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?”


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…’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.


“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).


“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

Tuesdays Don’t Suck as Much as Mondays…..

Tuesday, July 27th…….So after a very tough but rewarding Monday evening TFK tempo run, I am sent off on my own to do a level of cross training on Tuesday. The form of cross training that I would most prefer to indulge in is swimming. I was born & raised on the water, so when I am in the water I feel like I am in my element. Unfortunately, there are no Olympic size swimming pools here in Manhattan which I have access to. So I find solace in the fact that my company has a gym available to me whenever I get the urge to work out.

At around 3pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I grab my gym clothes and head upstairs. As I listen to a blend of Clapton, AC/DC, Rush, Fuel, Muse, Dave Matthews, John Denver (kidding – just thought I’d try to slip one by you), Luadcris and Shinedown, I go through my motions. My routine includes a mixture of dumbbells, machines and floor work (just a really cool way of saying that I lay on the floor to do my abs workout). My routine consists of exercises to condition the neck, shoulders, back, chest, and arms. To top off my routine, I perform abdominal exercises for approximately 15 minutes. By the end of workout I’ve broken a pretty decent sweat.

From the various books I’ve read about training for any distance event, proper cross training appears to be pretty important. Think about it: a turtle like me – a guy that’s definitely built for comfort, not speed and that has a goal of finishing the marathon in November in 4:45 – will be running consistently for 285 minutes. That’s 285 minutes of swinging my arms forward and back to maintain momentum. That’s 285 minutes of focusing on my running form to maximize the amount of oxygen that I take into my lungs. That’s 285 minutes of stress on my upper body in addition to my legs. Running on my own and with TFK all week ensures that my legs are ready to go and that I have the necessary level of endurance to handle the challenge. Cross training days like these ensure that my upper body can handle what I’m going to throw at it.

It’s less than 100 days until Marathon Sunday, November 7th 2010. My Superbowl. That also means that I am just 3 weeks away from my first true test of the year: running at altitude in Edmonton, followed 5 weeks later with the Hartford Marathon. These two runs will be a great barometer for me leading up to the Big Day.


“Tough times don’t last but tough people do.” – A.C. Green

In the Immortal Words of Billy Shakespeare: Mondays Suuuucketh

Monday, July 26th…..This week begins with a tough 5 ½ mile “tempo run” on the soft dirt of the Central Park bridal path.  TFK meets at 6:15pm, and begin with a ½ mile warm up jog.  Now that may sound strange, because we go for a run…before we go for our run.  But from what I have learned from our coaches, in order to optimize our performance during practice, it’s best to raise the runner’s heart rate before taking off on this cozy little jaunt.

 After a bit of stretching and that ½ mile warm up, I ran with a group of TFKers that hoped to pace themselves between 9:30 – 11 minutes per mile.  I figured that a 10:30 pace would suit me perfectly, as it would not be overly stressful on my left heel.  I am developing a fairly nasty case of plantar fasciitis, which is a bruising of the ligaments that run directly under the heel pad of your foot.  This injury is rather tricky, as the pain goes away as you run, and then shows up BIG TIME when you try to get out of bed the very next morning.  The way I treat this injury is by slightly slowing my pace on any run that doesn’t involve TFK, and icing my left heel under my desk during the day and nightly as I watch TV.  These simple treatments have helped just enough to keep me up and training without any longer-term layoffs.

 This 9:30 – 11 min per mile pace group started off rather quickly, clipping off the first 2 miles at a 10:10 pace.  I stayed in the center of the pack, feeling quite comfortable and actually “running with my head” – which means that I was able to actually think about my technique, my form, and my heart rate.  My arms were pumping forward and back, making sure that I didn’t cross them in front of my chest.  My posture was straight, but not rigid.  My strides were crisp and I was able to keep my heart rate under control my breathing deeply into my nose and out of my mouth.  Yes sir – the first 2 miles felt fantastic.  But what’s that saying about all good things? 

 As we began reeling in our third mile of the evening, the group’s pace quickened.  Now we were running at a 9:30 pace.  I focused on my heart rate and tried my best to stay within the center of the group.  My goal this year is to get faster – and the only real way to do that is to push yourself by running with people that are faster than you.  This was exactly what I was doing this evening by running with this pace group, as the fourth mile began with a pace of 9:10.  Now I began to struggle.  The wheels were falling off.

 I began to drift back from the pack, as their pace quickened even more during the last mile, clocking in at approximately 8:40.  I staggered in to the finish near the TFK meeting spot about 3 minutes after the rest of the group.  I felt a mixture of frustration (because I couldn’t keep with the group for the entire workout) and joy (because I did stay with the group for as long as I did).  We finished practice with light stretching and some core work that left my stomach achy.

As I walked home from practice, my left heel had a brief conversation with my brain.  It went a little something like this:

 Heel: “Just a little FYI – I’m about to send you an instant message.  Be on the lookout for it, OK?”

 Brain: “Hey!  Good hearing from you!  What’s the topic?”

 Heel: “Well I’ll let you read all the details yourself – but here’s the Cliff Notes version.  You pushed me too hard today.  I’m rather upset about it.  Cranky would even be a better way to put it.  As a union employee of this body, I’m choosing to go on strike.”

 Brain: “Now wait a second – that’s not fair.  At least let me hear your demands before you “walk out”.  Get it?  “Walk out”?  How funny am I….?”

 Heel: “Here are my demands.  Call a cab.  RIGHT NOW.  I don’t want to take another step.”

 Brain: “That’s it?  That’s your only demand?”

 Heel: “Yup.  Quick and simple.  So what’s it going to be?”

 Brain: “Well…..I’d rather walk home.  It’s better save the money….”

 Heel: “OK – that’s it.  I’m on strike as of……right……NOW.”

 …….and at that moment, it felt as though I stepped on a knife.

 Have you ever experienced your leg “falling asleep”?  Well that’s how my left heel felt.  I couldn’t place any body weight on it.  I went from limping to literally hopping across 81st Street heading west.  I sat down on the stoop of a very fine-looking hotel across the street from the American Museum of Natural History, just to make sure I didn’t topple over.  Within moments, the doorman came out to ask me to get up and keep moving.  Since my cranky button was pushed, the doorman and I had a lovely little exchange.  Would you care to read about it?  No?  Well I’m going to share it with you anyway:

 Doorman: (very politely) “Excuse me sir – are you a guest here?”

 Me: (Not as polite and professional) “ummmm…..NO.  Why?”

 Doorman: (thin grin cracking across his face) “If that’s the case, I need to ask you to remove yourself from these steps.”

 Me: (not grin AT ALL on my face) “Well I would if I could walk.  I just injured my foot.”

 Doorman: (the thin grin replaced with a blank expression) “Well you cannot rest here.  Plus – you’re sweating all over the concrete.”

 Me: (the bells went off in my head – time to layeth the verbal smacketh down) “First off – does it LOOK like I’m resting?  I’m really hurting and it was either sit for a moment right here, or risk falling in front of your pretty little hotel.  Now you see those two cracks in the pavement?  Well my story would be that I tripped on one of them.  And of course, I’d be worried about other people’s safety – so I’d obviously do the necessary thing and call my doctor…and then my lawyer.  Secondly: buy yourself a nose hair trimmer, because when you sneeze I bet you look like a party favor.”

 Doorman: “Wow.  Now that was just wrong.  Why did you have to bring my nose hair into this conversation?”

 Me: “Well why did you have to make me crankier than I already was?”

 Doorman: “We have a stalemate.  I’m Chuck.”

 Me: “Hi Chuck – I’m Miserable.”

 Doorman: “Nice to meet you – want some water?”

 ……..ah, New Yorkers.  We all have an inner wiseass pre-programmed into are biological hard drives.  Yet we also have the innate ability to appreciate creative sarcasm.


“Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”    – Doug Larson

Music Soothes the Savage Tool

Sunday, July 25th….After a rough 9 miles in the heat & humidity on Saturday, Sunday is a welcome change. The humidity broke overnight, and the temperature dropped just enough to ensure that this morning’s recovery run doesn’t turn into a stress test. I got out of the apartment early, threw on my Ipod and took off around the outer loop of Central Park.

Sundays are special for me, as this is really the one time all week that I do not concern myself with mileage, pace, or duration. It’s also one of the only times during the week that I run while listening to music. In the past, the only way I could enjoy running was by plugging my ears with two tiny speakers and shuffling my feet to the soft, delicate sounds of AC/DC, Pearl Jam, and Rush. My pace would change based on the beat in my ears, and my focus would be solely on the music – not the exercise. The resulting workouts were always helter-skelter, with no game plan in place. As a result, I feel like I never really saw a marked improvement in my performance from 2005 – 2008. This year, by working with TFK 3 times a week, I am learning to push my body faster by running with a group, while listening to my body as I exercise. The end result has been noticeable: I’ve been getting faster and my running form has greatly improved.

With all of that said, once a week I take time for myself to blast my music in my ears as I log some miles in the warm morning sun. I start off at the 85th Street entrance to Central Park off of Central Park West, and work my way counter-clockwise around the outer loop, which is roughly 6 miles in overall distance. I allow myself to breathe deeply and shift my pace according to my mood, which is determined by the music and how my body is feeling. My pace starts off quickly, as my playlist begins with theme music from the movie “The Transformers”. (Now I know that sounds really strange – but the first two songs are entitled “Autobots” and “Arrival on Earth”. These titles sounds like they belong on a 10 year-old’s playlist, I’m sure….and maybe a part of me really still is 10 years old. But there is something about the nobility inherent within of the sound of French horns combined with the sense of urgency provided by the underlying strings within these two instrumentals that gets my blood going. Go ahead and call me weird – because I call myself a lot worse). My pace quickens yet again as music from Motorhead, Rush, Fuel, and Pearl Jam fill my ears. Then the pace settles into a nice steady rhythm as the “music” portion of my playlist ends and I begin running to the various military cadences. The consistent droning in my ears of drill sergeants gets me up the east side of the outer loop, to the base of Harlem Hill (which in the northwest corner of the park). As I see the base of the Hill in the distance, I switch back to proper music to motivate me up the hill. The theme songs from Superman and The Natural seem to do it for me. As I head south down the west side drive of the outer loop, I look for my finishing music: the soundtrack from the original Pirates of the Caribbean film. I clipped off six miles in just under an hour. My legs felt loose and I left the park with a clear head – which is another great benefit of these solo, introverted runs.

These types of recovery runs are important because they allow me to stretch my legs out the day after a rough workout. They also are a prime opportunity to try out new running gear, break in new running shoes, or try something different. Today I tried a new pair of Nike running shorts. While they felt comfortable whilst standing still , they also had what I’d like to refer to as a “sense of adventure” while I was in motion. What do I mean by a “sense of adventure”? Well these shorts decided to boldly go where not even my primary care physician is permitted to explore. Bottom line: running six miles is hard enough – running it while strategically fending off an atomic wedgie is just not fair. So there are some Sundays where I am my own “lab rat”.

That last statement made me think. Since I become my own “lab rat” on Sundays, and you all are coming along for the ride, I guess that makes all of you honorary lab rats as well. So, lab rats, here’s my first question to each of you:

You’re at the bottom of a horrid-looking hill. You need one song to help motivate you up to the crest. Which song on your ipod do you select?

I look forward to hearing all of your thoughts!


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

The Long Run – The Most Important Run of the Week

Saturday, July 24th 2010…..Up at 6am.  TFK is meeting at 7am, and I need to leave within 20 minutes in order to make it on time.  I quickly hop into the shower and, still being half asleep, I promptly screw up the concept of left vs. right.  You see, on the left is the hot water nozzle of the shower.  On the right: the cold.  I reached out, turned a nozzle, and was immediately awakened by a large VERY COLD dose of Chateau Bloomberg, vintage 2010.  I considered this mistake to be Freudian in nature – some part of my mind must have determined that a dose of cold water at 6am was a required element.  But something else felt weird, standing in my bathtub at that hour of the morning…..and then I looked down and realized that I left my boxers on.  Ah yes – a true sign of things to come, I’m sure.  As I was drying off, my brain actually began to function normally – and I realized that today was Saturday…..which means it’s time for my weekly long run.  As this thought entered my rather dense cranium, the first thing I reached for was Body Glide.  Body Glide, quite simply, is a distance runner’s savior.  It is applied to any spots on the body that might experience friction and the resulting chaffing over longer periods of exercise.  After applying some of this waxy stuff to some key areas (oh please – don’t expect details on this one, folks – I’ll let your minds get creative…lol), I quickly got changed into running attire that fits me most comfortably (which is another VERY important ingredient to a successful long run – never wear anything that causes any form of irritation to your skin during runs like these), laced up my sneakers, grabbed my bottles of water and headed out to practice.

I stopped into a local deli for my Saturday morning ritual – a bacon & egg on a roll and a bottle of orange Gatorade to enjoy as I walked to the southwest corner of Central Park, TFK’s meeting spot for the day.  By the time I arrived, the group was already beginning to form up nicely.  40-50 runners, most first-time marathoners, surrender weekend sleep every Saturday morning and travel various distances in order to run with the TFK at the wee hours of the morning.  Fortunately for me, my commute is rather easy: a 20 minute walk southeast from my apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 

At 7am this morning, the temperature was 90 degrees.  The humidity was easily 85-90% – I could tell because I was already having a very bad hair day.  I left the house looking like Gordon Gekko, and I arrived at practice looking like Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.  Due to the heat, the coaches decided to trim back the overall workout – so as we stood around waiting for the practice to begin, I downed another bottle of orange Gatorade.  I’m providing you with that last little detail because it will come in to play in just a moment….

The workout was scheduled to be a 9-11 mile run along the park’s bridal path, and I started out feeling chipper.  As usual, I began running my mouth trying to make my teammates laugh as we clocked one mile after another.  We headed North on the path from approximately 62nd street all the way up to 102nd, and then the path itself hangs a right and heads east.  As it draws closer to the East side of the park at 102nd, the path hangs another left and we headed south toward the east side drive.  By the time we got to 90th street, I was saturated – it was as if I were 6 years old again, and I danced in a sprinkler on my front lawn on a hot summer day.  I was getting thirsty again, and fortunately for us the TFK staff set up a water stop – complete with Gatorade – at the Engineer’s Gate (which is the entrance to the Park that the Marathon course takes at 90th Street and 5th Avenue).  So I downed two cups, gathered with the group, and set off again, Southbound.

When the group turned around to head back in the opposite direction at the southernmost point of the bridal path’s Reservoir loop, I began to feel odd.  My legs were fine, my wind was coming and going pretty well….but something was off.  I thought to myself, “maybe I am still dehydrated – better get some water on the way back as well”.  So I slowed my pace until I got to the TFK water stop again, and chugged 2 more cups of the orange elixir.  After chucking the plastic cups in the garbage, I picked up my pace in order to catch up to my group.  As I approached the northeast corner of the bridal path, my stomach had a rather urgent conversation with my brain.  It went a little something like this…:

Stomach: “Hey brain – you’re an idiot.  You just overloaded me with some orange crap that just royally upset everything else in here. 

Brain: “Hey buddy – good to hear from you.  Just thought I’d try to help you out.  How’s that Gatorade working out for ya?”

Stomach: “Dude – we were just fine down here.  Everybody was getting along.  The eggs were hanging out with bacon.  The roll was minding its own business, hanging out in the corner being a bit antisocial if you ask me.  Then you send some of that orange crap down here, and everyone figured hey – open bar! 

Brain: “There you go, buddy – I’m always looking out for ya.  You’re my paisan – you know that.  Did you like the linguini a la…..”

Stomach:  “Stai zitto (which, for all of you playing the home game, means “shut up!” in Italian.  My stomach is more Italian than the rest of me)!!  Things were just perfect down here.  But then you continued to dump more of that orange crap down your extra large gullet.  Now you pissed off everybody down here and we’d all like to have a word with you….”

Brain: “Buddy, I don’t understand – what do you mean, have a word with….”

Throat: “Sorry to interrupt this love fest – but something’s come up.  Brain – tell the legs to stop what they’re doing.  Stomach – I see its last call and you’re kicking everyone out.”

…..and with that, I got sick.

 After the nausea subsided and I emerged from the trees like a befuddled Sasquatch, I attempted to right my ship and get myself back on course.  I’ve felt like this before: last year I ran the Marine Corps. Marathon and repeatedly got sick to my stomach from mile 16 on.  I somehow finished the race  – but it was the worst running day of my life.  My stomach at this moment felt exactly like it did during that marathon.  I struggled through the rest of mileage, at one point teaming up with a TFK coach to get me through the roughest spots, and finished up by stretching with the Team before heading home.

Lesson learned: before race day, figure out what your body needs to stay properly hydrated.  And too much fluid – especially something like Gatorade – isn’t always a good thing.  Work with your coaches (and, if you have one, your nutritionist) to figure out just the right combination of foods and fluids that you need for optimal performance.  I haven’t been focusing on this well enough….and Saturday was just the message I needed to receive.


“I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”     – Jesse Owens

T.G.I.F.I.M.D.O.!!! (Thank God It’s Friday It’s My Day Off!!)

…..and NO, that doesn’t mean that I’m taking today off from work, sitting in the wonderful air conditioning, watching DVDs and ordering a pizza from Dean’s.  All it means is that I refrain from exercising today in preparation for Saturday morning’s long run.  From speaking with coaches and reading some marathon training books, one message always rings true: resting your body from time to time is really important in order to reduce the risk of injury and optimize ongoing performance.  To me, taking a day off from running makes me…..well…..nutso.  Why? Because each Friday I wake up craving the same amount of calories that I do for any day that has a scheduled workout on the calendar.  Knowing that I’m not running or hitting the gym, I am forced to curb my hunger for really tasty, not-so-good-for-me treats.  And that……….makes……………….CRANKY.

In order to properly combat these Friday cravings for Oreos & cold milk (a balanced breakfast), two slices from Bari’s Pizza (the lunch of champions), 4 cans of Diet Coke (need the caffiene rush), and an order of Kung Po chicken & mushu pork for dinner (mmmmmmm…..say it with me: MSG!), I am trying something new.  Each Friday, I try to really focus on my diet more than any other day of the week.  every time I say NO to that Oreo (with tears in my eyes – crap those things are good), I think of it as a form of exercising.  And saying NO to those little black & white pieces of heaven is a heck of a lot harder for me to do than finishing a 5 mile tempo run.  Why, you might ask?  Because I am not disciplined.  AT ALL.

I have been battling my weight all my life.  I have never looked or felt the way I always wanted to.  Once in a while I’d go on a workout tear, completely overdo it, eat heavily while in the midst of it with the rationalization that my body needed the extra fuel……….and then, one day, I’d be too tired to hit the gym and work out – so I’d rest.  And then the next day, I wouldn’t feel like going to the gym either – so I would take another day off.  Two days off turns into 5.  Which turns into 2 weeks.  Now all positive momentum is killed on the exercise front – but I’m still eating as if my body needed that extra fuel.  Within 2 weeks of ending my exercise kick, I will usually have weighed MORE than when I started.  It was a long, ugly process.  letting myself gain weight in such a fashion affected my self-image and my confidence, and it is my belief that it was one of the contributing factors to me falling slowly into the darkest period of my life. 

(Now I won’t be delving into that dark period in this blog.  Instead, I am documenting that period of my life as well as how I reclaimed my life in my upcoming book, entitled For My Sins.  I’ll let everyone know when it becomes available.)

So how did I break the vicious cycle?  Well, I found a goal – running a marathon.  With a large goal dangling in front of me several months away, I began to develop and follow a longer-term training schedule, and I stayed focused on my exercise regimen for a much longer, effective period of time.  The end result was obvious to myself – my self-confidence returned and physical changes were obvious (based on the funhouse mirror I had installed in my bedroom).  Now for you readers, I am not suggesting that your first goal should be a marathon.  It could be anything – a local 5k race, a 25 bike race, a local swim meet – anything at all.  But in my humble, uneducated opinion, having a clear goal (one that doesn’t appear to be very easy – one that would take some real effort to accomplish) really helps keep a person stay focused and contributes to long-term results. 

So as I accomplished that first goal of running a marathon, the emotional lift and thorough sense of accomplishment I enjoyed made my immediately crave more.  I upped the ante as far as goals were concerned, always trying to go bigger and better.  Thinking longer term, that’s something you all can do, once you have attained your first goal / objective…..immediately set another one.  One that’s slightly bigger / more challenging.  That way you don’t rest on your laurels and fall right back into a prior routine that wasn’t as healthy as the one you just enjoyed.

To illustrate how my goals have grown since I began distance running in 2005, I’ll just very quickly compare my 2009 -2010 marathon goals to the ones I have set for myself for the 2010 – 2011 marathon season.  In the 2009 – 2010 season, I ran the Goofy Race & A Half Challenge in Orlando (which is a half marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon the next day) in January.  Then I prepared myself all summer for a very difficult goal: finishing 3 full marathons in a month.  I ran the Hartford Marathon in early October.  2 weeks later I was in D.C. for the Marine Corps. Marathon.  The very next Sunday was the race that I plan my whole year around: the ING New York City Marathon.  I was able to complete this difficult goal, and it left me still hungry for more.  So this marathon season I have a slightly broader list of goals to attain.  I may start my year in Canada, running in a marathon in Alberta.  About six weeks later, I begin a series of races that will push me harder then last year, with marathons in Hartford (October), New York City (November), Philadelphia (November), Vegas (December), Goofy’s Race & A Half Challenge (January), Miami (January), and Ft. Lauderdale (February).  I am not looking any further down the road than February, because I think that list will test my threshhold pretty well. 

(The reason I just listed my 2010 – 2011 goals is because now I’ve put it out there for others to see.  That makes it much harder for me to blow my goal off, and will futher help me focus on the tasks at hand.)

If I am going to attain this year’s goals, I have to follow my training schedule and the advice of the experts – my coaches.  They all say I need to rest each Friday – let the body heal.  All I can say is….yes sir.  So…..where did I leave my remote control?  Until tomorrow!!

“pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity.”   – Michael Johnson

Joseph [jo-sef] (noun) – A guy that waddles through marathons, whining like a mule along the way….

Yesterday I mentioned that my marathon training team, The New York Road Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”), meets three times a week in Central Park to run as a group.  Mondays are usually tempo runs – runs that are designed to add to a runner’s overall mileage base, run at a pace that’s consistent and can be improved upon as training goes on.  Wednesdays are “speed work” days – where we spend our time running up hills (as the old runner’s saying goes: “Hills are speedwork in disguise”) or doing “pick-ups” (which are the types of runs I described in yesterday’s installment.  Saturdays are “long run” days.  These runs are the foundation and the key to distance running success, because the runner adds on a mile or two each week to his/her prior week’s total, thereby getting the entire body used to the feeling of running for longer periods of time without rest.  For example: last Saturday I ran 10.5 miles along the Hudson River with TFK.  By the end of the run, I felt as if a tap dancer was perched atop my head dancing along to Singin’ in the Rain, while an elephant sat on my chest as two trolls used my legs as a wishbone.  (I just read that last sentence to myself several times, and each time I was left with the same thought: God that was weird.  So weird…..I’m going to leave it in and just move along….).  I was not caught by surprise – I’ve gone on runs much longer than 10.5 miles.  I knew how the run was going to make me feel, and I was not doing cartwheels due to the pending excitement (….because if I WERE doing cartwheels AT ANY TIME, anyone standing nearby has the legal right to backslap me into coherence).  As much as I was NOT excited about the aftermath, I ran the distance anyway….because I know how important the long run is.

This coming Saturday is my next long run – 12 miles.  Estimated temperature in the park for Saturday….94 degrees….and humid.  Oy.  Not excited.  But I’ll do it anyway.  Fortunately for me, today is not Saturday!  

Now aside from these three TFK group training days, each runner is expected to do addiitonal weekly work.  This consists of an easy runs or cross training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a light recovery run on Sundays.  Friday is a pure rest day, since it’s the day prior to the weekly long run.  Cross training for me consists of lifting weights, light stretching, and abdominal work.  Cross training is pretty important because it allows the runner to develop some stregnth and work the muscles of the boday that aren’t primarily stressed during running sessions.  Marathon running is definitely a full-body experience – after the race, muscles that you never knew you had will hurt.  So working out the entire body helps your endurance and overall performance…or at least that’s what I’ve read!  LOL This is the first time in my life that I’m actually following a strict training regimen without “falling off the waggon” one month into the program.  I’m hoping that I’ll see results along this journey.

So today I’m hitting the gym and working out for about an hour.  No running AT ALL.  I need to work on my abdominals most of all, since strong abs help running posture and overall endurance. 

Tomorrow…..REST.   Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Until tomorrow, my friends!

Atmosphere is key……

Wednesday, July 21st….For all of the New Yorkers reading this (and I’m guessing that total is approximatly….well…one thus far), the odds are that you know the basics about Central Park.  As a result, you will probably be able to picture my daily marathon training stomping ground.  But for those of you playing the home game, I’ll take a few minutes to describe the atmosphere of the park, because that’s where I’ll be spending so much of my training time over the course of the coming months before getting in to Wednesday’s workout with my team.

Central Park is basically looked at as the heart of Manhattan.  It rests smack in the center of the island, designed in a rectangle with points located on 59th street and 5th Avenue (the SE Corner of the park), Colunbus Circle (the SW Corner of the park), 110th Street and 5th Avenue (the NE Corner of the park), and 110th Street and Central Park West (the NW Corner of the park).   Legnthwise, the park is approximately 2 1/2 miles from South to North, and approximately 7/10 of a mile from east to west.  There are five small bodies of water within the park: “The Pond” (located in the southeast corner), “The Lake” (located in the 70’s, smack in the center of the park), “Turtle Pond” (just south the Great Lawn), “The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir” (from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s, smack in the middle of the park), and “Harlem Meer” (located in the northeast corner).   Within the park, there is one major “roadway” that runs in a long oval along the outer edges – this is called the “outer loop”, and it covers approximately 6 miles.   This “outer loop” is used by the New York Road Runners (“NYRR”) for almost all of their annual races. 

Winding in and out of the park is also a dirt path referred to as “The Bridal Path”  It begins in the southwest corner of the park near 62nd street and Columbus Circle, and winds its way north, hugging the westernmost boarder of the park for approximately 1 mile.  Then it turns eastward, into the park, and heads toward The Reservior.  There begins a loop of approximately 2 miles.  Many avid runners enjoy running The Bridal Path because the firm dirth path is easier on a runner’s joints than consistently running on asphalt or concrete.  Since a marathoner trains 4-5 days a week for five months on average, he/she should take every precaution NOT to get injured before race day – so running on dirt is a reeeeeeally good idea.  At first I couldn’t stand running on The Bridal Path….but now I am completely hooked.   This Bridal Path is where the team that I run with – The New York Road Runners Team for Kids – consistently practices each Monday and Wednesday evening from April – November.

Before I move on and briefly speak about today’s workout, I want to add one more thing about Central Park: quite simply it is my favorite place in the city to spend time.  Whenever I need to decompress (which is quite often because I’m usually wound up tighter than a cheap watch), I throw on my running shoes, grab my ipod, and head to the park.  There’s something about this plot of land that relaxes me – recharges my batteries.  Within the park, a person’s privacy is part of the public trust.

I’m picking this blog up approximately 7-8 weeks into our training schedule.  The New York Road  Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”) has developed a training program that asks its team members to show up at 6pm each Monday and Wednesday evening to develop a base of milageage that will help us prepare for longer runs, performed as a team in various locations within the city each Saturday morning.  At this stage of the training program, the team is logging 5-6 miles each Monday evening at a steady pace (my pace is roughly 10 minutes per mile…….but don’t quote me on that, because I tell my time by judging the sun’s location in the sky – who needs a Garmin?).  On Wednesdays, the team performs speedwork…..and that, quite honestly, is ROUGH.  Especially for a guy like me, who runs as if a baby grand is on his back.

Today’s workout was two loops around The Reservior, working in 2 or 3 minute “pickups” – which is a period of increased effort above your normal jogging pace (usually 75% of your overall speed).  Now two minute sprints such as this doesn’t sound too hard…..but for a turtle like me, it’s HELL.  Especially since you only get 60 seconds to catch your breath before you start another 2-3 pickup.  YUCK. 

While I’m pushing myself, I feel like death warmed over.  However, as I’m coming down the last hill, heading toward my backpack, my waterbottle, and air conditioning, I feel a sense of small accomplishment.  I wanted to shut it down today – felt like taking a few of the pickups off because quite frankly I was tired, they were hard, and I was getting cranky.  But i didn’t quit – and that sole fact let’s me know that I will be ready for November 7th.

A Quick Preview

I’ve decided to begin a blog that will track my training and corresponding life experiences while preparing for the upcoming 2010 – 2011 marathon season.  While this might sound a tad boring, I can assure you that I lead a rather full and interesting life.   And its contents can be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people, in my humble opinion:

For all of you avid runners out there that clock in 6-7-8 minute miles, this blog will allow you laugh hysterically as I attempt to train myself to make the leap from ridiculously slow to just plain…..well…..slow.  For you see, I really am built for comfort – not speed.  I’m 5’11”, and weigh 201 pounds.  I’ve lifted weights since high school, when I played QB for the Fordham Prep Rams.  I was introduced to cardio-vascular workout (i.e., running…..yuck) during college, when I rowed for the Iona College Crew.  After college….well….life simply got in the way of me actually maintaining my level of physical fitness.  That, at least, is the politically correct version of the story.  In reality, fell in love with all things BAD FOR ME.  I hit rock botttom and began to dig.  Now those life stories aren’t going to be included in this blog; instead, they are the foundation of the novel that I am in the middle of completing.  I’ll make sure to let everyone know when it’s going to press.  The title is going to be For My Sins…..and trust me, I committed a TON of them.  But sins, when seen through the eyes of an amateur comedian, can sound quite funny……  So all you speed demons out there, sit back and have some laughs at my expense – because the person I love to make fun of the most…….me.

For all of you fellow back-of-the-packers that have trained for / are training for a marathon, I think you’ll especially enjoy this one.  Why?  Because I have made every dumb distance running mistake in the book, and I’m sure there will be at least one or two that you’ll think to yourself “……huh, I remember doing that exact same thing…”.  Knowing that other people make that – as well as many more – mistakes may help you put things in perspective.  Being fast is a great goal.  It takes a lot of hard work (and Lord knows I hate hard work.  I try to avoid it like the plague), and improvement comes with time – so patience is key.  Having goals, regardless of how silly or out-of-reach they may sound to others, are the carrots dangling in front of us back-of-the-packers (which I lovingly refer to as turtles) that will allow us to improve over time.  My goal – and it might be your’s as well – is to graduate from the rank of turtle to the stature of hare.  My friends may look at me when they hear this lofty goal and say “Sure Joe – that sounds great.  Want an Oreo?” So this blog will help me stay focused on my goals….and maybe it can help you keep on track as well.  So I ask you to follow me as I go through my training, and have a bunch of laughs along the way….maybe it can help keep you motivated as your own training gets tougher as the mileage increases. 

For those of you that are thinking about running a marathon for the first time, this will be sound evidence that you CAN do it.  Because if I can pull this off, ANYONE can.  I am not a natural athlete.  I’m not thin and lean.  I’m not easily motivated.  I lack focus.  I don’t eat healthy 100% of the time.  I complain A LOT.   And…with all of those negative personality traits firmly in place within my pea-sized brain, I’ve managed to complete 10 marathons since November 2005.  You’ll learn that the body will only carry you to a certain point along the marathon course, and then it hits The Wall.  At that moment, the road forces you to look inside yourself and find the courage to keep moving forward.  Either that – or quit.  Now I may be slow….not in the greatest shape….and I may lack focus….HOWEVER, one thing I hate is failing at achieving a goal.  I’ve run smack into The Wall – HARD – ten times.  Each time I didn’t let the road get the best of me.  And if I can do it….YOU CAN DO IT. 

For those of you that simply like to laugh,  you’ll have TONS of chuckles, multiple gaffaws, and numerous snickers purely at my expense.   And I’m sure I’ll deserve every one of them. 

For my friends and relatives,  you’ll be able to keep tabs on how I’ve been spending my time outside of my office.  And also laugh at my expense.  Call me a few names under your breath.  I’m sure I deserve it – Lord kows I never pick up the phone any more – I deserve to be bluggeoned over the head with a wet noodle 20 times.

So let the games (and the laughter) begin!

This effort is dedicated to the people closest to me – MY FAMIGLIA. 

And a special shout-out to my team: The New York Road Runners Team for Kids.  Helping over 100,000 New York city school kids fight childhood obesity every single day.  Thank you teammates and coaches, for helping me stay motivated.  2010 marks my 6th ING New York City Marathon – and 4th with the Team for Kids (simply referred to as “TFK”)…and if you are ever thinking of running the NYC Marathon for the first time, this team is the WAY TO GO.