Saturday, September 25th – Thursday, October 14th……With the decision made to skip Hartford on October 9th, I began to feel truly disappointed in myself. I needed to clear my head – but in order to do that, I needed to run. Enter the dilemma. I needed to think outside the box for a moment – come up with an idea that would replace the cardiovascular workout that I sorely miss; which would help keep my endurance up, burn the calories normally gobbled up along the bridal path, and let my foot heal.
Now for anyone that hasn’t heard the term “thinking outside the box”, that just means that I need to become creative with my ideas. I need to brainstorm. Now I’m pretty solid in the creativity department (let’s face it: if you’ve read my blog thus far I think you’ve noticed that my way of thinking is slightly….well….askew. I plainly appear to be “not quite right in the head”.) – so it didn’t take me long to find an answer to my issue. And where did I find it? In of all places, my college year book.
During my college years, I rowed for the Iona College Crew Team. Each morning I’d wake up at 5:30am, drive to our boathouse on Glen Island in Pelham Manor, New York, and spend 1-2 hours on the water with my teammates. We’d row in the rain. The cold. The heat. We even rowed while it was snowing a few times. Regardless of how well each of us performed, the team developed an almost family-like attitude toward one another. Those were great times. During the off season, the team would train on equipment called ergometers (“ergs” for short). Maybe your gym has one or two: it’s a rowing machine that consists of a sliding seat, support for the rower’s feet, a handle attached to a chain which winds its way inside of the front of the machine, where a metal wheel embedded with wind-resistant folds is encased in a metal shell. The older model ergs make a ton of noise when the rower gets the momentum going…which pisses other people nearby off royally….which is why not many people actually USE the erg….which is why they usually have layers of dust on them whenever I hit the gym. When you sit on the sliding erg seat, facing you is the handle that you’ll be tugging on, as well as a small computer screen. You can follow your strokes per minute and your average pace per 2,500 meters (which is the normal length of a crew race).
I used to hate the erg workouts. I used to hate the erg altogether. Local off-season rowing competitions used to held at several teams’ boathouses, and we used to participate in them – one of which was referred to as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Winning times for heavyweight men’s rowers (any man weighing over 160 pounds was a heavyweight rower) used to clock in at 7 – 7:30 for a 2,500 meter erg race. My best time was 8:10 in college. So yes – I’ve always been a turtle, on and off the water. It seems like the only place where I evolve from turtle to fish is when I actually enter the water and swim. The water is my natural element….but I digress…..Fortunately for me, my small company gym has a brand new erg sitting in the cardio room, begging to be used. Who says my college years weren’t good for anything?
I rested the entire weekend of September 25th and 26th. No long run. All I needed to do was to focus on healing. All the long runs in the world wouldn’t do me any good if I show up to the starting line on November 7th with a foot that will only carry me through 11-12 miles. I need to finish what I start. In my head, all I could think about was developing a weekly plan that keeps the cardio up and also allows me to work on my core. Come to think of it, I should have been using this erg all along!
Early the next week, I had to travel for work, so my workouts only consisted of whatever abdominal work and stretching I could get done in a Marriott hotel room. While I was away, The Tool basked the glory of assumed victory. My workouts had dwindled. My confidence had been beaten up. My apparent dedication to attaining my goals appeared to be flushed right down the ol’ gabinetto (if you’ve read my blog thus far you know this word, lab rats. If you haven’t, then google is your friend…). So as I returned to my office on Thursday, September 30th, I pictured The Tool lounging back in an old recliner, smoking a stogy, watching reruns of F-Troop while slugging a pint of Shlitz. Well the cigar fell out of his mouth and he spilled his lousy beer all over his cheap poly-blend track suit the moment he heard the wheel of the erg howl as I pulled the handle back for the first time.
The first few strokes felt….weird. Stiff. Over the past few years I have conditioned my body to enjoy the feeling of running on the open road. In the elements. The feeling of stretching my legs and pumping my arms in steady motion alongside my teammates or just simply other New Yorkers was what my muscles craved. They craved what they knew – what was at the forefront of their muscle memory. It took about 250 meters to remind them all of my college years. Some of my muscle groups (like my back and my abs) needed to dust off the instruction manuals for this exercise. Sure, they were mad at me at the outset for throwing them a curveball – but everything fell into place at I hit the 500 meter mark of the exercise. I gradually raised my stroke rate to 34 strokes per minute. I remembered all of the coaches’ words of advice: control the slide of the seat…..slide forward slowly – let the boat run under you and listen for the bubbles; if you can hear bubbles running under the boat, you’re motoring along…push your hands low and away as your body begins to slide forward, popping the blade out of the water…raise your hands at the top of the slide, and then drive back first using all legs, then finish with the back…control is key. The last 500 meters I pushed my pace to 38 strokes a minute. Then 40. As I finished 2,500 meters, I realized that I had clocked a time of 8:24. Not bad for a guy that had not rowed in 19 years! As I rose from the erg, I realized that I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. The time off hadn’t hurt my endurance. This realization was exactly what I needed. I finished my workout by hitting the weights and working on my core over the next half hour. The erg….my new friend. The Tool’s new nightmare. There’s nothing quite like a dose of renewed confidence to stoke the motivational fires.
That weekend (October 2nd and 3rd), I found myself in Orlando, Florida. I had signed up for a half marathon in Walt Disney World. I decided to tempt fate and see how the foot responded to the rest. While the course was not exactly hilly, the 13.1 miles took the 7,000 – 8,000 runners through Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios theme parks late at night. Called the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, the race began at 10pm. Two hours and 24 minutes after crossing the starting line, I had a medal draped over my head and was on my way back to my hotel. The foot was bothering me – but it wasn’t unbearable. I knew I’d pay for this the next morning…but I really didn’t care. The Tool enjoyed bothering me the last 3 miles of the race, reminding me of the pain (and how hungry I was!)…but for the first time in quite a while, I put him in his place. The only other distraction was my Garmin watch. It decided to flake out on me 11 miles into the race. It suddenly decided to shut off. For no reason. While the battery was at 60% power remaining. THAT ticked me off. Cannot let that happen on Marathon Sunday…so I’m going to buy myself a new watch.
As for a quick review of the race itself, here’s the fairly good, the bad, and the REALLY ugly:
- Transportation: I stayed at a WDW on-property resort. However, it wasn’t a “host resort”…so since I was reliant on Disney transportation to get me around the property, I had to take a bus from my resort to one of the four theme parks, then transfer to a bus that takes me to a “host resort”, and then transfer again to a bus that takes me to the Expo & and the Starting Line located at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. REALLY UGLY.
- The Expo: in a word – thin. Not much to see. I was there for approximately 15 minutes. Nothing there motivated me to spend any additional time. BAD.
- The Start: pre-race provided ample space and port-o-potties (also known as mobile poop houses). Water was available – but no Gatorade. The pre-race entertainment was easily ignored…which worked for me. The walk from the pre-race area to the corrals was short. The Start itself was nicely executed. FAIRLY GOOD, overall.
- The Course: brought the runners through the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios after closing time. Nice. But hardly any characters were out, and it simply felt like the race didn’t have enough creative effort put into it. Roughly 7.5 of the 13.1 miles was run along quiet highways. Entertainment was weak. I expect top shelf stuff from Disney. They let me down. BAD.
- The Fans: Hardly any were allowed on the course until the final stretch that took the runners from Hollywood Studios to the back of Epcot, through the Boardwalk area. It’s a HALF MARATHON! 13.1 miles isn’t exactly easy. Fans HELP. BAD.
- The Volunteers: one word. AWESOME. THANK YOU ALL!!!! GOOD.
- The Medal: one word. COOL. GOOD.
- Baggage Claim / Post Race: Completely unorganized, very un-Disney. Shockingly messy. This was FUBAR, big time. REALLY UGLY.
Bottom line: I won’t run this one until the kinks get worked out. My overall rating: UGLY.
Over the next two weeks, I’ve focused on my time in the gym. Each day I take my time, focusing on specific body parts as I left weights. As I go through the motions, I think of why the muscle group I am currently working is important to achieving my long-term goals. The shoulders. Back. Chest. Arms. Core. All important muscle groups. All will be called upon on marathon Sunday. All will pay a price. So I am trying to build them up so that I don’t break down when it matters the most. Thrown in to this routine now is time on the erg. The steady rhythm of the sliding seat does not clear my head in the same way that running always has. I miss the road…but the erg is helping my foot heal, and that’s the most important thing right now.
As of this morning, only 24 days until the New York City Marathon. The air is changing – getting more crisp. The advertisements are beginning to show up on trains and buses. People are beginning to talk about the race in the office. Three weeks to go, and the excitement is already building. I hope I am healed by then.
I have one trip to take before race day, and that will bring me to a couple of cities north of the boarder. Toronto and Calgary are two interesting cities, both with sites to see and fun places to visit. (Too bad that, as far as Canadian hockey teams are concerned, I’m an Oiler fan..unless they are playing my beloved Broadway Blueshirts – I bleed NY Ranger blue). I’m looking at the trip as my calm before the storm, because once I return to New York City, I’m all business for the next few months. So a trip up north could be exactly what the doctor ordered. I am betting that it will spark my creative juices. One thing is for sure – Canadians are awesome. Especially a few in Alberta that I know. Now let’s see if they lose my luggage in Calgary’s airport as I step off the plane wearing a jersey that reads “Messier” on the back…..
When I woke up this morning, I felt like I was firing on all cylinders. I feel like I’m peaking at just the right time. And when my feet touched the floor whilst getting out of bed, I walked – not hobbled – to the bathroom.
…and somewhere in the recesses of my pea-sized brain, The Tool extinguished his stogy, took a long slug of his cheap beer, went to his file cabinet where he stores all of his negative mental ammo, and began preparation for a 26.2 mile blitzkrieg.
Three weeks. 24 days. Me vs. The Tool. Not exactly Tyson / Holyfield or Rangers / Devils, but it’ll do for now…