York Road Runners. Nine plus one, means that I must run nine New York Road Runners Races and then I must volunteer for one more race. So far, I’ve run six races and on Saturday, I took care of my “plus one.”

After a rainy and humid week, the last thing I wanted to do on the first cool and sunny day in a week was watch other people run. But I did it anyway, because I want to run New York more than I want to sleep. My primary responsibility was to keep the tourists, recreational runners and bicyclers from getting in the way of the race. My secondary responsibility was to cheer for the runners. I’m not kidding. That is actually what we are supposed to do.

The race was a half marathon and I was stationed at the five mile and eleven mile marks. I was so excited to be stationed at mile eleven. I couldn’t wait for the runners who would be feeling just like I felt at my half marathon last fall. I had big plans for them. When they came by, I wanted to yell and cheer them up and give them the hope they could finish the remaining two point one miles with strength and speed.

I waited and waited. I stood there for over two hours, but I never saw one person who looked like they were suffering. There were tired ones, sweaty ones, focused ones, ones who were bopping their heads to their music, and others with crazy costumes, but every single one of those crazy running fools looked like they were having a great time. Not one of those expressions read, I don’t want to be doing this.

I know exactly how it feels to run and to race. I know that pain that settles into your hamstrings and doesn’t leave. I know what it’s like to spend twenty seconds bending each knee after three hours of running. I know that certain pairs of my shoes just won’t fit after a run, and that I shouldn’t use my sea salt scrub because chafe marks that won’t show up for a few hours will sting instantly.

What I didn’t know: it doesn’t look as bad as it feels.

Seeing those marathoners reminded me that this crazy adventure is really about the strength of one little muscle: my brain. That’s why the best marathoners in the world aren’t twenty-two; they’re thirty-five. Maturity makes for a stronger mental fortitude. Physical strength and endurance is necessary but each time I’m out there putting the miles on feet, I am putting them on my mind too.

Now that I’ve figured out the magic ingredient, I finally have a response to those nagging doubts. More than another run or carbohydrate, I needed to believe that I can run a marathon. I’ve gotten so hung up on the pain and the threat of the wall that I’ve started to suffer from a serious case of self doubt. But if seven thousand runners don’t look like they are about to fall apart at the very moment that I felt that way, then the only real wall I need to be worried about is the one I’m building up in my head. And I can tear down that wall at anytime, because it’s only a figment of my imagination.