Joseph [jo-sef] (noun) – A guy that waddles through marathons, whining like a mule along the way….

Yesterday I mentioned that my marathon training team, The New York Road Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”), meets three times a week in Central Park to run as a group.  Mondays are usually tempo runs – runs that are designed to add to a runner’s overall mileage base, run at a pace that’s consistent and can be improved upon as training goes on.  Wednesdays are “speed work” days – where we spend our time running up hills (as the old runner’s saying goes: “Hills are speedwork in disguise”) or doing “pick-ups” (which are the types of runs I described in yesterday’s installment.  Saturdays are “long run” days.  These runs are the foundation and the key to distance running success, because the runner adds on a mile or two each week to his/her prior week’s total, thereby getting the entire body used to the feeling of running for longer periods of time without rest.  For example: last Saturday I ran 10.5 miles along the Hudson River with TFK.  By the end of the run, I felt as if a tap dancer was perched atop my head dancing along to Singin’ in the Rain, while an elephant sat on my chest as two trolls used my legs as a wishbone.  (I just read that last sentence to myself several times, and each time I was left with the same thought: God that was weird.  So weird…..I’m going to leave it in and just move along….).  I was not caught by surprise – I’ve gone on runs much longer than 10.5 miles.  I knew how the run was going to make me feel, and I was not doing cartwheels due to the pending excitement (….because if I WERE doing cartwheels AT ANY TIME, anyone standing nearby has the legal right to backslap me into coherence).  As much as I was NOT excited about the aftermath, I ran the distance anyway….because I know how important the long run is.

This coming Saturday is my next long run – 12 miles.  Estimated temperature in the park for Saturday….94 degrees….and humid.  Oy.  Not excited.  But I’ll do it anyway.  Fortunately for me, today is not Saturday!  

Now aside from these three TFK group training days, each runner is expected to do addiitonal weekly work.  This consists of an easy runs or cross training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a light recovery run on Sundays.  Friday is a pure rest day, since it’s the day prior to the weekly long run.  Cross training for me consists of lifting weights, light stretching, and abdominal work.  Cross training is pretty important because it allows the runner to develop some stregnth and work the muscles of the boday that aren’t primarily stressed during running sessions.  Marathon running is definitely a full-body experience – after the race, muscles that you never knew you had will hurt.  So working out the entire body helps your endurance and overall performance…or at least that’s what I’ve read!  LOL This is the first time in my life that I’m actually following a strict training regimen without “falling off the waggon” one month into the program.  I’m hoping that I’ll see results along this journey.

So today I’m hitting the gym and working out for about an hour.  No running AT ALL.  I need to work on my abdominals most of all, since strong abs help running posture and overall endurance. 

Tomorrow…..REST.   Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Until tomorrow, my friends!

Atmosphere is key……

Wednesday, July 21st….For all of the New Yorkers reading this (and I’m guessing that total is approximatly….well…one thus far), the odds are that you know the basics about Central Park.  As a result, you will probably be able to picture my daily marathon training stomping ground.  But for those of you playing the home game, I’ll take a few minutes to describe the atmosphere of the park, because that’s where I’ll be spending so much of my training time over the course of the coming months before getting in to Wednesday’s workout with my team.

Central Park is basically looked at as the heart of Manhattan.  It rests smack in the center of the island, designed in a rectangle with points located on 59th street and 5th Avenue (the SE Corner of the park), Colunbus Circle (the SW Corner of the park), 110th Street and 5th Avenue (the NE Corner of the park), and 110th Street and Central Park West (the NW Corner of the park).   Legnthwise, the park is approximately 2 1/2 miles from South to North, and approximately 7/10 of a mile from east to west.  There are five small bodies of water within the park: “The Pond” (located in the southeast corner), “The Lake” (located in the 70’s, smack in the center of the park), “Turtle Pond” (just south the Great Lawn), “The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir” (from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s, smack in the middle of the park), and “Harlem Meer” (located in the northeast corner).   Within the park, there is one major “roadway” that runs in a long oval along the outer edges – this is called the “outer loop”, and it covers approximately 6 miles.   This “outer loop” is used by the New York Road Runners (“NYRR”) for almost all of their annual races. 

Winding in and out of the park is also a dirt path referred to as “The Bridal Path”  It begins in the southwest corner of the park near 62nd street and Columbus Circle, and winds its way north, hugging the westernmost boarder of the park for approximately 1 mile.  Then it turns eastward, into the park, and heads toward The Reservior.  There begins a loop of approximately 2 miles.  Many avid runners enjoy running The Bridal Path because the firm dirth path is easier on a runner’s joints than consistently running on asphalt or concrete.  Since a marathoner trains 4-5 days a week for five months on average, he/she should take every precaution NOT to get injured before race day – so running on dirt is a reeeeeeally good idea.  At first I couldn’t stand running on The Bridal Path….but now I am completely hooked.   This Bridal Path is where the team that I run with – The New York Road Runners Team for Kids – consistently practices each Monday and Wednesday evening from April – November.

Before I move on and briefly speak about today’s workout, I want to add one more thing about Central Park: quite simply it is my favorite place in the city to spend time.  Whenever I need to decompress (which is quite often because I’m usually wound up tighter than a cheap watch), I throw on my running shoes, grab my ipod, and head to the park.  There’s something about this plot of land that relaxes me – recharges my batteries.  Within the park, a person’s privacy is part of the public trust.

I’m picking this blog up approximately 7-8 weeks into our training schedule.  The New York Road  Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”) has developed a training program that asks its team members to show up at 6pm each Monday and Wednesday evening to develop a base of milageage that will help us prepare for longer runs, performed as a team in various locations within the city each Saturday morning.  At this stage of the training program, the team is logging 5-6 miles each Monday evening at a steady pace (my pace is roughly 10 minutes per mile…….but don’t quote me on that, because I tell my time by judging the sun’s location in the sky – who needs a Garmin?).  On Wednesdays, the team performs speedwork…..and that, quite honestly, is ROUGH.  Especially for a guy like me, who runs as if a baby grand is on his back.

Today’s workout was two loops around The Reservior, working in 2 or 3 minute “pickups” – which is a period of increased effort above your normal jogging pace (usually 75% of your overall speed).  Now two minute sprints such as this doesn’t sound too hard…..but for a turtle like me, it’s HELL.  Especially since you only get 60 seconds to catch your breath before you start another 2-3 pickup.  YUCK. 

While I’m pushing myself, I feel like death warmed over.  However, as I’m coming down the last hill, heading toward my backpack, my waterbottle, and air conditioning, I feel a sense of small accomplishment.  I wanted to shut it down today – felt like taking a few of the pickups off because quite frankly I was tired, they were hard, and I was getting cranky.  But i didn’t quit – and that sole fact let’s me know that I will be ready for November 7th.

A Quick Preview

I’ve decided to begin a blog that will track my training and corresponding life experiences while preparing for the upcoming 2010 – 2011 marathon season.  While this might sound a tad boring, I can assure you that I lead a rather full and interesting life.   And its contents can be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people, in my humble opinion:

For all of you avid runners out there that clock in 6-7-8 minute miles, this blog will allow you laugh hysterically as I attempt to train myself to make the leap from ridiculously slow to just plain…..well…..slow.  For you see, I really am built for comfort – not speed.  I’m 5’11”, and weigh 201 pounds.  I’ve lifted weights since high school, when I played QB for the Fordham Prep Rams.  I was introduced to cardio-vascular workout (i.e., running…..yuck) during college, when I rowed for the Iona College Crew.  After college….well….life simply got in the way of me actually maintaining my level of physical fitness.  That, at least, is the politically correct version of the story.  In reality, fell in love with all things BAD FOR ME.  I hit rock botttom and began to dig.  Now those life stories aren’t going to be included in this blog; instead, they are the foundation of the novel that I am in the middle of completing.  I’ll make sure to let everyone know when it’s going to press.  The title is going to be For My Sins…..and trust me, I committed a TON of them.  But sins, when seen through the eyes of an amateur comedian, can sound quite funny……  So all you speed demons out there, sit back and have some laughs at my expense – because the person I love to make fun of the most…….me.

For all of you fellow back-of-the-packers that have trained for / are training for a marathon, I think you’ll especially enjoy this one.  Why?  Because I have made every dumb distance running mistake in the book, and I’m sure there will be at least one or two that you’ll think to yourself “……huh, I remember doing that exact same thing…”.  Knowing that other people make that – as well as many more – mistakes may help you put things in perspective.  Being fast is a great goal.  It takes a lot of hard work (and Lord knows I hate hard work.  I try to avoid it like the plague), and improvement comes with time – so patience is key.  Having goals, regardless of how silly or out-of-reach they may sound to others, are the carrots dangling in front of us back-of-the-packers (which I lovingly refer to as turtles) that will allow us to improve over time.  My goal – and it might be your’s as well – is to graduate from the rank of turtle to the stature of hare.  My friends may look at me when they hear this lofty goal and say “Sure Joe – that sounds great.  Want an Oreo?” So this blog will help me stay focused on my goals….and maybe it can help you keep on track as well.  So I ask you to follow me as I go through my training, and have a bunch of laughs along the way….maybe it can help keep you motivated as your own training gets tougher as the mileage increases. 

For those of you that are thinking about running a marathon for the first time, this will be sound evidence that you CAN do it.  Because if I can pull this off, ANYONE can.  I am not a natural athlete.  I’m not thin and lean.  I’m not easily motivated.  I lack focus.  I don’t eat healthy 100% of the time.  I complain A LOT.   And…with all of those negative personality traits firmly in place within my pea-sized brain, I’ve managed to complete 10 marathons since November 2005.  You’ll learn that the body will only carry you to a certain point along the marathon course, and then it hits The Wall.  At that moment, the road forces you to look inside yourself and find the courage to keep moving forward.  Either that – or quit.  Now I may be slow….not in the greatest shape….and I may lack focus….HOWEVER, one thing I hate is failing at achieving a goal.  I’ve run smack into The Wall – HARD – ten times.  Each time I didn’t let the road get the best of me.  And if I can do it….YOU CAN DO IT. 

For those of you that simply like to laugh,  you’ll have TONS of chuckles, multiple gaffaws, and numerous snickers purely at my expense.   And I’m sure I’ll deserve every one of them. 

For my friends and relatives,  you’ll be able to keep tabs on how I’ve been spending my time outside of my office.  And also laugh at my expense.  Call me a few names under your breath.  I’m sure I deserve it – Lord kows I never pick up the phone any more – I deserve to be bluggeoned over the head with a wet noodle 20 times.

So let the games (and the laughter) begin!

This effort is dedicated to the people closest to me – MY FAMIGLIA. 

And a special shout-out to my team: The New York Road Runners Team for Kids.  Helping over 100,000 New York city school kids fight childhood obesity every single day.  Thank you teammates and coaches, for helping me stay motivated.  2010 marks my 6th ING New York City Marathon – and 4th with the Team for Kids (simply referred to as “TFK”)…and if you are ever thinking of running the NYC Marathon for the first time, this team is the WAY TO GO.