Falling Behind the Pack


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________ 

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

I’m as Sharp as a Bowling Ball…..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________ 

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

The Bronx Half Marathon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “It….is…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Today….I sacrificed my gift.

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

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

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

 _________________________________________

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

Frustration Comes with the Territory….I Think


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 _____________________________

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

The Long Run Gets Longer…..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Cold Oreo


Monday, August 2nd ……….So I made a promise to myself that I would “step-up” my efforts to become a more solid all-around runner after Sunday’s “running hangover”.  I’m at a point right now where my expectations far exceed my results as far as my performance is concerned.  So, after Monday’s six mile TFK workout, I went home and sat in an ice bath (God am I stupid!) and thought about my weekly workouts and what I was missing.  The answer that immediately came to mind: I need to add some abdominal work to my regimen. 

Abdominal workouts for me have never been easy – they usually hurt and I never had the greatest definition in the world, so I was always very self-conscious about how I felt as I attempted to do reverse crunches.  I always had the desire to look and feel fit and trim….but that would mean cutting out the Oreos and Pop Tarts….and that would simply SUCK.  So I constantly struggled with my core.  As I have begun to take running seriously – as the goals I have placed in front of myself now require more of me physically than I’ve ever demanded before – I find myself at a crossroads: Slowly fade out the crap that I eat and work on my core (since a solid core is a key to good running), or keep eating those Oreos and simply be happy maintaining the status quo as far as my performance is concerned.

Now if you gave me this decision to make a year ago, I’d silently choose the Oreos and then become very disappointed with my noted lack of improvement year over year in my marathon finishing times.  This year, however, is MUCH different.  This year I chose to fade out the crap and build myself up slowly but surely.  So I have begun actually eating things that aren’t deep fried or sugar-coated (which is completely strange to me – people at work probably think I’ve been replaced with my clone which just so happened to be pre-programmed with a bit of common sense).  

I give this new-found lease on life approximately 48 hours…..and then things will probably get ugly.  Let’s do the simple mental math folks: ME – crappy food = one helluva cranky man with a heavy Bronx accent.  The expletives will assuredly fly……

Tuesday, August 3rd …….. So I wake up this morning with a new lease on life.  I went to visit my friendly neighborhood fruit stand guy and purchased a bunch of this healthy stuff: cherries, strawberries, blueberries, etc.  I loaded up.  Lots of apples.  Sat down in my office, took a big bite of a big macintosh apple, and leaned back in my chair.  Slowly, a real poop-eating (work with me, lab rats – this is a PG blog, and I’m keeping the English curses out of it – but the Italian ones are fair game) grin cracks across my face: this transition is going to be easier than I thought.  Three hours later, the lunch whistle goes off inside my head.  I grabbed my wallet, jumped into the elevator (yes, I actually DO jump into the elevator – I hate doing anything normally because there’s just no fun in it), and headed out the revolving door onto Third Avenue in the heart of Manhattan.  I looked left.  I looked right.  But my legs refused to head in a specific direction because my brain was….well….at a loss.  Where the heck does a person go for healthy food around here?  It was at that moment that The Tool made an appearance, and he was determined to flush my new-found dedication to full-body health right down the gabinetto (for those of you playing the home game: that’s Italian for “toilet”….anything said in English sounds so much better in Italian…)

He sat his tiny rear-end down on my left shoulder and began to whisper sour somethings into my ear….

Tool: “Look – there’s nothing healthy around here.  Just go to Ranch 1 and pick up the #6 with an order of large fries and a Diet Coke.  And don’t forget the chocolate chip cookie.”

Me: “I’m sure I can get a salad down the block.  Now STAI ZITO” (Again, Italian for “shut the hell up” – feel free to use that one whenever possible, because it rolls off the tongue with a bit of flair)

Tool: “You have to run in 5 hours.  You need the carbs.  Get the #6 and be done with it.”

Me: (heading in to the local joint next to my building) “No number 6’s.  Ever again.”

Tool: (Shocked that I made it to the salad bar by passing the pastry stand) “Please don’t do this.  Please.  It’s going to taste horrid.  They don’t deep fry spinach leaves, you know.”

Me: (standing in front of the salad station, a look of utter confusion on my extra large melon) “A large spinach salad please with chicken, corn, low fat cheddar cheese and sesame ginger dressing.”

(The words were actually hard to get out.  Seriously.   Me?  Salad?  For lunch?  You had same odds of seeing this as possibly spotting a rare white elk wandering the plains of Nebraska)

Tool: “Seriously dude.  You are beginning to piss me off.  Just wait – I’ll have my chance to lay the smack down on your roody-poo candy ass.”

And POOF….he disappeared.  I paid $9 for the salad, almost reached across the counter and head-butted the cashier when I was told the price of this rabbit-sized meal, and waddled back to my desk with my healthy lunch.

By 3pm, I had become cranky.  VERY cranky.  Swearing off of all of the stuff that I normally ate that was no good for me in one fell swoop was not going to bode well for my brain.  Already there was a Broadway-style tap dancing number being performed on my skull, and I was fighting off cravings for anything chocolate.  A rough training period was about to get MUCH rougher. 

I worked out in the gym for 40 minutes, actually completing several abdominal exercises in the process, prior to heading to the park for a 4 mile run.  By the time I got home, the headache was so bad that I just wanted to go to sleep.  I didn’t eat dinner…which, of course, compounded my crankiness the very next day.

Wednesday, August 4th to Friday, August 6th ……The rest of the week went by in a haze of snippiness and utter childish retorts to anyone / anything in my path.  I ran Wednesday with the team, putting in my required speed work.  I ran 4 miles by myself Thursday.  Friday I took off to rest my heel.  Each afternoon before leaving the office I went through a 40 minute gym regimen.  By Friday night, I was so out of sorts that I felt as if I myself became The Tool.  I’d wake up each morning cranky, and that’s the best I’d feel all day long. 

Saturday morning, however, I would turn a corner…thank God.  You ever heard of the term “going cold turkey”? Well this week witnessed me going “cold oreo”….and it was NOT a pretty sight.     

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t swear off all of your bad habits at once.  One at a time probably works better.  Take it from me, lab rats: slow and steady gets you to the marathon finish line.  Maybe I’m wrong – but that’s just my two cents. 

_______________________________ 

 “The five S’s of sports training are: Stamina, Speed, Strength, Skill and Spirit; but the greatest of these is Spirit.”   –Ken Doherty

A Moment of Sanity Amid This Concoction of Lunacy


Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your giving helps New York Road Runners Youth Programs to:

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

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

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

– Joseph

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

August Arrives With…..A Thud


Sunday, August 1st ……….The morning after running those 11.5 miles, I woke up with the athletic equivalent of a hangover.  (If you’ve read my blog up to this point, I’m sure that you’ve come to the same obvious conclusion as I have: my porch light is out.)  I was sore – my legs were stiff, my left heel was extremely tender, and my chest felt like a small elephant sat on it.    As I climbed out of bed, I felt like a shorter (yet much more suave) version of Frankenstein.  My legs refused to bend at the knees.  My left leg didn’t want to participate in the exercise of getting me from the edge of the bed to the bathroom.  My muscles were inciting rebellion and my brain, technically the dictator of this operation, had lost control over the masses.

As I began to hobble around the apartment, the legs began to loosen up and the pain in my heel steadied to a dull ache – par for the course as far as I’m concerned.  I changed into some running clothes and put in a very light 5 miles in the park. 

As I waddled through my workout, realized that I should have taken everyone’s advice: once I got home, I should have submerged my legs in a tub of cold water.  Should have thrown some ice in there, just for good measure.  According to articles I’ve read and coaches I’ve listened to, the first three minutes in a REALLY cold bath are brutal – but the next 10-15 pass fairly easily.  Then, once you get out of the shower and begin to thaw out, the lactic acid that has built up in the legs gets easily expelled, thereby making recovery much quicker.  At the very least, I should have iced my left heel.  What did I do?  I sat on the couch and snacked on chips and salsa like a real gavone.  At this point, let me enroll each of you into Joe’s College of Knowledge for a moment – you can use the Italian term “gavone” in several really fun ways:

  • to describe a rude / crude person
    • Vito: “Oh Jimmy!  Check out that chick over there!!!  YO BABY!!!!”
    • Jimmy: “Vito you are a real gavone, do you know that?”
  • to describe someone that takes much more food than he can eat
    • Vito: “Oh Jimmy! I just grabbed us 5 slices with extra cheese and a pepperoni calzone.  There’s one slice in the box for you because I’m a nice guy.  The rest is mine – forgetaboutit.”
    • Jimmy: “Vito you are a real gavone, do you know that?”
  • To describe someone that’s an embarrassment to himself or his friends
    • Vito: “Oh Jimmy!!!  Look at this jacket – when was the last time you saw a real Members Only jacket, huh?  Feel that – that’s real polyester blend!  Between this jacket, my Jorache jeans and a clean white T shirt, I’m ready to check out the opera.  Wait until Lincoln Center gets a load of ME!”
    • Jimmy: “Vito you are a real gavone, do you know that?”

So feel free to work this word in whenever you can.  Its fun to use and it’s VERY versatile.  Thus endeth the lesion – now back to my normal nonsense….

By the time I finished my 5 mile run, I felt a bit more relaxed.  My head was clear (because that’s one of the main things running does for me – it helps me clear my head), and the legs didn’t hurt as much as when I woke up – but they still ached.  I guess I’d consider running 5 miles on the day after a long run as the having “the hair of the dog that bit me”…..

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“Ask yourself: “Can I give more?”. The answer is usually: “Yes.””   – Paul Tergat

The 59the Street Bridge: It Should Be Condemned


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Brain: “I am. Now stifle it.”

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

My Brain: “I’m fine. Please shut up.”

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

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

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

My Brain: “PLEASE SHUT UP.”

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

My Brain: “God this hurts.”

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get This Week Over With


Wednesday, July 28th – Friday, July 30th…….So I skipped my Wednesday TFK workout for the chance to take my Mom out for dinner for her birthday. I needed to take a second training day off to further assist my left heel in the healing process. But not wanting to dismiss a scheduled workout, I set out solo on Friday evening to execute the team’s weekly speed work training after hitting the gym for a bit and lifting weights. It’s strange – I understand why there are mirrors in the gym – so that people can see their posture and technique whilst performing the various exercises with dumbbells and other equipment. It’s a fantastic concept…for a human being whose brain works according to the design. There is one issue though: my brain does NOT work normally. The cheese fell off my cracker a long time ago. The elevator doesn’t go to the top floor. I’m a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. (OK, lab rats – here’s your chance: what other sayings can you come up with to describe a guy who really needs a check-up from the neck….up?)

As I stand in front of this huge floor to ceiling mirror and select the 70 pound dumbbells to perform shoulder shrugs with (and for all of you playing the home game, a shoulder shrug exercise is designed to work the neck and shoulder muscles. You hold the 2 dumbbells in your hands and let your arms fall to your sides. Then you quite literally shrug your shoulders 10 times in a row, as if you are saying “how the hell should I know?” to someone…..ten times in rapid succession), I am basically forced to stare at myself. Now I don’t know about you, but I hate it when anyone ELSE stares at me – so staring at MYSELF quickly starts a mental argument between the two hemispheres of my brain: the Left side of the brain being the analytical side, and the Right side being the creative side. I’ll try to provide the Cliff Notes version of this argument…..

Left: (speaking to himself, but rather loudly) “Wow – this shirt makes us look heavy. I do not like the rather asymmetrical geometric shape that this shirt provides the illusion of.”

Right: (overhears Left mumbling to himself and decides to chime in) “Loosen up! Stop being so inflexible! Besides, the most important thing is how comfortable it feels on us.”

Left: (getting his synapses out of joint due to the unsolicited feedback) “Look Mr. Creativity – Mr. the Cup is Half Full – Mr. Who Gives a Crap about the Details – the angles are all wrong. Look at us in this mirror. Our goal is to develop a more triangular shape to our frame, yet this shirt makes us look like……well….like an oval. Do you understand that the oval isn’t a very attractive shape?”

Right: “Stop complaining – we are trying to finish our third set of 10 repetitions, and I cannot hear us mentally count.”

Left: (Cracking an insulted tone of mental voice) “Are you saying that I can’t multi-task? I know exactly how many reps we’ve done.”

Right: (Sarcastically) “Oh you do? Well look at our face. It’s bright red. And see the furrowed brow? We’re wondering just how many reps that last one represented. Nice going, Mr. I Know How to Count – Mr. Precision – Mr. Attention to Detail….”

Medulla: (In a condescending tone of electric impulse) “Both of you please shut up. You’re going to give us all a migraine.”

Left: “Technically, Med – may I call you Med? Because your full name sounds like a Greek demi-god that turned her victims to stone with a glance – you are correct. The constant bickering between myself and my not-so-better half does cause us to develop the mental equivalent of charliehorse.”

Right: “Well if my other half would stop over-analyzing every little……”

Shoulder Blades: (in unison) “Idiots. That was 19. You just overworked me. You really are the Three Stooges of this poor excuse of an athlete.”

……and with that, I put the 70lb dumbbells away, and moves on to complete my routine, completely unaware of what was to follow.

After going to the gym, it was time to leave the office for the weekend – and what better way to begin the weekend than by taking a light run through the park. So I changed into my running clothes, grabbed my ipod and left my apartment with a spring to my step that the simple concept of Friday afternoons place in my feet. At about the three mile mark I came to one of the more draining hills on the course – so I began to swing my arms the way the coaches taught me….and that’s when I felt the ache. I over-worked my shoulders and neck at the gym. I did too much. I pushed through the five miles without any form of real injury, but the lesson was learned: try not to over-train. It can lead to a serious injury that would force you to miss training sessions that are key to the overall marathon preparation process.

I went to bed sore all over….which wasn’t exactly the smartest move ever made. Why? Because at 7am Saturday morning I come face-to-face with the 59th Street Bridge for the first time in the training program. This bridge was been the bane of my existence each of the past 5 years running this marathon. It comes at the 15 mile mark of the race, waiting for you to make the sudden left turn onto its ramp. We’ve looked each other in the eye 5 times now…and each time I’ve been the one to blink first. Well not tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m going to layeth the smacketh down on that bridge’s roody-poo candy ass. (Wow – I cannot believe I’ve resorted to using catch phrases of retired famous professional wrestlers. I had indeed hit rock bottom and have begun to dig).

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“What matters is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower