Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nike Chooses Image Over Reality

One of my favorite running quotes comes from "Once a Runner," the John Parker novel about Quenton Cassidy. It's admittedly a bit corny.
Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.
It's true because running is pretty stark. At the end of the day, you can't fake it. Natural ability will only help so much. The more you pour into it, the more you get out. There are no style points. That's refreshing because in our modern world, the reverse is too frequently true. Often image is more important than reality. I was reminded of this when I got a Google link to The Nike Human Race book to commemorate the 10k the company held in August. What's clear from my original post about The Human Race is Nike screwed up and put its marketing goals ahead of runners. Now it's looking to upsell those same runners with a 256-page glossy book, "The Day the World Stopped to Run." (That'll run over $50 when you're done with customized cover and shipping.) Ana and I IMd about this today. She has written about this already when it comes to brands. Her idea is that often brands try to communicate an abstract image while people's perceptions are increasingly formed by their real-world interactions. All too often images have the upper hand. The reality of the Nike Human Race was a poorly planned race -- really more marketing event -- that frustrated many participants. What Nike wants people to see is a glossy image of "inspiring" photos and little stories about runners overcoming adversity. This is all surface, the typical reliance on images. People run for so many real reasons -- to lose weight, to do something extraordinary, to find out more about themselves -- and that should be celebrated. The way to celebrate that is by doing right by runners in reality, through great products and services, not treating them as props for the marketing machine.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Week's Miles

Today is four weeks until the marathon. It was one of my toughest weeks of training, a full 70 miles. Because of the half marathon last Sunday, I flipped around some of my training. My schedule called for 11 miles with VO2 max work on Monday. This wasn't going to happen, so I substituted two five-mile recovery runs. I concentrated on the mileage this week, but ended up doing a fast 12-miler, mostly at sub-7 pace. I woke up not feeling great that day, but I had a bit of adrenaline and then met up with a very fast runner to keep my pace. So it was a strange week. I felt very strong running, yet I didn't do tempo or VO2 max. It was topped off with a 20-miler yesterday that was either a bad decision or a sign I'm ready. I ran Central Park in a gusty wind and occasional showers. I appreciate the advice about keeping my training paces down, but at this point I'm running on feel. I know what a fair long run pace feels like. I ended up running a hilly 20 at about 7:15 pace. Afterward, I felt fine, although all the miles made me a zombie last night. My recovery run today sucked for the first few miles, then felt like a breeze. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty confident right now. The injuries are gone, for the most part, and I've never been in better shape in my life. Even when I wake up tired, once I start running my body takes over. This week, I'm back to true speed work. My miles will begin to decrease slightly to 63, a semi-recovery week. There are only two more weeks of tough training before the taper.

5.75 miles, 43:43

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Did Nike Blow It Again?

The other day, Darryl sent me a link to a column about the unfortunate case of Arien O'Connell. She ran the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco over the weekend in a PR of 2:55. It turns out it was the fastest time the day. The problem: Nike had 20 "elite" runners go off 20 minutes before the field. The race's official results had another woman as first with a time of 3:06. My first thought was injustice and another case of Nike totally blowing it. But then I thought about it some more. This was a tough one. Marathons aren't time trials. Yes, it seems clear that Arien was the fastest runner that day, but there is a strategy to racing that can't be dismissed. It's not just USATF rules. It's simple logic: you adjust your pace based on your competitors. Yesterday, Nike awarded Arien fastest chip time for her run. This was the right thing to do. What mystifies me is that the race had so many slow "elite" runners. I'm sorry, but a 3:06 and above is hardly elite. Nike said it wouldn't have an elite start next year, which it clearly doesn't need for a race without any prize money or true elite runners.

12 miles, 1:23:38

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Week's Miles

I'm now a month from the marathon. It was important for me to figure out where I am with training. That meant trimming back the mileage somewhat to run a solid half marathon. The race went well, well enough that I feel fairly confident. Otherwise, it was an uneventful running week. The training at this point is what it is. I get up, run, work, eat, sleep. When I'm done with one workout, I think about recovering for the next. It's not obsessive -- I won't make running the only thing I do outside work -- but it is second nature.

Miles: 62

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I woke up with the regular pre-race nerves today. Any number of things can go wrong during a race. Feeling nervous is normal. In fact, if you don't feel nervous, it could be a sign you're not preparing seriously. But I knew this wasn't my goal race, just another step along the way to what I want to achieve in a little more than a month's time.

One of the things about races is they don't go as expected. I always compare the trials, tribulations and pure joy of running to life. In this way, racing is no different. Things happen. Today, lots of things happened. we picked up a hot Mustang from the Hertz dealership, then began the drive south. We got lost. I'm not sure how it happened, but before we knew it, we were in Mount Holly, which is not Seaside Heights. After rejiggering our route, we arrived in Seaside Heights a little after the start time. "Maybe they'll go off late." Just then, a stream of runners went by on the boardwalk ahead. Ugh. After parking the car and scrambling to the registration, I was set to run nearly 15 minutes after the race started and 10 minutes after a 5k went off.

Thing is, it would be easy to say forget it at this point. No stretching, a slapped on number, a brutal wind and a field miles ahead. Running of course isn't like that. Off I went. The odd part was running at a hard pace by the 5k runners and the back of the half-marathon pack. Many were startled and understandably wierded out. Once I began running, I felt normal. The hard part was setting a pace on my own. It's easy to relax when you're streaming by dozens of people. But the first few miles were at a really brisk pace. At mile 6, I did a 6:01. At that point, I had visions of possible Olympic greatness. Then I met the reckoning when we turned for the back half of the race. It turns out the "brisk wind" was between 30mph and 40mph. Seriously, I can't remember running in anything like it. My pace ballooned. I felt fine, but I was having a hard time even running straight because I'd get bounced around. It was particularly severe because the course went along the shore. By the time I got back to boardwalk for the last three miles, sand was stinging my arms and legs. I finished with plenty of it in my sneakers. I held on. I started to run out of energy the last two miles. I didn't take a gel, and the Seaside Half Marathon not only didn't offer Gatorade but gave out water in bottles. For real. My goal going in was 1:25. I ran a 1:24, the most unusual race I've ever run by the splits. They're crazy, everywhere from 6:01 to 7:19. If I'd started with everyone, I'd have gotten 8th place.

In the end, I'm happy with how the race went. I know I'm there, I really do. Any number of things can happen in Philly on Nov. 23, and they might. I accept that. Still, I know the work has paid off and I have the ability to run really well.

Mile 1: 6:06
Mile 2: 6:12
Mile 3: 6:03
Mile 4: 6:11
Mile 5: 6:02
Mile 6: 6:01
Mile 7: 6:15
Mile 8: 6:44
Mile 9: 7:19
Mile 10: 6:34
Mile 11: 6:45
Mile 12: 6:46
Mile 13.1: 7:24

17 miles

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Time for Testing

Today is 36 days until the Philadelphia Marathon. My inevitable question to myself is: Am I ready? I don't know the answer. Qualitatively, I feel like I'm nearly ready. My endurance is off the charts for me. Last week's 22-miler didn't kill me. My tempo runs are coming along. I don't feel terribly injured. Still, I don't know for sure where I am. Only a race will really tell me that. So tomorrow morning I'm picking up a car to drive two hours to Seaside Heights, NJ, where I'll run a half marathon. My goal: 1:25, which would put me exactly where I need to be for a sub-3 marathon. This would be a PR for me of more than two minutes. I've run dozens of races, yet I still get nervous for them. Part of it is a common motivation: fear. For me, the fear is always I'll take the easy way out, ease up when it's tough. It's somewhat irrational. If anything, I probably tend to overdo it -- see my two trips to the hospital. Still, it's always there. A little fear of failure is probably a good thing overall.

5.75 miles, 41:51

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Losing Yourself

The other day I came across a post by Scott at A Trail Runner's Blog about the performance effect of listening to music while running. It turns out a new study by a sports psychologist finds listening to tunes while running can improve endurance levels 15 percent. His take is music acts as "a legal drug. It reduces the perception of effort by blocking fatigue-related messages to the brain." I'm no sports psychologist; I'm not buying what he's selling. Maybe I'm too much of a purist. For me, music while running is missing the point. It's not about blocking messages to the brain, but listening to your body and spending time alone with your thoughts. It's about getting in touch with the primal act of running, even if you're running through a busy city. That's what got me up at 6am today run. Tuesdays are tough days: 14 miles. That's a good 1:45 out there before a day at the office. I'm sure the distraction of music might have helped make it seem easier, but I would have missed so much. For instance, today confirmed that I'm in good shape. I was running light. I felt light -- I'm starting to get people comment, somewhat worriedly, that I look skinny-- and my steps were soft. I would have missed that my strides were landing soft if I had music blaring. I would have missed the temporary quiet of Riverside Park before dawn, then the sounds of Manhattan waking up as I went down the Hudson. More important, I would have missed how awesome it is to lose yourself, totally zone out and let the miles come to you. I wouldn't trade that for the world, much less tricking my mind that I'm not really tired.

14 miles, 1:46:05

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Week's Miles

For a 70-mile week, it didn't go that bad. In fact, I even managed to go out a three nights. The key run of the week was a great 12-mile tempo run. If the distances Nike posted are to be believed, I ran well below 6:30 for the seven miles. Yesterday's 22-mile run came off surprisingly easily, although I got scared by some acute shin pain. That was mostly gone this morning. The good training left me with a dilemma: how to get in at least one half marathon before Philly? I'm pretty much decided on trying the Seaside Half Marathon in presumably lovely Seaside Heights, NJ. Now my debate is how much to taper for the race. My schedule calls for 68 miles, including an 8-15k tune-up race. Since I'm going a little farther, I'll trim back some of the workouts. In particular, Pfitzinger has an 18-mile long run in addition to the race. Um, no thanks. I'll probably max out at 60 miles for the week.

5 miles, 40:30

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Doing Something Extraordinary

Over at Absolut(ly) Fit, Laura has a great post about running marathons. She's done like eight already this year. Pretty soon, she'll pass my lifetime total, and I've been running them for eight years. Laura writes about how running has allowed her to transcend the ordinary to do something extraordinary. It's very true. Running is like that. We all run at different paces, different distances and for different reasons. Everyone who commits to distance running is, in some ways, doing something personally extraordinary. Let's face it, despite all the recent economic turmoil, our lives are incredibly easy. Modern life has afforded us with an embarrassing amount of luxuries and asks little of us regularly. Most of us sit in cubicles all day, more at risk of heart disease and boredom than anything else. Running is a way of breaking out of our mundane daily lives. My skeptical nature looks askance at the "you're all winners" mantra of marathons. I regard the race itself ambivalently. The big business marathons have become make them more about marketing and monetization. Yet there's something cool about them because each runner is doing something out of the ordinary. Alone but together. Noakes writes about how this is the epitome of competition: "to seek out in the company of others."

I thought about this a bit today during my 22-mile run, the farthest I'll go during training. I've gotten to the point where running 22 miles at a 7:45 pace isn't all that difficult. My only concern is a pain in my left shin. This is pretty new. I felt some tenderness there before during training, but it came on rather suddenly at about mile 16 of the run. I'm icing it right now, praying it's not something serious like my nightmare, a stress fracture. I get paranoid about injuries when I'm training. Otherwise, I feel fine. My new plan is to run a half marathon next weekend in Seaside Heights, NJ. Never been, although I did run the NJ Marathon a few years back, finishing in 3:04. Much of the race is along the boardwalk, which should be interesting. Getting there will be doubly interesting since I don't have a car. Time to use TTG's Budget employee discount code.

22 miles, 2:53:58

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Feeling Fast

Tonight, I went out for a key tempo run: 7 miles at half-marathon pace during a 12-mile run. Originally, the run was supposed to be this morning. But I did 15 miles yesterday morning, and it wiped me out. I haven't gotten enough sleep this week. (Madonna is partially to blame. Don't ask.) Last night, I realized I needed some extra rest. With an off day Friday, I could switch over to evening running. Today, I felt a cold coming on and was just low energy all day, despite sleeping over nine hours. Going out for the run, I wasn't too confident. Then a funny thing happened: after a four mile warmup, I started the tempo run, and it felt pretty good. Even though I run a fair amount and typically finish in the top 1 percent, I don't consider myself fast. I'm into distances; speed is relative. Tonight I felt fast, passing people on bikes and startling more than a couple rollerbladers. The first mile or so was north from Battery Park to the Nike Runner Station. I judged my splits based off the Nike Runner Station guidelines. I don't think these are totally accurate -- or I didn't see Christopher Street in the dark. Regardless, I had one super fast mile (5:43), followed by a slow mile (6:45). The next two were easy to judge because they were by city blocks. Both came in around 6:10. The net result: I ran the seven miles under 6:30, closer to 6:15. Did it hurt? Yeah. At the end, I felt queasy, dehydrated (temp was at 70) and my heart rate was pretty elevated. Still, it's another sign of progress. I'm pretty good with where I am right now. I'll do 70 miles this week. More important, I feel like I'm hitting my tempo runs. I put off a half marathon this weekend for a bunch of reasons. I wasn't ready for another race just two weeks after the 18-miler. I'm going to look around for a half marathon in the next couple weekends. That's when I'll know for sure how ready I am. Seven weeks out, I'm doing what I wanted to do with training. I really believe the race will take care of itself if I do the right things to prepare.

12 miles, 1:22

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Dread & The Week's Miles

I haven't blogged much this week. Maybe it's because it was my last recovery week before five weeks of tough training ahead. This week, I skipped most speedwork, just doing four 500 meter strides at 5k pace today. My goal instead was to heal before what I think is the key portion of my training. That meant taking an extra day off and running substantially less (50 miles) than previous weeks. I have five weeks before the taper to stay focused and put myself in a postion to do well. I'd be lying, though, if I said the prospect of a 70-mile weeks didn't fill me with a bit of dread. There's nothing easy about it. They'll be tiring, physically and mentally. This is inevitable. Training for a marathon is a long process, with lots of ups and downs. Tomorrow is a "recovery" day with two 5-mile runs. I'm looking forward to the second because it's a hash. Then the week gets hard: 15, 6, 12 with 7 at half marathon pace, 5, 22. Ouch. These weeks are the real test.

8 miles, 57:53