20 Miles in Brooklyn & Manhattan…The Plot Thickens


Saturday, September 11th – Friday, September 17th ……I cannot say that I woke up Saturday morning, because I hardly slept Friday night. I tossed and turned. 20 miles. The entire length of the West Side Highway (now called the Joe DiMaggio Parkway – and ya gotta love that because Joe D. was the definition of a paisan: a smooth, navy-blue suit-wearin’ friend of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Joe D. was so darn smooth that he dated Marilyn Monroe BEFORE JFK did. You do us proud, Mr. DiMaggio…now if you could only do something about the insane traffic between 42nd Street and Chelsea Piers along your namesake roadway, this rather rambunctious rabble-rouser would be most grateful…) from Battery Park to the George Washington Bridge. All I wanted to do was complete the run at a nice steady pace and get the heck home in one piece. But Friday’s brief run gave me cause for concern.

My alarm went off at exactly 5am, the music of Van Halen blurting out from my small speaker in my Iphone (that’s right, lab rats: my alarm is Everybody Wants Some by Van Halen. So go ahead and have fun with that little tidbit of ridiculously trivial information – who knew I was a closet egomanic???). I was wide awake before Diamond Dave could screech out a syllable, planted my feet on the floor, and felt the all-too-familiar discomfort in my foot that signaled a long day ahead. I quickly showered and changed, threw my stuff into a backpack and headed out the door to catch a train to Cadman Plaza at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge (on the Brooklyn side of the river). 5:45am was way too early to be deep in thought – yet there I was on the #1 train heading downtown, already nervous about today’s trial. The Tool really burned the midnight oil and came up with a hum-dinger for, of all days, 9/11. I have enough on my mind this day of the year – all New Yorkers do for that matter. Today’s run would make me pass right by Ground Zero – and passing that solemn real estate always does a number on me.

The Tool fired off a few warning shots nice and early, letting me know that he was present and accounted for on today’s field of battle. He began by reminding me that walking down the stairs of a subway station wasn’t supposed to hurt. Then, as I got up to exit the train in Brooklyn, he gladly reminded me that “if you can’t walk to the team’s meeting spot without discomfort….how the hell are you going to log 20 miles??? This should be fun to witness”. As I began to stretch, he fired yet another warning shot across the bow: “wow – you really cannot stretch your calf muscle without wincing, can you? This was a bad move, running with the team today.” The Tool must have been practicing, because he was hitting the target early and often today.

I began the 20 miler with a group of teammates running at a 10-11 per mile pace. I figured that if I could hold it together until I hit the 79th Street Boat Basin along the Joe DiMaggio Parkway I could cowboy the hell up and finish. As we plodded along the wooden running path that runs down the center of the bridge (and FYI: any tourist reading this blog should make a mental note to walk along this bridge for a bit – it’s cool), the mental battle between my soldiers of self-confidence and the horde led by The Tool was joined.

The Tool: “Dude…Battery Park….and only 3 miles in to this run. Already the heel is barking at you. You won’t be able to hold this pace. 10:15 per mile is too fast feeling like this.”

Me: “Non rompere mi cuglioni” (That’s Italian for DON’T BREAK MY BALLS) I was already abandoning my clever array of retorts and dialing up the blunt commentary. Not a good sign.

The Tool: “Hey – Ground Zero. Told you that you’d regret running past here. And you’re only 4 miles in.”

Ooops. He pissed me off with that one.

Me: “Oh really? OK….I’ll show you who’s in control here….”

…and with that, I found a spring in my step that wasn’t there prior to passing Ground Zero.  There’s something about that sacred ground that, on the few occasions where I have run past it, makes me feel like I cannot slow down or shut down anywhere near it. I have no idea why I feel like that – but I do. I lost a few friends that day – guys who ran in while everyone else ran out. Courage. I guess that’s what it is. Courage. I don’t feel the hatred anymore. I just remember the courage. The Tool miscalculated here and he pissed me off. But as I made my way past mile 5 and closed in on Chelsea Piers along the Joe DiMaggio Parkway, I could hear him quietly laughing. He knew I was expending more energy than I should have this early in the game. And the little rat bastard was right. By mile 10, my soldiers of self-confidence could no longer hold the line. The horde of self-doubt had broken through. And with that, the pain overcame my ability to think. Every step hurt. I began landing on the pad of my left foot – not the heel. Anything to maintain positive momentum. By mile 14, my ankle, knee and heel were killing me.

I saw the lime green shirts in front of me. I wanted to stay with them. And yet I knew that, if I did hobble along further, I would only make this worse. I turned around and headed back to our finishing spot at 72nd Street prematurely. The Tool planted his flag firmly in the soil of my self confidence. My negative nemesis claimed victory once again. I clocked in 18 miles all-told. The last 3 with a mixture of jogging and walking. I was miserable waddling home. I needed to heal….both physically and mentally.

I decided to take the entire week off. Heal the foot. Heal the knee. Reevaluate my mental conditioning. Develop a more iron-clad battle plan. This was my Pearl Harbor. This was my personal 9/11. The Tool wants to declare war on my ability to achieve my goals? Well then I’ll bring the battle to him.

_______________________________________________________

“Man imposes his own limitations, don’t set any” – Anthony Bailey

The Clock is Ticking and I Don’t Care….Yet


Saturday, September 4th – Friday, September 10th ……Ahhhh…..is there anything better than a 3 day weekend?  Survey says….yes.  A four day weekend is better.  A week off – even better than that.  However, a three day weekend trumps my usual work week – so my grin was a tad broader as I rested my head on the pillow Friday night.  My foot wasn’t bothering me.  The Tool was burning the midnight oil in his little library of negativity, looking for some other weapon to use against me.  Well as my eyes closed and I drifted off to sleep, the little 4” schmuck must have felt like he was working under a horribly tight deadline, because I felt fantastic.

Saturday morning began with a rather different experience: I was able to walk – not hobble – to the bathroom to get ready to run.  This was odd.  Truly odd.  I always hear about professional football players having a hard time getting up each morning sore, stiff, battered and bruised.  They wake up simply expecting the pain.  It’s a foregone conclusion, and they are used to it.  Well with this heel injury, in some VERY small way, I can understand what it must be like.  And if I am miserable from this little heel injury, can you imagine how some of the pro running backs must feel after getting pounded 28-40 times a game by 250 + pound linebackers with 7% body fat and 4.5 speed?  No wonder they earn great money – their threshold for pain must be off the scale.

As I tied my running shoes, grabbed my Iphone and strolled out my door, I felt a sense of nervous excitement wash over me.  It was like buying a new car and taking it for its first real test drive.  I knew I had built up my endurance and lost some weight already.  I knew that I have improved my running form and my speed has shown glimpses of improvement.  However this was the morning I hoped to but it all together.  Gentlemen….start your engines.

When I arrived in Central Park, I couldn’t wait to start my watch and take off down the west side drive.  I set up a marathon playlist that was chock-full of classic rock, motivational instrumentals…and the them song from Rocky, of course (I mean, do you remember how fast that dude was as he made his way through Philly in a ratty pair of converse all-stars?  Stallone released his inner Kenyan in those scenes).  I started down the road with the theme music to the movie The Transformers blaring in my ears (I’m telling you – it’s some great stuff!  Give it a quick listen – the French horns in the forefront of the body of the music give each track a sense nobility whilst the strings underneath provide a sense of urgency – it’s my version of running crack).  As I turned left and began the trip to the east side along the south drive of the park, I check my watch: 10:10 pace.  And it felt easy.  The arms were swinging back comfortably.  My lungs weren’t burning.  I did a quick mental role call (I mentally focused on one portion of my body at a time, trying to judge how each felt):

“Feet?”

“We’re both fine.  Shut up and don’t jinx it.”

“Ankles?”

“We’re fine.  But listen to your feet and don’t jinx it.”

Calves?

“We’re both fine – thanks for asking.  You focus all of your concern on your feet and you completely ignore us.  And we’ve grown quite sexy-looking over the past few months I’ll have you know.  We both think you should….”

Oh shut up.  Knees?

“Present.”

Present?

“Yes. Present.  We’re busy bending a lot right now.  No time to chat.”

Quads?

“Step on the gas, dude.  We’re ready to go.”

Hamstrings?

“Listen to your quads – let’s turn this up a notch.”

Abs?

Abs?  Hello?  Oh screw it – I ignore you guys anyway.

Arms?

“We’re firing like pistons on a racecar baby….I agree with quads – let’s step on it.”

Back?

“Dude – will you shut up with the roll call already and light it up?”

…and with that, I kicked the tires and lit the fires (I’ve been DYING to use a Top Gun reference!  Nice – I finally fit one in.)

Up the east side.  Up Cat Hill (right near the Boathouse on 72nd Street).  Up the west side drive.  Past the Engineer’s Gate.  A little nod of respect to the Fred Lebow statue.  I finally check my watch: 3.8 miles in, 9:40 pace.  Crusing.

Past the 102nd Street transverse.  Now the true test: Harlem Hill.  With the arms pumping, I downshift a bit and reach the top without missing a beat.  The reward came next: a wonderful downhill.  At the bottom, I checked my watch: 5.2 miles in, 8:55 pace.  Holy crap.

The rolling hills of the west side drive running from north to south along the asphalt can be quite taxing – and they were.  The pace slowed slightly, but everything felt….wonderful.  I never thought I could maintain this pace.  As I reached my starting point, I realized that I clipped off 10 kilometers in under 58 minutes.  A personal best for me.  My second lap was run with the largest shit-eating grin (yes – I just cursed – I was that happy) on my face.  Before I called it a day, I finished 16 miles at an average pace of 10:20.  Never before have I come close to this.  The feeling of exceeding my expectations for the first time in….well…..Lord only knows how long…..felt wonderful.  The rest of the day was spent in an in an ice bath, relaxing, and basking in daydreams of NYC Marathon finishing times.

I ran with the team on Monday and Wednesday.  Again, no pain.  The coaches noticed the change in speed.  I was running with confidence.  Our speed work session felt like a piece of cake (chocolate mousse, to be precise).  The renewed sense of confidence translated into more robust gym workouts each afternoon.  It’s amazing how a little success breeds a lot more success.  Go figure. 

Friday evening I decided to enjoy a quick, light run.  Possibly fit in a bit of speed work.  About a mile in to my planned 5k run, my ankle initiated a conversation with me….

“ummmm….Brain?”

“….I’m busy.  This better be good.”

“ummm….well…..I wanted to let you know that something feels a bit….weird.”

“Is that a technical term?”

“ummmm…well….not exactly.  But I feel weird.  And its all your heel’s fault.”

“….pardon me?”

“ummmm….uhh…..well….you remember all those times where your heel pissed you off?”

“…..yes.  Get to the point.”

“Ummmm…..well….because the heel hurt so much, you changed the way you ran.  You stopped landing on your left heel and started landing on the pad of your left foot.  Now I didn’t bring this up before – but you had other portions of your leg working overtime.  We didn’t mind at the time, because the heel was really being a jerk.  However – now that you’ve silenced the heel for a bit, you need to address us.”

“Wait a second – who is ‘us’?”

…and then my left knee blurted out, “remember me?  I’m your knee.  The one that got pretty beat up playing high school football.  The one that took a pounding whilst rowing in college.  I’m not the strongest link in this chain by any stretch of the imagination, and yet you asked ME to work overtime just because the heel hurt?  Dude – I’m pissed.

I shut down my run early and plopped down on a wooden bench near Tavern on the Green, in order to properly fill out a mental damage report.  As I flexed and rolled my left ankle, it felt a bit sore to the touch.  The back of the left knee felt like someone tied my tendons in a small knot.  As I got up to begin my trip home, the pain didn’t cause me to adjust the way I walked.  However…..both my ankle and my knee chose this bright, sunny Friday evening to formally introduce themselves.  “Hello Joseph.  We’re here.  We’re pissed.  Get used to us.”

As I placed my head on the pillow that Friday night, I closed my eyes and could not get the feeling of concern I had in my mind.  Tomorrow morning was my first of 3 20 mile runs scheduled for my team.  20 miles…and now this.  I did not sleep well.

…….and somewhere, deep in the recess of my rather insignificant cranium, The Tool lifted his sour-looking face that had been buried in his hands for a solid week and uttered, “YES…….YES!!!!!!!!”

______________________________ 

 Other people may not have high expectations of me, but I have high expectations for myself.  — Shannon Miller

He’s the One They Call Doctor Feelgood…..


Sunday, August 29th – Friday, September 3rd ……Sunday was spent basically feeling sorry for myself.  God that last sentence felt pathetic to type – but that doesn’t make it any less true.  I felt horrid.  I had a goal set for myself: 16 miles, smooth and steady.  And with just a few miles remaining between me and attaining my goal….I became distracted, unfocused, and unglued.  Those feelings of underachievement hung over my sofa like a black cloud on Sunday.  In short: I was one cranky hombre.  I made an appointment to see my doctor the following day, at 3pm.

I worked through lunch in order to take the time I needed for the appointment.  A visit with Doctor Cuzzamanno usually results in an addition of 4-5 minutes to my stand-up comedy act….and this one did not disappoint.

Doctor Cuzzamanno maintains an office on the east side of Manhattan, walking distance from my office.  It’s a small office located on the lower level of a brownstone in midtown.  The sunlight doesn’t cascade through the windows and, as a result, the potted plants on the window sills look more like props from an Addams Family set.  As you pass through the front door you are spilled into the waiting room, with eight metal chairs lining three of the room’s exposed brick walls.  I am a big fan of exposed brick in a home – I think it looks edgy yet inviting.  Now any new clients that walk into this office for the first time immediately may be impressed with the fine doctor’s choice in décor – but I know better than that.  I’ve known Dr. Cuzzamanno for a very long time; he bought the office as-is and didn’t want to pump a dime into renovations that weren’t absolutely necessary.  In short, he treats nickels like manhole covers.

Centered amidst the waiting room chairs is a rather weather-beaten coffee table, with numerous water rings staining the puckered wood and magazines with dog-eared corners scattered about the surface.  Along the far wall sits the reception desk, behind which presides the dictator of this tiny realm or, as I like to call her, Gertrude the Grim.  At 6’4” and 200 pounds, with her hair permanently frozen in a hairstyle normally found in a high school yearbook circa 1983 and sporting white scrubs that were in dire need of Oxy Clean, Gertrude was the gatekeeper of this fine medical establishment.  No one passed through her castle’s gates without her nod.  Until the nod was given, patients wait patiently in their metal chairs, flipping through the pages of the Sports Illustrated Man of the Year issue from 2002, Car & Driver’s May 1997 issue, and every one of 2003’s issues of Soap Opera Digest.  The goal here is not to anger Gertrude.  Wait until you are called.  Do not rock the boat.  Simple rules of the road for most people…but if you’ve read this blog thus far, you clearly understand that I am not like most people.  I am rather dimwitted and, let’s face it, I do not learn from my mistakes.  Ever.

Five minutes before my appointment, the door swung open and I entered the good doctor’s waiting room.  I was greeted by two sets of blank stares from two male strangers….and Gertrude.

Me: “Hey Gertrude.  I’ve got a 3pm with the doc.”

Gertrude: “Have seat.  I will call you.”

Me: “OK, thanks.  The last name is….”

Gertrude (looking up at me with a scowl that I now believe shriveled the petunias on the windowsill) “I no need name.  You sit.”

Me: “…but you’ll need my file, right?”

Gertrude: “You sit.  NOW.  Read magazine.”

I retreated to one of the metal chairs along the far wall, thinking that it was safer to comply with the instructions than tempt fate by continuing the conversation.  As I reached for a copy of Soap Opera Digest (yes, lab rats, my life is a constant stress test: how much stupidity can I fit into my pea-sized brain in any 24-hour period), I hear Gertrude the Grim bellow down the hallway….

Gertrude: “Doctor, the 3pm has arrived.”   

Doctor Cuzzamanno (from the far end of the hallway): “Who’s my 3pm?”

Gertrude: “Some man.  Round face with odd look on it.”

Doctor: “……..WHO?”

Gertrude: “Man who looks like cover of Mad Magazine.”

Doctor: “Gertrude – be nice please – his last name would help…”

Gertrude: “His last name I not know.  Will send back – see for yourself.”  Then the Gigantic Gatekeeper looked at me and said “You come with me.”

She and I stood at the same time, and I realized just how much taller she was than I.  Her shadow dropped the temperature in the waiting room by 8 degrees.  Rumor has it that her stare killed a chicken once.  I immediately made a mental note to NOT piss Gertrude off.  I mean, I take pride in the fact that I can defend myself….but this “nurse” could kick my dimpled Irish ass.  I walked down the hallway to exam room 2, and awaited my medical paisan.

Ten minutes after I plopped myself down in the examination table, Doctor Vicenzo Cuzzamanno entered.  He is approximately 5’4”, and built like a fireplug.  As wide as he is tall, the good doctor looked like he could moonlight as an enforcer for one of the five families.  Though his midsection evidenced a few too many zeppoles (for the uninitiated: usually found at Italian street fairs, zeppoles are small, round pieces of dough that a re deep fried and covered with sugar.  Greasy, delicious, and they probably take 2 minutes off of your life – but who cares?  Those minutes are the ones at the end….the adult diaper minutes….), it was evident that the doc could still handle himself like I always knew he could, dating back to the high school years.

The doc and I went to prep school together in the Bronx.  Both of our families were middle class, so we understood each other fairly well.  Over the years we lost touch, as he went to medical school and I floundered in a sea of utter mediocrity.  Now years later, we were reconnected through fate: he learned how to heal the human body, and I learned how to abuse it.  A big smile crept across his face as he tossed my file on the exam table.

Me: “Hey Vinny!”

Doc: “Hey Joe!  What’s up?  How’s it going?”

Me: “Pretty well – except for this damn foot.”

Doc: “The planar fasciitis again?  How hard are you training?”

Me: “I’m logging 30-35 mile weeks.  Some speed work.  Long runs once a week.  I’m up to 13-14 miles now.  However, Saturday was FUBAR.”  (FUBAR: F*&ked Up Beyond All Recognition)

I described the Saturday long run, the fall, and how my foot felt in detail.  Vinny nodded and took notes as I provided the synopsis.  Then he set forth and examined the left foot.

Doc: “hmmmm…..no swelling.  The ankle looks OK.  How bad is the pain?”

Me: “I’m popping Advil like M&Ms.”

Doc: “That’s par for the course for you.  Dumb move.”

Me: “I know.  So what are my options?”

Doc: “Shut it down for 2 weeks.  Heal up.”

Me: “OK then – let’s hear option number 2.”

Doc: “We can shoot it up with cortisone – but it’s only a temporary fix and it can cause you to do more damage to it.”

Me: “OK, Dr. FeelGood, shoot me up.”

Doc: “It’s your foot.  Just understand that it’s temporary.”

The doctor left the exam room to get the drug and the needle, leaving me to my own thoughts.  I knew what I was doing – at some point, I’ll need to shut down running for the year.  However, if this works, I could continue training and improving just the way I have been all along.  I was nervous – yet content with my decision overall.

The doctor entered the exam room with the necessary accessories to numb my heel, and he immediately got to work.  He loaded the syringe, cleaned the appropriate area with alcohol, looked up at me and said, “you’re not going to like this.”

….and with that, he jabbed my foot with the needle and I screamed like a five year-old girl in a horror movie. 

As I sat there, staring at my foot, the doctor quietly murmured “I told you that was going to suck.  But trust me – it will feel different when you run for the next few weeks.”  A few minutes later, we shook hands and I waddled down the hallway to take care of my co-pay and fill out whatever forms were required.  When I handed her my Visa, Gertrude looked up at me and said “wimpy man cannot take needle.  Scared the patients.  Wimpy wimpy wimpy”.  I was still rather unfocused, so the only retort I could come up with was “where did you develop your bedside manner, Gertrude?  A four car pile-up on the West Side Highway?”  I know – not my best work – but that’s the only verbal bullet in my gun when I needed to pull the trigger.  I hobbled out of the office hoping that this evening’s practice would feel…..different.

Later that evening I joined my team in a 10 kilometer tempo run around the reservoir.  Each time my left foot landed on the soft dirt, the expected pain was nowhere to be found.  Huzzah for the good doctor.  I finished the evening’s workout with a smile on my face and a renewed sense of self-confidence.  I temporarily took The Tool’s main offensive weapon away from him, just like the simple defensive strategy coined by Vince Lombardi.  Now that little 4” schmuck will have to find other weapons in his arsenal to attack me with.  I actually chuckled to myself as I headed home.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings were spent in the park as well, enjoying the feeling of pain-free running with teammates amid familiar, friendly surroundings.  Running in Central Park was like running with a constant home-field advantage.  Wednesday night’s post-run team social was a lot of fun mixing laughter, alcohol and inexpensive bar food into two plus hours of enjoyment.

With the Labor Day Weekend upon us, Saturday’s long run of 16 miles would have to be completed solo, sans the support of the team.  The first true test of this heel after the shot.  As I fell asleep Friday night, I was actually pumped up about the long run.  It would feel great to see what my body can handle without any anchors holding me back.

________________________________________ 

 “The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare.”   – Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner

The NYRR ING New York City Marathon Long Training Run


Saturday, August 28th …….Saturday morning the team met at 6am to prepare for the second of three total long training runs sponsored by ING for those training for this year’s ING New York City Marathon (or other fall marathons).  The New York Road Runners coordinate all three of these annual runs.  The first two are run in a rather informal manner, with bib numbers offered but no official times recorded.  Runners can cover any distance they choose up to 20 miles.  Water and Gatorade are supplied by volunteers all along the outer loop of Central Park.  Port-o-Potties (Port-o-Johns, Portable Poopers, or the ever-charming yet far less-used name for these magnificent plastic little abodes: Luxurious Mobile Commodes) are also placed at strategic places along the course…and please don’t ask for any details on these little green houses, because M. Night Shamalan could write a horror trilogy based on the foulness exuded by these contraptions.  The training run was scheduled to begin at 7am, so the team had roughly 45 minutes to stretch prior to the gun going off.

As I slowly got out of bed Saturday morning at 5am, I actually began talking to myself prior to resting my feet on the cold floor:

Me: (uttered aloud, a la a Shakespearian soliloquy, minus any form of substance, subtlety or class) “OK, everybody listen up: I am going through with this today whether all of you like it or not.  So feet – stop reminding me how much you hurt.  Ankles – mum is the word today, got it?  Back – well, I have no issue with you for the moment…but don’t try anything funny or else I’ll bring you right to a chiropractor just to get revenge.  Abs….abs?  Where are you abs?  Oh never mind, you guys are too busy hiding still under a layer of pop tarts and oreos.  Four of you guys have now begun to show yourselves once in a while, but not nearly often enough for me to even concern myself with.  Arms – you guys are going to be swinging for 3 hours today.  16 miles.  So both of you do your jobs and no slacking off.  (When I began running, I never swung my arms – they just hung at my side.  So just try to picture THAT real quick, and then come back to this paragraph after you’ve stopped laughing at the sad site.  Don’t worry…I’ll wait….).  And last but not least, Brain – think positive today.  The Tool will show himself nice and early with the way I’m feeling this morning, so be ready.  Focus on the job at hand.  Ignore the little 4” schmuck.  OK everybody, here….we….go…”

…and with that my feet touched the floor.  I stood straight.  And then, all of a sudden, the internal bickering between body parts began.  The feet immediately told me that they were NOT happy about my decision and weren’t going to shut up about it.  My ankles said that they agreed with my feet, and added that I was a jerk.  My back made a subtle point that the bed was a lot more comfortable than anything else I had planned for the day.  My abs…well….they stayed out of this, as they normally do.  My arms were quiet for the moment – they knew I had enough to deal with as it was.  And as I took my first steps to the bathroom, a headache was already forming and my Brain uttered four rather negative words, already choosing to go against orders.  Those words were “Joe…we…are…screwed.”

As I soaked in the hot shower, the voices began to subside – just like during the first several innings of a baseball game.  The fans aren’t really in to the game yet, and the noise level in the stadium tends to be rather lackluster.  I could tell that my body was saving its mental onslaught for the running equivalent of the 7th Inning Stretch.  I got changed into the running clothes that I plan to wear on Marathon Sunday, tied my shoes, grabbed my Garmin watch and Iphone, and left my apartment without a shred of positive energy.  Not a good start to this athletic stress test.

As I walked into the Park and headed for the 102nd Street Transverse (the paved road that runs east – west slightly above the northernmost part of the reservoir), I began a process that many sports psychologists refer to as positive visualization.  Basically I pictured myself performing at a high level in as great detail as possible.  I pictured myself with solid running form, easily handling the back hills of the park’s outer loop.  My arms pumping yet my breathing remained slow and easy.  The run felt effortless.  This mental preparation was constantly interrupted with thoughts of “I hope this foot holds up”, thereby ruining the entire mental exercise.   When I saw my team in the distance (you cannot miss them – our team color is electric lime green…I look like a big, dorky-looking bottle of Absynthe while I waddle), I realized how unfocused I was.  I was not mentally – or physically – ready for this test.  I was going to have to rely on guts…and guts were usually just enough to see me to the finish line in basically one piece. 

Up to this point in my training season I felt like that this would be the year that I would break out of this routine.  Since 2005, I have run sloppily.  Unprepared.  Undertrained.  No discipline.  No structure to my training.  I didn’t eat right.  I didn’t wear the proper running clothes.  I didn’t change my running shoes often enough, which I believe led to this heel injury a few years ago.  I was a complete mess….and yet I have, up to this point, finished every marathon that I started.  I had hoped for much better finishing times – but I put in no work to earn them.  Ovid once said that “the ending crowns the work”.  Well I never really put in the work – so the endings were always lackluster as far as my own feelings of accomplishment were concerned. The Tool was always the primary voice in my head on race day.  I toed the starting line each Marathon Sunday lacking confidence – full of self-doubt.  Yet I finished, sheerly on guts.  One thought was strong enough to see me through: the fact that I wouldn’t allow myself to fail my daughter. 

Every time I run, I try to be a hero to one person: my daughter.  The ability to show my daughter a medal – to hang it around her neck and tell her that she can do anything she puts her mind to as long as she works hard enough and never gives up – was a strong enough thought in my head to push me through 26.2.  Now, however, I needed to do more.  By now, my daughter has seen me finish enough times that she has taken that Walt Disney concept of “its pretty fun doing the impossible” to heart – I look at her and I see that she believes it.  However, I now have to show her that, if you work hard enough, you will see improvement over time as long as you never quit.  That was my running theme for 2010.  And that’s why I run when I’m hurting.  That’s why I sit in ice baths.  That’s why I come home tired and sore yet insanely happy.  That’s why I don’t take a training day off.  And that’s why I showed up to run 16 miles even when my body and mind were telling me to hoof it out of the Park and sprint home.

For the first time in my running history, I have a real training regimen.  For the first time, I am also following that regimen to the letter.  Up to this point, I have done the work – although there have been times where I’ve faltered due to pain.  I have been challenging myself, and I have enjoyed the way I respond to the tests.  I have never prepared for anything as hard in my life.  It’s to the point where I can visually see the results of my efforts when I look in the mirror.  Since April, I’ve dropped two pant sizes.  I simply feel more confident – and confidence breeds success.  So the internal power struggle between self-confidence and self-doubt is a hard-fought battle by both sides, with no peace treaty in sight.  As I toed the line after stretching with my team this morning, shots were being fired by only one side – and rest assured it wasn’t the good guys doing the shooting.

As I took off with the 10 minute per mile pace group, my self-confidence was holding its ground fairly well.  Sure shots were being fired by the enemy – but they were poorly aimed and missing their targets.  Up and over Harlem Hill with good form.  Down the west side drive.  Veering east near Columbus Circle and cutting through the south drive.  Then turning north and heading back to our starting point near 102nd street.  By the time I logged 6 miles, I felt solid.  Under control.  The enemy had tested my resolve and our lines held.

As I began the second loop of the park, working on mile 7, The Tool began to rally his troops.  Shots rang out and, all of a sudden, my soldiers of self-doubt were rallying around their flag (I picture it as a white flag with a big black fist in the center, with the middle finger raised proudly).  Their volleys began hitting their marks.  The Tool’s voice carried over the battle, reminding me of the pain in my foot which never seemed to heal. 

“These hills are getting rougher.”

…ouch.  That shot stung.

“Wow – 8 miles in and your foot feels like THIS?  No way you’re clipping off another 8…”

…ouch.  Another one.

“You know, if you keep this up, this injury will be worse than ever when the races count.”

…BOOM.  I caught some shrapnel on that one.

“Mile 10….hey, aren’t you getting slower?”

…That one hit the target.

As I finished the second loop – 11 miles into this long run, I attempted to rally the soldiers of self-confidence around their flag (A blue flag with the words “Don’t Panic” emblazoned on its center – and yes, that IS a Douglas Adams reference…) and launch a counter-attack.

“11 miles in.  I’m hurting…but I’m closing in on my goal.”

…the enemy chuckled at that lame attempt.

“Only five miles to go.”

…You could hear the laughter all the way from my appendix.  (I know – my references just keep getting more obscure)

“Ummm….well….I’m OK, I think….”

…and with that lame attempt at a counter-attack, the soldiers of self-confidence turned tail and signaled a full-scale retreat.  As I began my third loop of the park, The Tool perched himself on my shoulder, a crap-eating grin plastered all over that sour puss of his.

The Tool: “Well, this one doesn’t look good.  I give you credit – you had me fooled for a bit.  But you just don’t have what it takes.  Oh…by the way….pay attention to the road!”

Thud.  That is how I sound when I hit ashphalt, face first.

While in the midst of a mental meltdown, I lost focus on the task at hand.  I stopped paying attention to what I was doing and the world clouded over.  It was at that moment that my left foot found a sewer grate alongside the curb of the west side drive between miles 12 and 13.  I went down in slow motion…or so it felt.

I hobbled over to the grass and performed a damage assessment: the left ankle was already beginning to swell, but I could put some weight on it without falling over again.  I found the bridal path and trudged along it to my team’s designated meeting area in utter frustration.

I grabbed my backpack, briefly iced the ankle (with the help of TFK staff), and headed home, absolutely disgusted with myself.  I am better than this.  The man I am needs to be introduced to the man I should become.  I expect great things of myself – we all should, I believe – and this level of performance was not cutting it.

Later that day I sat on my sofa while my left foot drowned in a bowl of ice water, and went over the run in my head.  I pulled out a pad and I wrote down the negative thoughts that went through my rather dense cranium.  The overall theme was the pain in my foot.  That was The Tool’s main weapon.  That was the edge that his soldiers of self-doubt had over my self-confidence.  I needed to gain the tactical advantage in the future.  In other words: it was time to pull a Lombardi.

Vince Lombardi, the greatest football coach of all time in my book (and I think this way because a) he was incredibly motivational, b) he handled his players perfectly, c) he was a master strategist, and d)…..he was Italian), used to believe in the words on Sun Tzu: “every battle is won before it’s ever fought”.  He would spend countless hours planning his offensive and defensive strategy for each game.  Offensively, he believed in doing a small number of things…but doing each thing PERFECTLY.  Defensively…well…he would identify he enemy’s biggest weapon, and then plan to neutralize it.  Make the opposition beat you without their biggest threat.  Ah, Vince…my paisan….you were brilliant.

If The Tool’s biggest weapon was my heel, I need to neutralize it.  It was time to visit my doctor and plan to get a cortisone shot.  So I called Doctor Cuzzamanno and scheduled an appointment.  Monday.  3pm.  Fun.

Sunday’s recovery run was canned.  Scrapped.  Flushed right down the gabinetto.  All bets were off until my sitdown with the doc.

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 “It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.”   – Ann Trason

Dancing in the Rain


Monday, August 23rd – Friday August 27th ……Weather was always the easiest excuse to choose my sofa over my running shoes in prior years.  Many a rainy evening I used to leave my running shoes in the closet in exchange for a bag or Doritos (you ever try those cool ranch-flavored ones?  DO you like them?  Well I don’t.  I think they stink.  They made Doritos perfectly the first time around – it wasn’t broken…so don’t fix it).  Well this week it rained off and on, and I actually felt those old cravings to blow off training like I would in years past.  But like I’ve mentioned in prior postings…I’ve changed a bit.  Become a bit more goal-oriented.  So the running shoes won out this week.  There were no Doritos (of any flavor) to be found in my apartment.

Due to work and other appointments during the week, I was unable to make my team runs in the park after work.  Somehow, I managed to drum up the discipline to run solo…in the rain…following the training instructions on our team’s website.  Now this level of discipline is incredibly new for me, as I normally have the attention span of…..what was I just talking about?

Monday’s workout was a tempo run of five miles.  As I ran in the mist, the humidity and heat were a combination that made me….well….cranky.  I logged my 5 miles averaging roughly 10:15 per mile – not too shabby for me.  However, after all of the work I’ve put in this year thus far, I knew I could have been faster.  I am no longer using the heel issue as a crutch to lean on for underperformance.  My goal with every workout is to feel spent afterward.  To leave the park Monday evening with some spring left in my step told me that I didn’t leave it all on the trails.  That sent me home….confused.  (and let’s face it: it doesn’t take much to confuse me – I once forgot where I put my sunglasses…and they were on top of my head).  I told myself that, regardless of the weather later in the week, I would burn myself out on the next training run to make up for what I felt was a lack of real solid effort.

When I got home, I stuffed my running shoes with newspaper, which absorbs all of the water from the shoes overnight.  Tuesday’s recovery run was, once again, done in the mist and rain…but it started with dry shoes.  Knowing that Tuesday’s run was for recovery, I logged my miles at an easy pace and went home chomping at the bit for Wednesday’s speed work.  I was going to beat myself up.  Couldn’t wait.

Wednesday saw the mist once more, with periods of heavy rain and a wind that actually warmed you instead of cooling you down.  Let me say one thing here: heat and I do not get along.  We don’t like each other much.  No…wait…I hate real sticky, humid summer heat.  The dry stuff – fine with me.  Crank up the thermostat.  But throw in humidity and watch me curse – at the air – in three different languages.  Once again I needed to run solo, as life got in the way of routine.

I took off around the bridal path and performed “pick-ups” (specific time-set or distance-set training pieces where the distance runner pushes the pace and exerts much more effort than on normal runs.  Speed is the key here.  Maintaining a faster pace with more rapid leg turnover and wider strides).   In the back of my head, the message being sent from my brain to my body was simple: make up for Monday.  Let’s go.  Push it.  And I did.  Until the 4” bastard showed up again.

The Tool: “Well things seemed to be going well.”

Me: “What do you mean seemed?  THEY ARE GOING WELL.”

The Tool:  “You don’t feel that in your ankle?  That twinge?  You’ve managed to irritate your heel so much that the pain is traveling.  That has to suck.”

Me: “Oh yeah…well…your momma has a wooden leg with a kickstand on it.”

The Tool: “….God you are dense.  I’m the representation of all of the negativity within yourself.  So….technically…I AM YOU.  So don’t talk about your mother like that.”

Me: “…..I take it back.  You suck.”

The Tool: “Now that’s more like it.  But you feel that in your ankle, don’t you?”

Me: “No.  Shut up.”

The Tool: “You are a lousy liar.  Everyone knows it.”

Me: “I am ignoring you.”

The Tool: “No you aren’t.  You know what’s going to happen when we shut this session down.  This one’s gonna hurt.”

Me: “Oh please.  Trying to scare me.  Well it’s not going to work.  I’m going to push through this.”

The Tool: “Oh please do.  I want you to……”

…and with that, I grimaced and pushed myself harder.  Now, ordinarily, I would have shut things down early.  But I was so focused on pushing myself and making up for taking it easy in the beginning of the week that I pounded through the pain on Wednesday evening.  Par for the course for me: that was a really stupid move. 

I should have listened to my body.  But I was too busy trying to prove to The Tool that I was stronger than he was that our internal argument drowned out the important message being sent from my left foot.  It was a brief message sent as The Tool and I mentally yelled and screamed at each other (and even went so far as tossing out a Yo Momma joke).  Since I didn’t hear what was actually said, I am assuming that the messaged sounded a little something like this:

Left Foot: “You are a putz.  A complete putz.  There are normal, ordinary, every-day kind-of putzes out there in the world…and then there’s YOU.  You’re that special kind of putz.  And extraordinary putz.  I’d dare to even call you SuperPutz.  Been trying to tell you for 30 minutes now: this injury has just been aggravated.  But do you listen?  NO.  You are too busy arguing with a 4” schmuck which, by the way, IS JUST A PART OF YOURSELF!  Now listen to your foot: shut this workout down NOW……”

I continue to run and argue with The Tool, paying no heed to the jibberish being uttered by my Left Foot…..

Left Foot: “….This is unreal.  You two keep yelling at each other.  Joe: you and I are going to talk later.  And you won’t get a word in edge-wise…..”

At the end of my workout, I completed 5 short sprints, because one of my coaches once told me that “the body remembers the last exercise it performs and how it felt.  So, if you want to leave any running session feeling positive, run some strong sprints at the end”.  The moment I began my trek home is when the pain struck me.  It began to radiate from my heel, up the outside of my left ankle, and around to the top of my foot.  It also began to creep up to my Achilles tendon.  It felt as if my entire left foot were being gnawed on by a hippo.  (I have no idea why I chose a hippo – I guess because I just read something about them being the angriest animals in Africa…and they have really big mouths – just like me).  I limped home, and immediately iced my foot.  I was miserable.  Miserable…and VERY worried. 

There is a difference between hurt and injured.  Hurt, to me, means that I’m achy and I can push through the pain.  That is how I thought of my heel before Wednesday evening – I’m hurt and I can deal with it.  But the pain that I dealt with whilst walking home Wednesday evening was different.  It made me nervous.  I was afraid I graduated from hurt to injured….and I really wanted to be left back – not to graduate.

I attempted a very light recovery run on Thursday…and it felt horrid.  I don’t even want to discuss the workout itself, as it was absolutely meaningless.  I accomplished nothing aside from reminding myself of how much my foot hurt.  I was getting rather nervous.  I rested Friday in preparation for Saturday’s long run.  By Friday evening, the pain was beginning to subside.  However, it was still there, like the beating of an enemy’s drums heard from a distance….

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“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”  – Will Rogers