The NYRR ING New York City Marathon Long Training Run


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These hills are getting rougher.”

…ouch.  That shot stung.

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

…ouch.  Another one.

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

…BOOM.  I caught some shrapnel on that one.

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

…That one hit the target.

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

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

…the enemy chuckled at that lame attempt.

“Only five miles to go.”

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

“Ummm….well….I’m OK, I think….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing in the Rain


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “…..I take it back.  You suck.”

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

Me: “No.  Shut up.”

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

Me: “I am ignoring you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, Achy Sunday


Sunday, August 22nd ……Ah yes: the day after.  The achiness may begin late in the afternoon on Saturday…but the real pain sets in the morning after the long run.  Sunday mornings are particularly rough, as the sun beams through the bedroom window rather early, hitting me right between the eyes before 7am.  Now I know what you’re thinking: Joe, if you know you want to sleep late, then why not just draw the blinds and block out the sun’s rays?  Well I have a very good answer to that question.  You ready?  Here it comes: I NEVER think about important details like that. 

 You see, I’m the kind of man that consistently makes the same mistake over and over again. (Notice I refrained from using the term “guy in that last sentence?  Well that’s because there’s a huge difference between “guys” and “men”.  “Guys” leave the toilet seat up, wear baseball caps with a decent suit and think it looks “coooool”, talk incessantly about themselves and their high school junior varsity batting average on a first date, and have posters of Pamela Anderson – post silicone enhancement – hanging from their bedroom walls.  Men……well…..men evolve from the subgenus “guy” species over time.  So ladies, please be patient….).  Fortunately for me these mistakes are never grandiose in nature.  The mistakes I make are smaller in stature…but that’s what makes them VERY annoying.  Here are some examples:

  • Like I just mentioned – I never think to close the drapes before I hit the sack on a Saturday night,
  • I am inconsistent with icing the heel of my left foot – which results in the Sunday morning waddle to the gabinetto taking 7 ¾ minutes,
  • I forget to give my chin the once-over in the mirror prior to leaving the house in the morning, only to realize that I missed four spots while shaving this morning,
  • …I have even forgotten what day it was on several occasions.  The result of which was me waiting for the train to work on a Sunday morning, wondering why there were so few people in the station at “rush hour”.

 …I know there are MANY, MANY more – but I wanted to just provide a sample of my utter absentmindedness. I drive me nuts sometimes…..

So Sunday morning I was awakened by the bright sunlight and its heat on my face.  I waddled around the apartment, preparing myself for this morning’s recovery run.  My legs ached because of the work I demanded of them yesterday – there was a revolution being staged in my quadriceps, and I was losing control over the masses.  I got changed and headed out the door to the park, in the hopes of ringing up 4-5 easy miles set to U.S. military cadences.  It was one of those perfect days weather-wise: no humidity.  75 degrees.  A soft breeze.  Not a cloud in the sky.  One of those days where anyone staying inside should be fined by the Lazy Police. 

The miles felt comfortable – thanks to the ice bath on Saturday.  The heel, after I warmed it up by walking to the park itself, felt loose and it didn’t pose a distraction.  My form felt fluid.  My arms swung smoothly and my legs followed suit.  It was one of those days where I wanted to press on past my set mileage simply because of how great it felt.  Anyone reading this that plays golf can relate to how this run felt: a golfer can play 9 holes of horrible golf – losing balls in the woods, missing short putts, and basically hacking away for 2 ½ hours in a vain attempt to be Tiger Woods (ok – maybe not my best choice of golfers to throw into this conversation…), only to hit a PERFECT drive off of the 10th tee, that sails 280 yards down the dead center of the fairway.  That one shot keeps the golfer coming back for more.  Well this run is one of the reasons I come back to the park for more.  It’s the feeling of possibilities.  It’s possible that I’m getting better at this.  It’s possible that I’m getting faster.  It’s possible that I’m evolving as a runner.  The pieces appear to be coming together.

As I walked back home from the park after logging my 5 miles, I felt…disappointed.  I wanted to do more.  However, as a distance runner, it is extremely important to follow the training schedule.  If a runner consistently does more than the recommended mileage regularly, he/she is setting him/herself up for an injury that can blow up the whole marathon season for him/her.  So while it was disappointing to leave while I felt so groovy (God I love that word – I have to use it more often…), I looked at it as furthering my overall healing process.  This sport – distance running – is one that tests your limits…there’s no reason to rush the final exam, and if you over-study you could get all your facts and figures mixed up.  The final grade: a big fat F.  I think I’ll shoot for my solid D-plus / C – and help raise my running GPA…..

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“There are clubs you can’t belong to, neighborhoods you can’t live in, schools you can’t get into, but the roads are always open.”   – Nike

Falling Behind the Pack


Saturday, August 21st ……Saturday morning’s long run with TFK was scheduled for Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.  My last long run in the Bronx resulted in disappointment and underachievement – so heading back to the borough of the crime didn’t sound like a great idea to me as the week grew old.  As the work week dragged along, some teammates decided to meet in Central Park instead – and I chose to join them.  At 7am, a small band of TFKers got together to log the mileage that our coaches planned for us: at least 11 miles with hills. 

Now let’s face it, my dear readers: if there is one thing you can count on me to do it’s to make VERY odd decisions…and this one was no different.  Why do I say this?  Because each of the runners meeting at the Park were much faster and stronger than I am.  They all paced at 9:15 – 9:20 per mile for their long runs, while I stagger along at 10:30.  Now that doesn’t sound like too much of a difference; I mean, over a mile, they would only finish about a minute before I would.  Not too shabby.  But the real difference in pacing shows up as the mileage adds up – I can hold a 9:15 – 9:20 pace for 4-5 miles, and feel completely winded afterward.  These guys, however, can start and finish a half marathon that that pace.  Bottom line: they are where I’d like to be.

I knew what their pace per mile was.  I know what my own is.  And I ran with them anyway.  Know why?  Because I am a different man than I was a year ago. 

A year ago, I would be intimidated by people that were stronger than I was as far as running was concerned.  I couldn’t stand feeling like I’d fall away from the pack and waddle in DFL (which, for all of you playing the home game, stands for Dead F*&king Last.  I found these wonderful 3 letters my sophomore year at Iona College, while rowing for the crew team.  We referred to any boat finishing last with open water between their boat and everyone else as D……..F……L).  Allowing my weakness to be obvious to others was NOT something that I had the strength of character to permit.  It takes a strong man to accomplish something meaningful – and a stronger one to admit where he needs improvement.  A year ago, I was strong…but not nearly strong enough.

Through this year, I had the mindset of an athlete – but not one of a winning athlete.  I had the desire to compete.  I had the need to accomplish something hard.  I had the constant craving for activity and challenge.  But the whole concept of getting sweaty….well…..it sounded like WAY TOO MUCH WORK FOR ME.  I had a great HDTV.  52 inches.  Surround sound.  A HUGE collection of movies.  And did I mention the bottles of diet coke and freshly-popped popcorn waiting for me in my humble little man-cave?  Life consisted of way too many distractions.  So I was happy to go through the motions, put in four months of lack-luster effort when it came to Marathon Sunday preparation, and then stagger to the finish line in a twisted mass of blistered skin and aching muscle on the first Sunday of each November.  But as the calendar changed from 2009 to 2010, I realized that I can either be happy with the status quo…or find out just how strong I can be.  And, although the latter required a generous amount of sweat (yuck)…I made the decision to evolve. 

Now this decision was not an easy one to come to.  Laziness to me comes naturally.  I love sitting.  Laying down is even better.  Now hand me a bag of Tostitos, load my 5-disc DVD changer with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, pour me a bottle of something with no nutritional value that contains chemicals 10 syllables long, and have the Pizza Place on speed dial…and THAT, my dear lab rats, is how we spend a wonderful Saturday.  Then I realized that so many other people were actually moving forward and making progress with their lives, and here I was slacking off.  There’s an old saying: “there is nothing worse than wasted potential”.  Well I saw potential in myself.  As did others.  And here I was flushing all of it right down the gabinetto (for those of you just joining the merry band of misfits that read this blog, that’s Italian for toilet…).  While stepping out of the shower in late December of 2009, about a week before New Year’s Eve, I actually looked at myself in the mirror…and was embarrassed at what I saw.  Now I am not referring to the physical aspects of my persona – although that view was irritating enough to make me cranky for about a month.  Instead, I looked into my own eyes and I saw….nothing.

The man looking back at me in the mirror was the man I was – not the man I was supposed to be.  And that pissed me off.

I remember spending hours thinking about my life and my goals.  I drew them out on a piece of paper.  I mapped where I wanted my life to go.  That was the easy part.  After I completed my rather detailed drawing came the hard part: figuring out how to get started.  I thought it would be difficult – and I was wrong.

I found that I am a creature of habit.  By replacing an old, boring habit (TV, chips and soda, limited activity that required perspiration) with a new, healthy habit (running, changing my diet and basically getting my rotund rear-end off of the sofa and joining the human race for once), I developed positive momentum over time.  Each day got a little easier.  Then….results started to show themselves as the winter turned to Spring.  Weight loss.  Speed.  Endurance.  Hello new me – nice to meet you.

In the Spring, I joined TFK. I developed this year’s list of marathons to finish. And I decided I would set a personal best time for each one I run.  Lofty goals for this lazy S.O.B. (no further clarification needed on this one, lab rats).  I began talking to someone that helped me stay focused personally and athletically.  I needed assistance with this evolution – I was not strong enough to do it alone.  I found that I was stronger when I had a sturdy support system.  The TFKers showing up to practice three times a week began to gel into a real team as the spring led into summer…and my support system grew stronger yet again.  Positive momentum – and lots of it.  This positive momentum generated from he desire to evolve and the strength to admit when I needed improvement got me to this Saturday – running with a bunch of TFKers that were much stronger than I.

It was a smart move for me.  I knew that, in order to get better at running, I needed to run with people that were stronger and faster than me.  I knew, at some point, I’d fall behind the pack…but it wouldn’t be without a fight.

The first 4 miles were rough.  The pace from the outset was much faster than I anticipated.  9 minutes flat.  Up Harlem Hill.  Down at an 8:30 pace.  Up another hill and onto the east side of the park…and I began to drift back.  I stuck with the pack for 4 miles.  Not a great showing.  However…The Tool was nowhere to be seen.  That intrigued me, because he basked in the glory of my failures.  And as I went to my arms and propelled myself up the hill, turning south along the east side drive, I realized why the little 4” schmuck was nowhere to be heard (no seen – he’s a figment of my imagination – and I’m not THAT nuts): I wasn’t failing.  I was testing myself. Pushing myself to a higher plateau.  When a runner tries something like this and, after a while, falls away from the pack not due to a lack of desire, determination, dedication, discipline or effort, but due simply to a lack of endurance…it is not failure.  It is the beginning of the evolutionary process. 

I moved from the east side drive to run along the bridal path, passing the pack as they ran in the opposite direction.  Sure, they were faster.  And yes, they looked fantastic clipping along at that 9:15 pace.  But I remained focused on the job at hand – pushing along at my own pace.  Demanding more of myself than I normally do.  Paul Tergat, winner of the 2005 ING New York City Marathon and owner of a marathon finishing time of 2 hours and 4 minutes, once said that “…you have to constantly ask yourself ‘can I give any more?’, and the answer is usually ‘yes’”.  He was right.  On this Saturday I asked myself if I could give more, and the answer was affirmative. 

My foot was killing me – let’s not kid ourselves.  And I wasn’t breaking the land – speed record.  But I wasn’t stopping either.  After 7.5 miles, I switched to the outer loop of the park and ran another 6 plus miles.  Rounded up, I ran 14 miles on the day.  Not fast, mind you…but I didn’t quit. 

As I limped home, I had a grin that couldn’t be wiped from my face.  This training was HARD.  It hurt.  I knew I’d pay for the effort later.  A migraine was 90 minutes away – I knew it.  But the juice was worth the squeeze.

I’ll leave you with a quote that my grandmother always told me when I was little.  Whenever I thought I couldn’t do something, my grandmother would look up at me (she was 4’7”, so she looked up at basically everyone…but she was also one Irish woman that was tough as nails – real old-school) and say “Joseph – whether you think you can or you think you can’t…you’re probably right”.  Smart woman, my grandma. 

As I climbed out of the ice bath afterward, I once again looked in that same mirror.  There was something different about me.  Something in my eyes that wasn’t there before – some sort of spark I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  I almost didn’t recognize it. But whatever it was, I was glad it was there. 

The man I am hasn’t met the man I am supposed to be yet….but I think he just dropped me a mental text message to introduce himself.  I’m looking forward to meeting him.    

______________________________________ 

“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” – Steve Prefontaine

I’m as Sharp as a Bowling Ball…..


Monday, August 16th – Friday, August 20th ……With the start of the new week came a renewal of my dedication to the cause.  I woke up determined to put in the extra effort to ensure that I mitigate the risk of me feeling as horrid as I did on Sunday.  I sat in my office Monday afternoon watching the clock, actually looking forward to making my lungs burn for 5.5 miles during the evening’s planned tempo run with the team. 

I went to the gym that afternoon, prior to heading out to Central Park, and I went through my usual work out routine with vigor.  I raised the weight amounts for several exercises, feeling a jolt of excitement in the commitment.  By the time I headed to the park, my arms and chest were achy…..which was exactly how I wanted to feel. 

The tempo run that evening was crisp.  Sure my legs barked at me a bit – but vibrant enthusiasm allows a person to raise their level of performance.  As we made our way around the bridal path, my heel began to ache.  The pain wasn’t going to take away from my effort, however.  The Tool attempted to make an appearance on my shoulder…but I was pumping full of adrenaline and anything he muttered in my ear was drowned out by the sound of my labored breathing.  I felt fantastic as we finished our evening routine with stretching.  I went home Monday night feeling like I had righted the ship.

Tuesday, the rally continued.  Work out in the afternoon.  Raise some of the weights.  An extra set thrown in for good measure.  Go home achy.  Perfect.  Aches = progress in my new book. 

Wednesday, the momentum couldn’t be hindered.  The gym got another visit from me.  Then I ran with the team, performing speed work and covering some of the hills along the northern park of the Park.  My running form has improved, so I knew to swing my arms to help me up each of the hills without losing a step on my group.  Wednesday night I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

….well, my dear reader….if you’ve learned anything about me by now it is that I am as sharp as a bowling ball.  Why do I say this amid all of the positivity that my keyboard just oozed for the past 20 minutes?  Well if I were smart, I would have gradually stepped things up little by little, allowing my body to get used to the increased demand / workload.  A smart athlete would have also treated his known injury with ice in order to limit any chance of the momentum being slowed.  But ladies and gents, we are talking about ME here.  I’m lucky if I can spell the word cat if you spotted me the “c” and the “t”.  There are your normal, everyday idiots…and then there’s me: Lord of the Morons.  And I found out just how dumb I was on Thursday morning……..

Thursday morning I woke up with that grin still on my face.  But that grin was erased rather quickly as I slipped out of bed and placed my feet on the floor.  The heel was killing me.  The pain had graduated from the heel pad to now include the area directly below the ankle.  It was tender to the touch.  My arms were sore.  My back ached.  I made a b-line for the kitchen and my big bottle of Advil.  As I entered the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door there sat The Tool, perched on the top shelf.  He started in immediately….

The Tool: “I kicked your ass royally!!!  First Sunday, and now – HA!  How does your back feel by the way?”

Me: “STAI ZITO!  I knew I’d be sore.  Maybe not this sore – I mean DAMN, this hurts – but like the old saying goes: pain is weakness leaving the body.”

The Tool: “….then you were a HUGE wimp.”

Me: “Oh gee that was clever.  Are you sure you don’t want to be a night club comic?”

The Tool: “ummm….Joe….I’m the embodiment of your negativity.  I don’t actually exist except in your own mind.  But you do live and breathe, however.  And old Mrs. Santino in 14C is getting a show right now.  Here you are, talking to your fridge, wearing a pair of boxer shorts that say “Vote For Pedro” on the back, in full view of her as she’s trying to cook breakfast for her husband.  Who’s the tool now?”

Me: (ducking behind the refrigerator door) “…..that would be me.”

The Tool: “Then my work here is done.  God it’s good to be me.”

….and POOF – he evaporated, leaving me to deal with the glare of the mu-mu wearing Mrs. Santino and my Advil.           

Thursday’s run still contained the enthusiasm that I craved…but it hurt.  The aches and pains were adding up, as I assumed they would at some point.  Part of training for a marathon is pushing your body to its limit, and then redefining its limits all over again…and then pushing those limits as well.  Of course you are going to hurt.  When you choose to run a marathon, you choose to experience an amount of pain.  It’s the pain that we go through that makes the overall challenge hard….but it’s the hard that makes finishing a marathon great.

I enjoyed my Friday off.  I rested completely.  I realized my mistake from earlier in the week and I took steps to address it.  I iced my foot.  I “enjoyed” an ice bath.  I allowed my rather flabby muscles to heal.  For Saturday, as always, brings a test…another long run.

______________________________ 

“Vision without action is a daydream.  Action without vision is a nightmare.”   – Japanese Proverb

The Bronx Half Marathon


Sunday, August 15th ……A lot of people complain that they do not sleep well the night before a race.  Strangely enough, I never seem to encounter that problem.  I fell asleep Saturday night to the annoying sound of my own inner voice (a voice that I have developed an entire character around, and that I have dubbed “The Tool”) spewing negativity into my brain, and I woke up to that same mild cackling.  It was a feeling that I compare to falling asleep on your sofa just as some horrible movie is coming on – let’s use Reds (which I consider to be the single WORST movie of all time – simply brutal…and those of you reading this blog that have never heard of this carwreck of a film, google it……you’ll regret that you did) – and then waking up 6 hours later to the immediate realization that some independent film channel has decided to run a “Reds Marathon” all day long.

I waddled into the shower….The Tool hopped onto my shoulder and wouldn’t give me any privacy.  I got changed into my running clothes (a TFK electric lime green running singlet, black short with an under-layer of Nike spandex, TFK green and blue socks, my Garmin running watch and my lucky leather marathon chain) – and The Tool patiently waited for me on the edge of my bed, whistling a somber tune that brought a sinister smile to his face (a la Lurch working his magic on the organ during an episode of The Addams Family).  I went into the kitchen and drank some Gatorade – as The Tool attempted to pull the cork out of the bottle of Ridge red zinfandel that I left on the counter.  Before leaving the apartment at 5:30am to catch a ride to the starting line, I put my ear buds in and began listening to my Ipod – only to have The Tool begin speaking over the music, distracting me from the motivational sounds of Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews.  There was no escaping this little 4” nightmare today.

When I arrived at the starting area, my team was already assembled and stretching had commenced.  Twenty minutes later the gun went off, and we slowly inched forward.  As we crossed the starting line, I started my stopwatch and off I went.

Through the first five miles, I felt surprisingly excellent.  Several hills needed to be overcome early in the course, and I climbed each of them without feeling like I spent too much energy at the time – I had plenty of gas left in the tank.  Somewhere between miles 5 and 6, however, I needed to use the port-o-potty.  OK – let’s deal with this disgusting subject quickly: port-o-potties are horrid.  I only use them when the discomfort is overwhelming.  I take a deep breath when entering and I think of my time in that big plastic green canister as my imitation of Houdini in the submerged trunk: get the hell out of there ASAP.  There you go – the port-o-potty subject has been broached for the one and ONLY time in this blog…..never to be brought up again.  Oy.

Stopping for the port-o-potty also meant one important, negative thing to me: the pack of my teammates that I was entrenched in kept going and I now needed to motivate myself for the next eight plus miles.  As if on cue, realizing that my teammates had moved on and I was flying solo for a while, The Tool ensconced himself to my shoulder and unleashed an onslaught of negativity usually reserved for mile 15 of the ING New York City Marathon…..

The Tool: “Wow.  Eight more to go.  Those hills were rough early – I bet they’ll do a number on you later on.”

Me: “Figures – you show up now.  Such a coward – waiting for my teammates to take off before showing your face.”

The Tool: “I told you payback was una schifosa (that’s Italian for…..well you can figure it out I’m sure), didn’t I?”

Me: “It….is…”

By this point, I am approximately 8 miles into the race.  Five miles to go.  I am panting.  Unfocused.  The Tool has me right where he wants me.  I am no longer thinking about the task at hand – my mind is beginning to wander off and my breathing has gotten away with me.  I have stopped swinging my arms.  My form has become virtually non-existent.  The wheels are coming off.  The little 4” schmuck smells blood in the water and moves in for the kill….

The Tool: “…oh…and I forgot to remind you…you’re all alone right now.  The only one that’s gonna get you to the finish line is YOU.  And let’s face it: you’d rather be anywhere but HERE.  You’re a mess right now.  Your legs are achy.  Your foot hurts.  And you have a ton of crap on your mind.  You shouldn’t be HERE.  Don’t you wish you were at home, asleep?”

I began to falter.  My pace slowed.  My head was in the clouds.  The wheels had, indeed, come off and the car was out of control.

….and with that, I slowed to a walk.  The momentum was killed.  The Tool claimed victory.  I hung my head as I began to walk toward a water stop.  I quickly drank two cups of Gatorade in the hopes that the potent liquid would revive me.  While it would provide me with the energy I needed to cross the finish line in 2:25, which was a personal best for me, the orange fluid could do nothing to repair my messed up psyche.  For my goal was to crack 2:10.  I was on pace and I had the ability to do it.  Yet I allowed my internal turmoil to get the best of me and I folded like a cheap lawn chair.  My final sprint to the finish felt great – but it was short and meaningless as far as I was concerned.  I let The Tool get the best of me.  By earning a personal best time, it would appear to my teammates that I accomplished something…but to me, all I took away from the race was that I do not have complete control over the mental aspects of the sport I am coming to adore. 

I rode the subway home after the race completely disappointed in myself.  I have less than three months to beat The Tool into complete submission.  My work was obviously cut out for me.

I sat at home in an ice bath, and I replayed the race in my head – and while I did, I came to a simple conclusion: in order to run the marathon that I know I am capable of, I must fire on all cylinders on race day.  This means that I need to:

  • train my body to handle the actual distance (this I know I am doing, better than ever before),
  • trust that, when the time comes, I’ll have the heart to push through the pain and soldier on after the body literally runs out of fuel to burn (I’ve done this before – so I know I have the heart of a marathoner), and
  • develop the mentality of a strong athlete which, to me, means blocking out all of the negativity that pulsates through the body and mind in the heat of battle and – when necessary – go into a bubble where nothing else matters but what I am doing at that very moment.  Nothing can distract me.

Well, it’s that last point where the problem now appears to be.  I have just experienced the feeling of disappointment in my own performance.  While on the train I realized that I had fuel left in the tank.  Every race I’ve run before this one, no matter the distance, I have always been completely out of breath and fried by the time I crossed the finish line.  That feeling of exhaustion as I lined up to get my bag after the race was the one that I craved, because it told me that I gave it all that I had.  If I walked away with that feeling, I would be happy with my performance regardless of my time.  Today was different.  I sat on the #4 train and held my head in my hands – that feeling of exhaustion had eluded me because I didn’t give it my best.  And, in the immortal words of Steve Prefontaine, “to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”. 

 Today….I sacrificed my gift.

 Now I know what you’re thinking by this point: I’m usually a lot funnier than this.  All of my prior blog entries are MUCH funnier…and all of my future ones will be as well…but I needed to vent about this race because not every race can go the way you want it to.  As I sat in that ice bath, I began allowed myself s few minutes to soak in the disappointment.  As I reached for my towel and began to dry off, I remembered what my high school football coach told us after we got royally pounded one Saturday afternoon early in my sophomore year.  As we sat on the benches feeling sorry for ourselves, he got our attention and looked at us with eyes that were almost devoid of true expression.  What came out of his mouth echoed in my head as I looked myself in the eye through the view of the bathroom mirror:

 “Gentlemen, take five minutes.  Sulk if you want to.  Go ahead.  Shed some tears.  We got handed a good ol’ down home country ass-whoopin’.  But I want you to do one thing for me, and that is…burn the memory of how this ass whoopin’ feels into your skulls.  That way you’ll never step out on that field and give anything less than your best again.  You deserved today’s beating.  Let it be the last.”

I looked at myself in the mirror and made myself a promise aloud.  It consisted of two words: “Never again.”  ….and somewhere, deep in the recesses of my brain, a little 4” tall schmuck could be heard talking to himself….. “let the games begin”.

 _________________________________________

 “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”   – Theodore Roosevelt

Frustration Comes with the Territory….I Think


Sunday, August 8th – Saturday, August 14th ……After completing 14 miles on Saturday and rewarding myself with a rather generous supply of food that contained absolutely ZERO nutritional value (FYI: finding foods with ZERO nutritional value is not as easy as it sounds – and twinkies do not count because they actually have half-lives and therefore aren’t defined as “food”….they are clearly defined as “gastrointestinal stress tests”), I went to bed Saturday night feeling sore…yet content.

Sunday morning began the same as any other: with the feeling of stepping on a knife as I slid out of bed and rested my feet on the wood floor.  A very pronounced limp accompanies me as I make my way to the kitchen for some water.  As I continue to walk around, the limp lessens and the sharp pain is replaced by the dull ache that I’ll carry with me for the rest of the day.  This has been my daily routine.  Some days are more painful than others – but all contain the dull ache.  By lunchtime, the ache is accompanied by a mild headache.  Advil, Motrin, Tylonol….they’ve become a food group for me – and what sucks is that I cannot deep fry them.  It’s called plantar fasciitis, and I’ve got it BAD.

According to all of the websites I’ve read the and doctors I’ve chatted with, plantar fasciitis is an irritation and swelling of the thick tissue on the bottom of the footThe plantar fascia is a very thick band of tissue that holds up the bones on the bottom of the foot.  According to what I’ve read, the main causes of plantar fasciitis are foot arch problems (both flat foot and high arches), obesity, running, sudden weight gain, and/or a tight Achilles tendon (the tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel).  Well I’m no Dr. House, but I’m betting that my heavy dose of this annoying malady was caused by a combination of a foot arch problem and the frequency of my running.  This, combined with the fact that I still have some extra weight to eject, makes me sound like a prime candidate for this annoyance.  So here I am, waddling around my house the morning after a solid workout, looking like The Penguin (sans the really cool top hat and tuxedo) from the old 1960’s Batman TV show. 

Historically, I’ve had a very high threshold for pain.  (No need for me to list the various battle scars earned over the years – this current one is more than enough for the time being, thank you very much).  However, the high levels of pain I’ve dealt with in the past have usually come with a shortened shelf life.  This current issue, however, is a different animal altogether.  Some of the articles I’ve read indicate that it can take anywhere from 6 to 24 months to fully heal from this injury – and that’s if you are treating it correctly (icing the heel every chance you get, stretching properly before running, wearing running shoes that support your arch correctly, wearing a specially-designed sock that holds the foot in a bent position as you sleep).  While I know this is a common injury, and I also know that it won’t get any worse than it currently is…..the duration and persistence of this ailment is beginning to get to me. 

I have goals set for myself this year.  Serious goals that require serious effort.  Thus far I’ve poured myself into my training.  When I began my training in later April / early May, I felt like my goals of running Hartford, New York City, Philadelphia, Orlando, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale this marathon season were extremely far-fetched – like  there was no possible way that my rather rotund rear-end would be able to handle that workload.  Now here I am in mid August, and I can see and feel the results of consistent hard work.  I want to continue the positive momentum I have created, and I don’t want it to stop any time soon.  And now my own body has thrown me an additional challenge: deal with the pain as you’re honing yourself for your upcoming trials.  I’m frustrated – but I guess frustration comes with the territory when you begin to push your own body’s envelope. 

One of my TFK teammates asked me how this injury actually occurred.  I told him that I first developed this injury when I ran the New York City Half Marathon a couple of years ago.  The race took the runners through one full lap and change of Central Park’s Outer Loop.  Then the runners were released like the bulls of Pamplona southbound down 7th Avenue.  When the runners reached 42nd Street / Times Square, we were herded west, down 42nd Street to the West Side Highway.  The race then propels the merry band of miscreants southbound, finishing right near Ground Zero.

I felt solid during the race, coming out of Central Park at my normal, barely-breaking-a-sweat-because-the-elderly-move-faster-than-I pace.  I scurried down 7th Avenue.  I hung a right on 42nd Street.  I made it to the West Side Highway, more than 9 miles into the 13.1 mile course.  Now the West Side Highway, unlike the other roads I normally ran on, is made of pure concrete.  Concrete, as many runners know, is a very hard, unforgiving surface to run on.  Well somewhere between miles 10 and 11, I came down too hard on my left foot and WHAM!  It felt as like a kitchen knife was plunged into my heel.  Now I’m not talking about one of those cheap knives that you can buy for $9.99 as some cheesy Williams Sonoma wanna-be place.  No way.  I’m talking about one of those knives that you see on the infomercials at 3am  – you know…the ones that never need sharpening and can cut through a lead pipe and then dice a potato Julianne-style.  One of those Ginzu, I-wanna-be-a-habachi-chef numbers.  Get the picture?

The moment my foot landed on the concrete, I knew something was incredibly wrong.  I hobbled over to the side of the highway and the initial feeling I had was fear.  I thought I ruptured something.  As I moved my foot in circles, I realized that nothing felt broken.  Knowing that I was only 2 and change miles from the finish line, I walked the rest of the race, in agony.  I tried to jog with 200 meters to go, but refrained.  It hurt THAT MUCH.  After that race, I took a lot of time off from running.  The foot slowly healed….but now I think the injury never fully healed and it has come back in force.

This injury was the main reason why my times haven’t noticeably improved over the few years that I’ve been in to distance running: I have always been afraid of re-injuring my foot.  This year, however, I have decided to take the chance and push myself – I crave improvement.  So I’ve made a firm decision to continue to deal with the discomfort and, in the immortal words of the Disney film Meet the Robinsons….”keep moving forward”.  This decision, I am sure, will not be easy to deal with – but the juice is worth the squeeze as far as I’m concerned.

After nursing my foot and taking it easy on Sunday, I went through my normal training week in preparation for the Bronx Half Marathon on Sunday, August 15th.  I visited the gym Tuesday – Friday afternoons.  Although I wasn’t able to make the TFK team runs on Monday and Wednesday, I did my weekly assigned mileage in order to stay on pace.  Through consistency and effort, these weekly workouts are becoming easier. 

I rested on Saturday in preparation for the race…and then I received some rather sad news on a very personal front that afternoon.  While I’ll refrain from going into detail (because let’s face it: I whine like a mule enough already just about my running), I can say that I spent that evening on my sofa watching reruns of House and basically feeling sorry for myself.  (For all of you playing the home game, I am physically in my late thirties, and mentally in my early teens…so I pout, stomp my feet and basically become a total annoyance to be around when the world doesn’t do exactly what I want it to).  Now normally I would address this melancholy by throwing on my running shoes and beating the immaturity out of myself…but I couldn’t.  I had to rest.  Saturday evening went by in a dull, achy haze.  I knew that the race would now be much harder to focus on because of the black cloud that I knew would follow me for 13.1 miles.  Tomorrow will be a test.  Tomorrow I’m going 12 rounds with The Tool, because there’s no way that he can resist the temptation of kicking me while I’m down.  Tomorrow will feel like a title fight. 

By the time my head hit the pillow, I felt worn out.  And as I closed my eyes, lo and behold, there appeared The Tool.  Like clockwork.  He wasn’t even waiting for the sunrise to begin the mental assault.  I kicked his tiny culo (it’s Italian – but do I really need to tell you the English translation?) recently and, to him, revenge was a dish best served cold (any time you can quote Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, your day just got a a little burst of sunshine).  He stretched his little 4” frame out on the pillow, positioning himself next to my ear, and snickered.  The last thing I heard before I drifted off was his tiny pre-pubescent voice cackling “…….when you wake up, you’re MINE….”

 _____________________________

“You have a choice. You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off of your face.” – Anonymous

The Long Run Gets Longer…..


Saturday, August 7th …..I woke up this morning with a sense of bright-eyed optimism.  Please don’t ask me why, because I have no idea whatsoever.  When I slid out of bed and my left foot hit the floor, the sharp stabbing pain that has become my internal alarm clock jolted my eyes open.  Today was beginning just like any other: with the feeling of stepping on a knife.  I lumbered into the bathroom and took a warm shower, in the hopes that the hot beads of water will somehow soothe me.  All it did was remind me of just how much I’d really like to climb back into bed and sleep for four more hours.  As I climbed out of the shower and reached for my toothbrush, I realized something: today was Saturday.  Now ordinarily the thought of being off from work would be enough to plaster a huge smile on my face through lunch – but as the toothbrush glided over my molars it dawned on me that the team is running at least 12 miles this morning.  Since I burn approximately 165-180 calories per mile, and I’m running at least 12 miles…..that’s a lot of calories being flushed right down the ol’ gabinetto today.  (It was 6am  – so don’t ask me for a final count on the exact number of calories scheduled to be burned, because I refuse to do math before midday).  At that moment a little light bulb went off directly over my head: I can use my long run days as motivation to maintain my newly-established diet.

I am not quite sure how this idea developed in my brain – maybe I do my best thinking while scrubbing my incisors with AquaFresh (anyone can use Crest or Colgate…I’m an AquaFresh guy because I like that neon blue, possibly radioactive gel they wind into the toothpaste to make it look like the dental equivalent of a candycane) – but I came to the rather shockingly astute conclusion that I was only hours or days away from falling off my current diet’s wagon. (As I have mentioned numerous times before, I lack discipline).  So, in order to motivate myself to stay on this health kick during the work week, I have decided to dangle Saturday afternoons over my head like a carrot in front of a rather lazy, slow, ADD-ridden horse.

I made an internal promise to treat myself to a nice lunch after the long run – something utterly sinful, possibly consisting of all sorts of deep-fried and/or chocolate covered ingredients.  Yum….a deep fried, chocolate-smothered carrot was now right in front of my eyes.  Now all I needed to do was earn it by running hard for 2 hours.

The team began stretching at 7:30am, after which we split up into pace groups that each of us could reasonably stay with for the mileage assigned.  In some of the books I’ve read about marathon running the writers mention a “2 minute rule”, meaning that a runner should run their long runs at a pace roughly 2 minutes slower per mile then their planned race pace.  I loved the sound of that rule…..but let’s face it: there’s no way I was going to be able to do that and stay with the group of runners that I have been training with, which maintain a pace of 10 minutes per mile regardless of the day of the week of the length of the workout.  10 minutes for mile….for at least 12 miles.  Not an easy request to make of my body, because my brain was already preoccupied with preparing the rather empty calorie-laden lunch on the horizon. 

I may have mentioned this before but I’ll say it again because it bares repeating, especially for any of you training to run or even thinking about running a distance event: the long run is the key to distance running success.  You need to consistently push yourself a little farther each week, in order to get your body used to the various feelings – both physical and mental – that you’ll experience on race day.  The long run builds the strength and endurance you’ll require to cross the finish line.  It also provides the sense of confidence you’ll lean on as the miles escalate during the race – knowing that you’ve run 16…18…20 miles before the day of the race develops a level of self-assurance that you’ll be able to handle task handed to you when you pin your bib to your racing singlet. 

The catch phrase that I always come back to when I think of the long runs during marathon training comes from a book a read by Dr. Bob Rotella called “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” (yes, I look for wisdom everywhere…and I highly recommend that you don’t look to ME for enlightenment because I’m a couple of vegetables short of a salad).  Doctor Bob talks about a “shooter’s attitude”, that being the attitude of an athlete that has enough confidence in him/herself and his/her own abilities to “want the ball when the game is on the line”.  In order for these clutch players to actually have this high level of confidence, he/she must hone his/her skills through consistent and effective practice over a period of time.  Then, on the date of the competition, the athlete can trust in his/her abilities because of the completed training.  What comes out of this long-winded, rather elementary explanation of Dr. Bob’s much more eloquent work is a mantra that I swear by: “Train it and Trust it”.  Train hard…and then believe in yourself on race day.

The run began along the bridal path, running north from 62nd street near Columbus Circle and completing 5 long revolutions around the reservoir, before returning to 62nd Street in a heap of sweat.  The group I have found myself running with regularly consists of a bunch of runners that simply enjoy being around each other – and it shows in the positive motivation we provide each other as the miles add up.  Conversation flows as our feet pound the dirt.  There is strength in numbers. 

At this point in the training program, regardless of how fast each of the members are pacing, we are coming together as a team.  You can see it as we pass each other doing laps on the bridal path.  You see it as runners finish long runs and we stretch together.  As the training gets more intense, our camaraderie has become more apparent.  We enjoy seeing each other succeed.  Being a member of TFK becomes increasingly more meaningful to me as the year goes on.

Through 10.5 miles, I felt OK.  Then, out of nowhere, The Tool makes his appearance.  I hate this little 4” schmuck.  He begins his mental assault on my confidence and focus by reminding me of the distance I’ve already covered.  Then he mentions that I must be hungry because I didn’t eat breakfast.  He mumbles something about how bad it would feel to drop off of my group at this point because I simply cannot stay with them for another 3 miles (our goal was to finish 14 for the day).  I became distracted – he was getting to me. 

The Tool smelled blood in the water.  He had me right where he wanted me.  He hooked me – now all he had to do was reel me in.

When we hit 12 miles he hit me with a haymaker, by reminding me of the pain in my foot.  It had been bothering me for a bit, but I was really focused on my running form and my breathing, so I was able to ignore it up to this point.  However, once The Tool brought the discomfort to my attention that was all I could think about.  I stopped swinging my arms.  I lost control of my breathing.  The wheels were coming off….and just when I thought of shutting it down and walking, Nina, one of the runners in my group, asked me how I was feeling.  I told her I felt like crap.  She reminded me that we were almost home…..and that was all my mind needed to hear to snap me out of my mental funk.  The Tool evaporated like the Great Gazoo in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and I wrapped up the long run by plodding south to Columbus Circle with my teammates.  The Tool almost had me today – if I were running solo, he would have claimed victory.  But…I had backup. 

I limped home sore and hungry….and with a smile on my face.  Next stop: FOOD.  Food that isn’t good for me.  Food that devoid of nutritional value.  Food that makes my arteries require a Roto-Rooter guy.  Yum!

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“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors.  Try to be better than yourself.”  – William Faulkner

A Moment of Sanity Amid This Concoction of Lunacy


Dear Reader,

(CAUTION: THIS CAN GET A BIT SAPPY IN PLACES.  FEEL FREE TO CALL ME A TOOL AND FOCUS ON THE HUMOR…LOL)

(I’m writing this entry because the website is asking me to describe what this blog is all about.  So I’ll add this to the “About” section of the blog afterward….but I wanted to share it with all of you first…)

My blog – “Built for Comfort, Not Speed” – tries (sometimes in vain) to document my training for the 2010 – 2011 marathon season, with a specific focus on prepration for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon scheduled for Sunday, November 7th. I’m attempting to blend some simple training ideas, humor and a bit of motivation to my readers through an honest, self-depreciating style of writing. My goal is to motivate others to select and achieve their own goals, regardless of whether it be running a marathon or simply getting into shape. It doesn’t matter what the goal is: the message I’m trying to send is that it is important to HAVE goals and to apply yourself the best you can to attain them. Challenge yourself. Once in a while it’s OK to bite off what appears to be more than you can chew.

I’m not a very fast runner by any means – I truly am built for comfort, not speed.  As you might have read so far (and as you’ll continuously notice as this blog matures), I make tons of dumb mistakes of various shapes and sizes.  I make the same mistakes over and over again.  I make mistakes that even make first time marathoners shake their heads, roll their eyes, and say aloud “you cannot be serious – you actually did……THAT?”  But even though I make tons of idiotic miscues, I have finished every marathon that I’ve started (including the 2007 Chicago Marathon, which turned into a “Fun Run” after 300 people collapsed in the heat and 1 died on the course) – and finishing the race means I acheived my goal. 

The one thing that I want you, the reader, to take away from this blog is the simple fact that there is no such thing as impossible when it comes to human achievement – there are just varying degrees of diffculty.  One of my heros, Walt Disney, once said that “it’s pretty fun, doing the impossible”.  With this blog I want to do my best to motivate you to give the impossible a shot.  I once thought that a 5k race would be impossible for me to finish.  I was wrong.  Then I figured a 10k was out of my reach.  Wrong again.  Then I ran my first half marathon in Boston in October of 2004 to honor my brothers – and I bet myself a package of Yodels (God those things are good) that I wouldn’t cross the finish line after 13.1 miles.  Well I enjoyed those Yodels on the bus home, with a my first ever finisher’s medal around my neck.  This race took a lot out of me – it was the first time that I met The Tool (and those of you who have read this blog up to now know EXACTLY who that little 4″ schmuck is), and he convinced me that 13.1 miles was all this flabby body could handle.  At this point in my life, the word “impossible” was defined as “any race that required me to waddle more than 13.1 miles” – and that definition appeared to be written in stone.  It would take something huge to make me reach into my own personal dictionary and rip that definition out altogether.

Late 2004 – early 2005 was a lousy time for me.  I had hit rock bottom and had begun to dig.  I was unfocused.  My overall attitude was extremely negative.  I felt like I was a ship on an ocean in the midst of a storm, rudderless, with no shoreline in sight.  My hull had begun to take on water and the S.O.S. was clearly being sent to anyone else at sea.  Depression had set in. 

It was at this point when a lighthouse appeared on the horizon.  Its light awakened me from my despair, made me grab the helm, and slowly right my course.  That lighthouse was my six year-old daughter.  When I needed something to guide me – when I needed something to set my course to – there she stood, unflinching in front of me regardless of weather thown at us by Posiden.  And at the same time I needed something to draw me out of my own internal storm, my daughter desperately needed a hero.  And something inside me made me believe that the hero she needed………was me.

My daughter needed to be shown that a person can do anything he/she puts his/her mind to.  Some goals may be extremely difficult to attain – but the difficulty only makes the victory that much sweeter.  In order to show her that “impossible” was just a word, I needed a new challenge – something I felt that I truly could not do.  That is how I wound up running the 2005 ING New York City Marathon.  When I crossed that finish line, the word impossible truly was ripped from my own personal dictionary, never to be included in any future printings.  When I placed my medal around my daughter’s neck as she stared at me with eyes as large as dinner plates (probably because I looked as if I went 12 rounds with Rocky Marciano – my knees and feet were bloody, my hands were swollen, and I had a limp more pronounced than Doctor House), I felt like I was her hero.  When I kneeled in front of her and hugged her, I whispered in her ear “never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something.  You can do anything, buddy.  You just have to want it bad enough.”  5:20pm on Sunday, November 6th 2005: that moment in my life is one I will NEVER forget.  And let me tell you – there aren’t many things in this world that can top the feeling of being a hero to a child – let alone your own.    

I’m hoping that each of you will rip the term “impossible” out of your own personal dictionaries.  Let’s face it – evey time we use that word it carries with it a negative connotation.  Maybe a few of you are feeling like your own ships are dealing with some rough seas and stormy weather.  Well look through your lives and find the lighthouse you need – who knows….maybe something within yourself will cast the strong light from your own shoreline that you can use to guide your ship.  Set a goal for yourself that appears to sit just outside your reach, and then say to yourself “any other day I’d say this is impossible – BUT NOT TODAY.”  Make the goal something that you enter in to your calendar.  Make it several weeks or months away, so that you have to build up to attain it.  Make the goal require hard and consistent work.  And then, in the immortal words of Bum Phillips, “give everything you’ve got….and then a little bit more.”  And then….when you cross your own finish line, whatever that may be, you will become your own hero. 

Since that first marathon, I’ve set more difficult goals for myself in an attempt to show my daughter that if you can do anything as long as you never quit.  I’ll continue to run marathons until my doctor tells me I shouldn’t any longer….and then I’ll run another just to show him that he was wrong.  Some people think I’m a bit….well…..nuts to run as many marathons as I’ve targeted for myself.  And let’s face it: they are probably right. But as I’ve just illustrated, I do have a number of very serious reasons for pushing myself the way I’ve been trying to.  Now I’d like to share another one of them with you.

2010 will mark my 6th running of the ING New York City Marathon, and my 4th running for the New York Road Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”). This is a charity that I believe strongly in, because I have seen first hand how much they are helping grammer school kids throughout the city fight childhood obesity. TFK volunteers empower youth development via running and character-building programs in low-income schools and community centers in New York City, throughout the country, and in South Africa. Please take a look at the charity’s home page (www.tfkworldwide.com) for more information and details on the number of running programs provided. This charity is making a real difference with kids, and I’d like to ask you to consider helping them with their cause by making a donation – no donation is too small, and all donations are used wisely by the organization to maximize the benefit to the children they serve.

Making a donation to TFK is easy. The charity assigns each runner a specific home page on their secure fundraising site. I’ve attached my home page to this post (http://www.runwithtfk.org/Member/PublicPage/1289), in the hope that you’ll consider making a donation. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Your giving helps New York Road Runners Youth Programs to:

  • Serve over 100,000 children in more than 400 schools and community centers with FREE programs.
  • Reach children of all fitness levels and athleticism, with a heightened focus on reaching out-of-shape and overweight kids with little or no athletic experience.
  • Prevent overweight or obese children from eventually suffering heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses that lead to health-care costs in excess of $100 billion annually.

Whether you are a runner, have worked with children, or have kids yourself, I hope you will join me to further this great cause!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this. Regardless of whether you choose to donate to the charity or not please know that I appreciate your support with this blog and, as a direct result, my efforts to train for the challenges I’ve set for myself. I look at this blog as my way of staying focused on my goals, because ordinarily I have the attention span of a gnat.   And now back to our regularly-scheduled lunacy.

– Joseph

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“The greatest pleasure in life, is doing the things people say we cannot do.” – Walter Bagehot

The 59the Street Bridge: It Should Be Condemned


Saturday, July 31st ……..So today’s TFK workout was 11 ½ miles beginning in midtown on the east side, over the 59th Street bridge, into Long Island City (in Queens), and then on to Roosevelt Island for two laps of its perimeter before retracing our steps and heading back to our meeting place on 59th and Fist Avenue. All week long I have thought about this run, mainly because traversing the 59th Street Bridge brings back several rough memories of marathons past.

I started running the New York City Marathon in 2005 – so this year will mark race #6 for me. As you’ll learn soon enough within this blog, each of the prior five races I’ve run on the first Sunday in November was made much more grueling than they needed to be – mainly due to my lack of proper preparation. One of my many mistakes in training in the past was the lack of hill work. There is an old saying that “hills are speed work in disguise”…..well in addition to making you faster, the act of getting to the top of a hill provides the runner with a small sense of confidence. Since I simply don’t like hills (I never have and I never will, by the way), I chose to avoid them during training from 2005-2009. They were simply no fun at all. They weren’t easy – they were hard. And most everyone that knows me understands that I cannot stand having to actually work hard.

For the past five years, I have gotten to mile 15 of the New York City Marathon in decent shape. My pace would be slow and steady. My mind would be focused and filled with positive thoughts. Then, after making a sharp left turn, I would come face to face with the base of the 59th Street Bridge. It’s dark and silent, as the race plods along the lower level of the bridge and no fans are permitted along the span. The first instinct is to look up at the ground that needs to be covered and the incline that it’s sitting on…..and that is a HUGE mistake. At that very moment, at the base of this bridge, like clockwork, my inner voice begins yelling in my ear. The things that are yelled into my brain by my inner voice are expelled at such a volume that all of the existing positive thoughts are drowned out by the noise. Every year, that voice sounds in my head. Every year, arriving at the same spot, that voice gets louder. Every year, the commentary narrated by this inner voice becomes more and more negative. This voice of negativity has even morphed into a character in my head. If a police sketch artist asked me for a physical description of this inner voice, my response to the policeman would be the following:

“Well Officer, I see him as approximately 4” in height. Jet black hair, styled in a swept back, spikey, Growing Up Gotti look. Beady eyes set in such a permanent squint that it makes everyone think that, as a baby, he was nursed on lemons. Nose hair that peaks out from below the nostrils – if he sneezes, he’ll look like a party favor. He wears a battleship gray Armani suit, with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, because he still has aspirations of being an extra on Miami Vice. A white T-shirt under the suit jacket finishes off the Miami Vice wanna-be appearance, with his chest hair wandering up and out of the collar. His shoes are patent leather roach-killers with no socks – his vain attempt at looking professional….yet casual. His left ear is pierced, with a gold earring sporting his initial protruding from his earlobe. He wears a thick gold necklace over his t-shirt, with a large Japanese letter dangling from it (he thinks the Japanese letter means “warrior” when, in fact, he bought it from a tiny shop on Canal Street…..and it actually says “I love marshmallows”). Although he never so much as sat on a motorcycle in his “life”, he has a large tattoo on his right forearm that reads “Live to Ride, Ride to Live”…just because he thought that it would make him look tough. Finally, as a finishing touch, he wears a large gold pinky ring with a huge fopal (that means Fake Opal”, for all of you playing the home game) in the center.”

(Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself “Joe, you really need to lay of the Diet Coke, take a few deep breaths, and step out of this Never Never Land that you frequently visit….and join us all back here in a little realm we all call REALITY”. Well I’ve visited that realm on several occasions and have decided to run for the hills each time, simply because I couldn’t find anything decent to watch on T.V.)

In 2008, I even decided to name this inner voice. I needed a name that would convey the hideous traits of this character. The name would have to sound gruff. Harsh. It would need to sound like something a person would mutter under his/her breath when a person cuts in front of them while on line at a grocery store. After an hour of deep thought (and yes, I actually did spend 60 minutes of my life pondering an appropriate name for my inner voice), I came up with what is, in my opinion, the verbal embodiment of my inner negativity. I dubbed him……….The Tool.

So each year, from 2005 – 2009, The Tool would appear on my left shoulder as I arrived at the base of this bridge. He would walk up my shoulder and arrive at my ear and, within moments, begin spewing negativity with his cackling voice at such volume that it drowned out any music playing on my Ipod. The inner conversation would begin with simple prods…but, by the time I made it half way up the incline, my body would begin to feel like shutting down. A sample of the heckling I would receive would sound like this:

The Tool: “Hey, hey!! Good to be back!! What’s it been – a year? We need to hang out more often. Why do we always meet at the same spot?”

My Brain: “Oh – it’s YOU. I’m busy. Come back later.”

The Tool: “Wow. Always the same place. Yup. This is it. The 59th Street Bridge. The Gateway to Manhattan, as far as this race is concerned. You must be psyched! Too bad you didn’t train on hills though. This one is HUGE.”

My Brain: “Thank you, Captain Obvious. Now shut up. I’m working here. I’ve just started the ascent and I actually feel pretty darn good.”

The Tool: “I know you started the ascent – I’m on your shoulder and I can see. But wow – that’s a long way up. And you’ve already run 15 miles. What was your longest training run? 12 miles? On a flat surface? You know you aren’t ready for this one.”

My Brain: “It was 14 miles. And I’m fine. Now shut up.”

The Tool: “Well the least they could do is provide water on this bridge. But they don’t. And you look thirsty.”

My Brain: “I am. Now stifle it.”

The Tool: “Wow. No hill training. You are now running farther than your longest training run. And no water. How the heck are you doing this?”

My Brain: “I’m fine. Please shut up.”

The Tool: “So if I’m doing the math right, once you get to the top, you still more than 10 miles to go. And those hills coming up on First Avenue – they are always rough. This race is only going to get harder. Don’t you think you should just shut it down for a bit and walk?”

My Brain: “Once I do that, I’m screwed. You know it. I know it. I’m half way to the top. Now shhhh.”

The Tool: “Half way to the top means you still have all of this incline to go. We need to conserve some energy. Speaking of energy – don’t you think we should have eaten a better dinner last night?”

My Brain: “PLEASE SHUT UP.”

The Tool: “No water. All this hill to go. 10 miles more. More hills coming. 15 miles already in. No hill training. 12 mile long run was your max. Dude…..you’re screwed.”

My Brain: “God this hurts.”

 ……………….and with that, I downshifted to a steady walk. And once you downshift to walking during a marathon, it is virtually impossible to re-ignite your inner fire and get running at your planned pace again. So, this bridge has historically been the location of the race where my wheels have come off, turning the remaining 10 miles into a death march for me.

I made myself a promise this year, that I would train harder than ever for this year’s race, meaning that I would get my lazy rear-end to organized practices religiously and do the required work – no short cuts. So as the small group I was a part of made the turn 10 miles into this long training run to come face to face with the bridge, The Tool showed up again. He looked around, and noticed that I wasn’t alone. I had teammates with me, all of which knew how this bridge beat me each time I’ve run it. Earlier in the run, they promised to help spur me on up this hill, and they were being true to their word. The Tool paused for a moment on my shoulder, not exactly knowing how to deal with the change in circumstances. He saw that I wasn’t alone – that I had a supporting cast with me, and they appeared focused and determined. Then he looked at my expression – and saw a look that he wasn’t used to seeing: confidence. At that moment, he felt like a grammar school student that studied for a history test all night long, only to arrive at school the next morning to find out that he had a science test that day. He decided that he didn’t like performing in front of a live audience…and with a “poof”, he vaporized into thin air, leaving me to conquer the bridge for the first time in my life.

I began getting slower as the crest of the bridge came into view. Noticing that I was slowing down, my teammate, Nina, yelled out “don’t you dare stop!!! Get going!!!!” As a reflex action, I went to my arms and fought the rest of the way. I had arrived. As I coasted down the bridge and on to 60th street, the sense of pride I felt was electrifying. I have turned the corner. I officially have found some level of positive momentum in my training to build on. After stretching, I went home and realized that my heel was really barking at me. I iced it well and looked forward to the coming week’s workouts. 11 ½ miles. The Bridge. A consistent pace of 10:15 – 10:30 per mile throughout. A gorgeous Saturday – no humidity, temperature in the 70’s, and a light breeze just when I needed it. What a way to end a month.

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“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine