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

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.    

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