Races Running

The Philadelphia Broad Street Run: One Year Later

I may tell people I’m training this year for the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon, but there’s one race scheduled this spring that’s nearer and dearer to my heart – the Philadelphia Broad Street 10 Miler.

That’s the race that started it all for me. An unfathomable distance in January 2011 to my then sedentary self, I’d initially laughed at my friends’ suggestions to join them and scoffed at their declarations that they would “run slow.”

“How slow?” I’d asked in my early 2011 e-mail reply. “I’ve never run so far before in my life and could only do it at a pace of about 2 mph.”

Clocking in at my all-time heaviest, my weight may have been through the roof, but my self-confidence –particularly when it came to my athletic prowess – was off-the-charts low.

If you’ve been reading my blog since the start (Hi, ClaireBear!), you know that I ended up manning up, registering for the race and sustaining a surprise 9:20.29 pace.

What you may not know, however, is that I had tears streaming down my face for all 10 miles (hello dehydration) because I was just so proud to be achieving something that four months earlier I’d known to be impossible. As I mustered my last ounce of strength and sprinted my way across the finish line into the Philadelphia Navy Yard, I felt a sense of unparalleled gratification like I’d never before felt in my life.

My Dad, who had driven 100 miles that morning just to see me race, summed it up in an e-mail the next day: “I am SO pleased that I got to see you at The Finish Line after yesterday’s Broad Street 10-miler.  I think I will always remember you best at that moment: pumped, euphoric, glowing, and so-very-happy.”

And I was.

So imagine my heart-wrenching disappointment when I went to register for this year’s race in mid-February only to be alerted on the website that all 30,000 slots had already been filled.

With six spring races already on my schedule, it’s not like I needed to race the Broad Street Run again this year. But with this event carrying for me such personal and powerful memories of my running debut, it pained me a little inside to know I wouldn’t be back this year to show Philadelphia the same love it had shown me, especially when two of my best friends had secured spots of their own.

I was just about prepared to resign myself to the role of spectator (and non-racing cheesesteak taste tester) this year, when I stumbled across a new link on the Broad Street Run website: The Second Chance Lottery.

“Because registration for the 2012 Blue Cross Broad Street Run exceeded wildest expectations with over 30,000 runners registering in a record five hours,” the fresh new webpage read. “We have institued a second chance lottery for an additional 2500 runners to be permitted into the event.”

Lotteries – like British accents and Middle Eastern peace talks – have never been my strong suit, but I knew I had nothing to lose, so I threw my credit card information in their faces and waited.

And waited. And waited.

Ten days – or how long it takes Kate Hudson to lose a guy – later, having concluded Oscar season and all but forgotten about the lottery, I opened my e-mail this morning to find this note:

I’m in! I’m really in! And I’m so very, very thankful.

And now tell me something wonderful that’s happened to you today!

Running Training

Avoiding Cross-Training Like the Plague

There are times I’ll willingly step out of my comfort zone. Wearing electric blue pants in the light of day? Fine. Ordering the tasting menu at Manzo, complete with a petit filet of bovine tongue? No big deal. Helping my pilot friend fly a two-seater plane over the San Diego Bay last weekend? Done and done.

But when it comes to adding cross-training to my weekly workout schedule, the likelihood of me donning a pair of spin shoes or striking a child’s pose in yoga is about the same as Rick Santorum winning the popular vote in Chelsea.

My aversion to cross-training is mostly an efficiency thing: In the time it takes to pack a gym bag, walk to the YMHA, go through the metal detector (what, your gym doesn’t have airport-caliber security?), claim a locker and make my way to the 4th floor cardio studio, I know I could have already covered a mile and a half on foot if I’d forwent cross-training and opted for a good old fashioned run instead.

It doesn’t help either that the adult workout classes offered at my gym at convenient hours mostly sound excruciating – things like “Aqua Fusion” or “Total Body Groove” or “Spending Time with Cats.” Paired with a crippling fear that the instructor will use me as an example of “how not to do a pushup correctly” in front of the entire group fitness class, that’s enough to keep my exercise routine refreshingly singular.

But in the spirit of Leap Day week, I’m going to take a page from Liz Lemon’s fictionalized playbook and try something new in the weeks ahead: cross-training at least once a week.

(Confession: this should already be on my schedule, since my current 10K training plan requires 60 minutes of cross-training every Saturday. My cross-training yesterday consisted of watching my boyfriend and his roommate rearrange furniture in the morning and tapping my toes along to The Artist at night. That may or may not actually qualify as actual exercise. I can’t be sure.)

But what kind of cross-training is best for a busy New Yorker? I posed the question to one of my blog idols, and she suggested SoulCycle, the high-energy spin-sation that has claimed to have “taken the world of fitness by storm.” I’ve heard great things from everyone and their mother about these classes, but at $32 a pop, they seem a little hard to justify on top of my monthly 92Y membership fee. (Funny how I can be so frugal on some fronts and so lavish on others. Last weekend, for example, I spent significantly more than that for a butter-infused vodka cocktail and a couple rounds of Wylie Dufresne’s bacon-wrapped hotdogs w/ deep fried mayonnaise. Priorities, people.)

If I’m really trying to be economical here, my best bet is to try out some classes at my home gym. 7 p.m. is a hard target when you manage a daily newspaper, but I’m hoping if I really bust my butt, I can make it to a 7:05 cardio kickboxing session tomorrow. Other ideas: testing out my gym’s indoor pool, streaming a Pilates workout on my laptop or intentionally leaving my Metrocard in my fifth-floor walk-up. Or I could just wait three weeks until soccer season begins again.

What’s your favorite form of cross-training? And can I tag along?


40 Days of Fitness

Very few holidays fall on Wednesdays, and those that do as part of their calendared schedule usually elicit widespread revulsion for their brazen decision to situate themselves midweek.

Seriously. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar:

“Can you believe it?! Halloween is on a Wednesday this year. A WEDNESDAY. Ugggh.”

If you’ve been alive for more than seven years, I guarantee that rings a bell. (And if you’ve been alive for less than seven years, congratulations on your exemplary computer skills but please stop reading my blog.)

But while I’ve never heard anyone shriek in delight to learn that New Year’s Eve would be coinciding with Hump Day this year, there is one post-Tuesday/pre-Thursday event that seems to slip by annually with little negative kickback: Ash Wednesday.

I’m not going to get into a whole history of Ash Wednesday here because 1. It’s late. and 2. (please stop reading here if you happen to be my Godmother) This lapsed Episcopalian’s recollection of Ash Wednesday’s origination is a little fuzzy.

What I do know, however, is that it kickstarts the happy-go-lucky season of Lent, a 40-day observance of prayer and penitence for some and the commencement of Cadbury Creme Egg season for others. (I’ll let you guess which camp I fall into.)

My childhood Lents were always marked by some form of self-denial – usually the renunciation of dessert after my mother shot down my lame yearly renunciation of homework – but this year, I’ve opted to observe the season proactively instead. Rather than forgoing red wine or cursing like many of you more disciplined people out there, I’m going to maintain mindfulness by upping my strength training routine over the next 40 days.

I’m still in the final days of Fab Ab February (there’s totally a six-pack hiding behind that Thai food I ate for lunch), but once Leap Day concludes, I’ve created a new supplemental schedule to last me through Easter. Unlike the Fab Ab February calendar that I stole from the internet, I made this bad boy myself in Microsoft Paint. (People tell me there are now other digital art programs besides Microsoft Paint, but I’m not sure who to ask about them. Maybe an editor at a daily newspaper?)

It’s so artistically crafted that I expect it will go viral.

What’s your Lenten resolution? (If it involves giving up cursing or wine, I’ll talk to you post-Resurrection.)

Food Travel

Traveling Light

As difficult as it may be to eat healthy in New York – especially after Shake Shack decided its flagship restaurant 0.4 miles from my office wasn’t sufficient and opted to open a second East Side hub 0.3 miles from my apartment – eating well while traveling is infinitely harder.

There are a lot of things you shouldn’t take my word for (example: that the 5-second rule still applies in NYC bars), but trust me on this one: maintaining a healthy lifestyle while on the road is hands down one of the hardest – but most rewarding – skills I’ve ever had to master.

Why should you believe me? Because I’m writing this from San Diego.

During the height of conference season, my job has me frequenting LaGuardia at least twice a month. And besides learning who not to follow through the security checkpoint (Midwest women transporting a backpack of snow globes), my airport education has also taught me that preparation is key when it comes to Cinnabon-free transcontinental travel.

It’s impossible to be as regimented with your eating and workout schedules as you’d like when living out of a suitcase, but I’ve learned a little advanced planning can make all the difference between overstepping your daily calorie intake by 200 – and vaulting past it by 2,000.

And that’s about the best you can ask for when you’re washing your hair with a 3-ounce bottle of shampoo.

Here are my top tips for how to survive a few kitchen-less days of travel without sabotaging a week’s worth of good behavior.


A growing number of airlines have stopped offering complementary soft drinks, so you can kiss your chance of getting a bag of peanuts good-bye. And with 84% of all domestic flights (I made up that number) into New York delayed, when your stomach starts growling, if you’re not prepared, you’re going to find yourself leaving the closest Hudson News with a jumbo-sized KitKat and a sinking feeling of regret. Not only will that chocolate bar set you back 410 calories, but it will rob you of $4.95 that could have been spent buying coke in a glass harmonica from a Mitch Hedbgerg-inspired mini-fridge once you arrive at your destination.

Having an arsenal of your everyday snacks in your carry-on luggage is the key to evading such a fate. When I left my apartment for this trip, for example, I came prepared with dual ziplocks of red pepper strips and dried nectarines. Did the low-cal snacks last me all the way to my Chicago lay-over? Nope. But they kept me from ordering a $12 breakfast sandwich made from powdered eggs in the Southwest terminal.

Non-bruisable fruit (oranges, apples, etc.), nuts and low-sugar granola bars also make an easy go-to, but if you don’t have anything in the cupboards to bring with you, never fear – there are healthy options for sale in the airport if you take the time to look for them. They will undoubtedly cost more than their non-airport counterparts (I paid almost $4 – or the cost of a NYC happy hour beer – for a Chiobani yogurt in the airport Thursday), but I’d wager it was worth it in the long run.

(Also, note to all the yogurt executives out there who read my blog: why doesn’t anyone make yogurt in 3-ounce containers that can make it through security?  You would make a killing, particularly from me.  Please steal my idea and make it happen. Thanks.)


You may not be able to maintain your usual workout routine when you’re 2,700 miles from your gym, but if you make the time to squeeze in even a little bit of exercise while on the road, you’re still going to be a step ahead of the game. Most hotels these days have at least a semblance of a fitness center, and those that don’t will usually recommend nearby running paths where you can sneak away for a quick sweat once your conference sessions break for the day. Not only will you get your workout in, but you’ll get the chance to explore a new city in a different way. (Note: not recommended if your conference is in downtown Baltimore, unless your running partner carries a sawed-off shotgun.)

If you’re short on time, you can even work out right in your hotel room. I tend to favor less-intense in-room workouts, like watching Groundhog Day on TBS, but when I found myself in my room Thursday with 20 minutes to kill, I queried my brother via text for some advice.

I’m not sure why I asked him. It’s not like he’s in shape or anything.

Next time you’re in need of a small-space workout that will really get your heart pumping, follow my marine brother’s prescription:

  • 50 squats
  • 40 lunges
  • 30 sit-ups
  • 20 star jumps
  • Repeat for 20 minutes. “Work hard,” he says.

(If you do it, let me know how it goes. Because I ignored his advice and go for a 3-mile tempo run instead.)


Eating healthy and meeting your fitness goals is always hard, and it’s significantly harder when you’re on the road. Give it your best shot, but if you only make it 90-percent of the way there, take pride in knowing you’ve still done better than everyone else at the conference. (Although you’ve probably done worse than my brother. Let’s be honest here.)

What are your best tips for maintaining momentum while on the road?

Food Races

Willpower or Lack Thereof

I have never been good with temptation. Out of sight, out of mind may work for the more evolved among us, but if I know there’s an entire tray of blueberry muffins cooling in the kitchen, I know I’m not getting anything done until I’ve devoured one. (On a totally unrelated note: Hey roommate, I ate two of your muffins.)

I’ve tried every trick in the book to cure my sheer lack of willpower. But my edition must be a choose-your-own adventure book, because no matter how many times I leave the room or take a walk or make some tea in an attempt to divert my attention, I always end up flipping to the same exact page where the protagonist kills the dragon, wins the girl and eats a muffin. (I’m telling you, Betty Crocker: stop writing choose-your-own adventure books.)

For years, my ability to hone in on something with such a single-minded focus that it would make a pointer proud has been an indisputable negative for me, culminating in countless trips to the fridge and/or size 14 dress rack.

But not anymore.

Don’t get me wrong – my utter lack of self-control hasn’t gone anywhere – but after years of fighting it, I’ve finally realized how I can bottle it and use it to my advantage: apply it to my workout regimen. Once I’ve gotten a whiff of something – be it a breakfast pastry or a 10-mile road race – my tenacity, drive and just plain stubbornness will see me through to the end.

(And at the end, I can totally justify said breakfast pastry.)

(Thanks for sharing, Sarah! Although I'm not sure whether I should be flattered or offended that this made you think of me.)

Besides next month’s 10K (and October’s marathon, you know, whatever), I hadn’t had any upcoming races on my radar to keep me focused throughout the spring season. As a result, I’ve spent the last several weeks logging miles haphazardly with no real distance/pace/celebrity-sighting objectives, and as the kind of person who thrives on goals, it simply wasn’t working for me.

Fortunately, the New York Road Runners’ spring race registration began today, and I’ve secured myself a spot in four Central Park events, providing me the perfect mix of liveliness (running in a race!) and laziness (running in a race 2 minutes from my apartment!) I may add more as the season progresses, but for now, I’m registered for:

New York Colon Cancer Challenge 15K
Sunday, April 1

Scotland Run 10K
Saturday April 7

UAE Healthy Kidney 10K
Saturday, May 12

FRNY Lesbian and Gay Pride Run
Saturday, June 23

If you’re a New Yorker, come join me for one of them! If you’re a non-New Yorker, come join me for one of them anyways! No matter where you’re hailing from, I promise the post-race festivities will include muffins.

What’s on your race schedule this spring?


Five a Day

Most of the advice I internalized in 1991 was probably flawed.

For instance: If your distant cousin arrives at your Chicago apartment straight of the boat from the fictionalized island of Mypos, you should absolutely bring him on a double date with the girl you want to marry. No wacky antics with ensue; no way, no how.

Likewise: If your wife dies and leaves you raising three young girls alone, the best solution is to invite her playboy brother, your comedian friend and his beaver puppet to come live in your San Francisco basement. Totally sound parenting advice.

(Clearly, most of my formative memories were made on Friday nights on ABC.)

But while the Foster-Lambert model of how best to integrate a blended family under one roof may not be worth simulating in your own post-divorce reality, at least one piece of advice I gleaned in the early 90s still holds true today:

Eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

(You may be asking yourself: did I need such a long-winded reference-laden lead-in to that statement? Did Feeney need to apply for a high school principal vacancy the same year Cory and Shawn graduated middle school? I rest my case.)

The concept of five-a-day has been drilled into us since the launch of the 1991 ad campaign, and yet, I’d venture a guess that at least three-quarters of my adult friends don’t hit that mark. (Wikipedia says more than 90-percent of Americans don’t reach the recommended intake, but I’m giving more of my friends the benefit if the doubt.)

And at the most basic level, I understand why. You can order in a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel, but try ordering in a seasonal fruit salad and you’re going to find yourself with a cup of grapes and out six bucks.

But with a little planning and creativity, the 5-a-day challenge is absolutely within reach. And more importantly: it’s worth the effort. Not only does it keep Michelle Obama off your back, but it helps keep you feeling full and hydrated, since fruits and veggies are jam packed with water and fiber and vitamins and goodness. In fact, with running, I attribute my commitment to eat more fruits and veggies with my ability to maintain my 30-pound weight loss, and that’s no small feat.

So without further ado, here’s my advice on how to get your daily plant count to five:

  • Start early. Muffins and bagels and cereal are the stuff of most American breakfasts, but if you’re waiting until noon to initiate your vegetable count, you’ve already lost 6 hours of possibilities. Instead, aim to add at least one serving of fruits or vegetables into your morning routine. For example, if you’re an oatmeal eater like I am, rather than just adding sweetener and milk and calling it a day, add a mashed banana and tablespoon of peanut butter (plus sweetener and milk, if you like your oatmeal like I like mine), and BAM – by 6 a.m., you have a delicious bowl of banana-nut goodness and only four more servings to go. You can even sneak veggies into that same bowl of oats. This morning, for example, I added a half-cup of canned pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie filling, but the pure-pumpkin stuff) to my oatmeal, plus a hearty dash of pumpkin pie spice and some milk/sweetener, and I suddenly had a breakfast that tasted like Thanksgiving AND earned me a vegetable point. Other possibilities include adding frozen or fresh berries to yogurt or cereal, stacking sliced tomatoes on your egg sandwich, dropping a heaping cup of greens into your smoothie, or – if you demand a muffin – making your own. I’ve been known to make a batch of these bad boys over the weekend and enjoy them all week, and while one carrot-raisin muffin may not include a complete serving of fruits and veggies, it will certainly bring you closer to your goal than a slice of coffee cake would have.
  • Snack early and snack often. A constant grazer, I need multiple snacks a day to maintain my energy, and I’ve found this is the best way to supercharge my veggie count, particularly at work. An apple at 10 a.m.? One down. Baby carrots and hummus at 2:30 p.m.? We’re at two. If my options are walking to the vending machine in my building or venturing outside to the grocery store for a snack, the lazy girl inside me is inclined to opt for the former, so I make sure to stock my desk drawer and office fridge with a number of options first thing Monday morning that will last me all week. Tip: if you buy five apples on Monday, you’ll be inclined to eat one a day simply so you don’t have to worry about what might happen to them if left at work over the weekend. Having fruits and veggies within reach at home is also key. I know a smart woman (not me) who chops up bell peppers and celery and carrots on Sunday nights and stores them in an airtight container in her fridge all week. That way, when she gets home from work and is aching for a snack, it’s actually easier to grab a handful of pepper strips and dip than it would have been to open a box of Thin Mints.
  • Make your vegetables delicious. If you grew up in the 90s (and I assume you did, or else you wouldn’t have made it past the first 100 words of this post), you probably ate a lot of frozen peas, steamed lima beans and microwaved broccoli florets. That’s what people ate during our childhood, and that’s why we all grew up thinking vegetables were vile. Fast forward to 2012 and the offerings of locally grown fruits and vegetables have simply skyrocketed. Case in point: I had never heard of kale in 1994; I made baked kale three times this week. Brussels sprouts were little more than a punch line in 1996; last week, I ordered them as a side dish to my Stella at a NYC bar. If you try to reach your 5-a-day chowing down on celery sticks, you’re going to burn out fast, but if you get creative with sourcing and seasoning and a couple well-placed slices of pancetta, you’re going to be much more likely to see this challenge through.

How do you sneak fruits and veggies into your diet? And can we all agree Dinosaurs was a strange addition to the TGIF line-up?


Low-Carb Dieting

When other people think about Middlebury College, I imagine they conjure up scenes of good-looking 20-somethings in matching North Face jackets making their way to 5 a.m. crew practice.

When I think about Middlebury College, I picture a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese.

That’s because the first and only time I set foot in Middlebury, Vermont, I was on a whirlwind Northeast college tour with my mother, and we were both on the South Beach diet. (How, you ask, could someone remember something so specific? Perhaps because the campus’ dining halls served Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we weren’t allowed to eat it. Coupled with first loves and N’SYNC lyrics, those are the things one never forgets.)

Anyone who found himself looking for an easy weight-loss fix during the early millennium years undoubtedly tried his hand at a low-carb diet. From Atkins to The Zone to any number of high-protein programs in between, believers were swapping carbohydrates for pork belly faster than they could say coronary artery disease. (Which, to be fair, has nine syllables, so it takes a long time to say.)

I was one of them. Armed with a Dr. Agatston’s first edition of The South Beach Diet, I entered the 14-day kickoff phase, swore off “bad carbs” from orange juice to potatoes and prepared to watch the pounds melt away.

And they did.

As I chowed down on Canadian bacon and reduced-fat cottage cheese, I found to my surprise and delight that the diet’s claims were actually coming true: the scale dropped, my belly flattened and Lloyd Dobler serenaded me with a Peter Gabriel love ballad. It appeared to my 17-year-old self that the South Beach diet was the best thing since sliced bread string-cheese.

But anyone who’s ever found himself forgoing carbohydrates for two straight weeks also knows something else: it’s simply not sustainable. Resisting breakfast cereal for 14 days can give a dieter a sense of perverse satisfaction; resisting breakfast cereal forever can give a dieter a permanent complex. Much like every other low-carb trialist out there, I quickly reverted to my old ways, regained the weight and waited idly by for the next sure-fire diet solution to come my way.

Turns out, that’s not the way it works, and it look the discovery of running and some major caloric accountability to bring myself down to size.

But while I wouldn’t force the full-blown low-carb lifestyle on my worst enemy, even I can admit I gleaned some valuable dietary advice from those arguably misguided pages. Two guiding principles I still choose to follow stand out:

  • Good carbs. Although the South Beach Diet is inherently a low-carb lifestyle, making carbs the indisputable bad guy here, the book argues that not all carbs are as far gone on their journey to the dark side. And I agree. Carbs that include soluble fiber – like fruits and vegetables, legumes and oats – slow digestion and keep you feeling full longer, making them a far superior choice to that glazed donut you were just eyeing. I may no longer read The South Beach Diet book like the bible (or the bible like the bible, for that matter), but I do still opt for whole grain toast over refined Wonder Bread.
  • Good fats. Just as not all carbs are created equal, not all fats deserve a home in the coveted top triangle of your food pyramid (that’s what she said.) Omega 3 fats – found in nuts, flaxseed, tuna and salmon – and Omega 6 fats – found in corn, safflower and sesame oils – can work wonders for a recovering athlete in ways a scoop of chemically-rendered partially hydrogenated oils can’t. I no longer adhere to the diet’s full doctrine, but its plea to choose lean proteins is one I can get behind. (Again, with the she said.)

You may be wondering why I chose to write today about a failed diet fad I attempted in October 2003. The truth is, it was just a long-winded excuse for me to post this delicious low-carb recipe I tried over the weekend:

So there you have it. The big reveal. (Seriously though, make this thing. You’ll be amazed.)

What do you know about nutrition and exercise now that you wish you’d known then? (How about fashion? Would your 2012 self let your 1992 self wear primary colored stir-up leggings? Mine would, because mine’s a jerk.)

Running Weight Loss

How I Became a Runner

This afternoon, I got my first blog post topic request from an old college friend. It read a little something like this:

blog post idea: could you write about how you first started running? like what distance and times were you doing (if you know the times). did you chart your performance or did you just run as much as you could? did you do anything other than running, like complementary weight training (also, do you do that now?)? I ask because you are my hero and I want to be you and I will probably buy you a dozen puppies before our long run this weekend.

(That last sentence might not have been part of the original text. But I can’t be sure.)

OK, anonymous blog fan whose twitter handle is @adamkommel. I’ll tell you about my formative first days as a runner. First, let’s set the stage. I know this is going to be a hard time period and backdrop to visualize, but tap into your deepest creative stores and try to imagine:

The year was 2011 and the city was New York.

After a blissfully slothful 2010, I had entered the New Year with a goal of getting my butt in gear (I believe that’s a scientific term). I immediately began tracking calories and upping my gym frequency, but since I’d made similar changes in the past with little success, I knew I needed something more.

The answer came on Jan. 4, when a favorite friend e-mailed to invite me to register for a 10-miler in Philadelphia later that spring. The offer sounded appealing enough: It is the largest 10-mile race in the country with 30,000 people, and is COMPLETELY flat and without any turns and maybe even a little downhill (only slightly).  P.S. If you join me, I will buy you a dozen puppies, per your usual terms.

Hoping the entry fee would light a fire under my lackluster exercise routine, I quickly submitted the registration form. Of course, typing in the credit card information was the easy part; now I had to get to work. A Type A personality with an affinity for schedules, I scoured the Interwebs for a training plan that someone of my athletic prowess would be able to complete. I ultimately opted for marathon guru Hal Hidgon’s plans, since they were 1. Seemingly achievable and 2. Free.

I had nearly four months between registration and race day, so I had enough time to start at Square One and build a fitness base. I began with Hal’s novice 5K plan, which had me logging accessible distances like 1.5 miles and let me be hungover on Sundays:

I didn’t chart my performance or measure my pace – I just put one foot in front of the other and ran. By the end of the training cycle, I had built enough of a base to move onto Hal’s novice 15K plan:

This 10-week program brought me up to 8 miles and powered me through the Broad Street Run. Never having timed myself during training, I had simply assumed my pace was a 12-minute mile, like my record-setting high school gym class speed. So you can imagine my surprise – and delight –  when I crossed the finish line at 1:33.23 after sustaining an average 9:20.29 pace. As my favorite 1994 fictional film character said, “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”

Of course, the downside of loving running is now I’d rather choose to log miles than to do any other form of exercise, including weight training. And you’re right, unnamed avid reader/Adam: strength conditioning is said to be the defining factor when it comes to proper running form, efficient exertion and, ultimately, shaving minutes off my race time. So with that, I give in and will adopt what many other runners have done before me: Fab Ab February.

I may be a week late to the party, but history tells me I’m bound to follow through with a scheduled workout if it’s in calendar form. And if the easy-to-read format isn’t enough to motivate me to keep this up, maybe the March vacation I just booked on a remote Caribbean island will be. Nothing says 100 sit ups like bathing suit season come early.

Now that I’m apparently taking requests, what do YOU want to learn about my running career/food choices/Forrest Gump affinity?

Races Running

Gridiron Classic Recap or: Why I’m a Terrible New Yorker

Today, Ron Burgundy and I are finding ourselves in a glass case of (mixed) emotions. On one hand, I dominated the NYRR Gridiron Classic (4M) this morning and – despite what I thought would be a detrimentally slow first mile – crossed the finish line at 31:36 and knocked my expected 8:30 race pace out of the park. (Baseball analogies on Super Bowl Sunday? That just came out of left field!)

But while I’m proud beyond belief of my unexpected 7:54 pace, I’m not proud of what I did to achieve it. Is everyone sitting down? Good. To log my new personal best, I had to do the unthinkable. I had to pretend to be a Patriots fan.

Holy Benedict Arnold! – You say. – How did such a thing ever come to pass?

Let’s backtrack to the race’s 9 a.m. kickoff.  (Here I am in the minutes before with my girl Lindsay and a row of porta-pots. They gave us the option of choosing the 1990s laser background, but we went with this one.)

Indisputable fact: this morning’s race was packed. While I loved the rampant crowd camaraderie in the minutes leading up to the starting gun, I quickly found myself cursing the multitude of participants as I tried – and failed – to begin the race at a sub-9:00 pace. I know some degree of foot traffic is to be expected in the first quarter mile of any race, but this morning felt like Times Square gridlock. On New Year’s Eve. In the foyer of Applebee’s.

According to New York Road Runners’ race statistics, 6,058 runners came out to compete this morning, and I estimate about 6,052 of them were running abreast in an impenetrable wall one step ahead of me. Wove as I may, I found myself boxed in from all sides, much like this gratuitous puppy photo. I thought the crowd might start to thin on Cat Hill, or perhaps at the first water station (here’s a course map for you kids following along at home), but as I rounded the 102nd St. Traverse, we were still elbow to elbow to five thousand other elbows. My dreams of a new PR were quickly slipping out of reach.

For all you non-New Yorkers out there, the Gridiron Classic is a football-themed race that encourages participants to wear their team jerseys/heckle each other. As runners make their way across the 102nd St. Traverse before beginning their final descent down the West Side, they’re told to divide themselves by team allegiance and run in the lane designated for their favorite franchise playing in the Big Game. Last year, I imagine Steelers and Packers fans divided themselves pretty equally between the two chutes, making for a steady flow of traffic. This year, Big Blue’s designated lane looked like the 4/5/6 at rush hour, so in the spirit of competition, I squared up my shoulders, lowered my gaze and barreled my way down the desolate Patriots lane.

I’m not proud, but those 60 seconds of uncongested roadway gave me the boost I needed to push myself hard to the finish line, allowing me to make up some lost time and secure myself a new personal best. In fact, it was fast enough that – for the very first time  – an online race calculator predicted I’d be able to finish a sub-4:00 marathon with these legs! If you don’t believe me, here’s a screen shot of my very scientific race log:

There you have it, folks. When it came to this morning’s fan breakdown, I took the racing lane less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

What did you do this weekend that left you feeling proud? How about ashamed? Those usually make for the better stories anyways.

Running Training

Double or Nothing

Before I begin this blog post, everyone get your heads out of the gutter. We’re all good? Ok.

This week, I did my first two-a-day.

Regrettably, a two-a-day is not the duo of lobsters I’d promised in an earlier post, nor is it an afternoon delight with both my boyfriend and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (Apparently, I needed you to take your head out of the gutter to make room for mine.)

For all you non-runners out there, a two-a-day is a training technique that has runners running, well, twice a day. (Creative naming was never our strong suit.) Traditionally considered a weapon in the arsenal of elite athletes only, it has quickly made its way into the routines of non-Kenyans worldwide and, on Wednesday, into mine.

Previously of the just-wake-up-and-run camp, I’d never considered legitimate fitness-honing workouts until two people I love bought me dueling subscriptions to Runner’s World and Running Times for Christmas.

(Quick aside: does anyone else get both magazines and, if so, has anyone else noticed the palpable rivalry? Check out this jab about Bill Pierce’s elite training program from a recent Running Times article: “That the program had been featured in Runner’s World had led my hard-core friends to think it wasn’t for serious runners.” Burn!)

Fortunately, I love both magazines equally, so I read both cover to cover each month, and it was in the same January 2012 Running Times that I first read about two-a-days. The article – which I would link to if the magazine put it online, but the modern print editorial model weirdly requires publications to, you know, make money – argues that breaking a day’s miles into two shorter sessions works wonders on the body.

According to author Steve Magness, the benefits are expansive. First, the obvious: “By running shorter twice, you don’t beat your body up as much as on a longer single run. Then, the physical: “You’re now running in a pre-fatigued state. Doing so allows you to access different muscle fibers that you might not normally train, or to push slightly more into the depths of glycogen depletion that would be normal.”

There’s even something for the Californian governors out there: “You get an increase in blood flow twice to help with recovery, and perhaps more importantly an increase in hormones, such as human growth hormone.” That hormonal infusion is key to getting you recovered for the next day’s training session, Magness says. Or in other words, you’ll be back.

Professional runners may break their days down into two double-digit mile sessions, but I started easy: two miles of hill repeats in the morning, followed by a four-mile tempo run at night. I’m not sure if it was the pre-fatigued muscles or the fear that I’d be pancaked by the speeding traffic they apparently let into the park at night, but my four-mile evening run flew by. I don’t own a Garmin GPS watch (hello, generous benefactors!), but it felt like I was cruising at around an 8:35 pace, which is fine in my book.

The two-a-day felt great, but more importantly, it looks great on my training log, and isn’t that what really matters here?

Speaking of doubles, my 85-year-old New England grandmother and I bet $5 on the recent Ravens-Patriots game (little did I know, she had already paid off Billy Cundiff.) Too stubborn to mail her her winnings, I’ve opted to go double-or-nothing for Sunday’s Pats game vs. my adopted New York team. Let’s go Big Blue: help me extort money from a sweet old lady!  (Gram, I know you read this, and you’re going down.)

What workout/gambling plans are on your weekend agenda?