Running Training

The Third Stage of Marathon Training: Bargaining

When my alarm went off at an unforgiving hour this morning after a particularly late work event last night, I started doing something with which I imagine every runner is intimately familiar: I started negotiating.

I had eight miles on the schedule, but the litigator in me arrived at court/dawn prepared to plea-bargain it down to just a fraction of that. The facts were on my side: I’d been up past my bedtime, my legs were still twitching from Sunday’s tune-up and I’ve only skipped two scheduled workouts all marathon training cycle long. Who knew? Maybe I’d just walk away with community service.

My counsel knew her stuff, and we ended up settling on a quick jog to Starbucks and back for a total of four miles. But when I arrived at the turnaround point, I still had more in me, so I appealed the earlier decision and ran an extra mile to the Apple Store instead. Once there, I decided to man up and go all the way to Outback Steakhouse before heading home, allowing my daily mileage to clock in at a respectable six.

I know what you’re thinking. Starbucks? Apple Store? Outback?! Did you run to f-ing Times Square?

No, silly. I was running in Cancun.

Taken during that glorious 15-minute window between checking out of my hotel room and getting picked up by the airport shuttle. Ah, the joys of work travel.

For those of you who – like me as of Tuesday – have never set foot in the Spring Break capital of the world, let me tell you a few things: the conference hotels are very nice, most of the catcalls are in Spanish and there are more Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurants than I’d care to admit. So basically, yes, I ran in Times Square today. Not as long or as far as I was supposed to, but given the 90-degree temperatures and south-of-the-border humidity, I’m proud of myself for lacing up my Asics at all.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll make up those extra two miles after my scheduled 12-miler this weekend when I’m back in cool, crisp New York City with well-rested legs and a less-crippling fear of being kidnapped mid-run. Or maybe I’ll bring in the big guns and talk my way out of that one, too. NYC delivery bagels have been known to make a fool-proof closing argument.

Do you ever bargain your way out of a run? Or once you get out there, can you convince yourself to push on through?

Races Running

Three’s a Crowd

It’s been said that bad news comes in threes, and when it comes to loops of Central Park, I can personally corroborate that that is, in fact, the case.

One 6-mile loop is positively sublime, navigating the park-goer past such noteworthy landmarks as the Loeb Boathouse, the Sheep’s Meadow and the Tavern on the Green.

A second loop, while a bit redundant, can force a runner to notice the more subtle things he may have missed the first time around, from the bronze Balto statue at 67th St. to the Ghostbusters Building – allegedly designed by Cult of Gozer leader Ivo Shandor – at 55 Central Park West.

A third loop, and a leap into the zoo’s polar bear exhibit seems a welcome change of scenery.

Yesterday, I completed three full loops, and – having crawled my way back out of Gus’ wintry habitat – can honestly tell you 18 miles in Central Park is entirely too many. To be fair, 26.2 miles in downtown DC is also probably too many, but we’ll let Oct. 28 be the judge of that.

The race – the ING New York City Marathon Tune-Up 18M – certainly meant well.

Organized for fall marathon runners as a chance to test their stamina weeks before the big day, the course allowed participants to trial run their pacing, passing and hydration in a mock-marathon setting. The No. 1 rule of marathoning is not to try anything new on race day you didn’t practice in training, so the idea of an 18-mile road race certainly makes sense on paper.

You know what it doesn’t make sense on? My quads.

Sure, the sun was shining and the air was crisp and the post-race bagels were deliciously raisin, but the rapid rise and fall of Central Park’s infamous hills were sheer torture on my legs. Throw in a faulty alarm clock that almost saw me miss the starting gun and the extra mile I had to tack on to reach my scheduled 19-mile long run and I think it’s safe to say this was not my preferred way to spend a Sunday morning. (That honor goes to pancake-eating-in-bed-with-any-of-these-1990s-heartthrobs. Thanks for sharing, Meredith.)

It wasn’t pretty, but I finished, clocking in at a net time of 2:41.21 for an average pace of 8:58 per mile. Not terrible, but not quite good enough to reach my rather ambitious marathon goal of 3:59.59, according to most online pace extrapolators. I realize my debut marathon objective should simply be to finish, but beating finish-time-fibber Paul Ryan’s 4:01.25 by more than a minute would feel pretty darn American.

I’m hoping come marathon Sunday, the cheering of the crowds will help push me through the full 26.2, but to all you more experienced runners out there: what can I do in the next five weeks to ensure I reach my goal time without burning out? Hopefully your answer includes the phrase “spend the next three days in Cancun,” because – surprise! – that’s what I’m doing.  Hasta la vista, readers.


Never Forget

It may have transpired more than 18 months ago, but I remember my first 7-mile run like it was yesterday.

I remember plotting the route in advance – two loops of the reservoir followed by a straight shot down 1st Ave to my then-boyfriend’s apartment. I remember the monsoon-like conditions that forced me out of the park after one loop and disrupted my meticulous pre-run planning. I remember finishing, showering and subsequently inhaling a small nation’s worth of Korean fried chicken. I just ran SEVEN miles – I remember thinking to myself – I can eat as much chicken as I want!

My first 8-mile run is equally fresh in my mind. Layering up in borrowed sweats because I didn’t yet realize how clothing worked. Running 4 miles to a Virginia pharmacy, buying a drink and running 4 miles home. Celebrating with an oversized platter of bar snacks at an Arlington pub. EIGHT miles! – I sputtered through a mouthful of nachos – Bring on the potato skins!

My first 10-miler, 13-miler and 18-miler have secured similar spots in my memory: Philadelphia/soft-pretzels, Baltimore/Maryland-crab-soup, New York/bagel-and-lox, respectively.*

*Yes, I realize it’s unnatural to recall with such clarity my post-run food choices, but I like to believe my unparalleled gastronomic memory will come in handy someday. This is how I see it going down:

Serious scientist in white lab coat: “I’m sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with this emergency announcement, but the Martians have detonated an earth-annihilating nuclear bomb and the only way we can stop it is if someone can recount for us a minute-by-minute replay of everything he or she ate on May 12, 2007. Help us, Anne-bi-won Kenobi. You’re our only hope.”

But in all seriousness: why do I remember these runs with such clarity? Because they were the first of their kind. I’ve run 7 miles dozens of times since, but that first experience will be forever branded in my memory. Like first loves and first concerts and first Hanson cassette tapes, one doesn’t forget these things.

You know what else one doesn’t forget? First kisses. Here’s a picture of mine.

This may or may not have been my first kiss. I’ll never tell.

What’s one run (or post-run chow down) you’ll never forget?

Running Training

Is Marathon Training Bad for You?

“You’re training for a marathon? Isn’t that bad for you?”

It’s a question I’ve heard dozens of times, and it usually comes from the same lips that just smoked a pack of cigarettes or threw back three tequila shots or ate an entire KFC family meal, alone.

Go on, pinnacle of health – I think to myself – please share with me your extensive knowledge about marathon training.

“It’s bad for your knees,” they start. “Your joints will never forgive you. It strains your heart. Our bodies just weren’t made to do that.”

Is that all? I ask.

“I once knew a guy whose butcher’s pastor’s prom date died during a marathon.”

Normally, this is when I’d break out my long-form answer. Is marathon training bad for you? Absolutely not. Countless studies have shown that any short-term strain on your body incurred through marathon training is more than offset by subsequent gains in cardiovascular strength, lung capacity expansion and improved brain function, not to mention a significantly reduced occurrence of diabetes, depression and obesity.

But today, you’re not getting the long-form answer. If you asked me at this very moment whether I believe marathon training is bad for my health, I’m afraid I’d have to give you a rebounding ‘yes,’ followed by a resounding cough.

That’s because for the third time since beginning marathon training in July, I spent this week all-but-bedridden with a crippling sinus infection.* It hit the day after I completed an 18-miler, my longest (and most monsoon-like) workout to date.

*diagnosis courtesy of WebMB. It also told me I might have lupus and/or male pattern baldness.

Three Grade-A colds in as many months may not seem wholly out of the ordinary, but these recurrent bouts of illness came on the heals of 18 glorious infection-free months. Since first lacing up my running shoes in January 2011, I’ve been abnormally healthy, and a quick google search tells me why:

“A totally sedentary person is likely to contract a yearly average of two to three upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) – the medical term for viral infections of the ear, nose and throat, like colds, flu and sinus infections. But a moderately active person can expect to reduce that rate by almost a third, according to Mike Gleeson, a professor of exercise biochemistry at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, U.K.,” this article says.

Hence my glorious and unparalleled cold-free status throughout three half-marathon training cycles.

But amp up that moderate activity level to marathon-caliber exertion? Suddenly, you can expect two to six times as many URTIs during a year, Prof. Gleeson says. But don’t take his word for it. Just ask all the chicken noodle soup vendors I’ve run dry this week. Grilled cheese and naval oranges may also be experiencing a deficit on the island of Manhattan.


In the past, I’ve continued to train, albeit at a reduced speed and with a lot more pre-run whinging, when under the weather. But with my weekly mileage now grazing 40 and the prospect of an 8-mile tempo run too daunting to imagine through this week’s congestion, I did the until-now unthinkable: I skipped a workout. And then another. And then a third.

That’s right: from Tuesday through Thursday this week, I did not so much as even look at my wicking gear, opting instead to prepare for the fast-approaching Marine Corps Marathon by donning sweats, ordering in and watching romantic comedy after romantic comedy. Forget Hal Higdon’s Novice II program; his How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days fitness plan is much more my style.

By Friday, I felt well enough to hit the park again, but kept it easy and only did 2.5 of the scheduled 5. And by Saturday, having slept among the healing powers of my childhood home (it’s science), I was back to my full 13 miles. I took it slower that usual to be safe; in exchange, it took me to some gorgeous North Baltimore trails. Good trade, I’d say.


Now that I’m once again on the mend, I’m left wondering: if last week’s 18-miler knocked me off my feet for the better part of a week, what will next weekend’s 19-miler do to me? How about my early October 20-miler? Or, you know, the full 26.6-mile distance itself? Will my evolving body learn to adapt and better fight off the next rhinovirus that’s sneezed its way, or should I start buying shares in Kleenex now?

Either way, if I find myself off my feet, I promise not to again leave this blog untouched for more than a week. Though, to be fair, I did publish this past week – just not on my home site. If you haven’t already done so, check out (or this link, specifically), to read about my recent participation in a global running project. Per the rules of the assignment, I recorded a run in my home city, donated to a favorite charity and thanked my support system along the way. Oh yeah, and successfully disguised in no fewer than four photographs that I was running with an 101-degree fever. Ah, the wonders of lighting.

OK runners, answer me this: will skipping my mid-week workouts set me back come Marathon Sunday? Or, like fortune cookies and celebrity wedding vows, were marathon training schedules made to be broken?


Recall Bias

Hindsight is not just 20/20: it’s also extremely forgiving. Remember that painfully awkward first week of college when you didn’t know a soul beyond their first and/or screen name? No? Neither do I. That’s because despite how it actually went down at the time, most everything—from our college “glory days” to past relationships to George Lucas prequels—improve immensely in our memories with the passage of time.

Such is the case with a lot of things, but none more so than for Fruit Stripe gum.

A favorite treat of mine and every 90s child alike, Fruit Stripe gum offered it all: neon zebra-markings, tropical flavors and a free lick-on tattoo with every piece. My nostalgic memories of this novelty breath-saver were unequivocally positive, and—alongside my nuclear family and dogs wearing people clothes—clocked in among some of my all-time favorite things.

Turns out, my memories deceived me.

Last week, I came across a Lower East Side candy store selling packs of Fruit Stripe for just 99 cents a pop. “Tattoos inside! Collect all 10!” the multi-colored packaging called to me. I was in.

But when I opened the pack, I quickly found the gum to be flavorless, the tattoos to be blurry and the health warnings to be downright alarming: “Attention: Excessive consumption may have a laxative effect.”

As anyone who has ever rewatched Spice World can confirm, many of life’s fondest memories are best left glorified in the past.

Fortunately, at least a few things in life buck the trend and actually improve with time. While an earlier version of myself surely loathed eating kale or kissing boys, for example, present-day me is quite thankful that some first impressions can be relearned.

Such is especially the case when it comes to exercise. The timed mile in 9th grade phys-ed was the bane of my 15-year-old existence; eleven years later, I’m gearing up to run 18 miles tomorrow before brunch.

The same holds true for team sports. Don’t let this adorably androgynous photo fool you: my talent on the softball field – and subsequent enthusiasm for the sport – peaked somewhere around T-ball.

From strike outs to missed catches to apparent rules against sitting down to weave daisy chains in left field, I was often left frustrated and embarrassed from April ’til June and retired my glove as quickly as humanly possible.

So imagine my surprise when I was (pity) recruited onto a softball team earlier this summer and found that not only was I no longer afraid of the ball, but I actually enjoyed myself. AND I looked good doing it.

I guess team sports can join fine wine and Justin Timberlake as things that get better with age.

Have you ever revisited something, only to find it’s nothing like how you remembered it? Second question: anyone want a half pack of god-awful free and delicious gum?

Running Travel

Swagger in My Step

Modesty may be a virtue, but much like cleanliness and temperance, it tends to be a bit overrated.

As children, we were allowed – nay, encouraged – to share news of our accomplishments with the world. From swim meets to spelling bees to performing the full eight-minute rendition of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ at our year-end piano recital (I’m so sorry, Mom & Dad), every childhood achievement big or small was guaranteed a spot in the family Christmas letter.

But no more. Bragging about your accomplishments apparently went out of style sometime between your third-grade geography quiz and your senior week boat race. Especially in the very self-deprecating circles most 20-somethings run in, it often seems humility is the only acceptable state.

Well I won’t have it. While I agree constant self aggrandizement (I’m talking to you, Mr. Paul “I Lie About My Marathon PR” Ryan) gets old fast, I think a little bravado actually has its place. Highlighting our successes – in moderation – helps keep us confident and accountable and passionate, and may even inspire someone else to make a similar leap.

Or so I’m telling myself as justification for the major bragging I’m about to do below:

This weekend, I ran so many miles, I had to cross state lines.

I may be on vacation on the Delaware shore, but with 17 miles on the schedule last Friday, these non-vacationing legs took me deep into the Old Line State (lame nickname, Maryland) and back again. I’m not going to lie: this particular run – my longest to date – was not easy. As I ran for three straight hours in the muggy August swelter, I was tempted on more than one occasion to throw in the metaphorical towel and hop the bus back up Coastal Highway to an outdoor shower and real towel with my name on it. But I fought the urge, threw back some GUs and somehow finished all 17 miles – or more of a workout before 11 a.m. than many Americans perform in a month. I know bragging isn’t particularly becoming, but if I’m going to toot my own horn about anything, let it be for my first ever interstate training run.

That, and the fact that I’m able to sustain friendships for more than a quarter century. My beach companions and I met in 1985 and are still going strong.

Of course, we went on fewer brewery tours in the 80s, but pretty much everything else is the same.

And while we’re on the topic of bragging? I think we can all agree my niece is the cutest dog ever. And by ‘cutest,’ I obviously mean most likely to be cast in the remake of ALF.

What did you accomplish this Labor Day weekend?