Double Duty


Wednesday morning began with a relaxing five mile run that doubled as a test run for my newest running gadget, the Salomon hydration pack. As I mentioned in my prior blog post, I was thrilled at the outcome.

Wednesday evening found me back in Central Park, mentoring marathon hopefuls for the New York Road Runners’ Team For Kids. A relaxed four miler around the bridal path with the beginner’s group was a fantastic way to end my day.

Each time I run with this group of soon-to-be first time marathoners, I get to hear more of their reasons for taking on this challenge. To one runner, it’s a goal that she had set for herself that meant a lot to her. Another runner was so motivated by the scene on Fifth Avenue last year, watching marathoners fight their way through the last ten kilometers of the race, that he resigned himself to stepping off of the sidelines and putting himself through the hazard the following year. Yet another runner wanted to help New York City children live a healthier lifestyle.

Everyone has a story. And that’s what motivates me to keep coming to each practice. It’s feels great to get a moment to ask each nugget (ok – truth be told I’m a Battlestar Galactica nerd – and, for the uninitiated, on the show they use the term “nugget” to represent new fighter pilots. It’s not a derogatory term – it’s just a real nerdy way of saying “rookie”) (doesn’t it sound cool? Say it with me – using a slight Bronx accent – NUGGET. Now remember to curl your top lip juuuust a bit like Elvis whenever he said “The King luvs ya, baby”. Perfect. OK – let’s move on…) “so tell me – what motivated you to take on the New York City Marathon?” I watch their eyes get a bit wider. A smile cracks each newbie’s face as they eagerly share their motivation for this tough endeavor. I get to see how fired up each of them are to attempt this. It’s fantastic to witness.

BUT, even better than witnessing their excitement throughout this training program is the feeling of satisfaction I get as a Team For Kids mentor. Being able to tell them all about my dumb mistakes made during prior marathons in the hopes that they’ll learn from my errors provides me with a true feeling of satisfaction. There’s nothing better than helping someone else achieve a true life goal.

Some days don’t suck at all.

_____________________________________________________________

If you’d like some information on The Dream Team Project or would like to make a donation to their amazing cause, please stop by the website: www.wdwradio.com/the-dream-team-project I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really believe in what The Dream Team Project stands for. It raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. Being s former wish-granter for the NYC Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, I can tell you first-hand just how much of an impact this organization makes in the lives of children. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. Thanks!

If you’d like a bit more information on the WDW Radio Running Team, please check out the Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/WDW-Radio-Running-Team/163606410344409

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Number 3 of my 12 in ’12: The 2012 Ocean Drive Marathon


The morning of March 27th began under cloudy skies and a wind just brisk enough to run a chill down your spine. I took my sweet time waking up, showering and changing into my racing clothes, since my hotel was right around the corner from the starting line. I felt less pressure than in prior races. I ate well. I slept well. I was relaxed and feeling…well…confident. There was no nervous tension turning my stomach as I grabbed my overnight bag and closed the hotel room door behind me. Somehow, the specter of the prior night’s dinner was a distant memory as I exited the hotel and took in the crisp, damp air.

The walk to the starting area was a simple 2-block excursion. I realized that the overcast skies and the damp air could make the run feel unseasonably cold for a bit – but after a few miles the warmth of my exertion should chase the chill away and result in a fantastic effort. As I stood around the starting area after dropping off my luggage at bag check, good omens began to present themselves. First I saw one of my Team for Kids coaches – Coach Glen. Glen is a fantastic runner with an easy stride and a phenomenal work ethic. We briefly chatted before he headed toward the starting line – it was good to see a friendly face.

Then, more great omens arrived: fellow Marathon Maniacs from all over the place converged on the starting area. The mustard-yellow jerseys were easy to identify from a distance, and they seemed to draw teammates together with the simple thought that there is an inner strength in numbers. Two of my fellow Maniacs walked with me to the starting line just minutes before the gun went off. The starting line was a spray-painted orange line on the asphalt. To our right, the sound of the waves hitting the beach. A trumpeter played the Star Spangled Banner. The horn then sounded, and off we went. This was my kind of race. No fancy starting line. No fanfare. No huge throngs of fans. No TV. Just 26.2 miles of road, and a bunch of runners to share it with. There was something quite pure about this race.

The pace was a bit quicker than I had liked – about a 9:20 pace for the first couple of miles. Rookie mistake, and quite improper given the fact that no one ever wins a marathon in the first mile….but professionals know that a marathon can indeed be LOST right from the start. About five kilometers into the race, my two Maniac teammates and I backed off the throttle a bit and began to settle in to a nice, flowing rhythm. We chatted about our goals (which, to some, might sound a bit…extreme), such as running a marathon in all 50 states, earning more Marathon Maniac “stars” (more “stars” are earned by Maniacs that execute more….shall we say…..aggressive….marathon schedules), running ultras (any race over the marathon distance), and other rather interesting ideas. (note to reader: I had one extremely INSANE idea to raise money for the Dream Team – but let’s get through this year’s marathon of marathons first). (….in case you didn’t notice, that’s what we aspiring authors call a “teaser”. LOL).

The first 6…7…8 miles were going by smooth as silk. But this is me we are talking about. Nothing ever stays this way.

At around mile nine, I was still breathing smoothly and my legs felt like they had a lot of juice in them. All systems were still go. The course hugged the coastline and took us through one small town after another. There was a headwind that made the race a bit more difficult than optimal – but still quite enjoyable. I truly felt like this was the race that I was going to blast through the 5 hour barrier and grab a 4:45 finishing time.

A third of the way through the course, The Tool was nowhere in sight. The three of us decided to use our gels / energy shots at this point. As I was not a big fan of the taste of GUs, my energy source was a more solid, jelly-like substance cut into gooey cubes. They were squishy and reminded me of my childhood adoration of gummy bears. (Oh please – how can ANYONE dislike gummy bears). I popped one of these gummy cubes into my mouth, bit down and……

Crack.

I chipped a tooth.

There must have been something solid in it, as this was NOT a scenario I ever prepared for whilst running through my marathon gameplan. I quickly moved the gummy cube to the right side of my jaw, and…..

Oh no.

It stuck to the crown of my lower molar.

I tried to extract it…… And the crown came out with it.

Now I a small chip in one tooth and a large hole on the other side of my mouth. And in my hand: the crown that belonged in the rear of my jaw. So I did what any marathoner would do at this point: I stuck the crown in my pocket and just kept on going.

The extremely odd circumstances at mile nine became an utter distraction, as it completely took my mind off of what I was doing. Dumb thoughts kept racing through my brain, such as:

• I have to see my dentist now. This sucks.

• Well, I won’t be able to take in any fuel for the remainder of the race. This sucks.

• How the hell am I going to handle miles 20 – finish without fuel? This sucks.

• Belmont doesn’t open until Memorial Day, and I really felt like betting on the horses. This sucks.

• (see….I am odd)

The distraction disrupted my running chi. I began to lose my focus. Although I hit the halfway point at 2 hours and 15 minutes, my breathing got away from me. Then my arm swing faltered. Then, by mile 17, I began running out of fuel. I would have to fight just to finish. The wheels had come off.

The next few miles went by in a very slow, deliberate haze. Although I felt very little pain from the miles of effort, I simply had nothing left in my tank. You can have a fantastic car – state of the art – but it’s not going to budge without some Chateau Exxon 2012. I waddled to the finish line, just simply thrilled to earn my third marathon finish of the year. No personal record today – but one heck of a story to tell.

In three months, I had run three marathons. One in 25 degree temperatures. I lost a tooth in another. That’s….well….unique. The Tool rode with me all the way home, enjoying the view on the bus from Atlantic City’s terminal to Port Authority. No, he didn’t look out the window at the New Jersey landscape; instead, he took in the unmoving look of concern that was etched on my face. Would I feel this good before a marathon again in 2012? And, if so – would I be able to avert the rookie mistakes as well as the obscure issues in order to earn a personal best time? The sad look on my face said it all: I was beginning to lose faith. The Tool took a deep breath of the stale air and a huge grin appeared across his face. He could sense an opening – and he was going to make the most of it.

My Life With Chuckie D


So in yesterday’s episode, I took stock of my lack of progress and the possible rationale for my stagnancy.  I basically gave myself some tough love.  And that reeeeeeeally stunk.  Why?  Because I forced myself to look at the current state of “internal affairs” and concluded that enhancements needed to be made toot-sweet.  (I just used the phrase “toot-sweet” in a sentence – I should be given a time out for that moment of idiocy).  As a result of this analysis, one of the discoveries I made was that my diet was, in technical terms, well…….stupid.  Just dumb.  Moronic.  Here I am trying to stay healthy, injury-free and strong throughout what promises to be the most physically demanding year of my life (thus far), and I still take in enough Diet Coke a day to choke a horse.  Enough chocolate a day that I constantly walk around on a sugar kick.  And coffee?  Don’t even get me started!  If I had the medical credentials and the proper equipment, I’d simply mainline Dunkin Donuts French vanilla with cream & sugar. 

 

These harsh realizations resulted in what I am now defining as a self-intervention.  As my buddy Chuck once told me, “Joey my boy (he called me Joey and that pissed me off – but he was a bit smarter than me so I gave him a pass), for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  To which I, of course, retorted “Chuckie D (I called him Chuckie D just to exact my revenge on a rather kindergarten level – and because he secretly adored Run DMC), you must be high”.  Well I was wrong.  He wasn’t high.  Instead, he wrote a few laws and got famous in the halls of science while I rumbled through a remote college ingloriously.

 

Ah those words still bounce around in my rather dense cranium: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Chuck was right, and I can prove it without some fancy-shmancy scientific theorem (“toot-sweet”….”fancy-shmancy”…see what happens when you take a schmuck like me off of my magic elixirs?).  Based on the action of my “self-intervention”, the reaction was me publicly swearing off of Diet Coke AND chocolate.  Why did Chuck need to be so darn smart? 

 

Well I am happy to report that it’s been approximately 24 hours since I made that promise to myself….and thus far I’ve managed to stick to it.  However, it has NOT been easy.  The action of taking away my soda and chocolate is like taking away Dr. House’s bottle of vicodin: the reaction is probably going to be messy.

 

….24 hours……that’s all….and I’m already a complete grouch.  This does not bode well.  And I’m a sourpuss to begin with.

 

On a lighter note, last night I sat down and developed my running schedule for the next couple of months.  I’ve now provided myself with some structure.  Hopefully this will help me improve my speed and stamina.  Time will tell.

 

So there you have it, sports fans.  I have a bunch of marathons coming up along with some other races in New York City, I’m about to step up the structure and intensity of my workouts…and I’m doing it without my of my favorite food groups: chocolate and Diet Coke.  Make sure your seatbelts are fastened, your trays are locked and your seats are in the upright position, because I’m betting there will be some turbulence up ahead.

 

 

 

If you’d like some information on The Dream Team Project or would like to make a donation to their amazing cause, please stop by the website:  www.wdwradio.com/the-dream-team-project  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really believe in what The Dream Team Project stands for.  It raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening illnesses.  Being s former wish-granter for the NYC Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, I can tell you first-hand just how much of an impact this organization makes in the lives of children.  Please consider donating to this worthy cause.  Thanks!

 

…and if you’d like a bit more information on the WDW Radio Running Team, please check out the Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/WDW-Radio-Running-Team/163606410344409

Marathon Week


October 15th – November 6thThe final three weeks leading up to Halloween were nerve-wracking for me.  The foot injury was healing, albeit VERY slowly, the amount of road work I was able to complete leading up to Marathon Week was minimal and other cardiovascular workouts needed to be supplemented.  As I worked on the rowing machine or pedaled the upright bike, I knew I was putting in the effort – the last time I felt this physically fit was 1991…my junior year in college rowing on the varsity crew team.  Yet with all the effort I exerted whilst attempting to permit my heel to heal, my self confidence began oozing out of me as if my heart were a sink and someone left the water slightly on….if you listened closely, you could hear the drip, drip, drip of my assuredness wash down the emotional drain. 

…and while that sound of consistent, relentless dripping is considered to be a form of pure torture to most people on this planet, it sounded like The Temptations to a certain 4” schmuck.  The sound that my self confidence made as it steadily circled the emotional drain was music to The Tool’s ears.  The grin only broadened on his miserable little face as Marathon Week drew closer.  While I prepared my body for my annual battle against the streets of New York City as well as my own inner demons, The Tool had been hard at work preparing his final siege.  He prepared his battle strategy with a growing sense of pending victory circling over his bulbous head.

The battle would be fought in several stages.  First, the final weekend team practice scheduled for Halloween morning which officially kicks off my Marathon Week.  An easy five mile run – a rather routine test of my physical well-being that would either prove to be a boost of confidence that I sorely needed (hopefully my heel would hold up and I would not feel any pain afterward – an indication that the rest I gave it paid off)…or an incredibly solid first attack executed by The Tool which would give him a tactical advantage for the rest of this campaign.  The second test would come on Wednesday evening, only three nights before Marathon Sunday – the final team workout in Central Park.  At this point in the week, the tactical advantage could either be strengthened by either side, or a stalemate could be claimed going into the Big Day.  The third skirmish between my soldiers of self confidence and these mighty minions of the Terrible Tool (this little 4” moron decided to alter his name, supposedly for marketing purposes.  Marketing research apparently concluded that this enhanced name would look better on advertisements brain-wide.  This schmuck was feeling like a rock star) would take place during the 48 hours leading up to Sunday morning.  With all the work completed, there was nothing more I could do to help me heal the injury.  There was nothing more I could do to strengthen my endurance.  All that remained was to eat and sleep properly.  The battle lines had been drawn.  All that remained was for the first shot to be fired and for the armies to be turned loose on one another.

Regardless of the outcome of these three stages, victory would only be claimed on Marathon Sunday.  But the strategic advantage going into the Big Day was now the prize being fought over within my mind and heart…and body.

Halloween morning, I slowly slid out of bed and placed my feet on the floor.  I took a deep breath, and stood up and felt…nothing.  A smile crossed my face.  The Tool scowled.  I walked to the bathroom, showered, changed and got ready to head over to Central Park…and the foot cooperated completely.  As I strolled to the team’s meeting location, the music blasting through my earphones sounded fantastic.  The Tool, in the manner of a cranky octogenarian, mentally yelled at me to “keep that damn racket down!!” ….and I ignored the little schmuck.  We stretched.  We loosened up.  And then with took off up the West Side Drive.  No pain thus far.  The group I was running with pushed a pace of 9:15 per mile through miles 2….3….4.  No pain.  My arms swung as I stayed with the group across the transverse and down the east side drive.  I looked at my watch four miles into the workout: a pace of 8:40 per mile.  Way too fast.  I backed off and let the group finish as I worked on finding my race pace for the Big Day.  There it was: victory in the first battle could be claimed by the soldiers of my self confidence.  A battle well fought.  As I slowed down and came to a halt in front of my team, who stood along the sidelines of the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5 mile run cheering on the various runners that were finishing their workout, I must have been beaming.  I needed the burst of confidence…and I got it.  I walked home with a quiet swagger that I had lacked for basically this entire month.

To be on the safe side, I took Monday and Tuesday off from workouts.  No running – just some time in the gym lifting weights and working on core strength.  Nothing too demanding at all.  I knew that taking two days off from running after a very positive five miler was beneficial for my body.  The Tool used these 48 hours to his advantage, quietly redeploying his soldiers of self-doubt along strategic areas.  As I sat in my office that Tuesday afternoon, I felt my foot bother me just a bit.  For a moment.  Nothing horrible.  Just a tweak.  Right?  I loosened my shoe in the hope that this simple action would make that slight twinge go away….and it did.

As I walked around the city later that evening, there it was again.  That little tweak at the bottom of my foot.  Must have been due to the amount of walking I did in a pair of Kenneth Coles. Right?

As I went to bed Tuesday night, I kept moving my left foot around under the covers.  I could feel that slight – almost insignificant – pain near my ankle. But it wasn’t throbbing.  It wasn’t annoying.  But it was just enough to cost me a few hours of sleep…and allow The Tool to gain back the ground he had lost during the initial skirmish between the forces of cool (that would be me and my soldiers of self-confidence, for all those playing the home game) and uncool (namely the Tool and his moronic minions).  Wednesday, the battle would be joined once more.

The final team practice on Wednesday was a lighthearted affair.  Adorned with glow sticks (yes, I ran with an orange glow stick around my neck – not the first time I’ve been decorated in neon…but that’s another story for another blog…..OR NOT), the team ran 1-2 laps around the reservoir as a final tune up for the Big Day.  The pace started slowly…but the team appeared anxious and maintained pace times much quicker than anticipated.  What was supposed to be a slow, relaxed run felt like a pit crew at Daytona tuning up their engines and giving their vehicles a once-over before parking them in the garage to await the drop of the flag.  Fearing that going out too fast on my foot would result in the pain returning, I began slowly.  However, like a racehorse (oh come on – I’m the author here – I can stretch the boundaries of believability just a tad, so work with me) stuck in the middle of a large pack coming around to the turn, my instinct to stay with the pack silently turned up my pace and before I knew it I was clocking in with a 9:05 pace.  As I finished the first loop, there was one of the team’s coaches snapping pictures (as usual).  The following conversation took place.  It was brief.  It was funny.

Coach:  “ummm….Joe…where are you going?”

Me:  “I thought we were supposed to do 2 loops.”

Coach: “the head coach said that if you felt fantastic after one loop, shut it down, right?”

Me: “Yeah…but almost everyone is heading out for lap number 2….”

Coach:  “yup – but you aren’t.”

Me: “Oh come on….”

Coach: “Dude, on that foot?  No.  Head back to the gym.”

Me: “…but coach….”

Coach: “head back.  God, you whine like a tool.”

…and inside me a little voice chuckled.  Shit.  …..so I headed back.

As I gathered my belongings at a local school gym prior to heading to the team’s final social event of the training year, I felt that subtle twinge again.  It wasn’t uncomfortable.  It was not painful.  It was simply….there.  My heel was letting me know that the issue had not disappeared, and yet it appeared that I could run on it for shorter distances without any hindrance of performance.  Feelings of excitement (for the pace I had been able to maintain recently) were offset with nervousness (the distances were short – and the marathon is 26.2 miles….not 5).  The battle had been fought, and a stalemate had been reached.

Thursday was difficult at work – I found it very hard to focus on my tasks while this internal battle was being fought.  Fortunately, for the first time in my running history, I took the business day prior to Race Day off to enjoy the Expo.

The ING New York City Marathon Expo is a sight to behold.  Filled with runners from all over the globe speaking countless different languages, vendors selling their running-focused wares, motivational speakers to gear up those that might need that last minute pep talk, and eager volunteers basking in the joy that comes with the responsibility of handing each marathoner his/her bib number and race packet.  I watched as volunteers reached into cardboard boxes and extracted these small plastic packets, compared the name on the packet to the name on a valid form of personal identification, and then presented each marathoner with their bib number.  The huge smile that came across each runner’s face was reflected in the smiles of the volunteers.  As I meandered through the various exhibits within the conference center, I couldn’t help but begin to feel a sense of pride to be a part of such a global event.

I stopped by the Team for Kids booth, got myself squared away, and then participated in a thirty minute presentation at one of the larger marathon booths.  I was asked to discuss why I began running with the team, and also describe my strategy for the course.  Since this would be my sixth time running this race, I know where the rough patches are, and I did develop what I considered to be a real solid game plan for the upcoming marathon.  And….since I use 100 words when 10 will do….and I looooove the sound of my own voice…..I was more than happy to flap my gums in front of a microphone.  I left the Expo Friday afternoon filled with excitement.

I woke up early Saturday morning and was part of an interview on WFUV radio in my hometown of the Bronx, New York.  Again the questions were asked: why do you run?  How many marathons have you run?  How does New York compare to marathons in other cities?  What’s your favorite parts of the course?  What part of the course do you dislike – if any?  It was a great experience – I never was part of a radio show before.  Definitely something I want to do again!! 

After the radio show, I went to the team’s annual breakfast which was held near Times Square.  Sitting with my teammates and laughing over coffee and runny eggs was just the elixir I needed.  We listened to speeches by a handicapped triathlete, two youngsters that represented one of the programs that my team’s charity funds, several of our coaches, and Mary Wittenberg – President of the New York Road Runners.  By the time I left this wonderful event, I truly felt that tomorrow morning – Marathon Sunday – would be a day to remember.

While my soldiers of self confidence received motivation speeches that revved them up for the final conflict, The Tool was had at work, frantically preparing his final race strategy.  This little 4” sourpuss crossed his chubby, hairy-knuckled fingers and hoped for rain and freezing temperatures.  He planned to sabotage my heel and make it hurt.  He pounded my self confidence with fears of my foot giving out half way through the race.  He tried to keep me from sleeping.  His battle plan was clear.  The only question that remained: could he carry it out?

As I changed for bed Saturday night after carefully preparing my bag and clothing for the morning, I reviewed the map once more and went over my course strategy:

My New York City Marathon Course Strategy

Early Morning / Pre-Race

  • A long hot shower, first thing in the morning.
  • Grab a bacon & egg on a roll on the walk to the team buses.
  • Pass by Columbus Circle on the walk to the bus – keep the goal fresh in my head
  • Before the race, stay WARM.  Stay in the team’s tent. 
  • No caffeine.  It’s a diaretic, and there’s no way I’m winding up as one of those disgusting youtube videos.
  • Use the port-o-potty right before heading to the corrals.
  • Drink enough…but don’t get crazy and guzzle a gallon of Chatteau Bloomberg.
  • Stretch with the team
  • Nothing but positive thoughts
  • Remember my mantra for the day: I am unbreakable. 

 The Start

  • The first mile is uphill, over water.  Cold winds.  Start slow.  Don’t get caught up in passing people.
  • Watch my footing – people throw clothing on the floor.
  • Right from the start, focus on my breathing.  In the nose, out the mouth.  Keep my heart rate down.
  • Ignore the cold – think about getting off of the bridge and into Brooklyn.
  • I’m starting on the lower level, so stay away from the edge of the bridge.  Men piss over the side of the top level of the bridge, and between that…..and the wind….yuck.
  • Mile 2 is downhill.  Stay under control.  I’ll want to push things a bit here – but refrain.

 Brooklyn

  • Miles 3-13 are basically flat and fast.  The crowds will push me along.
  • STEADY PACE.  Run with even effort.
  • I know the pace that I am comfortable with – so run it.  Don’t get caught running someone else’s race.  Find a TFKer from the pack of runners I usually train with and coast along.
  • Average 10:30 – 10:50 a mile here.  That will give me enough gas in the tank for what’s ahead.
  • Hit the half way point in 2 hours 10 minutes – 2 hours 20 minutes and I am golden.
  • Drink water more than Gatorade.
  • Remember: these miles are FUN.  The hard work comes later.
  • ENJOY BROOKLYN.  HIGH FIVE some kids.  Get the crowd going.  Have FUN.

 Queens

  • At mile 14, begin to evaluate how things are going.  Go through the physical checklist:
    • Feet ok?
    • Legs ok?
    • Knees ok?
    • Hips ok?
    • Lower back ok?
    • Chest ok?
    • Arms ok?
    • Neck ok?
    • Breathing deep and slow?
  • Then recite the game plan to yourself for the second half of the race.
  • Slow and steady to the 59th Street Bridge….and then don’t let that bridge beat you.

 Manhattan

  • Take 1st Avenue easy.  Enjoy it.  Soak it in.  Store up the energy the crowd gives you.
  • Still average 10:35 – 10:50 pace. 
  • Eat at mile 17.5.  It’s pop-tart time.
  • Watch the footing at mile 18 – sponges + gu = a royal pain in the dimpled Irish arse.

 Bronx

  • Mile 20.  The Wall.  If I do this right, I’ll break it down.
  • Go through the physical checklist again.
  • The race begins here, and you know it.  Focus on getting around those apartment buildings and turning southbound.  THAT is your signal that you’re heading home.
  • DO NOT WALK here if you don’t have to.  Motion creates emotion.  You stop here and the body will not want to start back up.

 Manhattan

  • Laugh at the rappers coming off the Madison Ave. Bridge.
  • High five some kids – get the positive juices flowing
  • First water stop after the bridge: 2 gatorades, 1 water and the sports beans. 
  • Gospel Choir between miles 21 and 22 – take in their energy.
  • TFK at mile 22!!!!!!!!
  • Look for the coaches now – focus on getting from one coach to the next.
  • Around Marcus Garvey Park – take some deep breaths, because here comes 5th Avenue.
  • Right turn onto Fifth at around 122nd street: do NOT focus on the steady 1 ½ mile incline.  Instead, focus on the 10 feet in front of you.
  • Go to your mantra: I am unbreakable. 
  • You’ve felt this pain 5 times already – this is nothing new
  • Get to the Engineer’s Gate at 90th Street.  GET TO THE PARK.

 Central Park

  • This is your back yard.  Home field advantage.  This is Team for Kids’ house.
  • Rolling hills between miles 23 and 24 are to my advantage.  Use Cat Hill for momentum around 80th Street.  Allow the legs to stretch out and let the pace quicken
  • At Mile 25, yell “God F&^K the Queen!”
  • Make the right onto Central Park South and maintain the momentum.  Drop the split time from the 10:30 – 10:50 range to at least 10 minutes flat
  • Wait for the ½ Mile To Go marker, then drop the split to a 9:40 pace.
  • When you get to the turn at Columbus Circle….DROP THE HAMMER.  Go to your arms.  Drop the split down.  Shoot for sub 8:30 and HOLD IT through the finish.
  • The final mile will HURT – but you know that already.  The goal is to leave a piece of yourself on the road.  DO IT HERE.
  • DO NOT QUIT.  DO NOT SLOW DOWN.  DO NOT LET THE PAIN BREAK YOU.

 Before heading to bed, I read my favorite poem, which was written by Rudyard Kipling, entitled simply “If”:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

 

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

….I think Rudyard Kipling was a marathoner.  “…and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them hold on” ….. “if you can fill the unforigiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run”  ……..oh yeah – my buddy Ruddy was a marathoner. Too bad he never got to gallop up the Varrazanno and take in the New York City skyline.  Or be embraced by the people of Brooklyn.  Or thank a child for a cup of water in Queens.  Or be hit with the wall of noise that is First Avenue.  Or come face to face with your own limitations in the Bronx, only to find out that who you are is much more than what you were.  Or be soothed by the sounds of a gospel choir in Harlem.  Or high-five the children supported by the charity you wear on your chest near Marcus Garvey Park.  Or be willed along by the crowds on Fifth Avenue as you struggle to find the strength to go on.  Or enter Central Park battered and bruised, yet tasting victory.  Or surrendering to the moment and expending every last ounce of yourself in a final sprint beginning on Central Park South.  Or watch as a fellow runner falls to a knee with 200 yards to go, his body forcing him to stop – yet watch him rise and will himself to the finish with sheer passion and an unbridled determination.  Or feel the self-evolution that occurs as you sprint across that finish line, forever altering your definition of the term “impossible”.  To me, THAT is the New York City Marathon.  I think Ruddy would have loved it. 

 I think about what this race means to me.  I think about how much I love my city.  I think about how proud I feel of my neighbors as I waddle along from Bay Ridge to the Upper West Side.  This race is more than just a bunch of people running from point A to point B.  This race is much, much more.  I welcome the pain – the pain is fare you pay to ride this train.    

 ….so with a thorough game plan in place and feeling incredibly motivated by my buddy Ruddy, I placed my head on the pillow to attempt a final night’s sleep before Race Day.  Once I closed my eyes, I sent one of my soldiers of self-confidence into enemy territory on a recon mission.  I wanted to know The Tool’s strategy.  The data came back almost immediately…and it was not nearly as detailed as my race course plan.  The Tool’s strategy looked like this:

  • Make sure the foot hurts early.
  • Let it get worse as soon as possible.
  • Make him doubt himself
  • Make him question his ability to take pain
  • BRING HIM HELL and MAKE HIM QUIT

 …short and ugly.

 As I drifted off to sleep, I felt like I was in a foxhole, about to take enemy fire.  Since there are no atheists in foxholes, I muttered a little prayer to myself.  Short and sweet:

 “Hey Big Guy.  I know, I know – we haven’t chatted in a bit.  Well listen – tomorrow’s pretty big for me.  My daughter will be watching.  I need to show her that she cannot quit when things get rough.  I’m not asking for help, because you’ve got bigger fish to fry.  Whatever happens tomorrow, just let me be courageous through it all.  Gotta go.  Great talking to you.  I promise I’ll pick up the phone more often.”  

My eyes closed.  Race Day comes with the morning light.

_______________________________________________ 

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” – T. Alan Armstrong

A Note to My Teammates


 Introduction

To be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever if any of my teammates from the New York Road Runners Team for Kids actually reads my periodic postings of gibberish – but on the odd chance that that one of them does, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on the upcoming race.  I hope they find it helpful.

A wise man (I believe it was Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred) once said that “A hero is made in the moment”.  That’s the way I see you guys – heroes.  Each and every one of you.  Now I know you might read this and say to yourself “God you are corny, Joe.  Heroes?  Come on.  Please.  I think you need to be electro shocked back into coherence”.  Well regardless of how corny / cheesy / lame that opinion may sound it is, nonetheless, my heartfelt opinion on the matter.  When you cross that starting line, you are a hero and this is your moment.  A moment that each of you have earned through months of hard work and dedication.  You’ve done all that you’ve needed to do – and much, much more – to earn the honor of toeing the line on Sunday.    

Now let me clear one thing up before I go on waxing poetic: to me you are all heroes by crossing the starting line.  Not the finish line.  Ovid once said that “The ending crowns the work”.  Well the race tomorrow is the crowning of all of your hard work.  It’s the 26.2 mile block party in which you all are the honored guests.  But do not let the race itself eclipse all of your efforts that got you there.  Going to practice three times a week was…..and I cannot believe I’m saying this (mainly because I cannot stand the thought of hard work)….great fun.  Building friendships while pounding out the training miles – that’s the unsung glory of running the New York City Marathon with what will be on Sunday, quite simply, the best team on the course.    

The Pre-Race Gitters

If you are reading this on the day this entry has been posted to by blog (October 28th 2010, 9 days before race day), you probably aren’t feeling very nervous.  I bet you’re excited – but the pre-race gitters haven’t sunk in yet.  Well don’t worry – if you aren’t nervous now, you probably will be the night before the cannon goes off.  And you know what….you should be nervous.  Getting the pre-race gitters before running the New York City Marathon is completely natural.  This will be my 11th marathon (my 6th New York City Marathon, my 4th with Team for Kids), and I have been nervous the night before each and every race.  And let’s face it, folks: my only goal has been to finish what I’ve started.  I’m not fast by any means – not nearly fast enough yet to shoot for qualifying for Boston – so the only thing that gets me nervous about the race is my fear of not finishing. There’s no internal pressure placed on myself to maintain a 7 minute pace or crack 3 hours 20 minutes.  But I get the pre-race gitters anyway.  Why?  Because, as another quasi-smart dude once said, “If you can keep your wits about you whilst everyone around you is losing theirs….then you don’t understand the situation”.  So don’t think that you shouldn’t feel as nervous as you will the night before the race – it just means you understand the situation.  This is a big deal.  It’s a life-changing event if you allow to be.  Allow yourself to experience the full gamut of emotions that come with this level of event.  And don’t worry – the nerves go away the moment you feel the incline on the Verrazano Bridge.    

Bring These Things with You to the Marathon Village

  • Body Glide
  • Band Aids
  • Wet Naps (think about it, people: port-o-potties…..)
  • A jacket for after the race
  • A heat sheet or a small blanket that you don’t care about / don’t want back

 Some quick notes:

  • 43,000 + people will be walking all over the grass for three hours prior to the race.  The foot traffic turns the grass to mud.  So keep warm and dry.  Sit on something water-resistant.
  • They have water and Gatorade in the TFK tent within the marathon village.  You don’t need to lug 9 gallons of Chatteau Bloomberg with you to the marathon village.
  • Don’t try anything new on race day.  Go with what you know.
  • Wear something as an outer layer that you can just chuck to the side of the road.
  • Throw a jacket in your bag for the finish line.  When you stop running, you’ll get the chills – trust me.
  • Try not to listen to music while running.  You worked 5 months for this – don’t block out the crowd noise.
  • Oh – but one thing – don’t allow the crowds to get you too psyched up.  You’ll tear up First Avenue or fly through Brooklyn, and that could turn the Bronx and Central Park into a death march for you.  STAY STEADY.

 So with that nonsense out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff: the course……………

 The Start

Yes, you’ll be waiting in the marathon village for a while.  But this is the last time we’ll be running as a team this year, so make the best of it and spend time talking with each other.  Trust me: the time will fly.  Those marathon reviews that you read on marathonguide.com mainly complain about the wait at the start.  Well the starting area doesn’t have to be a snore-fest if you don’t want it to be.  Contingents of people from all over the world are all in once place, sharing a common goal.  It’s incredible.  If you don’t want to hang out in the team tent for the whole time, take a walk and say hello to some of the people wearing orange from The Netherlands.  Or groups of runners from France or Japan.  Party with some of the German runners – they are really fun and are ALWAYS in great spirits.  Check out the band that will be on stage prior to the gun going off.  Or do what I do: go on a hunt to locate (and hopefully run with) Elvis.  Take it all in.  It’s the running world’s Woodstock.

There is nothing like the start.  It is, quite simply, incredible.  The elite runners are announced.  Then the Anthem.  Then the cannon.  Then Sinatra.  Just remember to stay under control early – the first mile is an incline, but you are too juiced to notice it.  Stay focused.  Take in the skyline.  Don’t go out too fast.  (And if you are on the lower level of the bridge, stay toward the center.  Trust me on this one).  Mile two is a decline as you are heading to Brooklyn.  Listen for the crowd.  Brooklyn is AMAZING on Marathon Sunday.  As you turn off the bridge and enter into the borough, look up at some of the windows…some people bang pots and pans as we all waddle by.

By the time you hit mile 4, you’ll be on the main drag in Brooklyn.  Now it’s time to take in all of the different neighborhoods.  Watch one melt into another.  Each ethnicity represented brings color and life to the race that goes unmatched globally.  If you are a New Yorker, try to notice how much enthusiasm each neighborhood shows.  It renews my pride in my city each and every year, without fail. 

Brooklyn is flat.  Stay steady and remember that by the time you leave this borough, you’re half way home.  Don’t let the loud fans fire you up too much here.  Take the energy they give you and store it away somewhere….you’re gonna need it.  Each mile marker you pass, ask yourself whether the pace feels fast or just right.  STAY UNDER CONTROL.  I’m no coach – but I am speaking from experience here: I let the energy of Brooklyn get to me and I ran too fast too early in prior years.  The end result was…..well……ugly. 

Queens

The Half Marathon point is at the crest of the bridge that spills you in to Queens.  Here the dynamic of the course changes for a couple of miles.  Fans are more subdued.  There could be small stretches where there is no crowd support.  No worries – the race makes up for it soon enough.  Here is a great point in the race to evaluate how you are feeling, since the lack of crowd noise makes it easier to turn yourself inward.  As you twist and turn through Queens, begin prepping your mind for the 59th Street Bridge.  One final sharp left turn, and you’re face to face with it.  God I hate this bridge.  Somewhere on the incline or near the crest between Queens and Manhattan, you’ll hit mile 16.  Ten miles to go.  As you begin to descend, just listen for the crowd.  It will give you goose bumps.  Read the signs hanging from banners as you take your final steps on the Bridge – they are pretty cool.

First Avenue

Everything you’ve heard and read about this part of the marathon course is 100% dead-on accurate.  It…is…incredible.  You hang a left off of the bridge and onto 60th Street, where you are greeted by…..NOISE.  LOUD, LOUD NOISE.  Another left turn puts you under the bridge, briefly in the shade.  Then, as you pass under the bridge and into the sun again, you are greeted with a corridor of noise.  The fans are 7 deep on either side of the avenue, for miles.  The buildings cause the yelling and screaming to hover in the air, which adds to the moment.  You will be tempted to slam on the gas here.  And knowing the training we’ve been through this year, you’ll have the gas in your tank between miles 16 & 17 to do it.  BUT REFRAIN.  Hold back.  STAY FOCUSED and under control.  Resist the urge to release your inner Kenyan here.  Enjoy the moment.  Savor it. 

Watch your footing at miles 18 & 19, because that’s where they hand out the sponges and the gels.  I’ve seen a few five car pileups here.

As you pass mile 18 and work on mile 19, the crowds thin out again.  Here is a chance to mentally prepare yourself for the last 10 kilometers.  While the crowds are thin and you can concentrate on what you are doing without distraction, think about the task at hand.  The Wall could show itself soon.  Your body has gotten you to this point of the course.  You’ve gotten this far on sheer strength, training, discipline and consistency.  To all of this, you must now add resolve.  As you hit the Willis Avenue Bridge and say hello to the Bronx, my hometown, you are at mile 20.

The Bronx

You are only in the Bronx for a mile and a half.  Its quiet – not what you are probably expecting to hear.  Nothing real impressive to ogle, unfortunately.  Just get through the Bronx and re-enter Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge.  Make the turn for home – that’s all that matters.

Here is where the real race begins.  You’ll begin to feel the effects of the mileage by now.  Things may hurt.  You may ache.  You may feel stiff.  Your body, at some point either in the Bronx or in Harlem, will begin to ask your brain to stop.  When you begin getting these messages, your heart and your mind must take control of the situation.  Try to think about what motivated you to run this race.  Each of us has real personal reasons for doing this.  Channel those reasons now and push through the wall.

Fifth Avenue

As you return to Manhattan, you are greeted by a great DJ.  He’s funny – listen for him.  He’ll put a smile on your face when you didn’t think you’d be in a laughing mood. 

Harlem is one of my favorite places along the course.  The fans here want to help you along.  Keep you moving.  Motivate you.  They all know you are hurting – but you have a goal and they want to be a part of getting you to achieve it.  You’ll hear some people yell “don’t you dare stop!”, or “I didn’t come here to watch a bunch of walkers!  Get movin’!”  Trust me: some tough love at this point is a Godsend.  And then….the gospel singers.  Listen for them.  Trust me, it’ll stir something deep within you.

Around Marcus Garvey Park.  On to the incline that is Fifth Avenue.  Another amazing part of the race.  You’ll run down Fifth Avenue through a corridor of fans.  They like getting up close and personal to the runners, and any enthusiasm offered up here will help.  Your goal is to get to 90th Street and the Engineer’s Gate.  You can do it.  22 miles in.  The Wall has been hit.  Your determination, focus and resolve have gotten you through it.  The pain persists, but now you can taste the finish line.

Central Park

To us TFKers, we are home.  A quick left onto the east side drive.  Here come some rolling hills.  23 miles in, these hills will suck – but you know them all well by now.  No surprises.  It will feel good to be on your home turf.  A little home field advantage will work wonders.  Your head should clear by now.  Your goal is within reach.  The fans begin to yell and scream for you – the hills hurt, but the support helps.

As you head south, your nose will tell you how close you are.  When you smell the horse crap, you’re close to Central Park South.

As you get to Mile 25’s marker, listen for some of the veteran marathoners yell “God f&^k the Queen!!!”  The race would have been over by now – but you have the Queen of England to thank for these last 1.2 miles. 

A mile to go.  Hello Central Park South. 

With less than a mile to go, the fans here yell their lungs out for you.  The cops cheer you on.  There’s one NYPD captain with a bullhorn that will make you smile.  At this point, if I have anything left in the tank (and that’s a HUGE “if”), I begin to open it up.  Motion will create emotion on this part of the course.  As people see you leaving whatever you’ve got left on the pavement, they simply yell louder.  They will push you along like a wave pushes you to shore.  Just aim for the Columbus Circle Statue and keep moving.

Columbus Circle.  The turn into the Park.  Less than a half a mile to go.

Now the noise really begins to build.  The first grandstand is at the turn in to the Park.  They’ll let you know – loudly – just how well you’re doing.  Down a narrow path that spills you out on to the west side drive.  There is one word to describe what you’ll see before you:

Glorious.

You’ll be greeted by a corridor of fans, cheering loudly for you.  Flags of every country adorn the fencing on either sides of the drive.  Ahead of you, the Mile 26 marker.  Ahead you see the grandstands.  Now the juices are REALLY flowing.  If you haven’t dropped the hammer down at this point, DO IT.  Leave it all on the course.  Up that last little incline and soak in the roar of the crowd.  There’s the finish line.  26.2 miles, in the books.  Do not look at your watch as you hit the finish line – trust me, it looks odd in a picture.

In Conclusion….

Teammates, it has been an honor running with you this year.  All of the hard work will pay off in a memorable Sunday that you will cherish forever.  When you hit the finish line, you’ll be a slightly different person.  The definition of the word “impossible” will be altered a bit.  You ran and finished one of the greatest marathons on the planet, whilst helping to raise over $4 million to help over 150,000 New York City kids fight childhood obesity.  Someone once said that “deeds in themselves are meaningless unless they are for some higher purpose” – well your great accomplishment also serves a wonderful purpose. 

I remember reading this one quote, and I have no idea who to credit for it: “trying to explain the pain of running a marathon is like trying to describe color to someone born blind”.  This effort will hurt.  But you CAN DO IT.  ALL GO – NO QUIT.  The pain comes with the territory.  You signed up for the pain five months ago – it’s a shock to no one.  This race is hard…but it is the hard that makes it great.

And thank you so much to the coaches and the staff of TFK that stood by us during this journey – we could not have done it without you.  Your leadership and dedication is incredible.

If you want to run a marathon – run New York City.  And if you’re going to run the ING New York City Marathon, running with The New York Road Runners Team for Kids is the best way to do it.

Godspeed, TFK.  Go Green.            

____________________________________ 

 “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.”

Let’s Get This Up to Date…


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…

I Just Hit Rock Bottom….And Have Begun to Dig


Saturday, September 18th – Friday, September 24th……After going the whole week without running my legs felt refreshed, even though my heel still hurt each morning as I hopped out of bed.  All week I kept telling myself that the time in the gym, lifting weights and working on my core stregnth, would calm my urge to get out on the bridal path and run.  I need to feel active and exercise.  I need to break a serious sweat.  I need to burn some serious calories every day.  Why?  Good question.  Let me give you a few simple reasons:

1) I love to eat and eat well.  Solid exercise limits the guilt that comes along with that molton chocolate cake.

2) When I look in the mirror, I am beginning to see the fruits of my labor…and I’m afraid of suffering from a relapse of laziness.

3) The exercise is making me faster.  As I get faster, I feel more confidence as it pertains to accomplishing that longer-term goal of qualitifying for Boston.

4) And, lastly, exercising distracts me from all of the nonsense constantly popping into my head.  Let me elaborate on this concept, if I may…

All day long, as I sit in my office and work, ridiculous ideas flood my brain.  Now as you may already know, the human brain consists of two hemispheres: the left and the right.  According to what I’ve read about the human brain (which consists of various internet articles and a couple of research papers drawn up by the editors of Mad Magazine), the left side of the brain is analytical – it organizes thoughts in a linear, sequential manner.  It likes order.  It likes to sort things and place each little concept in a nice, neat package for future reference.   The left side of the brain begins with the smallest details and builds them into a bigger picture step by step.  Basically it’s the side of the human brain that thinks that the pocket protector is a sharp addition to any dinner jacket. 

The right side of the brain is where human creativity stems from.  It’s the side of the brain that sees the big picture first.  Details aren’t really important to the right side of the brain – it enjoys being random.  If the right side of the brain were a high school student, he/she would be the social butterfly that flits from lunch table to lunch table, always making new pals and influencing people….yet never staying seated at one table long enough to listen to an entire conversation. 

Now personally, if I was the doctor that first discovered this level of detail about this part of the human anatomy, I would have come up with two more…well….fun names for these two hemispheres.  Now as you also may know if you’ve read my blog entries thus far, I have a tendency to give parts of my body actual personalities (get your mind out of the gutter – this is a PG-13 blog!).  The Tool, in addition, is the mental embodiment of all of my internal negative energy.   So it stands to reason that I don’t picture the left and right hemispheres of my brain as the normal human being might.  Why?  Because I’m odd, and I’m OK with that.  So I picture the left side of my brain as the main character from the Academy – Award Winning 1980’s film entitled “Revenge of the Nerds”.  Since I need to assign this side of my brain an actual name…..let’s refer to him as Chester (I mean – is there any BIGGER nerd name than that???  I think NOT).  As I mentioned before, I picture the right side of my brain as the high school Mr. Popularity.  The social butterfly.  The one that comes to class every day forgetting his homework, sits in the back row, and draws concept art for the nightclub he wants to open in Tribeca.  I’ll assign this side of my brain a name as well.  Hmmm…….it has to be something with pizzazz.  Let’s go with Deano (a blunt reference to Dean Martin, quite simply the smoothest crooner this side of the Chairman of the Board).  So…within my dense cranium…Chester and Deano constantly hang out together and basically piss each other off 24/7. 

In my brain, Deano comes up with the big picture: my future goals, etc.  So it’s Deano’s hair-brained idea for me to run 7-8 marathons this season.  Deano hands this nutso idea off to Chester, who now has to figure out a step by step process to prepare the rest of my body to get the job done.  Now, as Chester is drawing up a daily workout regimen and trying to motivate the rest of me to stick to the plan, there’s Deano….hanging out in the corner…..with a glass of Chatteau Montelegna cabernet in his hand and a shit-eating grin on his charming mug, constantly distracting Chester from the job at hand with thoughts of travel, money, food, wine….whatever sounds enticing at the present moment.  As you can see – the two sides of my brain are in constant conflict.  Which is why I have accomplished VERY LITTLE thus far in life.    It’s also why I haven’t run a marathon in a goal time that I’ve established for myself thus far.  I am easily distracted my training.  I am trying to turn over a new leaf this year – Chester needs to rule the campus.  It’s my own internal version of Revenge of the Nerds.  And I am afraid of taking time off from my workout schedule because consistency is the key to success.  And Deano is a HUGE distraction. 

So I felt refreshed as I began my Saturday run with my team.  14 miles through Central Park along the bridal path.  As usual, I went out quick and held my pace for 6 miles.  Then the pain set in.  By the time I finished one 7 mile loop, my knee, ankle and heel were killing me.  I shut down my workout early on the advice of my team’s head coach, and lumbered hom completely deflated.  The Tool didn’t even have to show his face this morning – my body revolted on its own.  It didn’t need it’s ring leader to wave the flag of rebellion and get key muscle groups to voice their discomfort in unison. 

As I stood in line at Starbucks (venti mocha frap, no whip please), I realized that this injury has begun to wear down my focus.  My goals for the year are so very important to me…and yet the daily work has begun to lag because of the pain.  On the one hand, I want to exceed my own internal expectations for performance this year.  On the other hand….I cannot finish what I cannot start.  So I took another full week off to heal.  Spent Monday – Friday in the gym, preparing as much of my body as I can for the battles that lurk on the horizon.  I’m just hoping that the amount of work I’m doing will be enough for the opening bell of this heavyweight fight.  

Based on how this injury is hampering my preparation, I’ve decided to cancel running Hartford on October 9th.  I need the next 6 weeks to prepare for the most meaningful race of the year for me: The ING New York City Marathon on November 7th.  I am sacrificing Hartford – so I’ll add a race later in the schedule to make up for it……I hope.

One thing is for sure…..even with my high threshhold for pain, this is becoming a bit much for me to cope with and still expect high levels of performance.  This is crucial moment in my training.  It’s either cowboy the hell up and fight through this, or settle for mediocre showings all season long.  All I can say is…..saddle up.

………..now wear did I put my gym clothes?

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